Episode 35: An Invitation | Scryer's Gulch
Tony Bonham's first thought when he woke the next morning was that he'd overslept. His watch, the treasured reminder of his mother, had not chimed the morning alarm as it usually did. He sat up, yawning; something furry had crawled into his mouth to whelp during the night, and he poured and drank a glass of water to drown it. The smell of coffee approached down the hall, probably on his man's tray. Won't he be surprised to see me still abed, Tony thought heavily.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. No, he won't be surprised. The morning fire had been lit in the grate, so Graham must have been in already. Disconcerting; the Bonham men had the habit of sleeping with one eye open, and yet Tony had slept through Graham's entry. Had he really drunk so very much last night? But there on his dresser next to the water glass sat the near-empty cut crystal decanter of brandy; it had been full at the beginning of the night. He'd drunk more than he'd thought, apparently. At least it had served its purpose; he'd gone the night ghost-less, or if he hadn't, he'd been too drunk to notice.
His mother's spirit had appeared to him twice before on Halloween, once in the city where she was buried, and once here in the LeFay. Thinking about it even now made him want to reach for the bottle, though the night was over and done for another year. He shuddered. To love her so much, miss her so much, and yet fear seeing her spirit every year...Tony often wondered why her spirit had followed him to the Gulch, at least on that one night.
His man Graham appeared in the doorway, as expected, with a tray bearing coffee, toast, more water, and two carefully unbroken raw egg yolks, each in its glass and decorated with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Tony swallowed down the first egg, keeping the yolk intact by long if now infrequent experience. Coffee, bitter, rich and hot, followed along with the toast; the second egg was deemed unnecessary. "Give it to the bulldog," he ordered.
"You bet, boss," nodded Graham, the street slang incongruous in his very British mouth. "Oh--and this came for you from the big house." He handed over a folded, sealed envelope.
"Mister Anthony Bonham, Hotel LeFay," read the front, in Charity's overly studied hand. "What does she want?" growled Tony.
"I didn't read it, boss."
"Rhetorical, Graham. That'll be all." He slipped his finger under the seal as Graham trundled out the door, tray in hand. The invitation read thusly:
request the pleasure of your company
for a dinner in honor of Miss Annabelle Duniway ...
Tony snorted. Typical gauchery from his stepmother: inappropriately formal, especially for Scryer's Gulch. Who would she invite? Not the Prakes, surely, and really, there was no one else of note to invite except perhaps Sheriff Runnels. Would that stiff-necked individual sit down at Bonham's table? Not without a food taster, thought Tony with a sour chuckle.
Rowland Barnes from the Independent Mountaineer? Possibly. L. Luther Lockson would certainly come, if only for the free dinner, but Bonham would never invite that chattering nincompoop, especially if Barnes was there; Bonham had Barnes in his pocket, but Lockson walked his own loquacious way, and the two newspapermen loathed one another.
Tony rasped a hand over his stubbly chin. What on earth prompted his stepmother to throw a dinner for Annabelle Duniway?
To be exact, a length of plum-colored silk she especially wanted had prompted Mrs Bonham, promised to her by Mr Bonham were she to throw the dinner party in honor of Miss Duniway. "We're remiss in not having her to dinner before now, Cherry," he'd said.
"I don't see why," she'd sulked, plucking at her wrapper.
"It's what the leading matron of a town does in the event of arrivals of notables such as a schoolteacher, my dear. She arrived two months ago, and we have yet to invite her to dine."
"If she's so important, why hasn't the mayor had her over?"
"You're going to cede our little social scene to Mary Prake?" He'd chuckled at Charity's expression of disdain. "Class, Cherry, it's what classy people do."
And so she'd written out the invitations: Miss Duniway herself; John Runnels; and Tony. She'd noticed Tony's approving glances in the Duniway woman's direction, but Charity fancied her own blazing good looks and charm far surpassed that colorless, insipid blonde; up close Tony was bound to see that.
True, that guest list technically left her a woman short, but Runnels would almost certainly decline, and there were no other unattached women of good character to invite. Not that Charity liked women at parties, anyway; she much preferred being the only hen among the roosters.
If Runnels did come, Charity aimed to turn his head. Runnels was handsome: hard-edged like Jed, but in a way that made Charity think of the old adage, "Still waters run deep"; she'd like to see just how deep for herself. Once she'd secured his interest, perhaps she might even take him as a lover. She couldn't imagine Runnels refusing her--what man could? Tony did only out of stubbornness and pride, and as soon as he calmed down, he'd be back; he couldn't resist her, she was sure of it.
Yes, she rather hoped Runnels would come. It would kill three birds with one stone: driving Tony and Jed both wild with jealousy; luring Runnels into her bed; and putting that snip of a schoolteacher's nose out of joint, for everyone knew she had an eye for the Sheriff.
Charity spread the plum-colored silk out on the bed. Could it be ready in time for the dinner? She thought it might. Now where was Mrs Walters? There was sewing to be done.