Malone and Marguerite…

"Damn," cursed Malone as he crunched the paper in his fist and chucked it to the floor. A few minutes later, there was a louder oath and another crunched up paper was thrown on the floor with greater force.

He tapped his pencil impatiently on the table and then spun the chair around to face Marguerite. She was sitting quietly across the room with her sewing. There was a mixture of fond amusement and concern on her face as she regarded him.

"You are a woman right?" demanded Malone.

"Last I checked," Marguerite chuckled as she set aside her sewing and walked towards him.

"Then tell me this. What do women want?" asked Malone in exasperation.

Marguerite was puzzled. She sat on the chair across him with a quizzical look.

"One moment, she is glad to have me back. And the next, she is chewing my ears off over something trivial."

Marguerite understood at once. He was referring to Veronica. Malone and Veronica had had another quarrel while they were out hunting with Roxton and Marguerite. Veronica had felt that Malone was not taking necessary precautions in the jungle. Roxton had agreed with her. So did Marguerite in principle, but she had felt sorry for Malone and not added her own admonitions. She considered his question now carefully.

"Everything," she announced with calm certainty folding her arms and leaning back.

Malone's eyebrows rose at her reply.

"Everything," she continued, rising from her chair. "Money, power, glory… every damn thing that a man wants," she spoke with emphasis, waving her hands.

"I didn't know you were a suffragist," Malone chuckled at the thought of Marguerite waving flags in righteous earnestness.

Marguerite smiled and shrugged. "Why not," she argued, "why is ambition a dirty word for a woman?"

"I have always supported the suffragists," he sighed. "But none of that applies to Veronica. At least not here."

"Of course it applies to Veronica," refuted Marguerite, "especially here."

Malone looked skeptical.

"Veronica wants to find her place in the grand scheme of things, just as everyone else," Marguerite stated. "I would back her against anybody on the plateau."

"I know that." conceded Malone, with just a touch of bitterness.

Marguerite frowned. "Veronica is not Gladys."

Malone's head shot up in surprise. He had not thought of Gladys in a very long time. "What do you mean?"

"She does not want you to fight her battles, fulfill her dreams or be her hero."

Malone frowned in perplexity as he tried to follow what she was saying. Then, with an impatient snort, he shook his head like he was clearing cob webs.

"Look I don't care about that. I just want to know …" his voice petered out. Marguerite leaned in.

"…how she feels about me," Malone mumbled averting his eyes from her face as he looked down on his table.

Marguerite's breath was caught. There was a rawness in Malone's face and voice that smote her heart. She suddenly realized that she cared very much for Malone and would do just about anything to not hurt him. She knew what he so desperately wanted to hear. But, an international jewel thief, master of deception and a queen of spies, though she was, she found herself tongue tied unable to lie.

Malone looked up and caught the stricken look on her face. His face fell.

She came closer to him and gently touched his shoulder. "She cares for you, Malone. We all do. And we missed you more than you could ever …" she implored.

Malone shook himself gently free of her hand and dropped his head to his arms in the table. The dull pain in his heart was not ameliorated by the balms of even the sweetest friendship.

Marguerite felt tears prick her eyes. "Talk to her Malone," she begged softly. And then she turned away to leave him alone, her heart burning for the pain of her friend and the disappointment that she could do nothing to help him.