Marty reckoned Danver's as a bitch. Not in the way that term is usually applied, but in his own way the old guy was a bigger bitch than his son Eric. Sure, it had been Eric that put out for him, but Danver's showed a special kind of bitchiness. He hadn't accepted lightly an employee interfering with his kin and had thrown him out of a job.
Marty should have known better of course. He was wise enough to foresee the risk he was taking the moment his boss's son appeared on the scene - a cute fella getting experience in daddy's business while on a break from college - but Marty was never one to let want go to waste, and the moment the horny teen started to roll his sweet young butt around the office he'd taken an interest.
It hadn't required a lot of effort. Whatever it took to attract a guy Marty had in spades, and he couldn't resist making use of it. A little friendly banter by the water-cooler and a couple of near-the-knuckle remarks over a sandwich, and Eric was his.
By the end of the first day the college boys trousers were drooped around his ankles and Marty was giving his beautiful fundament the benefit of seven inches of solid meat over his daddy's desk. His dick had been moving like the piston-rod in a steam engine and the juice was flowing when old Danver's burst in.
That was the end of a nice well-paid job in accountancy for Marty, and although the old guy was too feeble to beat him up on the spot he threatened to have a couple of professional thugs with iron bars make a visit to break his bones. And Danver's meant what he said. He was that kind of a bitch.
Marty had taken plenty of risks in the past and got clear away, but this time the cards hadn't fallen right for him and he decided he should get out of town. That's what anxiety does, it persuades a person to get out of uncomfortable situations fast. Leopards, big spiders, ugly guys coming across the river with spears, and vicious hoodlums wielding iron bars. All need be avoided if possible.
Things looked dismal. Gone were his job and his Company car, and there was no redundancy payoff. He had no supportive friendships, and although he had a brother and sister in Ohio he'd insulted them years ago and they'd both disowned him. Luckily while he was panicking about what to do next he'd received a wire from his Aunt Matilda inviting him to take a trip south.
Great-aunt Matilda had invited him to spend a vacation at Pitterpeetee Grove, which was the name of her home in Florida. He'd never met the woman and he didn't know an awful lot about her except for a fractured mixture of hearsay and myth that had circulated among relatives since he was a boy. He only knew she was the distant, wealthy end of the family who had never courted close contact with anyone in the past, so it was a surprise to be asked to spend time with her.
He wondered, why an invite out of the blue right now? Then he recalled being told that she'd been a widow for years and all her own kids had died off, and since she was getting old herself maybe she was scanning round to find some other relative to lay her fortune on.
The thought of receiving a present in the form of a large legacy of unearned income had him licking his lips, but the flight down country gave him a chance to mull a few things over and talk some sense to himself. It was vital to be acceptable. Old women could be hostile to folk who didn't fit with their own ideas of a respectable life, and any hint of an alternative sexual preference to the man-woman thing could be lethal to maintaining an old dears goodwill.
That was reason enough to make a resolution, and he decided he wouldn't try to lay anyone while he was staying with his aunt. He was twenty-eight, handsome, in good shape and with a commendable prod, and it was a shame to deprive all the randy young bucks in the world of his assets for any length of time. But it would be unwise to act the loose goose while he was there, and it was probably wise to hold off with his inclinations for a while. In fact a few days of celibacy would probably do his soul good.
He did the final stretch of the journey by rail, which was a mistake. Just a single track led to the dead-end town of Unction, south of Lake Okeechobee, and only three trains a day went in and out of the place. The day was long and irksome and there was nothing much to see when he arrived. The low roofed station building summed it all up. A concrete box surrounded by a clutter of palm trees that gave it the appearance of a desert outpost abandoned by the French Foreign Legion.
He was the only passenger to climb down from the train when it ground to a halt, so there was no chance of going unobserved and he was greeted by an old, lean, white-haired negro called Abraham whom his aunt had sent to meet him. The crumpled black suit the fella wore looked as old as the ancient Ford convertible he was driving.
"Aunt Matilda not here with you?" Marty asked. The negro shook his head as he loaded bags into the back of the car. "Nah, Missy Matilda don't travel these days, but you'll meet her as soon as we git to the house." They missed out the town, which Abraham said offered no more than two drug stores and three saloons, and they were soon driving down a long, straight dirt road.
