Seth examined his drink as if gazing into a crystal ball. “This evening my mother asked me in all seriousness if Kinsey spoke a language one could comprehend considering she’s from a country of, and I quote, roaming herds of analphabetic Aborigines.”
“I assume you assured her that my cousin has a tight rein on the King’s English which civilized society finds colorful and enlightening.”
“My words exactly. However, I did mention progress has been slow on squelching the little lady’s cannibalism.” The matter-of-fact statement inspired snorted laughter from both young men that ricocheted about the smoking room.
“Tell me-” Stretching out his legs, Scott flung an arm over the back of the chair. The bourbon’s warmth had begun to say hello to the previously consumed brandy and blessed tense muscles with much-needed relaxation. “Are you familiar with the phrase divide and rule?”
“I am.” Westcott reduced his glass contents with a sip. “And now I’m guessing my familiarity with the term is about to increase tenfold.”
His friend’s waggery regarding the subjection to unsolicited information prompted a chin dip, a grin and arched eyebrows. “I’ll try to be brief.”
“Is that possible?”
“I always did appreciate a man’s honesty.” Seth’s wide smile implied his bourbon was having a similar effect on maternal-induced agitation. “Please continue.”
“A sovereign’s technique of division to control its subjects or weaken the enemy has been around for centuries. Julius Caesar and Napoleon used the strategy quite admirably.” A pause produced a pouted lip of pondering. “Although, considering the final demise of both gentlemen, their reliance on the tactic was only admirable to a certain point.”
“Speaking of a point, I’m anticipating the eventuality of yours.” Seth’s amused persona proved the amber spirit continued its mission.
“Right. Well, sir, I believe during Stockton strolls and night-cap brandies, we became unsuspecting victims to divide and rule. Did your mother happen to mention the vineyard on your tour around town?”
“She did. Her interest in the family business was broached somewhere between a quaint dress shop and the unvirtuous bordello… not that she’s ever come across a virtuous one to the best of my knowledge.”
“It would indeed be a rare find.” Sip. “So, her interest lies as an investor?”
“No. As part owner. And in case anyone needed their memory jogged-” From his coat pocket, Seth snagged a letter which he slid across the table. “She handed me this.”
The unmarked envelope, offering no clues to its contents, demanded a person to review the neatly folded stationery inside for answers.
“Raffensperger, Martinson and Finkenbiner.” Scott rolled his eyes at the calligraphy letterhead. “Attorneys at Law.”
“Roberta’s barristers.” Westcott signaled for another bourbon to help prop up the now sagging corners of his mouth. “Those gents carry quite the handles.”
“It is a fact. A lawyer needs to sport a no-less-than-three syllable surname to enter the profession.” Scott observed his business partner's dubious expression. “All right. When was the last time you read a shingle spelling out Rice, Mann and Finn?”
Seth accepted the reasoning and his newly served drink with a shrugged-shoulder nod.
Below the law firm’s script of loops and curls, a sharp contrast of typewritten legal English jumped from the page. “Dear God. Lawyer lingo.” Scott’s brain rejected what it had endured earlier with Fletcher Garrett’s will. “The jargon of confusion to express one simple thought.”
“After my mother pulled up stakes and headed east, Grandfather began visiting Boston once a year. It was a helluva trip back then, but he did it. Recently, the improvements in transportation have made the trip easier, but his advancing years are beginning to speak. Although the obstinate goat won’t listen to their suggestions.”
The memory of first meeting Phillip unexpectedly at the Parker House paid a visit. No doubt it was one of those trips which allowed Scott and the elder Westcott to cross paths as conveniently arranged by Harlan Garrett.
“Upon each of his returns, I would ask him - How’s Mother? His reply was always the same. Still smiling.” Seth’s second bourbon joined the conversation with a sip. “It wasn’t until I took on the task of balancing the ledgers that I discovered the motivation for my grandfather’s trips.”
