"I've seen him tear them up," Bell said.
So had I. A form of suicide, I'd thought: but better to kill a poem than himself.
Bell turned her back on Kris and said there was food in the dining room. There were also white-clothed tables and caterers' gold chairs and an autumnal buffet suitable for millionaires and hungry weathermen. I collected disgracefully full plate and was welcomed by an insistent Evelyn Darcy into a space on a round table where her husband and four other guests were munching roast grouse with concentration.
The four unknowns and I went through the usual recognition routine and a promise that it wouldn't rain before bedtime; and I smiled and answered them placidly because in fact I liked my job very much, and good public relations never hurt.
Two of the unknowns slowly identified themselves as George Loricroft, distinguished, forty-five, top-dog racehorse trainer, and his blonde and over-shapely young wife, Glenda. Every time Glenda spoke, her dominating husband either contradicted or interrupted her. Glenda's nervous titter hid some razor-sharp resentment, I'd have said.
Evelyn Darcy, who besides the three rows of pearls, the black dress and the gray-silver over-lacquered hair was decidedly nosy, had no inhibitions about question time. She wanted to know-and used her loud voice to get attention-whether Kris and I earned a fortune for our many onscreen appearances. How else could Kris afford the upkeep of an airplane?
Everyone heard her. Kris across the room gave me a comical look, half choked with laughter and yelled her an answer.
"We're both civil servants. We get civil service pay. You all pay us . . . and it's not enough to fund a month of condoms."
Reactions to this intimate and inaccurate revelation varied from laughter among the guests to distaste and embarrassment. I peacefully ate my grouse. Being a friend of Kris's meant being willing to accept the whole package. He could have said far worse. He had done, in the past.
Evelyn Darcy enjoyed the ripples. Robin looked long-suffering at her side. George Loricroft, the constant wife repressor, checked with me that we did indeed get civil service pay and I unexcitedly agreed that yes we did, and why not, we gave a public service.
Oliver Quigley at that point inserted a chair where there was hardly enough space for it between Evelyn and myself and behaved in general as if the military police were hot on his trail for unspeakable offenses. Did the man never relax? "I wanted to say to you," he more or less stuttered into my lunch, "that I had a sort of pamphlet in the post yesterday from a new sort of organization that offers . . . er, well, I mean, it's worth a try, you know . . ."
"Offers what?" I asked without pressing interest as he rambled to a halt.
"Well . . . er . . . a personalized reading of the weather."
"A private firm?" I asked. "Is that it?"
"Well . . . yes. You give the . . . er, by e-mail of course . . . the time and place where you want to know what weather to expect and you get the answer back at once."
"Fascinating," I said dryly.
"Haven't you heard of it? Bit of competition for you, isn't it?"
If he'd had more courage, what he'd said would have neared sarcasm. As it was, I finished the excellent grouse and fried breadcrumbs and smiled without annoyance.
"You go ahead and sign on with them, Mr. Quigley," I said. "Fine."
"I didn't expect you to say that!" he exclaimed. "I mean . . . don't you mind?"
"Not in the least."
Robin Darcy leaned forward and asked me from across his wife and the shaky trainer. "How much do you charge Mr. Quigley for saying to run Caspar's filly on Friday?"
Oliver Quigley might be nervous, but not stupid. He listened, and understood. He opened and closed his mouth and would, I knew, continue to tap me for accurate info that he didn't have to pay for.
From Second Wind by Dick Francis. Uused by permission of the publisher - Putnam.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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