He peeled off his fall coat and looked at it. It was pretty scorched. It probably wasn’t worth keeping. As he hung it on the coat hook, DeeDee stepped into the foyer from the parlor. She had a worried look on her face.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
“Are you all right?”
“Well enough. Do we have a healing draft?”
“I think there is one in the parlor hutch,” she said.
“Get it. I’m going to need you to pour some on my back. Give me about ten minutes to clean up and then bring it upstairs.”
He climbed up the stairs and entered his room. It was cold and empty, though the maid had straightened up and made his bed. Stepping into the closet, he quickly changed into fresh underwear and a clean set of trousers, though he stayed shirtless. DeeDee hadn’t arrived, so he washed up and brushed his teeth. He was just finishing as she timidly entered.
“Pour some of that on anyplace that looks burned or red,” he said turning around.
“That’s your whole back.”
He grabbed the hand towel that he had used to dry his face.
“Pour it on this and then rub it all over.”
She did as he directed.
“Where is your Gran?” he asked.
“She’s gone visiting. I think she just wanted to get out of the house.”
“And what have you been up to?”
“No much, honestly.” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “It feels like our family is falling apart.”
“Families are like any other living thing,” said Saba, stepping across the room to retrieve a clean shirt. “They’re born with the combining of male and female. They grow. They reproduce. Then they die.”
He put on his shirt, buttoned it, and tucked it in.
“You’re our little seed. You’ll be off to start your own family soon enough, but sixteen is too young to be married.”
“I know,” she said. “I told Julius I wouldn’t marry until I was eighteen. He’s fine with that. Our engagement will be just a little over a year long. We could get married in Restuary or Festuary of 1926.”
“Hmm. That actually sounds sensible.”
“Will you talk to Julius, please? I can send a lizzie to fetch him here.”
“All right DeeDee. As I’ve noted many times, you do eventually always get what you want.”
* * * * *
Senta opened her eyes and looked at the daylight streaming into the window. She found a quick glance at the clock, which read 10:00, confusing.
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“You’ve been asleep for almost seventeen hours,” said Karl’s voice from across the room. He was sitting in a hardbacked chair across the room from her. “I would have called for a doctor, but you seemed fine.”
“I was just very tired.” She rolled out of bed and looked at him. “How are you.”
“Get undressed,” she said, noting that he was wearing only his underwear. “We’ll take a bath, and both feel much better.”
By the time he entered the bathroom, she already had the water flowing and scented bath salts in the tub. With a wave, she encouraged him to climb in, and once he had done so, she joined him. She leaned back on him and gently tickled his thighs with her fingers.
“How many men have you had in this tub with you?” he asked.
“I was planning on asking you something—taking you to dinner, and… Well, I don’t know if you care for all the ceremony…”
“Oh, I do. We will have dinner this evening at Café Idella, and you can ask me then… whatever it is.”
“I think I love you,” he said, kissing her neck.
“That is good to know,” she said.
Saba signed the letter, dated it the tenth of Magnius, and then placed it, unfolded, in the large official-looking envelope. And so officially ended his term as chief of police. Twenty-two years with the Port Dechantagne Police Department. That was a lifetime. Maybe it was time to let that lifetime go. He had time for another one.
Hearing footsteps, he looked to see his daughter enter from the kitchen. She was wearing a white day dress trimmed with black that made her look older than her sixteen years. Almost seventeen years, he thought.
“Where have you been, DeeDee?”
“I’ve been staying with the Stephensons.”
“It’s all fine. Gran has been my chaperone the whole time.” She crossed her arms and gave him a look that he had seen from her mother on many occasions. “You know, you haven’t even asked where Mummy is.”
“I know she’s not where she’s supposed to be,” he said. “She’s not right here supporting me.”
“You know how she is, Dad. You have to be the strong one. I know you’re having a terrible time. I do. But you’re able to see yourself through. Mummy’s never been strong, but she is your wife. It’s your duty to take care of her.”
“When did you get so bloody inciteful, little girl?” he growled. “Is this wisdom a product of your vast sixteen year’s experience in life?”
He licked the envelope, placed it on the table, and then sealed it shut by slamming his fist down on it with only slightly less force than it would have taken to splinter the sturdy pine.
“I’m going to my room,” said DeeDee, turning and starting up the stairs. “Julius will be by to speak to you later. He wants to ask you something.”
