Chapter 7 – Too Much Work

James walked back to the hotel slowly. He didn't want to do the claimancy duties. He set his face and stiffened his back. Military training was good for something. He pulled out his phone and dialed Lynsey's number. "This is James," he said when she answered. "I'm heading back to the hotel. I'll have to take care of whatever you have lined up for Erica."

"How is she?"

"She woke up briefly. Not good. I'll be at the hotel in about ten minutes. Can you meet me there?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

"I know, Lyn." He had to swallow back the bile in his throat after saying the name. "See you there," he added hoarsely.

"Ten minutes," she repeated and hung up.

He stopped and closed his eyes and just breathed. He kept seeing her lying in that bed, half dead, tubes coming out of her. He opened his eyes and gazed out at the city. It had a low skyline and long brick streets. Cabs waited by the shops far to the west. He stood next to a livery stable. He and Erica had rented a buggy from there. His teeth clamped together again. They had seen her father in another rented buggy from the same stable. He had been returning from the woods with puppies. He later used them to lure Erica into a trap.

James shook his head and hurried on his way. "Damn this place," he muttered to himself. He hated this city. Everywhere he turned was a bad memory first from Matilda and all of her problems years ago and now Erica.

Lynsey waited in their room when he got there. She had paperwork spread on a table by the sofas.

"Lo," James greeted when he came in.

Lynsey looked at him oddly. "Lo?" she asked. "What is lo?"

"Did I say that?" He sat across from her on the other sofa, perching on the edge of a cushion.

She followed him with a worried eye. "Yeah, you did."

"Well, then, hello," James corrected himself.

"Lo is hello?"

"Marrilian, Tenpole Marrilian," James replied. "Erica says it." He glanced around the table to see what she had for him.

Lynsey's brow knit in sympathy. "I am so sorry."

"It isn't your fault."

"I guess it's Mother's fault. She named me."

"Yeah," James agreed quietly. "But those backstabbing, SDD traitors are the ones who shot her."

"And you killed two of them plus that civilian. I say you did good by her."

James eyed her skeptically. "Who told you?"

"Elsbeth," Lynsey replied. "It's not like it's a state secret."

"No but it's not a published report either. And I didn't want Erica to know. Don't tell her."

"Why?"

He shook his head and smiled. "She would feel sorry for me that I had to do it. She's not the rough person she seems, Lyn."

"That's enough of that. Mother told me how that name affects her and I'm happy to be called Abby."

"Thanks," James replied softly. "Erica has been trying to call you 'Major'."

"Then you have to go and get a promotion just to confuse the issue." Lynsey grinned broadly. "Congratulations little brother."

He didn't smile. "If I hadn't been taking that test that she wouldn't be in that bed."

"Oh, don't go kicking yourself. That's my job anyway."

James smiled in spite of his poor mood. "So what is all of this?" he asked as he pushed around a few of the papers on the table.

Lynsey put the papers back in place. "Hands off and I'll show you." She tapped a pile of papers on the edge of the table. "These are the schedule of meetings I have set up for her. I guess you'll be going to them now." She indicated the next set of papers. "These are the information I got on the signed tenants. I pulled up work records, medical records, arrest records, the whole works." She tapped the next pile of documents. "These are the proposals. I pulled up any information I could on the people involved with them. They all checked out fine except for this electrical engineer. I noticed Erica seemed particularly interested in him for some reason so I delved deeper.

"I don't know what the deal is with him. It's like he has a degree and references but I couldn't get any information about him or the people he worked with except he showed up in their computers. They don't remember him. A few of the businesses he worked for closed recently too. I got answering machines yesterday but today they aren't even picking up."

She tapped the next set of documents. "I don't think you can take care of this. It's the paperwork for donating land. Claimant Mois helped me like Erica thought he would. He gave it to me this morning before he went to breakfast. I thought that was damn nice of him to be so quick about it. He really likes her."

