THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 74

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 74

…Miss Bouchette, can I count on you to help me out here? I will grant you blanket access with Level 1 Security status

security-level-1-001

“You could barely speak English this morning when we spoke this morning,” Roy insists.

“I have not had the honor to meet you until now; I would like to express the gratitude of all the Nepalese people for being part of the great Space Colony. My government sends its deep condolences for the horrible accident.”

This man was genuinely sincere and definitely not the Gherkin Dogma he had met right before the Colony disappeared from the Mars Mockup.

“Are you saying that you didn’t man this station until after Space Colony was taxi-001destroyed?” Roy is more confused than ever.

“That is correct Director Crippen. I was late in arriving because my taxi driver could not find Galveston Launch Facility; it seems he took a wrong turn as we left George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is odd because you can see Colony Mission Control from many miles away.”

“Sounds fishy to me Director Roy,” Francine interjects her opinion. “I know that many cabbies are new to this country, but they cannot be blind.”

All the while digesting and deciphering, Roy is finally seeing the handwriting on the wall. As Phil Jansky’s replacement continued to ramble on about other trip delaying travails, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together:

 1)   Philip Jansky, Spatial Debris Specialist {20 year NASA employee} dies of a rare & sudden cerebral hemorrhage

2    That death occurs at a critical time in Space Colony 1’s mission, with the McKinneys on Mars surface

3)   In a scramble to replace personnel, a Nepalese technician is flown in by supersonic transport

4)  Space Colony 1 disappears from its orbit around Mars, cause unknown

“From Earth-to-Mars, no one’s laughing from here-or-there.”

5)  A rescue mission involving the premature launch of the New Mayflower is hastily thrown together

6)  One man, two manred man, blue man. A human shell game has been going on, with sketchy timelines and miss-identifications

“Time is winding down Francine and I do not have time to do a full-blown investigation. Can I count on you to help me out here? I will grant you blanket access with Level 1 Security status.”

“A good reporter never turns down the opportunity to do what she does best.” She is developing more than a casual interest in both this interplanetary intrigue and this intriguing man specifically. “You can count on me….as long as I get the exclusive.”

Roy is going to need the help…no matter what she is angling.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 74


page 69 (end ch. 4)

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 73

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 73

“What happened to your lousy English and didn’t your hair used to be black?”…

plot-thickens3

The Plot Thickens by Donna MacDonald

“Then why has his hair color changed?” On a thin whim he says, “Let’s pay Gherkin a visit.” With time dwindling, hunches played trump hunches ignored.

Roy Crippen douses power to the what-not room as he and Francine scamper over to the nerve center of mans’ first colony away from Earth. From scamper to gallop, their pace quickens and if Francine had any doubts as to the seriousness of the situation, all she need do is keep up with the bulldog in front of her.

In a big building with odd angles and unexpected transitions, Roy bowls over an unsuspecting  technician, sending him sprawling. He excuses himself, sort of, while acquiring a limp in the process.

Francine mostly ignores the tech, asking, “Are you going to be alright Roy?”

“What…. Oh yes, come on,” not a complete answer.

“I hope I’m not out of line, but are we chasing a ghost here. You are making a pretty big fuss about one little man.” She is not privy to Roy’s unfolding theory.

He stops to collect himself, address her issues with a glance and a right hand thru his floppy brown straight hair. Francine straightens his tie thereby restoring the look of a man in control.

He speaks, seemingly into the thin air, alerting security as to the nature of his pending confrontation, rejoining the previously frantic pace, with a newswoman bring up the rear.

At this late stage of the approaching launch, less than an hour now, nearly every eye sneaks a peek at NASA’s man of the hour. He looks like a man under the gun, acts like a man possessed, and don’t you dare get in his way.

With Roy grabbing the Spatial Debris tech by the shoulders, spinning him around in-your-face style, the man is startled by the aggressive move, “There is no problem in the launch window, Mr. Crippen, only some small stuff out at 500,000 out.”

