"To make it worse," Leslie complained, "I think he's coming on to me!" She was finding she didn't have any appetite for her dinner in spite of dining at one of her favorite restaurants, New York's La Grenouille. "On top of everything else, it looks like I'm going to have to put up with some sort of low-level, jungle-type harassment!"
"Coming on to you?" George Brentley Hall-Grumman, who went by the shortened name of "Brent," lifted his eyebrows in faint distaste. In spite of their divorce, Leslie's ex-husband was still employed as legal counsel for the Wimberly Foundation, mostly because he was a friend and schoolmate of her brother, Charles Fairchild Wimberly III.
"Do you mean the man made a pass at you?" he went went on. "Good lord, Leslie, that's insufferable. You don't have to put up with that sort of thing, you know, even if he is presumably educated! An anthropologist, from Australia, isn't that right?"
Leslie grimaced. "He didn't exactly - uh, make a pass at me, Brent, I don't want you to misunderstand. Not anything like that." Even as she spoke she was aware that she had backed down again when Brent had used his legal-eagle tone of voice. He'd snapped at her during the time they were married, but explained it away as evidence of how much he cared for her. But even now it still hurt.
The truth of it was, Leslie still needed Brent. Who else was there to talk to, especially about things that bothered her? Such as the Wimberly Foundation's sponsored speaker, Doctor Peter Havistock? Who appeared to be enjoying the furor he created by taking off all his clothes. After all these years, Brent really was the only one she could pour her heart out to, even though it was plain he'd married her for her money and connections. She knew that it was absurd, even her brother, Brent's good friend, said so. That even though they'd been divorced for four years and Brent now had a wife, Heather, and a child, two year-old Tory, the way Leslie still leaned on him for guidance and advice made it look as though they were still involved.
Leslie knew it was an awful dependency, as friends pointed out. But the fact remained there were times when every woman needed some kind of support. Even if it came from a somewhat rotten ex-husband.
"You have to be firm," Brent was saying. "I've told you over and over that you never learn when to put your foot down, Leslie. And when you do it's usually too late, when things have gotten 'way out of hand." Brent waved away the waiter, who had come to pick up Leslie's plate of uneaten grilled prawns. "It's one of your more perversely endearing traits, like getting so upset that you lose your appetite. Which you must stop," he told her, pointing at the food, "because if you don't eat that terribly expensive La Grenouille cuisine, you will have one of your splitting headaches, remember?"
He was right. It didn't take much to give Leslie one of her paralyzing migraines. Skipping a meal when she was stressed-out usually did it.
"Now listen," Brent continued, "this aborigine expert hasn't laid his grubby hands on you, has he?" When she shook her head, her ex went on, "He doesn't lie in wait for you in darkened hotel corridors, does he? You haven't caught him on his knees at the keyhole trying to catch a glimpse of you in the shower, have you?"
He was making a joke of it and Leslie knew she was supposed to smile, but she really didn't feel like it. She took up her fork and picked at the prawns. He was right, as always; the food at La Grenouille really was too good and too expensive to ignore. Her ex-husband reminded her a lot about how much things cost now that he was married again and didn't have the advantage of their former joint bank account to help with the a big new house and his wife and small child.
"All right then," he said, triumphantly, "Havistock really isn't doing anything, is he? The man's just put you off stride with all his antics to whip up excitement for his book. Frankly, I can't blame him much. Publishing is a tough business right now. It's no sin to move as many of your copies of your bestseller as you can, any way that you can."
Leslie pushed a half-eaten truffle around on her plate. She supposed that was true. The long-legged, sun-bronzed anthropologist was already a celebrity, she should have known the speaking tour would be full of surprises. But it was not exactly what the Foundation had expected. Even knowing Dr. Havistock's exotic story.
"Look," Brent was saying, "you're making a mountain out of a molehill, Leslie. The more I think about it, the more I'm sure Havistock's not coming on to you. Good lord, the man's been raised in a jungle with ignorant savages! He probably doesn't know what sex is about, except to knock a woman in the head with a stone hammer when he gets the urge, and drag her off!"
Leslie stared at him. "Good heavens, you don't think he'd so something like that, do you? " She had to believe the tall blonde anthropologist was less crude than that. "I don't know," she said, doubtfully. "Maybe I'd better call the Foundation office in the morning, and have them assign an undercover person to travel with us, at least to - "
"Now, Leslie," Brent laughed, "don't get wild ideas! You don't want to make a fool of yourself, do you? It looks to me like you misinterpreted some moves on this guy's part for his show-and-tell to promote his book - ah, what's the title of it again?"
She sighed. "Determining Anthropological and Developmental Social Factors Among Papua New Guinea Aborigines of the Antorok Valley."