Scott studied the letter from Roberta’s multi-syllable advisors. “Paying off her share of the vineyard’s yearly profit.”
“Correct. And as the vineyard gradually grew in prosperity, so did my mother’s income, as it should. Grandfather never denied her that.”
Another duty which couldn’t be denied: until his cousin said I do to the man sitting across from him, Scott remained the trustee of Kinsey’s inheritance and her self-appointed guardian. Even though he hesitated to travel down a discussion path with Seth concerning Roberta’s finances, it was Westcott’s earlier comment - I haven’t enlightened my mother regarding the little lady’s inheritance. I think it’s best for now - that necessitated an observation. “Western Union could be saving your grandfather long trips back east.”
“True. But Western Union can’t tell Phillip Westcott if his daughter-in-law is living a lifestyle within her means.”
If Seth wished to elaborate on his mother’s finances, the continued silence after his statement told Scott it wouldn’t be tonight. A new direction presented itself. “Did the young lady ever tell you the story of a little general who set two pig-headed dictators on their asses?”
Westcott’s grin returned with the little general reference. “No sir. But I’m guessing this tale is not about Napoleon.”
“Hardly. This tale’s little general strategically took the high ground.” Sip. “Fletcher Garrett despised losing. And he knew the only person who hated it more was Harlan Garrett. So, what better way for a sonofabitch to have the last poke at a bee’s nest? Remove that older brother as trustee of your estate - a granddaughter's inheritance - and hand it over to...”
The unfinished statement inspired Seth’s finger to point out the gentleman opposite him as his head shook at connecting the dots. “I’ll be damned. I never gave the circumstances behind your role a second thought.”
“The aimed bullet one never hears.” A glass raised to toast Fletcher Garrett’s bullet. “My ears sure as hell didn’t. Needless to say, Grandfather was less than pleased with the turn of events.” Mimicking Harlan’s move earlier, Scott rapped his knuckles on Roberta’s paper agreement regarding the vineyard. “And when it comes to the Raffenspergers, Martinsons and Finkenbiners of Boston, my grandfather had an entire army of them threatening to bounce Freckles’ bustle back to Melbourne if something didn’t change.”
“Enter the little general?”
“Indeed. While two pig-headed dictators were consumed with their spitting match over the young lady’s future, she hired a lawyer and presented a proposal.” Scott cocked his head at a reconsideration. “An ultimatum actually. Grandfather, Kinsey and I would amicably seek after acquiring a vineyard to establish a Garrett legacy or she’d aggressively have Fletcher's testament reworked to allow her immediate and complete control over her finances.”
Acquiring, not investing. There was the need to be forthright when retelling Kinsey’s original wishes, which had altered due to one Mr. Seth Westcott. A red flag of doubt wouldn’t be raised over that detail.
However, Scott felt it wise not to mention her bluff disguised as a threat that damn near jumped Grandfather’s trolley off the tracks - Johnny Madrid Lancer marrying into the Garrett lineage. Although brief, the questioning concern regarding Johnny’s continued fondness for Kinsey had been reflected on Seth’s face and in his tone the day at the corral. Why revisit the thought at this moment when it wasn’t necessary?
“I’m guessing your grandfather also wished to discuss the Westcott vineyards this evening with a limited audience. Divide and rule?”
“The subject surfaced somewhere between a swallow of brandy and a puff of cigar.”
“I quote - very little has changed, Ssscotty, except now the dear girl isn’t buying a vineyard, she’s sssimply marrying one.”
“Sounds like we may have one or two new dealers at the table.”
Scott gave a nod of agreement. “However, I’m uncertain of what cards they’re holding.”
“Or maybe we’re just getting suspicious in our old age?” Seth’s smirk played well at the imaginary poker game. “How do you wish to proceed, business partner?”
Scott saw Seth’s smirk and raised it with a smile. “Our own tactical Divide and Rule.”