DESPITE HER forcefulness when she had talked with Mel a half-hour earlier, Cindy Bakersfeld was uncertain what to do next. She wished there were someone she could trust to advise her. Should she go to the airport tonight, or not?



Alone and lonely, with the cocktail party babel of the Friends of the Archidona Children's Relief Fund around her, Cindy brooded uneasily over the two courses of action she could take. Through most of the evening, until now, she had moved from group to group, chatting animatedly, meeting people she knew, or wanted to. But for some reason tonight---rather more than usual---Cindy was aware of being here unaccompanied. For the past few minutes she had been standing thoughtfully, preoccupied, by herself.



She reasoned again: She didn't feel like going unescorted into dinner, which would begin soon. So on the one hand she could go home; on the other, she could seek out Mel and face a fight.



On the telephone with Mel she had insisted she would go to the airport and confront him. But if she went, Cindy realized, it would mean a showdown---almost certainly irreversible and final---between them both. Commonsense told her that sooner or later the showdown must come, so better to have it now and done with; and there were other related matters which had to be resolved. Yet fifteen years of marriage were not to be shrugged off lightly like a disposable plastic raincoat. No matter how many deficiencies and disagreements there were---and Cindy could think of plenty---when two people lived together that long, there were connecting strands between them which it would be painful to sever.



Even now, Cindy believed, their marriage could be salvaged if both of them tried hard enough. The point was: Did they want to? Cindy was convinced she did---if Mel would meet some of her conditions, though in the past he had refused to, and she doubted very much if he would ever change as much as she would like. Yet without some changes, continuing to live together as they were would be intolerable. Lately there had not even been the consolation of sex which once upon a time made up for other inadequacies. Something had gone wrong there too, though Cindy was not sure what. Mel still excited her sexually; even now, just thinking about him in that way was enough to arouse her, and at this moment she was conscious of her body stirring. But somehow, when the opportunity was there, their mental separation inhibited them both. The result---at least in Cindy---was frustration, anger, and later a sexual appetite so strong that she had to have a man. Any man.



She was still standing alone, in the plush La Salle Salon of the Lake Michigan Inn, where tonight's reception for the press was being held. The buzz of conversation around her was mostly about the storm and the difficulty everyone had had in getting here; but at least---unlike Mel, Cindy thought---they had made it. Occasionally there was a mention of Archidona, reminding Cindy that she still hadn't found out which Archidona---Ecuador or Spain... damn you, Mel Bakersfeld! Okay, so I'm not as smart as you are---her charity was directed at.



An arm brushed against hers and a voice said amiably, "No drink, Mrs. Bakersfeld? Can I get you one?"



Cindy turred. The questioner was a newspaperman named Derek Eden, whom she knew slightly. His by-line appeared in theSun-Times frequently. Like many of his kind, he had an easy, confident manner and air of mild dissipation. She was aware that each of them had taken note of the other on previous occasions.



"All right," Cindy said. "A Bourbon and water, go lightly on the water. And please use my first name; I think you know it."



"Sure thing, Cindy." The newspaperman's eyes were admiring and frankly appraising. Well, Cindy thought, why not? She knew she looked good tonight; she had dressed well and made up carefully.



"I'll be back," Derek Eden assured her, "so don't go away now I've found you." He headed purposefully for the bar.



Waiting, surveying the crowded La Salle Salon, Cindy caught the glance of an older woman in a flowered hat. At once Cindy smiled warmly and the woman nodded, but her eyes moved on. She was a society page columnist. A photographer was beside her and together they were planning pictures for what would probably be a full-page layout in tomorrow's paper. The woman in the flowered hat motioned several of the charity workers and their guests together, and they crowded in, smiling obligingly, trying to look casual, but pleased that they had been selected. Cindy knew why she had been passed over; alone she was not important enough, though she would have been if Mel were there. In the city's life, Mel rated. The galling thing was---socially, Mel didn't care.



Across the room the photographer's light gun flashed; the woman in the hat was writing names. Cindy could have cried. Foralmost every charity... she volunteered, worked hard, served on the meanest committees, did menial chores which more socially prominent women rejected; then to be left out like this...



Damn you again, Mel Bakersfeld! Damn the bitching snow! And screw that demanding, stinking marriage-wrecking airport!



The newspaperman, Derek Eden, was coming back with Cindy's drink and one of his own. Threading his way across the room, he saw her watching him and smiled. He looked sure of himself. If Cindy knew men, he was probably calculating what his chances were of laying her tonight. Reporters, she supposed, knew all about neglected, lonely wives.



