tomboy stopped running. hurk was right behind her. it was dark in the alley. and quiet.
"i think we're o k," hurk whispered.
"he was right behind me."
tomboy looked back. she started slowly back down the alley. hurk didn't look too happy.
"just down there," tomboy whispered to him.
"let's wait here."
"i just want to look around that corner." tomboy moved quietly but quickly down to it.
hurk stopped halfway down.
tomboy moved down to the end of the alley and looked around it. she waved to hurk and he moved down to her.
it's really quiet now," tomboy whispered so low hurk could hardly hear her.
"but i didn't hear any trucks leave," he mouthed the words into her face."
"they are still there."
"we have to find james."
hurk didn't answer.
"one more corner. just one. just one."
the section of the alley was shorter than the one before.
tomboy reached the end and peered around it.
country girl leaped out. she was on tomboy before she could completely turn to run. she had her knee in her back and the handcuffs on her in seconds.
hurk ran. he heard other, heavier running footsteps.
"there's another one, sarge!"
hurk looked over his shoulder. the big red robot who had seemed in charge was at the end of the alley.
hurk ran blindly, scraped his shoulder on the side of the alley, stumbled and fell on his face. country girl was on him in two seconds.
"good work, corporal," said the robot.
"you didn't even need me. were there any others?'
"i didn't see or hear any."
"take these two back. i'll go ahead a little."
country girl pulled hurk to his feet. she smiled at him.
"don't scream, don't holler, just take the collar."
custer looked into the back of country girl's and leslie's van.
"they are packed in there pretty tight, " he told country girl.
"that's how we do it in the 1473rd, sarge.
thanks for all your help, we really appreciate it."
"just carrying on, corporal."
"let me find my partner and we'll be on our way."
"all right. i'll wait here."
country girl shrugged. "no need, but suit yourself." she walked into the little open space between the storefronted streets.
"leslie! leslie! we're ready to go! we're all filled up. let's go!"
she waited and heard leslie's voice from an alley shout something unintelligible.
"she's on her way."
"good." custer looked around and twirled his clipboard.
leslie appeared. she had a handcuffed female ragamuffin by the neck. the girl was squirming and muttering.
"got room for one more?" leslie asked.
"we got a hard case here, and a yakker."
"i think you are at capacity," said custer. "i'll take this one off your hands."
"you are welcome to her," said leslie. she let go of the girl's neck.
'this copper is nothing but a crook," the ragamuffin announced loudly to custer. "she tried to shake me down. do i look like i have a bag of gold around my neck?"
she looked up at custer. "do you see a bag of gold around my neck?"
"shut up," leslie told her. "nobody is interested."
country girl was pointing into the back of the van. "why don't we keep this one, sarge, and you can take that brute there." a hulking fellow sat docilely in the middle of the bench on the left. "that way we will free up some space."
"all right." custer laughed.
" if you want to let him go, after all the trouble you must have taken to get him."
"actually, he might have been the easiest catch of the night. right now, he looks like he's asleep." country girl nodded to leslie.
leslie jumped into the back of the van.
"come on, sleeping beauty, we're gong to find you a new home."
the man, who was not actually asleep, got up in a fluid motion. he towered over leslie, who took a step back. he moved to the edge and jumped out easily. custer waved him over beside himself.
"doesn't anybody here care?" leslie's prisoner was still trying to get custer's attention. "i thought robots were supposed to be honest, i thought that was the whole point of having them!"
but custer ignored her. he waved to country girl with his clipboard and moved off with the big prisoner beside him. "good night, corporal. fine job," he called back.
"what, have you let these humans corrupt you?" the girl shouted after him. she turned and saw country girl looking down at her, twirling a pair of cuffs.
"are you going to be a problem? am i going to have to cuff your feet?"
"that won't be necessary." the girl looked at the ground.
"what's your name?"
"you see, pippi, the sergeant wasn't really interested in your crybabying. he hears it every day. now are you going to behave yourself?"
"good. you need any help getting into the van?"
pippi looked up. leslie was standing on the edge of the back of the van.
leslie reached down and hauled her up into the van. as she did, tomboy, who had been sitting just inside the door, got up and moved toward the center of the van.
"whoa! whoa! what are you doing?" leslie asked her.
"i want to talk to my associate."
"that's nice. did someone put you in charge of seating arrangements? i must have missed it."
"let her go," said country girl.
"if she wants to get deeper in the back, let her."
leslie started to put pippi beside the door, thought better of it, put her against the back wall and moved some others around.
"is everybody comfy npw?" country girl asked. nobody answered. "we'll be leaving in five or ten minutes. i'll leave the doors open until we go."
leslie jumped out and they moved around to the cab but didn't get in it. country girl took a couple of drink cans out of the front compartment and offered one to leslie.
"kind of warm."
"do you want it or not? i'll drink both of them."
"i'll take it."
"that went a lot better than i thought. he was a big help."
"kind of hard to deal with him around though."
country girl popped her drink open. "are you serious? what, do you want to stay here, see if you can deal, and get a ride back with somebody else?"
leslie didn't bother answering.
she popped her own drink, and leaned back against the van.
"speaking of deals, i didn't see our sib jennifer back there."
"no, but her dress and her coat are under the seat."
leslie lowered her voice. "i'll give you a cut.
we'll drop them off before we go back. it will just take a second. i won't deal, i'll just drop them off, then i'll go back later and negotiate a price. all right?'
"sure. better than lorna poking around and finding them."
"cool. we'll work something out."
they sipped their drinks.
"we still have to get back. " said leslie.
"but not a bad group, do you think?
"no, no. that was smooth, madame corporal. getting rid of that big guy."
"i had it planned all the way."
"he was scary. he didn't say anything, but he was scary."
"those are the scary ones."
"he just about scared the thievery out of me."
it was even quieter than usual in the basement garage of unspeakable crimes headquarters.
corporal sanders sat in a little open booth near the bottom of the ramp down from the street, and toni sat on a bench behind him. she could look up the ramp and see the quiet street. they were the only two humans on duty in the garage.
they had exhausted their subject of conversation - the rumored closing of unspeakable crimes, which would mean their own probable absorption into the regular police.
toni liked uc - it could be pretty boring, but you didn't have to go on sweeps, which she didn't think she would much care for.
a red light flashed in front of sanders. he spoke briefly and then turned to toni.
"get a van. surveilance."
"good." surveillance wasn't too exciting either, but at least it was a change from the garage. "who do you think i should i take along?"
"it's already been decided who you are taking along. detective kelly."
"really? i wonder what this is all about?
"i'll go if you don't want to," sanders told her. "you can stay here in the booth."
"no, no, no. i'll go. i love miss tania's company."