“Perhaps he should come another day,” said Saba, pointedly. “I’m not in a very agreeable frame of mind.”
She didn’t answer or look back, just continued up the stairs.
* * * * *
“What else can I get you?” Bryony Baxter asked her husband, as she hovered around the breakfast table.
“More beans would be ace,” he said.
She hurried into the kitchen and returned with the pot, hot off the stove, ladling more of the sweet, smoky beans onto his plate.
“I could do with a few more beans,” said Sen.
“Of course, dear. How about my big boy?”
Kerry shook his head, though his attention was on a tiny wooden replica of a battleship, parked just to the left of his plate.
“I believe the future navy man is full,” said Baxter.
Bryony returned the beans to the kitchen and then took her seat next to her husband. Just as he was reaching out for his teacup, she snatched his hand in hers, and pulled it to her breast.
“When do you think you’ll be leaving?” she asked.
“Leaving here… for Yessonarah.”
“Oh, not for weeks.”
He looked at Sen, who swirled her finger next to her head, forming a crazy gesture.
“You need to stop fixating on my trip,” he said. “It’s not a big deal. I won’t be leaving until the princess goes home, and by then, the train line will have covered a great deal of the distance. It will be no more exciting than taking the train from Brech City to Booth.”
“Then you won’t mind if Kerry, Addy, and I come along?”
“Don’t be silly. Being safe enough for a man and safe enough for a little girl are two very different things.”
“Well, at least you’re taking Sen with you.”
“That hasn’t been decided,” said Baxter.
“Oh, it has,” said Sen, taking a bite of bacon. “We all voted, and you lost, so you have to take me.”
“Getting to spend time with you is not something that I consider a loss, but I do think I should be informed ahead of time when these so-called votes are taken.”
“We’ll be sure to let you know in the future,” said the thirteen-year-old with a smirk.
“Pfennig for your thoughts,” he said.
“I was just thinking what a horrible hypocrite I am.”
“Oh, I’m not arguing,” he said. “What brought on this amazing realization?”
“My mother became pregnant with me before she was married, and over the years, I’ve called her so many horrible names because of that fact. Now here I am, like a pampered animal that rages in savage sensuality. I am as intemperate in my blood as she was in hers.”
“Iolana, things look different when you have a different perspective.”
“Kafira,” she said. “My father said almost those exact words to me. Have I always been such a fool?”
“You’re not a fool,” he said. “You were naïve. There are worse things to be.”
She lifted her head up and looked into his eyes.
“I should forgive my mother?”
“Yes,” he said, “right after you forgive yourself.”
“How did you become so wise?” she smiled. “Perhaps you should become the professor and I’ll be the merchant.”
“I’m a banker, and a successful one at that. Now get up and fix your fiancé something delicious to eat.”
Iolana’s large eyes grew even larger and her cheeks blushed.
“I can make eggs and toast, but… I’m… not a very accomplished cook.”
“The marriage is off then,” he said, grabbing her and pulling her up to him.
She struggled for just a minute before surrendering and letting him kiss her mouth.
* * * * *
Governor Iolanthe Dechantagne Staff carefully examined herself in the mirror. She had long ago faced the fact that her days of great beauty were behind her, but she still looked strong. She looked ready to face down any threat to her family or her colony, be it man, dragon, or act of God. The day she looked in the mirror and saw a feeble old woman, she decided, she would eat the barrel of her revolver.
Leaving her rooms, she walked past the elevator and briskly navigated the stairs to the first floor. It was still before seven and Maria scheduled breakfast for eight each morning, so Iolanthe marched to the kitchen for a crumpet and tea. It was with some surprise that she saw Yuah and Gladys sitting in the south sunroom as she passed by. She stopped and stepped through the doorway.
“You two are up unusually early,” she observed.
“We have a great deal to do today,” said Yuah.
“Well, you don’t have on your swimming costumes, so I take it you don’t intend to spend the entire day pearl diving.”
“You’re disgusting,” growled Gladys.
“You shut up or I’ll slap you into next Festuary, you little deviant!” Iolanthe turned to Yuah. “Keep a muzzle on your pet. You, I have to put up with. Her, I don’t.”
“What’s going on here?” demanded Augustus, appearing in the hallway behind Iolanthe. “Mother. Gladys. Auntie.”
“Just Iolanthe being her usual cow of a self,” said Yuah.
