Today's Reading

Steve sidled over to Fred and whispered in his ear. Fred looked like a guy who'd just bit down hard on a lemon. Steve gestured to John. They all put their heads together.

"We'll pay all the expenses involved in delaying your wedding," Fred said. "That includes covering your rent here for as long as you're away."

Jerry didn't answer right away. They really want me, he realized. The feeling was strange. It went to his head like champagne. Grad students had to be among the most chronically unwanted people in the world.

After a few seconds, he said, "I still don't think Anna would be real happy with that."

"Understandable. We're messing up plans you've already made. If we give the two of you, ah, two thousand dollars as compensation for the inconvenience, would that make the lady happier? Would it make you happier?" Steve said. "We can call it a wedding present or something."

John and Fred both opened their mouths, then closed them again without saying anything. These people have more money than they know what to do with. Literally, Jerry thought. It wasn't a problem he'd ever needed to worry about before.

"Can I tell her that that will happen?" he asked.

"Go ahead." John didn't sound happy, but he gave the okay.

"Call me tomorrow afternoon. I'll let you know what she says." Jerry didn't bother giving his phone number. It was unlisted, but they had to know it anyway.

There wasn't much talk after that. The three men left as abruptly as they'd pushed their way in. Jerry watched them go down the stairs and out the door to the foyer. As soon as they disappeared, he started wondering if they'd really been there at all.

He wrote that down on a three-by-five card and stashed it in the manila folder he called his idea file. Waste not, want not.

* * *

Jerry parked his beat-up old Rambler on the street a couple of doors down from Anna's apartment building. Her place looked just like his: a two-story Spanish-style structure with units surrounding a concrete courtyard centered on a pool. Tenants kept their cars in spaces underneath. A swarm of places like theirs had gone up in Hawthorne over the past five or ten years.

He climbed the stairs from the foyer to the security door and punched 2-6-4 on the keypad next to it. A moment later, Anna's voice came tinnily from the speaker above the keypad: "That you, Jerry?"

"Nobody else, babe," he answered. The security door buzzed. He grabbed the latch and let himself in before the noise stopped.

As he climbed the stairs to the second floor, he suddenly wondered how the CIA guys had got into his building. It used the same kind of security setup as this one. Maybe they'd followed somebody else in. That happened. Or maybe they'd talked to the manager, whose apartment was right there. If they claimed to be cops or private eyes or whatever, odds were they'd have badges or papers to back it up. The stuff might not be legit, but it'd look legit. Jerry was sure of that.

He hurried down the walkway to the door with the tarnished bronze 264 on it at eye level. He was about to knock when the door opened. "Heard you coming," Anna said, "so I baked a cake."

"Cool," Jerry said. He had to bend down to kiss her. She was only five two, a foot shorter than he was. She was blond, and carried ten more pounds than she wanted to. In Jerry's biased opinion, she carried them goddamn well, too. He'd given up trying to persuade her of that. Better not to start fights you couldn't win.

When he came up for air, the King of Siam was glowering at him from the hallway that led back to the bathroom and bedroom. Those blue eyes held more ancient evil than a cat had any business knowing.

"I swear that beast used to belong to Queen Berúthiel," he said.

Anna poked him in the ribs. She had long, pointed nails. That wasn't why he flinched, though; she'd found a ticklish spot. "So why did you want to come over tonight? Besides that, I mean?" She glanced toward the King of Siam and the bedroom beyond him.

He took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy or fun. "Hon," he said, "we need to push the wedding back a couple of months, maybe a little longer."

She stiffened in his arms. Then he wasn't holding her anymore. He didn't know how he wasn't, but he wasn't. "And why do we need to do that?" she asked, her voice dripping liquid helium.

"Because out of the blue this afternoon I got an offer to go on the ocean-mining ship that came into Long Beach last fall, the Glomar Explorer. Remember?"

"Not really," she said. He believed her; she paid more attention to people she cared about—and to that damn cat—than to the wider world.

"Anyway," he went on, "it sails on June twentieth, and that's firm. I really want to go."

Anna stared up at him. Her eyes were almost as blue as the King of Siam's. "More than you want to marry me?" She was taking it personally. Of course she was. She took everything personally. Most of the time, Jerry liked that. Every once in a while...

"Babe, it'll be really good for my career," he said. If looks could have killed, he would have been lying there dead next to the chair by the window. Then he told her how much they'd pay him.

Her face changed. "You're making that up."

"No way, hon. Swear I'm not." He raised his right hand, as if taking an oath.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday, November 28th, we begin the book Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty.

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