The chairs around the conference table were nearly all filled, but two remained empty to Charles’s left. George offered Olivia the seat next to her new boss—he didn’t exactly pull the chair out for her, but his gesture mocked at courtesy—and she slid into it, trying to fix her gaze bravely outward into the room of strangers. Not all strangers, in fact: her two minutes’ acquaintance with Andy Bishop made him a reassuring sight. He was apparently completely engaged in building up a tower of lighted squares from the surface in front of him: doodling with net power, not caring who was watching or who noticed he wasn’t taking part in the conversations around him. Contemplation looked good on him, as she imagined just about any expression would. It was a handsome building, too, if structurally unstable. Enchanted castle.
He glanced up at her and the corner of his mouth twitched, the hint of a smile. She flushed and looked away, meeting Charles’s eyes as he turned from a conversation with the sober-faced woman to his right. He nodded—a rhetorical all set? sort of nod—and cleared his throat for attention. Andy’s lighted castle collapsed and disappeared.
“So,” he said as the group quieted. “The usual suspects, I see.” They all laughed politely; like Olivia, they’d heard the jest before and knew its origin in the favorite of all those twentieth-century movies Charles knew through infatuation and scholarship. Her collision with Andy in the door of Charles’s office had, she was pretty sure, interrupted a hopeful if inaccurate “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
He didn’t finish the quote now. “Before we start,” he said, “I’d like you all to meet Olivia Lake, who joins us today. I’m sure you’ll give her a hearty welcome.” He made introductions around the table: Anna Suarez and Katie Jones, researchers; Marc Lamprey, project account manager; Frederick Nez, North American Coordinator; Janet Lapinski, Coordinator for Europe; and the woman to Charles’s right, Seema Pezek, the company’s chief financial officer.
“And you know George and Andy, of course,” he finished. I have just met George and Andy, she wanted to correct him. Most of the eyes had been on her as she entered the room, but not too greatly to her surprise a few pairs had narrowed at George in professionally-masked resentment, and she didn’t want to be linked to him from the beginning.
Of course she didn’t say that; she made thank you noises to their murmurs of welcome, and told them she was grateful to be allowed to observe the meeting, and let Charles get on with it.
“Now,” he said, “we’re here to discuss the… difficulty with the Boston Tea Party project. George and Andy returned this morning without any tea, though I think with good reason. But I’ll let George explain.” He turned to his subordinate with an air of confidence.
“Oh God, here goes,” George muttered, but before he could begin, Marc Lamprey broke in.
“Wait,” he said. “Am I to understand you brought a guest along on this jump? I fail to find Andy’s name in the contract.” He pointed, with exaggerated precision, at the flat, hovering print-image in front of him. “If for once you could do us the favor of—”
“If I’d told you,” snapped George, “what then? I was supposed to work with a partner on this jump, and as it turned out it’s a damned good thing I had him along—”
“I’m so sorry, Marc,” Andy interrupted. “This was my fault; I talked George into it. We should have told you, and Fred, and Charles. Really, I apologize.” He sounded sincerely regretful, and even though Olivia suspected it was a front, she believed him. It was hardly fair that such an absurdly good-looking man should have a voice to match: the sort of voice that ravished one’s ears by droit du seigneur, caressed and stroked them into obedience, and spoiled them for all other voices hereafter. George and Marc’s objections sounded snide and whiny respectively by comparison, and Andy overruled them with ease.
“Not that there are any excuses—but I’ve had so few chances at the period, and George did need backup since Ber—” An awkward pause. “Since his original partner… we did need to get on with it.” Bernard, Olivia filled in, going cold inside. George was supposed to jump with Bernard. But annoying as George could be, working with him was hardly a trigger for abandoning one’s life and disappearing for three months. Or for good.
They were all giving her not-really-looking-at-you glances now, so apparently they knew who she was; of course it made sense that Charles had briefed his staff. If Andy could slip and recover even when informed, the others might have done worse, remaining ignorant.
