Visiting the SFWA suite at MidAmeriCon seemed worth a try, so we tried it. Unfortunately giving it a try meant quite a lot of walking, which meant a lot of competition for body space as the eager mobs of fans, famished for PARTYPARTYPARTY! wandered the halls, now a crawling mass of fan flesh. It was prime room-party time.
And, I discovered, I was getting tired. The corridor we were walking in had a little bay that looked down into the lobby, far below. It had chairs that were just being vacated by a few fans, their sore feet healed, charging on to the next room party. I took action. I didn’t say anything about wanting to rest my own feet for a moment. I just grabbed a vacant chair and, looking grateful, so did Professor Hull. Leaning over to rub her toes, she looked up at me curiously. “Tell me more about what you do at Bantam. Delany’s book. Is it a big success?
I laughed. “Big enough. I’m Bantam’s wonder child this week. I paid peanuts for it, and it’s selling its head off. Just under six hundred thousand copies last I heard, and it might go over a million.”
“Delany,” she mused. “Yes, I know some of his work. If the administration lets me keep my sci-fi — ”
I gave my throat a meaningful clearing.
She didn’t fail to understand my meaning. “Oh, right,” she said apologetically, “I didn’t mean to say sci-fi, I mean science fiction. If the administration lets me keep my science fiction class, maybe I should teach it next semester. I’ll get a copy and read it real fast.”
I laughed. “That I don’t think you can do. It’s a long one, way more than twice as big as his Ace novels. And it’s not much like his other books. But I think I put a couple of copies in my bag. If I find them, I’ll put one in my pocket tomorrow and if I see you it’s yours.”
“Thanks,” she said, sounding as though she meant it. But she was rubbing her feet again. Then, looking at her watch. “Oh,” she said. “Look at the time. Listen, Frederik, how would you like to try a different kind of room party? Mary Badami — she’s my roommate — and I agreed to have our own party tomorrow. Not a lot of liquor but tea or coffee and soft drinks, and Mary’s making some food. I have to help her pretty son now, but then when the party starts tomorrow you’ll know a lot of the people — some will be the ones we ate dinner with, and I heard you mention Marty Greenberg and Joe Olander….”
I said, “Can we sit down there now? I’m in!”
Her roommate I remembered from the group in the hotel lobby — Mary Kenny Badami was her name, her rank was Ph.D. and she was another specimen from the roster of good-looking female professors who appeared to still be in their teens. The main difference was that Professor Baddami came from the green eyes and brunette hair division, while Dr. Betty was the blue-eyed blonde model.
What Mary Badami was doing when we came in was spreading interesting-looking stuff out of a couple of different plastic containers onto boxes of interesting-looking crackerish things that came out of packages on which the printing was not in English. She gave me a couple without being asked, causing me to tell them that they both were a credit to their ancestors and a tribute to their schools. When Ms Badami finished a plate of the little crackers she opened a fairly good sized refrigerator to keep it all healthful, while saying to Dr. Betty, “What we need mostly right now is crudites. We don’t have to put the ice out until people start arriving, and the drinks are already soaking in ice water in the bathtub, although I guess we’ll have to pull them out for a while in the morning if we want to shower. Hello, Fred.”
I said hello to her and added, “If you’re looking for a volunteer to cut up celery stalks, here I am.”
But Dr. Betty was shaking her head. “Not yet, Frederik. I promised you a cup of coffee first.” She was measuring a spoonful of powdered coffee into a ceramic mug, added water, stirred and slid it into the microwave next to the fridge. I declined the half-and-half she offered me from the fridge and shook my head when she gestured at the unopened box of sugar tablets. “A man after my own heart,” she said. “Coffee doesn’t need anything extra to be perfect. I bet you have a little jar of the stuff in your suitcase.”
“Not exactly,” I said, taking the hot cup, made portable, barely, by the paper towel she had wrapped around its base. “It’s a little plastic box, with a couple of teaspoons of powder, but you’re right, I take it wherever I go. When I was in Rio for the briefing meeting last year it drove the customs people at the airport crazy. ‘But, Senhor, you bring theese eento Brasil?’”
She smiled, then began pulling little bags of cucumbers and celery out of the fridge. She held up two or three little squares of plywood, marked off in alternate squares of red and black. I asked, “We’re going to play chess?”
She shook her head. “You volunteered to cut up crudites. These are our cutting boards, and please use them. Brad — that’s the guy whose car we came down in — says the hotel checks every scratch on the furniture.”
I took one of the boards and a handful of wax beans, cold from the fridge. Betty had already brought in a small stack of dry facecloths from the bathroom and was spreading one on the table for me. I laid the cutting board on it, checkerboard down, with a handful of wax beans and began cutting on the diagonal. And I noticed that, with her feet well under the little table, she was sliding the shoes off as inconspicuously as she could.
That was my cue. “Give me a foot, Dr. Hull,” I said, and added, “A couple of years ago I read a couple of books on massage. For a brief time they made me the most popular baritone in the Unitarian Church choir.”
She gave me a look, but it wasn’t a hostile one. Since I was sitting on a hassock and she in a straight-backed chair we were at the proper elevations for easing the foot muscles. She didn’t protest, just rotated her body a few degrees and deposited one foot in my lap. “I forgot to ask you. Are you married, Frederik?”