"Samson? I need to talk to you."
Before the words were out of his caller's mouth, the carny boss was frowning. "Shit, Lila, I'm busy. I ain't got time to listen to you rave about Hawkins havin' kilt Lodz. It's a crock, an' you know it!"
"It's the God's-honest truth," she shot back, "an' you know that."
He did, of course. Thank the Lord she ain't got no way o' provin' it.
"But that ain't what I'm here about," she continued, shutting the door of the Management trailer behind her.
"Well, whatever it is," he grumbled, "be quick." He had a lot on his plate, with Hawkins in bad shape and mortal enemy Justin Crowe - unaccountably - still alive. Lila, who'd tried to oust him as boss only two weeks ago, was easily his least favorite carny.
The big woman looked uncomfortable. "I think I should warn you about somethin'."
"Warn me?" he exploded. "You can take yer threats an' get the hell outta here!"
"I really meant 'warn,' not threaten!" She took a deep breath, then fumbled for words. At last she said awkwardly, "Listen, Samson. You know I spent time in France when my family toured with the circus years ago, right?"
He rolled his eyes. "Everyone knows you spent time in France, Lila. You never let us forget it."
"Sorry about that."
Jeez, he realized, she does look sorry.
"People in France," she said slowly, "are sort of...different."
"Right," he drawled. "They're French."
"I mean -" She was flushed now, appearing close to tears. "People in France do things differently. They think differently than Americans. Some Americans."
Samson scowled. "If you're sayin' we ain't good enough for you, if you'd rather go back an' live in yer precious France with its hoity-toity manners, you got my blessin'. I can't understand why you've stayed this long, if you're so all-fired sure Lodz is dead."
"I don't want to leave!" she protested. "I just - in some ways I'm more like the French -" After another struggle for words, she said quietly, "I'm in my mid-forties. An' women that age sometimes have accidents, y' know?" She couldn't meet his eyes. "The kind of accidents that make babies."
After a moment's stunned silence, Samson burst out laughing. "You're pregnant? That's what this is about? Congratulations!" He continued cheerfully, "I've heard o' 'French kisses,' but c'mon! The French sure ain't alone in havin' unplanned babies."
"No. But people in France -"
Samson wasn't listening. "I s'pose Burley's the proud papa?" He hadn't realized they'd become lovers, but Burley was the only guy she'd been spending much time with.
"No." In a shaky voice, she added, "Fact is, he's one o' the folks likely to disapprove."
Samson wiped the grin off his face. "Hey, I'm sorry. I just assumed - I assumed wrong. An' if I hadn't, I wouldn't o' asked! It ain't none o' my business who the father is. But" - he shook his head in bemusement - "do you really think carnies are gonna 'disapprove' o' yer havin' a baby?"
"Not everyone. Maybe not you, or Sabina, or Ruthie. But it ain't gonna sit well with most o' the others.
" 'Cause they ain't like people in France. They ain't tolerant."
Samson was exasperated. "Carnies - freaks, most o' them - ain't tolerant?"
"No, not o' this!" Bending over his desk, she said earnestly, " 'Cause everyone's gonna know who this baby's father is, soon as they see the child."
"Soon as they see..." His voice trailed off. But he knew his eyes were widening.
Lila nodded. "You've got it. The only man I've slept with since Lodz...an' the only black man who's crossed our path in months.
"Your old friend, Charlie Lewis."