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.Many of the CF employees were already there, standing together in groups of three and four, drinks in hand.I spotted Mac Voorhies and his wife Marie, Jewel and her husband (whom I'd only met once), Darcy Pascoe and her boyfriend, the (allegedly) dope-peddling mailman.Vera slipped her hand through Dietz's arm and the three of us circled the room while everyone was introduced to everyone else and we all promptly forgot who was who.I could see Vera doing an eyeball cruise, checking across the heads to see if Neil Hess had arrived yet.I was just hoping he'd be tall enough for her to spot.Dietz bought us each a drink.His was a plain soda water with lime, mine a white wine, and Vera's a tequila sunrise.She sucked that one down and bought herself another.I watched her with interest.I'd never seen Vera so tense.She turned to Dietz."God, how can you drink without smoking a cigarette?""This isn't alcohol."She rolled her eyes."That's even worse.I'm going to bum one," she said."No, I'm not.Well, maybe one.A puff.""Is that Neil?" I asked.A doctorish type was poised in the doorway, searching for a familiar face.Without a reference point, of course, it wasn't possible to tell just how short he was, but he looked okay to me.Pleasant face, dark hair cut stylishly.He wore a navy suit, pale blue shirt I could have bet would have monogrammed cuffs.The bow tie was unexpected-I hadn't seen one in years.Vera raised a hand.His face brightened when he spotted her.He made his way across the room while she moved to join him, tucking her arm in his when they connected at the midpoint.She had to bend a bit to talk to him, but the disparity in their heights didn't seem remarkable to me.I tried to picture him with his head on my pillow, but it really didn't wash.17vera, in charge of the seating, had of course set it up so that Neil Hess and I were together.She and Dietz were at the table to our left.Dietz had apparently interceded to some extent, arranging it so that I was secured in one corner of the room, facing the entrance.Dietz was seated with his back to me, facing the entrance as well so he could keep an eye on the door.Vera was on his left, fully visible to me while all I could see of him was the back of his head.Both tables flanked an emergency exit that the security director had assured Dietz would remain unlocked for us during the course of the banquet.By eight, everyone had arrived and the assembled group settled at the tables like a flock of birds.The noise level had risen several decibels as a result of the alcohol consumed.These were company relationships and there was a sense of giddiness and unease at the sudden shift from business to social behaviors.The three-course dinner was served at a leisurely pace: a salad of baby lettuces, boneless chicken breasts sauteed with lemon and capers, miniature vegetables, hot breads, and finally a dense chocolate cake in a puddle of vanilla sauce.I ate like a forest animal, head coming up to check the door at any sign of movement, worried that Mark Messinger would show up with an Uzi and mow us down like weeds.Judging from the set of Dietz's shoulders, he was more relaxed than I, but then he was staring down the front of Vera's dress, a titillating distraction for any man.I tuned into the conversation at the table.Neil and I had been seated with two underwriters and their wives, a foursome talking bridge with an intensity I envied.I gathered they'd just returned from some kind of bridge-oriented cruise in which baby slams and gourmet foods were served up in equal measure.Much talk of no-trump, double finesses, and Sheinwold, whose strategies they were debating.Since neither Neil nor I played, we were left to our own devices, a possibility Vera had probably calculated well in advance.At close range, the man was attractive enough, though I saw no particular evidence of all the virtues Vera had ascribed to him.Nice hands.Nice mouth.Seemed a bit self-satisfied, but that might have been discomfort masquerading as arrogance.I noticed that when we talked about professional matters (his work, in other words) he exuded confidence.When it came to his personal life, he was unsure of himself and usually shifted the subject to safer ground.By the time the dessert came, we were still groping our way through various conversational gambits, casting about for common interests without much success."Where'd you go to school, Kinsey?""Santa Teresa High.""I meant college.""I didn't go to college.""Oh really? That surprises me.You seem smart enough.""People don't hire me for 'smart.' They hire me because I'm too dumb to know when to quit.Also, I'm a woman, so they think I'll work cheap."He laughed.I wasn't being funny so I gave a little shrug.He pushed his dessert plate aside and took a sip of coffee."If you got a degree, you could write your own ticket, couldn't you?"I looked at him."A degree in what?""Criminalistics, I would guess.""Then I'd have to go to work for the government or the local cops.I already did that and hated it.I'm better off where I am.Besides, I hated school, too.All I did was smoke dope." I leaned toward him."Now can I ask you one?""Sure [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]