Banquets of the Black Widowers (The Black Widowers #4)

Chapter 8


CHARLES SOSKIND was strikingly handsome. That much was obvious from the moment Thomas Trumbull introduced him to the membership of the Black Widowers on the occasion of their monthly banquet.

It was, in fact, obvious even before he was introduced. He was tall, slim, dark-haired. He had a pale complexion with eyes that were all the more startlingly dark for that. He had astonishingly regular features, firm lips with just a trace of sensuousness about them, and an engaging smile. He shook hands with a strong grip and his fingernails were well cared for. He exuded just a trace of after – shave lotion and the paleness of his cheeks was shadowed by the blueness of a buried beard – for there was no visible stubble. He was well – barbered and he seemed like a throwback to a Gibson collar ad.

Trumbull said, "Charles is relatively new at the Department. He took his degree in Slavic studies at the University of Michigan."

Hands were shaken all around and each Black Widower displayed that quite detectable air of distrust with which ordinary males meet an extraordinary specimen of their own kind.

Mario Gonzalo was perhaps most obvious in his reaction. He managed to locate his reflection in the mirror and refurbished the line of his jacket in what he might have thought was an unobtrusive manner.

If so, Emmanuel Rubin promptly disabused him. With a broad grin which showed the pronounced gap between his upper first incisors, Rubin whispered, "Forget it, Mario. You're straight out of the garbage can in comparison."

Gonzalo lifted his eyebrows and stared down at the shorter Rubin in haughty displeasure. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Rubin continued to smile. "You know," he said, "and I know, and surely that's enough."

Just the same, Rubin did manage to run his fingers absently through his straggly beard as though a sudden and impossible desire to have it flow downward in a neat and impressive manner had overtaken him.

Geoffrey Avalon cleared his throat and stood straighter and more stiffly even than was his wont. He was two inches taller than Soskind, and it was clear that he didn't care if the whole world noticed that little fact.

Roger Halsted sucked in his stomach and endured the discomfort of that for nearly two minutes. James Drake, the oldest of the Black Widowers, looked preternaturally indifferent, as though it was only age and nothing more that kept him out of the race – and, what's more, prevented him from winning.

Only Henry, the competent waiter, on whose shoulders the welfare of the banquets rested, seemed truly unaware of anything out of the ordinary as he brought Soskind his straight ginger ale, with a maraschino cherry in it.

Soskind regarded the drink somberly and then, with the air of someone who has survived questioning on the matter for years, said, even though no one asked, "I order the cherry because that makes it look like an alcoholic drink of some sort and I then don't have to explain why I'm not drinking."

"Why don't you drink?" asked Rubin, with immediate perversity.

"It's not because I'm a member of Alcoholics Anonymous," said Soskind dryly. "I just have a low tolerance for alcohol. One drink gets me distinctly high and since I get no pleasure out of the sensation, I choose not to drink. I don't have to be forced or argued into it."

"If I were you," said Gonzalo, darkly, "I'd get Perrier with a pearl onion in it. That dye they use in maraschino cherries is carcinogenic, I hear."

"So is everything," said Soskind, "if you choose the proper strain of rats to experiment with, and make the doses large enough."

Halsted said, with the usual slight stammer that always seemed to invade his speech as soon as he tried particularly hard to seem a man of the world, "Too bad you're so adversely affected by alcohol. Overdoing it is bestial, but there is nothing quite as civilized as the ritual of the moderate sharing of drinks. It reduces the inhibitions standing in the way of the true grace of social intercourse."

"Believe me," said Soskind, nodding, "I fully appreciate that particular disadvantage under which I labor. I usually avoid cocktail panics simply because I can't participate on equal terms. And that's by no means the worst of it. It's the business lunches that are the real strain. I assure you that if I could drink more easily, I would be glad to do so."

And almost at once, as though on cue, Henry announced the end of the cocktail hour. "Dinner is served, gentlemen."

Drake found himself sitting next to the banquet guest and said, "Are you of Russian extraction, Mr. Soskind?"

"Not as far as I know," said Soskind, his expression lightening a bit at the smoked salmon and onion bits. He reached for a section of the thin – sliced bread and butter and carefully brushed the capers to one side. "My father's father arrived here from Luxembourg, and my mother's parents were both Welsh."

"I asked," said Drake, "because of your degree in Slavic studies. Your doctorate, by the way?"

"Yes, I have the right to be referred to as Dr. Soskind, though I never insist on it. You are Dr. Drake, I presume?"

