Chapter Thirty-six

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After patting me on the back, literally, Barney gave me the signal for dismissal, and I didn't have to be asked twice. An unhappy Simone was a dangerous Simone, and I sat entirely too close to chance it. Barney said they would work out the details, and I was prepared to take him at his word.

Once outside the door, I felt safe enough to breathe a long sigh of relief. Barney had saved my ass yet again, and I was grateful. Not grateful enough for what he had in mind but pretty damned pleased nonetheless. I planned to add some serious celebration to my weekend.

I hit the second stair on my jaunt down to the basement when Becky came back to her desk and motioned me over. Had she forgotten some cute thing that her child had done? I reversed course and quickly stood next to her.

"What's up?" I said. Nobody was going to ruin my mood today.

"Shhh." Becky glanced toward Harriet's office and seemed satisfied that she wouldn't overhear us.

"Who's that woman?" she whispered. She pointed at Barney's closed door. Maybe the cloak and dagger was catching because I stopped and peered around me before I answered.

"My boss," I said quietly. "My old boss." Old boss. That sure sounded good.

"What's her name?" Becky whispered again.

"Simone DuPre," I whispered back. "She owns my temp agency, but—"

"She was here before." Becky looked around me at Barney's door.

"I don't doubt it," I said. "Barney's a client of hers. Hell, for all I know, Barney's a lover."

Becky fidgeted with the top button of her blouse. "She wasn't with Barney."

"Then she was probably looking for him," I said.

She shook her head and indicated that I should come closer.  Becky whispered in my ear. "She was with Deborah."

"When?" I said in my normal voice.

"Shhh," Becky said again. She rechecked Harriet's office door, then glanced to see that Barney's door was still closed. "I'll tell you downstairs," she whispered.

I led the way down the stairs and sat at my desk. Becky walked over to check Jimmy's and Will's doors. Both were closed, and I could hear the sound of the updated stock report coming from Jimmy's office.

"Okay," I said, "when was Simone here?"

Becky sat down on my spare chair at the market orders console and pretended to be checking the status of our orders. "It was the week before Deborah was killed," she said, still speaking softly.

Becky watched the computer screen and tapped buttons to check the status of orders that cleared hours ago. This wasn't the first time she faked working so we could talk, but on those occasions she hadn't twisted her chair so she could see anyone coming down the stairs. If the situation hadn't involved Simone and been so ridiculous, I would have thought Becky was scared.

"So?" I asked. I didn't see any reason why Simone couldn't drop by the office to wait for Barney. The guy was never there during working hours anyway, so when was she supposed to catch him? She'd probably seen Deborah while she waited and started a conversation. What Deborah would possibly have to say to Simone was beyond me.

"It was after hours," Becky said, "about seven o'clock. I'd forgotten something and came back to get it. Deborah's door was partway open, and I could hear women's voices arguing. I didn't want Deborah to know I was there because she'd give me work."

I nodded. The Princess was well known for dumping urgent work on underlings right at quitting time. She'd never quite mastered the concept of hourly staff having to leave at five o'clock. She wouldn't have thought twice about giving Becky market orders three hours after the market closed.

"So how do you know the other woman was Simone?"

"Her shoes," Becky said. She gave me a knowing little smirk. "She's wearing the same shoes today."

"How did you see her shoes?" I said. Becky stopped smirking and twisted away. She tapped some more on the keyboard, and rechecked the orders she'd already checked. "Becky?"

She wouldn't look at me. "I snooped," she whispered. "I thought it was great that somebody bitched Deborah out, so I crawled under my desk and tried to look."

The Princess' office was the closest one to Becky's desk. To see into an open door, Becky would have been on her hands and knees crawling past the end of her desk, so she wouldn't be seen. It sounded exactly like Becky.

"So you caught a look at her shoes," I said. "Lots of women wear the same shoes." I wasn't an expert, but I had often seen Becky herself in knock-offs of the Princess' designer footwear.

Becky faced me, leaving her back turned toward the staircase. "Not these shoes," she said. "They're bright red, four-inch, spike heel pumps from Frederick's of Hollywood. Oh, and they have snake-skin embossing."

I stopped a minute to take it all in. The Princess argued with a woman in inferior footgear? It didn't seem possible in the world I inhabited. I doubted that the Princess would allow such a woman to speak to her let alone be her client. But I was missing something: the one fact to clear up everything that came before it.

I pinned Becky with my steely green eyes. "How do you happen to know those shoes are from Frederick's of Hollywood?"

Becky looked down at her shoes, then at her fingernails, and finally over my head. "Catalog," she said at last. "My husband got me one."

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