Most messengers were elderly men, black teenagers or scruffy white guys in their twenties. This one looked like an athlete or actor. He was thirty-two or three, broad-shouldered, with slightly wiry black hair and blue eyes. He was dressed casually but well in chinos and Docksiders with no socks.
He had a nice smile and a humorous, electric style Samantha liked. "I have a delivery of some really great resumes for Sid Klein," he said in an Irish-inflected tenor. Sid was the human resources manager.
"What firm are you from?" Samantha was skeptical that he could really be a messenger, though she thought he might be an immigrant from Ireland who hadn't found another job.
"Educated and Dedicated." She knew them; E&D was used by several of Singers' vendors, including Psy Systems, the recruiting firm whose name was on the envelope.
"Well, you certainly look educated and dedicated," Samantha said, surprising herself because she usually was the world's least flirtatious woman. She was a graduate student at Columbia, writing a masters' thesis on Tammany Hall politics, and working nights to support herself. Born and raised in New York, Samantha never showed a stranger she was interested in him; but there was something about this man which made him sexy but not dangerous. She was sure afterwards she had greeted him with what she called her "hungry smile", and was embarrassed.
"Sid's gone," she said, signing the receipt.
"I think they want him to see these first thing in the morning, before he can hire anyone else." He had a way of saying banal sentences with enthusiasm and an edge of self-deprecating humor. His eyes widened whenever he spoke and he always seemed ready to laugh; he made you want to help him in any way possible.
Then Samantha's quiet moment ended. Two phone lines rang at once. She picked the phone up, smiling and shrugging, and he echoed the gesture and left with his receipt.
A few weeks later, Ken Copeland, the Psy Systems recruiter who had sent the resumes, asked Samantha to dinner. Ken called almost every evening to leave messages for Sid and to talk to project managers who worked late. Samantha suspected that Ken was interested in her because he so often called when he knew Sid wouldn't be there, and stayed on the phone a little too long.
Ken asked if she would have dinner with him on the weekend. "I thought: we enjoy our little talks," he said, "so why don't we meet?"
Samantha was smart, self confident and funny, but the invitation made her hesitate, because she also knew she was not beautiful. A year before, she had had a disastrous date with a man she knew over the phone who had been terribly disappointed when he saw her. He had told her on the phone she had a whiskey voice, a husky film noir voice, and he had clearly had an image of her way out of line with the reality.
"I like you, Ken, based on what I've heard so far, but I think meeting you would be a mistake."
"I'm not dangerous," he said lightly. "We can even make it lunch if you think that would be safer." The sentence ended with the hint of a laugh. She was very pleased that incipient rejection didn't make him brusque or heavy-handed.
"I'm not afraid of you. I just have reason to think that when you see me, you'll be disappointed."
"I know something you don't."
"I've seen you, and I still want to have dinner."
"You have not!"
"I have. You're about five three, thin, dark brown eyes, long black hair, and you have really great skin."
"When did we meet?"
"I won't tell you, but when you see me you'll know."
"I won't meet you unless you tell me."
"I delivered some resumes a few weeks ago, didn't I," he said in an Irish accent.
"You were the unlikely messenger." She was flattered and unsettled-- exactly the reaction Ken had wanted to induce in her.
"Now will you have dinner with me?"
Samantha agreed to lunch and within a few weeks, began seven years of sexual partnership and a friendship which lasted a lifetime.
Not every really attractive man is as successful with women as Ken Copeland. He struck the perfect balance between sex and safety. If a woman wanted sex without any emotional consequences, Ken was the man. He was smart and clean and emotionally very even; possibly shallow, he was always happy, ready for sex, a movie, a ballgame, or a drive in the country. He had a teddy bear quality; when he was with you he was completely yours, but you could put him away for as long as you wanted without losing him. When you took him out again, he was exactly the same: keen, fun, ready to play. He was the only man Samantha had ever met who seemed incapable of possessiveness or jealousy. He wanted to be with lots of women, but all of them nonexclusively. He said he had had more than one hundred partners, and Samantha saw no reason to doubt him. He was a great friend if you didn't expect operatic heights. You could talk to him about anything; he remembered your birthday and was attentive in bed.
