Author: Sabrina Jennings PM
1850: Edith Braxton, a Charleston socialite, is fleeing her home in the wake of the discovery of her brother's indiscreet and illegal activities, hoping against hope that she can outrun those hunting her down, intending to make her pay for his wrongs. But you can't always outrun life. Sometimes you hit a dead end. Christian Fiction. Please Review.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Mystery - Chapters: 5 - Words: 25,745 - Reviews: 1 - Updated: 10-20-12 - Published: 08-01-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3046830
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Edith carefully stacked bolts of fabric in rows on a shelf. She laid the last one down, and turned to walk away, then heard a crash. She turned back to see that the left end of the stack had rolled into the floor.
Madame Jeanette LeFleur, Edith's employer, came out of the back room to see what the noise was about. "Oh, Eleanor," she said, surveying the mess. "That's the third time today, too."
"I'm sorry, Madame." Edith said contritely, "I don't know what's wrong with me today." She spoke the words, but in truth, it wasn't just that day. Edith had found she wasn't much good at her job. With a sigh, she began restacking the fabric.
"When you have finished here," Madame called over her shoulder, "I've some buttons I want you to sew onto cards."
Edith relaxed a bit. At least that was easy. She would do that during the one part of the day she enjoyed- helping Madame's twelve year old daughter, Amelia, with her homework. Amelia, Edith though, could be a very good student, but she was so apathetic about school, she tended to fall behind. She was especially poor in French, which Edith had learned was a required course in Canada. Edith had, of course, taken French at her finishing school in Raleigh, but the average American child was not granted such a privilege. She watched Amelia write a sentence. "No," Edith corrected, "The subject is a pronoun, therefore you have to…''
Amelia thought for a moment, "Reverse the order of the subject and verb?"
Two weeks later, Madame LeFleur approached Edith as she was preparing to leave for the night. "Eleanor, I much speak to you before you go."
"Of course, Madame." She took her hand off the doorknob, "What do you need to speak with me about?"
"You have been helping my daughter with her studies," Madame began. Edith started to speak, but her employer held up a hand. "No, Eleanor, let me finish. I am very glad you do this. My husband, he had great dreams for Amelia- he wanted her to learn many things- maybe go to the college in Ottawa." She drew a shaky breath, obviously feeling the loss of her spouse once again, "But now, he is gone, and I-I cannot help Amelia. I only finished the third level at our school in Brussels. So, I thank you for helping my daughter to learn. But," she continued, tilting her head, "Eleanor, you do not work well in the sewing room. You do not well manage the shop. Plainly, I cannot continue to employ you as my assistant." Edith nodded, blinking back the tears that stung her eyes. "I would," Madame said, "Be willing to pay you to continue to help Amelia with her studies. Not as much as I pay now, mind you, but there ware, I believe, other families in this town who are- how do you say it? Well off? And some of them also have children who would benefit from your help, the how you say- two?"
"Tutoring." Edith supplied.
"Yes, of course. If you would want, I could speak to them on your behalf. I have, you see, an advantage as many of their ladies come here to have their gowns made."
Edith took a moment to phrase her reply, "Madame, I truly appreciate your generosity," she said, "But, school will recess for the summer next week and…"
"But many of the children, like Amelia, they are behind in their studies. If you could tutor them over the summer, they would perhaps be equal to the rest of their class when school resumes in the fall."
Edith nodded, "I would like that, Madame. Thank you."
By the end of May, Edith was tutoring five children four days a week. They ranged in age from nine to fourteen. Among them were, of course, Amelia, and also the mayor's son, Jean Claude Murray, Millie Landau, the daughter of a senator who was always gone to Ottawa, and a set of fraternal twins who belonged to another family of Thunder Bay's aristocracy. Edith spent much of her free time with Thaddeus, although his free hours were limited, because he was helping Lars work on his house. Lars' girlfriend of many years, Gretchen, was sailing over from Sweden this summer so they could get married, and he wanted to add an extra room onto his house first.
