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militsa

Magnet

chapter 2.

It was Saturday and they didn't need to get up for work, and so they stayed in bed until nearly noon. Edward woke first, and took a quiet moment to secretly appreciate Alfons' sleeping face. Today he thought that Alfons didn't look like Al at all, maybe just a little, the shape of the face, but that was it. It felt almost liberating to believe this; he was plagued by doubts about those doppelgangers. It felt like a trick, and the world was forever looking for ways to fuck him up.


He stretched and then rolled over Alfons to the edge of the bed, where he sat and then leaned down to grab his leg, lying on the floor, then attached it without even looking. He could never do the arm that quickly, though, and often put off wearing it inside these days. Alfons was used to him without it now, and it wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world, to have that contraption strapped around his chest all the time. He picked a discarded shirt up from the floor and pulled it on, making his way to the kitchen.

He heated water for tea and went to the icebox, hoping for eggs or even perhaps, a little remnant of that precious butter for toast. It turned out that he had been too sanguine about the butter, it was gone, but there were three eggs, enough for them to share, and some strawberry preserves. As he left the eggs to soft-boil on the stove he idly picked up the open book on the table.

Ah, that dumb poetry book again. It was open to a page, and he realized that a stanza had been underlined in faint pencil.

Why is it that I am always neighbor

to those lost ones who are forced to sing

and to say: Life is infinitely heavier

than the heaviness of all things. [5]

Deciding that his brain was equal to the challenge of understanding a few lines of poetry, he read it again to himself, this time aloud, and tried to discern the music of the language that was still so foreign to his ears.

Life is infinitely heavier than the heaviness of all things.

Not exactly an uplifting sentiment. And yet, he knew the feeling. He tried every day not to fall prey to it, to let it crush him. He didn't want to feel that way. He didn't like to carry so much baggage. Had Alfons been the one to underline this? He hadn't noticed any notes in the book when he had flipped through it before. It seemed rather deliberate that it had been left out. If he had...was he trying to tell him something?

Edward wondered if he was one of "those lost ones". It irritated him that Alfons seemed to take a certain skeptical position toward him sometimes, in particular when he was trying to reveal his deepest secrets. He knew, he knew how ridiculous some of it must sound, and it hurt quite beyond what he was willing to admit to think that what was real to him might seem a deluded joke to someone else, someone whose esteem he valued so much. Not to mention that it made him question his own sanity.

He began to turn the pages, looking for something to answer back with. It was amazing, how this guy-the poet-could say so much like this, with so few words. It was almost like chemistry, or mathematics, like coming up with the perfect equation, with something that made perfect sense, that provided an answer to a question you hadn't asked yet.

Losing too is still ours; and even forgetting

still has a shape in the kindgdom of transformation.

When something's let go of, it circles; and though we are

rarely the center

of the circle, it draws around us its unbroken, marvelous

curve.[6]

The circle, of course, and the image of it being drawn around one, was irresistible. It was almost as if the writer knew him, when he wrote this. This had never happened before, this feeling that something that had nothing to do with him, was in fact crafted in secret for the specific purpose that one day he should see it.

He used the pencil on the table to underline the poem, left the book open to that page, with the pencil lying in the crevice of the open spine.

"If you want to start leaving messages, there you go," he said, addressing the book.



On Monday at the warehouse laboratory, the team continued their work with the electromagnetic generator. Edward had secured the job of draftsman; he had the worst hand of the group, but everyone else was fixated on working with the machine and more than happy to leave the schematics to him. Also, he could sit at a table at a distance from the machine.

As the others hovered around the generator, Ed leaned his head on his hand and watched Alfons, watched his eyes widen as they tested the properties of the machine, watched them narrow like they did when he was thinking about something complicated, watched how his lips parted and his tongue came up to touch his front teeth when he came up with a thought that inspired him.

The Germans loved their machines, that was certain. After they had reluctantly turned off the electric power supply, they reverently examined its simple construction, marveling at it, while at the same time praising its inventor, a dead Englishman called Farraday, and his fantastic induction ring, upon which this generator was based.

It was all very nice, Ed thought, but it had nothing on the beauty, the perfection, the power of alchemic science. He ached to draw an array on the paper he had before him, but it wasn't cheap and he couldn't waste it on what everyone else would consider crap. They had no idea how powerful alchemy could be, how it would blow that stupid fucking electromagnetic generator out of the room if he could use it.