"Chemistry. But all of us can refer to each other as doctors by virtue of our membership in the club. Even our good Henry, the invaluable waiter of the organization, is Dr. Jackson, if we chose to call him that. – But how did you come to Slavic studies?"

"Oh, that! No personal reasons, if you discount ambition. After all, the United States has been facing the Soviet Union in open competition for forty years now. Many Soviet citizens can speak English and have studied Anglo – American history and culture, while very few Americans have returned the compliment. This puts us under a severe disadvantage and by my making a personal effort to help redress the balance, I am making myself a patriot and, in addition, am opening my way to advancement, since my knowledge is useful."

"You mean in Tom Trumbull's department?"

"I mean," said Soskind, carefully, "in that organ of government in which we both serve."

"I take it then," put in Avalon suddenly from the other side of the table, "that you speak and read Russian quite fluently."

"Yes, sir," said Soskind, "quite fluently, and Polish as well. I can make myself understood in Czech and Serbian. With time, I hope to learn other languages, too. Arabic and Japanese are extremely important in today's world, and I intend to take courses in each as soon as I finish my present damned task."

Trumbull leaned forward from his position at the head of the table, which he occupied by virtue of serving as that evening's host of the banquet.

"Stop it, you idiots! Is this grilling time? Charles, you answer no questions at all until it's time. Right now, you just enjoy your dinner undisturbed. – I don't understand you half – wits. Do the rules of the club have to be explained to you each time?"

"There are no rules," said Rubin, promptly.

"Yes?" said Gonzalo. "I wonder if you'll expound that doctrine the next time I bring in a woman as my guest."

"That's a matter of tradition!" howled Rubin. "If you can't understand the difference between tradition and rules -"

And the discussion degenerated into a verbal free – for – all at once.

The bouillabaisse was done; the hot, scented napkins had been put to their proper use; the baked Alaska was consumed; and the Black Widowers were lingering over their coffee (tea for the guest) when Trumbull rattled the spoon against the water glass and said, "Mario, since you did not display the bad taste to grill my guest before he had been adequately fed, won't you now serve as griller – in – chief?"

Gonzalo jumped slightly. He had produced the needed caricature of the guest, catching him in a spectacularly Byronic profile. He said, "Mr. Soskind, it is customary to begin by asking the guest to justify his existence. Let me answer that question for myself. I judge that you would say in response that you are carrying through the justification by using your Russian to help the American government beat the Soviet Union."

Soskind, who was glaring at the caricature, said, "The word 'beat' has unpleasant connotations. I would prefer to say that I am doing my bit to secure the interests of the United States, which, I take it, means first and foremost the preservation of world peace and the protection of human rights."

Gonzalo said, "But wouldn't you be making a hell of a lot more money if you went into show business?"

Soskind reddened and seemed to be struggling with himself to prevent an explosion. His control burst, however, and he said, "That's an idiotic question to ask, and the proper answer I ought to give you is a punch in the jaw."

For a moment, the gathering froze and then Trumbull said, with totally uncharacteristic mildness, "That's uncalled for, Charles. I told you the way in which we play our game when I invited you to dinner. I do not deny that Mario is often idiotic, as are we all – always excluding our good Henry – but he was in this case within his rights. He was asking a question, and he may ask any question. You have been given to understand that you must answer all questions truthfully. Whatever you say will never pass outside this room."

Soskind said, "Of course, Tom. I apologize to you, Mr. Gonzalo, and to all the company." He drew a deep breath and said, not without some signs of continuing anger, "I suppose it might look to some people as though I might be successful in Hollywood, especially if I really looked like that sketch you have drawn, Mr. Gonzalo. I suppose you meant it to represent me but I earnestly hope I don't resemble it altogether.

"Good looks, assuming I have them, might get me into the movies, but I doubt they could make me a success unless I had some minimal acting ability as well – something I do not have. Even then, it could not make me happy unless I had the actor's temperament, which I am poles removed from. I am doing what I want to do – studying the languages of humanity – for the reasons I have mentioned and if it returns an adequate compensation, I am quite ready to dismiss the dreams of avarice. Have I made that clear?"

"Very clear," said Gonzalo, "but what makes you think you lack the temperament of an actor? I know a number of actors and they come in all shapes and varieties of temperament. As for acting ability, it seems to me you have the capacity for – histrionics, if Manny will tell me that is indeed the word I want."

