Sunday, August 19, 2007

Twenty One

After mass they followed the milling crowds into a building fronting the courtyard. The windows were open to the spring breeze and some of the ladies of the congregation had set out snacks, coffee, and a tea of rose hips and raspberry. Diana found Macy near one of the tables, nibbling a cookie.

"Where have you been?" Macy asked.

"I couldn't find you. I sat through mass with Libby."

"I thought maybe you'd snuck off with Sputnik. He's here, you know."

"What on earth makes you think I'd do a thing like that?"

Macy shrugged. "I know you've got some unfinished business with him. I wouldn't think there was anything wrong if you wanted to clear a few things up, so there wouldn't be no hard feelings."

"Well, he's not even speaking to me, so I guess that settles that." She looked around. "Where's Will and Coyote? Have they already gone outside?"

"Yeah, they're watching to see which way Strecker goes when he leaves." Macy finished her cookie and wiped her hands on her skirt. "I'm going to do a little spying." She indicated a middle-aged man who had an air of quiet authority about him. "I've been keeping an eye on that guy. I think he's someone important."

While Macy moved off into the crowd, Diana went to the refreshment table, but in spite of the appealing array of treats, nothing looked good to her. She slipped some cookies into her pocket and poured a cup of tea, then went to where a group of matrons in black huddled together gossiping. She moved slowly, head down, as if lost in gloomy thoughts. She took a seat nearby, sipped her tea and tried to listen.

"I asked him what I was supposed to do if he took all my hens. He just laughed."

"I would've shot him."

"No, you wouldn't have, Marta. Es hombre muy peligroso. And his guards, too. They follow him a todas partes. Kill one, the rest kill you."

"Speaking of his guards," one woman said, "Did you hear the latest? They say last week he hired a girl for her favors and after he was through, he forced her to service his men at no extra charge before he would pay."

"¡Qué cabrón!"

"I don't know how he has the nerve to come to church."

Diana sighed, wishing the ladies had more than just gossip to share. She needed information about Strecker's daily movements, not his sex life. She was wondering if she should seek out someone with better information when she caught sight of Robert. Straight and self-assured, he moved through the crowd, deep in conversation with the priest. When he saw Diana staring at him, he froze. He murmured a few words to the priest, shook his hand, and walked away.

Diana set her empty cup on the seat next to her and went after him. She pushed through the crowd at the door and chased him down the covered walkway, the sound of her footsteps echoing off the flagstones.

Robert quickened his pace. Diana hiked up her skirt and ran. "Robert!" She caught up to him and grabbed his arm.

"If you have anything to report, tell it to Libby. I'm late."

"Liar. You didn't think you needed to leave until you saw me." She held onto his sleeve. "Talk to me. Please? I need to tell you something."

"I can only imagine." He shook himself free and started walking again.

She tagged after him. "Why do you hate me?"

"I don't hate you."

"Then quit acting like it."

With a scowl, he stopped and yanked her into an alcove. "Fine," he said, letting her go so abruptly she nearly fell. "Make it fast. And try to make it more original than what I think you're going to say."

She stared at him, all her words of love and hurt confusion suddenly forgotten. What was it she wanted to say? Oh, he would never stand still for all those words, even if she could remember them, so she did the only thing she could think of: she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him. At first he didn't respond, but then slowly his arms closed around her. She could feel the heat of his hands through the fabric of her dress and she pressed herself against him as he pulled her close.

"I love you, Robert."

As if her words had startled him from a dream, he pushed her away. "What new game is this?"

"It's no game. You have to believe me."

"I don't have to do anything. Especially not for you."

"But I love you."

"Is that all you have to say? I'm disappointed." He turned to leave, nearly colliding with Macy as she came up the walkway. He mumbled an apology and hurried on.

Macy took in Diana's rumpled dress and devastated expression, but all she said was, "It's thinning out back there. I don't think we can get any more information today."



Alice Audrey said...

Tsk. I thought Diana was more principled than that.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Never underestimate the lengths someone will go to when they know they're trapped. Don't worry, though. I wouldn't have made her the central character if I didn't intend for her to grow up.

Alice Audrey said...

I'm looking forward to seeing that.