Wilom knocked on Mr Treene’s door five minutes before the appointed time, in a shirt that wasn’t brand new, but was freshly washed and pressed. He had brought the Ahgetian peppers and the spices, nicely wrapped in a gift bag, then stored in his briefcase for good measure.
“Ah, good afternoon,” Mr Treene said, opening the door. “Your punctuality is impeccable, as usual.”
“Well, you already noticed that I don’t really have anything else to do with my time.”
“Ah,” Mr Treene said, but for once, he didn’t have a rejoinder. He just ushered Wilom into the house.
Mr Treene’s usual couch was in the shade of the blinds, but Wilom’s couch was right in the ray of sunlight streaming in through the window. He sat and waited, enjoying the warmth and the light while Mr Treene arranged coffees for them.
Mr Treene walked back in with the silver service and the spotted porcelain mugs, and put them on the table between the two couches. Wilom poured his own coffee, and then waited while Mr Treene made his.
Mr Treene sucked down a mouthful of coffee and turned to Wilom. “Well, to what do I owe the pleasure today?”
“I just came to keep in touch,” Wilom said.
“After all, leads are disappearing fast, right?”
Wilom sipped his coffee. Oh, yes, the first hardball question of these discussions always managed to take him by surprise. Something about Mr Treene’s manner, he supposed.
“You would know – you seem to be keeping tabs on it,” Wilom said.
Mr Treene shrugged. “I know what they wrote about me in that ledger of yours. If you keep coming back to me, it must be because there’s not many other options.”
“As you recall, you were also the first person I contacted,” Wilom said. “Formally, in person, I mean. Are you concerned because you’ve had nefarious motives this whole time?”
Mr Treene’s mouth twitched up into a half-smile. “I would never imply anything that incriminating. But you knew from the start that I was working for my own profit, not out of idealism. Wouldn’t you people call that an ulterior motive?”
“Everyone’s different,” Wilom said.
There was a pause, then Mr Treene sighed and put his coffee down. “As fun as this is, I do dislike having to talk around you.”
Wilom very much doubted that, but he looked polite and interested anyway.
“You had a good reason to get involved — I won’t insult you by questioning that. But I won’t pretend that circumstances aren’t at least a little worrying.”
“Worrying for me, or worrying for you?” Wilom asked.
Mr Treene gave him a long, silent look.
“Alright, fine. You’re worried that I won’t just get myself killed, I’ll get everyone killed. And you implicated. And if I won’t, then my group will.”
Wilom butted in before Mr Treene could gather more words. “Oh — before I forget — I got you a gift.”
He put the gift bag on the table next to the silver service.
Mr Treene raised his eyebrows and opened the bag. The eyebrows went up further.
He pulled out the bottle of spice mix with its gold-edged blue ribbon, and looked pointedly at Wilom.
“I remember you mentioning that you missed the stuffed peppers,” Wilom said.
Mr Treene put the jar slowly back in the box and then pulled out the large bag of peppers.
“Thank you,” he said, carefully closing the bag and putting it back on the table. “I’m … flattered that you would remember, and that you’d go to the trouble.”
“You’re welcome. You’ve helped a lot — and my job is mostly remembering things people say. I’ve had a lot of practice.”
There was another long silence. Wilom finished his coffee.
“Another?” Mr Treene asked.
“No, thank you,” Wilom said. “I appreciate your hospitality, as always. And I do appreciate your concern — please don’t think that I’m ignoring your advice entirely. But I am good at what I do, and I am thinking things through. So you don’t need to be so concerned about me.”
Mr Treene’s eyes narrowed. “You are and remain a puzzling person, Wilom Tris.”
Wilom inclined his head. “Thank you.”
Mr Treene shook his head. “It was not a compliment.”
“Not with that attitude, it wasn’t,” Wilom said, with a parting grin that Mr Treene did not return.