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EP431: The Golden Glass

by Gary Kloster
read by Matt Haynes

Links for this episode:

about the author…

author Gary Kloster

from the author’s website… “I’ve always loved speculative fiction.  That’s the fancy name for stories that involve lasers, or swords, or in the very best laser-swords.  So as a kid, I decided to try writing it.  And it went really badly.

A few decades later, and I’m a house husband in rural Minnesota, a Science reference librarian who now answers urgent questions like ‘When’s lunch?’ and ‘Where’s the bathroom?’  Not really much different then helping the undergrads back at the University, but it wears thin.  In an effort to save my sanity, and avoid housework, I’ve returned to writing.

I think it’s going better, this time.”

 

The Golden Glass
By Gary Kloster

The Golden Glass
By Gary Kloster
“The jump-pilot,” said Alejandro, “is sleeping with Leo.”

“You just noticed?” Glory said, tugging off her pants. “And now these are getting too tight. That’s it, I’m upping G in engineering. It’ll skew the efficiency but my ass won’t fit through the access panels soon if I don’t burn some of this off.”

Alejandro ignored his wife’s attempted diversion. “How long has this been going on?”

Glory shrugged. “The kids? They’ve been flirting since Evy came aboard. I’m not exactly sure when they actually started sleeping together. Probably during the flight here to Valhalla.”  She dropped her clothes and stepped into the head. “Why’s it matter?”

Alejandro sat on the bunk and pulled off his slippers. “You’re okay with this?”

Glory leaned out the door, toothbrush in hand. “They’re consenting adults, and it’s impossible to stop ship romances. As long as it doesn’t effect their work, it’s not our business.”

“I don’t like it,” muttered Alejandro, staring at the stars that filled the wall screen. “Leo’s a dreamer. He should be with someone grounded. Evy’s nice, but she’s not right for him. Damn good jumper, but an air-head.”

“Cheez nah…” Glory spat and tried again. “She’s not an airhead, she’s just young and… cheerful.”

“She drinks too much.”

“She has wine with dinner. Her parents owned a vineyard on Laramie.” Glory walked back into the cabin and sat next to her husband. “Alejandro, she’s a nice girl and she’s here on the ship. You have to know that Leo’s been thinking of leaving.”

Alejandro frowned. “Why? He has a good life here with us, learning the trade, and when we finally retire the Evanston will be his.”

“Yes, but that won’t be for a long time. He needs to build his own life. Hell, why do you think I pressed you so hard to hire that newly graduated jump-pilot anyway?”

“You said she had great ratings and a low pay-scale.”

“Yes, but the real reason is that our son was lusting after her the minute he saw her. Thank the gods that it’s working out and we’re not dealing with a harassment suit. Now brush your teeth. Launch tomorrow, and we’re going to be busy.”

#

“I’m not sure Captain Your Dad approves of this,” said Evy.

“Hmmm?” Leo shifted carefully on the cramped bunk, kissing his way down her belly.

“I didn’t think of it. There was nothing about fraternization in the contract, but you are his kid. We talked about this stuff in our small group socialization course…” She lifted her hips, letting Leo drag her panties down.

“Ummm.”

“Did he look pissed to you, when he caught us necking in the hall? We shouldn’t have done that, it’s rude to block the passage.”

Leo stared up from trying to work her underwear off around her foot. “What?”

“Your dad. Does he like me?”

“I don’t know, I guess. Why?” Leo’s eyes slipped from Evy’s face to stare at her chest.

“Maybe he doesn’t approve. I’d hate to screw up my first job.”

“It’s fine. He’s fine. Could we not talk about this now?”

“Why not?” Evy looked at him, puzzled, then her thigh brushed against his groin. “Oh, right. Sorry, I tend to multi-task.” She reached up and pulled him down onto her. “I’ll try to focus now, okay?”

Leo shook his head, his nose rubbing hers. “Focus… would be nice.”

#

“Where is she?” muttered Alejandro. The ship was coasting toward the jump point, and if they weren’t ready soon he would have to start pushing back, bleeding off velocity that would have to be pumped back in to hit the point at the proper speed. Alejandro could calculate the exact cost in fuel that maneuvering would take, and he would make that money up out of his jump-pilot’s share.

“Evy needs to meditate before a jump,” said Leo from his station at Sys/Comm.

“She’s had a week and a half to meditate. If that’s what she’s been doing in your cabin.”

