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Con was bored. IF he hadn't been he wouldn't have prowled around the living room of their beach cottage, making more noise than the incensed roar of the waves. Below the fogged windows they shattered with nerve-jumping regularity against the sea wall. She liked the pound of the water at high tide. But she didn't like it tonight. Not with Con bumping against chairs, shaking the floor with his tread, pretending to fix the rented radio. He was bored and she didn't like it. He had said this would be a second honeymoon. It wasn't. It was exactly like the first.
"We're going to Long Beach."
He had announced that before they were two days in Hollywood, with parties scheduled for every party hour, and Griselda wanting to show him off to all of her friends and perhaps-friends.
When she protested, "But, Con, nobody goes there!" he told her, "You're nuts. Thousands of people go there. I can prove it by the Chamber of Commerce. The Navy's there."
The Navy wasn't; a part of the fleet was in the Far East, a part on the Atlantic, fending danger from America. Yet, surprisingly, there was a scattering of gray-towered battleships on the horizon. The papers didn't tell you that but there was.
They had come to Long Beach. And he was bored. He was acting as if she were to blame that they were boxed in this old-fashioned wooden beach cottage instead of in the beautiful Malibu home Oppy had urged upon them. Con had been exuberant when they arrived; Barjon Garth was also in Long Beach. She hadn't liked Garth being there. She knew that there was good reason for his presence; foreign agents had been concentrating on the West Coast. It was to be expected in these times that the head of the X division, highest governmental secret service, would be on hand a part of the time. It was absurd to be uneasy about Con when Garth was in the neighborhood simply because he had once helped out the X chief. That was in the to-be-forgotten past. He had returned to his job on the air waves months ago with no hankering to continue the precarious sideline. Nevertheless, she had been relieved when she heard that the X chief was leaving. She didn't know then how Con would react.
Garth had sailed this morning on someone's exquisite and expensive yacht for a fishing trip in southerly waters and Con was left behind. It was a man's trip and this was a second honeymoon. He had to stay with her. But he was bored and Griselda was angry, sitting there trying to read, her nerves jumping with every crash of the waves and of Con. If she hadn't been angry she wouldn't have gone out with him and she wouldn't have seen Shelley Huffaker pick him up in the Bamboo Bar.
It was eight exactly by the rented clock with the bright blue ocean painted on its face. Con said, "Think I'll go out and buy a drink."
She hadn't spoken to him since seven o'clock, when he had ejaculated for the twenty-third time that day, "God, what I'd give to be with Garth right now!" She hadn't trusted herself to speak; the anger she'd been suppressing since she began to count the ejaculations was about ready to spill. At that point she was surer than ever that this was only the echo of the first honeymoon; then he'd kept wishing all over Bermuda that he were back at Tony's on Minetta.
She spoke now, spoke acidly so that he wouldn't know there was hurt as well as anger in her. "Don't tell me all those bottles are empty."
"My God," he said, "you don't think a bottle's an artesian well, do you, baby?"
He laughed and she was more furious. Drinks and fishing, that was all he cared about! But the fury vanquished the hurt with lucky immediacy. He was walking past her chair and he lifted her pale horn-rimmed glasses off her nose, bent his leggy length down to kiss her. She turned her cheekbone to him. She said, "I'll go with you." He didn't act as if he cared one way or the other.
She went into the one bedroom, slid her white polo coat from a hanger. The ancient cretonne of the wardrobe curtains couldn't have been any more attractive when new. It looked like pink fish climbing over faded black spots. At that, the cretonne was fully as pleasant as the other things in the house. She put the coat over her baby-blue slacks, took a quick glance in the mirror smoothing down the pale gold of her hair. Her eyes didn't look as watery as they felt. She returned to her husband.
"Let's go," she said.
He locked the door with the key. There really wasn't much sense in locking the cottage, a bent hairpin could have opened any door or window. As they started down the steps to the sidewalk garage she said, "Better let me have it, I may not last as long as you."
He laughed again, just as if he didn't know she was angry and could find out why by asking. But she was thankful he didn't ask. If he had, she might have capitulated against his blue shirt, and she didn't want to do that. She was too annoyed.
He handed her the key. "Oke, baby."
There was no reason for garage doors to scream like loons when they were opened. Even rust couldn't account for such ear-splitting disturbance. It was a part of the poltergeist atmosphere of the whole cottage.
The headlights of a car stopped where they spotted Con, not her standing in the mist shadows at the foot of the wooden steps.
It was a girl who caroled, "Con."
Griselda couldn't see her; she could only hear the voice. It didn't help matters that it was a voice that belonged with beauty; it had the poeticized sea-quality of softness, of lullaby.
Con turned. "What are you doing here, Kathie?" He sounded surprised and a little amused. He moved over to lean against the door of the open car.
The girl said, "I thought Walker might be with you."