Don't dwell on it, he told himself. There's no point. You'll just feel homesick. Again.



It was midday break and the men all left to buy coffee and sausage on the pier. Edward remained at the table, pencil in hand, his thoughts swirling with alchemic reactions and the taste of ozone in his mouth, the green of his homeland's countryside and the blue of the sky. He didn't even feel it, at first, when Alfons came up from behind and squeezed his shoulder.

"Lunchtime! Aren't you hungry?"

"Yeah, sure I am." Edward pulled himself back through his mental Gate, landing, as usual, with a dull thud. He slowly got down from the stool he had been perched on, feeling unbalanced from all that daydreaming. Alfons caught his arm.

"Hey, are you all right?"

Ed made an effort to stand up straight, said "Yeah. I'm fine" and reached for his coat.

"You sure? You seem...you had that look again." Alfons knew better than to press. Edward forced a smile.

"See? I'm fine."

He moved to go but Alfons said, "Wait" and came close. "No one else is here and I've been dying to do this all day." He threw his arm around Ed's neck and kissed the side of his mouth.

Before he could pull away, Ed grabbed Alfons' wrist and held the arm across his shoulders as he leaned toward Alfons' neck and kissed that spot behind his ear above his neck that he couldn't help looking at. Alfons squeezed him close and laid his cheek on Ed's hair, while Ed pressed as far into his chest as he could, as if he wanted to be absorbed, and Ed could tell that Alfons was intentionally pressing his crotch into his hip, which was not a nice thing to do in a place that wasn't safe...

Edward heard a creak emanate from somewhere behind him; he became rigid, and pulled away from Alfons before his heart took another beat. As they separated, Ed felt every cell in his body sting with disappointment, and his skin prickled in irritation. His component parts were singing, Hey, not fair.

Alfons whispered, "What?"

"Sssh! I thought I heard something." Ed was looking behind him but saw nothing.

Alfons pressed his hand to his heart. "God in heaven, don't scare me like that."

"Sorry," Ed said, but his skin was still prickling.



Alfons' heart persisted in beating faster than he liked for the rest of the day. His skin felt like it was burning; was he ill or was he just ashamed of himself? How stupid, to be so careless. He tried to dismiss the thought-he was being paranoid; Edward was the one who always thought he recognized some stranger, or thought people who had nothing to do with them looked like they were "up to something". Alfons preferred not to entertain thoughts like that; he wasn't interested in what strangers were up to, he had plenty of his own business to attend to.

But, he thought, perhaps Edward hadn't been being silly, when he noticed how Klaussen was looking at him that afternoon. They had all gone back to what they had been working on; he and Klaussen were experimenting with fuel composition, while Reinert and Becker examined the wiring of the electromagnetic engine, and Edward began working on the schematics for a twin cylinder propulsion mechanism.

He didn't think he was imagining that Klaussen kept glancing over at him, and then at Edward, hunched over the drafting table. But every now and then he had the uncomfortable sensation that eyes were upon him, and when he looked around, Klaussen's head was whipping around, or Klaussen's eyes were wandering away from his general direction, and once, Klaussen was looking right at him, his face expressionless, but his eyes had an appraising look, like he was trying to figure out the value of what he was seeing, or at what price it could be bought.

Alfons shuddered.



By the end of the day he felt ill; it was the worry at the pit of his stomach, already released a couple of days before with the blood that had come out of his mouth. And now this, he didn't need it, but here was a new worry to claw away at him and disturb his happiness. He didn't want life to be complicated. He knew what he wanted and he had it in his work, and with Edward. He didn't need all of this other complicated shit.

On the tram he fell prey to motion sickness and nearly lost his lunch before the journey's end. Edward noticed how pale he looked and, in a rather amusingly commanding manner, asked someone to give Alfons their seat. It was a sweet little thing, and Alfons had to smile from his seat, up at Edward standing over him. He looked all handsome and commanding and very adult; for a moment Alfons imagined that all of what Edward had told him was true, he could see him fighting demons and monsters and criminals and outlaws or whatever those things were that he would have fought when he was in that interplanetary Armenian military, or whatever it was.

When Edward looked down and winked at him, he winked back, like he believed it all, like he was in on it all.



He didn't know what else to do or how to say it, so as he and Edward sat at their table that evening over their supper, he just blurted it out.

