Tarnished Virtues/Wayne 1005
THE WILLIAMS' RESIDENCE
UPPER LEWIS COUNTY--NEW YORK STATE
It is an eighteen hour time difference between Tripoli and New York,
and it was just after midnight on the east coast. Yet Robert Williams was
still awake, the evening edition of The New York Times spilling from his
hand. Although his eyes had skimmed over the text, very little had been
actually read. The smoking jacket his wife had given him after their tenth
wedding anniversary was getting threadbare, even a bit tattered in spots, but
it brought warm memories and magnified his comfort. And it made him
remember how handsome Alice used to say he looked in it. Shoes, shirts,
suits and ties came and went, yet the worn jacket became the standard issue
of wear in the Williams' household when there no guests and Robert
enjoyed the easy informality of a worn-out businessman.
With his pipe and slippers, Robert knew he rather resembled a well-to-
do character from a Victorian novel--hopefully a likable one--but the age
had arrived when he stooped more than he used to, and found himself
shuffling to bed instead of whooshing his way into slumber. And Alice, so
often waiting for him between softly-scented sheets, her 'Darling-I'm-so-
glad-I-got-waxed-at-the-salon-today' look wringing the last morsels of the
day's energy from him in their lovemaking.
Alice had been a good match. Ideal, really. With the same stamp that
accented his own Patrician bloodline, Alice Bowman was everything
Robert could have wished for but few find in their mates. She was
intelligent, good-humored, socially acceptable and almost outrageously
liberal. This last quality was undoubtedly inherited from her publisher
father, Malcolm Bowman; whose political weekly Savvy was a left-to-
center magazine tweaking noses of every politician in the New York area,
from senators to local aldermen. Even Ike was not immune from its barbed
essays. They created the only real arguments of note in the Williams'
household, brushed away as often as not at the water's edge of the boudoir.
Robert married Alice rather late in life--not until after his thirty-second
birthday. The war was over and Robert had proven himself on several
battlefields--not the least of which being the conquests held in his bedroom.
It was time to settle into the thickets of domesticity, before he grew too set
in his ways or became too old to enjoy the raptures of horseplay with his
children. He'd seen other men who'd married too late in life and were
trapped in the unforgiving geometry of their years. And Alice was a catch.
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His state-senator-father had warned Robert that marriages were more
like social contracts than matches made in heaven, and although he
disapproved of the pairing with Alice Bowman (he'd often been spotlit in
several Savvy articles) he did not actively attempt to prevent it. He
remained ever-aware that when his remaining son (Robert's older brother
Edward had been shot out of the skies over Berlin in his P-38 Mustang) was
to marry, he married not only the girl, but her entire family, a fact which
Robert Sr. never failed to drill into Robert Jr's head.
Robert did not scoff at this advice, but neither did he allow it to
legislate his affections. Alice was the fourth child of a remarkably literate
family who made their fortunes from the world of letters rather than any
stodgy profits milked by Wall Street financiers. An avid horsewoman with
long chestnut locks flowing in a hefty ponytail of her own, Alice was no
knockout in the traditional sense, but carried herself in a manner that made
her prettier than she really was. Always optimistic (her slow death of cancer
being a lone, draining exception), she feigned a happy nascence of life's
tragedies, even after suffering her two miscarriages before finally clicking
Robert sat back against the easy chair and removed his reading glasses,
his fingers massaging the bridge of his nose. All memories of his past now
ended with thoughts of Carole somehow, and Robert was grappling with
guilt and lack of foresight. Not about Carole's trip overseas. There was no
need to recriminate himself on how he'd allowed his daughter to go to
Germany. Or otherwise display her independent nature. She'd been a big
girl for some time now, and had the right to paint her own personality over
the milestones of her life. She'd moved out of the house for good soon after
her twentieth birthday, and though Robert continued to subsidize her bills
and many of her other living expenses, there was never the strain of
obligation on either party. Carole had earned a slim wage with an
unimportant secretarial position, had decided to return to college for her
Master's Degree (as to what she might actually do with it, neither seemed to
have a clue) and Robert saw no reason to put her to any harsh tests to
determine if she could make it on her own. He was a wealthy man, she was
a loving and inexperienced daughter...why shouldn't he help her out?
But helping Carole with funds was not the same as giving of himself.
The knowledge brought about another sigh of regret. He turned to the
kitchen, where Dulcie Mumford, having made her final inspection for the
evening, had turned out the lights.
