A Kaligirl Production
“Scott?” Pulling the door of his study to behind him, he paused, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit room. “Is that you?”
It was the fireplace, though burning quite low, that kept him from wondering if he would be able to see his hand in front of his face. Of Scott, all he could see was a silhouette, sprawled rather neatly in a chair by the dying fire, his arms draped over the chair’s arms, both hands occupied.
“Good evening, Sir.” Scott’s voice was low, almost husky, and very nearly lost in the pop and crackle from the fireplace.
The door clicked softly as Harlan finished shutting it and moved to the floor lamp positioned behind the chair across from his grandson, his footsteps muted in the plush carpets. “Geoffrey told me that I would find you in here,” he said, patting the mantel top for a box of matches.
“And here I am, found,” Scott said, raising what appeared to be a snifter to his mouth.
“I know the market rate for oil has spiked of late, my boy, but this is ridiculous.” Harlan said, striking a match and lifting the glass chimney. “Why didn’t you have Geoffrey light a lamp or two for you?”
Harlan frowned. “Then what are you doing, sitting here in the dark?”
“I like the dark,” Scott said, picking up a crystal decanter from beside his chair and replenishing his drink.
Listening to the slow gurgle of pouring liquid, Harlan paused, before carefully replacing the lamp’s chimney and adjusting the wick. His gaze settled on his young grandson. Scott hadn’t removed his cravat, only loosened it, nor his waistcoat, though it was unbuttoned; and it looked as if he’d thrown himself down in that chair some time and a few drinks ago.
“How was your evening?” Harlan came round and sat in the matching plush leather chair opposite Scott.
“My evening?” Scott paused for a moment, contemplated the contents of his glass before taking another sip and giving his attention back over to the fire. “My evening was quite interesting, actually.”
“Dinner with the Harrison’s generally is.”
“Dinner was pleasant enough.”
“Robert told me that his daughter is home from school,” Harlan said, feeling his way through his grandson’s inscrutable mood. Mercurial on the best of days, it had been a touch and go business with him these last few years. Scott had been all but out of Harlan’s control since his return from the War. And they both knew it.
Scott cut his eyes at him, his expression as implacable as a cat’s, before slowly returned his gaze to its haven amongst the embers.
“Barbara is fine,” he answered, leaving Harlan with the distinct and slightly alien impression that he was prying, even though he really hadn’t been.
“I thought you were going out with some of your own school fellows after dinner,” Harlan plowed on. “I’m surprised to see you in this early.”
“Yes, I had just left the Harrison’s and was on my way to meet up with Thaddeus and Charles when a curious thing happened.” Scott turned from the fire to study the middle ground on the carpet between himself and his grandfather. “I was approached by a Pinkerton agent.”
“A Pinkerton agent?” Harlan asked, the impact of the news detonating across his face. Scott lifted his eyes, looked directly at his grandfather for the first time since the older man entered the room, barely catching the fleeting expression of surprise before Harlan re-mastered his face.
“Yes, Grandfather, the Pinkertons.”
“What do the Pinkertons want with you?” Harlan sat forward in his chair. In the new light of the room he could see that it was a calling card which Scott seemed to be weaving between the fingers of his right hand, folding it into a tiny square and then unfolding it again to the point of rendering the thing near trash.
“Evidently,” Scott dropped his eyes back to the carpet, “my father wants to see me.”
This softly spoken little piece of information jarred Harlan’s attention back up to Scott’s face. “Murdoch Lancer?”
“I’m told he’s the one.” Scott apparently did not care to hide the caustic touch of sarcasm that had slipped into his voice as he returned his grandfather’s undivided attention.
Harlan’s own eyes narrowed at the tone, but he let it slide as a thrill of panic shot through him. He stood up to hide it. “What does he want?” the older man asked, pacing over to the sideboard, his back to his grandson as he poured himself a drink.
“Didn’t say, exactly,” Scott said, taking another sip of his own drink, his tone now working oddly somewhere between combative and conversational. “I guess I’d have to go out to California to find that out.”
“Absolutely not!” Harlan thumped the decanter down much harder than he’d meant to, and turned on Scott in sudden fury. He re-crossed the room to stand in front of his grandson. “I expressly forbid it!”
The beginnings of a smile crept into the corner of Scott’s mouth and his eyes narrowed. “You forbid it?”
“What in devil’s name would you want to go out to that god forsaken wilderness for?” Harlan demanded, ignoring the acid in Scott’s tone for the time being. “And what is Murdoch about anyway, sending Pinkerton men to approach you? He doesn’t even have the common decency to write, send a letter to your home? It isn’t as if your whereabouts have been some sort of well kept secret.”