“It’s none of you business what she’s doing in my cabin, is it, Captain?” Leo stared over his shoulder, embarrassment and anger mixed up in his eyes.

Alejandro met his son’s gaze, his irritation pushing him to answer Leo’s challenge, but he was too experienced for that. Thirty years of dealing with the social dynamics of small crews in confined spaces had taught him all about restraint.

“As long as it doesn’t spill onto this bridge.”

The hatch behind them slid open to let Evy in, her face lit by her usual grin. “What spilled?” she asked brightly.

“Nothing,” muttered Leo. “Ready to go, ba… Evy?”

“Sure thing.” She started to bend towards him, but caught the warning in his eyes. “Right,” she laughed. “On the clock.”

“We’ll reach the point in three minutes,” growled Alejandro.

“Perfect.” Evy buckled in, plucked her neural cord from its compartment. Stretching it out, she cocked her head and smoothed the cable’s end against a patch of pseudoskin on the back of her neck. Her eyes closed, and a shudder went through her as she connected with the system.

“I’ve got her, Cap’n,” she said, eyes shut and twitching beneath their lids.

Alejandro pushed away his board, letting her take over. Whatever misgiving he had about Evy and his son, the five jumps she had pulled the ship through made him confident of her skill. He looked at the timer and tapped the intercom switch.

“Thirty seconds, guys.” On the monitors, he could see Glory and her assistant Taylor strapped into their couches. Shutting his own eyes, he prepared for jump.

#

Testing for jump ability had been a whim for Evy, an adolescent fantasy of escaping all her childish things and flying out into the universe. When the results had come back indicating that she was a strong candidate for jump-pilot, strong enough that the union was offering to sponsor her training, she had to think the offer through.

Evy had liked her life on Laramie, her friends and family and the whole pleasant planet, even if it rained too much in the winter. Giving all that up for a chance to be a glorified truck driver, as her boyfriend at the time had said, required thought.

Then the union reps had come and let her try a simulation, a little test on a virty unit that would let her know what jump was like. That simulation had ended all her doubts. The indescribable feelings of slipping through the crawlspace between the universes, the glorious freedom of being nowhere and everywhere at once had flashed through her, making her feel like a god.

Shock virty’s and chocolate, orgasm and new love, a glass of Laramie High House ‘37 and fresh powder beneath her skis, they all stepped back and let jumping take the throne. She would run loads of bandersnatch piss from Devil’s Anvil to the Harmony Hordes for that feeling. When they had told her that reality was more intense, she had demanded to sign the papers. When they had warned her of the dangers, she had shrugged. There was a rock on every slope that wanted to take you down, and you didn’t stay home because it was there.

On the jump between Valhalla and New Provo, she hit her first rock. And it was a big one.

#

“…can wait. Can you hear me, Alejandro?” Glory’s voice, he thought, and why wasn’t she in engineering?

“His hand twitched.” Leo, sounding worried, and Alejandro began to think that something might be wrong. He tried to open his eyes, and that brought an ax down onto his skull.

“Ungghh,” he groaned.

“He’s coming around. Alejandro, do you hear me? Everyone’s okay. We’ve had some kind of jump anomaly.”

“Annymonome?”

“Don’t worry, we’re fine, okay? Evy’s woozy, but she pulled us through. Can you stand? We’re need to take you to the med unit.”

“I should make sure Evy is okay.”

“Leo, she’s fine. If she wasn’t, the med unit would call us. Help me move your father.”

“That unit might not…”

“Help me, and we’ll go right there.” Hands wrapped around Alejandro and pulled him out of his chair. His head throbbed, but not as badly, and he managed to support some of his weight as he staggered with them. Trying to open his eyes made the world start spin, though.

“How’s ship?” he slurred. There was silence, and he stopped and tried to open his eyes again. The passage didn’t move as much, but it still blurred and he had trouble making anything out. It seemed the same, but different, and his inability to focus infuriated him.

“Wha’s wrong?”

“Dad, the ship… the ship’s changed.”

“Changed?” They were moving him again, and he felt them turn into the crew rec where the med unit was.

“It’s trashed.”

Alejandro recognized Evy’s voice, even missing its cheerful edge. He stopped and forced his eyes open, shrugging off his families support. Grabbing one of the chairs around the mess table for balance, he looked around the room until he could finally settle it into focus.

