Bill Todd -- Jones:A Novel of the Early Cold War_2.0
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 Chapter 2


Mrs. Blakey-Fenton's first thought was that he was bad news. A large and obviously powerful young man, he showed perfectly even white teeth when he smiled at the professor's jokes. And he wasn't the sort of man who would have been taken to an orthodontist as a child.

There were a good many unobtrusive little pleasantries scattered through an otherwise tightly organized lecture. In combination with Mr. Jones' smile, his curly black hair and luminous brown eyes gave him a look, not quite piratical, but that of a man unlikely to overlook an opportunity or advantage. Besides, a man named Jones, just plain Mr. Jones, might be travelling under an alias.

Mrs. Blakey-Fenton's own name, derived from that of her English husband, could hardly be called plain. There weren't many hyphenated names in America. Baseball players didn't have them. It was hard to imagine a Joe DiMaggio-Rossini, a Ted Williams-Ponsonby, or a Leo Durocher-Coulaincourt. Indeed, fanciness of almost any sort seemed to be deplored almost everywhere.

Mr. Blakey-Fenton's given name, Reginald, did little to quiet suspicions of snobbery. It was, in fact, a name seldom seen outside of comic books. A comic book Reginald was likely to be a little kid with big glasses whose father wore a tuxedo and kept a butler. While Mrs. Blakey-Fenton's Reginald was arguably adult and wore evening clothes only when appropriate, he was very rich and did keep a number of servants. Some Americans didn't like Reginalds, some didn't like the rich, and some took to be effete anyone who spoke with his sort of accent.

None of this greatly bothered his wife, the former Hortense Schultz of Cincinnati. She had always thought that she needed an exotic, preferably European, touch. People who didn't like it could go to hell, some sooner than others.

As a young waitress at the Sinton Hotel in the late thirties, she had been quite attractive without being noticed by anyone who mattered. Girls who rushed around with trays in white uniforms and flat white shoes lacked that exotic touch. Unless they were beautiful or lucky, they were still carrying trays ten years later.

It was perhaps because he was English that the uniform hadn't put Reginald off. He had once remarked that American women looked like whores, and that little pink apron might have been taken as a mark of chastity. In any case, he had swept Hortense off her feet, and then out of her panties, in the course of a single evening. That he had married her in a hastily arranged ceremony had something to do with the war having just broken out in Europe.

While her sisters took Rosie-the-Riveter jobs in wartime Cincinnati, Hortense went to collete. Apart from absorbing the various names, facts, and attitudes that could be infiltrated into conversation, she modified her speech and accent in the absent Reginald's direction. Now that he was back in Cincinnati as a tycoon, she was indulging her passion for English literature as a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati.

This particular course was a related one in philosophy, a survey of ethics. It quickly developed that it had little to do with ethical actions themselves, but with the analysis of terms such as "good" and "ought". That was a pity. A run- down of good behavior would inevitably touch on various kinds of naughtiness, some of which might be interesting. Observing Mr. Jones to her left out of the corner of her eye, she wondered if he himself were ever naughty.

Horatia, as she had re-named herself, walked a tight line in her expensive and elegant shoes. She had a great deal to lose. If Reginald were suddenly to take up with a nubile young blonde, as was always a possibility, she, Horatia, would want to appear entirely blameless in divorce court. She also thought, in a vague way, that virtue was a rather good thing. Despite his highly theoretical orientation, she did hope that Professor Ennis would give her additional reason to be respectable, and even fastidious, in all relevant respects. He often seemed to look at her in her seat in the third row, and Horatia took pains to sit fetchingly while carefully arranging her skirt to maximize her modesty.

It was fortunate that respectability was entirely consistent with the wearing of fabrics that appealed to an elevated sensuality. Horatia liked to look, and feel, silken. Ten years older than the other female students, who wore various quaint costumes, she made no apologies for her dress, stockings, pumps, and pearls. The resulting image, virtually unique at the working-class University of Cincinnati, put some people off. Horatia was aware that the girls who gathered and gossipped in the Pink Room in the basement of McMicken Hall made fun of her. She had, indeed, surprised one in the middle of an imitation.

Horatia was sure that plain Mr. Jones, seated two armchairs away, wasn't inclined to ridicule her. He seemed to like the swishing sound as she crossed one leg over the other, and it wasn't long before his smiles at the lecturer's sardonic remarks were directed partly at herself, enlisting her in complicity. When the class ended, she found it natural enough to ask,

"Are you a philosophy graduate student?"

"I guess so."

Knowing that she was being led on, Horatia replied,

"I could see from the beginning that you're a stock broker thinking of taking up a new career."

"Maybe I'm a philosophy graduate student thinking of becoming a stock broker."

