“I have a message for you. From Beatrice.”
Andy’s tone was unusually earnest; it made George wonder what he was up to. “And she’s suddenly developed an aversion to technology?” he said. “I mean, you’re at a pretty high per-hour rate to be traipsing down here to deliver a handwritten note or an invitation to the ball or whatever it is. Should I have sent the butler to tell you I wasn’t at home to anyone today?” Andy stayed silent; clearly he wasn’t going to bite at sarcasm. “Oh, for God’s sake come inside,” George added, shutting the door after them.
“She didn’t want it intercepted.”
“Oh. That kind of message. And you’re bringing it, why?”
He could sense Andy bristle in response. “Figured I couldn’t do any harm? So this is Olivia’s house,” he went on, stepping further into the tiny entrance hall. “I haven’t been in here before.”
“Neither had I,” said George, wishing he had the guts to lie. “She didn’t issue a lot of invitations.”
“I suppose because the place was really Bernard’s. Or at least she felt that way about it. She said she was going to sell it as soon as… as she could.” Andy ventured into the living room. “You know,” he said after a moment, “I’d have expected him to collect old paintings, more like the ones he studied. Or reproductions; whatever he could afford. These look…”
“They’re all modern, yes. I noticed that too. I bet he was encouraging new work. Look at this one.” He pointed out a monochromatic landscape on the opposite wall. The undulations of the hills and valleys lent them a sense of movement, so that he’d wondered if it was a seascape until he noticed the trees. “The leaves—you have to look really close to see—they all have eyes in them. Some open and some closed. I swear it looks like they’re blinking. And—” Following you, he almost added.
“So what’s upstairs like?” Andy said: a change of subject.
“Books. Lots of them.” And a double bed, he added to himself. He became aware of the hairbrush still clutched in his hand and put it down as casually as he could, but was certain Andy had noticed. “So what’s this message?”
“Your new lady friend. She’s a member of the Presidential Guard.”
“Oh shit,” said George before he could stop himself, and then tried to backtrack. “Um, that’s it?”
“Sounds like enough. What gives?” Andy’s eyes fastened on George’s jaw; he dropped his hand quickly. “The bruise?”
“Punch like a battering ram,” he admitted. “Explained now.”
“Try something with her?”
“She’s in her fifties. I mean, no. Goddammit, I don’t have to give you the details. Is that all Beatrice said? I still don’t understand why you had to come down here to tell me. I’ll be back in the office in an hour.”
“She thought you ought to know,” Andy said, shrugging.
Shit. There is someone after me. George felt all at once as though he’d walked into a trap: crouched on a dusty floor out of the line of fire, the dogs barking in the distance. He shook himself and ran a finger across the table where he’d laid the hairbrush. No dust. The house’s cleaning systems took care of it; his own apartment was no different, although considerably more cluttered. It was as if Olivia had known she wasn’t coming back.
Or she’s just a whole lot tidier than I am. Another point in my disfavor. The house was a trap; it was full of things he couldn’t bear to look at. Andy, at the moment, being one of them.
“All right, so I know. Thank you.”
“That will be all,” said Andy with a dismissive gesture, then bowed sarcastically. “Very good, sir. I’m not the damned butler.”
“Fine,” said George, folding his arms across his chest. “Stick around, then.”
“I wouldn’t mind exploring a little. Not snooping. Just… absorbing the atmosphere. You know. Bits of Olivia all over the place.” He looked pointedly at the hairbrush. “And as I said, I haven’t been here before.” George wondered if that meant We didn’t play your-place-or-mine. Not that they’d had time to, if he trusted Olivia’s truthfulness, which, in that matter at least, he did. It had been Andy’s place, and only the once. That was enough.
Andy was circling the room, touching objects here and there. The red and white tulip-shaped wine glass placed to catch the light George recognized as the work of the man they’d known as Gerrit Evertszoon. Nothing else was familiar to him: all mementos of other parts of Olivia’s life, or Bernard’s. Andy paused at a shelf that held several Chinese-style tea cups, and picked up one with an anomalous design in bold red, white and blue. “I’ve got one of these,” he said. “Tea Party reenactment souvenir. Cheap patriotism, saucer included. They sent them to all the special guests afterwards. Quite a day.”
