Time and Fevers: Chapter Three

By endurance we conquer. Ha.

Shackleton would have laughed in his face. Even Benedict Arnold might have been amused at the difficulties the trio of time travelers found in crossing such a relatively short and tame expanse of Maine woods. George, however, would have preferred the longest, coldest, most doomed adventure available, frostbite and flux included, if it had meant relief from the snarling depression and the snide company.

The day had begun before dawn with a two-mile trek to fetch food and drink from the house at which Brant had been staying. George had barely been able to move when Olivia shook him awake with the terse request, but he staggered off and returned an hour later with an adequate though cold breakfast for the three of them and words of concern to pass on to Brant. Olivia had, thank goodness, taken care of the patient’s medical needs—and, he presumed, his excretory ones, though he wasn’t about to ask—in the interim. He hoped the salt water had stung like fury.

Brant was bandaged, dressed, fed and medicated, and it was only when George took one of the antibiotic pills himself and pointedly swallowed it that Olivia turned to him and asked to examine his injured back. She managed to barely touch him in the process, and in cold tones pronounced him fit: fitter than Brant, anyway, which was all that mattered. Then, with difficulty, they got their captive on his feet and moving.

This was the sort of situation in which the details of a complex operation were supposed to distract you from personal discord, but nothing of the kind seemed to be happening. Perhaps the distraction only worked in a high-stress emergency like a shipwreck, when even those who disliked each other had to cooperate quickly and without fuss. Despite its partially marine element, their present crisis didn’t much resemble a shipwreck, or only a drawn-out metaphorical one. He felt holed below the waterline and sinking fast.

It would have been nice to get a civil word from Brant, but George didn’t really care. He cared desperately that Olivia was treating him no better. We’re supposed to be on the same side, he begged her. I’ll take it all back if you just smile. Or pretend that you like me.

She was in superb form, he had to grant her that. Not the slightest sign that she had slept no more than a few hours if at all, every word and action precise and to the point: he had ceded the leadership of their mission to her without a question and taken her orders. To Brant, she issued requests and offered polite snatches of conversation, but even those were not purposeless. She was currently regaling him—during their third rest stop in no more than a few hundred yards—with the details of a wilderness treatment for infected wounds involving the intentional seeding of maggots to eat the diseased flesh. It was making George a bit sick, and that was nothing to what Brant must be feeling; if anything would make him move faster toward their goal, that would.

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem that he was able to. They’d had to free his feet—carrying him on a litter was out of the question in the thick woodland—and George was reluctant to free his hands in addition. Even if they did, the use of a cane or a supporting shoulder wouldn’t speed him up much. He wasn’t likely to run away, at any rate.

“Sam’s bleeding again,” Olivia reported. “I think we’ll have to move slower.”

“How about I scout ahead then and check on the boat, if you two are going to be occupied?”

She shrugged and waved a dismissal. “Suit yourself.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Yes, Madam General. “I shall endeavor to do so.”

The maddening refrain Trip no further, pretty sweeting/Journeys end in lovers meeting repeated in his helpless brain as he stumped off down the hill. He wished he’d never heard of Twelfth Night.

She didn’t just not love him, she hated him. Well, let their partnership be at an end, then. Its only purpose had been to find Bernard, and Brant’s capture would make their efforts superfluous. Olivia could deal with her husband on her own. George had had enough playing at being in love; he’d be happy to return to his old habits now. Marisol had made it clear she would go out with him any time he chose, and she wasn’t the only one. He’d flaunt them in front of Olivia. She’d be sorry she’d missed…

…what? A week or two of clever lovemaking followed by an apologetic letdown with flowers?

He refocused on his task, looking at the sun and altering his heading slightly. His luck hadn’t changed, of course. The little cove was right where he’d expected it to be, but the tree they’d used as a mooring and shelter now stood unencumbered. Someone had stolen the boat.

