July 5th, 2020

_Cool as Ice_ REPLACEMENT part 29ish


Chapter Seventeen

Stairways

17 Jumada 1422 yp



"And finally, I can finish those stairs."

Keiq nodded against his shoulder. "As soon as you get out of bed. And I suppose dinner ought to happen sometime."

"Time zone change. We've got hours of sunlight. I need to check my poor mahogany, sitting out in the sun for nearly three weeks, now."

"I threw some tarps over it so the color didn't fade, but it's probably warped horribly."

Ice cracked his knuckles. "I fear no warped wood. Umm, how's the table top?"

"It's fine. The Historical Society Ladies can't wait to see what you do next." Keiq snickered. "And the Guards, the Bosses . . . your apartment landlord and the Task Force Wonks all came out to see what every one was talking about . . ."

"I forgot all about the Task Force." Ice stretched. "I suppose I'd better get up and do something about those stairs. Finally."


The side slabs had warped a bit, and cracked. Nothing some mental molding couldn't deal with.

He had them out on the driveway for further water removal to finish the drying process when the Wrecking crew arrived and got the tour.

"One! You never do things by halves, do you?" Oljo swept a professional gaze around and shook his head. Old Mikel didn't much worry about security, did he?"

Ice nodded. "If he had guards, they must have been stuck in the basement."

"Yeah." Oljo looked over at his team.

Luv--Wlvu--pointed up at the women's quarters. "At least we can see the driveway from there. Otherwise we'll have to camp out on this black marble floor and try to not scrape it."

Ice nodded. "Not to mention what the Historical Society might say. Plus there's a working bathroom up there. We'll get the walls for that up real soon now."

Snickers from the others.

Bit--Obti--sent an innocent look toward his team leader. "Ajki ever decide if we're guarding him so he doesn't escape, or guarding him from Afgu's clique?"

Oljo sighed, loudly. "It would not be politically expedient to express an opinion, so we'll do both, without bias."

Ice grinned. "I doubt this will last long. I expect the inquest soon. In the mean time, do you guys do much wood working? I'm in the process of treating wood before cutting it for stair steps. Let me show you how this works . . ."

E-one and E-two showed up and helped haul planks to be sized and attached, while half the Wrecking Crew prowled to show they were on duty. the other Half sat and studied what he was doing.

Keiq gave up on what was probably plans for a romantic dinner and ordered pizza. And crowed in delight when she managed to mold a step firmly into place around the iron brackets.

"Just you wait, Ice! I'll catch up with you . . . eventually!"

"I suspect, quickly." Ice surveyed the almost finished staircase and headed back to the tree.

For better or worse, it was time to work on the newel posts.

The tree trunk narrowed above his slab sections. He cut out two two-meter long logs and hauled them out to the driveway. Between the pictures in three books and his own of the newels in Oliver's House, he had both the measurements and the designs . . . remove the bark, square them off, and then very carefully start drying them. Then, first compact them lengthwise . . . which curved the grain of the tree rather nicely. Then from all sides until the base was the proper size. Up twenty centimeters and squish the wood up and in for the main cylindrical part of the post. The fancy rim at the bottom, a bunch of leaves, acorns, and sycamore seed balls. And the same at the top, flaring out to another square block and the eagle.

Where he balked and took a break for beer, cookies, and bravery.

Roughed out the basic shape of the bird on the first post and decided the final details could be put off . . . for better light, yeah, that's it.

But he hauled them inside and molded them into the bases of the stairs.

Now the railings . . .

He sort of remembered Keiq suggesting the Wrecking crew stop plying him with beer, and lots of suggestions abut the second newel's top carving . . .


Definitely a bad hangover.

"I don't think I had enough beer to account for this." Seated on the edge of the tub of the bathroom they'd shoehorned into a corner of the dome room.

"Are you talking to yourself, the toilet, or Mikel's Ghost?" Keiq peered in and shook her head. "Do you even remember what you did?"

"Did?" Ice winced at the whimper in his voice.

A snort, more amusement than sympathy. Much more. "Get dressed and come see."

He brushed his teeth. Showered and dressed. Blinked at the balcony railing sweeping around to join up with the stair rail. He stepped carefully down but the railing was solid as a rock . . . and the newel post eagle had opened his wings a bit further, beak open in threat. Beautifully detailed, every feather perfect.

