Art In The Blood

Chapter 2

chapter
Chapter

BOBBI SAID MY eyes were still flushed bloodied, so I could only walk her partway back to the house. As soon as we got close to better lit areas and more people, she broke away with a smile and wave and went in to start another set. I returned to the cool solitude of the garden, found our bench again, and sat down, feeling peaceful and mellow about the world in general and quiet excitement over Bobbi in particular.

Sounds from the house drifted over the tailored grounds, the usual murmur of conversation, and the piano, then Bobbi's voice rose in plaintive song. She was having a private joke kidding me: the tune she'd chosen was "Red Sails in the Sunset." When the applause settled down, Titus Noble took over with a high-pitched string number that made the inside of my head itch. It was all part of the internal change; when I'd been a daylight walker I'd had no trouble with violin music. For self-protection I drifted farther from the house, putting trees and more hedges between my sensitive eardrums and the noise.

Sounds of another kind soon caught my attention, low voices, male, and I instinctively knew they were trying to be secretive. Their whispers were almost up to conversation level and punctuated irregularly by muffled laughter.

They were gathered at the foot of a massive fountain where a nearly naked stone woman dumped water endlessly from a jug. The big paper lanterns in the court gave them just enough light to see. A few glanced up from their circle at my approach, then turned back to the hot game of Harlem tennis they were playing against the fountain's marble base.

A youngish man with dark, sandy hair combed forward over a high brow puffed air into his fist, said a short prayer to Lady Luck, and tossed the dice with a practiced hand. They clicked and clattered on the pavement, hit against the low wall of the fountain, and bounced to a stop. The man crowed, others groaned, and money was swiftly collected, exchanged, and put down for the next toss.

Grinning broadly, he swept up the dice and breathed on them again, rubbing them between his hands with something like love.

"They're hot enough, Evan," someone complained, followed by an impatient chorus of agreement.

Evan tempered his grin and threw with an expert twist and follow-through, giving out a muted yell of triumph. More money was passed, and the rumpled stack where he knelt grew. The general opinion was that his streak couldn't last another roll and the bets were down. Evan went through more breathing exercises, rolled his eyes, and grimaced as though to transfer his hopes and energies into the dotted cubes. Silence fell on the restive group for the few seconds it took until the dice stopped and the resulting shouts of outrage and glee were enough to travel back to the house.

Just as he was collecting another rift of bills and congratulations, another man grabbed the dice over Evan's surprised protest. They scuffled, but the losers in the game got them apart, apparently aware there was a reason behind the breach of etiquette.

"What is it, Dreyer?"

The man walked under a paper lantern and looked at the dice carefully. I could almost hear him growling. He bounced them in his palm a few times, then rolled them at the base of the fountain.

"It's not your turn," complained Evan, who was just beginning to sweat.

Another man examined the results of the roll, then tossed them twice more over Evan's objections. By now Dreyer wasn't the only one growling, and Evan was facing a ring of hostile faces.

"Just a little joke, boys…"he said with a sick smile, hoping against hope someone would laugh.

Dreyer punched him in the stomach. He doubled over and would have fallen if not for all the supporting hands. It signaled a general free-for-all aimed at Evan and a fast scramble to recover the money. The milling bodies totally buried him for a moment, then his vague cry floated up clearly from the guttural profanity. The mass lurched and something large splashed into the fountain.

Until the punch in the stomach, I'd followed the proceedings with some amusement, good entertainment being a rare thing. After the punch I debated on just how to step in, but the splash got me moving. I was all too well acquainted with getting beaten to a pulp and dumped into water. Cheat or not, Evan had an ally.

I shoved flailing bodies out of the way to get to the fountain. It was shallow, but Evan's torso was underwater and destined to remain so as long as Dreyer held his legs up. I pushed him to one side, grabbed Evan's shirt and tie, and hauled him out like a drowned kitten. His thin hair streamed and water sputtered messily from his nose and mouth, but he didn't look ready to die yet. He was just settling onto the ledge of the fountain for a coughing fit when someone grabbed my right shoulder and spun me round to meet a fist.

The impact was a distant thing, after all. I hardly moved, though Dreyer must have put everything he had into it. Now he was hunched over his sore hand and glaring at me, probably working up to try again with the one he had left.

"Let it go," I told him.

"He cheated," he stated flatly.

I was the center of attention now and all of them looked one word away from beating me up for interfering with their fun. There were too many for me to influence, but it didn't seem necessary to try. Dreyer was the leader and would be the one to convince.

