As Wilom ate dinner with Cathlin, Jilli and Marc, their soup was interrupted by a knock on the door. Wilom immediately went over, in his mind, where he’d put his documents.
Marc answered the door.
Wilom heard from outside the door, “Evening, sir. We’re just doing a quick inspection, if you’ve got five minutes?”
“Is this about that news article about the soup kitchen?” Marc asked.
“That’s right, sir. Two or three questions, a look at your documents, and we’ll be on our way. We don’t want to keep you from your family.”
Marc opened the door a little wider, and called back to Cathlin and Wilom, “You two got your papers handy?”
“I’ll get them. One moment.” Cathlin pushed her chair back and headed to her room.
“Can you get mine while you’re there?” Marc asked. “You know where they are.”
Wilom opened up his desk, pulled out the stack of papers, and spent a minute taking deep breaths. Calm. The trick was to appear calm.
With a sour taste in his mouth, he let the decades of training with the ferryman take over.
He returned after Cathlin, and waited for the police to finish flipping through her papers and Marc’s.
“Whose house is this?”
“Mine,” said Marc.
“Are you two related?”
“He’s my brother,” Cathlin said. “He invited me to stay while I set up my business here.”
“That’s the letter here, yes?”
“Yes, that’s the letter.”
“You plan on staying permanently?”
“Are there any conditions on your stay here? Any rent, any time limit?”
“No, nothing,” Marc said.
“Alright.” The policeman handed the papers back. “You, sir?”
Wilom reached past Cathlin to hand his papers over. She stepped back out of the way.
“Are you another brother?”
“No, I’m a family friend.”
“Are you helping with the business?”
“No, I’ve found work on my own.”
“And where are you working now?”
“An office job,” Wilom said. “Green Hill Accounting. Nothing too fancy.”
The policeman made a note of it. “Thank you. Any rent, any conditions?”
“Chip in for food,” Wilom said. “But nothing formal.”
“I see. Old family friend, then?”
Wilom shook his head. “Not very old. But Cathlin and I were travelling partners for a while.”
The policeman gave him a sly look, and handed the papers back. “Well, it’s all in order. Thank you all. Have a good evening, and I’m sorry to have taken you from your dinner.”
Marc closed the door, and they all put their papers away and returned to the table.
Jilli looked between Cathlin and Wilom. “Mama, are they going to let Wilom stay with us?”
“Yes, they’ll let him stay,” Cathlin said. “They don’t have any reason to take him away.”
“Good,” Jilli said.
Wilom smiled. “It’s alright,” he said. “Now eat your soup quick, or you won’t get time for reading before bed.”
After dinner, once Jilli was reading in her room, Wilom and Marc washed the dishes while Cathlin made a grocery list. Wilom would have been able to taste the tension in the air, even before his years with the ferryman.
“Everything alright?” Wilom asked the room in general.
Cathlin sighed. “I just … at dinner? Really?”
“Government goons have never been a considerate group,” Marc said. “All they know is we’d all be home around this time, so that’s when they came.”
“And those …” Cathlin checked the door and what she could see of the hallway for Jilli before she continued. “Those … I don’t even know what to call them. Stirring up trouble like that.”
Wilom felt his blood chill. “You can’t agree with all the identification laws,” Wilom said.
“Of course not!” Cathlin said. “I can barely stomach reading the news of a morning. But all of those people who’ve been in the news … that Margaret Stern … They haven’t done a thing to hurt the government and everything to hurt the people that all this panic gets taken out on.”
“I suppose it’s just hard to feel like you can’t do anything,” Wilom said.
Marc nudged him.
“What Ms Stern did did far more harm than good,” Wilom said quickly, adding a silent in more ways than one to himself. “I agree. I guess I just see where she’s coming from is all.”
“Don’t you think my heart breaks for them? I’m no monster, I can see this has wrong written all over it. But I can’t … I can’t stand what this city is becoming on any side. I can’t help thinking that they’re just making it more dangerous for my son and the friends that went with him.” She threw the pan into the sink. “I suppose I’m just not idealistic enough for this.”
“That much idealism isn’t always a good thing,” Marc said.
“I agree,” Wilom said, and turned back to the washing up. He didn’t particularly want to continue this conversation. All of it was just making him more and more certain that he had made the right decision not telling Cathlin or Marc anything about his work with Vanda.