I didn't eat. much.
The party was in my honour and I loved it. But I needed two mouths, one for eating, one for the fifty-odd people who wanted to kiss me - and I wanted to kiss them. I wasn't really hungry. Even when I was a prisoner in the Cathedral the food had been adequate, and when I was another sort of prisoner with the Committee for Aesthetic Deletions, I was quite well fed, within the limits of hotel cooking.
But I was starved for love, and warm and loving people.
Did I say the party was in my honour? Well, yes, but any party Pixel attends is primarily in his honour. He is sure of that and behaves accordingly. He zigzagged among the couches, tail high, accepting hand feeding, and rubbing against his friends and retainers.
Dagmar came over, asked Laz to make room, and squeezed in beside me - hugged me and kissed me. I found that I was leaking tears.
‘Dagmar, I can't tell you how I felt when I heard your voice. www.o-consumer.ru Are you going to stay here? You'll like it here. '
She grinned at me, hanging on to my neck. ‘Do you think I want to go back to Kansas City? Compared with KC; Boondock is Heaven. '
‘Good! I'll sponsor you: I had my arm around her, which caused me to add, ‘You've put on a few pounds and it becomes you. And such a beautiful tan! Or is it out of a spray bomb? '
‘No, I did it the best way, lying in the sun and increasing the dosage slowly. Maureen, you won't believe what a treat sunbathing is to someone who would be risking a public flogging if she sunbathed in her home town. '
Laz said, ‘Mama, I wish I could tan the way Dragmar does, instead of these kingsize freckles:
‘You get that from me, Lapis Lazuli; I always freckle. It's the price we pay for red hair. '
‘I know. But Dagmar can sunbathe every day, month after month, and never get a freckle. Look at her. '
I sat up straight. ‘What did you say? '
‘I said she doesn't freckle. All our men are following her around. ' Laz tickled Dagmar in the ribs. ‘Aren't they, Dag? '
‘Not so! '
‘You said "Month after month -" Dagmar, I saw you last two weeks ago. Less than three. How long have you been here? '
‘Me? Uh. .. slightly over two years. Yours was a tough case - or so they tell me. '
After being in the Time Corps twenty years of my personal time, seven years of Boondock time, I should not have been surprised. Time paradox is no news to me; I keep a careful journal to keep me sorted out, Maureen's personal time versus times and time lines and dates for each of the places I scout. But this time I was the subject of the operation (Operation Triple-M = Mama Maureen is Missing). I had been gone (my personal time) five and a half weeks. .. but it had taken over two years to find me and rescue me.
Laz called Hilda over to straighten me out. She snuggled in between Lorelei Lee and me on my other side; the couch was getting crowded. But Hilda does not take up much space. She said, ‘Mama Maureen, you told Tamara that you were just going away for a day's holiday. She knew you were fibbing, of course, but she never contradicts any of our little white lies. She thought you were just shuttling to Secundus for some private fun and maybe some shopping. '
‘Hilda Mae, I did intend to be back here the next day, no matter how long I spent in research. I planned to spend a few weeks in the British Museum in 1950, time line two, soaking up as much detail as possible about the Battle of Britain, 1940-41. I had a fresh recorder implant for that purpose. I didn't dare go to England during that war without careful preparation; England was a battle zone - easy to be shot as a spy. I would have done the research and been back the next day, in time for dinner. .. if that time-twister bus had not broken down. '
‘It didn't break down. '
‘Huh? I mean, excuse me? '
‘It was sabotage, Mo. The Revisionists. The same pascoodnyoks who came so close to killing Richard and Gwen Hazel and Pixel on time line three. We don't know why they wanted to stop you, or why they chose that method; neither side was taking prisoners, and we killed too many too fast. By "we" I don't mean me; I'm the drawing room type as everybody knows. I mean the old pros, Richard and Gwen and Gretchen and a strike force from time line five commanded by Lensman Ted Smith. But the Circle had put me in charge of Operation Triple-M, and I did dig out information that led us to the Revisionists. I got most of it from one of my own employees, the pilot of that bus. I made a bad mistake, Maureen, in hiring that evil maggot. My poor judgement almost cost your life. I'm sorry. '
‘Sorry about what? Hilda Mae, my precious, if you hadn't rescued me in Albuquerque, years ago, I would be dead, dead, dead! Don't ever forget it, because I never forget it. '
‘Spare me your gratitude, Mau; I had fun. Both times. I borrowed some snakes from Patty Paiwonski and hung this oaf upside down over a snake pit while I questioned him. That sharpened his memory and got us the correct time line, place, and date - Kansas City in Gregorian 2184 starting at 26 June on a previously unexplored variant of time tine two, one in which the Second American Revolution never took place. It is now designated time line eleven, and is a nasty enough place that the Circle put it in the Someday File for cleaning or cauterising when we get around to it. '
Hilda leaned down and twiddled her fingers at Pixel, spoke to him in cat language; he came at once and settled in her lap, purring loudly. ‘We put agents into that version of Kansas City but they lost you the same day you arrived. Or that night. They traced you from Grand Hotel Augustus to a private home, from there to the Mayor's palace, and then outdoors into the carnival. And I lost you. But we had established that Pixel was with you. .. even though he was here every day, too. Or almost -‘
‘How does he do that? '