"Alice, could you get that?" Angela Deere called from the bathroom.
"Sure, Mom," said her daughter, and went over to the coffee table to pick up the phone. "Hello, Deere residence," she said. "Oh, hi, Aunt T. R. – Fine, how are you? – No, she's, um, temporarily indisposed. Can I take a message?"
She listened for a moment, and then her jaw dropped. "You're what? – No, I heard you, I just... wow, that's great! When? – Oh, so right around Christmas. Cool! – Yeah, you bet I'll tell her! Bye!"
She hung up the phone and ran to the bathroom. "Hey, Mom, guess what!" she shouted through the door. "I'm going to have a cousin for Christmas!"
Grace Windsor Wexler, née Windkloppel, strode into the study where her husband was going over some police reports and sank dramatically into a chair. "Gracious, what a day I've had!" she exclaimed. "Did you know that the Wisconsin Human Rights Act prevents you from hiring only Chinese people to work at a Chinese restaurant?"
Jake Wexler looked up, and arched an eyebrow. "No. Does it?"
"Well, this one young woman who applied for a job at Hoo's on Eighth seems to think it does," said Grace. "And so now we have to choose between getting mired in one of those impossible civil-rights lawsuits or destroying the ambience of our Eau Claire branch."
"Well, you could always have her wear makeup," said Jake. "Remember Luise Rainer in The Good Earth? If she had come up to my table at one of the Hoos and asked for my order, I wouldn't have thought twice about it."
"I dare say," said Grace delicately, "but the young lady in Eau Claire is... rather darker-complected than Luise Rainer."
"So add a wig and hope people think she's Hainanese," said Jake. He paused, and then added, "It is Hainan that's at the bottom, isn't it?" He raised a pencil and started gesturing at an imaginary South China Sea. "Let's see, if Taiwan is here, then..."
"Oh, Jake, please," said Grace with a groan. "I've had a very long day, and I'm not up to thinking about geography right now. I don't want to think about anything right now; I just want to lie back and be oblivious for about three hours."
Jake nodded. "Okay," he said. "Then I won't show you the letter."
Grace sat up straight. "Letter?" she said. "What letter?"
"This one," said Jake, tapping a sheet of cream-colored stationary with his finger. "From Turtle. Apparently a rather momentous event is about to take place in her life – or already has taken place, depending on how you look at it – and she thought we ought to know about it. But, of course, if you're too tired to..."
Grace pounced up, snatched the letter from the desk, and spent perhaps seventy-five seconds devouring it with her eyes. Then she sat back in her chair and folded her hands. "Well!" she said.
This pretty much said it all, so Jake didn't bother to reply.
"So Turtle's having a baby," said Grace. "Our little stockbroker with the shin-kicking complex is going to be someone's mother. Who would have thought it?"
"Well," said Jake mildly, "it is a fairly common development for married women of her age..."
Grace sighed. "Yes, Jake, I know that," she said. "But, honestly, can you imagine Turtle as your mother?"
In fact, Esther Wexler had been very like her granddaughter in many respects, but Jake knew better than to say this – or, indeed, to even mention Grace's mother-in-law in her presence. "Well, fortunately, it's not my idea of motherhood she has to meet," he said. "It's little Theo Jr.'s, or whatever the baby ends up being called."
"I can't imagine Turtle ever naming a child Theo Jr.," said Grace. "It's much more likely to end up being called Pierpont or something."
"Pierpont Theodorakis," said Jake thoughtfully. "It does have a certain ring to it."
Grace rose abruptly from her chair. "Well," she said, "if we're going to be grandparents again, I think we ought to celebrate properly. We still have some of that zinfandel left over from when we had Justice Bablitch over, don't we?"
Jake blinked. "I thought you wanted to be oblivious for three hours."
Grace grinned. "Trust me, Jake," she said. "Leave me alone with that bottle for a while, and I'll be as oblivious as anyone could ask for."
Jake, knowing his wife, could scarcely dispute that. "Top left-hand cupboard," he said.
Catherine Theodorakis shifted her grocery bag into the cradle of her left arm and eased the door open with her other hand. "George?" she called.
