The Two Georges

by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove

Forthcoming in hardcover, March 1996, from Tor Books
Hardcover ISBN 0-312-85969-4

Copyright 1996 by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove


I.

Thomas Bushell bent over the little desk in his stateroom, drafting yet another report. From Victoria, the capital, it was two days by airship west across the North American Union to his home in New Liverpool. He'd taken advantage of that to catch up on h is paperwork, the bane of every police officer's life.

The stateroom speaker came to life with a burst of static. Then the captain announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are nearing the famous Meteor Crater. Those interested in observing it are invited to gather in the starboard lounge. We'll pass it by in abou t five minutes, which gives you plenty of time to walk to the lounge and find yourself a seat. Thank you."

More static, then silence again. Bushell glanced down at the report. He laid his pen on the desk and got to his feet--it could wait. He salved his conscience by reminding himself they'd soon be serving luncheon anyhow.

He needed only a couple of quick strides to reach the door; the stateroom's mirrored wall made it seem larger than it was. He paused a moment to adjust his cravat, run a comb through his hair, and smooth down his sleek brown mustache with the side of a fo refinger. He was a compact, solidly made man who looked younger than his forty-eight years . . . until you noticed his eyes. Police officers see more of the world's seamy side than most mortals. After a while, it shows in their faces. Bushell had seen mor e than most policemen.

He locked the door behind him when he went out into the corridor. Any thief without a mad love for paper would have come away from his stateroom disappointed, but he was not a man who invited misfortune. It came too often, even uninvited.

The lounge was decorated in the Rococo Revival style of King-Emperor Edward VIII; after half a century, the Revival was being revived once more. Plump pink cherubs fluttered on the ceiling. No wooden surface was without a coat of gold leaf, an elaborately carved curlicue, or an inlay of contrasting wood or semiprecious stone.

Bushell took a chair well away from the chattering group who'd got there ahead of him. Even after the lounge grew full, he sat in the center of a small island of privacy; studying the ground a quarter of a mile below, he made it plain he did not welcome e ven the most casual companionship.

"Something to drink, sir?" Like any servant, the tuxedoed waiter slipped unnoticed past personal boundaries the upper classes respected.

Without taking his eyes off the approaching crater, Bushell nodded. "Irish whiskey--Jameson's--over ice, please."

"Very good, sir." The waiter hurried away. Bushell went back into the little bubble of reserve he'd put up around himself. The drone of the dirigible's engines, louder here than in the staterooms at the center of the passenger gondola, blurred the convers ations in the lounge and helped him maintain his isolation.

The airship's whale-shaped shadow slowly slid across Meteor Crater. The crater was about three quarters of a mile across; the shadow took the same fraction of a minute to traverse it from east to west.

Someone not far from Bushell said, "Looks as if God were playing golf in the desert here and didn't replace His divot."

"If God played golf, could He take a divot?" the fellow's companion asked, chuckling. "There's one I'd wager the Archbishop of Canterbury has never pondered."

Meteor Crater did not remind Thomas Bushell of a golfer's divot. To him, it looked like a gunshot wound on the face of the world. Murders by gunfire, thankfully, were rare in the civilian world, but he'd seen more gunshot wounds than he cared to remember in his days in the Royal North American Army. The British Empire and the Franco-Spanish Holy Alliance were officially at peace, so skirmishes between the North American Union and Nueva Espana seldom made the newspapers or the wireless, but if you got shot in one, you died just as dead as if it had happened in the full glare of publicity.

The waiter returned and went through the lounge with a silver tray. When he came to Bushell, he said, "Jameson's over ice," and handed him the glass. "That will be seven and sixpence, sir."

Bushell drew his wallet from the left front pocket of his linen trousers. He took out a dark green ten-shilling note and handed it to the waiter. Like all NAU banknotes, whatever their color and denomination, the ten-shilling green bore a copy of Gainsbor ough's immortal The Two Georges, which celebrated George Washington's presentation to George III as the leading American member of the privy council that oversaw British administration of the colonies on the western shore of the Atlantic.

The waiter set the banknote on his tray. As he gave Bushell a silver half-crown in change, he remarked, "Exciting to think the original Two Georges is touring the original NAU, isn't it, sir? And it'll be coming to New Liverpool next. I hope I have the chance to see it, don't you?"

"Yes, that would be very fine," Bushell said. Ever since it was painted, The Two Georges had symbolized everything that was good about the union between Great Britain and her American dominions.

Bushell did not tell the waiter he would be the man chiefly responsible for keeping The Two Georges safe while it was in New Liverpool. For one thing, in that kind of job anonymity was an advantage. For another, he had enough work to catch up on ba ck in the stateroom that he preferred not to think about what lay ahead till it actually arrived.

From speakers mounted in the ceiling of the lounge, the airship captain said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to remind you luncheon will be served in the dining room in ten minutes. I trust you'll enjoy the cuisine that's made the Upper California Lim ited famous all over the world."

The alacrity with which the lounge emptied said the passengers trusted they would enjoy the cuisine, too. Thomas Bushell had seated himself a long way from the exit, and in any case was in no hurry. He left a shilling for the servitor who'd brought him hi s drink, then followed the crowd to the dining room.

A bowing waiter escorted him to a seat. Because he was one of the latecomers, he did not have a table to himself, which disappointed him, but he was near a window; though the company might prove uncongenial, the scenery never would.

The dining room would have done credit to a fine restaurant down on the ground. Bushell's feet sank deep into colorful Persian carpets as he approached his place. Starched white linen, crystal goblets, and heavy silver flatware greeted him there.

"Fred Harvey food!" boomed the man who sat across the table from him. He smacked his lips in anticipation. "We couldn't eat better at Claridge's, sir, nor even in Paris, by God." His red, jowly face and the great expanse of white shirtfront beneath his ja cket said his opinion was to be reckoned with when it came to food.

"Fred Harvey is a man of whom the Empire may be proud," Bushell answered, "and his sons and grandsons have maintained his tradition." He waved out the window to the grand aerial vista spread out before them.

A waiter handed out menus, then retired to give the diners time to make their choices. Bushell was torn between the salmon poached in white wine and the larded tenderloin of beef in Madeira sauce. At last he chose the latter because it would go well with a Bordeaux whose acquaintance he'd been lucky enough to make the night before.

"A very sound selection," his corpulent table companion said when he gave his choice to the waiter. "A splendid year, 1981, and just now coming into full maturity." He picked the salmon himself, and a pinot blanc of formidable heritage.

Far below, dust devils swirled over the red-brown desert ground. The wind that kicked them up also beat against the airship. The passenger gondola rocked slightly, as if it were a boat on a rippling pond. The sommelier arrived just then with the wine. Aft er the ritual of the cork, he poured. The headwind made the wine stir in its goblet, but it did not come close to spilling.

"Better than traveling by sea," the fat man said as the wine steward poured his fancy white. "There they put the tables on gimbals, to keep the food from winding up in the passengers' laps. And it would be pity to waste this lovely wine on my trousers. Th ey haven't the palate to appreciate it." He chuckled wheezily.

