It was about eleven in the morning, late autumn, the sun not shining, angry clouds bunching up against the hills. Had on my middling yellow suit, dark green shirt and blue tie. I hadn’t had a drink for hours, and it hadn’t been much longer since my last shower and shave. To look at me you’d have thought I was calling on four million dollars.
Since I prefer to skip over the boring parts you wouldn’t read anyway, you’ll next find me leaving Mr. Martin’s study where we’d transacted some business I won’t bore you with, any more than I’d bore his daughter with it.
She thought she’d try to persuade me anyway.
“Excuse me.” I’d made it to the bottom of the steps of their mobile home and thought I was home free when she spoke. Visiting a home filled with single women gives me the willies.
“You’re excused.” Not precisely rude, though I’ll admit it wasn’t precisely polite either.
“Hey!” I didn’t even put my foot the rest of the way down on the crunchy brown grass. Voice like that, you turn on your heel and answer, mister.
“I already said that. We’ve covered it. Perhaps we could enter phase two of this conversation?”
“Oh, this is a conversation. I understand. Shall I come up, or will you come down?” That last because she was still on the landing, holding the door shut so no one would catch her jawing with a guy like me. She had reason to be worried for her reputation, whether she knew it or not.
She chose the latter (coming down.) I regretted it; she was a full inch taller than me. Bare feet, even, and my heels add at least a quarter inch.
“My father’s not made of money.”
“Looked to me like he was made of meat, same as you and me.” That was a mistake. She wasn’t smiling before, but somehow her face made it clear that she’d stopped again, just the same.
“I love my father, and I won’t have you or anyone else taking advantage of him.”
I’m used to not backing down from someone with a height advantage, so I answered right back.
“Fair pay for an honest deal.” I don’t blink much anyway, but sometimes it looks intentional.
“Huh? Which who is what?”
She glared. “What is this honest deal you’re paying fairly for?” Ah, now she clearly had me. A direct question.
“You’ll have to ask your father.”
Her glare went sideways. “I already did.”
“Then you already know.”
“No, I don’t.”
I leaned forward a bit. “Which tells me, tells us, he doesn’t want you to know. Why should I mess up a good thing by making him mad at me already?”
And she sat down and cried. If only she hadn’t peeked over her thumb to see if it was having the right effect. Not that it would have, either way, but I might have believed the crying even if I could still ignore it. Come to think of it, I would have believed General Patton’s tears before hers. Not as big as the Rock of Gibralter, not by a good long ways, but almost as hard. She was no weeper.
Thinking up that whole long paragraph of internal dialog got me across the lawn and into my car. As I pulled away from the curb she was heading around the far corner of the trailer house, on a mission. Since it was probably to follow me, I made a handful of fake turns and spent a minute or two in an alley watching cross traffic. Never saw her once.
I’d been working almost 15 minutes before she walked in. I realized I’d been half expecting her.
“Of all the rentals in all the world, you walk into mine.” I was sorta hoping she was a fan of Bogart.
“He never said ‘Play it again, Sam.’ You know that, right?”
I did know that, but she knew I knew. I thought I’d find out what else she knew.
“What brings you here, ma’am?”
“You can call me Sue.”
“Thank you, Miss Martin.” Now if I could just get my eyes to throw out a humorous glint when I tossed off lines like that I’d be set.
“Well that’s just fine, Mr. Canfield.” Her mouth curved down when she smiled. I don’t know how she did it. I thought I should give her my full attention so as to find out.
“Good. I like it when things are fine. I also like it when people answer my questions. What brings you here? I know you didn’t follow me. You’re good, I see that now, but no one’s that good.”
“My father only has two rentals right now, and you’re not the type for the other one.” Yes, it definitely curved down when she smiled.
“Why is that?” By now I’d stopped working and stepped closer to the door.
“Too classy.” And she laughed. Right from her tonsils, she laughed. It wasn’t a mean laugh, it was the sheer delight of catching me off guard.
“Right about that, Miss Martin. Class doesn’t sit well on my frame. I’m cheap whiskey and jeans, whatever the expensive suit was telling you earlier.”
She leaned forward. Not much, but enough.
“I liked the suit, but I prefer denim.” She stopped leaning. Too bad. “And I prefer this place to the other. You’ll learn that when I say ‘classy’ I use it in the pejorative sense.”
“I didn’t know ‘classy’ had a pejorative sense.”
She leaned again. I tried not to move or breathe or blink so she wasn’t scared off.
“I’ll tell you all about it if you’ll buy me lunch.”
I tried to look like I was thinking. She knew I wasn’t.
“This is too big a job to finish before lunch anyway. Sure, let’s.”
I leaned the broom against the fridge in my new place and opened the front door for her.