Calling the Turn
He walked into the café. Grateful the place was empty. His hand moved quickly to silence the bell's jingle and turned the sign from 'open' to 'closed'. Gingerly, he stepped over shards of broken glass on his way to the kitchen. He leaned against the door frame and admired the petite blonde as she swept. The floor was covered. Not just with the day's tromped in dust and grime but also broken remnants of a substantial portion of her dinnerware. Silently, he moved closer, wrapped his arms about her waist, and rested his chin atop her head. She relaxed and he felt her weight press against him.
"Not having a very good day, I take it," he said.
"Nope, but it just got so much better," she said. Using her broom for balance she turned on her toes. Stretching tall, she kissed Scott Lancer squarely on his lips. He happily returned the greeting, squeezing her close. Their mouths parted and she dropped back onto her heels. Her tongue slipped contentedly across her lips. "Oh, yes, I'd say this day just got a whole lot better."
Slowly, Scott brushed an errant tendril of hair from her cheek. Looking past her, his eyes traveled about the kitchen, and he shook his head. Dishes, still in one piece, were few and piles of dirty pots and pans, many. "You, my dear Willie, need to hire some help."
Pushing her broom towards the tall man, she looked up at him demurely. "You interested, Mister? Pay's not great but, for you, perhaps I could arrange a few benefits. They might be… uhm… enticing." She offered him a wink.
"Now hold on there, Ma'am," Scott spoke as he backed away, hands held up protectively. I happen to be a man in love and that might cause a few problems. I'm afraid I'll have to decline."
A heavy sigh passed Willie's lips. "In love huh? Pity. And with those fine hands too." Stepping forward she walked back into his arms and placed her head on his chest. "She is a very lucky woman. Very lucky indeed."
"Well, that is true but, at this moment, you may have forced me to reconsider. You do have a sizeable mess on your hands and the gentlemanly thing would be to offer my assistance. Because, in case you were not aware, I am always a gentleman."
Pressing away from his embrace Willie looked into Scott's eyes. "Why, Scott Lancer, I recall a few situations where such a statement could be called into question."
Scott cleared his throat and feigned a hurtful look. "Possibly, but I was only honoring my lady's wishes."
"True enough." She smiled. "And, if I may add, the lady was pleased."
"Well, that is good news. Now, if it pleases the lady again, I'll take that broom while you go get a dust pan."
Willie looked from Scott to the broom to the mess and her dark eyes sparkled. "Oh, it pleases the lady."
"I was serious, Willie, you really could use some help around here," Scott said as they began to work.
"I'm afraid that's how I got myself into this situation," Willie said, pouring the first full dust pan into a trash barrel. "Yesterday, we were so busy, I knew I needed an extra pair of hands and as luck would have it, this morning a young man came in looking for work. I handed him an apron, no questions asked. Have to admit he impressed me. Knew his way around a kitchen, cooked a delectable hash, but darn, if he didn't leave a messy trail the likes of which old Gus could follow, and he can't see past the end of his nose. Before I knew it he was clearing tables and pouring coffee, and I was feeling pretty darned pleased with myself, despite the mess. Things were going well until the lunch crowd hit. As more people came in he became flustered, started dropping and spilling things. The place cleared out and he tried to bring a stack of plates into the kitchen as tall as he was. Think he meant well enough, maybe he was trying to make up for his earlier mistakes. Only thing is he forgot he'd dropped the butter dish on his first trip in. Stepped right in it then went sliding across the floor and well, you see the result. I tell you, I was so mad I told him to leave then and there. Suppose I shouldn't have but you know how I get."
"Yes, dear, I've met your temper and my heart goes out to the poor boy."
"Can you blame me, Scott? I mean look at this place."
Scott struggled to control a burst of laughter but lost.
"It's not funny," Willie said as she batted at his arm. "It's not funny." Looking at the mess, she also lost the battle and stated to laugh. "Suppose it beats crying."
"Suppose it does," Scott said through his mirth. He wiped at his watering eyes.
With their task finally completed they surveyed the café. Scott pulled Willie with him as he sat in a dining chair and tugged her into his lap. "We've dealt with the mess. Now we need to see about getting you some more dishes, or you won't be serving much tomorrow. Do you think Wilkes' Store will have enough?"
"Oh I hardly think so, but it will be better than what I have to work with now." Willie tilted her head so it rested on Scott's shoulder. Together they sat admiring their work in comfortable silence. "Thank you."
"I'm glad you were here. I've missed you."
"Me too," he said.
A lover's silence settled over the pair. Scott breathed deeply, enjoying the scent of Willie's hair. He had missed her. A week away was much too long. Thankfully Jelly was more than happy to stay in Modesto and handle the remaining details.