Aside from two drunken one-night stands in college, which she regretted, Samantha had had only romantic relationships. The shortest had lasted for days and the longest three years, but she had always approached men with the expectation that she might be embarking on a relationship which would last the rest of her life. Before Ken, she had never believed you could have sex with a friend as a way of spending time together, like going to the movies. If someone had described such a friendship to her, Samantha would not have admitted it was possible.
After some early experiences in which he broke women's hearts, Ken had become a master at the art of avoiding misunderstandings. He had more integrity than most other men who obsessively seduce women. Ken wanted to be with women who knew exactly what he was and what not to expect from him, and who liked him that way. First, he tried The Speech, describing to prospects his lifestyle and intentions, but this backfired more often than not. For many women, it was a major turn-off-- he knew he had a tendency to talk too much--while others simply didn't believe him (as men don't when women say, "Don't fall in love with me"). So he simply learned to read the signs, and pick women most likely to fall freely in with his plan. He had picked Samantha because she was friendly and funloving, but cerebral and even a bit cold.
Ken had a few regular partners, usually three at any time. Besides these, there was always an endless series of one night stands and casual flings.
He didn't press knowledge of his other relationships on her; he was too courteous for that. But she discovered early on that one could talk to him about any kind of thing. Her natural prudery was overcome by her curiosity; it was interesting to discover that she was almost never jealous, and then not for very long, so his frequent adventures and her rare ones became a major topic of conversation when they were together. Ken, for his part, was never jealous; she could describe sex with another man to him in detail and it was no different than talking to him about politics or anything else. He didn't get the tormented little-boy look of perverted interest, either. He was able to give some clinical advice, based on his extensive experience, and he also had an almost infallible bullshit detector, so that he could usually tell her if another man was lying to her.
Over time, Samantha perceived the model for his long-term relationships. They were all women about ten years older than she was, divorced or never married, and frightened of or uninterested in intimacy with men. Like any good friendship, their relations with Ken involved a very evenly balanced mutual exploitation: Ken was as convenient for them as they were for him. Samantha was frightened of being like those women when she reached her thirties. The life she lived now was not the one she hoped to live then.
It occurred to her that by seeing Ken she might be exhausting the energy she would need to seek a different life later. She filed this away for later consideration; she was not in a hurry to change anything now.
Samantha didn't see anyone else for the first six months she saw Ken. But he did, and she started to date other men. She wasn't in love with any of them, nor did she really want to be, but she approached them ostensibly as she had before, open to the idea of permanence. Sooner or later, on the edge of intimacy with each man, she confronted the idea of Ken. She did not want to get close to a man but lie to him, so when it came down to it, she would have to tell the truth, or break off with Ken. If she told a man about Ken, he would go away, or if he did not, it would be because he himself was like Ken. And she didn't want another one in her life ( while Ken would have been happy to have any number of Samanthas.)
One night, when they had been seeing each other about a year, she was in a taxi which was in a six car collision on the FDR Drive. Samantha was bruised up, not badly hurt, but was taken to the hospital for a neurological scan. She asked a nurse to call Ken, and he came to the hospital in the middle of the night, even though he was with another of his regular women, Deirdre Tanaka, at the time.
Six months later, Ken was sleeping next to Samantha in his apartment when the phone rang and he left her at three in the morning to help Deirdre deal with the unexpected news of a death in the family.
Samantha's plan was to become a professional writer of historical nonfiction. She had entered the graduate program thinking she would seek a college teaching post to support herself, but she had already published a few articles and she was hoping to succeed solely as a writer because she did not really love the idea of teaching very much.