“What happened to your lousy English and didn’t your hair used to be black?”

“I do not know what you are talking about, Sir.”

“What is your name and when did you get here?”

“My name is Gurkhas Shah Dhangotma and I have been here all day, except for a short break early this morning. I had been on duty for sixteen hours. Someone relieved me for an hour, no more.”

“You could barely speak English when we spoke this morning.”

plot-thickens


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 73


page 68

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 69

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 69

…All of a sudden she is losing the “pretty face” tag and buying into real journalism, irrespective of cashing in on Space Colony or not…

pretty-face-001

Francine’s shiny sports car sits conspicuously close to the entrance of the station, where lighting is2031 Model Corvette brighter and security tighter, for her new four-wheeled two-seater. For the first time in the Chevy’s 550 mile life, its rear tires lay down matching black stripes on a paved surface, through gears 1 & 2. She uses every side-street-shortcut available, ignoring some red lights and praising the cooperating green ones. Her biggest roadblock is the exit/entrance ramp from the South Sam Houston Tollway, those damned tolls are always backed up on the weekends.

As expected the lanes are stuffed with Houstonian peons, but the far right lane is closed for maintenance. Risking scratches to the Honeysuckle Red Fiberglass front end, she plows through the gate, leaving the metal breakaway logjam in her wake.

The dusty display of driving catches the eye of a Tollway officer, who stands pointing an accusing finger at the violator whose picture has been taken and there will be a price to pay. The scornful look on his face produces momentary guilt from Francine, for 2 meaningless seconds, and then she is back laying rubber as she jumps on the 45, watching the speedometer leap past 100 in two-shakes of an angry man’s finger.

Once on the Interstate she finds it free of southbound traffic, free to focus her memory on the mysterious Arabic caller that started these present events in motion. This went down in such rapid succession that she was afraid that some important detail would fall through the cracks of awareness.

The most amazing thing about this whole ordeal, now an international big deal, was the wide exposure she had fallen into. Her name is on more tongues tonight than in any single Texan year in the last 10 and her agent is probably on the phone with news directors in the #2 & #1 markets, if not network television.

Related imageAll of a sudden she is losing the “pretty face” tag and buying into real journalism, irrespective of cashing in or not. For the second time today, Francine steps back to examine her soul, wondering just what has come over her. The “values” transformation is in direct opposition of everything she had become up to January day into night.

Pre-disaster Francine was a bitter person, so caught up in vanity that she never learned how to relate with all people, not just the important ones. Her idea of intimacy was to string along a poor sucker local TV broadcast exec, allowing him to think he had a future with a “trophy” catch.


THE RETURN TRIP

visual-journalism

Visual Journalism

Episode 69


page 65

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 58

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 58

Image result for quotation marksImage result for quotation marks…Thank you watching this special report, I am Steven Sharkey. We will be seeing you at our 5:30 Newscast,..

pregnant-pause

…I get one (plucking) line at the end? What is that?” Only some of that reaches the air…

“Nnnooooooo,” screams Deke McKinney, leaping to his feet, a boiling flash of blood flowing to his brain. The brothers stand together, eyes fixed to the televiewer.

Vertical-001Vertical-001“These are Roy Crippen’s words to me,‘At approximately 11 AM local time, Space Colony 1vanished from NASA tracking. The astronaut team of Commander Sampson McKinney and Lt. Commander Celeste McKinney, who were on the surface of Mars at the time on the 1st surface exploration, are believed to be thriving, though communication has been disconnected on their end. There are sketchy clues to what may have occurred.

‘We have weighed all viable options and have decided to launch the deep-space shuttle New Mayflower, with a skeleton crew of three, to effect the rescue of the McKinneys before their means of survival have been exhausted. This unprecedented Midnight launch will retrieve two of the World’s greatest space pioneers.’

“He finished by telling this reporter, ‘Plans are already in the making, discussed by our consortium partners, to build a second orbiting Colony in place starting before this year is out.’

