Coming soon – the third Brent Bolster book.
I hope this gives you a laugh.
Brent slumped at his desk, staring at his handset. Ring, damn you, he thought. One call. I don’t care if it’s an old lady who’s lost her cat, or a wrong number. I don’t care if it’s telesales for an eyeball replacement service. I don’t even care if it’s No-nose Pete, freshly escaped from the penal colony on Mars and pausing to deliver a few death threats before moving in for the kill. Just ring!
Across the office, Rawlgeeb sat back in his chair, the servos in the seat’s specially reinforced mechanism scarcely squeaking as they adjusted to his position. “Esteemed colleague, you seem to be taking your time over those reports. Have you got onto the fiscal projections for the third quarter? There was something I wanted to point out to you.”
“Right.” Brent glanced at the piles of documents arrayed in neat rows across his desk. “Third quarter. Was that the color-coded one?” He selected a thick wad of paper, touching it gingerly as if it might explode. “Yeah, that was good. Great, in fact. I especially liked the, er, the part about pencil sharpeners.”
Rawlgeeb smiled. “Yes, the formulas in the pivot table were tricky to get right, but I nailed it in the end.”
“There’s only one thing I wanted to mention. There was something that didn’t seem quite right to me.”
“Oh? But the figures reconciled perfectly. I checked them four times. All of them.”
Brent shook his head sadly. “It was some little thing. Maybe you missed out a decimal point. Something like that.”
“No. Not a decimal point.” Rawlgeeb’s hand went to his chest. “Anything but that. I just couldn’t have made such a grievous error. On Gloabon, such mistakes are punishable by five years of hard labor.”
“Maybe it was something else then. Let me see.” Brent flicked over a few pages before plucking a sheet from the pile. “Here it is. Yeah, I think you should’ve skipped the dream ballet in act six – it gave away too much of the subtext and undermined the protagonist’s underlying motivation.”
Rawlgeeb glared in silence for a second, then he leaned forward, gripping the edge of his desk, his cervical vertebrae clicking as he craned his neck. “Very funny, Brent. Hilarious. You should submit that to one of those satirical websites. They could post it under famous last words.”
“Hey, that’s actually a good idea.” Brent tossed the paper aside. “Seriously, Rawlgeeb, this is all too much. We don’t need all this financial nonsense. I have no clue what most of this means, but in the investigating business, the cash flow is real simple. We send out bills, and when people pay, we make sure it all gets written off as expenses. That’s all there is to it.” He folded his arms. “You know, I’ve been doing this job a long time, Rawlgeeb, and I never had anything like this before.”
“Yes and look where it’s got you.”
Brent met Rawlgeeb’s steely gaze with one of his own. “I was doing okay before you came along, so any time you want to quit, you know where the door is.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Rawlgeeb shot back, “because if I leave, I’ll take my credits out of this agency.”
“I’d like to see you try. That money ran out weeks ago.”
“That doesn’t make any difference,” Rawlgeeb said. “I still have friends up on The Gamulon, and if I put the Financial Reclamation Unit on your tail, they won’t even leave you a pot to…to keep your fish in.”
“Leave Bernard out of this.” Brent’s eyes went to the upturned diving helmet atop the filing cabinet. From within, Bernard goggled at him through the algae-streaked faceplate, the fish’s bulbous eyes filled with recrimination. “Aw, what’s the use?” Brent slumped in his chair. “Rawlgeeb, if we’re going to work together, you have to meet me halfway on all this administrative stuff. We need to keep the paperwork right down, preferably below the deluge level.”
Rawlgeeb looked thoughtful. “I suppose I could compile the real-time reports into a daily summary and amalgamate the cost center analysis into weekly breakdowns, then you might be able to deal with them more efficiently.”
“No, Rawlgeeb. I don’t even want to hear words like daily and weekly. Just give me the edited highlights every couple of months, all right?”
“You can’t be serious. That’s a recipe for anarchy. I can’t allow it.”
“Yeah? Well, you don’t have a choice.” Brent thumped his desk. “Listen, Rawlgeeb, I hate to break your heart, but most of this quadruple-entry accounting is a waste of time.” He grabbed a color-coded sheet, crumpling it in his fist as he brandished it in the air. “We don’t have any pencil sharpeners, Rawlgeeb. We don’t even have any goddamned pencils!”
Rawlgeeb studied him in silence for a moment, then without taking his eyes from Brent, he reached into his desk drawer, producing a slim rod, its glossy sides catching the light. “This is a stylus five thousand, the longest-lasting cybernetic pencil in the known galaxy. Its body is precision engineered from an alloy found only on Ungula, the third moon of Gloabon, and running through the center of this state-of-the-art pencil is a core crafted from the finest nanotubes of bio-responsive graphite. It writes smoothly and effortlessly on any surface, but although its tip will never snap, it does need honing from time to time, and for that, you need a special flecking sharpener!” Rawlgeeb brought his hand down hard, slamming the pencil into the desk where its tip sank into the wood a full two inches. His face fell, and he pulled his hand away sharply, leaving the gleaming pencil protruding from the desk, the stylus quivering gently like a well-aimed arrow. “My desk! Look what you made me do.”
Brent looked from Rawlgeeb to the pencil and back again. “Okay, put me down for a couple of those, would you? I have a Times crossword at home, and I’m stuck on thirteen across: Obscure work one by that Parisian.”
“It’s opaque,” Rawlgeeb said distractedly, working the pencil back and forth as he tugged it from the desk.
“Tell me about it.”
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