"That's the word you want – for once," said Rubin.

Soskind bowed his head for a moment. When he lifted it, it was as though the clouds had thinned and the sun had broken through. His smile was all but irresistible.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I find that I am still making things hard for you. I do not wish to do that. Honestly! It is just that these last ten days or so I have not been myself. I assure you that ordinarily I am not given to histrionics, and I will display none henceforth."

Several of the Black Widowers spoke at once and Trumbull's voice rose piercingly. "Mario has the floor!"

"Thank you, Tom," said Gonzalo, and at once asked what all had been trying to ask. "Why are you not yourself? And please don't say that it's private or that it's none of my business. It's my question and I want an answer."

"I understand," said Soskind, calmly. "I'm afraid it's an old, dull story. A young lady with whom I was – am – oh, hell, always may be in love, if you don't mind my sounding like a romantic jackass, betrayed me and – and – Well, what more is there to say?"

"Did she run off with your best friend?" asked Gonzalo.

Soskind looked revolted. "Of course not. Nothing like that! She's not that kind of woman."

"Well, then, what happened?" asked Gonzalo.

Avalon's baritone voice boomed out. "Wait! Before you answer, Mr. Soskind – and with your permission, Mario – please tell me if there is any mystery to this."

"Mystery, sir?" Soskind looked nonplussed.

"Yes. Anything you don't understand; anything that puzzles you and that can't be explained."

Soskind said, "Not at all! I wish there were! It's all very plain and, for me, heartbreaking. Claire broke her word, that's all. She took an unfair advantage and didn't even have the decency to be ashamed of it. I couldn't live with that no matter how much I might be in love with her. – But it doesn't make me very happy, not being able to live with it."

"No mystery," said Avalon, smiling. "You might want to let the matter drop then, Mario. Why probe a sore subject just for the sake of probing it?"

"Thank you," said Soskind.

Gonzalo frowned. "Unless Tom makes a host's decision against me, Jeff, I won't drop the subject. I'm curious."

Trumbull hesitated. "I'll poll the company. How many want the subject dropped?"

He and Avalon raised their hands, and Trumbull said, "Four to two against dropping the subject. Henry – are you voting?"

Henry, who was just adding a drop of brandy to Drake's glass, said, "Yes, sir. My hand was not raised. I feel that if Mr. Soskind still feels an affection for the young lady, he may have a suspicion that he is misjudging her. It might help if he tells us the details."

Rubin said, "I was pretty much thinking the same thing," and now there was a murmur of agreement about the table.

Soskind looked from face to face and said, "All right, I'll tell you, but you'll find there's simply no doubt about the matter. I have no suspicion that I'm misjudging her."

"You know," said Soskind, "it's particularly hard for me to find a young woman I can be interested in. Please don't make mock faces of disbelief. I do attract instant female attention because, I suppose, of my – my appearance, as I would if I were ostentatiously wealthy, or if I were a rock star, but of what value is instant attention for superficial reasons such as those?

"Being human, I sometimes take advantage of such attention, particularly if I am lured into thinking it is something more than a matter of superficial appearance that attracts them, or if I, in turn, am attracted by something or other that is really of no importance. I am, in that case, quickly disillusioned, gentlemen, and so, it may be, are they.

"On the other hand, my appearance is often against me and actually repels young women, and you needn't make exaggerated expressions of disbelief at that, Mr. Gonzalo. There are many women who come to an instant misjudgment concerning me through no fault of my own.

"Unfortunately, the novelists who form our stereotypical beliefs invariably make their heroines incredibly beautiful but only very rarely stress the good looks of the hero. The male protagonist tends to look craggy and charmingly plain. The result is that if I am considered not plain, I arouse instant suspicion.

"I have heard the comments, indirectly. 'Who wants a boyfriend prettier than I am?' "I'll have to fight for a chance at the mirror.'

"The reeling is universal that if a man is, quote, good – looking, unquote, as I was accused of being by this assemblage, at least by implication, then he must be vain, self – centered, capricious, and, worst of all, a simpering, brainless fool.

"These days, in fact, women are likely to dismiss me, on sight, as having homosexual tendencies – which I do not, by the way – simply because quote, that's the way with all these pretty men, unquote.

"As it happens, I am a serious person. I don't mean by that that I lack a sense of humor, or that I do not laugh, or that I do not occasionally enjoy being silly. The point lies in the use of the word 'occasionally.'

