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20

AFTER THE CHARTER FLIGHT from Philadelphia, after the greeting in the main recreation hall with a bouncy song from the resort staff and a mimosa Roselle didn't drink, after the receipt of the beads the guests would use here in lieu of money, after a bellgirl had escorted her to her room and she'd unpacked her wheelie and taken her after-travel shower, Roselle stood in the airy if impersonal room in front of the drapes closed over the view — both hers out and others' in — and from her store of bikinis, each in its own Ziploc bag, she selected the pale beige number barely two shades from her own body color. It was a powerful marketing tool, as she well knew.

Before leaving the room, she put the wheelie on its back on the bed and opened the Velcro secret compartment to take out the manila envelope and shake from it the photos of Preston Fareweather, wanting to be certain she would close with the right man. These well-fed, self-indulgent rich men of a certain age tended to a type — round, jowly heads and round, flabby bodies, more so in bankers, a little less so in movie producers — so she wanted to be absolutely certain to dock onto nobody but her own Tweedledee among all the Tweedledums patrolling the sands here in this paradise of no consequences. There had been a number of those among the previous week's holdovers, eyeballing the new arrivals as they moved from airport van to recreation hall to reception to the meandering paths to their rooms, but she hadn't risked meeting anybody's eye, hadn't tried yet to make contact, preferring the first strike to be the finisher, like the zap the cow gets as she enters the slaughterhouse.

Yes, here he was, Preston Fareweather, with the usual deficit of hair and surplus of flesh. Even with nothing to gloat at but a camera, he still bore on his lips — virtually the only thin part of him — the hint of that sardonic smile that says, "I'm rich, and you aren't."

In the same manila folder was the thumbnail bio of Fareweather, but she already knew that cold. Venture capitalist from a wealthy family, all the right schools, all the wrong education, fingers in pies all across the economy from New York City real estate to second-wave California Web startups. And now here, hiding in broad sunlight.

Not from me, Roselle thought, smiling back at that smirk. Returning the photos to the envelope and the envelope to the secret compartment, off she went in her bikini, her ballet slippers, her wide-brimmed white straw hat, and her huge dark Jackie O sunglasses. On the prowl.

And there he was, eventually, after nearly an hour of strolling the paths and the beach and the resort's central square. But there he was, sprawled on a chaise longue on the little ground-floor balcony outside what must be his room. That was Preston Fareweather, all right, garbed in nothing but the briefest possible bright red swimsuit; not so much a fashion statement as a provocation.

Protected by her sunglasses, Roselle observed Fareweather sidelong as she sashayed by. She knew he was eying her; how could he not?

Unfortunately, though, Fareweather was not alone on that porch, so she couldn't permit connection just yet. Seated beside her man was a younger, thinner man, a narrow-headed ascetic sort that Roselle had never found of any use at all. He and Fareweather chatted together in desultory fashion — Fareweather, she knew, was saying something to him about her at that very second — and they seemed totally at ease in each other's company.

What was that fellow there for? Fareweather couldn't be a queen, could he? No, not with that many ex-wives. Not unless he was a demon of overcompensation.

Roselle moved on, having made, she knew, the kind of impact he would not forget. Now it was simply a matter of holding herself ready for his inevitable approach.

How would he do it, exactly? Strolling along, enjoying the sunlight, enjoying in a smallish background way the effect she had on the other males she passed, Roselle wondered what method Fareweather would choose in this odd place to attract her attention. Usually, she knew, men of his type drew notice by strewing money around themselves, the way male lions spray their urine to lure the female, but Club Med removes cash from the guests' lives, replacing it with beads for use in the gift shop and bar and so on — a fun gimmick that makes it seem as though you're not spending actual money at all.

How would Preston Fareweather lure the female in an environment without money?

The arrangement in the dining room was mix-and-match, with everyone expected to combine haphazardly among the large round tables, and with guests and staff all sharing their meals together. Not the native maids and gardeners, of course — no point carrying 'egalit'e that far — but the lifeguards, sports instructors, musicians, office staff, and other socially acceptable types mingled happily with the guests, who mingled just as happily right back.

