"i still think those guys were bank robbers," said leslie, as country girl got back in the van. "we should have at least asked for their i d." country girl didn't answer but pointed to the passenger seat to indicate to leslie that she should get in.
when leslie was seated, country girl pointed to the dashboard again to show she thought giselle was listening to them.
leslie shrugged and took out a fresh toothpick.
they got back down to the highway and headed left, to the waterfront. the limo and the major's pickup weren't that far ahead of them - the limo not wanting to lose the pickup - and country girl quickly caught them and passed them.
"they're in a hurry," said bates.
"so?' barras looked out the window. "they're on a mission. give them some credit."
"you inspired them, did you? put the spirit into them?"
"no, i was apologizing for your boorish behavior."
"i think they were in a hurry to get away from us."
jojo, in the front seat beside jerry, laughed at this.
"how are you doing up there, jojo?" bates asked.
"fine, charlie, this is very comfortable. i see traveling with you is traveling in style."
the road to the waterfront was empty, and country girl put the van in top speed.
leslie kept sticking her head out the window to see if the limo was behind them.
"use the rear viewer, there's one right in front of you."
"i don't trust it, it's not 100%." leslie looked out the window again.
they came to the crest of a hill and could see for miles - miles of emptiness. the sun was beginning to go down.
"this is ridiculous," said leslie. "there's nothing out here."
country girl just shrugged, and glanced at the dashboard again.
"there's something," said leslie. she shielded her eyes. a lone building stood back from the road about two miles off, with several vehicles including an air cab parked in front of it.
"it looks like a restaurant."
"whatever." country girl kept her eyes on the road.
"i'm hungry," said leslie. "we might have a long night ahead of us."
"i guess you should have had a big nutritious bowl of mush before you came to work."
"let's stop and get some sandwiches."
"they might not even make sandwiches."
''of course they will. come on, don't be mean."
country girl thought for a few seconds. "i'll tell you what. we'll stop for sandwiches if you'll drive after we get them."
"what's in that room?" annabelle asked the duc d'avignon as they walked down the upstairs corridor.
" that's the music room. it hasn't been used in years would you like to see it."
the duc bowed annabelle through the door and turned on the light. the room was empty except for a piano and its stool in the far corner.
annabelle looked around. "no dust," she noted.
"josephine is very thorough."
annabelle walked over to the piano and the duc followed.
"do you play?" annabelle asked.
"yes, but not this particular one lately." the duc struck a few keys.
"it sounds all right. would you like to hear something?" he sat down on the stool.
"that would be very nice."
"this is one of my own compositions." he began playing slowly and softly.
"i like it," annabelle told him. "it seems very - old world. i like that."
"not everybody does." the duc began playing just a little faster.
annabelle smiled politely and moved a little behind the piano. as she did he felt something under her feet, under the carpet.
"it's a matchbook," annabelle told tania.
"yes i know," tania told her, handing it back after glancing at it briefly.
"i'll take more of a look at when we get back to the office." she kept her eyes on the road. "it's not necessarily that old."
"it has a date on it."
"so it's before history was abolished - and that was just after the fairweather poker game."
"i'm sure jeanne - and charlotte - will be very impressed that you found something new after all this time."
annabelle turned the matchbook over in her fingers. it was mandarin red, with the word "forever" stamped on it in gold.
when opened, the matches were in the quiver of a flat little doll figure of a green-clad archer - robin hood?.
the back was also lettered in gold - "fine food and drink - while it lasts" annabelle read it off to tania. "you have to admit that sounds old."
"yes it does."
"the duc was very gracious about giving it up to me."
"do you think i should have it analyzed by our own people or by the tower?"
"our own people are very capable or charlotte wouldn't keep them. but it's your case."
"i'll give you any he[p you want but it's your case."
they were almost back at the office.
country girl pulled into the little parking lot of jasper's restaurant.
"you know," she said to leslie, "this is probably where our friends are headed. where else would they be going?'
"let's make it quick." they both got out and entered the restaurant.
"good afternoon, officers," a gnomelike woman in an apron greeted them inside the door. "we are always happy to see the police here. " she looked sharply at country girl. "our most regular clients are with the police. although,we don't see too many uniformed officers."
we'd just like some sandwiches."
"i'd like - ," leslie began.
"we'd like whatever you can make the fastest." country girl interrupted her. she emptied her pockets of coins and gave them to the woman. "three sandwiches. we're in a bit of a hurry."
"very good. i'll have my husband make them right up." the woman gave them a big smile and hurried off.
"'husband?" leslie whispered. they both peered into the interior of the restaurant but it contained only large booths that made the occupants invisible.
"still think those guys were bank robbers?" country girl whispered back. "this looks like a hangout for some big people. this has got to be where they're coming."
leslie nodded. "how come three sandwiches?"
"one for you, one for me, one for you if you get hungry again."
"madam corporal, maybe you're not such an awful person after all."
"i just don't want to listen to you."
"whatever. you're a good sib."
they waited a few minutes. the woman came back with the sandwiches in a bag.
"thank you," said country girl. "that was quick."
they heard a couple of vehicles entering the parking lot, the first almost imperceptible, the second with a bang.
"these birds of ill omen are following us," bates said.
"i don't think so." barras answered. he looked out the window.
beyond the parking lot and the restaurant nothing could be seen but marsh. "the track was bleak but this is really bleak."
"they're agents of madame defarge, cleverly disguised as a couple of slack sweepers."
"even if they are, so what? let's get out and eat."
"what do you think, jojo?' bates asked. "you've got a sense for these things. what do you think these ladies are?"
"i'm with him, i think we should get out and eat.''
country girl and leslie emerged from the restaurant and headed for their van without looking at the limo. country girl got in the passenger side with the bag of sandwiches and leslie got behind the wheel.
leslie started the van up and exited too quickly and skidded, almost scraping major mudd's pickup and just missing one of the two posts marking the entrance to the lot.
major mudd, captain dave deadman, and the two jockeys and two stable boys all scrambled out of the truck.
"did you see that?" bates followed the van with his eyes as leslie headed for the waterfront.
barras laughed. "think they weren't afraid of us?"
"mandatory driver training for all troops - tomorrow." bates got out of the limo, and the others followed.
"sorry about that," said leslie. "i'll be all right. those guys made me nervous,"
"don't worry about it. they made me nervous too." country girl took a sandwich out of the bag and handed it to leslie.
larry pulled up in front of sally's building.
"do you want me to pick you up tomorrow. or the next day?"
"tomorrow. let's get it over with." sally didn't get out of the car. "will you get me something to eat again?"
"of course. it's what i'm here for."