"It won't work. My husband won't buy stock from you."

"Why not?"

"You look like an adventurer. He likes certain kinds of adventurers, but he wouldn't trust one with his money."

"I thought an adventurer was someone who tried to climb Mt. Everest, or something like that."

"Those are mountain-climbers or outdoorsmen. Adventurers have plans and schemes and like to gamble on them."

"Are you an adventuress?"

"Certainly not. Quite the opposite."

"So you gamble only on sure things. I can guarantee the quality of the coca-cola in the Pink Room if you'd like one."

Horatia found herself accepting the offer and being escorted down the corridor. The building looked exactly like a heavy- duty high school. Battered green student lockers lined the walls, and a few dirty little windows let in just enough light to show the discolored patches on the worn linoleum floor. This atmosphere of medium depression also affected the persons passing along the corridor.

The heavy steel fire doors leading to the stairs were so hard to open that Jones whammed one with his shoulder in order to move it. The stairs themselves were not of the sort that some ladies might use to make solitary and glamorous entrances. There was instead a crush of noisy smelly students moving up and buffeting Horatia. She nevertheless managed to talk engagingly over her shoulder as she bounced and swam her way down.

There were a few empty seats at the end of one of the long tables that contrasted their diseased brown surfaces with the dirty pink of the walls. Horatia attempted to dust and wipe a seat without much success. She then carefully prepared the seat with some layers of discarded notepaper before gently touching down. As Jones went for the promised cokes, she smiled at the girl sitting opposite her in such a way as to drive her away. Horatia wanted there to be no witnesses.

When Jones arrived with the frosty bottles of coke, he held them at the wide part with the grooved tapered necks sticking up, carbonation issuing from the opened tops. Horatia took hers, and, far from sipping chastely as if from a glass of wine, she lifted it for a full plebian gulp. Jones laughed, as he was expected to, and she pronounced the coke satisfactory in every particular.

Horatia's usual way of being charming was to get people to talk about themselves, adding appreciative noises as needed. Mr. Jones instead wanted to talk about Horatia. She didn't really want him to know about Hortense Schultz, the waitress from Didler Avenue in the western hills, but found him hard to deflect. Finally, she firmly pronounced her background and origins a mystery and returned to the attack,

"Are you really going to be a professional philosopher?"

"That sounds like a mouthful. But it might turn out to be a comfortable way of making a living."

"You don't seem at all like Professor Ennis."

"Well, he's in ethics, not logic, and he has a much better general education than I do. The guys I hang out with are also better educated, but, if you can prove theorems and publish the proofs, everything else seems to be forgiven."

"And you can do that?"

"It sometimes means being frustrated and staying up most of the night, but I come out eventually."

"Have you published anything yet?"

"A few little papers. Nothing huge, but people seem to take these things pretty seriously."

"As far as I can see, the academic world hardly cares about anything else."

"It's really strange. If you can do a few little tricks, comparable, more or less, to juggling two oranges and a bowling pin, you get a job for life."

"Yes. One that doesn't pay a great deal, but it's secure and leaves you lots of free time. If you work it right, you don't even have to teach very much. That much I've gathered from being around the English faculty."

"It seems to be niche worth grabbing."

"And, of course, you might be able to combine it with other things in interesting ways."

"That was what I had in mind."

Horatia was sitting at an angle to Jones with her half- empty coke bottle next to his. She said,

"I bet I'm not allowed to ask what those other things might be."

"I'm allowed to be as mysterious as you are."

"But you're plain Mr. Jones. You could be an assassin or anything. I'm Mrs. Blakey-Fenton, and everyone knows that I'm thoroughly respectable."

With that, Horatia sat particularly erect and gave Jones a mock-reproving look. He replied,

"I used to be Lieutenant Jones of the navy. Naval officers are automatically assumed to be gentlemen."

"Did you go to Annapolis?"

Jones laughed somewhat roughly, and replied,

"I started as an enlisted man on a PT boat just before the war. Later, there were lots of opportunities for advancement."

"That explains it! I thought you looked rather piratical. PT boats are piratical, aren't they?"

"Like pirates, we were rather ineffective on the whole. I would've switched to submarines if I'd stayed in the navy."

"Really? I didn't know it ever occurred to anyone to stay in the services when the war ended."

"Well, of course, I didn't. But I do have a civilian navy job in the summers."

"Is that also piratical?"

"In a rather abstract way."

"Ladies of my sort aren't really supposed to be seen talking to pirates, even abstract ones."

"We must see that nothing ever happens which could damage your reputation in any conceivable way."

"Your sentiments do you proud, sir."

Bill Todd -- Jones:A Novel of the Early Cold War_2.0
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