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Chapter Six

Six

Wednesday, April 19

Bob's was empty when I arrived; "Hair of the Dog" coming down the airwaves from WBLM, perfectly audible over the moderate and genteel clatter from the kitchen.

"Coffee's on the plate!" Bob yelled from the back.

"Thanks!" I yelled back. "Is it too late for a grilled muffin?"

"Never too late for a grilled muffin," he answered, sticking his head through the hatch, and giving me a nod, downright affable. "'morning, Kate. Blueberry?"

"Please."

"Get yourself settled, and I'll bring it out when it's ready."

"Thanks," I said again, and moved over to the hotplate.

The coffee didn't look any worse than usual. On the other hand, it didn't look any better. I carried my mug over to the center booth, right next to the radiator, slid into the corner, and administered a liberal dose of cream. The radiator was pumping out the heat; and I propped myself up in the corner of the booth, letting my eyelids droop. On WBLM, Nazareth finished up and the DJ came on with the weather. According to him, we were looking for afternoon highs around fifty-five, lows on the overnight in the upper twenties. He promised U-2, The Cars, and Tom Petty on the other side of the commercial break. I wrapped my hands around the coffee mug.

We were halfway through the second ad for MickeyD's when Bob appeared with my muffin. He thumped the plate down in front of me, with a knife, fork, and spoon all wrapped up in a white paper napkin. I sat up and put my mug aside.

"You let me know how that stacks up to them muffins Away, now," he directed.

Away is the pocket where your typical Mainer keeps anyplace that happens not to be Maine. Simplifies geography something wonderful.

"I will," I promised, and looked up to catch his eyes. "Bob?"

He frowned, shoulders stiffening. "Kate. . ." he said warningly, which, unfortunately, wasn't entirely unjustified. I raised my hands, showing him empty palms.

"I just have a question, okay?" I sounded snappish in my own ears, but Bob wouldn't find anything odd in that.

His shoulders stayed stiff, but at least he gave me a nod. "So, ask."

"How do I get a message to Nancy Vois?"

The shoulders eased a fraction. "She's usually in for coffee early. You can catch her then, or I can pass a word."

"I'd appreciate it if you'd pass on that I've got work for her, starting tomorrow at eight, if she's willing."

Bob damn' near smiled.

"I'll do that. You're staying the Season, then?"

"Probably not. But the ride needs to be ready to go, anyway."

I broke the paper tape and freed my utensils. The muffin smelled wonderful, and I was suddenly and entirely ravenous.

"Right you are," Bob said softly. He stood by while I took my first taste of muffin.

I sighed, blissful. "Nobody Away understands grilled blueberry muffins," I told him honestly, and smite me if he didn't blush. I had some more muffin, trying to act like a lady and not bolt my food. I set the fork down, which took a major act of will, and reached for my mug.

"Another question," I said, looking back to Bob. "If you're willing."

He watched me while I sipped coffee, then shrugged. "I'm willing enough."

"I appreciate that," I said, meaning it. "Seen Mr. Ignatious?"

Bob snorted. "Him? He comes and goes -- just like always, no rhyme or reason to it. Haven't seen him recent, if that's what you're after. Likely he'll turn up in time to get the Knot running for the Season. But whether he'll make Early Season --" Another shrug. "What d'you want him for?"

I had another forkful of muffin, taking my time about chewing. "I thought he might know where Gran's gone to," I said mildly.

There was a small pause.

"Even if he knew, will he know now?" Bob said, surprisingly tactful. "That's the question, Kate."

And honestly, it was the question. Mr. Ignat' isn't just a little foolish, though he'd been Gran's beau since I'd known her. I once asked her what she saw in him. "He makes me laugh," she'd said, after taking some time to consider it. "And he keeps me honest."

Which, all things considered, were reasons enough. Myself, I valued him for his warmth, and the uncounted simple kindnesses he'd bestowed on a surly, frightened halfling.

I chased the last bit of muffin around the plate, and didn't sigh.

Bob cleared his throat. "None of my business, but didn't that packet --"

The door to the street came open with a bang, bell clattering. I jumped, losing that last piece of muffin off my fork. Bob turned his head.

"Sorry, sorry!" The gray-haired man in the navy blue overcoat grabbed the handle and pushed the door closed. "She slipped away from me, is all. Didn't mean to disturb any illicit conversations -- Oh, there you are, Kate!" He came over to the booth, hands at his rumpled hair, smoothing it down into perfection. "You might've phoned, you know, instead of letting me find out you're back home through a third party. Morning, Bob."

"You don't mean to say that Joe Nemeier actually called you?" I asked in disbelief. Honestly -- flatlanders.

"Morning, Henry," Bob said, heading back to the kitchen. "Coffee's on the plate. You want anything else, give a yell."

Henry nodded. "Not only did he call me with the news that you've poisoned his grass, but he was so obliging as to leave me the name and phone number of his lawyer in Boston," he said, smiling. There's nothing Henry Emerson likes better than to be calling attorneys in Boston and straightening out their view of the law.

"I'm glad to see you called Mr. Nemeier's lawyer right away," I said, mouth full of muffin.

"As it happens, I attempted to contact the gentleman as soon as I hung up with Mr. Nemeier, but -- he was in a meeting. Left a message to call me on an urgent matter regarding his client. Then, I called Tupelo House, but no one answered. You will get an answering machine, won't you, Kate?"

