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    "Yes, I saw that." Her teeth clenched.
    "Everything in my file is forged."
    "And no, I don't know by who," I added before she could ask. "I wanted your advice on the advisability of making a public statement of some sort, before this can also...."
    "Don't," she said immediately. "Right now? Are you kidding? In these circumstances? No offense, but telling people that the World Crime League is responsible for you, which I find doubtful—"
    "Yes, I know." I smiled thinly.
    "—Is like saying Santa Claus dropped you off."
    "I'm aware of the general public perception."
    "Second, you are seen by the general public as being the only trustworthy member of this little team."
    "I'll be offended on the others' behalf sometime later."
    "I'm just telling you how the general public perceives it, I don't know anything about Talon, but Hans is new, Scott's not human, charming as he is, and uh...."
    "The question is, will they retain this attitude if someone does any digging around."
    "Digging around will take time. Your police records are technically confidential."
    I gave her my best raised eyebrows.
    "I know," she conceded, "but... if they were well-forged enough that we didn't notice—"
    I shook my head, interrupting. "That's the problem."
    "Oh god, you're not going to tell me something worse," she muttered with a beseeching look.
    I sighed. "The actual records themselves are good, the problem is all the personal background. One phone call is all it's going to take. If somebody wants to go, 'Oh, hi, Mrs. Banks, what do you think of your daughter being embroiled in this scandal over here on the East Coast?' they're going to go, 'Who the hell are you talking to?' The number is there, some guy lives there, we bugged him quite a few times while we were figuring all this out. I'm a little bit concerned," I understated.
    "I'm still going to say don't make a statement. Make one if you're pressed, or come up with a really good lie," she shrugged. "You guys are somewhat required to reveal who you really are, at least to the government, but... we'll see what happens, but don't make a statement right now."
    "I wasn't going to go out and do it today. But they did say they were going to do it this week," I pointed out.
    "Fuck," she muttered.
    "Yeah." We had done a full circle.
    "OK. I know this is going to be the most embarrassing part of my day, but I have to do a search of the premises once you've left, to make sure that nothing has been taken or altered. Is there anything that you don't want me to look at?"
    "Does this include personal effects?"
    "Just the technology."
    I thought for a few moments. "It should all be OK. Dr. Scott made some modifications, but they can hardly be considered deletereous."
    "All right."
    "I appreciate your understanding."
    We headed in. Promethean was lecturing the policemen on the tactics and habits of the police of the Third Reich. No, I don't know why. Scott seemed confused, too.
    We got ourselves and our few possessions together. I had a suitcase, the evidence box, and the cat carrier with Newton mewing unhappily inside. He doesn't like to fly.
    My phone rang; I waved to the others kept going without me.
    "Needle here."
    "Glorious morning, isn't it." Lucky's voice.
    "Yes, lovely. How are you?"
    "I'm fine. Could I ask you for a favor?"
    "Yes." That was an "I'm fine" worthy of me on a bad day, I noted. Not that I expected anything else, given what had happened.
    "Could you give Winters a call for me? I'd like to know what I'm supposed to do about my community service."
    "Sure. She's still here, I can just go talk to her."
    "You know where I am."
    She signed off, and I doubled back to base. The cops were surprised to see me. I found Winters in the seldom-used lab. At the soft sound of my footsteps she jumped at least a foot into the air.
    "Jesus! Don't do that!"
    "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," I said blandly, intrigued far enough to do a reading on her aura. Nothing odd, she seemed perfectly normal, if relatively strong and controlled for a human. But, you never know. And despite her attitude these past few days, I'm still not entirely ready to trust her.
    "Did you forget something?"
    "Lucky wanted to know what she should do about her sentence."
    Winters cursed volubly, unzipped her handbag, and rooted through it for a cigarette. Then she had to repeat the process to find a lighter and took a drag.
    "I recommend that until this situation is over, she consider her community service postponed, until they determine whether or not to have an actual trial, or to maintain the grand jury decision, or alter it yet again as they did in the case of the gloves." She took another drag. "Who knows, she might just be exiled."
    I blinked. "Do they still do that?"
    "I might convince them. I understand Bolivia's looking," she muttered sourly. My expression grew significantly cooler. "Anything else?"
    "No, that's all. You know the number if anything comes up."
    "Yeah, I hope nothing does. I'm sure this'll blow over."
    "Wish I had that much confidence."
    She smiled wryly. "That's how you get through each day."
    "I'll write that down."
    "I'm sorry, do you...?" She offered me a cigarette.
    "No. Thank you."
    "Let me walk you out."
    "I'm not planning on taking anything on my way out," I assured her.
    "That wasn't what I meant. I'm finished here."
    "Sorry. Little edgy."
    "I can understand that. Where will you be staying?"
    My expression went completely blank as I realized that I didn't have the faintest idea. "I think we'll have to discuss that."
    "I'd like to know where to be able to get in touch with you. This is only going to take a couple of days, get a room somewhere."
    I glanced at her curiously. "Do you have any reason for thinking this? Currently the mood is really unpleasant."
    "But two weeks ago the mood was really good. People are fickle," she pointed out with a shrug, crushing the cigarette.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson