Night Maneuvers: Hammersmith (twenty-nine)
Elton Bott advanced in stealth through the gloaming. Soft expressions into tussocky grass, of right foot, followed by left foot, heel rolled to toe—an art attributed by their chief to the Iroquois, and a single-file exercise on which the Patriots had drilled—did not stop various articles attached to his person…watch fob, brace-buckles, pocketed keys and coins…from tinkling accompaniment.
He gave it up when a neighbor spotted him from across the street.
“Where you off to this hour, Bott? Stiff gettin cold on ya?”
“I am taking the air, sir,” Bott answered, funereally enough. With a shrug, he moved onto the sidewalk.
Mossbunker said it often: “Expect no thanks.”
From the slumbering hoi-polloi.
Though when you came down to it, Mossbunker was himself no dispenser of gratitude. Bott could…he did, in metaphor…pat his own head, his act of initiative being not for the ears of his wife. He had got in with those two; he had made a place for himself at their little soiree. And wouldn’t they be surprised to find the back door held open…by the hand of justice.
He meant to take the footpath along Harmony Run, this descending at a sharp angle northwest and downhill from the gate at the farthest end of Main Street; property beyond being private and Mossbunker’s. No one local gave a hoot about the barrier, which only crossed the road and had no fence attached. Young couples, ones (if discounting politics) not unlike that Raymond fellow and Minnie Leybourne, liked to go spooning along Harmony Run.
Bott hoped, as the night was moonless, he would find himself alone. The light from the town, and the greater light from the factory, rendered the earth under his feet at least discernible, from the slope at his right, and the water to his left.
A thunderstorm had passed through Hammersmith in the afternoon. Places runoff cascaded across the path, at times undercutting jutting rocks that composed parts of it, caused Bott to lose his footing…the first time, with only a panicked swaying on a half-twisted ankle. The second time, with a sound whump, as he landed on his gut.
And though this was ensconced in a woolen vest of his wife’s making, the mud was cold, and he felt it. A sock, half out of a shoe, drank up water from a trickle coursing beneath. But distinctly, he picked up indicators he was not, after all, alone.
The huff of breath had a character, vaguely known to Bott. The figure approaching—too fast, the frozen undertaker estimated, and helplessly—sank a squelching heel into the slippery spot. A heavy weight cushioned its fall on Bott’s prone form.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)