"there has been sufficient time since ferdinand's untimely demise. a memorial is no longer appropriate."
roberta and samantha looked up. a little black flower was hanging over roberta's workspace and had caught the eye of irena, the new model robot supervisor.
"i'm sorry," roberta told her unconcernedly. " i forgot all about it." she looked back down at the moving line of sandwiches she was spot checking.
"in that case." said irena. "i will take it and dispose of it. do you have any objection?"
roberta shrugged. "i will put it in my pocket at next break."
"very well. just don't forget." irena smiled pleasantly and turned her attention to samantha. "can i see you for a minute at my desk, samantha?"
"sure." samantha turned her table off and the her line of sandwiches stopped. she followed irena to her desk at the back wall of the factory floor. the desk was about twenty-five feet from the machines, just far enough that conversations could not be overheard over the mild hum.
irena seated herself at her desk. samantha stood in front of the desk with her hands clasped in front of her, smiling slightly. like all the human workers at the universal northern and southern hemisphere soybean sandwich company, she welcomed any break in the routine.
"is this about the petition?" samantha asked.
"the petition?" irena repeated.
"the petition i gave to george ming about ferdinand."
"oh, you won't hear anything about that for a while yet. i would have thought you understood that."
"i do." samantha shrugged. "but i just thought - " she shrugged again, and smiled at irena.
"no, this is about something else entirely."
irena looked down at a small piece of paper on her desk. "i have a memo from the preliminary investigation unit of the possible crimes department. an anonymous informant reported a young man following a woman several nights ago. the location synchronizes with your confirmed whereabouts. therefore an investigator might want to interview you. do you have any information or comment on this?" she looked up at samantha.
"no. if someone wants to talk to me, fine. but i didn't see anything."
irena looked down at the piece of paper. "i must say i don't understand you, samantha. first you go running to the police with a petition, now when they come to you you don't show any enthusiasm to help them at all."
"i didn't see anybody following me. what do you want me to do, make something up?"
"no,no, of course not."
"anything else? i don't want to get backed up."
"no, you can get back. and by the way, your work lately has been excellent, most excellent. i put that in my report."
"thank you." samantha went back to her table and switched it back on.
"what was that about?" roberta asked.
"somebody reported somebody following me." the packs of clearly wrapped sandwiches starting flowing past samantha. her job, and roberta's, was to watch them for any apparent imperfections, and if there were none, to grab a few at random and check them out. "if it was me, they're not sure. it must have been the night i took the petition over to george."
"following you? you think it was somebody from here?" roberta grabbed a sandwich in her clear-gloved hand, dexterously unwrapped it and flipped the bread back to show a perfectly synchronized pattern of pressed watercress and soybean spread. she rewrapped it with a flick of her wrist and put it back on the smoothly flowing conveyor belt.
"not likely. it probably wasn't even me. it was just my - my whereabouts," samantha grabbed a sandwich, unwrapped, inspected and rewrapped it even more quickly and gracefully than roberta had.
"sounds like too much coincidence to me. i bet somebody was following you from here."
"no, i don't think so. maybe i'm wrong, but i just don't think so."
the sandwiches didn't slow down. they lapsed into silence.
because of the number of anonymous tips, uniformed patrols, instead of the overworked detectives, were sometimes dispatched to take first statements on low priority or unconfirmed cases. tammy lee and the torque man were on their way back to the area where they had lost edwin and let crispus go, when a couple of such requests began coming in on their dashboard. the torque man waited until they were finished and printed them off.
"preliminary statements?" tammy lee asked him.
"yes, and they look like a whole lot of nothing. they are over seventy-two hours old, both of them." he looked at the printout disgustedly.
"i don't want to try to blow them off," tammy lee said. "not on my first week as corporal."
"oh, i wasn't suggesting that. it just throws our timing off a little, that's all."
"want to look for our guy first, then come back and do these?"
"no. these are only a little off our route. let's get them over with."
"roger that. what's the directions?"
the torque man read them off. tammy lee took the next left and sped up a long clear industrial boulevard, resisting the urge to turn on the siren.
"a billion reports in the big universe," the torque man intoned.
"i hope we are not inconveniencing you," the torque man told irena.
"not at all, officer. the young woman is right over there. i asked her about the report myself, she says she knows nothing. but perhaps you can get more - "
"that sounds good to us," the torque man interrupted her.
"yes," tammy lee added. "we are looking for a clear resolution of this matter."
"i understand. i will get samantha now." irena scurried off onto the floor.
tammy lee looked around the premises of the universal northern and southern hemisphere soybean sandwich company and shuddered. she resolved to apply herself even more diligently to advancing her career in the police.
"cold in here?" the torque man asked.
irena came back with samantha.
tammy lee took a pencil and a very small notebook out of her pocket. "your supervisor tells us you saw nothing on the night in question - is that correct?"
"good." tammy made a check mark in the notebook and started to put it away.
"and you haven't had any other contact with law enforcement lately?" the torque man asked. this was a standard question.
"well?" tammy lee asked her. "have you?"
"um - not with the police directly. but i did help with a petition to the police - from a lot of us here at work - and i was bringing it to the human resources director."
"on the night of this reported incident?" the torque man asked.
"yes," said samantha. "i think so. i'm not sure."
"you're not sure? i'm not following this," said tammy lee.
the torque man looked at tammy and spread his hands apologetically. "let's just get a complete statement. we're not detectives," he explained to samantha and irena. "all we can do is take a statement. we would like it to be as clear as possible."
tammy put the little notebook away and took out a voice recorder. she glanced at a clock on the wall.