Darnelle dropped her suitcase on her unmade bed and unzipped it. The zip whizzed round the case sounding like it was farting, and she giggled. She couldn't help it, working with children, no matter how fragile and emotionally damaged, meant that you had to connect with them on some level, and farting was always funny to a child. She flipped open the lid and the giggle died in her throat, which is what the hamsters had done in her case. She dropped the lid shut again and turned away, trying not to vomit.
Which of the little monsters had put hamsters in her suitcase? And why? And where did they get the hamsters from? Hank Conjeeca's policy on animals was that they were for eating only. He referred them to as delicious animals with a savage look of lust in his eyes when the children weren't around. Well, this wasn't getting her case packed, was it? She turned back again, opened the case up, and scooped the little skeletons out with a rattle. She dropped them onto the bedside table, and started choosing dresses from the wardrobe for her holiday.
The case was full and she was pondering whether she could fit a saddle in there as well when someone knocked on her door. She pushed the saddle hastily under the bed and answered it. Marvin, the clinical pharmacist was stood outside, gently tapping his foot on the floor.
"Twenty-five seconds to answer the door," he said, looking at an expensive watch on his wrist. "I'd think you had someone in there if it weren't you, Darnelle."
"I might have had a visitor!" She cursed inwardly immediately; Marvin liked getting people riled up and he had a way of getting to her within the first three sentences of a conversation. Marvin smiled at her without warmth, and pulled his shirt cuff down over his watch. The cuff was white, starched, and made a little whooshing noise.
"I have this for you, from Dr. Conjeeca--" he began, producing a slip of paper from the breast pocket of his jacket. He bit Dr. Conjeeca's name off as Darnelle seized it from his hand, unfolded it and looked at it.
"My holiday authorisa..." she began, and trailed off as she read the words on the page.
"-- who wishes you to report to me at ten sharp for training in the dosing regimen," continued Marvin as though she hadn't spoken or snatched the paper. "That gives you a little under--" he checked his watch again -- "thirty minutes to find something to wear that doesn't make you look like you're regretting a past as a hooker. You'll be in charge of Phillipa to begin with."
"I'm going on holiday," said Darnelle, denying the evidence on the paper she was holding. "Dr. Conjeeca told me to go on holiday last night."
"Then he's changed his mind," said Marvin. "Twenty-six minutes."
"Who's Phillipa?" Darnelle could feel herself close to tears and was trying to distract herself until she could handle the sudden loss of time off.
"We usually call her Flipper," said Marvin, interest showing on his face. "She's the mergirl we've managed to breed, she's living in tank three. Before she came here she was training to be an opera singer. Sadly, while she was practising she hit the resonant frequency of the chandeliers in her parent's town house and shattered them. Beautiful shards of lethally broken glass rained down in rooms all over the house, lacerating servants, killing pets and damaging antique furniture. She was safe because she was able to crouch under the piano, but everyone else in the house was killed."
"Including her parents?"
"As it happens no. They were notified of what had happened by the police, who called her mother on her mobile phone while she and Flipper's father were driving home from an Acid House reminiscence rave. Her mother seems to have gone hysterical when she heard that the Louis XV chairs would have to re-upholstered and drove the car into a busy ice-cream van. Forty-four people died, many from third-degree freezer burns."
"Oh the poor girl!" Darnelle's tears were forgotten and she was already wondering why she'd not seen the girl's file before and interviewed her.
"Something like that." Marvin was dispassionate again. "You now have fourteen minutes to dress appropriately and report to my office. Don't be late." He turned smartly on one heel and walked off.