The World In Play: Chapter 5: Let the Thief Beware
Martin opened his eyes. At this time of year, nearing the Autumnal Equinox, the sun didn't stray near the north windows, and the curtains were open so the view across the bay was unimpeded.
Martin had felt overexposed earlier this morning when the sun flooded the east-facing bathroom. Ann hadn't laughed, but had been quick to conjure some opaque curtains over the glass. This afternoon he could even appreciate her walk-in shower, with its shoulder-high picture window. Looking east he could make out the movement of cars on the Bay Bridge.
He checked his leg. He knew he would heal completely, eventually. He had not expected to have a scar, but he was still bemused by how quickly the burn had vanished. There was no residual pinkness and not a trace of soreness. When he considered some of his exertions of the previous twenty-four hours he was pleasantly surprised.
He noticed that Ann did not have scented soap or scented bathroom cleanser or anything scented. An over sensitive sense of smell was just one of the very real problems involved in being a vampire. City life was smelly. He suspected he was not Ann's first vampire lover. Although she just might not like the strident artificial scents herself. As he dried himself, he heard Ann return to the bedroom. He ambled out of the bathroom: "Ann? Where did my clothes end up?"
"There's a closet behind the mirror on the far side of the bed," Ann said, waving towards the interior wall. "They're in there. Breakfast is ready, so when you've dressed, come down to the dining room."
Martin crossed the oriental carpet. Was this the Ardabil that Dmitri Romanov had asked about? He didn't know that much about carpets, but this one was beautiful, with glowing reds and golds on a pale cream background, accented by dark blue, purple and black. He looked up and saw his image in the mirror. That was unusual, but then the whole day had been magical. He slid the door and looked inside.
The small and well lighted space was fitted with a narrow six-drawer upright chest of drawers in a pale fruit wood. There was also a hanging rod high enough for a tall man's long coat. His pants, tie, belt and jacket were on hangers. His watch, wallet, crystal sphere, cell phone, keys and change were in a tray on the dresser top, along with something new: a small decagonal change purse. It was leather, tanned to a silky finish in a rich black, and folded in on itself to a stable configuration. He'd had one just like it, back when he started at Boston Latin and rode the old Boston Elevated Railway trolley over to Warren Avenue. He rubbed his thumb over the smooth leather, smiled, and slipped the coins into the purse.
He found his underwear, socks and folded shirt in the dresser. Everything looked as it had never even been worn. He glanced around. There was a chair, just where it was most convenient to both the bed and the closet, with his shoes beside it. Right. He dressed. His clothes were mostly the same — they were the same style, the same color — but everything fit just a little bit better, was just a little bit more pleasant to touch.
Dressed, he slid the door shut and looked at himself in the mirror again. He knew what he looked like now, photography had been around since long before he was born after all, but a mirror was different, a mirror was live. He looked roughly the same as he had when he was killed: just short of thirty; just over six feet; always too thin according to his mother and aunt; brown eyes; straight, longish hair like freshly weathered cypress wood — he'd gone gray early — but now with a vampire's pale skin. He tried to get his broad, satisfied grin under control, failed completely, and gave up. Widely smiling, he went down to the dining room.
"Where are the parakeets?" Martin asked as he joined Ann.
"They eat somewhere else in the afternoon. They keep to a routine, and I'm one of their morning feeding stations. There's a selection of Cambells in the kitchen."
The kitchen, on the east of the house, was efficient and well equipped. It was small, but still looked as if it could produce feasts for a dozen or more. There was a three-door refrigerator; a four-burner stove with a grill, a griddle and down-draft ventilation; two wall ovens; and two sorts of counters: granite and butcher block. The kitchen also looked as if nothing had ever been cooked in it, Martin thought. He eyed the eight types of Cambells in a long line, with a cut crystal old-fashioned glass at one end. He picked the AB negative and returned to the dining room.
She had set a small table just inside the doors that opened out to the deck. Martin saw the same style of table setting that had come out of the picnic basket: White linen, silver, and china with a simple gold rim. Each place was set with orange juice in the same old-fashioned glasses.
On the table there was a round covered casserole and a silver beverage set consisting of a cream pitcher, a sugar bowl, a cigarette urn holding cinnamon sticks, a narrow glass-lined dish holding thin lemon slices, a hot milk jug, a coffee pot and a tea pot. Ann set down two square covered serving dishes she had just taken from somewhere and took her seat.
"How did you manage this?" Martin asked, sitting opposite her and setting his blood down by his orange juice.
"Stasis spells. I cooked everything earlier and stored it. Coffee or tea?"
"Coffee," Martin said.
"We have smoked trout, homemade chicken-apple sausage, hash browns, oatmeal, and Eggs Benedict," Ann said, removing the covers.
Martin smiled. "Pullet eggs?" he asked, seeing the very small poached egg on top of the small round of toast.
"Yes. There's an organic farm over in Marin where I get a lot of my supplies. They offer fresh quail eggs too, but pullet eggs fit the batârd croutes perfectly, which makes presentation simple."
"Very important, my teachers said."
Ann smiled. "A few years ago I needed to update my cooking skills for here and now. I sampled a lot of expensive and well reviewed meals. That was interesting and sometimes it was fun. I started with a long series of basic lessons at some local commercial cooking schools and adult education classes, here and some other places in California. Eventually, I even took some courses over at the California Culinary Academy, including Beginning California Nouvelle Cuisine, Modern Menu Planning, and Setting the Contemporary Table. They take presentation very seriously over there."
"You're very thorough," Martin said.
"Starting from zero, I have to be."
Martin smiled again as he took a small dish of oatmeal, then helped himself to Eggs Benedict and a smoked trout.
"So how was Julia this morning?" Ann asked.
"Tense, but coping. She stuttered a little at breakfast and she asked twice how my leg was," Martin said. "I told her I was fine, both times, but I'm not sure she was reassured. Are you planning on mentioning that soon she'll have an unspecified number of infant aunts and uncles?"
"Not immediately. I think we must say something at some point, preferably sooner rather than later, though. If Helen could find Emily, certainly Julia can find any extant blood kin of hers whenever she looks for them. I think not telling her would be a mistake."
"The witch bit bothers me," Martin admitted.
"At the moment, that power is not expressed. Helen was an active witch, but Julia is not. At the moment," Ann repeated, "Julia is busy with school and new friends. I don't expect it to stay that way forever."
"This is proving more complex than I thought it would be," the vampire complained.
"At that," Ann laughed, "it may be easier because our fosterling is sometimes fifty years old and a reasonable adult. Other times, when she's the fourteen-year old adolescent bounced around by a constantly changing stew of new hormones, it may prove to be more difficult. She and I are going for a long walk, and maybe a picnic, day after tomorrow. Lots of time for a talk, if anything is bothering her."
