Mr Treene opened the door barely half a minute after Wilom knocked. Yes, looking at the finances for the plan was Rytel’s job, but Wilom hadn’t been able to help running a few numbers on his own, and he didn’t like them.
So he’d come to see Mr Treene again. He only hoped this was because it was the right thing to do, not because he was getting desperate. Or complacent.
“Ah, Wilom. A little early, I see.”
“Sorry. I could walk around the block a few times if it’s inconvenient.”
Mr Treene laughed. “Don’t be daft. Come on in, and have a glass of wine with me.”
Wilom sat down and accepted the glass.
“It’s been breathing, so it should be fine now,” Mr Treene said.
“That’s good. What kind is it?”
“It’s a very nice Southern variety. A Grisen.”
“It smells like …” Wilom tried his best. “Um, raisins? And … pepper?”
Mr Treene chuckled. “I could swear you’ve been practicing!” He took a drink. It wasn’t precisely to Wilom’s taste, but, well … he’d drunk far worse in his time and gone back for more, so he didn’t mention it.
“We’re having Red Pork pie for dinner tonight,” Mr Treene continued. “I hope that’s to your taste.”
“I haven’t tried it before,” Wilom said. “but I’m sure it will be.”
“I’m glad you think so … or perhaps glad you like me enough to say so.”
Don’t rise to that one. Change the subject. “How have you been keeping?”
“You’ll be pleased to know that despite that unfortunate incident with Ms Stern, the friends of yours who took my friend’s house are doing well.”
“Good. Did you mean that as in happiness and health, or as in financially?”
“Well, we did delay the first two payments for a few weeks for them. But they have gotten their bearings, and they have been working hard. It seems they may even pay us back early. I wouldn’t have minded the extra interest, but I’ll not argue with getting my money back sooner.”
Wilom nodded. “I’m glad it seems to be working out for both of you.”
“Yes,” Mr Treene said. “Although there is a question I would like to ask.”
“Please, go ahead,” Wilom said, taking a sip of wine.
He is in a pleasant mood, and wants a the conversation to be a game.
“I don’t mean this as, necessarily, a bad thing,” Mr Treene said. “But something tells me you’ve only come to see me because you want something from me.”
“I’m afraid, this time, you’re absolutely right,” Wilom said.
Mr Treene raised an eyebrow. “Honest, as usual.”
“Of course. I find myself wanting a good conversation.”
Mr Treene shook his head. “I’ve learned to be warier of you than that. For instance, I am nearly certain there is a particular topic you’d like to converse upon.”
“Now that, I can’t deny. Actually, I’d like to talk to you about our little organisation.”
“You sound like a priest.”
“I wish. They might trust me a little more if I was.”
“Let me guess. They need money again?”
“No, this is an entirely general discussion,” Wilom said. “They barely trust me enough to sit in on their meetings, let alone to negotiate with you.”
Mr Treene chuckled. “I expected you to last a little longer before arguing with them.”
“We haven’t argued.”
“You’re awfully bitter for someone who isn’t arguing. Or maybe the problem is that you’re not arguing when you’d like to be.”
“I’m hedging my bets.”
“What pictures that phrase paints! Well, if that’s our topic, even speaking in general terms, we’re both going to need another glass of wine. Pass yours over, so I can pour.”
Mr Treene filled the glasses and passed Wilom’s back.
“I’ve just been thinking,” Wilom said. “That I should get some opinions from a real businessman.”
“No,” Mr Treene said shortly.
“No? Why not?”
“Because this is not an organisation that you can run like a business,” Mr Treene said, taking another sip of his wine. “Your goal isn’t to make money, it’s to spend it.”
“But we need to have some in order to spend it,” Wilom said.
“Leave that to Rytel,” Mr Treene said. “Take that from me — she has her job for a reason and she’s not going to take kindly to you trying to move in on it.”
Wilom nodded. “Alright,” he said.
Mr Treene looked at Wilom over his wine glass. “You’re getting worried about something.”
“Aren’t I always?”
Mr Treene continued as if Wilom hadn’t said anything. “And you’re coming to me for it. You must really be itching to do something.”
“There’s …” Wilom stopped, trying to think of the best way to phrase this without giving anything away to Mr Treene.