It was at that. You witnessed the first public use of the Saut de Soi, and you slept with Olivia. And you got a party favor out of it too, you lucky bastard.
“Did they give Dr. Sinensis one, do you think?” George replied in a steady voice.
“You know, I bet they did. After they’d shaken the loose bits of information out of him and confiscated his toy. They rushed him off so fast he didn’t even get any tea. The president is hell on…”
His sentence broke off, and George spoke over the fragments. “Put him at risk for Arcadian retribution, too, I bet. Although who knows; maybe they wanted him spilling their secrets. I don’t see how they could have expected U.S. officials not to—” He stopped. Andy was staring fixedly at the cup, clearly not listening. “You all right?”
“Fine,” said Andy, coming back to life. “I’d better go, though. Work to do. See you at the office, maybe. You’re off on Friday, I hear?”
That didn’t take long to get around. “Yes.”
“I mean it,” said Andy. He hesitated a second, then, looking clumsy for once, made his way out the door. Peering through the window, George tracked his progress. No one seemed to be following him.
What the hell had Beatrice been thinking? Maybe knowing Maria Ferrari’s place in the world immediately was important—he’d envisioned her hiring private detectives to spy on him, but not having access to top-level security personnel and the latest technology and the most secret records—but why send Andy? Beatrice took “blessed are the peacemakers” way too seriously. And he’d made his peace with what had happened, insofar as he was going to; he’d been polite and civilized, hadn’t snarled or hit out, but was not inclined to make Andy into a chum again, and that ought to be his prerogative.
He picked up the brush, unraveling the precious strands from its bristles and winding them around his hand. In memory he ran his fingers through the length of Olivia’s hair, over her head and down her back, and was keenly aware that under the soft, silky mass lay the hardness of skull and spine. This was disturbing: surely he was supposed to think of her body as smooth warm skin and hot pumping blood, sensitive nerves and responses, luxurious curves into which he could fit the contours of his own flesh and muscle. And instead he kept seeing bones.
Every jump into the past was, in some sense, a fall into the grave, and not only because jumping was a dangerous profession. When you let yourself be catapulted back a century or two or three, you entered a world in which you were simultaneously living, unborn, and (if you never returned) long dead to your friends and colleagues; paradoxes and cats-in-a-box aside, it gave you an odd and distorted view of mortality. He knew that though Olivia had last seen Bernard alive and well, when she thought of him now she saw a headstone in an Amsterdam churchyard, though she didn’t know where his bones lay and couldn’t discover them in what the physics of time had declared to be real history. Olivia, four hundred years in George’s own past, was both alive and dead to him; he had to keep the bones covered with flesh, with blood, and with sweat and mucus and saliva and tears and everything that kept her living. And with love.
Whether his attempt to knot their worlds together with these strands of hair would work, he had no idea. He supposed the Russians could analyze her genetic signature and program a link to his into the inner matrix of their machine; whether it would be necessary or useful he couldn’t tell. If Olivia’s path lay in a looped time breach, a side road through history, it might bring him to her. Best be prepared.
He frowned at the hairbrush, now almost freed from its entanglement. Andy knew what he was up to: he’d noted the brush; he’d made that remark about “bits of Olivia.” Either he’d been told or he’d guessed. It was one more variable in an equation with too many of them: Maria Ferrari, Olivia’s family, Jardine and Kaufmann, Janet, the Russians, the unknowns in the realm of international politics. Brant. Olivia herself, perhaps. A few solid and reliable factors would not go amiss.
His hand flexed within the lacy shroud of hair. It was tempting but impractical to wear Olivia on his fingers all the way to Russia. If he wanted a method of conveyance that was both sensible and stylish, however, he knew where to find it.
* * * * *
18 February 2174
“That’s morbid, if you ask me,” said Rinaldo. “Which you didn’t, of course.”
George looked out the window for a moment at the Atlantic sparkling beneath them, then back at the ring on his finger. Its enamel oval displayed a sepia-toned willow branch draping over a funeral urn, the words WEEP NOT FOR ME arching across the top. “I know it is. It’s supposed to be; the Georgians went in for morbidity. Besides, I had to take what Eagle Costuming could spare. Phoebe lent me this one, under threat of dismemberment if I lose it. It opens, see? For the hair.”
