“You know, Venus,” Sandra, sipping chablis from her coffee mug, her feet propped on the couch. “I owe you an apology.”
After wrapping things up with Mrs. Lurge and McIntyre—both of whom had exchanged apologies for assuming the worst about the other—the two detectives had been lounging around the office chatting and making a impromptu toast with a bottle of wine they discovered in the back of the office fridge.
“How do you figure?” said Venus, swishing her wine around in her glass. “You cracked the case, and saved me and Max from ten different kinds of embarrassment.”
“She has a knack for that,” Max added. “Sandra, I know I always say it, but you never fail to dazzle me.”
“Do you always say it? You could say it a bit more and I wouldn’t mind,” she said with a grin, but her expression turned serious again as she looked back at Venus. “No, it’s true; I should have figured it out much sooner than I did. The only reason I didn’t was because of the fact I was so paranoid and so jealous—I saw you as a threat, you know that?”
“A threat? Me?”
“I did. I thought, ‘well, great, Max has brought in this babe to replace me,’ when I should’ve just taken you at your word. And you know, I think it distracted me-I let myself get off my game.”
“Well, you more than made up for it,” said Venus.
“Thank you. Now, you know what would hit the spot right about now?”
“Pizza. I seem to recall you mentioning something about cheese pizza.”
Venus practically jumped out of her chair. “Yes! Great idea!”
“Well, how’s about it, Max?” Sandra asked. “Can you put in the order?”
“What, with company money?” he asked reproachfully. “I don’t know, ladies—I’m already letting you drink on company time.”
“Oh, come on; we’ve earned ourselves a treat after last night!” said Venus.
“Well, yes, but you know I can’t be too much of a spendthrift.”
Sandra winked at Venus. “Well, all right then, let’s just talk about somethin’ that’s been on my mind lately. Somethin’ you said the other day, Max, about this case—it was ‘close to home’ I believe you said.”
“I believe I did.”
“Well, y’know, I been thinking: you’re always doing a million different things, wearing all these hats at once, seems like you know everybody who’s anybody.”
“And you’re wondering just where I am—where does a suave, sophisticated fellow set up a base of operations to juggle all these things at once, right?”
“Well, sorta, yeah,” she said. “But actually—well, no sense beatin’ around the bush: I was wondering if you, uh, let’s say, know anything about a network-distributed crime-fighting artificial intelligence. Charlie said they’d been working on something like that at the Lurge place back in the day. Before that kind of thing was outlawed, of course. That sounds like something you would maybe have, uh, heard about. I mean, an AI like that would be in a predicament similar to Venus’, and would probably feel a heap of sympathy for her. So I was just curious.”
There was a long pause, during which Venus and Sandra exchanged knowing grins and raised their eyebrows expectantly.
“What kind of pizza did you say you want?” Max said at last.