Hours later, Eva sat in the front seat of Denny’s convertible. The top was closed and Junior drove.
He was having a difficult time concentrating on the road because of his frequent glances at Eva. Finally he said, “I hope you won’t take this wrong way, Eva, but . . .”
“What?” she said.
“You look positively … positively … gorgeous tonight,” he said, eyeing her again. “I’ve never seen a woman look as beautiful as you do right this moment.”
Eva smiled. “Thank you, Albert. That’s a nice compliment. Let’s hope Governor Gardner agrees with you.”
Eva wore a classic backless, off the shoulder, low-cut black cocktail dress, cut just at the knee. High heels perfectly arched her calve muscles. Her luxurious blonde hair was curled atop her head, set off with a diamond tiara fixed like a princess’s crown. Her large, brown eyes were inviting, luxurious, and her cherry lips shimmered with temptation. Around her graceful neck, Eva wore the diamond necklace with the hanging tear drop that nestled perfectly in her bosom; around her wrist she wore the matching bracelet. The set had been a present from Albert Sr. A small, black handbag with six tiny diamonds surrounding the clasp sat in her lap.
Outside the door to the ballroom, behind a table, sat an attractive young woman with several lists spread in front of her. Eva judged the girl to be about her own age. Her dress was an attractive pastel pink, and turquoise glass frames complimented her pretty face.
“Good evening,” the young girl said, smiling warmly. “May I have your names?” she picked up her pencil and waited.
“Ah, Bennett,” said Junior, adjusting his tie knot.
“Bennett, Bennett,” the girl said, running her finger down the page. “I don’t seem to see . . .”
“I doubt that we would be on that list, dear,” Eva said, looking at Junior.
The girl looked at Eva, puzzled.
“Stanley called us at the last minute,” Eva said to the girl, “just a few hours ago, as a matter of fact.” Eva smiled and patted Junior’s arm which she was holding.
“Stanley Meade?” said the girl.
“That’s right,” said Eva. “Stanley’s always bothering us about these things.” She laughed. “But he thought we were in Europe. I just happened to bump in to him yesterday at lunch, and he told me he was sure it would be fine, but he’d double-check with Jack and give me a call. So”—Eva sparkled, hugging Junior’s arm—“here we are!”
The girl smiled. “Fine,” she said, beginning to stand, “let me just see if I can catch Stanley’s eye inside the ballroom.”
“Nonsense,” said Eva, waving her back down. “Don’t you bother yourself, dear. Besides, I want to sneak up and surprise that rascal Stanley. He won’t expect us because I didn’t promise him we’d show up. I told him I was peeved with him for not inviting us properly in the first place. It was funny”—Eva laughed good-naturedly—“because at the same time I was scolding him, I was sitting at the desk writing the $5,000 donation check.” Eva patted her hand bag and winked at the girl. “I just wanted him to sweat a little. These men,” she glanced disapprovingly at Junior, “they think they’re so smart; but we know better, don’t we, honey?” Eva winked again and yanked Junior toward the ballroom door. Before the girl could respond, Junior swung the door opened and they entered.
“You’re incredible,” he said, staring admiringly at Eva. “Simply incredible.”
“Thanks,” she whispered. “Now, I have a job for you.”
The ballroom was brightly lit by a dozen huge chandeliers. Gay, light banter wafted across the room like a cool breeze off the Mediterranean Sea. Everyone held a glass in their hand, mostly stemmed champagne glasses with a smattering of tumblers filled with ice cubes and Scotch, or vodka, or tonic, or water.
Eva gazed slowly around the room until she found her target: Helen Gardner. She was standing near the middle of the room surrounded by a half dozen people, all chuckling. Cigarette in hand, her smoke drifting upward toward the ceiling, Helen Gardner seemed to be having the time of her life telling a story and being the object of abject attention from this tightly knit group of hangers-on.
“You see that woman over there in the white brocade gown?”
Junior looked in the direction Eva was facing. “The little chubby one? Smoking?”
“That’s her,” said Eva. “I want you to wander over there and keep an eye her and when you get a chance, talk to her. I want you to keep her busy. Be charming and, whatever you do, do not let her wander away from you to look for her husband. That’s Gardner’s wife, and I don’t want her interfering.”
Junior frowned. “Thanks for nothing,” he said, plastering a smile on his face. “I had no idea the governor married a troll.”
“A troll with pots of gold,” said Eva, nodding at a male stranger smiling at her from across the room.
“That’s leprechauns,” said Junior
Eva shrugged. “Same difference.”
Junior snatched a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and headed off on his mission. Eva took a tumbler of ice water from the same waiter’s tray and visually scanned the crowd for her prey: Governor Jack Gardner.
She spotted him toward the front of the room, standing in front of a stage obviously set up for speeches. He was drinking what appeared to be Scotch and laughing uproariously at something one of his companions had just said.
Eva glided to her right and positioned herself about ten feet from his group. She stood where she was sure he could not possibly miss seeing her. Slowly sipping her water, she never took her eyes off of him. When he looked up and saw her, she smiled.
As she expected, a few moments later he excused himself from his group and walked directly toward her. Gardner moved as close to her as etiquette allowed, and Eva held her ground. She smiled at him while he admiringly looked her up and down.
“Do I know you?” he said finally, flashing his biggest grin.
“I don’t think so,” said Eva, “but we can fix that.”
He laughed. “There’s something about you though,” he said, looking puzzled. “You look familiar. Are you sure we haven’t met before?”
“I guess I just look like a lot of girls,” said Eva, lightly brushing his arm with her fingers.
“Hardly!” he said, a bit too loudly. A couple looked in their direction and smiled; he saluted them with his glass.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Eva Lange.” She smiled sweetly.
“And what is Eva Lange doing here,” he teased, briefly brushing her hand with his index finger.
“Truthfully?” asked Eva.
“Of course,” said Gardner.
“I crashed,” she said, watching his eyes narrow ever so slightly with intrigue. “I like powerful men,” she said. “I like to watch them. I like to be near them. They excite me. Do you think that’s odd?” she asked, staring into his eyes while she sipped her water.
“No,” he said, snickering, slightly taken aback. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Eva looked around the room. “This party is sort of dull, don’t you think?” she said innocently. “Do you have to give a speech?” she asked him, nodding toward the microphone on the stage.
“Eventually,” he sighed. “Same speech I’ve given, ahhh … about ten thousand times I guess. I could recite it in my sleep by now.”
“Maybe a nap before a speech would be a good idea,” Eva said, staring intently at him all the while she took another sip of water.
Gardner looked at her strangely, speechless. Eva took her index finger and slowly ran it across the top of his belt, put her finger into her glass to stir the water, and then placed her finger into her mouth.
“Is there a room close by for you to nap?” she said, lowering her voice.
Eva watched him swallow. His eyes gleamed with desire, and his breathing changed to shorter bursts. “A storeroom,” he said, “behind the stage.” He nodded in the direction.
Eva handed him her glass, turned, and walked toward the storeroom, never once looking back. As she covered the distance, she covertly slipped her hand inside her handbag, pushed the play/record button on the tape recorder, and snapped the handbag shut.