Bushell raised his goblet in salute. "His majesty, the King-Emperor!" he said. He and his companion both sipped their wine to the traditional toast heard round the world in the British Empire.

"I drink to headwinds," the fat man said, lifting his glass in turn. "If they make us late getting into New Liverpool, we shall be able to enjoy another supper in this splendid establishment."

"I shouldn't drink to that one," Bushell said. "I have enough work ahead of me to want to get to it as soon as I can. However--" He paused, remembering supper the night before, then brought the goblet to his lips. The fat man laughed again.

The waiters began serving. Conversation in the dining room ebbed, supplanted by the gentle music of silver on silver. Meals aboard the Upper California Limited deserved, and got, serious attention. Bushell's tenderloin was fork-tender and meltingly rich, the dry wine in the Madeira sauce bringing out the full flavor of the beef. The tenderloin was a generous cut, but when it was gone he found himself wishing it had been larger.

Across the table from him, the fat man methodically demolished his salmon. Bushell had chosen a plate of cheese and apple slices for dessert, but the fat man devoured something Teutonically full of chocolate and cream and pureed raspberries. When he leane d back in his chair, replete at last, he was even more florid than he had been before the meal.

He drew a silver case from the inner pocket of his jacket. "D'you mind, sir?"

"By no means." Bushell took out his own case, chose a cigar from it, and struck a lucifer. He savored the mild smoke. The aroma of the fat man's panatella said he was as much a connoisseur of tobacco as he was of fine wine.

Bushell savored his feeling of contentment with the world; he knew it too seldom. He leaned back in his chair, peered out the window once more. Suddenly he pointed. "Look! There's an aeroplane!"

"Where?" The fat man stared. "Ah, I see it. Not a sight one comes across every day."

"Not in peacetime, certainly," Bushell said. The aeroplane flashed by at breathtaking speed, twin wings above and below its lean, shark-like fuselage providing lift. It was gone before Bushell got more than a glimpse of the blue, white, and red roundel on its flank that announced it belonged to the Royal North American Flying Corps.

The fat man puffed moodily on his cigar. "So much speed is vulgar, don't you think?"

"Useful for the military," Bushell answered. "In civilian life, though, there's not usually much point to dashing across the continent in ten or twelve hours. You hardly have the time to accomplish anything while you're traveling."

"Quite, quite." The fat man's jowls wobbled when he nodded. "If you need to get anyplace in such a tearing hurry, chances are you've either started too late or, more likely, put less thought into your journey than you should have."

"Just so." Bushell finished his cigar and then, with a nod to his table companion, excused himself and went back to his stateroom. He knew how much he still had to accomplish before the Upper California Limited docked itself to the mooring mast in New Liverpool.

When he got back to his desk, he lit another cigar and plunged once more into paperwork. As much as anything could, the smoke relaxed him. In the early days of dirigibles, when inflammable hydrogen filled their gasbags, such a simple pleasure would have b een forbidden as deadly dangerous. But coronium, though its lifting power was slightly less, had the great advantage of being immune to the risk of fire. Tapping his ash into a cut-glass tray, Bushell gave silent thanks to technical progress.

He had so immersed himself in his reports that he started when the captain came on the ceiling speaker and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we shall be mooring in New Liverpool about an hour from now, just before four in the afternoon, very close to our sched uled arrival time. I hope you have enjoyed your flight aboard the Upper California Limited, and that--"

Bushell stopped listening and went back to work. About forty minutes later, he found himself rubbing his eyes. At first, he thought they were just tired. Then he laughed. "I'm nearly home: I can feel it in the air," he murmured. Although New Liverpool dre w most of its power from electric plants far away, the valleys in which the city nestled had a way of trapping the fumes of burnt kerosene from steam cars, along with factory smoke and locomotive exhaust, until they sometimes made the air almost as bad as it got in London.

The policeman got up, stretched, and packed the reports on which he'd labored so mightily into his carpetbag. After checking to make sure he was leaving nothing behind in the stateroom, he went to the lounge to watch the dirigible land. The lounge was pac ked; a good many others had had the same idea.

The Upper California Limited glided over the streets and towns of New Liverpool toward the airship port, a great flat expanse of macadam hard by the Pacific, south and west of the central core of the city. But New Liverpool sprawled in a way differ ent from cities in the eastern provinces of the NAU. Because earthquakes visited the Californias so often, buildings above a dozen stories were forbidden here. New Liverpool had grown out, not up.

"Look!" someone said. "You can read the traffic commandments painted on the highways down there."

"And looked at the steamers and the electric coaches," someone else chimed in. "They're tiny as toys."

Off to the north, a train, also seemingly toy-sized, rolled toward the station. Private cars were wonderful for getting about inside a town, but trains and airships traversed the vast reaches of the North American Union far more efficiently.

Down on the sidewalks, antlike people pointed and waved up to the Upper California Limited. They and their conveyances swelled as the dirigible continued its descent toward the airship port. Bushell spied the great silver shapes of two other airshi ps already berthed at their masts.

The muted roar of the Upper California Limited's motors lessened as it neared its own mooring mast. The airship slowed until it was all but hovering, like an enormous, elongated soap bubble. The captain let down the landing lines. A swarm of overal l-clad groundcrew men--about half and half, pale Irish and brown Nuevespanolans--seized the lines and began the job of tethering the airship to the ground once more.

The snap! that locked the flange at the airship's nose to the collar atop the mooring mast made the immense craft vibrate for a moment. "Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached the ground at New Liverpool at 3:58 local time. The weather is sunny, as you'll ha ve seen; local temperature is seventy-seven degrees. On behalf of the entire crew, I'd like to say it's been a pleasure serving you aboard the Upper California Limited these past two days. We hope you'll fly with us again soon."

Along with the rest of the passengers, Bushell filed toward the exit at the rear of the gondola. As always at the end of an airship flight, the sound of running, splashing water filled his ears as the ground crew pumped the ballast tanks to the very top t o make the Upper California Limited less a plaything for the fickle wind.

A man shifted from foot to foot. After glancing around to make sure no women were in earshot, he said, "That noise always reminds me I should have gone to the jakes." Bushell smiled, but thinly; the joke had to be as old as airships.

While the passengers descended the wheeled stairway the ground crew had attached to the exit door, their luggage slid down a metal ramp alongside. As soon as he started down the stairs, Bushell donned the snap-brim fedora he'd carried in his left hand. On ce on the ground, he queued up to reclaim his bags. That took a while; the Negro clerk who gave them out lived up to his race's reputation for fussy precision, meticulously comparing every claim check to the corresponding label on suitcase or trunk.

"Those two there," Bushell said, pointing to his pigskin bags.

"Yes, sir," the clerk replied, though his eyes said he looked at Bushell, as at everyone else, as a likely thief. "Give me your stubs, sir, and I'll just go and see if they're the proper ones." He took the stubs, compared the numbers, and let out a loud " Huh!" when they matched. Bushell took the bags, tipped him a sixpence, and carried them off toward the parking garage a couple of hundred yards away.

