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Fiction #238
(published August 4, 2005)
Crossed Wires (part 1 of 2)
by Terence S. Hawkins
Frobisher thought he was too young to have a mistress. Also too cool. Mistresses were for old guys with pinkie rings, fat tanned guys jammed into Speedos. He saw them at beaches everywhere, East Hampton to St Bart's. They hunkered in folding chairs shrieking into cellphones to garment district offices while little bits of lemon chiffon in thongs worked sunblock into their hairy shoulders or sprawled topless like deer tied to hunters' bumpers.

But that wasn't Frobisher. Frobisher had been born the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. He couldn't remember a world before color television. He had started college at about the time HIV entered the general population. He was an architect. His partners were women. He wore clothes from Paul Smith. He got into coffee when most of his friends were still doing blow. In short, not the kind of guy to have a mistress.

He expended a lot of intellectual energy trying to find other things to call Amber. Most of them were pretty much excluded by the hard fact of his marriage. Married guys couldn't call anyone a "significant other". And girlfriend would have been out even if he hadn't been married. So usually he just settled for "friend". It was literally correct, or so he thought most of the time, except for those not-infrequent occasions when his viscera churned over her chance use of an MTV adjective to describe a CNN event. It was inclusive rather than exclusive. And sometimes it gave him the advantage of pretending to a sexual orientation other than his own, not a bad thing in his line of work, in which a man's "friend" often had a goatee and pierced scrotum.

That morning he was writing Amber a little love email. It was a Saturday, so he felt sufficiently virtuous at being in the office in the first place to take a few minutes away from the proposal he was drafting. He pulled up the browser his firm had carefully and expensively customized, pulled down a menu, and clicked Compose.


I want to tell you exactly what I want t do next time I see you. I'm not going to say a word. I want you to come to the door with nothing on. I'm going to push you to the couch and make you sit. Then I'm going to kneel in front of you and spread your legs and hook them over my shoulders. Then I'm going to lick you exactly the way you love to be licked. Do you remember that weekend—

A knock on the door. Shit. His partner Stephanie was hovering outside the glass wall mouthing "have to talk to you now." Oh well. He tried to look businesslike and held up a finger. One minute. Finger still up he swung the mouse around and pulled down the personal address subfile. Stephanie knocked again, hard this time. Just as he clicked send.


Stephanie as usual turned a minor administrative glitch into a seminar on firm culture. With particular emphasis on how everyone was feeling. While Frobisher actually kind of liked these little seances—it was as close as he'd ever come to menstruation—he found himself unaccountably impatient this once. Unaccountably until he realized that Steph was cutting into his Saturday afternoon gym time, which always segued into a workout with Amber.

After his third glance at the Tag Heur Steph finally got the message. Leaving him free to pack the Powerbook into the messenger bag and head to the Apogee.

Frobisher had loved the Apogee at first sight. It looked like the kind of gym where Frank Gehry could chat up a Diesel Jeans model. Everything was brushed chrome and matte finishes. Absurdly mesomorphic figures who might have stepped off the Elgin marbles strained discreetly at futuristic machines whose purpose could only be surmised, even when in use. Little foreign men with towels and squeegees and sprays kept the place from smelling like what it was, unheeded by furiously pedaling stockbrokers.

And hey, what about the babes. Frobisher still had days when he thought every woman in New York was beautiful. When his friend Raleigh had introduced him to the Apogee three years before, two years into his marriage, frustrated lust was making him stop to stare disconsolately into Victoria's Secret windows. Walking into the Apogee was like the first really gorgeous spring day on Union Square except that all the beautiful women were in Spandex jogbras. Frobisher joined at once.

There was, of course, a down side. He had never been that much of an athlete. More like a twenty mile a week jogger whenever his inseam bit into his prostate when he crossed his legs. But he usually felt pretty good about the way he looked. Here, though, it was a very bad day indeed if he was the third best looking heterosexual male over thirty. On the other hand, it was an equally bad day if the tenth best looking woman there didn't look like a fourteen year old's wet dream.

