Page 59 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Accident on the footbridge that runs across the cove.” Thomas polished off the last of the toast. “Dangerous places, footbridges.”

Kyle looked dubious. “Looks like you were in a fight or something.”

“Or something.” He swallowed some coffee. “Sorry to eat and run, but I’ve got things to do and places to go. Better be on my way. See you at ten, Leonora.”

“Right.” She put her cup down.

He went to where she stood at the counter and kissed her. A bit more forcefully than necessary.

She didn’t resist, but when he raised his mouth from hers he could tell from the ironic gleam in her eyes that she knew damn well that it had been one of those dumb, staking-a-claim kisses men used to mark their women in front of other males.

He felt very immature until he noticed that Kyle was openly gaping, clearly appalled. That made him feel a lot better. In an immature sort of way.

“See you around,” he said to Kyle.

Delling looked blank.

Thomas walked out of the kitchen and got his jacket out of the closet.

Leonora followed him to the front door. She did not speak until they were out on the porch.

“That was not real subtle or romantic,” she said.

“I like to think that our relationship has progressed beyond the superficial.”

“Progressed my left toe. What was with the macho show-off bit back there in the kitchen?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Only an extremely immature person would engage in macho show-off behavior.” The cold air hit his raw face, stinging initially and then turning everything nicely numb. “What’s with the ex-fiancé in the kitchen bit, anyway? Is he here to try to patch things up?”

“No. He’s after something much more important than the repair of an ephemeral and transitory personal relationship.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Tenure.”

“Ah.” He nodded. “I’ve hung with enough academics during the past year to know that tenure is some sort of Holy Grail for that crowd. What makes Delling think you can help him get it?”

“One of my best friends is the chair of the department that is going to make the decision concerning whether or not Kyle gets moved onto the tenure track in the English department. She’s very loyal to me, and she took great offense on my behalf last year when word got around that Kyle had jumped into bed with Meredith.”

Thomas grinned. It hurt but it was worth it. “Revenge is sweet, ain’t it?”

“Only an extremely immature person would dabble in something so ignoble as revenge.”

“Like I said. Sweet.” He nodded again, satisfied. “Good to know we both have a streak of immaturity. One more thing we have in common.”

He went down the steps and headed for the footpath. He resisted a sudden, inexplicable urge to whistle. He was much too beat up and sore to whistle.

He opened his own front door a short time later. Wrench was waiting in the hall, looking reproachful in the way only a dog could.

“Okay, okay, you were right. I should have taken you with me last night.”

They went through the routine greeting ritual, but Thomas got the impression that his dog was disappointed that Leonora had not come with him.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Thomas promised.

“What’s with the Incredible Hulk?” Kyle asked when she walked back into the kitchen. “Not exactly your type. Playing Lady Chatterley out here in the provinces?”

“I’m going through an immature phase.”

Kyle frowned. “Those bruises looked bad. Must have been a hell of a fall he took on that footbridge. Is he just clumsy or what?”

Leonora poured herself another cup of tea. “Actually, Thomas got those bruises in a fight last night. Some kid high on drugs attacked him. The boy is in the hospital.”

“Shit.” Kyle blinked a few times. “Is this a joke?”

“I haven’t felt the inclination to share a joke with you since the day I found you in bed with Meredith.”

Kyle’s jaw went rigid. “You’re still obsessed with that one insignificant incident, aren’t you? You’ve got to get past it, Leonora. For your own sake. It’s time to move on.”

“But I have moved on, Kyle. I doubt if I could have appreciated a man like Thomas if I hadn’t gone through a relationship with you, first. I suppose I owe you for that.”

“Sarcasm is not a constructive mode of communication.”

She thought about it. “You know what? I wasn’t being sarcastic. What I just said was the pure, unadulterated truth.”

The Wing Cove Retirement Community apartment complex was composed of three handsome redbrick buildings constructed in a three-story triangle.

“You sure Wrench will be all right here in the car?” Leonora asked, turning around in the front seat.

Thomas looked at Wrench, who was in the back of the SUV, his head hung over the rear seat where Deke and Cassie sat.

“It was his choice to come,” he said.

“He’ll be fine,” Deke assured her. “We’ll leave the window open.”

“He won’t be out here alone for long.” Cassie unfastened her seat belt. “Margaret has an art class later this morning.”

They entered the apartment community through a pleasantly furnished lobby. There was a large bouquet of fresh flowers on a round table. Thomas glanced at the list of the day’s activities on the chalk board: Aqua aerobics, current events lecture, art class, museum tour sign-up. A Cary Grant film was scheduled for the evening.

A polite, polished receptionist verified that they were expected, and then gave them directions to Margaret Lewis’s residence.

It wasn’t easy squeezing all four of them into her tiny, one-bedroom apartment. Everything, including Margaret, seemed to be in miniature. Thomas felt like a giant in the little mauve and leaf-green room.

He lowered himself cautiously onto one of the dainty, undersized chairs, half afraid that it would shatter under his weight. Deke, he noticed, was just as careful. His brother was perched gingerly on the little sofa.

There was a small writing desk in one corner. A laptop sat on it, the lid neatly closed. The walls of the doll-sized apartment were covered with framed photographs, many of them photos of Margaret Lewis posed with various academics. Probably the deans, department chairs and other notables who had been associated with the Eubanks College Department of Mathematics during the time Margaret had reigned as secretary, he decided.

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