Cindy did some calculating of her own concerning Derek Eden. Early thirties, she thought; old enough to be experienced, young enough to be taught a thing or two and to get excited, which was what Cindy liked. A good body from the outward look of him. He would be considerate, probably tender; would give as well as take. And he was available; even before he left to get the drinks he had already made that clear. Communication didn't take long between two reasonably sensitive people with a similar idea.



A few minutes earlier she had weighed the alternatives of going home or to the airport. Now, it seemed, there might be a third choice.



"There you are." Derek Eden handed her the drink. She glanced at it; there was a lot of Bourbon, and he had probably told the barman to pour heavily. Really!----men were so obvious.



"Thank you." She sipped, and regarded him across the glass.



Derek Eden raised his own drink and smiled. "Noisy in here, isn't it?"



For a writer, Cindy thought, his dialogue was deplorably unoriginal. She supposed she was expected to say yes, then the next thing he would come up with would be, Why don't we go some place where it's quieter? The lines to follow were equally predictable



Postponing her response, Cindy took another sip of Bourbon.



She considered. Of course, if Lionel were in town she would not have bothered with this man. But Lionel, who was her storm anchor at other times, and who wanted her to divorce Mel so that he, Lionel, could marry her, Cindy... Lionel was in Cincinnati (or was it Columbus?) doing whatever architects did when they went on business trips, and wouldn't be back for another ten days, perhaps longer.



Mel didn't know about Cindy and Lionel, at least not specifically, though Cindy had an idea that Mel suspected she had a lover somewhere, stashed away. She also had a parallel notion that Mel didn't mind much. It gave him an excuse to concentrate on the airport, to the total exclusion of herself; that goddanined airport, which had been fifty times worse than a mistress in their marriage.



It had not always been that way.



Early in their marriage, soon after Mel left the Navy, Cindy had been proud of his ambitions. Later, when Mel was rapidly ascending the lower rungs of aviation management, she was happy when promotions, new appointments, came his way. As Mel's stature grew, so did Cindy's---especially socially, and in those days they had social engagements almost every evening. On behalf of them both. Cindy accepted invitations to cocktail parties, private dinners, opening nights, charity soirees... and if there were two the same night, Cindy was expert at judging which was more important, and turning down the other. That kind of socializing, getting to know prominent people, was important to a young man on the rise. Even Mel saw that. He went along with everything Cindy arranged, without complaining.



The trouble was, Cindy now realized, she and Mel had two different long-term aims. Mel saw their social life as a means to fulfilling his professional ambitions; his career was the essential, the socializing a tool which eventually he would dispense with. Cindy, on the other hand, envisaged Mel's career as a passport to an even greater---and higher level---social life. Looking back, it sometimes occurred to her that if they had understood each other's point of view better in the beginning, they might have compromised. Unfortunately, they hadn't.



Their differences began around the time that Mel---in addition to being general manager of Lincoln International---was elected president of the Airport Operators Council.



When Cindy learned that her husband's activity and influence now extended to Washington, D.C., she had been overjoyed. His subsequent summons to the White House, the rapport with President Kennedy, led Cindy to assume they would plunge forthwith into Washington society. In roseate daydreams she saw herself strolling---and being photographed---with Jackie or Ethel or Joan, at Hyannis Port or on the White House lawn.



It hadn't happened; not any of it. Mel and Cindy had not become involved in Washington social life at all, although they could have done so quite easily. Instead, they began---at Mel's insistence---declining some invitations. Mel reasoned that his professional reputation was now such that he no longer needed to worry about being "in" socially, a status he had never cared for, anyway.



When she caught on to what was happening, Cindy exploded, and they had a first-class row. That was a mistake, too. Mel would sometimes respond to reason, but Cindy's anger usually made him stand firm to the point of obstinacy. Their dispute raged for a week, Cindy becoming bitchier as it progressed, thus making things worse. Being bitchy was one of Cindy's failings, and she knew it. Half the time she didn't intend to be that way, but sometimes, faced with Mel's indifference, her fiery temper got the better of her---as it had on the telephone tonight.



After the week-long argument, which never really ended, their quarrels became more frequent; they also stopped trying to conceal them from the children, which was impossible, anyway. Once---to the shame of them both---Roberta announced that in future after school she would be going to a friend's house first, "because when I stay home, I can't do my homework while you're fighting."



Eventually a pattern was established. Some evenings Mel accompanied Cindy to certain social events which he had agreed on in advance. Otherwise, he stayed longer hours at the airport and came home less frequently. Finding herself alone much more, Cindy concentrated on what Mel sneered at as her "junior league charities" and "silly social climbing."