It was here that he first met Amber. Or had first seen her, at least. Raleigh pointed her out. Not an introduction, really, but it made Raleigh feel avuncular ever after.

Amber was working out on the Butt Blaster. Before that moment Frobisher would have thought a Butt Blaster was a guy who'd spent a lot of time in prison. But no, it was an exercise machine. Amber was working muscles Westport wives don't know they have and don't want to know about anyway. She was wearing black lycra.

Raleigh looked impressed. "Jesus," he said. "Look at that. I'll bet she could snap the neck off a Coke bottle with that thing."

She had chosen that instant to look up. She struck Frobisher the way a truffle strikes a starved hog. Indeterminate ethnicity—-vaguely Asian, possibly Puerto Rican, certainly not Wonder Bread. Heart shaped face, lots of thick black hair, skin the color of his habitual skinny latte, white white teeth with an immediately endearing gap. And Raleigh was right about the back yard.

Raleigh had gone off to see if he could get someone's paralegal to feel his bicep. Frobisher smiled. She smiled back. At a loss as to what to do next, Frobisher stood there a full five seconds before running like a rabbit. When he realized that he was hoping that she hadn't noticed his wedding ring the guilt felt like a lump of cold grease in his duodenum.

He couldn't get her out of his mind that day or the next. He'd had these little crushes before. They were part of his experience of marriage. At least marriage to Kristin. Which he often thought of as life in the J. Crew catalogue. Kristin was beautiful in exactly that way.

Not like one of the light-skinned women of color in the swimsuit section the producers threw in to lend a gloss of forbidden sensuality; no, she was like one of the Gwyneth Paltrow types in the front, with the hundred-dollar sweaters, beaming at a much older barn-jacketed hubby while baby and Labrador pup rollicked at her feet.

She was also pretty much sexless. Not averse to it. She just didn't like it all that much. It was something that happened because it had to, periodically, like some of the cruder bodily functions, possibly enjoyed but never discussed. She had always been that way. Frobisher had thought that maybe when they were married she would become so secure in their relationship that her sexuality would blossom. Instead it got neither better nor worse. For a while he tried to get her to his way of thinking. Once he left the shower to find her in the hallway wearing nothing but a tee shirt. She was standing in front of a full length mirror. Thinking that fortune favors the brave he had slipped his hands under the shirt and over her breasts and begun to nuzzle her neck. Immediately erect he had gently, or so he thought, pushed her forward so that he could enter her standing from behind while they faced the mirror. At the moment of orgasm he had looked at her face. Instead of eyes locked on his in mutual passion he saw a face screwed shut.

For weeks afterwards he was too confused and ashamed to touch her. Ashamed because he thought he had acted like a caricature male; confused because he was, after all, male. It was then that the conviction began to grow that there was something wrong at the core, either with him or the marriage.

He started to act as though it was he. First came the covert visits to websites with names like spoogemonkey.net or hotblaxxx.com. Only at home; he knew enough about networks to dread the possibility that one Sunday morning Stephanie would log in from her Rhinebeck barn to find her partner linked to teentitties.org.

So instead, on a few Friday evenings, well after Kristin's ten o'clock bedtime—doctors rise early—he hunched over his monitor with a wad of Kleenex in one hand and his mouse in the other. A date he would have turned into a long-term relationship had it not been for Kristin's scan of the History menu.

He met her outrage with a fable fortuitously torn from that Thursday's "Circuits" section of the Times. Former- Soviet hackers were seizing Western PCs on the behalf of Moscow pornographers. Kristin at first gave it all the credit it deserved, but gradually came to believe over the months in which he told their friends, over coffee or pizza, about the Chechen porno crime lords who had temporarily surfaced in southern Fairfield County.

