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27

AFTER A NOONER with the limber Pam, Preston and she showered together, lathering the oddest places, then dressed minimally in his cool, dim room, in preparation for lunch.

As another preparation for lunch, Preston slipped into his shorts pocket the fart buzzer he intended to place on her chair in the dining hall, the first of the jollities with which he intended to test this new one through the week. He certainly hoped that, like most of the women down here, she would condone and accept his little jokes by keeping her mind firmly fixed on his bank accounts, so that he would have a free hand to plague her at the same time that he would be taking pleasure from her in the more normal way. He did hope she'd react the way most of them did, because in fact he quite liked Pam, especially physically.

But then, as they were about to leave for the dining hall, Pam already in her big, sweeping straw hat and deep sunglasses, she said, "Honestly, Pres, I'm not the slightest bit hungry. You go ahead, I think I'll go for a sail."

Preston stared at her, not believing it. "Not hungry? How could you be not hungry? I've just worked up an enormous appetite."

"I'm glad," she said, with that contented-cat smile and purr. "Myself, I just feel like stretching, laaazily stretching in the sun, on one of those little sailboats. I'll see you for drinks, shall I?"

"Yes, of course," he said, keeping disappointment out of his voice. A fart buzzer was less effective in a bar setting, less disgusting somehow. Well, he had other tricks.

They stepped out to the shaded walk, the soft air, the yet-another beautiful day. "Later, my darling," she said, and smiled, and turned away, with all those wonderfully padded joints moving in all those wonderfully complex ways. They were such marvelous machines, women; pity about the brains.

But then she turned back: "Why not come along?"

He actually didn't understand her: "Come where?"

"For a sail. It's wonderful, Pres, you'll love it."

"Oh, I don't think so," he said. He knew there were those among the guests on this island who from time to time went offshore, in sailboats, or snorkeling expeditions, or little jaunts in the glass-bottom boat, or even scuba diving, but he was not among their number. Since his arrival on this island, he had not once so much as set foot off it. If his body insisted on a swim, there was the pool, non-salt and heated. Sailing and those other boat things held no fascination for him at all.

"I'll just wander hither and thither," he told this one, "thinking about our rendezvous this evening."

"So will I, on my little boat," she told him. "Rocking slowly up and down, on my little boat. You'd be astonished at the movements those little boats deliver, Pres, very different from a waterbed, much more erotic."

"In front of the boatman?"

Her smile turned quite lascivious. "They know when to go for a little swim, Pres," she said. "If you ever change your mind, be sure to tell me."

"Oh, I shall."

"Ta," she said, with a little wave, and walked off, all her parts in gentle, persistent pulsation. He watched her go, admiring the look of her, but at the same time sorrowing for the poor fart buzzer, bereft in his pocket.

Alan Pinkleton shared his lunch instead. There was no point playing fart buzzer with a paid companion, so the simple humor machine remained in Preston's pocket as he collected food from the serving tables and joined Alan at a half-occupied table. Lunch was always the least-attended meal, since so many of the residents were off doing physical things here and there around the island.

Preston settled himself and his tray, settled his napkin onto his lap, and said, "A good afternoon to you, Alan. Did you have a lovely morning?"

"No," Alan said. He seemed out of sorts. "I can't find her," he said.

Polite, Preston raised an eyebrow. "Can't find whom?"

"Your new one," Alan said. "This Pamela Broussard. Not a trace."

One of Alan's jobs, as Preston's paid companion, was to do background checks on the women Preston chose to pal around with on this island. But this one he couldn't find? "Oh, well, Alan," Preston said, "all these women have so many different last names, you know. Like Indians with scalps on their belts."

"Yes, but they still have to have a background," Alan insisted. "They have to have those scalps. Pamela Broussard has nothing, no history, nothing."

"Alan, that's impossible," Preston pointed out. "She can't be paying cash for her room here."

"No, that's all right," Alan said, "I've got that much. Pam Broussard's bills are paid by I.T.L. Holdings of Evanston, Indiana, which is very near Chicago."

"And what," Preston asked, "is I.T.L. Holdings?"

"The financial investment arm," Alan said, "of Roper-Hasty Detergent, a Chicago conglomerate with a base business in home-cleaning products."

Preston considered this information. He also considered his lunch and ate some omelet. Delicious. "I wonder," he said, "if she's too rich for me."

Alan didn't understand. "Too rich? Preston?"

"I know Roper-Hasty," Preston told him. "It's no longer entirely family held, but the Roper family still maintains a commanding interest. If Pam Broussard is related to the Ropers, it's perfectly logical the company will pay her expenses, to turn them into something tax-creditable farther down the line. But that would mean that Pam would be far too rich for me to play with. The only reason these women put up with me is because they want my money. If Pam Broussard is a Roper, she's already at least as rich as me, and all my little witticisms will fall quite flat. In fact, I could be quite extensively humiliated. Before we do anything else, Alan, find out for me for sure and certain just who Pam Broussard is when she's at home."

"I signed on to this death ship as a paid companion," Alan pointed out, "but it seems to me you're converting me into a private eye."

"Let's hope," Preston said, "you're good at it."


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