Authors: Donald Hamilton
That was what her fine gray eyes told me now, or tried to tell me; but her fine gray eyes were, of course, goddamn liars. Suddenly we were both fully conscious of the fact that she’d set it up like this quite deliberately and that we both knew it; the difference between us being that only she knew why. I found it very puzzling and rather shocking. She didn’t look like a sex-starved woman. In fact, when I’d first seen her I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that she and her fellow-genius husband lived and loved only on a purely intellectual level scorning all passions of the flesh—of course, that had been before I’d learned about the handicapped child that presumably had not resulted from immaculate conception.
On the other hand, if she hoped to influence my photographic activities by these tawdry bedroom tactics, well, it seemed like a hell of a thing for a proud and well-educated lady to be doing merely to promote a favorable picture story about her and her husband’s scientific endeavors in Costa Verde. I’d already developed considerable respect for her. I couldn’t believe this of her.
The silence ran on tautly for several seconds. Abruptly she gave a kind of a shudder and rose and walked quickly back to the window and parted the draperies and looked out for a second or two. She let them fall together again and took a deep swallow from the glass she still held. I had risen and moved to stand behind her, but I didn’t touch her.
“I’m ashamed.” Her voice was an almost inaudible whisper. “I’m so ashamed, Sam.”
I didn’t help her out by saying anything. After another sip from her glass, she turned to face me.
“‘Come in for a drink, Sam. Close the door unless you’re afraid of being compromised, Sam.’ My God, how cheap can you get?” Her voice was ragged with self-contempt. When I still didn’t speak, she went on: “Would you be a real gentleman? Would you just withdraw very quietly and leave the lady, who’s no real lady, to her humiliation? And in the morning please try not to look at her and make her blush at remembering the shabby tramp she was, or tried to be!”
I said, “That’s all very touching, sweetheart.”
She stiffened and stared up at me, her face pale. She started to speak angrily and stopped herself, licking her lips.
I said, “You do it very well. But I don’t know whom you’re trying to kid, me or yourself, Dillman.”
She drew a sharp breath and let it out. A pale smile stirred her carefully made-up mouth. “I can’t be doing it too well, or you wouldn’t be seeing right through it, Felton.” She sighed in a resigned way. “No, you’re perfectly right. I don’t really want you to go.”
I studied her, perplexed. “Why me?” I asked. “I mean, I know I’ve got the face of Adonis and the body of Hercules and the brain of Einstein and the balls of a rampant bull. There’s no doubt whatever that I’m totally irresistible on every level from the intellectual to the horizontal, but you still look to me like a lady who’d put up a good fight against infidelity, even under the most tempting circumstances. So why me, and on our first night out of Chicago, yet?”
Her smile grew; and now there was a little malice in it. “Who else was there, my dear? One of those elderly gentlemen with their battle-axe wives? That legless boy who may very well be missing something more than his legs? Anyway… anyway, I wouldn’t want him, even if he were intact. He’s too young. He wouldn’t know how to do it. He wouldn’t be… careful of me. He’d get all passionate and excited and, God help us, he might even fall in love with me, enchanting older woman that I am. I might have a hard time getting rid of him afterward.”
“Whereas I look like I shed easily?” I said dryly.
“You’re adult and I suspect you’re fairly experienced, Sam. I don’t think you feel obliged to make a grand passion out of every one-night stand.” She drew a long breath. “I’m glad you think I look… looked like an ever-faithful wife, a very reserved and respectable and sexless sort of person. I’ve worked very hard to preserve that image. And if I hadn’t done it tonight, my dear, well, I was afraid we were going to be friends in another day or two. And it’s very hard to seduce a man who’s become a good friend. I mean, he gets so terribly shocked when he discovers what the lady
wants from him. I have plenty of friends; I don’t need you for another. I need you for…” She stopped, and gave a tiny shrug. “I need you,” she whispered.
I didn’t believe a word of it, of course. This handsome woman might well be more passionate than she allowed herself to appear; but that she’d be totally at the mercy of her passions was not credible. And while I like to think I’m as charming as the next guy in my rough-hewn way, I always remember that a lot of good, and more not-so-good, men have died from overestimating the attraction they exerted upon the opposite sex. No, I didn’t buy it for a moment. But the lady was committed now. She’d offered herself to me without reservation. There was no gentle way of refusing her. However I put it, I would be saying crudely:
Sorry, babe, tonight’s my night to be virtuous, and anyway you’re really not all that desirable.