“But…” began Rinaldo, and then stopped. “Never mind. It’s splendid, and I guess they didn’t have rings that said FIND ME AND RIP ALL MY CLOTHES OFF, which would be much more suitable.” He grinned. “And encouraging, especially if you’re treating it like a homing beacon.”
“That’s not exactly what it is.”
“I know.” He looked as though he meant to say more, but nothing emerged until he’d swiveled his seat into a more comfortable position and juggled images from the in-flight magazine for a few minutes. “I talked to Andy yesterday, briefly, about his spontaneous messenger boy act. He said he just wanted to help.”
“Well, I don’t think he knows. I suppose if getting Olivia back was a matter of lots of people standing in line and heaving on a big rope, we’d be all set. Good intentions and willpower abound.”
“If we could get them to all pull in the same direction.”
“Mm. Andy likes to make his own deductions. Which is why his not having all the facts is dangerous. Because he will take them into consideration, you know, unlike some people.”
“His knowledge gaps aren’t my problem,” said George with what he hoped was an air of finality. “And we don’t need a big rope; we need luck and good timing.”
“Which are your specialties.”
“Used to be.” He busied himself with the food ordering program for a while, and tried to ignore the vast array of available drinks with which he could get himself completely shit-faced before they landed, including some inventive-looking cocktails. What the hell was a Rasputin’s End? His eyes widened as he read the description. How do they… well, never mind. How about a nice sandwich and a glass of water, George? This is business travel, after all.
“How’s your tolerance for vodka?” he asked Rinaldo, reminded of his previous ventures to Moscow. “It’s a generous country over there.”
“Listen, youngster. I just turned forty—”
“Yes, I remember the party. Do you?”
Rinaldo ignored this. “And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years, it’s that it’s possible to enjoy oneself without overindulging. Within reason, of course.”
“You only overindulge when it’s reasonable?”
“Wrong word. Not reasonable. Right.”
“Oh, I see. A much easier line to draw.”
“It is.” Rinaldo perused the menu for a moment. “I’m going to have one of these cocktails. Only one, though. The Doroga Zhizni, I think. Road to Life.” He touched the screen. “How about you?”
“Anything but the Rasputin one. Or… holy shit, they have a Molotov. Not that one either.”
“You are a musician; I shall order the Shostakovich for you. Do you know about his seventh symphony, by the way?”
“It’s too loud. In my considered and scholarly opinion.”
“In context it’s probably not loud enough. He wrote it during the siege of Leningrad. When the orchestra there first played it, the members got extra rations so they could hold their instruments up, and some of them took leave from combat duty to play. That wasn’t reasonable. It was an act of defiance. They broadcast the performance by loudspeaker, so the Germans outside the city could hear what was unbreakable in those people.”
“And did the Germans back off?” said George, knowing the answer.
“Not for two years.” Rinaldo’s mouth twisted. “Delayed effect.”
“It was still the right thing to do.”
The drinks arrived, and George took a tentative sip. “Huh,” he said. “It tastes like Shostakovich. How’d they do that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Broadly Romantic with atonality and chromaticism, a little blurry in spots, patriotic but impossible to pin down politically. No, I’m kidding. It tastes like vodka with pomegranate juice and bitter herbs. I like it. How’s yours?”
“Worth living for,” said Rinaldo. He lifted his glass. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Oh, shut up.”
* * * * *
21 February 2174
“To health and fortitude, Mr. Bishop. In at our lips and down to our bones.”
“The same,” Andy replied quickly, and gulped. I’m sitting in the Oval Office drinking wine with the president, he thought, checking his unreality meter. Actually, the needle was hardly vibrating; he’d drunk champagne in the president’s company a couple of months before, at the Boston Tea Party reenactment, but this time was different. This time, she was indulging as well, instead of handing him glasses and watching him to make sure he swallowed their contents.
“What do you think?” she said. “Of the wine?”
“I’m not a connoisseur. It tastes good.”