Because most of her pupils were from aristocratic families, Edith was paid very well for her services, even better than she had been working at the millinery. From time to time, she took stock of her growing savings, and wondered if she could perhaps put enough back to pay off Roland's creditors. Unfortunately, Edith had no idea how much her brother owed. She had asked, and been told it was a lot, but was not given a definite answer. Of course, she didn't know where to find these men- didn't want to either. She supposed they must be hired goons, because she had met all the members of the law firm. If she knew the dollar amount, Edith supposed she could send a check to the law office with a letter of explanation, but they would then be able to find her, and Edith wasn't entirely certain if they would be satisfied with the money after the way they'd threatened her. Even after the debt was paid, Edith doubted she could go home. It would be a few more months before she had to leave Thunder Bay, but when she did, she would send another letter to Horace and formally end their engagement. Much as she hated to do it, it just wasn't fair to give him any hope that she might come back. He'd be free to find someone else- there were certainly plenty of candidates. Since meeting Thaddeus, Edith couldn't imagine what her life would have been like with Horace. She had a feeling she would much more enjoy being married to Thaddeus. Goodness! She sat up suddenly. Where had that thought come from. She didn't want to marry Thaddeus! She barely knew the man. But, Edith considered, lying back down, if she could get married, she would want a man like Thaddeus. He was- she couldn't quite put her finger on how he was different than Horace, but he was. He was a good man. Not that Horace Covington was a bad man, but she liked Thaddeus much better. Edith knew she shouldn't like Thaddeus at all, but he made it so easy. But she wasn't getting married. Not ever. Not to Horace Covington, not to Thaddeus Mallory, or anyone else.
One Saturday in mid-June, Thaddeus rented a buggy, and took Edith for a drive in the country. He tried to convince himself that it was just because he was concerned about her getting enough fresh air, but that excuse sounded lame to his own ears. They talked of her teaching, which she said was going well, and she politely reciprocated, and asked about his work for Mr. Faust. Thaddeus was able to quite honestly say that he liked Mr. Faust quite well, and since she did not ask how he felt about his trade, he wasn't compelled to tell her that it was dull as ever.
"Thaddeus," she said after they had sat in silence for a few minutes, "Do you have a family?"
"A family?" normally Thaddeus avoided that question, but figured her inquiry was relatively harmless. "Both of my parents are deceased, but I have three sisters and a brother."
"Older or younger?"
"Mhm... I was thinking the other day that i don't know much about you- not nearly as much as I should about someone I trust so much."
Thaddeus smiled; he liked the idea that she trusted him. "Well, you haven't told me much about yourself Eleanor, and I believe turnabout to be fair play. Do you have a family?"
From the way she stiffened Thaddeus could tell she didn't much care for the question. He hadn't expected her to, though. "I have a brother." she said slowly. "And an aunt."
"Older or younger?"
Thaddeus chuckled, "Of course I meant your brother."
"They must miss you an awful lot. Of course I'm surprised your fiancé allowed you to come at all." Thaddeus barely concealed what was a fishing expedition for information regarding what had prompted someone to beat up Sylvester trying to get at her.
"Fiancé?" She narrowed her eyes, "What makes you think I'm engaged?"
Thaddeus pretended to be surprised by her question, "Why, you told Mrs. Washburn while we were in Milwaukee. She sort of passed on the information." By sort of, Thaddeus meant he had overheard the couple discussing what a pity it was she was spoken for or the two of them would have made a nice pair. The better he got to know Edith; Thaddeus was increasingly inclined to share their sentiment.
"Oh," she visibly relaxed, "That-ah- relationship has since been terminated."
Thaddeus was unable curb a rush of excitement. Perhaps he could have her after all. Everything in his years of training cautioned against getting involved with anyone involved in an assignment, but this was different. It wasn't as though she were a person of interest in a criminal case, he was merely protecting her, and reporting to Horace- whom she wasn't even engaged to now. There was no reason a relationship with Edith would interfere with his duties. "I'm sorry things didn't work out." He said quietly.
"Are you now?" she sounded a bit cynical.
Thaddeus found himself grinning, "Not really."
Her eyes widened, "I beg your pardon!"
"Oh, don't play indignant with me Eleanor." He said, "You obviously know that I like you or you wouldn't have questioned my sincerity."
"No, Thaddeus, I didn't know. I-I suppose you'd say I hoped, but…" she blinked back tears.
"I didn't intend to upset you, Eleanor." He said, reaching over to take her hand.
"It's okay, Thaddeus," she whispered turning her head to look out at the scenery, "I like you too."
He frowned, "Then why are you crying?"