Her field of interest was the intersection between politics, law and crime in New York City. The disappearance of Judge Crater, the mysterious tin box of a Tammany Hall politician, the bloodspattered corpse of an assassinated mobster in a barber chair, were Samantha's meat. She believed she would be able to write books published by mainstream presses but accepted by historians as based on solid, academic-quality research. She had several book proposals circulating. Between classes, schoolwork and the night job at Singers' there was no time to do anything during the week, so she set aside Saturday and half of Sunday as her writing time. She was extremely self-disciplined and wouldn't make plans with Ken or anyone else which infringed on her writing. This schedule adapted to Ken's life extremely well; he was best in short bursts anyway, and on when they spent an entire weekend together she would sense his claustrophobia. Once every other month or so, she would take a weekend off and they would go out to Montauk or up to the Catskills, but even then she would bring her materials with her and Ken would go out fishing or skiing, or meet a local buddy, or attend a minor league baseball game by himself.
Samantha lived in the West Village in a rent-stabilized one bedroom apartment lined with bookcases. She owned thousands of books, more than she could possibly put on the shelves, and the overflow were in boxes under her bed, in the closets, and in storage space in the building's basement. Every few years, she culled her collection and sold off a few of her less interesting books to make space, but she hated ever parting with a book. If she had already read it, she believed someday she would read it again or need to refer to it, and selling an unread book was an admission of failure. She had a particular interest in strong women writers, of whom Edith Wharton and Doris Lessing were her particular favorites.
Samantha invested most of her disposable income in books. She had a couple of nice pieces of jewelry that her mother had given her, including the diamond earrings she wore every day, but she rarely bought any for herself. Her wardrobe was not extensive: long dark skirts and highnecked blouses for work, jeans or corduroy pants and comfortable shirts for classes and weekends. She wore little makeup. She always looked neat and nice but she knew she did not stand out in a crowd until you began to appreciate the force of her personality and her humor.
Ken was not an introspective man, but he found himself thinking one day about Samantha and femininity. Although Samantha was a bit of a tomboy, she was entirely feminine, but not in the old sense of demureness or artifice. She was intelligent, self-confident and strong and thought differently about things than he did. She was entirely comfortable in her skin, as he was (though Ken did not realize his comfort involved vanity and hers did not.)
The closest Ken ever came to losing her as a friend was the day he wanted to buy her some clothes. She was so furious with him that she got in a cab and went home at four on a Sunday afternoon, an hour after she had arrived. Her pride was wounded by the thought that Ken was ashamed of the simplicity or inexpensiveness of her dress. She cut off the conversation before he even had a chance to say what he wanted to buy her. She could imagine Ken dressing her up in a low-cut black gown and bright lipstick. "This isn't Halloween," she said. She was so little concerned by appearances that she had never before considered that when she was out with Ken, people might think they didn't belong together.
Ken dressed very casually but expensively. When Samantha met him, she didn't know how to tell the difference. But he bought his chinos, his shoes and shirts at stores where he paid four or five times what she would. She liked the sports jackets that he wore on a Saturday night, but was stunned to discover that they cost much more than everything she had on put together (save the diamond earrings).
Ken lived on the Upper East Side. He complained that within weeks after buying his apartment, he had figured out he was really more of a West Sider, but he had lived there for eleven years now. There were few books in Ken's apartment, mainly bestselling paperbacks he read on planes and some sports anthologies. He had invested heavily in custom furniture and cabinetwork, and in a large screen television and VCR (which he rarely watched). His apartment, on which he had spent so much money and where he spent so much time with women, was beautiful but sterile; it felt more like a luxurious hotel room than a place where a man really lived. Ken seemed to perch there rather than live there. He bought expensive things--mirrors, light fixtures, appliances--but was not interested in them.
Samantha knew he earned about $300,000 a year. Money was the one area where Ken was diffident but it was not hard to figure out, from other hints in the conversation, how much he made. Samantha had dated one other man with a high income who had refused ever to spend time in her apartment. Ken seemed to like being at her place more than his own, probably because hers was a home and his was not. He slept better in other people's beds, he sometimes said.
