16: Five card draw
Rain paid an overnight visit to Shalisa Creek Bay, adding a finishing polish to Dawns gift of clear sky, and bright, freshly scented morning. Rains contribution shone and glittered in the early light, something in itself not to be ignored.
Rose opened her door wide to let this fine offering in as she ate her breakfast. Fitz was sitting quietly on the stern of LEGER DE MAIN with a mug of coffee in his hands. The crew of ELFINSHOE were readying their dinghy for the beach, and Ulf and Gurth were happily enjoying breakfast by the forepeak hatch, through which their bowls had been handed up, since David found it easier to do that than make his usual trip to the deck with them, where he ordinarily sat with the two as he enjoyed the peacefulness of morning while they ate.
Sun, flowers, children, dogs and high spirits seemed made to go together with a ramble through new growth so, later in the morning, Rose borrowed Ulf and Gurth, remembering that they might not get much of a run with their companion wearing a cast. Then she collected the children, and invited anyone else who might like to accompany her, for an enjoyable walk to the meadow. Bettina and Harry quickly accepted and they all set off toward the deer path.
Ulf and Gurth, having been given permission from David, were enjoying their newly found friend who seemed to know how to talk to them with her hands. David had been busy with Rose, who was definitely a more apt pupil with Dog Speak than Harry had been with sailing language. The excursion ashore cleared the boats of everyone except David and Fitz, who were left on the barge by the table, drinking coffeeand Charm, who was not.
Fitz had stayed behind, ostensibly to loaf and empty the coffee pot with Davids help, but he really would have preferred to join the others, and remained aboard only because David had asked him to in a quiet aside, saying that he wanted to talk to him.
Charm also would have preferred to be ashore. She was in very bad humour. This was always her time for a stroll on the beach. She had thought that this might be her opportunity to chase the dogs, but shed been restrained from going, so here she sat blinking by the fireplace on her comforting woolly rug, planning revenge on the two samoyeds if she got the chance.
It took the younger man so long to get around to the proposed conversation that Fitzhaving gone through a lot of small talk about the beautiful morning, weather in general, boats, CRUSTY LADY LILY specifically, and the childrenwatching David return from a third trip to the coffee pot, wondered if hed heard aright, but as the younger man hopped back to his chair, doing a fine balancing act with a slightly dripping mug, the delicate subject was at last opened with,
I want to thank you for looking after that towing bill for me.
Fitz pulled his chair up opposite David, set his own mug down on the table and replied,
Actually, I didnt do it for you because I didnt even know you at the time. It was for Bud Westman, the tugboat operator. Hes raised six children, Ive raised none. Hes had a hard life and Ive had nothing but good times. It seemed only fair that he should get his money.
David sensed something of reproof in the tone.
You get my thanks just the same. Rose told me about it. I would have paid if Id been able to. It just came at a bad time. I admit I live by my wits a lot, but I dont use them to swindle people. Ive got a couple of things going now and Ill pay you back very shortly.
Fitz shook his head as he replied,
Oh, Im not worried about the money. I have no need for it. Ill take it out in rent if its all right with you.
<Hed pay rent for this!>
David looked around and was about to say that Fitz was welcome to stay there for nothing because that was about what it looked like it was worth now, and only the tenants efforts had made it so livable, but he stopped himself, realising that hed be offering an insult to this man whod turned the battered barge into a comfortable home.
The sight of his whimsical creation, all torn apart, had been a shock when hed first seen it but, then, as hed sat here with wine and friends the evening before, the old quiet pull had started again. In spite of everything, the barge still held forth with the strength and history of the old wood hed brought to her, and her fireplace was always ready to offer friendly warmth to those around it when the need arose.
Overnight the bay had once more become the relaxing and restful place it had been when hed wandered on shore by himself with Ulf and Gurth as Wind and Tree spoke together, and Beach and Tide whispered words between themselves. Those things hadnt changed.
