The McIntyre building’s lobby featured a polished faux-marble floor and glossy orange-gold walls ornamented by large, brightly-colored abstract paintings. But while the designs were loud, the lobby itself was quiet, the reception desk empty save for a lone lava lamp. The absence of a chair suggested the vacancy was permanent. The only sounds was the unnerving click of the two detectives’ heels as they walked towards the doors of the magnetic multivator.
“I expected it would be busier,” Venus muttered as the polished door slid open and they entered.
Sandra said nothing. She was mulling over what she would say to McIntyre. One by one, she watched as the numbered lights blinked on and off as they ascended. Finally, they reached the 17th floor and stepped out into a long hallway of deep purplish red. There were no decorative art pieces here, only a series of oil paintings of the McIntyres of yesteryear. Stern men in dark suits, glaring darkly at all who passed by en route to the office of their descendant at the end of the hall.
The door was open, and Mr. Tobias McIntyre was seated at a large wooden desk, his hands folded neatly in front of him. He was a tall, aristocratic-looking man, with short salt-and-pepper hair and a darker goatee. He wore a pale yellow suit, with a burgundy dress shirt and matching tie. In a chair beside his desk was seated a young woman with short, dark hair, and a pleasant smile, dressed in a teal blouse and skirt.
“Ah, you must be the reporters,” said McIntyre, rising to shake hands. “What a pleasure, what a pleasure.”
After introductions, during which they learned the young woman was Suzanne, his administrative assistant and operations manager, Sandra started off with her questions while Venus took notes.
“What is the number one challenge facing McIntyre’s Mechanicals today?”
“Well, I don’t think of it as a challenge; I think of it as an opportunity, but it’s the same thing it’s been for the last few decades: how to re-position ourselves to continue thriving in a world where military mechanicals are no longer produced. There are lots of opportunities, in fact—civilian uses for mechanicals are being considered at all times, and I’m confident that with our resources, we’re set up well to take advantage.”
“I see. Is there a lot of investment in that area?”
“Ah, there’s a fine question! Well, now, that’s true—getting the necessary capital to start up robot factories has proven a trifle difficult. That said, I’m quite certain we can. After all, unlike some competitors, we are not carnival barkers turning our facilities into venues for dog-and-pony shows. I won’t name any names,” he said with a sly smile.
“Speaking of others in the robotics business… I’m sure you heard about the tragedy at Lurge Robotics.”
“Terrible, yes. My condolences to the family. A great loss for the robot manufacturing, ah, community,” he said, the smile not leaving his face.
“Did you know Mr. Lurge well”
“Only from business connections. In fact, I bumped into him at a ChamComm meeting just last week; he was more talkative than he had been in quite some time.” He made a strange, guttural noise. “Come to think of it, he told me he was looking forward to ‘the best October in years”.” McIntyre tried, and failed, to keep the slight twist of a smile from his lips as he said soberly, “Ironic, in light of the subsequent tragedy.”
“Is safety a particular challenge for a de-commissioned facility?”
McIntyre leaned back in his chair, eyebrows raised in surprise. “Well now, really, ma’am; surely that’s a question better put to the Lurge company. All I can say is that such an accident would be unthinkable at a McIntyre property. We have not a single accident to our name in a long time—not since the Great Robot War of ’57 was at its peak! I can’t speak to the track record of any of our competitors, but. . .” he grinned again. “Can I tell you something off the record?”
Sandra and Venus exchanged a glance. “Sure,” said Sandra.
“This doesn’t leave this room, understand? Good. Then let me just say, any company that tries to profit off of ghost stories on its grounds must not have a very strong track record with safety, you take?”
He chuckled, as did Suzanne. Sandra and Venus nodded politely.
“You mentioned civilian applications of your technology—can you elaborate on that?” Sandra asked.
“The government’s restrictions on the use of robotics technology are very strict,” Venus put in, and then immediately looked abashed at the gaze Sandra shot in her direction.
“Uh, well, yes—of course. That’s-that’s definitely something we consider. I, uh, probably shouldn’t say too much more, actually, other than that there are a lot of exciting things in the pipeline.”
“I see,” Sandra nodded. “So, would you say our readers can look forward to big things from McIntyre’s Mechanicals in the near future?”
“Absolutely! That’s just what I’d tell ‘em. You got it.” He said, with an encouraging fist pump. “Now, uh, I’d love to continue this but I have another appointment coming up. Remind me, Suzanne—what is it again?”
“You have a conference call with prospective clients about bulk orders at 3:30,” she said smartly.
“Ah, yes, that’s it. Well, it’s been lovely talking to you ladies—do come by again sometime.”
“Actually, I had one more question, Mr. McIntyre. It’s quick,” said Sandra, smiling prettily.
“Oh, well; if it’s quick, how can I say no?”
“I just was wondering how many workers McIntyre’s Mechanicals employs?”
“Um—” he said, biting his lip, but Suzanne quickly interjected, “We employ so many seasonal and temporary workers that it’s hard to give an exact figure. It can depend on the day. However, I can assure you that recent estimates show we contribute millions annually to Gelunbu’s GDP.” She smiled pleasantly, but in a way that said not to ask any more questions.
“Perfect!” said Sandra brightly. “Again, thank you for your time.” She and Venus bade both farewell and returned to the multivator. Once inside, Sandra pressed the button for the lobby level — and for four or five floors in between.
Venus arched her brows quizzically. Sandra just smiled, took some lip gloss from her purse and lightly applied it to her mouth, and waited for the doors to open to floor 14. When they did, the two women looked out at row upon row of empty cubicles.
At last, after checking a few more floors, each with similar results, they exited the building and walked back towards Sandra’s orange hatchback.
Sandra laughed, and Venus shook her head. “I don’t think they have any other employees at that company. They have Mr. McIntyre as founder and CEO, and Suzanne is his secretary. They probably make money solely by filing copyright lawsuits on various designs and technologies.”
“ I’ll bet you’re right. And it was a stroke of genius to check that out. But that still doesn’t help us with the whole did-they-kill-Mr.-Lurge question,” said Venus.
“Indeed it doesn’t,” Max concurred over the speaker in the dashboard.
“Do you have to do that?” Sandra grumbled.
“Don’t you relish hearing my dulcet tones, Sandy?”
Sandy ignored this and powered up the hatchback.
“So, what’s our next stop, Boss?,” Sandra asked. “The factory, right?”
“Bingo!” said Max. “I knew you’d feel that way, so I called ahead. The place is closed down of course, but the night watchman on duty the night of Mr. Lurge’s demise will be there. Talk to him. Check out his alibi. Get an little details that might not have made their way to the police report. You know — work your magic, Sandra.”
Venus shook her head. “You two work so much faster than we did at the FES!”
Sandra answered at once. “Too much for ya? Want me to drop you off and take care of this on my own?”
“No, no; not at all. I love it. Beats all the paperwork and approvals I’m used to.”
“Oh,” said Sandra, feeling rather put out.
“You see?” Max intoned cheerfully. “You two make a great team!”