“Delia Coonhill is asking to see you, Governor.”
Governor Vac looked up from his papers. He was a man not often shocked, but the soldier’s announcement had elicited an emotion very near that. “Send her in.” He gathered up the reports and stored them in a drawer. Delia Coonhill might be the wife of his former Head of Intelligence, but she wasn’t cleared for the information on the reports.
In walked a diminutive, round-faced woman in a simple black dress adorned with a few white frills. Though nearly forty, she still looked like a child, with those dimples and big eyes. Her gait bore a weariness that betrayed her face.
“Good evening, Governor.”
He stood and pulled a wooden chair from the corner to the front of his desk. “Sit, please.”
She sat lightly, on the edge of the seat. She clutched a bottle of some sort of liquor to her chest. Vac had last seen her at the funeral, a week ago. He had offered a few words of condolences. Besides that, they had not spoken. They rarely had.
“I brought you this.” She extended the bottle to him. He took it, examining it. Her husband was dead in his service. He did not trust the contents.
“What is it for?”
“Drinking, usually.” She did not smile, but her eyes glimmered briefly.
He stood to retrieve his corkscrew from a cabinet along the wall. He had spent long nights in this office. With his back turned, he examined the bottle more closely. It appeared untampered with. A faded paper plastered to the green glass stated it had been bottled 18 years before. It was also marked with Coonhill’s tight scrawl of a signature, which Vac had seen innumerable times on his reports.
“Coonh–your husband made this?”
“It was a hobby of his.”
That tickled a long-buried memory. Yes, that was true, but Vac had not heard talk of it for a long time. He returned to the table with simple glasses and the corkscrew. “Why are you here?”
“My husband admired you.”
“Your husband was a man of remarkable dedication. It will be difficult to replace him.”
“I think it will be more than difficult, Governor.”
“What do you want, to sip wine and reminisce? If you think I’m that sort of man, you haven’t been paying attention.” Coonhill had kept his private life separated from his public; Vac had been fine with that. He barely knew Delia, despite the years working with her husband. Delia surely knew of him, though.
“Francis spent more time here than he did at home.” Delia said it simply. There was no anger, no accusation, only a watchfulness. “Will you drink with me or not?”
Vac uncorked the bottle and poured. Clear liquid wine filled the glasses. Not wine, then, but harder stuff, as he prefered. Delia took her glass, raised it, and drank it down with a spasm. She coughed. Satisfied it was safe, he downed his glass. Delia waited for him to fill hers again, which he did.
Minutes passed in silence as they drank, Vac watched Delia as she finished her fourth glass. “Did you see him die?” she asked.
“Two wars and a cataclysm,” she said softly. “He survived those.”
“We all die.”
“Of course.” She looked to him. He had wondered at Coonhill when he had married this petite, doll-like girl, whose appearance was so contrary to Vac’s own view of the Falconer image. That had been a long time ago. He saw now that her eyes hid a quickness of mind he hadn’t noticed before. “What do the survivors do?” she asked.
“Find a way to live.”
“When I first heard he had died, I didn’t believe it. It was not until they laid him in the ground that I finally wept. I wept all that night. I saw them put his body in the ground. They covered him with dirt. He was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. Do you understand that?”
Governor Vac finished his glass and looked at her. “Falcon Point lost a good man that day.”
“Have one more glass.”
He did, finishing it in one gulp. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have important business to attend to.”
“Of course. Keep the rest.”
“It would appear improper for me to receive such a gift in my office as Governor.”
Delia stood, and he stood with her. “Francis distilled it the evening he was promoted to Head of Intelligence. He planned to give it to you when you retired.”
Vac blinked. There was something in his eyes, a haze. He brushed away the wetness with the back of his hand. “I understand.”
Delia smiled sadly. “You do, I see.” She stood. “That’s what I came for. Thank you.”
After she left, Vac poured a drink and raised his glass one last time.