Читать онлайн "What of Terry Conniston?" автора Garfield Brian - RuLit - Страница 8


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Louise had a tall solid body, trimmed by daily workouts against a ballet exercise bar. She had thick tawny hair and animated, amorous features. Her large eyes were passionate; her expressions had a wide and subtle range of colors which at first tended to obscure the rather ordinary mind beyond. She had a honey tan and superb long legs; she wore a vinyl miniskirt and a sleeveless blouse that clung electrically to her velvet curves. Oakley watched her pirouette slowly to face him.

“Oh—Carl. I didn’t know you were there.” She didn’t look at all startled.

He said, “You’re looking lovely, as always.”

Her smile had just the right degree of rehearsed demureness. It faded quickly and she said, “I suppose you’ll have him locked up with you in there all afternoon and half the night.”

“We’ve got quite a bit to go over,” he conceded. “Have to pack a lot into these short trips of mine down here. Why? You seem upset.”

“It’s only—” she began, and stopped. She tipped her head to one side, a little-girl pose, and absently fingered a flower petal above the vase. “He just came back from Washington last Saturday. I hardly have any time at all alone with him any more.” Clearly it wasn’t what she had started out to say.

“I’ll try to cut it short,” Oakley said, more out of politeness than honesty. “It’s up to him, you know.”

“I know,” she said; the curl of her lip seemed, for a change, involuntary. Her eyes were still averted.

“Well,” Oakley said, and turned toward the study door.


He stopped and looked at her. She said, “Carl, you knew his other wives, Dorothy and Marianne.”

Whatever was coming, he thought he didn’t want to hear it. He said as much, or began to: “I don’t think it’s any of my—”

“No. I have to ask you something. Those marriages, Carl why did they fall apart?”

“In twenty-five words or less? You know I can’t give you a simple answer to a question like that. Maybe I don’t even know the real answers. Why don’t you ask Earle?”

“Was it,” she pressed, “—neglect?”

“Neglect? By whom? What kind of crazy ideas have you got?”

Her face changed. She turned half away, hiding her eyes from him, and muttered so that he barely caught the words, “It’s been getting worse for months. He just shuts me out. He never even says good night to me any more. What can I do? Tell me what to do, Carl.”

“Why ask me?” he replied, more harshly than he had intended, but her act angered him—he was sure now it was an act after all and he disliked the sordid presumptions it implied, that he was nothing more than a gullible audience for her histrionics. He had no idea what motivated the theatrics but he did know her well enough to be sure she would never unburden herself to him so casually if there weren’t something hidden behind it.

She seemed unaffected by his peremptory remark; she only said in a small voice, “What’s going to happen, Carl?”

He shook his head obstinately. “I’m a lawyer, not an oracle. Look, I apologize for snapping at you. But I learned a long time ago to stay out of other people’s domestic tangles. It’s not my field of law. Talk to a marriage counselor. Better yet, why not talk to Earle?”

“I have. He just doesn’t listen. It’s as if I’m not even there.”

“I’m sorry,” he said lamely, angry at Conniston for being so clumsy (if she was telling the truth), equally angry at Louise for trying to involve him. He reached for the knob of the study door.

She said absently, “He’s not in there. He’s in the office.”

He shot a quick glance at her, which she didn’t notice; she was bent over the flowers as if holding back tears. He pushed back the momentary impulse to leave the room rudely and quickly; instead he crossed the room with brisk strides and put an arm across her shoulders. “Come on, now. Come on.”

“Never mind. I’m all right. You’re right—it’s not your problem and I had no right dragging you into it.”

He patted her arm, feeling foolish as he did so. Her flesh was soft and warm; his carnal instincts stirred, he stepped away from her. She lifted her face toward him and stared, unblinking; her breasts rose and fell with her breathing. If it was a pose it was effective. But if she meant him to draw implications from it they were implications he couldn’t afford to explore. A bit of a smile flashed briefly across his cheeks and he shook his head at her with more irony than displeasure. Unable to think of anything useful to say, he walked slowly away. Her voice, pitched low, followed him to the door:

“If you get a chance see if you can find out what I’ve done that’s offended him.”

“Sure.” He went back through the cool corridor to the office and knocked. There was a clack and a buzz—Conniston had an electric button under his desk which automatically unlocked the door; the cork-lined office was his working sanctum. When Oakley stepped inside he was on his guard: in Earle Conniston’s house the study was for friends and the office was for pure business. So it wasn’t to be a casual afternoon.

A row of brown filing cabinets stood at attention along one cork-paneled wall. There was a Utrillo and a small blue Picasso; otherwise the room was bare of decoration. A scatter of leather chairs; a sound-absorbent carpet, plain beige; the big man’s desk, dominant, kidney-shaped walnut.

Conniston was scowling, talking into one of the phones. His attention whipped down the room to Oakley; he nodded. Oakley pushed the door shut with his heel. Conniston’s deep baritone growled at the phone:

“Yes. Might be important fact…. Then juice up the accounting—feel they aren’t depreciating things fast enough. What about Raiford?… Why not? They’ve all got hands out for the sugar tit, haven’t they? Don’t tell me Bob Raiford’s developed sudden attack of acute integrity. Doesn’t fit. Christ, in the old days you could buy a senator with pocket money—now got to give the bastards TV station and two newspapers…. Well, then, get to work on him. What do you mean, when? Get started two hours ago.”

Clearly it was a long conversation, only half completed. A kind of dull peace settled on Oakley and he let Conniston’s phone talk go by. He put a cigar in his mouth but didn’t light it and after a few minutes, with Conniston’s voice droning on, he left the chair and went past Conniston to stand at the window and look out across the flagstoned back patio. Fifty feet from the house was a lawn fountain, a baroque relic Conniston had picked up in Europe; it resembled a bird bath for buzzards, to Oakley’s austere way of thinking. Just beyond was the swimming pool built of cement and tile and money. Someone was splashing in the pool; he couldn’t make out the swimmer’s identity against the sun-glare and cascading shards of water. But within a minute or two the swimmer climbed out of the pool and reached for a towel—Terry Conniston.

She moved lightly and quickly—young, soft, slim, silky. Her bare feet touched the flagstones like musical notes; she moved fast because the flagstones were frying-pan hot. Oakley watched her settle down on a lawn chaise under a beach umbrella. The dark green bikini set off her pale red hair. She was a tall girl with good bones.

Oakley had watched her grow up. Through her teens she had left a wake of dazed prep-school boys stunned by grieving, frustrated desire. There had been a serious boy friend a year or so ago but that had broken up, suddenly and unaccountably. It had happened not long before Earle Jr. had died.



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