Charles tried to keep the meeting moving. “I’ve spoken to George and Andy about the transgression, Marc, and we can discuss it later if you want, but now—”
“It’s not the first time, Charles,” interrupted Janet Lapinski. “Well, it’s the first time he’s tried this particular move—as far as we know”—she scowled at George—“but a pattern of abuses—”
“I try not to be that predictable,” said George, “and speaking of which, Janet, what the hell are you doing in this meeting? Unless I’m very confused, we jumped to America, not Europe. Marc, did you bring a guest along?”
“I’m glad to have Janet’s support,” Marc said, “but I think I am amply backed up by the wording of the contract. The client did not approve this; Charles, I assume, did not approve this. And I’m perplexed as to how you got it past Tim.”
Olivia wondered briefly who the other absent player in this scene was, and then she remembered: “Tim” was the affectionate nickname for the government’s time machine. Bernard never used it, but obviously it was common parlance in the company’s business meetings.
Seema Pezek smiled, the mischievous expression revealing a new side of her apparently dour personality. “Who was the tech, George?” He put a hand over his mouth, refusing comment, so she turned to Andy. “And which one of you talked her into breaking the rules?”
That pronoun… surely the Time Travel Institute didn’t hire only female technicians. But this was George they were talking about… no, it was unfair for Olivia to feel she knew him that well already…
“It was Marisol,” said Andy. A few people—not Janet or Marc—laughed.
George put his face in his hands. “Thank you, partner,” he muttered at the table.
Marc was indignant. More indignant. His regular, inoffensive features seemed to be pinched into perpetual tightness; Olivia began to wonder if he ever relaxed. She hoped so, for the sake of those around him.
“This is a violation of… I don’t like to think how many rules,” he said. “Breaking the bounds of a contract. Wasting energy usage on a non-authorized jump—that comes out of the TTI’s overhead, you know. And hitchhiking on jumps is dangerous,” he added, looking at Andy, “without a DNA link to the machine.” Andy shrugged. “Bribing a government employee—”
“I’m glad you consider it a bribe, Marc,” said George; he seemed to have recovered himself. “I prefer to think of it as an exchange of favors.”
“I’m certain Ms. Delgado was not implicated in the indiscretion, Marc,” said Charles. “And the increase in energy usage is quite negligible. Not a matter worth pursuing, really.”
Marc was still grimacing, and gathered enough of his righteous anger together to add, “I hope Mr. Bishop doesn’t expect to get paid for this adventure.”
“I believe we can discuss that later,” Charles said firmly.
“Please,” said George. “And I’ll have a few words on the subject, which might weigh a little more coming from an actual jumper rather than from our talented administrative staff. But right now if we could get on with more important matters…?”
“We are all waiting for your report,” said Charles. “With bated breath.”
“I bet,” said George. “Well, the jump itself went fine. Sixteen December seventeen seventy-three, disguising our sudden appearance with the dusky cloak of evening. Luckily it had stopped raining by then. I was a gentleman of modest means, visiting from Maryland, and Andy was my… valet, I suppose.”
“If that’s what you want to call it,” said Andy: amused, not resentful.
“Okay, I owe you one. Next time’s mine.”
“And what period in history would that be happening in?”
George shrugged and went on without answering. “We heard the famous war-whoops, pushed our way through the crowds gathering near Griffin’s Wharf. Witnessed the event by moonlight. It was, unusually in my experience, very much as portrayed in history texts. Fewer not-really-Mohawk disguises than expected. More sheer volume of tea going over the side.” He looked down the table at the researchers, and sketched a little salute. “Better security.”
“I did tell you—” began Katie.
“And I listened. I believe you quoted a contemporary newspaper account…” George’s expression turned abstracted, as if he were looking at something inside his own head. “‘There was the greatest care taken to prevent the tea from being purloined by the populace. One or two, being detected in endeavoring to pocket a small quantity, were stripped of their acquisitions and very roughly handled.’ Nice passive voice. It doesn’t feel like that when you are the object of the rough handling, believe me.”
“George, what happened?” said Anna.
He hesitated. “Andy had a better view,” he said.
