Sweet Thyme Baby – 29

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

29

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 28 first)

 

She had told Ted White that the Sea Meadows were a resource for wildflowers and could not be spared; but there were wildflower fields in other parts of the garden. And if she had to sell any portion of the garden, the Sea Meadows were the least disruptive because they were at the northern extreme, on the far side of the Cloud Forest, and would be easy to access from College Road. The buildings would go up, the traffic would arrive and she would barely notice it. It would be wrong to sacrifice the Sea Meadows for townhouses or a golf course; but this place Lance described, it honestly sounded like a good thing. The world might be better for its existence.

 

“How much would you give me?”

 

“Seventy-five thousand dollars.”

 

She had expected a great deal more. “I could sell to a developer for twenty times that much.”

 

Lance looked offended.

 

“I wouldn’t even have to sell it. I could probably lease it out for thirty or fifty years. That’s what they do in Baja.” She was dizzy, as if she’d been lying in the sun and sat up too quickly. “I could make more if I developed the land myself. Condominiums.”

 

“Dee, you’re babbling. You don’t want condos in the garden.”

 

He was right. Lance’s plan would open the garden to the whole world, he was asking her to let the garden heal the planet.

 

“Where will you get the money?”

 

“The CCC isn’t completely without resources.”

 

“Who would be in charge of this…center?”

 

“Why, I would, of course.”

 

“It would be a huge job, Lance.”

 

“I’ll have an assistant. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Joel ––?”

 

“But suppose it was too much for you. Suppose the center failed.”

 

“It won’t be too much for me. It won’t fail.” His voice dropped to a vibrating whisper. “It is God’s will that this come to pass, Dee.”

 

“I wouldn’t want strangers wandering into the garden.”

 

“We’ll put up a fence. Dee, these are details. Trivia. The point is, you’re willing to sell.”

 

Had she said that?

 

“I can get you a check by the first of next week.”

 

A check made out to the city treasurer before the end of the month. All she had to do was agree.

 

“Rabbits graze there. Deer too. In the spring there are wildflowers that don’t grow anywhere else along this coast. For years Con and Carlotta gathered seed. The nursery gets orders from all over the world.”

 

“Trust me. You don’t have to worry about Bambi.”

 

A breeze had sprung up. The air danced with leaves, a shower of green that fell on Dee’s hair and settled across her shoulders. The warm wall, the smell of ripe fruit, and the music of birds: how lovely it all was, how peaceful and innocent of time. This was an orchard as it might have been a hundred years ago. As it might be one hundred years in the future if left alone. Certainty flared in Dee like a fever. If Lance built his conference center there would be more incursions into the garden, more persuasive builders and schemers and dreamers. And no one would want all of her garden, no one would ever want more than just a few of acres here or there.

 

She looked at Lance and was surprised to realize that she was a little afraid of him. Mild and modest Lance Whitby had become threatening in some way.

 

“I can’t do it.”

 

His nostrils flared.

 

“I swore to Con that I would not sell the garden.”

 

“I thought we agreed he’d approve of this.”

 

She tried to tell him about the others who would come after him, but he would not listen.

 

“Five acres, Dee. I’ll settle for five fucking acres.”

 

Her thoughts skipped in surprise and she remembered what he’d said earlier. He offered seventy-thousand dollars. That was the exact amount she had mentioned to Victor.

 

“You’ve been talking to Victor Detroit.”

 

She saw his Adam’s apple bob.

 

“What did he tell you?” It took her less than a second to know the answer. Her shoulders sagged. “This isn’t the Nineteenth century. You can’t run me out of town.”

 

“Who said anything about running you out of town? But I can make it uncomfortable for you.”

 

“Lance, listen to yourself. This isn’t Christianity, it’s blackmail. The Bible –.”

 

“You aren’t anyone to explain the Bible to me.”

 

“Jesus wants –.”

 

“Jesus wants His kingdom on earth, that’s what he wants. And it’s a task not easily accomplished. I am Spirit led in this, Dee. I’m offering you a chance to get out of trouble. I don’t want the community poisoned against you. That’s the very last thing I want. But I got your attention, didn’t I?” He smiled, gently again. He was her best friend, her confessor, her staunchest ally. But dangerous. Now that she had realized this, she must not forget. “I just don’t want you to make a mistake you’ll regret the rest of your life.”

