Chapter Nine

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        I stumbled back to my car in a daze. The day was bright but chilly, normal for April in the Midwest. I was still warm from the small room and the two large detectives. Luckily, I hadn't bothered to bring a coat. The time was early afternoon—too early to visit the Palace and too boring to go back home.

    After my sojourn in the Public Safety Building, I felt more like asking questions than answering them. For that reason, I opted for a short visit with my boss, Barney. He'd still be at the office. I wanted to find out why he'd covered for me with Simone DuPre.

        A half hour later, I'd eaten a quick lunch and was ensconced in a leather chair in front of the big guy's desk. I was close enough to read his lips, but I still didn't know what he was talking about.

    "It's like the Old West, Paulette," he said. "You know, like the wily old prospectors during the Gold Rush."

        I grinned a clueless grin and batted my eyelashes like mad in an attempt to appear both young and foolish. In my experience, old guys like Barney wanted tacit agreement from women, not barely concealed skepticism.

        Barney leaned back into his thick leather chair and put his feet up on the desk. From the way he talked, I expected his choice of footwear would be cowboy boots, but all I saw were brown loafers with tassels. The desk was black walnut and I would have been worried about scuffing the finish, but it wasn't my desk. Barney was a big man with presence. Forget that his middle was going to flab, those broad shoulders seemed able to balance the world.

        "You see, most of the time you got nothin' and you know it, but every once in a while you hit the motherlode. And when you do that, well, most folks got it all wrong."

        He glanced at me and wagged his finger. I was done for if he needed a paraphrase.

        "What do you think most people would do if they found it, Paulette? If they found the motherlode?"

        I shrugged my shoulders in what I thought was a naïve fashion. Barney was on a roll, and I hoped the question was rhetorical. Pulling down six figures a year in commissions, he probably didn't care what I thought. Besides, he'd saved my keister from Simone, which made me both grateful and curious.

        "Well, most guys would tap the lode out first thing. Mine it until everything was gone. But that's pure foolishness, Paulette. Don't you think that's pure foolishness?"

        I nodded. Maybe nobody listened to Barney at home. I fancied that our office manager, Harriet, would have listened to him for the rest of her days, but he barely acknowledged that she was alive.

        "See, it's allocation and management of resources, Paulette. If you're smart, your job is to manage that motherlode, so it doesn't run out on you. Get every single nugget. Go too fast, and you miss something."

        He nodded fiercely as if he'd just decided something for himself. His hair didn't move. It probably wouldn't have stirred in a cyclone because the sand-colored hair weave was glued into place with male hairspray. His cologne, however, made the room smell good, woodsy.

        "You know, they were right about one thing, Paulette. Those old timers. They were right about the turtle."

        "The turtle?"

        He didn't stop and didn't pause, so I figured he hadn't even heard me.

        "See the turtle beat that damn rabbit because slow and steady wins the race, Paulette. Always. You remember that."

        I nodded again, trying to look meek. I'd read somewhere that guys Barney's age also liked meekness in a woman, especially a young woman. If a bear broke into the place this very minute, I was prepared to shriek once, faint dead away, and let Barney save me. Chivalry was not dead.

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