She gave him a paper with a list of dates, "This is all of the parties where she could announce the donation. I found out what the parties are for. A few of them are for specific causes for claimants so I don't expect she'll want to go to them. There's one right after you two are going to be married that would be perfect. It's a sort of farewell party on the last night.

"Elsbeth and Sati said they would buy the dresses she needs to attend the parties along with some suits and basic stuff that claimants seem to wear all the time. We figured she had to get out of those awful things she's wearing now."

James nodded in agreement. "She loves those old clothes but you're right, she can't dress like that anymore. It will be good to get her into a few new things."

Lynsey shook her head. "I'm not talking about a few new things, James. We looked in her closet and were amazed. She dresses like…well, like a Marrilian street kid. I hope she doesn't get too upset but we tossed out most of her things."

"What!" he exclaimed.

"We tossed them."

"Oh good God, Lyn. I'm sure as hell telling her that you did that. You shouldn't have. I'm not taking that punishment."

Lynsey sat up and faced him stiff backed. "We can't let her look like that, James. She's a claimant for God's sake! You should have done something about it sooner."

"I tried. She's comfortable in those clothes. She hates suits."

"Fine, then tell her I did it. It's worth it to get her into something nice with a few colors. We didn't see any pink or blue. Even a pattern would be nice."

"Yeah, well, you had better be careful there," James told her and nearly shuddered to think of Sal coming out.

"Why? Can't she see how nice Matilda looks? And Erica looked so sharp in that suit. She has to dress the part of a claimant now, which reminds me, she didn't have one dress."

"And if you buy her any they had better be long."

"Elsbeth said that. That's too bad. She would look darling in a little black dress. With those coy little looks she gives she could melt every man around."

James knew that and so did Erica. She had made a living at melting every man around but she did not appreciate being called 'darling'. She was sexual not cute or so she liked to hope. If she wanted to be cute she knew how to do that too but she didn't want people seeing her that way unless she was intending it. The same was true if she was attempting to be angry or threatening, she wanted to appear so, but by Quirni standards she was too small so she couldn't but size didn't matter with her, she could knock someone's teeth in when she wanted to no matter how big they were.

He touched the last stack of documents. "What's this?"

"Something Erica didn't ask for but Marcus said she needs. It's the financial stuff for Kinsley Claim as well as a list of the businesses that ex-Claimant Kinsley ran there, and a list of tenants, a list of employees, tenants with their occupations, geographic information; things you get at the signing ceremony but he said you need them ahead of time. She can't, or actually you can't, make any decisions about the proposals without knowing what you have to offer."

James picked up the schedule for the day. "So at ten o'clock I'm supposed to meet the first tenant, Dorothy Wiegal, the Minister of Communication. He pulled out his phone. "I have an hour to get ready."

Lynsey handed him a set of papers. "Dorothy Wiegal stuff. I remember some of it. Erica wanted to talk to her first. She's the daughter of tenants on Lund Claim and as we both know there are all sorts of odd connections between Kinsley Claim and Lund Claim so tread carefully.

James nodded.

"She went to the university here in the city," continued Lynsey. "She's been on Kinsley Claim for eight years. Simon thinks she has no feelings for Claimant Kinsley one way or the other. She's there for the money and the job."

James listened rather than read.

Lynsey took the papers back and started going through them. She hit all the high points about each of the tenants then looked at her own phone. "Fifteen minutes," she told him. She collected the papers off the table. "We need to clean up."

Throughout the rest of the morning and afternoon James met with the tenants. He wrote down his impressions of them so he could tell Erica later. At five o'clock he fell onto a chair. Lynsey had started a fire and he stared blankly into it. The interviews had exhausted him, especially the one with Yen Thi Pham, the Minister of Economic Planning.

Lynsey collapsed on the sofa. "I'm starved," she muttered. "Want to go get something to eat, Major?"

Major? James blinked at her. His lips parted in shock.

She stared back for a moment then her eyes went wide and she laughed.