"For the most part, I am interested in straightforward application of nose to grindstone, of myself to my career and to my intellectual interests. And I want my women serious, too.

"The women most likely to interest me – the intelligent, serious, ambitious ones – they are the very ones most likely to be put off by me, the very ones who will quickly decide that I am an obnoxious nonentity; that I am quote, too pretty, unquote.

"Until I met Claire.

"She is in all ways my fellow (if you don't mind the Irish bull). She is a linguist, too, specializing in the modern Romance languages, as I in the Slavic.

"She is quite good – looking – at least I find her so – and quite indifferent to that fact. She is serious, intelligent, hard – driving, and a feminist in fact, rather than in conversation, having driven her way forward, and without much fuss, in a man's world.

"It was not love at first sight. What can one possibly know at first sight but superficialities – and very likely deceiving ones, at that? We met at the library, when we were each engaged in a little research and discovered we had interests in common. I was at the Department, she at Columbia.

"We met again, and then it became periodic. The more we learned about each other, the more satisfied we each became. It turned out we had the same opinions in politics, literature, and art – at least, in general, though there were enough differences in detail to lead to interesting discussions.

"The thing I most approved about her was that where there was a disagreement, she expressed her point of view calmly and with cogent arguments, and considered my counterarguments dispassionately and thoughtfully. There were times when she accepted my point of view, and times when I accepted hers, though on most occasions, I must admit, we continued to disagree. I could not argue her into voting Republican, for instance.

"In the end I was in love, by which I do not mean I was overcome by a mooning longing for physical intimacy. That existed, of course, but is not what I consider, quote, love, unquote. I was in love because I desperately wanted a continuing and, if possible, lifelong companionship where we could each pursue our aims and interests; together, if possible, but separately, if necessary – though even in the latter case, each with the interest and support of the other.

"There was talk of marriage and of children and there were also what we might term romantic interludes – neither of us were entirely creatures of the mind – and then, one day, it turned out that neither of us had really studied Latin.

"'We ought to,' said Claire, 'if for no other reason than the mental stimulation. Besides, it would please Professor Trent.'

"I must tell you about Marcus Quintus Trent. He was a Latinist of the old school (and so was his father – hence his name) and he had an emeritus status at Columbia. He had been a friend of Claire's father and had been instrumental in rousing her interest in languages. I had met him and found him genial, interesting, and, above all, urbane. He had the manners of a gentleman, in the non – American meaning of that word, and it made him seem both immensely old – fashioned and immensely civilized.

"His Latinism led him to believe, it sometimes seemed, that he was living in Julius Caesar's time. He was not only Latinate in his way of speaking, but I swear in his way of thinking as well. It seemed an effort for him not to refer to the American President as the Imperator. He would use Latin terms without being aware of it and was as likely to date his letters in the month of Februarius as not.

"I suspect he was a bit woebegone over Claire's having studied all the direct descendants of Latin – even a bit of Catalan and Rumanian – without actually dealing with Latin itself. That may have helped her come to the decision to study it.

"Automatically, I decided to go along with her and thus began what I referred to earlier in the evening as my, quote, present damned task, unquote.

"I do not use the adjective to indicate that the task was difficult. Learning Latin is not the major task a nonlinguist might assume. For me, the case structure of Russian was excellent training for the actually rather simpler case structure of Latin. For Claire, the Latin vocabulary was no problem at all since it was first cousin to Italian, which she spoke like a native. And for both of us, there was a native talent for languages, to say nothing of considerable practice in learning them. No, the task was a damned one for something that had nothing to do with the language itself.

"We discussed, with considerable animation, the matter of which of us would have the final advantage, I with my grammatical head start or she with her vocabularial push forward. Unspoken was the question of which of us might be the better linguist in general.

"Yes, Mr. Rubin, I quite realize that setting up a competition between two ambitious, hard – driving people might well endanger the affection that had grown up between them. Neither of us would have liked being beaten, but we both agreed that our love was strong enough to survive the fact that one of us was bound to be beaten by the other.

"Besides, what was a single defeat? If one of us was a clear loser at this time, he or she might win out on another day in the case of another challenge. The keen edge of intellect, sharpened by the competition, might, in fact, serve to further advance each of us in our profession, and this would more than make up for the trivial score of victories and defeats.

"At least, we persuaded each other that this was so.

"The idea was that we were each, quite independently, to study Latin on our own, using texts and authors of our choice. After six months, Trent would give us a passage of Latin literature to translate and he would judge it on the basis of both accuracy and eloquence of translation. In other words, a word – for – word translation was not enough. Trent intended to look for English that would capture the style as well as the meaning.

