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Pat Mattaini Mestern
Chapter One

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Chapter One

Author's Note

The headwaters for most of the rivers that flow into the Great Lakes of Erie, Huron and Ontario are spawned in the high country of southern Ontario where the majestic limestone spine of the Escarpment sweeps north from Niagara Falls to Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula. Swamps, bogs and forests still line the upper tributaries of rivers such as the Saugeen, Grand, Credit, Nottawasaga and Humber. Small villages and towns nestle in valleys and on fertile bottom-land along the banks of these impressive river systems.

In particular, the Saugeen runs sparkling and clear through the counties of Grey and Bruce. Gathering waters from its tributaries, the North, Rocky, Beatty and South, the Saugeen courses through narrow rock-strewn channels before spilling onto a wide plain to complete its journey to the shores of Huron. Along the way it increases in volume with waters from artesian wells, peaty bogs and the Long Swamp.

It was to this part of Ontario that two young, wealthy gentlemen from the British Isles came during the early 1800s to establish new roots. They had been persuaded by rising estate prices in Britain and Scotland to raise their families in Upper Canada, where lands and labor were still cheap. It was their belief that by making such a move, they could ensure that future sons and daughters could ultimately own large tracts of land and continue to enjoy the lifestyle and amenities to which both families were accustomed. These men were yet to discover that Canada was a great leveler of race and class.

The two chose land along the Saugeen River, and by the mid-nineteenth century owned, between them, twelve thousand acres of beautiful valley, upland meadow and forest. They used their accumulated wealth to develop a model community, calling it Millbrook. The village's best acreage ran along the river valley, then over hill and dale on the north and south boundaries. In proper British fashion, the community was laid out around a square with main streets running parallel to the Saugeen. Water energy was harnessed by High Falls Dam, at the eastern edge of the village. With abundant water power and the availability of large quantities of wood, Millbrook was an ideal site for industry and commerce.

If the two founding families had been compatible, the future of Millbrook would have been greatly altered. As it was, the Anderson Clan belonged to the Free Scottish Kirk, and the Harris Family were strict Calvinists. By the end of a power struggle that lasted twenty-five years, Millbrook became the exclusive domain of the Harris family, while the Andersons withdrew to an impressive estate on the south boundary.

Although three generations of Harrises provided employment for villagers in their factory, their possessive and insular attitudes prevented the establishment of any new industry. In plain terms, Millbrook was a company town, and that company was J.P. Harris Ltd., manufacturer of quality housewares.

Millbrook's social life was dictated by the Harris family's frugal and religious attitudes. Dancing, smoking, drinking and other pleasurable pursuits were discouraged when one belonged to a church that retained the strictest of Calvinist rules. Indeed these activities were forbidden on pain of dismissal for anyone who worked for the Harris family. Although most people worshiped at the large, austere Memorial Church on the square, the first J.P. Harris had grudgingly let Irish Catholic farmers build, and worship at, a small church on Spring Street, several blocks north of Main.

Prospective villagers were put through a rigorous screening process before being allowed to purchase property. J.P. Harris II had allowed several Italian families to settle in the community, among them his gardener Antonio Inachio and Franco Adamo, a greengrocer. Greek culture was represented by the Kropolus family who purchased the China Inn from a disgruntled factory employee during a visit to England by J.P. Harris. The name China Inn, having been bestowed by the locals, had nothing to do with Chinese culture or food. The moniker referred to the fact that J.P. Harris II had insisted that good china be used for table service.

Although Harris's son J.P. the third had inherited his father's insularity, by 1947 cracks began to appear in his hold on Millbrook. He spent a lot of time away from the village. Harris was a traditionalist who believed a female's place was in the home. He dealt poorly with the influx of women doing factory work during the Second World War. The most unsettling circumstance, in the eyes of even the most diehard company men, was that he had begun to hang around Stanley David Compton, a shady, small-time land developer with a penchant for profanity and gambling.

The village of Millbrook was ripe for change. The war was over. People were restless, and personal relationships strained. Men had returned from the front physically tired and suffering from war-inflicted psychological problems. Jobs were few. Pay was low. Labor unions were forming across the country. Perhaps the prophecy of Zizou, the matriarch of the Roma that paid the village a visit every spring and autumn, would come true. "The first builds; the second maintains; the third destroys. The first wine pressed is pure, the second is distilled and the third is putrid," Zizou whispered to those who would listen.