“A sixty-nine Cabernet from the Columbia Gorge region. In your honor.” He’d told her he was from Oregon the last time they’d met—he suspected he’d babbled a bit too much about his childhood, the beauty of his home state, and the political persuasions of his neighbors, but she had seemed interested—and she wasn’t nicknamed Old Elephant after any outdated party symbol. Or because of age or wrinkliness, either.
“I’m honored,” he said. “And surprised.” He hadn’t expected, on sending out tentative inquiries along the lines of “She did say if I ever needed any favors done,” to get the Lake family into the White House at all, let alone to snare an appointment with a deputy chief of staff. Robert and Sylvia had left Dezzie behind—with a sitter, he hoped—and spent twenty minutes being petted and encouraged; perhaps Olivia now formed a line on someone’s meeting agenda. He’d intended to leave with them, maybe have dinner, but on his way out he’d been tapped on the shoulder and asked to stay. Two hours later, his nerves buzzing with coffee and his stomach growling with hunger, he had been ushered into Rose Franklin’s presence.
“You didn’t think when I found out you were in the building I’d let you get away? You underestimate your impression on me, Mr. Bishop.”
“Andy, please.” He smiled at her, in as enchanting a manner as he could manage. Might as well play along. Consciously or not, some part of him had anticipated this development; he’d given his bathroom mirror more face time than it usually got, and this was his best suit.
“I’m pleased you came to us with your problem, Andy. Rest assured we will give it our fullest attention. We already were, in fact.” She took another sip of wine, leaned back in her chair, and crossed her legs. “She means a lot to you, this woman. I could tell that when I saw you together in December.”
“Yes, she does.”
“Another man’s wife? I know,” Franklin added, holding up a hand, “he’s not in the picture any longer.”
“No. And Olivia and I are just friends.”
“Really?” Her gaze altered, becoming more intent and focused. “Very chivalrous of you, then. Or perhaps you simply find it best to avoid emotional entanglements.”
He shifted uncomfortably. “Do you really care what I find it best to do?”
“Of course. Isn’t it easier to know ahead of time how people will react to stimuli, politically or otherwise?”
This was more familiar territory. “All you can do is form hypotheses. And test them.”
“Well, my hypothesis is that you will do a great deal to get your Olivia back. Including the grand sacrifice of drinking a decent bottle of wine with a middle-aged power-hungry woman amid the sumptuous trappings of history.”
“No sacrifice at all.”
“How flattering.” She smiled. It was not, Andy thought, an unaccustomed expression, despite her tight-lipped public persona; the laugh lines at the corners of her mouth and eyes looked well-exercised. She was fifty-eight, and well into her second term in office; hers was a political family and she’d been in the business literally since birth. “I’d like to spend more time with you. And if I’m going to help you,” she went on, “it would help me a great deal to have your perspective on the events surrounding Olivia’s disappearance.”
“And I hope you won’t mind if Mr. Chapman sits in?”
“Mr. Secretary Chapman?” said Andy before he could manage to conceal his surprise. The head of the Department of Security and Intelligence had not figured in his vision of the tête-à-tête conference.
“Himself. I promise I won’t let him drink all the wine.” Before Andy could answer, she went on, “So I gather you’ve been promoted since we last met. A responsible position for someone in his early thirties. Charles Constantine must trust you.”
“I don’t believe I’ve given him reason not to.” He’d meant to sound more satisfied, saying that.
“You’re doing essentially the same job as the geographic region coordinators in your company, except with science?”
“Yes,” he said, wondering if she’d been researching this while he was waiting outside, or if she’d already known it. “The idea is to streamline information exchange and avoid duplication of effort.”
“A worthy goal. And do you exchange information with the regional coordinators as well? Science in Africa being the same as science in the Americas, except where it’s not?”
“We have regular meetings.”
“Though not—” She interrupted herself as the door buzzed. “Come in, Ted.”
Edward Chapman’s face was familiar to Andy from the net news, though in person he seemed shorter and less finely polished. His hands were small but his handshake strong, and his skin looked like he’d spent many hours outdoors in the fierce climate of the American South. He accepted a glass of wine from Franklin, put it aside untouched, and took a seat.
“I was just about to say, Andy,” the president continued, “that you haven’t had meetings with Janet Lapinski much of late.”