"Uh . . . Did I do that?" It looks like that eagle that threatened to take my head off if I took one more step closer to its fallen fledgling.

Snickers from Keiq and the Wrecking crew as they all walked up, grinning.

"You just stood there telling us what it ought to look like, waving your hands around and molded it with out even touching it. Told us all about seeing one that pissed off." Oljo glanced across the entry. "And we got a tall tale about that one, too."

"The History Society won't approve." Keiq pursed her lips in disapproval.

Ice hesitated. I sort of remember Keiq vetoing the nude woman, then get sarcastic and suggesting "Those never-actually-seen Dires from his tall tales . . ." He turned and studied the Dire. Forelegs up on a rock, head turned to look at the entry, lips back in a snarl exposing impressive teeth, slit-eyed glare.

"Well . . . I suppose I can cut it off and mold on another eagle . . ."

More snickers.

Ahfe sighed. "I've heard of 'drunk on magic' but this is the first time I've actually seen it."

"And we're all delighted to find out that you're a happy drunk." Tiggy snickered. "Although how much was magic and how much the beer--I mean four over the whole evening? Not nearly enough to be seriously drunk."

Ice swallowed. "My stomach disagrees with you. I think I'd better stick to doing steps for this staircase today." A stab of pain through his skull. "Or just kick back in the shade somewhere drinking water and eating dry toast."


He managed to finish the second staircase--except for doing something about the not-an-eagle--before the inquest.



Inquest



"Did you plan ahead of time to kill Former President Afgu?"

"No."

"Did anyone suggest that you kill Former President Afgu?"

"No."

The truth match was light, nothing like a compass, just enough to detect the truth, to see and hear surface thoughts and emotions.

"What were you thinking, at that moment, when you acted to kill a former president?"

"It was not so much a thought as a fast reaction. The realization of the danger."

"Danger to you?"

Ice shrugged. "Had I the time to think, I might have thought that he would target me from personal animus. But within ten meters and in plain sight: One Emre, One Nicholas, President Izzo, Prime Councilor Isgu, both former Presidents Orde, all three directors, three ministers. Even a wild shot, a ricochet . . ."

The other seven men, even the War Party councilman cringed.

"He could not be allowed to get off a single shot."

"And now what are your thoughts and feelings?"

"Very mixed. I regret killing him, even though I know it was necessary. I . . . am glad there is no precedent set, that the One hasn't the power to execute a man for actions taken while he was president. I . . . had the option, months ago, to leave him in Government House or remove him to stand trial. I still feel that him standing trial, to show everyone that he had to be removed, that this was not just a political ploy, was necessary. That hauling him out of Government House was the right thing to do.

"It's been very messy. But it had to be known. Public."

The truth match dissolved.

Ice stood, bowed and followed the baliff out.

They only subpoenaed three other people.

Well, they're going to ask Izzo, Ox, and Ajki if he suggested, hinted, or ordered me to kill Afgu . . . A bit awkward, but . . . it should be quick.

And if they wanted my history they could have asked me.

The witness waiting rooms were hushed, the guards kept up mental shields all over the area . . . an interesting effect, I wonder if they work together as a compass?

So he just sat and read until the baliff returned and led him into the inquest room.

"The Superior Court Inquest finds that Icka Withione Sycamore Tall Trees acted legally, and within the duties of his position with the Presidential Directorate in killing Afgu Withione Iztapalapa Azteca. No further legal action will be taken." A tap of the gavel. "Court is dismissed."

Ice bowed and retreated.

And found himself grabbed by an ecclectic group of his old and new co-workers, even the Ministry wonks, and hauled off for another impromptu party at the house.

A grinning Keiq had summoned the Silver Grill mobile kitchen, and people kept coming. Izzo, Ox, and Ajki had brought wives and kids, all quickly mingling with Wacky and Azek's trio. Then Rael showed up, eyed the kids and turned Exzy loose.

The floors and the finished staircases were admired, the dome room garnered a few jokes about how badly he must rattle around in a single room double the size of his apartment and what was he going to do with the rest of the house?

"Ignore it, except when it gets cleaned in advance of a historical society tour?" Ice shrugged. "It's been fun, stretching my magical building type skills to do it. But I can't imagine any situation in which I'd use all of the top floor, let alone the whole house."

Oh One! Did I say that out loud?

Lucky Dave looked over and shook his head. "Don't you know better than to tempt fate by saying things like that?"