In basic structure, it was the same. But in all other ways, it wasn’t. Grime coated the table and counters, and dust caked the vents. The equipment looked battered, and the walls were no longer a serene slate blue. Instead, they were covered with lurid paintings of impossible landscapes and large-breasted women. Stunned, his eyes wandered over the mess, finally settling on Evy, sitting at the scarred table, nursing a drink from a dirty glass.

“What happened?”

“Parallel ricochet. We cracked heads with our evil twins from another universe and ended up swapping ships.”

Alejandro blinked, then shuddered as another pain stabbed behind his eyes. “What the hell does that mean?”

Evy looked up, eyes distant, and shook her head. “Hell if I know. We’ll let the eggheads look over the log when we get in. All I know is, there were two Evanstons in jump, and two Captain Alejandros and two Evys, all trying to share null-space. Luckily, the both of me had our crap together and we managed to pull the jump off with only a few minor complications.”

“Minor complications?” said Glory.

“Look, I only understand jump-space at an intuitive level. I do remember that there was one instructor who claimed that jump-space was some kind of axis where parallel worlds intersected, or some BS like that. Anyway, he said that the ghost ships that jumpers sometimes saw were alternate versions of their own ships, making their own jumps. I thought it sounded kinda nuts, but I’ll have to send him an apology. I think we just had a head on collision with another version of us. At least some of us, and the ship.”

She looked up at Alejandro and shook her head. “Don’t grow a mustache. The other you looked ridiculous.”

Alejandro couldn’t take that in. Instead he focused on the key issue. “What happened to my ship?”

“I think I traded your ship in the shuffle.” She shrugged and went to take another drink, but Alejandro knocked the glass away.

“Hey!” she yelled as it spilled across her the table.

“You sit here drinking after you lost my ship, you irresponsible idiot! How much did you have to drink before you came up there? You lost my ship!” Alejandro felt Leo grab his arm, and brushed him off. Then another hand came from the other side, digging into a pressure point on the side of his neck, setting off a small bomb between his eyes.

“Cool off, dear. You’re making an ass out of yourself.” Glory took her hand away from his neck and pointed at Evy.

“I’m not sure what happened in jump, but I know things went crazy. It felt like everything was coming apart. You were screaming, Evy was crying and cursing a blue streak, but then she pulled it all back together. She got us out. You know ships disappear sometimes, and I thought for sure it was going to be us, but she got us out.”

Alejandro looked at his wife, who looked back steadily, and then sighed. “All right. I don’t know what happened which means it’s too early to go off like that. I apologize, Evy. It’s just…”

“I feel like crap too. And just for the record, no, I didn’t have anything to drink beforehand, but I can sure use it now and you just spilled mine.”

“Can I get you another?”

“Sure. It’s all piss, but I’ll take some Tequila. At least that cleans the glass out. I hope. By the way, the med unit is out of drugs, so it’s pretty much useless.”

“Fantastic.” Alejandro turned in his chair and found Leo already holding the bottle, his eyes flashing at his father with disapproval.

“Thanks.” He set up Evy’s glass and poured. “What’s going on?”

“Navigation says were bang on target, five days out from New Provo. I sent a message to Smith Station that we’ve had a malfunction and requested an escort.” Leo folded his arms, and Evy looked up at him and grinned, wagging a finger. He smiled at her, relaxing a little.

“I’ve got Taylor going over engineering, running diagnostics,” said Glory as Alejandro took a gulp of the liquor before handing the glass over to his jump-pilot.

“Okay.” He cradled his head in his hands. “Let’s start dealing with this…”

#

Evy stretched herself out along the couch, draping herself across Leo’s lap with a sigh.

“The neck,” she said as she put her face on the cushion. She felt his hands rub muscles tense from days of scrubbing the accumulated filth from the ship. Born a groundling, she had seen worse places in her life, especially as a student, but her few years in space had given her some of a spacer’s horror of grime. Only now, after a week of hard work while floating in quarantine near Smith Station, did this Evanston seem moderately clean. Though the couch cushions still smelled nasty. She turned her head away from them and saw the Captain step in.

Alejandro looked worn thin, eyes bloodshot, hair mussed, his clothes a mass of wrinkles. Though at least his clothes were otherwise normal. The glittering emerald tube top and skin tight beaded-lizard pants that Evy had pulled on today were two of the tamer pieces she had found in the rat’s nest of a closet that had belonged to her dimensional twin.

