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Authors: Theodore Sturgeon

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BOOK: Dreaming Jewels
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“My dear girl,” he said, with an insipid modesty. “I naturally know the contents of my own files. Your father was most provident, and very wise. When you are twenty-one, you’ll be in for a comfortable bit of money, eh?”

It’s none of your business, you old lynx. “Why, I’ll hardly notice that, Judge. That’s earmarked for Bobby, my brother. It will put him through his last two years and a year of specialization too, if he wants it. And we won’t have to lose a wink of sleep over anything from then on. We’re just keeping above water until then. But I’ll go on working.”

“Admirable.” He twitched his nostrils at her, and she bit her lip and looked down at her hands again. “Very lovely,” he added appreciatively. Again she waited. Move Three took place. He sighed. “Did you know there was a lien on your father’s estate, for an old partnership matter?”

“I—had heard that. The old agreements were torn up when the partnership was dissolved in Daddy’s trucking business.”

“One set of papers were not torn up. I still have them. Your father was a trusting man.”

“That account was squared twice over, Judge!” Kay’s eyes could, sometimes, take on the slate color of thunderclouds. They did now.

The Judge leaned back and put his fingertips together. “It is a matter which could get to court. To Surrogate, by the way.”

He could get her job. Maybe he could get the money and with it, Bobby’s career. The alternative… well, she could expect that now.

She was so right.

“Since my dear wife departed—” (She remembered his dear wife. A cruel, empty-headed creature with wit enough to cater to his ego in the days before he became a judge, and nothing else) “—I am a very lonely man, Miss Hallowell. I have never met anyone quite like you. You have beauty, and you could be clever. You can go far. I would like to know you better,” he simpered.

Over my dead body. “You would?” she said inanely, stiff with disgust and fear.

He underlined it. “A lovely girl like you, with such a nice job, and with that little nest-egg coming to you—if nothing happens.” He leaned forward. “I’m going to call you Kay from now on. I’m sure we understand each other.”

“No!” She said it because she did understand, not because she didn’t.

He took it his way. “Then I’d be happy to explain further,” he chuckled. “Say tonight. Quite late tonight. A man in my position can’t—haw!—trip the light fantastic where the lights are bright.”

Kay said nothing.

“There’s a little place,” sniggered the Judge, “called Club Nemo, on Oak Street. Know it?”

“I think I have—noticed it,” she said with difficulty.

“One o’clock,” he said cheerfully. He stood up and leaned over her. He smelled like soured after-shave. “I do not like to stay up late for nothing. I’m sure you’ll be there.”

Her thoughts raced. She was furious, and she was frightened, two emotions which she had avoided for years. She wanted to do several things. She wanted primarily to scream, and to get rid of her breakfast then and there. She wanted to tell him some things about himself. She wanted to storm into Mr. Hartford’s office and demand to know if this, this, and that were included in her duties as a stenographer.

But then, there was Bobby, so close to a career. She knew what it was to have to quit on the homestretch. And poor, fretting, worried Mr. Hartford; he meant no harm, but he wouldn’t know how to handle a thing like this. And one more thing, a thing the Judge apparently did not suspect—her proven ability to land on her feet.

So instead of doing any of the things she wanted to do, she smiled timidly and said, “We’ll see…”

“We’ll see each other,” he amended. “We’ll see a great deal of each other.” She felt that moist gaze again on the nape of her neck as he moved off, felt it on her armpits.

A light on her switchboard glowed. “Mr. Hartford will see you now, Judge Bluett,” she said.

He pinched her cheek. “You can call me Armand,” he whispered. “When we’re alone, of course.”

9

H
E WAS THERE WHEN
she arrived. She was late—only a few minutes, but they cost a great deal. They were minutes added to the hours of fuming hatred, of disgust, and of fear which she had gone through after the Judge’s simpering departure from the Hartford offices that morning.

She stood for a moment just inside the club. It was quiet—quiet lights, quiet colors, quiet music from a three-piece orchestra. There were very few customers, and one she knew. She caught a glimpse of silver hair in the corner back of the jutting corner of the bandstand at a shadowed table. She went to it more because she knew he would choose such a spot than because she recognized him.

He stood up and pulled out a chair for her. “I knew you’d come.”

How could I get out of it, you toad? “Of course I came,” she said. “I’m sorry you had to wait.”

