Meanwhile, In New York... A phone call.

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Meanwhile, In New York:

He looked around the diner, tired from being up all night.

The tables were in order, the silverware was in order, the counter was clean. There was a rip in one of the vinyl covers of the stool that he really thought he should repair. But it was okay. It maybe wasn’t that terrible. The dessert stand, with its perma-desserts, spun slowly. The back counter was immaculate. The floor gleamed. The grills were hot. The fry vats were steaming. The cash register stood poised for the occasional payment with bucks instead of Share-transfers through the palm Indentifier by the door. People were welcome to come in without Sharing, and welcome to pay with cash, but they had to do so before being seated. If they Shared at the door they could then order, and it would be transferred from their accounts automatically.

The Indentifier was clean, too. He kept it clean because smudges created glitches.

And the Women were standing at the back wall, waiting for him to tell them to begin. They had not imprinted at all yet. He did not let them imprint on him because it was difficult to change that. But they would listen to him, and to virtually anyone, until they imprinted. He tested them here, to see how they passed and how they acted.

Three. Three of them right now waiting to be sent out. One would be gone by the end of the day, he figured.

There should be four.

He liked to have four.

The phone rang. He was almost to the door, had almost thrown the switch on the Electrogate and flipped the old-fashioned sign to “Open” as the sun, far off in the east, began to come up, but the phone rang.

He walked back from the door and answered the phone. There were two phones in the restaurant. One was there just for show. The other was an old-fashioned landline that he had installed and that rang in a frequency only he could hear. It had been difficult to find someone to install it, but nobody ever listened to landlines anymore, not even the government.

He picked up the phone.

“Yes.” He said.

He listened.

“Completely dead?”

He listened again.

“I was working all night.”

More talk.

“I’m not complaining. I don’t complain. I’m tired, is all.”

And there was final testing to be done. And appearances to keep up. He did not say those. He just listened more.

“It doesn’t work as well on men.”

He listened a little more and watched as a regular customer came up to the door and peered inside. He held up a hand and smiled politely, using up his entire “acting” ability. He listened.

“Bring him here.”

He listened to the final words the other end of the line fed him, and said “Well, then, I guess I’ll have to close today.”

He hung up the phone and looked at the Women standing against the back wall. They’d stay there today. He walked up to the door and the regular customer, who always just wanted a cup of coffee, looked in. He opened the door a little, shutting off the Electrogate to do so.

“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t open up today. There’s been a death.”

The customer nodded and looked appropriately sad and a little quizzical. Then the man remembered, and added: “In the family. There’s been a death in the family. See you tomorrow.”

It wasn’t really his family, though. He was proud that he’d remembered to add that. But he felt bad about lying.

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