jennifer had been annoyed, then frightened, and now she was both annoyed and frightened. surely she could find her way out of this maze of streets and alleys? she had done it a couple of times before, when she was out doing research, and one of these horrible "sweeps" had occurred.
but she had never been in one before that started so suddenly and lasted so long. and new police just seemed to keep on coming, blocking every escape route. was she going to have to talk her way out?
it was all carlo's fault! she knew she should have found a new astrologer, but loyalty - a trait she prided herself on and valued in others - especially her billions of faithful readers - had clouded her judgment. nothing to worry about - all the houses of heaven in perfect order - thanks, carlo! she wouldn't feel the least pity for his humiliation at being dismissed. that's if she even got out of here.
what a fool she had been, carlo or no carlo! but she loved doing research, getting out and talking to her fans, now more than ever since her books had been banned and she had been virtually declared an outlaw by the horrible new government - did they even call it a government any more? - just some sort of awful "council" shrouded in secrecy.
as for inside information from, or appeals to this government or the police - ever since the freezing response with its implied threats from the monstrous mlle corday,
she had been afraid to approach even her dear friends the duchess of provence and the countess of albion, whose husbands in any case had long been out in the cold with no hope of getting back in.
as she darted across another alley she heard the same robot as before shouting something - at least he could be heard a mile away.
she peeked around a corner and saw that yet another of the dreadful green vans had arrived and the leatherlunged robot was talking to a couple of blue uniforms.
the robot strode away on his long legs and jennifer saw that not only were the two new police both human, but even better, they were both female! this is it, she thought, i won't get a better chance.
she took a deep breath and strode boldly out of the shadows.
artie had run out of the building as fast as he could as soon as the woman in the red coat had laid paulie out with one short punch that neither of them had seen coming.
was he dead? it had sounded like his neck snapped.
artie forced himself to stop and look back.
the woman in the red coat was walking off in the other direction at an unhurried pace.
artie looked back behind him and saw a street patrol robot approaching, twirling his baton.
"anything wrong, citizen? you look a bit perplexed." the robot was a very old model, rolling on wheels, but had an easy voice.
"it's my fr - my associate. he's hurt. maybe dead."
"is he hurt or dead? should i call an ambulance or the recycle center?"
"i'm not sure."
"let's take a look."
"it's right here." artie pointed to the doorway.
"i see," said the robot. "so you and your associate were associating in this dark passage? not a promising beginning, citizen, not a promising beginning at all." he shone a light down on paulie's prone form.
"is he dead?"
"it looks like it. recycle will have him up and running in no time."
"will he remember anything?"
"that's not in my purview, citizen. you probably know as much about it as i do.'
"will you call the police?"
"i am the police."
"i mean -"
"i know what you meant. i already called in."
"oh." artie looked around but the robot was now between him and the door.
and a green van was pulling up.
a human female with a corporals badge got out of the drivers seat and a robot got out from the other side.
"looks like slim pickings," leslie said after sergeant custer left them.
"i thought i heard something. over there."
country girl pointed to a low group of buildings .
leslie looked skeptical. "do you want to do like he said, just wait here for people to get chased out?"
"no! we'll be here all night and into the day. and if we don't have a full load, giselle will probably send us somewhere else."
"lorna will be coming on now."
"she's even worse."
"all right." leslie took out a fresh toothpick. "do you want to work together or apart?"
"apart, if that's o k with you." country girl leaned toward leslie and lowered her voice. "look, we don't want to be carrying anybody too rude. anybody we can't take one on one we don't want anyway. make sense?"
"then let's get going." country girl looked up and saw jennifer.
"but look at this."
jeanne didn't look up as charlotte came through the door behind her.
"did you have a nice refreshing ride?"
"i did indeed." charlotte opened the door wide so that jeanne could see into the little anteroom. "and i brought something back with me."
jeanne turned and saw belinda barber sitting on the bench. "that looks like - "
"it is. laura poll."
"hello, laura," jeanne called to her.
belinda/laura turned and smiled through the door. "oh hello, jeanne. how are you?"
"you two know each other?" charlotte asked.
"i think i've mentioned it a few times."
"i'm not much for detail."
"should i get her something to drink?"
"that sounds like a wonderful idea, jeanne. why don't you get right on it?"
"you got here fast," the street robot told the corporal. "faster than usual," he added.
"we're not local," martindale told him. "we just happened to be passing through. "
"well, thank you for stopping." the street robot looked up at the hulking bobo who had come slowly around the side of the van.
"what exactly are we looking at here?" bobo asked.
"a dead human," said the street robot.
"we see that. how did he get dead?"
"we were just getting to that," said the street robot. he looked at artie."young man?"
"a woman came down the stairs and hit him. one punch, just like that. we didn't say anything to her."
martindale stood in the doorway and extended her arms, she could almost touch both sides.
"kind of a confined space. you were both standing in this space?"
"um - he was inside and i was outside. but i saw everything through the glass."
martindale glanced at bobo and then looked right into artie's eyes. "go on."
"she's getting away," said artie, "the woman. i mean. she went that way."
martindale thought for a few seconds. 'all right. get in the van. up front."
"i'll get in the back," said bobo. he moved around to the back of the van and opened it.
the benches along the back and sides of the interior were lined with handcuffed prisoners sitting quietly. bobo jumped up into the empty floor space and closed the door behind him.
"just a little delay, citizens. nothing to be concerned about."
"who's concerned?" asked a ragamuffin beside him. nobody else spoke.
martindale got up into the drivers seat after artie was in the passenger seat.
"call recycling for him," she told the robot.
"i already have, corporal."
"good work. carry on, officer."
the van was already pointed in the direction lillian had taken. martindale started up and drove away at minimum speed, looking carefully into the shadows on both sides of the street.
"can't we go any faster than this?" artie asked.
"what's your name?"
"artie. do you want my number?"
"no, i don't need your number." martindale speeded up just a little bit. "i take my time about things, artie. some of my fellow officers get annoyed with me and even laugh at me sometimes. but do you know why i take my time?"
":i don't know. to do things right?"
"to see things right. i like to take my time and try to see things as they really are."
"sounds like a good idea,"
'and what i see, artie, is that you are going to jupiter or maybe even neptune. so why don't you just tell me what really happened back there and you'll feel better. i don't need to know what horrible things you and your good sib were doing in the dark doorway,"
"just tell me about this woman we're looking for."
'i can tell you that there she is right there."
"i really enjoyed our little conversation,'" snuffy told olivia as the elevator moved upward into the tower.
"it was really interesting to hear another assistant's point of view on things."
olivia just nodded.
"we should get together again, maybe with some of the other assistants?"
"i don't know about that," said olivia. "i'll think about it. but we could talk again."
"how about tomorrow night? same time, same place."
"cool." the elevator stopped on snuffy's floor and the door opened. "i'll be there." snuffy got out.
olivia nodded again and the door closed.