"So don't play with him," I suggested.

"Go to hell," he snarled back.

He looked ready to take another swing. From the stink of booze on his breath he might be just drunk enough or dumb enough to try. If so, then I'd make damn sure he lived to regret it.

"Forget it, Dreyer," someone from the rear said. "Let's get the money and go."

A few of the more practical ones broke away to count cash, but kept a wary eye open to watch any developments. Dreyer didn't move.

" C'mon, he's not worth the trouble."

Dreyer seemed to be having an internal debate over that point, men abruptly straightened from his near crouch. Before he could think twice about things, I caught up Evan and hustled him out of the war zone.

No one followed as we threaded through the maze of hedges. Evan had got his breath back, but still held a hand to his sore face where a beaut was forming on his left jaw.

"Thanks, buddy, I owe you one. They were really going to kill me."

"Just one of them-and you're welcome."

"Yeah, Dreyer's a real bastard. Come on back to the house, I'll buy you a drink."

He was more in need of it than I, but there was nothing better to do until Bobbi was finished. He knew the place and directed me around to a side entrance that opened into the kitchen. It was another enormous room and equipped with enough food and utensils to serve Wrigley Field during a sellout. We both winced at the bright light and bustling staff until a tubby young woman in white spotted us and came over, hands on her hips.

"Good grief, is that you, Mr. Robley?"

"What's left of him, Jannie," he shot back with a smile, and then winced at the action. "Got an ice pack?"

She sighed and shook her head at the wreckage and motioned for me to drop him in a chair next to one of the sinks. She found a towel and began to sop up his excess water. "What happened this time?"

"Well, there was this swimming contest-"

She dropped another towel over his face and rubbed briskly, his pained protests overriding his story. "Walt!" One of the white-coated waiters hustled over, grinning from ear to ear. "Go get a robe from the bathhouse storage and then try and find Miss Robley." He nodded and left, no doubt happy to be the one to pass the news along.

Evan fought his way out of the towel. "There's no need to bring Sandra into this, this is the first break she's had in a month of Sundays."

Jannie ignored him and made an ice pack with his towel and lumped it firmly against the sore side of his face. He yelped, but held it in place while she returned to direct some business on the other side of the kitchen.

"Women," he moaned. "They're all sympathy until you really need some. I get into the least little bit of trouble and they automatically think it's my fault."

I nodded and pretended to agree.

"Jannie's nice, though; a little bossy, but she's got beautiful skin tones. A little white, a touch of umber…" He saw that he'd lost me and made a writing motion in the air. "For painting? You know-art?"

"You're an artist?"

"One of the few genuine ones at this party."

Jannie returned with something that looked like a sheet with sleeves. "Start taking them off, Mr. Robley."

"What-here?"

"It's warm enough with the stoves," she pointed out with easy practicality.

"Warmth isn't what I'm concerned about." He indicated some of the female staffers.

"They know what a man looks like, and you more than most."

He was close to blushing. "This isn't fair-"

She smiled down at him. "I said the same thing to you on that so-called modeling job you gave me, so shuck 'em."

"That was art, this is… is…"

"Revenge," she concluded sweetly.

Some of the other girls gathered around in a scene disturbingly similar to the one we'd faced by the fountain. I backed away, he was strictly on his own this time.

"Perhaps you'd like some help, Mr. Robley…"

"No, thanks, I know how it's done," he said, inspiring a burst of giggles.

Grumbling, he started peeling off his coat. When he wrestled free of it and his shirt he grabbed up the huge robe and belted himself in before unbuttoning his pants.

Jannie gathered it all together in a basket.

"What about the rest?"

"My socks aren't wet."

"I mean your-"

"They're dry, too," he insisted grimly, and sat on the chair to preclude any attempt to remove his last shred of dignity. Jannie passed the basket on to another girl with instructions to dry things out.

Walt returned, ushering in a tall young woman dressed in rich green satin. Her russet eyes swept the room and fastened on Evan, who hunched a bit lower in his robe, looking supremely miserable. She came over and regarded him with amused tolerance.

"I was told you'd had an accident," she said judicially.

"Er… yes, something like that." He was definitely blushing by now. "There was a roughhouse, see, and I got caught up in the middle of it, and if my friend here hadn't stepped in and saved my life… well…"

"Oh, Evan."

