It usually took Theo forty minutes to drive from her home to the northern part of the District, but Wednesday-morning traffic snarled on her way to Adam Perry’s office, and she arrived at his towering complex half an hour late. She was breathless by the time she stepped off the elevator into the suite of offices reserved for Perry, Johnson, Horwitz, and Malter, and she had to steady her breathing before she could give her name to the receptionist in the sumptuous lobby.
“I’m sorry, but you have missed your appointment,” the silver-haired woman at the desk said, a faint note of reproach in her nasal voice. “Mr. Perry is with another client. If the matter is urgent, I could refer you to one of Mr. Perry’s associates.”
“I’d like to wait,” Theo said, smoothing her skirt. “It’s important that I see Mr. Perry today.”
The receptionist murmured noncommittally, “I’ll see what I can do,” then turned away to answer the gentle buzzing of a telephone. Alone in the lobby with the woman, Theo took a seat on the long leather sofa. She had spent the rest of the previous afternoon and most of the night reviewing her notes and impressions from her visit to Dr. Holman’s office, and she was eager to question Adam Perry about the legal ramifications of a link between abortion and breast cancer.
Whenever her mind tired of wrestling with names, facts, and figures, the image of handsome Dr. Holman rose in her mind. Perhaps, she reasoned, thoughts of him stayed with her because she regretted leaving his office on such a sour note. She had the feeling she’d hurt him with her blunt questioning, but weren’t journalists supposed to pursue the story at all costs?
Come on, Theo, toughen up. How are you ever going ask the tough questions if you melt into a pool of pity every time you see a handsome man with suffering in his eyes?
To discipline her thoughts, she reached for a folded District Post lying on the coffee table. She had been so engrossed in her research that she hadn’t even picked up her own paper in two days. She scanned the front page for items of interest, then flipped through the Style section to read “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers.” Occasionally she glanced toward the receptionist, but the woman seemed oblivious to everything but the telephone and the silent screen of her word processor. She didn’t meet Theo’s eye once in twenty minutes.
After half an hour, Theo tossed the front and Style sections of the Post onto the coffee table and began to read the first page of the Metro section. A headline caught her eye:
Novelist Theo M. Russell Missing Four Days
by Pamela Lansky
WASHINGTON—Theo Marshall Russell, author of the best-selling Out of the Darkness, Into the Light, has apparently disappeared from his hotel room at the Washington Hilton Tower. He was last seen on Friday evening when he purchased a disposable razor in the hotel gift shop. The hotel manager reported Tuesday that his room had not been slept in for several days.
District police are investigating the disappearance and report that any speculation as to the author’s whereabouts would be “premature.” But Janet Fischer, an editor with Howarth House in New York, says she was first alarmed when a woman calling herself Theodora Russell showed up in Russell’s stead for a luncheon appointment on Friday. The woman led Fischer to believe she was the acclaimed novelist and left with a proposal and outline for the author’s novel in progress.
“She was as calm and cool as anyone I’ve ever met,” Fischer said Tuesday from her office in New York. “In twenty years of publishing, I’ve never run across anything like this.” Fischer cooperated with the New York Police Department to produce a composite sketch of the mysterious woman.
With terrible suddenness Theo realized that the wide-eyed, black-and-white sketch in the corner of the front page was a startlingly accurate portrait—of herself.
What? She took a wincing little breath. She had explained everything in the letter to Janet Fischer—but she had mailed the letter on Monday. The package probably wouldn’t arrive in New York until Thursday or Friday.
She stared at the newspaper, too stunned to move, until the jarring ring of the receptionist’s telephone brought her back to reality. Her heart pounding, she stuffed the newspaper in her briefcase and walked briskly to the elevator.