It isn’t for a few weeks yet, but already I have mixed feelings about it. Thanksgiving was the last holiday I spent with Auntie. She and I both knew I would leave before Christmas, and she wanted to know my exact intentions. But she no longer dared treat me like a child and insist I explain myself. And I couldn’t have told her my plans even if I had wanted to, since the only plan I had was to leave. It wasn’t until the morning I set out that I made my final decision, although I have no doubt Auntie, Will and Robert all think I knew from the start what I would do. And maybe I did. The preacher at Lee’s church says God knows what’s in our hearts before we do it, so it must be true that we make our decisions long before we realize it.
So my memories of last Thanksgiving are of going through the motions of celebrating. It should’ve been such a happy occasion—the first real Thanksgiving Auntie or I had since leaving Valle Redondo eight years before. But instead we circled each other the entire time, like fighters looking for an angle of attack, all the while smiling and being so nice and polite to each other that by the time Miguel stood at the head of the table to lead us in a prayer and carve the turkey, my stomach felt like it was full of rocks and the thought of eating was enough to make me sick.
So I guess this year can’t be any worse.
With a holiday on the way and the weather growing cooler, I went to a second-hand shop in Lexington today, when I did the mail run. I bought a couple sweaters and felt guilty that I’m not a good enough knitter to make my own. I can’t make good ones, at any rate. Not good enough for church or for days when I give riding lessons and have to look presentable in case any parents stop by check up on their child’s progress. I also bought a nice wool dress. It’s dark gray with a white collar and it reminds me of the one Susannah lent me back in Missouri. Maybe someday I’ll have pearls for it. Wouldn’t that be funny if I ended up a proper lady, after all!
I went to show Sam my new clothes before heading home, and he was nice enough to pretend to be interested. But men don’t really care about such things, and he had other matters on his mind.
“I don’t suppose you’re up for killing anyone?” he asked over tea, after closing up the shop.
“You’re joking, right?”
“Of course. But there’s some new developments with our phone company and there’s a man who, if he were to drop dead tomorrow, it wouldn’t be soon enough.”
I toyed with my teacup. “What is it this time?”
“He calls it a tax.”
“I thought Americans voted on taxes.”
Sam smiled. “That’s sort of true. But in this case it’s just a way for a politician and his buddies to get their cut of the action without admitting they want a bribe.”
He went on to tell me about some guy named McElhinney who heads up a local patronage organization. It sounded like a mafia to me.
“Why not just pay him?” I asked. “If he’s that powerful, then won’t he protect our lines from being dug up and stolen by metal thieves? This could be a good thing, don’t you think?”
“If the tax were in any way reasonable, yes.”
“But the mayor wants a telephone, so why doesn’t he—“
Sam waved a hand in annoyance. “The mayor’s just a figurehead. McElhinney and his cronies are the real power around here. And unfortunately they haven’t got brains enough to see that they’ll make more money by letting us get our phone company started cheap and taxing us later, than by taxing us before we’ve even begun.”
“Well,” I said, “I suppose if you really think killing him would help. . .”
Sam had been examining the cuff of his sleeve as if it held clues, but now he looked up, startled. “I wasn’t serious at all. And even if I was, it would do no good. One of his friends would just take over his patronage machine, and we’d be back at square one.”
“Okay.” I realized I had rested my hand on my gun out of habit. Now I made myself fold my hands in my lap, nice and ladylike. “So if you don’t want me to kill the guy, what do you want me to do? Steal some money, maybe?”
“Actually, I just wanted a sympathetic ear. But now that you mention it, if we could find a way to raise a little cash—legally, mind you—it might solve our problem.”
“McElhinney won’t ask for money again next year?”
“Perhaps. But once people see we can deliver the goods on the phone service, we’ll have enough orders to pay the tax. And besides, I'm guessing we can probably pay the next round of taxes in phones for party bosses.”
This made me smile. “They’d be good customers, wouldn’t they? They’d tell their friends, who are probably rich.”
“And then their enemies would want phones of their own.”
“Well, we’ll just have to find the money, somehow.” I got to my feet, so excited I was ready to run out the door and start approaching strangers with a tin cup, begging for nickels.
“Don’t go getting one of your crazy ideas,” Sam said. “If you and Lee go robbing a bank or something, I’ll be very unhappy with you.”
“Hey,” I said. “I’m trying to be a good Christian, remember? I’m not supposed to steal.”
“Or kill,” he reminded me.
“I know. I'm changing everything, not just my address, just like you said I should.”
I left Sam's shop in high spirits. But as I rode home, I couldn’t come up with a single good idea. And why would I? If I knew how to get money, I wouldn’t be poor! So I guess I’ll talk it over with Lee tonight and see what he has to say. There must be a way!