Molly found herself on the front step of a private club in Boston she hadn’t known existed. And there was no reason for her to have known, or ever to have noticed; the door was unmarked and unremarkable, an entryway sandwiched between two high-end retailers. Had someone pointed it out to her, she’d have assumed it was the door of some legal firm, or even a maintenance entryway.
But when she paused in front of it, looking at the address Dobie had given her, a face appeared in the reinforced-glass window and then the door opened. “Come in, Miss Snow,” a well-dressed doorman said.
When the door closed behind her, the city sounds were cut off completely. A short, undecorated hall led to another nondescript door, and through that she stepped into a different world. In this place, everything was made of either wood, fine cloth or leather, with an occasional touch of silver or chrome. Where the walls were not framed by glass cases of books or art, they were hung with drapes. The ceiling was a series of luminescent panels that suggested real daylight instead of electric lighting, and resembled neither. At the far end of the room, a pianist gently worked the keys of a grand piano with casual, effortless skill.
It took Molly a moment to realize that it was basically a restaurant; the tables were cleverly placed such that wherever one sat, your table seemed like it was the only one in the place. As she was led through the room, Molly caught glimpses of elegantly-dressed shoulders and legs here and there, but there was always a drape or exotic potted plant intruding before she caught sight of a face.
Dobie rose to greet her as the doorman brought her to the alcove he waited in. “Molly,” he said, taking her hand and bowing. The steward melted away as if he’d never been there. “So good to see you.”
“When a man is this nice to me, I can’t help but get suspicious,” she said with a smile. She knew Dobie had been staying at Lexi’s house–the place was big enough that it couldn’t necessarily be considered staying “with” Lexi–since Christmas, and generally approved of him. He respected the fact that Lexi wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship, as far as she could see. If there was anything wrong with him, he came off as being a bit pompous and out of touch at times, but then that might have been the dozen-year age difference and the fact that he hadn’t grown up in America.
“No need for it, though I can understand why you’d be on your guard. I suppose my message was rather curt and sudden.”
“Mm-hmm,” she agreed, nodding.
“Well, I bear no sinister news,” Dobie said. “I am on my way home, and I had a layover in Boston with a few hours to kill between flights.”
“Don’t tell me you’re flying commercial?”
“Of course not,” he said, as if chartering a plane for himself were the most normal thing in the world. Then again, in his world it is, Molly reminded herself. “We’ve stopped for refueling and a crew change before we leave for Los Angeles, then home.”
“Such an inconvenience,” she said.
“Not at all. I’m glad for the opportunity to stop by. So, how are things?”
She looked at him with her head angled, considering. Most people didn’t really want to know how “things” were when they asked, but Dobie seemed honestly interested. She remembered from Christmas that he was an information sponge; he listened to what people said, which was how he’d been able to determine within hours of their arrival at Lexi’s Christmas Eve dinner that Nikki and Dori needed a VCR, and to get one to the house in time to be a Christmas present for them. With that in mind, she decided to tell Dobie how “things” were. “I can sum life up in one sentence; I lost my job and I’m being audited. How about you?” She left out the part about being kicked out of her tennis club; that was too embarrassing to go into.
He had to good grace not to look sorry for her. “Every setback an opportunity in disguise,” he said.
“You’re lucky that Lex is the violent one, because statements like that make me want to choke the crap out of you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound glib. I’ve ordered lunch for us already, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Depends on what you ordered.”
“Well, it’s a shame the lobster is out of season, but the Kobe beef filet is a good substitute,” he said. As he spoke, a server smoothly slid a perfectly rounded ounce of caviar in front of her.
Molly blinked at the plate in front of her, then at him. “Good God, Dobie. I may have to have sex with you just so I don’t feel guilty for eating this.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Way to stomp a girl’s ego, Mister Man. And I was kidding, by the way.”
“Of course you were. I’m sorry if you’re offended–that wasn’t my intent. What happened to your job?”