“I built this house as large as it is primarily so that the two of you would not randomly run into one another.”
“You’re up early too,” Iolanthe observed.
“I wanted to catch a ride with you to the office,” he replied, still frowning.
“Then let us be on our way.”
* * * * *
“I really wish you and mother could get along,” said Augustus, as he steered his aunt’s car down First Avenue.
He was the only one she suffered to drive her. He was the only one she had ever suffered to drive her—he or his father.
“I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle this morning,” she said. “I said something that hurt her feelings.”
“What did you say?”
“I made a comment about what she was wearing.”
“Well, it seems innocuous enough,” he said, “but you know how sensitive Mother is. You should know it if anyone does. The two of you have been together longer than most married couples.”
“That is true,” she said, tapping her chin thoughtfully with a fingertip.
“We certainly don’t need any blowups at the wedding,” he said.
“Oh, there won’t be. In any case, I’m glad you’ve come in early. I want you to consult with Colonel Mortimer. You will be commanding the Colonial Guard in the upcoming action against the dragons.”
“Auntie, I’ve never commanded men in battle. I’ve never even been in a battle myself.”
“You’ve studied military science.”
“It’s not the same thing,” he said. “I’ve read about military strategy and tactics, but you can’t learn everything you need to know from a book.”
“That’s not what my daughter says.”
“I’m surprised to be the one to tell you this, Auntie, but Iolana does not know everything.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that.”
“The two of you are exactly alike.”
“She’s nothing like me,” said Iolanthe, sticking her chin into the air.
“It’s been a very nice week,” he said. “You know, it’s been several very nice weeks. Things are looking good. God is in his heaven, the king’s on his throne, and all is right with the world.”
“Nothing to worry about but the impending doom sure to destroy us all,” said Zoey, from the other side of the breakfast nook.
“You need to stop worrying, dear. After all, you’re a dragon.” He laughed. “If the rest of us get burned to ashes, you can still fly away.”
“How can you say that?” she gasped. “Don’t you know that anyone or anything that means you harm has to go through me? Even if it kills me.”
“Don’t be upset, my love. Senta assures me that she has everything in hand. Furthermore, she tells me that no attack will occur before Treuary 22nd of next year.”
“What if she’s wrong? What if she made that date up?”
“She wouldn’t do that. Would she? I mean, to what end?”
“Does she really need a reason to do any of the things she does?” wondered Zoey.
“Yes. Well, maybe not a good reason. Now you’ve gone and made me depressed.”
“I’ve just given you something to think about—the same thing I’ll be having nightmares about for the next few days.” She stood up, bent over, and kissed him deeply. “See yourself out.”
Then she was gone.
Sitting until he finished his tea, Augie finally got up and made his way out of the huge house he had built for his dragon paramour, and crossed the gardens, now bare and grey, to the side entrance of the Dechantagne mansion.
At the top of the steps, Hsturrn opened the door for him.
“Does my wife have people here for breakfast?” he asked in the reptilian’s tongue.
“Breakfast is over.”
Nodding in acknowledgement, he entered and made his way to the elevator.
Walking down the hallway, he slowed to examine some of the photographs mixed among the paintings on the wall.
One in particular caught his attention. It must have been taken in late Magnius or early Kafirius, almost exactly twenty-two years before. The photograph was a family portrait taken in front of the original Dechantagne house in Birmisia. It was a large house with two stories and gabled roof, though nowhere near the size of their current home. From left to right were Auntie Iolanthe and Uncle Radley. He was holding Iolana tucked in one arm. She would have been about two and a half. Then there was Mrs. Godwin, whom Augie had heard of but didn’t remember, then Augie’s mother, holding him, still a newborn, in her arms. He wondered for a moment where his father was, but then remembered that he would have been in Brechalon at that time. Finally, on the right, was Mrs. Colbshallow and her son Saba, in his blue constable’s uniform.
Saba had been having a rough time lately, Augie mused. Lost his job and charged with manslaughter. Augie didn’t hold with wife-beaters. Still, beating the man to death was a bit much. Saba was a family friend though, and such things had to be seen to.
Augie was so lost in thought that he scarcely noticed when he entered the elevator, or for that matter exited it. He caught himself as he passed his wife’s door. He wondered for a moment if he should stop in and see how she was feeling, but he didn’t. He continued to his own door and entered his suite.