I said, “Sure. Need. Well, you’re the managing lady. Tell me how you’d like this managed, lady.” When she hesitated, I asked baldly, “Do you want to be kissed, for a start?”
She shook her head-minutely. “No. I think we can dispense with the phony kisses.” Her voice was very calm. “But you may undress me if you wish. Just be… be careful, please. Aside from a rather dressy dress, these are the only civilized clothes I brought along.”
“Careful Felton is my middle name.”
I set my glass aside. I took hers from her hand and put it beside mine. I stepped forward deliberately and started to unbutton her silk shirt, aware that she was wearing some kind of a faint but pleasant fragrance. Being a cynical bastard, I had a vision of her dabbing it on with grim resignation, preparing herself for the disgusting seduction scene she was being compelled to stage. Compelled how?
“Sam.” When I looked at her, having unfastened three small pearly buttons to reveal a rather pretty white slip with lace on it, she said, “Please. You’re looking so… so goddamned cynical. You’re making me feel cheap and dirty. Can’t you see I wouldn’t be doing this if I could help myself?”
I wanted to ask why she couldn’t help herself; but I knew that all I’d get would be the same phony nympho routine. I straightened up to face her. She was rather disheveled-looking now, with her blouse gaping to reveal her underwear; and I felt very sorry for both of us, trapped in this lousy sex production.
I said, “You’re the one who specified this crummy coldblooded approach, Frances.”
Then I reached out and tipped her chin up a little—she was tall enough that it didn’t take much—and bent forward to kiss her. Her lips were cool and unresponsive at first, hardly the lips of a compulsive sex-freak, but after a little they remembered how this was done, and after a little longer they began to enjoy it. Her body relaxed gradually and allowed itself to be brought into contact with mine; soon she was helping to draw us together fiercely, her fingers digging into my back. When we parted at last we were both breathing hard and no questions or reservations remained.
I said, “That takes care of that ladylike lipstick. Now you’d better get your own damn clothes off if you want to be able to wear them again.”
I turned away, fumbling with the buttons of my shirt. When I turned back, stripped, she was standing there with her garments neatly arranged on a nearby chair. She awaited me nude with a certain regal and at the same time rather touching pride that was quite justified. She was even more striking, naked, than she had been dressed.
It had been a long time since I’d seen a truly white lady. They’re all so healthy and brown these days, with cute little bikini-marks, and it’s very nice, no doubt; but this one gleamed like pale marble or, since it was a warm glow, finely polished ivory. I’d kind of expected a lean, strong, rawboned body, but she looked almost fragile, all white like that; a long, slim lovely shape with everything perfectly formed, just slightly attenuated to make a tall woman out of a limited amount of material.
She waited, unmoving, as I approached, and we kissed again, rather formally this time, a little self-conscious in our nudity, although we were both adults who’d been here before. We separated briefly so I could turn out the table lamp. In the sudden semidarkness, broken by shafts of light from the city outside, we proceeded to the bed and entered it with careful dignity; but that dignity did not endure beyond the first tentative contacts between our unclothed bodies. It’s not really a very dignified act.
In the morning I woke up early in my own room next door, having slipped out of the lady’s warm bed, regretfully, in the middle of the night after the hotel was asleep. I found that I was feeling very hungry and not particularly guilty about taking advantage of the situation—whatever the situation might be—to help a troubled woman break her sacred marriage vows. It did occur to me that my period of mourning hadn’t lasted very long; but Elly would have told me not to be silly. She wouldn’t have expected or wanted me to honor her memory with everlasting continence.
The small fourth-floor dining room or coffee shop—according to the placard posted in the elevator, there was a big formal restaurant on the roof, but it functioned only in the evening—had glass walls facing a sheltered patio open to the sky, with a good-sized swimming pool; but at our present altitude of seven thousand feet, in the middle of winter, the green wind-ruffled water held no attraction for me or, apparently, for anybody else. A couple of doves were foraging, undisturbed, in the tiled pool area. I was a little surprised to see them in the center of a city of fourteen million people. Unlike its big cousin, the pigeon, the dove is usually a country bird at heart.
