G is for Gumshoe - Page 61/98

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?"


"How did you and Vera meet?"

He was almost imperceptibly disconcerted, shifting slightly in his seat. "A mutual friend introduced us a couple of months ago. We've been seeing each other ever since… just as friends, of course. Nothing serious."

"Oh yeah, right," I said. "So what do you think?"

"About Vera? She's terrific."

"How come you're sitting here with me, then?"

He laughed again, a false, hearty roar that avoided a reply.

"I'm serious," I said. His smile cooled down by degrees. He still wasn't addressing the issue so I tried it myself. "You know what I think it is? I got the impression she had the hots for you herself and didn't know how to handle it."

He gave me a look like I was speaking in tongues. "I have a hard time believing that," he said. He thought about it for a moment. "Anyway, she's a bit tall for me, don't you think?"

"Not at all. You look great together. I was watching when you came in."

He gave his head a slight shake. "I know it bothers her. She's never actually come out and said so, but-"

"She'll get over it."

"You think so?"

"Does it bother you?"

"Not a bit."

"Then what's the problem?"

He looked at me. His face was beginning to appeal to me. His eyes held a nice light, conveying qualities of sincerity and competence. He was probably the kind of doctor you could call at 2:00 a.m., a man who'd sit up with your kid until the fever broke. I was about to hike up my pant leg and show him my bruise, but it seemed kind of gross.

"You should hear the way she talks about you," I went on. " 'Eight and a half on a scale of ten.' That's how she describes you. I swear to God."

"Are you kidding?"

"Neil, come on. I wouldn't kid about that. She's completely smitten with you. She just hasn't figured it out yet."

Now he laughed the kind of laugh that made his whole face light up. A boyish pleasure showed through and I could swear he blushed. He was really kind of cute. I glanced up in time to see Vera shoot me a stark look. I gave her a little finger wave and turned my attention back to him. "I mean, what the hell are relationships about?" I asked.

"But she's never given any indication…"

"Well, I'm telling you for a fact. I've known her for ages and I've never heard her talk about a guy the way she talks about you." He was taking it in, but I could tell he wasn't buying it.