Updated: Feb 28
Think of me like a sister.
Considering he’d never had a sister, Scott honestly didn’t know what to think of Teresa O’Brien at first. Did a sister invade privacy with the finesse of a tactical ambush? Did she judge appearance in the manner of a snide haberdasher? Would the proverbial brick falling from the sky describe her ability to introduce two strangers? Should a sister evoke slight jealousy for possessing fond memories of a father?
Did a sister bring a contagious smile with her interruptions? Did she offer sound advice on several matters, including attire? Could she guide two strangers in becoming brothers? Would a sister and her memories ease the difficult journey of understanding the past with an absent father?
Think of me like a sister.
Truth be told, Teresa O’Brien had made it fairly easy for Scott to grant her request. However, if the steaming pots and pandemonium he observed from the kitchen doorway were any indication, Teresa may currently find it not as easy to follow Scott Lancer’s mental request - Let me be the big brother.
Daniel tested the waters. “I’ve been told the chicken count has decreased considerably out in the pink palace due to an ardent mother hen.”
The mother hen delivered a shot across the bows. “If you’ve come here to fry that man a steak and spike his tea with scotch, you can turn around, Scott Lancer, and go back to Sacramento.”
A lion’s den, indeed. Teresa stood poker straight in front of the stove stirring a boiling pot of...its contents couldn’t readily be identified except the aroma confirmed it wasn’t beef. Heavy iron skillets and copper pots were haphazardly stacked among various sharpened knives scattered on the table. Scott hadn’t realized until now that the kitchen could be a dangerous place for a man about to confront an edgy female. Enlisting additional troops seemed prudent. “Where’s Maria?”
“I asked her and Ciparano to pick up more supplies in town.” Teresa’s wooden spoon with its mission of a circled path through the pot’s simmer and the cook’s tempest stayed on course.
The few steps of a cautious approach were taken. “I’d inquire why Kinsey isn’t here helping, but then I remembered I’m standing in a kitchen.”
The spoon’s travel slowed slightly, but the rigid stance of the tightly wound oven sentry remained. From behind, Scott placed his palms on her shoulders and felt Teresa’s tension ready to spin out of his grasp...
“This is my third visit since the holidays, Mrs. McLoughlin. When is that new girl of yours going to stop over-winding Mr. Garrett’s clock?”
Taking in the drama unfolding for the third time, twelve-year-old Scott stood to the side of the clocksmith and offered a questionable answer. “When someone stops giving her the key?”
The gentleman’s laughter nearly bounced him off the wooden step stool needed for examining the inner workings of the Grandfather clock. Winnie, on the other side of the coin, was less amused. “Nobody wants to be hearin’ the words of a cheeky little boy.”
“Sounds like a reasonable solution unless Mr. Garrett enjoys his continued contributions to my evening pub visits.” From his perch, the man cast a wink down to Scott. “I believe I need a clear-thinking assistant today. Grab a chair, lad, and climb up here for a better look.”
Scott didn’t give Winnie a chance to protest. Dragging a straight-back seat from the hallway, he clambered up to be eye level with the longcase’s intricate brass and silver-plated gears.
The clocksmith’s name was Mr. Tinkerton - a surname which demanded the handle Tik-Tok Tinkerton. Once, when Winnie’s timepiece needed repair, Scott had accompanied her to the gentleman’s shop and found the place fascinating. Its walls were filled with numbered faces and swinging pendulums counting down to chimed hours. However, when the patient was as weighty as the Garrett’s Grandfather clock, Mr. Tik-Tok made house calls.
“And here we have it.” The clocksmith held up a brass key for Scott to scrutinize. “What brought about this tall fella’s tension can now ease it.” Mr. Tinkerton inserted the key into the mechanism which controlled the tightening of the mainspring. “Now, when I do this, I must have a firm grasp on the key while releasing the ratchet holding against the spring’s pressure. If I don’t have a good hold on that key, the tension will spin it right out of my hand.”
The clocksmith began to unwind the carriage clock in half turns - delicately releasing and applying the ratchet between the turns so that the spring pressure was always managed by either his firm hold on the key or by the ratchet stopping the backward movement.
After a few minutes, Mr. Tinkerton removed the key from the clock and held out one hand. “Firm hold.” And then his other hand. “Soft touch. It’s a balancing act that requires patience.” Stepping down off his stool, the gentleman stood back and admired his work. “There, lad. Life should start ticking along quite nicely now. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Scott followed suit and joined the clocksmith. “Yes sir.”
“Mrs. McLoughlin, I won’t charge for my services today with the promise of allowing my young assistant to wind this clock henceforth.”
The next time Mr. Tik-Tok Tinkerton was summoned to the Garrett’s brownstone, Scott wore a uniform of blue.
Firm hold. Scott applied a slight squeeze to the young lady’s shoulders made of granite. “Sit with me.”
“I have too much to do.”
“Just for a minute.” Soft touch. “Please.”
“So much needs to be done.”
“One minute.” Half turn. Unwind.
Sitting down, Teresa blinked out confusion at the table’s display of used cookware as if uncertain where it came from. “Your father doesn’t take care of himself. I don’t need to say it. You know that.”
“I do.” Half turn. Unwind. Scott claimed a chair by tossing a few used cloths off its seat.
“Five hours is not a full night’s sleep. Are you aware he’s the last to bed and the first to rise?”
“I am.” Half turn. Unwind.
“For him to think a prerequisite for every good meal is to have it once moo is simply wrong. And don’t you sit there and contradict me.”
“I’m not.” Half turn. Unwind.
“And mark my words, I’m going to lock up that liquor cabinet and hide the key! It should have been done months ago.”
Scott cleared his throat and readjusted his backside.
“You agree, don’t you?”
An eyebrow raised with a Lilliputian smile. “I’m trying.” Half turn. Unwind.
With a head shake of disapproval, Teresa sat back, rubbing her upper arms as if a chill had wormed its way into the kitchen’s fuggy air. “Who has known Murdoch longer? You? Johnny? No. It’s me. I should have done something. I could have prevented this from happening. I wasn’t paying attention. Instead, I’ve been embroidering fancy hankies no one cares about or running to town for dress shop gossip.”
“What?” Scott’s scowl began to wind the mainspring of muscles in the back of his neck. “Where are you getting such nonsense?” Already knowing the answer, the question was revised. “Correction. Not where, but who? Whose ridiculous notions are these?”
Teresa’s reply came in the form of a tear, silently pausing in the corner of her eye. “Jelly’s right. No one cares about fancy hankies.”
Get a firm hold, lad. She’s about to spin out of your grasp. Scott reached across the table. “Give me your hand.” The balanced tear slid down Teresa’s cheek as she moved to follow his directive. “Your smile brightens the dark corners Johnny can’t shed. You help this Bostonian pass as a rancher.” Scott tightened his hold. “And you make damn certain Murdoch Lancer has a daughter. Miss O’Brien, you pay attention. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Half turn. Unwind.
Another tear brimmed and traveled down Teresa’s cheek - it’s path slightly averted from the influence of a slight smile and nod. “Thank you.”
“Now.” Scott let go and presented his hand for a deal-making shake. “If you agree to add a little substance to the patient’s soup, I’ll agree not to fortify his tea.”
Standing outside, Scott exhaled slowly and counted to ten. A punch to Hoskins’ nose should start life ticking along quite nicely.