The room was a warm, comfortable space that still featured many of the items that had been in his room when he was a boy. Stuffed dinosaur heads were hung on the wall. A hutch filled with carefully painted tin soldiers was directly across the room from the fireplace. Between them was a sofa and chair. He stepped over to the sofa and plopped down.
“I didn’t know you were home.” The voice of his wife, as she stepped out of his bedroom, startled him.
“What are you doing here?” he wondered.
“I was organizing your shoes, and once I got started organizing, I couldn’t stop. I’ve gotten your suits organized now.”
“That was very thoughtful.”
He stood up and crossed the room, kissing her on the cheek, before continuing through his bedroom and into his closet.
“Well done,” he said. “A place for everything and everything in its place. I need to get rid of some of these suits. I don’t wear them anymore.”
“If you’ll point them out to me,” said Maria, “we can donate them to shrine members. I’m sure there are many young men among them who would appreciate a fine suit.”
“That’s fine. Say, what are you about today? Do you plan on organizing the kitchen or the gardener’s shed, or did you have something else planned?”
“As a matter of fact, I decided that I would do a little site-seeing today. There are still many places in the colony that I haven’t seen after nearly two years here. I haven’t been out to any of the dinosaur ranches. For that matter, I haven’t been out of the city limits at all.”
“Are you going with some of the ladies from Shrine, or perhaps Mother and Gladys?” he asked, still flipping through his suits.
“No. Just me, and of course, Maxwell.”
“Well, we can’t have that,” he said, turning around. “I’ll take you around.”
“You’re not too busy?”
“No. I do have to stop by the Gurrman Building and pick up some paperwork, if you don’t mind, but that won’t take but a moment.”
“That would be lovely,” said Maria.
“Shall we meet downstairs then?”
Senta sighed and opened her eyes. She had been dreaming a very nice dream. She and Baxter had been making love on the beach under the warming rays of the sun. Bryony had been there too, sitting on a blanket nearby, having a picnic. The sorceress rolled over and saw Willie Watson lying on his back next to her. His mouth was open, and drool was running down his chin. He let out a deep snore. She lifted her leg and kicked him hard in the side.
“Get out!” she yelled.
“What? What are you going on about?”
“Get out! Get out of my house!” She kicked him again, knocking him completely out of bed. “I don’t want to see you anymore!”
The sorcerer climbed to his feet.
“What’s the matter?”
The sorceress went from the bed to standing beside it in one fluid motion.
“I’m tired of you. Get out.”
“Fine,” he grumbled, looking around for his clothes.
“I have to get dressed!”
She reached up and plucked an immaterial glamour from around her head and threw it at him. He blinked out of her presence. His clothes were still on the chair near the door.
Waving toward the bathroom, she used magic to turn on the spigot to the bathtub.
“He might need these clothes.”
Senta glanced at her daughter, standing in the doorway.
“Nobody needs clothes in the middle of the forest.”
She started toward the bathroom but stopped and looked back at Sen. Realization hit her like a punch in the face just how much her daughter resembled her when she was thirteen years old.
“By Kafira, you know you are such a beautiful girl.”
“Who are you and where is my mother?” snarked the girl.
“Don’t brass me off. I’m in such a good mood.”
“You didn’t sound like it when you were yelling at that ratbag.”
“I mean since he left,” explained Senta. “Come into the bathroom and talk to me while I have a soak.”
The tub was still only half filled, so Senta left the faucet running as she climbed in. Her daughter followed her into the room, picked up a box of Mrs. Pilfer’s Carbonated Bath Salts, and poured them in under the running water.
“This way I don’t have to stare at your crinkum-crankum the entire time.”
“If you didn’t come to look at my best bits, why are you here?”
“Magic,” said the girl.
“Excellent. I shall give you your new spell after I get out of the bath. What else has been going on in your life?”
“My birthday is coming up.”
“I am aware. Was there something special you wanted?”
“How is your father?”
“You should know. Haven’t you been shagging him?”
“What? No! Oh, I mean your other father.”
“My dad is fine. I’m probably going to go to Yessonarah with him.”
“Absolutely not!” said the sorceress, sitting bolt upright and sloshing out some of the water. “That trip is way too dangerous for him!”
“So, I can go but he can’t?”
“Well, you can take care of yourself,” she said, sliding back down into the warm water. “What time is it getting to be?”
“It’s past lunch.”
