"It's ok Mister... Miller?" It was often difficult to work out which lineal name people used, but Joel nodded. "As the artist, you are free to interpret your subject any way you see fit."
Cordialities completed, Bodil left the artist feeling much better about his work. After all, in a roundabout way she had just given it the nod of approval from the best university in the world.
Bodil walked away. So. Miss Alicia Troy not only wanted a statue quickly, but she wanted... needed. A statue of 'heroic' standing.
The question, of course, was, why? To find out, she changed course, reluctantly, away from the bar and veered towards the dance floor. The woman who had laughed.
Alicia Troy's friend had immediately taken in the wrongness of the statue. Maybe she knew what was behind all this.
Bodil was in luck. As she got nearer she could see the woman still dancing energetically on the blue tiled floor. Still with her admirers.
Still with the four grey suits who stood not too close, not too far away, but still all around her.
As Bodil got closer and closer she developed an itch between her shoulder blades. In slow motion, first one, and then all four heads of the men in grey turned to look at her.
The chill in Bodil's stomach grew and the professor suddenly knew that she was never going to get there. The two nearest men moved to put themselves between Bodil and the blond woman.
Of the two furthest away, one looked all around for further threats while the fourth moved in to the blond woman and whispered in her ear. Bodil saw the blond head turn and look directly at her.
For an instant, she saw fear flash across the woman's face and then... Was that a smile.
And that was the moment when Bodil was brought up short three metres from her target by a fifth grey suited man stepping in front of her. Bodil stopped dead. The man smiled.
Bodil craned her neck to look past him. The blond dancer was gone.
"Professor Bodil Ramsbottom-Fergusen, Hill-Davis?"
He actually paused, waiting for an answer. Bodil nodded. The man held out an arm and took her gently by the elbow.
"Miss Alicia Troy O'Rourke-Lie was wondering if she could have a quick word with you."
This is surreal professor Hill thought as she followed the broad back of the grey suited man. Two more suits walked closely, very closely, behind her. Her thoughts raced. This is a cliche.
It's like I'm in a cheap movie. Bodil stumbled and immediately two hands caught and steadied her. Then they let go and the little party continued their brisk walk towards...
She peered past the man leading the way. They were heading away from the party towards a large luxury vehicle set aside from the rest of the VIP cars and their bored drivers.
Bodil climbed inside and, following the direction of the grey man's outstretched arm, turned right towards the back of the vehicle. He followed her into what appeared to be a lounge area.
Two long sofas backed against the side walls with a coffee table between. At the far end was a small bar.
Her 'captor'... 'Guard'... or whatever he was closed the door.
"Please sit-down Professor. Would you like a drink?"
Looking every bit as anxious as she was starting to feel, Bodil nodded and lowered herself down onto one of the sofas, sitting uncomfortably poised on the edge.
Her eyes followed the man as he stepped past her to take position behind the bar.
"What would you like Professor? Sherry? Something stronger?"
Something stronger sounded about right to Bodil, considering the situation.
"Whiskey? If you have it."
The man took a bottle from those behind him.
Then he reached under the bar and came up with a shot glass, but not before there was a small 'click' and solid-looking window shutters began to drop into place.
Professor Hill managed to hide behind a smile at this new development as the man approached with a glass of whiskey.
But Bodil's hand shook ever so slightly when she reached up and took the proffered whiskey. She licked her lips.
"Am I a prisoner?"
Grey suit moved to stand by the door.
"Of course not Professor."
"It's just... the shutters?" She nodded towards the blank white shutters where once the windows were.
"Simply for privacy Professor. Miss Troy does tend to draw attention wherever she is."
Bodil took a hefty swig of the whiskey. The fiery burn in her throat settled to a comfortable warmth in her belly and helped stiffen those inner fibres that needed stiffening.
"So... I'm free to go?"
The man opened the door.
"Certainly." He paused for half a beat. "If you want to."
Bodil looked through into the narrow passage they had come through to where the exit was just a few paces to the left.
She took another sip from the glass before settling back into the expensive embrace of the sofa. She frowned at him.
"I'll wait." Bodil lifted the glass as if in salute. "Thanks for the whiskey, er...?"
The man nodded and closed the door again.
"I'm Derek. Just say if you want a refill; I expect Miss Troy will be along presently."
