"pippi, what makes you think we aren't just going to grab your little carcass and drag you over to the station?"
" first, because you have to catch me.
and second, because you don't want to miss your bus. it must be just about due."
"it is," said leslie. "and we're going to get on it. and you're not."
"i think i should. come on, let me on the bus with you."
"that's just not possible," country girl answered mildly.
"why not? you're taking them." pippi pointed to tomboy and susan.
"they just joined the police. the bus is police only."
"oh. well, say i'm on the police too."
"you don't have any papers to show the driver. you need an application."
"and you're not big enough anyway," leslie added. "i'm barely big enough."
pippi turned and looked down the road. "what's down there?"
"a lot of long dark highway," leslie told her. "you better start walking down it."
"actually," country girl told her, "if you want to walk, you are better off going in the other direction, west, instead of the way we came." she turned and pointed behind herself.
"you'll come to some civilization sooner."
"out here with the police isn't civilization, huh?"
"you know what i mean."
pippi looked doubtful. "you're trying to trick me. you just want me to walk up to you."
"we can catch you anyway, if we want to."
"i don't think so."
"oh?" country girl laughed. "i think tom here could catch you. she looks pretty athletic. she's got long legs."
"yes, that's the kind of thing you'd notice, you perv.
i heard you back there, telling the whole world what a perv you are. oh, and you're a murderer, too, lest we forget."
"pippi, that kind of talk isn't exactly the way to get on my good side."
"we all saw you drown that poor boy."
"did you see him drown? i already explained it to you. that's one reason i let tom here go, so she could go see for herself he's all right."
"you let her go because you're a pervert."
country girl laughed. "i threw him in one foot of water. not even a foot."
"people can drown in one foot of water. what would you have done if he started to drown?"
tom glanced over at country girl as she answered. "i would have jumped in and saved (400) him."
"oh right. you can swim?"
"i can swim, i can swim real good. i can do a lot of things, that's why they call me country girl." she took a step toward pippi. "like catch you, if i wanted to."
pippi stepped back toward the shadows and the bushes.
"yeah, i bet you could skin a live bear and roast it over an open fire."
"i could give it a try."
"why are you having this conversation with her?" leslie asked.
"the bus isn't here, what else is there to do?"
leslie pointed at pippi. "you. you're wasting your energy talking. you'd be better off moving along."
"look," said susan. "someone is coming." they could hear a vehicle in the parking lot.
"it's probably swan," said leslie. "if you think we're nasty," she told pippi, "you don't want to deal with swan."
pippi moved further back. a small routine patrol van came up out of the lot. swan was at the wheel with schweik beside her. she turned and headed west without seeming to glance at the bus stop.
swan glanced at the rear viewer as she sped off.
"did it look like they were talking to somebody behind the shelter?"
"the runt who got away?"
"who else?" swan laughed. "i wonder what leslie thinks she can get from her."
"it looked like gantry doing the talking."
"whatever. did you ever notice that except for me and you and the robots, the whole police force is nothing but a bunch of losers and con artists?"
"come on, you can get me on the bus if you put your mind to it. this is your chance to get straight."
"get straight with who? elvis? erasmus darwin? i wouldn't have thought you were the preaching type."
"actually she is," said susan. "i've seen her around, doing some preaching."
"so have i," said tom.
country girl and leslie thought this was pretty funny.
"is that what you do, pippi, preach?" country girl asked her.
"what else do you do?"
"a little bit of this, a little bit of that."
"that's kind of what we do too," said leslie. "a little bit of this, a little bit of that."
"right," pippi answered. "shake people down, arrest them for nothing, murder them - i guess you could call that a little bit of this, a little bit of that."
"o k, i give up." country girl went over and sat down in the shelter.
"some people," said leslie. "just won't let you be nice to them ."
pippi moved almost right up to the shelter. "i know what you can do. say i'm your prisoner. say you're taking me to some other station."
"pippi, it just doesn't work that way," country girl told her. "the bus takes police officers to and from work. that's all it does."
"and almost all the drivers are robots," leslie added.
"they aren't going to listen to stories. even really sad ones."
"there is one thing you can try," said country girl. "you can get up on the shelter
and try to jump on top of the bus."
pippi looked doubtful.
country girl continued. "the top of the bus is higher than the shelter. so you will have to jump up to get on it." she looked over at pippi. "want to try it? we won't say anything to the driver."
"maybe. but i still think you can get me on the bus."
"look," said tom. "what she says about the bus makes sense. it's obvious this is the best offer you are going to get. do you want a hand up?"
pippi glared at tom. "you're one of them now."
"you seem to be doing everything you can not to go to jupiter."
"make up your mind," leslie told pippi. "the bus will be here any minute."
"i think i hear something now," said susan.
pippi looked up at the shelter, which wasn't that tall.
"you should be able to do it," country girl told her.
"the bus is tall, but so is the sidewalk. when it pulls up, it isn't that much higher."
pippi moved up closer. "all right, if that's the best you can do."
country girl grabbed her with two hands and put her on top of the shelter in a single move.
"there you go, soldier. now just lie flat and wait."
"if you get squished like a bug," said leslie, "don't come crying to us."
the bus was empty. the driver was a human, and leslie bumped fists with him.
"chuck. it's been a while, sib."
"these two are rookies, just signed up. want to see their apps?"
"no, it's cool."
"you back regular?"
"no, just filling in this morning. hey, what was that?"
"squirrel, probably," country girl told him.
"a squirrel! you got squirrels around here?"
"once in a while."
chuck closed the door and the bus moved out.
"if you've got squirrels around here," chuck told leslie. "you should try to catch them. i know a guy who'll pay good coin for squirrel meat."
"do we have to cut them up ourselves?" country girl asked.
"no, he'll take the whole squirrel. i think he makes gloves or something with the fur."
"that's good to know, chuck," leslie told him. "you're always one step ahead."
"yeah, that's why i'm driving this bus."
"take care." leslie followed the others to the back of the bus.
"i guess she made it," tom said in a low voice to country girl.
"i guess. don't look up."
leslie sat down and put her bundle down beside her. "all right, next stop, mister knuckleball's. well actually, we'll have to get one more bus."
"what about our little friend on the roof?" susan asked.
"she's on her own now," country girl said. "she owes us now."
"big time," leslie agreed.
"you guys really keep your accounts," tom said. "everything is i owe, you owe."
"that's right," said leslie. "you better learn to do the same."
"it's the way it is everywhere," said susan. "it isn't just them."
"i'm just going to fill out the 637," fred told amethyst.
"bare bones. i won't make any recommendations. and he will have to fill one out too." he handed the form to her.
"you can fill one out too, if you want."
"give it to me."
fred took another form and gave it to amethyst.
"can you make a positive recommendation? one more time?"
"sorry. the last time was one more time."
"you are standing up for him. that's old school. the major will like that. but i don't think it will matter."
"we'll see." amethyst took the two forms and joined grogan on the bench.