"I think it was Klaussen-today at the lab-I think he knows." His soup sat cooling on the table in front of him, but he didn't feel like eating.

"Knows what?" Edward plunged his spoon into the bowl, lifted it, held the full spoon in front of his mouth. He stuck out his tongue to test the temperature, then blew on the spoonful.

"You know what," Alfons said. He looked down at his own bowl, but his appetite hadn't returned.

His mouth full, Edward chewed that over, seemingly unconvinced, or unconcerned, Alfons couldn't tell.

Edward swallowed. Mechanically, he went in for another spoonful, eyes averted.

This wasn't good. Their intimacy was so hard-won, Alfons felt the slightest thing could destroy it, separate them again, and bring them back to that point just a few months ago when their friendship had been acutely, physically painful. He couldn't be separated from him, he couldn't.

"All afternoon, he was acting weird, he kept looking at me, and at you." Alfons tried again.

Still concentrating on the soup, Edward said, "I'll keep an eye on him tomorrow."

Alfons felt slightly nauseated. He pushed the bowl of soup away.

"You're not going to eat that?" Edward asked.

"I'm not hungry right now."

Edward looked at the abandoned bowl even as he ate from his own.

"You want it?" Alfons asked sharply.

"No I don't want it, idiot," Edward growled. "I want you to eat it."

Alfons smiled in spite of himself, and picked up his spoon.



Later, in bed together, their skin touching, their sanctuary from the winter, the world, known and unknown. Edward was reading in the dim lamplight, the book held close to his face. Alfons watched him for a while, watched how his eyes scanned quickly back and forth across the page, and his mouth even moved a little, as if devouring the words.

Alfons couldn't help but lean over and bite him gently on the arm.

"I told you you'd feel better after you ate," Edward said, preening with satisfaction at being right. He was responding with genuine happiness to Alfons' advances. It was so warm in the bed, with both of them there.

He wouldn't surrender this, he decided. If they had to run away, so be it. Alfons pressed himself against Edward's back, shoved his knees behind Edward's leg, and breathed into Edward's hair.

He couldn't help it: he had to lick Edward's ear. Edward's hand flicked back to slap him gently.

"Stop it, I'm reading" he said lazily. Alfons pulled himself over Edward until he was straddling his hip, and then pushed him onto his back. Edward's collarbone asked to be kissed, and Alfons obliged.

Alfons hovered over his lover's face. As was often the case, he was seized with the impulse to be silly in the most carnal ways. He wanted to bite Edward, or pin him down, he was even seized with the impulse to lick his eyelashes-which he did-and Edward let him, but he could never tell him that.

Oh, God, I think...

It was disappointing, really, Alfons thought, how neither of them were particularly brave about this.

He hovered over Edward's body, above him on his hands and knees. The eyes were looking right at him, gazing at him through half-closed lids, trusting and anticipating. Alfons loved this, the proximity but not touching, the promise of something not yet crystallized. It was a metaphor for their whole relationship-about to become something more; at least, that was what he wanted.

So he hung there, arched over his lover, in a stance both protective and predatory. He thought Edward liked it too, because he always tilted his head back, bared his neck and belly, totally vulnerable, with an expectant smile on his face. Alfons knew that when aroused, Edward's skin became almost unbearably hot, like he had a fever. He loved to bury his face in his neck.

He imagined saying things to him: I think you're the best person in the world. I've never felt like this before...

Oh Lord, how Edward would laugh at that.

"What?" Edward said. "What's with that face?" He reached up and slapped Alfons on the cheek.

Alfons laughed, let himself collapse on top of Edward.

"Nothing," he said, still smiling to himself. "Nothing."

Stupid secrets, Alfons thought to himself as he struggled to breathe through Edward's thick hair. I hate what I'm hiding from you. I wish you trusted me. Alfons organized and repeated these thoughts in his head, as if he could transmit them, unspoken, to Edward, when he was so close, when their skin was touching. He would be content with what he had.

Until Edward bit Alfons' shoulder, hard enough to elicit a yelp, and then Edward's breath was in his ear.

"Let's do it, now."

He loved it when Edward talked dirty.

Alfons was up in the night again, that sharp pain tearing through his lungs, making his eyes water. At the kitchen sink he spat up an alarmingly thick globule of his life's blood. He examined it a moment, even poked at it with his finger as it sat like a spot of crimson venom on the white porcelain of the sink. It was viscous, as if it consisted of mucous and plasma together, disgusting. He gave a few vigorous pushes to the water pump to get it to disappear down the drain.

