Too pretty to be an engineer

We join our hero, Alex Graham (aka the Grammarian), in the middle of a cocktail party conversation with his old friend Walter McHenry and Kate Hunter, a woman he's just met.

"Alex Graham, this is Kathryn Hunt. She’s just moved into town.”
Alex extended his hand. “How do you do, Ms. Hunt.”
“Very well, thank you, Mr. Graham. It’s, ah, Hunter, actually. Kathryn Hunter, but please, call me Kate.”
“Kate it is. Please, call me Alex.” In a moment, another glance between them was enough to cover the awkwardness of Walter’ having gotten her name wrong, and to establish the beginnings of an acquaintance. He let go of her hand. Her grip had been confident and her nails were moderately short. The silver pendant that rested on the upper swell of her cleavage had an oddly cut emerald, offset by five small diamonds. The diamonds were of good but not outstanding quality, probably a third of a carat in all.
“Kate?” said Walter. “Huh. And here I’ve been calling you Kathryn all evening.”
“Yes, you have. Strange, isn’t it?” She sipped at her drink, looking over the lip of the glass at the string quartet. The moment stretched out a fraction longer than was comfortable.
She’s used to meeting and greeting, but doesn’t like small talk, Alex thought. Wears glasses, but skipped them for the sake of her outfit. Doesn’t spend a lot on jewelry, but that pendant is a modern setting. Is she in sales? An administrator of some kind?
Aloud, Alex said, “So, Kate. Did I hear Walter say that you’ve just moved here?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, “I moved here last August.”
“August... the start of the school year?” Kate’s eyes narrowed a bit and she inclined her head at Alex. He thought he might have scored a hit, but he couldn’t tell if she was happy about that or not. He went on, “And how are you finding things here in Lexicon City? It’s not been too difficult of a transition, I hope.”
“Things have been fine, thank you. Although I must admit that I haven’t gotten to see much of the city yet. My new job has been keeping me rather busy. I haven’t even gotten my place properly furnished.”
 “I could certainly give you the names of a few furniture stores in town. I’m sure you’d be able to find some suitable items, regardless of your, ah, tastes in decorating.”
Kate smiled and said, “My tastes? Or do you mean regardless of my budget, Alex?” Her smile assured both men that she wasn’t offended, but Alex had to use a minor pulse of power to suppress a blush even as Walter smiled more widely.
“That depends on what your new job is, right?” Walter sailed into the opening. “What is it you do again? We kinda got sidetracked when you were about to tell me.”
Her smile shifted to a half-hesitant quirk of the lips. “I’m at Lexicon Polytech.”
“Oh?” Alex said quickly, trusting that his effort to stay foremost in the conversation with her was not too obvious. “Well, you look a little too well-adjusted to be one of the graduate students.” He smiled, hoping the joke went over well.
 It did. She smiled and shook her head. “No, and I’m not a postdoc, either.”
“Alex, come on!” Walter rolled his eyes. “Does she look like a Ph.D. to you? Besides, LPU is an engineering technology research school. I mean, really, open your eyes, pal! Have you ever seen anyone who looks less like an engineer?” He winked at Kate, all boyish charm.
In a flash, Kate’s smile was gone as muscles clenched along her jaw line.
Uh oh, Alex thought. He glanced at Walter and winced. Even though Kate’s changed expression shouldn’t have been hard to read, Walter was oblivious.
She looked up at the big man and said, “You’re right, Walter, I’m not a postdoc and I’m not an engineer.”
“See, Alex? I told you.”
“I’m a full professor in the Materials Science department. LPU was so eager to hire me away from CalTech, they threw in tenure. My undergraduate work at Yale was in organic chemistry, and my master’s degree at the University of Chicago was in cryogenic electron capture. For my doctoral work at M.I.T., I invented a method for autoassembly of interphase semitransitional solids. Here at LPU, I’m continuing my work on quantum oscillation dampening fields. Lots of chemistry and physics, but you’re right, no engineering degree.”
She handed her empty glass to Walter, whose mouth was hanging open wide enough for his foot.
“Now then, if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, “I think I’ve had enough entertainment for one evening. Mr. McHenry, it was fascinating to meet you. Truly, it was. Alex, I still need to get the contact info for those furniture shops you mentioned. I’d love to get together with you to discuss it. Perhaps sometime this week we might meet for coffee?”
Alex, pleased and surprised, caught the chagrined look on Walter’ face. However, before Alex could say anything, a pistol shot exploded from the far side of the room, followed by a man’s voice, shouting, “All right, nobody move!”
At the last instant, Alex remembered to temper his reaction down to that of a normal man. He turned toward the sound of the gunfire. At the far end of the room, a dozen armed men, masked and wielding pistols and automatic weapons, pushed their way through the crowd. The guests and partygoers were shoved ahead, some of them tripping and falling. Around the room, dozens of people were digging out cell phones. A half dozen security guards lay unconscious by the doors.


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1 comment:

  1. I understand the engineer's reaction. And I loved Walter's reaction, too. Serve him right.


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