I swallowed. "I'll think about it."

"As you like, my dear, but tell me -- what did you do to Mr. Nemeier's lawn?"

"He's over our line," I said. "I tried to explain the situation and he told me he was above property lines drawn on trees and rocks. Words were exchanged and -- I lost my temper. The upshot being that nothing Mr. Nemeier plants on our land will grow."

Henry stroked his baby smooth chin with a long, well-manicured hand. It wasn't that he disbelieved me, I knew. The Emerson's might not be as old as the Pepperidges, or as tied in with the land as the Archers, but they've been in town a good long while, and they've seen and heard tell of odder things than the simple hexing of a swath of grass.

"Kate," Henry said now, "where exactly was the boundary boulder?"

"Six feet into Mr. Nemeier's lawn," I told him, feeling my temper sparking again. I reached for my mug and drank more than I wanted of tepid, oily coffee.

His eyes gleamed. "Oh," he purred, "was it?" He smiled. "I think Mr. Nemeier's lawyer and I will be able to work out an accommodation," he said. "Do you want damages?"

"No, I don't want damages. I want him to honor the line."

"Consider it done, my dear. Call the office a little later today, all right?"

"Sure," I said, and put my mug down, eying him. "What're you doing here, by the way? The message on the machine says you're out until next week."

Henry's blue eyes widened. "Did it say that? Silly me. Of course, I meant I would be back in the office today."

"Really?" I asked, not buying it for a second.

"Really," Henry said emphatically. "Do me a favor, Kate, and try not to get angry again today. For my sake?"

"No promises," I told him. "I've got to see Marilyn about the lease."

Henry sighed, reached into an inside pocket and put a business card on the table next to my mug. "Keep my number handy," he said, and headed for the coffeepot.

#

"What the hell do you mean, I can't pay the Season up-front?" I glared at Marilyn, who wasn't impressed. Historically, Marilyn was unimpressed. She'd been the resident agent for Fun Country since before I'd graduated high school, and I've never been able to figure out if she's unflappable, or just stupid. Purely academic, you understand; the end result was just as annoying

"New policy," she said, turning her back on me to haul open the listing file cabinet and finger through the paper-choked drawer.

"What new policy?" I asked, sarcasm mode full on. "Fun Country's going to stop skinning its tenants?"

"The new policy is that Fun Country is now accepting park space lease payments in three equal installments throughout the Season," Marilyn said, in her Number Three Neutral Voice, not even bothering to turn around. "Corporate hopes that this move will ease the financial burden on our tenants."

Yeah, sure. Like Fun Country Corporate cared about its tenants except as cash cows. Something was going on that would shortly be found to not benefit the tenants one whit, but I was too tired to try and scope it out right now. All I wanted to do right now was pay the damn' rent and go home.

"Look, Marilyn, I got a certified letter from the boss down in Jersey, giving me a deadline of tomorrow to pay up the whole Season's rent. I've got the money right here -- in cash. So just write out the receipt and I'll stop taking up your air."

Marilyn slammed the file cabinet and came back to her desk, settling in to the chair before finally looking at me.

"Katharine," she said, patiently, like I was maybe four and on the verge of a tantrum, which, come to think of it, was pretty much the way I felt. "I'll be happy to accept your first payment. Since you're paying before Corporate's deadline, according to regulations now in force, you won't need to take any further action at this time."

I sighed, loud.

"I want to pay the whole Season and get it over with," I said, keeping it reasonable and calm.

"I'm sorry, but that's not possible," Marilyn answered, folding her hands together on the desk top and looking like she could wait all day for me to Get It. Which personal experience has shown that she can and will do.

"All right," I said, giving her the round. Bob's muffin had been amazingly restorative, but I wasn't about to risk phasing out in front of Marilyn.

I pulled the bank envelope out of my pocket, counted a third of the bills onto her desk, then reached into my jeans pocket and dropped three dimes and four pennies on top.

"You can keep the extra two-thirds of a cent for your trouble, deah," I told her.

Marilyn didn't even look at me. She swept the change into her palm, picked the bills up off the desk, counted them twice, then leaned over to unlock the cash drawer. She put the bills away nice and neat, like paired with like and all facing the same direction; and dropped the dimes and the pennies in their assigned pockets.

That done, she relocked the drawer, pulled the receipt book to her, and flipped it open, carefully slid the overworked strip of carbon paper between the next two clean sheets. Picking up a generic blue ballpoint, she clicked it and wrote the ticket out in her round, neutral handwriting, bearing down extra hard, wringing the last bit of ink out of the carbon. That done, she turned the book around and filled out the stub, too. Then she clicked the pen closed, and used both hands to tear the receipt out of the book.

She handed it to me without looking up.

"Thank you, Katharine. Your next payment is due on June first. Have a nice day."

I took the receipt and left, pausing outside the door for a deep breath of ocean air.

Well, I thought, as I folded the receipt and slipped it carefully into the pocket of my jeans, I hadn't set Marilyn's hair on fire. Wouldn't Henry be proud?

I walked slowly across to the square and sat down on the edge of the fountain, still in its winter wrappings. The sun was warm and welcome, and I closed my eyes, half-drowsing, until the wail of a siren 'way up on 5 startled me awake.

Right. I pushed myself to my feet and took a deep breath.

Next stop, Gregor's Electronics.

* * *

Carousel Tides copyright 2010 by Sharon Lee

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