Eve of the Hurricane|
My name's Roger Smith.
My wife Dorothy and I are negotiators.
We had an appointment at the hotel of Jim McGowan this afternoon. He was a client from the 'Falling Angels' case some months back. He had another job for us.
Roger and Dorothy entered the dilapidated hotel and were directed to the door of Jim McGowan's room. At Roger's knock, the door opened, revealing six-year-old Tami McGowan.
Her face lit up.
"Mrs. Dorothy!" she cried, wrapping her arms around Dorothy's waist. "I missed you!"
Dorothy hugged the child in return, stroking her red pig-tailed hair. "I have been very busy since I got married."
"I know," Tami said with little-girl wisdom. "Miss Clare says new husbands have to be housebroken or they make messes. Like babies."
Dorothy continued, "Your grandfather asked to see us, Tami."
She nodded, the smile fading. "Gran'pa's very sick. Miss Clare has been taking care of him."
"He sounded pretty bad on the phone," Roger admitted. "Where is he?"
"In the bedroom." Her hand took Dorothy's. "You're warm and soft now."
Dorothy smiled gently. "I have to be since I am pregnant."
Tami giggled. "That's nice."
Roger smirked, then smoothed his face as they entered the open doorway of the dim bedroom. "Mr. McGowan? Roger and Dorothy Smith here."
A woman's voice answered, "Come in ... you're just in time."
A dim lamp lit up, illuminating a middle-aged woman with swept back black-gray hair sitting on a milk crate and Jim McGowan laying in bed.
"He's dying," the woman stated. "According to Dr. Radinova, it is cancer."
Roger knelt next to the bed, his hand gripping the old man's. "Mr. McGowan?"
He coughed. "Smith?"
"Right here, sir."
"Closer... " he breathed.
Roger leaned close to Jim McGowan. After a moment, he turned to Dorothy. "Dora, Mr. McGowan asked that we find a home for his granddaughter."
Dorothy raised an eyebrow. "Isn't there anyone here who could take her?"
Clare shook her head. "Jim got suckered by a hotel buyer and the crook is evicting everyone so he can make it 'high class'. Tami doesn't have any other family to go to."
Tami hugged Dorothy's waist with surprising strength.
"Roger," Dorothy stated, her arm around Tami's shoulders.
Roger turned back to Jim McGowan, the old man's eyes gazing at Death's approach. "We'll take care of Tami, sir."
A smile flickered across the old man's face. He sighed a few times, gasping softly, as his hand reached out and groped for something along the blanket.
Tami rushed to the bed and grasped her grandfather's hand. "Gran'pa .. " Her violet eyes fastened upon his face. "Don't fight. I'll be fine." She lay her cheek against his hand. "I love you, Gran'pa. I can hear Gran'ma calling for you; you need to go to her. She'll take care of you."
After a moment, Tami somberly turned to the Smiths, her eyes supernaturally calm. "He's gone. He's not in pain anymore. Gran'pa's with Mommy and Daddy and Gran'ma."
Roger knelt by the bed. He closed Jim McGowan's eyes and placed the old man's hands over his chest. He clasped his own hands and closed his eyes in prayer. Tami and Clare did the same, while Dorothy lowered her head and closed her eyes in respect.
Roger looked up and turned to Tami, seeing her gazing at her grandfather. "Tami ... "
She looked up at him, looking like the 'little girl Dorothy' from his dream of when he was six-years-old. "Yes, Mister?"
"Dorothy and I will take you to our home ... unless you want to stay here a little longer."
She glanced at Clare, then at Dorothy, then back up to Roger. She slipped her small hand into his. "I'm ready."
* * *
We gathered Tami's few papers (a birth certificate and a vaccination record) from McGowan's apartment and we arranged for his burial.
The hotel's new manager came by, asked 'Did the old fart kick the bucket yet?' and somehow did a backwards somersault and got a foot-shaped bruise in his groin at the same time. My wife admits to nothing.
Tami looked around the elevator as it ascended up the building where the Smiths lived.
"Do you live in the castle on the clouds?" she asked.