"Son-of-a-bitch," James moaned. The pinning ceremony had been at four o'clock. He had forgotten about it. He still wore the insignia of a captain.

"Never in my life would I ever expect anyone, let alone my own brother, to miss his own pinning ceremony!" Lynsey wailed. She fell over and slapped the couch as tears rolled down her cheeks. "Oh God! Wait till mother and father get their hands on you! A Kennedy missed his pinning!"

James' eyes widened. They should have been at the ceremony. He rose from the chair, straightened his uniform, tightened his tie, and headed for the door. "I'm not waiting here for them to find me. Come on, we'll go get something to eat."

They hurried for The Georgetown Restaurant since it was the furthest from the base and least likely to serve SDD. They were still waiting for their dinners when a crowd of SDD arrived anyway. General Burk led them.

Lynsey faced the door. "Oh, James, you have about ten seconds to live."

He felt his heart skip a beat. He didn't turn around but stared at his sister with fearful eyes. "Mother and father?"

Lynsey shook her head. "Not just." She stood to salute.

James turned in his chair to find a dozen SDD bearing down on them. None of them had any expression on their faces and that was bad. The dozen other patrons in the restaurant stopped eating to stare at all the colonels and generals. James stood and saluted.

General Burk returned the salute. "I would like to hear the reason you did not report to the base at 1600 hours, Major. Why did I have to find you?" she demanded in a dead tone.

James swallowed back the terrible feeling rising in his throat. "I was interviewing the Kinsley Claim tenants, General. Claimant Kinsley was supposed to do it but she is unable to perform her duties so I took over and..." He swallowed and added, "And, General, I lost track of time and forgot the pinning ceremony." He sounded like a fool.

General Burk was a tall, thin, blond woman with angular features that could look pretty when she wasn't being stern. "I see," she responded and her face softened. Her mouth twitched. "In that case…" Her mouth twitched again and her eyes lit with apparent delight. "Claimant Kennedy, might we join you? I'd like to hear how she's doing."

James breathed but barely. She accepted his excuse?

"Certainly," he agreed. The waiters quickly pulled tables together. As they did, James' father pulled James under his arm and gave him a quick hug. John was a big man and James did not take after him. He fit under his father's arm like he was still a boy.

"How are you doing?" He looked at James for a moment then released him and patted his back. "You have been better I suppose?"

"Yes sir," James replied and was shocked he wasn't being dressed down.

"No doubt," John agreed as he sat and had James take the chair beside him. General Burk sat to the other side of him. General White was also there, the general in charge of Southern Quirni security. He had received a promotion to a two star general recently but it didn't improve his mood. He sat with a grumble.

General Pearl looked tired but she smiled as she shook James' hand over the table. "I don't believe I've ever been to a pinning ceremony where the agent to be pinned stood us up. It was certainly unexpected." She took the seat across from James as the rest of the company filled the remainder of the tables.

"All for the better," John told them seriously. "If I know my son's intended she would be raking us over the coals if we didn't wait for her."

"You know she would," General White grumbled.

"How is she?" Burk asked with genuine concern. She had grown fond of Erica during the time she had worked with her.

"I haven't seen her since this morning. She was on a respirator and couldn't stay awake for more than a minute." Talking about it was difficult. He set his jaw.

Burk rubbed his back. "You've seen enough of her in hospital beds to last you a lifetime."

"Yeah," James replied quietly.

"I stopped in before reporting for your ceremony," John said. "They had her off the respirator. She was still sleeping."

James sighed in relief. "That thing looked awful."

"This is all from the shots she took in Pey?" Burk asked.

"Yes," James answered. "Levitus removed the plugs that hadn't dissolved yet. When he did he found scarring and problems and decided to do something about it. He wants to make sure she's all right before going to Kinsley Claim where she'll be out of his hands."

"He doesn't have to worry about that," Pearl told them. "We can transfer him up there with anything he needs. Whatever the setback was today I don't doubt he'll have her healed and on her feet in a day or two or he will go with her."