 

 

Chapter 1

September 25, 1947: afternoon

A broad grin broke across Daniel's craggy face as he stared at the naked child sitting on the roof of the barn. At first he couldn't believe what he was seeing, but the sheer exuberance of the comely girl made his heart soar alongside the white dove she was enticing to land on her outstretched hand.

Oh, to possess the uninhibited freedoms of childhood once again, Daniel thought. A bit ashamed, even in his amusement, that he'd so enjoyed seeing the girl in her nakedness, he turned his eyes to the house. Like flame to match, a flick of recognition passed through Daniel's mind, then subsided into his murky memory.

The view from the highway belied the actual size of the building. Expansive lawns and mature trees muted and softened its impact on the eye. The imposing two-story stone structure, with its gabled attics and wide, covered verandahs, was the epitome of Georgian architecture. Its verandah with inviting wicker chairs and large potted plants beckoned weary travelers. Lace curtains hung at windows open to catch fresh September breezes.

Halfway down the driveway, Daniel smelled baking bread and hot, spicy vinegar. His rumbling stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten for over a day.

"I'm here to do a job so I may as well get on with it," he murmured. With suitcase in hand, he climbed the steps. Knocking on the front door took more courage than Daniel had anticipated.

"I'm coming," a female voice called from the interior. Footsteps clipped across wooden floors. Then she stood drying her hands on a large print apron, peering at the stranger before opening the screen door. Two large calico cats flew past Daniel's feet as she did.

"If you insist on running ahead of me, you'll get tramped on," the woman scolded the cats. "They do that all the time, trying to trip up an old lady." She now spoke directly to Daniel. "You must be Mr. Cudzinki. We held lunch because we thought you'd be hungry after the train ride."

Daniel smiled, bowed and extended his hand. He nodded, pleased with what he saw -- comfortable body, a beautiful, time-caressed face with extraordinarily deep brown eyes and a ready, friendly smile.

In a voice with just the slightest hint of an East European accent, Daniel said, "It's my pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Inachio. I came in early, so took the opportunity to walk from the station, to stretch my legs. Unfortunately, I got carried away with the beauty of the area and extended my stroll past arrival time." Daniel bowed slightly. "You shouldn't have delayed lunch."

"It isn't a problem, Mr. Cudzinki. We serve a cold meal at noon on wash day. Nothing's spoiled or burned. Come in. I'll show you to your room. Theresa turned from the door. "By the way, it's Miss Inachio. "

Daniel stepped into the foyer, a space alive with color even after the sunlight outside. The impressive hall was more art gallery than private reception area. Oil paintings hung on walls. Statuary graced the newel post of a wide stairway that led to the second floor. High, ornate wooden arches supported a corniced ceiling. Beyond the arches a radio played, buoyed by a boisterous contralto voice.

In answer to his quizzical look and unspoken question, Theresa Inachio said, "Sharona loves to sing. You'll get used to it. Come on. I'll show you to your room."

Both walls in the stairwell were also hung with paintings. As Theresa led the way up the broad sweep of steps, Daniel stopped to give several closer scrutiny. One that depicted an early morning landscape caught his attention and again Daniel experienced a fleeting snip of recognition.

Theresa turned to see why Daniel had stopped climbing. "That work is by the former owner of the house. She loved to paint local landscapes. Pretty, aren't they?" Theresa pointed toward the second floor. "Your room's this way."

"Sorry," Daniel said. "I'm fascinated by . . . " His voice trailed off.

"I must confess that I was surprised to get your letter," Theresa said as she pulled herself up by the handrail. "My rooms are usually taken by travelers and salesmen who see the sign hanging out front. Sometimes people hear about the place from friends who've stayed. It's unusual for an individual to reserve by letter."

"I wanted to ensure you had a room available," Daniel said.

Theresa stopped and, running her fingers along the polished rail, turned to look at Daniel. "I was even more surprised to read that while here you're planning to look for some connection to the Anderson family."

Daniel cleared his throat. "A member of my family may have had such a connection."

"That's interesting," Theresa said. "Well, you're lucky you came to Millbrook now. A hydro crew is coming through mid-October and they've booked all of my rooms then."

They'd reached the top of the stairs before Daniel had nerve enough to ask, "What is that child doing on the roof of the barn?"

"You saw her."

"Yes. Stark naked and playing with a white dove."

