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4

Claire Pack stood watching them from the head of the steps up to the lawn. She was wearing a one-piece skirtless cotton swimsuit cut high at the tops of her thighs, and was resting her hands lightly on her hips. As Connington shut off the engine and the three of them got out of the car, she, raised her eyebrows. The narrow strings that served as straps for the swimsuit were dangling in loops around her upper arms.

Well, Doctor! She said with low-voiced gravity and a pucker of her lips, Id been wondering when youd drop by again.

Connington, coming around the other side of the car, smiled watchfully at her and said, He had to bring Al home. Seems there was a little hitch in the proceedings today.

She glanced aside at Barker, who was raising the garage doors with abrupt, crashing movements of his arms and body, all his attention obviously on what he was doing. She ran her tongue over the edges of her teeth. What kind?

Now, I wouldnt know as to that. Why dont you ask Hawks? Connington took a fresh cigar out of his case. I like that suit, Claire, he said. He trotted quickly up the steps, brushing by her. Its a hot day. Think Ill go find a pair of trunks and take a dip myself. You and the boys have a nice chat meanwhile. He walked quickly up the path to the house, stopped, lit the cigar, glanced sideward over his cupped hands, and stepped out of sight inside.

Barker got into his car, started it, and clashed the gears as he moved it into the garage nose-first. The trapped thunder of the exhaust rumbled loudly and sputtered down into silence.

I think hell be all right, Hawks said.

Claire looked down at him. She focused her expression into an open-faced innocence. Oh? You mean, hell be back to normal?

Barker brought the garage doors down and passed Hawks with his head bent, striding intently as he thrust the ignition keys into his pocket. His face jerked up toward Claire as he climbed the steps. Im going upstairs. I may sack out. Dont wake me. He half-turned and looked at Hawks. I guess youre stuck here, unless you want to take another hike. Did you think of that, Doctor?

Did you? Ill stay until youre up. Ill want to talk to you.

I wish you joy of it, Doctor, Barker said, and walked away, with Claire watching him. Then she looked back down at Hawks. Through all this, she had not moved her feet or hands.

Hawks said, Something happened. I dont know how much it means.

You worry about it, Ed, she said, her lower lip glistening. In the meantime, youre the only one left standing down there.

Hawks sighed. Ill come up.

Claire Pack grinned.

Come over and sit by the pool with me, she said when he reached the top of the steps. She turned away before he could answer, and walked slowly in front of him, her right arm hanging at her side. Her hand trailed back, and reached up to touch his own. She slackened her pace so that they were walking side by side, and looked up at him. You dont mind, do you? she said gently.

Hawks looked down at their hands for a moment, and as he did, she put the backs of her fingers inside his palm. He said slowly, No no, I dont think I mind, and closed his hand around hers.

She smiled and said, There, now, in an almost childishly soft voice.

They walked to the edge of the pool and stood looking down into the water.

Did Connington take a long time getting over his drunk the other day? Hawks asked.

She laughed brightly. Come on, now what you mean is, why do I still let him hang around after his ferocious threats? Answer: why not? What can he do, really? Her sidelong glance came up from ,a graceful turn of her head and shoulders, so that her hair flashed in the sun and her eyes were half veiled behind the glimmer of her lashes. Or do you think Im under his Svengali spell? she asked with mock-horror that left her wide-eyed and with her lips in a scarlet, open pout.

Hawks kept his eyes steadily on hers. No, hardly that.

Her eyebrows blinked up and down pleasurably, and her mouth parted in a low, whispered laugh. She swayed her upper body toward him, and put her other hand on his ann. Should I take that as a tribute? Al tells me youre a hard man to get small talk out of.

Hawks put his right hand around his own left wrist and held it, his arm crossed awkwardly in front of his body. What else has Al told you about his work? he asked.

She looked down at his arm. She said gravely and confidentially, You know, if I get too close to you, you can always dive into the pool. Then she grinned to herself again, keeping her face toward him to let him see it, and, taking her hands away, sank down to lie on one hip in the grass, her head bent so she could watch the surface of the water. Im sorry, she said without looking up. I said that just to see if youd jump. Connies right about me, you know.

Hawks squatted angularly down next to her, watching the side of her turned-away face. In what way?

She put one hand down into the blue water and stirred it back and forth, silver bubbles trailing out between her spread fingers. I cant know a man more than a few minutes without trying to get under his skin, she said in a pondering voice. I have to do it. Measuring, I suppose you could call it. Her face flashed toward him. And you can call that a Freudian pun if you want to. Then she had turned away again. A trail of splotched droplets on the pools satiny concrete coaming began to shrink in the sun. Her voice was reflective and hidden again. Thats the way I am.

Is it really? Or is saying so just another part of the process? You say everything for effect, dont you?

Her face turned slowly, this time, and she looked at him with a faintly cynical undertone to her smile. Youre very quick, arent you? She pouted. Are you sure I deserve all this concentration? After all, what good is it going to do you? Her eyebrow arched, and she held that expression, her smile very slowly widening her lips.

I dont decide what should interest me, Hawks said. First something intrigues me. Then I study it.

You must have curious instincts, mustnt you, then? She waited for an answer. Hawks gave her none. She added, In several senses of the word, I suppose. Hawks continued to look at her gravely, and she slowly lost the vivacity behind her expression. She rolled over suddenly on her back, her ankles crossed stiffly, and put her hands down flat on her thigh muscles. Im Als woman, she said up at the sky.

Which Al? Hawks asked.

Whats happening to him? she said, moving only her lips. What are you doing to him?

I dont know, exactly, Hawks said. Im waiting to find out.

She sat up and twisted to face him, her breasts moving under the loose top. Do you have any kind of a conscience? she asked. Is there anyone who isnt defenseless before you?

He shook his head. That kind of question doesnt apply. I do what I have to do. Only that.

She seemed to be almost hypnotized by him. She leaned closer.

I want to see if Als all right, Hawks said, getting up.

Claire arched her neck and stared up at him. Hawks, she whispered.

Excuse me, Claire. He stepped around her drawn-up legs and moved toward the house.

Hawks, she said hoarsely. The top of the swimsuit was almost completely off the upper faces of her breasts. You have to take me tonight.

He continued to walk away.

Hawks Im warning you!

Hawks flung open the house door and disappeared behind the sun-washed glass.


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