Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chapter 6 - Gentleman Caller

In the aftermath of Luis’ needling Saint over breakfast, while Saint squirmed and Lily flinched, and Fiona glowered over the whole affair with a disgusted, disapproving glare, it was Tommy who had come to the rescue.

He had announced, out-of-the-blue and in his quirky, breathless way of speaking, that his socks were full of holes.

Everyone had turned to look at him as if he’d lost his mind.

Everyone but Wash, actually. Wash was apparently used to him.

But everyone else had, and he’d gone on to say that socks were a thing that could make or break a man’s day, and that he was sure that worn-out socks were something condemned souls in the Bad Place were doomed to wear for eternity. It was awful enough to have socks that slid down into a man’s boots and wad up around his arches, he had explained earnestly, as the tense conversation around him ground abruptly to a halt. And according to Tommy, having to endure that horror in addition to having one’s toes burst through and poke out of the holes was nigh unbearable.

Especially when it was cold.

So when Lily had offered to darn his and anyone else’s socks after breakfast, he happily and noisily took her up on it, thanking her profusely. Breakfast quickly broke up, and the crew hurried to the bunkhouse to gather their mending.

Lily was in her room, going over the morning’s events in her head. She had just gotten her sewing basket together when a sharp knocking sounded at her door.

“Oh, come on in.” She called. Luis appeared in the open doorway, a bundle of worn socks in his hand. “Good.” she smiled. She was glad to see him. He was, she was beginning to suspect, a career troublemaker. But she didn't care. He was the first of the boys she'd met, and his presence put her at ease. “You got your mending?”

"Yes’m." he nodded. "I got Storm’s, too, cuz he ain’t here. An’ Jesse’s. Listen, Miz Lily, there’s a man downstairs to see you. He's in the kitchen.”

Lily stopped and stared at him. “A man?”

The boy nodded, eyes earnest and black curls bobbing. Lily frowned, her brow furrowing. She took the bundle of socks from him. “Who is it?”

Luis shrugged. “Some perfume-stinking git in a fancy suit, a stupid looking hat, an’ a book bag. You want us to get rid of him for you?”

More perplexed by the moment, Lily’s frown grew deeper. Who on earth? Who even knows me out here? “No, no. Of course not. I’ll see him.” She smoothed her hair and straightened her apron. “Are you absolutely sure it’s me he wants?”

“Yes’m. He knew your name and all. Asked for Miz Lily McMillian.” A teasing smile dimpled Luis’ smooth brown cheek. “So, Miz Lily, you ain’t got any lawmen out lookin’ for you, eh? Or maybe he heard about your cooking and found out you can sew an’ he’s come callin’?”

Lily laughed at that. “Oh, you. Don’t be silly.” She picked up her basket and headed for the door. “Can’t imagine what he could want from me, but we’ll find out, I reckon.”

By the time Lily got down the stairs, through the parlor and out the back door, then through the garden and to the propped-open kitchen door, she was consumed with rabid curiosity. Who in the blazes could be here? And looking for me no less?

The man rose from his seat on the bench where he’d been seated when she entered the kitchen. He was tall, with short, neatly combed blond hair and a handsome face. He wore a tailored brown suit, and a dress style hat sat politely on the table beside his coffee cup. An official-looking case of ledgers and papers sat open on the table, gently shifting in the warming spring breeze wafting through the open doorway.

Lily’s head cocked involuntarily in puzzlement, but she took his hand when he offered his. “Miss McMillian,” he said, in a deep, manicured voice, “my name is Richard Galloway. I’m sure you’re wondering what this is all about.”

She smiled. “Well...yes, sir, I have to admit I am.” She felt him give her hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it.

“Please.” He gestured to the bench across from himself. “Have a seat. I’m here in regards to the land you inherited from Mr.Chet Dillon.”

Lily felt her eyes go wide with suprise. “Oh...” she stammered. “Of course.” She sat down a little harder than she meant to. “Are you here because you spoke to Jesse? My goodness, that was fast. He’s not even back yet.”

“No, ma’am. I’m a lawyer.” He smiled warmly at her, his clear blue eyes on hers, lingering on her face.”I was hired by someone who is interested in buying your land.”

Lily stared back, shocked. My heavens, one day no one even knows what this land is, and the next someone wants to buy it? It had never occurred to her that anyone might be interested in buying this parcel of land that had apparently meant so little to her Uncle and that he'd never even shown it to her. She cleared her throat uncomfortably.

“Well, sir.” She said finally. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s on the property, to tell the truth. If you had some information about that, it would help. Who wants to buy it?”

The blue gaze never wavered. “I’ve never been there, myself, Miss McMillain. But located where it is, I can’t imagine it’s worth much. My client is willing to pay good money on it, however.”