"Didn't know he was on shore."
The gentle voice said, "Yes. I wasn't at the hotel when he came in. He left a note. I thought maybe he'd dropped in to see you. You're going out. I won't keep you."
"Just to the Bamboo for a drink. Won't you come along?" He didn't speak of a wife inconveniently in the background.
The girl said, "No thank you, Con. I'd better go back and wait for Walker. I don't want to miss him again." The car drove away and Griselda came forward. "Who was that?"
"And who is Kathie Travis?" She tried not to sound like a wife; she wasn't very successful.
"Mrs. Walker Travis. He's Navy. Lieutenant aboard the Antarctica."
She didn't say any more. He didn't mention that Kathie Travis was beautiful but doubtless she was. Con's bar acquaintances in women ran to beauty. If this one weren't bar, he wouldn't have mentioned the Bamboo so casually.
She had never asked him where he located the ramshackle coupe. It was keyed to a high-school sophomore's purse and choice, noisy and as disreputable, with its peeling black coat and red wire wheels. They could have had a choice of the cars in Oppy's garages at Malibu.
Disappointment blurred her eyes but she rubbed it away, pretending it was the night mist now dense on the windshield. He drove the five short blocks to the main street of Belmont Shores, parked the car directly in front of his pet, the Bamboo Bar. She hadn't been in it before. There was something ridiculously sinister in its look, like the opium-den sets in early movies. She cared even less for the interior; the greenish amber lights were too dim for seeing, especially without her glasses, and they made the color of flesh as ghastly as something photographed under water at sundown.
Con said, "Want to sit at a table?"
"All right." He eyed the high bamboo stools of the bar with thwarted affection.
They took a table near the door. Con greeted the waiter fondly, "How you, Chang?"
The waiter didn't look as if his name were Chang; if it was, he'd changed it from Buck or Spike. He looked as if he would be a top sergeant in the tank corps if and when called for duty.
He returned the greeting lovingly, "How're you, Mr. Satterlee?"
All bar waiters were Con's intimates; all adored him. It wasn't because he bought so many drinks; it was just something about Con, his nice horsey face, his gray eyes that could be careless or keen with equal lack of effort. She adored him too, but she was nothing but a wife. Her adoration didn't matter to him.
Chang-Buck took the order for two Scotches and rolled with a prizefighter's gait over to the bar. He hadn't acquired the cauliflower ear from palming trays. Probably one of Con's lame ducks from past newspaper days. Probably too he was the attraction at the Bamboo Bar, the reason Con couldn't go by it without stopping for a drink. She could just hear them with Con's Scotch as a wailing wall, remembering Tony's and the good old Prohibition years. Not tonight they wouldn't! Her fury hadn't abated one jot. She sat stiffly, her eyes beginning to accustom themselves to the lack of light.
The room was almost empty. There were two couples, from Kansas or Iowa if looks were honest indication, having a devilish good time at one table. There were two men in the far corner, attending to the business of drinking. And perched on a stool there was a blonde girl. She was all alone and she'd evidently been there for too long a time. She was slumped forward on her elbows, her head bent over the flat top of the bar. She wore the inevitable California slack suit; it looked a sickly green-gray in this light, but so did Griselda's own. Her face wasn't visible.
Chang brought the drinks. "How's tricks, Mr. Satterlee?"
"Can't complain. How's with you?"
"Okey-dokey with me." His voice had a rasp to it, as if his throat had a touch of prizefighter's resin in it.
"Travis been in tonight?"
"Not tonight, Mr. Satterlee. His wife was here earlier."
Griselda put a stop to them, asking frigidly, "May I have a cigarette, Con?" She didn't care to hear about this Kathie.
Chang or Buck went away. There was an annoying amusement and sympathy behind his unexpressive face as if he well knew wives on rampage. It didn't help Griselda's temper. She didn't feel like crying now; she felt like smashing things.
The man who started away from the far table looked as a gentleman should. Even in this murky light his brown jacket was the right color and cut, his lighter colored slacks tailored deliberately with casualness. She looked at him again; something about the short crop of his brown curly hair, about the way he moved, straight and secure, was familiar. His head turned back to his companion and she saw the mustached profile.
She cried out in delight, "Con, it's Kew. Kew Brent." No wonder she hadn't known him immediately; he wasn't the man to sit drinking in imitation opium dens; you only met Kew in the right places, escorting important men or beautiful women.
"Pretend you don't know him," Con muttered, and then groaned, "Oh, my God," for Kew had caught sight of them or had heard her exclamation. He came toward them, settling his ascot as he moved.
Con muttered again, "See you later, baby."