<Its still my castle, maybe even looking more so now, as though its withstood the attacks of invaders and fended them off, unyielding, a little siege scarred, but still standing firm. I like the idea that its being cared for by a citizen of the sea, and its giving shelter to needy wanderers like the children, who seem to be able to see it the way I do as an imaginative place for fun and trolls and magic. Best of all, City has retreated, and theres no one here now but friends. Never realised just how city it was before.>
This place had always brought a little quiet to his too hectic thoughts, allowing him to dream about how different things might beif... . It gave him something his life in the city didntpeace of mind. He looked at Fitz, who was leaning contentedly back in his handmade chair, and at Charm as she gave a bored yawn, stretched and strolled out to the deck, then he told Fitz,
Ive been thinking that I ought to start repairing things here, get the plumbing functioning again and maybe replace the windows, to begin with.
That would be expensive wouldnt it? questioned Fitz, all his frugal instincts rising up at the thought of how much it might cost to replace all that glass.
Dont think so. I got the last ones free. Theyre always tearing something down somewhere. I just have to be there at the right time. Besides, if I dont start fixing it now it really will get totalled. My poor old barge got overrun by barbarians somewhere along the way when my defences were down. Wish I could have checked on it sooner, but I was kind of restrained from doing that. Rose told me a bit about its disasters. Thank you for cleaning it up. Uhdid you paint it?
No, somebody else who stayed here before I came did all that and the cleaning. I really appreciated that. Im not much in the home-making department. Im an old sea dog. I just try to keep things neat and simple. I did plan to repair a few things myself though, like the doors, if youre agreeable. Theyre almost more leaky than the plastic windows. Not that I should criticise what was done before. I was fortunate enough to move in after the last people left it in such good shape.
That sounds like a great idea if youd care to. Id be glad to compensate you for the work. I get kind of busy back home and dont have all the time Id like to spend here, came the agreement.
Oh, I wouldnt need pay. I like doing woodworking, and its nice to have things to do which I enjoy. I considered myself lucky to have landed here for the winter.
Fitz waited, hoping David would take the hint and clarify this tenuous tenancy on the barge.
David was off at another angle. He wanted to pay his debts but here was a person too generous to let him. He was getting the feeling that maybe Fitz was someone who seemed to know how to utilise a happy opportunity when it came alongeven possibly a man after his own heart. He considered his next words carefully.
Luck. For a gambling man my luck seems to have left me. Used to like a game of poker. Do you gamble at all?
Searching grey eyes were met by steady blue ones as Fitz replied,
NoI dont gambleI play cards.
The comment hung between them as David steepled his fingers, studied them, and unstacked them again. He had just been told that gaming with Fitz Jolly was nothing to be trifled with.
<So, be direct with a direct man.>
Care for a hand or two of five card draw?
Fitz studied the light in the other mans eyes.
Interesting. You have something in mind, I gather.
The gambler in David gave a little laugh of delight.
You betcha. How about thisdouble or nothing what I owe youplus homestead rights in the barge. A win for me and I dont owe you anything. I have to tell you though, Im good. Are you on?
Fitzs eyes twinkled as he smiled into the enquiring ones opposite him.
Thats quite a proposition to suck a fellow in with, he returned. Double my money backsometimeplus a home for lifeI should live so longand that is, if I should win . What have I got to lose which I havent alreadyand Im not so bad with a hand myself.
Ill remember that. Done?
Two strong right hands met in a gentlemans agreement.
Your cards or mine?
How about both? suggested Fitz. Half yours, half mine. Cut for suits.
Good. Jokers wild?
No wild joker.
Hell be tame. One-eyed jacks?
No buddy boys. Lets keep it plain and simple. Face value.
Always tops with me.
David reached into a hip pocket of his jeans and pulled out a boxed deck which he carried with him for keeping his hand in, or playing solitaire, while Fitz went over to a galley drawer and brought over to the table a set of old blue pasteboards he used for the same solitary purpose.
Those look well loved, observed David with a small smile, regarding the old, unshiny deck set down on the table.
Oh yes indeed, agreed Fitz. Been with me for many years.
Instant understanding came into play. They exchanged decks, each shuffling the others, and then cut, each from the others shuffle, Fitz getting hearts and spades, the clubs and diamonds going to David. They set about separating the suits from the decks and David put the excess cards aside to his left as Fitz patted together the ones to be used into two neat piles, put his old blue cards next to Davids new, more colourful ones and dovetailed them several times.
Two out of three? was Davids next query, while he unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt in a businesslike manner and gave them one turn back as he watched Fitzs skilful manipulation of the cards.
