“Sweetie, you don’t like him, admit it.”
“I like even less the term ‘sweetie,’ and, well, I admit he’s good at his job, no complaints there. But there’s something weird going on.”
“Weird? Because he’s devoted to the commune? He had a lot to do with its success.”
“Someone else, one of the nurses saw him out there on another night—even later.”
A frown replaced the grin from Richard.
“Another thing, while we’re on the subject of our military friends. Captain Shaw—Penny, I think is in cahoots with him—oh, all right, they’re on staff, but I saw them together—close, uh-huh.“
“Anne, you’re not suggesting—she’s old enough to be—“
“I don’t mean that way, just, you know, talking a lot. Conspiratorially.”
“Anne—Anne!” Now he took her hands, realizing the constant stress both of them were under. Paranoia wasn’t far off. “Look, there she is—Penny Shaw, and yes, talking with Don. Go—and ask her. She’s very up front about everything. And remember, she was Clark’s spy on the march. Maybe she’s spying on someone and needs Don or – his crew.”
The last was shouted as Anne jumped from the porch and strode purposefully down the uneven rocky meadow. She saw Don Walker stride off shaking his head, leaving Penny Shaw standing with her arms, elbows out, suggesting frustration.
Penny jerked about, startled and quickly smiled. “Oh, hi, Anne. I was—just somewhere else. Sorry. How can I help?”
“Got a minute? Unless you’re in the middle of something?” Anne knew she wasn’t, she was just standing and looking at the back of Don as he went inside the dome and down the wide staircase. So if she begged off, Anne knew something was being covered up.
“Oh, certainly, even more than a minute. I’m not needed until three for my phone update to Clark. Here’s my drawing room.”
Instantly put at ease, she joined Penny to lean against a huge wide oak trunk. “Penny, is everything all right between you and Don—Colonel Walker?”
“Oh, you saw us nipping at one another, eh? The straight answer is yes, and no,” and she chuckled. “I think the problem is—no, two problems. One, that I’m a woman and he’s homophobic. Comes with the uniform. Two, I’ve always believed he’s jealous.”
“Jealous? Of whom?”
“Me and Clark. Not in the regimental sense, only that we – Clark and I . . .you didn’t know?”
“We live together—oh, not here, in Charleston at his big old house which has the rather appropriate name, Pinckney Pink. Originally built by the Pinckneys of Revolutionary fame. You’ve seen his sweaters? I gave them to him. Actually, we do not cohabitate in domicile—wouldn’t do in staid old south of Broad Charleston. I reside two streets up and one over in a newish townhouse with cobblestone streets which are beastly crossing in heels, where was I?”
Anne burst into giggles and before long was joined by Penny. “We’d both sustained rather dreary marriages for our children, by propinquity—no, the opposite, living mostly apart. I was smitten with Clark May from the moment my husband became his Chief of Staff and went out to dinner with the Mays. Same with Clark. One marries for a host of reasons, least of them being the bewildering passion that overtakes one. I can’t call it love but it’s what underpins love, I suppose, and keeps it alive. But until it occurs, if it ever does, one realizes one has been living, well, half a life. Now, what else would you like to know?” and she grinned to soften the question.
“Er, yes, there is something. Two of the commune members saw Don strolling around outside the dome.”
“Not unusual for our careful engineer. He’s spotted any number of potentially dangerous construction flaws and—‘
“At two and three in the morning on consecutive nights?”
“Indeed? Oh. I shall take it up with Clark—no. No sense setting up a barrier without all the facts. Don has done such great work here. I’ll speak to him. And thank you, Anne, for reporting it.”
True to her word, Penny knocked on the door two hours after their conversation. Anne was washing the dinner dishes and Richard was audibly sighing over the number of applicants still to be interviewed. She was a welcome respite for them both, and after sipping from a Chablis that Clark had supplied, Penny said, “I spoke with Don and very glad I did. You see, not all is rosy and bright in the land of Amwell. That is, not from the members, or the kitchen staff—thank heavens—and not the non-coms or the line officers, just the staff from bird-colonel and up. They’re used to the hawks in Congress who always give them what they want. These few, so far not as a group, demand we give up this ‘un-American exercise in stupidity’ that Clark repeated to me. Don sought them out to see how far the discord had gone, pretending to dislike the very the idea of living underground, but simply following orders. One of them hinted the whole thing might one day just come crashing down, and wouldn’t that just put a stop to it? Well, no one in the crew is more paranoid about the safety of his ordinance than our Donald. Every gun, bullet, every ounce of C-4, every stick of dynamite is counted and accounted for. And guess what? Some sticks were missing—actually an entire box, mmm.”
“Ah-h,” said Richard, “which solves the mystery of the nocturnal tours of the dome.”
“Exactly. The only possible thing to come ‘crashing down,’ Don said, was the dome. And so he inspected each point of the foundation for anything untoward. He noticed the lady in the library the first night, so he gave it up and came back to finish it, later the following night.”
“Did he find the missing dynamite?”
Penny shook her head as she rose. “But he will continue searching. It would be tragic if something were to happen before—oh, dear, even during your Congress which is weeks away. By the way, I told Clark what Don told me. He too was concerned, not just for the dome but both of you. Now, now—all he wants to do is alert several of his security staff to be on the look-out for anything out of the ordinary.”