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59

AS BRIAN SAW it, the problem was how to make Mother Mean, the new consort for the Reverend Twisted, recognizably enough the Wicked Witch of the West for the viewer to get it but not so recognizable that all the property rights lawyers of the world would rise up en masse to smite him, and so he was hard at work in his octagonal office at GRODY late this Monday morning, forgetting all about lunch, deeply engrossed in his petty piracy, when someone knocked on the frame of his doorless doorway.

Now what? Looking around with that sudden spasm of guilt known to all pilferers, he saw standing there in his doorway what looked very much like a plainclothes detective, fortyish, a bulky body in a rumpled suit and tie. But he couldn't be, could he? A detective?

"Help you?"

"Brian Clanson?"

"Guilty," Brian said, with a leftover leer.

The man drew a narrow billfold from his inside jacket pocket, flipped it open, and showed Brian an overly designed police badge; too busy. "Detective Penvolk," he said. "I'd like you to come with me, if you would."

More startled than frightened, at least at first, Brian said, "But I'm working here, I…"

"It won't take long," Detective Penvolk assured him. "You can just answer a few questions for us."

"What questions?"

"Mr. Clanson," the detective said, with a sudden bit of steel in his voice, "we prefer our interviews in settings other than this."

"Well, that made sense. In truth, Brian would have preferred his entire work experience in a setting other than this. However, it didn't seem as though he were going to be given many options at the moment, so Brian obediently rose, saying, "Will this take long?"

"Oh, I don't think so," the detective said. He turned to look both ways along the corridor, then said, "You probably know the shortest way out of here."

"Probably," Brian agreed. "Unless they did some carpentry last night." Nodding to the right, he said, "It should be that way."

The corridors were too narrow to walk two abreast, though people meeting could squeeze past one another. The occasional pregnancy among the staffers was usually blamed on the corridors. Brian therefore led the way, the detective followed him, and Brian said over his shoulder, "Could you tell me what this is all about?"

"Oh, let it wait till we get there," the detective advised.

Brian's boss, Sean Kelly, had his office on the right along here, an elongated rectangle that looked as though it wanted to grow up to be a bowling alley. Sean was at his Star Trek replica control panel in there when Brian walked by, and he was deep in conversation with Detective Penvolk's older gloomier brother. Sean rolled his eyes as Brian walked by, though Brian had no idea what he meant by that.

Had something bad happened during March Madness? There hadn't been any overdoses, had there? That was so old century. Still, something was going on, if one detective wants to talk to Brian and another detective wants to talk to Sean.

As they continued down the angling corridor, Brian dropped unconsciously into a prison shuffle, and said over his shoulder, "The reason I asked, I mean, what this is all about, you know, this kind of thing could make you nervous. I mean, not knowing. What it's all about."

"Oh, don't let it worry you," the detective advised. "If you're innocent, you've got nothing to be afraid of."

Irrepressible at all the wrong times, "Innocent?" Brian asked. "Moi?"

Detective Penvolk chuckled. Faintly.


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