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They found Sandra out in the commons room of the Nine Points, talking to a sallow-faced girl in a rumpled pullover. The girl tensed up when she saw Liam and Isaac, but kept her seat.
"Hullo," Liam said. "Who's this, then?"
"This," Sandra said. "Is Alice Hall. Alice, the man who smells like a wine cask is Liam, and the one who looks a bit like a werewolf is Isaac. They're harmless."
Alice nodded, but said nothing.
"Where's happy noodle boy?" Liam said.
"What does that even mean?"
"I don't have to make sense if I don't want to."
"Are you drunk?"
"Maybe. Where's Charlie Brown?"
"He won't be coming with us tonight."
"That's a bit odd."
"We discussed it and decided it was for the best."
Liam raised an eyebrow. "Discussed it?"
Sandra stared at him.
"As opposed to say, had an argument, and he fucked off?"
Sandra said nothing.
"No, that's not right. He doesn't argue, does he? He probably just said something you didn't like, and you yelled at him, and he fucked off."
"Don't push me on this, Liam."
"Sorry, love. Blame it on the drink."
"I'll blame it on you being an asshole," Sandra said. She turned to Alice. "I've got a few things to do tonight. Catch me some other night, and we'll talk about it, all right?"
Alice nodded, got up, and faded back into the general pub crowd.
Sandra whirled around. "You-"
"If I'm going to be yelled at," Liam said. "I'm getting a pint."
Isaac stared at him. "You had, like, three glasses of wine at Bishop's place."
Liam's expression did not change. "So?"
"Right. Fine. Let's all go see this Professor while drunk. That sounds like a great idea."
"You sound like a prat," Liam said, and headed for the bar.
Isaac watched him go. "That was charming."
"You know," Sandra said. "You really impress me sometimes."
He turned around. "I...do?"
"Sure. Most men I've known would have lost it just then. Hell, most people."
"It's just a name," Isaac said. "If I get tired of it, I can walk away."
"See? I admire that."
"I'm glad. I couldn't tell at first if you were angry at me or not."
She looked chagrinned. "A lot of people say that. Sorry." She took his hand. "Let's go back to our table. Liam can come find us."
He followed her through the crowded commons room, back through the hall to their private table.
She closed the door after them and sat down back-to-front on one of the chairs, resting her elbows on the table. "Did you get what you wanted with Bishop?"
Isaac sat down. "Enh. Not really. I'd meant to call home and forgot to ask."
"Forgot, or got distracted?"
"What's the difference?"
"I don't know Bishop like Liam does," Sandra said. "But I know how he works. Instead of having to say 'no', or 'I don't think you should right now', and having to answer a bunch of questions, he just works things so it never comes up."
"And you think that's what happened?"
She shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not."
He was silent for a moment. Then: "Can I ask you a semi-personal question?"
"Does Liam ever take off his sunglasses? I mean, like, ever?"
She laughed. "No. Not ever. What's so personal about that?"
"Well. I mean." Isaac looked down and rubbed at his beard. He looked back up again. "I mean, not even when you..."
"When we fuck?"
"It's just a word, Isaac. People have been doing it since people were people. No, not even when we fuck. Or fucked." She blew a stray hair out of her eyes. "I don't know how I feel about that right now."
"Why? You didn't do anything."
"No- I know- sorry."
She laughed. "Quit apologizing, Isaac."
"Sorry- I mean. Right." He looked down at the table.
She lifted his chin with a hand. "Quit it. You're fine. You look like Grizzly Adams, but otherwise, you're fine." She smiled. "And you're cute when you blush, so don't tempt me to abuse it."
He smiled. "I'll try."
She sat back and crossed her arms. "Speaking of Liam, I'm going to have some special words for him if he doesn't lay off being such a dick sandwich tonight."
"He really doesn't like Linus, does he?"
She looked up, surprised. "Hm? No, I don't think he feels one way or another about Linus. It's change he doesn't like."
"That would explain a lot."
She nodded. "Yeah."
"And you've really never seen him without his sunglasses?"
Sandra looked pained. "It's really something you should talk to him about."
"I tried. He got pissed at me."
She looked surprised. "And he didn't tell you to fuck off then and there?"
"What? No...although I might've deserved it."
Sandra leaned across the table again. "Take it from me: He likes you. If he didn't, he'd have left you in Lensmoor. Liam does not make friends easy."
"I figured." Isaac fingered the manilla envelope, turning it over in his hands.
"I'm not sure. A letter from the College, I-"
Liam came in, a trio of pints in his hands. He handed one each to Isaac and Sandra. "Who was that out in the pub, then?"
"Alice, you mean?"
"A local prostitute," Sandra said. "And keep your fucking smart comments to yourself. I wanted to see what she had to say about Knightsbridge."
"Is prostitution legal here?" Isaac said.
"Legal?" Sandra blinked. "I guess so. There's no law against it. There aren't really many laws to speak of here. It's looked after, if that's what you mean."
"And the old axiom stands," Liam said, and then, in a singsong voice: "If you want to know what's going down, ask someone who gets aroun'. She have anything to say?"
"Just rumors about the Family. I guess they're supposed to be moving in?"
"Never happen," Liam said. "You've not got anything they want. This is what you call news?"
"You're- what- ignoring it because you don't like it?"
"I'm ignoring it because it's bollocks."
"Only a fool ignores the word on the street," Sandra said.
"And only a fool takes it at face value."
They looked at each other across the table.
"Look," Liam said. "Appy-polly-logies. Sorry. Could we not argue for a bit? I need to save up for Wanker McFancypants anyway."
"That's what I love about you," Sandra said. "You're so mature."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.