"As much as I'd like to stay exactly like this, Scott, we should get to the store before they close up for tonight. Don't think people will want to eat their flapjacks from coffee mugs tomorrow morning."
Rising from the chair, Scott lifted Willie in his arms. "Very well, but we get to return to this position when we're done. That my dear, is the price you must pay."
"You sir, drive a hard bargain. One I'm willing to accept, as long as you put me down now."
Hand in hand they walked into the Wilkes' General Store and together turned up their noses at the unmistakable scent of vinegar, which greeted them. "What on earth happened in here?"
"Not what, who," Mrs. Wilkes said as she held a hat to her nose and sniffed. She shook her head in disgust. "My new shipment of bonnets and they'll need to be washed before I can sell the first one. Thank goodness he didn't try to move it next to these velvet drapes. They came in today for the Delaney's and they'd surely have been ruined."
"Who?" Willie asked.
"A nice, young man. He came in looking for work. Meant well, thought the pickle jar would do better out of the sun, perhaps he was right. Well, it slipped right out of his hands. My lord what a sound it made. Surprised you didn't hear it clear across the street."
"Hmmm, might have if we weren't cleaning up our own mess. My guess is, you hired the same young man I did. Good intentions - bad luck it would seem. I'm afraid I'll be needing every dinner plate you have, thanks to his helpfulness."
"Oh, you, poor dear, let me see what I've got. Why don't you come with me into the back? I'm afraid they won't all match, but I should be able to offer you a good…"
Both women chattered their way into the back of the store and Scott found himself alone as their voices grew distant. He was left standing among the sacks of sugar and flour, dress forms, hats, butter churns, a variety of books and tools, and the pungent smell of vinegar. It was the smell which prompted his decision to step outside.
Long shadows told of the late afternoon hour. A variety of people were closing up shop and scurrying home for their evening rituals. He tipped his hat to Mrs. Godfrey and her daughter as they strolled past. A delightful scent of fresh baked bread rose from their basket. The aroma caused Scott to realize how hungry he was. A loud crash drew his attention away from his stomach, and he hurried in its direction - the livery.
A young man came tripping out of the barn with Lou chasing after him waving a pitchfork as he went. "You're lucky he didn't kill you, I told you to stay out of his stall, now I've got a hole the size of the badlands to patch, thanks to you!"
He crashed head first into Scott. "Now slow down there." He placed his hands on the youth's shoulders and turned to his pursuer. "Lou, take it easy. It can't be that bad."
"Told him to stay away from Joker. You know how he gets. Hell, with the way that kid stinks, well…"
"I'm sorry, Mister. His stall needed muckin'. Looked like it hadn't been done for a while..."
"Why do you keep that horse, Lou? He doesn't belong in a place like this, and you know it."
"There ain't no one who will take him, crazy like he is, and I don't have the heart to put a bullet in him. He was a good horse once. What would you have me do?"
"I suppose a good place to start would be not hiring kids that stink to high heaven, Lou. You had to know the smell would set him off. You ok, kid? Did either of them hurt you?"
"No, Sir. I'm fine, Sir. Thank you."
"You've left an extensive trail of destruction. Have you been anywhere else I should know about? Besides the café, general store and here?"
"No, Sir, that about covers it." The boy said with a dip of his head. "Suppose I better call it a day before I burn the town down or somethin'."
"I would agree. Seems you've done enough damage for one day. You'll need to save something for tomorrow." Scott mussed the young man's dark hair. "You got a name kid or should I just call you trouble?"
The first trace of a smile brightened the dirt smudged face. "Name's Remington, Remington Gray. But people call me Remy."
"Well, Remy Gray, it's nice to finally meet you. I'm Scott Lancer," Scott said as he stuck out his hand with a smile. "I've heard so much about you."
Remy met his handshake with a bright smile of his own.
"Scott?" Willie's voice carried down the street. "Scott?"
Putting an arm around the young man's shoulders Scott moved toward the sound of Willie's voice.
"Not too sure she's gonna want to see me, Mr. Lancer. Think maybe I'll be movin on."
"Nonsense, Remy. I assure you she'll hold no grudge. Mistakes happen all the time. Why the other day I was pulling a sack of flour off the back of the wagon, and it caught on a nail. I carried it on my shoulder through the house without knowing I'd ripped it. In fact, I didn't know until I dropped it to the table in the kitchen. A white cloud billowed up covering me and darn near everything else, not to mention the tracks I left." Scott fell silent for a moment, considering the event. "I really should have used the kitchen door."
"Why, Scott Lancer, I do believe you have found our young friend. I'm afraid you left so quickly I didn't get a chance to pay you."
"Don't deserve no pay, Ma'am. I'd offer to work off what I cost ya but it might end up costin' ya more."
"Young man you put in your time, and you deserve to be paid. Isn't that right, Mrs. Wilkes?"