"Yes, well, exactly! " Brent sipped appreciatively at the snifter of fine brandy the waiter had set before him. "From the sound of it, it's hardly the Kama Sutra! I've only skimmed his book, thank God I'm not required as Foundation counsel to read everything our lecturers drag around with them, but it's plain from the little I've read that Havistock has simply taken an anthropological windfall in this Antorok crowd of savages, and fancied up his observations with a bunch of human interest anecdotes. Then he tossed in a graphic report on some rather interesting aboriginal sex. This guy seems to want to outdo Margaret Meade! Remember Meade's famous study of Tahitians?" Before Leslie could answer Brent continued, "Yes, Havistock's come up with a very tasty brew with his book, this lecture series, and a dog-and-pony show where he takes his clothes off. I understand Bob Guiccione has notified Havistock's publisher that he wants to run excerpts in Penthouse magazine. Featuring the sexy parts, of course."
Lesle stared in consternation as, slightly smiling, her ex-husband lifted the brandy snifter to his lips. "You're just pulling my leg, Brent, aren't you? I can never tell when you're joking - or when you just want to torture me! That was the trouble with our marriage, I never could tell then, either!"
"There was a lot more than that wrong with our marriage," he replied. "However, you mustn't blame yourself, we all have to put our shortcomings behind us and try to focus on improvement." He allowed himself a wryly affectionate laugh. "Oh for God's sake, Leslie, don't make a soap opera of it, will you? I'm pretty sure your wild Australian - " He paused. "Havistock is Australian, isn't he?"
"His - well, his mother was Australian., a professor at the University of Brisbane." The thought of an excerpt of Havistock's book in Penthouse magazine had unnerved her. "But he's an American citizen."
"Well, now that he's got his book launched on the Ivy League circuit - and it'll be a smash hit to judge from the reception at Yale today - I suppose the man rightfully feels he can have a little fun. Look, if he throws a wink or two your way, take it in the same spirit. Wink back!" He put down the brandy glass to regard her critically. "You're still rather attractive, Leslie. Enough so to come out seventh or eighth - which was it? - in the annual; Washington Times 'Beauties Around Congress' poll. I saw it in the newspaper. And even though you're getting a little long in the tooth for beauty contests. How old are you now, Leslie? Thirty three? Thirty four?"
Leslie gritted her teeth. Brent referred to her place in the Washington Times newspaper poll that picked the most attractive women among members of Congress and their families. Leslie Hall-Grumman, nee Wimberly, the daughter of the senior senator from Maryland, had placed in the Washington Beauties poll since she was sixteen. She'd always hated it, beauty contests were embarrassing, but at least it was something she could claim as her own. This year she was, miraculously, still on the list - even though, as Brent had so snidely pointed out, she was not in her teens and twenties like most of the top ten.
Still, even though she'd made the list, it hurt to be reminded how callous Brent could be. His new wife, Heather, was of course, zillions of years younger than Leslie; she'd been an intern at the Justice Department and had Tory, their baby, when she was only twenty one. He'd been swept away by the power of passion, Brent had maintained. Obviously something he hadn't felt when he married Leslie.
She gave up on the prawns and put down her fork. "I - we - the Wimberly Foundation, has to be careful, Brent," she told him. "You might think all this amounts to nothing, or that Havistock's just teasing me or - or - something, but you have to remember the Wimberly Foundation is not a very big organization, and even though we're rich we're vulnerable. 'Selective,' that was Great-Granpa's idea when he set up the Foundation with Daddy is president, my brother as the chairman of the board, and I'm executive director. It's designed to be strictly a family affairand we have to be careful how we run it. We're not as big as the Fords or the Rockefellers, but Great-Granpa wanted the Wimberly Foundation to be a small but influential institution dedicated to the discovery and nurture of - well, experimental ideas. Our foundation was the first to invite Dr. Goddard to speak on rocket propulsion before there even were any government rockets, and Albert Einstein to talk on his idea of the commercial uses of the electric eye door." She paused, thoughtfully. "Although I remember Grandpa saying he didn't think Doctor Einstein made any money out of the electric eye beam, even though today you can't go into a supermarket anywhere without triggering the mechanism that he invented. They're all over the world. In fact," she added, "the Wimberly Foundation was responsible for asking Senator John Glenn to speak on how old was 'too old' to be in space, and that gave him the idea - "
Brent looked at her over the rim of his brandy glass, frowning slightly. "Leslie, dear," he interrupted, "I am aware of how much good you and your family have contributed to this great nation. I work at the Wimberly, remember? As you say, like the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wimberly has accomplished a number of great things. One could say that in some areas it has changed history. It's a lot for you and your brother to live up to. When we were married we discussed this any number of times as I recall. Right now you just have to use your head and deal with this self-promoting academic without making waves. Back in Dr. Einstein's and Rocketman Goddard's day, this country didn't have the ferocious worldwide media that can jump on a story and blow it apart. Look," he advised, "give Dr. Havistock a break. He wants to sell a few books. Just don't get in his way."
"Get in his way?" Without meaning to, Leslie's voice rose as she got out of her chair. Her former husband was an expert at making her feel everything was her fault. "He's getting in my way!" she cried as they made their way out of La Grenouille. "Can't you see that? One more wink or - or - leer while that - that anthropologist is dressed up like a - a witch doctor from South Pacific, and I'm going to quit! Timothy van Doren wants my job, anyway, he practically drools over the prospect! He's always telling my brother my job is too big for a woman to handle."