“Never since I was promoted, no. I didn’t work with her that much when I was a jumper, either. Not many European assignments.” He hoped this would discourage Franklin’s interest in the subject, but wasn’t surprised when it didn’t.
“She hasn’t been replaced?”
“Not officially. Fred Nez handles European operations, such as they are.”
“Does Constantine expect her to return?” Franklin asked.
“I really couldn’t say.”
“Do you expect her to, then?” He didn’t answer, and she added, “I trust your opinion, Andy.”
“I don’t think whether she returns or not is really the issue.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Chapman.
“Well, it’s more what she’s doing over there that counts, isn’t it?” Curious, predatory gazes tilted in tandem. “Whatever that is. I’m sure you know better than I do.”
“She went to Austria on a tourist visa,” said Chapman, “but that appears to have been a cover for visiting Dr. Rutger Kaufmann, who was a client of Constantine and Associates. What was their relationship, do you know?”
“You mean were they… romantically involved? There were rumors to that effect, but I think it was just in-house joking.” Chapman quirked an eyebrow. “We see her as too fierce for that sort of thing,” Andy explained.
“You mean she bites?” put in Franklin, catching his eye.
“So what was her purpose in soliciting his company?” asked Chapman.
“I don’t know. She implied that they simply ran into each other accidentally and began to tour the sights together.”
“You spoke to her, then?”
Shit. “No. That’s just what I heard.”
“That report, unlike the other, does not read as supposition. It reads as a first-hand account of conversation.”
“Olivia talked to her. No”—he felt a sudden panic—“Olivia was in the room when Janet reported in to Charles.” The last thing he wanted to suggest was that Olivia and Janet were in cahoots.
“And Olivia told you?” said Franklin. “Because of your own close relationship?”
“That’s about it, yes.”
“Rutger Kaufmann is an Arcadian, is he not?” said Chapman.
“I believe so. That’s what they say.”
“Olivia,” he admitted again. “And Charles, and the others.”
“And no one at your office was at all suspicious of Ms. Lapinski’s motives in associating herself with Dr. Kaufmann?”
“I’m sure they were. It wasn’t any of my business.”
“Ms. Lapinski disappeared at about the same time as Ms. Lake, did she not? In the second week of January? And both were in Vienna?”
Again, the linking of Janet and Olivia. “There was near as anything a witness to Sam Brant’s kidnapping of Olivia, and Kaufmann said Brant stole one of the new jumping devices.” This much Rinaldo had told him; it would have been fruitless to try getting it out of Charles. “I gather with those things you only take what you can carry, and I refuse to believe Brant carried Olivia and Janet.”
“No, quite so,” said Chapman. “But were the disappearances linked in some other way?”
“Not as far as I know. Well, aside from Olivia going to Vienna to meet Kaufmann in the first place.”
“Aside from that, yes. She’d just worked on his contract about extinct tulip varieties, I believe, so she was already acquainted with him?”
Chapman seemed determined to tar Olivia with an Arcadian brush. “I think she’d just met him once, at the post-jump meeting. Directly post-jump, not one the jumpers are usually present at. She was exhausted, and that’s why she let him walk off with the handkerchief to begin with.”
“Ah, yes. The handkerchief,” said Chapman after a beat of silence. “Did Kaufmann return it to her?”
“I don’t know. If anyone knows, they haven’t told me.”
“It was of considerable significance to her, however.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Why?” asked Chapman.
“Well, it hasn’t occurred to jumpers until recently to get paranoid about random DNA samples floating around, but with the new technology and what we now understand about time breaches—” He broke off. Damn. “If you knew about the handkerchief to begin with, you’d know why it was significant.”
“There are a number of details missing from the official files,” said Chapman. “For example, we wondered why Ms. Lapinski was so interested in a man named Gerrit Dijkman.”
Andy was now determined to give out nothing that might possibly be new information to Chapman. “He designed the personal jumping device. The, what’s-its-name, Saut de Soi.”
“Yes, but she inquired about him by name, not as the head development engineer of Jardine International.”
“The company’s ownership of the device was well-publicized,” added Franklin. “You and I were there when that happened. But Dijkman’s name wasn’t in the news accounts. Assuming she hadn’t been searching patent records, how did she know about him?”