She swallowed and pulled her hand away, "It's complicated." After a few minutes he heard her sniffling, "Would you take me home, Thaddeus?" she swiped at her tears with the back of her hand.
"Certainly." He began to turn the buggy around. She sniffled again, and Thaddeus offered his hanky. "But I want you to think about it Eleanor. Let me court you. If you decide you don't care for it, I'll never bring up the matter again."
"I don't think it would work." She said quickly. "And I enjoy our friendship so much, I'm afraid if we courted and it didn't work out…"
"Eleanor, I want to always be friends with you." Thaddeus replied, "If it isn't in the Lord's will for us to be together as a couple, then it isn't in His will. But," he added with a sly grin, "I think it might be." He could feel her scowl even though she was facing the opposite direction.
Thaddeus was quiet for the rest of the ride back to town. When he drew up in front of her apartment, he took her hand before she could climb out. "Eleanor," he waited until she looked at him, "Please? Let's give this a try."
She stared into his eyes for a long moment before speaking. When she finally did, her voice was scarcely audible. "I want to, Thaddeus," she said, "But I'm afraid it would be a terrible mistake."
"It isn't as though I'm proposing marriage," he countered, "If it doesn't work out, we'll just be friends."
She stared into his eyes for a long moment. "Against my better judgment, yes."
Thaddeus quelled the impulse to kiss her, "Thank you. Now, as your suitor, I would like to take you to supper Monday night."
She smiled timidly, "I think I would like that."
"I know I will." Before he had time to say more, she exited the carriage and hurried inside the building. Thaddeus slapped the reigns and drove away.
Edith had lain awake most of Saturday night, mentally reviewing her afternoon with Thaddeus. She should never have agreed to allow him to court her. Goodness, she hadn't even formally broken off her relationship with Horace! Besides, going along with something so ridiculous would only hurt Thaddeus when she left without warning. She determined to tell him Monday night that she couldn't let this go on, but when the time came she didn't have any excuse, to offer him, and feared he would become suspicious.
Two full weeks passed. Thaddeus made it apparent that he was quite serious about their relationship by actively pursuing her. Despite her determination to break things off, Edith liked the attention. Horace had barely spent time with her, mostly at opulent social functions hosted by their peers. Even the night he had proposed, it had seemed to Edith that he was merely fulfilling expectations. She had tried to be happy with him, but there was something indefinable about Horace Covington, that mildly disgusted -her. Edith hadn't been able to put her finger on it- nothing seemed amiss- he was a gentleman, they agreed on matters of faith, he had demonstrated both willingness and ability to provide for her, before his death Edith's father had given his approval to their union, yet there was something about him that had never sat quite right with her. While she was musing over this, a knock sounded at the door. Edith opened it to find Lars Mendelson standing in the stairwell with a beautiful, tiny blonde on his arm.
"On, hello, Lars, Gretchen; Please come in."
The woman's face broke into a smile, "You know me?" she asked.
"I know I've never seen Lars this happy before." Lars blushed, and Gretchen giggled and sent him an adoring glance. "When did you get here?" Edith asked.
"Not long ago," Gretchen replied, "Lars took me for lunch after I got off the-" she paused and looked up at Lars, "skepp?" she asked.
"Ship," he responded.
"Yes. I'm sorry, Eleanor. I do not well speak English." Gretchen explained.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Edith said, "I'm sure we'll work it out." She turned to Lars. "Are you leaving her here now?" she had offered to let Gretchen stay with her until they got married, saying that a hotel room was an unnecessary expense.
Lars nodded, "Yes, if you don't mind." He looked down at Gretchen, "I'll bring your things by after they are unloaded.
"Just my gray... resväska," she said,"The rest you can take home."
"Gray suitcase got it." he lifted her hand to his lips and delicately kissed her fingers. "I'll be back soon."
Gretchen smiled and said something softly in Swedish. Lars whispered something in her ear which made her blush and grin. He told Edith goodbye and left.
By the end of the next week Edith and Gretchen were well acquainted with one another. Gretchen had met Thaddeus at church as well as whenever he came to pick Edith up for a date. She and Lars had set a wedding date of August first, and about a week and a half before the ceremony Edith was in the kitchen when she heard a loud moan from the bedroom.
"What's wrong, Gretchen?" Edith walked in to find her friend standing in the middle of the room wearing a white silk gown that was a few sizes too big.
