“Good night, Kaj. I'll lock up.”
“Night, Ienas. Junior said he'd head off straight home after he dropped off the deposit. He said not to wait up for him.” I nodded. The family house was so crowded now, even with the boy and Helfig buying a little place just up the street. We wanted the grandbabies over so much it made for a bit of lost sleep, though at my age there's precious little sleeping going on anyway, after I close up so late. I had to smile, my Iennie hated being called 'Junior' but took it in stride, at least from Kaj.
I drew the wooden bars over my windows and locked them down, listening to the late-night whistles of the Sereniteers. For people's sleeping sakes they keep it down at night, no bellowing the time, or blasting those screech toys for more than a chirp on their rounds. It's like spring froglets or crickets more than anything else.
After the last heat I raise my nose and sniff, just before I bolt the front door. Smells like rain. The smoke-niche is doing well, and we've just paid to have a single pane of clear glass put into the door, though it hasn't been installed yet. The girls' Kaf and cake shop across the street didn't do so well, so they moved back to a corner of the roof terrace and business for the sweet cakes is picking up now that their overhead is gone. A separate place might be in the cards if they get a lot of customers, next year.
I can hear the rumble of the sewer cleaners' carts in the distance. Our street gets washed tomorrow. I truly cannot imagine a finer place than Arko tonight. How on the Earth-sphere could even the Selestial City of Plenty be better?
I've always loved this time of night, when everything is quiet. I polish my mirror, though I'm certain the smudges I wipe are more in my imagination than real. The stripey red kitten that adopted Dorn's storage area as his own does his usual best to kill me, trip me up as I tuck my cloth and glass polish into their box under the bar.
There should be another letter from my youngest idiot, soon. Him, like his big brother, off gallivanting around the world. At least he's still writing, asking about the nice girl whose da happens to own the Greasy Barbarian, rather than talking about bringing another foreign wife home, though I won't hear a word against our Helfig.
The stone grills from the Gourmand are still ticking slightly as they cool. Rasas swears by the stone stoves rather than the fancy iron grills which would cool off so much faster, and the fading ghosts of dinner drift past my nose. I don't have any strongly scented flowers or perfumed candles in my Fig. No sense having strong smells on to conflict with the bouquet of good wine.
I pull my last bottle of Tat 153, set the cat on the stool next to me so I can pet him more easily. The Imperator's Chamberlain ordered my last case and a certain young journalist sneaked in to have a single glass, so this bottle is open. I'll have to see if the rumours of a few bottles coming on the market through Hyerne are true, or just set Kaj to sniffing out if there are any more to be had. I certainly can't let the open bottle go to waste and a wine this old goes off quickly. It should be drunk today.
I pour the ancient old vintage carefully, then for no reason I can tell, two more. There is just enough to fill the glasses perfectly. “It's a good time of night,” my guest's voice rumbles.
I set his glass in front of him and the second glass for his attendant, and scratch the white mule's ears. The attendant reaches to touch his glass, in thanks, but does not drink, bone and claw clicking against the glass.
My guest is dressed the same way I am, like a solid fessas publican. “I really wasn't ready. I wanted to see the babies more grown.”
“I understand, Ienas, but it's time.”
“So what am I going to be pouring there?” I sit down and sip. No sense wasting it.
“Only the best, my friend.”
“Any chance I can talk You out of it? Trade a story, a joke, a game, in exchange for a few more years?”
“I'm afraid not.”
“Well. I suppose I knew. I'd like to finish this first though.”
“I wouldn't rush a vintage like that. Take your time.”