for Brian, Tura and Ken

The warrior mouse is sitting in the lobby of a fine hotel, patiently mending his nets and dreaming about his herb garden when the door crashes open and Varla comes stomping in. “Martin,” she sneers. “I should have known you were here. This town reeks with your politeness.”

“Hello, Varla,” he replies. “What news?”

“Bad, mouse. All of it bad.” She straddles a chair and takes a swig of his cordial. “Rosie and Billie are dead, and The Vegetable’s coming after me.”

Martin hems vaguely. Varla’s trouble, and things have been quiet since Tsarmina died. He’d hate to bring any of that roiling back to the surface again — but Varla’s a beautiful animal, as wild and bloody as any, and his quiet, peace-loving heart, for an instant, goes out to her.