"This dress! It was to be my wedding gown, but I lost weight on the ship, and now it is too large!" She appeared on the verge of tears.
Edith walked over and examined the folds of the fabric. "Well, for one," she said, making a few experimental tucks, "Lars wouldn't care if you showed up in a flour sack, but I happen to know a very good seamstress who can take in in so you'd never know."
Gretchen was pleased by this, "Really?" Edith nodded, "Do you think she would have time before next Saturday?"
"I think we should go ask her." Edith replied, "Change your clothes, and we'll walk over."
Madame LeFleur was in the back with Genevieve Murray when Edith and Gretchen walked in. Madame's new assistant, Thea, a young girl form a local farm, was standing behind the counter. She greeted them as they entered. Edith said that they would wait for Madame, and then went over to Amelia who was sitting at a table in the corner studying her arithmetic assignment.
"Hello, Miss Bartlett, Miss Gretchen," Madame LeFleur came out of the back room with Mrs. Murray and heard what her daughter said.
"Amelia," she scolded, "Where are your manners?" you know better than to call a lady by her given name."
"Oh, it's all right, Ma'am," Gretchen was quick to defend the girl; "My surname, it is long, and most difficult for English-speaking children to…" she looked at Edith quizzically.
"Pronounce?" Edith offered.
"Yes, my name is hard for them to pronounce, so I asked your daughter to call me by my Christian name."
"I see," Madame said quietly, "But don't get in the habit of doing so, Amelia, it isn't proper. Now," She turned to Edith, once again all business, "How may I help you?" Edith explained the problem briefly, and then Madame spirited Gretchen away to the fitting room. While she waited, Edith sat down with Amelia. Her attitude toward school was improving, and Edith was confident she would do quite well in the coming year. She still hated French, but was making an effort to at least master the grammar in order to please her mother. After about twenty minutes, Madame LeFleur and Gretchen returned. Madame told Gretchen she would have the dress ready next Wednesday. Gretchen thanked her, and they left. When Edith opened the street level door for them to go up to their apartment, both Thaddeus and Lars were sitting on the stairs. Edith grinned sheepishly; she had completely forgotten he was coming to pick her up. She glanced over at Gretchen who was wearing a similar look of chagrin. Evidently Lars had slipper her mind as well.
Thaddeus got to his feet. "Y'all been somewhere?" he sounded concerned, but what caught Edith's attention was his decidedly Southern accent, much like the one she spoke with if not careful to disguise it under the lighter clip she had acquired while at finishing school. What's more was she'd never noted it in Thaddeus' voice before. Why would he deliberately conceal it?
Lars had risen also, and Gretchen was busy explaining that they'd had an important errand to run. "We're sorry to have kept you gentleman waiting," Edith said when she finished, "And if you'll excuse us a few minutes more, we'll freshen up and then we can all be on our way. Gretchen followed her up the stairs, and they took turns with the wash basin and dressing screen. The whole process took only about five minutes, and then they emerged to be collected by their respective beaus. Edith hung on Thaddeus' every word as they ate supper. Who knows what he thought, but she was actually listening to see if she caught his accent again. A few times she thought she faintly heard it, but couldn't be sure. She wanted to ask, but was too afraid of the answer. For sure, Edith would have to remain on her guard. Of course, it was always possible that he, like her, was hiding from someone here in Thunder Bay, but Edith found that altogether too coincidental, and thought it more likely that he'd been sent to follow her. She thought Thaddeus had decided to ignore her unusual behavior until it came time to take her home. While they stood in the stairwell, he gently took her head and turned her to face him.
"What's wrong Eleanor?" he asked softly.
"Wrong?" she giggled nervously, "Nothing's wrong, Thaddeus, what makes you ask?"
"You haven't been yourself tonight." He said, "Did I do something to make you mad?"
"Of course not," Edith said reassuringly, "I'm tired. I'll be fine tomorrow."
He smiled, "Oh, good, I was afraid you had changed you mind about… us."
"Uh, no, not at all." She was afraid he might be trying to kill her, but other than that, no problems.
"Good. I'd be awfully disappointed if you did." He opened the door for her. "Good night, Eleanor." As she turned to close the door he blew her a kiss.