By the time he got to his steamer, his arms felt several inches longer. He opened the boot and tossed in the suitcases, then got behind the wheel and put his carpetbag on the seat beside him. The car had sat idle here for several days while he was in Vict oria, so he'd shut off the burner under the boiler. That meant he'd have to get up steam before he could go.

He turned the key. A battery-powered sparker lit the burner. A twist of a dashboard knob brought the flame up to high. Then he had nothing to do but wait and watch the pressure gauge. He glanced at his pocket watch, wondering if he had time to go back to his flat before he reported to the Royal American Mounted Police office. He shook his head. No.

After eight or ten minutes, the pressure gauge eased off the zero peg. He reduced flame; maintaining pressure took a lot less kerosene than starting up. He released the brake, put the steamer in gear, and drove away. The garage attendant glanced at the da te stamped on the ticket he presented, said, "That'll be two pounds even, sir," and accepted the blue banknote he proffered with a word of thanks and the brush of a forefinger against the brim of his flat cloth cap.

Traffic, light near the airship port, picked up as Bushell made his way toward the heart of New Liverpool. Not for the first time, he marveled at how the sleepy Franco-Spanish village of Los Angeles had, in the century and a third since its incorporation into the North American Union, grown into a great and thoroughly Britannic city.

Oh, a fair number of the people in cars, on bicycles, and walking on the sidewalks showed Nuevespanolan blood. In manner and dress, though, most of them were not easily distinguishable from their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic counterparts of similar class.

Clothes didn't make the man, but they gave an experienced observer like Bushell a good idea of how he earned his bread: laborers in overalls and cloth caps; jacketless clerks, some also wearing caps, others in straw boaters, junior businessmen in wide-leg ged trousers and striped jackets with high, pointed lapels, generally in fedoras with snap or round brims but sometimes choosing straws; more senior businessmen in tighter-fitting pants and longer jackets of somber black or brown or blue, many with cravat s in public school patterns, almost all wearing waistcoats and homburgs or narrow-brimmed derbies. A few men showed they were on holiday with their tennis whites or cricketers'' caps.

By their clothing, the Negro men Bushell saw might all have been captains of industry. Most of them, though, were undoubtedly civil servants, even if they did affect the quiet elegance of the moneyed classes.

But for those who wore the black dress and white apron that marked servants, women enjoyed more latitude in their dress than men. Age and fashion spoke louder than class. Older women's dresses still brushed the sidewalk, as they had in Victoria's day. The ir daughters and granddaughters, though, displayed not only ankles but several inches of shapely calf in pleated linen skirts of bright, flowery hues.

"Irene," Bushell muttered, and gripped the steering wheel with unnecessary force. She'd been older than most women who'd adopted the daring new style a few years before, but no one who saw her in one of those short skirts would have denied she had the leg s to wear them. No one at all . . .

He pulled into the carpark next to the Royal American Mounties' headquarters just as the bells of the Anglican cathedral across the street rang five. When he parked, he put the steamer in neutral, set the hand brake, and turned the burner flame down to it s lowest setting, just enough to keep the steam live in the boiler and let him drive off without having to wait and get it up again.

RAMs greeted him as he got out of the car and headed for the office, carpetbag in hand: "Welcome back, Colonel!" "Hope you gave the red-tape artists in Victoria the what-for." A couple of men asked anxiously, "How does the appropriation look for next year ?" New Liverpool was a long way from the capital of the NAU; everyone worried about being forgotten when budget time rolled around.

"General Bragg says we have nothing to worry about," Bushell answered, to the visible relief of his questioners. They knew he and Lieutenant General Sir Horace Bragg had been friends since their days as subalterns in the army; if the RAMs' commandant told Bushell the appropriation would be all right, you could rely on it.

Bushell went up the marble steps and into the office building. He exchanged more greetings with the men he met there, but didn't pause to chat. As he headed for the stairway, someone behind him said, "He's got his business face on already."

"No--still," someone else answered, just loud enough for him to catch.

He took the stairs quickly, and was breathing a little hard by the time he reached the third floor. That annoyed him, and made him think less kindly of the large and excellent luncheon he'd eaten aboard the airship. As if to exorcise the ghost of that lun cheon, he half-trotted down the hall to his office.

Gilt letters on the door stared at him as he fumbled for his keys: COLONEL THOMAS BUSHELL, CHIEF, UPPER CALIFORNIA SECTION, ROYAL AMERICAN MOUNTED POLICE. One of these days, they'd scrape off his name and rank and replace them with someone else's. The res t of the legend could stay the same. That would save the ratepayers money.

He turned the key in the lock, opened the door, closed and locked it after him. The office was twilight-gloomy, the Venetian blinds closed so the late afternoon sun only painted two rows of little glowing dots across the near wall here. Instead of opening the blinds, Bushell flicked the switch by the door. A bare bulb mounted in a ceiling fixture filled the office with harsh yellow light.

The wooden swivel chair behind the heavy oak desk squeaked as Bushell lowered his weight into it. It squeaked again when he leaned back and stared at the opposite wall. Between a tall oak file cabinet that matched the desk and a bookcase crowded with stat ute books, legal tomes, and criminological texts hung a framed color print of The Two Georges. Just below it was a rectangular patch where the wallpaper was of a slightly darker blue than anywhere else in the office, as if another picture had hung there until recently.

Bushell looked at that darker patch for a couple of minutes, his face utterly empty of expression. Then he reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out his keys once more. They jingled; he had a lot of them. He went through them one by one until he foun d a short, stubby, shiny one, which he inserted into the lock above the top right drawer of his desk.

He pulled the drawer open. It was not packed with papers like the rest of the desk drawers. One of the things it held was a gilt-framed picture, about the size of the darker rectangle on the wallpaper. The picture was face-down. Bushell did not turn it ov er. On top of the picture lay a flat pint bottle of Jameson's Irish whiskey. He picked it up, pulled out the stopper, and took a swig, then another.

The smoky taste of the whisky filled his mouth. Its warmth filled his belly and mounted to his head. He took one more pull and then, with slow deliberation, corked the bottle and put it back in the drawer, which he locked. He went back to staring at the w allpaper. Eventually, the darker patch would fade to the color of the rest and disappear. If only memories faded so conveniently.

Someone knocked on the door. Bushell started. The someone tried the knob, which gave Bushell a good notion of who it was. "Half a moment, Sam," he called, loud enough for his voice to pierce the thick wood. He was relieved to find he sounded sober as a ju dge (and wasn't that a laugh, with half of them bloody lushes!).

He used the half a moment to light a hasty cigar. Its aroma would cover that of the Jameson's in the room and, more to the point, on his breath.

He went to the door and opened it. Sure enough, there stood Captain Samuel Stanley, his adjutant. "Welcome back, Chief," he said, and stuck out his hand.

Bushell shook it, then stood aside. "Come in out of the rain."

"Don't mind if I do." Stanley walked into the office. He was a round-faced, medium-dark Negro, four or five years older than Bushell and several inches taller. His hair was as closely cropped as it had been in the long-ago days when he was staff sergeant in Bushell's platoon, but the pepper hadn't been dusted with salt then.

"One thing I have to give you, Sam," Bushell said with a chuckle: "you don't dress like most colored men I see."

Samuel Stanley looked down at himself with considerable dignity. "And why the devil should I?" he asked. "I'm not a petty official trying to pretend I'm better than I am, and I'm not an undertaker, either. I'm an officer of the RAMs in a warm town, and da mn proud of it."

He glared at his longtime comrade, daring him to make something of it. And indeed, his double-breasted light blue blazer and white worsted trousers with thin black stripes were not only acceptable but handsome. As Bushell had said, though, most men of his race would never have appeared in anything save black or navy, nor worn a gold silk cravat dotted with crimson.

"Good. You damn well ought to be," Bushell said. "Clothes won't matter tonight, anyway: time to hope the moths haven't eaten our dress uniforms."

"As soon as I heard you were back, that's what I came here to remind you about," Stanley said. "After all the fuss and feathers in Victoria, there was always the chance you'd lost track of the date."

"Not bloody likely." Bushell pointed to the print of The Two Georges. "After looking at that every day I'm here, after seeing it every time I pull out my wallet, after growing up in a house with an enormous lithograph of it hung over the sofa in th e parlor, do you think I'd miss the chance to see the original at last?"

"Now that you mention it, no." Samuel Stanley chuckled. "About as easy to get away from The Two Georges as to flap your arms and fly to the moon, isn't it? What's that word the damn Russians use for a religious painting?"

"An icon," Bushell answered. "That's about right, too." He walked over to the small closet behind his desk, pulled the door open, peered inside. "Well, the moths seem to have left something here. You have your dress reds?" The question was purely rhetoric al; Samuel Stanley, as best he could tell, never forgot anything.

The black man nodded. "I brought them in this morning. I'm just a lowly captain, don't you know" --his voice took on the languid accents of an English milord of Oxonian overeducation--"so I don't have a la-de-da closet in my office."

Bushell snorted. "Go change, then, and meet me back here in fifteen minutes." He pulled out his pocket watch. "We're in good time. The reception doesn't start until half past eight, and the governor's mansion is only about half an hour from here. That sho uld give us plenty of time to mingle beforehand" --he rolled his eyes to show how much he looked forward to that-- "and to make sure security is as tight in the mansion as it looks on paper."

"Nothing is ever as good as it looks on paper," Stanley said with the certainty of a veteran noncommissioned officer. "But you're right; one more round of checks won't hurt. I'll see you as soon as I'm in uniform." He nodded to Bushell and left the office .

Bushell got out of his civilian clothes, hung them up, and put on the red-striped black trousers and the red tunic he took out of the closet. The tunic had two rows of seven gilt buttons down the breast, and a high stand collar that was damnably uncomfort able. The shoulderboards showed Bushell's rank with the crown of the British Empire (differenced from that of the military by the letters RAMP beneath) and two pips each.

He belted on his ceremonial sword, pulled his service cap from the shelf above the coat rail, and set it on his desk. The visor had a row of scrambled eggs along the edge, but not by the crown. That and the band of red around the cap also signified his co lonelcy.

Samuel Stanley knocked on the door well before the fifteen minutes had passed. That surprised Bushell not at all; he was just glad to be ready himself. Stanley grinned when he saw Bushell. "Don't we make a fine pair!" he exclaimed.

His tunic bore a single row of buttons. On his shoulder boards were three pips apiece, and the letters RAMP. His cap was plain black, without red band or scrambled eggs. The basket hilt of his sword was plain steel, while Bushell's had been gilded.

"We'll break up the monotony of frock coats, white shirtfronts, and toppers, that's certain," Bushell said. "Nothing like a uniform to make the pretty girls notice you, eh, Sam?"

Stanley sent him a wary look. He and his wife Phyllis had been married for more than twenty-five years. As for Bushell . . . Stanley's eyes slid to the dark rectangle below the print of The Two Georges. Instead of rising to the bait, he said, "Let's get g oing, shall we?"

"I'll drive," Bushell said. "I enjoy it, and the steam's up in my car."

"Are you all right?" Stanley asked.

"Right as rain," Bushell answered. "I slept better in the airship the last two nights than I do in my own flat." That was true. If it wasn't precisely what his friend had enquired about, he chose not to notice.

He and Stanley went downstairs together. As soon as they left the RAM headquarters, they set their caps on their heads, almost in unison, and smiled at each other. Bushell held the passenger door open for his friend, then went around to the right side of the steamer and slid behind the wheel. He backed the car out of its parking space, shifted to the lowest of his three forward gears, and all but silently rolled away. He turned up the burner to give him more pressure in reserve when he got out onto the st reet.

The RAM office building was in what had been downtown ever since New Liverpool belonged to the Franco-Spanish Holy Alliance. The provincial governor's mansion lay some miles to the west; as at the airship port, Pacific breezes helped moderate the climate there.

Sunset Highway offered the quickest, most direct route between downtown New Liverpool and the governor's mansion. The highway traversed not only settled districts but also parklands--some green with irrigation, others the semidesert scrub native to Upper California--and citrus groves whose shiny green leaves perfumed the air.

A patch of light in a dark doorway made Bushell's head whip around as the steamer passed through an urban stretch. When he saw the doorway belonged to a tavern, he relaxed. "I was afraid that might have been a fire," he said, "but it's just a televisor sc reen."

"Nothing like getting together with your chums after a hard day, soaking up a pint or two while you watch the cricket matches or rugby or tennis or whatever happens to be showing," Samuel Stanley said. "Keep your eyes on the screen and you don't have to t hink about what ails you--or much of anything else, come to that."

They passed a trafficator whose wigwag signs gave cars on the cross street the right of way. "Do you know," Bushell remarked, "one of the airship passengers was boasting at supper last night that he had a televisor screen in his own home."

His friend turned to stare at him, incredulous distaste on his face. "You are joking, I hope."

Bushell raised his right hand, as if he were about to stand in the witness box. "Upon my solemn oath." The wigwag switched. He put the steamer back into gear.

"Why would anyone want such a thing?" Stanley said, not so much to Bushell as to the world at large. "Wireless is one thing: you can read or talk or do anything else you care to while it's on. But a televisor screen . . . if it's showing something, you bl oody well have to watch it. Suppose you have guests? I've never heard of anything so, so vulgar in all my life, I don't think. Besides, televisors don't come cheap. What did this chap do, anyhow?"

"By what he said, he's just made a killing in pork futures," Bushell answered dryly. "What was that last street we just passed? Loring Drive? We should be very near now."

The governor's mansion occupied a great tract of land south of Sunset Highway and west of Hilgard Place. The grounds around the mansion were rolled billiard-table flat, the lawn a velvety coat of green as perfect as any in England itself--no mean feat, gi ven New Liverpool's hot, dry weather. That splendid lawn made the untouched chaparral rising from the north side of the highway all the more wild and impenetrable by comparison.

The view across the lawn, obstructed only by statuary of marble and bronze, let Bushell see the governor's mansion clearly as soon as he passed Hilgard Place. It also let him clearly see the line of picketers in front of the mansion. One eyebrow rose. He turned to Samuel Stanley. "What the devil's all that in aid of?"

His adjutant grimaced. "I just got word of them today. They're a group of coal miners from the eastern provinces--Pennsylvania, Virginia, Franklin--here to protest the way the rest of the NAU treats them. They say the rest of the dominion can stay clean b ecause they're so dirty."

"If they have complaints like that, why don't they take them to their own provincial parliaments?" Bushell held up a finger before Stanley could answer. "Wait, don't tell me. They came out here because New Liverpool has dirty air, too, and they figured th ey'd get more attention protesting far from home."

"Right the first time," Samuel Stanley said. As the steamer neared the entrance to the governor's mansion, Bushell saw there were nearly as many reporters as picketers in front of the four-story, foursquare building. Flashbulbs popped like a fusillade of small-arms fire.

He turned left onto the grounds of the mansion. A New Liverpool constable in dark blue, a billyclub swinging from his belt, gestured with a red lantern to guide the steamer toward the carpark west of the building. "Just put it anywhere, gents," he said. B y the way he sounded, keeping an eye on where cars parked was the least of his worries tonight.

The picketers started a chant: "Clean air, clean water, clean work! Filthy air, filthy water, no work! Clear air, clean water, clean--"

The constable rolled his eyes. "God damn me to hell, gents, if one in three of those sons of bitches don't belong to the Sons of Liberty."

"I shouldn't be surprised," Bushell said solemnly.

"Bloody fools," Samuel Stanley said. "Some people are never satisfied, don't know when they're well off. What would North America be outside the British Empire? Alone and poor, if you ask me."

"You're right," the constable said. "May you have a better time inside there with the nabobs than that rabble does outdoors. Go on and park your steamer, gents." He pointed the way with his lantern once more.

"There should be a downstairs for buggies like this one, eh, Sam?" Bushell said as he looked at the big, gleaming vehicles crowding the carpark: British Rollses and Supermarines; a low, devilish-looking Franco-Spanish Peugeot; and the cream of the NAU's a utomotive crop, Washingtons and Wrightmobiles and two or three battery-powered Lightnings. His own middle-aged, middle-class Henry was definitely below the salt here.

He found a space, turned the burner down, set the brake, and got out. So did Samuel Stanley. The captain grinned and pointed. "Look there, Chief, a couple of rows over. You should have parked by that one. Yours would look a hell of a lot classier by compa rison."

"You're right about that." Bushell wondered what the weatherbeaten little Traveler was doing here. Then the driver's-side door to the old steamer opened. His jaw dropped. "Will you look at that?"

Stanley whistled softly. "I'll be damned. It's Tricky Dick, the Steamer King! I didn't know he was still alive."

"He must be past eighty by now," Bushell agreed. "When we meet him inside, you'd better remember to call him Honest Dick, too."

"I'll call him whatever I choose," his adjutant answered. "I remember the last car I bought off one of his lots--too bloody well, I do. How about you?"

"My luck with his machines hasn't been too bad," Bushell said. "I wonder how many people all over the NAU bought their first steamer secondhand off one of Tricky Dick's--Honest Dick's: there, you've got me doing it--lots."

"About half the people who weren't born to mansions of their own, is my guess," Samuel Stanley said. Bushell nodded. For the past half-century, the only way to escape Honest Dick's relentless promotion was to be blind and deaf. For most of that time, the man had been synonymous with secondhand cars. With its long ski-jump nose, his profile was probably the second most recognizable in the NAU, after only the King-Emperor's. Stanley went on, "No wonder he was invited tonight. He's got more money than the Ba nk of England, or I'm a Dutchman."

"That you're not," Bushell replied. "He really does drive one of his old coughboilers, though. I'd heard as much, but I hadn't believed it."

"No, no chauffeur for him, and Lord knows he could afford one," Stanley said. "He's pretty spry for an old fellow, too." Although the Steamer King carried a cane and walked with a slight limp, he moved at a good clip as he made his way toward the front en trance to the governor's mansion.

Several of the picketers recognized him. They sent catcalls his way. He scowled at them from under thick, still-dark eyebrows. "Let me say this to you, young men," he said in the deep, rather throaty voice Bushell had heard countless times on the wireless . "I think you should be ashamed of what you're doing here this evening. The strength and prosperity of the North American Union depend on her coal. You have no business acting in any way that threatens our prosperity." He shook the cane to emphasize his words.

The picketers shouted back: "Go peddle your steamers, Tricky Dick!" "Keep your pointy nose out of what your don't understand!" "If we're so all-fired important to the NAU, how come nobody treats us decent?" "How'd you like to cough yourself to death befor e you're fifty, like two of my brothers did?"

Honest Dick ignored the jeers and kept walking. Behind him, Samuel Stanley said, "He's heard worse than that from maybe one customer in three." Bushell clicked his tongue between his teeth, as if to a naughty child, but he also nodded.

The columned entranceway was surmounted by a severely classical relief of the Hesperides, the nymphs who guarded the golden apples of the sun in their far western land. The golden apples of the sun also appeared on the green field of Upper California's pr ovincial flag, which rippled with the Union Jack and the NAU's Jack and Stripes in spotlighted splendor out on the lawn.

Just inside the entranceway, a RAM sergeant apologetically asked Bushell and Stanley to show their identification--"I know you're really you, Colonel, Captain, but I'm checking everybody"--then lined through their names on a list he held in a clipboard.

"If you hadn't asked for my papers, Jim, you'd have been in my office tomorrow morning," Bushell said. The sergeant nodded; he knew how his boss did things.

The RAM chief and his adjutant checked their service caps. The servant who took them hung them on pegs in the crowded cloakroom. She pointed down a hall. "The receiving line and cocktail reception are in the Drake Room, sirs."

"To the Drake Room we shall go, then," Bushell said agreeably.

The hallway was paneled in gleaming mahogany and decorated first with portraits of previous governors of Upper California and then, after it had jogged to the right, with the heads of deer, bears, and catamounts some of those governors had slain. A rising tide of talk came from the Drake Room, almost enough to drown the Vivaldi a string quartet was softly playing.

Going down the reception line was like running the gauntlet: Governor John Burnett, bluff, ruddy, and florid, with a fringe of gingery beard; his wife Stella in a gown of mulberry silk that did not quite suit her sallow complexion; Jonas Barber, head of t he New Liverpool town council, a plump little man with a shiny bald head who in formal attire lacked only orange shoes to make a perfect penguin; his wife Marcella, several inches taller, looking elegant in a flowered print dress with a bow at the bodice and shirred flyaway sleeves; and the lieutenant governor and other six town councilmen with their respective spouses.

Thomas Bushell shook the men's hands, bowed over those of the ladies. Small talk set his teeth on edge, but no man who led a large organization could afford to be without it. At the end of the receiving line he looked for one more man, the K. FLANNERY who , his documents said, headed the staff of curators and historians of art traveling with The Two Georges.

To his surprise, though, at the end of the line stood not a man but a woman. The dark green gown with thin matching satin stripes in inverted V's showed off a figure which left no possible doubt of that. As soon as he saw her face, he had no doubt she was the K. Flannery in question, either. Porcelain-pale skin, high, strong, forward-thrusting cheekbones, and narrow jaw proclaimed her Irish blood, as did green eyes and red-gold hair spilling down over her shoulders in elaborately casual curls.

"Glad you're on the job, Colonel," one of the town councilmen said as Bushell moved past him. "The Two Georges'll be as safe here as back at the Victoria and Albert in London, eh?"

"Good of you to say so," Bushell replied, but he'd only half-heard the councilman's remark. His eyes kept sliding back toward the startling curator of the The Two Georges. They met hers for a moment. She smiled at him. At first he thought that very forward of her, but then he realized she would have recognized his uniform as that which belonged to the local head of security. She doubtless had her agenda, as he had his.

The town councilman wanted to blather on about a large load of cannabis the RAMs had recently captured. Bushell had written up that report aboard the Upper California Limited, but he answered in monosyllables till the councilman gave up and let him reach the end of the receiving line.

"You must be Colonel T. Bushell," the Irish-looking woman said, smiling again. "May I ask what the T stands for?"

"If you'll tell me what the K is for in K. Flannery," he answered, and added, "The same clerk must have typed both our lists."

"I shouldn't be a bit surprised," she said. "My Christian name is Kathleen. And yours?"

"Thomas," he said. She nodded slightly, as if in approval. He took her hand and bowed over it, as he had for the other women--overstuffed dowagers, the lot of them, he thought--in the receiving line. He held hers a bit longer and a bit tighter, tho ugh: not enough to be in any way offensive, but plenty to convey a small message of admiration. Her eyes said she'd received it.

"Now that you're here," she said briskly, "I have leave to quit this line and take you straight upstairs to show you the arrangements we've made for displaying The Two Georges here tonight. Or, if you'd rather mingle for a time before you make your inspection, that would be all right, too."

"Business first," he said at once. Again she gave him that approving nod. He went on, "As part of that business, allow me to present my adjutant, Captain Samuel--who is probably S. on your list--Stanley. Sam, this is Kathleen Flannery, curator of the trav eling exhibit."

"Pleasure to meet you, ma'am," Stanley said. He turned to Bushell. "I hope you'll excuse me for a bit, sir? I see Phyllis in the crowd there." He pointed. "Odds are, she's been waiting for me since half past two. She's more excited about this than I am; s eeing The Two Georges isn't something you get to do every day. Of course, she's not here on duty, either."

"Give her a kiss for me," Bushell said, and Samuel Stanley slid through the crush toward his wife. Bushell dipped his head to Kathleen Flannery. "At your service."

"I hope I haven't been rude," she said. "If your wife is here also, don't let business get ahead of that. The Two Georges can certainly wait a few minutes."

"I'm--not married," he said shortly. As a single man's will, his eyes slipped, almost of themselves, to the fourth finger of her left hand. It bore no ring. He wondered why--unless he was mistaken (and about such things he seldom was), she'd passed thirty by a year or two. Married to her career, maybe? He gave a mental shrug. None of his business--and The Two Georges was.

As they walked to the curving stair of polished marble, he heard Honest Dick the Steamer King complaining to anyone who would listen about the "band of damned Irish hooligans parading outside. Not a one of them with an ounce of respect for the law or an o unce of appreciation for their place in society. Riffraff, the lot of them." Bushell didn't need to turn around to imagine the steamer magnate's jowls wobbling in righteous indignation.

Kathleen Flannery didn't turn around, either, but her back, already straight, got straighter. Quietly, Bushell said, "Landing the position you have now can't have been easy, not when you're Irish and a woman both."

"Thank you, Colonel," she said, and then went on, sighing, "My family has been on this side of the Atlantic for almost a hundred and fifty years, but people still judge me by my surname. I can't help that. And women have been taking jobs that require skil l for even longer--ever since the typewriter was invented, I suppose."

"Ah, the typewriter," Bushell said. "If you knew how many times I've listened to Sam go on about how the typewriter made his family what it is today--"

"I shouldn't wonder," Kathleen answered.

"A lot of Negroes left the southern plantations when the Empire outlawed slavery in 1834," Bushell said, "and got the education they couldn't have in bondage. And because they were newly free and looking for work and willing to work cheap--"

"--They've been typists and clerks and petty officials ever since," she finished for him. "How did your adjutant end up a RAM instead?"

"He says the army made him realize he didn't want to be chained to a desk and a file drawer the rest of his life." Bushell let out a wry chuckle. "That only shows he didn't know much about police work when he took it on."

Kathleen Flannery left the stairs at the first-floor landing. Bushell followed her down a hall ornamented with a mural of Royal Navy steamships bombarding Franco-Spanish Los Angeles and landing red-clad marines to cement Britain's hold on it.

"The Two Georges is in the Cardigan Room," Kathleen Flannery said. "Here."

The two RAMs standing in front of the famous painting came to rigid attention as Bushell walked into the room. Each of them was but a stride or two from a button that would set off an alarm at the slightest hint of trouble. Bushell pointed to one of the b uttons. "I presume that's been checked recently?" he asked in a voice that presumed nothing.

"Yes, sir, this afternoon," the RAM nearer that button answered. "Makes a h--" --he glanced toward Kathleen and revised his choice of words-- "quite a racket, it does. And if that doesn't do the trick, we've got these." He rested a hand on the grip of the long-barreled Colt revolver he wore on his right hip.

"Are armed guards really necessary?" Kathleen asked, frowning.

Bushell understood why the notion upset her; civilians who weren't hunters rarely saw or had anything to do with firearms. But he answered, "I think they are. I have to act on the assumption that someone will try to steal The Two Georges, no matter how farfetched it may seem."

She still looked unhappy, but said no more. Bushell paced the Cardigan Room, making sure arrangements were as he'd ordained. The room had no windows, and only the one door to the hallway. There were also connecting doors to the chambers on either side, bu t at the moment they did not connect. To make sure they did not and would not connect, they had been reinforced and fitted with stout new locks, the keys to which resided in the RAM guards' trouser pockets.

"It should do," Bushell said grudgingly. "It should." He didn't want to admit anything of the sort. "Emergency exit--"

"There's a service lift two doors farther along the hall," Kathleen Flannery answered, as if she thought he didn't know. "Two days from now, we'll take the painting down on it, load it aboard our steam lorry, and move it to the Provincial Museum for publi c display."

As soon as she said that, Bushell saw in his mind a floor plan for the Provincial Museum, and began to worry about security precautions there. Things in the governor's mansion seemed safe enough, but there was so much more to plan for with the general pub lic involved. The guest list here had been carefully screened. You couldn't do that at the Provincial Museum, no matter how much more convenient it would make things. So many people wanted to see The Two Georges . . .