A slight shadow flickered across the table. “Hey, Miz Lily.” Luis appeared in the open doorway and slouched against the propped door, a piece of straw dangling from between his teeth. “Say, we got any more of those biscuits left over from breakfast?”

“Uh. “ Lily looked up at him, “Yes. Look in the basket over near the second stove.” It was taking most of her attention to sort out what this lawyer was saying and she was having a tough time focusing on Luis’ distraction.

Luis, sauntering casually and unhurriedly into the kitchen, nodded amiably at the lawyer. The lawyer turned back to Lily. “As I was saying, Miss McMillain. This land more than likely is worthless. I could probably get you a fairly good price for it, if you were willing to sell it.”

“Hey,” Luis interjected on his way to the door, his mouth full of bread. He smiled and nodded at them both. “Gracias, Seniorita.”

Lily nodded briefly in his direction without really looking at him. Luis disappeared into the yard with his snack. “I don’t know, Mister Galloway, “ she continued....”I mean, I ought to at least go find out what’s out there. And I’m real curious who is interested in buying it. Is it a friend of my uncle’s?”

“Well, ma’am, I don’t know that I’d bother with that.” His eyes swept over her appreciatively, smiled, and gave her a slightly embarrassed shrug. “That’s some rough territory out there for such an attractive young lady to be traveling to. Probably more trouble than it’s worth. You really ought to consider my offer.”

"Well," she stammered, "I don't know. I can't really make a decision like that without talking to my brother first, and as I've said, I haven't even seen the land yet. You have to understand, my Uncle left it to me, and he's gone now. I may not want to sell it."

Galloway cleared his throat, a thread of impatience edging into his eyes. "I do undertand that, Ma'am, but..."

The sunlight spilling through the doorway dimmed again. Lily and Galloway both looked up. Saint had walked into the kitchen with a rough-hewn three-legged stool in his hand, coolly surveying them both. He was a dark, rangy shadow outlined in a nimbus of midmorning light, the stray ends of his long, dark hair dancing in wine-hued glints along the tops of his shoulders. He silently strode across the kitchen, taking his time, and set the stool near the sink with a sharp wooden thump. Straightening up, he made eye contact with Richard Galloway from beneath the brim of the ever-present black hat. He did not look happy.

“Tell England her stool’s fixed.” He grunted at Lily without looking at her. His eyes, which never left Galloway’s, were feral and full of threats. “Who are you?” he growled, his accent making his words harsh and pushy.

“Richard Galloway.” Galloway leaned out of his seat and extended a hand across the table to the glowering teamster. “I’m a lawyer.”

“Yeah, so I heard.” Saint dropped a brief, disdainful glance at the offered hand, but didn't move to take it. His dark eyes snapped back onto Galloway's. “So. What I want to know is why you won’t answer the lady’s question.”

Lily’s head jerked towards him and she stared, openmouthed. How dare...

Galloway’s smile dropped a notch before hitching itself back into place. “And you are...?”

“She’s asked you who sent you at least twice.” Saint stood calmly staring down the lawyer. “ At least, as I was coming up to the door, that’s as many times as I heard. That, and how good-looking you think she is, which I'm pretty damn sure I didn’t hear her asking you about.”

“Mr. Bari!” Lily said, a little louder than she meant to.

Saint ignored her,continuing. “But the part where she asked you about who’s interested in the land, that part I did hear. You’re in here trying to sweet talk her out of her property and you won’t even tell her who sent you? I smell something in here, Dicky boy. Other than the overpowering cheap cologne, I mean.”

Galloway looked helplessly at Lily. “Ma’am, is he...I mean, he isn’t...your...”

“No, he most certainly is not!” Lily was outraged. I can't imagine the sand....the nerve of this...this...oh! “I think I can handle my own affairs, thank you, Mr. Bari.” She said tersely, unable to keep the anger out of her voice.

Saint’s attention snapped to Lily’s face for the first time since he’s entered the kitchen. His gaze held hers for a long, tense moment before he shot a last warning glance at the lawyer. He turned and walked briskly back out into the yard.

Lily and Galloway watched him go.

“Well.” The lawyer broke the silence first. “That was... interesting. Jealous beau?”

Lily’s face, already flushed with indignation, grew even redder. “What? No! Good Heavens!” The very thought… I could...I could wring his arrogant neck! “Mister Galloway, I am so sorry...” She stammered, mortified. "I barely know that man...actually, I really don't know him at all. I can't believe he came in here...and...and..."

“Please, “ The lawyer smiled and rifled though the papers shifing in the breeze on the table. He placed his empty coffee cup on top of them to hold them still. “Call me Richard. There’s no need to apologize, Miss McMillain. I understand there are some rough sorts out here. I deal with …his type… every day.”

© 2008 Regina Shelley

No comments: