“And—oh, yes, my daughter Kate, and over there is Dolores van Bright, asshead of contract law dept, whom you absolutely must meet right away because…” But somehow he wasn’t at Ina’s side any more as she crossed the room to make the introduction. He was smiling at Kate, and that was ridiculous. Because on top of not even being pretty she was bony—damn it, scrawny! Moreover, her face was too sharp: eyes, nose, chin. And her hair: tousled, of no special color, mousy-brown.
But looking at him with a degree of speculative interest he found dreadfully disturbing.
This is crazy. I don’t like thin women. I like them cuddly. Ina, for example.
And that’s true in all versions of myself.
“So you’re Sandy Locke.” With a curious husky intonation.
“Mm-hm. Large as life and twice as.” There was an appraising pause. He was vaguely aware of Ina, who was on the far side of the floor now—and this was a big room, of course—as she glanced around in surprise to relocate him.
“No. Larger, and half,” Kate said unaccountably, and pulled an amusing face that made her nose woffle like a rabbit’s. “Ina’s making wild signals at you. Better catch up. I’m not supposed to be here—I just have nothing else to do this evening. But suddenly I’m glad I came. Talk to you later.”
“Hey, Sandy!” Loud over the omnipresent soothing music, bland as the decor warranted to offend nobody. “This way!”
What the hell happened just now?
The question kept leaping back into his mind even when “just now” was an hour old, distracting him constantly without warning from the prescribed display of interest in the affairs of these new colleagues of his. It cost him much effort to maintain a veneer of politeness.
“Say, I hear your kid had to go be straightened, poor thing. How’s she doing?”
“We collect her Saturday. Good as new or better, so they say.”
“Should have signed her with Anti-Trauma Inc. like us. Don’t you agree, Sandy?”
“Hmm? Oh! It’s no use asking me. I’m strictly swingle, so for me you’re into a no-go zone.”
“Yeah? Shame. Was going to ask your view on fifty-fifty schools—know, where pupils pick half, staff the other half of the curriculum? Fair compromise on the face; in the guts I wonder…”
“No. Try live the future today, get it all wrong.”
And: “—wouldn’t take on a secondhand home. Too big a clog, reprograming the automatics. Short end to a friendship, inviting someone over and having him webbed solid to the driveway because the moronic machinery misunderstood you.”
“Mine you can update with no more than the poker’s code. Tough it isn’t at Trianon. Sandy here’s a smart shivver—bet he’s into the same type thing, right?”
“Presently between houses, friend. Next time maybe I’ll move up where you are. Maybe I’ll go clear back instead. I’m still sussing the aroma.”
And: “You were tribed in teentime, Sandy? Hmm? Son of mine wants in the Assegais! Sure their solidarity and morale are great, but—uh…”
“Fatality rate kind of high? I heard that too. Since they switched from Baron Samedi to Kali. Me, I’m trying to plug Donna into the Bold Eagles. I mean what’s it worth to get custody of a kid from a cross-marriage where she got to take some oath about shivving any white the warlord says?”
“Bold Eagles? Not a hope. Signing up kids at birth now. Go find some nice quiet tribe that follows Saint Nick. The life-assurance rates are lower, to begin with.” And so on.
But at alarmingly frequent intervals he kept finding that his eyes had strayed past the shoulder of the Important Person he was chatting with and come to rest on the untidy hair or the pointed profile of Ina’s daughter.
Eventually Ina said in a tart tone, “Kate seems to have you mezzed, Sandy!”
Yes, mesmerized would be a good name for it.
“Takes after you in that respect,” he answered lightly. “Mainly I’m puzzled to find her here. I thought this was strictly a meet-the-folks deal.” That was convincing; the girl was one jarring element in an otherwise predictable milieu. Ina softened a little.