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"What're you sniffin' like that for?" Lang said. "You smell somethin' out of the ordinary do you?"
Dr. Jay was hauling himself up over the top of the counter as far as he could. He looked down into the cubicle at Lenore, who was back in Judith's chair. "Lenore, I'm afraid I've just gotten off the phone with Norman Bombardini," he said. He tested the air of the cubicle. "I would be inclined to say that it might be better for you not to be in the Building right now. Norman apparently saw you arrive from some restaurant down the street. I'm afraid he's in a bit of a bad way, emotionally speaking, at the present time."
"Mr. Bombardini's in an emotional bad way?" said Judith.
"How do you even know Mr. Bombardini?" Lenore said. "You never told me you knew Mr. Bombardini."
Dr. Jay made as if to wipe his nose with a handkerchief. He left the hankie over his nose and mouth. "Ethics, et cetera," he said through the cloth. "Actually a longtime client and friend." Lang was giving Dr. Jay a very unfriendly look indeed. "He's unfortunately very upset," Dr. Jay continued, pushing himself even higher over the counter with his elbows so that his feet were off the lobby floor. He leaned toward Lenore with his hankie. "I'm afraid he's talking with some earnestness about ... consuming people."
"All metaphorical, I'm firmly convinced. Surely you're in a position to see that this eating business masks membranous turmoils far too ... tumultuous to go into here." Jay looked around. "Shall we perhaps-?"
"Eating?" Lang said.
"The crux here being that in his present state of emotional turmoil and physical ... girth," Jay said, struggling now to keep himself above the counter, "it appears prudent to err on the side of-"
"Hold it a second," Lang said, his head c.o.c.ked. "What in the h.e.l.l's that sound supposed to be?" Everyone stopped and listened.
And there was a bit of a distant sound, like a train or thunder, that grew slightly and then was for a moment obscured by the shriek of some phones.
"G.o.d d.a.m.n it," Candy Mandible said.
"Lenore, as a professional and a friend, I suggest that we quickly and quietly leave," Jay said, struggling. His elbows finally gave, and he fell back out of view. Lang looked down at him. Jay's voice came over the counter. "Other issues we need to countenance together, Lenore. I've been doing some thinking. A discussion is imperative."
"I've decided we're finished, Dr. Jay," Lenore said from her chair. "Our relationship is over."
"I'll make it a free session."
"Relationship?" said Lang.
Mr. Bloemker cleared his throat again and stepped forward under Lang's hand. "Ms. Beadsman before you go anywhere with anyone I really must ask that we all speak, here, in the lobby, on a matter you and I had agreed I should bring before you, should any-"
"And I thought we said we weren't gonna be makin' stressful demands on the lady just now, Gus," Lang said, pulling Bloemker back to him. Bloemker looked over at Alvin Spaniard.
Candy was watching w.a.n.g-Dang Lang from the console, whenever she could look up. The noise of the phones was now constant. All the trunk lights were illuminating.
"Are you here with Mr. Bloemker, or what?" Lenore said, looking at Alvin Spaniard.
Alvin pushed his gla.s.ses up. He looked across Lang at Mr. Bloemker. The rumbling sound was getting louder.
Judith Prietht and Champ had turned around; Judith was looking into the shadow. "Hey Mr. V!" she called suddenly. "Whatcha doin' back there?" Everyone turned and looked. Rick Vigorous was back against the rear wall of the lobby, in the edge of the Erieview shadow, moving gradually with it. He was filthy with black dust, arid melted partway into the dark. It was hard to see him. But Candy could see something gleaming on his wrist when his arm came into the light. It was another handcuff. Candy looked back down at Lenore, Lenore had one of her sneakers off and was holding it upside down, pouring black sand through the day's wreath of roses on top of the switchboard wastebasket.
"f.u.c.king sand," she said. Her sock was incredibly dirty.
"Greetings, Rick!" Dr. Jay shouted.
