“You have a courier making a delivery and he insists it must be hand delivered to you rather than leave it at our desk,” the hotel desk informed Lee.
“Don’t send them up. I’ll be right down.”
Lee wasn’t expecting anything and was cautious. She slipped a pistol in her waistband and pulled her top back over it. That and having witnesses in the lobby should do. What she didn’t expect was a Bill waiting patiently with a card held in both hands. She knew there were several Bills at their joint embassy with the Badgers but had never seen one out and about other than the head Bill, Singer. This was somebody else. He was thinner, shorter, and managed to look uncomfortable and nervous. That was surprisingly obvious, although she didn’t have a lot of experience reading Bill faces or body language. The rigid bill like a duck made them tougher for Humans to read.
“Mistress, my leader, Singer, and the head Badger, Talker, send greeting and invite you to a celebratory gathering,” he said. He didn’t introduce himself and gave her a bow so smooth and unconsciously it must be a part of his culture rather than adopted.
Lee took the offered card and read it. The party was this Saturday, only four days away. Her first thought before she read it was that she’d be gone to Providence, but that date worked for her. It said starting at the twelfth hour with drinks and running all day.
“Are you taking our responses back to the hosts?” Lee inquired.
“Yes, Mistress. Verbally or if you wish to send a note, I’ll wait for it.”
“Tell them I’ll be there. Is it appropriate to bring a date?”
“I was told you are Talker’s friend. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t welcome and accommodate anyone you wished to accompany you. We are all being instructed on Badger customs and culture as they are being instructed about ours. I’m aware now that friend means much more to them than it does to us or Humans.”
“I’m glad to hear you have such programs. I had to learn the hard way by getting it wrong a few times,” Lee admitted.
The Bill’s eyes got bigger. Enough to be easy to read. He was surprised not at Lee’s experience but that this important person was being chatty with him.
“Did they by any chance share what this event is celebrating?” Lee asked.
“The Badgers have at long last received all their domestic goods and Talker’s family is in residence. The supply ship brought extra personnel for them, a few Bills, and a race spox for the aliens that I’m told you call Cats. That was a surprise and a separate wing for her use was immediately started.”
“Do you by any chance know why it took so long to get his pots and pans and family packed and moved?” Lee asked.
“May one speak anonymously, Mistress?”
“Sure. We’d say in confidence. Only between the two of us,” Lee promised.
“Talker told them plainly not to send a Voice to replace Singer. He said he was doing quite well and all the Derf and Humans got along with him famously. That was another new English expression I had to look up. He published that as an open letter. They wanted to ignore him but his wife refused to board with a new Bill spox. The embassy staff like her for that before we have even met. The officials debated sending a separate ship just to carry him. The final consensus was that would solve nothing because Talker is so stubborn, he’d send him back or refuse to support him in any way.”
“Ha! Talker has been so corrupted by my influence he might just shoot him,” Lee said.
The Bill bent at the waist and seemed to be choking. Lee finally figured out he was laughing uncontrollably. Then she remembered some of the things she was told about how crude Bill humor ran. Apparently, she made a direct hit on his funny bone.
“We’d have to throw another party to thank him,” her courier told her.
“I predict they’ll start giving all of you lessons on Cat manners and customs with this new person arriving,” Lee told him.
“I hadn’t thought of that, but I think you have the right of it,” he said.
“Here, thank you for your message and the extra information. I always welcome talk about what’s happening and to trade juicy gossip about people we know.” She gave him a silver dollar Ceres and a small bow that was way above his station.
Thank you, Mistress. I will remember that.”