Maybe, um, its original owner. Really, sir, we were planning to return it…

Olivia had been right, naturally. They needed a horse. The river was too public to transport a prisoner anyway, and Brant could swim like a fish. Why the Time Travel Institute couldn’t rebuild Tim with a larger platform, so they could bring along their own equipment… he thought of all the times in his many jumps he could have used a nice horse. Constantine and Associates, Equine Division. No: that was a job for a subcontractor if ever there was one. They’d never make things that easy for jumpers, of course. Oh, no. Why not steal a horse? A jumper could break the Ten Commandments as far as they were concerned, as long as he got the job done.

Not that George’s record with the Ten Commandments was exactly unblemished. Especially that bit about coveting your neighbor’s wife. Did neighboring cubicles count?

Pushing theological speculation aside and returning to the matter of managerial unfairness, he made his way toward the fort and through a grumpy, habitual list of complaints. Reticence bordering on paranoia. Insufficient rest between contracts. Overwork. The illusion of jumpers’ rights, including the right to refuse assignments. And the old-timer’s gripe—he’d been in the business nearly five years now—that things just weren’t the same anymore. The money was excellent, of course; hero worship was his for the asking; and he didn’t mind the danger if he didn’t think about it too much, but the job had begun to tell on him even before his love life had foundered: the pace, the secrets, the numerous roles he’d had to inhabit over the years, the repeated doses of Anamnex and their side-effects. And if you showed the least hint of psychological weakness, you’d be reassigned to researcher in an eyeblink—unless your weaknesses happened to come in handy. Human resources.

And that, George, is the kind of thinking that turned Benedict Arnold into a byword and a hissing down the ages. Shut up and get the job done. A horse, a horse…

…oh, a pretty horse.

He paused where his path overlooked the spit of land thrusting into the waters of the Kennebec, and watched the black steed galloping along the narrow road toward the fort. In the ten minutes it took him to reach the road, he saw the officer dismount and, apparently not finding all to his liking, stand with his hand on the reins while he berated his men. George dropped to knees and elbows; there was no cover near the fort but long grass and clumps of scrubby bushes, and a soldier stood atop a rocky mound not far from its gate. He would be seen. Better not to approach. It was far too pretty a horse in any case. But…

In the time it took him to run the intervening distance, several potential ruses flitted through his head. My wife’s having a baby. Or rather, the woman-who-is-not-and-never-will-be-my-wife is cleaning the ass of a man who’s acting like an overgrown baby. That’s it, the baby’s hurt. And is… too heavy to carry. No.

If you’re going to tell a lie, make it an interesting lie. He rolled into a crouch, pulled the pistol out of his belt, and fired in the direction from which he had come. The soldier on the rocks shouted, and several others unshouldered muskets, but he ran toward them nonetheless, tripping and staggering, and threw himself behind the horse; the officer caught him by the arm.

Somewhere in the midst of the last somersault it had come into his head that there was nothing against lying per se in the Ten Commandments, and the odd inspiration took hold of him to break every “thou shalt not” that he could remember of what was there (except, he hoped, the one about killing), prompting the first words out of his mouth.

“Bloody fucking Christ,” he said, breathing loudly. “Can you see him?”

“And who would that be?” said the officer, lip twitching up.

“My neighbor. After me, with a rifle. I know I saw him.” He raised a cautious pair of eyes just above the horse’s withers and peered into the meadow. “He… bears me a grudge.”

“I should say so.” The officer motioned two of the men to investigate; they moved off with muskets at the ready, parting the long grass with bayonets. “What ill have you done him? Seduced his daughter?”

“His wife.” The man was grinning at him now. Why had he been avoiding the soldiers? They were much easier to deal with than clergymen. “Well, if you knew her…”

“I shall have to beg an introduction.” The officer narrowed his eyes. “Where might I go to do so?” he asked, suspicion in his tone.

Shit, thought George. Of course. A local. “Over there,” he said, waving a hand at the opposite shore, consulting the map in his head. “Georgetown,” he brought out after only a slight pause. It would be. “I was followed.”