Having dodged that bullet, he knew the internet was out. Unless he wanted to buy shrink wrapped copies of Juggs: Home of the DDD from Pakistani 7-11s along the Post Road, park next to the dumpster, and squeal off to the Merritt once he'd found paradise under the dashboard lights, he'd have to think of another format.

Thus he was in the video store of a Friday night. As he pretended to study the box of a subtitled romance his eyes were drawn to the back room. He had never passed through that discreet doorway, thinking that he might as well walk around with a Loser sign on his back. But tonight he edged towards it like a shoplifter, eyes scanning French farces and lost classics, lips silently moving as he rehearsed his cover story. "What? Isn't this where they keep the Jarmusch? Look, have you ever heard of an Iranian director called Kirostami? Like Kirosawa and they sound alike ha ha ha."

But it was unnecessary. Inside there was no one else. His heart sank. Worse than discovery was the prospect that everyone else in Westport was out getting laid at that very moment. Well, move quick. Jaw muscles clenched with shame he showed up at the checkout with "Romancing the Bone" tucked between "Life is Beautiful" and "To Have and Have Not." He could always claim the clerk had made a terrible mistake. But he got home without incident. After making sure Kristin was asleep he crept into the study, popped the disk into the DVD, and took a wrong turn off Cool Street before the Coming Attractions were finished.

Eventually he was desperate enough to confide in Raleigh. Desperation was what it took. Big as Frobisher was on sharing and caring, the prohibition against discussion of sexual failures was hardwired into the male brain long before bipedal locomotion was more than a sometime thing.

It was particularly difficult with Raleigh. Raleigh was the last of the old time cads. An Edwardian rake in a Zegna suit; a triathlete despite a cigar habit that predated Gordon Gecko. But he was also fifty-five. Confession to someone half a generation his senior was somehow less painful.

Raleigh had not been helpful. At least, in the short run. "So the problem is you're not getting enough."

Frobisher didn't like the way he put it. "I don't like to put it that way. I just want to have a complete relationship."

"You also want to get laid more. Or am I missing something?"

"You're not missing something," Frobisher conceded bitterly. "I don't know what to do." He bit his lip and took the plunge. "Do you know any therapist I could call?"

Raleigh rolled his eyes and guillotined a Macanudo. "For you? Since when does wanting to get laid rate a shrink?"

Frobisher blinked hard. "For us."

Raleigh sighed. "Kid, I hate to break this to you. In fact, I resent having to break this to you. Your father should have told you. I hate having to act like anyone's father unless I'm so adjudicated. But anyway. Here's the hard fact. People are who they are. Particularly that way. There is this thing called the bell curve. Some people are on the right hand side. They want it all the time in all the ways they can figure out that won't put them in the hospital, at least for very long. In that category I am happy to include myself. On the left hand side are people who basically don't care one way or the other. They're equally happy. Or can be. And for every person on my side there's someone on the left side. And of course there are all the variations in between. But by and large, most of the time you are where you are. Like with IQ, or height. A constant. Of course it's more complicated than height, but the individual baseline tends to stay pretty much the same."

Frobisher looked stricken. "So it's not going to get better."

Raleigh drew on the cigar. "Sorry, kid. You are where you are."

"And it's not my fault?"


"So what can I do?"

"Well, basically, not much. Except make some decisions. About who you are and what you want." He studied the ash at the end of his cigar as though he'd never seen such a thing before. "Kristin is a lovely woman and I like her very much." Kristin, of course, hated Raleigh. "But life zips by pretty fast and I'm advised it's one to a customer."

It was a week later that Frobisher first saw Amber.


Kristin Frobisher always felt funny about the name. Before she started thinking about marriage she sneered at friends and acquaintances, and sometimes even total strangers fortunate enough to have their nuptials published in the Times, who dumped half their identities just to join the world of the Cleavers. But as she approached the actual moment of engagement—no proposal, naturally; mutual decision long discussed—she found herself idly doodling out a new name for herself. And damn if it didn't sound pretty good. It had the imposing yet feminine ring she always associated with Eurotrash. She could see herself in a foreign-language Vogue.