Andy looked startled. “Well,” he said, “our plan was never to get onto the ships themselves—”
“George’s plan, I believe,” interrupted Katie, “went something like ‘I’ll figure this out; let me handle it.’ I’ll admit it works surprisingly often, but evidently not this time?”
“The patriots of Boston,” Andy continued, “had planned things out a little more in advance, but they didn’t really take the tide into consideration. It was near low, and the tea started piling up above water alongside the ships. We thought we could wade in and help them sink it, and at the same time pocket a bit. Well, actually George waded in; I was supposed to provide a distraction on shore at an opportune moment, but we didn’t get that far.”
His voice was mesmerizing; everyone leaned forward a little, as if attracted magnetically. “It wasn’t very pleasant,” he said. “George was almost there when a couple of tough guys grabbed him, punched him in the stomach, and held his head under the water.” A little dry laugh from Janet; Charles had heard the story before, but everyone else winced.
“Egotistical clarification,” put in George. “Not a couple. Four. I counted boots.”
“And what act of heroic rescue will Andy be demanding a bonus for?” asked Janet.
Andy shook his head. Demand me nothing, Olivia’s Shakespeare-tuned brain supplied, what you know, you know. Next to her, George tensed, though his speech emerged untouched by anger.
“So, Janet,” he drawled out, “changed your mind about whether I needed a partner on this jump?”
Her eyebrows went up and she gave him a cool look that caught Olivia’s breath; had Janet spent enough time with Bernard to echo that what-do-you-think? expression to perfection, or was it her own independent… well, it hardly mattered. It wasn’t likely that Janet disliked George enough to wish him drowned; she apparently just enjoyed making him think so.
Andy broke the tension. “It was more stupid than heroic,” he said. “I just ran toward them, shouting ‘The British are coming!’ It distracted them enough that they let George go for a second, and he popped out of the water and hit one of them in the jaw so he fell into his friends. They grabbed him again on the way out, but I was able to land a punch or two, and George managed one good kick in the balls, and then we ran like hell. Several kilometers later we found a hiding place in a convenient hayloft and lay low for the rest of the night. Shivering, in George’s case.”
A few seconds passed while everyone savored the echoes of Andy’s speech, and then Fred Nez said, “I’m sorry you had to go through that, George.”
George shrugged. “It happens. Not”—he gave Olivia a quick nod—“to scare off the new recruits. But clearly we need to rethink this project.”
“Or think about it to begin with,” Janet put in dryly. “Have any of you actually read the contract? Not my territory, as George has rightly pointed out, but… it states that we agree to gather ‘at least twelve ounces of Bohea tea as thrown overboard by the colonists during the Boston Tea Party.’ It does not say that we have to get it at the Boston Tea Party. Setting aside George’s apparent desire to witness history from under water, he could just as well have bought it in a shop.”
“Not in Boston, he couldn’t,” said Anna. “The boycott—“
“Yes, I’m aware,” Janet interrupted, “but that’s restrictive thinking. The same tea must have been sold for… decades? A century or more? Throughout the colonies, and in Europe as well. Jumping to China would be a step too far, I’m sure.”
“Hm,” said Fred. “Considering the… enthusiasm of the client for the historical accuracy of the product, I’d prefer to stay somewhat within the spirit of the contract. Marc, can we manage another jump?”
“One more jump. Otherwise we’re over budget.”
“All right,” said Fred. “Ideas?”
“Maryland may have had its own Tea Party protest the following year,” Katie said, “in Chestertown. The historical record is a bit thin—”
“Another contract possibility for later, then,” said George, “but not unless someone else is volunteering to get dunked in the river. It’s probably cleaner than Boston harbor, at least.”
“Different shipment, anyway,” said Anna, “but the seventy-three cargo went to New York, Philadelphia and Charleston too. I can look into how well those ships were guarded until they were sent home.” No one seemed to like this suggestion. “Or George could infiltrate Boston earlier—”
“How about the other end of the voyage?”
It wasn’t until everyone’s eyes turned to her that Olivia was sure she’d made the suggestion out loud. Grateful to observe: right. She was too used to getting points for speaking up in seminars. But since she had committed herself… “Where did the ships sail from?”
“London,” said Katie. She checked the display hovering above her left palm. “In late September and early October.”
“Lovely there that time of year, I’m sure,” said Fred. “You’re proposing that George steal some tea off one of the ships before they leave?”
“Or buy it,” Olivia said. “If”—she glanced at Marc—“that’s in the budget.”
The corner of George’s mouth twitched. “Speaking from the point of view of the man in the field, I would much prefer to operate within the law. For once. If I recall correctly, you could get hanged for stealing in the seventeen hundreds, and I think we could spare a few shillings out of the budget better than we could spare me. I’d certainly prefer not to go back to a place where they tried to drown me. Frankly, I never thought I was born to be drowned or hanged; I always wanted to die in bed. Preferably someone else’s.”
He grinned at Andy. “And I doubt we’d get attacked by rampaging Quaker abolitionists either, in London. I didn’t get to that part yet. On the way back to the jump point, we found what must have been the only group of Friends around who’d decided nonviolence wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and they apparently thought it was Andy’s day to be liberated. Thank God they had women with them. I could shout all I wanted about not believing in slavery any more than they did, but the only thing that made them listen was Andy demonstrating his freed status by actually flirting back. They hustled along to Meeting pretty fast after that.” He shook his head. “Serious lack of internal logic.”
“Speaking as the man in this field,” Andy said, with a bitter edge to the gorgeous voice, “I would much prefer to deal with people whose logic is confused instead of people who know their minds perfectly well and know they hate you. Give me hypocritical Quakers over honest Arcadians any time.”
And when, Olivia wondered, had Andy fallen afoul of them? She didn’t doubt his animus was based in experience. How anyone could consider Andy a lesser human being… the handsome brow furrowing in annoyance, the dark intelligence of his eyes, the long expressive brown fingers… how could anyone judge him by his looks, hm, Olivia?
Well, it was all nonsense, what the Arcadians said; everyone knew that. Everyone here seemed embarrassed by the mention, not sure where to look… well, Janet was glaring at George again, but that was apparently normal.
“All right,” said Charles, brushing the subject off to where it belonged, “London, then. Marc, please get the paperwork started. Fred, brief Janet, since this will be her baby.” Ah, of course; that explained the glare. George hadn’t seemed bothered by doing a jump on Janet’s territory, which probably meant he’d happily break just as many rules as he had under Fred.
“George,” Charles went on, “make a costume appointment—you’ll have to explain what happened to the last costume, while you’re at it—and work on your accent and your background. And since you prefer to work with a partner…” He turned to Andy. “I haven’t had any reports from you on the Peru investigation for a while.”
“Get back to what I’m being paid for, you mean? I suppose I’d stand out too much in London, anyway.”
“No, actually,” said Katie, “there were plenty of… oh.”
“Quite,” said Charles. “So who…” He tapped his head in a theatrical gesture and pointed. “Olivia. You’re on it.”
She felt herself growing warm as everyone stared at her again. A murmur of consternation rose. Marc sighed, Anna frowned inscrutably, and George blurted out, “Dammit, you didn’t—” and then stopped.
“You have a problem with my decision, George?” said Charles.
“Yes, frankly,” said George. “It did turn out fortunate I had a partner at the Tea Party. But I can do this one by myself, and… mentoring a totally inexperienced jumper, for what could be a delicate retrieval…” His air of flippancy was gone; he sounded truly concerned. Olivia added a silent plea to Charles: don’t force this. It won’t work.
“Nevertheless,” said Charles, “she will be going to London. And she’s not totally inexperienced, are you, Olivia?”
Self-deprecating was the way to go. “One sim-jump; I’d hardly call that experience.”
“As a grad student?” said Fred. “That’s… well, expensive, for one thing.” The others made surprised noises, and yes, this time the dirty look from Anna was unmistakable. They’d been handed her resume, but not this detail.
“Access for all,” George muttered, and Andy grinned.
“Watch yourself,” he said. Olivia thought she understood why; she associated the slogan with the Arcadians, although… surely suggestions of equality were not in their vocabulary.