The officer glanced toward the meadow and his men signaled back. “I don’t believe your enemy has pursued you, and perhaps if you restrain yourself in future he’ll be forgiving—”

“No. She cried rape to him. I swear it was not. And I cannot forget her. I worship her. I have—” Made graven images of her? Don’t get carried away now. “He will kill me, without a doubt, unless I escape. Please help me.”

“I can’t—”

“Sir, I only ask… We were to fly, she and I”—oh, what the hell—“on Sunday, but he will never let her out of his sight now, and I have not a horse. He and his brothers will be watching the river. My friends at Bath will see me on to Gardinerstown, but I must go to them now or I am a dead man. I ask the loan of a mount. My friends shall return it promptly, I promise.”

The officer shook his head. “My horse is a servant of the Continental Army, as am I, and has military duties to perform.”

“Oh, not your… I would never expect that. Any horse that can manage a trot.” He hesitated, then pulled the pistol out of his belt. “I offer this as surety.” It would have been a risky move for a man pursued by an enemy—one of the dimmer-looking soldiers standing by whistled in appreciation—but he wasn’t chancing even a dressing-down by Marc Lamprey. It was Brant’s gun.

The officer looked at the pistol suspiciously. George could follow the thought process: local yokel, nothing of value to give up or he would never surrender his only defense; how does he rate such a handsome weapon, a gentleman’s weapon, and one that a woodsman or fisherman would acquire last, after a shotgun or rifle?

“Where did you come by this?”

George called up every ounce of acting skill he had, projecting guilt, youthful pride and the desperate honesty born of hopelessness. “It was my neighbor’s,” he said.

The officer burst into a loud laugh. “In that case I should not like to be found in possession of it,” he said with a neat bow. “Captain McCobb, at your service. Owens, fetch that nag you’ve been using to haul stones, and we shall lend it to this ambitious fellow for his escape. Oddly enough I feel inclined to trust his word.” He turned back to George, his face serious. “I should like to make a bargain with you, however. You have wit and pluck and daring. I doubt you should have approached us for sanctuary were you a King’s man?”

George shook his head. “Such as I am, I am a patriot.” I ought to have known this was coming. This is why I avoided the soldiers…

“In that case… Dalliance is all very well, and I’m sure your amorous exploits are to be admired, but there are larger things at stake in the world today. Did you ever give thought to serving your country? The freedom of self-indulgence means nothing if we lack more fundamental freedoms, under the yoke of tyranny.”

I like the freedom to stay alive, thank you. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled.

“If you arrive in Gardinerstown too late to join yourself to Colonel Arnold’s company, all along the river there will be regiments fitting out for travels southward. Should you like a note to the commanding officer at Fort Western?”

“No, sir, but thank you for your interest.”

His would-be mentor looked disappointed. “The war will come to you; you need not go to it. But you are wasting your fire in the meanwhile. Strike out—make a man of yourself. There is courage in even the humblest of us; find yours, and fight for what is right.”

The implication hadn’t hurt when Spring made it, and the easy platitudes, aimed at another generation entirely, should not have injured him now, but they were too close to other words he would never forget. Seducing girls is all well and good, George, but some of us have bigger things to consider. I thought you were all for this honor thing, your old-fashioned heroes sacrificing themselves for others. Not that anyone’s going to be shooting at us; and besides, it’ll be fun. What, are you scared? Damn it all to hell. He didn’t need ghosts; he needed peace. And ideas. And the bloody horse.

“My neighbor is a Loyalist,” he managed to invent.

“Well, then. You have started in the right direction, at least. Find better companions, and defend your country alongside them. I’m afraid we cannot equip you for the cavalry, but at least we can send you on your way.” The doughty steed ambled out of the fort’s heavy gate: a skinny swaybacked brown mare saddled Indian fashion with a blanket alone. She was not beautiful, but had strong hindquarters and walked without a limp—no great turn of speed, perhaps, but adequate to carry a man of Brant’s weight for several miles.