The place had just opened, and there wasn’t much breakfast business being transacted yet; but one couple from the tour was established at a table by the wall. I’d noticed them before, not only because they were the youngest members of the group except for Ricardo Jimenez—somewhere in their thirties—but because they were dressed to be noticed. The girl was wearing big yellow boots, a wide, flounced, flowered peasant skirt, and a man’s striped shirt with the tails out, bound around the middle by a handsome silver concha belt. Her dark brown hair was frizzed all over her head, dandelion fashion. I wondered if it was still called an Afro if the wearer wasn’t African. If you looked hard you could see that, in spite of the wild getup, she was really rather an attractive young woman, in a sturdy, healthy way.
The man; lean and dark and a few years older, was imitating a Navajo chief or his own idea of a bearded Navajo chief—to the best of my knowledge the only one in captivity. He wore jeans and a blue velvet tunic of some kind; and he was hung all over with silver, some of it wrapped around massive gobs of turquoise. It was presumably the genuine stuff, no Japanese imitations need apply, since he could afford it. His name was James Wallace Putnam, of the Chicago Putnams; and he could probably even afford to let his wife (the relationship was legal and her name was Gloria) get her hairs bent one by one, by the best hair-benders in the business, if she so desired.
I couldn’t help wondering, as one does, what they were trying to prove by their unconventional getups. Well, it was her hair and his jewelry, and if they simply thought they looked great that way, it was a fairly innocent self-deception compared to some.
“May I join you, Mr. Felton?”
I looked up, and there she was in her nice beige suit, looking neat and intellectual and totally untouched, even a little old-maidish; but I had an impulse to kiss her good morning that was strong enough to scare me. It was a very simple psychological phenomenon, of course. Whatever her motives, she had caught me at a bad time and made it good, very good. Now the orderly psyche wanted to make the whole untidy, confusing business nice and neat and call it love. I was going to have to watch that psyche.
I rose in gentlemanly fashion and held the chair for her. “Good morning, Dr. Dillman.”
“We’re going to have to stop this, darling,” she said softly after I’d seated myself again. Then she laughed at my expression. “No, silly, not
I think we can figure out safe ways of doing
, two clever people, like us. I just meant tête-à-têtes like this. We’ve got to remember that I hauled you off on that wheelchair mission yesterday, perfectly innocent but just the two of us, and now I’m having breakfast with you; and that’s all we can possibly get away with. You must stay completely away from me now, my dear, until… It can’t be this evening; we’re all having dinner together, and afterward you can visit anybody’s room you like, except mine. I’ll ask some others in for drinks, but you’ll stay away. I’ll tell you when. I may be a… a nymphomaniac, but I don’t have to be a stupid nymphomaniac.”
“Crap,” I said.
“Don’t be crude, Sam.”
“It’s time for a little crudity,” I said. “For God’s sake, this is a guy who just made love to you, remember? You’re a sweet, sexy lady, sure; but don’t try to convince me you’re a female weirdo compulsively grabbing at anything in pants to help her scratch an itch her intellectual husband isn’t man enough to satisfy.”
She said stiffly, “That’s a very ugly way to put it, a very cruel way, darling; but it happens to be the unfortunate truth.”
I shook my head. “Last, night, you were far from pathologically eager to haul me into bed. Oh, you talked a good fight, but you were tense, apprehensive, in fact scared shitless to keep up the crudity—until I kissed you. You’d heard things about me. Not nice things. You didn’t know what I was going to do, a dreadful, dangerous character like me. You had a vision of being forced to perform ghastly perversions, or of simply winding up horribly battered and disfigured, hurt and bleeding, after I’d worked my violent will on you. And then I kissed you just like an ordinary human being, male variety, and you sensed it wasn’t going to be such a tough chore after all, making love to me; and in relief and gratitude you… well, you made it very nice and I thank you. But let’s just forget that sickie-sexy bit. You’re a very nice, perfectly normal lady who’s in some kind of a bind; and of course you don’t dare to tell me about it because you’ve been ordered not to, so let me tell you.”