“This is Francine Bouchette and KHST 13 will continue to monitor this tragedy and will bring you the latest, whenever that will be… back to you Steven.”Image result for blooper

Thank you watching this special report, I am Steven Sharkey, we will be seeing you at our 5:30 Newscast,closes an embarrassingly mortified co-anchor. “I get one (plucking) line at the end? What is that?” Only some of that reaches the air


 THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 58


page 55

 

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 56

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 56

..I am about to break into local programming and then that damned “good” angel has to go and whisper in my right ear…

angel-in-my-ear

“What exactly do you think you know about Space Colony, Ms. Bouchette and do not beat around the bush,”asks Roy Crippen

She goes on to play the foreign recorded voice of the bearer of bad tidings.

“I will be frank {don’t call him Frank}, I am about to break into local programming with a KHST Special Report, having spent most of the afternoon putting together — then that damned “good” angel has to go and whisper in my right earShe summarizes the just of her breaking news.

“I see and you plan to act on this leak,” Roy speaks rhetorically. “At this point I could stonewall you; deny and deny again, but I will not. Whoever this guy is knows more than enough to be taken seriously.”

He chooses his words carefully.

“Even though much of what you offer is true, I think you are taking too pessimistic of a slant. We or you or your informer, nobody in fact can confirm the loss of life. The McKinneys are presently on the surface of Mars, and yes we cannot communicate with them, but we are launching the New Mayflower in 6 hours and we believe we can reach them in time.”survival-001

“Are you telling me that they can survive on Mars?”

“Not only do we think they will survive, we hold the hope of rebooting the Space Colony consortium with a second station. We are in this thing to win; titanium and wires can be replaced, but not the hope of all civilizations.”

Francine is truly moved by his inspiring affirmation, but does not swallow it whole.

“I respect that fact that you want to control the message, I get that, but I have a career duty to report the news, whatever and especially the magnitude of this; America and all your partners need to know.”

“I get that Ms. Bouchette, you have a virtual goldmine in your grasp,” Roy relents, “but you will be quoting me, using my words, NOT some ¼ hour funeral dirge about the space program and the McKinneys.”

“Are you telling me that I have an exclusive?”Related image

“I suppose it does. This wasn’t how I envisioned it coming down, but I don’t want those crackpot Koreans stealing the spotlight. I will forward my statement to you.”

Francine has just lost a huge juicy story, yet she does regain another somewhat less salacious one and she will be a better person for it. After two decades in the business, she has had an epiphany of conscience.

“I appreciate how much you agonized over this. I am not sure some of your competition would have had your self-restraint.new-mayflower-001

Now I have to send off the New Mayflower, minus the 30-some hopefuls {some paid their own way} that were scheduled to go… boy am I going to catch flack about that, I can hear them already.”

“Thank you for allowing KHST to break this story,” she is sincere and do you notice it was not all about “me”? “Please bring the McKinneys home!”


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 56


page 53 (end Ch. 2)

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 55

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 55

…A cold chill travels up her spine at the thought of the reprehensible plight of the McKinneys…

time-magazine-001

Since the newswoman is so close to going with this story live, she takes a deep breath to reassess the wisdom of her coming actions. In the big scheme of things, nothing is bigger than {breaking} news of a probable Space Colony disaster, but in her hours compiling file footage, Francine has come to admire the husband-wife astronaut team, who have invested their lives, sacrificed valuable family time, and now may be doomed to sacrificing their lives, literally.

Image result for #1Image result for #2She discovers a hidden reserve of compassion deep down inside. It has never been clearer why the attractive couple ranked #1 & #2 in  TIME MAGAZINE’s 100 Most Influential People issue, for the second consecutive year. Last year they were just appearing on the national scene as an epic family.

A cold chill travels up her spine at the thought of the reprehensible plight of these good folk.

