Reckoning Up: Hammersmith (thirty-nine)
Somehow, the hour had come to this.
A rising sun beaming insistent rays at eyes their bleariest of a lifetime. Alone at the kitchen table in Vic’s empty house, Aimee woke, not from sleep—a thing not to be managed on a wooden chair—but to the fact she would be walking home in daylight.
It was Vic she ought to blame…
Poor man, though, his world had been knocked sideways. Or, some metaphor other than a globe, which would only roll…
A new country turning up on top…
Never mind. His condition needed wifely sympathy. Then blame.
Then, and in good time, a fresh partner in hopes and sorrows, to point out the flaws and the better way.
Washburn—Lieutenant Hickman, from Aimee, carrying to him Zetland’s intelligence—had ordered smoke bombs. He’d held his mounted patrols outside the factory gates, to spare the horses and block escapees fleeing to the hills. Inside the gates, only this cover had been needed to get his men past any hand-thrown missiles.
The equation of guns against rocks at that point restored reason.
She had tagged behind Vic, making way against the tide of ringleaders marched at the center of an infantry formation, from the cableworks to the heart of Hammersmith…there to learn how many men could be stuffed into a two-cell jail.
They saw Nico speak aside to Oldfield, pointing his chin at Vic.
True, there was cheekiness in this; Aimee noted it herself (while allowing Nico had been denied the use of his hands). An intervening buttonholing…or, in point of fact, chest-butting, of Vic by Oldfield, spared June’s love.
“The press. Indeed, I have a statement. Young man,” he said to Aimee, “in my pocket there, you will find information…Washburn has already got his. And let me inform the readers of your periodical, it came to me as hardly any surprise that the oppressor would attempt to discard this on a pile of burning refuse. However, I carry in the pockets of my garments an even gross of these documents, issued from my own press. Documents that I keep prepared in advance of any foray. Long experience teaches me this, that study on the part of our journalists is sorely needed, in grasping the complexities of the creed.”
She dared the pocket, extracted a folded list of ready-made Q’s and A’s, and a pamphlet, one Oldfield didn’t mind if the papers reprinted a copy of; and while in transit he went as far as interviewing himself.
“Now, you want to know, do I consider this a setback? No, emphatically not. That we make inroads at all against the vast resources of a Mossbunker, can be regarded as nothing but victory. You ask me, then, how large is the movement? I count hearts, sir, not heads…”
June clung to Nico’s arm, deaf to her father’s background murmur of: “Why…? What…? How…?”
She spoke to a tentative private. “I don’t belong to Victor Mack. And I am not going home with him. What’s your name…Spanner? You can just take your hands off me!”
“She doesn’t mean it.”
Aimee saw Vic blink in her direction.
“Well, all right, she means it.” She hooked his elbow, drawing him off.
“I need to see Washburn.”
“I doubt Washburn has much to do with the prisoners anymore. The government will hang onto to Oldfield and Nico…and of course they won’t let June bunk in with him. Vic, you’ll have to help her. I mean with money. And a lawyer, a Philadelphia lawyer.”
“What’re you talking about?” He scratched his head. “A rest home, maybe. I wonder if Sandy…or even Elton…?”
“Will ever forgive you? Now, Vic. You’d consider it, packing June off, telling everyone she’s not well? Is that fair? You’re not proud of her at all…leading the men that way? Winning for herself a man like…”
She trailed off; and Vic trailed off, mumbling, “…rather not talk to Selma…”
Between the sexes, Aimee decided, some things don’t translate. “Likely they’ll deport Nico to Sicily. And so he and June might have to be married…even if they don’t believe in it. But they love each other… Or they’re…philosophically in harmony with each other…”
She was scanning Oldfield’s documents, in the light of the Daily Clew’s front office, just keyed up by Vic.
“Meantime, I better get off to town hall and drag her back where she belongs.”
“No. Come through to the kitchen, and sit with me.”
She put the kettle on to boil, rummaged the breadbox and found a few not wholly stale rolls. This, and the butter, two plates and two knifes, and at last, after a longer search, a jar of her own apricot marmalade, she laid on the table in front of him.
“Vic, why have I never wanted to marry you?”
“I don’t measure up. What I figured.”
“Oh, nonsense. Who do I like keeping company with better than you?”
“Mr. Hogben…” She flapped a hand. “Is a whatayacallit in the night.”
“Ship that passes. Think about your daughter.”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)