Friday, October 9, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 30

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

swan and schweik wasted no time getting out of the station when their overtime ended. it was still dark. they crossed the street to the stop for the police shuttle buses. swan would get one in fifteen minutes going south, schweik in twenty minutes going east.
"i got a plan," said swan.
"a plan?"
"maybe not a plan exactly, something i just want to do,"

schweik nodded.
"that little ragamuffin girl, the one with the coin."
"you still thinking about that? forget it, just be glad the night is over." schweik looked around. "almost over." it was possible, though not likely, that they would be summoned from the stop before their buses came.
"it just didn't feel right to me," swan went on. "so here's what i want to do. when we're on the daybreak shift tomorrow, i want to go over to the towers."
"and do what?"
"just wait and see if our little friend shows up."

"you're going to stake out the towers?" schweik started to laugh. " you don't think somebody might ask you what you're doing?"
"i can think up a good story, we've got over twenty-four hours."
" don't they have more than one door? how do you know you'll be at the right one? or what her shift is? and if you don't see her, what does that prove?" schweik shook his head. "no offense, but you're not thinking this through."
"have you ever been to the towers?" swan asked.

"i was sent over there with a message once. it's looks pretty casual, you'd be surprised."
"looks casual is probably right."
"i want to do this. i've got a feeling about it. i can go by myself, you don't have to come with me."
"no, i'll go with you."
"thanks. sib. you're the sib."
they looked around to make sure no one was looking, and bumped fists.

they settled back to wait for their shuttles.
"check this out," said swan. "look at these rubes from rubesville."
imelda, way the witch and cool the troll were walking up the dark street between the station and the shuttle stop, on the other side from swan and schweik.

'hey, citizens! good people!" swan called to them, but not loudly, as they came level to them.
imelda and her companions looked over at her.
"come here." swan waved at them. "come here."
"don't you know where you are?" she asked when they approached.

'no," way answered. "where are we?"
"that's a police station - a police dispatch station - right over there. not the safest place to be around, especially at this time of night."
way stared at her without answering. imelda and cool also remained silent.
"you know," said swan. "some zealous off duty officers - not us - might see you and run you right over to the station."
"what for?" asked way.

"what do you mean, what for? just cuz, cuz." swan noticed imelda . "what are you, a nurse? "
"no, i'm an intern" imelda stammered, 'i mean, i was an intern. i mean, i mean -"
"relax," said swan. "i'm not going to kiss you."
"well," schweik said, pleasantly, "you've had your word to the wise. have a nice walk."

"thank you," said way. they moved off.
"i don't think they were as dumb as they looked," schweik said.

"are you kidding? the one in the nurse uniform could hardly talk."
'the nurse maybe, not the other two."
"here comes your bus, a little early."

"great." swan stood up. "see you.'
"see you."
the bus pulled up and swan got on it, without looking at or speaking to the robot driving it. thirteen officers from other stations, mostly human, were scattered through the sixty seats.
she took a seat near the front.

as the bus pulled away and picked up speed she saw the three rubes walking along. the woman who had spoken to her was holding forth and gesticulating to the little man and the nurse.

"did you hear her?" way asked. "'just cuz, cuz.' this new universe is getting worse everyday. maybe we should go back to the old one."
"there's no going back," cool answered.
"are we almost there?" imelda asked. she was exhausted. "i'm sorry i was so nervous back there, it might have got us all in trouble."
"don't worry about it," way told her. "we're getting there."

swan got off the shuttle in front of her apartment building she waited in the lobby for a couple of minutes, then went back out in the street. she walked eight blocks in the direction away from the bus route.

she came to a little sandwich and drinks shop, like a billion others, but even smaller than most. she knocked on the door, loudly enough to be heard in a back room.

mother boar looked up. "why don't you see who that is?" she asked ida.
"you're closed," ida answered.
"do me a favor, please, and see who it is."
ida went out front and looked through the smoky window. "it's the copper - jess's friend," she called back in a muted voice.

"who else?'" mother boar rolled her eyes at bessie and rhoda. they were sitting on rickety little folding chairs in a back room twice the size of the front of the shop. empty chairs were scattered around the room. "let her in."
ida unlocked the door and opened it.
'hello," swan said.
"hello," ida answered after a pause.

swan walked past her to the drinks refrigerator. she took a lime and orange drink out of it, then took two coins of her pocket and put them on the front counter.
mother boar had come out of the back room and she palmed the coins without looking at them.
swan went to the door of the back room and looked in. "i see the show's over.'
"show?" said mother boar . "what show?"

"come on," swan said, "you know if i was going to bust you there's nothing you could do anyway. so relax." she took a sip of the drink and looked around. she recognized bessie and ida, but not rhoda. rhoda was still wearing her old fashioned low cut dress.
"nice dress," swan told her.

"i'm getting a new one tomorrow," rhoda answered quickly.
"sorry, i didn't mean to be sarcastic." swan looked around the room. "jess isn't here?"
"you don't see her, do you?" mother boar asked.
"anything else we can do for you?"
swan hesitated. "do you have a picture of jess?"
"what? a picture? for what? to put up on the police station wall?"

"no, of course not." swan looked around at all of them. 'i want to put it under my pillow at night." rhoda looked shocked but the others just stared at her.
"pillow?" asked ida, " you can fit a pillow under a rock?" mother boar gave her a shut up look.
"maybe," said bessie, "the next time you see jess you can ask her for one yourself."

"so you don't have any pictures of her?"
"when's the next show?'
"please. there's no point in these games. when's the next show?"
"i don' t know about any show," bessie said. "nobody here has a license for such a thing. but some fr - some citizens might be getting together next thursday to sing some old songs. notice i say might."
"thank you," swan answered. she turned and left without looking at any of them.

"a sad case," bessie said, when they heard the front door close. rhoda still looked shocked but ida and mother boar burst out laughing.
"you'd feel sorry for a rattlesnake if it bit you and hurt its tooth," ida told bessie.

swan stood outside with the lime and orange drink in her hand. the sky was beginning to lighten.

the sixteenth letter, part 31

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