Having delivered Martin to his office, Ann considered where the Inn was today. Ah, not that far, just over in North Beach. She would walk. She left the house and gently climbed south and a little east through Compass Park, heading for the steps on Greenwich.
Compass Park was directly across Chestnut and a little uphill from Compass Place, which took its name from it. The central feature was a large steel compass rose at the north summit of Russian Hill. Every twenty years or so, since the creation of the park in 1886, the ground under the rose eroded enough to be a problem. Whenever enough people started tripping on it, the rose had to be disassembled, the ground leveled and the rose reset. It was due for another restoration soon and Ann stepped over a jutting edge as she walked.
The famous Russian Hill Gardens were more to the south and east, where the slope was sheltered. Compass Park had more low shrubs than trees or flowers, especially on the north and west sides, where the wind was steady and harsh. The shrubs, both foreign and native, and the exposed rocks, were twisted and carved into interesting shapes. Ann was crossing Lombard Street, which bisected the park, when she became aware that someone was following her. Well, what's this about? She picked a bench and appeared to observe the sunset.
The follower kept his distance. It seemed he — and there was no doubt in Ann's mind that it was a he — was willing to wait as long as she did. If she had more time, she would have played him; as it was, she had things to do. She rose and resumed her walk. As she turned onto the top flight of pedestrian steps that led down to Greenwich Terrace, and was briefly hidden from anyone behind her, she ported into the lobby of the Inn.
"We managed to send the Huruvians home," the Innkeeper said.
"Thank you," Ann said, with a warm smile.
"Travelers' Aid," the Innkeeper said. "They sent an agent to the house the Huruvians, and the human they called 'the master,' were using here. The agent found a journal the human kept, which helped locate the Huruvians' dimension. They seemed happy to be going home." The Innkeeper shook his head.
"Not my idea of home either," Ann agreed.
"Zuri looked at your blaster rifle."
Ann turned to Zuri, the manager for security, who nodded silently.
Ann understood that Zuri was asking if he could tell his contact, who could be anyone from a radar operator at Pillar Point AFS who knew someone in Intelligence to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who knew everybody. "Tell him the SFPD may have one or two of them. If your source needs to speak with me, keep me nameless."
Zuri nodded again. "Want it back?" he asked.
"Yes," Ann said. "Please drop it at Wayfinder's."
"Right," Zuri said, and without further words, left.
"Where are you going to send it?" the Innkeeper asked.
"A friend of mine will enjoy playing with it," Ann said. The Innkeeper was walking with her as she moved unhurriedly across the lobby. Apparently his schedule was not too hectic today.
In this locus, the Inn had an irregular cruciform vault-and-dome lobby, with the main pedestrian entry at the end of the widest and longest arm. The banks of elevators and an arcade of shops leading to a side entrance faced each other across the main desk, which was directly under the dome. Ann turned into the arcade.
All the goods and services necessary for a comfortable stay were available: Healers, barbers, hairdressers, cleaners and tailors, sellers of souvenirs of Earth and San Francisco, the Concierge, a very expensive florist who had one partner who was jeweler and another partner who was a confectioner, and Wayfinder's Messenger service, which was Ann's destination.
"Your friends have strange hobbies," the Innkeeper said.
"Boredom is always a problem," Ann said.
"For many of us," the Innkeeper murmured.
"For the past couple of centuries some of the yunü have been fascinated by human technology. They enjoy playing with it and I've found some of their results interesting or helpful or both."
"I had heard that Taz's grandmother has cable," the Innkeeper said.
"More or less. When they were with me, the shouyu cubs started following a TV series. When they returned home, the yunü figured out a work-around so they could keep up with Josh and everyone. The process involves opening a dedicated dimensional portal to a cable relay station. The Palace gets television, radio and internet. The Eldest enjoys, or at least watches, Footballers' Wives, which is a little unexpected."
"I don't remember yunü using portals."
"Some portals can be described as originating in a human technology," Ann said. "A magical technology is still a technology."
"So complicated. But then complications help alleviate boredom. String, knots," he ended, which was the short form of a popular proverb.
They entered Wayfinder's where Ann filled out an address label and tied it to the blast rifle on the counter in front of the waiting clerk.
The clerk glanced at the tag. "The yunü Liangde, Household of the Eldest Dragon, Kunlun Mountain. OK. No message? No return address? Will she know who it's from?"
"Oh, yes," Ann said.
"One thing more, Anna." The Innkeeper touched Ann's arm, halting her before she turned to the side pedestrian exit. They were alone, and could see up and down the empty hall. "Rumor says your committee are milling around."
"Oh?" Ann kept her voice as soft as his.
"Half of them seem to be more worried than the other half, but it's not the usual division."
"Oh?" Ann asked again.
"Some factions of one tripartite side seem to be allied with a few factions of the other three against the remainders of both other sides. It's more jumbled than usual."
"Really?" Ann thought for a moment, then: "How do you come to know this?"
The Innkeeper nodded. "That was especially interesting. The rumor path was very short. I saw two junior aides huddled together in a conspicuous corner of the bar, like a drawing by Prohias."
"Ah," Ann said, slowly smiling. "Complete with smoking bomb?"
"I would not have been surprised to see one, but no, not this time. They do know better. They whispered for a time, then they ostentatiously slunk out in opposite directions. One of them slipped into Egil's office, while the other got into the same elevator as Yerodin."
"There isn't any special reason for them to come here at all," Ann said. "Beyond, of course, the surpassing excellence of your Inn."
The Innkeeper smiled. "They do know that at the moment you have access only to this Inn."
Ann nodded. "So why do they want me to know that? They are certainly aware I do not support any side in that mess, no matter how they shift around."
"That I can't help you with, although the suggestion of cooperation between the factions may indicate how seriously they regard their current problem."
"Whatever it may be," Ann agreed. "Thank you."
Ann walked home, backtracking through Compass Park. The watcher did not re-appear. Ann didn't miss him, she had enough on her mind. One immediate action suggested itself: she left a message for her lawyer before checking her assignment board and departing on litter patrol.
In Oceanside, California, Mrs. Russell Corbin opened the door of her condo and exclaimed happily: "Lois, how nice. And who is this?" Her extravagant surprise was so blatantly false, it would fool no one. Certainly neither her daughter nor the caller were fooled.
"Diane," Lois said impatiently, "this is my nephew. You said I should bring him."
"Come in and meet Sylly."
Sly Corbin smiled politely as Lois's visiting nephew was presented to her. Honestly, mother, she thought.