Owens handed the reins over with apparent reluctance. “You ain’t gonna run off with Lucy, now, are you?”

“He will give his word on that,” said McCobb. “Won’t you? The other matter I leave to your sense of honor; somehow I feel sure, despite appearances, that you possess one.”

“You have my word, sir,” George said, his insides churning. “And my thanks.” He considered a salute, decided it would be wildly inappropriate, and, casting a last paranoid glance for show at the meadow and the distant trees, threw himself onto Lucy’s back. A horse, a horse. His heart was no longer in the victory.

If he were intent on escape to Bath, climbing the hill again would make no sense. He steered Lucy along the rocky shore toward the beach, meaning to change direction when he was safely out of sight. Instead, he found himself trotting into the future, or perhaps the past, traveling to some timeless place without benefit of technology. These were, more or less, the beaches of his youth, though the shoreline had altered with rising sea levels; the great expanse of sand he saw on reaching the end of the river channel and turning to open sea was strange and breathtaking. But he knew the sand nonetheless; he knew the beat of the waves; and the temptation came over him to tether his horse to a log of driftwood, lie down and close his eyes, ignore his duty, and dream of a better world. And, when the tide came in, find it, no doubt. Except that he didn’t believe in life after death, and if there were such a thing he would be going straight to hell. After all, he had broken nearly all the Ten Commandments in one morning.

He’d missed one, however (besides murder), and despite the series of disappointments and bruises Maine had given him on this visit, the respect he felt for his father’s devotion to the place hadn’t diminished. There were Merrills in New Hampshire now, in 1775; the family had not yet found their Down East roots, but when planted they would cling firmly to the sandy loam, if with one branch always in the sea. His father would never quite forgive himself for leaving, for raising his children elsewhere, even if the mythical Maine that existed in his head had not been a reality for many generations, if ever. But you should see it now, Pop. No lighthouses, no lobstermen, no sailing races, but no overbuilding either, no careless destruction of wildlife. No tourists. Except me.

Having a terrible time; wish you were here. His father had hated being a tourist, had resented fiercely the necessity of it, but he had come back year after year, unable to stay away. It was his mother who had managed the practical aspects of travel with three children plus a friend or two, while his father had alternately sulked and exulted, a different man entirely from his workaday Maryland self. In his seventies now, he was probably too old for time jumping, and he might not have taken to it as George had, slipping the career on like a second skin, but… wouldn’t he love to see this place. Wish you were here.

Had his father been a generation younger, he might have become a time jumper, but almost certainly he would have become an Arcadian. Both sides of the family were pure Caucasian, as far back as they could trace, a highly unusual circumstance in their day and age, and the racist Arcadians had several times solicited George’s membership for that reason alone, he supposed as a sort of poster boy. Not that his father was racist, exactly, but he made no excuses for pride in his ancestry, and he would certainly have been seduced by the live-in-the-past branch of the party had he met any of its proponents. All he knew of the Arcadians was what he heard in the news, however, and none of that was good.

Nothing wrong with knowing how to live in the past, of course; it had saved George’s life time after time, and he thanked his parents for what they’d taught him of lighting fires and foraging for food and locating sources of water in the wild, as much as he did for their indulgence of his astronautical ambitions and for the violin lessons they’d forced on him as an eight-year-old. All of that, together, made up George Merrill, as did his mother’s dogged and cheerful resourcefulness and his father’s six a.m. hikes and six p.m. gin-and-despondency. And… other things.

