“Alright, Harry,” said Miriam, “What is it?”
Trueblood looked up from his coffee and peered at his wife, unaware that his eyebrows had lifted. It was a reaction less of curiosity at her question than from surprise by her tone. The cheerfulness she served at breakfast was as customary as the accompanying black coffee, scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice.
Miriam's smile was the same as always but her voice came out too soft. It was as if she was confiding something to him in a hotel lounge during happy hour. They were alone in their kitchen, and she'd made no effort to lean toward him as one would do in the hotel-lounge scenario. So...
Trueblood set his cup down as his brow relaxed, and considered her words. Off the top of his head what is it? meant nothing to him. A quick scan of likely contexts found no hits. Her question apparently had come completely out of the blue. He focused closely on her eyes.
“What is what, Miriam?” he asked gently.
“Something's wrong, Harry. It's not like you to keep things from me.”
“Nothing's wrong, Miriam. I'd tell you if there was. You know that.”
They sat awhile looking earnestly at each other. Trueblood slurped coffee and his wife munched on a piece of buttered toast. Trueblood broke the silence.
“Look, Miriam, where is this coming from? What makes you think something's wrong?”
“Harry, you put creamer in your coffee.”
“Huh? I what?”
“Creamer, Harry. In your coffee. You put creamer in your coffee. You never put anything in your coffee...”
Trueblood stared at his cup as confusion disturbed the natural composure of his face. “What the...” He cut himself off and looked up at Miriam. “I did,” he said, barely audible, shaking his head as if to deny what he was seeing. He added, “I must have been distracted. I don't remember doing it. I don't know why I did it.
“It is odd, I agree, Miriam, but I don't think it means anything.”
She reached across the table and took his hand. Her smile grew wider. “It wouldn't mean anything if I did something like that,” she said. “You know I get distracted easily. But not you, Harry. You're always so focused.”
He rocked back in his chair, breathing deeply and letting it out in a noisy sigh followed by a half-hearted chuckle. “You're right, Mimi. My focus is my strong suit. I guess...well, I have had a lot of things to focus on lately. You know that. Maybe I've gotten a little jammed up. Too much on the plate, huh?”
“Harry, who are you trying to fool? It's me, Miriam, your loving wife. You always have a lot to focus on. It's what you're good at. Something else is bothering you. Don't try to deny it. It worries me that you're keeping it to yourself. I've never known you to keep something serious from me. Ever. And frankly I'm not sure what to think. I'm a little hurt, Harry.”
She said this in the same subdued voice, never increasing the volume or modulating the tone as she ordinarily did in conversation. This flat, almost droning deliverance made her words all the more effective. Trueblood's face reddened, and he dropped his eyes from hers back to his coffee.
“It's just,” he said haltingly, “It's just that I'm starting to have second thoughts about coming here.”
Miriam's eyes widened and her smile migrated into a gape. It seemed she'd stopped breathing.
Seeing her mouth drop open and thinking she was about to speak, Trueblood quickly added, “Not thoughts, actually, Miriam. It's not something I've been thinking about...well, not until right now. It's just been more of a feeling, an unease, you know?
“I haven't even put this into words in my head. It's just...just been sort of growing there, like a tumor.” He sighed massively again and pulled his coffee cup to his lips.
His wife patted his hand. Her face softened. “It's alright, Harry,” she whispered.
“It's WACKO,” he blurted. “Couple of their guys are hanging around the office, every day. They order Bart around like he's their office boy. Me, too, if I run into them. I try to stay out of sight, but then we have these meetings. Meetings my ass...oh, I'm sorry, Miriam. I didn't mean to...”
She patted his hand, harder than before. “It's alright, Harry.”
“I mean these WACKO guys aren't interested in anything we have to say. They ask questions and tell us what to do, what they want. They don't like the way things are going.”
“What do they want you to do, Harry?”
“They want us to hire an army.”
“Ever since that crazy raid they tried – oh, we know it was them, even though they tried to make it look like drug smugglers, it was them – but now they want us to do it, officially.”
“But, Harry, didn't you say there's no law that makes that stuff – Volcano? – illegal? How can you raid anybody for a drug that's not illegal?”
“Miriam, we can't even prove there is such a drug. Vulcana, it's called. American Enterprises says those two books that got everybody stirred up are fiction, that Vulcana doesn't exist. And Ruth Rose, who's friends with Edna Usher and Warren Hendrian, she backs them up. She was president of the United States, Miriam. We can't go after a former president. WACKO doesn't believe them, and actually we don't, either. But we have no proof, either way.”
“So WACKO is trying to get Congress to pass a bill that would give us the right to raid American Enterprises anyway, even without proof. We call it the rumor bill, because that's what it is. With no proof, that's exactly what it is.
“Now, the catch is that President Morowitz, who we all know is bought and paid for by WACKO, has finally grown a pair...sorry...has said he will veto the bill. He said his lawyers have advised him it would be unconstitutional, which is a no-brainer, of course. He said he will not sign anything that's unconstitutional. Who woulda thought, huh?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don't know, Miriam. I just don't know.”