The story so far. The Americans have landed a space probe on Mars. While routinely checking the pictures sent back from the planet, Mort and Lance notice a dead human body lying on Martian soil. Not only is this terrifying, it is also a bit odd, because there are no humans on Mars. Police chief Schulz arrives and tells them that it may be the work of a space serial killer called Andrew Parkes.
'A serial killer in space?' said Lance. 'But that's impossible]'
'Why?' said Schulz. 'They're all over the place these days.'
'But look,' said Lance, 'there is no way you can call this murder a serial killing. Just think it through. Our probe has found a dead body on Mars. On his jacket there appears to be a small white card with the name Andrew Parkes written on it. That's it. How does that link up with any other murder ever committed?'
'I'll tell you,' said Commissioner Schulz. 'I shouldn't tell you. But I will tell you. In the last six months we have had five other bodies found in space, on places like the moon. All five were murdered. All five had cards marked 'Andrew Parkes' left on them. They were all reported by separate space agencies, and we kept it very quiet. That's why you haven't heard about it.'
'And who is Andrew Parkes?' said Mort.
'God knows. The murderer, presumably. Who else would bother to link himself with so many deaths? Of course, we have run the name through the computer. We have checked out all the people called Andrew Parkes. We have even checked out people with the same name in other languages. Andres Parques, in Spanish, for instance, and in French, Andre Duparc. But it was no use.'
'You mean, they all had alibis, eh?' said Lance. 'They could all prove that they hadn't been on Mars on the night in question, because they were washing the car or committing adultery? Or something?'
'Something like that,' said Schulz shortly. 'That's not the problem. The problem is this. How on earth could any murderer, serial or not, get his victim to another planet? It's simply not possible.'
'It's possible,' said Lance. 'Oh, it's possible all right. I could think of half a dozen ways in which it could happen.'
Mort knew this was true. Lance had a knack for thinking up half a dozen plausible explanations for anything. It was one of the reasons why Mort hated Lance so much.
'Tell me,' said Schulz. 'Try me.'
'Number one, the Russians still have a space programme. They might be dumping unwanted politicians up there. Number two, somebody might be producing the hologram effect of a dead body from a long way away, and that's what we are seeing on our screen. Number three, somebody might be purposely feeding pictures into our long-range transmission programme, false pictures designed to sabotage us, and Andrew Parkes is the name of the sponsor. Four, these bodies may be left behind from some earlier space project that we don't know about. Five, as there is no atmosphere on Mars, these bodies may be in a perfect state of preservation even though they have been there thousands of years. Six . . .'
'Let's hear theory number five again,' said Schulz. 'Are you serious? You think these guys may be the original Martians from zillions of years ago, still preserved in their suits like flies in amber?'
'Do you think the original inhabitants of Mars wore suits?'
Schulz thought for a moment. Then he spoke again.
'You had a sixth theory. What was it.'
'The Martians live underground,' said Lance slowly. 'They are there now, living underground, the whole time. But when one of them dies, he has to be buried.
He can't be buried underground. That's where they live. So they are buried by being pushed up on to the surface.'
'If that were true,' said Schulz, 'the whole surface of Mars would be covered in dead Martians.'
'Not so,' said Lance. 'Because they are taken away at night.'
'And who the hell is Andrew Parkes?'
I am sorry to break off at this exciting moment, but I have just had a very good offer from a film company for the idea of this story, and they have asked me not to give any more away. Back to normal on Monday.