Lucy nickered softly and pulled against George’s firm grip on the bridle. He dismounted, letting her crop the switches of grass in the dunes while he gazed out to sea one more time. So familiar. He could remember clearly how the surf had sounded against the words, as he sat—almost here—a quarter mile onward, perhaps—with his best friend Jeff and a bag of soy-protein-and-sand sandwiches, at the age of sixteen, discussing the weighty issues of youth. That summer had followed the spring he’d taken up the violin again, and lost his virginity, and managed the best science grades of his school career, bringing his hankering for space travel a bit closer, even if the ambition was already out of date. He was annoyingly proud of all of it and needed to brag, but he’d listened to Jeff’s troubles as well, and to the reasonable advice about being a gentleman to the fairer sex, and to admonitions about keeping priorities straight. They’d spoken loftily of career goals, and mundanely of cars (about which they agreed) and music (about which they did not). They’d made plans together, which at the time he’d fully meant to follow through on: a tidy structure of life, full of accomplishments and boxes checked off, the way Jeff liked it. It had been only five years later that George had smashed the whole thing to pieces.

There is courage in even the humblest of us. McCobb had meant his exhortation as a call to arms in the open air, and not a shout in the confines of an echo chamber; he had no idea that the man to whom he was speaking did not actually exist, was George but at the same time not George. A time jumper assumed roles—names, traits, histories—and shed them as he did his clothing, but he never shed his own skin. When observers noticed points of coincidence between role and reality, their separation became difficult, as though his breeches had suddenly stuck themselves to his ass, impossible to rip loose.

The captain whose favor he had just rejected would have been shocked to discover the geographic and historical variety of trials George had faced: none the heat of battle, but each in its way objective proof of at least some measure of boldness and daring. He did know that. He also knew that there were times when the prudent choice was retreat, and that survival trumped false honor, and that a pounding heart and a chill in the gut didn’t mean he’d fail to act bravely when there was need. But behind the deerskin-clad jumper in the hostile mountains, the man who had faced down cold and pain and predators both animal and human, or the successful professional in ordinary office attire, he could always see himself in other costumes: the eighteenth-century frock coat, its sleeve torn by Brant’s pistol ball; the rough working clothes in which he’d crouched in the back room of a cabin in north Maine, waiting to be seized by the law; the formal concert dress in which he’d fallen to pieces on stage in front of two hundred people. And the military uniform he had turned down and his best friend had worn in the last months of his life. No matter what covered it, the same skin lay underneath, ready to be stripped raw again each time he tore off the metaphorical breeches and showed the world what an ass he was.

“Time to go find my counterpart, I suppose,” he said out loud, slapping Lucy on her rump. “And then home.”

Ten minutes’ careful ride uphill and he’d reached their clearing; from there, retracing this morning’s advance was easy. His partner sat on the fallen tree where he’d left her, elbows on knees and face in hands. Brant completed the tableau, lying at her feet curled on his side, still bound and possibly sleeping. Olivia didn’t look up until the crackling of broken twigs against horseflesh was so loud she couldn’t pretend ignorance any longer. When she did, George caught for a fleeting second a look of absolute surprise and approbation on her face; it cheered him like a warm drink on a cold day.

Mom, Dad: this is Lucy; she’s my friend, a corner of his brain recited. One of the boss’s infectious but indecipherable quotations, and hardly appropriate. “The boat was gone, so I brought you a horse,” he said instead, stupidly, and dismounted.

“I thought you were never coming back,” Olivia replied in an irritated voice, then apparently reconsidered. “Thank you. A very nice horse.”

“Her name is Lucy.”

“I’m not going to ask where you got her.” Olivia rose and stepped forward, putting a hand to Lucy’s nose. “She reminds me of Percy, in a way. Something in the eyes.”

“You never forget the very first one,” he said with a half-grin. Brant, who was awake after all, let out a strangled bark that seemed to be laughter, and Olivia flinched.

Oh, hell. Have secrets then. “Are you ready to go? Let’s get Mr. Sprightly here onto her back. Sorry I’ve ruined your seat on a horse, Brant, but time mends all ends, and lying down will have to do for now; I’m sure the blood rushing to your head will be good for you. I’ll tie his feet again, Olivia, then we lift together.”