"Dear bless me!" Theresa whirled and strode into the back hallway from the head of the stairs. "Pense," she shouted through an open window. "Pense! Get down at once and put your clothes on! I've told you countless times not sit on the roof in that state of undress."

Coming back to the head of the stairs, Theresa shouted, "Sharona. Sharona!" The singing stopped. "Pense is on the roof again and she's not got a stitch of clothing on her body." A screen door slammed.

"Apologies, Mr. Cudzinki. Pense is an unusual girl, I'm afraid, quite unimpressed by rules. You might meet her at lunch. I'd appreciate it if you'd just try to forget what you saw. I promise that she won't do it again while you're here. Thank God that we've no neighbors living near enough to see her in that state!"

"It didn't distress me, Miss Inachio, but I am curious as to why a child would sit God's cloth on a dangerously high roof."

Theresa's eyes were bright, her laugh a chesty trickle of energy. "The better to look over her mountain, Mr. Cudzinki, and she can't stand clothes. She loathes shoes. Don't we all?" She laughed again. "When you were a child, didn't you ever run naked and barefoot through long grass?"

Daniel grinned. "I admit that I did so on many occasions. But . . . isn't she frightened of heights?"

"No, she loves being up there. And fortunately, it's not a high barn." Theresa put her hand on Daniel's arm, "Your room's this way. I've put you in Mr. Anderson's former bedroom. It's spacious and overlooks the front lawn. Pense, Sharona and I have bedrooms off the back hallway. Needless to say, that area is off-limits for boarders. The bathroom's here." Theresa pointed toward a closed door. "It's shared with Johnny Wallace, Sharona, myself, and of course, other paying guests. There's an occupied sign on the back of the door. Hang it on the knob when you're using the facility."

"You said mountain, Miss Inachio. I didn't see any mountain nearby." Daniel followed behind Theresa along the upper front hall.

"That little issue doesn't faze Pense. For her, mountains materialize from molehills." Theresa opened the door to Daniel's room. "You've paid for the first week. The door locks but I can't find the key. You wouldn't need to lock your door anyway. I think you'll find everything you need in the room. Sheets are changed once a week. Ask Sharona or myself for clean towels."

She turned to face him squarely, her hands clasped in front of her. "Any questions?"

"I can't think of any at the moment."

"Well then, we'll eat in fifteen minutes in the kitchen. It's downstairs, to the left in the lower hall. The first room is the library and the second is the dining room. Go straight along the corridor, past the dining room, to the kitchen. Do you want me to call you in ten minutes?"

"That's not necessary," Daniel said. "I've got a watch." He fingered the timepiece in his pocket but thought better of showing it. "If I recall from our correspondence, lunch isn't included in the price."

"It is today." Theresa turned from the bedroom door and started for the stairs. "Ten minutes, then?"

Daniel closed his door gently and leaned against it.

Dordie, miri mort. The woman was like a clockwork toy, staying ahead of her would be a challenge. He surveyed his kingdom.

The tidy room looked comfortable enough. Pale green walls were hung with paintings -- loons on a northern lake, a Scottish croft beside a loch, an autumn scene of river and hills. Once again, Daniel experienced a fleeting spark of recognition. A night table stood beside a bed covered with a colorful quilt. A large writing desk with a straight chair dominated a corner. An ornate chest of drawers with a mirror shared a wall with a built-in closet whose door could be locked. The nicest touch was a comfortable arm chair pulled up to a window overlooking the lawn. Beside it was a revolving book rack and reading lamp.

The handwritten card propped against the chest's mirror reinforced the house rules -- $7.00 a week in advance -- breakfast & supper, sheets & towels provided. No smoking, entertaining or drinking hard liquor allowed in the house.

Fair enough, thought Daniel. After all, it is a private residence. Mr. Anderson's books were surely still in the bookcase -- Dwight's Turkish Life in War Time, Dana's Muck Manual, several of Abbot's Pioneers and Patriots series, Steinmetz's SubtileBrains and Lissan Fingers. What one would expect of a gentleman of his time. He pulled Smalilou, by Yoxall, from the rack. "Now here's a surprise." Perhaps there had been more to the old man than he recognized.

"May as well settle in." Daniel removed clothes from his suitcase and placed them in the chest's drawers. Not bad, he mused, for the sort of shopping he'd done to assure that he had a suitable wardrobe. He found it difficult to select the right size off a clothesline, when in a hurry and in the dark. Daniel was especially pleased with the suit that he'd won off a gadje's back in a poker game, after he'd deemed it necessary to own one. A toothbrush, comb, clothes brush, straight razor and bar of soap were set out on the night table.

