Chapter 14

Paru Dupree, barefoot and wearing a polysilk robe, padded out into the tastefully decorated and immaculately clean common room of her condominium. It was her day off, and she had chosen to take the rare opportunity to sleep in very late. She sighed and looked through the window, surveying her city through the post-rain haze. She went to the kitchen, where a pot of coffee was waiting for, brewed without prompting when she woke. Paru poured herself a mug, went to her desk, and sat down in front of her home-shell, which had booted up and was already displaying the news.

She was about to start reading when a dialog popped up indicating that she had a call and Handel’s Water Music played over the condo’s speakers. Paru sighed and said, “House, pick up.”

“Paru?” A female voice came through the common room speakers.

“Yes?” Paru replied.

“It’s Steve. Listen, I’m not feeling well, and I couldn’t reach Alan. I’ve called Loren, and he’s going to replace me for today’s shift.”

“All right,” Paru said. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“Sure thing,” Steve said. “Have a good one.” The speakers let out a disconnect chord.

Paru sighed and turned back to her news just in time for Water Music to strike up again. She gritted her teeth and leaned toward the screen, seeing that it was Alan calling her.

“House, pick up. Hello?”

“Paru, it’s Alan,” Alan said. “I’m running kind of late today. I’m going to call Steve and ask her to mind the store until I get there.”

“She’s not coming in,” Paru said. “She just let me know. Loren’s going to replace her. You might want to ask To’mas or Zap to mind the store until you get in.”

“Okay, thanks,” Alan said.

Her peaceful morning completely disrupted now, Paru paused for a few moments before she managed to get her bearings and turn back to the shell. She managed to get halfway through the listing of headlines when Handel’s Water Music once again echoed through the condo. She read the notice on her screen and saw it was Zap.

“House, pick up,” she said, her voice strained. “Zap, if this is about you not coming in, I am going to have you killed.”

“Huh?” Zap said, confused. “No, no, I’m on the rail now. I just had a question for you.”

“Oh,” Paru said, a little surprised. “Go ahead.”

“I think you said something about Alan having a car. What kind of a car was it?”

“That is a very bizarre question, Mr. Bradshaw,” Paru said.

“It’s okay if you don’t know,” Zap said.

“No, I think…” Paru thought for a moment. “I think it was something by Chiaroscuro, a recent model. I can’t remember which one, though.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Okay, thanks!” Zap said after a moment. “That’s what I needed to know. I’ll see you at the retreat.”

“Mmm,” Paru said, smiling a bit. “That’s soon, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Zap said.

“All right, have a good day,” Paru said.

“You too,” Zap said, and disconnected.

Paru sat motionless for a few moments after the call, then swiveled in her chair back to her shell’s monitor. “House?” she said. “Shut up.”

There was a tune as all notifications in the condominium’s memory disabled. Paru smiled, picked up her coffee, and took a sip.