Tim van Doren was special assistant to the chairman of the Wimberly Foundation, and Charles Wimberly's right hand man. Brent knew what Leslie said was true: van Doren, a Wimberly Foundation scholarship winner himself, wanted everybody's job.
In the taxicab on the way to Plaza Hotel on Central Park, where the Wimberly Foundation kept a suite of rooms for their honorees, Brent tired to soothe Leslie by telling her that he could speak to Dr. Peter Havistock about any mildly flirtatious gestures the anthropologist might be making. Although Brent was inclined to think the winks and leers, if that's what they were, were probably just friendly, if uncouth, aboriginal communications. "You know," he told her, "such gestures are probably a New Guinea version of 'Hi' or 'Hang in there.' Or something equally innocent."
Leslie snorted. "You mean like taking all his clothes off and exposing his perfect body to the hungry stares of all those female undergraduates? You mean, he doesn't understand what he's doing?"
He shrugged. "I wasn't there, so I can't judge."
"Well I was! He knew very well what he was doing. You should have seen those girls, they ate him up with their eyes! I swear, if it had been a rock concert and not an anthropology lecture those women would have jumped up on the stage and ripped off all those feathers and that totally inadequate Bird of Paradise drumstick or whatever it is!"
Brent laughed. "It's part of his presentation. Amd it seems to be working."
"Well, if the strip tease was just confined to giving the Yalies a thrill it would be a different matter, but lately - " She bit her lip. " - I don't know. I don't like that the winks and the - the - come-on are directed toward me!"
The taxi let them out in front of the Plaza, Brent insisted on taking Leslie upstairs. It was still early evening and the lobby of the hotel wasn't crowded, but Brent looked around, carefully and prudently.
"You never know what you're going to find in New York," he observed, taking the keys to the Wimberly Foundation suite from her as they entered the elevator, "and the Plaza is no exception. It used to be a quiet old place, the veritable doyenne of deluxe New York Hotels. But now even here the Plaza has enormous tacky movie star weddings, crowds of rowdy rappers in from L.A., basketball players and NASCAR celebrities. It's as risky an environment as anyplace else." They exited the elevator when it stopped on their floor. As they went down the deep-carpeted hotel hallway, Brad said, "Well, here we are. You know how fond I am of the old fashioned virtues. I always like to see a woman safely to her hotel room door."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than he stopped short so quickly Leslie bumped into him.
Dr. Peter Havistock, in jeans, T-shirt and Reeboks, had been squatting, aborigine-style, just outside the door to their Wimberly Foundation suite. When he saw Leslie and Foundation counsel George Brentley Hall-Grumman, his eyes narrowed. He uncoiled his impressive muscular length and stood up. As he did so, they could see he had been cradling in his arms the long machete-type knife he used in his lecture demonstrations. He let the big knife fall to his side, grasping it in his right hand.
"Where have you been?" he demanded, glaring at Brent.
Her mouth fell open in amazement. She snapped it shut. "Me? Look, what do you think you're doing, Dr. Havistock - ah - sitting on the floor here in the hotel hallway? I don't think that's the proper thing to do at the Plaza, I don't think the management would like it at all! Would you mind telling me what you're thinking of, for goodness sake?"
"You didn't tell me where you were going. Where were you?" He glowered at the man at her side. "And who is this guy?"
Leslie made a strangled sound of disbelief. Was it possible he was jealous? He hadn't acted this way in New Haven!
Brent was standing there with the keys in his hand. She motioned him to open the door. "Really, Dr. Havistock, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. From now on I'll check my agenda with you, but I was having dinner with Mr. Hall-Grumman, who is Wimberly Foundation coun - "
"Hall-Grumman. That's your name, isn't it?" Peter Havistock interrupted. He stepped closer, slightly lifting the machete blade. "I've heard people call you that."
"It's - WAS - my married name," Leslie cried. "I don't use ot anymore."
Brent smiled nervously and shifted the door keys to his other hand. "George Brentley Hall-Grumman, call me Brent, old chap," he said, offering to shake. "Glad to have a chance to meet you. I hear the tour is outstanding, and you're selling lots of books. No need to worry about Leslie, she can take care of herself better than one would think. I found that out when we were married."
The tall anthropologist frowned at the lawyer's outstretched hand. "You were married? You and Mrs. Leslie were married at one time?" he growled. "But you are not married now?"
Leslie pushed past them and into the foyer of the Wimberly suite. "We've been divorced for almost five years," she heard herself saying. "But there's no problem, Dr. Havistock, Mr. Hall-Grumman and I are the best of friends. Brent is an indispensable part of the Foundation, and we work together a lot."
His scowl vanished.
Then Peter Havistock was suddenly pumping Brent's hand very enthusiastically. He turned to Leslie. "I have to talk to you, the Harry King Live show called," he told her, "they want me to be interviewed on CNN. So you," he said to Brent, "have been married to her?" There was no mistaking the excitement in his voice. "Ms. Leslie has been married before, she has been a wife?" With his free hand he gave the Foundation attorney a whack on the shoulder that sent Brent Hall-Grumman staggering. "She was a married woman! Thank you so much for this wonderful news! It couldn't make things any better!"
Please click HERE to read Chapter Three.