"I did not throw the first punch, I swear." He held up his hand, which was hidden by half a yard of sleeve. He noticed, quickly lowered it, and fastened on me as a distraction. "Sandra, I'd like to introduce you to… uh…"

"Jack Fleming," I said, rescuing him again, and we shook briefly.

"Thank you for taking care of him. You're not hurt?"

"Only a little damp, Evan took the real damage."

"But I'm fine." A few shards of ice from the towel fell out as he struggled to free his hand from the sleeve. "Evan Robley," he said to me, "soon to be famous-along with my lovely, understanding sister, of course."

" How so, famous?"

"Because a lot of artists only become famous after they're dead," she put in significantly.

They had the same coloring, sharp features, and paint-stained fingers. His sandy hair was straight, hers was curly and a deep russet like her eyes. She had a slender build, but the fragility was offset by her long, firm jaw; tough looking, but not unattractive.

"Do you want to go home?" she asked him.

"No, not at all. Jannie'll have my clothes back in two shakes. Why don't you two go on and enjoy the party?"

"I can't just leave you-"

"I'll be fine." He appealed to me. "Take her back to the party and make her have some fun. Please?"

Her head tilted to one side in challenge. Sandra wasn't the type who could be made to do anything she didn't want. She noted my hesitation with amusement and suddenly smiled in approval. Sometimes my easy-to-read face could be an asset.

"Stay out of trouble?" she told him.

"Don't I always try?"

Sandra slipped her hand under my arm and led the way out of the kitchen.

"It just keeps finding me, is all," he muttered under his breath.

I glanced back in time to see Evan begin an animated conversation with one of the maids.

"Are you here with a date, Mr. Fleming?"

"Jack. Yes, I am, and yourself?"

"Evan's my escort. He wandered off rather early. What happened this time?"

"Cra-dice game. Some of the boys didn't like the way he was throwing them."

"Not those loaded ones again?"

"He'll have to get new ones, he lost them in the struggle."

"The sad thing is he probably will. He never seems to learn."

"Like a drink?" I offered as a waiter approached. She nodded and I swept a glass off for her. "Does Evan sell much of his art?"

"Hardly any, his work is too different for conventional tastes, but I manage to sell some things now and then."

"Beauty, brains, and talent. Congratulations. What do you paint?"

"Anything that sells, I'm afraid."

"Isn't that good?"

"For money, I suppose it is, but it's not always good for artistic integrity."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you know anything about art?"

"I'm learning now."

She finished her glass of champagne and deposited the empty on another passing tray. "Come on, I'll give you a lesson in the basics." She took me away from the mainstream of the party into the more sparsely populated areas of the house.

"You know this place pretty well?" I asked, trying to keep track of the layout.

"Oh, yes, we're very good friends with Leighton and Reva. I've sometimes spent as much time in Leighton's studio as my own."

"I thought artists were always in competition with each other."

"To a certain extent that's true, but we also exchange ideas and critiques. Of course it usually depends on the artist. Evan and Leighton have totally different styles, so they appeal to different tastes. Now look at this one, something you could hang anywhere in the world, in almost any house."

We paused in front of a landscape of mountains with a flowing, cloudy sky. There was a lot of detail to it, the colors were pleasant to look at, and it was very similar to the rural scenes in Gordy's office.

"What do you think?" she asked.

"I'm not sure, I don't feel qualified to judge."

"Do you know what you like?"

"Yes…"

Her attention sharpened. "But what?"

"I don't know, maybe it seems just a little too perfect."

She took my arm again. "Let me show you some more."

We explored the open areas of most of the downstairs rooms, squeezing close to all the walls and studying enough canvas to support a small museum. Leighton Brett's style was distinctive to himself, but for some reason I couldn't get into his paintings for more than a minute or so. I couldn't imagine buying one to look at for years at a time. Sandra was delighted.

"What's this about?"

Her smile had a definite softening effect on her face. "You are one of the few people I've met who've spotted it."

"What did I spot, then?"

"Leighton's artistic manipulation."

"What's that?"

She gestured at the painting, this one of a vase of flowers. "See the colors, very bland except for this touch of red here and here, which gives it all balance. I'm not denying he has a great deal of technical skill, but it's all very carefully planned, as you said, just a little too perfect." Her attitude was more amusement than jealousy, like a teacher instructing a pupil and enjoying the interaction for its own sake.

I looked at the flowers again and knew that with or without Sandra's information I still wouldn't like it. "What do you paint?"

