But I am not ready to begin discussing our story's Guest of Honor, and Bessaline Baxter, I suddenly realize, must be the only other person to have deduced this (or else the only one to act on this knowledge); and I at that moment learn from where the alluring danger of her smile came.

Why, I say, are you talking to me?

Her eyes momentarily shoot down at a spot to the right of where she is standing, her sly grin the one of a child who has taken one too many slices of cake (and knows there will be no consequence).

This, she says, is what reporters are supposed to do, no? Listen?

Her tone is so even, too even; the emphasis there only because there is no emphasis. Does she know? Did the psychobiologist's ex-wife run a search on me? No doubt she would have discovered who I really was; even Durham's arrangements wouldn't be able to prevent that. Unless his hand was dipped further into the murky waters of Sprawl politics than I thought; after all, why ever would l be here, golden ticket in pocket, if I were not still in these people's eyes as worthy of invitation as my forged credentials implied?

While I run fractal decision-trees on the tertiary and quaternary entendres of her words based on all possible morphemic connotations, I say:

I think you're confusing me with a therapist.

She tsk's again, the same sound I imagine she's heard so many times and learned to carefully replicate, down to the careful mixture of utter disdain and misplaced sympathy, her ratio just right.

Oh, no, no, she says. Of course reporters and therapists are completely different. Therapists have much higher incomes.

The rosy laugh.

I've always said that it's not friends we need, she says. It's therapists. But around here (and she throws her eyes around the room without moving her body), 'therapist' is a dirty word. She eyes me up and down again.

A reporter will have to do.