Darzsa snatched the paper off the table and examined it closely. Surely, this wasn’t for him, but everyone else at the table was amazed at the rest of the chicken-scratch. He was unyielding in believing that anything that came from Lottie had any veracity. Josiah could have told her his name and that he’d be here today or wanted to know about his brother. The only home Darzsa knew was the one he’d made here.
“Is that one for you, dear?” The woman to the right of him read the bottom of the page. “Tell us what it means! Who do you think it’s from?”
Darzsa glanced between the writing and her and could only shake his head. Not the best time to have all eyes on him and nothing to show for it. He slid the paper to the middle of the table and addressed the sham across from him.
“You’re the expert here. What did your spirit friends advise you on regarding this?”
Ms. Lottie Howard stared Darzsa down. Her expression remained neutral, but there was a slight pulse at her temple. “I don’t question what’s written. I’m merely a vessel for them to deliver their knowledge.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient?” Darzsa stood from his seat. “Stringing some words together and letting us decipher the meaning.”
“You don’t get the meaning? Tell me then, the letter ‘d’ and ‘lost’ are a coincidence?”
Darzsa had his hand on the back of the chair, more than ready to walk out of the room. She was goading him. As innocent as her smile was, he knew that she was angling for the tiniest bit of information, a minor slip-up, that would give her the advantage. If that was the game that she wanted to play, Darzsa would happily be at her service. These swell folks should get their money’s worth.
“They may ring a bell. Let’s go through this bit by bit. Savvy?” He sized up his innocent bystanders and urged them to chime in.
“Do you have something that starts with a ‘d’ that you lost?” The balding man to his left asked.
“What if it’s not a what, but a who?” Mr. Santoro asked, and it elicited more questions around the table.
“Do you know someone whose name starts with a ‘d?’”
Darzsa feigned bemusement; he was in his wheelhouse making grand gestures. He hummed to himself, scratched his head, and rubbed his chin. “Can’t say that I know anyone of concern to me with that initial.”
Lottie adjusted the scarf on her head and rapped her fingernail on the table. To Darzsa’s dismay, she was still unbothered by his antics. She sat there, glare unwavering—no rhythm to the incessant noise.
Tap. Tap, tap.
Tap; tap. Tap.
Tap. Tap. Tap, tap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Darzsa’s heart thundered in his throat from how rattled he was, but he remained calm. He couldn’t let her unnerve him.
Lottie’s hand hovered above the table then she placed her hands in her lap. “What’s your name, young man? Perhaps the one who’s lost is you.”
All heads turned toward Darzsa, waiting with bated breath for his answer. Admission would be defeat, and he wasn’t losing this battle of wits.
“I assure you, darling, my name is of no significance to you. Unless you need it to acquire more information.”
Whispers circled the table, and Lottie hushed them with a wave of her hand. “No need. You wanted to go bit by bit, correct? Home for you is elsewhere, I assume.”
Unrelenting. Darzsa admired her tenacity and fortitude to keep up with him. “Keen observation, though I’m sure my accent gave me away. Does it sound familiar to you?”
The table was split between looking at Darzsa or Lottie. They sat tight for who was going to speak next. Lottie had her eyes fixed past Darzsa at something in the distance. Her hands rested atop the table again, fingers drawing small circles on the wood. She blinked a few times, and her gaze drifted to Darzsa. “It’s no secret that I’m not a native, yet this is my home. But you,” she pointed at him, “left home. December 10th. Does it sound familiar to you?”
A venomous retort would have been on the tip of Darzsa’s tongue. However, all Darzsa could do was grip the rail of his chair to suppress the impulsive need to flip this table over. The only reason she would have known that date is if Josiah told her. And if he told her then...Darzsa pushed the thought out of his mind. He couldn’t feel and look abysmal, so he relaxed his pursed lips.
Having nothing left to say that wouldn’t end in an altercation, Darzsa excused himself from the table after calling Lottie a spiteful bitch and bidding adieu to his fellow visitors. Out in the hall, he searched for Josiah. That man had some explaining to do.
Josiah wasn’t in the hall when Darzsa shot out of the living room, so he sat on the steps outside. About an hour later, most of the house guests stepped around Darzsa and loaded into their vehicles, avoiding him at all costs. Irritation rose in him again until he heard familiar voices in the distance through the door.
Darzsa followed it down the hall, tiptoeing to not alert them of his presence. In an empty room at the end of the hall, Josiah quarreled with someone, voice hoarse and talking low.
“You shouldn’t have provoked him like that.”
A voice scoffed at him and carried on about how the reading was almost ruined.
“Why did you have to bring that damn boy here, of all places? He could have—”
“You went too far. If he ruined anything, it would have been on you.”
“He almost jeopardized my credibility and made everyone uncomfortable. Mr. Santoro is close to getting the Homestead Association to back me for the church. I don’t need you to ruin this for me with your escapades.”
Darzsa pressed his body against the wall to keep himself as still as possible. How dare she play the victim and run to Jo about it.
“He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to question you. All your hard work will be wasted if you cross the wrong person.”
“Don’t tell me about being wasteful when you spend your nights out in that red boiler you cherish so much, which you wouldn’t have gotten without me. I need you to stay...” Lottie’s voice faded, and Darzsa’s rage escalated.
“It’s under control. I bring them to you, don’t I? Mr. Santoro will give you what you want, be patient.”
They spoke again in hushed tones that Darzsa couldn’t hear no matter how much he strained his ears. He crept back to the front door and waited for Josiah to finish talking to that quack. The car ride home was going to be interesting.