Sounds good to me, returned Fitz. Havent had a decent game of cards for I dont know how long.
Really?! Thats been my complaint for some time.
Fitz set the deck in front of David, who shuffled swiftly himself, cut it twice, once with each of his nimble-fingered big hands, saying as he stacked them and offered it back to settle the deal,
A trey itll be then. Cut for deal.
Fitz came up with a ten and Davids cut yielded only a six.
Looks like your deal first, he conceded.
Fitz took the deck, gave it another flip for the game, having David cut once more, and then he dealt the cards with smooth, flowing motions.
Fitz won the first hand and David the second.
This is a nice tight game, smiled Fitz, feeling a little ripple of pleasure at the oncoming last hand as he dealt it out.
Youve got that right, returned David, with more meaning than Fitz was aware of.
An area of blankness arose between the two as they studied their cards. How many? came the question from Fitz, as David seemed to come to some decision about his move, setting his closed hand down on the table while he took a sip from his mug.
Four, he replied, tossing the offenders onto the table.
Four it is.
Fitz sent four more Davids way, commenting,
Two for me, while he thought his chances were pretty good if David had to dump four.
David picked up his replacements and, while glancing at them, reached for his mug and hit it with his wrist, splashing coffee onto the table.
With a quick cross-over grab he rescued the deck of unused cards with his right hand, bent his right arm and mopped up the wet area of table with the elbow of his shirt, cards in both hands, and cuffs flapping.
Deep disappointment hit the older man. He speculated that a swap had taken place with the spare cards, but he hadnt really seen anything except arms, hands and flapping shirt cuffs.
<All that talk about not swindling people... !>
Without comment, he took the two cards he needed, hiding his contempt behind his poker face. Three queens smiled back at him. He regarded what would ordinarily have seemed to him like a pretty good hand, but which he now figured was probably going to be taken with a full house or better by the man opposite him.
Okay. Lets see it, he said with resignation, after David had set his hand face down on the table again, taken a sip out of his coffee mug and steepled his fingers once more.
Uh huh. Lousy nothing, confessed David, with obvious disgust, flipping his hand up for perusal.
The surprise Fitz felt almost made him lose his composure.
<Here I thought David was trying to cheat!>
Three ladies, he said quietly, turning his wrist down to let David see his own winning hand.
David laughed, rather with amusement, Fitz thought.
Geeze! Told you. Lady Luck is through with me for awhile. Maybe Id be better off... .
The conversation was terminated by the piercing yipping and kiyiing of two samoyeds who sounded as though they were in a panic, and above their voices came Charms battle cry borrowed from a banshee, interlaced with shouts from Rose, Bettina and Harry alongside and from the children on the beach, followed by a lot of splashing.
Fearing for the safety of his two companions David jumped up from his seat, almost falling, but Fitz grabbed his arm to steady him, and the two made what speed they could out the door and onto the deck to see what was happening.
On the bow of the TJUTELA crouched a puffed up, triumphant big cat, with laid back ears and a switching fat tail, who had just pulled off a well-planned covert attack and run two large-sized startled dogs off their own boat and into the water with the shock of the surprise. She was urging them to greater efforts in their flight by throwing victorious hisses and yowls after them, calling them cowards and telling them what theyd get if they dared to come back and have it out. The two were making all haste for shore and not looking back.
Sorry, called Rose from where she sat in BRIGHT LEAF. I just boosted those two on board and that little devil dropped off the barge and took after them. You didnt tell me she was a cougar incognito, Fitz.
Theyre safe, reassured Fitz. She wont go in the water.
Shes quite the tiger, laughed David as he watched the children and dogs playing and splashing on the beach which Ulf and Gurth had just reached. Well leave them ashore to forget their embarrassment. They can shake themselves off before they get back aboardhave fun guys. Come on up and join us for coffeeor is there any left?
Well be there as soon as we take off some of these clothes, agreed Bettina while Rose climbed the stern ladder.
When she came into the room, followed by Fitz and then David, she saw the cards there on the table.
You two look like youve been having fun, she remarked. Just a friendly game?
Ill make some fresh coffee, said Fitz, hastily heading for the galley, while David said nothing at all.
