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Fuzzy Nation Part 20

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It was a capuchin monkey.

"You have got got to be s.h.i.+tting me," Holloway said. to be s.h.i.+tting me," Holloway said.

Papa Fuzzy looked at Holloway curiously. Holloway pointed at the monkey. "I know that monkey," he said. "d.a.m.n thing stole my wallet once. I can't believe it's still alive. I can't believe it's been with you guys."

Papa Fuzzy followed Holloway's pointing finger toward the monkey, and then looked back at Holloway with what for all intents and purposes was a noncommittal shrug. Yes, so, it's a monkey, Yes, so, it's a monkey, it seemed to be saying. it seemed to be saying. What about it? What about it?

"This has become a very strange day," Holloway said.



An object was moving forward through the crowd to Holloway, carried by a single fuzzy who held its arms outstretched, and sort of wobbled its way through the group, other fuzzys parting to let it through. The fuzzy came up to Papa Fuzzy, who squeaked something at it. The other fuzzy offered the object to Holloway, who took it.

It was an infopanel.

Holloway wondered for a second if it wasn't his spare panel, saved from the cabin fire, when he realized that it was a different make and model. This one was a lower-end model than any of Holloway's, but featured one high-end feature: solar panels on the non-display side. Leave it out in the sunlight for an hour, it'd be charged up for a week. Useful, actually, for people who spent most of their time out surveying.

Holloway turned on the display.

Andy Alpaca, the mascot of the Super Reading Adventures line of skill-adaptive electronic reading primers, beamed back at him, making eye contact with Holloway by way of facial identification software tied into the infopanel's camera.

"Hi there!" it said. "I'm Andy Alpaca! Would you like to go on a reading adventure with me?"

It was Sam Hamilton's infopanel, all right. Poor, semi-literate Sam, whose skimmer went down years ago. The monkey quite obviously survived. It didn't seem too likely Sam did.

"Should have bought that emergency fence, Sam," Holloway said.

He looked down at the infopanel again, where Andy Alpaca waited for him to respond. Then he looked out at the fuzzys, who stared up at him, patiently.

For the third time that day, the gears in his brain engaged, hard.

Chapter Twenty-one.

Joe DeLise was mightily displeased when he walked through the door of Warren's Warren and found someone occupying his favorite stool. He was even more displeased when the man turned toward him and DeLise recognized who he was.

"I don't care what that son of a b.i.t.c.h lawyer said," DeLise said, from the door. "If you're not off of my stool by the time I get over there, I'm breaking your face."

"You should know that son of a b.i.t.c.h lawyer is right over there," Holloway said, pointing to Sullivan, who was shooting pool by himself.

DeLise paused. "Can't go anywhere without your protection, Jack?" he said, after a second. He started walking toward his stool again. "I guess I got you that scared, don't I."

Holloway peered at DeLise. "Jesus, Joe, what happened to your face?" he asked. "You look like you tried to tongue-kiss a cat and the cat objected."

"None of your d.a.m.n business," DeLise said.

"Mind you, I don't blame the cat," Holloway said, and looked again. "How long ago did that happen, anyway? Looks like maybe four, five days ago."

"Kiss my a.s.s," DeLise said. He was hovering over Holloway now. "And get off my stool."

"I was planning to," Holloway said. "It smells bad. All those years of you farting into it, I suppose."

"That's right," DeLise said. "Keep it up."

"But before I do that, I've got something for you," Holloway said.

"What?" DeLise said.

"This," Sullivan said, slapping a court notice against his shoulder. He had walked up behind DeLise while the man had been threatening Holloway. "You've got a court date. Preliminary hearing."

DeLise looked back at his shoulder but didn't touch the notice. "What for?" he said.

"For burning down my house, you a.s.shole," Holloway said.

"I don't know what you're talking about," DeLise said. "I've been here or I've been working. And I have people who will tell you that in both places."

"Well then, you have nothing to worry about, do you?" Sullivan said. "You can show up in three days with some of your witnesses and let them chat with Judge Soltan and then you'll be free to go."

"I don't recall you calling in your little fire to security," DeLise said.

"Funny about that," Holloway said.

"Considering the possible involvement of a ZaraCorp security officer, Mr. Holloway asked the judge to allow him to file a request for a preliminary hearing directly," Sullivan said. "And I, as legal representative of ZaraCorp, indicated to her that the company wouldn't have a problem with that. And here we are."

