by the time country girl got back from the assignment in the 100th district, helped bring the prisoners in, and changed out of her uniform, she had less than six hours left until her next shift. at least lorna was gone - the new desk sergeant was sergeant fred, a human timeserver who simply noted her overtime, asked no questions about the prisoners or anything else, and let her go.
as she came out the side door and headed for the shuttle stop the first thing she saw was lorna, waiting at the stop - for what? for her?
country girl looked around.. elephant girl, still on duty and in uniform, was cleaning the windshield of a small ground courier vehicle. she walked over to her.
"you headed out somewhere?"
"yeah." elephant girl didn't look up from the now spotless windshield.
"where do you want to go?"
"south. it's where i live. i only got six hours before i come back and my bus isn't due for forty minutes."
"and you don't want to go sit beside lorna."
"what do i care about lorna? i don't have to talk to lorna. do you talk to everybody at a bus stop when you're waiting?"
elephant girl started polishing the vehicle's fender with her rag. "it depends. besides, i don't always take the bus - sometimes i get to take vicki here - " she indicated the vehicle - "home with me."
"how nice for you. are you going south or not?"
"i could swing south. but south is a lot of territory." elephant girl glanced over her shoulder at lorna sitting at the bus stop.
"l live in level 27. do you want to give me a ride or not?"
"you mean, do i want to be seen giving a ride to a depraved murderer?"
"what!" country girl threw up her hands. " what's this murderer stuff? i didn't hear any of that when we were out in the 100th and i was being your sib and mentoring you - showing you how things were done."
"yeah, how to make stuff up about poor slobs."
"hey, that's police work 101, sweetie. and it wasn't my idea to do a building search, was it? and i was doing the poor slob a favor, getting him sent to an interrogation center."
"i hear they do terrible things in those places."
"not if you've got half a brain cell and just confess to everything. what do you care anyway? and by the way, i didn't murder pinky, would i be standing here if i did?"
elephant girl snickered and started on the door handle with her rag.
"are you going to give me a ride? i'm not going to stand here all day."
"go over to the stop. lorna's bus is almost here. when she gets on it, come back here and i'll give you your ride."
country girl shook her head. "won't that look kind of strange?"
"to who? fred? fred wouldn't notice a train if it ran over his toes."
"all right. thank you."
charlotte had a pad of paper in front of her and scribbled on it as larry told her his story.
when he was finished, she handed him the pad. there were no words on it, just pictures of various animals. he looked at it a little blankly.
"i'm not really up on my animals, that looks like a wolf, this looks like what, another wolf - "
"it's a hyena." she took the pad back out of his hand and started drawing on it again.
"more to the point, it's what i am surrounded by." she scribbled harder. "first the dodger, now hopkins, maybe mrs roosevelt herself. what's a poor crusader for justice to do?"
larry didn't try to answer.
"why don't you tell me what happened again. now that i've calmed down a little."
larry repeated his story. when he got to the part about hopkins asking him to renounce charlotte three times, charlotte started to laugh and larry laughed with her.
charlotte shook her head. "well at least we know what an idiot he is. i didn't know he was into all that john the baptist seventh moon in the twelfth heaven darwinist stuff."
"maybe he just thought i might be."
"good point. very good point." she stared at him. larry could feel her eyes on him although he could hardly see them from under her big hat. "so you're ready to cross hopkins and mrs roosevelt for me?"
"sure, why not?"
"i appreciate it. i really do." she started doodling again. "and how about you, cowboy? is there anything i can do for you?"
"lets hear it."
"when i was talking to hopkins, he kept asking why i didn't have an - operation.
i - um - don't feel ready for it yet."
'i'd like it postponed - indefinitely."
'cool. it's done." she looked up at him. "set your mind at rest.''
larry smiled a little and relaxed in his chair. "now what? should i pretend to go along with hopkins?"
"let me think about it, i'll let you know. you ready to go to work? i heard you tell jeanne you got some sleep on the trip back."
"i'd like to go home and change."
"is that all? jeanne or robespierre can find you something to wear and you can change here. other than that , you ready to go?"
"good, because we have plenty to do." charlotte got up and went outside her office. she talked to jeanne in a low voice for a few minutes, then came back and shut the door behind her.
she took a fresh pad of paper out of desk and made a quick little drawing on it. she showed it to larry.
"it's johnson - the little 1H woman, that's getting the letters." he thought for a second. "all our troubles started when she showed up. we had a good game until she came along."
"you don't know the half of it. before i go any further - you and tania are going to be working her case full time - all day, every day and nothing else."
"jeanne is getting you something to wear. after you change, i want you to go over to johnson's apartment."
"just look around, see what you can see. there might be nothing, but take a look."
"while we're waiting for jeanne, i'll fill you in."
larry parked a block and a half from sally's apartment. it was now almost fully light but the street was completely deserted. he hadn't noticed before just how quiet it was. the buildings were tall and not that shabby, but gave the impression of being almost empty.
a green police van came around a corner and he waved it over.
the driver was a small older model robot. a larger newer model with a corporal's decal sat beside him.
larry showed them his id. "you guys must be doing a great job here. is it always this quiet?'"
"just about," the corporal told him. "this has got to be the quietest street in the whole city, in the whole universe."
"you come around much?"
"not really. no need."
"cool. thanks." they drove off.
larry continued down to sally's building. he didn't see anything on the way.
he looked around and went into the lobby.
he checked sally's apartment number on a piece of paper he had in his pocket, and then checked her mailbox.
there was a single piece of folded paper - not mail - in it. he unfolded it. it contained a single word: