“So why don’t I see Dave down here any more?” Sam asked, leaning across the bar. Susan chuckled as she tried to find an excuse. The holography would not last two minutes in a bar this crowded, and with this many people around Cet would crack. “I know he’s still around but I’m just curious.”
“He hasn’t been well,” she said.
“That why no one’s seen him stand up?” Sam gathered a set of spent glasses as he spoke, shuffling them to the back of the bar, and Susan thought quickly. The disabled were not well-treated in this time, but it was a convenient excuse. He took her silence as agreement. “Was it polio?”
Susan nodded once quickly. The epidemics would explain it. Sam went back to cleaning the bar.
“Thought it was something like that. Luke put a dollar on him wrecking his eyes with bad booze.”
“His eyes are as sharp as they ever were,” she said, taking another sip of sherry. “Did you just call me here to gossip? Not that I’m complaining.”
“Well, good as he is, there’s one thing I can do a bit better than him.” Sam smirked. “I got a prezzie for you.”
“And how much does this prezzie cost?” Susan asked warily.
“Depends on whether you decide to use it. Come on.” He lifted the bar slat, and stepped out. Slightly nervous and very curious, Susan followed him to the corner booth. The man already sitting there was wearing a good suit, but the too-long cuffs and too-narrow shoulders told her instantly it was borrowed.
“Hey, Bill.” Sam greeted and the man turned his head. Even in the dim light of the speakeasy, he was easily the oldest person she had seen since she arrived in this time.
“Susan, this is Bill Chapman. Bill, this is Susan Wells. Bill’s been around here since the war.” Bill looked at her through cataract-whitened eyes, tilting his head to try and see. She wondered why those had not been sorted. The surgery was simple enough that Susan could perform it herself, even under these conditions, and then it came together with the borrowed suit: lack of money. She looked at George, wondering if this chap’s papers were as forged as her own.
“Delighted to meet you,” she said, and Bill rose, with a short half-bow. Remembering half-forgotten etiquette she extended her hand, grateful she was wearing gloves.
“How do you do?”
“How do you do?” he replied, and the accent, the long vowels of Wiltshire removed all doubt. He was British. She had an unpleasant suspicion of why he was here. “Miss Wells?”
“Mrs,” she corrected quietly.
Forgive the impertinence. You’re about the age my daughter would have been.” He looked at the table with blind white eyes. “She died in the fires of ’06.” Susan’s suspicions crystallised.
“That’s quite a co-incidence,” Susan said, glancing at Sam with a glare.
“Yeah. That’s why I thought of you.” Sam said, and Bill nodded. As another customer walked in, Sam stepped away. Susan followed him.
“Excuse me, Mr Chapman. I’ll just get my drink.” She stepped across to the bar, waited a moment for Sam to finish pouring the drinks and the customers to move to a table, and then leaned across. “Sam.” She said in a voice that demanded answers. Sam grinned at her.
“He’s a good old guy. You think he’ll do as a Dad?” Without knowing his background Susan would not say, but if there was someone here legitimately willing to pose as family it would solve so many problems.
“Yes, but what about his real daughter?” she asked, and Sam shook his head.
“Gone. He told you about the fire.”
“Yes, but what if there was a mistake.” Sam stopped scrubbing the bar, and leaned on it.
“Susan, back in ’06 he was living in San Francisco.” The words were meant to mean something, she knew, but she could not place them. The implication on the other hand was obvious.
“He lost his family,” she said, knowing it was true. Sam nodded, not smiling.
“The apartment block burned down in the fires. The number of bodies was off but they could never identify the individuals.”
“And you want me to identify as his daughter?”
“He’s still got her papers. The name’s right. The age is right. Your accents are close enough.” Susan scowled slightly, ready to protest that Wiltshire and the Home Counties sounded nothing alike and Sam grinned. “Close enough for the Yanks, OK?”
“Quite a co-incidence.”
“Co-incidence nothing. I had to make quite a few phone calls to track him down and pay for him to come in from Chicago.”
“And in return I take it I pay a stipend?”
“Yeah. He’s on a pension, but he’s too old to work.”
“Well, that isn’t the best idea I’ve ever heard,” Susan said, and as Sam glowered, she continued, “because I can’t see my Dad on the streets.” She picked up her glass and walked back to the booth to interview her prospective father.
“What happens to the Tower of London if the Ravens leave?” Chapman asked. They had been talking for nearly an hour,
“It falls,” Susan said, remembering. When the war destroyed the weather systems, the Tower had stood. When they inflicted temporal instability, erasing the sky scrapers and the people who took refuge in them, the stone walls had held. Sanctuary Tower, on the banks of the Thames, one of the three seats of the New Government. Diplomacy had taken her to the Giza Haven, to Salvation City in China, but for her Sanctuary Tower had been her home during the worst of the dark times.
And through it all, the ravens had stayed, free and unconstrained for no one thought to clip their wings.
“Are you alright, lass?” A palsied hand laid on her own, drawing her out of her memories.
“Yes.” Susan nodded slightly, knowing she would never go back. Her home was gone. “Just a little homesick.”
“It takes me that way, sometimes.” Bill’s misty eyes raised, peering towards her. “Hah.” he said with great satisfaction, and lowered his voice. “You were never born in Brooklyn.”
“True, but don’t tell Sam.”
“No. He can be a bit funny about things like that.” Bill waved his glass towards her, in a gesture Sam took to request a refill. “You’re as British as I am.”
“Isn’t that what we’re discussing?” Susan said archly, as Sam came across with the bottle.
“I only came here as a favour to Sam. I didn’t like the thought of my Susan’s papers going to a con artist.” Susan thought privately that his Susan would probably have prefered her father was not living on the street. “But you’re not, are you? I don’t know who you are but con artists don’t build companies.”
“We’re planning long term,” she said, and Sam chuckled as he refilled Bill’s glass.
“How are you two getting on?” he asked.
“Famously. The young lady’s quite charming,” Bill said.
“Young? I’m flattered.”
“Young lady, I am seventy-three. Everyone’s young to me,” he stated proudly. Susan counted quickly in her head. If he had been in Britain for the war, the earliest he could have fought was 1914. He would have been around sixty at the youngest.
“How did you serve? A spritely lad of sixy like you,” she asked.
“I lied about my age. If all the young ‘uns can do it, so can I.” He frowned. “Aren’t I a bit old to be your father?”
“She’s right around the age your Susie would have been,” Sam said, cheerfully heartless. Ben did not seem to mind. “If the papers covering her marriage to Wells were also destroyed in the fire…Susan, you’d need a name change.”
“Susan Chapman? It’s fine.” It was not as if she was particularly attached to Wells, after all. She had taken it off a paperback cover.