“That I couldn’t tell you,” said Andy.
“Well,” said Chapman after a brief pause, “we’re keeping an eye on him. He appears to have retired from professional life and is living at Leerdam, in the Netherlands.”
“I guess he’s rich enough now to retire. Assuming he has stock in Jardine.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” said Franklin. She smiled. “If you made the investment yourself, Andy, congratulations, though I should advise selling quite soon. I would advise Mr. Dijkman similarly if I were in communication with him.”
“The stock is going to crash?”
“I couldn’t possibly predict. That would smack of insider trading, which is quite illegal. But risky ventures are inadvisable in general.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Andy.
“Now,” said Chapman, “just one or two more questions. Do you know of anyone, other than Dr. Sinensis, who has purchased a Saut de Soi device?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Not your employer?”
“I find that very unlikely.”
Chapman made a note. “You knew Bernard Quan, I believe. Was he involved with the Arcadians, either American or European?”
“I don’t know.” This was, at least strictly speaking, true. Olivia had told him a great deal he wasn’t supposed to know, but about Bernard he’d discovered only that she’d found him in Amsterdam, that he had refused to come home with her, and that she was hurt but reconciled to the desertion, if you could call it that. He suspected that their own liaison—technically adulterous, since Olivia had not officially been declared either divorced from or widowed by Bernard—had been in part a way of casting off the last bonds of her marriage without making George the means of their dissolution, and he didn’t think he minded, too much. He had lots of suspicions about Bernard as well, but no chance of confirming them at the moment.
“In your opinion, is he likely to make a reappearance?” Chapman went on.
“You sound unusually certain about that.”
“Ms. Lake is not likely to have taken Mr. Brant off to visit him?”
“No way in hell. And he took her off.”
“Where, do you think?”
That’s question number five out of one or two. “Sorry, but I don’t know. I wish I did.”
“Very well, Mr. Bishop,” said Chapman. “Thank you for being so cooperative. We are trying to get to the bottom of this, and any stray detail may be important. If you think of anything else, don’t hesitate to contact me.” He shook Andy’s hand again, nodded to the president, and left.
Andy turned back to Franklin, and without a word picked up the wine glass and tossed back the contents. Her expectant look changed to one of amusement.
“I’m very sorry about that,” she said. “Here we were trying to have a pleasant time, and politics has to ruin it.”
“I can’t imagine politics has ever ruined anything for you,” he said; it was rude, but somehow he felt much more at ease with her than he had, and able to offer a mild insult (or perhaps she’d consider it a compliment) with impunity.
“Oh, you don’t know me very well yet, if you think so.”
“No, ma’am. I don’t.”
“Call me Rose, for a start,” she said, and filled his glass once more; it was beginning to look like December sixteenth all over again. He motioned at her side of the table, and she laughed and filled her own. “Cheers.”
“So did you know about the handkerchief, Rose?” he said. “Before I blurted out its existence?”
“Not really, no. Olivia’s presence in Vienna had been described as a research trip. We knew better, but not that much better. Whose DNA is on it?” Andy smiled and lifted his glass, a toast to silence. “Well, that’s Ted’s business,” she said. “I have better things to think about.”
“Before we get to the better things, could I ask you a question?” She nodded. “Have you got a woman in the Guard who’s in her fifties? I’m afraid I don’t know anything else about her, aside from the power of her fist and her ability to intimidate.”
“Maria. God bless her. Who’s she been using the fist on?” Franklin examined his face, leaning her head to one side and then the other.
“Not me. Friend of mine. Colleague.”
“Does she owe him an apology?”
“Not sure. He’s in Russia at the moment, anyway, so no hurry.”
“And how shall I refer to him, in case she might mistake him for a different alleged miscreant?”
“His name’s George Merrill.”
“Ah.” Her eyes shifted sideways, then back to him. “The one who was shot at the TTI. Hm. The young woman injured there on the same evening was Maria’s daughter.”
“Marisol? Oh, well, that explains a lot.”
“Does it? An altercation of a domestic nature, then?”
“Something like that.”