"Trent threw himself into the matter with vigor. He chose Cicero as a matter of course since Cicero's Latin is the most elegant in existence and also the most gracefully convoluted. (Trent urged us to read Milton's Paradise Lost if we wanted the nearest equivalent in English to Ciceronian style, and to be guided by that.)

"He chose a passage from one of Cicero's lesser essays, one which was likely to be unfamiliar to us, and handed it to each of us in a sealed envelope. The terms were that each of us was to open the envelope at 9 A.M. on the fifteenth of April and hand the translation to him no more than a week later – ample time not only for translation, but for polishing and repolishing in search of that elusive something called style.

"In translating we might use a Latin dictionary but, of course, we were neither of us to search for any already existing translation of the passage. We agreed to this readily, and Trent was gentleman enough to feel quite certain that we would both adhere to all conditions in all honor. As for myself, I knew he would not find me wanting and I assumed he would not find Claire wanting either. It did not even occur to me that Claire could possibly cheat. That was inconceivable.

"The final condition was that Trent would be sole judge of the results and that his decision was to be accepted without argument.

"Claire and I agreed that we would remain completely apart for the testing period, lest the presence of one prove a distraction to the other. In fact, I had to go out of town on Friday, the tenth of April, and was gone for the weekend. I didn't see her from the tenth until after our translations were handed in.

"I remember Trent chuckling over the result. He said we were twin souls indeed, for our translations were so remarkably similar that he could scarcely believe they were independently done. He judged Claire's the superior for reasons he outlined, but by a margin so small that I could scarcely consider it a defeat. I swear I held no animosity against Claire for winning. I was proud of her.

"I was human enough to regret one thing. I had opened the sealed passage promptly at 9 A.M. on Wednesday, April 15. Actually, I opened it five minutes after the hour in an exaggerated effort to lean over backward not to break the spirit of the agreement, just in case my watch was a little fast.

"But then, I had not taken the full time. We were allowed seven days, but I took only four. It was a bit of vainglory on my pan, I think, but by that time, I had, in any case, grown tired of going over and over the passage and worrying endlessly over whether to say 'of Time's great sway' or 'of Time's mighty hest'. So I just handed it in on the evening of Sunday, the nineteenth.

"Later, of course, I thought that if I had spent three additional days improving my translation, it would have added just that extra bit that would have made me first. After all, Claire told me she had handed in her translation on the afternoon of Monday, the twentieth, so she had nearly a whole extra day. But then, the extra time might simply have resulted in damage through overmuch patching and repatching.

"So I let it go and treated her to a late – evening champagne victory celebration, and we got along marvellously well. After all, we had not seen each other for nearly two weeks and we improved the occasion as lovers will.

"And then, not too long ago, I met an old friend who asked me how Claire was. I said, 'Fine. Why? You sound concerned.'

"He said, 'I met her in the Columbia library last month, sweating over a Latin dictionary and she seemed odd. She snapped at me.'

"'Do you remember when it was?'

"'In April. I know it was a Monday – '

"'Monday, the twentieth,' I said at once. "She had a paper due then and was making final corrections. I imagine she didn't welcome distractions and she considered you one.' I laughed, rather jovially, at the thought.

"But he said, "No. It wasn't then. I remember that the day after my wife complained of a sore throat and we had to cancel a dinner engagement. Then I remember thinking of Claire the day before and wondering if something was going around. That dinner was on Tuesday, the fourteenth. I remember that well. So I saw Claire in the library on Monday, the thirteenth.'

"I snapped, "Impossible!"

"He said, coolly, 'I don't see why it should be impossible. That was when I saw her.'

"That ended that, but I clung to the hope that Claire had been at work in the library on some other aspect of the Latin competition on that day. I sought her out.

"'Claire!' I said. 'Did you start translating the passage on the thirteenth?'

"She looked at me in surprise. 'Of course!'

"I couldn't believe it. 'Not on the fifteenth?"

"'Why on the fifteenth?' she countered. 'I wanted as early a start as possible. I love you, darling, but I intended to win."

"I turned on my heels and walked away. That was a week ago and I haven't seen her or communicated with her since. She called me once, but I simply hung up.

