It was billed as an engagement party. Sam had seen Anna five times since she’d emerged from the coma. In keeping with the doctor’s advice he had kept the conversation to light topics: her family, her pets, her upcoming scripts, celebrity news, and who was winning in sports. Nothing had been said about the loss of their child. In fact, Sam had been told by her doctor that her memory of the days preceding the shooting were unclear. They had the party at the home of a friend of Anna’s in the Hollywood Hills. Below the house was a large pool, with a pool house at one end and gardens going up the opposite hillside. Sam had been there before but chose not to think about it. There was a spacious patio by the pool and that was the site of the party.
It was an eclectic group. Agent Ernie Dunkin was present, along with several other FBI types, including an assistant di rector as well as officials from Homeland Security. There were officials from the CIA, politicians-such as the mayor of Los Angeles, folks from the publishing industry (but no journalists allowed), a goodly number of celebrities-many of whom had read Bowden’s books, producers, and directors. All in all, it was an important party for people who wanted to be in the know about the near-miss terrorist attack that wasn’t publicized until a few days after it was thwarted. The Dow had risen two hundred points with the news that the govern ment had done it right.
Jill was present, acting as bartender, and Sam was chief of security, his usual cover. Harry was in charge of cleaning up-when people dropped their hors d’oeuvres and such, he took care of it with his long pink tongue. Then sleep seemed to overtake Harry, since there were too many droppings and not enough help.
Guests of honor, Georges Raval and Benoit Moreau, billed as the medical wizard and the spy who loved him, were mingling and had lines of people waiting to meet them, as did the other guests of honor, Michael Bowden and his gorgeous girlfriend. The engagements giving rise to the party were, of course, those of Michael and Grady and Georges and Benoit. For a band they had landed a group that Grady loved and no one had ever heard of-their career was launched.
Anna wandered over and stood next to Sam. Just like Sam, she had an earpiece. Sam saw it and smiled.
“Working security today, huh?”
“Figured it was the only way I could stand by you.”
“I tell you what. If you’ll drop your earpiece, I’ll drop mine.”
“Yeah. This once. And if it works out, we might try it again.”
“Deal,” she said.
“Let’s have some wine and then maybe we’ll actually eat hors d’oeuvres. I don’t know if I’ve ever really eaten in quantity at a party.”
“Me either. But you realize it’s not cool to actually eat food. It’s cool to nibble and waste it.”
“Tell that to Harry.” They shared a moment of comfortable silence. “We’re going to Benoit’s wedding?”
“Absolutely. And you’re going as my security guy, right?”
“That would be one way we could do it.”
Anna left the answer alone.
After some more banter they sat down under an umbrella, amazingly getting a few moments to themselves.
“You know, Sam, I seem to remember that we were dis cussing marriage…”
“Yes. We were.”
“I’m a little unclear on the details. But neither of us seems quite there right now. If I could just be blunt about it.”
“We were at a point there… one of those crossroads in life… and whatever decision we had made, I believe it would have been good. But we somehow got pushed right through that crossroads.”
“And now maybe we need a new crossroads.”
“Have I ever told you that one of the things I really like about you is that you are a wonderful contradiction. You’re very physical, but you have none of the baggage of your typ ical macho man. I love your heritage and your family. Did you know that I appreciated that about you?”
“I guess not.”
“You’re strong and you’re sincere. To me that’s macho. Not drinking beer and swearing a lot.”
“I haven’t been much on humor lately.”
“Harry is your sense of humor.”
“I’m kind of a loner to be paired up with.”
“Rugged individualists are fascinating. Everyone wants to get to know them if they have a chance.”
Sam didn’t say anything but thought about his conversa tion with his mother.
“I have a question for you,” she said.
“So, tell me, Kalok Wintripp, would you be my boyfriend?” Sam nodded and looked in her eyes. “Take me to a football game? Leave the earpiece at home?”
“Yeah. No problem.”
“I’d like to buy you a new tux for Benoit’s wedding.”
“No one will tell me what happened with the shooting and all that was going on. I think it’s your duty as my boyfriend.”
“I’ll tell you, but I don’t want to spoil the afternoon.”
