IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 13:
“Don’t mistake what I’m saying,” Miranda resumed. “Daniel only refers to you as a friend and a trusted colleague. But other people are much more forthcoming about your work or what they imagine your work to be, Adele.”
“Is that why you’ve come to see me?” Adele said in a deceptively quiet tone.
“No,” said Miranda. “That’s none of my business, and anyway I don’t care about it.”
She met Adele’s eyes. Her face was too pleasant to go hard, but she was clearly determined. Neither of them had drunk any of the sherry.
“Because of my Uncle Toby’s position,” Miranda said, “he could tell me the names of the people who would’ve organized the looting in the wake of the Proscriptions. I went to see them, the leaders, those who were still alive, and I got other names from them.”
Her voice hadn’t quavered, though she’d seen the pistol. If she’d talked to others about Adele Mundy, then she’d heard stories about the weapon and how Adele had used it.
“Go on,” said Adele quietly.
Miranda held out the package in her left hand. “It’s been many years,” she said. “And these weren’t… sophisticated people, Adele. Men, most of them, rough men.”
“I know the type,” Adele said. Her voice sounded harsh in her own ears, as though it hadn’t been used in… eighteen years. “My father was in politics.”
“Please,” Miranda said. “Take this. I don’t know, but I thought….”
Adele took the packet in both hands. The wrapping paper wasn’t sealed or tied. She unwrapped the book inside.
THE CRYSTAL BOOK OF VERSE FOR CHILDREN, with no editor listed. On the pictorial boards a little girl sat primly under a tree, reading from a book to the boy who sprawled on his belly listening to her. He’d laid his straw hat on the grass beside him.
Adele felt her eyes tingling. She opened the book carefully. The end papers were decorated with anthropomorphized animals reading. Someone had scribbled on it with crayon, but very neatly printed in white on the upper outside corner was the number 0017.
“Adele, is it yours?” the other woman said.
“Yes,” said Adele. She couldn’t see anything, just the overhead glow scattered by her tears. “When I was eight, I catalogued my library. This was the accession number.”
Miranda stood. “I wasn’t sure,” she said, “but…. Well, I didn’t know what the number meant, but I didn’t think anyone living in Block G on Reed Street had put it there. I’ll be going now.”
“Wait,” said Adele, standing also. She wiped her eyes with the back of her left wrist. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say, but she knew she couldn’t let the other woman leave without having said something to her. “I…. Thank you, Miranda. This is–”
She weighed the little book of poetry in her hand.
“I wasn’t a boisterous child,” she said, “but I was happy enough. I think I was happy. I had an innocence at that age which I suppose I would’ve lost regardless but which was appropriate to the time. And which I remember fondly.”
Adele cleared her throat, her eyes meeting Miranda’s. “Thank you for returning this,” she said formally.
Miranda smiled broadly, but she was crying too. “Adele,” she said, glancing aside. “You’ve done so much for Daniel. I know….”
She shook her head as if to clear debris from it. She looked up and said fiercely, “Daniel’s strong and brave and very clever and I know that. He’s smart enough to use you, Adele. He should, the Republic needs it, and you’re willing–”
“I’m more than willing!” Adele said.
“Yes, of course you are!” Miranda said. “But that doesn’t make the price you pay any less, does it? Does it?”
Her voice softened. “And I thought somebody ought to give you something back,” she said. “I’m glad this little book was–”
She forced a smile.
Adele consciously willed herself to relax. After a moment, she succeeded and took a deep breath. “Yes,” she said, “it was a great deal. You’re very perceptive, Miranda.”
Miranda squeezed Adele’s right hand briefly between the fingers and thumb of her own. “I’m glad,” she said. “But I have to be going now. Mother expects me.”
“I’ll walk you to the tram stop,” Adele said, reaching for the loggia’s door. To her surprise, Tovera opened it from the inside and nodded courteously.
“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Miranda said. “I’m used to travelling alone. I’ll be quite safe. We, ah, haven’t kept servants since Dad died.”
She reached into a pocket concealed in the cape’s lining and brought out a stubby shock rod, holding it in her fist. A touch with either end on bare flesh would knock the victim into the middle of next week.
“And I was rather good at lacrosse in school,” she added with pardonable pride. “So even without it I wouldn’t be completely helpless.”
“Yes, I see,” Adele said, smiling faintly. “I’ll walk you to the street door, then.”
The doorman watched them coming down the stairs. He didn’t swing the panel open until Tovera, leading with her attaché case in her left hand–though it was closed–nodded to him.
Miranda stepped outside, then turned and squeezed Adele’s hand again. “Please take care of Daniel, Adele,” she said.
“Yes,” said Adele. “I’ll try to.”
She stood with Tovera on the doorstep, watching the young woman taking firm strides toward the tram stop at the head of the close. “Do you want me to go with her anyway?” Tovera said.
“No, that won’t be necessary,” Adele said. Rather than turning her head, she kept Tovera in her peripheral vision. “I didn’t expect you back so soon.”
Tovera shrugged. Her lips showed a smile of sorts. “Castillo called me,” she said. Seeing Adele’s blank look, she added, “He’s your butler. They were a little worried.”
“Worried?” said Adele in surprise, now staring at her servant. “About Miranda?”
Tovera shrugged again. “They didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said. “Sometimes people like to have me around when they aren’t sure what’s happening.”
Appearing to watch Miranda at the lighted stop, she added, “They like you, mistress, the staff does. They worry, and they’re very proud of you.”
“I don’t understand,” Adele said. “Proud of Daniel, you mean?”
“They think they’re Mundys, mistress,” Tovera said. “Whoever pays their wages, they think they’re retainers of Mundy of Chatsworth. The cook’s helper knows your biography backward and forward. Even if you don’t know their names.”
“I will know their names before I go to sleep,” Adele said quietly. “I may need your help going over them.”
A computer-guided tramcar pulled onto the siding and stopped; its magnetic levitators clacked against the overhead rail. Miranda got on and the car hissed off into the night again.
“Captain Leary has a clever one there, mistress,” Tovera said.
“Yes,” said Adele. She looked at the Crystal Book of Verse for Children until her vision blurred again. “And a very smart one.”