the deacon mystery (part two)

This story started here.

After we left the book sale, my employer and I walked slowly down the hill toward the center of town.

We walked in silence, but for once it was not a comfortable silence.

My employer seldom got actually angry, although she was becoming skilled at performing imperious anger when she thought it might be useful, or fun. However, she did get annoyed from time to time, and she was annoyed now, and I had no idea why.

Actually, I did have a hunch. If I’d been forced to guess, I would have said that somebody had tried to pay her to investigate something.

Any attempt to buy her interest with money was doomed to failure. As she had said in the past, in similar situations, she was not a public convenience, and she earned her living by writing, not by investigating.

Once, when she’d been offered a very large sum of money — at a time when we’d really needed it — to do something both uninteresting and morally questionable, she’d glanced at me to see if I would protest and remind her about our impecunious situation, but I’d remained silent. She took that, correctly, as my vote about what kind of firm I wanted to be part of.

Of course, based on her expression, this was not the time to ask her if my guess was correct.

I was using the borrowed hand truck to transport the stack of books my employer had purchased at the sale. There were eight substantial hardcover volumes, plus one small — and apparently rather racy — paperback (which we had tacitly agreed not to discuss).

My plan had been as follows: to return the hand truck to my friend Mickey at the News Store, to get a sturdy paper bag there which I could use to carry the books down the block to the Wagon Wheel, to have a pleasant supper at the Wagon Wheel, and then to call a taxi to get us, and the books, home.

But a meal at the Wagon Wheel would have been arduous, if not excruciating, with my employer in her current mood.

However, even when she was annoyed, my employer was usually aware of how she was behaving and the effect it might have on the people around her. So, as we passed the Wagon Wheel, she gave me a rather apologetic sidelong glance, aware that her disgruntlement had forced me to adjust my plans for our supper.

“I know,” she said cheerfully. “Let’s try that new sandwich shop!” She pointed, probably wishing there was some universally understood hand gesture which conveyed not only direction but also: “It’s not very far from here!”

I shifted the paper bag of books I was carrying, to make sure I had a firm hold on it, and followed her down the sidewalk toward the end of Main Street.

The sandwich shop was on a side street, on a narrow strip of land between the pavement and a small, swampy inlet. The building itself was tiny, basically a kitchen with one window where you placed your order, and another where you picked up your food when it was ready.

It seemed to be mostly a lunch establishment, but it was open, and it was what we needed. We ordered our sandwiches and then we sat at one of the picnic tables and drank coffee while we waited. We were the only customers.

“I saw Jo at the sale. How is she?”

This was clearly just making conversation, since we’d both seen Jo only a few days earlier, but I appreciated the effort.

“About the same,” I replied. “She bought one of your old books, by the way. Behind Enemy Lines.”

I didn’t know anything about the book myself, except that I had the impression that it had been the subject of some sort of controversy while we’d been out of the country.

My employer winced. “I was glad to be rid of that one. Bad books are a fact of life, but when they’re signed by the author, with an overly effusive…”

She made an abrupt chopping motion, closing that subject.

 
To be continued…

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