Chapter 3

She couldn't remember having ever met him before, but then again, there are too many boys in long wool coats and short brown hair to count here. Still, this one looked right at home, like he belonged, though no one seemed to pay him any mind. The fact that this wasn't raising suspicion told her she was the only one out of the loop.

“Look who's graced us with his presence,” he said.

Long hair, at least by today's standards, neatly following the curve of his ear, then defying gravity by curving back and up in a great curl, shiny and contiguous as a would receiver coil.

She grabbed the coffee pot off the Braun and sloshed a measure into a tin cup she'd half-filled with whatever the biggest bottle of rotgut was. A little honey to tamp down the fireworks. She sidled up a pew and sat behind her friend.

“It's not every day we get an original Returner in the house!” The stranger stood near the pulpit with some of the old-timers. She'd only been here for about a year. Her best friend had been here two before that.

He looked uncomfortable, having attention been brought to him. Calum seemed to know him personally. He looked like he was from here, though, not quite. His hair was all wrong and he had a bit too much tan to have spent the last few years in this shithole. His mask was unlike anything she'd ever seen in these parts. Something only available Up East, where they still make things in factories.

The stranger introduced himself as Pinot. That was a name she knew as well as the brands that built the world – she'd heard it growing up; everyone had.

“While he's here,” Calum interrupted, “we're going to make excellent use of his time. I want each of you to introduce yourselves, and show our man here what you've been working on. Let him deduce the plan himself. He likes a puzzle, doesn't he, old boy?”

“What's with the tall guy?”, she asked Anna.

“Never mind that, ” she beamed. “Did you hear about the knife fight down South? I guess a couple jackboys got themselves some fresh gills.”

“Yeah, and?” She fully expected to hear one of their friends were caught and dragged off to a division.

“And fuckin' nothing! They got away without being seen. Apparently one of 'em can only see red in his left eye. Doesn't remember seeing anything but a gent in a coat. Stupid fucks! Serves 'em right.” she crossed her arms and leaned them across the back of the pew.

Peace winced and smiled at all the key moments to following along.

“You know”, she said, craning her neck even closer, “my big brother knew Pinot back in the brand times. I guess they got into all kinds of shit together. They lost touch after getting busted blowing up a country club or some shit. My brother got conscripted and had to serve. Not sure what happened to him.” She gestured her head toward the pulpit.

cbp