According to the file, Mrs. Oswald Chambers fell off her horse when she was ten, was shipped to Saint Stephens where her father was a board member, and was promptly abandoned for a year, where she stopped growing altogether and to this day measures four foot nine. In that time of confinement her only visitor was the Honorable Bedford Chambers, an unmarried uncle who spent an hour each day reading the newspaper aloud and asking her opinion on world events. Twenty years, two science degrees, and a few well-timed poisonings later, Oswald took the helm at General Coal as its heir-apparent.
“Didn't think I'd run into you. Small world.” Chambliss emptied the teacup down the kitchen sink. “You saw Oswald. She won't come inside.”
“I read up on her.” I cracked the window and blew out smoke. “Lots of naturalist publications on Amazonian nightshades. You sure know how to pick 'em."
"Say the same for you." He pointed a be-ringed index finger at my sleeve. "Was that Jack?"
I didn't look down at a brown trail of old blood. "Cops." I exhaled smoke on the word, still feeling the sheriff's meaty grip on my arm and wondering if he chopped his own firewood. "Jack's a good man. Money's even better."
"I hear ya. Work's work, my girlfriend and I were invited to spend Easter at Jane Fonda's moon ranch and rocket fuel ain't cheap.” Fog rolled out of the fridge as he poked around. "Fuck I'll have to kill one of the livestock."
“Give Krystal a squeeze for me,” I said.
I walked toward the back, admiring a Sargent watercolor series from his Venetian period in a vestibule that kept a separate refrigerator packed with bottled water so guests wouldn't get their dirty fingers on the kitchen, and stopping at "El Jaleo" while I examined the room without turning my head. New track lights along the crown moulding. Sensors by the windows. Past that a white circular driveway with a fountain and a garden of angular trees out of a Japanese woodblock. Something stared at me from under a chair. I waggled my fingers at it and walked out the door.
“Hello?” I called into the darkened orchard. I called a second time before venturing on. Nobody like surprises. Especially not from rich white folks who bought a mountain-top so that their eye might not be offended by the sight of trailers, ski slopes, or trash in a bloody shirt and an armpit holster like Cracker Renfield crashing the wedding reception.
"Good evening Ms. Chambers." I said, exhaling smoke. "I hope I didn't interrupt anything."
Oswald wore a blue gingham dress and a white apron with her initials stitched on the pocket. Curly blonde hair that hung past her waist. One might mistake her for a child from the back, if not for the hands spotted brown like a fish. She was neck-deep in a pit with a mound of freshly turned earth beside her.
"You came with Jack." she said between shovel-fulls.
"You saw us drive up."
"Who do you work for?"
"Jack hired me, he's executor for his father's estate and needed a driver."
"Who do you work for?" She did not look up nor pause in her labor.
I watched her over the end of my cigarette. "We had problems with some businessmen at the Commonwealth Labs in Alabama last year. Stockpiling chemical weapons underground where satellite wouldn't catch them and selling the lat/longs to pirates off the coast of Mexico."
"And did the businessmen die or go to jail? I bet they're still in jail."
I tapped ash. "They're somewhere."
"Sounds a lot more exciting than being a chauffeur. Think you'll go back to your old job?"
I looked back at the mansion, Jack's silhouette in the window as he bent over documents. "Haven't decided."
She looked up. In the moonlight her face was all bone. "Give me a hand, will you."
Oswald did not ask me. Back at the house, I could hear Chambliss wringing a chicken's neck and stumbling toward the tool shed for an axe. He came within a stone's throw of me, but his night vision was shit and I did not call his name.
I flicked the cherry off my smoke, tucked it in my shirt pocket, and climbed down.