"Surprise," Holloway said, to DeLise.

DeLise sneered at Holloway and looked back to Sullivan. "Even if it's true, which it's not, what do you care?" he asked Sullivan. "You're ZaraCorp's lawyer, not his. He's not a ZaraCorp employee. His house isn't ZaraCorp property. s.h.i.+t, I'm the one who works for ZaraCorp, not this schmuck."

"You're not working for ZaraCorp when you're allegedly burning down someone's house, now, are you, Mr. DeLise?" Sullivan said. "That's on your own time."

DeLise smirked at that. "I don't think you really want to serve that notice to me, Counselor," he said.

"A tip for you, Mr. DeLise," Sullivan said. "Just because you haven't touched the notice with your fingers doesn't mean it hasn't been served to you."

DeLise snorted, took the notice, and set it on the bar. He turned to Sullivan. "This is going to be a waste of everybody's time," he said. "And I don't take very kindly to being made to look like an a.s.shole, Counselor." He jerked a thumb at Holloway. "You think you're doing yourself a favor latching on to this piece of s.h.i.+t, but between you and me, Sullivan, I think you've picked the wrong horse this time. I don't think you're going to like where he's going to end up taking you."

"Well, Mr. DeLise, coming from a man I once had to stop from killing Mr. Holloway in a ZaraCorp holding cell, that's certainly an ironic slice of food for thought," Sullivan said. "You can be a.s.sured I'll give it the consideration it deserves."

"Yeah, I'm sure you will," DeLise said. "But he's not in the holding tank this time. He's not the untouchable you made him out to be. And when this is all done, we'll just see who the a.s.shole is, won't we." He turned toward Holloway, who blinded him with a flash.

"What the h.e.l.l?" DeLise said.

"Just taking a picture," Holloway said, lowering the camera. "Your scratched-up face amuses the c.r.a.p out of me, Joe."

"Get off my stool, a.s.shole," DeLise said. "Now." "Now."

"All yours," Holloway said, getting up. "Enjoy it while you can."

DeLise grunted and sat.

"Have I told you today how much I hate you?" Chad Bourne said, to Holloway. The two of them were walking Carl, who snuffled happily down one of the side streets of Aubreytown. Bourne had called Holloway to meet with him in his cubicle, but Holloway refused. A little bit of yelling later and they were walking down the street with a dog. It was muggy and hot. Bourne was not dressed for a walk and was already sweating profusely.

"I haven't done anything today to make you hate me," Holloway said.

"You made me walk your dog with you," Bourne said.

"That's not hate worthy," Holloway said. "And anyway, you like Carl."

"My cubicle is air-conditioned," Bourne said.

"Your cubicle is probably bugged," Holloway said.

"So now in addition to being annoying, you're paranoid," Bourne said.

"In the last few weeks I've had my skimmer sabotaged and my house burned down to its floor panels," Holloway said. "I've earned a little paranoia, I think. And anyway, I have things I need to say to you that I don't want anyone else to hear."

"Aside from your voices," Bourne said.

"Cute," Holloway said. He stopped while Carl examined a particularly interesting sapling. "Chad, look. We have our problems, you and I. And I'm willing to admit lots of those problems are my fault. And I know that there have been times when you've gone out of your way to make a little bit of trouble for me, because I've gone out of my way to make a lot of trouble for you. Fair to say?"

"Fair to say," Bourne said, after a minute. Carl had finished his examination of the sapling and left behind a note for future dogs. The three of them started walking again.

"Fair to say," Holloway said again. "So: ups and downs. But there's one thing that I respect about you, Chad. It's that you're fundamentally a decent human being. There are times when you've hated me, but you always invited me to that stupid holiday thing you hold for the contractors you rep. You've always been fair in our dealings-and I know not every ZaraCorp contractor rep is. h.e.l.l, you even like my dog."

"He's a good dog," Bourne said. "Better than you deserve."

"Well, that's the thing, isn't it," Holloway said. "One thing I've always been blessed with is better people than I deserve. Carl. Isabel. Sullivan, even though he's dating my ex. Even you, Chad. In your own annoying way, you've been better than I deserve. It's clear I've been pretty lucky."

"It's a mystery to me," Bourne said. "It really is."

Holloway smiled at this. "It's because you've been fundamentally decent to me that I wanted to tell you something. I think you're about to get royally screwed."