That was the great thing about Frobisher. He always made her think of exotic magazines. Huge ten-dollar glossies in French or Italian about design or furniture or photography. When she was in medical school surrounded by former science majors in Dockers he would meet her post-call looking like something out of the British GQ. She liked that. She had been a science major and no matter how good she looked she felt grubby and dull in medical school. It probably had something to do with not sleeping very much and not being encouraged to think very much either. She always hoped that she wasn't anything like every last person she spent every waking moment with.

Frobisher made her think that she wasn't. He had a cool old car and friends with interesting haircuts. They talked about something other than medicine and money. The medicine part didn't surprise her; the money part did. One weekend a month she was let out of her cage and Frobisher took her to museums and bars in the City and they would go back to his apartment and make love until it was time for her to go back to New Haven.

When they got married she thought it was still new. It was, but only because they didn't know each other. Her friends told her not to worry. No one knows the other in that first year, or in the first five. Kristin was reassured. But not for long. She added up the monthly weekends and weekly overnights and realized that in two years of dating she'd spent about two months with this guy she was suddenly introducing to realtors as her husband. And she wasn't exactly sure how crazy she was about that. She also wasn't too sure about being married to a guy who earned just enough to cover his wardrobe, even if it was really cool.

So that Saturday she spent the morning at the hospital and came home to the most expensive three-bedroom cape on the planet. Her fillings hurt every time she looked at it. Frobisher had explained it to her with the kind of earnest encouragement usually reserved for the mildly retarded. It was not just an aesthetic statement, it was an investment in his career and their future. Why it was necessary to buy an already hideously overpriced Fairfield County hutch, gut it at great expense, and then build out to the property line was beyond her. Especially when the end result looked like a collaboration between Sir Christopher Wren and George Jetson.

She settled into an ergonomic chair designed for Art Deco robots and dug in for an afternoon of surfing. She didn't know exactly why she spent so much time on the Web. Maybe radiologists just like looking at screens. Fifteen years before she'd probably have been at a video arcade.

Mail first. Hey. Something from hubby. Big news no doubt. Honorable Mention in the Unbuildable Chickencoop Competition. She swung the mouse and clicked Open.

Five minutes later her cheeks were still burning.


Frobisher was never quite sure when his Saturdays morphed from elation to depression. Never as early as 125th Street but always well before Stamford. Certainly he was still wallowing in the afterglow when he dropped into his seat and popped open his bottle of Glaceau. That gave him a secret dirty pleasure that he always saved for his weekend ride home. The bottle had a recessed nipple mounted on its bulbous mammary top. It could be pulled out with the teeth and suckled. Just like Amber. The caps were color coded to clue you in to the calorie-free fruit essences flavoring a substance otherwise indistinguishable from drippings from a defrosting Frigidaire. Even though he didn't really care for Mountain Black Cherry, he always bought it just to add a little visual verisimilitude to the memory he savored for the next forty-five minutes.

Actually less than forty-five minutes. By the time the train crossed into Connecticut

the little anxieties had begun their work. The first couple of times he was overwhelmed by simple guilt. Real fear hadn't begun until his station. Jesus, what if Kristin saw the claw marks on his back? Or tooth marks on his thigh? On those first nights he was careful to sleep in sweats, never thinking that they were harder to explain in August than semen-stained boxers in the laundry hamper. On those nights he lay rigid, dreading the possibility that on this one goddamn occasion she'd decide she wanted to screw.

He needn't have worried. She never did. By late Sunday afternoon, the usual conjugal visit, abrasions and conscience were sufficiently healed for him to perform unhindered. So these days his anxieties were a little less direct. And a lot more global. Like what the hell was he doing, anyway? He had this great life partner he really respected and who supported and understood his work and every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon he was rolling around with someone who had a L'il Kim poster taped to the refrigerator and teddy bears on her bed.

