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They needn't worry. He slammed the lid of the trunk, closed the hasp. Go fetch me the savings, Lily. To undertake the tobacco speculation, Johnny had required a temporary commitment of our entire savings--one hundred dollars. I drifted to the parlor, dragging my feet, and took the tin cash box from my little writing desk.
I grit my teeth and counted out the savings. Five long weeks had fled since the tobacco speculation. The cash box held sixty dollars in creased Bank of Toledo certificates. The grocer will not refuse you more credit, he said, but he relinquished fifteen dollars. I will double our money on this venture. You said that about the tobacco speculation. Twenty dollars in Bank of Lexington certificates is not doubling our money.
I expected the anger that glittered in his eyes, but not the abashment and a wary, furtive look I'd never seen before.
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I will double our money, he only said in a tone that permitted no further protest. I'll take care of you, Lily. I promise. You needn't worry. Horse's hooves clattered on the road outside our cottage. There's my cab. The blackguard's actually on time. Go tell him I'll only be a minute. I hadn't mentioned his cobbler, his tailor, his barber, the landlord.
I shall seek employment. Engh told me he could use another seamstress. You, work in a shirt factory? Johnny laughed in a skeptical tone I did not appreciate. I adore you, sweetheart, but you can't sew worth a damn. I happen to know Engh pays fifty cents a day and he works his girls from six to six. As the driver clucked to his lathered gelding and the cab, a scruffy depot wagon, rattled down Shoreline Road, Johnny had leaned out of the window and blown me a kiss.
A brawny messenger boy banged on the back door and barged into my tiny kitchen as the sun blazed up and hovered like a bonfire on the tinder of the eastern horizon. You must come quickly! Alarm prickled through me and I set my morning cup of tea on its saucer with a startled clatter. I'd made an appointment to speak with Mr. Engh that afternoon, though it was only too true, I couldn't sew worth a damn. My mother had schooled me in literature, the sciences, history, mathematics, and mythology, but she had neglected the seamstress's art.
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I could, however, figure numbers in my head and practiced penmanship in my diary. Perhaps the shirt factory offered positions other than that of a seamstress. I intended to secure gainful employment any way I could, and Johnny Pentland would have to reconcile himself to that.
Still, I hadn't expected to confront him so soon. He's back? We ran all the way to Lake View Hospital, that brawny boy and I, breathless and sweltering beneath the ceaseless sun. But we were too late. I burst into the dreadful hospital room stinking of blood and pain just as a doctor tugged limp lids over Johnny's lifeless eyes. The lips I'd kissed only yesterday morning grimaced with rigor mortis.
A policeman stood at the bedside, observing Johnny's passing with all the tenderness of a Doberman pinscher. I'm sorry, madam, the doctor said. A dour pouchy man with wisps of colorless hair pomaded over his balding pate, he bestowed upon me a look of such forbidding sympathy that I had to wonder if Johnny's passing was my only or my greatest sorrow.
Once the liver fizzles, there's nothing we can do. I drew myself up, bristling with indignation. I am Mrs. Pentland and this gentleman, sir, was my husband. That saloon. Johnny Pentland never could stay far from drink, I knew that only too well. A fizzled liver, then. But something else jostled in the back of my mind. Hadn't our own Toledo Blade published a scandalized editorial about that saloon?
How it was just far enough from our righteous municipal limits to escape legal censure and only too sinfully close to tempt even our most respectable gentlemen into pleasures of a fleshier nature than smoking and drinking? How a lady employed by that saloon had been detained downtown by the Toledo police for conduct unbecoming on a city street?
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Would you care to speculate, Mrs. Pentland, the policeman said with an insolent grin, what business Mr. Pentland may have been pursuing at the time of his collapse? The dour doctor handed over the contents of Johnny's pockets--four pennies and a tin cigarette case. I stepped away from the bed and opened the case. I was riffling the rolls of tobacco, wondering where I might resell them, when I discovered beneath them a brass key. Well, well. I curiously turned the key over and around in my hand, acquainting myself for the first time with its shape and heft.
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It was not the key to our cottage. Johnny never took that key with him on his travels. We'll want to speak with you again, Mrs.
Pentland, said the policeman. After the coroner has got an eyeful of the buzzard. The doctor coughed again. It's the odor of chloral hydrate, madam. It wouldn't be the first time knockout drops killed a man. Especially a man who drinks. You know anything about that, Mrs. Where were you last night?
I did not recall walking home, though I must have, for I eventually found myself there.
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