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Alice had been an attentive mother and Dulcie had stepped into the
breach of her death most admirably. Carole learned all the correct
proprieties from the kind-hearted nanny--who in turn provided a loving,
nurturing hand to the child. Although the affection between Carole and her
governess could not be greater, it could never fully replace the blood ties of
a deceased mother. In those tragic years following Alice's death, Robert
could recognize and even interpret the child's tears as to what 'Mummy
would say'or what 'Mummy would do' in the innumerable situations where
only a mother could provide the perfect measure of solicitude.
Carole did not grow into a rebellious daughter, nor did she appear to
harbor resentments against Robert for all the times he was absent in her
yardsticks of success. Her friends (and the ever-present Miss Dulcie) were
there at her piano recital in the third grade talent show, cheered her on after
her numerous equestrian tournaments, applauded with zeal when she
performed on high school stages as a would-be actress. Robert had missed
much of this, had even been absent at her college graduation.
Now, sitting in his easy chair with an unread newspaper in hand,
Robert realized how very much he missed his daughter, and would have
gladly given away thirty thousand shares of his GM stock just to see the
sparkle in Carole's eyes as she rushed out the door to her MG 350 once
The house seemed totally empty without her, in spite of the fact that
she'd been living in her own apartment in the Delum Heights district for the
past two years and had been renting an apartment along Park Avenue
almost two years before that. Robert seemed able to recall every one of the
'Hi Dads' and 'Bye Dads' which had accompanied adolescence and young
womanhood. They were like scented posies--invaluable (and
unappreciated) --gifts pressed into his palm by a remarkably well-behaved
daughter. There had never been any driving violations or recriminations of
On the occasions when they'd shared more than the glancing hellos and
good byes, Robert had come to the conclusion that Carole was a rather
sweet person, perhaps a bit too naive for her own good, but certainly bright
enough. And he could always count on Dulcie Mumford to sand away any
crusts of self-importance the girl might acquire.
Noting his daughter's healthy good looks, Robert had often inquired
where the steady boy friend lurked. As far as he could determine (or took
the time to determine) Carole never seemed to have a steady beau, and with
the exception of the Pettigrew boy, did not form any really close, long-term
friendships with those of the opposite sex. When he'd broached the subject,
Tarnished Virtues/Wayne 1008
Carole would flash her grin and reply that she was 'playing the field, Dad.
Just playin the field.'
Then the hasty rush out the door to the latest escort, waiting to take her
to another of her endless social functions.
Robert understood. They shared the same bloodlines, after all, and he'd
followed pretty much the same patterns as a young man...
(playin' the field, Dad. Just playin' the field--)
Thankfully, there was always the influence of Dulcie Mumford to steer
Carole to the straight and narrow (she remained unaware that Carole had
lost both her virginity and much of her feminine drives to Jamey
Richardson and Mark Siederman) an influence which remained even after
Carole began the foray into her twenties.
Robert realized with hollow regret that his failure to spend more time
with his daughter had been nothing less than strategic defeats in his life,
more costly than he knew. And somehow, the fact that they were
surrounded by so many tactical victories in finance made them even worse
It was probably after Alice's death that the obsession with
career began. In order to forget his loss, Robert became a machine of
success. He spent Herculean hours at his desks struggling with figures and
the machinations of stocks and bonds. His fiscal instincts became as shrewd
as any to be found. Things got to a point where he was no longer required
to settle financial conflicts in courtrooms, a simple phone call or business
meeting providing his trademark, affable balm for which he'd become so
well known. He was available to attend every banquet, parade, political
rally, and investment meeting, but seemed to have little time to listen to the
imprecise fingers of a ten-year-old daughter strutting along the keys at a
And all for what? To make money--which had never been an end in
itself? Or be successful? Or merely to lose himself as surely as Carole was
lost now. Did he not have even the inherent cunning to realize that family
was everything in life? And that if there were any immortality to speak of,
it would not be because he had a building named after him, but because he
had grandchildren scooting about with his blood in their veins.
He felt tears spring to his eyes once more. He hadn't been at the office
for almost a week now. And for weeks before that had eased away from
those duties and responsibilities once so important to him--and so
unfulfilling of late.
