“No, sir. She rarely comes in here, you see, and I?”

“Look here, Ozzie.” Macgowan smoked nervously. There was a bigness about him that overflowed the chair. Above his broad shoulders he had a lean face and a high pale forehead. “I’ve got to see Don right away. Are you sure??”

Osborne was astonished. “But won’t you see him this evening at dinner, sir?”

“Yes, yes, but I’ve got to see him before dinner. Sure you don’t know where he is?” said Macgowan impatiently.

“I’m sorry, sir. He left early and didn’t say where he was going.”

Macgowan frowned. “Let’s have a paper and pencil.” He scribbled hastily on the sheet Osborne hurried to provide, folded the paper, thrust it into an envelope, which he sealed, and tossed the envelope on Kirk’s desk. “You’ll see that he gets it before dinner tonight, Ozzie. It’s important?and personal.”

“Surely.” Osborne tucked the envelope into one of his pockets. “By the way, sir, there’s something I’d like to show you, if you have a moment.”

Macgowan paused at the door. “I’m in a hurry, old chap.”

“I’m sure you’ll want to see this, Mr. Macgowan.” Osborne went to a wall-safe and pulled out a large leather-bound, ledger-like volume. He carried it to his desk and opened it; it was full of mounted postage stamps.

“What’s this, something new?” asked Macgowan, with sudden interest.

“Well, here’s one item that’s new, sir.” Osborne pointed out a stamp and handed Macgowan a small magnifying glass from a litter of philatelic tools on the desk.

“Nanking issue of the dragon, eh?” muttered Macgowan, putting the glass to the green-and-rose stamp. “Something wrong with the surcharge, isn’t there? By Jove, the bottom character’s omitted!”

“That’s right, sir,” said Osborne with a vigorous nod. “ That vertical surcharge ought to readChung Hua Ming Kuo?if that’s the way they pronounce it?’Middle Flowery People’s Kingdom.’ But on this stamp the last character was somehow dropped out, and the ‘Kingdom’ part’s not there. Trouble with Chinese rarities, especially the surcharges, is that you’ve got to have a good working knowledge of the ideographs to be able to spot an error. This one’s comparatively easy; I don’t know Chinese from Greek. But old Dr. Kirk read this for me. Interesting, eh, sir?”

“Damnably. Where did Don pick this up?”

“Auction. About three weeks ago. Delivery was held up for some reason until yesterday. I think they were checking up its authenticity.”

“He has all the luck, darn him,” grumbled Macgowan, setting down the glass. “I haven’t run across a really interesting local rarity in weeks.” He shrugged and then said in an oddly quiet voice: “Did this Nanking set Don back much, Ozzie?”

Something tightened Osborne’s lips, and his eyes grew cold. “I really couldn’t say, sir.”

Macgowan stared at him, and then suddenly slapped his thin back. “All right, all right, you loyal old coot. Don’t forget that note. You tell Don I dropped in early purposely. I’ll be back in time for dinner. Want to go downstairs and make a few calls.”

“Yes, Mr. Macgowan,” said Osborne with a smile, and returned to his desk.

* * *

It was extraordinary how events ranged themselves that evening. Everything seemed to fit, like a woman’s new gloves. There was a smoothness, an inevitability, about things. And they all swirled about the head of poor Osborne, a colorless midge working at his job.

And all the time the door to the anteroom was closed, and nothing but silence came from there.

It was exactly 6:35, for example, when the office door opened again and brought Osborne’s head up sharply. A tall magnificent woman was consciously framed in the doorway, a smile on her red lips. Osborne climbed to his feet, more than half-annoyed.

“Oh,” said the woman, and the smile vanished. It was as if she had put it on for the ceremony of making an entrance. “Mr. Kirk isn’t here?”

“No, Miss Llewes.”

“Isn’t that disgusting!” She leaned against the open door thoughtfully, her green eyes studying the room. She was dressed in something tight and shimmering. Her bare arms protruded from beneath a short ermine wrap. There was a deep cleft between her breasts which tightened and loosened with her slow breathing. “I did want to talk to him.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Llewes,” said Osborne. To him there was something infinitely more substantial, if less delectable, in Miss Diversey. This woman was as unreal as a Garbo seen upon the silver screen. One might look, but not touch.

“Well . . . Thank you.” She had an unreal voice, too; low and faintly hoarse, with an undercurrent of warmth. Osborne blinked and stared, fascinated, into her green eyes. She gave him a slow smile and vanished.

* * *

The two women met outside the office-door under the vigilant gaze of Mrs. Shane, who knew, saw, and heard all. Irene Llewes’s ermine brushed the arm of the tiny woman in the black evening gown who had just come from the Kirk suite. The two women halted, frozen still by the same instantaneous surge of dislike. Mrs. Shane looked on with gleaming eyes.

They stared at each other for perhaps fifteen seconds, unmoving; the tall woman, slightly inclined; the small woman, eyes raised steadily. Neither said a word. Then Miss Llewes passed on toward the transverse corridor, a glitter of the most mocking triumph in her green eyes. She walked as if it were a sensual pleasure?slowly, with a faint grace of hip-sway.

Jo Temple stared after her, her small fists clenched. There was a challenge very boldly flaunted by the undulation of Miss Llewes’s hips.

“You know I can’t match that, you cunning devil,” said Miss Temple in a silent breath. “You and your sex appeal . . . hussy!”

Then she shrugged, smiling, and hurried into the office.

Osborne looked up again from his work, definitely annoyed. He rose and said: “Mr. Kirk hasn’t come in yet, Miss Temple,” in a tone of resignation.

“Why, Mr. Osborne!” murmured Jo. “You’re positively clairvoyant. How did you know I wanted Donald?”

An unwilling grin came to Osborne’s lips. “Well, you’re the fourth in a short time, Miss Temple. This seems to be Mr. Kirk’s busy day?and he’s ducking it.”

“And do you think Mr. Kirk would duck me, too?” she murmured, dimpling.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t, Miss Temple.”

“Now you’re merely being polite. Oh, dear! I did so want to speak to him before . . . Bother! Well, thanks, Mr. Osborne. I suppose it can’t be helped.”

“I’m sorry. If there’s anything I can do?”

“Really, it’s nothing at all.” She smiled and went out.

And just as Osborne sat down with a sigh of relief, the telephone rang.

He snatched it ferociously and barked: “Well?”

“Donald? Felix. Sorry I?”

“Oh,” said Osborne. “This is Osborne, Mr. Berne. How are you, sir. Welcome home. Did you have a nice crossing?”

Berne said dryly: “Lovely.” There was a faintly foreign something in his voice. “Isn’t Kirk there?”

“I expect him any minute now, Mr. Berne.”

“Well, tell him I’ll be late for dinner, Osborne. Unavoidably detained.”

“Yes, sir,” said Osborne submissively. And then he shouted in an excess of repressed passion: “Well, why the devil don’t you call the apartment?” But he had already hung up.

* * *

And then, at 6:45 to the minute, Donald Kirk came striding out of the elevators accompanied by a tall young

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