Hammersmith: All Safe Bets Off (chapter 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 he got to be 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…course 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 to keep in, getting folks stirred up, taking subscriptions. So I figure…”
He figured, for one thing, that he hadn’t elaborated quite enough…while on the other hand, he’d elaborated far too much. The eye Aimee shot him over her shoulder was eloquent, for all its mute appeal.
“Victor B. Mack, will you go chase yourself up a hill?” it seemed to say.
“Mr. Shaw.” Mack slid two fingers through the wire ribs of the birdcage. 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 that commie, Raymond, swing out of his offices and speak…then Mack saw only, from the back, June’s posture. She had gone round like a whip, and now his daughter cocked herself 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. People in Hammersmith dropped by with news…and their own was the kind they liked best. Mack wasn’t certain he’d ever done a muckraking piece…
Or rather—local forms of patronage viewed natural as breathing—was 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.
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 you weren’t there, there’d be no man in the house at all…who can get up and around, that is.
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 fatuous. He gave Shaw a good once-over; good 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 had got an extra syllable into the word oblige. And Monty… First-name basis, how it was?
“Well…then. If I spot you on the train, ma’am, I’ll say howdy. Anyhow.”
He took his leave.
He couldn’t do anything about Raymond, who shoved off, turning a self-absorbed face in the direction Mack was heading, no hat to tip to the proprietor of the Clew; 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 bisecting some line, jotting another.
She gave her father a steady eye. “Mr. Raymond brought a job.”
“Charge him the regular price?”
“Then don’t give extra service! We print just what he wrote down.”
Her expression grew narrow, and that didn’t bother Mack. He felt bad for being unfair…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.
(2017, 2018, Stephanie Foster)