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The wood-cabinet digital alarm clock on the bedside table began to bong softly, a gentle baritone, a suggestion rather than a call, an alert but certainly not an alarm. In the bed, Brandon Camberbridge moved, rolled over, stretched, yawned, opened his eyes, and smiled. Another perfect day.

Over the years since hed first arrived out here, Brandon Camberbridge had tried many different ways to rouse himself at the appropriate moment every day, but it wasnt until his dear wife, Nell, had found this soothing but insistent clock on a shopping expedition to San Francisco that his awakenings had become as perfect as the rest of his world.

At first, long ago, he had tried having one of the hotel operators call him precisely at noon each day, but he hadnt liked it; the prospect of speaking to an employee the very first thing, even before brushing ones teeth, was unpleasant, somehow. Later, hed tried various alarm clocks of the regular sort, but their beepings and squawkings and snarlings had made it seem as though he were forever coming to consciousness in some barnyard rather than in paradise, so hed thrown them all out, or given them away to employees who were having trouble getting to work on time; the gentle hint, before the axe. Then hed tried radio alarms, but no station satisfied; rock music and country music were far too jangling, and religious stations too contentious, while both E-Z Lisnen and classical failed to wake him up.

Trust Nell. The perfect wife, in the perfect setting, off she went into the wilds of America to come back with the perfect alarm clock, and again this morning it bonged him gently up from Dreamland.

Responding to its unaggressive urge, up rose Brandon Camberbridge, a fit and tanned forty-seven, and jogged to the bathroom, then from there to the Stairmaster, then from there to the shower, then from there to his dressing room where he fitted himself into slacks (tan), polo shirt (green, with the hotel logo:), and loafers (beige), and then from there at last out to the breakfast nook, where, along with his breakfast, there awaited his perfect secretary, Sharon Thistle, and the view out from his bungalow to his perfect paradise, the Gaiety Hotel, Battle-Lake and Casino, here in sunny sunny Las Vegas.

Good morning, he cried, and seated himself before half a grapefruit, two slices of crispy dry toast, a glass of V-8 juice, and a lovely pot of coffee.

Good morning, Sharon said, returning his smile. A pleasantly stout lady, Sharon combined the motherly with the quick-witted in a way that Brandon could only think of as perfect. She had her own cup of coffee before her at the oval table placed in front of the view, but she would have had her real breakfast hours ago, since she still lived the normal hours that Brandon had given up seven years back when hed taken over this job as manager of the Gaiety. The life of the hotel was centered primarily in the evening hours, spilling both backward to the afternoon and forward to late night, and it seemed to Brandon that the man responsible for it all should be available when activity in his realm was at its height. Thus it was that he had trained himself to retire no later than four every morning, and spring back out of bed promptly at noon. It was a regimen he had come to relish, yet another part of the perfection of his paradise.

The view before him as he ate his breakfast was of his life, and his livelihood. From here, he could see over manicured lawns and plantings and wandering asphalt footpaths to the swimming pool, already filled with children no doubt shrieking with joy. (In this air-conditioned bungalow, with the double-paned glass in every window, one didnt actually hear the shrieking, but one could see all those wide-open mouths, like baby birds in a nest, and guess.)

Beyond the pool and some more plantings rose the sixteen-story main building of the hotel, sand-colored and irregularly shaped so as to give every room in the hotel a view of some other part of the hotel, there not being much of anything beyond the hotel that could reasonably have been called a view.

To the left he could just glimpse the tennis courts, and to the right a segment of the stands circling the Battle-Lake. Above shone the dry blue sky of Las Vegas, a pale thin blue like that of underarm stick deodorant. From the trees, had the windows been open and the children in the pool silenced, one could have heard the recorded trills of bird song. Who could ask for anything more?

Not Brandon. Smiling, happy, he ate a bit of grapefruitthe bosss grapefruit was always perfectly sectioned, of courseand then said, Well, what have we today?

Nothing much, Sharon told him, leafing through her ever-present steno pad, except Earl Radburn.


Earl Radburn was head of security for all of TUI, which meant he was technically in charge of the security staff here. But their own chief of security, Wylie Branch, was a very able man, which Earl understood, so Earl, except for the occasional drop-in, more or less left Wylie alone to do the job. So Brandon said, Just touching base, is he?

I dont think so, Sharon said, surprisingly. He wants to meet with you.

Does he? And what do you suppose thats all about? But even as he asked the question, Brandon realized what the answer must be, so he amended his statement, saying, Oh, of course. The big cheese.

Yes, I suppose so, Sharon said, with her understanding smile. The rapport between Brandon and Sharon, it sometimes seemed to him, was almost as perfect as that between himself and his dear wife, Nell, who at the moment was away on another of her shopping expeditions into the wilds of America, this time to Dallas.

Brandon picked up his toast and said, Has he arrived?

Flew in from the East this morning, Sharon reported. We had a cottage open.

Good, Brandon said, and bit off some toast, and ruminated on the state of his world.

For instance, of course they had a cottage open. In the old days, the six cottages around the Battle-Lake were almost always completely booked, with clients ranging from oil sheiks to rock stars, but since the shift in emphasis all over this city to a family trade, and the shift of those splendid high rollers of yesteryear to other oases of relaxation, mostly outside the United States, the cottagestwo and three bedrooms, saunas, whirlpools, satellite TV, private atria, completely equipped kitchen, private staff available on request, all far beyond the budget of the average familywere empty more often than not, and were used these days mostly by TUI executives and other businesspersons having some relationship with TUI. In fact, when the big cheese himself, Max Fairbanks, arrived next Monday, he too would be put in one of the cottagesthe best one.

But here was Earl Radburn already, on Wednesday, a full five days in advance of the big cheese, which did seem like overdoing it a bit. Swallowing a smooth taste of coffee, Brandon said, Have you set up an appointment?

Three P . M , the irreplaceable Sharon told him, consulting her steno pad. With Wylie Branch, in cottage number one.

Where the big cheese would stay. Ah, well, Brandon said. Into every life a little boring meeting must fall. Weve survived worse.

Outside, the silent children shrieked.

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