While at Northwestern, Emma had taken up jogging to help keep her body in shape and her mind clear. A break from the books and the lab sometimes helped her to gain perspective on things.
She hadn’t gone jogging since returning to Rampart City. Becky had cautioned her against running in the neighborhood—unless someone was chasing her—and to avoid Robinson Park, which had become a hangout for the various gangs in the city. But it would probably be safe enough to run around the block near the museum.
She used the staff elevator down to the first floor and then snuck out the back door. At a park bench, she began to stretch out her muscles so she wouldn’t pull anything. As she stretched her quads when she heard a familiar voice. “Getting a little exercise?” Dr. Dreyfus said.
She turned around and saw him dressed in a T-shirt, shorts, and goggles as well. In his case the T-shirt was a gray Cornell one and his shorts bright red. The shorts gave her a good view of his muscular calves, especially when he began to stretch next to her. She felt her cheeks turn warm at this. “You too?” she asked.
“No, I guess not.”
"Not that you have to worry about that. You could probably put on a few pounds.” Dr. Dreyfus looked down at his feet; his cheeks turned red as well. “I didn’t mean that you’re too thin, like anorexic or anything.”
“No, it’s fine. I know what you meant.”
“Would you mind if I run with you? Safety in numbers.”
“Sure,” she said. As they set out, though, she kept her eyes on her feet, so she wouldn’t trip over them and embarrass herself in front of him.
“How do you like this place so far?” he asked.
“I love it. I’m very happy to be here.”
“The pay isn’t the greatest, but it’s a really respected organization,” he said. He easily kept pace with her. “That’s the kind of thing that looks good on your résumé later on.”
“I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
Dr. Dreyfus nearly tripped over his feet and blushed again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it quite like that. I just meant if you ever want to work anywhere else, this will be good experience.”
“How long have you worked here?”
“About five years. Most of that was in the field, though.”
“You were the one who found Karlak II?”
“Not just me personally. The whole team was involved, but yes.”
“That must have been exciting.”
“It was.” They rounded a corner and weaved through a group of people at a bus stop. “I was starting to think I wouldn’t find anything and the director would fire me. Then one day we brushed aside some dirt and found the entrance to the tomb. It was there the whole time, pretty much beneath our noses.”
“That’s great,” Emma said. She had found some meteor fragments in Montana during her fieldwork for her doctorate, but that had been a relatively minor discovery.
“Yeah, and what’s even better is now the whole world is going to find out about it. When people think about Egypt, all they think of is the pyramids and mummies. Now we can tell them the whole story from the beginning.”
She admired how passionately Dr. Dreyfus cared about this, how evident his love for this ancient culture was. She felt that way about meteors, about how they broadened human understanding of the universe. This made her think of the strange black object Dr. Dreyfus had brought to her. That might really broaden human understanding of the universe—if she could figure out what the heck it was.
“So you’re going through with the exhibit now?” she asked.
“Now that we have Karlak’s sarcophagus, yes. It won’t be quite as good as I’d hoped, but it should still be pretty impressive.” She almost tripped over Dr. Dreyfus when he came to a stop.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“No, nothing like that. It’s just that before we open the exhibit to the public, there’s going to be a charity preview. On Saturday night. I thought if you didn’t have any plans, you might like to go with me.”
Emma stared at him; her eyes widened behind the goggles. Was he asking her out on a date? Interoffice romances were against the museum’s policies; she could quote the page to him from memory. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. “Dating a coworker is against the rules.”
“Oh, right, that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be a date, does it? You could go as a colleague.”
“I don’t know—”
“Come on, it would let me pay you back for the work you’ve done on that thing.”
She considered this for a moment. It did sound like fun, especially with Dr. Dreyfus. And yet there would probably be a lot of her coworkers there; she and Dr. Dreyfus could both be fired. But if they weren’t going as a couple, just as colleagues—
“I suppose that would be all right,” she said. “Just as colleagues, though.”
“I understand.” He gave her one of those smiles that reduced her to a pool of jelly.
With that settled, they resumed their run in silence. They reached the bench where they started at the same time. In most everything they seemed evenly matched, as if meant for each other.
The office for Roy Lintner’s mayoral campaign was just as two-faced as the man himself. The main office—the one for show—was in an abandoned store on the ground floor of the Archlinger Building across from City Hall. This office had a select few people on phones and lots of signs, patriotic bunting, and balloons.
The real office was down in the basement. That was where the grunt work was done by lowly “volunteers” like Becky Beech. Here they worked at rusty metal desks dating from World War II to stuff envelopes and make phone calls. Becky didn’t have a pleasant enough voice for phone calls, so she stuck to filling envelopes. It was a monotonous task, especially with only the dim fluorescent lights overhead. The checks she received every two weeks and the promise of three credits towards her political science degree made the drudgery slightly more worthwhile.
A few of the other “volunteers” had already defected from the campaign. They were the lucky ones, Becky thought as she stuffed another envelope that would probably wind up in the trash. This meant more work for her to try and keep up with Lintner’s impossible demands. Rampart City had a population of nearly nine million and apparently he wanted to send a brochure to every one of them.
“You’re still here?” Becky asked Connie, with whom she shared the desk.
“Until the bitter end,” she said. “It’s better than nothing.”
“Lintner treats us like shit, but at least he doesn’t grab our asses like my last boss.”
“He probably does that to the girls upstairs.”
As they laughed at this, the front door burst open. Police clad in bulletproof vests and with handguns at the ready swarmed through the door. At the head of them was a woman with short dark hair and blue eyes that seemed focused on Becky. “Everyone stay where you are and put your hands up. This is a raid,” the woman said. The uniformed officers behind her began to scatter around the room.
