Sequence: How Is a Windmill Like a Waypost (part three)
Viola hooked her heels into the ring at the stool’s base. She was too short to take her seat behind the counter with dignity, but had to clamber, gripping the counter’s edge with one hand, pressing the other against the stool’s cushion. The man she kept her eye on walked like a duck, stiff-legged, bearing his weight foot to foot, angling out his toes. He fingered things that were not on display, picked at the lettering on the glass, fondled the gas pipe that ran up the wall. He even reached over his head and touched the pendant lamp.
This clown’s last visit had been a week before the other had started trailing her. But Phillip seemed to know Bruner, and had assured Viola Freda could not afford a detective.
“No doubt my wife and Mr. Bruner make trade on the barter system. But when I asked her—naturally, the first thing I’d thought of—Freda gave a creditable impression of a confidential agent. When I say clam-like, I don’t mean merely cold and fishy. I suppose”—Phillip raised his eyebrows at the wonder of it, and mixed a fresh metaphor—“she may actually do a job of work for him. She wouldn’t spill. Not even a small bean. By which I gather I am nothing to Freda…however, you, Viola, have drawn the notice of someone.”
That, she thought, was not strictly true. It was Charles being strong-armed, and here again was his friendly customer, perusing one of Armistice House’s vanity publications: How I Found Success at the State Fair.
“This book”—with disdain, the man laid it aside—“is about pumpkins.”
“Well, Jack, you’re not in a bookstore. You could write your own, if you don’t like pumpkins.”
“Oh, I know what you people do.”
So unimpressed was Viola with this menacing—though the man meant, she supposed, to be sly—that she rolled her eyes at him, and hoped it hurt.
“That…” He leaned across the counter on his elbows, shortening his stature by doing so, while Viola, perched on her stool, watched his forehead wrinkle around a scar cutting across his right eyebrow.
“…is the trouble with you people. You sit there and look at me like you think you’re never gonna have to do business with me.”
His voice had risen in volume; he had opened his mouth to draw breath, and Viola braced herself to come down on him from her elevated seat like a magistrate, in defense of Charles Huey. She had nothing personal at stake.
“Listen, you son of a…”
But as though the finger he pointed were a sawed-off pistol, the man stood back from the counter, put his hand inside his jacket, and faced the door in a fighter’s crouch. The bell jingled. Viola squinted across also, expecting Phillip. And was surprised and made wary, when she saw Martin Bruner.
How Is a Windmill Like a Waypost
(2016, Stephanie Foster)