Bodil looked into her glass, thought for a second, her lips forming a decision-making pout. She finished the remaining whiskey in one quick swallow, then held out the glass.
"Thank you, Derek, I believe another whiskey would be absolutely fine just about now.
It was not long after Derek had refilled her glass and resumed his position by the door before Bodil felt the vehicle tilt slightly and heard voices beyond.
"...break the heel?"
"I dunno. I wasn't even wearing them."
"Then how...?" The was a long sigh. "Never mind. Here, take them."
Derek pulled at the bottom of his jacket and polished his shoes against the back of his trousers. Bodil caught herself wondering if she should stand up.
Then the whiskey-stiffened fibres of her singular personality finally got their act together. To hell with that, was the thought, and her jaw set.
The door opened and Alicia Troy stood on the threshold for the briefest of moments before entering. This was a trick learned at finishing school and perfected over many, many years.
She seemed to glide towards the sofa opposite Bodil, then slide demurely down onto the waiting leather.
A kimono can be awkward to move in but the softly shimmering layers of silver cloth slid effortlessly against each other like the petals of a tulip,
adjusting to the new position of the wearer in such a way that there was hardly a fold or crease visible that wasn't intended by the designer.
Her companion, however, was another matter.
With all the grace of a new-born calf,
the blond woman stomped towards the coffee table where she deposited her demolished shoes before squeezing past Alicia like some ungainly teenager stumbling back to her cinema seat.
Throughout it all Miss Troy continued to smile, never once taking her eyes off Professor Hill; it was as if her companion never even existed.
Bodil, however, had no such restraint and watched enthralled.
Bare, muddy feet left footprints across the cream carpet.
The woman's once beautiful red dress was creased and sweat stained and crumbs of pastry from the plentiful hors d'oeuvres were gathered into the folds of the bodice.
Her hair, once a dainty coiffure expertly poised atop her head now looked more like a bedraggled bird's nest.
Her make-up, such as it was, had also suffered from the extreme dancing and was desperately in need of repair.
Eventually, though, the accident in red silk made it to the bar, where she automatically plucked up a chilled bottle of beer.
Bodil's attention was dragged away by a polite cough. She quickly turned her head back to the former president sitting opposite.
A quick glance to her right showed that Derek had quietly exited, but was no doubt just outside the door.
"So glad you could attend our little unveiling Professor." Bodil's attention focused sharply and Alicia Troy continued.
"You were a somewhat late addition to the guest list I understand, the Dean's idea apparently."
And there it was, Bodil thought as she looked into the beautiful, slightly oriental brown eyes of the head of the Troy dynasty.
Probably the nicest way anyone had ever said to her: 'What the hell are you doing here?' Bodil took a sip from her glass.
"Yes, I was in the area so I expect he was just being polite to a colleague."
"Ahhh yes. I see." She paused. "I understand you've found Hope Springs."
"We think so, yes..."
"And you've unearthed a piece of waffle iron from the actual waffle house?"
It was phrased as a simple question but again it was just a polite way of saying 'I've had you investigated.' The waffle iron fragment find wasn't yet publicised, hell it was still being cleaned.
"We think so, yes." Bodil cringed inwardly. I just said that twice. Dammit!
Alicia's smile broadened just a touch. She adjusted her position on the sofa ever so slightly and again the material of the kimono seemed to slide around her to accommodate the new posture.
"So. Tell me, Professor Hill. What is it about our new statue that you seem to find so...?"
"Wrong?" Bodil finished.
"Wrong? Why do you say that?"
Bodil was starting to get angry. She was not used to being on this end of such a conversation. This degree of discomfort was something she inflicted on students.
"You know very well why. Joe Spivey was not... "She gestured in the general direction of the party and the statue. "... that."
Alicia sat back.
"Please. Do go on."
Bodil Hill took a breath and then went into full 'professor' mode.
"From what records remain we are sure of a few things. Joe Spivey was shorter than average. He was probably cloned in his early to mid-fifties.
He had a hereditary genetic weakness called 'male pattern baldness.' He drank, a lot, and he smoked awful raw tobacco things called cigars so he was certainly unhealthy.
Those are the things we know.
On top of that, and mainly from his daughter's diaries where she noted down her mother's descriptions of him, we can be pretty sure that: He was a thief, a kidnapper, an extortionist,
a drug dealer, an arms merchant and probably a slaver. Oh, and he smelled bad..."