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40

HALL WAS VERY PLEASED with the additions to his staff. Far from being third-raters, lummoxes that Henry Cooper would palm off on him because he knew he couldwhat, in fact, Hall himself would have done if the positions were reversedthese four newcomers were just fine.

Swope, for instance, the new security man. According to Yancey, chief of that section, he was going to be a solid addition down there. Very handy if we should have an incident, is the way Yancey had put it.

As for the driver, Gillette, even the awful Mrs. Parsons gave him high marks, a very agreeable young man, and Mrs. Parsons, in Monroe Halls experience, had never liked anything on this earth except Alicia. He well knew she hated him personally and would talk against him to Alicia if Alicia would permit it, but she would not. She wouldnt fire the old shrew, but at least she wouldnt let the woman poison her mind. Hall could do nothing but keep out of the old bats way, eat her foodsurprisingly delicious, coming from such a sour sourceand wait for some friendly pneumonia to take her away.

Of the newcomers, the butler, Rumsey, was the most problematic, but that was only because, as Hall had to keep reminding himself, he just didnt look like a butler. What he mostly looked like to Hall was a second-story man, someone whose slouching shoulders and hangdog expression would show in their best light at a police lineup. On the other hand, he certainly showed willing enough, and was Johnny-on-the-spot if needed, which he really hadnt been yet.

In any event, the best of the addition was the private secretary, Fred Blanchard. And to think hed almost failed to hire the man. He was a dynamo, Blanchard, and he was worth his salary if all he did was remind Monroe Hall what his life used to be like.

There was a second, smaller desk in Halls office, with less of a view, for the use of a secretary, empty ever since hed immured himself on this property. That desk had been occupied in the old days by a series of impersonally efficient middle-aged women whod handled his mail, his telephone, and his appointments without ever making much impact on him.

Blanchard wasnt like that. He was active over there. The first thing hed done was dig out the phone book and order a subscription to the local newspaper, the Argosy-Bee. When Hall had objected that hed never felt a need to know what might be in the pages of the Argosy-Bee, Blanchard had cheerfully said, We need to know our neighborhood, Mr. Hall, because its the springboard for our return to society.

Are we returning to society?

Absolutely! Youve made your mistakes, but who hasnt? Youve suffered, youve repented. The world wants to welcome you back, it just doesnt know it yet. But it will, it will.

More phone calls followed: a subscription to a clipping service, because we need to know what theyre saying about us, so we can correct it, calls to the local offices of national charities to offer the possibility of money and space for future events, calls to hospitals, volunteer fire departments, Boy and Girl Scouts, on and on.

What Hall was seeing here was community outreach with a vengeance, a thing he could never have done on his own, but which, as he watched Blanchard schmooze his way through the good people, gave him at last hope for the future.

The problem was, the only thing he was really good at was fleecing his fellow man. Hed been born rich, so it might have seemed redundant, but hed also been born with this peculiar skill. It was his only skill, and also his main pleasure.

But once youve become publicly successful as a voracious cheat, as unfortunately Monroe Hall had, you could never ply your skill again, because now everybody was alert. He was retired now, despite himself, and like many retirees, he had absolutely no idea what to do with himself. He had everything hed ever worked for, except the work itself.

Wait. In a pause in Blanchards phoning, here came an incoming call, which Blanchard took with smooth proficiency: Hall residence, Blanchard speaking. Who may I say? One moment, please. He put his hand over the mouthpiece, turned to Hall, and said, Well want the phone company to give us a phone with a hold button.

Fred? Who is it?

Oh. Somebody called Morriscone, Flip Morriscone. Yes? No?

What, is he not coming tomorrow, too? Lets see what the excuse is this time. Snatching up the phone on his own desk, he snapped, Hall here, as Blanchard hung up.

Flips tone was as happy as ever; apparently, the IRS visit hadnt been overly painful, after all. Hi, Mr. Hall. Guess what?

Im no good at guessing, Flip.

I found you a riding instructor!

Astonished, Hall said, You mean horses?

Well, I dont know what else youre going to ride, Mr. Hall. Sure, horses. His name is Jay Gilly, and he wants to know if he can come by tomorrow afternoon. Around two?

That would be perfect, Flip.

Heres the thing, though, Flip said. Since youre a beginner, he wants to bring his own horses.

I have horses, Flip.

He knows that. But these are special, trained to be gentle with new riders. Hell bring them in his own horse trailer, and take them away again after the lesson. Okay?

Well, if thats what he wants to do. And I suppose hell talk about fees when he gets here.

Oh, sure. Be sure to leave his name at the gate, Mr. Hall. Jay Gilly, with a horse trailer. Two tomorrow.

Ill call the gate right now, Hall promised. Thank you, Flip.

My pleasure, Mr. Hall.

Hanging up, Hall said, Fred, call the gate. Therell be somebody coming through at two tomorrow afternoon. His name is Jay Gilly, and hell be bringing horses in a trailer.

Right away, Blanchard said, and did it, and then Hall said to him, Ever ride horseback, Fred?

I bet on them a couple times, Blanchard said, so now I dont trust them.


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