A Grand Race (Sutton Family 3)
He paid for his purchases and pushed out through the door, jerking to a halt on the walk at the sight of the empty street. He had left the Franklin parked right there, Caro in the passenger’s seat.
Heart pounding, stomach sinking, Jamie cursed under his breath. When he caught up with her, he’d make her the sorriest automobile thief who ever lived.
If he caught up with her. How long had he been inside?
How the hell had she started the Franklin on her own? Had she been lucky, or did she know to retard the spark and use the crank safely? Could she have figured it out from watching him yesterday and this morning, or was Cousin Percy stupid enough to have given Caro lessons on how to start an automobile? If so, Percy ought to be shot.
A horse and rider appeared at one end of town, the horse far too calm to have been passed recently by an automobile thief fleeing justice. In the other direction, the road stretched empty for at least a mile before disappearing over a hill.
“Looking for your wife?”
Jamie whirled. A skinny old fellow with both front teeth missing grinned at him from the doorway of the next building.
“She’s not....” This was not the time to be clarifying marital status. “Yes, I am,” Jamie said.
“She asked me where a person could get a bath here in town. I never figured she was asking for herself, a lady and all, so I told her the barber shop, and darned if she didn’t crank that thing up and drive off before I could tell her a lady couldn’t bathe there. I always thought that handle thing went in the front, but she shoved it in the side and yanked on it like man, got the thing going and drove right off.”
This was also not the time to be explaining the unique features of the Franklin’s engine to bystanders. “Did you see where she went?” Jamie asked, suppressing an urge to grab the fellow by the collar and shake answers out of him faster.
“Well, she slowed down in front of the barber’s, but I guess she realized it wouldn’t do because she kept going around the end of the road.”
“Around the end of the road?”
“Yep, went right around behind the Adams place and disappeared. You know there ought to be a law against those things. Some of them came roaring through here yesterday....”
Jamie threw thanks over his shoulder and didn’t wait to hear about what ought to be the law or what had happened yesterday. At the far end of town, a red and white striped pole marked the barber’s shop. He headed there with long, angry strides.
The barber and two customers stood staring at a closed door at the side of the shop in a tableau of outrage. Their heads swiveled to Jamie as he shoved in through the front door and out through the back without pausing.
The Franklin sat parked mere feet from the back door, dark green paint gleaming in the morning sun, engine off and quiet. Jamie dropped his box of groceries on the seat and leaned against the side, dragging in one deep breath after another to calm himself. He was still going to wring her neck.
Fingers plucked at his sleeve. “You have to come get her out of there,” the barber said. “I’ve already lost most of my morning customers. I can’t have a female in my shop.”
“A lady, I mean. She a beautiful lady, your missus, but I can’t have her taking a bath in there. You can see that, can’t you?”
Yes, he could see that. Jamie followed the barber back inside. The two men still staring at the door as if hypnotized came out of their trance when Jamie shoved between them and the door. They mumbled how they’d be back later and raced each other out of the shop.
“See?” the barber said, pointing at the retreating backs. “See? Mornings are when I do most of my business, and I’m losing them all.”
Jamie tried the door. Locked. At least she had that much sense. “Caro, this is a barbershop, men only. Come out of there.”
“I’m already in the tub. I’d be done by now, but I had to scrub it out. I can’t believe what pigs you men are.” She all but sang the words. Splashing sounds followed.
Jamie ground his teeth. Neck wringing was too good for her. “If you don’t come out of there right now, I’m going to drive off and leave you.”
The barber gasped.
“No, you won’t. You’re not in a hurry, remember? In fact, you have time for a shave while you’re waiting, and then you can use this nice clean tub after me.”
More splashing sounds, humming. Jamie fought his returning sense of humor, lost the battle, and laughed.
“How about a shave, then,” he said to the barber. “You can calculate how much business you really lost, and I’ll pay.”
The promise to pay mollified the man somewhat, but he was still indignant. “She marched in here, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and locked herself in. You really need to control your wife better.”
Jamie sat in the barber’s chair and leaned back, still chuckling. “You’re right, you are. I need to work on that.”