He was the senior employee in a recruiting firm, Psy Systems, which specialized in placing computer programmers. The firm had been founded fifteen years before by Lyle Doggett, known as "Dog", who had grown up in the same Long Island town as Ken and was seven years older than him. Ken had joined Psy upon graduating from college; it was the only job he had ever held. Dog said that every morning upon waking up he thanked God for his luck. He had founded a small firm--originally a two person shop, with a partner who had since left--and over a period of years, had brought in five or six younger friends to help out, of whom Ken was the first. A recruiter could work alone and make a nice living on the commissions from two or three placements a month; Dog was not ambitious and he had never imagined that with the help of his friends he would one day have a firm that employed forty recruiters and did so many millions in revenue. He had simply wanted to have people around him whom he liked, and it sometimes seemed to him now that in the early years they had spent more time playing pranks on one another than they had working. In more recent years it had become a serious business, with overhead and accountants and young salespeople to train.
Ken spent his days on the telephone, calling programmers and urging them to take jobs with Psy's clients, who were banks, brokerages and insurance companies. Most of the early friends of Dog's who had joined the firm were off the telephones now, managing other people or handling the account side of the business; Ken's strength was his handling of candidates, and he wanted to stay on the phone, though he was also responsible for overseeing a few younger salespeople. Ken was the best salesperson at Psy, and was thought by his peers to be the best in the industry. He had a large following of programmers who trusted him and enjoyed dealing with him, and in some cases had placed the same candidate in five or seven different jobs over the years.
Everyone knows that there comes a moment at which, in order to make any kind of sale, the prospect must be "closed". This is often thought to mean that the salesperson manipulates, bullies or cheats the prospect into signing the contract; but Dog and Ken held that a "close" means understanding the applicant's objections and realistically and truthfully removing them. For example, one of Ken's famous closes at Psy had involved finding a job for a spouse in order to convince a programmer to relocate. Dog, himself an excellent salesman, closed people through constant discussions of their problems and tireless efforts to arrange for solutions. A colleague of Ken and Dog once said that Dog sold the way he skiied: he made "gorilla turns" by lifting his entire body on the poles and landing in a different place, a style which requires strength but no finesse. Ken was much more graceful than Dog. He also knew you had to be truthful with people, but his closes, unlike Dog's, had an element of theater. The artifice did not involve inventing information, but stage-managing it. Ken was a master at timing the disclosure of information. By the time an applicant took a job, he knew everything he needed to know, but he rarely knew it the same moment Ken did.
Samantha discovered this the day she and Ken pulled what became a famous Psy prank, right up there with the kidnapped duck umbrella and the exploding stuffed monkey. Candidates for recruiting jobs at Psy went through a rigorous interview process, which included spending a day in the office listening to the recruiters. Some people who had previously seemed interested in the job and likely to be good at it would drop out when they recognized what it really meant to spend your day on the telephone, and it was better to find out before they took the job. Ken brought Samantha into the office and introduced her to Dog as a candidate who had been interviewed on a day he had been traveling. Though Ken had not forewarned the other salespeople, they all immediately joined in the deception, swearing to Dog they had met Samantha before. In reality, none knew whom she was, and part of the fun was looking forward to finding out at the end of the day if she was really a candidate, or Ken's cousin from Peoria, or a girlfriend, or someone he had hired from an escort service or Actor's Equity.
The office was on the 23rd floor of a skyscraper in the Wall Street area, but was located in the center of the island so that there was only a small glimpse of the Hudson River and none of the East. The recruiters all sat in a large open bullpen, at desks separated by low partitions. Only Dog had an office, and it had a glass door so he could see everyone. He was a very nice man who suspected a prank but enjoyed the idea of it. He walked over to Samantha and asked her, with a smile, "When did you say you were up here before?"
Ken had a phone he used for training new salespeople. It had an extra headset attached so that the trainee could listen to the conversation. Samantha heard a database programmer angrily tell Ken that it would be a waste of both their time for him to see a particular company, as they were not using the latest technology there and it would not advance his career goals.
Ken said, "I know something you don't." And he told the applicant about a pilot project upon which the company was embarking, using the technology that most interested him and in which the applicant could play the lead role.
