Max cleared his throat. “Well, I suppose this is as good an opportunity as any for turning it over to you, Mrs. Lurge. Can you tell us why you’re so sure Mr. McIntyre had a hand in your husband’s death?”
“Why, the McIntyres have been rivals with the Lurges since the beginning! You know—everyone knows. This city has been the home of the robotics industry ever since the war. The Lurge family was first of course,” she said firmly.
“Of course,” said Max.
“—but the McIntyres have always been nipping at our heels. You know, they say that even at the height of the war in ’57, the McIntyres were sending spies in to steal our designs.”
“Surely all that’s behind you now,” said Max hastily. “The Robot Wars are history—military robotics have been banned.”
“Oh, sure,” said the widow sarcastically, “but, well… R&D doesn’t just stop. Prototypes don’t just disappear. The government may have outlawed military robotics research officially, but we’re still a key part of industry, and the McIntyres are just green with envy about it.”
There was a long pause. Venus glanced at Sandra, hoping for a cue as to how to reply.
“As I understand it, most of the Lurge revenue these days comes from tourists and historians interested in the old family plant,” said Max finally.
She gave a most un-lady-like snort. “Only because the McIntyres hired out-of-state lawyers who could find them ways to leech up IRRP funding, forcing us to do something to stay in the game,” she spat. She paused a moment, trying to restore her demure manner. “But yes, it so happens that we have been able to carve a very lucrative niche for ourselves as a number one attraction for visitors to Gelunbu.”
“It certainly is,” Venus jumped in seeming eager for the diversion, “Uh, I saw a fascinating piece on it from the ChamCom just the other day. It’s hard to miss the holoverts on the bypass, especially this time of year.”
Mrs. Lurge gave a small but warm smile towards Venus. “Thank you, dear. Our Haunt-omaton tour gets more popular every year. We’re very proud of it, and what it means to the community.”
“Hold on,” said Sandra. “What is this now?”
Mrs. Lurge turned to her with an air of disapproval. “The annual Lurge factory Haunt-omaton tour and Robo-ghost Factory attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year,” she said coldly, “Not to mention all the paranormal historians who come to investigate.”
“Oh… well, good,” said Sandra.
“It’s been an excellent source of revenue for the company since the government outlawed their original raison d’être after the war,” said Max, and, as if sensing Mrs. Lurge’s icy glare, added hastily, “And the tour provides a wonderful night of thrills and chills for young and old alike.”
He sounds like he’s reading off a brochure, Sandra smirked inwardly. Still, she marveled at Max’s ability to be so fast on his feet and to come up with these tidbits of trivia .
Mrs. Lurge seemed as though she might continue on this tangent, so Sandra gently nudged her back on topic.
“And the McIntyre outfit… they’ve got nothing like this tour, I take it?”
“No,” the older woman sniffed. “They lack our vision. As does the state bureaucracy. Don’t get me started on the government. They’ve been trying to buy out the factory from us every other day. But that’s not the key issue here.”
Mrs. Lurge leaned in closer, almost conspiratorially: “Do you know, Lothar has been convinced that McIntyre and his goons have been sabotaging our factory for years? It started as simple vandalism, or stolen goods. But lately it’s been escalating—missing components from the displays, pipes breaking, electricity flickering on and off at random times.”
“Why would McIntyre do that? Seems like a good way to get his keister charged with corporate espionage,” asked Sandra.
Mrs. Lurge pursed her lips. “There are many reasons: first and foremost, jealousy. But more than that, as I said, the state wants to buy us out. Don’t you see: McIntyre would love nothing more than to see us crushed by those do-nothing bureaucrats. So he was trying to make it impossible for us to operate.”
“Do you have any, ah, hard evidence of this, Mrs. Lurge?” asked Max.
She shot a stern look at the base station. “I have Lothar’s word.”
“Yes, well… I’m afraid that wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.”
“That’s why I’m hiring you people,” she snapped, rising from her seat abruptly. “Do some digging! McIntyre’s been working every angle he can since he took over from his father. I’m sure you’ll find out plenty about what he’s been doing—and I’m sure you’ll find it includes complicity in the murder of my husband. She narrowed her gaze in the direction of the comm unit. “As we discussed, I’m prepared to pay whatever it takes to make this happen.”
“We’ll do everything we can, Mrs. Lurge,” Venus assured her.
“Good. I suggest you start by questioning McIntyre. I’m sure that snake will crack under the pressure.” she picked up her bag and turned towards the door. “I will let you get to work. Good day.”
And with that, she strode out of the office.
Venus and Sandra exchanged surprised looks.
“She sure is hung up on the McIntyre angle, isn’t she?” said Venus.
“She is indeed,” Max agreed. “Probably unreasonably, if I do say so myself. Still, there may be something to it. There’s obviously no love lost between the families. I’ll be interested in your impressions of the man.”
“What can you tell us about him? If we’re going to talk to him, we’ll need a plan of attack.”
“Well, my sources indicate he’s always eager to do press pieces in order to keep his company’s name in the news, he’s on the point of concluding a very lucrative deal with the Department of Defense, his office is on the 20th floor of the McIntyre building, and you ladies have an appointment scheduled with him at 3PM tomorrow, your cover story being that you’re reporters for Gelunbu Business Magazine.”
Venus looked at Sandra in amazement. Sandra responded with a knowing smile. “He does that. You’ll get used to it.”
“How…?” Venus asked.
Max added with a wry, false-modest chuckle, “I have to wear a lot of hats at once, but I try cover all the angles. Consider that the compensation for my not being able to join in person. Although many women would say seeing my chiseled visage would be well worth sacrificing my many other talents.”
“Well, thank you very much,” said Venus, while Sandra rolled her eyes.