Illustration by Idiots’Books
Suzanne didn’t knock on Lester’s door. Lester would fall into place, once Perry was in.
She found him working the ride, Hilda back in the maintenance bay, tweaking some of the robots. His arm was out of the cast, but it was noticeably thinner than his good left arm, weak and pale and flabby.
“Hello, Suzanne.” He was formal, like he always was these days, and it saddened her, but she pressed on.
“Perry, we need to shut down for a while, it’s urgent.”
“Suzanne, this is a busy time, we just can’t shut down—”
She thumped her hand on his lemonade-stand counter. “Cut it out, Perry. I have never been an alarmist, you know that. I understand intimately what it means to shut this place down. Look, I know that things haven’t been so good between us, between any of us, for a long time. But I am your dear friend, and you are mine, no matter what’s going on at this second, and I’m telling you that you need to shut this down and we need to talk. Do it, Perry.”
He gave her a long, considering look.
He looked at the little queue of four or five people, pretending not to eavesdrop, waiting their turn.
“Sorry, folks, you heard the lady. Family emergency. Um, here—” He rummaged under the counter, came up with scraps of paper. “Mrs Torrence’s tearoom across the street—they make the best cappuccino in the hood, and the pastries are all baked fresh. On me, OK?”
“Come on,” Suzanne said. “Time’s short.”
She accompanied him to the maintenance bay and they pulled the doors shut behind them. Hilda looked up from her robot, wiping her hands on her shorts. She was really lovely, and the look on her face when she saw Perry was pure adoration. Suzanne’s heart welled up for the two of them, such a perfect picture of young love.
Then Hilda saw Suzanne, and her expression grew guarded, tense. Perry took Hilda’s hand.
“What’s this about, Suzanne?” he said.
“Let me give this to you in one shot, OK?” They nodded. She ran it down for them. Sammy and Guignol, the postcard and the funny circumstances of their visit—the phone call.
“So here’s the thing. He wants to buy you guys out. He doesn’t want the ride or the town. He just wants—I don’t know—the creativity. The PR win. He wants peace. And the real news is, he’s over a barrel. Freddy’s forcing his hand. If we can make that problem go away, we can ask for anything.”
Hilda’s jaw hung slack. “You have to be kidding—”
Perry shushed her. “Suzanne, why are you here? Why aren’t you talking to Lester about this? Why hasn’t Lester talked to me about this. I mean, just what the fuck is going on?”
She winced. “I didn’t talk to Lester because I thought he’d be easier to sell on this than you are. This is a golden opportunity and I thought that you would be conflicted as hell about it and I thought if I talked to you first, we could get past that. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, except that I want all parties to end up not hating each other. That’s where you’re headed now—you’re melting down in slow motion. How long since you and Lester had a conversation together, let alone a real meal? How long since we all sat around and laughed? Every good thing comes to some kind of end, and then the really good things come to a beginning again.
“You two were the New Work. Lots of people got blisteringly rich off of New Work, but not you. Here’s a chance for you to get what you deserve for a change. You solve this—and you can solve it, and not just for you, but for that Death kid, you can get him justice that the courts will take fifteen years to deliver.”
Perry scowled. “I don’t care about money—”
“Yes, that’s admirable. I have one other thing; I’ve been saving it for last, waiting to see if you’d come up with it on your own.”
“Why is time of the essence?”
“Because Freddy’s going to out this dirtball—”
“And how do we solve that?”
Hilda grinned. “Oh, this part I like.”
Suzanne laughed. “Yeah.”
“What?” Perry said.
“Freddy’s good at intelligence gathering, but he’s not so good at distinguishing truth from fiction. In my view, this presents a fascinating opportunity. Depending on what we leak to him and how, we can turn him into—”
“A laughing stock?”
“A puddle of deliquesced organ meat.”
Perry began to laugh. “You’re saying that you thing that we should do this deal for spite?”
“Yeah, that’s the size of it,” Suzanne said.
“I love it,” he said.
Hilda laughed too. Suzanne extended her hand to Perry and he shook it. Then she shook with Hilda.
“Let’s go find Lester.”
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