"The same sort of things as Leighton, only I don't get paid as much. I was lucky enough to get in on the WPA program to produce art for federal buildings, which certainly helps at rent time."

"I didn't know the WPA even had a program for artists."

"Oh yes, and it's saved more than a few lives."

"Do you paint what you like or what they tell you?"

"A bit of both. Remember what I said about artistic integrity? They don't really dictate what they want to me, but I am expected to paint something acceptable.

Leighton's a great help to me there, he has a knack for knowing exactly what people expect, and then gives it to them. Whenever I think I'm going dry, I come over here for a refresher course."

"How does he feel about that?"

"He doesn't know about it," said a dark-haired man, turning around from his own station near the still life. "And since Sandra is quite tactful, he never will."

Sandra flashed a very devastating smile on him and touched his arm with an impulsive hand. "Alex! I'm so glad you came. How are you?"

His response to her obvious affection was minimal. His body went stiff at her touch and then relaxed visibly, as though he had to consciously remember she was a friend. "I'm well enough."

He didn't look it. He held his body straight, but his clothes were loose from weight loss and the skin on his face was dull. The impression was not so much ill health as neglect. The term "walking dead" had a more meaningful application to him than to myself. His suit was expensive but unpressed, and his collar and cuffs frayed beyond saving. He noticed my assessment and u slight spark of resentment lit his dark eyes for a brief second, then went out. He didn't give a damn.

I understood why when Sandra introduced us. Alex Adrian: one of the very few who had become famous outside artistic circles. In the last ten years hardly a week went by that his work didn't appear on some major or even minor magazine. He was in demand for snob advertising, illustrative work, society portraits, you name it, his talent crossed all boundaries and had kept him at the top. But this year, in January, the work stopped, and with enough notoriety to make headlines in more places than Chicago.

We shook hands briefly to obey social convention and then he pulled back into himself, hands held in front, the fingers of the right slowly twisting his wedding band around. I was interested to note he still wore it, perhaps as silent defiance to the rumors he'd murdered his wife.

"How is your WPA work going?" he asked Sandra.

"As well as possible, I'm working on a series for a civil-service building in Rockford."

"What are you doing?"

"Mountains, flowers, and sunsets; I don't know what the building looks like so I'm assuming the workers there would be glad of a little color."

"No doubt. Has Evan sold anything lately?"

"Another nude to Mr. Danube, and too far below the asking price."

"Tell him to stop having those pre-negotiation drinks with his buyers. What about that gallery deal?"

"It fell through. I was hoping to talk with Reva about carrying some of Evan's more restrained work."

"Why doesn't he do it himself?"

"You know how it is, Alex. He just can't seem to manage; I've tried. I pushed him in the right direction tonight and he ended up in the back fountain again."

Adrian almost looked interested. "Again?"

"Jack fished him out this time. He's in the kitchen waiting for his clothes to dry."

"Perhaps I'll check up on him, if only to protect the virtue of Brett's hired help."

"The hired help are perfectly able to look after themselves," said Evan, breaking in. His hair was combed, if a little flat, and though his clothes were still damp and wrinkled, he was cheerful. "You're looking awful, Alex, you should drink more." He held up a glass as an example and drained half of it away.

"No luck with Jannie?" said Sandra wryly.

"Not with Jannie, no. What are you all talking about me for?"

"We'd exhausted the conversational possibilities of the weather," said Adrian.

"But not drying paint," Evan shot back. "Done anything lately?"

"No."

Adrian's tone was not encouraging. Sandra noticed it and changed the subject.

"Evan, I saw Reva in the small drawing room-"

"That's a good trick in this crowd."

"Evan-"

He held up a placating hand. "Peace, dear baby sister, I'll take care of it in my own way."

"When?"

"On a day when Reva doesn't have hundreds of people around her, all wanting one thing or another. This isn't the right time. The day after tomorrow, maybe."

"Why so long?"

"Because if she feels tomorrow the way I plan to feel, she'll need her rest. The day after, she'll be recovered a little from the shock but still be tired and fairly vulnerable to suggestion. That's when I'll tackle her on the gallery."

"Promise?"

"Word of honor. But tonight I'm planning to make every effort to enjoy myself so that when I tell Reva what a wonderful hostess she is, she'll know I'm sincere and not merely flattering her. Now, would anyone else like a drink? No? Then I'll just help myself." He finished the rest of his glass and went off in search of more.