"Can't believe you got the b.a.l.l.s to be here right now, R. V. !" Lang called loudly across the empty lobby to Rick Vigorous. "And how the h.e.l.l'd you even get here so quick?"
Candy began to have a really bad feeling, and she looked at Lenore, who was emptying out her other shoe.
"You better just git!" Lang was calling.
Rick Vigorous didn't say anything.
The rhythmic rumbling was now too loud even for the phones to cover. Candy thought she could feel the marble floor of the lobby vibrating slightly. The shadow was bigger than it should have been for one o'clock.
"What the h.e.l.l is that?" said Lang. He looked down at Dr. Jay.
Now through the revolving door in big hurries came Neil Obstat, Jr., Sigurd Foamwhistle, and Stonecipher Beadsman III. Right behind them was Peter Abbott, and right behind him was Walinda Peahen. Peter's big toolbox somehow got jammed in the door, and Walinda yelled at him from her gla.s.s compartment until he got the box free and the door spit them both out.
Mr. Beadsman was looking at his watch as he came. "Lenore!" he called.
"Jesus Lenore it's your Dad, and that cable guy, Abbott," Candy said.
Lenore stayed where she was, in the Bombardini-switchboard chair, holding her sneakers. Mr. Bloemker and Alvin Spaniard headed over to Obstat and Foamwhistle and Mr. Beadsman, and the five stood in the middle of the lobby floor, conferring. Obstat was looking at a large piece of paper and pointing to a section of the floor in the back of the lobby, over near Rick Vigorous. Meanwhile Walinda had come straight to the cubicle, brushing aside Dr. Jay, who was hurrying back toward the revolving door.
"Girl all I can say is whatever happened it d.a.m.n well better be important," Walinda said, coming inside. She stopped and looked around. "Where's that new girl that's supposed to be on?"
"I quit, Walinda," Lenore said.
"Quit?" Candy Mandible twisted around in her chair to look at them both. A phone rang.
"Yes." Lenore raised her voice to get it all the way to the back of the lobby over the rumbling. "I quit!" quit!"
"Girl answer the phone, phone, " Walinda said, pinching at Candy's shoulder. " Walinda said, pinching at Candy's shoulder.
"There's nothing on the other end," Candy said quietly, staring at Lenore. "Just static and tones. Lenore, what do you mean quit?"
"Hi Peter!" called Judith Prietht, manipulating poor Champ's paw yet again. Peter was doing something over near the section of the lobby floor that Neil Obstat had pointed out.
"The matter Lenore, you and that bitty fella back there have a fight?" Walinda chuckled and reached for the Legitimate Call Log. "Too bad. You need any help gettin' your stuff together?"
"Hey.Geraldine, why don't you just jump on back," Lang said to Walinda. "Little lady's had herself a rough day." Walinda slowly turned eyes to w.a.n.g-Dang Lang, and they stared at each other. Lang grinned.
"Lenore, sweetie, tell me what I can do," Candy was whispering into Lenore's ear, an arm around her shoulder. Phones jangled. The lobby shook faintly. Lenore closed her eyes and shook her head.
Now Peter Abbott appeared at the counter. He was smiling broadly.
"Satisfaction, ladies," he said, hefting his toolbox and patting it.
Lang looked down at Peter's box and toolbelt. "Hey there good bud," he said. "You want to see what you can do about these crazy-a.s.s phones?"
"Tex, that's the exact reason I'm here," Peter Abbott said. "To start clearin' up and explaining maybe the bizarrest phone-tunnel snafu in Cleveland history. He came around into the cubicle. "And to start to take steps to give you good folks some of the satisfaction you've been waitin' for, and also to remove this pesky old tunnel-test cable, down here." He produced a ratchet wrench with a flourish and with two quick turns shut the F and V console off. Now there was only the outside rumble. Peter turned to Walinda Peahen. "The tests are officially completed." He lowered himself under the counter, humming. Candy shot her chair back.
