"Ah, here you are Serge. We were only this minute talking about you."
"You already know my husband, Gavin, but let me introduce you to Noelle, she's an absolutely wonderful writer just like you. She writes journal articles; but not boring ones. She's only recently taken a stab at fiction but she's managed to produce three of the best little books that I've ever read. Of course, yours are still in my list of all-time favourites too my dear."
"Always an honour, Orinthia. How do you do Miss...?"
"Noelle is fine, but if you must, it's Professor Moore."
"You two will get along famously. Noelle is some sort of relative of Gavin's. Be nice to Serge dear, he's won all the top awards and I know that he'll get a Nobel any time now. The committee was absolutely mad to overlook him last year..."
"Please... you're embarrassing me..."
"Nonsense, you're divine, and your writing's superb too my dear. Gaston! We're in the desert here and we're dying of thirst. Bring us a drink love..."
A white-jacketed waiter brought a tray of wine and another some hors d'oevres.
"There's a dear..."
"Do you think you should? You've already had three; shouldn't you save some space for later..."
"Don't be silly. It's too early to think about being so tight..."
"So, what's your area?"
"I'm an ethnologist. I do comparative studies of people groups."
"...My specialisation is the Andamanese Negrito but I have worked with all the other Asian pygmy people..."
"You're a busy lady. All that and you find time to write novels... I suppose your pygmies are great fodder for sketching out your characters."
"I wouldn't like to think of them as fodder for anything. They're very complex people despite living simply. As for juggling two careers, anything is possible with careful time management. You do it yourself Gavin, being a student and a great... socialite..."
The momentary silence was potent. Serge sipped his drink, trying vainly to kill a smile.
"My time management is exceptional... Why only yesterday I had to juggle lunch at the club with a committee meeting and an appointment at the hairdresser..."
"And the trip was well worth it, I'm sure."
"Of course it was. I've never looked better. I always say that after a visit to Karlene. She helps to keep me so young."
"I hope you aren't being too much of a pest, Gavin..."
"Definitely not my dear; the boy's a lamb, but thanks for being so concerned..."
"How much inspiration do you really get from your pygmies?"
"None, actually. I don't write those kinds of novels. I write for children."
"Of course, I am flattered that people as distinguished as Orinthia find my adventures with Mr. Moppsey and Captain Tuber charming but I'm usually just inspired by the people around me...."
"As I'm sure we all are..."
"I'm thinking of writing something a little more grown up though -- a fable depicting polygamy in the animal world..."
No one said anything.
"Actually, I'm sure I've read something of yours. Aren't you the person who wrote 'The Dull Utopia'?"
"Yes, I am. What did you think of my characters?"
"What I really liked was your treatment of boredom as the elixir of Jamaican teenage angst. Quite a refreshing perspective... I thought that it captured today's experience well but it also pointed to the undercurrents that will shape tomorrow's reality. It was a great piece of existential writing."
"I was trying for satire, but I'm glad you got something from it anyway..."
"Isn't he a genius? Able to do so many things at once..."
"Do you really believe what you write? I mean, if you writers get your inspiration from the people around you then surely there are some contradictions in your portrayals."
"And isn't that consistent with being a human being?"
"You don't have to believe what you write, but it helps if you do because you might run into a fan in a place like this and he might feel betrayed if you didn't... Did you read the book too?"
"Yes, but I was alarmed by it. Don't take this the wrong way, but I said to myself that you must be going insane. The story was so angry. I was depressed for days."
"But surely that's not a bad thing. Only sociopaths have no feelings and I got a very different impression myself - I felt the author's pain at being forced to comment on this aspect of our time."
"I positively wept when I read the review. I couldn't stop myself."
"You didn't actually read the novel?"
"No, but it was so loaded that even the tiniest snippet told the whole story."
There was little to be said after that. Serge and Noelle sipped their drinks and glanced surreptitiously around the crowded room. It promised to be a very long night.