Roger managed to control the chuckle that wanted to escape. "Excuse me?"
"Gran'pa told me stories about a castle in the clouds that was really high up and it was filled with all sorts of wonderful things like rainbows and butterflies and cookies and stuff. I didn't get to see much of your house when you had your wedding party."
Dorothy found the idea strangely delightful. "Not quite. But we do have a place for you to play outside."
Tami looked up at her. "I never get to play outside much. I'm too sick."
Dorothy smiled back down at her. "You will be better here."
The elevator stopped and all three stepped out to be greeted by Norman.
"Master Roger, Mistress Dorothy - welcome home." He smiled warmly. "And who is the young lady, sir?"
Tami giggled and hid behind Dorothy.
Roger began emptying his pockets into the valet tray. "Norman, this is Tami McGowan. She'll be staying with us a few days until we find a family to adopt her."
"Very well, sir." Norman smiled. "Hello, Miss Tami, I am Norman. If there is anything you need, just ask me."
She looked up, craning her neck. "You're very tall, Mr. Norman-sir."
He chuckled. "I'll start a bath for you, Miss Tami." He turned back to Roger. "Sir, dinner will be on time tonight. I'll set out an extra place for the young lady. Will there be any other guests?"
"Very good, sir."
Norman left them and Dorothy guided Tami up the spiral staircase to the main rooms.
"Is he God?" Tami asked.
Roger looked puzzled. "Uh ... no. Why do you ask?"
"'Cause he's real-real-real old an' waaay up there. Gran'pa said that's what God's like."
Roger laughed. "No, just an old friend who works for me." He sat down on a sofa while Tami looked around the room and Dorothy settled at the piano.
"What are you going to play, Dora-girl?"
"Chopin." She lifted the cover and began playing. "We must discuss how we will find Tami a home."
Roger leaned his head back, looking up at the ceiling. "Without having to stick her in an orphanage, I know, love." He turned to find Tami leaning on the arm of the sofa.
She stared at him intently, the hood of her orange sweatshirt framing and intensifying the violet of her eyes. "You aren't going to send me to an orphanage, are you, Mister?"
Roger frowned momentarily, and smiled an apology. "Of course not, Tami. We just have to find a family that would like you." She continued to stare. "For the time being, you're staying with Dorothy and me, and I think you should call me something else besides 'Mister'."
"She can call you 'louse'," Dorothy offered as she played.
"That's not what I had in mind, Dora-girl."
Roger turned bright red and Tami giggled.
"Miss Tami," Norman called. "Your bath is ready."
Tami pushed up from the sofa and trotted over to Dorothy, who walked the child to the guest bathroom.
Norman brought a cup of coffee to Roger.
"Anything on Dorothy One?" Roger asked.
"Nothing as yet, sir. I'm still learning how to access the core memory. It's designed very differently from Big O's. It's - simpler, with a jury-rigged feel to it, as if the builder were making the components do work for which they weren't designed."
"I suspect that's exactly what they were." Roger sighed, sipping his coffee. "I tell you, Norman, I'm uneasy having to practice the 'spoils of war' method."
"It's the best way to find the weaknesses of this Megadeus, sir," Norman assured him. "And we may find something to counter the next attack. Besides which, I can't think of more suitable persons for looking after a Megadeus - if you take my meaning."
"Incidentally, I have learned that Mr. Beck is no longer in prison."
Roger sat up. "What?"
Norman explained, "According to A.I. Dorothy - who appears to have linked herself into our database - Mr. Beck is on 'parole' by order of Alex Rosewater and working for him."
Roger rolled his eyes and grunted. "Seems Rosewater figured out what Beck could do." He turned to Norman. "Find out where Beck is stashed in Rosewater's domain. I'm going to pay him a visit."
"Very good, sir."
Norman left the room and Roger began enjoying his coffee. From the direction of the guest wing, he distinctly heard Tami yelling out, "Aarghh! Miss Dorothy! The soap is stuck to the ceiling!"
Roger found himself laughing, despite the fact he was rubbing his temples.
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