On receiving no answer, she rolled her eyes. At the golf course, probably. How her husband had developed such a passion for that game was a mystery to her – especially considering how bad he was at it – but, if it kept him occupied, she supposed she couldn't complain. She knew from her own experience how hard it could be to keep from going stir-crazy in this nest of indolence they called a "retirement community".
She reflected, wistfully, that it was a shame they hadn't taken Theo up on his offer to have them move in with him and T. R. That was the way to grow old: among people you knew and cared for, people whose relative youth could add freshness and vigor to your life while your relative age could, hopefully, add serenity and wisdom to theirs. This business of sealing off the generations from each other just made everyone poorer; it was terribly sad.
But T. R. hadn't liked the idea of having both them and Mrs. Baumbach as permanent houseguests – not that she had ever said that, but her feelings were obvious to both the elder Theodorakes. So, recognizing that it wouldn't much enrich anyone's life for them to live in a house thats mistress wished they didn't, they accepted Theo's alternative offer to finance their move to Florida. On the whole, it was probably the right decision – but, still, she sometimes wished... oh, well.
She sighed, put down her groceries on the counter, and pulled the day's mail out from the top of the bag where she had stuck it for safekeeping. A few magazines, another piece of junk mail from the AARP, and... well, now, what was this?
She opened the Westingtown-postmarked envelope and withdrew the letter inside. It was written in Theo's characteristically untidy hand (she remembered, with a wry smile, how they used to joke about what a good job Theo did of copying Chris's handwriting), and it read simply, Dear Mom: Thought you should know that you're going to be a grandmother in about seven months. Your loving son, Theodore. (When the topic that he was writing about was one that deeply affected him personally, Theo forgot all about such things as pacing and narrative construction, and just tried to get it over with as quickly as possible.)
Catherine read this through two or three times, and then set it down on the counter and took a deep breath. A catena of thoughts was swirling through her head, but only one made it out of her mouth. "Miriamne Theotokos," she whispered, "take care of the child."
It occurred to her, somewhat later, to wonder whether it was Turtle, Theo, or the baby she had committed to the Virgin's care. In retrospect, she wasn't quite sure.
"Good morning, Madam Justice," said Ronald Gazaway, J. J. Ford's chief clerk, as his employer entered her office.
"It's morning," said Justice Ford. "I don't know that I'd call it good."
Gazaway raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong, Your Honor?" he said.
Justice Ford sighed. "Souter and I had that breakfast we'd scheduled," she said. "It did not fill me with confidence for the future of the Court."
Gazaway frowned. "You think Justice Souter is a closet liberal?"
"I think he's nothing at all," said Justice Ford. "I think half the questions that he will help settle are questions he's never given a moment's thought to in his life. And, what's more, I think that the President selected him for precisely that reason. After all, if you don't have a judicial philosophy, what ground can the Senate give for rejecting you?"
"Well, there's always gross immorality..." said Gazaway thoughtfully.
"Oh, there's nothing immoral about Souter," said Justice Ford. "He isn't a villain; he's merely a tabula rasa." She sighed. "It's an outcome of the Bork affair, I think. October 23, 1987, was a dark day for the United States."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Madam Justice," said Gazaway. "If nothing else, it put you on the Court."
"Exactly," said Justice Ford. "What did I – an average appellate judge on one of the quietest circuits in America – ever do to be appointed to a court containing Marshall, Stevens, and Scalia? Absolutely nothing – except that I happened to have reasonably conservative views and a personal story inspiring enough to make Joseph Biden feel like a churl for opposing me. But that was enough, apparently, and so the precedent was established: distinguished legal scholars are political poison, and obscure judicial nonentities are just what the doctor ordered."
Gazaway, who had rather different memories of the Ford confirmation hearings, considered disputing that "nonentity" bit, but decided against it. He had long since learned that an innate, and largely unconscious, suspicion of having succeeded on something other than merit was one of the key components in his employer's personality, and that no amount of argument, however valid, would remove it. Though he didn't know it, he was witnessing the last triumph of Sam Westing.
