All Safe Bets Off: Hammersmith (thirteen)



All Safe Bets Off


“Doesn’t seem so long ago.”

Mack, unable to do anything about Aimee’s arm hooked through Hogben’s, though it pleased him to see Hogben once or twice give a mild tug, ill-at-ease…had got next to Shaw behind them (he ignored Shaw), and was throwing out chatty comments, in a louder than natural voice.

“Curach, the man I’m telling you about, was orderly for Captain Rubillard…loved him like a son. Rubillard got himself killed with a sabre in a street brawl…town of Goldsboro, when we were down there with the 14th corps, keeping order, near the armistice. Does more for the G.A.R. now than he did back then, since they made him Lord Piggott’s lieutenant. I mean Curach. That’s how Piggott’s called, Lord. Ward boss…south side. Putting together a color guard…Curach, I mean. Carry a wreath to the grave. For the patriots’ parade…that’s only electioneering. Early yet for Decoration Day. But Piggott’s men’d like it, seeing war declared. I guess there’s a few things the ring can do, getting folks stirred up, taking up subscriptions. So I figure…”

He figured, for one thing, that he hadn’t elaborated quite enough…whereas, on the other hand, he had elaborated far too much. The eye Aimee shot him over her shoulder was eloquent, for all its mute appeal.

“Will you go chase yourself up a hill?” it seemed to say.

“Mr. Shaw.” Mack slid two fingers through the wire ribs of the bird-cage. Shaw had been allowing an irritating ting, ting, ting, to bounce with this, off his thigh. “You expect to be on your way tomorrow, along with Hogben.”

Over his own shoulder, Shaw darted a hunted glance. Mack looked too. He saw his daughter frown at him. He saw the commie, Raymond, swing out of his own offices and speak…then Mack saw only, from the back, June’s posture. She’d gone round like a whip. His daughter cocked herself a little askew, a kind of “you might get a favor if you ask nice” demeanor, that made something—the voice of his late wife, perhaps—whisper to Mack, “Put a stop to it.”

Instead, he had to listen to Shaw, since he’d got Shaw started. He told himself he really might take this up with Curach. Mack wasn’t certain he’d ever done an investigative piece…or rather—local forms of patronage viewed natural as breathing—fairly certain he hadn’t. He didn’t know if Mossbunker’s ilk had to do with the Philly ring. He didn’t know if he’d look like a mosquito to them, that needed swatting. People in Hammersmith dropped by with news…and their own was the kind they liked best.

Shaw had started a desultory back-and-forth with Aimee, who was saying, no, don’t be silly. I’ll be gone for a night, probably. If Shaw wasn’t there, there’d be no man in the house at all…one, that was to say, who could get up and around. And not that it mattered.¬†

“But wait! I’m forgetting Nico.”

“Well, like I said. I could just come down to the hotel. I don’t know what it costs…”

“No, Mr. Shaw. I want you to stay.”

Shaw smiled. The smile struck Mack self-satisfied. He gave Shaw a good once-over; or as good a once-over as a sidelong glance allowed. He said what he’d been working up to saying: “We’ll make a party of it, why not?”

“Truth to tell,” Hogben began, “I’ve got no business of my own…”

“Vic. Monty and I don’t want to oblige you, when you’re going up to see Mossbunker. I’m sure we won’t be in anything like the same neighborhood.” She’d got an extra syllable into the word oblige. And of course, he’d noticed the first-name-basis.

“Well…then. If I spot you on the train, ma’am, I’ll say howdy. Anyhow.”

Mack took his leave.

He couldn’t do anything about Raymond shoving off, turning a self-absorbed face in the direction he was heading, no hat to tip to the proprietor of the Signal; no belief, Mack supposed, in social distinctions. On top of his irritation with Hogben and Shaw, this last put him in a mood, bad enough to snap.

He snapped. “What are you doing?”

June seemed to be copy-editing, leaning over the countertop, blue pencil crossing through something, jotting down something else.

She gave her father a steady eye, then said, “Mr. Raymond brought a job.”

“Charge him the regular price?”

She nodded.

“Then don’t give extra service! We print just what he wrote down.”

Her expression was narrow, and that didn’t bother Mack. He felt bad for being unfair…and not ready, yet, to be apologetic about it. But this narrowness of June’s had an underlay of satisfaction and resolution. He told himself he imagined it, but he wasn’t sure.



More on Hammersmith page:

Want Nothing. Will Write (excerpt):


Copyright 2017, Stephanie Foster


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