In Berkeley, Glen Merrill, Bookseller, had a routine with Atico Mazlish, his regular Bookquest delivery man: Tico called when he started up the hill. The custom had begun when Tico made his first run into the Berkeley hills. Not even the USPS could figure out all the twisty little passages that the strange inhabitants of the Berkeley hills called streets. Keeler Avenue, for example, was interrupted in the middle of its length by Keeler Park, which had no signs and no roads, only a two space parking lot and some narrow pathways. If you didn't know that Keeler Avenue continued on the other side of Keeler Park, you could easily become frustrated. Published maps were only vaguely helpful, and often not even that. Tico, more sensible than many men, called the phone number listed on his Delivery Information Acquisition Device and received directions on the correct route to Merrill's Rare Books — by Appointment Only.
Today, Glen was waiting on the driveway as Tico pulled to a stop on Keeler, which ran east of Merrill's house in a roughly north-south line, at least on this block. Tico unloaded three cardboard boxes.
"Books," Tico said, offering the hand-held DIAD.
"Good," Glen said. He signed for the packages as Tico moved the boxes from Bookquest's handcart to Glen's.
Finally, Glen thought. He didn't know why Bookquest had sent him a notice that his expected delivery would be delayed, he was just glad it had finally gotten here. His sister was getting impatient and he himself had been awaiting the arrival of the latest grab-bag. He trundled all the boxes off to the garage and opened the biggest one first. He removed a mailing tube he didn't remember ordering and put it to one side, then began unpacking the books. A rainbow stack of color-coded albums and co-ordinated journals were put aside uninspected while the mixed inventory was spread out individually and carefully unwrapped.
Tales of a Scandalous Administration by Anonymous not only had the signature of the former president on the flyleaf, it boasted marginalia on nearly every page: True, but not that enjoyable, was scribbled on page 3; Not true, I never hit on her, on page 4. Wow! occurred on page 7 and Five stars!, with no further comment, on page 16. A quick flip revealed many more.
Excellent. Just as good as Ian Fleming's own copy of Birds of Jamaica. Almost as interesting as Ho Chi Minh's personal 1910 Larousse Guide de Paris, which had been a true find. Glen sighed, running his hands over the cover. Reluctantly, he put aside his new treasure and turned to the birthday presents for his niece.
The Art Magnet school his niece attended was offering a course in Scrapbook, Memorabilia and Keepsakes. Apparently shoe boxes under the bed were passé. Sixteen was, in Glen's opinion, too young for organized memorabilia; he also favored memoirs over blogs or diaries. But the books were excellent: the acid-free paper in the journals smooth and receptive to ink, while the albums had thicker and slightly rougher paper, to support trinkets, menus, and concert programs, and to receive the glue. The red journal was a little more magenta than the red album, while the two blue books were perfectly matched.
He put the fourteen books on the new book shelves. Then he frowned. The violet journal was fully 3/8 of an inch shorter than its fellows. Now that he looked more closely at them, the grain of the leather was also different. He opened it.
Oh, dear. His sister was going to be angry.
The paper was rag, and while aged, was not brittle. The leather binding was still supple. It had been cared for by someone who knew what to do with a fine book. He checked the back. It had a colophon with a date of 1658:
A History of Apocryphal Texts
Being a compendium of antique
in the main Hindustani, but also including
Nepaulese and Nipponese
and the histories thereof
from the earliest times to the present.
Presented in synoptic form
by learned Fellows of the Antique Text Society
Anno Domini 1658
He scanned some of the synopses. Dull and difficult. He checked the commentaries. Duller and harder.
He turned to the unexpected mailing tube and examined the contents: A narrow, but long, scroll, about ten inches across. He unrolled about three feet of it very gently, then rotated it 90 degrees. That put the illustrated human beings right side up, the text in horizontal lines and the unrolled scroll to his left.
He could see the scroll was fashioned from at least two layers of narrow...what? Split reeds? Inner bark of mulberry trees pounded together? Something like that. On the inside, where the writing was, the narrow splits ran up and down, across the length. On the back, they ran lengthwise. Whatever it was made from, he estimated the roll contained at least four feet yet to unwrap.
The text and the illustrations seemed to have been painted, rather than drawn. Yes, a brush and not a pen had been used. A wavy line, a jagged line, a square and what might be a frog were depicted. Human figures, wearing long robes with their sleeves over their hands, each carrying a draped bundle, were moving towards a common center. Glen had no idea what action or occasion was illustrated.
He considered the text: Neatly arranged in blocks, but not in the Latin alphabet, which complicated matters further. He put the scroll down and picked up Ballhorn, Alphabete orientalische und occidentalishe Sprachen, and leafed through the illustrations. Ah. Ballhorn seemed to call it Karosthi. He switched to the 1904 English translation of Bühler, Indian Palaeography. Hmm. Third century BCE; in north-west India.
Well, since he did not read Hindustani or Sanskrit, the scroll was not very interesting. One of the many dangers in buying mixed lots was the erratic quality of the goods you sometimes received. Glen's only remaining problem was to locate another violet journal for his niece, quickly. It would be nice to dispose of the useless – to one who specialized in Marginalia – inventory and at a profit, if possible. He was, after all, a book dealer. Hmm.
If he listed the stock in Acquisitions he might receive a higher price, but not soon. He decided to list it with his other discards on Alibris. Simple, direct and fast. He would get around to that. First, of course, he had to find a new violet journal. Possibly Samuel's, out in Walnut Creek, might have one; or failing that, a complete matching pair, in some shade of purple.
At the Inn at San Francisco, on a private floor, Hilarion the Scribe was working late. Well, he wasn't actually working, but he wasn't totally playing either. He was ahead of the rest of the Scribes, who were still working on the Tequila Cocktail subset. He had advanced to Vodka, and was sipping a Flying Grasshopper as he did Google Searches. A search for Etana gave interesting results, few of them accurate. The results from a search for 'Inn at San Francisco' were few and totally inaccurate. Searching his own name had revealed an Hilarion who had been pope 1500 years ago. A search for A History of Apocryphal Texts, which in his mind he had abbreviated HOAT, to rhyme with goat, on the other hand, had yielded '1-10 of about 244,000' but no exact match. He shrugged, checked The Complete Bartender, discovered his next drink should be a Frozen Russian Apple and left the computer room for the café-bar next door.
Also at the Inn at San Francisco, but in the staff quarters, Chasen nursed a hangover on his day off.
Nothing had gone well recently. He disliked dusting. However, given that he needed to dust to remain in the Inn, and he needed to remain in the Inn to be safe from Mekonnen, he dusted. He did not always dust to Chaldun's exacting standard. Chaldun, who was in charge of maintenance, which included housekeeping, would point out his lapses, then set him to do the task over. And over. And over, until he got it right.
The immediate future looked even worse. The Inn was hosting a trade convention of magical manufacturers and suppliers, officially opening the day after tomorrow. Yerodin, the reservations and events manager, had announced that the convention set-up crew and some far-traveling attendees would begin arriving tonight and very early tomorrow. Chaldun wanted his staff finished with the daily routine by 1200 hours, to be ready to deal with the complications he expected.
There had to be a way out of this. He just couldn't think of one at the moment.
Ann was passing as human, mostly. That meant she performed a number of normal human tasks, especially when her neighbors and other humans could see. Saturday morning, she shopped.
Since she was not traveling out of San Francisco, she left the Jaguar with Tom Rivera and drove the ugly but practical Urban Utility Vehicle that was small enough to park in her basement garage. She drove down the hill. No one paid much attention to her. Where was the watcher? Possibly he was working alone and was a late riser, possibly he had moved on.
Just before seven she arrived at the local Farmers' Market. Taking her string bags and a folding shopping cart, she moved slowly along the rows of stalls.
She bought a jar of black radish jam; krouchnik, korj, and a dozen vatrouchki; two bunches of beets, a quart of yogurt and a jar of pickled plums. She covered about half the market, then stopped for blini and tea at the centrally located tea stand.
She consulted her list, and resumed her progress.
"No, I don't think so. I don't argue with the quality, just with the fact that there are less than thirty sturgeon left in the Caspian Sea. I'll take the American farmed caviar, two cans." Moving on from the caviar stall, she filled her cart with two bags of sunflower seeds, three different sorts of honey, half a dozen cucumbers and several white onions. On top of all that, she placed a bunch of flowers. Lastly, she bought a bag of potatoes. With the potatoes over her shoulder, trailing her wheeled cart, she returned to her ugly utility vehicle.
As usual, the UUV had attracted attention: A crowd of shoppers and vendors, with a leaven of police and truckers, were inspecting it.
"Is this thing street legal?" one of the cops asked skeptically.
"It's a Phaeton, their Urban Utility Vehicle; and yes it is," Ann said. "When it was licensed it was inspected by no less than three DMV officials, who all agreed it is." She went on to explain that it was a hybrid, that it came in a kit, that it got almost 70 MPG, around 45 miles between charges if she wasn't using the internal combustion engine, and that she had put it together with a socket wrench.
"Funny looking car," one of the vendors said.
"So most people say. It takes me and three friends to and from the opera and it carries groceries very well, however. Here's the dealers' card." Ann put the last of her bags in the cargo area, carefully placed the sweet williams in the passenger seat, and drove off, passing Jennifer Reid who lived at Nine Compass Place just coming to market.
As Ann put the vase of sweet williams on the table, Taz came down the stairs.
"Ah," the long said, "vatrouchki. Excellent. Demons yesterday, vatrouchki today. I'll miss this when I move to the dorm. Dorm food sucks."
"It's all part of the current university experience."
"Actually, that's a constant, I think. The beer at Wittenberg was great, but I hated the food in Paris."
"Both. Well, more last century than the first time."
"You complained about the food but you also complained about how small the portions were. I thought tea, with the vatrouchki," Ann smiled.
"Fine," Taz said, taking a pastry.
The house phone appeared on the table and chimed. Ann smiled at her foster son and answered it, touching the large crystal, which cleared at once.
"You wanted to talk?" Nancy Polias asked.
"Something I heard last night."
"Come in, then."
"Have you heard anything about why they might be annoyed with me?" Ann asked. She didn't bother specifying who might be annoyed with her.
"Beyond the usual?" Nancy didn't need any clarification.
"Apparently. Also, I'm being watched. At least I was."
"Beyond the usual?" Nancy repeated.
"I will make some quiet inquiries," the lawyer said.
Ann ported home to discover Taz had gone out. He had left her the last vatrouchki.
The number of magical disruptions Ann dealt with varied according to several cycles: the lunar cycle was one, the planetary year was another, and since Ann's task was focused on human magic, the human calendar was a third. A full or new moon on a Friday or Saturday night coinciding with a solstice or a human anniversary garnered the greatest number of hits, while Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with any phase of the moon other than full or new were generally the quietest.
Ann arrived home from her noon patrol after 5:00. There were always more hits on her assignment board on the weekends. Whether that was due to an increasing number of attempts at magical processes (simply because more people had more free time) or due to a slacking off of attention (since it was the weekend) with more screw-ups as the result, Ann couldn't tell and didn't think it mattered. She did know the number would probably peak tomorrow morning and drop into the single digits by Monday afternoon. She stripped off her clothes and walked into her shower.
Walking out on to her bedroom deck afterwards, she found Nancy Polias sitting at the small table, watching the changing light and shadows.
"Nancy, good evening. Wine?"
"Yes, please. I had tea with Chiyou and Huangdi."
Ann produced glasses and a bottle of Hecker Pass Winery 1998 Zinfandel and poured for the lawyer. "Ah, how are they?"
"This is very pleasant. One of yours?"
"Local. I came across the place last spring," Ann said.
"Well," Nancy said. "They seemed a little abstracted, although it's always hard to tell with all the ceremonial posturing that attends having tea with them. I apologized for troubling them, they apologized for receiving me in a hovel. Eventually, they offered me tea. I presented the almond lace cookies and the mincemeat tarts. That took two hours." Nancy sipped her wine. "After tea, they talked. I think the subject was bookstores."
"Bookstores?" Ann asked.
"I think so," Nancy said. "Have you noticed anything unusual to do with bookstores — bookstores that are owned and patronized by humans, that is — recently?"
"I haven't been in a bookstore in several weeks. I've been buying a number of specialty books, yes, but Meri ordered them for me."
"Did you do anything unusual? When you were last in a bookstore, that is?"
"Not unusual, exactly. I did expound at some length on the folly of perfection binding," Ann admitted. "But that's not unusual. I have done so before and undoubtedly will do so again. It's one of the silli..."
"You didn't set the shop on fire, by any chance?"
"Any unusual fires?" Nancy asked.
"None that I've noticed."
"And your board?"
"Hasn't shown any fires," Ann said. "Or signaled any magic occurring in bookstores."
"I don't know any more," Nancy said. "You've been remarkably restrained in your dealings with the others. So far."
"Don't louse it up?"
"Inelegant, but apt. Oh, and they know nothing about any increased surveillance."
That was all very interesting. Ann was always conscious of the delicate balance she maintained. So far. She smiled as her thoughts echoed Nancy's comment.
She sipped her wine and watched the night grow. Fires. Bookstores. She wandered down to the office and called Dave, over in Berkeley.
"Other Change of Hobbit."
"This is Ann Grove. Got a minute?"