From pockets, Daniel produced an envelope of money -- $143.27 at last count -- the working mechanism of a pocket watch and a white linen handkerchief. Daniel tucked the handkerchief into the back left corner of the middle desk drawer. The watch went back into a pocket. The envelope of money went into the suitcase that was then locked in the closet. The closet key dropped into the same pocket as the watch. With a toothbrush in hand, Daniel went to tidy up for lunch.

 

 

Daniel descended the stairs with slow, deliberate steps. He stopped to admire the artwork again, taking the opportunity to rest his weary body. Glancing into the mirror at the foot of the stairs, Daniel smiled at the image. As long as a man with swarthy complexion, collar-length white hair and a trim figure looked back at him, he was satisfied.

At the kitchen door Daniel came face to face with Pense, a willowy slip whose thick brown hair hung loosely to her waist. This time, she was fully clothed.

Daniel's stomach churned as huge luminous green eyes matched him, stare for stare. His hand went to his pounding heart, and his breath came in audible gasps. My God, he thought, it's her! I was right. She's much younger, but it's definitely her.

As Pense dropped her gaze and stepped aside so Daniel could pass, a woman's voice scolded, "Don't you be late, Pense. Come home when you hear the six o'clock whistle."

Daniel felt a steadying hand on his arm.

Theresa was at his side. "Are you all right, Mr. Cudzinki? You've gone quite pale. Sit down -- here, beside Sharona." She led him toward a chair at the kitchen table.

Daniel shook his head, looked around and then sat down heavily. "I . . . I'm fine. I've a . . . heart condition that sometimes puts me off a bit."

"Strong coffee, that's what's needed for a weak heart." Theresa grabbed the coffee pot from the cook stove and filled Daniel's cup. "Drink up."

Sipping the strong brew, Daniel was able to take a close look at the woman seated beside him. So this was Sharona.

Sharona, black hair in a neat bun at the back of her graceful neck, sat quietly taking in everything about Daniel's appearance.

Daniel felt uncomfortable under her gaze but met the challenge head-on. Inclining his head, he said, "I'm at a disadvantage. We haven't been formally introduced. You are?" Daniel offered his hand.

"Sharona Aventi."

"I hope that my little faint didn't alarm you. I'm inclined to take weak spells now and then. And I confess I haven't eaten in some time."

Sharona shook his hand but didn't answer. Instead she stared at him.

Bengalo daj. Daniel averted his eyes and turned his attention to the room with its wooden floor bleached from years of scrubbing. Tall glass-fronted cupboards lined one wall, the sink was in front of a window on another. A wood-burning cookstove dominated a corner. A tall flat-back pine cupboard stood against the third wall. Several rocking chairs were pulled up close to the stove. The kitchen table and chairs were in the centre of the room, handy to everything. Walls were painted buttercup yellow and again oil paintings hung in every available space. One painting in particular drew his eyes like iron to a magnet and set his heart racing again.

Theresa noticed Daniel was staring at the painting and said, "Startling, isn't it? The former owner liked bright colors. She painted that picture. I think that it tells the story very well."

"And what might that story be?" Daniel kept his voice low, trying to gain control of the second shock for the day.

"The silhouette is that of a man standing on the top of Pense's Mountain. He's playing a violin and the sun is setting behind him. That's why the picture's all gold and orange and black. She hung the painting in the kitchen so she could hear his music simply by looking at the picture."

"It surely does have impact."

"Magdalena used to say that hers was a wondrous house with all sorts of genius touches and comedic relief," Theresa said. "Looking at the picture, I'd have to agree. She entitled it Silhouette."

"Magdalena." The name fell softly from Daniel's lips.

"Yes, Magdalena Anderson." Theresa placed a platter of cold roast beef on the table beside a plate of sliced bread. "Eat," she said. "We'll have no fainting around here."

"I've not been in many places where paintings were hung in the kitchen," Daniel said.

"It was a little eccentricity of Magdalena's and now of mine. The attic's full of paintings. Mr. Anderson collected fine art work and Magdalena was a good painter herself. There's no sense leaving them to rot so I hang the ones that appeal to me. There are only so many walls in a house so the kitchen gets its share. There are even a couple hanging in the pantry. Paintings are my windows on the world." Theresa pointed to several large canvases of English landscapes. "As depictions of the countryside in the Chelfont St. Peter area of England, these held sentimental value for Maggie and me. Another cup of coffee, Mr. Cudzinki?"

