My voice is crisp, but he doesn't seem to notice. His hand reaches for the gear lever. "She doesn't get that from her daddy, that's for sure. Never saw a man with a more even temper than Mr. Fitzwilliam. Nothing troubled him. Cool as January. I always figured it was the war, see. You survive something like that, and...Oh, look at that. It's one of his ships. Your ships, I mean."
I turn my head to the cluster of vessels awaiting the lifting of the drawbridge. "Which one?"
"The steamer, there at the end. Loaded up with fruit, I'll bet, and headed for Europe. Though I'd have to check the schedule in the office to be sure."
"Yes, I'd like that."
"Oh, I don't mean you, ma'am. There's no need for you to trouble yourself with the business side of things."
The wooden deck draws slowly upward before us, foot by foot, and Evelyn gasps for joy. Claps her palms together, leans trustfully into my hands. The creaking of the gear reaches a breaking point, above the rumble of the Packard's idling engine, and the ships begin to bob forward.
"But that's why I'm here, Mr. Burnside. To learn about Simon's business. Since it now belongs to me."
"Now, Mrs. Fitzwilliam. Why bother yourself like that? That's what we're here for, to keep your affairs running all nice and smooth, so you don't need to dirty yourself. The dirt of commerce, I mean. Just you live in comfort and raise your daughter and maybe find yourself another husband. A nice, ladylike thing like you. It's hard work, you know, running a business like this."
"I'm not afraid of hard work."
"Well, now. Have you ever run a business before, Mrs. Fitzwilliam?"
"No. But that doesn't mean—"
"Then I think you'd best just leave everything to us, ma'am. Those of us who know the business, inside out." He leans back contentedly against the seat and crosses his arms over his broad, damp chest. "Trust me."
Well! At the sound of those words—Trust me—I'm nearly overcome by an urge to laugh. High and hysterical, a little mad, the kind of laugh that will make this kind, round-bellied lawyer shake his head and think, Women.
Trust me. My goodness. Trust me, indeed. I've heard that one before.
But I don't laugh. Poor fellow. Why disturb his satisfaction? Instead, I watch the progress of the ships through the gap in the bridge, paying particular attention to the nimble white steamship at the end, which—I now see—bears the name of its company in black block letters near the stern.
PHANTOM SHIPPING LINES
AS IT HAPPENS, SIMON'S DOCK is empty of ships, except for a small boat that Mr. Burnside informs me is a tender. "The others are out to sea," he says, chewing on the end of a long and unlit cigar, "which is a good thing, mind you. Good for profits. Our aim is always to turn the ships around as smart as we can."
We're standing at the end of the Phantom Shipping dock, and the Indian River swirls around the pilings at our feet while a hazy white sun cooks us inside our clothes. Evelyn, restless, swings from my hand to look for fish in the oily water. Thirty yards away, a tugboat steams slowly upstream, trailing gray smoke from its single stack. The air is almost too hot to breathe.
"What about the warehouse?" I ask.
I turn and nod to the rectangular wooden building at the base of the dock. Like the ship at the drawbridge, the building identifies its ownership in confident, no-nonsense black letters above the massive double door: PHANTOM SHIPPING LINES. The paint is fresh, on both the signboard and the white walls of the warehouse itself. There are no windows. I understand this keeps the fruit fresh and cool in its crates, waiting for a ship to transport it across the ocean. Citrus, mostly, but some avocado as well. There's a growing taste
for more exotic fare in the London drawing rooms, apparently, after so many years of restriction and rationing and self-denial. A growing taste for adventure.
"Oh, there won't be anything to see in there," says Mr. Burnside. "The ship's already loaded and left, and we're not due to receive any goods this morning."
"I'd like to have a look, all the same."