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Fred pretended to ignore her displeasure, but she knew he knew. When his Adam's apple bobbed like that he was nervous. And with good cause.
"I simply do not understand it," Margery said, tapping well-polished talons on the table. Usually the sight of her hands brought a glow of good humor. She considered them quite elegant and young-looking, for a woman of her years. Not that she was growing old--no, she was timeless. Everyone agreed. She wished she could say the same of Fred. He was looking all of his fifty-eight years lately. It was no wonder.
"You have acted very foolishly, Fred," she told him. "Gambling is not your forte--you must have recognized that by now. How did you think you were going to pay these debts?"
Fred looked down at the dregs of his tomato soup. "I hoped--I didn't like to ask you," he mumbled.
"Well, you should have. Now it will cost me three times as much to get you out of it as it would have if you'd come to me in the first place." She reached for her water glass and noticed that her hand was trembling. It was bad for her to get so angry. The doctor had said she must learn to remain calm. "But what provocation," she thought, taking a ladylike sip of water and striving to regain control.
"Margy?" Fred's Adam's apple was really hopping, she noticed. "I'm cured of gambling. I'll never gamble again."
"You may be sure of that," Mrs. Lomax said,staring down the table at him. Really, he positively repelled her, with his watery eyes and thinning hair. Why had she ever married a man so weak? "If I decide to bail you out of this mess, and I do mean if, I shall arrange to have the casinos closed to you in the future." She pushed the soup plate away. "There won't be any difficulty about that, I imagine, when I let it be known that I won't be responsible for your debts."
"You--you must pay it for me." Fred's eyes bulged with alarm. "They--they threatened?"
Mrs. Lomax got up and went to the sideboard, where the housekeeper had left the casserole in a chafing dish. "Be a man, Fred," she said impatiently over her shoulder. "They can't do more than break your arms and legs, and you certainly deserve it for such stupid, sneaky behavior." She scooped up a spoonful of the casserole and added plenty of broccoli. Broccoli was supposed to be good for you. "Be sure you take some broccoli, Fred. And stop sniveling. I suppose I'll pay your debt--this time."
They finished their meal in silence. Mrs. Lomax didn't like to feel that there was a quality of resentment in her husband's behavior. After all, she was rescuing him from unpleasantness at the hands of the casino enforcers. The magnitude of his deception rather astonished her. Daring to gamble at Lake Tahoe, when she'd sent him to check on the possibility of building some condominiums at Fallen Leaf Lake! It wasn't like Fred to be so independent.
A thought occurred to her over the gelatin parfait. "And how did your secretary enjoy the lake? Miss--Miss Arrow, is it?"
"Miss Dart," Fred said sullenly, his eyes shifting away from hers. "She--she was working on the contracts."
"Of course she was," Mrs. Lomax cooed. "It probably took all her time. Poor thing, she's not too efficient, besides being so odd-looking. I think I will find you someone else, Freddy."
"Allison--Miss Dart is a fine legal secretary." Fred clenched his fists. Mrs. Lomax watched him narrowly. "You must allow me to hire my own office help, Margy."
"Must I?" She laughed. "Come, Freddy. Don't look so glum. If I'm going to buy you out of your little fix, the least you can do is hire a new secretary to please me. Someone mature," she added, clasping her hands girlishly. "And very competent. I'll see to it for you, shall I?"
Fred's shoulders slumped. "Certainly," he said, his voice hollow.
"Then that's settled. Now I've got a planning commission meeting to attend, and afterward I want to go around and check those units on Wadsworth. Mr. Neary is not making the kind of progress I expect on my construction sites."
Fred stood up when she did, abandoning the rest of his dinner. "You're a little old to go climbing around a half-finished building in the middle of the night, Margy. Leave it till tomorrow."
She stiffened at his mention of age and led the way out of the dining room. "I won't go alone, Freddy, since you're so concerned. I plan to have some company." Her lips tightened. Fred wasn't the only recalcitrant person she had to deal with tonight. But she was confident that all these annoying people could be brought under control. All it took was the right bit of knowledge..."That Kaplan woman," she muttered to herself.
"What? Claudia Kaplan? You're taking her on a tour of your condos?"
"Don't be more of a moron than you can help, Fred." She got her coat out of the closet under the stairs, stroking the soft mink with affection. It was cold in Palo Alto at this time of year. Briefly she toyed with the idea of Palm Springs. But the development restrictions were even tighter there. "Mrs. Kaplan will no doubt show up at the meeting. I'm afraid her so-called literary reputation gives her weight with the planning commission. I need a good handle against her, and so far I haven't found one."
Fred was unable to conceal a faint smile of satisfaction. "So you can't make her dance to your tune. Or that other fellow--what's his name? Hippie type."
"You mean Martin Hertschorn, I suppose." Mrs. Lomax felt a scowl forming and forced her facial muscles into slackness. No reason to court wrinkles, after all. "He has no real influence, but these gadflies can be very annoying. However, I shall prevail."
"Of course." Fred looked apprehensive. "You won't--say anything that would leave you open to an action for slander, will you? I barely got the last one bought off."
For a moment she let her anger with Fred relax into approval. After all, he had his uses. It seemed unfair that it should be slanderous simply to point out venal flaws in others. And it was true that something occasionally came over her, and she would find herself saying things, hurling words that normally weren't part of her vocabulary. The last time she'd aired a difference of opinion with Mrs. Kaplan, she'd had a hard time stopping herself from abandoning decorum and shrieking "dyke-lover, dyke-lover." The memory of that hot engulfing darkness made her reach for a package of tissues.
"Maybe I should come with you," Fred offered. There was reluctance in the words. He had one eye on his watch, she noticed. Some television program he wanted to watch.