"Perhaps I could understand her eagerness causing her to break the rules, but what put her over the edge as far as I was concerned was her calm assumption that cheating was permissible – the implication that if I was fool enough to follow the rules, I deserved to lose. She had no conscience in the matter, and no honor, and that meant she was not the woman I thought she was and I could not continue the relationship.

"That's the story and, as I told you, there's no mystery about it."

There was a silence for several moments when Soskind had finished, and then Halsted said, "You didn't put it to her directly, Mr. Soskind. You didn't say 'Why did you cheat, Claire?'"

"I didn't have to. It was clear enough."

There was another silence. Soskind said, defensively, "Come on. Are you saying I should have overlooked the matter? Forgive and forget?"

Rubin said, "You might have misheard. Perhaps the professor said – "

"The rules were in writing," said Soskind. "No mistake was possible."

Avalon said, hesitantly, "Since the young woman was so suitable in all other respects and since you still seem to be in love with her – "

Soskind shook his head violently. "That lack of honor cancels out everything. If I am still in love, that's a problem that time will cure."

Drake peered through a cloud of cigarette smoke. "If you had won instead of her, would you be making all this fuss?"

"I certainly hope so. If I acted otherwise, I would be as bad as she."

Drake shrugged. "You're a stiff – necked moralist, Mr. Soskind. The club's own stiff – necked moralist is Henry. What do you say, Henry?"

Henry, who was standing thoughtfully at the sideboard, said, "I believe there is a mystery to this. The young woman seems to have acted out of character."

Soskind said, "I prefer to think I didn't understand her character until she finally revealed it."

"If I may speak freely, Mr. Soskind – "

"Go ahead," said Soskind, with a bitter snort. "Say what you want. It can neither hurt nor help."

Henry said, "Isn't it possible, sir, that Miss Claire was entirely in the right and that you have behaved hastily and unfairly?"

Soskind reddened. "That's ridiculous!"

"But was the fifteenth of April indeed the starting point?"

"I have already said that that was in writing."

"But, Mr. Soskind, you also told us that Professor Trent tended to be Latinate in expression. Did he actually write 'the fifteenth of April' or 'April 15'?"

"Well, of course, he – Oh, I see what you mean. No, he said "the ides of April,' but what's the difference?"

"An enormous one," said Henry. "Everyone thinks of the ides of March in connection with the assassination of Julius Caesar, and everyone knows that is March 15 on our calendar. It is only natural to suppose that the ides of every month falls on the fifteenth, but I checked the encyclopedia while you were completing your account and that is true only of March, May, July, and October. In all the other months, including April, the ides fall on the thirteenth of the month. Since the ides of April falls on April thirteenth, Miss Claire began on that day, very correctly, and was surprised that you questioned the matter and seemed to expect her to delay two days for no reason."

Halsted was at the encyclopedia. "Henry's right, by God," he said.

Soskind's eyes opened in a fixed glare. "And I started two days late?"

Henry said, softly, "If Professor Trent had known you did not know when the ides of April was, I suspect you would have lost the competition by a somewhat wider margin."

Soskind seemed to collapse inward in his chair. He said, in a mutter, "What do I do now?"

Henry said, "My experience with matters of the heart, sir, is limited, but I believe you had better waste no more time. Leave now and try to see the young lady. She may give you a chance to explain and what I know of such matters leads me to think you had better grovel. – Grovel quite abjectly, sir."


Eleanor Sullivan was managing editor of EQMM all through the period during which I wrote the Black Widowers stories. Since Fred Dannay always worked from his Westchester home, it was to Eleanor that I brought my stories, and it was with her that I carried on an assiduous and platonic flirtation. (Not that I wanted it to be platonic, you understand, but she insisted.)

After Fred had passed on, she took over as editor, and following the grand tradition that Fred had established she kept EQMM moving onward rock – steady. That includes (I am thankful to say) the occasional appearance of a Black Widower story, and of an occasional Union Club story, too.

This is the first Black Widower story she accepted in her capacity as editor, and I think that is suitable, for it is a romance.

Very few of my Black Widower stories involve a murder or a violent crime of any kind (that's my personal distaste for violence, although that is not absolute as you will know if you have read my story "The Woman in the Bar," which appeared earlier in this collection). What's more very few, if any, of my stories involve romance (mainly because I started writing when I was very young, and before I had had any personal experience at all with romance). Still, I would rather have romance than violence in a Black Widower story, and when I manage to do this I like the result, and so, in this case, did Eleanor, who is very sweet and softhearted indeed. The story appeared in the May 1983 issue of EQMM.

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