We step into the airlock, undress, and pile back into the limo. The ride is quieter than before, everyone a little tired or embarrassed or simply lost in their own thoughts. The limo driver occasionally casts glance back at us, irritated at me perhaps for the way I ran off. I raise the divider and give it no further thought.
Halfway back to the Libretto, the redhead’s Conncomm goes off. She glances down, reads the screen, frowns. I watch through half-lidded eyes, listen disinterestedly as she announces to the limo that the blonde has left the villa and is heading back to the girls’ hotel room. There’s the usual chorus of, “What? Why?” and “Is everything okay?” and “Is there anything we can do?” and “Is that asshole sleeping?” but in the end, there’s nothing to be done but drop the girls off and make our way back to the Libretto. As the limo driver lets us out at a private driveway I hesitate a moment. I should tip him, of course. Everything in the Meadows runs on tips. But I have no idea how much is an appropriate amount. I stare at him blankly for a few moments before finally setting on a hundred creds. It’s a drop in the bucket relative to what we have in the Libretto’s vault, and it’s enough to buy him a nice dinner somewhere. Not the greatest dinner of his life, but a nice one. Or maybe a more modest dinner for him and a loved one. Or maybe just enough to make him think we weren’t cheapskates.
We take the elevator up to the villa, idly wondering what Papa Chub has been up to in our absence. “You think he and that girl banged?”
“No way. Why would she leave if they had?”
“I guess we can at least rest easy knowing he didn’t murder her with a hatchet.”
“She might have murdered him with a hatchet.”
“She’s probably not so dumb as to leave such an obvious trail if she did, though.”
“You don’t know that.”
“She’d have to be pretty fucking dumb, man.”
“She might be.”
“Papa Chub would have kicked her ass out if she were. You know he can’t abide bad conversationalists.”
“So they weren’t talking. Problem solved.”
The elevator opens with a pleasant little chime, and there we are. Standing before the door to our villa. We walk in and there he is, sitting in boxer briefs in front of the television, watching classical animation and eating a bowl of cereal. He looks surprised to see us, but not especially so. “Oh. Hey, guys. Welcome back.” He sets the bowl down on the floor, looks around for something to cover himself, shrugs, gives up. “Did you have a good space walk?”
“It was fun!”
“It was alright.”
“I got to see the Earth rise.”
“So, where’s the girl?” Erb asks, and Papa Chub’s face falls. He doesn’t look depressed or saddened. More embarrassed, perhaps.
“Gone. She’s gone. She left, like, thirty minutes ago. Forty minutes ago.”
“Yeah. Fine. She just said she had some stuff to take care of, so she bounced.”
“Scared her off, didn’t you?” I say with a smirk, and Papa Chub turns to glare at me.
“I didn’t scare her off. I’ll have you know that her and I had a lovely time together.”
Mike holds up his hands forms a circle with his left thumb and index finger and slides his right index finger in and out through the loop. Papa Chub smiles, nods, frowns.
“Hey. Good job.” I paw at the air in front of me. “Air five.”
He paws back. “Yeah. Thanks. Mission accomplished, right?”
He is smiling, but his heart’s not in it. It’s plain to all of us, even Googe and Monk. We are all of us silent, the four of us standing and Papa Chub sitting and not seeing. Something needs to be said, but if any of us know what, we are content to hold our peace.