The landscape on each side was flat, with wide stretches of land bearing pine trees and scrub oak, then when the car steered off along a side road a delicious perfume filled the air and Abraham grinned when he noticed Marty breathing deep.
"You can smell the oranges Mr Martin. Sweet ain't it? That honey-scent wafts on the breeze around here long before pickin' time."
"I heard Aunt Matilda did some business with oranges."
"She sure does. Got the biggest plantation here-a-bouts. It'll be her fruit yu sniffin'."
Big plantation! mused Marty, quickly interpreting that into dollar bills. Big property of any kind meant big money. There was no sign of orange trees before they reached their destination, instead the scrub woodland thickened and they seemed to enter a jungle of oak trees hung with dripping moss that were so densely packed they shut out most of the daylight. Then at the end of a rising path appeared the front porch of the house called Pitterpeetee Grove. It was big but it wasn't the kind of old colonial mansion he'd imagined. It was built of wood which had been painted white and was lifted up on stone piers.
Sitting bolt upright under an awning set above a long, wide verandah sat his Great-Aunt Matilda, a rangy woman, very old, with features that would be best described as embattled. He was expecting to meet someone old for sure, maybe wrapped in rugs and perhaps wearing carpet slippers. She was dressed head to foot in white, except for a flat wide-brimmed straw-coloured hat with a low crown.
The way she wore her grey hair pinned back behind her head gave her a sort of 19th Century appearance and made her look even older than he'd expected, but although she was running to seed she was still elegant and she still transmitted the fiery, tangled sort of fecundity she'd always had a reputation for. A lace frilled sunshade lay unopened in her hand and she was gripping its handle like a cudgel. "So, you're Martin'. How long will you stay?" she asked at once.
"I thought maybe a week." Marty replied.
The old woman sniffed. "A week! That's preposterous. No one comes here just a week. I expect you to stay for a month at least. Abraham will show you to your room. Dinner's at seven. I'll see you again then."
"Best wear a jacket an' tie at dinner, sur," the old retainer whispered as he led the way into the house, "Missy Matilda's a bit old fashioned an' fussy about that kind o' thing. She likes to keep up values." He chuckled. "Them's her words, not mine."
The inside of the house was big and had an air of long-faded grandeur, with curtains of red damask hanging in ornate pleads around the windows. But the carpet inside the door looked grimed with decades of dust, and although the owner was doubtlessly wealthy, Marty reckoned no money had been spent on undating facilities for visitors since the time it was built. His room was small and the furniture all old wooden stuff; a bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a little wash stand that held a tin bowl and a white enamel jug.
"There's a bathroom at the end o' the landin', sur," Abraham told him as he dropped bags on the end of the bed, "If'n yur needing anything in yer room, press the bell-button on the wall an' someone'll come-a-runnin'."
Marty smiled whimsically. A bell-button! Well at least the house was wired for electricity.
Halleluiah! The updating hadn't been entirely neglected. When he visited the bathroom to sluice himself off he discovered a working shower. While drying off a rush of vanity caused him to gaze in the wall mirror. The reflection of a strong bony face with a long mobile mouth pleased him, and the rest was good too. Slightly unruly hair brushed over a high forehead with a few strands falling almost into his right eye gave an impression of confidence, of personal self-assurance and perhaps a hint of arrogance. There was a man in that mirror with no regrets, completely in charge of his own destiny.
On his way back to his room he noticed a door adjacent to his own, and out of sheer curiosity he opened it. Inside the curtains on the window were closed, and the gloom that met him as he entered at first prevented any appreciation of the size of the room, but as his eyes became accustomed to the poor light he saw it was three times the size of his own bedroom. A large four-poster bed draped with heavy blue curtains stood on a dais against one wall, and a rocking chair, upholstered in black buttoned leather with a white antimacassar stood near it. A triple mirrored kneehole dressing table with glass knobbed draws occupied the wall adjacent to the bed.
"Can I help yu sur," Abraham's voiced droned at his back. He stood there, immovable, solid, staring, in no hurry. White hair, crinkly eyes that gave him a jovial look. Bit of a gut on him. He could see from his hands as much as anything that he was nearer seventy than sixty but he wore blue jeans.
"Who's room is this?"