"I'm not so sure I agree with you, Willie. There is that matter of a jar of pickles and the time it'll take to wash those bonnets..."
"Do as you wish but I feel he should be paid." Willie opened her purse. "Two bits, that's fair for a half day's work."
"Thank you, Ma'am," Remy said. He took the money then turned to Mrs. Wilkes. "Not sure this will be enough, it's all I got." Holding out his hand, he stood waiting for the shop keeper to accept his offer.
With a huff, Mrs. Wilkes turned and walked back into her store. "Consider yourself paid, young man. Willie dear, you'd better get your dishes, I'm about to close up for the day."
"I'll need two strong men to carry them, if you're both willing."
"You are a brave woman, Mrs. Lancer."
"Oh, goodness, no. There is no Mrs. Lancer. Suppose we should have introduced ourselves proper." Willie extended her hand. "Mrs. Wilhelmina Dawson," she said with the slightest hint of a curtsey.
Wide eyed, Remy looked at Scott then took Willie's hand and stated his name.
With a whisper Scott confided in Remy. "She's a widow."
"No impropriety here, right, Mr. Lancer?" Willie's reply was punctuated by a coy smile.
"That's right, Mrs. Dawson," said Scott.
"Willie!" Mrs. Wilkes shouted from inside her store. "I don't have all night."
Dinner was late. Neither Scott nor Johnny made an appearance until well after dark. Murdoch's initial foul mood lightened as Johnny told of the men's progress clearing the new pasture and Scott told of his success in Modesto.
Last year's project proved so successful they decided to continue expansion of the south pasture. This time, however, the scale was much grander. It required the removal of two large wooded areas, totaling close to three square miles or 2,000 acres making room for an additional 500 head of cattle. The project would pay for itself by the sale of lumber to the railroad. A deal Jelly parlayed, thanks to his previous ties with the Central Pacific and Scott fine tuned, getting top dollar for the prime lumber instead of a lot price. Jelly was to stay in Modesto to verify the loads for payment. Trees measuring twelve inches in diameter and above fetched the highest price. This made Murdoch even happier.
By the time the conversation turned to Scott's afternoon in Spanish Wells the mood had become very nearly festive and stories of the young man's exploits brought forth fits of laughter.
Through her giggles Teresa managed some sympathy for Willie. "I'm sure we have some extra dinnerware in the attic, Scott. Tomorrow I'll take a look and you can bring more to her."
"Yes, Scott, I imagine Mrs. Wilkes took full advantage of a woman in need, made her pay a high price, no doubt," Murdoch bemoaned.
"I couldn't say one way or the other. I do try to stay out of her business affairs. She's been running that café on her own for over a year now, and doing extremely well."
"Business affairs, huh, Scott? I'm thinking that's her only affairs you stay out of."
"Johnny." Murdoch cautioned softly, his eyes moving toward Teresa.
"Murdoch, I know about affairs of the heart. You don't need to protect me. I'm no child."
"You'll always be a child in my eyes young lady, so you might as well get used to it," Murdoch said with a wink and a pat on her hand.
"There are worse things I suppose," Teresa sighed and rose to clear the table.
"Worse would be if Mr. Wilkes were around. He'd have charged three times what his wife did. Reckon he'll dish out some grief for Willie when he returns expectin' free food for a month or more."
"Very funny Johnny, dish out," Scott snickered.
"So, where's this kid now? Who's fool enough to get hooked up with a bad luck charm like him?"
"That would be me, err, us," Scott muttered as he fingered his cup before draining its last traces of coffee. "He's odor free and in the bunkhouse."
"Think I smelled me some of that vinegar, when I put Barranca in his stall. No wonder Joker went wild."
"Speaking of Joker, Johnny, it appears I sang a bit of your praises on the way home and now Remy thinks you can… oh I don't know… fix him."
"Fix him? What are you loco, Scott? Somethin' snapped in that horse a long time ago, not sure he can be fixed."
"If anyone can, it would be you, Johnny. I have every confidence."
"Ya, well, you can have all the confidence you want, don't mean I'll do it."
Scott started to speak again until Johnny raised his hand. He pushed off from the table and stood resting his elbows over the back of his chair. His eyes darkened with a look of concern. "Horses like Joker can kill a man, Scott. Ya think you got 'em beat then out of the blue they turn on ya. I've seen it happen."
"Now, Johnny," Murdoch interrupted. "Do I need to put my foot down? Say you can't go near that horse? Because that is exactly what I would do if I thought for one minute it would do any good."
A broad smile spread across Johnny's face. "Glad you know, Murdoch. That would be the fastest way to make me say yes." He turned toward Scott. "I'll think about it, though. Remember, I ain't makin' no promises. Understood?"
Scott nodded "Understood."