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All My Chitlins

All My Chitlins
Ginny — 1 Oct 1998, 6:07 PM

A half an hour later, when Larson pulled up in the buggy, Clare stepped out from the hotel lobby with her new law clerk in tow.

Larson leapt lightly from the drivers seat and tipped his chauffeur's hat to Clare. "Ma'am." Then he glanced over at Vorick. "Hey, Benson. I see you managed to get out of the hoosegow sooner than usual. Was she anybody I know?"

Vorick just looked at him expresssionlessly. As Larson appeared ready to continue ribbing the stoic young man, Clare frowned and intervened, saying, "Anson, Mr. Vorick is my new law clerk. Please give him a ride to the general store to pick up supplies and then to the law library at the courthouse. In the meantime, I intend to stop by Garak's and select something for the dance tonight, so you'll need to pick me up in an hour. And gentlemen," she added warningly, in the tone that made prosecution witnesses tremble and dressmakers swoon, "All my employees get along, or they move along. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," Larson responded. Vorick nodded solemly. Clare started to turn, but stopped and sniffed the air. "Do either of you smell anything odd?"

Larsen looked confused. "Uh, no, ma'am." Vorick merely shrugged.

Clare shook her head in bemusement, waved dismissively at her employees, and walked next door to Garak's Millinery and Hosiery. Upon entering the shop, she was greeted by an obsequious, but somehow vaguely menacing man with an unusual skin condition. He turned out to be Monsieur Garak, himself. He made Clare uneasy, so she quickly selected and purchased a maroon tulle gown trimmed with jet beads, a matching velvet wrap, a small beaded evening bag, silk stockings, a black lace mantilla, a nosegay of dried roses, a pair of black patent leather ankle boots, and a small derringer--with holster.

Monsieur Garak boxed up her puchases, all the while making innocuous conversation about stormy weather and changing tides and crosscurrents. Clare was certain that there were hidden meanings directed at her in his idle chatter, but she couldn't make sense of his verbal subtleties. Besides, she was instinctively suspicious of him and left the shop as soon as her purchases were bundled together.

As Clare stepped outside the shop, she took a deep breath, preparing to sigh in relief. Suddenly, she dropped all her packages to the ground, clapped her hands over her hands and mouth, and mumbled into her gloves, "Oh. My. God. What is that smell?"

A pleasant masculine voice came from her left. "That would be the chitlins boiling at the Fairgrounds. I have it on good authority that they're a traditional Race Day refreshment here in Voyager City. Disgusting, isn't it?"

Clare, her hands still tightly clasped over her nose and mouth, turned to see a familiarly handsome man with light brown hair and lovely gray (or were they blue-gray?) eyes. "I'm from the south, Mr. Janeway. I know what chitlins smell like. This is much, much worse. Dear Lord, I think I'm losing the sight in my left eye."

The man laughed and bent to gather up Clare's packages. When he straightened back up, he smiled at her and said, "You'll eventually get used to it. But, for now, why don't we duck into the Ritz-Kradin Hotel and have a cup of coffee in the Nemesis Room?"

Clare said into her gloves, "If you'll make it tea, Mr. Janeway, I'll gladly follow you anywhere to get out of this stink."

The man balanced her packages adroitly on one arm, took her elbow in his other hand, and started walking toward the Ritz-Kradin. "Has anyone ever told you that you have really beautiful brown eyes? And, by the way, my name isn't Janeway."

To be continued in The Secret Sturm and Drang