Before lunch, I skipped over to the Elysian Towers; and as luck would have it, I found Morrison on duty at the front desk. After a bit of prompting and a promise of twenty bucks on my part, I got him to open up with frank bonhomie, just as if we had been old chums from the laboratory where he had been created. He told me that yes, the condo’s management firm had hired Aqua-Clean Pools to service the swimming pool out back, which meant a maintenance worker came once a week. For about a year the pool tech had been a hunky blond guy with well-developed arm and leg muscles, a Swedish American by the name of Onslow; and from the way Morris described him, I had a feeling the drone had had a crush on the Swede. The last two service dates before the McAllister murder, the pool company had sent someone else, a small, rather vague man who did the job, but not as well or as creatively as the big, brawn Onslow.
Thus, I showed Morris Buckley Grover’s original photo and then the one I had doctored. The manager’s little eyes darted from one holo to the other, until he finally made up his mind.
“Yes, yes,” he announced while nipping at his thumb. “He looks terribly much like the new pool man, the little guy with that vague look about him. You know a cross between a cerebral thinker and a spaced-out jackass, which probably makes him a mediocre nobody. Of course, he hasn’t been back since.” Morris suddenly brightened. “Of which I am thankful since Onslow has returned to us.”
I congratulated him on his good fortune and then slipped him the twenty. The manager’s ID wasn’t exactly a hundred percent positive, but it worked for me, especially his description of Buckley’s demeanor, mediocre, vague, there but not quite there. I put one more question to the manager: Had he seen the substitute pool man walking about the building, using the elevator, or loitering at any point?
“Well, he could have,” Morris admitted with a defensive sniff. “I don’t always keep track of the hired help. But as far as I knew, the man did his job in about forty to forty-five minutes and then left. Had I seen him lurking about, I would have reprimanded him severely and told him to get back to work. And I might have reported him as well.”
When nothing more came to mind, I included a general “thank you” to go with the rest of my generosity; and then I asked Morris if Arianna Ravel still resided at the apartment that had once been the property of the late Gavin McAllister.
“Oh, yes,” he informed me. “In fact, Arianna is training a new companion today. So, she’s bound to be there.”
I leaned over the marble counter top that separated us, conscious to keep a few inches of air space between us. The manager never flinched or moved back, even after I added my best no-nonsense cop look. “So, you think she’ll stay on when the new owner arrives?”
Beneath his gold epaulets, Morris bony shoulders rose in what appeared to be a nonchalant gesture. “I don’t see why not. These jobs don’t come easy for sure. And Arianna is a pro by now so her expertise is much sought after by our incoming residents. Plus she’s on our retirement plan.”
“A nice little nest egg to have when it’s time to quit the business,” I commented. We had a pension plan, too, but I never thought about retiring or even getting older. I just lived from day to day, and hoped I managed to survive one after the other. Then I wondered how old Arianna had to be in order to retire.
“Or whenever she decides to not to do it any more,” Morris added with a sly wink. “But it’s more likely to be when her looks go, her body sags and no man can afford to keep her around, if you know what I mean.”
What a sexist bunch of bullshit, I thought, my ire building. For two cents, I’d slap that stupid plastic grin off the drone’s face. Yet, I had to keep my opinion to myself lest I be called out for conduct unbecoming an officer of the law. At least I could retire after I put in all the years I wanted to, and not because my face had creased, my boobs had sagged down to my ankles, and the man in my life considered me an embarrassment to have around. “Ah, yes. I see. Well, anyway, I’m going to pay her a brief visit right now, but don’t announce me, please.”
“Discretion is my middle name.”
“Ah, huh. Just remember that.” Lurching forward, I flicked his beaky nose for good measure. Then, still in my nimble youthful form, I jumped back and jogged to the elevator bank.
A shade of nervousness and a bit of an upset stomach made Faun tremble as she checked her image in the mirror for the hundredth time. Did she look older today, lovelier, more sophisticated? Had the drug changed her at all? She didn’t remember much after Talitha took her to see Devon Brand last night; nor did Faun remember what happened with Devon. Had they made love? Or had she simply passed out? Faun awoke this morning in the bed she and Talitha had shared, in the apartment bedroom Talitha told her they used for inductions. After a shaky effort to rise and walk, Faun toured the apartment but found no one besides herself. Talitha, though, had left her a note in the kitchen, telling her to have something to eat, then shower and dress. Faun had her appointment today at nine-thirty, and Talitha warned her not to be late. She was to report to apartment B624 in the building.
To Faun’s surprise and pleasure, Talitha had left her a beautiful amethyst gown with crystal clasps at the shoulders, plus matching crystal hair combs to highlight her new hair color of strawberry blonde. Faun took her time in bathing and dressing, careful with her hair and makeup. As she worked, the budding companion stared at her reflection with serious intent. Her hair did look longer and fuller, her face thinner and more mature. In fact, her body felt more svelte, her hips slimmer, her breasts firmer. The drug Talitha had administered seemed to be taking effect, and Faun would ask for another shot, just to make sure her transformation would be complete, a definite success.
By nine-thirty on the dot, Faun rang the doorbell of B624, ready to meet her new instructor. Some of her nervousness had worn off, but not her upset stomach, a side effect, no doubt, of the drug. She should have eaten something, but just the thought of food made Faun gag. She would eat later, if she could handle it. When the front door slid open, she took in a steady breath…
Her first glimpse of Arianna Ravel enthralled her. The older woman had to be the most beautiful and sophisticated creature Faun had even seen, a vision in green and gold. And right away, Faun knew Arianna would serve as her role model, her inspiration, her guardian angel who would lead her to perfection. They seemed to hit it off at the start, Faun eager to learn, Arianna more than willing to show the young woman the ropes. “It’s not just a job,” Arianna counseled, “but a career. As long as you view it as a proper profession, you will excel, and not just by working hard but by developing your skills. Creativity, elegance, graciousness, and generosity will be your personal mantra. Remember it. CEGG.”
Arianna began the instruction by showing video clips of various duties and assignments. As she watched, Faun took copious notes on how to walk, how to dress for the occasion, how to mix and serve cocktails, how to remember guests’ names by a simple association game, how to order and prepare food, and how to make love like a pro. Faun’s interest piqued during this portion of the course. She wanted to be the best companion in the bedroom, able to give, and give eagerly, to perform whatever her employer wanted and do so with creative and skilled aplomb.
When Arianna told her to take a break before they continued with the hands-on portion of her lesson, Faun sat back and glanced at her hands. They seemed slimmer now, definitely thinner and more mature. She could see the network of blue veins just below the surface of her pale flesh. And something else…the smallest of brown spots here and there. She thought she recognized them, the same kind of freckles that her grandma had all over her arthritic hands and arms. Age spots. Faun wrinkled her brow. Could it be?