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To James “Papa” Aker. I wrote this for you. I miss you every day.


To Alex, for being Kimberly’s very first fan.


Prologue

I’m going to die tonight, Ip.”

The little fox in Hal Stone’s lap lifted his head and looked up into Hal’s face. It was a questioning look, eyes wide and ears up. Hal smiled and rubbed Ip’s head, imagining for a moment the sorrow the little fox could see written on his face.

Yes, I’m sure. My information is never wrong.”

Ip let out a mournful sound, a cross between a whimper and something human. Hal laughed and scratched at a tiny spot between Ip’s ears; the fur there was the softest, and Ip let out a bark of approval.

Come, Ip, we have much to do.” Ip jumped down and Hal stood, taking a moment to savor the cold feel of the floor on his toes.

Hal wrote down the things he needed to get done. Everything was far too important to leave to his aging memory. Checking his list for the third time, he chuckled to himself. It didn’t look like the list of a dying man; rather, it looked like the list of a businessman.

He spent a large part of the morning filling out paperwork that his attorney, Lance, would need to finish the things he could not. Ip sat in his lap while Hal put everything together, watching the old man’s fingers type, write, and seal.

Hal kept himself busy all through lunch. His one break came when the messenger service arrived to pick up a few things he needed to have sent out. The woman picking up his packages was pleasant, and he regretted that he couldn’t enjoy even a few moments of her company. Far more important things remained to be done.

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