Well, maybe at times, Cindy thought, it did look silly to Mel. But she didn't have much else, and it so happened she enjoyed the social status competition---which was what it was, really. It was all very well for a man to criticize; men had plenty of activities to occupy their time. In Mel's case there was his career, his airport, his responsibilities. What was Cindy supposed to do? Stay home all day and dust the house?



Cindy had no illusions about herself so far as mental acuity went. She was no great intellect, and she knew that in lots of ways, mentally, she would never measure up to Mel. But then, that was nothing new. In their early years of marriage, Mel used to find her occasional mild stupidities amusing, though nowadays when he derided her---as he had taken to doing lately---he seemed to have forgotten that. Cindy was also realistic about her former career as an actress---she would never have made the grade to stardom, or have come close to it. It was true that, in the past, she sometimes implied that she might have done so if marriage had not ended her theatrical activity. But that was merely a form of self-defense, a need to remind others---including Mel---that she was an individual as well as being the airport manager's wife. Within herself Cindy knew the truth---that as a professional actress she would almost certainly not have risen above bit parts.



The involvement in social life, however---in the mise en sc��ne of local society---was something Cindy could handle. It gave her a sense of identity and importance. And although Mel scoffed, and denied that what Cindy had done was an achievement, she hadmanaged to climb, to be accepted by socially conspicuous people whom she would not have met otherwise, and to be involved in events like tonight's... except that on this occasion she needed Mel as escort, and Mel---thinking first of his goddamned airport, as always---had let her down.



Mel, who had so much in the way of identity and prestige, had never understood Cindy's need to carve out some kind of individuality for herself. She doubted if he ever would.



Just the same, Cindy had gone ahead. She also had plans for the future which she knew would entail a monstrous family battle if she and Mel stayed married. It was Cindy's ambition to have her daughter Roberta, and later Libby, presented as debutantes at the Passavant Cotillion, glittering apex of the Illinois deb season. As the girls' mother, Cindy herself would garner social status.



She had once mentioned the notion casually to Mel, who reacted angrily, "Over my dead body!" Debutantes and their silly, simpering mothers, he advised Cindy, belonged to an age that was gone. Debutante balls, he declared---and thank goodness there were few of them left---were an anachronistic perpetuation of a snobbery and class structure which the nation was fortunately shedding, though---judging by people who still thought as Cindy did---not nearly fast enough. Mel wanted his children to grow up (he told Cindy) with the knowledge that they were equal to others, but not with some conceited, misguided notion that they were socially superior. And so on.



Unusual for Mel, whose policy declarations were normally brief and concise, he had gone on for some time.



Lionel, on the other hand, thought the whole thing was a good idea.



Lionel was Lionel Urquhart. At the moment he hovered alongside Cindy's life in the shape of a question mark.



Curiously, it was Mel who had brought Cindy and Lionel together to begin with. Mel had introduced them at a civic luncheon which Lionel was attending because of something architectural he had done for the city, and Mel was there because of the airport. The two men had known each other casually for years.



Afterward, Lionel telephoned Cindy, and they met a few times for luncheons and dinners, then more frequently, and eventually for the ultimate intimacy between a man and a woman.



Unlike many people who made a practice of extra-marital sex, Lionel had taken the experience extremely seriously. He lived alone, having been separated from his wife for several years, but was not divorced. Now he wanted to get a divorce, and have Cindy do the same, so they could marry. By this time, he knew that Cindy's own marriage was shaky.



Lionel and his estranged wife had never had children---a fact, he confided to Cindy, that he greatly regretted. It was not too late, he declared, for Cindy and himself to have a child if they married soon. Also, he would be more than happy to provide a home for Roberta and Libby, and would do his best to be a substitute father.



Cindy had put off a decision for several reasons. Principally, she hoped that relations between herself and Mel would improve, making their marriage closer to what it used to be. She could not say with assurance that she was still in love with Mel; love, Cindy found, was something you became more skeptical about as you grew older. But at least she was used to Mel. He was there; so were Roberta and Libby; and, like many women, Cindy dreaded a major upheaval in her life.



Initially, too, she believed that a divorce and remarriage would be damaging to her socially. On this point, however, she had now changed her mind. Plenty of people had divorces without dropping out of sight socially, even temporarily, and one saw wives with old husbands one week, new ones the next. Cindy even had the impression sometimes that not to have been divorced, at least once, was somewhat square.



