When we got back to Meadowbrook, Constanza outfitted Heston and Hiram in the plaid slacks and green shirts which Scuzz had favored. She changed into a cotton dress, and I was given a bathrobe while the Jill of all trades went to work on my clothes. Constanza sent out for pizza, and, in the meantime, we sat down with coffee.
There was a moment of awkwardness. Heston and Hiram looked like clowns in clothes that hadn't looked particularly incongruous on Scuzz. Constanza looked, not sad, nor even tired, but uncertain. I was cuddled up in a soft chair with the voluminous white terry-cloth wound around me. Noticing a bare foot sticking out, I drew it up under me and felt altogether like a child in the presence of adults.
We talked absently about the funeral and the rain until the pizza came. There were two, one with pepperoni and mushrooms, the other with hot peppers and avocados. Constanza took the former and sat down beside Hiram on the couch. She then fed him a piece, holding it carefully as he bit into it. I looked at Heston. Heston looked pleased.
The two of us then drew our chairs up to the coffee table. Heston was as squeamish as I about eating it with his fingers, and, Constanza being focussed on Hiram, I went to the kitchen in search of knives and forks. I soon found them and padded briskly back in my bare feet. We then ate our gourmet pizza decorously but conspiratorily as we glanced over at the other two. They were giggling and chuckling as they licked fingers and picked bits of pizza off their clothes. Heston said,
"I did tell you that the cruise is leaving a week from tomorrow didn't I?"
"Yes. Brad and I have our vacations all lined up. We're looking forward to it."
Heston was pleased that I was pleased, just as he was pleased to see Hiram and Constanza happy together. I wondered idly what good all of this was doing him. It took me back to the time when I had first met him. He had seemed so alone in the world. He might end up alone again, but I could detect no anxiety, not even a wistful quality in his smile.
Brad had gotten a good start at his brokerage firm, and had no difficulty in getting the time off. It was in the next week that I met him and a couple of his new colleagues for lunch. He was amusing and fun, and they had a good time. It was pretty clear that they considered him a positive addition to their office. I was particularly pleased at this outcome since both of these men were fairly ordinary and highly conventional. In fact, they were just the sort who would be likely to be the targets of Brad's wit. In the event, he led the conversation around to stocks, a subject that was quite safe. The others were curious as to my views, and I told them I was recommending Honda above all else. They, of course, were pushing IBM. A spirited but good-natured discussion followed. Then, just before it was time to leave, Brad and I told the others about our forthcoming cruise. I said,
"The owner of the sloop is a good customer of mine. The cruises are very expensive and I offered to pay, but he insisted. I didn't see that there was any conflict of interest, so I accepted."
One of the others replied,
"That's a good thing about our business. What's good for the client is good for the broker, and what's good for the broker is good for the client."
On this happy note we broke up what had been a noticeably successful luncheon.
The days that followed were rather slow, as far as business was concerned. Hiram was getting the sloop ready for our voyage, and, one early evening a few days before departure, Brad and I joined Heston and went over to the wharf. It looked like something out of Moby Dick. The sloop, sitting high in the water, was having her running rigging replaced, and men were all over her spars and decks. Casks of a sort that wouldn't have seemed out of place on a Nantucket whaler of the last century were rolled down a gangplank. Hiram, looking more like the mate in charge of loading than the captain, was calling out instructions in that penetrating voice of his. On the wharf, looming menacingly, were piles of granite slabs.
After Hiram knocked off, the plans were to go to a rather informal Italian restaurant to meet Constanza. Brad begged off, saying he had some work to do at home. I was pretty sure that he was uneasy about meeting Constanza, but I couldn't imagine why. I had told him a good deal about her, and it was the sort of thing that should have made him all the more anxious to meet her. I pressed him a bit, and he agreed to hurry through his work and join us for dessert.
Constanza was much different now than she had been with Scuzz Flats. The restaurant was informal, and Hiram, his cap firmly in place, had come straight from work. Constanza, dressed in casual but expensive clothes, seemed to lack the wild abandon she had shown when I had first met her. As she told me when I questioned her in the ladies' room,
"With Anthony, I could be a child. Now, with Hiram, a little maturity is needed."
"I knew from the first that you really did mourn your husband. I'm beginning to realize it more fully now."
"Yes. I can give Hiram enough to make him happy, but it'll be a long time before I'm back to myself. Marry Heston, and you'll find out what I mean. He's good for many years yet. He eats a much better diet than Anthony."
I laughed and added facetiously,
"I think I may marry someone younger, but, if I'm left a widow, then I'll marry Heston."
"Is this the man, Brad, you've told me so much about?"
"Yes. I'd hoped that he'd be here by now."
Constanza laughed in an odd throaty way.
"Ah. We'll see, then, if he's brave enough to come and meet me."
When we walked back to join the two men, they were as they had been when I first saw them that time at the Boathouse, happily gossiping. Constanza and I sat down together, letting them continue. The question of whether Brad would arrive hung heavily between us. I was just beginning to give up hope when he appeared, more gangly than ever, and with a silly smile. I knew he was nervous, but would have preferred a more impressive entrance. Constanza was prepared to regard him rather lightly, and it looked as if he were shaping up to be frivolously clever. That wouldn't go far to improve her attitude.
Brad sat in the empty chair on the other side of Constanza. She was polite and charming, putting Brad much more at ease than he had been. I had seen Constanza in a number of different roles, but in all of them there had been passion and fire. She was now serene and self-possessed, something more English than Sicilian. Brad talked much more than she did, and I realized that she was finding out as much as possible about him. Her questions didn't seem intrusive, just vaguely sympathetic in a detached way. The answers disclosed some things that even I hadn't known.
Afterwards, Brad spoke of Constanza in quite glowing terms. He had been captivated, not sexually so much, but by the experience of having met someone who understood him. He seemed quite certain that she approved of him. I was by no means so certain, and was, in fact, quite uneasy. I knew that Constanza had gone deliberately out of her way to make Brad feel good about himself. That, of course, was unexceptionable enough. But it reminded me a little too strongly of the way the Mafia sets up its victims.
During this time, I had been recommending options on Honda to my few customers who were inclined in a speculative direction. It was, of course, a gamble. If the price of the stock went sufficiently above the strike price, one could multiply one's investment indefinitely. On the other hand, one could easily lose it altogether. I wasn't about to recommend options to most of my customers, but Heston took a few, and I took a few hundred dollars worth myself.
On the Thursday before we sailed, Janey dropped a confirmation slip on my desk. What it confirmed was the purchase of some eleven thousand dollars worth of options on Honda in my account. I was sure it was a mistake, but Janey had a smile on her face and told me to see Bret.
Bret was also smiling. He said,
"Your friend Brad came in with a cashier's check for eleven thousand, and had me place the order in your account. It was meant to be a surprise."
"It must be his life's savings!"
"Very likely. But that's what you've been recommending. He's just put money where your mouth is."
Brad was already on vacation, so I called him at home. I was partly horrified and partly delighted. He said only,
"It's something you believe in, but can't do yourself. So I thought I'd do it for you."
Brad made it sound so simple and reasonable. But, of course, it was a gesture which carried much more meaning than that. I was tempted to invite him to spend the night with me, but thought it might be more romantic if we waited for the cruise. We had separate cabins, but I had seen the bunks. They were large enough for two at a pinch, and we wouldn't need a great deal of room.