When she heard Ken say, to another applicant, "I know something you don't," she realized it was his trademark line and the key to understanding him. Ken had closed her on agreeing to their first date the same way he closed a systems programmer.
That day, she identified several other phrases he regularly used. To a "cold call", a stranger he was speaking to for the first time, he would say, "I have some information that may interest you." To a candidate with whom he already had a relationship, he said, "I have some interesting information for you."
All day long, as he spoke to candidates about systems and software, tools and projects, sign-on bonuses, stock options and pension plans, Ken kept flashing her his madcap smile, and using his electric hand movements to sketch a silent commentary on the conversation.
She heard Ken schedule interviews for his applicants with hiring managers, and then rehearse the candidate. She understood that a first encounter between a programmer and a potential employer was an event carefully stage-managed by Ken. It was a game with three players, in which two had a partial view of the board, while only Ken saw the whole board.
At the end of the day, he asked her, "So do you think you would like to be a recruiter?"
"I'd be very good at it..." She saw Ken light up with pleasure, and knew that if she were interested he would love to have her work in the office with him. Clearly, he thought she'd be a good salesperson; she filed that away to think about later, as she had been raised by her parents--professor and ex-student wife--to think of sales as the lowest form of human activity. "...But I'd hate it," she concluded.
And Ken shrugged, flashing another variant of his mad smile. His great vanity didn't extend to thinking that what he did was important, and he wasn't going to defend it. His drunk, comic smile was full of energy and mischief; at such moments Samantha really loved him.
By the third year of her relationship with Ken, Samantha had become very interested in Deirdre Tanaka. Though Ken now talked freely about all his women, only two were around long enough to become real to Samantha, and the other, Keri the potter, sounded strange. Deirdre was an Irish-Japanese woman raised in San Francisco who had attended film school at NYU and worked in the New York City film office, granting permits to filmmakers to use streets and public facilities and then helping to solve problems during production. During school, she had lived for two years with another student, a man whom she had loved and who had dropped her in the crudest possible way after selling a script. Deirdre had been broken-hearted and later turned to Ken as a way of passing time and avoiding solitude while waiting for another love to become possible. Deirdre sounded interesting because of the affair which had ended badly. Samantha had never been so much in love with a man that it affected her breathing or her heartbeat; she had never fallen on the floor writhing in pain after a breakup, nor had a romantic setback that took her more than a week or two to get over. Ken had a photograph of Deirdre and she had a sad, reflective Irish-Japanese beauty; she looked like a woman who never laughed. "I'd like to meet her," Samantha said to Ken one day.
Ken was shocked at first. She supposed it would be like two of his applicants meeting to exchange notes on his recruiting techniques--it would probably violate a sterile seal and allow Ken's proprietary information to seep from one container to another. But then Ken's love of pranks took over, and he proposed an alternative: He would take Deirdre out on Friday night to David K's restaurant and Samantha would sit at the next table and observe her.
Samantha found the idea distasteful but rather interesting. For one thing, it was a stage managed event, like one of his job interviews but with a significant difference: she was apparently being admitted to information equality with Ken and only Deirdre would have a limited view. Did this mean that Samantha held a higher rank in Ken's life than Deirdre, or would he admit Deirdre to equality in some other game, possibly with Samantha as the mark? It was possible, she thought, that Ken really saw her as more of an equal, because she was cold like him and Deirdre was sentimental and tragic.
Then she had a thought which really bothered her. "Have you ever done that to me?" Ken smiled an impish, guilty smile; it delighted him almost as much to be caught as to stage a prank, she thought. "When?" she asked. "In the early weeks of our relationship," he said. "But I wouldn't do that to you now."