She shrugged. “Who knows? Newspapers get reorganized all the time. New writers coming in, departments merging, you know. My little perch just got absorbed into someone else’s. It happens.”
“And the tax audit?”
“Also one of those things I’m told just happens. If I get called for jury duty, the circle will be complete.”
Dobie suspected that Molly’s troubles were more than mere coincidence, but said nothing.
“What’s funny–well, I suppose it’s not funny, really–is that I ended up getting a sort of life lesson from all of this. The auditor came to my house, to go through my home-office files, you know. She’s this skinny little weaselly woman with big glasses, even has a little overbite that makes her look like a ferret. It took her about three hours to get on my nerves–she’s got this passive-aggressive way of asking for things, it drives me crazy. And everything is somehow my fault, as though my entire purpose in life is to cheat Uncle Sam out of his rightful percentage of my staggering twenty-thousand dollar annual income. Why are you making that face?”
“You’ll be angry if I tell you.” He had blinked because he’d realized that the watch he was wearing cost more than she made in a year. Dobie hadn’t really considered that before. Lexi gave the impression of living frugally by choice, and he assumed naively that her friends were the same way. But that wasn’t it at all–they were actually just poor, all of them, Lexi included. He was even aware that Becka Packard had conspired successfully to leave Lexi destitute. How was it that this fact slipped his mind so easily?
Molly smiled. “Well, now I have to hear.”
“No, really. I’ve heard plenty about what you’re like when you’re angry,” he said with a smile. “Do carry on.”
“What has Lex been saying about me?”
“Only the most gentle and flattering words, of course.”
“Liar. Anyway, I freaking yelled at her. She was whining her way through another question, and I just snapped. I can’t even remember what I said, but it was something about her being raised by reptiles. And then I stormed out of the room. I figured it was better if I just avoided her for a while.
“So, a couple of hours later, I walk past the room. She’s been going at it for six hours, and she’s taking a lunch break, of sorts. She just opened up a can of tuna and ate it right there at the desk, as quiet as could be, staring out the window, and she looked like she wanted to cry. It was about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t know exactly. I think I just realized all of a sudden that her job really sucks. As frustrating as it is for me, she has to go through this every day. It’s not her fault–I’m just an assignment, and she doesn’t have a choice. It made me stop and think, about how much of a bitch I was being. I took her some crackers and tea, and she just looked up at me like she expected me to smack her.”
“Maybe someone did, once,” Dobie said. “I’ve heard of that happening.”
“I can believe it. People are terrible, terrible things.” She shrugged, hands fluttering to punctuate her words. “Anyway, I look at this skinny, thirty-something lady with the buck teeth and the first thing I think is that she’s probably never had an orgasm in her life.”
He laughed, and she chuckled with him.
“You laugh, but I’ll bet it’s true. She’s got at least another two days at my place, so I made her breakfast today, nothing special, and I threw together a hot lunch for her before I left, too.”
“Did that get her to open up?”
“Not much. I think she’s afraid it’s a trap. But it isn’t. Really, I decided–no hard feelings. At least not toward her. I could even be friends with her, I think–I always had a soft spot for the shy, nerdy kids, because I was one, even though no one else seemed to realize it at the time. If I ever get my hands on the deputy director of the IRS though, all bets are off.”
“Your wrath is a terrible thing indeed,” Dobie said.
“So what’s new with you and Lex? Did she finally kick you out?”
“No, I had business to attend to, and I believe she is off testing for the Road Associates.”
Molly frowned; the phrase was vaguely familiar. Oh, right, the car club that Glen belonged to. She nodded in comprehension.
Dobie wanted to ask her if she knew where it was, or if Lexi had called her, but it wouldn’t do to seem like he was prying. This lunch was his chance to get to know Molly, after all. She’d be a much better source of information if it wasn’t obvious that was his primary reason for getting to know her. “The elections are soon, and I thought it best to get home. I also admit it felt somewhat strange, knocking about her house when she wasn’t there.”
“Is someone taking care of her cats?”
