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28

Fortunately, just before theyd left the apartment in the N-Joy, Max had managed to sneak a cellular phone into the bathroom and call Miss September to tell her do not, repeat not, come out to Carrport tonight, well get together soon, my little fur muffin, Ill call the next time Im in the northeast, do not come to Carrport. And off he went, willy-nilly, with Lutetia.

But then it wasnt so bad. The old love in a new setting, an invigorating change of pace. And the memory of Miss September so recently on this black silk sheetlaundered since; ah, wellcould only add to the spirit of the occasion.

Max was feeling so pleased with himself, and with life, and with the success of his maneuvering, and with his recent decision that TUI should replace the Carrport house with a corporate yacht, that next morning, over bran muffins and coffee, he showed Lutetia his new ring, his pride and joy, and explained its history.

She was amused and appalled, exactly the response hed been hoping for. Max, what a terrible person you are! she cried, laughing at him across the breakfast table. To treat that poor fellow that way.

You should have seen the expression on his face, Max said. It was priceless. He looked like a basset hound.

Youd better hope, she told him, he never gets to see your face again.

Somehow I dont think, Max said, comfortably twirling the ring on his finger, we travel in the same circles.

After breakfast, Max went through the house one final time, finding very little in it he cared about. All this safe bland decorating, good for the corporate image but not exactly hearty, nothing that stuck in the mind or created a yearning for possession. Leave it, leave it all, sell the stuff. The damn burglar got everything of value, anyway.

Lutetia found a squat brown vase she liked. It reminds me of you, she said, when youve been bad and youre afraid youll be caught.

Oh, my sweetness, Max said, pursing his mouth and trying to look like Sydney Greenstreet in a pet, how you talk to me.

Ill put dried flowers in it, she decided, holding the vase up to see it better in the light. It will fit in wonderfully at the apartment. The place is almost perfect as it is, so carefully put togetheryou wouldnt notice a thing like thatbut occasionally one still finds something to add to the effect.

Take it, Max said, magnanimous to a fault. If it shows up on some inventory somewhere, well say the burglar got it.

Of course he did, Lutetia said. He has a very good eye, your burglar.

Especially for rings, Max said, with a malicious little leer.

Lutetia laughed, and clucked her disapproval, and went away to put the vase in her overnight bag, while Max went to the library to get the only thing he actually cared about in this building. The Book, his guide, the source of his self-image and strength, the home of Tui, the Joyous. It was called the I Ching, and it was the soul of the wisdom of the East, and Max put it in his bag.

Then they were ready to go. They had sent Chalmers and the limo back to the city last night. The burglar had made off with the Lexus, of course, leaving in the garage the Honda van for the transportation of middle management in manageable groups, and the Mazda RX-7, the very paradigm of the little red foreign sports car. (Little red foreign sports cars used to be Italian or French, but times change, times change.) The Chapter Eleven judge could have the Honda, and be damned to him, but the Mazda would stay with Max, definitely, and no arguments.

It was without a backward glance that Max left the Carrport house for the last time, at the wheel of the little red Mazda, Lutetia beside him, his mind full of plans for the yachtto be called Joyousas he also idly wondered where theyd stop for lunch. Somewhere on the water, for preference.

A lovely day, all in all, whizzing around Long Island in the little red car, finding an acceptable seafood restaurant with a view southward over the Atlantic, chatting and joshing with Lutetia, the two of them in a jolly mood. It was, in fact, delightful to Max, that in his uxorious moments, at those times when, out of necessity or conviction, he wanted to be a husband, he had found for the role such a wife as Lutetia. (The I Ching had helped him choose her, of course, from the then-available herd.)

Then at last they made their way to Kennedy Airport for Maxs midafternoon flight. He would enplane to Savannah, to be met there by the car that would take him to Hilton Head, while Lutetia drove the Mazda back to the city and stashed it in the basement garage at the N-Joy.

I have a few stops to make along the way, she told him. Antique shops and whatnot, youll probably get to the island before I make it home. Ill phone you when I get there.

She did, too.


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