Let me clear the table, suggested Rose pointedly, giving David a hard look as she went over and took the seat he had occupied. What have you got here? Two decks? Isnt one enough to get into trouble with? Who owns what? Oh, I know. These old blue ones belong to Fitz.
She took off her sweater, picked up a hand from where it lay on the table, looked at a ten, seven, five, four and deuce, reached for the other hand across the table and noted three queens, then put them with the rest of the cards she collected, commenting,
That looks like a winner.
She sorted the cards while David and Fitz guiltily readied coffee and mugs, giving each other little supportive glances, like two schoolboys whod just been caught cheating on an examination by their favourite teacher.
I think maybe an early lunch would be nice, Rose suggested at last, to break the unnatural quiet. Im really hungry. We had a great walk to the meadow. All the flowers are coming out now. Lets have coffee and then well eat.
Lunch was another all together effort, with the pancakes Isabel and the children made coming in for lots of praise. After that Bettina and Harry confessed that they often had an afternoon nap when they could, and went down to CRUSTY LADY LILY to do just that. The young people went ashore to work on a raft they were building, and David boarded TJUTELA to give the dogs their lunch after Morgan had ferried the two back from shorewhich left Rose and Fitz alone, something Fitz was a little anxious about.
He wasnt sure how Rose felt about cards, but if her reaction when shed first come in and seen the table was typical, then he thought hed better get set for a bit of rough weather. He sat at the table laying out a game of solitaire in a futile attempt to stave off the conversation which he figured was coming.
I guess I should have told you about David, Rose began. Hes not a bad person. Hes rather great in some ways. Hes a very good businessman, in spite of his circumstances right now, and hes really kind-hearted, but he just cant resist gambling, which hes also very good at. Thats what he set up this barge fora gambling casinoand thats what got him into trouble. Some of his erstwhile buddies turned him in and thats how I got to know him, as his lawyer. I hope you were just having a friendly game and not putting anything up for grabs, like the money he owes you. Hesan expertwith cards.
Well, actually Id heard he was a gambler, although he wasnt what Id expected when he showed up here, Fitz told her, still feeling a little compunction about having misjudged the other mans character, And he did tell me he was good at cards, so I had something of your idea when he spilled his coffee by the discard deck and cleaned it up with his sleevethought he was cheatingbut it was three straight hands of no joker five card draw and I won. Lucky old fool, I guess.
You held the queens!? asked Rose in astonishment, then enquired with suspicion, Just what did you win?
<Now that I think of it Im not quite sure.>
Homestead rights in this barge for one thingguess he meant rent. I didnt ask, confessed Fitz.
Not as a substitute for your money, I hope, Rose came back in alarm.
No. He still owes me that, not that I care about it. In fact it was a double or nothing stake and I guess hell pay me backI guessif he should ever come across that much.
Did you get it in writing?
Of course not, snorted Fitz, slightly offended. It was a gentlemans agreement.
Well I know youre one, and so far Ive had no reason to doubt him, so lets hope he still is. I didnt mean to imply he cheats, its justhe has a memory like an elephant and is extremely fast with figuring, particularly where odds are concerned. I think some of it falls into the category of magic tricks. Hes just goodlike fantasticwith cards.
Not that fantastic I guess, returned Fitz.
There was silence as Fitz finished laying out his game, then he murmured,
Seem to be missing a couple. Lets see.
He began quickly checking the deck.
Ace of spades andace of hearts. Wonder if you left them in Davids deck.
I dont think so, began Rose, quite sure that shed sorted correctly, then, as the silence lengthened, she smiled and told him, Maybe I did slip up on it. Ill go ask.
Oh, its not urgent. I dont need them right now.
Ill go see anyway, returned Rose with determination, and went out.
Fitz heard her calling down to ask if it was all right for her to come aboard TJUTELA and Davids answering affirmative, as he carried on with another game minus two aces, turning over in his mind the words, gambler and magic tricks while he did so.
<Wonder if Ive been worked over in reverse mode for some reason or other. It seems to me now, from Roses remarks, that David should have won the game. What sort of man is this landlord of mine?>
- - -
When Rose stepped aboard TJUTELA David was busy getting lunch for Ulf and Gurth, and he was telling the two eager samoyeds who were on deck with their heads pushed down the open forepeak hatch, watching the process, that theyd have to find some patience because he wasnt quite as fast as usual. They looked up as Rose came, but seeing who it was they didnt leave their observation platform.