A decision to be –
No. No, he wasn’t doing it that way.
Wilom suddenly realised that Mr Treene had put his glass aside and was leaning forward as if he might need to stand up from his chair. “Wilom? Are you alright?”
Wilom nodded, picking up his glass of wine so he had something to do with his hands. “Yes. Sorry. Got caught up trying to think of three things at once for a moment.”
Mr Treene sat back. “Alright. Now I have to know — what is it they’re doing that’s got you losing meals and sleep?”
“I’m not losing meals,” Wilom protested.
“Could have fooled me.”
“Well …” Wilom said. He’d try this again — without the Ferryman’s Knowledge this time. “There’s some decisions they’re making — or not making, should I say.”
For a moment, he hoped that he might have thrown Mr Treene entirely off the scent, but no, Wilom credited him with more intelligence than that. Mr Treene was almost inconveniently sharp; expecting him not to pick up on subtle hints would be like expecting a dog not to jump up at the announcement of ‘walkies’.
“They’ve asked me for my input on a few problems.”
Mr Treene nodded slowly. “Of course, you have a plan.”
“I always have a plan,” Wilom said. “It’s just that sometimes I don’t know what it is yet.”
Mr Treene snorted. “Of course. And you decided to come to me because …?”
“Because I suppose I was hoping that I might get some insight on how you make decisions. But I suppose you’re right — the business mindset doesn’t really apply.”
“No, unfortunately. I’d be happy to talk through the problem with you, of course.”
“I hope you don’t take offense if I decline. It does pay to be a little careful, after all.”
Mr Treene’s lips twitched. “Of course I don’t take offense. I understand those kind of problems, too.”
Mr Treene’s boy walked into the room, and Mr Treene gave him a little nod, before he could speak. He turned back to Wilom and said, “So while I can’t help directly, perhaps I can provide some diversion in the form of dinner.”
Wilom allowed himself to be led into the dining room, where plates were waiting for them, piled high with vegetables, bread, and an enormous slice of pie each. The filling was a deep, thick red. Wilom saw shredded pork, and possibly onion. As they sat down, Mr Treene’s boy was piling asparagus onto plates and ladling thick, yellow sauce over them.
“Thanks,” Wilom said, as the plate was put in front of him. The young man nodded, and served Mr Treene.
Mr Treene nodded, and the young man left.
Wilom tried some of the pie.
“What are these spices?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure myself. All I know is that it’s my cook’s specialty, and I don’t question things that work.”
There was silence while Wilom tried the asparagus with sauce. “Lemon?” he asked, a little surprised.
“Lemon and green radish,” Mr Treene said. “Doesn’t it complement the asparagus well?”
“Yes,” Wilom said. “Very well, actually. And with the squash as well.”
“Truly a man of good taste.”
Wilom chuckled. The wine they were drinking now was much nicer. Fruitier, less harsh.
After dinner, they retreated to the sitting-room, where Mr Treene poured them a drink he termed “a good port”.
“I feel like I owe you something,” Wilom said, “For all the help you’ve been giving me.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Mr Treene said. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“Do you need me to spell it out for you? The friend who sold you the house now owes me a favour, not to mention the profits I made from the deal. Not large profits, but any profit is good profit in times like these.”
There is more to it, but he is tired of you probing for his motives.
“I’d buy a bottle of wine for you next time I visit,” Wilom said, to change the subject, “except I’d probably buy something awful.”
“More through lack of wallet than lack of thought.”
“One can hope.”
There was a companionable silence for a moment, then Mr Treene said, “Well, I’ll at least rest easy in the knowledge that your organisation will probably never hear about this conversation either.”
“No indeed. Like you said before, they don’t trust either of us enough.”
“They seem to give you a lot of jobs, for people who don’t trust you. But nevertheless —” Mr Treene held out his glass. “To the untrustworthy,” he said.
Wilom touched his glass to Mr Treene’s. “The untrustworthy,” he said.
“Well, then. Do feel free to come by for dinner any time, you know.”
Wilom left, a little later, with the fistful of coins Mr Treene had provided for the taxi fare. He got into the cab, quoted Marc’s address, and watched out the window as the taxi drove away. The car ride to Marc’s house was just as enjoyable a part of his night as the actual dinner.