Beyond another window, almost out of sight, wet and heavy snow was falling into the sea.
* * *
The penthouse had a private elevator that stopped for no other floor. He smiled to himself as he waited for wide bronze doors to slide back, remembering what the penthouse rented for. This elevator - his own elevator - served the upper fifty floors, but on this trip it would stop for none of them.
The street was cold and dark, as was to be expected. Filthy, too, like all streets, though the snow had arrived to cover its filth. Despite his firm rule against giving to beggars, he rubbed the hump of a pathetic hunchback and gave him five noras. There were only two others out so early. So early, in cold and falling snow. A flourish of his walking stick sent them scuttling back to their places.
A block and a half brought him to Carrera's. He sat, and waved a waitress over.
"The usual, Mr. Grison?"
He nodded, holding out the yellow paper. "I need a favor, Aleta. Will you read this to me? It's pretty short."
"Sure, Mr. Grison. Forget your glasses?"
"No. I've read it. I need to hear someone else read it." He nearly said, "I need to have it made real," but he did not.
"Okay." The waitress cleared her throat. "It says, 'Greetings. You have contracted with Mastergunner Chelle Sea Blue.' I didn't know you had contracted with anybody, Mr. Grison."
"The rest, please."
"'In accordance with the law, you are hereby notified by Mustprint that Mastergunner Blue is being returned from outsystem. Mastergunner Blue will receive one year and forty-one days of accumulated leave after processing and debriefing.' Wow! She must have been gone quite a while."
Skip nodded. "By Earth-time she was."
"'Mastergunner Blue is scheduled to arrive by shuttle at Canam Port day one-eighty.'" The waitress glanced at her watch. "That's this coming Saturday, Mr. Grison."
"Yes. It is. You don't have to read the rest."
"It says she may've been affected by her experiences - "
"I know what it says."
"And you'll have to make allowances for her." The waitress paused. When Skip did not speak, she said, "Would you like to see a menu?"
He was still smiling at her remark as he poured honey on his buckwheat cakes. Yes, he would love to see a menu. Better yet, a psychological profile....
Which might actually be possible.
It was oh seven thirty-five when he left Carrera's, and oh seven forty-seven when he entered the Union Day Building. The offices of Burton, Grison, and Ibarra were still empty and silent, lit by a single dim fixture.
Once seated in his office, he read headlines on his screen: ANOTHER SUICIDE RING UNCOVERED - NEW ENERGY CONTROLS - SHIPS SEIZED AS CHAOS IN NORTHERN SAU WORSENS. The third made him grin; last week, the same news service had called the chaos total.
Still grinning, he posted a message to All: he would be gone for a week, and perhaps longer. If return by day one eighty-eight (or sooner) should prove impossible, he would notify them.
Next an order to Research: "Obtain psych. profile Mastergunner C. S. Blue; call me at once. - S.W.G."
After that, he assigned Mick Tooley to baby-sit the jewelry wholesaler case and the cyborg murder - the cases he had been handling personally. Tooley was to call him when necessary, but only when necessary.
Susan had tidied up his desk, and he had done little to disturb it. The wall safe yielded five thousand noras - more than sufficient, he decided, for emergencies requiring cash. A thousand for his wallet, and four thousand more for his briefcase.
From the doorway, Susan inquired, "Mr. Grison?"
He closed the safe.
"I just wanted to let you know I'm here if you need me. You beat me in this morning."
"I do. I was about to write you a note. I want a first-class compartment on a Bullet for Canam. Depart before twenty tonight."
Excerpted from Home Fires by Gene Wolfe. Copyright © 2011 by Gene Wolfe. Excerpted by permission of Tor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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