Saturday, April 2, 2011

"How do I know you?"

II

The woman who came to my office at nine o'clock was a total stranger to me. She paused on the threshold, halfway through my half-open door and looked into all the corners of my office. Assured that we would be alone, she slid the rest of the way in and quietly but quickly shut the door behind her. She was a small woman, in a tight shapeless dress of charcoal gray under a tight black sweater. She was wearing scuffed black knee boots and charcoal hose. There was nothing remarkable about her face or hair and possibly I'd seen her hundreds or thousands of times in the halls of the Department and failed to noticed as we passed each other by. She sat in the wooden chair opposite mine, my gray steel desk between us. Her posture was stiff and she kept her hands in her lap. Her eyes were green, I think.

"You got my note?"

I didn't like her voice.

"How do I know you?" I picked up a pencil and dug the sharpened end into the gray blotter on my desk, five or six times. It was best to get right to the point.

"You don't know me," the woman said. "I work in a different section. Which one doesn't matter. What matters is that we both have the same duty. Yesterday someone in the Department interfered with that duty."

The pencil pricks on the edge of my blotter looked like bullet holes. I put the pencil down and laid my hands on my desk, palms flat against the cold metal.

"It was a mixup in the schedule," I said.

"Over the entire city?" The woman shook her head and then glanced toward the door. "The Stage Two officers know the law as well as we do. Every one of them went to their assignments early yesterday. You know what happened then."

I nodded.

"It was like that all across the city, all across the district," the woman said. Her voice was really beginning to bother me. "Stage One gets to the hospital, signs off on the files and then discovers that the ward has already been sanitized by Stage Two."

"So file a complaint," I said. "Talk to your superior."

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