Sandra half started after him, but Adrian gently caught her arm. "Let him go, you can't live his life."

Sandra glared at him a moment, then her face softened. She had a lot of things to say about the subject and managed to pack it all into that one look before nodding agreement. "All right, but I am going to see he eats at least one sandwich before he starts his debauch." She went after him.

"She's his younger sister?" I asked.

Adrian continued to twist his ring. "Yes, but a good deal more responsible, so she seems older. I'm sure he'll get his work into Brett's gallery, his plan for talking to Reva was sound enough. Sometimes he's not as foolish as he appears."

"And other times?"

Adrian abruptly smiled, showing a row of large but perfect teeth. "He is exactly as he seems." The smile vanished just as abruptly as though it had never happened.

"How did Evan manage to end up in the back fountain?"

I briefly recounted the crap game and fight.

"Dreyer?" he interrupted.

"You know him?"

"I've heard of him, he's not exactly polite society. I'm surprised you were able to handle him; generally the man's a maniac. It's just like Evan to try cheating him at his own game."

"He's a gambler?"

"I'm not certain. Chicago seems to specialize in his type, if you know what I mean. I wonder why he's at this party, but then a lot of other unsavories are here as well. Money and manners don't always go together."

I remembered Madison Pruitt and could see his point.

"Are you connected with the art world, Fleming?"

"Not really, my girlfriend is singing here tonight and wanted me along."

"Bobbi Smythe? You're very fortunate. I heard her, she has a lovely voice."

I'll tell her you said so." And that's when the idea clicked in my head. "Alex, how does one go about commissioning a painting?"

"I couldn't say for other artists. For myself, I decide what I want to work on. The general rule is half payment in advance and half on completion. Why do you ask?"

"I wanted to get a special present for Bobbi, she won't take trinkets from me, but I don't think she could turn down her own portrait."

"Especially one by Alex Adrian." He wasn't boasting, but simply aware of his talent and reputation.

"Would you consider taking on a commission?"

He did at least think it over before shaking his head. "I have to say no. It's not the subject or you, I just haven't the time. I'm sorry. Perhaps you could commission Evan or Sandra, they're both very competent. Evan in particular, when you can get him to do realism. I warn you, though. Go along with Miss Smythe during the modeling sessions. Evan rather enthusiastically fits most people's cliche ideas of an artist. I think if he had no talent at all he would still be an artist, if only to exploit the popular reputation involved."

"You're certain you won't take it?"

"Very certain. Sorry."

He excused himself and moved back into the crowd. He was puzzling, because I was positive for a moment that he was going to say yes. The dullness had left his face, and even in the. packed room, I'd heard his heart hammer a little faster. He'd been genuinely interested and then the walls had come up, visibly and quite sudden. I glanced around to see if anything had inspired the change. The only thing in his direct line of sight were people, none of them known to me, but then a woman moved her head and I saw Reva Stokes, smiling and playing hostess.

She caught my look and nodded, then came over, graceful, smooth, and with a warmer attitude than before now that she was certain of the success of her party.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Reming?"

"Yes, thank you."

"I saw you talking with Alex. Are you friends?"

"Just met him tonight, I take it you know him, too."

"Yes, he and Leighton are good friends. He was over here a lot before… before Celia died."

"Celia was his wife?"

"Yes. It was suicide, he found her in their garage. She'd shut the doors and started the car and just sat there and let it happen. What a horrible way to die."

"The papers were less than kind to him, I suppose."

"Those disgusting rags. One of the reporters all but broke into his home for an interview. Alex threw them out, and that's when they started writing those awful stories. They were clever about it, they didn't print anything they could be sued for, but the innuendo was nearly enough to ruin him. He's had to change his phone number several times because of the terrible calls, and once some kids stoned his studio and broke windows. People can be so awful."

"He did seem withdrawn."

"You can hardly blame him. He's been a complete recluse since then; I'm hoping his coming here means he's getting back to being his old self."

"Does that also mean getting back to painting?"

"I hope so. I know he hasn't done any work for months."

"He must have loved her a lot."

"Oh, yes," she agreed, absently distracted because a large man came up and put a friendly arm around her shoulders.

"How are you holding up?" he asked with good humor. He had a drink and cigarette balanced in his free hand and looked comfortably happy about the world in general. Like Reva, I knew his face from the photo in the paper.

"Just fine, Leighton," she replied. "And you?"