Bourne stopped. "What the h.e.l.l is that supposed to mean?" he said.

"You have a skimmer," Holloway said.

"I have a company skimmer," Bourne said. "So what?"

"So I think by the time you get back to your cubicle today, you're going to find it's been impounded," Holloway said.

"What?" Bourne said. "Why? By who? You?"

"Not by me," Holloway said. "I suspect you're going to find it's been impounded as evidence by whoever's representing Joe DeLise in the preliminary hearing I've filed against him for burning down my house."

"What does Joe DeLise have to do with my skimmer?" Bourne said.

"As far as anybody knows, not a thing," Holloway said. "And that's the point, Chad. When they impound it, they're probably going to run some tests on it, and I suspect they're going to find that there's residue of fire suppressant on it. The same sort of fire suppressant I have at my place."

Bourne looked confused. "How did it get there?" he said.

"Because your skimmer was at my place when it burned down, obviously," Holloway said. He started the three of them walking again; he didn't want to stay in the same place too long. "There might be some other physical evidence as well, I suppose, but I'm guessing that's the one DeLise's lawyer is going to use to introduce reasonable doubt to my a.s.sertion that he was the one who set fire to my place."

"I didn't drive it the day your place burned down," Bourne said.

"Where were you?" Holloway said.

"I had the day off," Bourne said. "I was supposed to go to that hearing about those fuzzy creatures of yours, but I woke up feeling sick and decided to chuck it. I stayed in my apartment all day."

"Anyone with you?" Holloway asked.

"No," Bourne said.

"So no corroborating witnesses to you sleeping through the whole day," Holloway said.

"So?" Bourne said.

"So, DeLise has already a.s.sured us that he's got numerous witnesses who will swear they've seen him, either at work or at that piece of s.h.i.+t bar he hangs out in," Holloway said. "He's got enough people scared of him that they'll testify in court he was where he says he was, instead of where he really was, which was at my house, burning it down."

"But it doesn't make sense," Bourne asked. "There's no way for DeLise or anyone else to get access to the skimmer. I keep the key fob in my pocket."

"Has DeLise ever been in your skimmer?" Holloway asked.

"You know he has," Bourne said. "He was Aubrey's security detail when we came to visit you."

Holloway looked at Bourne, counting off the seconds while the tumblers in his rep's brain clicked into place.

"Oh, c.r.a.p, c.r.a.p," Bourne said.

"You left the key fob with DeLise because I wouldn't let him out of the skimmer," Holloway said. "More than enough time for him to crack the encryption and make a copy, if he knows how or if he had help. Then later he could pick up the skimmer anytime and when it left the garage, it would be your key fob signature registered as checking it out."

"Why me?" Bourne asked.

"Because you're my my rep, Chad," Holloway said. "Everyone knows you have your troubles with me. Everyone knows I'm a pain in your a.s.s. There is record after record of you and me wrangling about one thing or another. There are lots of examples of me ignoring you or bypa.s.sing you or otherwise running right over you to get what I want. Now with Judge Soltan's ruling to get more study on the fuzzys, I've threatened your job along with the job of every other person on the planet. After everything, it's not entirely unreasonable for you to snap and decide to take it out on me. You a.s.sumed I returned to my cabin immediately after the hearing and decided to burn it down around me. It makes perfect sense." rep, Chad," Holloway said. "Everyone knows you have your troubles with me. Everyone knows I'm a pain in your a.s.s. There is record after record of you and me wrangling about one thing or another. There are lots of examples of me ignoring you or bypa.s.sing you or otherwise running right over you to get what I want. Now with Judge Soltan's ruling to get more study on the fuzzys, I've threatened your job along with the job of every other person on the planet. After everything, it's not entirely unreasonable for you to snap and decide to take it out on me. You a.s.sumed I returned to my cabin immediately after the hearing and decided to burn it down around me. It makes perfect sense."

Bourne stopped and sat down on the curb, wordless.

"It makes perfect sense," Holloway said. "Unless someone actually knows you, Chad. Someone like me. You and I have had our moments. But I know you're a decent person. That's why I'm warning you about this ahead of time."

Bourne just sat there and shook his head.

"Come on," Holloway said eventually, nudging him. "We've got to get you back."

"You could be wrong about this," Bourne said, after several moments of silence.

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