"Honey? You really shouldn’t be upset," Alice said on the drive home. "Second place is quite good. I know it’s not as good as being the big winner, but it’s still very good."
"Yes, that’s so," Rodger agreed tightly.
"You should be proud of what you achieved tonight," she continued, lifting his trophy a little and trying to cajole him into a better mood. "I’m certainly proud of you."
"Thank you, dear." He said nothing else, not wanting to take his mood out on his wife, and both were silent as he turned the Packard off Main Street and onto Sixth. Finally, she spoke again, broaching the topic.
"You think he cheated."
Rodger was quiet for a block at 25 mph. "I shouldn’t say that he did because I certainly have no proof of that. It is obvious that none of the judges thought he cheated, and it would be churlish of me to suggest it. ‘Sour grapes,’ everyone would say."
"I’m not accusing him of anything. It just seems … convenient. That’s all."
Another block went by silently.
"Amy’s birthday is in three weeks," Alice said. "She had wanted him for her party. Now, though…"
"Get Buttons the Clown, instead. She’ll like him."
"I’ve heard Buttons is a lush."
"Oh, I’m sure that’s just a nasty rumor started by a rival clown." He paused. "But if you’re concerned, we could have the party in the morning, just to be safe."
"All right, dear."
He turned another corner and pulled into their driveway. Amy was across town with her grandparents for the night and the house was dark. Rodger made no move to get out and Alice waited patiently.
"Alice, it’s just that … well, am I the only one who thinks it’s just a little strange? After three years of winning, I just lost in the city bridge competition to a man who entered for the first time. A man who, in his day job, bills himself as ‘Myron, the Magician Magnificent’ and whose specialty is sleight-of-hand card tricks."