Episode 45

In which Anselm meets Danielle Pergola and Frankie behaves badly.

The old man pushed the gray hood back, revealing a head entirely bald except for a fringe of gray hair that completed a tonsure formed by nature and age alone. He peered out from under unruly eye brows, and fingered the end of his long beard, more white than gray. The young man whose fortune he had told the previous day walked toward him. Same black beret, same silver-handled walking stick, same confident gait as though he expected the masses to scatter before him. The Cambodian District market was indeed crowded, but the sea of humanity did not part for him, or even moved aside. It wasn’t that kind of district.

Accompanying him was a young lady; perhaps twenty years of age, tall and thin, head held high, red hair flowing wisp-like to her waist, where a dark blue skirt continued down to booted ankles. He recognized her: Danielle Pergola, scion of Jedediah Pergola, whose family had made a fortune in the early days of the rush to establish mining operations in the Belt.

He leaned down and whispered into the ear of the one-eyed cat lying on a cushioned chair beside him. “Do you see, Master Frankenstein? The boy returns, bringing with him his fiancee.”

Frankie extended a paw and batted at the strings of hair dangling from the end of Anselm’s chin. When Inspector Wilde had been taken to the hospital, Anselm didn’t know what else to do with the cat except hold on to him until his owner recovered from the assassination attempt. Assuming he did in fact recover.

The young couple stopped in front of his stand. “Master Anselm,” the man said. “May I present my fiancee, Danielle Pergola. And since I did not introduce myself properly yesterday, I am Marco Magellan.” This also was a family name that Anselm recognized. Theirs was a marriage that would unite two of the most powerful families on Terra One.

The woman hesitated when Marco sat in one of the chairs across the table from Anselm, and then seated herself beside him. Her pinched expression told him that she was not pleased to meet him. It was also clear from her body language that the young love one might expect to find in such a couple was entirely absent.

She met the old man’s gaze with her own unyielding stare. “I take it,” he said, “that this is to be a marriage of convenience, not of love.”

Marco opened his mouth, but Danielle cut him off with an icy, “It is.” Marco’s face fell.

Frankie’s head popped up at the sound of the woman’s voice, and he glared across the table at her. He stood on his chair and emitted a low growl, which climbed in volume and pitch until it reached a screeching crescendo that ended abruptly in a hiss.

Anselm was taken aback by this overt display of hostility. But before he could chide the cat, the communicator in Danielle’s ear lit up. She tapped on it. “Yes?” She listened for several seconds and then said, “Calm down. Where are you?” She listened again. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

She broke the connection. “I apologize, but I have an urgent business matter that requires my immediate attention.”

She was already on her feet, but before she could get away, Anselm took her hand in his, bowed his head, and said, “It has been my pleasure, Miss Pergola. I hope we can continue our conversation at a more convenient time.”

“Most unlikely,” she said, and withdrew her hand from his.

Anselm watched her walk away, Marco hurrying to keep up with her. He sighed and said to Frankie, “Nothing is ever as it seems, is it my friend?”

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