She agreed to the plan, went home and called Manhattan information for Deirdre's number. Samantha called and introduced herself. "Isn't this remarkable," said an astonished Deirdre. "I was just thinking about you." The two women met at seven the next morning for breakfast at the Time Cafe. Deirdre was beautiful but about fifteen pounds heavier than in the photograph. The two women, as sometimes happens, immediately knew they would become close friends. At breakfast, Deirdre told Samantha something Ken didn't know: Deirdre was planning to leave him. "He hasn't done anything wrong, but I'm not cut out for this life, and its killing me. I'm putting on weight like crazy. I think I really want to get over Paul and find another man I can love. I want to get settled." She didn't think she could ever muster the energy to find someone for as long as she was seeing Ken, something Samantha worried about too. She had come to detest New York, where nothing worked out the way she wanted, and had submitted her resume for several film office jobs in Western cities.
They talked for almost two hours and hardly spoke of Ken at all.
On Friday night, Samantha was already at her table at David K's when Ken and Deirdre were seated nearby. Immediately after ordering her food, Deirdre turned and said dreamily, "Oh, hi, Samantha. Did you get the tickets?" Samantha waved two tickets to an off-off Broadway play and the two women left the restaurant, followed by Ken's bellowing, astonished laugh. They went for pizza, then saw Richard Foreman's Rhoda in Potatoland in the Village. The next day, Ken, who was not angry, told Samantha that it was the best prank anyone, including Dog, had ever played on him.
Deirdre and Samantha became best friends. Samantha had never had such an intimate friendship, even in childhood. Deirdre broke off with Ken, as she had told Samantha she would; Samantha doubted they could have become so close otherwise. Though Samantha believed she was not jealous of Ken, certain momentary moods told her otherwise. Later in life, she discovered she was as possessive as anyone else. With Ken she had kept a tight clamp on herself, because possessing him was not possible or even desirable.
Deirdre cut Ken off entirely, not for Samantha's sake but because "I don't know how to be friends with a man." And Samantha spent less time with Ken, because she also wanted to set aside time for Deirdre, who now had nobody. A year later, Deirdre was offered a job out west and left New York. The two women rarely let a week pass without talking on the phone. Deirdre never came to New York, but once or twice a year Samantha would visit her or they would meet somewhere else to vacation together.
Samantha and Ken had now been together almost five years, and she could detect some changes in him. He didn't seem to enjoy himself as much; he was more tired and careworn about work and the responsibility of "raising the kids"--bringing along the latest group of new salespeople. His social life, like a top losing momentum, had begun to wobble. For several years, he had had a stable, four-cornered situation with Samantha, Deirdre and Keri the mad potter; and before each of them had joined his rectangle, there had been another woman in her place. It was always women who left the rectangle; once you joined, it appeared Ken never threw you out. Ken would then recruit a replacement, from among the group of prospects he was working on at the moment. Someone with whom he would otherwise have had a brief affair became a long-term player.
But there was no replacement for Deirdre. Samantha wasn't sure why, but she had some theories. It seemed that the group of prospects was smaller than before; people were more frightened of AIDS than they had been, and Ken was only interested in the women most likely to be conservative about these things. And he had less energy. Several prospective replacements for Deirdre failed to materialize, or had clashing expectations. Perhaps Ken's radar wasn't as good as it had been; in earlier years, he would have detected and avoided these women before the collision. He finally resorted to doing something he had never done before: he began dating a woman twelve years younger than him who didn't know he was seeing anyone else. Maggie was an NYU drama student from Kansas and part-time waitress; he had recruited her in the No-Name Cafe on Houston Street where she worked. She fell in love with him. He couldn't resist talking to her about other women, because he no longer had much other conversation, but reconciled his desire to do so with her lack of knowledge by putting everything in the past tense. Thus Maggie thought that Samantha and Keri were ex-girlfriends of his. For the first time he had to stage-manage his own life carefully. When Samantha was at his apartment, he asked her not to answer the phone any more; for years she had done so without a second thought, and had given his number out to people who might be looking for her on the weekends. When Maggie was over, he wouldn't pick up the phone at all, and kept the volume turned down on the answering machine so she couldn't hear the voices of the people leaving messages. Samantha was so angry she stopped calling him at home at all, and only telephoned him at work. She wondered if Ken was becoming sentimental, and if this was the first step towards marriage and conventional behavior for him.