“Do you want to stay for tea? I have a special guest coming.”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“I can feel him.”
“Then why don’t you go down and tell Cook to prepare an extra-large tea.”
The Festival of Lanterns in Mallontah celebrated the arrival of Greater Brechalon to the continent eighty-three years earlier. It was celebrated with a dozen formal parties and hundreds of informal ones, where Long Live the Kingwas sung, usually in slurred drunken voices. The three-day long festivities were heralded by a parade, in which swinging lanterns held aloft on long poles were a major feature, in between a military marching band, a float made by the Ladies’ Auxiliary, and school children carrying hand-painted Accord Banners. The Duke and Duchess of Argower rode through the streets in a car with Governor Burnaby and Orr Finby, Mayor of St. Ulixes.
The parade lasted three hours and at the end of that time, Terra begged off the remainder of the day’s appearances, letting Clitus go alone, while she returned to Sovereignty to rest. When he returned, he found her snoring away in bed. He roused her for dinner, and she got up and ate, but immediately went back to bed.
“Bob, go find a doctor. I’m a bit worried.”
“Right away, sir.”
Bob returned an hour later with a smart looking fellow carrying a black doctor’s bag. He was introduced as Dr. Hambsin, and he examined the Princess, all too briefly to Clitus’s mind.
“She’s dehydrated,” pronounced Hambsin. “It’s not uncommon in pregnancy. Her body is producing more blood for the unborn child. Have her drink more water and she should be fine in a day or two.”
“But she’s been so tired just recently,” said Clitus.
“Many women exhibit signs of fatigue. It’s all part of the process. Women are the weaker sex. This can take quite a toll on them.”
“What a pompous prig,” growled the Prince, once the doctor had left. “Imagine someone thinking Terra was the weaker anything. Go out and find me a decent doctor this time.”
“Your Highness,” said Stigby. “If I might be so bold, you should call for a midwife. They’re the real experts in this situation.”
Stigby returned with a middle-aged woman introduced as Mrs. Callen. Her examination was not much longer than the doctor’s had been, but she insisted that Terra be awakened so that she could speak to both husband and wife.
“The doctor is correct about dehydration and the reason for it. But you must do more than simply wait for it to pass. I don’t think the young lady is taking as good a care of herself as she should.”
“I have too many things to see to,” said Terra.
“You must take care of yourself and your baby first,” and when Clitus nodded in agreement, she told him, “and you must see that she does, and force her to when she doesn’t.”
“All right,” agreed the Prince, all the while wondering if he was really capable of forcing Terra to do anything.
“You must exercise, even if you feel tired,” continued Mrs. Callen. “A brisk walk each day is sufficient. Get nine hours of sleep each night and take a morning and afternoon nap.”
“That’s too much sleep,” said Terra, with a frown.
“I was about to say that you should keep your naps short. Only fifteen to twenty minutes. That way they won’t prevent you from sleeping at night. Do you drink tea or coffee?”
“Well, stop. Water. Lots of water. Milk and juices are fine too. You must eat right too. You should have extra helpings of eggs.”
“Oh Kafira,” said Terra, turning pale. “Don’t even say that word.”
“Are any other foods making you sick?”
“No,” Clitus answered, as his wife’s hand was still over her mouth.
“Then lean meat and beans, peas, and nuts can be substituted. Have plenty of milk and cheese, fish, broccoli and dark leafy greens, berries and whole grains, and dried fruit. Alligator pears are also recommended.”
“She’s really had a craving for black pudding and bacon.”
“The black pudding is fine. Have you moved your bowels today?”
Clitus laughed. His young wife who never seemed embarrassed about anything, suddenly looked mortified. She shook her head ever so slightly, her large eyes even larger than usual.
“Cut back on the bacon then. I would recommend some prunes or dried pineapple to get things moving again.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Callen,” said Clitus, walking her to the dock where Stigby waited to take her home. “I feel much better knowing what to do.”
“She seems in good health overall. Follow my directions and with Kafira’s help, she’ll have no trouble.”
An hour later, Stigby returned from dropping the midwife home. He handed the Prince a jar filled with dried pineapple slices. With a smile, Clitus carried the container to his wife’s room. He was surprised to find her awake and writing at her desk.
“Here you go,” he said, holding out the pineapple. “This should get you all sorted.”
She narrowed her eyes but took the jar.
