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32

THE GUMSHOEING THAT was a part of Alan's role as Preston's — flunky? majordomo? somewhere between the two — was conducted mainly on the net. His iBook was set up in a corner of his room where window glare would not be a problem on the screen, and there, each week, once Preston had settled on this week's — predator? prey? somewhere between the two — Alan would Google them and otherwise root around in their lives for their marital histories and financial circumstances and whatever other factoid Preston might enjoy knowing or making use of. Evidences of emotional or mental unbalance were always welcome.

This backgrounding never took more than an hour or two, usually on Sunday morning, and then there was nothing left for Alan to do the rest of the week but amuse Preston whenever the man wasn't off amusing himself. Alan found his employer detestable, but quite liked him for that. Preston was so smug, so sure of himself, that it would never occur to him that anyone, and certainly not some mere hireling, could twit him.

Preston, for Alan, was like some great, overstuffed pi~nata that could be bashed to one's heart's content, because the pi~nata would never even notice. Alan had been private secretary to much worse egotists over the years — though none, admittedly, quite so snide — and so he found this vacation with Preston a true vacation. Hardly any duties at all, except the once-a-week hawkshawing around the World Wide Web, and that was always simple and sort of fun. Except this week.

Wednesday, and he still hadn't found a trace of Pamela Broussard anywhere in the ether. How could she not exist, when she so palpably did exist?

After breakfast Wednesday morning, Alan settled himself yet again at the iBook, but this time he decided to go about the question a different way. The one undeniable fact he knew about Ms. Broussard was that her bill here was being paid by I.T.L. Holdings, a subsidiary of Roper-Hasty Detergent. What if he were to tackle the problem the other way around — study Roper-Hasty to see if he could find any link from the company to our Pam?

So that was where he spent nearly two hours Wednesday morning, oblivious of the outside sun and sail and balmy breezes, trolling the Net instead, rowboating down the organizational charts of Roper-Hasty Detergent.

It wasn't until the third time he came across one particular name that it finally rang a faint, distant bell. A warning bell?

The name was Hubert Stoneworthy, and his title in the Leather Goods sector of Roper-Hasty was executive vice president, Sales. Hubert Stoneworthy. Why did that name seem to reach up to Alan from the screen? Could it be…

He wrote the name on a scratch pad before closing out the search engine and bringing up a different file, the one that contained all the pertinent — and some of the impertinent — information about all of the former Mrs. Preston Fareweathers. And all at once there she was, number two on the hit parade, Helene once Fareweather now Stott, nee… Stoneworthy.

Her brother! It had to be. Helene Stott was using her brother to conceal the true identity of Pam Broussard from Preston. But to what end?

Pam was up to something — that was certainly true — but what? She couldn't serve legal papers on Preston, not here. She could certainly make incriminating photos or such things if she wanted, but Alan knew perfectly well that Preston would merely laugh off anything in that line and ask if he could have a set in wallet size. So what was the woman up to?

If nothing else, this link would have to be shared with Preston right away. Taking the piece of paper with Hubert Stoneworthy's name on it with him, he went out through his sliding glass door and down off his porch, then over to Preston's porch next door, which he stepped up on, and knocked on Preston's glass door, behind which the drapes were firmly drawn.

No answer. Was Preston off with her? Probably.

Well, never mind. He would catch up with Preston at lunch, if not before. Returning to his own porch, he settled down there and went back to reading Dostoyevsky.


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