Once when a rail strike had stranded him in the City he had spent a whole night with Amber. Exhausted he had watched her pad naked around the bedroom like a multiracial succubus from a harem dream. She flipped on the TV, picked her channel from the tabloid atop it, and snuggled up beside him and held him tight. "America's Funniest Pet Home Videos". Sort of broke the spell. He had found work out of town the next few weekends.

But he came back. No need to waste time on why. He and Kristin always finished in the same position they started in. He and Amber didn't finish in the same room. Sometimes he wondered where she'd learned this stuff. Not in a book, that was certain. Maybe a video. Maybe it was just a talent. He didn't really need to know.


Westport. He didn't like living there all that much. It was too suburban. Sometimes when he and Kristin would go to the City on weekends he felt that his Connecticut plates were stuck to his back like a Kick Me sign wherever he went. He knew that somehow the bartender at the Merk knew that when he went home it wasn't to two thousand undivided square feet in Williamsburg but something with topsoil and property taxes and the sleepy fog that blew in over bridges and through tunnels. He was afraid that one day he would find an Access or a Zagat on his coffee table and that would be it.

But at least he had the house. As always his heart beat a little faster and he sat a little straighter as he rounded the corner on the drive back from the station. It stood out from its neighbors like a pedigree at the pound. Ironic and postmodern, it had inspired one reviewer to describe it as a Real Life bungalow. Frobisher tried never to remember that another had described it as architecture with a sound bite attention span.

The multiply switchbacked front walk meant that visitors had a lot of time to enjoy the fusion of Zen rock garden and English herbary that took up his pocket sized front yard. It also meant that he had a lot of time to wonder why the front door was unlocked. This was not like Kristin. Maybe she'd just arrived. Or maybe he'd just been burgled, but the alarm would've blown all the leaves off the trees.

He pushed the door aside a little diffidently. If he had been burgled he wasn't really excited about facing a trashed living area. Or if not, Kristin. He never really liked facing her fresh from an hour and a half with another woman. He was always sure that he would give himself away. His voice a little too cheerful, his inquiries just a little more solicitous than circumstances warranted.

Well, burglars probably wouldn't have thrown on a Billie Holliday CD for background music. And there she was. Her back to him, swaying a little to the music. Oddly enough, wearing the silk robe he'd bought her two Christmases before and never seen since. Must've just showered or something.

He dropped his gym bag on the floor and revved up for his husband-who's-been-doing-anything-other-than-cheating routine. At the sound she half turned and looked over her shoulder. "I didn't hear you come in." Her voice was about an octave lower than he'd heard it in quite a while. She turned completely, slipping the robe from her shoulders as she did.

"Kristin," he said, "you're naked."

"Just like you wanted."

Their eyes met. There was nothing going on behind his. "Uh—pardon?"

She smiled. "Today. Your email. Don't be so shy. You haven't talked to me like that in a long time." She held his eyes. "I liked it."

Liked what, goddamn it. He only emailed her if he wanted her to pick up—- Jesus. No. No.

"Oh, the email. Oh that." He tried to chuckle. Which you can't really do when a big blast of adrenaline has set every muscle spastic. His lips were twitching. As a result the chuckle came out somewhere between a sob and a gargle.

She smiled. It was the nicest smile he'd seen in years. "Come on. It's just me after all." Christ, when had she decided to get all nurturing on him? "Look. You don't even have to push." She settled back on the couch and stretched out legs that suddenly seemed a lot longer than they used to. He hadn't seen her like this in daylight for a long time. Boy, she sure was blonde. Boy, it sure looked good. It looked even better when she folded her hands behind her head and thrust her breasts forward just enough to show him that they were being offered.