“Tomorrow, the King’s storehouse is open to the trogs. It’s an annual tradition but Burnaby thinks we should be there—put a face on the monarchy for the locals.”
“No,” said Terra.
“I can certainly understand you not wanting to go. I think it might be a good idea for you to stay here and recover.”
“Neither of us should attend.”
“Me neither? Why not?”
“I just don’t want to go, and I don’t want you to go either.”
“All right, I’ll send word to the governor. Now, let’s get you to bed. You heard what the midwife said.”
Police Chief Saba Colbshallow sat at his desk looking over the police budget. It had already given him a splitting headache. He could feel the vibrations in the nerves of his neck when someone knocked on the door.
“Come in,” he ordered gruffly.
The door opened, and Police Constable Kendrick stepped in. His face said plainly enough that he wished he were anywhere else. Following him into the office were PC Littlefield and Wizard Drewsome. Littlefield looked determined and Drewsome looked wary.
“Gentlemen, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I need to speak to you, Chief.”
“I assumed that was the case or you wouldn’t be here.”
“I need to speak to you in a professional capacity.”
“We need to question you,” said Littlefield.
“I see,” said Saba. “Have a seat then, gentlemen.”
Kendrick and Littlefield took the seats opposite him. Drewsome stood behind Littlefield’s chair. He looked like he expected a fight.
“Do you know either Rance or Paisley Gertz?” asked Kendrick, taking a small notebook and pencil from his pocket.
“Very slightly. I’ve met each of them once.”
“Did you have occasion to visit the Gertz home at 114 Chaukara on the twenty-eighth of Novuary.”
“And why were you there?”
“You and I had discussed the incident there involving Gertz and his wife. I wanted to get a look at the scene.”
“Did you encounter Rance Gertz at that time.”
“He wasn’t there when I arrived, but he entered after I did. He accused me of making him a cuckold and then took a swing at me.”
“Did you hit him back?”
“Yes. I hit him… several times.”
“Did you also kick him?”
“I… did. Maybe more than once.”
“Did you have an intimate relationship with Mrs. Gertz?” asked Littlefield.
“No,” said Saba. “As I said, I’ve only met her once.”
“Was Gertz alive when you left the home?” asked Kendrick.
“Yes. I am certain he was.”
“Was he conscious?”
“I can’t say for that certain,” said Saba.
“It is the opinion of the doctor,” said Littlefield, “that Gertz was killed by a blow to the side of the chest, possibly from a kick, that caused a broken rib to pierce his lung, which then collapsed.”
“I’m sorry, Chief,” said Kendrick. “We’re going to have to pass this information on to the Justice of the Peace.”
“That’s all right, lad,” said Saba. “Do your duty.”
“We have to ask you for your badge,” said Littlefield.
“That you do.” Saba stood up and retrieved his badge from its place in his pocket, handing it to Kendrick. “And you need to remind me not to leave town.”
“That’s right, sir. Don’t leave town.”
* * * * *
“Kafira’s bloody twat!” screamed Senta, jumping to her feet and spilling the bowl of water that had been sitting in her lap.
The lizzie that had been dusting the bookcase behind her quickly exited the room.
Raising her hand, she snapped her finger. Immediately her housedress was replaced by leather bustier, leather pants, and knee-high boots.
“Rezesic idium uuthanum tortestos paj,” she said, and disappeared from her parlor to reappear in front of the red brick five-story building that was the Port Dechantagne Police Department.
“What the hell is wrong with you, you daft idiot!” she yelled at Saba as he came down the steps.
“I’m not in the mood, Senta.”
“No kidding! What kind of mood are you going to be in when you’re rotting away in jail? Or maybe when they hang you!”
He took her by the elbow and pushed her around the corner of the building and beneath a pear tree.
“Keep your voice down,” he hissed.
“You couldn’t just lie?” she growled. “You couldn’t tell one or two little lies? I wasn’t there, constable. I don’t know what you’re talking about, constable.”
“It’s against the law to lie to the police.”
“It’s against the law to beat someone to death too, but you’ve perfected that!”
“Just… don’t,” he said.
“Do you want to go to jail?”
“I did what I did, and they know about it. They have evidence and probably at least one witness that I was there.”