Sharona pushed the platter of meat closer to Daniel. "Te den, xa, te maren, de-nash!" She smiled at him as though expecting an answer.

"Sharona," Theresa said. "Mr. Cudzinki doesn't understand Romane. Don't confuse the man."

Sharona responded with a barrage of questions. "Doesn't he? Don't you speak Romane, Mr. Cudzinki? I've a feeling that you do and that I've met you before, in a different situation."

Easy does it, Daniel thought. Take it slow and easy. She's fishing. "I've not had the pleasure of your company before. You may have known someone who looked like me."

"Where'd you come from?"

"Windsor," Daniel said.

"You stayed at the Station Hotel. That was on the envelope you used when booking a room with us." Sharona gestured in Daniel's direction with her fork. "I meant what country are you from."

Daniel smiled. "Does it matter what country? I'm in Canada now."

Sharona asked the question again. "You've got the most peculiar accent." Her eyes on Daniel, Sharona listened carefully to his reply.

"I'd say that I'm speaking proper British English," Daniel said. "That could be considered peculiar, I suppose, the way people are fracturing the English language these days. Let's just say that I'm a displaced person, made homeless by the war."

"I'd say that you've lived in eastern Europe. I've heard that accent before. Why'd you choose to visit Millbrook? What's the nature of your visit?"

"I've some business in the area."

"What business?" Sharona wasn't letting up with her interrogation.

Daniel thought quickly. "Finance. Property."

"You'll be dealing with J.P. Harris, Ltd., then?" Theresa interrupted. It wasn't like Sharona to be so forward with boarders. She usually didn't have much to say to strangers. "Most travelers have business with Harris. He owns the only factory in Millbrook. Even if you don't, your paths will cross at some point during your visit. Harris will see to that."

"I overheard people talking about him on the train," Daniel said, glad that Theresa had changed the subject. He hadn't expected to be confronted on the first day. Daniel made a mental note not to let Sharona catch him so easily in a corner again. "And everywhere one looks in Millbrook, there's evidence that he's an important man. A sign on the factory says J.P. Harris, Ltd. I saw Harris Avenue, J.P. Harris Civic Square, J.P. Harris School."

"You're sharp," Sharona peered at him closely as if trying to pierce a disguise. "You've been here only four hours and you took note of such things?"

"It's so obvious," Daniel said. "His name's on everything."

Theresa cleared Daniel's empty plate from the table. "Harris likes it that way and people don't complain," she said. "Anyway, it wouldn't do any good if they did say something. They'd be talking into thin air. Nothing would change."

"It's that way, is it?"

"It's been that way for the last ninety-three years, Mr. Cudzinki." Theresa slid the plate into the waiting dishpan. "Let's talk about something a little more positive. Your letter said that you may have a connection to the Anderson family. I'm surprised because, frankly, I thought Magdalena was the end of the line."

Daniel cleared his throat, giving him time to think through his answer. He didn't want to lie. He wasn't ready to tell the truth. "My trip's for several reasons, one being to look for a connection. I believe that a member of the Anderson family was involved with mine. Let's just say that I'm here on business but also fitting a bit of family research into my stay."

"Well," Theresa said, "If I can help in any way, ask. There aren't many around here know more about Anderson family history than I do. They were a very closed-mouth group."

"I appreciate the offer." Daniel stood, then assisted Sharona to rise by holding her chair. May as well surprise the lady on her own turf, he thought.

Startled, Sharona smiled then thanked him for his courtesy.

"My pleasure." Daniel executed a slight bow. "Thank you for dinner . . . lunch, ladies. If you'll excuse me now, I'm going to walk down to Main Street. There are a few necessities I need to purchase, tooth powder being an important one."

"It's nice to see someone practice a few manners around here," Sharona said. "You wouldn't know there was a gentleman in the house by the way Johnny acts."

"You must be referring to the Johnny Wallace who was mentioned as living here."

"Why don't you go by the feed mill and introduce yourself," Theresa said. "He's loading oats this afternoon. Johnny's been curious about our new boarder all week. If you'd be so kind as to tell him not to be late for supper tonight." Theresa reached for the bread plate. "I forgot to tell you that breakfast and supper are served in the kitchen when there's nothing special to celebrate."