Ann picked out some books for Julia while Dave was on the phone. She greeted the shop cat, Shelob, who allowed her to scratch its ears before slipping away on some feline errand. Eventually, Dave produced a list.
"Hey, Ann," the night manager at the Kearny Agency said.
"Hi, Roberta," Ann said. "Is Alice in?"
"Excellent," Ann said, and knocked on Alice's door. "I need to know about fires," she explained to the junior partner and operative. She sat in the visitor's chair and waited.
"Fires in general?" Alice asked.
"Specific fires," Ann said.
"Which specific fires?"
"Let's start with these," Ann said, handing Alice Dave's list.
Alice read it, then: "Time frame? and how are these ranked?"
"I don't know about the time frame and the first six came from the first phone call, the seventh from the second call and the eighth from the last."
"Why do you think these are special?"
"They may be arson."
"There's a lot of arson in the Bay Area," Alice said. "It works out to 2 or 3 fires a day."
"These are bookstore fires," Ann offered.
"Are these all? Are they open? Have they been solved or not?"
"I think those are things I need to know."
"Do they have the same MO? The same insurance company?"
"I don't know."
"Let's go see Vikran."
Vikran looked like an intelligent cherub. Slightly plump, round faced, rose-lipped, with tousled curly black hair, he listened as Ann, with many clarifications from Alice, explained what she needed. After Ann stopped, he frowned at her for a long moment, then moved over to the computer and sat down, all in silence.
Ann glanced at Alice, who nodded at her. "It's fine. Come on," she said, heading out the door.
In the break room, she offered coffee.
Ann shook her head. "No, thanks."
"We may have tea around somewhere. What exactly are you looking for?"
"I'll have some water. I don't know yet. With any luck, Vikran will spot an anomaly or even a singularity," Ann said.
"That would be nice."
Ann nodded. "Tell me the basics."
"Starting where? Motives or means?"
"Means. I have no idea what the motive is, and, in fact, motive may not matter. I may be interested in the means, so let's start there."
"Since we won't get anywhere if we don't start somewhere," Alice agreed. "Physical means often include accelerants..."
"Now," Vikran said, "I've accessed 9Cs, that's not a shoe size, it's the Nine County Co-ordinated Crime Computer. I omitted everything that wasn't arson, everything that's already solved, everything that has an obvious, well, obviously human, motive even if it can't be proven, and everything that isn't a bookstore."
Ann nodded. She and Alice had returned to the computer room where Vikran had completed his research.
Apparently Vikran had only two modes of conversation: either extremely taciturn or overly verbose: "Now ordinarily I would list the data according to time and also according to location - I wrote my own program which ranks distance from this office, which makes coordinating travel..."
"Don't worry about that, Vikran," Alice said. "Just give us the results."
"Sure, OK. I just hope you won't be disappointed. What's left are the California Noir fire and the one at The Well Read Jabberwock. You can't do much with two data."
"No," Ann agreed, "you can't."
"There are about three arson fires a day. Now, the data filing lags, which is to be expected, but we'll know more when the next bookstore fire gets reported." Vikran fell silent and smiled wordlessly at Ann.
"Thank you," Ann said.
"Thanks, Vikran," Alice said.
Vikran nodded silently, and Alice opened the door for Ann.
In Alice's office, Ann said: "Are you free to help me tonight? California Noir burned ten days ago and I don't want to wait any longer to look at it."
"I don't know what we could find now," Alice said, "but sure, I'm available."
"I have litter patrol," Ann said. "After that, we'll go look around."
In San José, Sly Corbin walked into the crowded homicide department. Her desk, left undefended for only three days, had already been covered with stacks of papers.
"Hey, Sly, you're back early. Everything OK?"
"My mother invited her best friend, and her best friend's visiting nephew, over for barbecue. I left early. The lieutenant in?"
"Get out of here, Corbin," Lieutenant Martinez said.
"I'm back, I'm bored."
"I am not a cruise director. You're scheduled for two weeks vacation. Go home."
"I won't get in the way. I'll just tidy up some limboed cases."
Martinez frowned at her. On one hand she was tenacious. On the other hand she was very tenacious. Finally he grunted. "OK. You said it: don't get in the way. Chang's busy on a high-profile double death, don't bother him."
"Right," Sly said. She returned to her desk, slipped the bottom five files out from under the pile, got a cup of coffee and began to read. The third file was the bodies in the book warehouse that she had worked last month. Loose ends were so annoying, she thought.
The security guard, Walter Sheppard, had had no personal enemies, according to a couple of his friends and several of his acquaintances. Which went along with the first theory all the investigators on the scene had: Sheppard had been killed by intruders during a robbery or other invasion. He had shot one of them, and the other, his killer, had escaped. No murder weapon had been found. No other trace of the killer had been found.
She turned to the other body, the first intruder, and read over her own notes: an interview with the clerk at the car rental, which wasn't that helpful. He couldn't find the paperwork for the car and hadn't seen the driver, since he worked days.
There was a transcript of her interview with the other clerk, the one who had been on duty that night and who had rented the car. This second clerk couldn't remember anything about the body and had not rented a car to two men. He had known where the paperwork was. The paperwork was the most helpful of all, giving the body's name, Francisco Naoko Guzman; place of residence, Lima, Peru; and Guzman's passport number and international driver license number.
Airlines had been contacted. Guzman had traveled alone. For some reason, he had switched planes in Los Angeles. The stewards of both planes couldn't remember him.
The Peruvian embassy had been contacted. Eventually, the embassy had forwarded their answer from Lima. The hard copy letter, in Peruvian Spanish (which had been translated by the official SJPD translator, DV, complete with footnotes and brief digressions into local idioms), included a copy of the passport photograph and fingerprints, which established that the body was Guzman. The translation continued, saying Guzman was a librarian at the University of Lima, and that they, the Lima Homicide Squad, had no idea what, beyond Guzman's stated purpose of travel, he had been doing in California. The signatory, Sr. E. Rodriques, offered to the police department of San Jose his most sincere, refined and respectful sentiments.* (*Polite formula only, don't take it seriously. DV.)
Hmm. Librarian. Warehouse full of books. Hmm.
There was a report from the lab: The local map, supplied with the rental car, had a dot, apparently on El Camino Real. The ink on the dot was compatible with the ink in a pen also found in the car. The finger prints on the inside of the map and on the pen were Guzman's. The model number of the pen was... The CSI techs were sometimes helpful, always thorough, and frequently a little strange.
Sly decided to look into the dot on the map. However, since she was still officially on vacation, she took time to have a late lunch before driving out to El Camino Real.
Near the area of the dot, she stopped and inspected the options.
Well, Sly thought. A used car lot, a gas station, a breakfast place. She thought none of those likely. That left the motel.
