"what was that all about?" country girl asked swan, when she returned to the vans. olivia and her friends had disappeared.
"nothing, " swan answered, but country girl could see that she was agitated and furious. "the little one had connections, they checked out. they seemed to check out."
"come on," said schweik . "it was good. and very high connections," he added to country girl.
country girl wasn't really interested. she fought down a yawn. "well, you can't arrest them all," she said to swan.
"i would have liked to arrest that one."
"well, what do you think, we might as well go back."
"i guess," swan answered. "but i'm going back slow, as long as i got room for a few more."
'i'm going to make a little detour," country girl told her. "we'll see you back there."
both vans were already locked up with their prisoners in them. swan and schweik got in theirs and drove off slowly.
country girl turned to her new partner for the night, buddy.
"i'm going to go a little out of our way, all right?"
"no problem." buddy was a robot she had picked up at a recycling and retraining center on the way over to the 91st, where the little bit of trouble had turned out to be very little, just a couple of preachers shouting at each other. but they had rounded up what they could.
"we are going to cut through the tunnel, over to level 15. i just have to leave somebody a note, then we'll come right back."
"fine. drive all around all night, if you want." buddy slouched down in his seat, not an easy thing for a robot to do. he was a midsized model, and not very old or very new.
there was an entrance to the tunnels a few blocks down. the tunnels were strictly for the police and never very crowded. country girl found the one she wanted and when she entered it put the van at maximum speed. they flew through the perfectly straight dimly lit tunnel barely touching the surface.
"i guess you're in more of a hurry than you let on." buddy said.
"you ok with it?"
"i think this is fun."
"good." country girl kept her eyes straight ahead but didn't slow down. "you know, buddy, you're a lot easier to get along with than my previous partner."
"what happened to him?"
"he moved on."
"he was marked for better things, you know. just passing through the lower ranks."
buddy nodded. "this is nice, just being out like this. i just hope i get a regular posting soon. hanging around the retraining center gets pretty tedious."
"well i wish you well, sib."
"can you put in a good word for me?"
country girl laughed. "i can tell lorna you did a good job tonight. other than that - i'm not in the highest favor, so i might do you more harm than good."
some of the prisoners in the back of the van started slamming against the partition. "slow down! slow down!"
"calm down, we're almost there."
country girl slowed down, but almost not enough. she barely missed the wall as she took the curve for the exit to level 15.
"still having fun?" she asked buddy.
" i thought i was headed back to recycling."
"sorry, sib, i didn't mean to make light of your situation."
"we're not having any fun!' a voice came from the back.
"you're not back there to have fun!" the van approached sally's building and country girl pulled to a stop.
she looked up to the 51st floor - she had hoped that sally would still be awake and that she would see a light but the only light in the whole building was on the twenty-first floor.
"wait here," she told buddy. "i'll be right back."
as she approached the building the prisoners started their banging again. "what's going on here? where are we?"
"calm down, gentlemen and ladies," buddy answered without turning around. "you'll all be on jupiter soon enough."
as country girl expected, the front door of the building was unlocked.
she looked at the mailboxes. there seemed to be four for the 51st floor - 510, 511, 512 and 513. 510, 512 and 513 looked rusted and dusty - 511 must be sally's.
"i should have been a detective," she said aloud. she took a small notepad and pencil out of her pocket.
sally, she wrote, they made me stay late. i might not be able to meet you in the morning. if i am not there, please please meet me in front of this building the next day at seven. she signed it "cg". she hesitated in front of the mailbox. would sally even look at it in the morning?
she got in the elevator - it was barely lit. she pressed the button for 51. the elevator rose creakily as far as the twelfth floor and stopped. she pressed 51 a couple of times and nothing happened.
''jumping jehosophat." but the emergency button opened the door and she was able to step out. the hall was unlit . "now what?" she said aloud.
there was a stairwell. she went over at looked up it. she could make out a thin figure sleeping in the landing halfway up. she gripped the railing and moved up to it.
"huck. wake up." she prodded the sleeping figure with her foot. she recognized it as huckaback the sailor, a hybrid creature halfway between a lowlife and a ragamuffin. he claimed to have been alive for thousands of years and to have sailed the seven galaxies and the seventeen seas.
huckaback opened his eyes and propped himself up. "oh no. i was having a bad dream, and i wake up and look at you."
"come on, huck, what have i ever done to you? you're still a free creature, running wild, aren't you?"
huck sat up completely. "what do you want from me?"
country girl showed him the note she had written. "just take this up to the 51st floor and put it under the door of room 511."
"is the elevator broken again?'
"of course it's broken - why else would i pay you to take it up?"
"pay?" he held his hand out.
"i had to use up all my coin earlier tonight. i'll pay you tomorrow ."
"look, read the note. i'll be here tomorrow at eight, that's what the note is about. just be here and i'll treat you right."
huck took the note from her uncertainly. 'the 51st floor?"
"come on, sib, you're huckaback the sailor, a sturdy jack tar. it'll be as easy as running up the topsail or whatever."
"you must be up to no good."
she stared at him. "listen, i've got a van load of bozos waiting for me downstairs. you think i can't just drag you down and throw you in with them? just do this."
huck stood up. "'what choice do i have?"
"great. "i'll see you at eight o'clock." country girl went back down to the twelfth floor, briefly looked at the elevator, and then raced down the twelve flights of stairs to the street.
"what! what! she's taking a detour! a detour!" lorna shouted in swan's face. "does this creature have absolutely no shame!"
"hey, i'm just telling you what she said. she's a corporal, i'm a corporal, you didn't put me in charge of her."
"you're right.' lorna got hold of herself. "i'm sorry if i shouted at you, it's not your fault."
swan and schweik stood and stared at lorna. they hoped she might let them off early, as they had returned from an assignment and didn't have that much time left on their extended shift.
"what are you waiting for? carry on, corporal."
"yes, sergeant." they returned to the benches.