Page 78 of Smoke in Mirrors

She plucked harder at the sealing tape. “Is that where you got this super-sticky tape, too?”

“No. I had that at home.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.”

“Duct tape,” Thomas said.

“Ah. That explains it.” She finally got rid of the last of the red foil and the duct tape. She looked down at the black plastic case in her hands. “It’s lovely.”

“Open it.”

She unsnapped the catch and raised the lid. A row of graduated screwdrivers and a variety of other small tools, each neatly nestled in a specially molded plastic slot, gleamed in all their stainless steel glory.

“They’re beautiful.” She did not take her eyes off the handsome tools. “Absolutely gorgeous. I’ve never seen such a lovely set of tools.”

Thomas was pleased. “You really like them?”

“I love them. No one ever gave me anything like this before. They’re perfect.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a pretty basic set, but I think it will handle most of the routine jobs. The smallest screwdriver should work on your glasses.”

She closed the lid of the tool kit, latched it carefully and set it down on the coffee table. She straightened and kissed Thomas lightly on the mouth.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “I wish I had a gift for you.”

“You’re all the present I want. But I’ll wait until later to unwrap you.”

“Thomas, there’s something I have to tell you.”

He paused, a little wary now. “What’s that?”

“I think you would make an excellent father.”

He just stared at her.

She took his hand and led him to the door.

Some time later Leonora found herself standing alone in the relative calm of a small alcove on the edge of the dance floor. She was waiting for Thomas to return from the buffet table with some food.

The transformation of Mirror House was complete. There was no sign of the organized chaos that had reigned on the ground floor during the past few days. In its place was a glittering scene that could have come straight out of the Gilded Age. The handsome reception rooms were filled with elegantly dressed alumni, members of the faculty and their guests. The heavy wooden furnishings, together with the red velvet draperies and carpets, glowed richly in the light of the chandeliers. The walls of mirrors reflected the crowd in a series of dazzling, endlessly repeating images that seemed to stretch into infinity.

Roberta, clad in a gray silk suit and adorned with a single row of pearls, came to a halt beside Leonora and surveyed her production with evident satisfaction.

“I was a little worried for a while that the events of the last few days would put a damper on tonight,” she confided. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Everyone appears to be having a good time.”

“You’d certainly never guess that one of Eubanks College’s most esteemed faculty members had murdered several people and then committed suicide.”

“In fairness, many of these people are out-of-town alumni,” Roberta reminded her. “Most of them never knew Professor Kern, except, perhaps, as an instructor they had at one time. And very few of them were acquainted with his victims.”

“That’s true, I suppose.”

“I saw Ed Stovall yesterday,” Roberta continued. “He told me that they found a stash of illegal drugs in Rhodes’s cottage and some unusual chemicals. They think he was concocting the stuff right there in his kitchen. Can you believe it?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

Roberta watched the crowd. “The world is a much different place these days. Sometimes I look back on my own college years and I can’t believe how life has changed.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” Leonora said. “Your successor is going to find you a very hard act to follow.”

Roberta glanced around the glowing rooms with a wistful air. “I’ll miss it, you know.”

“Running Mirror House? Look on the bright side. Just think, no more dealing with crotchety professors. No more having to train new student assistants every quarter. No more soothing difficult alumni who threaten to cut off funds for the endowment if they don’t get their way.”

“All true. Still, it’s going to seem strange to wake up in the morning next month and realize that I no longer have to come in to the office every day.”

“I have a hunch that when you wake up that first morning on that beautiful cruise ship bound for all those exotic ports of call, you’ll forget about the office routine very quickly.”

Roberta chuckled. “You’re right. And there’s another big plus. In my position as retired executive director of Mirror House, I’ll be able to attend the annual alumni reception next year without having to do any of the work ahead of time.”

“That will be something to look forward to.”

Roberta looked at Deke and Cassie, who stood a short distance away, talking to a small knot of people.

“One good thing has come out of all the terrible events of the past few days,” she said. “Deke Walker appears to be a new man.”

Leonora followed her gaze. Deke had his arm around Cassie’s waist in an intimate, casually possessive manner. Cassie’s magnificent figure was displayed to advantage in the black dress. Her face was alight with happiness.

At that moment Deke laughed at something someone in the group had said. Leonora thought back to the first time she had met him, his face grim and haggard in the light thrown off by his computer screen. The transformation in him was even more breathtaking than the one that had occurred in Mirror House.

“Yes,” she said. “He does look like a new man.”

“It was getting rid of that dreadful beard that makes the difference,” Roberta said. “He should have done it long ago.”

Leonora caught Cassie’s eye at that instant. She smiled. “I don’t think it was the beard.”

Deke looked at Cassie standing in the doorway. She was silhouetted against the seductive glow of the lamp she had left burning in the living room. It occurred to him that he had never seen the inside of her house.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” Cassie said.

“This is the first time I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed one of those damn alumni receptions.” He hesitated. “We’ll, uh, have to do it again sometime.”

“Next year,” she said a little too brightly. “Same time, same place. I’ll mark my calendar.”