 

“Right.” She folded her arms across her chest and stared back down the length of the orchard and vegetable garden to the house. Maggie’s house.

 

“You were going to tell me something else.”

 

“Maybe you’ve thought about this, but I don’t think so. You’re going to have to pay taxes on your inheritance. On this land. They’re going to come from the IRS and appraise this land and tax you. Big time.”

 

She stared at him, taking the words in. Why hadn’t Walter told her? Because he was thinking about his trip to Europe, because he thought it would not hurt to wait a month, because he knew the talk of money owed would worry her.

 

“But if you give the land to the CCC, a church has privileged status in the eyes of the law…”

 

No matter what happened, Maggie must keep her house. And George and Pinkus theirs.

 

“I don’t like to see you unhappy, Dee. Whatever arrangement we make you’ll still have a place to live and so will the others.”

 

She looked into his eyes. “Is that a promise?”

 

*

 

That evening, Maggie’s kitchen smelled of simmering chicken stock seasoned with garlic and bay. Poached chicken, mashed potatoes and creamed beans with onions and mushrooms. Comfort food.

 

“You gotta eat, Dee.”

 

A place was set for her at the round oak table but her plate had nothing on it. Her knife and fork were unused and her table napkin was still in its ceramic ring. “I think it’d make me sick.”

 

“Oh, honey, you don’t want to take that attitude. Then you really will get sick. Won’t you tell me what’s happened and got you so upset? Can’t I help you?”

 

Dee shook her head.

 

Maggie walked to the kitchen sink and furiously washed her hands. “It’s that Lance Whitby. Just sayin’ his name makes me feel dirty. When I saw he’d come to talk to you, I thought of takin’ a gun and running him off the property.”

 

Dee smiled in spite of herself.

 

“You think I wouldn’t do it? Upstairs I got my little Glock 45 –.”

 

“A gun? You have a gun?”

 

“Of course I do. Since my last husband came after me with a cleaver, I’ve never been without one.”

 

This was the first Dee had heard of a husband with a cleaver. On another day she would have pressed Maggie to elaborate. “Well, just keep it upstairs. We don’t need any more trouble than we’ve got.”

 

It was strange that in ten years’ time, Victor Detroit had not changed in the least. But Lance Whitby, in the handful of days since the funeral, was a changed man. Forceful and confident as he had not been before. And sneaky.

 

“Why didn’t Pinkus and George come to dinner?”

 

Maggie shrugged. “They’re not feeling too comfortable around you these days.”

 

Dee bit back an instantaneous defensive anger.

 

Maggie swiped a damp towel over the table. “I’ve checked the paper every day and the television and there’s no missing babies in San Diego right now.”

 

“He could have come from Phoenix or Los Angeles. He could be from Mexico. God, Maggie, don’t make me convince you too. That baby is dangerous for us.” Lance said he was her friend and he claimed to understand that she needed another day or two to make up her mind about selling. But if she refused his offer, she knew friendship and patience would vanish and he would stop at nothing to extort a deal. He would be on the mystery of Sweet Thyme like paparazzi on royalty.

 

“Lance wants to buy the Sea Meadows.”

 

Maggie stopped wiping. “That sounds like good news to me. You should do it. Don’t think twice or let him change his mind.”

 

“Once we start breaking it up, the realtors and developers won’t give us a moment’s peace.”

 

“Worry about that then.”

 

“Con and Carlotta didn’t want me to sell. They wanted the garden to stay the way it’s always been.”

 

“We’ve had this conversation before, haven’t we?” Maggie put her hands on the table and leaned toward Dee. “The dead are dead, and that’s that. Take care of the living.”

 

*

 

She left the house to do a final check on the nursery’s windows, gates and doors. A white-gold crescent moon hung in the cloudless sky. A pair of bats flew across the beam of the outdoor lights and back over the roof of the house toward the vegetable garden where they would dine on bugs until sunup. Underfoot, the gravel drive and path scrunched as she walked to the gate at the side of the shop, jingling her key ring in her hand.

 

Beyond the gate, a shadow moved.

 

“It’s me, Dee. Sam Green.”

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Click here to read Part 30 of Sweet Thyme Baby

Filed under Books, Sweet Thyme Baby | Tags: , , , , , ,


Leave a Reply