“Even a sim-jump,” said Charles, “shouldn’t balance the scale negatively.” It sounded like a warning.
“But no training,” said Seema Pezek. “Are you sure…?”
Charles glanced around the room. “When I started this company,” he said, “no one had training. Not more than Olivia’s going to get in the next few weeks, anyway. I’m not sending them tomorrow.” He smiled. “We were all flying by the seat of our pants then. And we didn’t do too badly.”
“I remember,” put in Fred with a laugh, “although as the designer of our training program I think a word on its behalf is in order. A good four weeks of assimilating general skills before starting any specific assignment gives a jumper a tremendous advantage. But the atmosphere of constant panic in the early days was… invigorating, certainly. Like diving head-first into cold water.” George snorted. “And I can’t say,” Fred went on, “that I’ve ever regretted having any jumper on board to whom Charles has given his unqualified support. I’d be pleased to work with Ms. Lake if we can ever win her from Europe. Good luck.” He nodded to her graciously.
“Besides,” added Charles, “Olivia may be just the person we need to keep George out of trouble.” He winked at her, and she sighed. Thanks; I believe you’ve just sealed my fate.
“All right,” he added, clapping his hands. “We all need to get to work. Any questions can be addressed to me privately. Livvy,” he added quietly as everyone stirred themselves and began rising and talking, “sorry to put you on the spot like that. But you wouldn’t have agreed otherwise. You’ll do a great job”—he patted her on the arm—“and thanks for anticipating me about London. Very quick. My confidence in you is justified.” He rose and turned away. “Seema, one more point,” he said, retreating around the table.
Olivia stared after him, affection and respect at war with a sense of being manipulated. She wasn’t sure she wanted to reconcile them. More than anything else she wanted to hide in her—in Bernard’s—cubicle, and bury herself in a good book: Alice in Wonderland would be appropriate, if it was there with its companion volume. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself away from the table and rose to go, only to find Marc Lamprey hovering in wait.
“Ms. Lake,” he said, holding out his hand, “wonderful to have you on board.” They made the first-name-please exchanges, and then he went on. “I suppose that was a joke of Charles’s, you keeping George out of trouble.”
“Well, I don’t know him very well yet. If I can, I will. And”—she added with sudden inspiration—“let me know what the budget is, and I’ll try to keep expenses reined in.”
“Reins,” said Marc with a pained smile. “You wouldn’t believe… he bought a horse once on a jump, because the ones for lease weren’t good enough. But it’s not the money, you know, or rather the expense of creating the coins. It’s the danger. The potential side effects. And when I complained, he said the TTI should have a stable. As if horses would fit in Tim.”
“Well, tea should be relatively cheap.”
“So you’d think.” Marc shook himself out of one subject and into another. “I’m so sorry about your husband. He was a great jumper: always under budget, reports in on time with no mistakes. And enjoyable company. We miss him.”
“Thank you,” said Olivia, trying not to let the ice leak into her voice. “He would appreciate the compliments.”
Marc gave her a pat on the arm and turned away. If this arm gets touched one more time, it’s going to hit somebody. She had to get out of the room now. As she approached the doorway, however, George broke off flirting with Anna and intercepted her. Luckily for him, he kept his hands to himself.
“So,” he said. “My partner.” He managed to make it sound both patronizing and possessive, and she nearly pushed past him without a word. But she couldn’t burn bridges irresponsibly.
“It looks that way,” she said.
“I’m not that bad. Honestly. People have worked with me and lived.” It took just two heartbeats of her frozen stare for the smile to fade from his face, and then he squeezed his eyes shut and drew a finger across his neck. “Throat-slitting being the only cure for foot-in-mouth disease. Dammit. I do sometimes manage to talk without making an ass of myself, but not today, apparently.”
“It is… an unusual day, I suppose.”
“Well, the early morning was, a bit. Though I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather be almost drowned than sit through another meeting like that. I promise to be more civilized after I’ve had my nap.” She nodded, and he looked surprised and laughed. “Of course, you understand that. People generally don’t.”