What had started out as breaking news about the demise of Space Colony 1 unexpectedly evolves into a mournful hodge-podge of doom and gloom, mostly because of the time she would devote to Sampson and Celeste McKinney, their lives on Earth and their fate in space. But the truth is, the details are meager and the creative latitude too tempting.Image result for 4:30

The script as she wrote it has a somber tone, with a theme that challenges NASA’s goals and the price it has exacted on the world economy, along with unrealized expectations. It is 4:30 and she programs her words into the teleprompter, something she almost never does.

When she takes a break before heading to make-up and hair, the gaunt face of Roy Crippen, whose eyes display the stress of unmitigated devotion, keep popping into her brain. He has become the face of Space Colony 1, unfailingly cooperative to a fault and polite beyond belief; all those inane questions from ignorant neophytes. She cannot help but project the man’s current mental state and her uncensored news flash may push him past some unforeseen brink.

Suddenly, like a sinner being visited by an angel of mercy, Francine finds herself racing to the nearest desk phone.  In a minute she is hailing the line leading directly to the Galveston launch facility. She gets funneled into a cybex satellite telecommunication router.

“Galveston Launch, we are currently unavailable due to technical problems.”

It sounds like a computer generated voice.

“Oh yeah – you can *#%+@&! – you stupid machine! I need to speak with Mr. Roy Crippen and I mean now!”

“I am sorry but he is unavailable.”newsroom-001

That is not an automated voice. Oops.

“My name is Francine Bouchette, from KHST 13 Television, Houston. I have urgent information that I need to discuss with Mr. Crippen.”

“There is a news conference scheduled for one o’clock AM and your station will be receiving a press release shortly. Until then, he remains unavailable.” She is firm.

Francine is even more firm, “I know what happened to Space Colony 1.”

There is no response.

“I am going live in twelve minutes.”

“Please hold the line.

If she hadn’t stopped smoking, in the interest of white teeth and porcelain skin, this would be the perfect time for a 100 Slim Menthol. The digital clock clicks down to 9 minutes before the live cut-in.

“Get on the stick Lady,” she mumbles into the phone.

It is three more minutes before an anxious male voice joins the connection.

“What exactly do you think you know about Space Colony, Ms. Bouchette,” this man doesn’t beat around the bush.


 THE RETURN TRIP

angel_of_mercy_by_fluro_knife

Angel of Mercy by Fluro Knife deviantart.com

Episode 55


page 52

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 54

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 54

…When Francine concentrates on a task at hand (instead of her 15-story ego) it amazes even herself

Image result for ego artwork

Stella Im Hultberg ‘Alter Ego’ Painting

For once in her life, Francine escapes the limelight to seek out and pick the brain of the station’s NASA expert; when in doubt, go to those in the know. In this space-saturated news environment, admittedly, she did not pay close attention to the Space Colony story, merely glossing over the copy her “inept script writer” provided for broadcasts.

Being the weekend, the space geek is at home, so she must do some videophone work to get her information, “Good afternoon Gilly, can you give me a few minutes?” The person on Francine’s screen is not thrilled, but is professional enough to comply.

Randi Gilbert

“Sure Miss Bouchette, what can I do for you,” Randi Gilbert, who is a former test pilot for the Air Force, has a fluid pipeline to the goings-on both at Lovell and Galveston.

“Say, I am working on this story for tonight’s cast and I need some background stuff about Space Colony 1 and that married couple Celeste and Sampson McKinney. I have been looking at file files, but I’m not getting a good feel for them as real people.”

“They are THE story of the 21st Century so far Francine…”

Gilbert goes on to tell the story of a true space family, whose heritage and focus is all about exploration, “to boldly go” as once was said.

She goes on to explain just how massive an undertaking that the world-cooperative-project truly is. 135 countries, with two or so notable exceptions, have pooled their talent and resources to give the planet Earth an out if-you-will, a relatively nearby outpost, as well as a future home to hundreds of settlers…

“Thank you for everything Randi, we will have to do lunch one of these days.”

Like that will ever happen,

“You bet Francine.”

That would be goodbye for now.

