"i have some wonderful news" elizabeth announced, when the crew at universal upkeep underwriters came back from their afternoon break. "the agency has sent a replacement for sally. wasn't that quick? we should all be very grateful."
"we are," said edna. no one else spoke.
a somewhat vacant eyed woman with orangey-red hair was standing beside elizabeth. she wore an old fashioned low cut dress and eyed her new coworkers a little nervously.
"this is rhoda," said elizabeth. "she is very experienced according to the agency - isn't that right, rhoda?"
"i - i've never done vacuum cleaners or garbage disposals before but i have done burglar alarms - they had up to thirty characters."
"i am sure you will do very well," elizabeth told her. "there is only one problem. here at uuu we observe the dress codes very strictly - " - a murmur from some of the humans - "and that dress simply will not do. i will let it go for the rest of the day but i expect to see something more appropriate tomorrow."
"but i won't get paid for a couple of days," rhoda answered. "i will have to wait until then to buy some new ones,"
"i see." elizabeth thought for a moment. "nancy, you are about the same size as rhoda. maybe you could lend or give her one of your outfits."
"what!! no way! what am i, the united charities of the universe? i work for everything i get! nobody gives me anything."
"oh, give her one," said loulou. "i'll tell you what, give her a dress and i'll give you a makeup kit i got for being on a show. i got a few saved up."
"hah!" said nancy. "something you don't even want."
"no, these are good," loulou told her. " everyone who goes on a show gets one, even if you finish last. they're better than anything you can get in a store. you'll like it."
you'll be cool," ida put in. "you can get one of those men you know all about from watching shows."
"who asked you anything?" nancy shot back.
"it sounds like a very good plan," said elizabeth. "thank you, loulou." she raised her voice a notch. "it would be very much appreciated, nancy, if you would go along with it."
"oh, all right."
"that is settled then. now, let's get back to work. we are running a little late and production was a little low this morning."
"do you have all the paperwork?" charlotte asked jeanne.
"yes, right here."
"then let's get going."
robespierre appeared from the door once again. he was carrying an overnight bag. he held the door open and charlotte and jeanne got up from their seats. jeanne went through the door and charlotte started after. she turned back to sally.
"staying the night here?"
sally got up from the chair and headed for the door.
'"don't forget your sandwich," said charlotte. it was still on the corner of the desk.
sally picked it up and followed charlotte into the room. it was small and bare except for a folding chair. charlotte went through another door on the other side and sally followed. jeanne and robespierre fell in behind her. they were now in a long narrow corridor with elevator doors at the far end.
charlotte tapped the wall lightly with her knuckle. "magician-proof. you could turn yourself into an amoeba and you couldn't go anywhere."
"i'm not a magician," sally answered.
"so you say."
the elevator doors opened as they approached and they got on it. robespierre pushed a button and the doors closed and they started to descend. there were no floor or other indicators and they descended for a while.
up to this point sally hadn't seen any guards or robots. when the elevator finally stopped and they got off she saw twenty robots with batons lined up in front of a long windowless van in the center of a large brightly lit garage. a couple of smaller vans were parked to the side of it, with teams of two officers each lounging beside them.
sally stopped and stared, still clutching her sandwich.
robespierre looked over at her and winked. "you must be one dangerous human."
"don't talk to her," jeanne told him.
"just carry her bag," charlotte added.
there were three comfortable chairs around a small table in the center of the van's interior. charlotte motioned to sally to take one and she and jeanne took the other two. benches lined both walls and robespierre took a seat on one along with the twenty robots.
the van began to move, almost imperceptibly.
"is this magician-proof too?" sally asked.
"i thought you weren't a magician," charlotte answered.
they were silent for a while.
"'is this moving?" sally asked.
"it's moving," jeanne told her. "it's just a real smooth ride."
sally nodded. she started to unwrap the sandwich.
dusk was settling over the city. lulu and loulou had started walking home from uuu.
the streets weren't too crowded. only a few robots were on patrol, watching for excessive or irregular contact.
loulou reached into her pocket for the coin applesauce had dropped earlier. she started flipping it into the air and catching it. they passed a robot who noticed her, hesitated, but said nothing as they moved along.
"what do you think of the new lady?" lulu asked.
"she looks like a real goof," loulou answered.
"that was nice, what you did about her dress."
"nobody's nicer than me, sweetie, when i want to be."
"that sally never said two words the whole time she was there."
"she talked to bessie sometimes."
"you mean bessie talked to her. "
"yeah." loulou almost missed catching the coin but recovered.
"she was the last person i ever thought would get arrested."
"it just goes to show you."
"sometimes i get scared."
"don't." loulou finally missed catching the coin. it rolled on the sidewalk a bit and lulu picked it up and looked at it.
"this coin looks really mystical. i bet madame could tell you a lot from it."
loulou just laughed as she took the coin back.
"seriously.' said lulu. "why don't you come with me to madame's tonight? she might have some really interesting things to say about it."
loulou hesitated. "sure, why not? i got nothing better to do tonight." she started flipping the coin again. "i was going to rehearse with gloria but she's disappeared."
"was she arrested?"
"that's so awful." lulu shook her head.
" i'll meet you by the level 22 station at nine, ok?""
"great." lulu beamed. "you'll like madame. and i know she'll like you."