Kathleen brought him back to the here and now: "In case of fire, there's another stairway just past the lift."

"Good," he said, nodding. "Now, about earthquakes--"

"Colonel Bushell, if in the next two days there is an earthquake strong enough to reduce the governor's mansion to a pile of rubble, I admit that The Two Georges is unlikely to survive," she said tartly. "In that unhappy event, however, I am also u nlikely to survive, and so I shall spend very little time fretting over it."

One of the RAM guards snickered, then tried to pretend he hadn't. Kathleen could tell off his boss without getting called on the carpet for insubordination.

Bushell started another circuit of the Cardigan Room. He pulled out his cigar case; the smoke would help him think. "Do you mind?" he asked Kathleen Flannery, and reached for a cigar in anticipation of the permission that almost always came.

But she said, "I'm afraid I do. There's no smoking in this room, both to protect the colors of the painting and to reduce the risk of fire."

Told off again, Bushell thought. But the objections made sense. He tucked the case back into his tunic pocket. After a last look around the room, he reluctantly concluded he could do no more to make The Two Georges safe than he had already d one. For the first time, he paid serious attention to the canvas itself.

In one form or another, he, like everyone else in the NAU, saw the painting every day. Taking a long look at the original, he realized how much about it he had never noticed. It was more than a symbol of the union of the colonies with the mother country; it was a great work of art in its own right.

A master of color and texture, Gainsborough had outdone himself on the uniforms the two Georges wore. Every fold, every crease in the crimson wool of George III's coat was marked by a subtle gradation in shading. The rough, light-drinking texture of the w ool contrasted with the lace at the king's cuffs, the smoother linen of his breeches, and the shimmer from his silk stockings. Lamplight glittered from the gold buckles of his shoes and from the large sunburst of a medal he wore on his left breast.

Bowing before the king, George Washington was made to appear shorter than his sovereign. The blue coat that proclaimed his colonial colonelcy was of wool like that of George III, but of a coarser weave speaking of homespun. Not all its creases were those of fashion; with a few strategic wrinkles and some frayed fringes depending from one epaulette, Gainsborough managed to suggest how long the garment had lain folded in its trunk while Washington sailed across the Atlantic to advance the colonies' interest s on the privy council George III had established.

As a portraitist, Gainsborough more often succeeded with women than with men. Both protagonists in The Two Georges broke that rule. Here was George III, perhaps not the most able of men but earnest, serious, plainly anxious to be doing the best thi ng for England and her American colonies, his small head leaning slightly forward from its perch atop his pear-shaped body. And opposite him, Washington. The colonial leader was a man to be reckoned with. In his bow, Gainsborough had caught the strength a nd athleticism that informed his body. The artist also captured a look in his eyes, a set to his expression, that Bushell had seen in any number of veterans: here, without doubt, stood a man who'd known combat.

You could gather so much from any four-shilling lithograph, or indeed from any banknote in your wallet. But the devil, as always, lay in the details. "There's so much to see!" Bushell breathed.

Kathleen Flannery nodded. "Almost anyone who was anyone in England in the 1760s is there, regardless of whether he was really at the ceremony: Gainsborough was working to produce a piece that would symbolize unity, not just between England and the colonie s but also between Tories and Whigs."

Bushell didn't answer. He was giving the background of the painting the same careful scrutiny he'd used with the figures of George Washington and George III. Some of the men in the palace chamber he recognized at once, as most subjects of the British Empi re would have: there stood the elder Pitt, prime minister at the time, his face thin and intelligent-looking, dominated by a fleshy nose and intense, penetrating eyes, the ermine trim on his robe so perfectly rendered that Bushell could almost count the i ndividual hairs; not far away, his successor, Lord North, plump and soft-faced almost to the point of effeminacy, plucked a roasted chicken leg from a serving girl's silver tray.

Benjamin Franklin stood nearby. He seemed to have one eye on the ceremony, the other on the serving girl, a detail reproductions invariably missed. And there was Samuel Adams, fleshier than Washington but with a face every bit as determined. The colonies had sent their best to London.

Kathleen Flannery waited till Bushell took a step back from The Two Georges, then pointed out some of the men whose names, while prominent during their lifetimes, had since faded: Newcastle, first lord of the treasury; George Grenville, who nearly gained the prime ministry; the political pamphleteer Sir Philip Francis; John Wilkes, another firebrand; and more.

"And there, off in a corner" --Kathleen pointed-- "sketching busily away, is Thomas Gainsborough himself. He doesn't seem to have painted himself into the picture till the very last moment, when he realized he'd created a painting that would live forever. "

"I never noticed him before," Bushell said, almost angrily, for he hated to overlook anything. "You're right, Miss Flannery: he's made himself as immortal as The Two Georges itself."

"Dr. Flannery, if you don't mind, Colonel." She kept her tone light, but he could tell she meant it. A man might not have stressed the title so hard, but a man wouldn't have had to go through so much to earn it--and the respect of the world afterwards--ei ther.

"Dr. Flannery; I beg your pardon," Bushell said. "After I check the lift and that other stairway, shall we go back down to the reception? If you'll let me, I'll get you a drink and do my best to make amends."

She visibly thought it over before she nodded. He was glad; he hadn't warmed so to a woman on brief acquaintance since Irene . . . But if he let himself think too much about Irene, he'd go back down to the reception and drink himself blind. He'd done that too many times before to doubt it.

Nodding to the RAM guards, he went out into the hallway and looked over the opening for the lift and the stairs Kathleen had mentioned. "Surely you'll have seen those in the plans for the mansion," she said. "You're very thorough, to want to inspect them in person."

"The same here as with The Two Georges," he answered. "Until you see something for yourself, you never know what you might be missing."

She studied him as he'd studied the painting. He wondered what she might find lurking in his background to point out. But all she said was, "You must be good at what you do."

"If a RAM isn't good at what he does, he should go do something else," Bushell said. "And shouldn't we go back to the reception downstairs?"

Kathleen nodded. "Yes. I ought to get back. But making sure The Two Georges is safe came first."

"As it should." Bushell patted the sleeve of his scarlet coat. "I'll look official and soldierly and frighten away all the art thieves with my impressive military bearing." He raised an eyebrow to show this was not to be taken seriously. As the reached th e head of the stairs, he offered her his arm. She took it, and they descended side by side.

Governor Burnett came over as they reached the ground floor. "Everything as it should be, Colonel?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, your excellency," Bushell answered. To his regret, Kathleen Flannery, seeing him engaged, turned aside to a waiter who carried a tray of shrimp, oysters, and marinated slices of abalone on a bed of ice. She speared a shrimp with a toothpick, popped it into her mouth.

Bushell set about reassuring the governor. He had trouble blaming Burnett for sounding nervous. The picketers in front of the mansion were chanting louder now, loud enough for their rhythmic calls to travel down the hall and penetrate the chatter that fil led the Drake Room.

"I don't want trouble of any sort tonight," Burnett said, "especially not with press people and wireless reporters here from all over the NAU and from England, too."

"That's why the picketers are here, too," Bushell replied. "They want the reporters to take their protest far and wide."