Ken had told Maggie about Keri's home-made paper-mache parrot and fish earrings. She found one while re-arranging the pillows on his couch, and she knew it had not been there when she did the same the week before. Ken didn't want to break up with her, but he had to; he could have kept her only by forswearing all others, in fact by marrying her, and he wasn't ready either for the reality or to continue the farce on a more seriously dishonest level. Maggie, betrayed and then dropped by Ken, had a really meaty role, and she played it to the hilt, calling him a dozen times a day, at home and work and even in the middle of the night, weeping hysterically, and turning up at his door. For some months, Ken didn't want to sleep at home and spent a lot more time in Samantha's apartment. "You really hurt someone this time," she told him.
He hadn't meant to. He was in the conventionally guilty position, of a man who didn't want to crush a woman, but had failed to tell her the truth. He knew he had changed, but Samantha had also: she was more critical, more impatient with him. She didn't seem to like him as much as she had.
Maggie vanished and her friends dropped an information blackout around her, so that Ken never found out if she had gone home to Kansas, found a new love or was in a hospital. He did not try very hard to find out, either.
Samantha had long since gotten her master's degree and left Singers' Bank. She had published ten articles in various magazines, though not the ones that paid best, and she had a book proposal under serious consideration by the small but venerable house of Henry Holt. She now worked part-time in the Columbia library to support herself. The only survival in her life from the year she had met Ken was Ken himself.
She thought about him increasingly with dissatisfaction. Deirdre had just begun a satisfying relationship with an architect; she was going very slowly and carefully, but the early signs were good. Samantha didn't think she wanted what Deirdre wanted, but she wasn't sure. She had said many times in her twenties that she had no desire to be married and have children; she was ashamed of her mother's life, the bright student with much promise who became a housewife. Babies horrified Samantha; even her mother had sometimes commented, half-jokingly, that no-one had less of a natural desire to pick them up than Samantha. If she didn't want babies, what would she want from an exclusive relationship that she didn't get from Ken, except a daily presence? She wasn't sure she could get her work done if there was a man underfoot every day.
After Maggie, Ken stopped looking for another replacement for Deirdre; it had now been two years since she left. Keri was still there, and Samantha met her for the first time on Ken's birthday one July. Samantha and Ken were eating dinner in the sidewalk cafe at Fiorello's, opposite Lincoln Center, when Keri happened by. Her studio was in the neighborhood. She joined them to drink a kir royale, but not for dinner. Samantha thought she was mannish and hard; she had a runner's body, lithe and really strong, and what Samantha thought of as a lesbian brush-cut. The inference that Keri was bisexual seemed confirmed when she looked at Samantha with a version of the "hungry smile" with which Samantha herself had greeted Ken that first night at Singers' Bank. Keri lacked small talk; she did not seem really interested in Ken; her aloof nature and preoccupation with herself made her uninteresting to Samantha.
When Keri left, Ken and Samantha each made the other swear that the encounter was really a coincidence. It was the best laugh they had had in some time.
Sex with Ken was a low-intensity affair these days; it was a comfortable way to seal the weekend, like drinking a glass of Grand Marnier together.
Samantha began seeing Bruce Moorman, a Columbia football player seven years her junior, whom she met in the library. He was everything she had once avoided in men: jealous and possessive to the point of being Germanic. She didn't tell him about Ken, and at times had the uncomfortable impression that she was a female Ken, creating her own version of Maggie. Every time she spent an evening with Bruce she resolved not to see him again, but she was drawn to his intensity. Bruce couldn't control his temper but he badly wanted to; he carried an image in his head of the kind of man he wanted to be, and struggled to become him, while Ken had no such Herculean labor, because he already was everything he wanted to be. Bruce's temper manifested itself in tirades against taxi drivers and waiters; he didn't dare turn his anger on Samantha, though she saw it flare for an instant at a time before he damped it down. He was wild about her, and making love with him was like attending an opera performed by very talented but uneven actors. He tried so hard, in bed and in life, that you were always frightened he would flub his lines, as in fact he often did. The heights were higher, the lows lower than with Ken. If Bruce had a low moment, he wanted to fall on the floor and die, while Ken was as reliable as a clock but gave no more these days then a clock did. She could not imagine a lifetime with Bruce--it would be too much work-- but being with Bruce made it less possible to imagine continuing with Ken.