“What’s he doing?” asked Alejandro, dropping heavily into a chair. He nodded over at the lanky form of Taylor, sprawled in the other lounger. A virty unit clung like a parasite to the engineers face.

Evy pushed herself up, holding her top to make sure it didn’t slide down. “Checking out some of the virty’s that we found in the data hold.”

“Hunnh.” Alejandro lightly kick his engineering second, then again, harder. Taylor reached up to thumb a switch on the virty, then slipped it off his face.

“Yeah?” he asked in his deep, lazy voice.

“So?”

“It’s porn, right.” He grinned. “I’ll check a few more, just for sure.”

“Fantastic,” Alejandro said. “A rundown, empty tanked ship hauling sex virty’s, marijuana bales, and improperly packed fireworks orbiting a planet settled by one of the most conservative religious sects in known space. Between all that and the data-virus they found in the secondary nav-system, I’m surprised Smith hasn’t just shot us out of orbit. Maybe it’d be better if they did.”

“What’d the insurance say?” asked Leo.

“They’ll cover the cargo loss, which at least saves our hide on that. Ten million FC standards worth of engineered biologicals, gone. As for us, the arbitration daemons fought it out and declared we’re entitled to half damages.”

“Half? But this ship is a wreck,” protested Leo. “It’s going to cost us a quarter what the Evanston’s worth just to get it in shape. We can’t take half.”

“You want to argue with their legal software? It’s half or go to judgment, and I won’t risk it. We’ll take what we can get.”

Evy watched the captain swing his haggard eyes between her and Taylor.

“New Provo has decided to exercise the kill clause on the return haul. We’re an unacceptable risk, apparently. With the insurance settlement and the penalty fee from that, we’ll have barely enough to patch up here and get juice for the jump out of this backwater. I need to talk to you to about where we’re going.”

“That’s your decision, not ours,” said Evy.

“Yes, but I think you deserve some input. I’m sorry guys, but we’re in trouble. Between repairs and the loss of this contract…” Alejandro shook his head, looking old and tired. “I think I’m going to have to let you go after the next jump.”

Leo bounced up from the couch, staring down at his father with angry, shining eyes “What? No! This is not Evy’s fault!”

“It isn’t. And it certainly isn’t Taylor’s either. This is economics, son. I can’t pay them and feed us. As it is, we’re going to be stuck in-system wherever we land for the next five years before we’ve built up enough credits doing short hauls to finish repairs and rehire for interstellar work.”

“Or maybe not.”

Evy looked to the door with the others to see Glory leaning against the frame with a tight smile. “Follow me. I need some help in the hold.”

#

Alejandro stepped through the lock and into main cargo, trying to ignore the scarlet stormfront of the container racks that hung above him and the danger posed by their contents. Again he tried to imagine what possible reason someone would have to ship fireworks between star systems and failed. Why, if they had to collide with some other ship from a different dimension, did it have to be from one where the inhabitants were clearly insane? Glory poked him in the ribs then, interrupting the dark circle of his thoughts, and pointed to the wall before them.

“Do you see it?” she asked.

Alejandro looked at the blank wall and shook his head. The others stared to, Leo with a frown, Evy curiously, Taylor sanguinely, but none of them noticed anything unusual.

“It’s a bulkhead, Glory. What are we missing?”

“A meter.” Glory knelt down and began to run a screwdriver along a weld line in the ceramasteel, bringing up thick grey curls of plastic. With a sudden jerk, the screwdriver slid in, and Glory wiggled it gently.

“Careful,” said Alejandro as he bent down over her, watching. “Who knows what they were packing.” Behind him, he half heard Evy’s questions and Leo’s attempts to explain, but he ignored them. Glory’s gentle movements had stopped, and she suddenly shoved down on the screwdriver, causing a small panel to pop free from the floor. Underneath was the dark square of a scanner. She looked up at him thoughtfully and he shrugged.

“Might as well try.” He reached past her and pressed his thumb to the pad. With a soft crack, a hatch popped up from the floor in front of them.

“So,” said Glory quietly.

“Smugglers. Of course.” Alejandro stepped forward and toed the hatch open. In the dark space beneath, the lights of the hold reflected dimly off of glass.

“What is it?” whispered Evy, trying to come closer.

Glory handed Alejandro her light, and he knelt down, shining it on the hidden goods. Bottled gold gleamed up at him, shining liquid carefully packed. Bending closer, he ran one hand over the closest bottle, then stood back up.