For just a moment he forgot where he'd been all day. He felt himself stir. Slowly. For an instant he wondered at his sluggishness. Then he remembered why. Three orgasms in an hour and a half earlier that afternoon. Suddenly a glacial advance became a headlong retreat. Oh shit. In an instant every last fatal possibility burst from the back to the front of his mind. Rug burns on his knees. Hickeys on his abdomen. The usual gusher just a dribble. Smelling like spit from head to toe.

Just brazen it out. It'll come back. He crossed the dhurrie to the couch in a stumbling sprint and fell on Kristin with the easy grace of a high school sophomore. He tried to cover his panic with passion.

It obviously didn't work. "Honey, what's wrong?" She hadn't called him honey in months. "Hey, I didn't mean to scare you. Hey, you're shaking."

Well, in a minute he was going to cry. Not trusting himself to answer he pawed away

with hands that might as well have been meathooks. She gently pushed him away. "Are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah, of course. I'm just really excited."

She slipped her hand between his legs. "You are?"

He sighed tremulously. "Yeah, well, and I guess a little nervous. I mean, you're right, I haven't talked to you like that in a long time." Inspiration struck. "I guess I was just taking a risk. I was scared." She was always a sucker for vulnerability.

Kristin was grave. "I know you were. I love you for it. " She pulled his head closer and ran her tongue across his lower lip. "And it was very sexy." She guided his icy hand between her warm thighs.

It turned out okay, Frobisher thought as he sat stunned over pizza that night. He hadn't exactly been a human jackhammer but she was happy anyway. Eventually he had pleaded an unusually strenuous workout to cover for the muscle obviously worked past exhaustion and dived into a one-sided oral session that had left him with a jaw that threatened to unhinge completely at any moment. Grueling workout it had been, he thought as he gingerly chewed a sundried tomato. Amber screamed filthy religious epithets in Spanish and pounded his chest so hard he thought she'd break a rib. That night Kristin slept naked for the first time that year.

He had to talk to Raleigh.


Raleigh on trial was hard to get. Eventually, though, he responded to the increasing frequency and urgency of Frobisher's voicemails. They met for dinner that Thursday night. Raleigh picked the restaurant. Way downtown. It made Frobisher a little uncomfortable. Borough accents, Armani suits, and missing digits. When Raleigh blew in fifteen minutes late all the guys who said hello to him sounded as though someone had tried to garrote them in the recent past.

Frobisher winced when Raleigh ordered. "I can't believe you actually eat veal."

Raleigh rolled his eyes. "Christ. Listen, Mahatma, it's not as though they just clubbed it to death in the alley. Anyway, what the hell are you wearing on your feet? Looks like dead calf to me." Frobisher imagined Raleigh leaping onto an antelope's back, breaking its neck, and drinking its blood.

The waiter showed up with appetizers. "St Francis here won't be having any prosciutto. Just melon." He broke off some bread. "So anyway. You look like you've had your head in the microwave or something. Like a piece of beef jerky. What up?"

Frobisher told the story as quickly, and as quietly, as possible. None of the thugs at the neighboring tables looked like they were sensitive enough to have dysfunctional plumbing. He was sure that if he were overheard they'd start nudging each other and laughing and making incomprehensible little Sicilian hand signs and laughing harder.

Raleigh stopped chewing halfway through. When Frobisher finished he finally swallowed. "Let me get this straight. You think you're sending dirty email to Amber?"


"Kristin gets it?"


"Kristin gets all gooey?"


"And you can't get it up?"

"God would you please keep your voice down?" Frobisher almost blew a disk in his neck as he scanned his neighbors for a response. All remained nearly face down in big bowls of pasta and crustaceans. In this place it was fifty-fifty that one would wind up permanently face down before the night was out.

"Hey, listen, kid, don't tell me that never happened before."