“An interesting point you make, Grandfather; one I would like to address.” There was something new in Scott’s voice, a rather ominous undertone and his face all but froze with the little smirk still in place.
“Just what are you driving at, boy?” Harlan had quickly regained his composure and his voice carried its own forbidding undertones which should have had Scott reconsidering himself.
And it seemed to work, if only for a second; in the next, though, Harlan watched as the blood in Scott’s veins ignited. A fire blew through him, hot, incinerating caution, to say nothing of any well ingrained lessons in manners and respect. This, Harlan knew, was when Scott was at his most dangerous. There was a ruthlessness to his grandson that, if it could be harnessed, would make him a real force to be reckoned with. When he got into a bridge burning mood he usually went about it methodically, remorselessly, and without a look back.
“Well, it’s not as if I’m the Scarlet Pimpernel, Grandfather. If my Murdoch Lancer has known all along where to find me, even after all of these years,” Scott said, his tone clipped and hard, “then why, indeed, did he feel the need to engage Pinkerton men to contact me?”
“You’ve got a lot of nerve, young man,” Harlan knocked back half his drink, “sitting here under my roof, getting drunk on my good Scotch, and accusing me of such utter nonsense as hiding you from your father in plain sight.”
“Well, as it happens, this is not your Scotch, Sir. This is a bottle that I received as gift on my twenty-first birthday. From my father.”
“A What?” Another bomb detonated across Harlan’s face, this one so unexpected that it took a bit longer to recover from than the first and, though he held his ground, he found himself on the verge of also asking ‘how?’
“I had wondered at the time why on earth he would start sending me presents, much less birthday presents, at this juncture. I just didn’t understand it,” Scott continued, and he seemed to retreat into himself, as if he’d temporarily lost track of the fact that Harlan was in the room. “I couldn’t bring myself to drink any of it; couldn’t bring myself to pour it out either. So, I saved it.
“I never got anything from him again, not even so much as an answer to my thank you note. I was beginning to think the man was dead when this Pinkerton agent turned up, seemingly out of nowhere, almost three years to the day, and with the most extraordinary message.” Scott looked genuinely amused, as if he might actually start laughing. “He wants an hour of my time.”
Scott did chuckle now, a hollow echo of a thing, and drained his glass. “I know. Most extraordinary. Anyway, I figured tonight was as good a night as any to get into that bottle, even if my actual birthday is still a few days off. And I’ll tell you something else, for an allegedly uncultured oaf of a Scotsman, at least where the Whiskey is concerned, he knows what he’s about.”
“How much of that stuff have you had?”
“Not enough, I don’t think.” Scott said, his voice suddenly distant and flat. “I’ve just been sitting here, thinking, you know. Wondering—why now?”
“Well, who knows what goes through that Scotsman’s mind.”
“I certainly wouldn’t.” Scott, his attention abruptly wrenched back to the here and now, tossed the mangled card on the end table beside him. “But I’m guessing you do, Grandfather.”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, boy.” Harlan had recovered himself and this time did not let the cool sarcasm slide.
“I asked you a question—Sir.” Scott was relatively unmoved and the empty snifter followed the card with a dull thump.
“I have no idea what goes through that man’s mind, or who he thinks he is. But I do know this, you are not going to California.” As soon as the words were out of Harlan’s mouth he saw that he’d miss-stepped, knew that dictate had lost him the argument as Scott’s features hardened with resolve, but he pressed on. “And if you persist in this childish defiance I will cut you off, freeze all of your accounts. Don’t think I won’t.”
“Oh, I have no doubt of that, Sir.” Not only was Scott apparently unconcerned, but that dangerous little half-smile reappeared. He stood up suddenly. “And neither, evidently, does my father.” Taking the decanter with him and forcing Harlan to take a step back, Scott started to leave the room. “He’s already paid for the whole trip.”
“He what?” This last bomb dropped Harlan into the seat Scott had recently vacated. “Where are you going, Scotty?” His softened tone was an attempt to mitigate his half of the conversation, and it might have worked, might have gone a long way toward unbending Scott, but for the use of that diminutive.
Scott paused at the door, one hand on the knob. “As a matter of a fact, Sir,” he half turned back into the room as he pushed the door open, a slow, calm smile crawling across his face, “I think I’m going to go to California.”
“We’re not through here!” Harlan thundered to himself as the door banged firmly shut behind his grandson. Angry, un-used to being cornered, he snatched up the calling card Scott had earlier tossed on the table. Agent Welby’s name was barely legible in one of the torn creases. He filed the name away in his memory and the card in his pocket, his mind already at work on the various ways to skin this cat. Why now, indeed. Harlan planned to have a little talk with Agent Welby and this mess sorted out before he sat down to dinner tomorrow night. Scott would be going out to California over his dead body.