Lars and Gretchen were married in a lovely ceremony Saturday afternoon. After a short reception in the church's fellowship hall, Lars whisked his bride away for a honeymoon in an undisclosed locale. He'd wanted to take her to the capital province of Quebec, but after her trip over, Gretchen refused to set foot on a ship again. Edith helped clear the dished, and then Thaddeus took her for a walk.
"Nice ceremony." He commented as they strolled along the river.
"Beautiful." She replied, "I don't know that I've ever seen a couple so happy."
"Think that'll be us someday?"
Edith felt her heart stop momentarily. This was exactly why she should never have gotten involved with Thaddeus. Because, as much as she liked him, she was bound to spend the rest of her life running form men who wanted to end it. Providing that she could trust him, of course. She still wasn't sure about that. "Oh, I'm not much for speculation," she replied, "I guess it could happen." He turned away, but not before she saw the pain in his eyes. She hated to hurt him like that, but she couldn't agree with him. In all actuality, she ought to break things off with him altogether, before either of them became any more attached, but she had her doubts regarding his honesty, and feared his reaction. However, he had seemed to be genuinely hurt by her seemingly cavalier disregard of his feelings. Momentarily Edith considered the possibility that Thaddeus might have been sent up here to kill her, but fallen in love instead. It made for an interesting story, and would probably be quite riveting as a dime novel, but even if that were true, it meant she still couldn't trust him. She'd grown so comfortable in Thunder Bay, and the thought that she might have been lulled into a false sense of security by a man who posed an imminent threat to her existence churned Edith's stomach. He knew her so well now that it would be hard to run from him when the time came. On the other hand though, he might well be an innocent young man, trying to court her, and the time when she'd have to leave would come altogether too soon.
Thaddeus was working late one Thursday evening on an armoire the mayor had commissioned for his wife at the last minute because it seemed he had forgotten that Friday was her birthday. He'd had to break a date with Edith to finish the order, but she understood. Thaddeus really liked Edith. He hadn't dated many girls, but the few he had were nothing like her. They for sure wouldn't have understood him having to work late. That she did was important to Thaddeus since his vocation sometimes called him away without warning and at unspeakable hours. Mr. Faust had left a few hours before to go to his house which sat in front of the shop. He'd brought Thaddeus a plate of food, and now came back, presumably to collect the dishes.
"Mr. Faust," Thaddeus said, "I'm almost ready to stain this, but I don't believe it will be dry enough for Mr. Murray to pick up in the morning. Is there any way to expedite the process?"
"I don't know about expediting it," Mr. Faust said, "But Milton is going to be upset if it isn't ready."
"I've worked on it all day, sir." Thaddeus said, "I can't make it go any faster."
"I know." The older man said. "I'll see what I can do with it. There's a lady waiting outside for you, though. Why don't you go on?"
Thaddeus was puzzled, "Eleanor?" something must be wrong. She knew he was working late. Surely those men hadn't shown up here.
"No, I've never seen this one before." Mr. Faust said, "Bit you go on and see about her. I'll take care of this. If the piece isn't ready in the morning it serves him right for forgetting Genevieve's birthday."
Thaddeus agreed about that, but was loathe to speak ill of the mayor, "Well, if you're sure," he said hesitantly, starting to put his tools away.
"Go on, I'll put things up. Don't want to keep the lady waiting all night, do you?
Still confused, Thaddeus walked outside. About ten feet from the shop door he was met by a tall blonde wearing a violet travelling dress. He stopped short, watching warily as she approached. "May I help you, Miss?" he asked, shoving both hands into his trouser pockets.
"Oh, Thaddeus," she giggled almost, but not quite seductively, and he took a step backward, wondering what he had gotten himself into. "Don't you recognize me?" she giggled again, and walked closer. Thaddeus began to consider running back into the shop. This felt like some kind of crazy nightmare. "It's me, Lydia!"
Thaddeus stood riveted to the ground. He looked the woman up and down, "Lydia? Lydia Plum?"
She giggled again, "Of course silly! Now, I just got in, and I'm hungry. Come buy me supper."
Thaddeus felt his jaw slacken. However had meek and reserved Sylvester gotten such a cheeky and forward sister? Her behavior bordered on brash. Lydia had already begun to walk off, but stopped and turned when she realized he wasn't following, "Aren't you coming?"
Thaddeus finally found his voice, "Now just a minute, Marianne,"
"Lydia." She corrected firmly.