“Bernard always sleeps hard after a jump. He told me it’s the time travel itself just as much as the confusions of night and day. You must be exhausted.”
“I am, and we don’t have to start discussing London yet, but… I think you wanted to ask me something.” He pulled out a chair and waved her into it, sitting down next to her. Not everyone had left the room yet, but no one was in earshot.
“You and Bernard were working together on the Tea Party jump.”
“Yes. Sort of. We didn’t exactly—” He stopped, made an erasing motion with his hand, and added, “Begin at the beginning, go on till you come to the end, and then for God’s sake shut up already. We heard we’d won the Tea Party contract about four months ago, and the Professor and I had our names on it… sorry, I mean your husband, of course. That’s what I…”
“Mm. Well, we were both on other assignments at the time, so we kept trying to schedule a meeting with the researchers and Fred and Marc, but it never happened. We did have about fifteen minutes of casual discussion over the fence, so to speak, just bouncing around ideas—or rather, I bounced them and he said ‘hmm’—but it didn’t exactly get anywhere, and then he… um, wasn’t available anymore. So we didn’t work together, as a matter of fact, not really. It was our first joint venture, too. He usually jumped alone.”
“I know,” she said, although she’d begun to realize just how little she did know about Bernard’s work. Had she been that self-absorbed, or had he been unwilling to tell? Or unable? “He didn’t mention this assignment to me, actually.”
“Well, I kind of gathered that, yes. I noticed you freeze up when Andy referred to it.” He paused for a moment. “Your husband and I sat next to each other for three years, and I barely know him. All I know is that he used to be an art history professor, and some random bits of his political opinions, and his tastes in snack food. And Bosch, and Vermeer, and all that. I knew he was married, of course. Though I never expected anyone like you,” he added with a come-hither smile.
“Tell me about the contract,” Olivia said, giving him the same cool glance she used on English Lit undergrads quoting the racier bits of Donne’s poetry in her vicinity. He probably didn’t even notice what he was doing. “I’ve read that lots of time travel ventures are planned for the four hundredth anniversary of the Revolution.”
“Contracts galore; Fred is beside himself. There’s going to be a Tea Party reenactment in December, and they want things as historically accurate as possible, at least where the money’s available. There’s plenty for this job; don’t let Marc fool you.”
“I’m not taken in easily.”
“Not swayed by a pretty face, hm?” he said, not-looking at Andy. “Well, we’re all about fooling people in this business. I couldn’t even tell how many others in that crowd last night were jumpers. There were some, I’m sure. Not the guys who stuck my head under water. I don’t think.”
“Not that competitive an industry?”
He grinned, appreciating the joke and missing its implications, and said, “You just wouldn’t. Unless you were sure your victim was another jumper, and I hope not then. Even being present at these big events means potential for time breaches; you keep a low profile. When possible.” He grimaced. “I didn’t want to say, but I think a lot of people saw me being roughly handled. More than I’m usually in favor of. It was… a big stage, out there by the wharf. And a big performance, the tea-tossing and all. With an eerily quiet audience. I’d thought there would be cheering and catcalls, but… I guess they took it seriously.”
“Is that so unexpected?”
“I’m not really into politics. But you should get Katie started sometime on John Hancock and his tea smuggler buddies, and how the East India Company forcing cut-price if still dutied tea on the Americans threatened their profits. No taxation without remuneration.” George paused. “Principles slice in all sorts of directions, I suppose. Or else they try to drown you. So,” he went on, changing the subject abruptly, “you did a sim-jump. Which one? No, let me guess. Shakespeare’s Authorship Proved.”
“Close. Love’s Labour’s Won.”
“So you had faith enough to go straight to lost plays, huh?”
“Yes, and… I jumped with Bernard. As you probably guessed. He was still teaching then, and apparently the sim-builders did a better job with Shakespeare’s face on that one. Helped authenticate a portrait. Have you done either of those?”
“I don’t like sims. Expensive waste of time. Thank God they have them for academics with big grants, though, so we don’t have to babysit, like in the good old days, or so I hear. Only been in the business four years. I’m glad you got to sort-of-meet Shakespeare.”
