Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye #127

“All right,” said Eddie, tucking the feather duster under one arm. “Follow me then.”

I stood up from the couch, accompanied by more crinkling from the plastic, and then followed her out of the sitting room. Around the corner lay a small, tidy kitchen, but Eddie opened a door to one side, revealing stairs. She started down to the basement.

She was only out of my line of sight for a second, but when I started down the stairs myself, Eddie had changed her outfit. Now she wore brown slacks, a white polo shirt with a dark leather vest, and a green accountant’s visor.

The basement was unfinished, with a concrete floor and exposed wooden beams in the ceiling. A single light fixture hung above a beat-up card table and two folding chairs. On the table, I could see a ledger book and an old-fashioned mechanical adding machine. Eddie took a seat and gestured for me to do the same.

I surveyed the spare surroundings with a frown. “So where’s everybody else?”

“Oh no,” said Eddie. “You’ll each be bargaining separately. I prefer dealing with individuals.”

“Now wait just a minute,” I said, “That’s not part of the deal. We came to you as a group. We want to bargain as a group. It’s not fair to separate us.”

“Not fair?” she asked, with wide innocent eyes. “How would it be fair to anyone for me to treat you all as a unit? You and my former servant owe me pre-existing debts. You would ask your other colleagues to give up their neutral starting position in order to benefit you?”

“No,” I said, “but not everybody is familiar with your… style. I was expecting to advise them.”

“Well,” she replied with a smirk, “Aren’t you the generous one? But I’m sorry, it’s quite impossible. Perhaps if you had all unanimously requested collective bargaining beforehand…”

“Eddie, they weren’t informed of that option in advance, were they?”

She blinked. “Perhaps you should have prepared them better.”

“Eddie, I…”

“In any event, I’m afraid that negotiations are already underway. I am meeting with each of you simultaneously.”

Swallowing my surprise, I straightened up and kept my voice firm. “I want you to tell them that they have the choice.”

She smiled, and for a split second, she had too many teeth. “I understand what you want,” she said. “What would you be willing to pay for such a service?”

When I hesitated, she waved a hand at the other chair again. “Please, sit.”

Heaving a wary sigh, I pulled the folding chair away from the table and sat. The metal was cold, even through my clothing.

“Now then,” she said, pulling the adding machine close. “Shall we begin with a review of your current balance? Perhaps we’ll find out if you can even afford such a transaction, hmm?”

I nodded. “Yeah, okay.”

She pursed her lips. “So glum. You used to enjoy this.”

“I ‘used to’ lots of things,” I said. “Been trying to quit.”

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