Daniel shook his head and laughed. "You people have peculiar word terminology. I'm used to English names for various meals. Here -- breakfast is breakfast, dinner is lunch, high tea is supper."

"You lived in England long?" Theresa asked.

"I did," Daniel said. "It was a pleasant place to reside."

"Someone I knew very well lived in England," Theresa said. "But that was a long time ago. I used to dream about visiting England. . . . "

"Dreams do come true," Daniel said."You just have to believe enough to make them happen." He glanced toward the silhouetted picture.

"If only that were true, Mr. Cudzinki." Theresa's eyes sparkled.

Daniel's smile lit the room. "Oh you can believe me. If personal experience is testimony, dreams do become reality, wishes are fulfilled." Why did he have an overwhelming desire to tell this woman everything? The picture had loosened his tongue. Best to get back to solid ground. "As I don't wish to rattle any sabers on my first day in Millbrook, is there anything I should know before my little foray into the bowels of the village?"

Theresa laughed. "If you're late for a meal, don't use the excuse that you got lost. Streets are north and south; east and west roads follow the river. Just remember that it's a closed community. People won't be too friendly until they get to know you. There's one other thing, Mr. Cudzinki." Theresa went back to clearing the table, working around Daniel who was standing behind his chair, eyes again on Silhouette. "If you play cards, wait for an invitation before you barge into the Old Boys' Clubroom behind the garage. That club's not open to the general public. You have to live in the village awhile before you're invited."

"Advice taken, Theresa," Daniel said. "May I call you Theresa?"

"If I may call you Daniel."

"I'll answer to that name. If you hear me referred to as Count, don't let it bother you. It does slip out occasionally. I hold the title but none of the amenities that go with it."

Theresa's eyes mirrored her surprise. "You're a nobleman? A Count? As in The Count Daniel Cudzinki?"

Sharona turned from the sink to give Daniel a critical look. " It's difficult to live in the skin of a monkey," she said, "but to walk the stride of a lion. Is that not so, Mr. Cudzinki? Does the title not fit the man?"

She's sharp, Daniel thought. He smiled at both women. "It looks good on paper, ladies. In England I was known as The Count Daniel Vincent Cudzinki. Here, I prefer Daniel. I try not to use the word Count. Again if you'll excuse me, I'll go wreak some havoc on the village."

Daniel left the house and was well down the street before he realized that Sharona had rattled him so much with her questioning he forgot pocket-money. Daniel smiled. Sharona was one to watch. He'd have to be more careful around her. He couldn't let anyone derail his purpose for being in Millbrook. On the other hand, Theresa and Sharona could prove helpful. The advice about the Old Boys' Club was timely. He'd know soon enough whether or not he needed to breach its flimsy palisade.

Daniel cut quite a figure along his route. He bowed and tipped his hat to every woman he encountered, doing it impulsively, with little thought to consequences. Out of habit, he greeted the men that looked him in the eye and silently passed those who didn't. Some people turned and looked at his retreating figure, wondering what they'd done to deserve such a salutation. A few, after returning his greeting, wondered who the man wearing the odd-fitting suit might be.

By his own reckoning, Daniel's time in the village was going to be short. He knew that he couldn't waste too much in pleasurable pursuits. His first stop was Long's Jewelry Store. Lured by a display of gold watches, Daniel lingered at its window before entering the shop. The most worldly thing he missed was his gold, bejeweled pocket watch. It was the first butji he owned so many years ago. By its measured ticking, the minutes and hours bound him to gadje time.

Daniel ended his walk at the feed mill where he asked for Johnny Wallace. A short, barrel-chested man pointed toward the far end of the loading dock. "Name's Joe if you're askin'. Still is if you ain't. Ya cain't miss Johnny. He's the big un." Joe shifted a wad of chewing tobacco into his left cheek and spat in the direction of Daniel's shoes.

"I wouldn't do that again if I were you." Daniel waited until Joe retreated into the mill. Mark one against that gadje, he thought, sauntering down the platform toward a team of good-looking bay Clydesdales hitched to a farm wagon. Daniel ran a hand down one of the broad heads, letting it rest momentarily on the soft muzzle.

"You appreciate good horseflesh, do you?" a voice said.

Daniel looked around for the source of the deep, resonant voice. "I'm surprised in this day and age to see such a fine team."