It was possible that marriage to Lionel might improve Cindy's status socially. Lionel was much more amenable to partying and entertaining than Mel. Also, the Urquharts were an old, respected city family. Lionel's mother still presided, dowager-like, over a decaying mansion near the Drake Hotel, where an antique butler ushered visitors in, and an arthritic maid brought afternoon tea on a silver tray. Lionel had taken Cindy there for tea one day. Afterward he reported that Cindy had made a good impression, and he was sure he could persuade his mother to sponsor Roberta and Libby as debutantes when the time came.



There and then---because her differences with Mel had grown even more intense---Cindy might have plunged ahead, committing herself to Lionel, except for one thing. Sexually, Lionel was a dying duck.



He tried hard, and occasionally he managed to surprise her, but most of the times they made love he was like a clock whose mainspring is running down. He said gloomily one night, after an abortive session in the bedroom of his apartment, which had been frustrating for both of them, "You should have known me when I was eighteen; I was a young ram." Unfortunately, Lionel was now a long way from eighteen; he was forty-eight.



Cindy envisaged that if she married Lionel, such limited sex as they now enjoyed as lovers would drift into nothingness when they came to live together. Of course, Lionel would try to make up in other ways---he was kind, generous, considerate---but was that enough? Cindy was far from being on the wane sexually; she had always been strongly sensual, and lately her desire and sexual appetite seemed to have grown. But even if Lionel failed in that area, she wasn't batting any better with Mel right now, so what was the difference? Overall, Lionel would give her more.



Perhaps the answer was to marry Lionel Urquhart and do some bedding down on the side. The latter might be difficult, especially when she was newly married, but if she was cautious it could be managed. Other people she knew of---men and women, some in high places---did the same thing to keep themselves satiated physicaUy, and their marriages intact. After all, she had succceded in deceiving Mel. He might suspect her in a general sense, but Cindy was positive that Mel had no definite knowledge about Lionel or anyone else.



Now, how about tonight? Should she go to the airport for a showdown with Mel, as she had considered earlier? Or should she let herself get involved for the evening with this newspaperman, Derek Eden, who was standing beside her waiting for an answer to his question.



It occurred to Cindy that perhaps she could manage both.



She smiled at Derek Eden. "Tell me again. What was it you said?"



"I said it was noisy in here."



"Yes, it is."



"I wondered if we might skip the dinner and go somewhere quieter."



Cindy could have laughed aloud. Instead, she nodded. "All right."



She glanced around at the other hosts and guests of the Archidona Children's Relief Fund press party. The photographers had stopped taking pictures; so there was really no point in staying any longer. She could slip out quietly, and not be noticed.



Derek Eden asked, "Do you have a car here, Cindy?"



"No, do you?" Because of the weather, Cindy had come in a taxi.



"Yes."



"All right," she said, "I won't leave here with you. But if you're waiting in your car, outside, I'll come through the main doors in fifteen minutes."



"Better make it twenty minutes. I'll need to make a couple of phone calls."



"Very well."



"Do you have any preference? I mean where we'll go?"



"That's entirely up to you."



He hesitated, then said, "Would you like dinner first?"



She thought amusedly: the "first" was a message---to make quite sure she understood what she was getting into.



"No," Cindy said. "I haven't time. I have to be somewhere else later."



She saw Derek Eden's eyes glance down, then return to her face. She sensed the intake of his breath, and had the impression that he was marveling at his own good fortune. "You're the greatest," he said. "I'll only believe my good luck when you come out through those doors."



With that, he turned away and slipped quietly from the La Salle Salon. A quarter of an hour later, unnoticed, Cindy followed him.



She collected her coat and, as she left the Lake Michigan Inn, drew it closely around her. Outside it was still snowing, and an icy, shrieking wind swept across the open spaces of the Lakeshore and the Outer Drive. The weather made Cindy remember the airport. A few minutes ago she had made a firm resolve: she would still go there, later tonight; but it was early yet---not quite half-past nine---and there was plenty of time---for everything.



A porter forsook the shelter of the Inn doorway and touched his hat. "Taxi, ma'am?"



"I don't think so."



At that moment the lights of a car in the parking lot came on. It moved forward, skidding once on the loose snow, then came toward the door where Cindy was waiting. The car was a Chevrolet, several models old. She could see Derek Eden at the wheel.



The porter held the car door open and Cindy got in. As the door slammed closed, Derek Eden said, "Sorry about the car being cold. I had to call the paper, then make some arrangements for us. I got here just ahead of you."



Cindy shivered, and pulled her coat even tighter. "Wherever we're going, I hope it's warm."



Derek Eden reached across and took her hand. Since the hand was resting on her knee, he held that too. Briefly she felt his fingers move, then he returned his hand to the wheel. He said softly, "You'll be warm. I promise."