"You might not be so optimistic if you had seen her today," argued Jesse. "She's in bad shape and she has a ton of work to do. I was thinking about taking my computer in to her so she could get some work done while she's in bed. It might help her."

Pearl caught Jesse's eye for several seconds. "That shouldn't be a problem," she replied in a calculating tone. "But do it on your own time. I don't want to see an SDD general at the bedside of a claimant and doing her work. She will be part of your family so you can help her on your own time as a civilian. Understand?"

"Yes, General," Jesse replied. "I understand perfectly."

James saw the relief on his mother's face. She now had the excuse to leave her uniform behind.

Pearl turned to him. "And you, Claimant Kennedy, it's time you invested in a few suits. Claimants have a number of functions that require different attire than an SDD uniform. I suggest you remedy that."

"Yes, General," James responded.

She continued. "I believe you should go to Men's Suits. It's a nice shop down on Fort Street. There is a tuxedo waiting for you there. We took a collection. We wanted to do something for your claimancy. I hope you like it." She passed him a card. "I would have given that to you at the pinning ceremony but you seem inclined to keep your own hours."

James almost couldn't respond. "Thank you." He looked down the table. Everyone listened. "Thank you."

"It isn't every day one of ours becomes one of theirs," Colonel Pickett said with a broad grin. "At least now we'll have a claimant who actually knows the laws." Most of the group laughed. Claimants constantly overstepped laws. As a Colonel he had the job of keeping the peace during the crises that followed slip-ups between claims.

"You know, Otis," said General White; "I think you may be hoping for too much if you think your job will be easier with James in office. He will be only one of sixty-six claimants. You still have sixty-five others to contend with and if you ask me his fiancé will be your worst nightmare. When I was investigating that girl I learned one thing about her, she has more ideas up her sleeves than a shipload of inventors and every one of her schemes will work and be impossible to understand."

John leaned close to James and whispered in his ear. "Like what she might do with tens of millions of quid on Marril and how she got it."

James head snapped around. Had he heard him right? Tens of millions? He mouthed.

John nodded slightly.

Jesse saw the exchange and gave him a knowing look.

The waiters brought pitchers of beer and took their orders. The chatter around the table broke up into small groups.

General Burk leaned close to James so he could hear her over the noise. "We'll have your pinning ceremony when Erica gets out of the clinic. In the meantime you can't be wearing those captain's bars anymore." She pulled a box from her pocket and showed him the eagle insignia inside.

The table quieted.

Burk looked down the table and saw she was being watched. "This isn't official," she told them. "I'm the last one that wants to get my ass chewed by Claimant Kinsley. I have experienced enough of that and she wasn't even a claimant then." She unpinned the captain's bars from James' tie and pinned the eagle insignia in its place. "That is my old pin," she told him. "You're welcome to borrow it until we can do this with Erica in attendance. John is right. She would never forgive us if we pinned you and she didn't see it." She shook James' hand. "Congratulations."

"Thank you." Every time he said 'thank you' he thought of Erica and her speech. "I wish you could have been at the meeting today. She had Marcus in tears and Byrne could hardly talk."

"Booming Byrne?" White asked. "She quieted him? What did she say?"

"She told the claimants they should give their gratitude to the Moises for helping to protect her and Matilda and bring metal to Quirni. She said if it hadn't been for them she wouldn't have been free to help. Then she turned to the Moises and went right down the list and thanked them for everything they had done for her. She really broke them up when she said she thanked them for giving her the chance to meet Matilda."

"She said that to a room full of claimants?" General Pearl asked.

"Yeah, right after she called High Lord Byrne a pain in the ass."

John and Burk laughed loud and hard.

General Pearl and Jesse were taken aback. "I would swear that girl doesn't have any sense of decorum while at the same time I've seen her act like she was royalty," Pearl commented. "I have rarely seen someone answer questions with as much thought and caution as her while under Reagent 10. It was just like the most cautious of statesmen."