“What’s going on here?” Becky asked.
“Are you Roy Lintner or his chief of staff?”
“Then shut up, Fatty.”
“Fatty?” Becky leaped to her feet and glared back at the woman. “Why you—”
She didn’t get a chance to finish as the woman came around the desk and pinned Becky’s arm behind her in the blink of an eye. The cop leaned Becky forward, so that her head was on a pile of envelopes to be sealed. “Listen up, Tubby,” the woman hissed. She produced a badge that identified her as Detective Charlotte Donovan of the Rampart City Police Department. “Unless you want to go to jail, keep your mouth shut.”
“Let her go,” Connie said. “She didn’t do anything.”
“Keep out of this, Short Stuff,” Detective Donovan hissed.
“You hurt her, and I’ll report you to your supervisors.”
For a moment Becky thought Donovan would put a bullet in both of them. Instead, the detective let her up. “Get your asses onto the loading docks.” Detective Donovan raised her voice. “That goes for all of you. Get on the loading dock until we’re done.” She turned to one of the uniformed cops. “Sergeant, get a couple guys and watch them. They so much as sneeze, put a bullet in them.”
Becky wanted to argue, but she knew the Rampart City Police Department by reputation. They made the LAPD look like Boy Scouts. There might have been more angst in the city, except the cops didn’t discriminate when it came to police brutality. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, or anything else wouldn’t matter to them; be at the wrong place at the wrong time and you’d wind up eating a baton.
That this same Rampart City Police Department hadn’t ever found who killed Emma’s parents didn’t endear them to Becky either. The cops had of course promised to do everything in their power, though in a city as large and ridden with crime as this one, it was almost impossible to find two killers without a positive ID.
The cops herded them onto the loading dock, where they milled about like cattle as they waited for the raid to be over. Becky wasn’t a crime expert, but even she knew what they wanted: Lintner’s campaign finance records. They were probably looking for illegal donations on a tip from Lintner’s opponent, not that he needed to stoop to that to defeat Lintner at this point.
There were a few more minutes of silence before Lintner appeared on the loading dock, his face even redder than usual. “All right, you assholes, get back to work! We’ve still got a campaign to win!”
As was their style, the police had left the office a complete mess. “Goddamned cops,” Connie muttered as they set to work on cleaning up.
“Thanks for sticking up for me,” Becky said.
“It’s all right. I know how these people are. Bunch of cowards.” They finished cleaning up around their desk in silence. Then Connie asked, “You want to get a drink after work? I could really use one after this.”
“I’d like to, but I can’t. I’m meeting a friend for dinner.”
“A boyfriend?” Connie asked with a mischievous grin.
“No, my friend Emma. She’s my roommate now too.”
“She could come with us.”
Becky shook her head. “Emma doesn’t drink. And she wouldn’t like me drinking either.”
“She religious or something?”
“Nothing like that,” Becky said. She tried to think of how to explain it. “She’s nice, if you know what I mean.”
“Kind of a goody-two-shoes?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Becky said. “She’s kind of shy too. She wouldn’t like it if I sprung a stranger on her.”
“That’s all right. Another time, then.”
“Sure,” Becky said and then they got back to work.
They met at a restaurant in Rampart City’s Chinatown. Emma wasn’t strictly a vegetarian, but she avoided meat because of the fat and calories. So while Becky ordered a plate of cashew chicken, Emma ordered stir fried vegetables and rice.
Becky took a sip of her Pepsi and then said, “The police paid Lintner’s office a little visit today.”
Emma nearly spat out a mouthful of tea. “The police? What for?”
“I’m not sure. They weren’t too forthcoming.”
“Was anyone arrested?”
“Not yet. This apparently was more of a search and seizure thing.”
“That’s terrible. Are you going to quit?”
Becky shrugged. “I doubt it. I have to stick this out until the end if I want those credits.”
“Maybe if you talk to your professor you can still get the credits, or you can work for someone else. There are other candidates, aren’t there?”
“It’s a little late for that.” Becky took another sip of her drink and then smiled. “Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s not me they’re after. And I doubt Lintner is going to shoot it out with them.”
Emma tried not to let the awful memories surge back to the surface. “No, I suppose not.”
“How about we talk about something happier? How are things going at the museum?”
“Fine,” Emma said. She forced a smile to her face. “One of my coworkers asked me to go with him to a presentation on Saturday night.”
“Like a date?” Becky asked.
Emma’s face turned warm at this; she tried to calm herself with a sip of tea. “It’s not a date. We’re just going as colleagues.”
“But you’re going together?”
“And will there be dinner and dancing?”
“Maybe dinner, but I don’t think there will be any dancing.”
“Still sounds like a date to me.”
“It’s not like that. Dr. Deyfus and I are just colleagues.”
“So why did he ask you to go with him? Is he married or something?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you like him?”
“He’s a very nice man.” The realization of what she’d said set in as Becky grinned. “But it’s not like that!”
“Come on, I’m just teasing. I think it’s great you’ve got a friend—or colleague, whatever you want to call it.”
“Thanks.” They ate their dinner with just some idle conversation about the election and the museum. They stayed away from the police raid and the presentation to avoid any more awkward moments.
They took the bus home, Emma too tired to go out to Parkdale to visit Aunt Gladys and Mr. Graves tonight. Though she usually didn’t watch television, she sank into one of the beanbag chairs in the living room, Becky in the one next to her. They watched An Affair to Remember, an old movie they had watched a number of times growing up. Only this time Emma cast herself as Deborah Kerr and Dr. Dreyfus as Cary Grant. Becky fell asleep halfway through, before the final kiss at the end. Emma closed her eyes and imagined what Dr. Dreyfus’s lips would feel like when pressed to hers.