“I’m glad you’re sorry. I’d have to make you sorry, if you weren’t.” He laughed when he said it, and only served to stress the pleasure he felt at the thought. He ran the back of his hand over her forearm, leaving a new spoor of gooseflesh. “Kay. Pretty little Kay,” he moaned. “I’ve got to tell you something. I really put some pressure on you this morning.”

You don’t say! “You did?” she asked.

“You must have realized it. Well, I want you to know right away, right now, that I didn’t mean any of that—except about how lonely I am. People don’t realize that as well as being a judge, I’m a man.”

That makes me one of the people. She smiled at him. This was a rather complicated process. It involved the fact that in this persuasive, self-pitying speech his voice had acquired a whine, and his features the down-drawn character of a spaniel’s face. She half-closed her eyes to blur his image, and got such a startling facsimile of a mournful hound’s head over his wing collar that she was reminded of an overheard remark: “He’s that way through having been annoyed, at an early age, by the constant barking of his mother.” Hence the smile. He misunderstood it and the look that went with it and stroked her arm again. Her smile vanished, though she still showed her teeth.

“What I mean is,” he crooned, “I just want you to like me for myself. I’m sorry I had to use any pressure. It’s just that I didn’t want to fail. Anyway, all’s fair… you know.”

“—in love and war,” she said dutifully. And this means war. Love me for myself alone, or else.

“I won’t ask much of you,” he said out of wet lips. “It’s only that a man wants to feel cherished.”

She closed her eyes so he could not see them roll heavenward. He wouldn’t ask much. Just sneaking and skulking to protect his “position” in the town. Just that face, that voice, those hands… the swine, the blackmailer, the doddering, slimy-fingered old
wolf! Bobby, Bobby,
she thought in anguish,
be a
good
doctor…

There was more of it, much more. A drink arrived. His choice for a sweet young girl. A sherry flip. It was too sweet and the foam on it grabbed unpleasantly at her lipstick. She sipped and let the Judge’s sentimental slop wash over her, nodded and smiled, and, as often as she could, tuned out the sound of his voice and listened to the music. It was competent and clean—Hammond Solovox, string bass, and guitar—and for a while it was the only thing in the whole foul world she could hold on to.

Judge Bluett had, it seemed, a little place tucked away over a store in the slums. “The Judge works in the court and his chambers,” he intoned, “and has a fine residence on The Hill. But Bluett the Man has a place too, a comfortable spot, a diamond in a rough setting, a place where he can cast aside the black robes, his dignities and his honors, and learn again that he has red blood in his veins.”

“It must be very nice,” she said.

“One can hide there,” he said expansively. “I should say,
two
can hide there. All the conveniences. A cellar at your elbow, a larder at your beck and call. A civilized wilderness for a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and—th-h-owoo.” He ended with a hoarse whisper, and Kay had the insane feeling that if his eyes protruded another inch, a man could sit on one and saw the other off.

She closed her eyes again and explored her resources. She felt that she had possibly twenty seconds of endurance left. Eighteen. Sixteen. Oh, this is fine. Here goes Bobby’s career up in smoke—in a mushroom-shaped cloud at a table for two.

He gathered his feet under him and rose. “You’ll excuse me for a moment,” he said, not quite clicking his heels. He made a little joke about powder rooms, and obviously being human. He turned away and turned back and pointed out that this was only the first of the little intimacies they would come to learn of each other. He turned away and turned back and said “Think it over. Perhaps we can slip away to our little dreamland this very night!” He turned away and if he had turned back again he would have gotten a French heel in the area of his watchpocket.

Kay sat alone at the table and visibly wilted. Anger and scorn had sustained her; now, for a moment, fear and weariness took their places. Her shoulders sagged and turned forward and her chin went down, and a tear slid out onto her cheek. This was three degrees worse than awful. This was too much to pay for a Mayo Clinic full of doctors. She wanted out. Something had to happen, right now.

Something did. A pair of hands appeared on the tablecloth in front of her.

She looked up and met the eyes of the young man who stood there. He had a broad, unremarkable face. He was nearly as blond as she, though his eyes were dark. He had a good mouth. He said, “A lot of people don’t know the difference between a musician and a potted palm when they go to pour their hearts out. You’re in a spot, Ma’am.”