"Well," he said, "I suppose the country will survive. Anyway, here's the day's mail."
"Thank you, Ronald," said Justice Ford, taking the handful of envelopes and flipping through it indifferently. Then she paused, and withdrew one of the lighter envelopes from the pile. "Well, now," she said, "what could Turtle be writing me about?"
"Turtle?" Gazaway repeated.
Justice Ford chuckled. "I should say T. R. Wexler," she said. "She's the legal counsel for Westing Paper Products now, so she can't afford to let that childhood nickname get out. But when I knew her in the late '60s, everyone called her Turtle for some reason, and that's how I'll probably always think of her."
Gazaway nodded, comprehending. His own sister Emily, who was currently a neurosurgeon, would always be "Peanut" to her friends and family.
"Anyway, let's see what she wants," said Justice Ford. She picked up a brass letter opener that had once belonged to John Marshall Harlan and slit the envelope open; then she pulled out a sheet of cream-colored paper and scanned it briefly.
Her eyes widened. "Well, I'll be..."
"What is it?" said Gazaway.
Justice Ford turned to him, wearing one of her rare smiles. "Nothing," she said. "Only... perhaps it is a good morning after all."
Theo was searching for an appropriate adjective to describe his protagonist's girlfriend when the telephone rang. With a sigh, he got up from his chair, went over to the phone, and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Hey, Theo," said a voice. "Doug Hoo. I just got your letter."
"Oh," said Theo. "Right."
"So you're going to have a kid, are you?" said Doug.
Theo exhaled heavily. "Looks that way."
"Well, good for you," said Doug. "Dunno why you let me know, though. You're not expecting me to stand godfather, are you? –Heck, do they even have godfathers in that funky church of yours?"
"Um... yes, we do, and, no, I'm not," said Theo, finding the questions easier to answer in reverse order. "Turtle just thought we should let all the old Westing heirs know; you know how she is about that. Your mom got one, too."
"Yeah, she told me," said Doug. "She's making a fu to send you – that's a Chinese good-luck charm."
"Sounds good," said Theo. "With my family's track record, we'll need all the luck we can get."
There was a moment's silence on the other end before Doug caught on. "Oh, right, your brother's thing," he said. "You think the baby's going to have that?"
Theo sighed. "I don't know," he said. "We're hoping not."
There was a significantly longer silence after this, as Doug searched for some way to respond. "Yeah, well, congratulations anyway," he said at last. "Listen, I've got to go. I'm covering the Loyola Marymount game this evening; my plane leaves in ten minutes."
"Knock 'em dead," said Theo.
"Thanks," said Doug, and hung up. Theo replaced the receiver on the hook and returned to the typewriter; after a few more seconds' thought, he settled on "pneumatic".
"Mail's here," Shirley Theodorakis called as she entered her and her husband's makeshift laboratory, startling a pair of tinamous that were roosting together on the mosquito netting.
"Already?" said Chris, looking up from a macaw nest in mock surprise. "But it's only been three months since the last delivery."
"I know!" said Shirley. "And to think, people say that the Ecuadorean government is inefficient!" She laughed, and shook her head. "Well, anyway, let's see who's written us this spring." She began to flip through the envelopes. "Your mother, my mother, Dean McConnon, your brother..."
"Theo?" said Chris. "What's he got to say?"
Shirley hesitated – she had a fundamental scruple about not opening other people's mail, even if she and the other person were one flesh – but, since Chris evidently expected her to, she tore the envelope open and extracted the letter inside. "He says..." she began; then her voice trailed off, and her face went as pale as six months' worth of subtropical sun would let it.
Chris frowned, and wheeled himself around to look at her. "Shirley, what is it?" he said.
Wordlessly, Shirley handed him the letter. He took it and read it through, and then, after he had finished, stared down at the paper in silence for several minutes. Then, slowly, he raised his head, and his wife saw the tears gleaming on his cheeks. "Shirley," he whispered. "They didn't... they're going to..."
"I know," said Shirley, kneeling down and embracing her husband as sympathetic tears welled up in her own eyes. "I know, honey; I know."