Again with the sweats and the bone-shaking shudders, and the feeling of abrasion deep inside. The misery this caused was at present low-grade, but it had a distinctly premonitory character. This is what it will be like, Alfons thought. But a thousand times worse. This is what it will be like before I die.

He had heard it said, we always hurt the ones we love. But how was it that a thing he loved could hurt him? It was almost worse than considering that he had just contracted tuberculosis somehow; no, it was a hundred million times worse-because he had brought it on himself.

He knew the exact period that had brought this on: the summer before last, when he had apprenticed himself to Oberth in Transylvania, when he had spent day after day concocting and testing fuel compositions in model engines. It hadn't bothered anyone else, but it had made him cough constantly, right then and there. He had had to keep going outside for fresh air and water, and his throat and eyes were constantly burning. It had made him feel weak, but he had always had a weak chest. His family physician had strongly advised him against apprenticing as a train engineer-something he had fancied not long ago-and suggested that he go to university. But nobody gave physical examinations to scientists. His mother had happily seen him off to the Carpathian mountains, convinced that he would come back tanned and strapping.

When he had left Transylvania for Munich, his condition had improved, and he had thought it was fading away. Instead, apparently, it had continued to eat away at him in secret. He had been putting off the inevitable: going to the hospital for an examination. Although he felt he knew what he would be told, part of him was just as sure that it was really nothing, that it would pass, and then he could go on living like he should, eighteen years old and free of the fear of death. Even the less morbid idea of being slammed into some sanitarium for who knew how many years filled him with dread.

The book was on the table; it wasn't open but a pencil was stuck between pages. He sat down with his water and pulled the book to him with shaking hand. Yes, Edward had caught on, had left something for him. He heart banged for a moment, with joy at the recognition. If they couldn't speak to each other, really, then here...he was so moved that Edward had agreed to play his game that his eyes swam with tears for a moment. He swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, laughing at himself for being so emotional.

It's because I'm sick, he told himself. I'm not so sappy as that.

He read what his friend had chosen to tell him. Circles, circles, the kingdom of transformation. His head was too spinny to parse it, but he did feel one thing: he felt he had really connected with Edward. So these were the words and images that moved him, that made music for him. He loved knowing that, and that was enough, although this particular poem, he didn't really get.

Once his mind had cleared and his breathing no longer caused pain, he meandered through the pages and scanned the words. At first he had been looking for the word "death then he had thought better of it. There was no need to be so dramatic, and anyway, he felt unsure of it and didn't want to telegraph such desperation. The feeling he preferred to go with was wonder. As in: What happens next?

Ignorant before the heavens of my life,

I stand and gaze in wonder. Oh the vastness

of the stars. Their rising and descent. How still.

As if I didn't exist.[7]

It was loneliest in the pre-dawn hours; everything around him was asleep and he was alone with his scary thoughts. He went back to bed but persisted in wakefulness, oppressed by an abiding sense of unease, a sense of something quite literally eating away at him. He couldn't take a deep breath without a sharp pain in one of his lungs, specific and deep. He pictured it as some sort of gaping, bleeding hole.

Edward slept, quite peacefully, face all smooth and relaxed. He wanted to touch him but thought better of disturbing him. There was no point in both of them being exhausted for the day that was coming. It would be selfish, Alfons thought, to wake him up out of neediness. And he wasn't quite sure that even if he did wake Edward up, that he would get what he needed.

He thought of his family; he missed his father, who had died in the war. His mother was a no-nonsense sort of person who insisted that Alfons stay away from their dull, unhealthy coal town outside Essen, encouraging him to stay in Munich and writing every so often to urge him to apply to the University, where she thought he belonged. Alfons was all she had, and so he could not under any circumstances reveal to her that he might be ill; she would come to Munich and interfere with everything, or, even worse, make him come home. He missed her, and thinking that he might not see her again made him miss her even more. He tried to push the thought away, but he could not expel a vision of his mother weeping over his grave, and then imagining his own body rotting in the ground, his own flesh decomposing...

It was such a horror that he had to push the thought from his head. He looked at Edward, curled up beside him, nothing visible aside from his sprawling hair and his mouth, slightly open.