"It's the master-bedroom. No one sleeps here, not anymore, not since Missy lost her man more than fifteen years ago. Now it's just a quite place where she likes to come an' sit sometimes."
Marty stepped back through the door. "Like a goddamned Chapel of Remembrance, huh!" he commented without any compassion.
Abraham closed the door quietly and offered a soft smile. "If'n you say so, sur."
All too aware he was there to curry favour with his aunt he did as Abraham had suggested earlier and dressed up sweet and sharp for the evening meal. The ancient negro, now immaculate in a white coat and white cotton gloves, met him at the bottom of the stairs when he went down and guided him to the dining-room.
There was plenty of other help scurrying about the house, but the old retainer seemed to slot into whatever role his aunt needed, be it chauffeur, butler or general handyman, and strangely enough the man appeared to relish being so useful, because he happily parked himself against a wall in the attitude of a major-domo.
The dining room was ornate, heavy and detailed with a highly polished wooden table that could seat ten, but was only laid for three. Old fashioned lamps burned in wall brackets and beneath them his aunt occupied a high-backed chair at the head of the table which could have been a bishops throne. Her thin fingers were heavy with rings, her wrists with bracelets, throat and chest with necklaces, all gold and glinting in the lamplight.
Marty would have laughed if he didn't have a need to be so careful with his manners. The dotty old girl was hanging onto the crumbling trappings of past glory. The whole set-up was a remnant of bygone days and long departed social status.
His aunt was a picture of past times. Her hair was piled high on her head in an elaborate style that accentuated the regal tilt of her head and the high angle of her chin. Years ago, she must have been magnificent, he thought. Even now, at an indeterminable old age, the boned bulge of her bosom suggested a smothered sexuality. The slant of her eyes, her high brow and arched cheekbones were a reminder of a beauty that in its heyday had probably rocked fella's on their heels.
"You'll find Unction dull," the woman said without smiling, "It's a town of orange-growers and cattlemen who talk about work all the time. I 'spect you'll find staying here at Pitterpeetee Grove pretty dull too."
"Oh, I don't reckon that," Marty replied lightly.
He was attempting to be ingratiating, but instead of accepting his politeness she turned a pair of gimlet eyes on him. It was difficult to believe she was eighty, maybe ninety years old. "Why do you say that. Do you know something I don't?"
Marty squirmed uncomfortably. His aunt hadn't evolved with the times, she looked and still behaved like one of the feisty matriarchs who had dominated southern communities a century ago. "What I mean is, running the business you have here. It must be pretty hectic at times and hardly dull."
"It ain't easy either." the woman scowled, even the ghost of youth was absent in her drawn features. "Frost in the orange-groves near bankrupts me every second year. Most of the other growers around here sold out to big corporations years back an' it's difficult competing on yer own agin them kind o' goddamn outlaws." After a moment she smiled indulgently. "It may take a little getting used to. But since you're staying here a while you'll have time to become accustomed to things. Then one day you'll wake up in the morning and wonder how you could ever have lived anywhere else."
Her eyes turned to Abraham. "Where's Joseph?" she asked sharply. "Tell him we're waitin'."
"Joseph is my grandson." she explained to Marty.
"Your... grandson?" Marty stated the simple words in a complexity of tone combined with a look of slight astonishment. He'd never heard of a grandson; never knew one existed. Where did he stand in relation to himself?
The door opened as she finished speaking and the late comer entered. A young man, slight in figure but graceful with a soft looking face and neatly trimmed hair the colour of honey. Slim and sort of spindly, solemn but not sullen. On seeing Marty he smiled and revealed beautiful white teeth. Marty looked him over. A striking addition to the table, he thought, reserving his judgement. He was a person who liked almost every young man he met, and it was polite to give this one a fair chance.
"Joseph - you're late - five minutes late!" the old woman grumbled.
The newcomer's grin faded. "I'm very sorry, Gran'ma. I didn't..."
"This as happened before. You know how I detest unpunctuality. It disorganises the entire evenin'."
"Yes, Gran'ma." he replied, sliding quickly into his seat.
Stony-faced the old woman swung her arm across the table. "This here gennelman is yer Uncle Mart'n from Chicago. He's gonna be stayin' with us for a while."
Joseph grinned, the scolding he'd received a moment before quite forgotten, white teeth flashing again as he nodded. He had extraordinary deep blue eyes and thick, soft lashes, remarkable enough in themselves, but what pleased Marty most was his lively nature.
