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39

GRODY WAS ALWAYS in the process of expanding, without having either the money or the space to do so. The studio in Tribeca, being the entire third floor of an old industrial building where, in the late nineteenth century, aprons and overalls were manufactured, was always undergoing renovation, the carpenters and electricians with their leather toolbelts like space-age gunbelts and their macho swagger serving as the oil to the water of the staff's resident geeks.

Because the brick exterior walls of the building and the unrepealable law of gravity meant they could never actually add to their territory, the only way to accommodate more offices, more studios and more storage was to keep chopping finer and finer, until the rooms were like closets and the closets had long ago been sacrificed to the need for more space. Hallways had been squeezed to within an inch of the fire code. And one result of all this adjusting and repacking and clawing for space was that many of the resulting rooms were of unusual shapes, triangles and trapezoids. Long-ago-sacrificed doorways meant many of the routes within the GRODY confines were circuitous indeed. All of which was one reason why the company found it so hard to hire or keep anybody over the age of twenty-five.

Coming to work Thursday morning, after the astonishing news last night that Mrs. W actually would come along to Saturday's March Madness, Brian made his roundabout way toward his own office, one of the few octagons in here thus far, in which, no matter which way you faced, the workspace shrank away in front of you. Just after squeezing past two carpenters toting over their shoulders eight-foot lengths of L-shaped metal like bowling alley gutters creased down the middle, only lined along both sides with holes what was that for? straining beer? Brian was distracted from his route by a knocking on a window somewhere.

Oh; to the left. One of the control rooms was there, with a sealed window to the hall left over from some previous incarnation, and standing in it was Sean Kelly, Brian's shaggy boss, who mouthed things at him through the glass; some sort of question.

But the point of the control room was that it was soundproof, so Brian merely shrugged and pointed helplessly at his ear. Sean nodded, frowned, nodded, and pointed vaguely away with his right hand while doing a finger-up circular motion with his left. Come around and talk to me, in other words.

Sure. Brian nodded, paused to figure out the shortest way from this side of the glass to that side of the glass, and set off, along the way passing an electrician, seated wedged in a corner, still smoking slightly, accepting sustenance in a flask from his fellows.

Brian's route took him past his octagon, which had a doorway but no door because there was nowhere for it to open to. He nodded at it, trekked on, and eventually came to the control room containing both Sean and an expressionless technician seated at the controls, watching a tape of a hilarious animated outer-space drunk scene to be aired at eleven tonight, in competition with the world news. (They expected to win again.)

"Hey, Sean."

"Hey." Sean seemed troubled, in some vague way. "Man," he said, "you got any problems at home?" Hurriedly, he erased that from the imaginary blackboard between them. "I don't mean none of my business, man, you know, I just mean, anything gonna impact us here."

Brian could have pointed out that a permanent construction site was all impact, but he cut to the chase: " What problem, Sean? I do something wrong?"

"No, man," Sean said. "Nothing I know about. It's just, I got this call yesterday, just walking out of the office, this guy, says he's from the enforcement arm of the Better Business Bureau."

"Enforcement arm?"

"That's what he said, man." Sean grinned and scratched his head through his shaggy hair. "Can you see them comin around? 'You gotta give the twenty percent, man, it's right there in your ad. Might make a nice bit."

"Sean, he wanted to talk to you about me? Or just the place?"

"No, man, you, strictly you. Do you borrow from your coworkers"

"Fat chance."

"Uh huh. Do I know where you cash your checks, have you ever had unexplained absences"

"Everybody does, Sean."

That quick grin of Sean's came and went. "Sing it, sister. He wants to know, do I think you're having trouble in your home life, interfering with you here, whado I think your work prospects are" Jesus.

"It was freaky, man." Another grin. "Don't worry, I covered for you."

Suspicion struck Brian. "You goofed on him."

"Naw, man, would I"

"You would. Wha'd you tell him?"

"I just answered his questions, man, told him you were the number one jock in the shop."

"And? Come on, Sean."

Sean looked slightly sheepish, but still grinned. "Well, I did mention," he said, "those Venusian bordello scenes you do"

"Lost It in Space. Yeah?"

"I said, you were so good at it, it's because you think they're real."

"Sean, what did you"

"No, that's all, man, honest to God. Just sometimes we find you at your desk, you're in this trance state, you're getting laid on Venus. That's all I said, man."

"And did he believe you?"

Sean looked amazed at the question. "Brian? What do I know how Earth people think?"

Brian had all that day to figure out what was going on, and yet he didn't.


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