Highway Hacienda. It had flaking stucco, an empty swimming pool, and shaggy palm trees. Right.
"Last month? Come on, that's..." The motel manager was unenthusiastic.
Sly was patient: "That's not that long ago. Let me talk to the cleaning staff and see what they know."
"If he never got here, what do you expect to find out?"
"Señora Cordenas, did anyone, that whole week in July, any one at all, have any books? Did anyone even mention books? Or libraries?"
"No." The head of the cleaning detail was unenthusiastic.
Sly persevered: "Librarians?"
"Where there any card games here?"
"No. You can always tell from the cigarette burns in the carpet."
"Did one of your cleaning crew find any books? Anything left behind?"
"Nothing important. I would know. The girls bring me anything left, and there was nothing important that night."
"How do you remember that?"
"That was the week we were short a woman, the whole week. We were all over worked and we none of us found anything worth anything." Maria Cordenas glanced at Sly who shook her head:
"I'm not interested in any little profit sharing scam you're running. What was left behind?"
"Half a card, but you couldn't cheat at cards with only half a card."
"No, you couldn't. What was it?"
"A face card, I think."
"It was rented by Raymond Karpinsky, Vallejo. Credit card number..."
"Did he just drive in?"
"No, it was reserved for that one night and pre-paid. By e-mail, from the Anglo-Sanskrit Theological University at Vallejo."
"Thanks," Sly said.
Sly arrived home to find her answering machine had been filled. She listened to the first message, which was from her mother. It cut off in mid-word. The second message had been recorded three minutes after the first. She thought it probable that the rest of the messages were also from her mother. She left them and called the Anglo-Sanskrit Theological University at Vallejo, where she reached a recording. Apparently the University was on break. She pondered briefly on technological advances, which were useful when she wanted to dodge her mother and annoying when she wanted to talk to Raymond Karpinsky. She listened to all her mother's messages, erased them, and then washed all her windows in an attempt to regain her calm.
Glen Merrill compared the violet journal the Harrison's clerk offered with the set of rainbow journals, then with the violet album. The size was right, but the color didn't match. "Not quite," he decided. "I'll need the violet album, too."
"Gift warp, if possible, please."
"We do gift-wrap, sir, and we deliver," the clerk said.
"Do that," Merrill said, and gave the clerk the address.
At the Inn at San Francisco, Guiscard frowned at the notice on the door of the café-bar. "It's not supposed to close."
"Closed for the opening ceremonies?" Hilarion read.
Jere shrugged. "Let's go to the Pacific Lounge. I guess they can do a Prado."
"OK," Guiscard said.
"I'm up to a Kremlin Colonel," Hilarion said.
"Ground floor," Imbert told the elevator.
The elevator shut its doors and descended.
Now the Inn's main pedestrian entry was in the long arm of the cross, situated between the banks of elevators and the arcade of shops. The open public areas on the ground floor was directly across the dome from the main entrance. This, the fourth arm of the cross, contained various conference rooms and the main exhibition areas, freight elevators, the guests' private elevators(including the Clansmen's) and escalators to more public rooms on the mezzanine.
The Convention was really two Conventions.
There was the scholarly meeting, with seminars, presentations of papers or demonstrations of spells by grave and serious wizards, both human and non-human. For excitement, there was the occasional induction of a new member into a College or an Order, full of pageantry, ritual and long, long speeches by all the senior members. All that was happening behind closed doors up on the mezzanine.
That was not the Convention the Scribes saw when the elevator doors opened on the ground floor.
The Scribes saw the other Convention, the one combining a trade show, an art gallery happening, a carnival midway and an auction. This one was staffed by hucksters with all the worst habits of telephone solicitors and auctioneers working on commissions.
On an elevated stage there were demonstrations of magic mirrors, miniature fireworks, magic fountains and cornucopias. There were pens, display benches or perches, and simple cages for the herds, flocks, packs and prides of familiars. There were booths of programmable magic garments, cups, jewelry, chairs or swords, that could pick out the true heir or the real champion or the chaste spouse, out of a group of contenders. There were pyramids of crystal balls, with colors moving up, down and around as each ball lit briefly, changed color and lit again. Racks of amulets rippled in mystic breezes. Beautiful nymphs in gossamer shifts and handsome jintong bare to the waist offered passers-by samples of everything from magic monocles to winged sandals.
The attendees were as diverse as the vendors: Dmitri Romanov was walking from booth to booth, buying this, haggling over that, and handing his purchases off to his attendant sputthe, while Dai the Tinker (also known as and often doing business as: Gypsy Dai, Tinker Dai and Cheery Dai) who supplied computers to Ann, Taz and Julia, was blocking the pedestrian flow while he talked about the latest remodel of the Ganesha web site with an equally intense apprentice mage. The buyer from Everything Magic was down from Seattle, looking totally human today. Most of her entourage were already carrying laden baskets on their heads as they followed her in a long line.
Imbert eyed a gilt that approached the elevator and snuffled. She jerked her head back as if her snout had been rapped. A young swineherd followed the gilt and tapped her gently with his herding staff.
"None of them."
"Well, we'll keep looking," the swineherd said. They walked away.
"Yeah, well, if he's a guest, we may never get close enough to him. There's a spell on that elevator, too," the young pig grumped.
"Suppose I sell you to a guest?" the swineherd said. "Would that get you in?"
"Might work," the gilt agreed.
"It seems to be a party," Guiscard said.
"Or something," Jere said. He was watching a nymph, who was watching him through a monocle and smiling.
"I'm not in the mood," Imbert said.
"Me neither," Hilarion agreed.
"Uhmp. I'll give it a look," Jere said and left the elevator.
"Up," Guiscard said.
The doors opened.
"Hey, hey, hey," Ethan said. "I hear there's a party." He shoved past the exiting Scribes. "Down," he ordered the elevator.
"How'd he know that?" Hilarion wondered.
"It's a talent," Imbert shrugged.
"MMORPG anyone?" Guiscard asked.
"Chasen, Wahl and Vaasiny's child is absent."
The deputy for security must be worried, Chasen thought. That was a complete sentence. He glanced at the Insa couple standing beside Zuri.
Wahl and Vaasiny were currently staying in a very expensive suite on a very expensive floor. They were clearly non-human, although they were bipedal, brachiate, and bilaterally symmetrical, with strange scaled scars on their faintly gray and purple skin. He turned to Zuri.
"I have not seen..." Chasen began.
"His baby colors are very, oh, vibrant, I think it is in English," Vaasiny said. "And he has not shed his first skin."
"Which means he still has four feet and a tail," Wahl said.
"Oops," Chasen said.
"Where?" Zuri asked.
"I thought it was a pet," he said very softly to Zuri.