“They don’t have anything,” she hissed. “I scraped away every trace of you being there, and anyone who saw you has lost all memory of that day. All you had to do… All you had to do was lie. Can’t you tell a lie? It’s easy. I do it all the time. Why yes, I love your hair. Why no, I didn’t shag your husband. Why no, I absolutely have not completely obstructed a police investigation for a total bloody idiot!”
“This is my business,” he said. “Keep your nose out of it.”
He turned and walked away.
“Fine,” she said, and then snapped her fingers, teleporting back home.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at six,” he said.
He smiled but his eyes looked sad. He reached into the back and handed her suitcase down to her.
“You sure you don’t want me to carry it in for you?”
“I’ve been carrying it myself the entire trip,” she replied. “I’ll be waiting at six.”
With a nod, he pressed his foot down on the pedal and shifted into forward gear.
“I love you,” she said in a whisper she was sure he couldn’t hear.
“I love you too,” he said, and then drove off.
She turned and started up the stairs of the huge building. It looked nothing like the home that she had grown up in—the one that she had left ten years before. But there was a lizzie waiting to open the door for her.
“Garrah? Is that you?”
The lizzie hissed affirmative and looked at her appraisingly.
“It’s me– Stahwasuwasu Zrant.”
The lizzie blinked and rolled his yellow eyes around.
“You are so different,” he said, in the native tongue. “You are all grown up.”
“Yes, I am. I’m glad to see you here still.”
“I am senior lizzie now,” he said, rising to his full height. “You will need a new name. You are no longer azrant.”
“Well, that’s for another day. Are any of the soft-skins up?”
He gave a very human shrug.
Nodding, she stepped past him and entered the vast foyer. She stopped to take off her hat and coat and hang them up. As she did, she came face to face with the portrait of her father, hanging on the wall. She looked at for a minute, remembering her father’s voice.
“Hello,” said someone.
She turned to see a woman with reddish blond hair and alabaster skin, dotted here and there with a few freckles. She had thin lips, but very large green eyes. She was wearing a silk housedress.
“You’re Iolana, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and you must be Maria.”
“Welcome home,” said Maria, stepping forward and giving her a great hug. “How are you? You must be exhausted from your trip.”
“I’m fine. I slept a bit on the train.”
“Well, come into the parlor,” she said, taking Iolana by the arm and guiding her to the right.
“I’m glad you’re here,” said Iolana. “Otherwise I would be entirely lost.”
“This room should be a little familiar.”
They stepped through a doorway into the parlor, and it did look somewhat familiar. It was about the size and configuration that the parlor in the original Dechantagne house had been. Even the furniture was similar, though not exactly the same.
“Augie wanted it to feel like home,” said Maria, guiding them to the sofa and sitting.
“Where is Augie?”
“Oh, he’s still in bed. His usual time to get up is half past seven.”
“You’re an early riser?”
“I always have been. What about you?”
“I usually am too. I think I got that from my father.”
“Your mother is an early riser too,” observed Maria. “She should be down in a few minutes. She usually has tea before going to the office.”
“How many do you have living here?”
“Not enough,” said Maria, with a laugh. “It’s just Augie and me, your mother, my dear mother-in-law, and Gladys. Now there’s you and your lizzie friend.”
“Esther should be along shortly,” said Iolana. “We’ve also brought a friend with us. Her name is Willa Armice.”
Iolana turned to see her mother stepping into the room from a heretofore unnoticed doorway. She was dressed in a black pin-striped day dress. Iolana had seen her mother just a year and a half earlier but was shocked to see her hair gone almost entirely grey.
“Mother,” she said getting up and walking around to kiss her on the cheek.
“How was your journey?”
“Good. I’m on my way to the office. Maria can show you your room.” She turned on a heel and passed through the room and on to the foyer.
Iolana let out a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding.
“Lovely,” said Maria. “I can see that she’s happy to have you home. Come along and I’ll do just as Auntie suggested. That way, you can freshen up before breakfast.”
She took Iolana’s arm again and led her out the doorway through which Iolanthe had entered, down a long marble tiled hallway to an elevator. There was a lizzie in the elevator car with its clawed hand on the controls, but Maria paid him no attention.
“I hope you don’t mind that I had your room set up in the west wing. That’s where Augie and I have our rooms. He said you would prefer it that way. Our mothers are both in the east wing.”
“Our mothers… Oh, you mean Auntie Yuah.”
“Yes. Sometimes it feels like she’s very far indeed. Other times, not so much.”