We ran into a headwind on our flight down from the scientific outpost near the North Pole and arrived a little after dawn.
Our pilot, Captain Hendry, had smashed through the plane's landing gear again ("An unavoidable accident," he said) and Ned Scott had forgotten his toothbrush, but other than that, we made it safely.
The party had been going since midnight and we were eager to join the festivities. Couples were dancing to the sensuous rhythms of Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, with Valentino and Pola Negri wrapped around each other in a particularly provocative tango. Others sipped champagne by flickering candlelight or were locked in intimate embrace in the ballroom's deep shadows.
It must have been colder out than I thought for our entrance was greeted with shouts of "Close the door!"
Our own group looked fabulous, if I must say so myself. Nikki Nicholson was daringly dolled up in diamonds and little else, Dr. Carrington had dressed down in a double-breasted blazer and turtleneck, and the Air Force contingent was in crisp dress uniforms. Dipping back in time, Katie-Bar-The-Door had selected a curve-hugging Givenchy gown from the Audrey Hepburn collection while I had opted for a classic black tuxedo.
"No one can see you dance in cyberspace," Katie insisted as she dragged me onto the floor. "Not to mention [our hostess] Tess Kincaid said that at the Willow Manor Ball, everybody dances like Astaire and Rogers—whether they do or not."
"Yeah," I said, "but what if that just means we do the same dance over and over again until we bleed into our shoes?" But she wasn't listening.
Meanwhile, our companions, scientists and Air Force officers alike, attacked the buffet table with a vengeance, filling their plates with delicious hors d'oeuvres, pastries and savories before smashing the dishes and sideboards with machine guns and axes.
Not only was the moment publicly embarrassing—and privately expensive—but Crew Chief Dewey Martin (see photo above) finished off the last of the goat cheese bruschetta before I got so much as a taste, much to my chagrin.
"Dr. Carrington," complained Ned Scott, who had been at the end of the line when the assault started and wound up going hungry, "I'm not gonna stick my neck out and say you're stuffed absolutely clean full of wild blueberry muffins, but I promise my readers are gonna think so."
"Oh, but I am," Carrington said. "They were delicious," then added, "Their development was not handicapped by emotional or sexual factors."
"Who wants some coffee?" chirped Nikki.
Despite the socially-awkward incident with the buffet, things were going swimmingly until the James Arness ice sculpture thawed out and leapt off the center table. No wallflower he, Arness was determined to set the dance floor on fire—literally. "I'm a disco inferno!" he yelled. "Gangway!"
Tess was a good sport, as all good hostesses are, but we knew it was time to leave and with the appropriate apologies, we hustled out of there.
It must have still been cold as we left, though, for all we heard ringing in our ears were shouts of "Close the door!"