“She didn’t leave any instructions.”
“Then she’ll be home in a few days. She and Ren set up this automatic feeder that would take care of them for almost a week. They had to travel a lot, when they were working on Crane-Packard. Hell, they traveled a lot for no reason, too.”
“Yes, Warren was quite the jet-setter. Never happy in one place for too long.” Their lunch arrived, creating a convenient break in the conversation. Once they had settled in to eating, and Molly had finished waxing rapturous over her food, he asked, “So tell me about your job situation. Have you anything lined up?”
“Not yet. I put a couple of resumes out, nothing I really want to do, just wage-slave type work. I was thinking that it would be nice to focus full-time on my column, and see if I can sell enough papers to make a living at it.”
“I’m sure you could. You’re a fantastic writer. If you’d like, I could talk to some newspaper owners I know. I might even be able to make some introductions and recommendations.”
“It’s all about the networking,” she said, raising her glass.
“That it is. The ghost-story column you were talking about at Christmas is the one you’d like to write full-time, correct?”
Molly nodded, trying not to let her excitement show.
“That’s a brave thing, relying on a freelance writer’s income.”
“Brave isn’t the word I’d use. But then, I really love doing it, and everyone keeps kicking me and telling me to just go with what I love, and the rest will follow. I’m trying to hold my breath and wait for it to work out. Besides, it’s not fair that all of my friends are getting their dream jobs. Cygnet’s in radio, Katharine’s a perfect housewife–and that’s her dream job too, don’t get me wrong–and Lexi…well, you know. For all intents and purposes, it worked out, before life intervened.” It wasn’t the first time that it had crossed her mind to wonder exactly how successful Lexi and Ren’s car company would have been if he hadn’t died. Crane-Packard had been quietly dissolved shortly after Lexi’s nervous breakdown, much to the lament of many car enthusiasts around the world.
Dobie nodded. “Such an unfortunate situation,” he said.
“A whole confluence of them,” Molly replied. “So, should I send a resume to you?”
“No need. I’ll put you in touch with the right people, and your work should speak for itself. I think I know some editors who are looking for a column like yours.”
“Thank you for the help. And the compliment. You’d better not just be buttering me up so that my friend will have sex with you.”
“Furthest thing from my mind,” Dobie said truthfully. To emphasize this, he steered the conversation away from Lexi entirely for a while, to fashion and antiques, both of which were favorite subjects of Molly’s. He kept the conversation amiable, and let her talk. Somehow, it was easier to do this with Molly than it was with Lexi.
An hour, a dessert of sorbet and a cup of coffee passed quickly. As Molly made her goodbye and left, Dobie watched her go with a pleasant sigh. He remembered a brief and somewhat uncouth conversation with Danny Packard (it was regrettably difficult to have a conversation with Danny that wasn’t uncouth) about Molly’s endowments, which were considerable, to be sure, but Danny did not seem to have noticed that she had fantastic legs as well. Dobie shook the thought away with a flick of his eyebrows as Victor appeared at his elbow. “I need Arthur Day’s number,” he said, taking out his phone. Victor tapped it up on the Palm Pilot and handed it to him. “So nice to be calling him from the same time zone, for once,” Dobie said over his shoulder. “Is our flight still on schedule?”
“The car arrives in ten minutes.”
“Just enough time,” he said, dialing. “I want you to stay here tonight. Find this auditor of Molly’s, and show her a good time, if you would. Dinner, whirlwind romance, sex, the works. I’m sure it’ll be the thrill of her life. Meet me in Los Angeles if you can, or at home if you can’t.”
Victor merely nodded, showing neither enthusiasm nor trepidation at Dobie’s orders. It wasn’t the first time.
Dobie’s call was completed. “Arthur! So good to catch you in the office. Look, I haven’t got much time, I’m off to catch a plane, but I wanted to talk to you about a good friend of mine who’s just getting her feet wet with a newspaper column. I’d really appreciate it if you’d give her a look and see about adding her to one of your syndicates.”