Samantha didn't love Bruce, and much of the time didn't even like him. Here was a man constantly willing to use his great passionate energy to wrench himself into new forms, to make himself into a different man to please her. Yet it was hard to be kind to him. Samantha liked to tease and her teasing, because directed by keen insight, could become cruel if not tempered by tenderness. It was useless to tease Bruce, because he had no sense of humor. She had never seen herself as a casually cruel person, but she almost became one with him. She would criticize him and then with clinical interest, see him contort himself so as not to respond.
The relationship proceeded like all others founded on lies. The lover with more information could not stop herself from dropping hints, while the lover with less information worked hard to protect himself from the truth. Eventually something unimpeachable, like a parrot earring in the couch, overcomes the self-deception. Samantha decided not to let it come to that, partly out of a return of her old integrity, partly because Bruce presented the dark passion of the classic murder-suicide.
She organized her solution around Daniel Torrent. A handsome dreamer, her gentle co-worker at the library, he first became interesting, then appealing and finally indispensable to Samantha. They were friends for months before becoming lovers. Daniel was interested in someone else, and liked to talk to Samantha about her; she took a sisterly interest and gave him advice. Daniel had so little energy there were days he seemed barely to exist, like a fish just keeping alive at the bottom of a pond under the winter ice. He had neither Ken's charisma nor Bruce's passion, but some other quality entirely his own and even more interesting to her. There was no word precisely right for this quality; it was a kind of quietness. He began coming into the city early to have lunch with her; afterwards, they would go back to her apartment, Samantha would shut herself in the bedroom and work, and Daniel would take a nap on her couch. At three-thirty, they would take the subway up to Columbia to begin their shift together. It was the napping that disarmed her; both the fact that he slept on the couch while she worked and the way he looked while sleeping. It was like having a child. She began taking little breaks from writing her book (she had gotten the contract with Holt) to watch him sleep.
Bruce knew about Daniel, and hated the fact that she was friends with a man, but had to accept it because the man he wanted to be would trust her. The first thing Samantha did after sleeping with Daniel was to call Bruce--he was on the road, playing in another city--and break up with him. It was her last casual cruelty to do it over the phone, but he was going to be gone awhile, and she would have been a little afraid to tell him in person anyway.
One day while Daniel was asleep in her apartment, Samantha called Ken at work and asked him to lunch. He was busy and didn't want to come, but she said, "I have something to tell you." He met her in her neighborhood and over omelettes in the Time Cafe, she told him that she had met someone whom she did not want to lie to and with whom she wished to be exclusive. She had already told Ken about her new friend, the dreamer who was in love with someone else, so the only new fact was that they had slept together a day or two before and that she felt she was falling in love with him. Ken asked to meet Daniel and, after some hesitation, she took him back to the apartment. She was sure he would not make a scene or tell Daniel anything he didn't now ever need to know. Daniel didn't wake up and she decided not to wake him. Ken looked at him a few moments, interested, reserved, wary. She walked Ken downstairs, and. he confessed he was a little frightened he would never see her again, that she would disappear like Deirdre. She was moved to hug him, and she said into his ear, "You and I are friends for life."
"So you think you want to settle down? Do the domestic thing? Kidlets, and only one man?"
"I don't know about the kidlets yet," she said, "but I want only one man."
He held her hand, and swung it back and forth between them, to cover up his hesitation. There were questions he wanted to ask, but he wouldn't. Finally he said, "Well, I'd have fallen asleep on your couch a few times if I knew that's what it took."
That broke the tension. "Liar," she said laughing, kissed him and went back upstairs to Daniel.