“The problem with lemurs,” said Dunston, “is they’ve got no financial skills.”
“Mm-hm.” I scribbled in my notebook.
“Take this fellow.” Dunston clicked his PowerPoint and stretched five twiggy fingers toward the next slide, which hovered ghostlike on the far wall of my little office. Dark patches encircled the lemur’s orange eyes. Creepy. “Seems a solid enough chap, yes? Five years old, prime of his life. Would you care to estimate his total retirement savings?”
“Zero, my friend. Absolutely bupkis. This primate is a drain on his family and society. When it comes time for him to leave the workforce: disaster. A tragedy positively on the order of Lear.”
When you’ve been a grants officer for as long as I have, you get a nose for which projects really deserve funding, and which are just wasting your time. A keen unteachable instinct, more art than science. Some proposals are instant wins: you can see it as soon as they walk in the door. Others have potential, but need coaxing. Still others are a flat-out waste of your time.
And then there was Dunston.
I raised a finger, interrupting him. “Point of order.” It didn’t make sense, but it sounded smart and I liked saying it. “When you say, leave the workforce…”
“But of course. The average lemurian retirement age is seventeen, which, I might add, is a travesty in itself, but the central conundrum – ”
“What work, precisely, are they doing?”
The dusty mahogany clock on the corner of my desk counted six loud tocks in the ensuing silence. Dunston’s face turned a remarkable white, a singular purple. He sputtered: “Of all the thoughtless, insensitive, stereotypical, b-b-bourgeois…”
“What do they do, friend?”
“The nerve of – ”
He drew himself up to a crotchety six foot six and glared a glare that can only be described as Morgothian. “By the power invested in me by the Strepsirrhine Society of Greater Antananarivo, I hereby name you Anathema to the lemur community, and overall a very disreputable sort of person entirely!” Which is the first time anyone has said that particular sentence in quite a while.
After he’d stormed out, I extended a pinky and depressed the blue button on my phone. “Martha?”
“Cancel my three o’clock, will you? I’ve developed an intense pain under my left eyebrow.”
“I’ve been called a bourgeois fascist, Martha.”
I pressed the button again and studied the northeastern corner of the room.
It was only Wednesday.