“Hey,” Craig said tersely before tugging at something beneath the bonnet of the sick old beast. A spark plug maybe? Gabe was unashamedly clueless when it came to the inner workings of cars.
“Morning,” Gabe returned the greeting, and then stood in silence and watched him work.
“Thanks for the flowers,” Craig said after a conversational hiatus that had been filled with nothing but the sound of hammering and grinding machinery and rock and roll coming from the CD player stashed in a corner out of harm’s way.
Gabe grinned at the man’s temerity.
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you liked them.”
“My wife, Ellie, did. It got me off the sofa that night.”
“Why were you on the sofa?”
“She thinks I said her bum was big,” the man glowered and tugged at his ear. “Didn’t. I gave her a three and a half on a scale of ten. Ten apparently being gigantic.”
“You’re a brave man, Craig. I would have gone with a zero or less.”
“I figured three and a half was a good size, not too big and not invisible. No man likes an invisible bum.” Gabe wondered why they were standing here discussing the man’s wife’s behind, and he had a feeling that if the inimitable Ellie ever heard about it, Craig would be back on the sofa.
“Anyway, the flowers helped. I caught a glimpse of the card too,” he unapologetically admitted. “You should put those things in envelopes if you want privacy. I liked the forgiveness and admiration stuff. Used that on the missus. She was very impressed. Figured I owed you a thank-you.”
“Glad I could be of some help,” Gabe said with a complete lack of sarcasm. He had known that Bobbi would find some way to disperse of all those flowers; it naturally followed that she would have offered some to every person she knew. He had hoped that she would keep at least one bouquet of each for herself though, but a quick glance around the shop told him that he had hoped in vain.
“She’s not into the flowery stuff,” Craig said, accurately reading Gabe’s glance around.
“I know that,” Gabe admitted, irritated that Craig seemed to think he knew Bobbi better than Gabe did. “But the messages that came with the flowers were what I really hoped to get across.”
“Now the stuff you sent her this morning,” Craig muttered, leaning into gaping maw of the Jeep again and twisting at something. He grunted with effort as he continued to twist for what felt like hours, leaving Gabe hanging in suspense. Craig finally stood upright again and nodded down at the car in satisfaction.
“What about the stuff I sent this morning?” Gabe prompted impatiently and Craig looked at him with narrowed eyes.
“That was a stroke of genius.” He nodded in approval. “She loved it, even though she tried to pretend that she didn’t.” He gave Gabe a perusing glance before sighing and removing his filthy baseball cap. He rubbed a hand briskly back and forth over his short, messy hair before sticking the cap back onto his head.
“Can’t say I ever liked you,” he admitted, his voice gruff. “With your fancy suits, always waiting outside on the rare occasions that you picked our girl up from work. Figured you were scared of getting your posh shoes and pretty clothes dirty. I can’t trust a man who’s afraid of a bit of grease . . .” Gabe strove to remain unoffended by the less than sterling character assessment, hoping that there was a “but” in there somewhere. “But I reckon you’re not so bad.”
Gabe waited for the rest, but Craig seemed to be done talking. Well, faint praise was better than no praise he supposed as he watched Craig turn back to the car. It seemed that the man was done talking to him and, feeling comprehensively dismissed, Gabe walked over to the where the youngest guy, Sean, was working.
“He-ey,” the young man said with the exuberance of a puppy. “It’s the boss’s boyfriend. What’s up, bru?”
He unselfconsciously held out a grease-covered hand and Gabe took it with barely a flinch. He reminded himself that he had hand-sanitizer in the car and if he was going to be squeamish about this stuff he’d lose major points with Bobbi and just prove her point about them being unsuited.
“Listen.” Sean was leaning in conspiratorially. “I was thinking: Miz R loves chocolates and dried fruit and stuff. You should totally consider sending her stuff like that.” Gabe bit back a laugh at the transparency of young Sean’s ploy. He was just hoping for the bounty to spill over onto him, as it no doubt had with the flowers.
“Did you give the flowers to your girlfriend as well?” Gabe asked, smiling, and Sean grinned before nudging Gabe with a friendly elbow.
“I have three girlfriends, and they all loved the flowers.” Three. Gabe could barely cope with (or keep, for that matter) one. Ah, the vitality of youth. He stifled a laugh and glanced up to see that surly Pieter guy staring daggers at him. Wondering what that was all about, he excused himself and walked over to Pieter’s workstation.
“Have I offended you in some way?” he asked directly.
“Yeah, the boss is a nice lady; she don’t need some player playing her!” The words were delivered with a bit of heat and a lot of ice.
“I assure you, I’m not playing her,” he told the skinny man, who had a three-inch height advantage on him.
“You can use your fancy words and all, but she’s too good for you.”
Gabe reflected on his previous sentence, wondering which of the seven words had been too “fancy” for Pieter.