"Whatever. Before I go anywhere with you, I want some explanation of what you're doing here in the first place."
She smiled sweetly, "Of course, Thaddeus, I'll be glad to answer your questions, but won't it be more comfortable over supper?"
"I've eaten already." He growled.
"Well, I haven't." she walked over and took his arm. "You can have coffee and dessert if you like." She practically purred.
Thaddeus disentangled himself from her, "Don't touch me!" he snapped. She giggled.
Twenty minutes later they were seated at a small corner table at one of Thunder Bay's nicer restaurants. Unfortunately it was one of the places he took Edith regularly and he could only imagine what sort of thoughts the wait staff was having. His face had creased itself into a permanent frown on the way over. He wanted nothing to do with the salty blonde, but Sylvester was one of his closest friends, so Thaddeus was trying to be kind for his sake. "Now," he said as courteously as he could manage, "Suppose you tell me exactly why you are here."
"Well, oh," she stopped as their waiter set a plate of food in front of her, and handed Thaddeus a piece of pie. Their server left, and he looked at her expectantly. "Aren't you going to ask the blessing so I can eat?"
He gave her a surly glare. He would much rather hear her explanation, but since he was trying to be nice he mumbled a somewhat synthetic prayer. As soon as he said amen, Lydia began eating. Thaddeus impatiently drummed his fingers on the table.
"Aren't you going to try your dessert?" she asked.
"Aren't you going to tell me why you're here?" he countered.
"Vessie didn't tell me you were cranky." She pouted.
"I'm not normally. Strange women interrupting me at work and demanding I give them supper brings out the worst in me. And did you just refer to your brother as 'Vessie'?"
She nodded, "He hates it."
"I would too. Now, why are you here?"
"Well, it's like this. Vessie said you wrote him and said you needed help, and since he couldn't come he sent the next best thing." She flashed him another dazzling smile.
"Well, I'm sorry you've come all this way, Lydia. I didn't expect Sylvester would take such drastic action. I've since gotten my problems resolved. You can go home in the morning. Again, I'm sorry."
She scowled, "Look, just because your chauvinistic male pride if offended by the thought of working with a woman, doesn't mean you have to sit here and lie to me. Just come out and say it."
"Lydia, I've nothing against your gender." Thaddeus said softly, "Not even against your gender in our profession. I'm telling you the honest truth when I say I've worked out my difficulties since I wrote that to Sylvester."
"Then you are no longer in danger of falling in love with Miss Braxton?"
Thaddeus was struck speechless. Had Sylvester abandoned all discretion?
"I thought so!" Lydia accused, "You really don't want my help."
"It has nothing to do with you, Lydia. I was merely surprised by the volume of information your brother shared. I had intended for that to remain in confidence."
The look on her face said she didn't believe him, "So how did you resolve the problem?"
"I consider that to be absolutely none of your business."
"You haven't 'resolved' anything, have you?"
"I'm quite pleased with how things have worked out." Thaddeus replied somewhat flippantly.
"Good grief, Thaddeus, you haven't given in, have you? You know that's against regulations!"
"Oh, I don't think it has ever been expressly forbidden," he replied, "I would consider it unadvisable in most circumstances, but…"
"But nothing," Lydia interrupted, "Getting involved romantically with a suspect significantly impairs an investigator's judgment, you know that!"
"Edith isn't a suspect," Thaddeus argued, "My-" he paused as the waiter came to clear the dishes and deliver the bill. "Are you ready?" she said she was, and he rose to pay the tab. "As I was saying," he continued as they walked outside, "My only responsibilities are to protect her and report her whereabouts to her fiancé."
"Whoa!" Lydia interrupted again, "You surely see a problem if she's with another man."
"I should have been clearer," Thaddeus replied, "Ex-fiancé. They were engaged when I began the assignment, but the relationship has since been dissolved. And I can't see how my duties are inhibited by having a relationship with her. In fact-"
"In fact," Thaddeus couldn't believe her lack of manners, "You could quite easily get so wrapped up in your romance that you fail to see the danger and are not alert enough to protect her."
Thaddeus was about to reply off the cuff, but after a split second analysis of her last statement, he detected more emotion in her voice that before. And emotion that, if he wasn't mistaken, was anger. He was puzzled by such a reaction; she was certainly entitled to an opinion, but anger was uncalled for.