He thought again of the poem that Edward had underlined in the book, all circles and curves being drawn around one, and he didn't understand what that meant to Edward, and still couldn't parse it for himself. That it spoke to Edward, he found slightly disconcerting. What makes sense to a madman...he thought. He played with the ends of Edward's hair, the only part of him he could touch without disturbing him.

This night was long. He felt sorry for the both of them.



At the laboratory, Klaussen cornered Alfons by the basins and whispered into his ear, "I'll be expecting you to stay late tonight."



Alfons didn't eat much at lunchtime. In fact, Edward noticed, he didn't eat anything at all. They had walked to the pier to get coffee and rolls and soup; it was cold but the soup was hot and fairly tasty. They had sat themselves down on what appeared to be sacks of unmixed cement arranged as the stall's dine-in area to eat, but Alfons had just sat holding the tin bowl and gazing at the river. Ed didn't particularly like how chalky-white he looked in the daylight, or how red his mouth looked, as if he had just been punched there. He hadn't been right since yesterday on the way home on the tram.

He'd had a peek at the book this morning; at first glance, he had liked the sentiment. As he thought about it later, however, there seemed a certain desperation in the choice. The pencil mark had been much darker under the last bit, "As if I didn't exist", that didn't sit well with him now. Sure, he was fairly familiar with that sentiment, the world-all worlds-kept turning wherever he was, and, he hoped, life went on without him (he hoped, he hoped), but for Alfons...why would he think about that?

The sense of unease lingered. Last night when they had kissed, there had been a strange, disagreeable taste in Alfons' mouth; blood, iron, bile, something strong and ever-so-slightly nasty and pernicious, like vomit but not quite. It had thrown him a little because one of the things that he liked so much, enjoyed so much about Alfons was the taste of him, his mouth, his skin, but this had been strange.

The sun beat in Ed's eyes so he held the side of his hand at his brow to shield them as he studied Alfons' profile. He got that damn ping! again. Al's profile, almost exactly, as he had last seen it, years ago. It wasn't the coloring, but the shape of the features, the face, the curve of the nose, the shape of the eyes. He could see his brother's face for a moment, superimposed on that of this virtual stranger. Ed gazed, and Alfons sat still, unaware and allowing himself to be studied. So this is what Al would look like now, Edward thought, and couldn't help from smiling, even as part of him acknowledged that Al might just as easily be gone from the world, any world.

Alfons moved and turned to look at him with those wide Al-eyes.

"What are you thinking about?"



Far away again. It was getting more frequent lately, that Edward-day-dreaming look, the abstraction, the hang-dog sad-face. If Alfons was being honest with himself he would have to admit that he was finding this irritating. Aren't I enough for you? he wondered. It frustrated him sometimes: his father was dead, and he was separated from his mother, and on top of that he was feeling ill, but you wouldn't catch him crying about it. This was life, this was being an adult.

Alfons stood up and tapped the tin bowl with his spoon. "Come on, the half-hour's up."

"I think I'll stay out here for a while, maybe go for a walk," Edward said.

"You'll be missed. Klaussen's already remarked about you slacking off," Alfons said, anxious. This was true, lately, and he worried that Edward might be dismissed from the project.

"Tell him I wasn't feeling well, or whatever," Edward said, and he stood up and began to walk along the riverbank in the direction of the city. "I'll be back!" he added over his shoulder with a brief wave.

Well. Alfons stood and watched him go before returning both of their plates to the food vendor. Tell Klaussen he wasn't well? Because he was feeling moody and wanted to go for a walk instead of work? Reinert's insult to Klaussen came back to him and Alfons muttered it under his breath:

"Fucking pussy."

Idiot. He didn't care enough about the project, about the team, about what they were doing. Everyone could tell, it was getting embarrassing. It was only a matter of time before they stopped paying him, and he doubted Edward would work for free, like he had when he had first met him in Transylvania. Then he would have done anything to be a part of the rocketry field, he had come with almost nothing except a strong grasp of physics and a keen, intuitive knowledge of chemistry that had helped with the recombinant fuel program. That and whatever had been driving him, his professed desire to go into space had somehow withered over the past few months, to the point that he barely showed any enthusiasm for the work anymore.

It was disheartening, and even more so when Alfons felt his own enthusiasm growing. He wanted, no he needed this; he needed to have an impact on the field, to do something great, for his country, for himself, for posterity. He wanted people to know, when they turned that key, that Alfons Heiderich had wrought that, he wanted to be usefully immortal, like Farraday, like Edison, like Tesla.