She took another sip of wine, dismissing the topic. “So. I don’t suppose your parents would object to discovering we’d been alone together, Andy?”
“No. How about yours?”
She laughed. “Parents, no. Members of Congress, possibly. But not a majority.”
“I don’t… submit to interrogation and tell, in any case. Or whatever we’re doing next.”
During the long pause that followed, Andy began to feel lightheaded and realized he was holding his breath. “I find it difficult to stop looking at you,” Franklin said finally. “Really, you are quite an extraordinary man. And an underappreciated one, I think, among your peers.” She examined him clinically for a moment longer. “So, Mr. Bishop,” she went on, “are you offering to prostitute yourself? And for what? I don’t buy and sell favors, at least in matters touching on national security.”
“No. I’m not. And I’m not sure what favors you could do me at this point, aside from asking Ted not to follow up his leads.”
“I don’t expect I could do that. Presidents don’t have that much pull.”
“Really? You ought to take lessons from my boss, then.”
Her lip curled. “Yes, he has quite the reputation. I ought to get to know him better.”
“You’d make a cute couple.”
She burst out laughing. “Power is indeed an aphrodisiac. However—”
“You wouldn’t still be in this room if it weren’t, Andy.”
He took a deep breath. “That was a hell of a cue,” he said.
“Something one learns on the international stage, especially by one’s second term. I used a similar line to the Canadian Foreign Minister last year. Not in the same context, obviously.”
“No? I’d expect you to have conquests all over the world.”
Her smile faded. “Not a compliment worthy of you. I think I’d like you to choose: are you going to stay or leave?”
“Do I get to stay if I give you a better compliment?”
“Staying is a privilege now? That’s encouraging.”
Leaving is an insult, is more like it. Oh, God. Can I still pretend I’m doing this for Olivia’s sake? He took another sip of wine, marking time, then gulped the rest down and set the glass on the table next to Chapman’s full one. Looking up, he locked gazes with the woman he must now try to think of as Rose. For a long moment, he considered her, watching her expression grow almost vulnerable. Power is an aphrodisiac. On both sides of the equation.
“You have beautiful bones,” he said at last.
“Thank you.” The moment expanded and grew awkward; apparently the first move was his. He got to his feet, walked around the table, and took her hands, pulling her upright. She had a beautiful mouth, as well. As he bent to kiss it, the needle on the unreality meter, already well into the red, began to quiver higher. I am about to fuck the president of the United States, he thought; it probably shouldn’t have fueled the fire to add I bet George never fucked a president.
Some time later, pausing in an activity that had brought him panting to the brink of an epigram about politicians and tongues, she said, “May I ask you a question?”
“Did you vote for me?” He hesitated, and she added, “Honestly.”
“I did the first time.”
“Ah. I just wondered,” she said, and went back to what she had been doing.
* * * * *
Brant looked like a dog presented with two bones and discovering that it couldn’t pick both of them up in its mouth at once. As Andy hovered unseen just over his left shoulder, Brant squatted down, gathered Olivia’s inert body into his arms, and began to straighten. Then he looked toward Janet, lying equally still on the ground, her limbs ungainly. He shifted Olivia’s weight to his left arm, and tried to pull Janet toward him with his right, but the task was too much for him. He sat down hard, breathing heavily and letting both women fall, then put his head into his hands.
“I can help,” said Andy.
Brant didn’t hear him, but he did look up; he seemed to be examining the problem again, glancing back and forth between the bodies. Finally, he reached a decision, and moved to kneel beside Olivia. Picking her up, he got his feet under him and rose. He looked down at Janet, shook his head, and walked slowly off into the dusk with his burden, her head and legs dangling helplessly to each side.
There was really only one thing for Andy to do. Becoming suddenly corporeal, he knelt down to Janet. Her face was pale and she was breathing shallowly. He whispered her name, but she didn’t stir. Sliding his hands under her shoulders and knees, he lifted; she was lighter than he had expected.
“We have to get out of here,” he said. They seemed to be by the bank of a river; jungly growth loomed and tumbled on both sides, vaguely ominous and reminiscent of Central America. He set off in the direction Brant had taken. Before long, however, he found his path blocked by another body: Marisol. She too was alive; he managed with considerable effort and ingenuity to get her over his shoulder, and felt smug. Onwards he went, carrying both of them.