"Look, I appreciate your concern, Lydia, but it is my life, and-"
"Listen to me, Thaddeus," she said hotly, "You might not thing much of me as an agent, but in this matter I know what I'm talking about. Don't get involved with her now. If you still have feelings for her when this is all over, pursue it, and I'll wish you every happiness. But right now, focus on the case. If you need a replacement, send for one, otherwise keep it professional."
Thaddeus was taken aback by her impassioned speech. "Have…Did…What makes you so sure?" he wouldn't normally be so forthright, but she hadn't shown the best manners, so why should he?
"Experience is the best teacher," she replied, "I've walked that road."
"You became involved with a…client?" he frequently struggled with how to refer to the person he was following, and client was one of his replacement terms, despite its inaccuracy. Frankly, he couldn't imagine sending Lydia out after a man.
"No, with my partner."
"The same principle. I was supposed to be covering him during a stakeout, but I got to daydreaming about wedding plans- it was only a month away, and we thought it was a dry run anyway- I didn't see the man who crept along the hedgerow. By the time I realized Leonard should have returned, and went to find him, he'd already bled to death."
"Oh, Lydia, I'm so sorry."
"Stow it. It's been years, and I'm over it." Thaddeus didn't believe that one for a minute. "And don't try to convince me that it's different with you and Edith because it isn't. If you care about her like you say you do, leave her alone until she's safe, or get someone to replace you."
There was no way Lydia would stop arguing, not after what she'd been through. Thaddeus understood that, but he was done discussing the matter. "You know what? Let's table this for tonight; you want me to stop you by a hotel?"
"I'd rather rent a room in a boarding house."
"Only one in town and no rooms available." Good thing too, because he sure didn't want her sleeping down the hall form him, "Besides, you're going home in the morning."
"Oh, no, I cleared my calendar for a month. I might as well stay. If you want nothing to do with me, that's fine."
It was good for Sylvester that he was a thousand miles away, or Thaddeus would probably throttle him.
Friday night almost two weeks after Lars and Gretchen's wedding, Thaddeus took Edith to supper at a small café near the edge of town. While they were eating, she asked, quite plainly, where he had grown up.
"Where did I grow up?" he repeated, wearing a quizzical expression.
She nodded, "It seems as though you just sort of materialized in Milwaukee, but of course that can't be so. I'd like to know more about you."
"Well," he said the accent she had noticed before suddenly very obvious. "I was born and raised on my parents' farm near Chattanooga, Tennessee. My father died when I was fourteen, and we moved to Decatur, Alabama where Mother's oldest brother lived. I learned my trade from him."
Edith didn't say anything right away. She wanted very much to believe him; everything he had said sounded plausible- except it didn't account for why he tried to conceal the Southern accent. She was about to inquire on that point, when virtually out of nowhere a woman appeared beside him.
"Hello, Thad!" she planted a sloppy kiss on his left cheek, bending quite a ways over as she was an exceptionally tall woman.
Thaddeus' face colored a bright shade of red, although whether from embarrassment or anger Edith couldn't say, as both would be justified. "Lydia!" he exclaimed, "What a-… a surprise, seeing you here. I thought you were leaving town this morning."
"Oh, no," Lydia said, helping herself to the extra seat at their table. "I've got the whole month off, so I might as well spend it here with you." She smiled at him, and his face blanched. She turned to Edith, "And you must be Miss Bartlett."
"Eleanor," she replied hesitantly, not certain she wanted such a level of familiarity with this woman.
"It's good to meet you," Lydia said, flipping one of her blonde curls over her shoulder, "Thad talks about you all the time. It's so nice he has friends up here."
Thaddeus looked ready to say something, but Edith spoke first, "And you are?"
"Oh, how thoughtless of me. I'm Lydia Plum."
Edith had hoped that she was Thaddeus' sister, but she didn't act like a married woman should. For that matter, she didn't behave as a single woman ought. "And how do the two of you come to know one another?" Thaddeus looked alarmed by that question, which Edith found rather disconcerting. Why wouldn't he want her to hear the answer?
Lydia laughed, "How would you classify our relationship, Thad?"
"What relationship?" he growled, teeth clenched.