Lang leaned way over the counter into the cubicle. "Lenore, " he whispered, smiling and snapping his fingers. "Let's just git. What do you say? Car's out front. We can just come on back in a bit, R.V. and all these folks'll be gone. Let's git."
"So are you saying you're actually fixing our lines?" Candy was saying. "Is that what you're saying?" She kicked a little at Peter's jiggling boots. "And also maybe explaining a little bit? For Christ's sake now they ring and there's n.o.body there! What kind of phone rings when there's n.o.body there?"
"All I can say for openers is that Interactive Cable's own Ron Sludgeman is a certifiable genius," said a m.u.f.fled Peter Abbott. "This particular tunnel-test was certifiably ingenious. You just hang on up there."
"Lenore, " Lang was whispering.
"Lenore, please come here immediately," Mr. Beadsman called from out in the lobby.
Lenore stayed slumped in the chair, looking at the open cabinets and her pile of books and other items on the counters, and at the handcuff. Candy Mandible looked out at Mr. Beadsman and his group. They all seemed to be gathered around Neil Obstat, Jr., in the comer of the lobby, while Obstat lay on his stomach and did something to that section of the floor Peter had been at. Rick Vigorous watched from nearby, along the back wall. Everything rumbled.
"What're they trying to do to the floor?" Candy asked, tapping Walinda on the shoulder.
Walinda looked out. "Hey fools!" she called. "Hey!"
"You tell everybody to just hang onto their hats about the tunnel," Peter Abbott was saying. He emerged with one end of the long test-cable and unhooked it from the side of the Frequent and Vigorous console. He held it up for everyone to admire as light slowly went out of it. "d.a.m.ned smart, is all I can say," he said. "Put this particular console technician right back in his place, let me tell you that right now."
"Lenore!" Mr. Beadsman was calling, looking at his watch again.
"Lenore?" Lang was saying. "You all right?" Lenore was staring into s.p.a.ce.
The very top of Dr. Jay's head reappeared at the counter. "Really have to advise in the very strongest possible terms that we leave," he said through his handkerchief, lifting himself up again. "Really strongly advise it, Lenore." have to advise in the very strongest possible terms that we leave," he said through his handkerchief, lifting himself up again. "Really strongly advise it, Lenore."
"What's up?" Candy said. "What's the noise?"
"I'm afraid it seems to be poor Norman," Dr. Jay said. "He is in considerable distress, and is ... having at the rear wall of the whole Building with his ... his stomach. He looked Candy up and down. "He is demanding, and here I use his words, 'admission to Ms. Beadsman's s.p.a.ce.' "
"s.p.a.ce?" Candy said.
"Having at?" Lang said.
Jay turned his head to look up at Lang. "Battering, you might say."
Lenore looked up at them.
"Heat problems," Peter Abbott said. "Let me just say temperature-problems, for starters, and then let me apologize for not doing my job as good as I maybe should have on this one, I guess. I'm sorry." He rubbed his hands on his pants. "Like Mr. Sludgeman said to me he said Peter, if you got line trouble, and it's affecting targets over more than just one circuit, you start to look around for some kinda temperature problem, is what you do if you're smart."
Mr. Beadsman appeared overhead. "Lenore," he said. "I'll a.s.sume you were unable to hear me calling. Please come. We must talk. This is a family matter." He threw a bit of a sidelong look at Lang, who stared straight ahead and made as if to tip his hat. "A family matter," Mr. Beadsman said. "Please come out of there and over here with me immediately."
"You the chump be makin' that nasty food my child like to choke on one time?" Walinda Peahen put her hands on her hips and glared at Mr. Beadsman.
"My what a perfectly charming negress," Mr. Beadsman said.
"Boy, I gonna kill you for that."