As she went down the companionway into the cabin the high-pitched call of an eagle vaulted out over the water and David looked up from his work, asking,
Is that eagle from a Shalisa nest?
He was once, she replied, But now the Shalisa jurisdiction is illegally confined to the peninsula and bay and the few green acres Ive managed to hang on to, so hes outside of my protection until I prove otherwise.
I guess you know them all personally.
Oh, Im not the only one with that knowledge. Everyone here can pretty well tell whos who now. They have their habits and ways of operating just like we do. The kids are really good at recognising one from the other. If you stick around long enough youll get to know them too.
I saw him this morning, at least I think it was him. He got a salmon any fisherman would have boasted about. Is he poaching?
There seems to be enough for everybody, Shalisa and others. Maybe because these waters havent been fished by people too much. He lives around the arm of the bay. If you look, on the way to the village, youll see his home in the top of a half dead tree. Its very old and very big, a legacy of eagle housing from generation to generation, each couple occupying the same nest and adding more to the mansion every spring. Theyve nested there for years and they and those of their kind from Shalisa Creek Bay dont seem to get into any arguments.
Ill have to take a look with the binocs next time I go that way.
Here, Ill give it to them.
When she brought her head back down after giving Ulf and Gurth their lunch David was sitting looking thoughtfully out a port.
Regarding his leg cast she remarked,
I guess its not too easy to operate with that.
Pretty now isnt it? he laughed, admiring the bright artwork Isabel had given it. Not to worry. TJUTELAs set up for single-handing, and Im very resourceful.
Yes. I know.
Then, without any preamble she asked,
Tell mereallywhat did you make this trip for? I dont believe it was just to meet Fitz.
David remained looking out the port, unsurprised at her direct question. He thought she had a right to ask since it was her bay and his barge which was cluttering up the scenery, so he replied,
Well, I came with an idea, thinking the barge was still in the shape I left it, but seeing it now, its not going to work out, so Ive changed my mind and Im not going to do it.
Rose knew he was using evasive tactics just as she did, something she had learned hed do rather than lie.
Level with me, she requested. You always did before, and you know it wont go any farther if you dont want it to.
He looked at her then, grinned, and said,
Okay, I thought of turning the barge into a restaurantyou knowseafood harvested fresh daily in season and cooked in the galley while you wait. Fresh salmon and shellfish. Crabs and oysters. Real gourmet food which you cant get in most places anymore. All kinds of good things just floating around out there in the sea just waiting to be enjoyed, butI cant do that now.
There was a pause while their eyes held before she replied,
I thought youd be up to something. You have such a brilliantly inventive mind. Im glad you decided against it though, because you and I might have come into conflict and that would have been too sad. You see David, what you planned is not the way of the Shalisa. The Bay is a sanctuary, and has been since Grandfathers time, not just for peoplefor everything else as well. We protect the wild living things here, not eat them for pleasureonly for food if its a question of survival. Theyre not here to be exploited solely for our benefit. Ive promised to continue this policy.
David was about to return a flippant answer to the effect that hed figured on utilising public groceries some distance away from here in a different place, but something in her demeanour and the way she had spoken stopped him. He looked steadily into the dark eyes opposite his, sensing that her misdirected objections to his idea had given him an unexpected view of her which he hadnt had contact with before.
His previous association with her as client and lawyer, although cordial, had never crossed over into the personal. There had always been a mutually respected space existing along the middle of her desk, which separated lawyer and client, something they both had taken for granted from the beginning, but as he looked at this woman opposite him now he found himself facing a different person.
This was not Rose Hold, barrister, with professional barriers up. Here stood Rose Who Always Holds The Sunshine In Her Face, Leader Elect of the Shalisa People, totally open and honest as herself. He was now faced with accepting a personal interaction with her, and the sudden immediacy of it threw him a little.
The very first time hed met her shed made him laugh, an event which had become rather rare in his life just then. Hed been grateful. Theyd done a lot of laughing after that, mostly about himself, and hed understood that it had been her way of getting him to loosen up and get rid of some stress and it was not to be taken as familiarity.