* * * * *

It took them hours yet to get there, but that was better than days. When they finally reached the spot where they had arrived in the eighteenth century, George left Olivia and Brant, trust in his partner stretched to its limits. He rode Lucy a short distance inland and tied her reins loosely to a tree, within sight of a house whose whitewashed boards were a fresh and optimistic addition to the landscape, pinning a small purse of money to her saddle blanket along with a note: “Please return to Private Owens, the fort at Hunnewell Point. Apologies to Captain McCobb. A coward, a most devout coward: religious in it.” Then he gave her a final pat and went back on foot.

Brant had to be pulled upright once again; he was clearly exhausted despite having been carried the entire way, and showed a strong tendency to lean on Olivia, both physically and emotionally. She gave curt answers to his inquiries about what they would do to him and whether she would stay with him, but her resolution apparently faltered when he asked plaintively, “And where are we going? I mean, when?”

“Oh…” It was an involuntary cry of sympathy, George knew, and though he understood its source, he could not encourage it.

“November sixteenth, twenty-one seventy-three, Brant,” he said in matter-of-fact tones. “You haven’t been gone that long.” Except to you it feels like ten years instead of one and a half. “President Franklin was reelected, there are still tensions with Europe, a few new restrictions on private transport that are hardly going to affect you… two hurricanes this fall… it was unseasonably hot when we left, which was three minutes ago so I don’t suppose it’s changed. Maybe they’ll let you take off your coat.”

“November,” repeated Brant, and nodded. He made a visible effort toward pulling himself together. “I expect they are waiting for us; shall we go?”

George replied by moving in the direction of the invisible time machine with his arms outstretched, waiting for it to sense his DNA and reappear from its patient hitching post a second in the future. He held his breath, and the box popped into view exactly as expected.

Hello, Tim. How very pleasant to see you. He took one of Brant’s tied arms and propelled him firmly toward the box; Olivia followed. A last whisper of sea breeze trailed in after them; George inhaled deeply, and then the whirlwind that carried them through time took hold, and everything vanished.

The first face he saw when they appeared in the tiny and now very crowded laboratory at the Time Travel Institute was Charles Constantine’s. The blue eyes opened wide, the graying eyebrows went up, and the perpetually amused mouth broke into a grin when their chief executive officer saw the prize they’d returned with. Above and beyond the call of duty.

“Good morning, boss,” George said, stepping forward and pulling Brant with him. “I know we didn’t need to do more than get a fix on him, but things worked out differently.”

“He’s injured,” Olivia broke in, as security officers moved toward Brant. “Knife wound in the left buttock; possible infection starting. He can’t sit, so don’t make him. Oh, and I’d have the hospital people check him for STDs as well.” Brant, who had given her a look of gratitude at the first remark, glared instead. What the hell?

“Miss Lake,” he said, “I congratulate you on your victory, if it is such, and bid you farewell. Not fondly.”

“Fled murmuring,” Olivia answered, her voice breaking on the cryptic words, “and with him fled the shades of night,” then turned away into Charles’s embrace. George was distracted himself at that moment by a second whirlwind, this one red and gold and bronze-skinned and dark-haired, as Marisol Delgado, abandoning professionalism and her technician’s console, flung herself into his arms. Remembering his determination to flaunt, he drew her close and kissed her firmly on the cheek; it felt wonderful, so he planted another on the corner of her mouth.

“Oh, congratulations, George!” she whispered. “Thank God that’s over, huh?”

“Yes. Hell, yes,” he said, feeling the relief sweep over him. He put her away just enough to maintain a façade of workplace environment, and his eye caught Brant’s as one of the guards paused near the door to speak into a wrist communicator; there was no longer anything the least pathetic or lost in that expression. Brant was staring at George and Marisol with an almost triumphant intensity, broken as the guard yanked on his arm and drew him from the room.

Ignoring the chills down his spine, George pulled Marisol against him again and repeated the kiss. She looked at him hopefully.

“Am I reading too much into this, or can I finally tempt you into another date?”

