“I’m sorry, Mr Lamb... the taxi was late, then there was a nutter in town holding up traffic with a rubber gun or something...”
Edward had not dressed for the occasion. He looked up from his newspaper just long enough to constitute an acceptance of her apology; she patted at her hair while the waiter filled her glass, murmuring the name of the dark vintage softly. On the wall a gilded mirror reflected her hunch and she sat up as though kicked, William’s risqué warning making her ears red and keeping her legs together under the table. The thought of taking refuge behind the menu dissolved as she saw that it was couched entirely in French. Her gaze climbed the text toward her host, only to discover that Edward had put away his newspaper and already begun to subject her to a visual exam. His presence gained volume in the quietude, rolling toward her as though from some distant, submersing ocean; the more she looked at him the greater its disturbing influence became and the more he seemed revised by it in turn.
“I um... I don’t speak French. Do you know what’s nice?” She picked up her glass and drank its contents in a long draught. "Anything with chicken..."
“I don’t eat flesh.” he replied.
“Oh... sorry." With her random selection entrusted to the waiter, Susan accepted another charge of wine, her empty stomach conveying its effect immediately and supporting the idea that decisiveness would stand her in better stead than timidity. “Do you think you’ll stay at that house? You'll probably have to do something about the roof before winter.” When he failed even to glance up in reply she set her elbows on the table, took her head in both hands and stared down at her knees. “Mr Lamb, if you’re letting me go, can you please just get on with it?” she urged. “Sitting here waiting for it's doing my head in.”
Edward listened to the clicking of her jaw, then stood up from his chair.
“I’ve decided not to pick up your contract. You can finish the week, or not, as you prefer.” he informed her, watching her blanch, then flush. “Excuse me.” he added, departing without further explanation. A youthful waiter stepped aside for him, watching him go then grinning at Susan in his stiffly buttoned shirt, leaning over the flared white plate he set before Edward’s chair.
“That guy’s a right bastard.” he whispered in a Glaswegian accent, craning his neck to look around them. “Not a fucking tip in five years.” She watched in fascinated disgust as he hoiked quietly over the bowl, adding a gobbet of phlegm to the broth and swirling it into the liquid with a slow rotation. He winked at her and she scowled at her own plate, at which he shook his head. “No love, you’re okay, have a go... it’s great soup.”
Reaching out, Susan dealt the remaining wine into her glass and quaffed it swiftly, considering herself no more beholden to civility than her erstwhile host. Edward returned before she had decided how to address the actions of the devious, expectorating attendant; watching him resume his seat, she sat motionless while he dipped his spoon into the soup, her breath banking behind her frown.
“Mr Lamb...” she murmured, leaning forward with a hand to her mouth. “Don’t.”
His strange eyes rose to hers. “It’s... cold, and horrible. Just... have them take it back.” He inclined his head once more. Susan's stare followed his spoon toward his chin until her hand burst through the intervening flowers, pulling his bowl into the blooms and almost scuttling them both. “The waiter gobbed in it.” she sighed, dropping back into her chair and hauling up the neck of her dress. He glanced down at the bowl.
“He said it's because you’re a bastard.”
Edward reclined a moment.
“Do you enjoy working at Commoriom Drive?”
“Not really, no. I just needed the job.”
"I'm interested in employing you in a private capacity." Her surprise, and then suspicion prompted his admiration for the unfailing nature of her instincts.
"I can't leave La Rue Personnel... I owe fees."
"Does she hold any of your documentation?"
"No... but I knew three girls who couldn't pay, and they disappeared... everyone says if you don't cough up, she has you deported."
He stood out of his chair again and walked around the table, pausing to drop a cheque for her first month's wages at her elbow.
"So I still have a job, then?" Susan scowled when he refused to concede any explicit confirmation. "I'll need a contract..."
"I'll have one drawn up. I have to leave." Edward told her, frowning slightly as she stared at him relentlessly, as though fearing he would retract the offer to punish her credulity. “Stay. It’s on me.”
The Scottish waiter smiled as Edward approached the kitchen door and slid a folded banknote into his hand in acknowledgement of his efforts. From the exit he glanced back into the private alcove; Susan sat as he had left her, staring blankly as the soup was replaced with a plump chicken breast and fragrant puy lentils.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
B U Y T H E B O O K - E P I C D A R K F I C T I O N $3.99