Inside the laboratory, Becker and Reinert were already setting up the twin-engine quarter-scale model, the disembodied rotors attached by a single coil, they were going to test the fuel composition in the engine with an electromagnetic power generator to determine if they could control it remotely. With this, they could eventually create an un manned rocket that could be steered from the ground, or that was the idea.

Klaussen came striding over to him, "Come on, let's go! We're waiting on you, where's Elric?"

"I don't know, he-"

"Ach, fuck him, let's go—attach the fuel cables and let's see how this baby purrs!" Klaussen shouted as Alfons went for the cables. Klaussen certainly was pleased with himself today. Cables attached, Alfons moved as far as he reasonably could from the engines before shouting:

"Shouldn't we open the front, for ventilation?"

"It's fucking cold outside," said Reinert, reeling in the extra length of cable.

"And we don't want anyone spying, now do we?" said Klaussen. He smiled at Alfons as he passed him by. "Start the engine!"



Given the job of siphoning the spare fuel out of the engine casing-it was more expensive than gold these days-Alfons felt the burn in his eyes and throat, even in the lingering odors in the lab, despite the hangar-high ceiling, he felt himself poisoned, now that he knew what it was. Tears fell onto his hands as he worked, but they were only from the toxicity-Oh, God, this is killing me.

The rest of them had gone outside for a smoke-how could they smoke cigarettes while he could barely breathe? It wasn't fair, for the millionth time. He swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand and then gave himself over to a round of coughing. He brought something up into his mouth, some viscous substance, but just swallowed it.

He said to himself: Don't give in. Do not let them see. They'll take me for a consumptive and throw me out.



Edward had decided to take a long walk, a walk long enough to wear him out and cause his body to hurt, a welcome distraction from the malaise of the spirit that had threatened to infect him. He was losing interest in the rocketry lab; something was wrong with Heiderich; he was tired of this place and its horrid interminable gray winter.

The walk led him to the gates of the University campus. His father had a small office he shared with others in there, although he hadn't been there for a while. The last time he had seen Hohenheim, the old man had kissed him on his forehead, something he hadn't done since Edward had been a tiny child. He hadn't really been saying good-bye-he hadn't thought so then-but the more time passed...the more it seemed possible that he had, maybe, passed through the Gate again. It was his secret hope. Maybe he would find a way to come get him, too, and he could go back home, escape from this exile.

He hated it, but he missed the old man.

It was a silly dream, maybe, but it was all he had this winter. That and Heiderich. And maybe, not really Heiderich. The unfamiliar, un-Alfons taste still lingered in his mouth as he crossed the campus toward the physics department; he climbed two flights of stairs in the dusty old building, and meandered down the narrow hallways, not in any particular hurry to meet with what he knew would be disappointment.

A man he had met a few times before, Hyser, a thin, gangly person who seemed all teeth and legs and large hands and feet poking out of his too-short cuffs, was in the small, cluttered office. He gave a friendly smile and said, "Ah, Hohenheim the younger! Come on in!"

Edward could barely move through it for the four desks crammed in there and the piles of books and papers on the floors.

"Uh, hello." Ed couldn't shake the feeling,when he was here, that he was regarded as someone's kid, and felt accordingly young.

"Any word from your esteemed father?" Hyser asked, still smiling, but his eyes already showed sympathy, as if he expected news of his death.

"No...I was hoping..." Ed glanced at the desk he knew to be his father's. It was a mess, but undisturbed, as far as he could tell, since the last time he had seen it, more than two weeks ago when he had come on the same pointless mission. He had already been through the papers, and found nothing that gave away his possible whereabouts.

"No, sorry, haven't heard a thing," Hyser said regretfully, rising from his seat. He took two steps toward Hohenheim's desk, bent down and opened one of the drawers. He pulled out a bottle and looked at it. "I gave this to him last Christmas. It's too good to leave sitting around here; someone'll pinch it sooner or later. Here, take it. Have a drink with your old man when he gets back." He held it out to Edward. "Take it. Napolean brandy, Courvoisier. It's very fine. People would kill for less these days, so take care."

Ed took the bottle and turned it in his hand. The bottle said, Napoleon brandy, ten years old. He thanked Hyser, shoved the bottle into the outer pocket of his coat, and took his leave.

He walked all the way back to the piers, the bottle weighing heavy in his pocket.