Georgia, said Emily, as I reached them. Letting go of Jeanne and Amber, she put her arms around me in a too-tight hug. The girls moved to stand behind an elderly woman who looked like she might be their paternal grandmother, blocking their mother from grabbing them again once she was done with me. I couldnt blame them; Emilys grief had given her a measure of hysterical strength that seemed likely to crack one of my ribs. Were so glad you came.
Im sorry for your loss, I said, patting her awkwardly on the back. Buffy and Shaun send their regrets.
Emily, let the nice girl go, said Peter, tugging his wifes arm until she released me. I stepped quickly backward, and both Jeanne and Amber cast understanding glances my way. Theyd been their mothers targets since she ran out of the convention to get to them. Georgia.
Senator Ryman. He didnt try to hug me. I appreciated that. It was a beautiful ceremony.
It was, wasnt it? He glanced toward the churned-up earth. Becky hated these things. Said they were morbid and silly. She wouldve stayed home, if she werent a required attendee. He laughed, bitterly. She really wanted to meet you.
Im sorry she never got the chance, I said, pushing my sunglasses up to shield my eyes from the light glinting off the patchy snow. Would you mind if I took you aside for a moment? It wont take long.
No, of course not. He kissed Emily on the forehead, and said, You just get back to the girls, all right, sweetheart? Ill only be a moment.
All right, said Emily. She managed to force a wavering smile, and said, Well see you at the reception, wont we, Georgia?
Of course, Mrs. Ryman, I replied.
The senator and I walked until we were about eight feet from the group, far enough that they couldnt hear us, but close enough to maintain visual contact. Now, Georgia, he said, without preamble. Whats this all about?
I tilted my chin up until I was looking directly at him, and said, Senator, if you dont mind, my team and I would like permission to go up to the ranch and take a look around. He was silent. I continued: If we walk the grounds and post our footage
You think itll reduce trespassers looking for a little excitement?
Senator Ryman looked at me for a long moment. Then, shoulders sagging, he nodded his acquiescence. I hate this, Georgia, he said, in a voice that was a million miles away from the proud, self-confident man Id followed most of the way across the country. This is supposed to be the start of the most exciting fight in my career, and instead Im standing here consigning my eldest unto God when I just want to shake the bastard until he gives her back to me. Its not fair.
I know, Senator, I said. Glancing back to where Emily had managed to recapture her surviving children, I added, But youre not the only one it isnt fair to.
Are you telling me to mind my family, young lady? he asked, with a mirthless chuckle.
Sometimes family is all we have, sir.
Very true, Georgia. Very true. He followed my gaze back to Emily and the girls. Ill tell Em Ive given you folks permission to go to the ranch. Shell understand. The guards, now
We have the proper licenses.
Good. Raking his hair back from his forehead with one hand, he sighed. Aint this just one hell of a mess?
Very much so, I agreed.
We made our good-byes without much conviction; he needed to get back to the business of mourning, and I needed to get back to my team before Shaun decided to go hiking or Buffy took the wireless network off-line for upgrading. Rick hadnt been with us long enough for me to know what I didnt want him doing, but I was sure hed come up with something. He was a journalist, after all, and were all incurably insane.
I walked toward the cemetery gates, tapping my ear cuff. Shaun, whats your twenty?
Were parked behind the security vans, Shaun said. Someone asked a question in the background, and he added, Buffy wants to know if we need her or if she can go with Chuck. Hes pretty torn up, and she wants to get in some couple time.
Shaun Mason, you may be the only boy above the age of nine who still says couple time like it was a dead rat. I nodded to the guards as I passed through the gates and scanned the parking lot for the security vans.
I do not, said Shaun, sounding affronted. I like dead rats.
Sorry. My bad. Tell Buffy shes free to go, but I want her to have the field equipment ready, and she needs to be back for editing by nine.
The field equipment ?
I have Senator Rymans clearance. Were heading for the ranch. I grimaced at Shauns whooping and tapped my ear cuff again, cutting off the connection. The van was in sight; I could let him yell in my ear once I was inside, rather than putting up with it remotely.
Buffy was seated on a counter doing something arcane to a shoulder-mount camera when I stepped through the rear door. Shed changed out of her funeral clothes into something more comfortable, if still subdued, and when she looked up, it was obvious that shed redone her makeup to match. Hey.
Hey. I looked around, starting to unbutton my jacket. Wheres Shaun?
Up front checking his armor for holes. She peered into the camera, blew lightly on the exposed circuitry, and snapped the cover back into place. Chucks going to come pick me up, so you can leave me here when you head out. Itll only take a few more minutes to review the field equipment.
Anybody call Rick? I tossed my jacket onto a chair and started unbuttoning my dress shirt. I had a tank top under that; swap my skirt for jeans, add a Kevlar vest, my motorcycle jacket, and combat boots, and Id be ready for a low-hazard field op. Most girls learn how to accessorize for dinner parties and dates. I learned to do it for hazard zones.