Dominic Urbano, Digital Artist

Dominic Urbano, Digital Artist

When Francine concentrates on a task at hand, instead of her 15-story ego, it amazes even herself. Behind that brazened façade lays an appreciable amount of untapped potential, perhaps needing an infusion of COMountain Dew carbonation to encourage the coming out of that trapped talent.

Her further research centers around the year 2018, about the time the Space Colony project morphed from the state of figures and computer animation, to a worldwide financial octopus; the substantive mass of lightweight titanium it has ultimately become {unthinkably became?}. With Galveston so close at hand, the crux of R & D for generations of NASA ventures, KHST’s story files are crammed with stories of the men and machines that explore beyond Earth’s atmosphere.


THE RETURN TRIP

Jung’s Model of the Psyche.

Jung’s Model of the Psyche.

Episode 54


page 52

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 53

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 53

…Out of the blue, an idea bubble forms above her head

think-bubble-001

Francine BouchetteHurriedly, without checking a mirror first, KHST 13’s lead weekend anchorwoman heads straight for the newsroom. She is advancing at a pace that takes out 2 interns and an IT nerd, casualties of the ardent instinct that drives the best newshounds. And if she has the look of preoccupation, the end justifies the means.

Ratings book

The standard method of breaking a news story of this magnitude would to lead off the next scheduled newscast with it, replete with file footage, bios, and interviews. OR, she could fire up KHST’s news crawl at the bottom of the screen, but that would only tip off the competition and she will not have any of that.

Neither one of the above methods would benefit her rating-card, that already was #2 with a bullet. On top of all this, the station has stuck her with a stiff of a co-anchor, hired from an independent in Indianapolis and she would have to let him in on the action. Sharing is not one of her redeeming qualities.

Out of the blue, an idea bubble forms above her head, “What if I do a programming break-in, like they did back in 2017 when Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey… wow that was 13 years ago already and I am still in local TV?… it’ll be an outrageous stunt, but most of management is teeing off on the 14th hole at their country club or at a spa… no one is around to get in my way.”

It was a BIG bubble.

Shuffling feet and adolescent whispers signal the presence of Hightower Junior High speech class, whom she had forgotten about, them and their Junior-Journalism field trip. And who is the tour guide for these kids, none other than Steven Sharkey, the albeit handsome hick from Indiana? Before she can head for the hills, good ol’ Steve uses her as an excuse to use her pretty face as a backdrop to the newsroom.

“And by demand of her adoring fans, I’d like to introduce, you media students, Miss Francine Bouchette, our lovely and talented weekend news anchor and weekday reporter.” Steven coaxes her out of her chair, giving her a warm hug, like a good friend, instead of the rivals that they actually are.

Queen Francine manufactures an agonizing smile, this not being a good time for her. There is some applause {eyes glued below her neck} from the 14-year-old boys and gigglies from the envious {of her breasts} girls. Steven takes the opportunity to horn in on her story, “Please notice how fast she is flying through those web searches. What are you working on Francine?”

“I am actually working on a story about a tour guide accused of inappropriate touching…. and look who shows up?”

Dost thou feel the scorpion’s sting fledgling Steve? She dashes off, leaving Steve to distract the students by moving on to see the studio set.


THE RETURN TRIP

B-I-G

Episode 53


page 51

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 52

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 52

 “I do not believe we have underestimated your talents Awrah Bouchette.”…

Image result for crank call

Crank Call by Graham Annable

“I will tell you of something your greedy leaders will not: At eleven o’clock AM Texas time, the Earth’s ultimate imperialistic endeavor, Space Colony 1 has been completely and utterly destroyed!” There is more than one stab into the belly and genuine pride in his delivery.

Francine eases herself down into her chair, gasping at the mere thought. This man does not sound like your typical crank.

“Did you hear me woman? The Taliban, Nepal and Korean governments applaud this accident. Allah and Buddha have spoken.”

“I heard you,” she whispers faintly. Everyone in southern Texas knows someone who works in the space industry or Space Colony specifically. “I am not inclined to believe you sir,” is all the journalism she can muster.