And then there were three. And four, and more. Rose, Beatrice, Dezzie, others he didn’t recognize: they were scattered like petals over the path ahead. He tried; inhumanly, he staggered a few steps with a woman in each arm and one draped over his back, but he couldn’t carry them all. There were men on the riverbank, he saw now, covered with mud, their legs drifting in the water; Robert was there, and Rinaldo, and…
He put the women down and went to George, pulled his head out of the river and dragged him above the waterline. Straddling George’s body, he turned his face to one side and began to force the water out of his lungs. It wouldn’t stop coming; it gushed out of George’s mouth in streams and torrents; the body shouldn’t have held that much water. I need to empty you, he thought, and kept pumping.
* * * * *
“Voszha,” he said.
The man turned; it was the ferryboat captain again, or some analogue of him: ancestral, in rough-cut tunic and coat, with a fur hat. He smiled coldly at George.
“You must know me very well to call me that,” he said in Russian. “Where it is we are going today, friend?”
“Across the river. If it pleases you.”
“It does not please me. I should like you to look at the river.”
The landscape lay broad and flat and brown, snow almost melted with streaks of dirty white lingering. There was no sign of human habitation; the river might have been the Moskva, but no city reclined on its banks, and its shape had been obscured by flooding. It was vast and spreading, but not a sheet of water; many creeks and tributaries and rivulets and runnels drowned the land, flowing in parallel or crossing each other’s currents, merging and dividing.
The boat on which they stood, built of wood weathered to grayness, was moored at the confluence of several streams. The captain leaned closer to George’s ear and intoned, “The path straight ahead leads to pain and hunger. Go left and you will lose your horse. Go right and you will lose—”
“Oh, be quiet. I don’t have a bloody horse and the streams all come together again further on; I can see that plainly. Is there a channel? Deep enough for your boat’s draft?”
“There is a channel. It is unmarked.”
“Do you know it? Can you take me?”
“It does not cross the river.”
“Take me upriver, then. I’ll wade ashore.”
“The current is too strong.”
“Stop arguing!” he said, frustration coming to the fore. “I’ll pay. Anything you want.”
“Many pay for my services, and neglect to take my advice. They choose the golden over that which is plain and true; they take the wrong path when the right one is marked. The land is scarred with their delusions. You are no different.”
George, flummoxed, held out a coin, and the captain’s lip curled. A hand emerged from the well-mended sleeve and, ignoring the money, began to tug at the ring on George’s finger. “No,” he said, pulling away. “Not that. I need it.”
“I choose the price, friend.”
“I need it.” George pushed the questing hand away and looked down at the ring; a sepia and ivory-toned compass stared up at him, needle vibrating. He let it still and oriented it to the north. Go southeast, something told him; he looked up and along the next curve of the river.
The city of Moscow blossomed out of the marshy land and bedraggled snow, hundreds of ghostly masons and carpenters forming palaces and barracks and cathedrals, ornate onion domes and stolid workers’ buildings, all out of mist and clouds; the sun shone through their stones and their bodies, their trowels and their hammers, and reflected off the river that had swallowed the land. And yet through it George could see docks and ships, and tidy walls taming the water; it was there and it was not there, and he could not stand it any longer.
“No more!” he cried. “Stop!”
* * * * *
Stop, someone said to Andy. He looked up from George’s body to the path at the top of the bank. Beatrice had pushed herself to knees and elbows and was gazing down at him. “Stop,” she said again. “You can’t do anything.”
“I can do lots of things,” he answered her, stupidly. “Just watch me.”
“Take her,” Beatrice said, gesturing at Janet. “You can carry her farther than I can. I’ll get help for the rest of them.”
She gestured, palm turned upward. “I have God’s net address,” she said. “We’ll be all right. Take her and go.”
He crawled up the bank to Janet. She was paler than ever, her black hair lying in strings across her cheeks. Her clothes were torn, showing her breasts; it embarrassed him and he tried to cover her. “We Coordinators have to stick together,” he murmured as he drew her into his arms, and then he stood and turned to face the dark.