The governor nodded impatiently. "I know that. It's just--" He stopped, perhaps not sure how frank he wanted to be.

"--You want the story to be about how Upper California is proud to have The Two Georges here, not about coal miners complaining over the state of their lungs," Bushell suggested.

"Exactly!" Burnett said, beaming. But his face fell. "For all you do, sometimes the story you get isn't the story you want."

"As long as they picket peaceably, they have the right to be here." Bushell cocked an ear toward the front of the mansion. "No matter how raucous they are."

The coal miners started a new chant: "Hey, Tricky Dick! Hey, Tricky Dick! Our air stinks worse than your burners!" They seemed to like it; it got louder with every repetition.

Bushell glanced around to see how the used-car magnate was taking that. By the way he'd acted outside the mansion, Honest Dick didn't fancy being the butt of ridicule. Now he slammed his whisky-and-soda down on the bar and growled, "God damn those sons of bitches to hell, and I hope the devil stokes the fire with their own coal. They're all full of shit--every fucking one of them, do you hear me?"

Everyone in the Drake Room must have heard him, for he made not the slightest effort to keep his voice down: on the contrary. Women looked away in embarrassment; a couple of men let out significant coughs. That kind of language might have gone unremarked over cigars and port when the sexes separated after supper, but it was more than startling in mixed company.

"Not a gentleman," someone murmured, a verdict which garnered low-voiced agreement from around the room.

No matter how old the Steamer King was, he still had sharp ears. "Not a gentleman?" he said (shouted, actually; Bushell wondered how many whiskey-and-sodas he'd had before this latest one). "No, I'm not a gentleman, and I'm proud of it--what d'you think o f that? My father grew oranges and lemons and ran a general store. He didn't have two shillings to jingle in his pocket, and I didn't have two ha'pennies. My wife wore a plain cloth coat till the day she died, God bless her; no fancy furs and silks for he r. I worked my way to where I am with these two hands" --he held them high-- "and anybody who wants to look down on me for not being some toffee-nosed toff, all I have to say is, fuck him, too!"

But for the soft strains of Vivaldi, an awful silence filled the Drake Room, which only made the miners' chant easier to hear. No one seemed to know where to look, or to want to look at anyone else.

Very quietly, for Bushell's ears alone, Governor Burnett said, "Every word of that is true, you know--about his being a self-made man, I mean."

Bushell wondered what part of Honest Dick's millions had found its way into the coffers of the governor's party. At the moment, though, that was not the point. As softly as Burnett had spoken, Bushell replied, "A man who is not a gentleman is one thing; a s with Honest Dick, hard work may have kept him from having the chance to become one. But a man who boasts of not being a gentleman . . . he, in my opinion, is something else again."

"You are of course entitled to your opinion, Colonel," the governor said in a voice like ice, and pointedly turned away. Bushell realized he'd succeeded in offending another politico. He'd long since got past the point where that worried him.

He looked around to see what Kathleen Flannery was doing, and spotted her deep in conversation with Sergei Pavlov, the Russian Empire's consul in New Liverpool. When Pavlov wasn't decked out in knee breeches and dark green velvet swallowtail coat--Russian notions of formal attire being even more conservative than those of the British Empire--he was a leading wholesaler of caviar and the tasteless but potent spirit the Russians distilled from potatoes.

Kathleen said something that made him laugh. They were both speaking French, which educated Russians often preferred to their own language. Bushell could hear that, but not what they were saying. His own French was accented but serviceable; it was a usefu l language for a RAM to know.

He thought about joining the conversation, but couldn't see a way to do it without being impolite. Another glance round the Drake Room showed him few people with whom he did feel like talking. He drifted toward the bar. He'd just taken his first sip of Ja meson's over ice when Samuel Stanley materialized at his elbow.

"Everything all right, Chief?" his adjutant asked, his voice studiously casual.

That was the second time tonight Stanley had asked him the same the question; he realized his hastily lit cigar back at the office hadn't fooled the other RAM. "It passes muster," he said. "Seeing The Two Georges from about three feet makes up for a lot."

Phyllis Stanley came up beside her husband. "Now that's something I can hardly wait to do," she declared. "Anyone who tries to slide in there between me and that painting is going to get an elbow where it will do me the most good."

"I wouldn't have expected anything else." Laughing, Bushell kissed her on the cheek. She was a pleasantly plump woman of about his age, slightly darker than her husband, and carried herself like a queen. Her dress of orange beaded silk brushed the floor b ut left her shoulders bare.

"Anyone who tries to get between Phyllis and what she wants is going to end up trampled," Samuel Stanley said: admiration, not criticism. He went on, "Somebody must have rung up headquarters when the coal miners started getting noisy--I've seen a few more of our boys in red shirts about."

"By rights keeping the miners in check should be a job for the New Liverpool constables." Bushell shrugged. "Let it go. I'm not about to fret over jurisdiction, not with The Two Georges in town."

"Just what I thought," Samuel Stanley said. "As far as I'm concerned, the more, the merrier."

Governor Burnett strode up to the podium and waited to be noticed. Bushell snuck a look at his pocket watch. Whatever you thought of Burnett for cronyism, he ran his show on time. This was when the schedule called for the guests to troop upstairs and admi re The Two Georges--and, no doubt, for Burnett to make a speech the local papers would play up.

But before he could start, the picketing coal miners outside began yet another new chant, this one suggesting an intimate relationship between Tricky Dick and the steam dispersal pipes of the vehicles he sold.

The Steamer King had already shown nothing was wrong with his ears. "Bastards!" he growled, brandishing his cane. "I'll show them they don't have Honest Dick to kick around!" He stormed out of the Drake Room. Moments later, Bushell heard him shouting at t he picketers. They jeered back.

By his face, Governor Burnett now heartily wished he hadn't invited the used-car magnate to this exhibition. He had no choice, though, but to make the best of it. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began in the rounded tones that made him a master of the wireless , "we are gather here this evening to celebrate once more our union with the mother country, and to--"

Again he was interrupted, this time by four or five popping noises from outside. "Fireworks," someone said. "Boiler tubes bursting in one of Tricky Dick's steamers," someone else suggested, and got a laugh.

Bushell turned to Samuel Stanley. "That's rifle fire," he said in a flat voice. His adjutant didn't argue; he was already shouldering his way out through the crowd. Behind them, Governor Burnett, unaware anything was seriously wrong, resumed his speech.

The two RAMs sprinted up the hall from the Drake Room to the entrance to the governor's mansion. Before they reached it, a shrill scream brought the rest of the guests pounding after them: the cloakroom girl had gone outside to see what the popping noises were about. She stood in the entranceway now, hands pressed to her face in horror.

Bushell and Stanley ran past her. The coal miners had fallen silent. They and the RAM sergeant who'd been at the door crowded round a crumpled figure still clutching a stick. One bullet had caught Honest Dick in the neck. Another had taken him just above one eye and blown off most of the back of his head, splashing blood and brains and bits of bone all over the pavement.

[End of Chapter 1]

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