"A lot of people are, but I like driving 'em. It's slow going but the best way to travel." A muscular giant of a man came round the side of the team, curly blond hair leaping from his head, piercing blue eyes on Daniel's face. A ham-sized hand reached to stroke a muzzle. "These fellows take their lead. They know how to get home. I just sit up there an' mull things over. I couldn't daydream and drive my Sunday motorcycle, could I?"

"I don't suppose you could," Daniel said. "You're Johnny Wallace." It was a statement, not a question.

"I am. An' who're you?" Johnny's eyes searched Daniel's face. "Have we crossed paths before?"

Ignoring Johnny's question, Daniel extended his hand. "Daniel Cudzinki at your service."

"Theresa's boarder." Johnny shook hands, matching strength for strength until he thought he'd better let go. "Yuh've got quite a grip for an old fellow. What's your name again?"

"The Count Daniel Vincent Cudzinki. I'm Daniel to most people."

"Formal name's sure a mouthful. How the hell did yuh come by that rack of words?"

"It's far too complicated a story to relate today," Daniel said. "Catch me when I've nothing better to do than reminisce. Theresa said I'd find you here. Said I should introduce myself because you were dying of curiosity about her new boarder."

"Theresa's a good woman." Johnny went back to his work. "Look. When I'm finished loading I'm going to The China for a cup of coffee. Wanna join me?"

"You buying?"

"It's that way, is it?" Johnny said. "Okay, I'll buy."

"You don't happen to smoke and perhaps have some tooth powder in your back pocket too?" Daniel's grin was infectious. "Forgot my pocket money."

Johnny roared, pulled a hat from his pocket and slapped it on his head.

"Don't smoke myself," he said, "but I've a friend or two I can hit up for a cig or three. I'll meet you at the restaurant, over there -- across the Square." Johnny pointed in the direction of the China Inn. "We call it 'The China'. Greeks by the name of Kropolus run it."

"I'll just skip across J.P. Harris Civic Square." Daniel smiled.

"As long as you don't skip across Harris's bow." Johnny took up the joke. "Look. I'll be fifteen minutes. Here's a dollar. I'll see you over there, okay?"

"You trust me with your money having only met me?"

"You won't get far if you take to the hills. And yuh can't get to Detroit on a buck."

Daniel laughed.

"Look," Johnny said, scuffling his feet in the dirt. "If you want work, I could use some help at the farm."

"Thanks, but I'm not sure how much time I have," Daniel said, then corrected himself. "What I mean is that I don't know how long I'll be staying in the village."

"No problem. I just thought if you're needing money I'd give you a job. I'll finish loading the wagon. If you're hassled at The China, tell 'em you're with Big John Wallace. They'll leave you alone."

"Why would anyone give me a problem?"

"There's been a lot of drifters through the village since the war. Someone might take exception to your accent, thinkin' you fought for the wrong side. An' if they take the notion you're Italian or German or Gypsy, they'll give you a really rough time. Harris doesn't like 'em so everyone has to hate them. Some of the men that fought in the war have some very bad memories of Krauts and I-ties too."

Daniel liked Johnny Wallace. He was a man who showed his colors and spoke his mind. It was secretive people that caused him problems. "I'm a survivor, Johnny. I've heard it all. Don't worry. I'll get on all right. I've a thick skin."

Johnny nodded. "Right, then. See you at The China."

It didn't take Daniel long to encounter his first two vigilantes. They were standing in front of the China Inn, a two-story wooden building that had obviously seen better days. B. Chambers, Grocer, the colored glass sign read over the front door. Windows were clean but bare of decoration except for a second yellow, blue and red wooden sign that stated, "China Inn -- Good Food Cheap."

Daniel expected unpleasantries when the pair didn't step aside for him to pass. One was tall, thin and stoop-shouldered. Expensive clothes hung oddly on his spindly body. He was bald, had veiled, watery eyes and thin, colorless lips. A hawk-like nose sprouted from a sea of gray skin. Daniel immediately thought of a Cave Bat.

The second man, standing beside Cave Bat, was tall with flushed complexion and large pig-like nose. His eyes were steel-blue slits under bushy eyebrows. A fringe of wispy, dull brown hair ringed his bald head. His somber black suit was in keeping with Cave Bat's but hung on broader shoulders. He resembled a circling buzzard, feelings under control, eyes always on the lookout for dead meat. An undertaker, Daniel was quick to surmise. Their eyes always gave them away. Undertakers looked at people as though they were constantly measuring them up for a coffin, always saying stupid things as they grazed the body.