"Hi, Uncle Martin. Sorry I can't shake your hand, but I'm not allowed to stretch across the table."
"You should've been on time for dinner." grumbled his grandmother.
The remark of dissatisfaction ricocheted from the young man's ebullience. "Chicago! Gee, I ain't ever been north of Tallahassee. What's it like in Chicago Uncle Martin?"
"Big cities are all much the same, Joseph. Busy, all tarmac and concrete, and it rains a lot in Chicago. You're better off here."
"It's like I allus told you," the boy's grandmother sniped keenly. "There ain't nuthin' up north that you can't get better here."
Joseph nodded. "Sure gran'ma, but a guy can't help being curious." Conversation ceased abruptly when the hostess rapped the table with a spoon, then pressed her hands together. It was the first time for years Marty had been pitched into formal religious ritual prior to eating, but he complied amiably as his aunt went through her routine.
"Lord, we give thanks for you delivering us from want by gracin' our table with the fruits of the field and the flesh of brute beasts, as is Your will." She then picked up her knife and fork, signalling it was okay to start eating. Although she'd been grouchy with her grandson when he'd arrived late the annoyance in her expression hadn't lasted more than a minute or two, and it soon became apparent that she adored him.
Marty couldn't fault her for that. His face was handsomely round, and his pale eyebrows framed a pair of large, well-set, stunning brown eyes. His mouth was broad and graced by rather sensuous pink lips, and he had a lively way about him which together with his good looks made him extremely likeable. But there was something else about him too. Something indefinable that he couldn't quite put his finger on.
"Are you married, Uncle Martin?" Joseph asked.
Aunt Matilda answered quicker than he could himself. "A'course he ain't married. That's why he's here alone."
Joseph wasn't deflected. "You're a smart lookin' guy. Don't you want to get married?"
"Maybe one day I will. I ain't thirty yet, so there's plenty of time."
"What kind of work do you do?"
"Accountancy. I'm - er - in-between jobs right now and looking for a new situation."
"Accountin'! That's messin' with figures an' tottin' cash. Gran'ma uses accountants."
The old woman chimed in rapidly. "Gran'ma's GOT accountants. Don't bug yer uncle about work. He's on vacation."
Joseph chewed his food slowly, and Marty felt drawn to watching his delicate face. He was attractive young man, but his effeminate features didn't do justice to adulthood. His looks were too sweet to be hunky and when he gazed across the table it struck Marty that he was pure man-meat.
"And you?" asked Marty.
"Are you helping out your granma' running the business here or are you waiting for college, Joseph?" Marty asked by way of conversation.
"Joseph ain't no more than eighteen, an' he ain't finished with his education yet." rasped the woman before any other response could arrive.
"Oh, I see." he looked at her grandson again. "You must be in a freshman year someplace. Is college out or are you just taking a break?"
Joseph grinned awkwardly. "A break, more or less. I need a break."
"But are you are in college?"
Matilda looked almost ferocious. "I pulled him out o' that dump he was going to, it weren't doin' him any good. I'm lookin' around for some place better. I had two daughters and a boy, and I've survived 'em all." She explained. "Joseph is my youngest girl's boy, but I look after him now."
She signalled to pass the salt. "You must see everything we have here, Mart'n. Tomorrow Joseph will take you through the groves. It would help if you can ride. Such tours are easier when done on horseback."
Across the table hazel brown eyes scrutinised him from under the waft of their long dark lashes and Joseph's face beamed with enthusiasm. "Can you ride, Uncle Martin? Do they have horses in Chicago?"
Marty responded with a smile. He was charming, bubbly, listening intently to what was said, and as far as he could tell not in the least bit intimidated by the old woman's fiery temperament. Something else too. He was good looking. Too good looking for a guy. He was beautiful. It was impossible that he didn't enjoy a tumble in the hay with some of the big-dicked local hicks.
"Sure," he replied, "There's always places to ride horses if one don't mind paying. I've always enjoyed riding. In Chicago I spent a lot of my spare cash doing it." He risked a glib smile at his aunt then returned to the grandson. "I've even played some polo at times. I reckon Colonel Custer would have given me a place in the 7th Cavalry if he'd known about me."