“I would have rather met Andrew Marvell, since I was writing my master’s thesis on him, but he’s only available in actual history,” she said dryly. “It was fun, though. And educational. You can explain to me what real jumping’s like now.”
George, still unflappable, grinned. “Real. Dirty. Frequently wet and painful. The air smells different than in the present. Different unmentionable pollutants in Boston Harbor; who knows what diseases I’ve brought back, but I’ll get that checked out after my nap, along with the bruises. I suppose there’s a certain frisson to getting punched in the stomach by someone born in seventeen forty-five. Not that I suggest you try it.”
She wondered why he kept dwelling on his attack. The vulnerability projected by the repeated mentions didn’t match his apparent self-assurance, but the experience had obviously affected him deeply. Perhaps fear was a new element for him, one that hadn’t belonged to the past any more than filtered air and water did; and now that he’d finally encountered it, the incongruity was threatening. Or maybe he was scared every time.
Bernard had never shown any trepidation about venturing into the past—none that she’d recognized as such, anyway—but then Bernard was missing. Presumed, by some, dead. Some misstep had been made, some confidence overreached. A thousand ways one could die alone, in a time long before one’s birth, rushed into her head. She’d reviewed them all over the years, and most especially in the last few months: Bernard run down by horse-drawn wagons, stabbed in bar brawls, shot, lost at sea. Somehow she’d never thought of them happening to her. She’d had two goals in mind when she asked to work at Constantine and Associates: a very general do a good job and learn things and a very specific and secret find Bernard. Survive hadn’t really come into it. She discovered a sudden sympathy for Andy’s right to be paid for his night’s work, and for George’s anger at the suggestion that it should be otherwise.
George was waving a hand in front of her nose. “Hey.” She focused her eyes on him. “Don’t worry,” he said quietly. “It’s a walk in the park, usually. A safe park, I mean, not one where you get mugged. I’ve even been bored at times.” He grinned. “Good thing I don’t write the help wanted ads. A life of boredom followed by moments of extreme peril.”
“Like the military.”
His mouth tightened. “I wouldn’t know. We pay better. And there are benefits… you’re thinking about the Professor, aren’t you?”
She looked away. It was enough answer for him; he went on, “Personally, I think he’s alive. No question. I’ve read his reports; he’s got this style you can’t help but admire. He goes through the past like—like a fish through water. No impact; he barely touches it, but he breathes it in, and spits it all back out perfect when he lands. Sorry; I’m terrible at metaphor. But I do believe he’d always land safe again; I really can’t imagine him…”
You can’t imagine him dead because you don’t want to admit it could happen. A serious lack of internal logic, Mr. Merrill. “Thank you,” she said.
“Or we could not talk about it,” said George. “I need to get home for that nap, anyway. Entirely new man tomorrow, I promise. I’ve been two of them today, after all.”
She gave him the smile he was apparently determined to win from her, thinking back to their first meeting, what seemed like hours ago. Then she frowned. “Your wig,” she said. “Didn’t it come off, in the water?”
“A mind for details. Excellent. I handed it to Andy before I went in. The aptly named Eagle Costuming tears out a pound of flesh for each piece you lose, or the financial equivalent. And then Marc looks dreadfully injured. But that doesn’t make it worth it, so I try to bring everything back.” He sighed. “The wig was about the only clean thing left, though.”
“It would seem more worthwhile if you’d retrieved the tea you were after.”
“Hard to claim that the ends justify the means when you’re short on ends, hm? Well, we’ll just have to fix that in London. And now—”
A movement in the space nearby, and Charles was sitting next to her. She looked up and caught sight of Beatrice exiting the conference room. “A message,” he said, pointing with a thumb. “Sorry to interrupt. And I hate to do this, especially to you, George, but do you have an hour to spare before lunch?”
“Do I have to be awake?”
Charles smiled. “You will be. Olivia?”
“You’re the boss; you tell me.”
“Then I have an unexpected training session for you to attend. Dr. Sinensis is here.”