"You the fellow that Johnson brought from the station?" Buzzard asked.

"No," Daniel said. "I walked from the station and I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting a fellow by the name of Johnson."

"You staying in town long?" Cave Bat asked.

"I don't consider that anyone's business but mine," Daniel said. "Have I had a formal introduction to you two?"

His question was ignored as Buzzard continued. "You're not from around here, are you?"

"Is this the Spanish Inquisition? Am I accused of a crime? Who's Johnson?"

"It's unusual for a stranger that hasn't business with the factory to arrive midweek, especially one with a queer accent."

"It's nice of you to be concerned about me but it's a free country. I didn't see that the village was surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards," Daniel said, his suspicions confirmed about Cave Bat. "Now, if you don't mind, step aside and I'll take my leave."

"You a friend of John Wallace?" Buzzard nodded toward the feed mill. "You were talking to him a few minutes ago."

"I am," said Daniel. "Now if you'll excuse me." He was going to push through the pair but thought better of the idea and walked round them. There'll be time enough for a confrontation, Daniel thought. At the door of the China Inn he met two young women hurrying out.

"Excuse me." Daniel doffed his hat and pointed toward Cave Bat and Buzzard. "Can you tell me who those men might be?"

Both women took a look. "The one in the grey suit's J.P. Harris."

"And the one in black?" Daniel asked.

"He's Compton. He used to be an undertaker but's into land dealings now."

"Ah-ha! Thought so," Daniel said. "Thank you, ladies. To whom do I have the pleasure? Before you answer, could I ask you another question?"

 

 

By the time Johnny arrived, Daniel was seated in a back booth, a cup of coffee on the table, a smoke in his hand.

"Who'd you bum the cig from?" Johnny said, looking around the restaurant.

"One of the lovely ladies I met at the door after I crossed that bow we were talking about. Had a little run-in with Cave Bat and Buzzard, Harris and Compton to you. By the way, here's your buck. Coffee's on the house."

Mrs. Kropolus arrived with a fresh pot, warmed Daniel's drink and poured a cup for Johnny.

Johnny roared. "Yuh rustle free coffee off Mrs. K. Yuh try to pick up two strange women and yuh give the two most influential men in the village names that just happen to fit 'em like a second skin. Mind you, those names do have a nice ring to them. But don't use them too freely if you're lookin' for a job in any of Harris's businesses. Few people around here will appreciate the joke. The sun rises and sets on The Factory. Company men live an' breathe The Factory, eat an' sleep The Factory. And nothing escapes Harris."

Warming to the subject, Johnny doffed his hat. "The question is why that pair hangs around together? They've not much in common. Harris says that he doesn't gamble, drink, smoke, dance. You know, all the pleasurable things. He doesn't know what he's missing, does he?" Johnny laughed. "Strong rumor has it that he must have danced once because he has a daughter. Compton indulges in 'em all, and more. The only things those two have in common are money and mayhem."

Johnny took a handful of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. "Here, I bummed a few smokes for yuh. This should keep you going for awhile. When I'm finished here, I'm headin' for the farm. Yuh wanna come?"

When Daniel shook his head, Johnny continued. "Then tell Theresa I'll be on time for supper tonight. I've got a bottle in my room. We'll talk some more this evening."

"Doesn't Theresa have a rule about drinking hard liquor in the house?" Daniel asked.

"Rule doesn't apply to Theresa's friends," Johnny said. "And besides, rules are made for breaking, aren't they?"

Mrs. Kropolus refilled Daniel's cup. "You ordering something?" she asked Johnny.

"Mrs. K, you were suckered by this fellow. You don't give me free coffee."

"He's an old friend of the family." She winked at Daniel.

"If you're going to get to your farm and unload before supper," Daniel said quickly, "you must drive like a bat out of hell, Johnny."

"Nah. Farm's just on the other side of Pense's Mountain. Land backs onto Theresa's property."

"That's the second time I've heard the word mountain and there's nothing in the area that resembles one."

"Mountains are where you put 'em," Johnny said, tipping his cup for the last of his coffee. "Valleys follow close behind. Pense thinks her hill is a mountain and who're we to argue? Look. I'll see you at supper time."

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