Sleuth

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The world is cloaked in mental gauze for Brie this morning. She hardly slept, lying there in bed, the sounds of the city a newfound aggravation, thoughts and images spiraling through her mind like a menacing Möbius strip. But it wasn't the thought of Dita pining over Benji in the desert or Marian concocting lies that kept Brie awake all through the night. It was Dita's suggestion that Brie walk away from The Center. That she would be somehow better off without her job. These words stripped Brie bare as she lay twisted in her sheets, hot, cold, shifting, pillow flipping, unable to find peace. What would she have without The Center? Certainly no money. What would she be? This job has been her identity, her confidence, her success for so long that, remove it, there's no telling what might remain. The weight of this realization pressed on her chest and drew long, lonely sobs from her belly. Absent love or children or an artist's passion, her job is everything.

That's what clouds her mind as she shuffles into work this morning, past the revved-up early risers fresh-sweated from Boot Camp, past the brain-nagging hum of the Juice Pagoda, past Dita donning her happy mask for her first client, and into the office where the business manager, Louise, is tapping away at her calculator.

"I'm doing special ops for Marian. Can you run me an inventory report for the past twelve months?"

Louise is smiling, like she always is. "Nope. I don't do inventory no more."

Brie frowns. "Who does?"

"Marian," Louise says, as if it's obvious. "She moved all that stuff offline six months ago 'cause she said the system was messin' up and she was gonna do it all by hand."

Brie squints in suspicion. "How come she doesn't just have you do it by hand?"

Louise smiles and shrugs. "I ain't gonna complain if she's takin' work off my plate. I can hardly get done what I got."

Brie winks. "I hear that. Okay, then can I please just have my commission check?"

Louise shakes her head. "Sorry, Marian said hold it. Said she has to recalculate your sales."

"You don't do that?"

Louise smiles and bares her palms. "I give her the raw numbers, she calculates 'em and gives me back the totals to write the checks. Like I said, I ain't complaining."

"No, you work hard enough," Brie says, giving Louise's shoulder a squeeze. "Whoa, your muscles are so tight! When's the last time you got a massage?"

Louise laughs. "Shit, never."

"Never?" Brie pulls up the master schedule on her phone. "How does noon work? I'll set it up."

Louise looks back at Brie. "I gotta pay one-fifty?"

"No, you pay nothing. I've got an hour in trade I'll give you. I'll take care of the tip, too," Brie smiles. "Commission check or not."

***

Marian is not in her office. Brie sends her a text. In your office. You around?

Marian fires back, Give me ten. Stay there.

Brie checks the time. She's got twenty minutes before her new client appointment. She sits down in the visitor chair and slips her hands into her pockets, where her fingers touch cold metal. She pulls the flash drive from her smock and raises her eyes to Marian's laptop, sitting there on her desk like a dare.

Sometimes you can do something by pretending to do it. Take sleeping... just close your eyes and pretend that you're asleep and sooner or later, you are. Brie angles the laptop so she can see the screen and taps a key, the password screen lighting up. You see, she is only pretending to unlock Marian's computer until she enters the correct password—goddessH3ART—which she happens to know because one time, when Marian was in Paris, she had Brie log into her computer and email her a file. That must have been before Marian discovered these handy dandy flash drives.

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