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Moved, he returned her embrace. 'Thanks, Clarise.'

Georgine Delmann herself answered the door. Joe recognized her from her photo in one of the Post articles about the crash. She was in her late forties, tall and slim, with richly glowing dusky skin, masses of curly dark hair, and lively eyes as purple-black as plums. Hers was a wild beauty, and she assiduously tamed it with steel-frame eyeglasses instead of contacts, no makeup, and grey slacks and white blouse that were manly in style.

A minute ago, the night had seemed gracious, and he had seen nothing to fear in it. Now it loomed, and he repeatedly checked his rear-view mirror.

As Clarise and Bob followed him onto the porch, Joe said, 'When they found Nora, was the photograph of Tom's grave with her?'

'Be careful,' she said.

When Joe told her his name, before he could say that his family had been on Flight 353, she exclaimed, to his surprise, 'My God, we were just talking about you!'

Although he'd finished more than half of his second drink, Joe felt no effect from the 7-and-7. He had never seen a picture of Nora Vadance; nevertheless, the mental image he held of a faceless woman in a patio chair with a butcher knife was sufficiently sobering to counter twice the amount of whiskey that he had drunk.

The metropolis glowed, a luminous fungus festering along the coast. Like spore clouds, the sour-yellow radiance rose and smeared the sky. Nevertheless, a few stars were visible: icy, distant light.

For a moment they were silent, pondering the imponderable.

'We found it on the table when we arrived from San Diego,' Clarise recalled. 'Beside her breakfast plate.'

Clarise said, 'And consider this-the Los Angeles Times was open beside her plate-'

When the 747-400 fell, the Delmanns lost their eighteen-year-old daughter, Angela, who had been returning from an invitation-only, six-week watercolour workshop at a university in New York, to prepare for her first year at art school in San Francisco. Apparently, she had been a talented painter with considerable promise.

Charles and Georgine Delmann lived in an enormous Georgian house on a half-acre lot in Hancock Park. A pair of magnolia trees framed the entrance to the front walk, which was flanked by knee-high box hedges so neatly groomed that they appeared to have been trimmed by legions of gardeners with cuticle scissors. The extremely rigid geometry of the house and grounds revealed a need for order, a faith in the superiority of human arrangement over the riot of nature.

'-and she was reading the comics,' Bob finished.

'Something's wrong, Joe. Something's wrong big time.'

When Joe told her his name, before he could say that his family had been on Flight 353, she exclaimed, to his surprise, 'My God, we were just talking about you!'

Moved, he returned her embrace. 'Thanks, Clarise.'

Georgine Delmann herself answered the door. Joe recognized her from her photo in one of the Post articles about the crash. She was in her late forties, tall and slim, with richly glowing dusky skin, masses of curly dark hair, and lively eyes as purple-black as plums. Hers was a wild beauty, and she assiduously tamed it with steel-frame eyeglasses instead of contacts, no makeup, and grey slacks and white blouse that were manly in style.

'-and she was reading the comics,' Bob finished.

As Clarise and Bob followed him onto the porch, Joe said, 'When they found Nora, was the photograph of Tom's grave with her?'

For a moment they were silent, pondering the imponderable.

The Delmanns were physicians. He was an internist specializing in cardiology, and she was both internist and ophthalmologist. They were prominent in the community, because in addition to their regular medical practices, they had founded and continued to oversee a free clinic for children in East Los Angeles and another in South Central.

As Clarise and Bob followed him onto the porch, Joe said, 'When they found Nora, was the photograph of Tom's grave with her?'

They shook hands. The handshake became a brotherly hug.

'We found it on the table when we arrived from San Diego,' Clarise recalled. 'Beside her breakfast plate.'

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