"I couldn't say it better," Burk agreed. "She has been speaking to me one moment nice as can be, sensible, clear, and then the next moment she is chewing on my behind and I can tell you it is not pleasant. Now that she is a claimant I am not turning my back unless I am sure she is alright with me and then I know she will be perfect company."

The waiters brought their food.

Pearl pulled her plate in front of her with a smile at Burk. "Good luck, Sophie, because you will be married to her cousin. How are you going to manage that one?"

"And you know, you are the general in charge of security for her region," White added.

"Yeah, I know," Burk said and rolled her eyes. "Lords I know." She turned to James. "No offense, Lord Kennedy," she added with a grin.

"None taken," he replied. It was poor taste to say 'lords', especially when a lord was around, but James had been guilty of using the word so often he could hardly feel slighted.

"I don't envy you," General White grunted. "But at least you two can see eye to eye. Every time I talk to her you would think I'm twisting a knife in her back the way she acts towards me."

"She doesn't trust you," Burk told him. "Once she trusts you she will be fine. She would roll over and do back flips for you."

"I don't think I need to see that. She's your problem," White informed her.

Burk chuckled. "That she is." She flipped her tie, which had two stars on it now instead of one. "This and all."

"You aren't getting a new assignment?" John asked her.

"We need her where she is," Pearl answered, "And for just the reason we were discussing. Sophie has Claimant Kinsley's trust." She turned to James. "Just in case Lady Kinsley needs to do something for us once she is home it is best if our requests come from someone like Sophie."

James didn't want to get involved in this conversation. It sounded like the territory of generals, manipulating people and making long-term plans. "Yes, General," he replied stiffly to let her know he intended to accept whatever she said.

Pearl chuckled. "Good man." She bent to her plate and ate.

They walked back to the base as a group then began to split off as they each approached their barracks. It was time for a lot of the staff to get ready for the next day. General Burk, Jesse, John, and James went to the clinic together. The nightshift nurse greeted them. He led them to Erica's room.

"Don't let her talk too much," he ordered and left them in the hall outside.

"Talk?" James asked excitedly and pushed the door open. Erica turned her head when he came in.

She looked expectant and excited at the opening door. "Lo," she called hoarsely. He could tell she had been bored.

A broad grin broke onto his face. "Look at you!" he exclaimed and hurried to take her hand and kiss her. She felt warm. She smiled.

"You worry too much," she told him.

He turned on the light over the bed to see her better. She looked tired and pale but at least her eyes were bright. He almost wanted to see the naughty glint she could get or her sexy little simper. "You look so much better!"

"What do you expect? Levitus and Betty would kill me if I didn't." Her voice rasped in her throat.

James grinned. "Be quiet. You sound like hell. You're spoiling the illusion that you're better."

She grinned until her eyes found General Burk. "Two stars," she commented. "Congratulations."

"I'm glad to see you are better," Burk returned. "You caused our newest Major to miss his pinning ceremony. He forgot all about it. I had to lone him my eagle."

Erica studied James' tie. "Looks good."

"So do you," Jesse told her. "You looked half dead this morning."

"'Tis the anesthesia. I don't come out of it easy. Betty should have told you."

"That wasn't just anesthesia," James told her sternly. "You have to take better care of yourself. You have to be more careful, period."

Erica patted his arm.

"I'm serious," he told her.

Erica dropped her eyes in shame. "Will."

James sat back. He didn't believe her. She only told him what he wanted to hear. "From now on we are calling Lynsey 'Abby'. It's her middle name. And from now on I'm telling her to tell me every time you take one step out of line."

Erica frowned.

James stiffened his back. "Are you going to give me a problem, Doll?"

Her frown softened. "No," she agreed softly.

He smiled. "I thought not."

She dropped her chin almost imperceptibly. "I don't want to be back here again," she told him in a hoarse whisper. "I'll do what you say if it keeps me out."

He hugged her. This time he knew she meant it.