"this is bad duty," said pinky. "how are we going to catch any malefactors out here in the middle of nowhere?" pinky was a new model robot, geared to be gung ho.
"but there might be some action," country girl answered. "why else would they be guarding this one prisoner so heavy?" she kept her eyes straight ahead on the road and the van in front of her carrying sally and her escorts. they had just entered the last stretch of highway to spaceport. high walls with occasional guard towers were the only things visible on either side.
"hey, they are stopping." she slowed down and pulled over and stopped too. "good thing i was paying attention."
"i would hope you were paying attention," pinky answered. pinky considered corporal country girl a sloppy troop with a lackadaisical attitude and was not entirely happy being partnered with her.
the message was a brief one and charlotte returned to the interior of the van.
"well?" jeanne asked her.
"she is to be released," charlotte answered.
"just like that? any explanation?"
"are there ever any explanations? just like that." charlotte was standing behind sally and glanced down at her. "i feel like just letting her out right here."
"i don't think that would be a very good idea," robespierre interjected quickly from the bench he was sharing with the robots. "if she has -"
charlotte held up her hand. "i was making a little joke. of course we will take her back safely, with every courtesy." she sat down and looked at sally. "any comments?"
"somehow i didn't think so."
they felt the van turn around and speed up back in the direction they had come.
charlotte looked over at jeanne. "are you just going to sit there like a wart on a frog? didn't you bring any work with you?"
"of course." jeanne reached into a briefcase by her side. "i have the laura poll file here, and the fairweather poker game case. i thought you might -"
"who cares what you thought? give me the fairweather file."
"i have already annotated the laura poll file."
charlotte hesitated. "fine. give it to me then."
"can i ask a question?" asked sally suddenly.
"of course," charlotte answered.
"would you let me out now if i wanted?"
"well, do you want to be let out? we are out in the middle of nowhere in what is basically a tunnel, with darwin country on one side and avignonites or arians or whatever on the other. what do you think we have all these guards for?
"i was just asking."
"maybe she wants to be let out among her darwinist followers - " robespierre began.
"shut your stupid mouth!" charlotte told him. even the low level baton carrying robots seemed embarrassed my her outburst.
"would you let me out?" sally repeated.
"of course. of course. but do you want to be let out?"
"fine. then we are all agreed,"
"i was just asking."
charlotte put the laura poll file down in her lap. "are you taunting me? whoever you are? you've won this round, but you haven't won the war - "
"charlotte- " jeanne interrupted.
charlotte took the hint and leaned back and put the laura poll file up in front of her face.
"i was just asking," sally repeated. "and i don't know anything about any war."
charlotte and jeanne ignored this. robespierre and the robots kept their eyes straight ahead.
"i'm tired," sally said. "i'm going to sleep."
"cool," charlotte answered. "sweet dreams."
"i never dream."
"i had a teacher named miss williams," said bessie. "she was a nice lady."
"there is no arguing with that," declared mr alfred russel wallace. "do we have anybody to speak up for the valet?"
nobody spoke up for the valet.
"the motion is carried," said mr wallace. "away with the valet."
"very well, sir, the valet ran away with a rare coin of the comte de gobineau-richelieu, just before the train pulled out. the comte will have to do without a valet for the journey, but for so intrepid an adventurer this is only an inconvenience."
hoho, perched on top of the marseilles railway station, silhouetted against the twilight sky like a gargoyle, watched the train pull out for istanbul. when the last puff of smoke dispersed over the empty track, he took the stolen coin out of his pocket. to his relief it had not become flat and featureless on leaving the comte's possession. it seemed instead to have become more sharply etched and detailed.
one side of the coin showed salambo and st john the baptist playing tennis with the apple from the garden of eden, as salome and marc antony prepared cucumber sandwiches and lemonade on a small table beside the court. a lion slept peacefully under the table. a flamingo watched the game from a pear tree shading the court.
the other side of the coin portrayed the aftermath of the day of judgment. the archangel barachiel was combing the shore of the sea of the sea of galilee with a small rake as a single crab, a single jellyfish and a single oyster looked on.
"not bad," said hoho to himself. "but i know monsieur le comte has better. perhaps i should have been more patient." he put the coin back in his pocket.
the comte was distressed at hoho's betrayal and retired to the club car for solace. there he fell in with the three famous detectives. they proved an interested audience, though more interested in the value of the coin and the possibility of its recovery, than in the comte's discomfiture at the ragamuffin's treachery.
lord aubrey leaned back in his chair. "if he plans to broker the coin, he couldn't do worse than tomo miller in geneva, a rascal who has this far confounded both the authorities and myself. i see an opportunity here."
the comte nodded politely.
but hoho did not head for geneva. instead he made his way on foot to a small restaurant on the marseilles waterfront, specializing in spicy artichoke and avocado dishes. on his way he passed a party of three popes and some friends, apparently on their way to the same restaurant, but he quickly left them behind. taking shortcuts through alleys and small streets he arrived at the restaurant just as the sun was setting.
the busboys, st james and st bartholomew, were sitting outside the back door, and hoho headed for them. they tried to ignore him.
sancho panza, one if the cooks, came out from the kitchen when he saw hoho.
"nice suit," he told him. "trying to sell it?"
"i might be."
the headwaiter, mr alfred russel wallace, came hurrying out. "who is this?" he asked sancho. he eyed hoho suspiciously. "is this the so-called god of love?"
"i beg your pardon, sir," hoho told him. "i am the god of chance."