"Con, you can't," she began, but he could. He was already walking bar-wards rudely, not even waiting to speak to Kew. Her anger rose impotently. There was no reason at all why Con should behave that way about Kew, simply because Kew liked to dress as a gentleman instead of in dirty old sneakers, antediluvian gray trousers, not deliberately casual, but impossible to be anything else; a brown coat that didn't go at all, a blue shirt with neither tie nor ascot to give it shape. Kew was originally Con's friend not hers, dating back to the newspaper days before Kew became the featured Washington correspondent of the greatest news service and Con the crack news commentator for the greatest broadcasting company. He was one of the few remnants from Con's early days who wasn't thoroughly disreputable. That was probably why Con couldn't stand him.
Kew greeted her, pleasure printed all over his square browned face. "Griselda, this is a good surprise. I thought you were in New York. Where's Con off to?"
She put her hand in his. "Grand to see you, Kew. It's been too long." And she shrugged, laughing to hide her displeasure. "You know Con's thirst. He'll be back." She didn't have the least assurance that he would, but one had to pretend; if he had no manners or bad ones, she must cover up for him.
Kew asked in surprise, "But what are you doing in Long Beach? I understood you were the particular bright-haired child designer of the studios. I should have expected to run into you at the movie hideouts, not here."
She said simply, knowing it would explain all to one who knew him, "Con wanted to come," and she added, "We're married again, you know." He probably hadn't heard; he'd known them in their first two-year attempt, and she had met him once or twice during the four-year divorce desert.
"Congratulations?" he grinned.
But she didn't answer. She was looking toward the bar. The bleached girl had moved to the stool next to Con. He was lighting her cigarette. Her face was still hidden.
Kew's eyes followed hers. "Who is it?"
"I don't know." She turned back to him, picked up her tasteless drink. "I've never been here before." But she couldn't keep from looking again at Con and the blonde. She knew how Lot's wife must have felt; it wasn't being curious; it was urgency.
And she heard the bartender say, "I'm sorry. I can't give her another one."
Con's voice was deceptively mild. "I said I'd buy the lady a drink." Every word was distinctly audible in the small, quiet room.
The barman repeated with unshaken stolidity, "She can't have no more."
"No?" Con put his hand on the girl's arm. "Come on, honey. I know where they'll sell us one."
Griselda's eyes widened. She saw Con help the girl away from the bar, brush past Chang-Buck's attempted words, start with his companion across the room. The blonde had a short coat over her arm and she held it with her free hand.
He didn't stop at Griselda's table but he slowed enough to wink at her in passing. Her hands clenched. He couldn't do this, not on their honeymoon. She remembered to close her fish-wide mouth after they disappeared through the door.
Kew was watching. He smiled. "Same old Con," and then he must have noted the distress she was trying unsuccessfully to hide. "I'm sorry, Griselda. You know he'll be right back.
You know how Quixotic Con is. He'll take her home and be right back."
She looked away from him. "I won't be here."
He said, "Could I run you home?" His watch was crystalline copper. "I'd ask you to do something better than that but I'm late for an engagement now."
She answered, "No, Kew. Thank you. But it's only a step."
She wouldn't go with Kew. She didn't want to make a fool of herself to Con's friends. She'd wait until she could leave alone with no one to look boredly sympathetic if her eyes were moist. She wasn't sure she could pretend to be a casual modern wife even for five blocks—she wanted to howl and kick her heels.
He said, "Tell Con I'll drop by tomorrow. I'm at the Villa Riviera. Give him a ring."
She watched him disappear behind the presumedly artistic doors of swinging bamboo. The now solitary drinker at the table where Kew had been, finished his stint and prepared to leave. He hesitated crossing to the door and her eyes were enormous when he stopped at her table. She'd never seen him before.
He introduced himself sparsely, "Mrs. Satterlee, I am Major Pembrooke."
She had met many of him in London, on the continent, in kinder days. The bulldog British breed, stocky rather than tall, red-faced, with a sand-colored bristle mustache beginning to gray; hair, the same, beginning to recede. She had never met one wearing so cold a mask, almost a brutal face. She didn't like him. Instinctively and with no reason for it, she feared him. He had no business knowing who she was. Kew hadn't told him; Kew hadn't seen her until he was leaving that table.
She acknowledged the introduction as sparsely as it was given.
He was standing there looking down at her but he wasn't interested in her. That wasn't in his face. He announced, "I will escort you home, Mrs. Satterlee."
She was suddenly furious at him, a stranger daring to intrude, the straw at the breaking-point of this insufferable day. She jumped up, said with more anger than hauteur, "You will not escort me home. I am not accustomed to being escorted by strangers. Goodnight, Major Pembrooke." She strode head high out of the place, regretting that swinging doors could not emphasize a point.
Excerpted from The Bamboo Blonde by Dorothy B. Hughes. Copyright © 1941 Dorothy B. Hughes. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 31, 2012
She walks into her house and leaves the vacent pokeballs on the window seal. She walks to the back door and leaves pokefeed for any pokemon who wanders out of the dense forest surrounding her house.
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