"I can do this for hours yet." He removed the arm from her shoulders and extended a hand at me. "Leighton Brett, guest of honor of all this madness."

"Jack Fleming."

He was larger and even more solid than the newspaper photo implied. It only hinted at the rich, curly brown hair and had left out the laugh lines round his eyes.

There was no hint of the planned calculation his paintings showed, and I wondered if Sandra had just been pulling my leg.

"Mr. Reming is here with Bobbi Smythe, Leighton."

This garnered a broad smile. "She's doing a wonderful job in there."

"I'll be sure to tell her."

"Did you know that Alex was here tonight?" Reva asked him.

"Yes, I finally talked him into coming. It's about time he got back to normal again. He's had too much of his own company and needs to remember life goes on."

"We were just talking about Celia-"

"Not where he or anyone else could hear, I hope. You know he's just coming out of it, the last thing he needs is for all that gossip to start up again."

"It won't be repeated," I said.

"I should hope not," he rumbled, and Reva looked uncomfortable. A subject change again seemed in order.

"I had a question for you on one of your paintings-

"Certainly, go ahead."

"The farm scene in the paper that won the award, have you painted any duplicates of it?"

"Certainly not. What do you mean, 'duplicates'?"

"I happened to see a very similar painting once before in someone's office, and I'd heard that artists sometimes make copies of their own work."

"If I want copies I do a print or an engraving. Where did you see this?"

"In a private office, three fairly big paintings. The owner got them through a decorator, but I don't know the name."

"Reva?"

She shook her head. "I don't remember selling three of that size to any one person or company, not all at once, anyway. It could be an imitator, there are a lot of them around."

"Far too many and you're being too kind, girl. Those bastards are little more than forgers, as far as I'm concerned. A man works for years to get his style, and then they just jump in and make a fortune off all my efforts. I want to see these paintings.

Where are they?"

It did not strike me that Gordy would appreciate having an artist of even Brett's reputation barging around his office and asking questions. "I'm not at liberty to say, but I can ask the owner permission for you to-

"Ask permission? Look, if someone is cheating me and the public out of my work, I want to know about it." His voice rose; apparently he was very unused to getting no for an answer.

Heads were turning and Reva had backed away, flushing beet red with embarrassment. I did what I could to keep my voice calm and even. "I can't tell you now, but I'll look into it for you, I promise."

He paused, blinked, and seemed to realize he was on the verge of making a scene.

He chose to ignore it altogether. "Good, call me as soon as you know anything." His good humor returned an instant later. Reva's color evened out again, but her tone was a little forced as she drew my attention to a still life on the wall. The people around us gradually went back to their own conversations. I stuck it out and made some kind of comment or other. Brett responded well to my inexpert praise, and even indulged in some modest self-critique.

"Yes, but it's a bit old now, at least to my eyes. I've learned a lot since that one was painted. I suppose we ought to sell it off and replace it with something better."

"It looks fine to me," I said, hoping the remark didn't sound as false to him as it did to me.

Reva stepped in. "Brett always says things like that; every artist knows his next painting will be better than the last."

"And it's always true," confirmed Brett. "Have you been by the gallery yet?"

The safe and sane small talk continued until someone else claimed their attention and I could decently slip away. It was past time for me to return to the long hall and see how Bobbi was getting along.

The sound of the music was my guide, Bobbi was singing again, another slow club number that could make a statue weep. The place was as crowded as before but I managed to squeeze through and catch her eye. She gave me a discreet nod without pausing in her song of hope and heartbreak.

The crowd had backed off to create an impromptu dance floor, and couples swayed to the slow music. I was a little surprised to see Adrian among them. He didn't seem the sort to indulge in frivolity, but perhaps Sandra had talked him into it. She was one of those rare ones who could do that without seeming pushy. Her head rested contentedly against his shoulder and neither of them were in any pain.

Someone appeared abruptly at my side, Walt from the kitchen. He was looking anxiously at the dancers.

"Something wrong?" I asked.

He recognized me. "Well, yes, sort of… Mr. Robley…"

"He needs to see his sister?"

"No, sir, I think the last person he'd want to see is his sister. He mumbled something about Mr. Adrian."

It sounded ominous, but I didn't want to break in on them. All the world loves a lover and all that, and I had more than one romantic bone holding up my carcass.

"He's busy, let's see if I can substitute."

Relieved, he led me out by another door to a hallway and eventually to a linen closet. Evan was at the bottom of it with blood on his face.


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