“Would you tell me just one thing?”
“What about Gaudet? Seems we’d all sleep better if we knew he was out of the picture.” Anna was truly concerned.
“Oh, he is. I got permission off the record to transport the prisoner. I was told by the spooks that I could accidentally deliver him to the wrong part of San Francisco International Airport, where a jet happened to be waiting. The idea was that first he would be worked over by some less-sensitive ally of the U.S. with the CIA present. I guess there were a couple of Saudis on that plane that had lost a few hundred million when Gaudet’s plan didn’t work. It wasn’t clear whether they would eventually get to minister to Gaudet after the first debriefing. If I were Gaudet, I certainly wouldn’t want to bet that I wouldn’t end up in a little torture chamber with these guys and the other investors. So, I took him up to that plane, and when he saw who was waiting, he started screaming and begging for me not to do it. I swear this is true, Anna. Devan Gaudet sat right down on the pavement and defecated. I have never seen a human being so afraid in my whole life. I guess what his former investors would even tually do to him, if they ever got hold of him, would be unimaginable to us, and it should be. Anyway, as I was drag ging him toward the stairs and to the waiting arms of his tor mentors, I thought about Benoit Moreau, one of our guests of honor here. I’ll tell you all about her later. She is a woman who has come from the dark side to the light side, with amazing results. And I thought about all my hate, how this man had killed my friends and people I loved, and about all the misery he’d brought to the world. And I realized that in dragging him up those steps I was crossing into the dark side. So I didn’t do it.”
Anna waited for a moment, rapt. “Well, what did you do?”
“I guess I’ll never know whether I gave him back to the FBI because he wanted a bullet in the head so badly or be cause I wanted to stay on the light side. Anyway, they kindly took him back, saying it probably wasn’t a good idea to work through the CIA anyway. He’s still getting amazing drugs for inspirational purposes and I guess he’s singing away. He knows a lot of dirt. And he’s a terrorist, so they can hold him forever it seems.”
Anna didn’t say anything for a while.
“I’m glad you gave him to the government…” She turned to the party, picking out the celebrated couples. “I guess in view of all this we should think about young love.”
“Look at them now,” Sam said, watching as they slow danced.
“I guess Grady and Michael are rebuilding his log house,” Anna said. “She loves it… dirt and trees and sky and mountains and, of course, Michael. She says she’ll be going to the Amazon part of the time.”
Sam smiled. Anna gave him a look.
“You’d laugh too if you’d seen her in the Amazon.”
Anna sipped her wine. “I think she loved you, Sam.”
It came out of nowhere, but Sam showed no surprise.
“But now she loves Michael, and he’s younger, and he’s hot.”
Anna laughed at that.
“At least Harry thinks I’m hot.”
That got Anna laughing again.
Sam’s mother, Spring, came over.
“Anna, I’d like to invite you to the Tilok festival of new beginnings. We bless the whole earth and try to start the good things over again. Being incognito, Sam hasn’t gone in years. But he’s going this year. I have great faith.”
Sam thought about that. A lot was changing very fast. Maybe he should consult Benoit for butterfly lessons.
“I’ll be there,” Anna said. “I’m guessing Sam won’t leave me unescorted. Will you, Sam?”
Sam nodded, then looked back to the party. Benoit Moreau and Georges Raval seemed to be having a kissathon, along with Michael and Grady. People were clapping and the band was cranking up.
“Did Sam tell you that he’s going to start working with his cousin on a program for the Tilok teenagers?” Spring asked.
“No, I meant to tell her about that,” he said.
“That’s great,” Anna smiled, obviously pleased.
Spring wandered off and they sat in silence for a while.
“You know,” Sam began choosing his words carefully. “Maybe it was about the baby. But now it isn’t. It’s about you.”
Anna reached out and took his hand. It was the first time in public. She looked over the top of her sunglasses the way she usually did. “Would you like to go get some smoked salmon? I made sure they would have it at the buffet.”
“I believe I would. And let’s make sure we eat it in front of everybody and start a lot of speculation.”
Sam dropped his earpiece in the trash barrel.