"Lenore, please note that this is professional professional advice being given here," Dr. Jay said from under Mr. Beadsman's arm. "Really think it would be best to come back another time." He shifted on his elbows and looked at Walinda Peahen, who was giving Mr. Beadsman perhaps the world's biggest fish-eye. Mr. Beadsman was looking expectantly at Lenore. advice being given here," Dr. Jay said from under Mr. Beadsman's arm. "Really think it would be best to come back another time." He shifted on his elbows and looked at Walinda Peahen, who was giving Mr. Beadsman perhaps the world's biggest fish-eye. Mr. Beadsman was looking expectantly at Lenore.
. "Just a second, please, Dad," Lenore said, looking at the shoes in her hand. "I'm in the process of quitting."
"Family emergency, Lenore."
"Sir, Miss Lenore and I were hopin' to be on a plane to Nugget Bluff, Texas, by suppertime," Lang said.
Candy stared at Lenore. "Nugget Bluff, Texas?"
Mr. Beadsman seemed not to hear. He was looking at Lenore's wrist. "And what may I ask is on my daughter's wrist?" he said.
"Chief!" Sigurd Foamwhistle was calling from the rear of the lobby.
"Well sir whyn't you just ask that little dung beetle right back there?" Lang said, pointing at Rick Vigorous, back in the shadow.
Mr. Beadsman turned. "Mr. Vigorous?" he said. There was a particularly loud rumble, and the marble floor shook a little. Mr. Beadsman looked over at his group. "Foamwhistle!" he yelled. "What's going on?"
"See," Peter Abbott was saying to the women in the cubicle, "the thing you got to remember is that the tunnels are incredibly temperature-sensitive. There's just few things in this world more temperature-sensitive than a phone tunnel." He bent and took a crowbar out of his toolbox.
" 'Cause see you got to remember that all the calls in the lines are is just basically lines of heat," Peter said, hefting the crowbar. "They're just little lines of a kind of heat going back and forth, is all they really are." He ran a hand through his bright yellow hair. "So it's only logical that to get satisfactory service, the tunnels've got to be one temperature, and the lines another, and the calls in the lines another." Peter happened to look over the counter at the Stonecipheco group and Neil Obstat, on his stomach. "Hey buddy!" he yelled. "You wanna just get back from there? What're you trying to do?" He turned to Walinda. "They're right over where your tunnel is, ma'am," he said. "That guy's trying to get into your tunnel. Who is that guy?"
"Baby food chemist," Candy Mandible said.
"Hey boy you just get on out of here!" Walinda was yelling.
"Do not yell at my employee," said Mr. Beadsman.
"Why don't you just go and sit on somethin' sharp, chump?"
"Well if he gets in there like it looks like he's tryin' to, without some trained personnel on hand, he's gonna be sorry," Peter Abbott was saying.
"How come?" Candy asked.
"Lenore, your behavior is now becoming unacceptable," Mr. Beadsman said.
"I'm afraid I'm forced to agree," came Dr. Jay's m.u.f.fled voice from behind the counter.
Lenore closed her eyes. The lobby thundered.
"Peter for Christ's sake how come, " Candy Mandible said.
" 'Cause according to our data it's gonna be b.i.t.c.hin' hot," Peter said, turning to Candy and looking briefly down into Lenore's dress. " 'Cause what I've been trying to explain is that it looks like that's your whole trouble right there. Hot tunnel."
"Well yeah," Peter Abbott said. "See there's supposed to be special temperature levels in each tunnel. Tunnel's supposed to be sixty, sixty-five degrees, tops." He looked around. "Otherwise, see, the heat of the tunnel infects the heat of your calls, and you get what we call call-bleeding into the circuit. Which actually it turns out is what you've been having, we think. Mr. Sludgeman told me he's suspected some kind of bleeding all along, really."
"Just like a big old cranky nervous system, like I been tellin' you," Peter said. He was looking back at Neil Obstat, who along with Alvin Spaniard was trying to pry up a whole section of the lobby floor, which was now revealed not to be real marble at all. "Hey you drips!" Peter yelled. "There's gonna be trouble!"