Zuri said nothing.
"It was loose in the hall! It growled at me!"
Zuri said nothing.
"I wrapped it in a dust sheet and took it to the kennel," Chasen whispered.
"We'll fetch the boy from the crèche," Zuri told the couple.
Chasen's eyes widened a bit, but otherwise he did not react. "From the crèche," he repeated. "I'll do that right now."
"No. You, clean," Zuri said.
"I'll dust," Chasen agreed. On some other floor, he thought, and wheeled his cleaning cart away.
Long Dianchi, also called Taz, arrived home and went looking for his guardian. He climbed the stairs and found Alice Kearny with Jingwu in the library.
At the moment, the second floor of the townhouse was divided into the office on the south and the library on the north, and, in the middle of the east side of the house, a full bath and a powder room. The south-east end of the office could be converted into a guest suite via two sliding doors.
While the public area of the house was Chinese Chippendale, the library was Chinese Craftsman. The furniture, still graceful, was more massive than the living room's and evoked a less formal ambiance. The walls were lined with shelves of books and tall cabinets, which held computers, various sorts of music players, and a television. One end of the room was for serious study or work. Under a pair of chandeliers were large and sturdy tables with upright chairs. On a glowing Isfahan rug at the other end of the room, there was a large globe in front of a pair of Morris chairs featuring ornate lattice-work sides. Close by was a matching asymmetric den-couch. Floor lamps supplied individual reading lights.
Jingwu was seated at a library table of pale quarter-sawn lizimu with a dark marble inset top. She had street maps of some Bay Area cities in front of her and Alice looking over her shoulder. Jingwu had her hair tied back. Alice was wearing a dark navy pantsuit, in a dull cotton double knit. Jingwu wore green so dark it was nearly black, in a fine wool flannel that was also non-reflective. The clothes weren't exactly stealthy, but they were conspicuously inconspicuous. Alerted, Taz eyed them suspiciously. They looked up and smiled at him.
"Now what?" he demanded.
"Excessively discreet communications, possibly warnings, possibly friendly, about fires at bookstores. On the other hand, it could be part of an elaborate trap. I'm not sure," Jingwu said.
"I worry about you two," the long said. "So what are you going to do?"
Jingwu laughed. "We're just going to take a quick look at the scene of the crime." She stood up and stretched.
"Or crimes," Alice said, picking up a gray metal hoop from the table. It was about the size and shape of a ping-pong paddle, but hollow in the center. The edge was about an inch and a half wide with a number of holes evenly spaced over the two-thirds of the circle opposite the handle. Each hole was surrounded by inset glyphs in different metals.
"Or crimes," Jingwu agreed. Alice also picked up a bell jar containing something that might be either a ripe dandelion seed head or a starched angora pom-pom. Jingwu put her hand on Alice's shoulder, and they vanished.
Taz sighed, and went up to bed.
Alice spoke the activating word, waved the hoop through the air, along the walls, the floor and at arm's length above her head, then examined the glyphs. "OK, no accelerants. What about magic?"
"Well, there's no human magic residuum. There is something, though."
Alice inspected the angora pom-pom, still stiff under the glass dome. "Right. Any point in asking what sort of something? Because nothing is registering over here."
"Just a minute," Ann said and ported out.
Three minutes and forty-seven seconds later, she returned.
Alice was fingering her teley charm. Ann smiled. "I wouldn't forget you."
"I was a little worried," the detective said.
"I needed to be alone," Ann said. "Humans can't stay quiet enough."
"During my naming vigil I maintained stillness for..." Alice began.
"There's a footprint," Ann interrupted. "Here and back in the first shop."
"Oh." Alice was silent for a minute. "Really?"
Ann nodded. "It's not really a footprint, but it is present, even if it's not easily visible."
"How do you know?"
"Did you meet Roujin, back when Darcy was staying with us?"
"She was one of the yunü, right? One of the boy's baby-sitters?"
"Yes, and when she wasn't looking after Darcy, she was investigating the portals around my home."
"Portals plural? How many were there?"
"Usually only two. Roujin went on to Hove, where there's a human portal travel industry, with a large research library. She learned a lot. When she came back, she and I made these," Ann held up a circle and an octagon, each made of crystal with beveled edges, one in each hand. "Look over there." She handed Alice the circle.
Alice took it by the edge and held it in front of her. She saw nothing different. She glanced at Ann, who nodded.
"That one shows active portals," Ann said and handed her the octagon. "This one is more sensitive."
Now Alice saw a palely glowing ring, still whole but very faint and irregular, slowly rotating in place as it changed and bent. She glanced over the top. Even knowing what she was looking for, she could not see it. "Huh. So what am I seeing?" she asked.
"That is an eddy." At Alice's exasperated glance, Ann grinned and continued: "Some apportations are accompanied by a sonic boom."
"Sloppy ones," Alice said.
Ann nodded. "And some transdimensional apports are accompanied by eddies."
"It's not a portal?"
"But it is the residuum you sense?"
"So is the fire arson or not?"
"Oh, it's arson, sort of natural arson. Not human natural, though." The disk vanished. Ann took the octagon and it followed the roundel.
"Oh. What way's that?"
"Mice chewing insulation off electrical wiring, or the like," Ann quoted back at Alice.
"That does happen," Alice agreed. "But, Ann, if it's not a natural fire, magical arson or physical or chemical arson, what is it?"
"Natural fire, but from an unusual source."
"Silent lightning bolt, fireball, fire breathing dragon, salamander, or weird little girl who doesn't get invited to the prom?"
Ann nodded. "Or your generic, all purpose, powerful demon. I want the police reports, if you can get them for me," Ann said. She put her hand on Alice's shoulder and moved them to Alice's office.
"Why?" Alice asked. "We just ruled out human action."
"I may be able to detect a pattern even if the police can't. They can openly collect data, whereas we are a little handicapped in that regard. I'm going home for a nap. When should I come back?"
"Make it about 10:00. I'll get them to you before I leave work."
Ann nodded, then blinked out.
Later that morning Ann returned to the Agency's office.
"Here's what we have now," Alice said. "Questions or suggestions?"
"Not yet," Ann said, taking the printout Alice offered. "I wish I had some. I wish I had any."
"All right," Alice said. "I'm going home before Hilary starts on another rant."
"Hilary's here? On Sunday?"
"We're losing our main office manager, so we're moving Roberta dayside to replace him, which means we need a replacement for her. It's not going well. The last applicant said 'apocalyptic' when I think he might have meant 'apocryphal', and when Hil asked if he actually meant 'revelatory' or 'eschatological', he said he didn't care for language like that. She bounced him."
Ann laughed and ported directly to Russian Hill, where she made some arrangements. After her noon litter patrol she picked up Julia. They appeared by the windmills at the west end of Golden Gate Park.
