Ben couldn’t take his eyes off the coffee pot. It was the same old pot: the one that Violet used to brew the best coffee in the building. But it didn’t belong in Ben’s office. It looked strange in here. It was just wrong.
“He banished the percolator?”
“He drinks tea. And he says he… he hates the smell of coffee.”
It was just about unthinkable.
“Well, of course I don’t mind. It’s welcome in here. I just….”
He’d come upstairs hoping for a return to order, to the familiar rhythms of his life in the office, and what he’d found was chaos.
“I’ll pop in a couple of times a day to make a pot,” Violet said.
He nodded. That would be nice, anyway.
“You can’t trust a man who hates coffee,” he said. “It’s not natural.”
“You haven’t even seen his mustache,” Violet observed.”It’s like a caterpillar died on his face. But there’s more than that. There’s something very strange about this Registrar.”
“Stranger than… that?” Ben was still staring at the percolator.
“He has this idea that civic organizations should be run for profit,” she said. “He has a lot of ideas along those lines.”
Ben tried to imagine how the Registry could be made commercial. He couldn’t see a way.
“Why would you do that?” he asked. “What would we do with the money?”
“He’s talked about buying more Info-Slates. But he has other ideas, too. He was very curious about the Containment Squad. He thinks it’s wasteful to keep them on salary all the time, when we haven’t needed them for two years. Until today, I mean.”
“You don’t need ’em often, but when you do….”
“Yes. You really need them when you need them. Registrar Cartier thinks they should be independent contractors. We would pay them just when we had to use them.”
“That doesn’t make sense either,” Ben said. He didn’t like the Containment Squad. They treated him like a… like a human-person-who-has-not-yet-achieved-his-full-growth. But there were a lot of things he didn’t like that were still very important, no matter how he felt about them. “You’d get a whole different class of squad. Amateurs. The good ones would move on to where they could make a living.”
“That’s certainly one of the problems. Another is that we’re required to staff the Squad, since we’re storing all these dangerous devices outside the Experimental Research District. But the new Registrar doesn’t seem very concerned about our legal responsibilities.”
She pulled a can of coffee out of one of Ben’s drawers and started to brew a pot. Ben sighed.
“You know the Registry doesn’t have any way to handle revenue, Ben? Even if we were able to generate an income… somehow… there’s nothing we could do with it. Not legally. There’s no place for it to go.”
The first faint wisps of vapor started to rise from the coffee pot. “Where you’re going with this,” Ben said, “is that the Registrar is pretty well certain to break the law. One way or another. Or every which way, from the sound of it.”
“And that being the case, well, somebody ought to sort of mount an investigation into him.”
She nodded again.
“Which is what they call mutiny, I think.”
“We’re not on a ship, Ben. We’re in a small and underfunded but vital branch of City Government. We’re supervised by appointees who have no idea what we do or how we do it.”
“It seems like this fella is figuring things out pretty quick.”
“He’s especially interested in what happens to the income from patents whose inventors have died,” she said. “And when we came back to the office he asked me to requisition a typewriter. For himself. For what he called confidential correspondence. As if I….”
At this point Ben could have mentioned a few times when Violet’s management of correspondence had been unusual, maybe even irregular. But the coffee was perking happily now, and as a stupidly smart person he decided to concentrate on that instead.
“Yeah, the way you put it, it does sound suspicious.”
“Ben, I think you need to investigate the Registrar.”
“No….” He thought carefully. This was going to be delicate. “I wouldn’t feel right about running an investigation into my own boss. I mean, not without some kind of orders from over his head. No, a Patent Investigator is authorized to investigate patent registrations, and patent conflicts, and fishy business that comes out of the District. A criminal investigation, which is what you’re talking about, that’s like a whole different matter.”
Violet pulled Ben’s coffee cup out of another drawer. He was really going to have to look in those drawers some day. It seemed like there were all kinds of things in there he didn’t know about.
She poured a cup of coffee and handed it to him. She didn’t say anything, but Ben could see by her dimmed lenses and the slant of her shoulders that she was taking it pretty hard.
“Now, although I can’t undertake an investigation such as you describe, I can see how I might assist in an investigation, you know, as needed. If there was a talented investigator with good instincts, somebody who is not a Patent Investigator, and isn’t what you would call precluded from investigating the Registrar. As I am. If somebody else was investigating him I would see no barrier to assisting from time to time. As, like, a training exercise.”
“I’m not an investigator, Ben. I told you. I’m a secretary. I’m not trying to get that promotion any more.”
“Oh, but there ain’t any promotion in it, is there? You investigate the boss, he’s not very likely to give you a medal.”
She looked at him. Her eyes weren’t getting any brighter. Ben took a sip of that good, good coffee.
“Yep, I’d be more than happy to assist in an investigation like that. I just can’t take the lead, is what I’m saying. For reasons of professionalism.”
“You’re trying to do a good thing here, Ben. I know you are. But it’s the wrong thing. Every time I’ve tried to… to become an investigator, it’s just hurt people all around me. I can’t do it any more. You don’t even know all the things I’ve….”
“Way I see it, Violet, that’s the only way it’s going to get done. It’s got to be you.”
He knew he had her. She just hadn’t figured it out yet herself. But he could wait.
“This sure is good coffee,” he said.
Violet looked at the coffee pot. It still seemed out of place in here: maybe she’d bring Ben a potted plant. Something resilient, because she knew Ben wasn’t much good at nurturing. Which reminded her of something.
“Oh!” she said. “I made an appointment for you at the League of Robotic Persons. For your Argus class.”
Everybody was after Ben to be more sensitive. He guessed he could handle it, if he had to.
“Sure, Violet. That’d be great.”
They watched the coffee pot bubble, full of its delicious possibilities, while the normal bustle of the Registry office passed back and forth along the hall.
The Files of the Retropolis Registry of Patents conclude in the collection Patently Absurd, in late 2017