“Well?” asked Leo.

“It’s just booze. We’re still screwed.” Alejandro spit down into the hidden compartment, then turned and stalked out of the hold.

#

“I like Veracruz.” Evy could hear Taylor’s voice from crew rec as she walked down the passage with Leo. Around her ankles, the dark skirt she’d purchased on Smith Station flapped and the matching jacket caught at the diamond’s studding the tube top she wore beneath it. Neither cheap slut nor devout matron was her style, but with her good news bubbling in her she could ignore her clothes.

“You would, pervert. But the mines there always need haulers.”

The captain still sounded depressed. Evy stopped just outside the hatch, almost tripping up Leo as she paused to eavesdrop. She could see him opening his mouth to ask what she was doing, and quickly leaned forward to kiss him, keeping him quiet while she listened.

“Ore hauling? We’re not a tug, Alejandro, we don’t have the engines for it.”

There was a steady scraping noise under Glory’s words, and Evy figured she was still chipping away at the paint on the walls of the rec room, slowly removing the leering women and menacing animals. Which was kind of too bad, since Evy thought. They were more interesting than the plain paint of the old Evanston, and some of the dirty jokes scratched in them had been pretty good.

“They always need tools and people and supplies shipped around.” Alejandro sighed. “Scut work, but it pays. A little.”

Evy gave Leo’s mouth one last quick going over and broke away, deciding it was time to make an entrance.

“What about Laramie?”

Alejandro, looking much better in proper clothes, frowned at her. “Laramie? There’s no system traffic there. You want a ride home, girl, talk to your union.”

“No, no scut work. But they want our cargo.” From the bag slung over her shoulder Evy pulled out a bottle and set it on the table, making the bubbles inside it stir in a lazy dance.

“Booze? You want to haul booze to Laramie? We might as well send the grass to Veracruz.” The exasperated look Alejandro was giving her was all too familiar, and Evy smiled sweetly at it as she pulled the loosened cork free from the bottle.

“Champagne, actually. Really good champagne. I don’t know who this Dom Perignon guy is, but he makes good stuff. Glasses please, Leo.” Evy frowned at the plastic cups that Leo sat down, but at least they were now clean.

“My parents owned a vineyard on Laramie, Captain. I know a bit about booze. Enough to know good stuff when I taste it. And I know how the business works.”

Glory cut off whatever Alejandro was going to say with a pointed stare. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean I messaged a broker on Laramie and got an unofficial first bid for your hidden cargo. One that should cover your current expenses and leave a bit left over for profit. And that doesn’t include any of the other cargo. Though Laramie already has plenty of grass. And porn. I don’t know about the fireworks, but maybe…”

“Why the hell would someone on a planet known for its wine want this?” Alejandro stared at her, eyes touched for the first time since their accident with hope, but his body was tense with wary suspicion.

“Cachet. Almost as important as flavor in the wine business.” Evy picked up her glass and leaned back. “Laramie makes fantastic wines. The best. But a few labels can still charge more than they can. Each one of them is from Earth, from one of the few vineyards that managed to survive the climate shift. They’re not better wines than ours, but they’re from Earth. So, according to the label and a quick analysis I had done on station, is this. Two hundred bottles of the finest champagne, from Earth, from a parallel universe. Well, one hundred and ninety-nine, but we needed a sample. This stuff is priceless. Except I got a price for it. If you want it, Captain. It’s your cargo after all.”

“Priceless?” Alejandro picked up the glass and stared at the shining liquid. “How sure are you about this?”

“The broker I messaged almost wet himself. The vine lords on Laramie will sell their children just to buy a bottle for their cellars. I’m sure.”

“I should have known. There’s never a price too high for vice.” Alejandro lifted his glass, and Evy lifted hers. The rest of the crew followed, and there was a muted click as the plastic cups tapped together. Evy raised her glass to her lips and took a small drink, savoring it as Leo wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“I’ll talk to your broker. Then we’ll arrange for the fuel.” Alejandro picked up the bottle and splashed more champagne into his cup, raised it again for another toast. “To the best damn jump pilot I’ve ever met.”

Evy took another drink, pleased satisfaction and alcohol warming her as she leaned against Leo and let him pull her closer. Alejandro smiled at their embrace and tipped the golden cup one more time.

