‘I’d seen some big ones in my time, but this one…this one was huge.’ Jack shook himself and zipped his fly with a grunt. ‘I mean it. It was as long as my fucking arm.’
‘The mosquito?’ I asked over the pathetic wheeze of the hand dryer. ‘The mosquito you saw on Mars?’
Jack shot me a look. ‘What else would I be talking about?’
‘And you went to Mars on a rocket built by the Sultan of Brunei? Don’t bother with the dryer, my hands are still soaked.’
‘First of all it was a shuttle and, second, the Sultan didn’t build it, he sponsored it, ‘ he wiped his wet hands on the seat of his jeans. ‘Am I going to have to repeat everything?’
‘No, no. I just wanted to be certain I heard you right.’
He didn’t say anything else.
We pushed through the bathroom door and resumed our seats at the bar. Dave, the barman, had two fresh drinks waiting for us. Jack sat in silence for a long while, smacking his lips occasionally before taking a long pull on his larger. I wondered if that was it, if he’d finally reached the end of his story. The big man had been chewing my ear off for the last hour, regaling me with his ‘tales of wonder’. I’d been trying to leave for as long, thought I’d figured out how to escape but he followed me into the bathroom. I contemplated making my excuses to leave, considered what to say.
Just as I opened my mouth to wish him a nice evening, he put down the empty glass and half-turned to face me. He dipped his head closer to mine and, in a low, conspiratorial voice, whispered, ‘it’s not like the photos, y’know?’
‘What do you mean “it’s not like the photos”?’ I couldn’t help myself; must have been the journalist in me.
‘Green, fucking everywhere. Red planet my arse,’ he murmured. ‘Tropical rainforest from one end to the other. S’like Nottingham used to be, only without that guy in the tights. Y’know wassis name? Erroll Flynn.’
‘Never mind,’ I waved a hand dismissively. ‘So, you’re telling me Mars’s really a forest planet inhabited by mosquitoes as long as your arm? What about the satellite images? Curiosity’s photos?’
‘What about them?
‘I think we’d have noticed the forests by now.’
‘And waterfalls,’ he added.
‘Yeah, there’s a massive one all the way down the side of Aeolis Mons. I used to sneak down there first thing in the morning to watch this Martian hottie…’ Jack’s eyes seemed vacant and I lost him to his thoughts.
I’d had enough. ‘I don’t fucking believe a w—’
‘A world government would lie to us for all this time, I know. Crazy right? Y’want to know the weirdest thing though?’
What could possibly be next?
‘That bloody Sultan never even paid me, told me he was skint. Fancy another drink?’