Lydia giggled again, "I guess you'll just have to use your imagination, then." She said to Edith. Unfortunately, that was exactly what Edith was doing, and none of the possibilities were good ones. This woman had all the propriety of a common doxy, and Thaddeus' affiliation with her didn't speak well for him.
Lydia chattered gaily throughout the remainder of the meal, thought she received barely any response from her companions. When Thaddeus finally brought Edith to her doorstep, he grabbed her arm before she could escape inside.
"Eleanor, I'm dreadfully sorry about the way Lydia behaved herself tonight. If I'd had any idea she might pull a stunt like that…" his voice trailed off and he shook his head.
"Who is she anyway, Thad?" she sneered a bit as she spoke the hated nickname.
He frowned, "Please, Eleanor, you know I don't like that."
"Well who is she?" Edith demanded, "It seemed to me that you two are awful close."
"Her brother is a very good friend of mine," Thaddeus said, "And what he was thinking, sending her up here like that, I'll never know."
Edith nodded, though she wasn't sure she believed him, "Okay," she opened the door, "Goodnight."
"Eleanor, please don't be angry." She slammed the door before he could finish.
Thaddeus left Edith's apartment, feeling rather dejected. He'd like to find Lydia and give her a good shaking after the evening's debacle. He couldn't care less how she felt about his relationship with Edith, but her behavior was monstrous. He couldn't believe Sylvester had just sent her to him without so much as a warning. Although… Thaddeus walked down to the telegraph office. Craig DeLancie, the night clerk, saw him coming, and smiled in greeting. "Hello, Thaddeus. Needing to send a cable?"
"Yes, but I also need to check and see if a wire came in for a friend of mine. Name's Hezekiah King. It may have been as much as a week ago."
"I know exactly where it is." Craig retrieved an envelope from a shelf behind the counter and slid it across to Thaddeus. "We've been speculating on it, since no one has heard of Mr. King. Friend of yours, you say?"
"Yes." Thaddeus picked up the pencil and began dictating his message to Horace, "His isn't able to come here himself, and only just remembered to send me after it." He tore off the sheet of paper. "Here you go. To the usual address."
Craig quickly translated the message into Morse code, and tallied up the fee. Thaddeus paid for his cable, thanked Craig for holding the other one, and left. Once he was in his bedroom, he opened the envelope.
"Roland B up to his eyeteeth in gambling debts STOP $1,000,000 missing from his law firm's bank account STOP Possible motive? STOP Also sending Lydia to help you with problem. STOP Barsabas Justus"
Thaddeus crumpled the missive in disgust. A lot of help Lydia was. If she didn't shape up, she might successfully compromise the assignment for him. He wasn't sure if Edith would be speaking to him after tonight. However, the part about her brother was certainly interesting. If he had embezzled the money to cover his gaming debts, and the firm thought Edith had a way to reimburse them- one million dollars was a lot of money; men had killed for much less. He considered wiring Horace that Edith's life might be in danger, and that he was moving her to a safe location, but wouldn't be able to contact him from there. That plan would kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. Edith would be safe, and hopefully Lydia wouldn't be able to follow them. Of course, he would have to reveal to Edith his true purpose in Thunder Bay, but that was okay; he felt he needed to do that soon anyway.
The next morning, Thaddeus went to the telegraph office and send a return cable to Sylvester, asking if he could get more information regarding Roland Braxton's gaming debts and the mission million. He would keep Edith in Thunder Bay at least until he got a reply, and watch her very closely. He also wired Horace Covington and said that he was likely going to move Edith soon, but wouldn't be able to disclose her location.
By nightfall, Sylvester had wired back that Roland had had debts with at least four bookies up until about four months ago when they were all paid in full. That only accounted for about half the money, so what happened to the remaining portion wasn't clear. Another interesting item Sylvester had mentioned was that Horace Covington had disappeared quite suddenly. Thaddeus worried someone had kidnapped him- or worse. The only good thing about that was he likely hadn't received Thaddeus' last message, and if someone was trying to use Horace to get to Edith, they didn't know where she was. But it would only be a matter of time before one of his telegrams was found, or someone took the one at the Western Union office, and then he would have to get Edith away quick. He wondered about taking her to Europe where it was unlikely they would be followed. Of course, they would have to get married before Thaddeus would be comfortable doing that- and idea he found quite appealing in its own right- but he didn't want to frighten her with all that unless it was absolutely necessary.