Some of her anger returned, but it subsided, engulfed in a flood of embarrassment. She could say only, “Please leave me alone.”

“I can’t. I heard that routine.” He tossed his head toward the rest rooms. “There’s a way out, if you’ll trust me.”

“I’ll keep the devil I know,” she said coldly.

“You listen to me. I mean listen, until I’m finished. Then you can do as you like. When he comes back, stall him off for tonight. Promise to meet him here tomorrow night. Make it a real good act. Then tell him you shouldn’t leave here together; you might be seen. He’ll think of that anyway.”

“And he leaves, and I’m at your tender mercies?”

“Don’t be a goon! Sorry. No, you leave first. Go straight to the station and catch the first train out. There’s a northbound at three o’clock and a south-bound at three-twelve. Take either one. Go somewhere else, hole up, find yourself another job, and stay out of sight.”

“On what? Three dollars mad-money?”

He flipped a long wallet out of his inside jacket pocket. “Here’s three hundred. You’re smart enough to make out all right on that.”

“You’re crazy! You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. Besides, I haven’t anything up for sale.”

He made an exasperated gesture. “Who said anything about that? I said take a train—any train. No one’s going to follow you.”

“You
are
crazy. How could I get it back to you?”

“You worry about that. I work here. Drop by some time—during the day when I’m not here, if you like, and leave it for me.”

“What on earth makes you want to do a thing like that?”

His voice was very gentle. “Say it’s the same thing makes me bring raw fish to alley-cats. Oh, stop arguing. You need an out and this is it.”

“I can’t do a thing like that!”

“You got a good imagination? The kind that makes pictures?”

“I—suppose so.”

“Then, forgive me, but you need a kick in the teeth. If you don’t do what I just told you, that crumb is going to—” and in a half-dozen simple, terse words, he told her exactly what that crumb was going to do. Then, with a single deft motion, he slipped the bills into her handbag and got back on the bandstand.

She sat, sick and shaken, until Bluett returned from the men’s room. She had an unusually vivid pictorial imagination.

“While I was gone” he said, settling into his chair and beckoning to the waiter for the check, “know what I was doing?”

That, she thought, is just the kind of question I need right now. Limpidly, she asked, “What?”

“I was thinking about that little place, and how wonderful it would be if I could slip away after a hard day at court, and find you there waiting for me.” He smiled fatuously. “And no one would ever know.”

Kay sent up a “Lord-forgive-me, I-know-not-what-I-do,” and said distinctly, “I think that’s a charming idea. Just charming.”

“And it wouldn’t—
what?”

For a moment she almost pitied him. Here he had his lines flaked out, his hooks sharpened and greased, and his casting arm worked up to a fine snap, and she’d robbed him of his sport. She’d driven up behind him with a wagon-load of fish. She’d surrendered.

“Well,” he said. “Well, I, hm. Hm-m-m! Waiter!”

“But,” she said archly, “Not tonight, Ar-mand.”

“Now, Kay. Just come up and look at it. It’s not far.”

She figuratively spit on her hands, took a deep breath and plunged—wondering vaguely at just what instant she had decided to take this fantastic course. She batted her eyelashes only a delicate twice, and said softly, “Ar-mand, I’m not an experienced person like you, and I—” she hesitated and dropped her eyes—“I want it to be perfect. And tonight, it’s all so sudden, and I haven’t been able to look forward to anything, and it’s terribly late and we’re both tired, and I have to work tomorrow but I won’t the day after, and besides—” and here she capped it. Here she generated, on the spot, the most diffuse and colorful statement of her entire life—“Besides,” she said, fluttering her hands prettily, “I’m not
ready.”

She peeped at him from the sides of her eyes and saw his bony face undergo four distinct expressions, one after the other. Again there was that within her which was capable of astonishment; she had been able to think of only three possible reactions to a statement like that. At the same moment the guitarist behind her, in the middle of a fluid
glissando,
got his little finger trapped underneath his A string.

Before Armand Bluett could get his breath back, she said, “Tomorrow, Ar-mand. But—” She blushed. When she was a child, reading “Ivanhoe” and “The Deerslayer,” she used to practice blushing before the mirror. She never could do it. Yet she did it now. “But earlier,” she finished.

BOOK: Dreaming Jewels
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