"Do they work?" Julia asked.
"Not everyday," Ann said. "In the Spring there are beds of tulips, here and there and over there and down that way — there are a lot of tulips, it manages to be very colorful and simultaneously very monotonous — and the windmills operate then."
"I meant with real water?"
"Yes, with real water. We have some choices," Ann said. "We can cross the Great Highway, walk north to Cliff House, and have dinner; we can walk south to the car and have a picnic, or we can walk east through the park to the Japanese Tea Garden and discuss where we'll have dinner."
"Let's go up," Julia said, waving north, where Cliff House sat on Sutro Heights.
On the beach, Ann removed her shoes and walked in the shallow waves. After a moment, Julia did the same. They walked in silence for a while, then, Julia said, "Uh, Ann?"
"Can I be taller? Am I taller? All of a sudden, I mean?"
That wasn't what Ann had expected, but she answered readily: "Yes. Your recent diet is much better and you're catching up with your genetic optimum."
"Fast? I mean really fast. Can I be taller in the morning?"
"At your age, growth spurts are normal. A teenager can wake up a quarter inch taller than when she went to bed."
"The girls at school say it's weird."
"Your own growth spurts are more noticeable than theirs are, but that's because you were semi-starved for the last several years. Now, you're having them more frequently and with a greater increase in height each spurt than most girls experience. As I said, you're catching up."
"Oh. So I'm really just getting normal?"
"Are your clothes all right?"
"I had to sew!" Julia announced. "I had to re-hem a pair of pants. And it sounds like it can happen again any time. And I'll have to do all my pants."
"For the next couple of years, yes, it can. Sewing doesn't do you any real harm, you know."
"That's what Martin said."
Ann delivered Julia home, then moved herself to the library, where the stack of police reports waited for her. She poured a glass of wine, settled at a table and continued to read the stolen police reports on the fires at the Well Read Jabberwock and California Noir.
The reports were less helpful than she had hoped. Yes, there were similarities, but they seemed erratic. Ten years ago, a clerk moved from Jabberwock to Noir. So? They were both independent bookstores. Was that important? Each store had a variety of wholesalers. Four of them were the same. Did that matter? Should she see if she could get a complete inventory from each of them? Since Jabberwock specialized in children's books and Noir in Bay Area authors and books, would there be any overlap? She mused for a moment on the idea of a lost children's book by Dashiell Hammett. Amusing, but probably not helpful. She finished the reports, checked her map, and departed on her evening litter patrol.
The familiar exertions of house cleaning had left Silvia Corbin's mind free to think. After washing the breakfast dishes, she went off to work and found her way down to Translation Services.
The door read Dr. Donald Vance. Sly knocked and went in.
Behind the desk was a skinny male, with short untidy dark brown hair, huge-lensed glasses and a large nose over a small mouth. He had a prominent adam's apple and wore a short sleeved shirt. As he rose to his feet, Sly saw he was wearing pleated tropical worsted slacks.
"Call me Naldo."
"Hi. I'm Sly Corbin from upstairs. I'm working the Guzman murder, the librarian from Peru."
"Is there a question about the translation?"
"No, no. I need help with an English to Spanish letter to our contact down there."
"Sure. What do you want to say?"
"I want to know if anyone down there knows why Guzman was going to visit someone from the Anglo-Sanskrit Theological University at Vallejo."
"And any other reason why he was here. And were there any thefts or other crimes or anything unusual happening in the library down there. And anything else they can tell me."
"OK. Come back in an hour to check the English."
"It takes that long?"
"First I write it, then I translate it, then I translate it back. Prep avoids rep."
"Preparation avoids repetition. Also misunderstanding, but that doesn't rhyme. It's also known as do it right the first time, which doesn't rhyme at all."
"OK. I'll be back in an hour."
"That's pretty much what I wanted to say," Sly agreed.
"It helps that it's jargon to jargon," Naldo said. "Literary translations are art, but work related communications are just good dictionaries and effort. Now, the way things are working out Sr. Esteban Rodriques may not get this before 7:00 our time."
"It's not ten AM yet."
"Different time zone, different customs. Lots of people go home for lunch. It may be that Esteban works a weird schedule or eats at his desk and goes home early or usually investigates in the afternoon, or needs to collect your answers - I don't need to tell you that there are a lot of variables in any investigation," Naldo explained. "Possibly he'll go back to work tonight. We can't know until it happens. We could get an answer before lunch or not until tomorrow afternoon. In any case, I'll send it off to you as soon as I translate it. That is, if you have email?"
"Yes; and thank you," Sly said.
At the Inn at San Francisco, Ethan was still at the party. He was talking to some vendors:
"Ethan Singleton, because I'm the only important Ethan."
"Sign here," the sale representative said, offering a contract, a pen and a small knife. "Excellent," he said, inspecting Ethan's signature in three versions of X and a bloody fingerprint. "We'll deliver later today or maybe tomorrow."
"So where are the new girls?" Ethan asked.
"Through this door," the sales rep said.
"How did you get him to buy a gross?"
"I don't think he knows how many that is. I pointed out that it was the only box left. Obviously, it was meant for him," the sales rep said.
"Is it the only box left?" the junior sales representative said.
"Of course not."
"I wonder what he'll do with them?"
After the fiasco of the missing child, Chasen was doing time in the kennel. He began clearing the food dishes, preparing to mop the floor.
"Hey, you," a small pig in the next cage said. "I'm done eating."
Chasen read the care and feeding card on the front of the stall. He eyed the piglet. "You got crevettes sautées aux whisky for lunch?" He'd had meat-loaf. He hadn't liked it.
"Flambées," the gilt said.
"How was it?" Chasen said.
"Excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed them."
"I guess," Chasen said, eyeing the pieces of shrimp shell scattered all over the floor.
"You're new, aren't you? Now I get my trotters and dewlaps wiped and then I'm taken back up to my room on the 17th floor."
"What the hell are trotters?"
"My front feet."
"All right, but after I mop."
"They're dirty now," the piglet said.
"After mopping." Chasen insisted.
"Come on, I'm going to be late," the pig said. She was dancing in front of the service elevator.
"For what?" Chasen asked.
"The four of us play canasta."
"Not poker? Well, since they need a foursome, they can't start without you," the mercenary said, letting the pig enter first and following it in. "Seventeen," he told the elevator.
The elevator hesitated, then the doors closed and it went up.
The little pig smiled.
The doors opened, and the piglet exited.
"Wait a minute," Chasen said.
The piglet snuffled the air, then said, "I know my way," and marched off, chuckling quietly.
Chasen shrugged, said "down," to the elevator, and descended.