After one such session shed told him,
I hope you dont mind if I lecture you like a sister putting you down, but sometimes I think you need one to keep you in line. You really do exude too much confidence, and I want you to be seen as a humble innocent who really didnt think he was doing anything wrong. Well demolish the prosecution if they wont accept my move to have the case thrown out. Itll devastate them, which they deserve under the circumstances. When they took you into custody the Crown chose to ignore the fact that there are laws they themselves helped to make, still on the books.
He hadnt imagined then that her intelligent wit which could blow someone away so completely while the victim co-operated wholeheartedly in his own demise, and which he had perceived as a well-aimed weapon when she chose to use it in that mannerwas something utterly other.
After his acquittal hed heard that shed left the city to take up the cause of her People. Hed envisioned her pacing the halls of government, making fools of them all while they laughed themselves, unsuspecting, into oblivion as she shot them down one by one with her deadly aim. At this moment he was made aware of just how wrong his assessment of her had been.
It occurred to him, now, that the commanding presence she brought to a courtroom must be innate, probably inherited from a long line of great leaders. She didnt overstep herself or retire too much. She stood firm, displaying a lack of arrogance, surrounded by her own worth, utilised at face value and to best advantage. Her strategies were well-planned and the risks she took were fairly evaluated. She wasnt afraid to say what she meant, quietly and plainly. This approach, hed thought until now, was part of her professional portfolio of tricks to put adversaries at ease with her until she discovered their weaknesses and did them in.
From the glimpse hed just been given of her integral self, he sensed that her defence was more like a puff of wind blowing away dust, rather than something of deadly metal. Her strength appeared to be more of a living thing of greater facility and aid to her than any metaphorical man-made object. She didnt kill. There was no need or desire on her part to indulge in such annihilation even in her imagination. She simply defeated opposition by reducing it to impotence, exposing its worthlessness, dismissing it, and setting it aside out of her way as she moved on.
It seemed that adversaries mistook her gentleness for weakness, her polite consideration for fear, her quiet unassuming bearing for timidity. They were mistaken, just as he had been misled about her manner of operating. He knew she could raise her voice and push just as hard as anyone else if necessary, but she preferred not to.
He had just been made to see that his scheme for the barge was out of place and not viable here in the bay, without his having been made to feel that he himself had no value. He knew now that the compassion she had for her clients and her lack of self-importance were genuine. She needed no acquired threatening weapons around her as she set out her case.
Fortunately, his first impulse to laugh and poke fun as they always had when theyd misinterpreted each others words had been caught in time, as he realised that this was not a matter to be laughed at. His answer to her words was different than it might have been had he not seen that bright flash of the Shalisa Leader.
Since there was now no need to tell her that hed meant to haul the barge away, he raised his eyebrows and said instead,
Okay, how about young, tender vegetables grown right on the shore, picked fresh, and sautéed to a turn in hand-churned butter. Casseroles and pilafs and salads with cheese and eggs. Stuffed things and things au naturel. Pastas in interesting herb sauces. Bread baked the same day as it gets eaten. Fresh fruit and cheese for dessert. Maybe some wild things. Mushrooms and nettles and lady fern fiddleheads. You know all about those goodies, dont youorwould that be exploitation?
You cheek! laughed Rose. You can talk your way out of just about anything cant you? Or into itbut please understand, I wasnt just trying to be difficult. You might say I have this place in trust from Grandfather.
Once again their eyes held steadily for a few moments and then David replied,
I hear you, Leader Hold. I understand what youre saying. I didnt know before, of courseand I have hauled in a few fish and such butnow that I know, Ill keep your sanctuary safe from me.
Sautéed vegetables in a wine sauce are awfully good, she told him thoughtfully. You could start something like that. It would be quite unique. We used to have gardens like you wouldnt believe here. Those old fruit trees were planted almost fifty years ago and theyre still producing, and yes, you could serve wild food. Not many customers here thoughat least not with money.
He smiled as he told her,
Not to worry. Ill put that idea into place somewhere else. I wouldnt want to bring another lot of people here again. Youve made me see that this bay, just the way it sits, is much too valuable to be plundered by commerce.
Thank you, David. I appreciate that deeply.
He turned his head to look out a port and there was quiet between them until she asked,
So, what happened with you and Fitz?