"Well, maybe a couple of times if I'd had about twenty tequilas—"

Raleigh snorted. "Right. Listen, when the jury was out in that wire fraud case and I was still seeing that big Swede from the perfume counter at Barneys—well, she did things that could get her sent to prison in Georgia and I couldn't manage al dente. Happens. Big deal."

Frobisher felt a little better. "Really?"

"Oh come on."

"Well it couldn't have been a worse time."

"That I can see. How was it with Amber?"

"What do you mean?"

"Still trying to shoot pool with a rope. Sorry. You know what I mean."

"It was great with Amber. Just the same as it ever was."

"And with Kristin?"

"She's been working late so the opportunity hasn't happened. I'm a little scared to try. Actually that's not the problem. The problem is that I don't know what to do about the whole situation."

"What whole situation?"

"Kristin and Amber. I mean, I started to see Amber because of the way things were with Kristin. And now maybe things could be better after all. And that's what I wanted. But now I don't want to give up Amber."


Frobisher struggled for words. No. Well, maybe yes. "Well, I have these feelings for her, too."

"I can imagine. Jesus, she must—"

Frobisher shook his head. The restaurant disappeared briefly as he imagined Amber nuzzling Raleigh's Caribbean-tanned hide. His face flushed with an anger as old as the species but new to him—it was his harem, dammit.

Modern man reasserted himself with some difficulty. "No. I mean I feel responsible. I can't just dump her. I'd feel like something out of Balzac or something."

Raleigh lifted an eyebrow. "Uh huh. Say, this is really good. You sure you don't want some?" He started to transfer some tender flesh onto a bread dish. "Oh. Right. Sorry. Yeah, I think this guy was named Ferdinand. Nice soft nose. I used to see him at the petting zoo. What's the matter with doing both?" He didn't quite smile.

"How could I?"

"What've you been doing?"

"I know, I know, but I also know I've been pushing my luck. Kristin's sure to find out."

Raleigh rolled his eyes again. Frobisher wondered whether his life story was going to induce a seizure. "Kid, the smart money says Kristin knows anyway."


"Smart lady. How smart do you really think you are? Do you know how tough it is to cover every base, twice a week, for a year? Can't be done. I make a nice living off guys

who find out it can't be done. And these guys are professionals. And crime's a lot simpler than cheating."

Frobisher twitched. He hated the word. In fact he hated just about every word associated with his present domestic situation. "I can't keep this up forever."

"Sound like keeping it up is a bit of a problem, kid. Sorry. Just slipped out. But listen. Assume she knows. And Amber sure knows. She does know, doesn't she?" Frobisher nodded. "And she doesn't have any expectations?" Frobisher shook his head. A little too fast. Raleigh settled back in his chair and studied him from eyes heavy lidded with protein surfeit. "Bullshit."

"Well she knows that I'm not—wasn't—happy with Kristin."

Raleigh sighed. But not without satisfaction. It was good to know that the whole human race followed the same set of rules, with no exceptions carved out for family, friends, or himself. "Nothing in writing?"

"Of course not."

"And nothing verbal in front of her friends? At dinner or a party or something like that?"

"I don't know any of her friends."

Raleigh studied him for a few seconds. "No. No, I don't think you would."

He sipped espresso as Frobisher soaked his shirt with shame. "Listen. Remember this. Kristin knows. Don't rub her face in it. And whatever you do don't confess. You'll feel good, she'll feel awful, and there's no putting the cat back in the bag. She'll be thinking about it on your deathbed and on hers. So just keep on keeping on."

"But it feels so wrong."

Raleigh smiled his little iron smile and nodded sadly. "Sure. But what difference does that make? We want what we want. This big knot at the top of the spine? The one that thinks it's in charge? Just there to help us get what we want. Which is fed and laid. Speaking of which, I've taken care of the one, so. . ."

Then he was gone. Actually, not quite gone. He stopped on the way out to confer briefly with someone who looked like Jabba the Hut in a black suit. Leaving Frobisher with the tab.

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