“You are the only civilian who has this information, use it to disgrace the infidels and enhance your own career and that of your station. Reuters would gladly break this story, no problem.”

“If I am the only Westerner to know this, if it is true, wouldn’t NASA want to hold a formal press conference?”

“But you do not want to share the spotlight,” he pauses, she mulls. “I do not believe we have underestimated your talents Awrah Bouchette.” He slips back into his Arabic vernacular.

“I’ll need more information before I can break this story.”

“You must have a source in the space program; I suggest you confirm it with them. But they will tell you the same things, if they are honest. They will speak of how an asteroid has destroyed your space station and stopped the useless expansion into space. They may try to rescue the project, but they will fail, Allah has prevailed. You will not discover your source…”

A dial tone abruptly replaces the bearer of horrible news.

And what is she to do with this? No one else of import is at the station.


THE RETURN TRIP

newsroom-001

Episode 52


page 50

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 51

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 51

“Assalmu alaikum. Who I am, is of little importance, what I have to tell you may change your life,”…

life-changing

Yes, Francine was lying to the Senator when she told him of her doing real work. The evening cast is 4 hours away and as for the script, she would read whatever they put on the prompter, unless it makes her look stupid or cheesy. No, Francine was headed for the comfort of her personal, fully equipped dressing room.

She flashes her thumb against the print-recognition coder, to gain access to a world no one is allowed to know about… that and her age. In a world of investigative reporters and scheming assignment editors, only her cleaning lady has access to it, lest the governor declare it a disaster area. Queen Francine does not rank #1 in market neatness.

It is a sanctuary fit for the General Manager, or Senior Vice-president for that matter, who coincidently Francine has been engaged to, ever since she was up for lead anchor on the 6 & 10; not  coincidently. The poor sucker guy may be witness to the next Ice Age before she sets a date.

Once inside, she succumbs to her narcissistic ways, her image filling the large lighted mirror. She does a pirouette to verify whether that diet she started was working or not. All it takes is one chauvinistic comment about her butt to trigger that. She nods her approval, complains about why nobody has invented a better pair of pantyhose, and goes about putting herself back together.

Once seated, she leans forward for a closer inspection of her midday makeup, that when it was applied this morning, only served to polish the already perfect face of Aphrodite or Venus de Milo. Even her many enemies cannot dispute how truly pretty she is.

Her nose was a bit on the shiny side, God forbid, reflecting light like the hood of her 2029 Corvette; Nothing that a swirling mass of tinted powder won’t cure.

Satisfied once again, that perfection is achievable, Francine decides to make her routine appearance among the peons in the newsroom. She has lucked out this day, arriving just in time to schmooze a throng of Junior High speech students; Autographs gladly, pictures surely, questions, “Talk to the news director over there.” More pictures?

She was about to see if anything new had crossed her desk, when a telephone call comes through to her cell phone. The 1970s ABBA oldie anthem “The Winner Takes It All”, beckons her to answer. Nobody is allowed to call her at work, “It might be my agent,” she thinks aloud.

“Is this Francine Bouchette?” The voice on the other end of the line has a thick, unfamiliar accent.

She has half a mind to hang up, but anyone who has her number has good connections. “This is she and who may I ask is this? I am very busy, so make it brief.”

“Assalmu alaikum. Who I am, is of little importance, what I have to tell you may change your life,” the caller must be Arab or Muslim.

“I am listening, but you’ll need to get to the point.”

“We have chosen you to tell a story, on a day that will live in infamy, as will your name.”

“Please don’t play games here, whoever you are. If this story requires national attention, you have the right girl.” Francine is playing right into the man’s hand — a full house.cell-hell

“If you meet our needs woman, you will need to listen closely and ask not what your source is.”

“Okay, yes,” and what is with that “woman” reference? It isn’t hard to disrespect this particular female and this old-school moron is lucky she hasn’t dispatched him to cellular hell.


 THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 51


page 49