No problem. He can stay as long as he wants to. Im not going to boot him out just so I can indulge one of my wild schemes. Ill work out my idea somewhere else, away from this bay and barge.
Really? So thats why you changed your mind. Its very good of you. Its not what I was talking about though. I meant about the poker game. He seems to be missing a couple of cards from his deck.
She paused, watching amusement come up in Davids face.
Its ruining his game of solitaire. I told him Id check to see if Id left them with yours when I sorted them outbut Im pretty sure I sorted correctly.
He reached into his back pocket and brought out the two cards in question.
Youre very tactful, he told her. Before I could sneak em back I got disturbed by that row Ulf and Gurth made.
Aces in hearts and spades, observed Rose as she took the two cards from him. Powerful spirits. How did you plan to use them?
I could use some help like that right about nowand I wasnt going to use them, I was trying to get rid of them. I know you wont approve, but Ill ask anyway. Would you keep this to yourself?
Lawyer client relationship. My lips are sealed. You are odd though. Cheating to lose?
How did you figure that out? he asked, startled.
I saw your card hands. Fitz told me he won after youd spilled your coffee, and hed had his suspicions which, Ill tell you, he felt guilty about afterwards, and then a brace of aces turned up missingand you told me about your skills, way back when.
Amazing deduction, Hold. I knew he wasnt going to let me pay him back and I felt he shouldnt have to put up his cash for my stupidity, sowhat else could I do? I had to give it back to him somehow didnt I? He kept saying no whenever I mentioned money, so I figured if he won it back hed take it, and I threw in homestead rights to go with it. I want him to feel secure about living on the barge. We had a game and he won andyou sound surprised at the outcome.
I am. Not only about the outcome, but from what Ive heardand Ive heard a lotyou dont have to cheat at cards because youre a mean one to beat.
The long agile fingers of his right hand fanned back and forth across the tip of his thumb as he told her,
So help me, I did my damnedest to lose like the honest man I am and I even made sure he got the deal on the last hand. I should have kept it. Then Id have been certain of the result, but I didnt want to cheat. I just wanted to throw the game, and thengeeze!I could have made a fortune on my luck today. The first hand I broke up was four of a kind. I intended to win the second just so it wouldnt look so fixed and I did, butthat last handhey, I blew a flush. I hung onto the ten but then he threw me two more and a couple of aces. I couldnt get rid of all of them fast enough and give myself some replacements from the discards at the same time, so the aces got stuck on me.
I confess, at first I thought youd done a job on Fitz when I came in.
David hoped the hurt of her remark didnt show in his face.
The language is getting rough, he said, laughing to hide his feelings.
Im sure you understand it.
You weaselled it all out of him did you?
Your choice of expression leaves something to be desired, but yes, he said enough. I was just curious as to why youd use your skills that way, thats all, but I guess youve told me all you want to.
You want me to dump on you?
Go ahead. Do you really think I came down here just to look for cards?
He gave her a winning smile then as he told her,
Youre a wise woman Rose. For one thing, I dont use my skills for illicit purposes. I just love using them for the hell of itsometimes for good things. Kids get a charge from that sort of stuffmagic and tricks. I help Gram with her fund raisers doing that.
Sorry if Im being nosy and insensitive. Ill mind my own affairs.
If it werent for Fitzand youI wouldnt even have the barge nowor anything else except a nice little cell. It wont take me long to work out the details for something new.
Do try to work them out on the right side of the fence. I may not be available to get you off, next go round.
Shall we hope there isnt a next time? he laughed.
There was silence for a moment and then, she asked,
So now that you and Fitz are partners in this barge what are you two going to get into?
You briefed him about his rights did you? he queried.
Told him he should have got it in writing, actually.
This time Rose saw real hurt in Davids eyes and regretted her remark, suddenly remembering the day David had said much the same thing to her.
Guess I deserve that, he told her, letting her know that he remembered too. I get to eat my own words. I dont know. Whatever it is, Ill need his approval. Ill have to think hard and fast on that one. The food outlet idea is dead. I just heard that my restaurant is grounded in a private fishing preservea sanctuary no lessleaving me with only vegetables for a menu, my partner may object, and for all I know the owner of the land my barge is grounded on may ask me to move it out any day now.
