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.The reception area took him by surprise.The furnishings were ultramodern.Chrome was everywhere.He felt as though he'd walked onto a photo layout from Architectural Digest.A sweet young thing looked up, pursed an ever so small smile and said, “Can ah help you, sir?”Pitt stared into the mossy green magnolia eyes and imagined her as a former homecoming queen.“I called from the airport and set an appointment with Mr.Hunley.My name is Pitt.”The recognition was automatic and the smile didn't alter so much as a millimeter.“Yes, he's expecting you.Please come this way.”She led him into an office decorated entirely in brown tones.Pitt was suddenly overwhelmed with the sensation of drowning in oatmeal.A rotund, smiling little man rose from behind an enormous kinney-shaped desk and extended his hand.“Mr.Pitt.I'm Charlie Hunley.”“Mr.Hunley,” Pitt said, shaking hands."Thank you for seeing me.“Not at all.Your phone call ticked my curiosity.You're the first person to ask about our boiler making capacity in, golly, must be forty years.”“You're out of the business?”“Heavens, yes.Gave it up during the summer of fifty-one.End of an era, you might say.My great-granddandy rolled armor plate for the Confederate ironclad fleet.After World War Two, my dandy figured the time had come for a change.He retooled the plant and started fabricating metal furniture.As things turned out, it was a shrewd decision.”“Did you, by chance, save any of your old production records?” Pitt asked.“Unlike you Yankees, who throw out everything,” Hunley said with a sly smile, “we Southern boys hold onto everything, including our women.”Pitt laughed politely and didn't bother asking how his California upbringing had qualified him as a Yankee.“After your call,” Hunley continued, “I ran a search in our file storage room.You didn't give me a date, but since we only supplied forty water-tube boilers with the specifications you mentioned for Liberty ships, I found the invoice listing the serial number in question in fifteen minutes.Unfortunately, I can't tell you what you don't already know.”“Was the boiler shipped to the company that supplied the engines or direct to the shipyard for installation?”Hunley picked up the yellowing paper from his desk and studied it for a moment.“It says here we shipped to the Georgia Shipbuilding Corporation in Savannah on June fourteenth, 1943.” Hunley picked,up another piece of paper.“Here's a report from one of our men who inspected the boilers after they were installed in the ship and connected to the engines.All that is mentioned of any interest is the name of the ship.”“Yes, I have that,” said Pitt.“It was the Pilottown.”A strange expression of puzzlement crossed Hunley's face as he restudied the inspector's report.“We must be talking about two different ships.”Pitt looked at him.“Could there be a mistake?”“Not unless you wrote down the wrong serial number.”“I was careful,” Pitt replied firmly.“Then I don't know what to tell you,” said Hunley, passing the paper across the desk.“But according to the inspection report, boiler number 38874 went into a Liberty ship called the San Marino.”CONGRESSWOMAN LOREN SMITH WAS WAITING on the concourse when Pitts flight from Charleston arrived at Washington's National Airport.She waved to get his attention, and he smiled.The gesture was unnecessary.She was an easy woman to spot.Loren stood tall, slightly over five foot eight.Her cinnamon hair was long but layered around the face, which accented her prominent cheekbones and deep violet eyes.She was dressed in a pink cotton-knit tunic-style dress with scoop neck and long sleeves that were rolled up.For an elegant touch, she wore a Chinese-patterned sash around her waist.She possessed an air of breezy sophistication, yet underneath one could sense a tomboyish daring.A representative elected from the state of Colorado, Loren was serving her second term.She loved her job; it was her life.Feminine and softspoken, she could be an unleashed tiger on the floor of Congress when she tackled an issue.Her colleagues respected her for her shrewdness as well as her beauty.She was a private woman, shunning the parties and dinners unless they were politically necessary.Her only outside activity was an on again, off again" affair with Pitt.She approached him and kissed him lightly on the mouth.“Welcome home, voyager.”He put his arm around her and they set off toward the baggage claim.“Thank you for meeting me.”“I borrowed one of your cars.I hope you don't mind.”“Depends,” he said.“Which one?”“My favorite, the blue Talbot-Lago.”“The coupe with the Saoutchik coachwork? You have expensive taste.That's a $200,000 car.”“Oh, dear, I hope it doesn't get dented in the parking lot.”Pitt gave her a solemn look.“If it does, the sovereign state of Colorado will have a vacant seat in Congress.”She clutched his arm and laughed.“You think more of your cars than you do your women.”“Cars never nag and complain.”“I can think of a few other things they never do,” she said with a girlish smile.They threaded their way through the crowded terminal and waited at the baggage claim.Finally the conveyor belt hummed into motion and Pitt retrieved his two suitcases.They passed outside into a gray, sticky morning and found the blue 1948 Talbot-Lago sitting peacefully under the watchful eye of an airport security guard.Pitt relaxed in the passenger's seat as Loren slipped behind the wheel.The rakish car was a right-hand drive, and it always struck Pitt odd to sit and stare out the left side of the windshield at the approaching traffic with nothing to do.“Did you call Perlmutter?” he asked [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]