Dex waited by the sliding glass door that led to her back stoop. Any moment now, Claire would fly up her driveway, pausing momentarily for Dex to leap into the silver Mercedes coupe that had been Ed’s first post-windfall gift. Darcy, now incarcerated in the mud room that doubled as a laundry room, yowled as the car sped up the drive.

“Hurry,” said Claire said through the open window, “I’m dying to hear why Laura Peters wants you.”

“Locking me up in a basement so she has a clear run at Mark?” Dex replied, climbing in the passenger seat. “Does she know he’s in England right now?”

Claire rolled into the road from Dex’s driveway and hit the gas. “Please,” begged Dex, “please stop at the end of my driveway. Mark almost got t-boned leaving here just before he left for Bradford. No one does the speed limit down this road these days.”

“Sure, sure,” said Claire. Her cell phone buzzed into life. Grieg’s “In The Hall of The Mountain King” jangled in tinny low-fidelity sound. “That’s Laura. Hello Laura, we’re on our way. Yes, I know I said a half hour and that was forty-five minutes ago. I had to persuade Dex into this.”

Claire glanced at Dex, shaking her head as she looked out the window at the passing Chester County countryside, in the full splendor of early autumn that precedes shortened days and falling leaves.

“Dex Cranford. The graphic designer. Mark’s girlfriend. Yes, he has a girlfriend, and Dex is she.”

Claire sighed. “My voodoo girl.”

Dex suppressed her laughter at this. “Tell her I’m bringing a live rooster to sacrifice on her doorstep,” said Dex, “tell her it’s critical that she humor me about everything or I’ll turn her into a zombie, the old fashioned, Val Lewton kind of zombie.”

“What’s that, Laura? I didn’t hear you, Dex was talking to me.” Claire put her hand over the phone, removing both hands from the wheel. “Shh, Dex, you’ll just provoke her.”

She grabbed the wheel again, turning to match the car’s path to the road’s curve. “We’ll be there in five minutes,” Claire said, punching the ‘end’ button.

“Do you think she’ll give us lunch,” asked Dex. “I’m hungry. Maybe we should stop. Iron Hill is right nearby, isn’t it? She’s in the serpentine mansion on Street Road, right? Mark told me about it, there were interesting issues with the exterior facade.”

“Laura Peters doesn’t give anyone anything,” replied Claire, “unless it’s giving Mark’s behind the eye. I’m telling you, she wants him.”

“She’s married!” said Dex. “Maybe I can divert her attraction to Pete instead, he’s rented the loft at that wrought iron artist’s barn, so he’s fairly close. He doesn’t much go for married women though. That would be a problem.”

“What about Mark?” asked Claire, “what’s his position on married women?”

Dex shrugged. “Don’t know, the subject never came up.”

“What do you talk about anyway?” Claire asked. “You’re either a clam that requires any conversation to be extracted with forceps, or you chatter on and on and on about nothing. Which are you with Mark.”

“Depends,” said Dex. “Sometimes he takes the conversational bit in his teeth and runs with it, and sometimes I do. I’m happy to listen to him. I mean, have you heard him talk? I keep trying to get him to read to me, but so far, not happening.”

Claire was happy to see Dex smiling while she spoke of Mark, happy to see her friend happy after all the drama with Pete.

“We go birdwatching, we take Darcy for walks in the nature preserve, we play Scrabble,” said Dex.

“Is that it? I’m horribly, horribly disappointed with you,“ said Claire.

“Well…” smirked Claire, “…but I’m not going to tell you about it.”

“Oh, come on,” said Claire. “Dish.”

The Mercedes purred into the circular driveway before Edgecombe Hall. The four storey tower loomed over them, throwing the garden area contained by the drive into shadow. Apparently, the Peterses were saving the landscaping for last, which was a good idea judging from the tire tracks in the lawn to the left of the tower. Something large and heavy drove through there.

When the two women got out of the car, they could hear the groan and buzz of heavy equipment working nearby. Claire paused a moment to examine Dex, who was prone to leave her house wearing her gardening clothes, consisting of jeans or cut-off jeans that needed extreme unction and tank tops with whippet pawprints in inopportune areas. She sighed with relief, Dex was wearing capri jeans today, and a cropped boatneck jersey. Mark had done wonders for her wardrobe, thought Claire.

“I changed before you got there,” said Dex, making Claire jump. “Though the idea of meeting Laura Peters on her own turf in my cut-offs and a ragged T-shirt did kind of appeal to me. I did not apply make-up or do anything to my hair.”

Claire made a face at Dex’s smug smile. “You never need make-up. I hate you.”

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