when country girl and leslie got back outside the store they found a tall young woman standing beside the van. she looked up brightly as they approached.
"excuse me, officers, but could you give me a ride? your truck seems to be pointed in the direction i'm headed."
country girl and leslie stood stupefied for a couple of seconds. finally country girl said "excuse us for a minute." she nodded to leslie and they went back into the doorway of the store.
"they're coming back!" edwin croaked.
"maybe. don't panic," connie told him.
"did she just step out of a time machine?" leslie asked country girl.
"i can't even remember when police gave rides to citizens. or citizens asked for them."
"no, this has got to be the setup. what are we going to do?"
"you mean what are you going to do, corporal?"
country girl looked back at the young woman, who was still standing beside the van, smiling placidly. country girl walked back to her.
"do you have a name and number, miss?"
"of course. my name is belinda barber, my number is 88H-8y643-906jy7-005444."
"and you want a ride?"
"if you are going in my direction."
"well, let me guess, belinda, you are going to the waterfront."
"oh no. i was going to the colosseum."
leslie had rejoined them. "we could take you as far as the racetrack," she said. 'if we decide to take you."
leslie and country girl huddled again, this time in the direction away from the store.
"are they finally gone?" edwin asked connie. "why don't you go outside and see?'
"no, you don't want to look curious. they'll either come back or they won't."
the door to the storeroom opened behind them and bonnie came out, yawning.
"who's that girl they're talking to?" she asked connie. "do you know? rosa lee thinks she looks familiar."
connie crept up to the window. bonnie gave her a boost and she and looked out the corner of it.
"charlotte or tania would never let me hear the end of it if they knew what i'm going to tell you," larry told sally. "but i have a theory."
"did you ever hear of the dreamer?'
"lots of people dream. i'm not one of them.'
"well that's interesting, because one of the things i heard about the dreamer is that she thinks she never dreams.
so." larry looked directly at sally, "maybe you are the dreamer after all."
"if you don't mind my saying so, you aren't exactly making yourself very clear." sally kicked at some sand.
"i had a partner when i first joined the police," larry said. "the one i drove around in a green van with. she knew all these what were called urban myths - stuff that people believed but everybody thought were too stupid to be written down - so nobody knew where they came from."
sally laughed. "so when you weren't throwing people into the van, that's what you did - talked about stupid stuff? stuff so stupid nobody wanted to take credit for it?"
"it was quieter back then - they didn't have all these sweeps. we went a whole week once and only arrested four people."
"and you could get the seafood special."
"that's right - you could still get the seafood special."
"sounds like the good old days," tania said.
"indeed they were," monsieur forge replied, setting his teacup down. "none better."
tania looked down at her own teacup. she was determined to be polite and not say anything that might seem to be embarrassing or cutting to annabelle in front of the two old noblemen, but she was having a hard time. and a hard time keeping her eyes open.
annabelle, meanwhile, seemed entranced by everything she saw and by everything the duc d'avignon was saying.
"the portrait of the second duc by aristide moreau the elder? that's one i still have - for a little while longer. would you like to see it?"
"if you don't mind," annabelle answered.
"not at all. if you'll excuse us?" the duc and annabelle rose and moved toward the hall and staircase, leaving tania alone with m forge.
m forge shook his head. "if you ask me, the worst aspect of the whole unfortunate fairweather affair was that it put the great game of poker in such an unfavorable light." he thrust his chin forward. "i say that - i."
tania nodded. "indeed, monsieur." m forge had held the title of duc d'otrante before losing it to the artful dodger in a poker game at the headquarters of the now defunct blue political party,
"did you ever play, miss?"
"no. i never cared for games."
'no? but surely - "
"there was no avoiding them - then."
"so you see. you could be the dreamer."
"we'll take her as far as the racetrack," said country girl. "we'll ask her questions on the way. questions that might be wired. take it from there. sound good?"
leslie nodded. "sure. but who's the we who's going to ask the questions? we can't all three sit up front."
"do you want to drive? ask her the questions? "
"are you kidding? you're the corporal, remember?"
"but i'm the one they're after. how much good can i do myself? you might score some points, if you ask good questions."
"i don't think so. i'll get in back, get some more sleep."
leslie smiled and stuck her toothpick back in her mouth.
"all right. maybe on the way back, you can drive, and i can get some sleep. o k? we might have a long night ahead of us."
"maybe. i'll think about it. that's if we even get to go back."
"let's go down to the stables," said bates. "the major said we could."
barras grimaced. "do you really want to?"
"why not? we'll probably never come back here again. we might as well do the whole routine."
"all right. where are the stables?"
"that looks like them over there. see them?"
barras squinted. "just barely."
"they've only got four or five horses - if that. how big would they be?"
"all right, let's go check out these magnificent beasts."
"and then make some good professional picks."
"so, belinda," said country girl. "you must have had some pretty positive experiences with the police so be asking them for rides."
belinda looked out the window. "i haven't had any negative experiences. i think i was on the police myself once."
"do tell. you think you were on the police?"
"yes, but might i have been dreaming. i find it so hard to tell dream from reality sometimes."
"i see. by the way, my partner and myself are a tiny bit behind schedule, so after we pass this next intersection, we are going to start going real fast. i hope you don't mind."
"no, not at all. go as fast as you like. i like fast."
they passed the intersection and mostly left buildings behind. they were on a long stretch of semi-abandoned highway that curved in a uniform way like an enormous racetrack. country girl got one lane over from the inside track and pushed up the van's speed.
"is this fast enough?"
"i guess. you're making good time here, but it is just a police van."
belinda stuck her head halfway out the window. "it looks like a big racetrack. it looks familiar."
" so were you a race car driver in your dreams besides being on the police in your dreams?"
"yes, i might have been."
sally shook her head. "that's the most ridiculous thing i ever heard."
"maybe. but it's an explanation. the only one i can think of. something or somebody is very afraid something is going to happen to you."
"then why don't they lock me up in a cell, or a castle, instead of letting me run around loose - and have to feed myself?"
larry looked out at the water. "that's a good question. let me think about it."
"you think too much."