An excerpt from French Exit by Patrick deWitt.
“All good things must end,” said Frances Price.
She was a moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years, easing her hands into black calfskin gloves on the steps of a brown- stone in New York City’s Upper East Side. Her son, Malcolm, thirty-two, stood nearby looking his usual broody and unkempt self. It was late autumn, dusk; the windows of the brownstone were lit, a piano sounded on the air — a tasteful party was occurring. Frances was explaining her early departure to a similarly wealthy though less lovely individual, this the hostess. Her name doesn’t matter. She was aggrieved.
“You’re certain you have to go? Is it really so bad as that?”
“According to the veterinarian it’s only a matter of time,” Frances said. “What a shame. We were having such a lovely evening.”
“Were you really?” the hostess asked hopefully.
“Such a lovely evening. And I do hate to leave. But it sounds an actual emergency, and what can be done in the face of that?”
The hostess considered her answer. “Nothing,” she said finally. A silence arrived; to Frances’s horror, the hostess lunged and clung to her. “I’ve always admired you so,” she whispered.
“Malcolm,” said Frances.
“Actually I’m sort of afraid of you. Is that very silly of me?”
Malcolm found the hostess pliable; he peeled her away from his mother, then took the woman’s hand in his and shook it. She watched her hand going up and down with an expression of puzzlement. She’d had two too many drinks and there was nothing in her stomach but a viscous pâté. She returned to her home and Malcolm led Frances away, down the steps to the sidewalk. They passed the waiting town car and sat on a bench twenty yards back from the brownstone, for there was no emergency, no veterinarian, and the cat, that antique oddity called Small Frank, was not unwell, so far as they knew.
Frances lit a cigarette with her gold lighter. She liked this lighter best due to its satisfying weight, and the distinguished click! it made at the moment of ignition. She aimed the glowing cherry at the hostess, now visible in an upstairs window, speaking with one of her guests. Frances shook her head. “Born to bore.”
Malcolm was inspecting a framed photograph he’d stolen from the hostess’s bedroom. “She’s just drunk. Hopefully she won’t remember in the morning.”
“She’ll send flowers if she does.” Frances took up the photograph, a recent studio portrait of the hostess. Her head was tilted back, her mouth ajar, a frantic happiness in her eyes. Frances ran her finger along the edge of the ornate frame. “Is this jade?”
“I think it is,” said Malcolm.
“It’s very beautiful,” she said, and handed it back to Malcolm. He opened the frame and removed the photo, folding it in crisp quarters and dropping it into a trash can beside their bench. He returned the frame to his coat pocket and resumed his study of the party, pointing out a late-middle-aged man with a cummerbund encasing a markedly round stomach. “That man’s some type of ambassador.”
“Yes, and if those epaulets could talk.”
“Did you speak to his wife?”
Frances nodded. “Men’s teeth in a child’s mouth. I had to look away.” She flicked her cigarette into the street.
“Now what,” Malcolm said.