Saturday, November 14, 2009

the seventeenth letter, part 10

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

after staying behind for a few words with madame defarge and mrs roosevelt, barras and bates got on the elevator and made their way down to the security and population offices. neither of them spoke.
the first thing they saw when they went in was a robot snoozing in a chair outside barras' office.

"hey," said bates, "who gets jerry?"
"i think he goes with the office. so you get him."
"well ... if you want him ..."
barras shrugged. they entered his office.

barras hesitated before his desk.
'i guess this is yours, now."
"oh, go ahead and sit down." bates went over and looked out the window. "who knows how long it will be mine?"
'i don't feel like talking about it right now" said barras, still hesitating.
there was a soft knock on the door. mrs rue, a human female who had been deputy assistant for population, stuck her head in.

"ah, mrs rue, have you heard the news?"
'yes. new offices for population are already available on flood c."
"fine. you and everybody who worked on population exclusively can move down at your leisure, then take the rest of the day off."
"and the others?"
"mr bates and i will decide tomorrow who stays here and who goes to floor c. they can all have the rest of the day off, too. let them all know, if you'd be so kind."

"are you sure?"
"quite sure."
"thank you, monsieur." she closed the door behind her.
"you know what i feel like doing?" barras asked bates.
"going to the track."
bates laughed. "the track! is it still there?"
"i think so. we can drive out and find out. "i'll wake jerry up, have him get a car and he can drive us out there."

"all right." bates nodded. "and we can ask him who he wants to stay with."
"i wouldn't do that. it would just embarrass him. you know how sensitive he is."

larry parked across from the restaurant at the waterfront.

he got out and looked out at the waves gently washing the shore. "ever been here before?" he asked sally.

"no." she got out too.
"a lot of people never have. they think it's dangerous. but it isn't. nothing is dangerous any more."
"you never know," sally answered.
larry looked at her across the hood off the car. "you're not nervous, are you?"
"good. let's go inside."

jerry pulled into the parking lot at the track.

there were only two other cars in the lot, along with a few police vans. bates pointed to them.
"do you believe these layabouts?" he asked barras.
"you're the director of security, not me. i'm in population."

"but i'm just temporary. maybe these guys are just parked here temporarily."
"doesn't look too busy."

"no, but i hear something."
"the roar of the crowd."
they got out.
"you want to come in?" bates asked jerry.
"no thank you.'
"you are certainly welcome.'
"i'll finish my nap that you interrupted."
barras and bates headed for the gate.

"look." said bates, "some things don't change."
"it's major mudd, still at the old stand."

a weatherbeaten human wearing an apron, with an old-fashioned soft cap pulled down over his face, was selling the racing form beside the front gate.
"hey major ,remember us?"
major mudd looked at them blankly for a second. but the sight of bates pinned up sleeve seemed to wake him up.
"of course, the one-armed bandit - from the good old days! you're looking good, sib, like you been prospering."
"i have been - up to now anyway."
"up to now?'
"you don't want to hear my troubles - they may only be temporary anyway.'
major mudd turned to barras. "and you sir, i remember you, you were a duke or a marquis or something."

"just a viscount." barras was looking around the bleak landscape. old racing forms and other debris were blowing in the stiff breeze.
'well we're here," said bates, "what's the form go for these days?"
"whatever you think it's worth," major mudd answered a little defensively.

bates took some coins out of his pocket and dropped them into the pocket of the major's apron, then flicked a form out of his hand. ''gosh, it's a little thin, innit?"
"gentlemen, the sport of kings isn't what it was."
"what is?" barras asked. "is the comte de greffulhe still around?'
"oh no, he hasn't been heard of for a while.'
"how about the duc d'orleans? does he still own the place?"
"no, sir , he does not."
barras smiled at the major. "who does, then?"
"i do."

st james the bus boy was sitting on the front steps and gave larry a startled nod of recognition. larry nodded back and went into the restaurant with sally behind him.
it was empty.

no diners were at any of the six tables and there was no waiter in sight.
"anybody home?" larry called, and a waiter came out of the kitchen.
"d'annunzio - what's up, sib?"
the waiter gaped at him. "larry! what brings you here?" he looked quizzically at sally and quickly turned his attention back to larry.

"it's still a restaurant, isn't it? we want to order. is this table o k?"
"of course, of course. you look good, larry. still on the police?"
larry sat down at the nearest table and motioned to sally to join him.

"i'm not here on police business, al, this young lady and i just want something to eat."
"do you still have the seafood special?" sally asked.
"the seafood special! " d'annunzio looked imploringly at larry. "we might be able to come up with a seafood special - if you gave us a few days."

larry laughed. 'that's o k, i don't have a few days."
"maybe we could come back," sally said. "give him his few days."
"i don't think so."
"but you said -"
larry held his hand up. "maybe. maybe. we can discuss it on the way back." he turned back to d'annunzio. "the place is still open, you must have something for us."
"we have some nice sandwiches."

"sandwiches!" sally exclaimed.
"you mean the same sandwiches we can get anywhere?" larry added.
"no, no, we try to make them special. sancho does a great job. he may not have the wherewithal, but his heart is still in it."
"what's the problem with the seafood special?" sally asked. "the sea is right outside, isn't there any food in it?"

"he doesn't have to answer that," larry told her. "you don't have to answer that. al."
"i was just asking a question."
'just get the sandwiches. al. we don't need a menu, whatever you think is really special. and whatever you have to drink."
"we came all the way out here for sandwiches?," sally persisted.

"maybe the young lady would like two sandwiches," d'annunzio asked her. "for the price of one?"
"two sandwiches? do i look like a pig to you?"
"i didn't mean it that way -"
"you can wrap one up and i'll take it home."
"excellent. i'll be right back." d'annunzio retreated to the kitchen.
"a little rough there." larry looked over at sally.

"sally looked down. 'i'm sorry. i didn't mean to sound rude. i'm not used to a fancy place like this."
"don't worry about it. he must be glad to have the business."

d'annunzio came back. "sancho is right on it. they'll be good, i promise."
"i don't see mr wallace," said larry. "is he on nights?"
"no, he's long gone. there's nobody left but sancho, st james, and me. i own the place now."
"does the old crowd still come in at night?"

"not much. a little. they keep us going - almost. but you know what killed us?"
"the lawyers. lawyers were our best business, day after day. when they sent all the lawyers to jupiter, that was the end."

the seventeenth letter, part 11

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