Tarnished Virtues/Wayne 1009
Leaving the house for any reason depressed him now. Everyone with
whom he came into contact spoke to him of Carole, inquiring about her
health, where she was, what she might be doing with her life. And it took
the circumstance of Carole's disappearance to point out how many
milestones of that life had been associated with his own. His full
partnership into the firm of Sachs and Silverman came just before Carole's
second birthday, the multi-year deal with Wilder and associates had been
cemented just after her eighth. The merger with Friedling Steel and Tool
Enterprises took place when Carole turned eleven. And so on and so on--
with so many other aspects of his daughter's life--he'd never appreciated
how the nodes of her timeline had nudged into his own.
Just how many of her birthday parties had he missed over her lifetime?
He'd been too engrossed in his trade to recall them at all--other than by
the gifts Dulcie told him she'd given to Carole in his name--Dulcie's neat
forgeries of From Daddy attached to the wrappers as though he'd
personally pondered over their selections at toy stores. Pipe in hand.
Expressions of bewilderment on his face.
Would Carole like Beach Barbie...or Movie Star Barbie?
Dulcie entered the room, her head lowered in the same perpetual
pessimism now shared by her employer. Her prayers for Carole's safety
remained a steady bulwark against her fears, but her concerns could not be
hidden. She managed a tepid smile.
"Would you be wantin' anything before retiring for the night, Mistair
He shook his head.
"No thank you, Dulcie." He noted the shawl. The evenings had swung
well into autumn and the nights were chilly now. And Dulcie had lost a bit
of weight in her worries. An immediate concern for the older woman's
health speared him.
"Up a bit late yourself, aren't you?"
She nodded and sat on the large sofa facing him, turning to the
fireplace without a fire, its chimney stones cold with regrets. Pushing her
knees together, she seemed to shiver in the room although it was still
It had not taken Robert long to discover that Dulcie was eavesdropping
on his conversations with Rooker, and that she was doing her level best to
intercept any other messages which might be coming from the Wyoming
rancher now that he and Wilson Pettigrew had gone on their overseas
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prowl. This behavior was initiated by her love for Carole, and was instantly
forgiven by Robert in turn. After she apologized for such unseemly deeds,
he only smiled and softly promised to make her aware of any new
developments, meager as they might be. Kaz Rooker did not exactly burn
up the telegraph wires with communiqués. And Dulcie had often
misinterpreted what she'd heard.
The doorbell rang and the two of them immediately turned to each
"Now who could that be?" Dulcie asked.
The house was empty but for the two of them. The pair of young maids
had been given the evening off and the groundskeeper was visiting a friend
in Newark. Charles, a handyman had quit without notice four days before
and Robert had not yet hired a replacement.
Another ring of the doorbell, followed by a knock in case the device
was not working properly.
Dulcie got to her feet with surprising energy and opened the
substantial four-by-four inch 'peep hole' carved out of the door. Every time
she used it, it made her feel as though she were operating a speakeasy.
A young man in an ill-fitting brown uniform was looking about at the
grounds, already bracing for the coming autumn frosts.
"Er, telegram." He tugged the visor of his brown hat as if in apology
before lifting the telegram up to the miniature door. Dulcie took it with a
"I'll get some change."
"No need, Ma'am. All taken care of."
With a final tug of his cap, he rushed over to his motor scooter and
was soon back on the road.
Dulcie closed the small security door, staring at the telegram as though
it were a sweepstakes ticket dropped off at the wrong address.
"Who was it?" Robert called.
She stepped back into the living room, handing the telegram to her
"A telegram," she replied. Again the knit brows of puzzlement.
"Kind of late for a telegram, isn't it, Mistair Robert?"
"You're forgetting the time difference, Dulcie."
The words sounded full of wet S's as they sluiced over the pipe stem.
He knew who'd sent the wire, if Dulcie did not. A quick read after he tore
open the envelope, his own brows creased in interest.
"It's from Rooker."
Tarnished Virtues/Wayne 1011
Dulcie's eyes widened.
"Oh, may I see, sir?"
He sighed as he handed the thin yellow paper over to her. After
bringing her reading glasses to her eyes, she noted the words, a soft gasp
escaping her as she read her own name.
"Wilson must have mentioned you to him," Robert offered softly.
Yes, and with her name came all the rest of the Irish woman's
attributes. Her hard, delicate decency. Her belief in a just God, now
allowing events filled with so much calamity. And all leavened against the
bedrock of Dulcie's powerful, imperishable faith.
She pulled her glasses from her eyes so quickly that she looked as if
she had flung them away.
To make room for her tears.
"I know, Dulcie," Robert soothed. "I miss her too."