So easy to say yes. She felt perfect in his arms, rounded and firm but soft in the right places, receptive and alive; his body was already responding. He glanced quickly at Olivia, now being hugged by the North American Coordinator, Fred Nez, then back at Marisol, and opened his mouth to give his assent.

It came out: “Um. Not right now.” But later, yes. Maybe… “I’m, you know, tired. Jump hangover. Combined with a regular hangover pretty soon, I expect. I’ll… call you.”

Marisol’s voice went acid. “Sure you will, sweetie. Never mind; I should have known. Excuse me, I have to run the post-jump report.” She detached herself and retreated.

“George,” said Charles, “what’s this about knife-throwing? Another hidden skill?”

“From my years in the circus,” he said tightly, and strode to the door, wanting to slam it behind him.

* * * * *

In the dressing room with Phoebe, he tried again. He had always liked her: short, plump, cute, sparkling black eyes and smooth brown skin, her conversation amusing, if focused entirely on comparative costuming; and he had asked her out and been turned down before, which was probably what gave him the courage to get the words out this time.

“Oh, hon,” she replied, “you don’t really mean that. What did you do to your coat?”

“Rolled down a hill in it. Among other things. And yes, I do. How about a museum? I’ll look at the costumes if you’ll look at the weapons gallery. Do you want to hear all about what the poorly-dressed American soldier is wearing in the early Revolutionary years? Some of them weren’t wearing anything by the end of them.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be my department then. There’s blood on this.”

“I know. It’ll heal soon.”

She shook her head. “Your back will, hon, but it’s not so easy to get the stains out of the shirt. I told Olivia to watch out for you. Is she falling down on the job?”

No, decidedly off the job. “She dressed it with her own hands,” he protested. Her own gentle, tantalizing, arousing hands…

“Yes, I can see that,” Phoebe said, patting the kerchief that still encircled his waist. “The things the two of you do to your clothes. How bad are the grass stains on the back of Olivia’s skirt?”

“Phoebe! We were otherwise engaged, you know. Didn’t you hear we caught Brant? I’d have thought the news would have made it down the hall by now.”

“I was joking, hon. But you know me; I’m a romantic.” She smiled broadly.

“You’re a damned chaste one, is all I have to say.”

“That’s got nothing to do with it. And it’s none of your business anyway. I’ll go look at exhibits with you any time you want, but don’t expect any exhibitions on my part. Why don’t we all go together, though, you and me and Olivia? That’d be fun.” She hung up the torn frock coat with tender care. “Your regular clothes are behind the screen there. Don’t come out till you’re decent.”

“I might be in there forever,” he threw as a parting shot, but obeyed.

* * * * *

He escaped without waiting for Olivia, Charles, or anyone else. The drive through the traffic-choked streets was enlivened only by the decision to name his new car—one of the only benefits of the year’s overwork was that his income had risen, and why not spend it?—after the horse, Lucy. He had always imagined his cars to be female in gender, but had never bothered to name one before; he thought it an old-fashioned, twenty-first-century habit, born with the invention of the self-directing automobile and grown out of as people realized that a car with personality was only entertaining for the first few weeks and after that grew dull and irritating. His vehicle did not talk back to him, but she had personality nonetheless; she was red and racy and she belonged in spirit not to the rule-obsessed twenty-second century but to the open highways and curvy deserted back lanes of the twentieth. But much as he had enjoyed the rare opportunities to pilot cars by his own skill in that era—even if he kept running them into things—he also appreciated being driven, especially when there was a lot to think about.

“Home, Lucy,” he sighed. There was too much to think about. Not thinking but drinking was in order, never mind the early hour, and a long session with the violin, something with plenty of double-stopping and ear-splitting crescendos; he’d wallow in Dvořák and Schnakenburg for a while. And then bed. Unfortunately quite alone.

It was not until after the third whisky that he gave in and began to play the first violin part of Haydn’s fifth Sun Quartet, the tears running openly down his face.

Never for me the lowered banner, never the last endeavor. Ha.

Chapter Four

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