Lt Bludd

Takes place within a day after Bludd met with Xamot and Tomax for the first time, in the local Borders, the same one Deadline would later crash in The Gatecrasher.

"I just got off the phone with Mr Hammond," said Katherine, her voice tight. "He says he's seriously considering dropping Scott's case since your two bozos are looking into it. Seriously considering, Sebastian."

Bludd winced, pulling the phone away from his head slightly as her angry voice crashed down the line at him. "They're not bozos," he said automatically, "they seem like very nice young men—"

"'Seem like'?!" The phone moved incrementally away from Bludd's head as his wife's volume increased. "You barely know these people! And you've risked Scott's freedom over a pair of pro bono lawyers?"

His jaw set. "He's my son too, Katherine," he insisted quietly. He was exacerbating things, buying into the argument he needed to avoid, but, as always, she was stirring him up. She had a particular knack for that. He glanced surreptitiously around the vestibule, stepping a bit further to the side as a young man came in.

"Yes, of course," she said, exasperation clear in her voice. "But what good can come of disrupting things at this stage?"

Bludd smiled tightly and gave a polite nod to the young man, who entered the store without so much as a second glance to the man having an argument with his wife on the phone.

"Katherine," Bludd said into the phone, "what good could it do to stay with the status quo? Mr Hammond hasn't shown any evidence that he's done anything to help Scott in the whole time he's been working for us! I had to do something!"

The ice in her tone was almost palpable. "Well, I'm so glad you decided to consult me about this before racing off to do it yourself."

He took a deep breath, blew it out. "We've discussed this before. Many times."

"Yes, and every time it ends up in an argument, because you won't listen!"

"We don't see eye to eye on this," he replied through gritted teeth. "I don't think we ever will. But Scott needs our help and —"

"Yes," she cut in, "yes, he does. And you know what I'm going to do to help our son? I'm going to phone Mr Hammond back and ask him very politely to continue working on our son 's case, because, despite your utterly uninformed opinion, he is our, and Scott's, best chance."

He shook his head, glancing back into the store, where he could see the clerk gazing out at him. He offered her a grin and a thumbs-up, then turned in the opposite direction. Katherine was going to do what Katherine was going to do. She always had and she always would. It was because of her that the family had moved to the United States in the first place. He wouldn't have made her give up her dream job. It wasn't in him to deny her something like that. But in giving her her dream he'd uprooted himself from his home and everything he was familiar with. He'd have sacrificed anything to make her happy. He still resented her on some level for that. But bringing that resentment into this conversation would be both inappropriate and a mistake.

"I suggest you call your pro bono lawyers and tell them not to bother," she added when he didn't immediately reply.

"No, Katherine," he said, startling himself. "I'm not going to do that. You're just going to have to explain that to Mr Hammond."

"What?!" He winced in earnest, automatically turning the phone away from him. A family of four came into the vestibule and he pressed the shouting cellphone to his chest so his wife's outburst wouldn't be evident to anyone else.

Once the family had gone into the store, he put the phone back to his ear. "Katherine," he said, as sternly as he could manage, "I'm not having an argument over the phone while I'm standing in Borders. If you want to scream at me, you're going to have to do it in person tonight."

She was still ranting at him, but she stopped, having apparently heard at least the end of his speech. The surprise momentarily took the wind out of her sails. "I'm working late tonight," she said, and her softer tone convinced him she was being honest and not just evading him or being belligerent.

Too many times he'd backed down to her fury. Too many times he'd given in because he loved her and wanted her to be happy. Too many times he'd sacrificed his own happiness, with less and less gladness each time, for hers.

"Dinner's at six," he said, and thumbed the 'end' key on his phone.

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