You have my permission to leave it here, she smiled, And you yourself are welcome any time, as long as the way of the Shalisa is respected and you are on that path which leads you to be at peace with yourself.
Thanks Rose. Youve always brought me luck.
Always? You seem to have lost control of your barge and a double or nothing game while I was around.
You were ashore, he corrected. And the loss was deliberate. Seemed like everybody was after me before though, but when you came along everything just started to straighten out.
I hope that includes you.
Mmmm, he told her thoughtfully, Well see. Maybe Im incorrigible. I cant even blame it on falling in with bad company. I think most of my company figures Im the one leading them astray.
I dont think thats a fair assessment, Rose encouraged him as they laughed quietly together, Youre too quick to put yourself down. Well, Ill take these cards up to Fitz and you can sit here and wrestle with your conscience. No doubt by dinner time youll be over the shock of breaking up four of a kind and then a flush, and to top that off, having to palm a couple of your own aces. See you then.
We could do that if youd like, she laughed over her shoulder and went up the companionway.
David watched her go without replying.
<Shes changed. Shes not Rose Hold, barrister, anymore. Shes Rose Who Always Holds the Sunshine in her Face, the Shalisa Leader, with her own name and her own way of doing things now. I really dont know what shes like at allbut I like it.>
David sat thinking how it might have been to grow up here as she had, with her family and Grandfather always ready to guide and comfort, having the run of the place out there all summer, loved by everyone, as the seasons progressed from year to year, with peace and stability as they went.
His own memories were of a household constantly being turned over. His mother had been in the habit of buying everything totally new every so often. Just as hed get used to one set of furniture another would arrive. The kitchen got refurbished periodically, unless they moved to a bigger and better house. Even his toys fell victims to her aversion of anything older than barely used. Shed round them all up and give them away, saying,
You dont want that old thing David. Some other little boy or girl can have it.
There had been one particularly loved teddybear, given to him by his paternal grandmother, from whom he simply couldnt part because theyd become inseparable friends. He could talk to the bear the way he could talk to no one else, telling him of hopes and dreams, fun and family troubles. He always received comfort in return. His bear understood everything and helped him solve problems, sharing in up times and down.
The day on which the familiar words had come, he had taken Bjorn Behring and hidden him. From that moment on his stuffed friend had led a hole and corner existence until David had hit on the plan of leaving Bjorn at his Grandmothers.
That perceptive lady had understood, and she loved to have her troublesome little grandson around. She didnt find him to be any trouble at all. Going to Grandmas became less of a banishment and more of a treat, and he and Bjorn had long talks, telling each other what had gone on in each others absence.
During these visits, some of which were extended because hed particularly exasperated his parents right then and they were glad to get rid of him for awhile, he and his grandmother would read from the collection of old books she and her husband had loved. She played piano accompaniment while he acquired a surprisingly mature understanding of the little silver flute shed given him, and the music which went with it.
One rainy day she showed him how to play cards.
He turned into such a prodigy under her tutelage that she began letting him participate in her bridge club to show him off, and he became the darling of the afternoon tea circuit, where he basked in the attention of all the pretty ladies and elegant gentlemen who all wondered out loud whether hed become a mathematical genius or a champion chess player or a musician on the concert circuit orsome of them voiced the opinion outside of hearinga juvenile delinquentmischief looking for a place to happentrouble brewing.
Later, as a teenager, when the increasingly unhappy situation at home had made him decide to leave, his scrabbling to make a living on his own had become more then Edith Godwin could take, and she had presented him with a fabricated necessity of his becoming her permanent boarder. After she had diplomatically made the arrangements with his parents, the boy had gone to live in her turn-of-the-century house with its old garden, both of which he helped her to maintainwhich had been her excuse for getting him there.
Waiting for him in a comfortable chair up in his room when hed arrived sat Bjorn Behring, wearing his usual happy smile and sporting a seamans outfit Edith had sewn for the occasion.
Smiling to himself now at the recollection, as he watched the waters of the bay moving subtly over themselves, he reached under a cushion beside him and hauled out from where hed hidden it in haste at the sound of Roses voice, a well-worn teddybear, wearing a turtle-necked sweater, and sea boots turned over at the tops.
Come on out Bjorn. Coast is clear, and I need some help with my conscience.