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A Threat Received

Florence ordered the chicken breast broiled with almonds, steamed broccoli, and Caesar salad. She watched while Shorty ordered the 16 oz T-bone, mashed potatoes, and green beans. She decided on the white chardonnay while her partner selected the Budweiser.

“I doubt if the Caesar dressing will have anchovies,” she remarked as the waitress wandered off. Her comment was intended more to break Shorty’s gaze at Hilda’s figure than it was a comment on the haute cuisine of Bradley’s Steak House.

He turned back to her with a guilty start and asked her about her real estate business.

“You know I’m not talking about that man,” she told him, referring to Cabot Fleece.

He drained about half his glass of water, licked his lips, and decided that he ought to use his napkin. He played around with his spoon and fork, standing them up, intertwined like lovers.  “It wasn’t on my mind at all,” he insisted.

Florence wondered why Shorty was suddenly so nervous. He’d been pestering her for months for a date, and now that she’d finally accepted the idea of eating supper with him, he’d begun acting uncharacteristically shy. “What’s the matter, Shorty?” she asked him. “There’s something bothering you.” Statement, not question.

Shorty finished his glass of water and looked toward the service counter. “Now where could Hilda be with our drinks,” he wanted to know, stalling and dabbing at his mouth for the second time in less ten seconds.

Florence sat back and looked around her. It was relatively early and there were only a dozen people scattered at tables across the room. The dark paneling was restful after the bright glare of cloudless skies outside, and the red tile floor was cool. Later, the Steak House would fill up with noisy, beer-drinking ranch hands and lonesome salesmen looking for a little action. She smiled to herself, maybe at one time they might have found entertainment, but everyone and everything had moved on from Walfer Falls. There were only a few hangers-on—she was one of them—who either couldn’t get away or were attached to the town with other sorts of unbreakable ties.

Hilda served Shorty’s beer first and then placed Florence’s wine in front of her. That was the way of it, she thought. The men get all the attention. Even Shorty noticed this lapse on Hilda’s part and looked embarrassed. “Hilda, I’m here with a real lady,” he said.

The waitress looked amused. “I know sweetie. I also know where my tip comes from.”

The waitress was trying for rough humor, but Florence knew better. Hilda could be a regular bitch. “How about some more water for the man? Did you notice his glass is empty?”

Hilda looked pure daggers at Florence. “And after all the customers I’ve wined and dined in this place,” Florence said after Hilda left them.

This time Shorty kept his eyes on Florence and not on Hilda. He couldn’t decide whether the woman was being serious or joking. “I can’t lie to you, Florence; I gotta tell you something.”

Crap. Am I going to get a proposal? What is this man about to confess to me? “Whatever it is, Shorty, I don’t want to hear it,” she said.

“Oh yes you do, Florence, and I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t say it.”

So it’s not about me, it’s about your guilty conscious.

“Is this what’s been bothering you?” she wanted to know.

“I know a fellow down in Austin, and I owe him a lot of money,” he started out.

“Sorry, Shorty, I don’t loan friends money unless it’s for cancer cures,” Florence said immediately.

Shorty looked embarrassed. “No, I promise that it’s nothing like that. It’s that he’s been asked by another fellow to keep an eye on you ‘cause you stirred up something troublesome with that Cabot Fleece.”

“So how did anybody know about that?” Florence was taken aback and a little angry. “Have you been talking about me?”

“No ma’am, I promise. I don’t know how they knew, but these people have their ways and they can be very unfriendly.”

“Are you talking about your friends?”

“Oh no, they were afraid for your safety so they asked me to look out for you.”

Florence thought that Shorty might be exaggerating his role and told him so.

“I can take care of myself, thank you,” she said.

“I’m sure you can,” he said apologetically.

They were interrupted by the arrival of Florence’s salad and some hot rolls with four pats of melting butter soaking into the napkin lining the basket. Hilda was trying to be nice this time when she filled Shorty’s glass from her pitcher and even asked if she could top up hers.

“Thanks,” she said somewhat insincerely to Hilda.

“I guess she finally remembered that I bring in clients,” she told Shorty as soon as Hilda has sauntered away.

“So, what do these friends of your want me to do?”



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