“And to new partnerships. Between your family and ours.”

“To…” behind Alejandro, Glory had sputtered and was now beginning to laugh, while beside her Evy felt Leo tense. “Wait a minute. What kind of partnerships are you talking about?”

“Nothing but the best, young lady. Now, when can Leo meet your parents?”

“Uhh…” Evy began, suddenly feeling crowded by Alejandro’s good cheer.

“Let’s get out of here before he starts trying to show off my gene scan and baby pictures,” Leo sighed, pulling her gently back into the passage and away.

“What the hell was that?”

“Remember when you were worried that my Dad didn’t approve of us? That was him, approving of us. Happy now?”

“Not exactly.” Evy took Leo’s hand and let him lead her back to his cabin. “Gods, I wonder if my evil twin is doing so well.”

#

Evangeline stared out the armored glass of the office windows and watched a river of brown dust blow past. Not that she had any interest in the unending sandstorm that was this hellish planets only excuse for weather. She just didn’t want to look at her Captain, or at the man who was presently reaming him out.

“There are very few mines that require as many human workers as this one. The conditions here, you see, are very hard on the standard robotics. So the profit margin is slightly greater using humans, even with all the infrastructure required to keep them alive and healthy.”

Reflected in the glass, Evangeline could see Lytor White, Planetary Director of Grit, pause to glower at them both.

“Of course that important margin quickly vanishes should there be a riot.”

“Look I told you, it was her–”

“Shut the hell up Al,” Evangeline growled. Ever since she had saved the worthless bastard, wrenching their ship back into real-space after that quasi-collision with that other ship, he had done nothing but bitch and blame her.

“Both of you, silent,” White snapped. “Data. The letters from home and virty’s. Low entertainment. I’ll have to scramble to get more before the workers’ productivity here slumps, before they grow too hostile about living in this hellhole, no matter what the wage. But that’s nothing. What concerns me, and what should concern you, is the loss of my cargo. Sacred fireworks, hand made on Earth by monks of that idiot religion my wife belongs to. Expensive. Almost irreplaceable. They, at least, were insured. But the champagne. That was not insured, was it?”

“You agreed on the price, right? You didn’t ask how I was getting it.” Evangeline looked from the windows to watch Al squirm. The too-tight clothes he wore and his red face made him look like a petulant child. “You agreed.”

“I made no agreement for incompetence.” White picked up a single slip of data sheet and pushed it toward the trader. “You will receive no payment for this run. You will do no more business with this company. None. You wish to challenge this, you can speak to my legal software.”

Al glared at the director for a moment, than stood. Without bothering to take the data sheet, he stalked toward the door. “C’mon Evangeline. We’re done here.”

“You are,” she drawled. “I can’t be banned. I’m union.”

Al stopped, his face darkening with fury. “So what? You’re my jump pilot. Under my contract.”

“Contract’s been bought out, captain. Don’t worry though, I’m sure Director White will let you hire one of his pilots to jump you out of the system for a reasonable rate.” Evangeline smiled poison at her ex-captain as the heavy door to the office slid shut, cutting off his bellowed curse.

“Nice timing. Hope you have an escort to get him back to that shiny new ship I got for him.”

“Don’t concern yourself with him any longer. You work for me now.”

“Sure. Ever since I popped the ships locks and let you guys in to seize the cargo. Boy, will he be pissed when he realizes that was an inside job.” The jump pilot shook her head and settled back into the chair. “Those biologicals were good, right?”

“Perfectly tailored to begin terraforming. After we’ve gone over the instructions a few more times, we’ll begin to release them. In a century, we won’t need suits to go outside here. In two, this place will be green.”

“Nice. Your company will make a lot of money here then, won’t it?” His face didn’t change, but Evangeline could see a smug, self-satisfied look flash in his eyes. Well, he would. And so would she, if she played this right.

“Still, too bad about the wedding.”

“Not really. With any luck, this will persuade my son to dump that idealistic idiot he’s engaged to.” White glanced at the office door and it slid open, letting in a secretary bearing a silver tray with two crystal glasses on it. There was no sign of Al.

“I myself prefer people with a realistic, practical view of the universe.”

“People who know how to make the best of a bad situation?” asked Evangeline as she snared one glass.

“Exactly. To new partnerships?” White raised his glass.

“To new partnerships.” She raised her glass to him and then tipped it back, taking it down in one gulp. “And good booze.”

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