Early the next morning, Andrews and Wright met in the Chicago Science Police field office. They sat down in a room with four local agents. Stacked on a conference table were five large cardboard boxes. Wright looked at each person seated in turn.
“We have our work cut out for us this morning ladies. Inside these boxes are as many of the threatening letters, unsettling telegrams, and creepy missives that the Ladybugs have received in the past twelve months, as a group or individuals, as we could get a hold of. Lucky us. We get to go through and read them. I want them sorted by who they are targeting, the reason for the threat, their geographic origin, their likely source, and the threat level.”
The team sorted through the files by placing each of the items into matrix created by Agent Wright. Sandwiches and coffee were brought in and they worked right through lunch and well past five o’clock in the evening. In the end, they had 342 individual threats to investigate.
“All right,” said Wright. “The most important factor is threat level. We begin farming these individual items to the field offices based on their geographic origin, but we do so in order of threat level, starting with the most severe.”
“That’s a lot of woman-power strung out all through the bureau, isn’t it?” asked Anna Finnegan, one of the local field agents.
“Chicago was willing enough to spare the four of you. I’m sure that the other offices can spare a couple of agents to investigate someone living in their area. We’ll all meet back here first thing tomorrow.”
“Agent Andrews…” two of the women started at once, and then looked at each other.
“If you’re not doing anything for dinner…” one of them continued.
“I’m sorry ladies, but my partner has a meeting,” said Wright. “I however, would be happy to escort any or all of you to dinner.”
“I have a meeting?” Andrews leaned over and asked.
“In the lobby.”
The lobby of the Grace Coolidge International Building, though spartan, was large. It took a minute for Andrews to find his appointment waiting by feet of the statue of Justice. He almost didn’t recognize Ep!phanee. She was dressed in faded jeans and a Nehi Blue Cream Soda tee shirt. Her hair was tucked up under a black military cap.
“Is somebody here with you?” he asked.
“Nope. I ditched the cops back at the hotel. Buy me a hotdog.”
“You shouldn’t be running around town without an escort.”
“Well I have one now. Besides, I just want a hotdog. There’s a hotdog cart just down on the corner. I saw it on the cab ride over here.”
She took him by the arm and led him to the glass-enclosed front of the building, holding the door open for him. The hotdog vendor was stationed just where she had described, a chubby little woman with a striped shirt, a large stain covering most of the front.
“Two dogs,” Ep!phanee ordered, then turned to Andrews. “What do you want on yours?”
“I don’t know; whatever’s customary.”
“Haven’t you ever had a hotdog before?”
He shook his head. “German food’s not very popular in the enclaves.”
“Hotdogs are as American as apple pie. All right. Bacon, beans, avocado, catsup, and mayonnaise. Do you want jalapenos?”
“So you don’t have street food in the enclaves?”
“Sure. Tacos– usually fish tacos, but sometimes grilled shrimp.”
The vendor handed Piffy the hotdogs, already loaded with beans and avocado. Stepping to the end of the cart, she scooped on the jalapenos and then squirted on squiggly lines of red catsup and white mayonnaise. Handing one of the dogs to Andrews, she watched as he took a tentative bite. She then opened her mouth wide and shoved in about a third of hers.
“Good huh?” she asked, her mouth full.
He nodded and then took another bite. Ep!phanee began strolling down the sidewalk and even though she was moving slowly Andrews had to take a few quick steps to keep up. He was still eating his hotdog as they walked, being careful not to spill the condiments on his jacket. She finished first and dropped the little paper hotdog caddie in a trashcan beside the street.
“I should get you back to the hotel.”
“I’m staying in this hotel now.”
Andrews looked skyward to find that they were in front of the Palmer House. When he looked back down, Ep!phanee was already going through the revolving door. He stuffed the last bit of hotdog into his mouth and dropped the paper waste in a can beside the door, following her. The lobby was huge, with a tiled vaulted ceiling that looked like it belonged in a cathedral. Andrews felt self-conscious even walking on the rugs.