Dining was buffet style — load your tray and take it to any table. Roselle chose a half-full table with a mix of younger and older, male and female, and a spot where she could sit with an empty chair on either side, just in case Mr. Fareweather should happen to feel the urge to introduce himself.

But who joined her, in the chair at her right, within a minute of her taking her seat, was not Preston Fareweather himself but the thin-faced man who'd been sitting with Fareweather earlier today. "Hi," he said. "You just got here, didn't you?"

"This afternoon."

"I'm Alan," he said, with a smile, as he removed plates and silverware from his tray and pushed the tray to the middle of the table with the others already there.

"Pam," Roselle said.

"Hi, Pam. How long you staying?"

"Two weeks, I think."

"You think?"

She shrugged. "I might stay longer, if I feel like it."

Beneath the conversation, her mind was very busy. Why wasn't Alan dining with his friend Preston? Was it Alan who hoped to pick her up? On the other hand, would it be possible to use Alan's presence as a means of meeting his friend? Remain amiable but not quite available, she told herself, and see where it goes.

"I've been here for some time," Alan was saying, "and I must admit, I never get tired of it."

"It's my first time."

"You're going to love it," he assured her.

The arrival of another person at the seat to her left brought that conversation to an end, at least for the moment, as the newcomer said, "Bonsoir, madame," forcing Roselle to swivel her head and smile upon him, a whippet-thin Frenchman in his mid-twenties whose tray was piled high with nothing but fruit and salad and sparkling water.

"Bonsoir," she agreed.

"You are new," he said. His teeth were very white but very small. She thought he smiled like a fox.

"I am new here," she said.

He chuckled; she was amusing. "I am Francois."

"Pam."

"I instruct in the dance."

"Ah."

"You perhaps," he said, with his fox smile, "already know the dance."

"Perhaps," she said, with her own carnivore's smile, and turned away to eat a dainty morsel of her own salad, during which Alan, on her right, said, as though there'd been no break in the conversation, "You know what's the most wonderful thing about the atmosphere of this place? The absolute openness. Guests and staff eating together, for instance, everybody sharing this beautiful place. It really is one big happy family."

"That's why I'm here," she said.

"And the best of it," he told her, "is the lack of money. Only beads. Do you realize how democratic that is?"

"Democratic?" She affected friendly bewilderment. "I just thought it was kind of cute."

"Well, it is. But besides that. Everywhere else you go in the world, you can tell in one second the rich people from the rest of us. But here, everybody blends in."

"That's true," she said. "When you point it out."

He gestured at the roomful of diners. "Look how we're all alike. And yet, would you believe it, there is a multimillionaire in this very room."

She showed a gently skeptical smile. "Oh, really?"

"I've gotten to know him here," Alan said, "and he's just like everybody else. At home, of course, he's the center of the world. His world." Smiling, he gestured again, encompassing all the tables, all the diners, all the grand egalitarian world. "Can you guess which one?"

"Of course not," she said. "Everybody's the same here."

"Exactly what I'm saying." With a wink, he said, "I'll give you a hint."

"All right."

Smiling at her while he nodded his head rightward in the general direction of Preston Fareweather, he said, "He's one of the people at that table over there."

"With the man in the red-and-white-striped shirt?"

Alan had to look. "Yes, that's the table."

"But that's not your millionaire."

Alan's smile broadened. "No, no," he said, "that's an operator of the glass-bottom boat. He's French."

"There are French millionaires."

"Not working at Club Med."

"No, I don't suppose so." She looked at that table over there, let her glance pass over Preston Fareweather, who was thoroughly engaged in his own conversation among his tablemates, and said, "I can't guess."

"In the dark blue shirt," Alan told her. "Now he's drinking wine. See?"

"Oh, him." Roselle smiled, as though made happy by the look of the fellow over there. "He just looks like a very nice man," she said.

"He is," Alan assured her, and then, as though the thought had just that instant popped into his head. "Would you like to meet him?"

So that's how it's done, Roselle thought. "I'd love to," she said.


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