Sweet Thyme Baby – 25

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

25

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 24 first)

 

The tennis ball thunked the wall, rattled the framed photo of Sharon and Hamish, and bounced back into Lance’s hand. He tossed it again.  Thunk again. Bounce. Catch. Toss. Thunkbouncecatch.

 

Miss Sharpe, the afternoon office volunteer knocked and stuck her corrugated forehead into his office. “Is there something I can do for you, Pastor?”

 

“Close the door. I’m thinking.”

 

About killing Mort Galbraith. About taking his family captive and tying him up to watch their torture. About pulling out Milly Galbraith’s hair, strand by hennaed strand, and the music of her screams. How much would it take before Galbraith uncled out? Maybe drugs injected into his nubile granddaughter. The family mutt on the rack. Lance had stopped telling himself such thoughts were sinful and decided that for a little while and in the privacy of his own skull it wouldn’t hurt to indulge himself. It was not as if he believed any of it.

 

Tossthunkbouncecatch.

 

The glass and redwood CCC conference center overlooking the Pacific was Meant to Be. Ordained. Galbraith was coming around, but taking his good time about it. His reluctance was inexplicable. Wasn’t he a CPA? Weren’t they like bankers? Didn’t they suck land deals with their mother’s milk? Maybe Galbraith had been hatched. Whatever, he had no vision so it was up to Lance to give him one. He’d get him together with Joel and between the two of them they would make him see the wave-shaped line of the building hugging the sea meadow slope to the ocean cliffs and the grass and patio and the fountains. Once the picture was planted in his mind, Galbraith would rush to open the vault. Mentioning Joel’s name had been a brain-flash. Brilliant.

 

He focused now on his next challenge, one Joel could not help him with. He had to persuade Dee Larue to sell the Sea Meadows. He thought he could do it if he could figure out a way into her and as of now, this minute, he did not have a clue what that might be. She was a mystery.

 

Did she have a family? Not as far as anyone knew.

 

Tossthunkbouncecatchtossthunk. The ball bounced over his head and hit the window screen.

 

She hardly ever left that garden. It was like she was hiding back there in the bushes. But from whom? And why?

 

Lance retrieved the tennis ball and sat down again. He tossed it back and forth from hand to hand.

 

As far as he knew, Dee had never had an out-of-town guest before yesterday. And she hadn’t been glad to see this one, whoever he was.

 

Tossthunkbouncecatch.

 

Dee Larue was cagey, not soft around the edges like a woman should be. Why was that? Why was such a pretty woman so hard?

 

Toss-thunk-

 

The photo of Sharon and Hamish feeding a dolphin at Sea World tipped, slipped and crashed. The tennis ball rolled across the broken glass and teetered at the edge of the credenza. Lance took a rubber band from the abalone shell catch-all on his desk and stretched it, sighting down its length like a sniper.

 

If he could stifle Dee Larue’s greediness and remind her he’d been good to Con and Carlotta and that they had specifically asked him to bury them, if he could convince her they would want her to cut him a deal on the land –.

 

Whack. He hit the ball dead center.

 

Maybe the guy visiting Dee wanted to buy the garden too, and maybe Dee was thinking about it. The guy hadn’t left town. He said he was staying at the Inn, hanging around, not giving up. That meant he believed he could pester Dee into selling.

 

Lance stabbed the intercom on his desk.

 

“Cancel my appointments.”

 

“You have a family baptism at four-thirty, Pastor.”

 

“Give them another date. Next month.”

 

“It’s a double baptism.” Barbara Sharpe’s voice had a gelatinous quiver to it. “They’ve been planning on this –.”

 

“They’ve waited this long to enter the Kingdom of God, another month won’t kill them.”

 

*

 

Dee and Maggie sat in silence at the kitchen table while the dishwasher swished and Sissypuss crunched his food on top of the refrigerator. Maggie faced the kitchen’s back wall and sipped a jigger of brandy. The line of windows over the sink and counter were open to their fullest, letting in occasional puffs of salt-smelling air. Dee finished off her decaf and stared into the bottom of her china mug. She stood up, went to the sink and rinsed it and set it to drain beside the sink. The tap dripped.

 

Taxes.

 

There was nothing to say.

 

At lunch with Pinkus and George, they had reviewed all the options and with Whiterose out of the picture, what it came down to was, simple. There were no options.

 

Maggie had said, “You’ll just have to go downtown and beg for an extension.”

 

George shook his head and poked his index finger at the tax bill. “According to this paper the Ryans already had all they get.”

 

“Asking would be a waste of time,” Dee said.

 

“Ask anyway,” Maggie said. “You never know, sometimes things work out.”

 

Dee would not go to the office of the tax collector. She would not give a bureaucrat her name and then wait while a computer made the inevitable connection. Nor would she explain this to her friends. Stalemated over bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, the four had eaten in a sullen silence except for the crunch of Maggie’s thick potato chips. Afterwards, Pinkus and George couldn’t wait to get back to Sweet Thyme whom they’d left sleeping in his basket under an umbrella on the terrace because Dee refused to have him inside.

 

“I have enough problems. I won’t add baby-stealing to the list.”

 

“We didn’t steal him.” George said. “We found him.”

 

“Yeah,” Pinkus said, “it was like an act of God.”

 

“And now God wants you to take him to the police.”

 

“If you’re so keen, why don’t you do it?”

 

“Yeah, no one’s stopping you.”

 

After lunch she went back to work, telling Maggie, “I left a wagon on the Pepper Tree path.”

 

The memory of the lunchtime conversation tagged after her as she walked back through the vegetable garden and the orchard, up through the light woods and along the stream. At the forest pool she stopped and sat on a rock at the water’s edge. It was silent as a crater and the water so dark she could not see the bottom. Across the pool the vine maples sprawled together and their long knotted stems drooped mournfully along the surface of the water. Pinkus called them bad dream trees. As soon as there was time she would ask him to come out here and thin them out.

 

The silence felt wrong to Dee. Not a bird song or an insect click or the rustle of a mouse through the bushes.  Already the mist had begun its creep from the sea up through the woods. But no, it wasn’t mist. It was a spider web, an immense hammock hanging between two trees on the far end of the pond, a beautiful sinister thing.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 26 of Sweet Thyme Baby

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