Tony Hannen put the glass of scotch and dry on the table in front of the woman and slid back into his own seat. Had she looked up at that moment, Cathy Roberts would have seen him glance quickly down at his watch. It was a cheap one and he intended getting a good one soon, but it had to do in the meantime and told him that he had already wasted an hour, and good money, to no advantage. This was the third time he had taken her out, if going to the pub could be called that. She liked scotch, which was expensive, and was costing him money he could ill afford on the pittance Ralph Grey was paying him at the service station. He would give it one more evening then give the game away. Or this particular game anyway. There were always others, but probably not too many in a one-horse town like this.
He drank some beer, put the glass back on the table and leaned back in his seat.
‘So, work tomorrow?’ he asked casually.
‘Friday, yes, clean up a bit for the weekend.’ Cathy smiled at him. She was much older than he, probably well over thirty, he thought, thin and pale faced with frizzy, rust-coloured hair.
‘The house must be a lot to look after. It’s a fair size, I suppose?’ He was giving her a lead but he must be careful, he had asked her that before. She did not seem to notice.
‘Big enough,’ she said. ‘There’s plenty of work to be done, I can tell you. Not that I mind that, it’s what I’m paid for.’ She laughed.
‘Isn’t there anyone to help you?’ Tony sounded concerned.
‘No, Mrs Linton doesn’t do much except cook for herself.’ Lest this should sound critical Cathy added, ‘ Sometimes she does a bit, but why should she? She’s getting old and hasn’t been too well lately. There’s an old guy comes to mow and do a bit of gardening once a week, sometimes twice if it needs it.’
Tony pushed his glass around on its coaster. He did not look at her. ‘Some of those old girls have got a ton of stuff.’ he said slowly. ‘All of it’s got to be cleaned, I suppose, like silver. God, who’d have silver. More trouble that its worth, I bet.’ He emptied the rest of the beer into his glass and watched the froth rise.
Cathy picked up her glass and took a sip. ‘Silver?’ she said, ‘Don’t mention it! Bits and pieces everywhere. And pictures! You’ve never seen so many. Lucky I don’t have to do anything to them, only do the frames with a feather duster once in a while.’
‘Old house, is it? I mean, like old timber doors and so on?’
‘Mm, it’s pretty old, I should think. Nothing to look at from the outside, but big rooms and high ceilings. Plenty of cobwebs.’
‘I wish I could see it; it would be interesting. I like those old places,’ Tony said cautiously. ‘I remember when I was a kid, visiting my grandmother, she had a huge old house.’ He decided to embroider a bit. ‘Out in the bush it was, miles from anywhere. Plenty of horses and cattle.’ Actually, he could not remember his grandmother, who died when he was a small boy and, in any case, had lived in a small terrace house in Sydney.
Cathy drank the last of her scotch and dry and put down the glass. She reached for her handbag and stood up.
‘Well, I’d better go. I’ve got to be up early in the morning. Thanks for the drink.’
‘Have one for the road?’ Tony asked quickly. It would take all the cash he had on him but might be worth it.
Cathy smiled at him. ‘No, really, thanks all the same. Perhaps another time.’ She hoisted the strap of her old black bag onto her shoulder.
‘Ok. I’ll run you home.’ Tony followed her outside.
‘I can walk,’ Cathy said, ‘it’s not very far.’
‘No, come on.’ Tony unlocked his old brown van and opened the passenger side door for her before going round and getting into the driver’s seat. He hoped no coppers were around as he knew he was over the limit. Better go the back way. He knew where Cathy lived as he had taken her home once before. She had a flat in an old house on the outskirts of town. They covered the short distance in silence. When they pulled up in front of the house Cathy hesitated then asked Tony if he would like to come in for some coffee.
‘No, thanks.’ He spoke shortly. He had bought drinks he could not really afford and had got nowhere. ‘I’ll give you a ring sometime.’
Cathy did not have a phone but there was one in the hall which she could use, but seldom did. She got out of the van and closed the door. She was really quite relieved that Tony did not want to come in, but on the other hand she sensed that he was becoming bored with her company and might not ask her out again. She wanted to retain his interest as he was the only person she really knew in Elderston. There was one offer she could make that might please him. She bent to the open car window.
‘Tell you what,’ she said, ‘if you’d really be interested to see the house, pick me up in the morning. I’ll put my bike in the back of the van.’
Tony was stunned. He had been angling for this all evening and at last she had asked.
‘What about the old girl?’
‘Don’t call her that,’ Cathy said sharply. ‘I wouldn’t have said it if she was going to be there, would I?’ She lowered her voice. ‘She goes to Mt Archer on Fridays to see her sister. She’s in a retirement home there. She has to leave before nine as she likes to be home by lunchtime.’
Tony tried not to seem too eager. ‘Ok,’ he said casually. ‘What time do you go?’
‘Nine till eleven-thirty, Mondays and Fridays,’ Cathy said. ‘You can have a look at the place and then leave. But what about your work?’
‘No problem. I’m only doing three days a week at present, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.’ He was, in fact, supposed to go five days a week, but had no hesitation in taking a day off when it suited him..
‘That’s ok. Then come about a quarter to nine. Don’t be late.’
Tony drove home, hardly able to believe his luck.. He remembered when he first heard Mrs Linton’s name. He had been working at the service station for only a few weeks when a white hatchback had pulled in to the bowsers. An elderly woman got out to talk to Ralph Grey while he filled the car. Grey was unusually affable and lifted the bonnet to check the oil and water, chatting as he did so. When the woman had driven away Tony asked who she was.
‘A nice lady, Mrs Linton,’ Ralph replied. ‘She always comes here for fuel, or if she has any trouble with the car. You wouldn’t think it but she’s got plenty of money. Her old man made a mint and never parted with a brass razoo from what I hear.’
Another car drove in and he walked back into the office, leaving Tony to deal with it. Tony got on with his work, thinking hard. He had heard the name Linton somewhere and only recently but for the life of him could not remember when. Later on it came to him. It was mentioned by the woman in the park about a month ago. She was sitting by herself on a bench and he sat down at the other end to eat his lunchtime sandwich. After a short silence he looked at her and passed the usual sort of remark about the weather. They started chatting and the woman told him that she had lived and worked in Elderston for about five years. When Tony asked her where she worked she said that she did housework for a Mrs Linton and also did a bit of sewing. He had not seen her since, but Ralph’s remarks made him think that perhaps it might be worth trying to renew the acquaintance.
Tony thought the chances were slight but he started going to the park in his lunch break. By the end of the second week he was prepared to give up, he would just give it a few more days. It didn’t really matter anyway. The next day he saw her sitting in the same place smoking a cigarette. It was easy to take things from there.
They exchanged names. Although Cathy was reserved by nature she was pleased to have someone so nice to chat to. Her marriage had broken up more than six years ago and there were no children. She knew that she was not in the least bit attractive and was surprised and flattered when Tony asked her to meet him for a drink after work, especially as he looked a good deal younger than her thirty-two years. He was kind and friendly, fair-haired with rather deep set blue eyes. She barely hesitated before accepting his offer.
Tony made all the running and asked her out a few times. To her quiet pleasure he did not seem to mind that she was older. Certainly he did not keep glancing at other women when they were at the pub. She felt comfortable with him. He was interested in her and where she worked. Young men were not usually so curious about domestic matters.
Prices in Australian Dollars
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