Chapter 56

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When I got back from lunch, Becky followed me down the stairs. Word traveled fast, and she wanted to dish about Harriet.


I told her what Harriet said and what I responded. For some reason I couldn't reconcile, I felt a hint of pleasure at Harriet's characterization of me as having a pretty face. Sad, really, that praise coming from even that quarter was appreciated.


Becky remarked that Harriet went into Barney's office for 15 minutes, then left early for lunch. According to Becky, Barney hadn't even made it in for the day.


"When's the big guy due in?" I asked.


Becky checked her watch. "Two or three," she said. "If I don't see him by three, my bet is that he's not coming in at all."


"Hmmm," I said.


Now that Becky had heard my latest, sans incriminating info about Barney, I wondered why she still hung around downstairs. She slipped her straight blond hair from shoulder to shoulder as she grabbed a stack of papers from the market orders console. That was insurance in case Harriet got back from lunch early. Instead of gossiping with me, Becky could honestly admit to processing the market orders for the first half of the day.


She ran a hand through the short curls around her bangs. Jimmy said that she looked like a Chia Pet because the top of her head to her ears was curly hair while the rest ran straight down her back. While I thought of her "do" as a female mullet cut, all business shortness up front with a party in the back, I had to admit that the Chia Pet allusion had merit. But that didn't mean I would tell Becky about it.


"Hey," she said. She checked the computer screen on the market order computer.


"Hey," I said back. The word was the Midwestern form of "Aloha." It meant both hello and goodbye.


She took three steps up the staircase to head back to her desk, then twisted around. "What happened with that shoe thing?" she said.


"What?"


Becky came back down the stairs, put her sheaf of market orders on the desk next to mine, and adjusted the waistband of her polyester skirt. Its aqua color was so vivid that in the flats of Rockford she could probably be seen for miles. When she was done adjusting herself, she picked up the papers and stepped closer to me.


"You know, the red Frederick's of Hollywood shoes in the Princess's office," she whispered.


"Damn," I said. I sat down in my rolling chair and looked at my feet. I sported boring black pumps. "I forgot!"


Becky patted me on the shoulder. "I thought you didn't believe me," she said.


I glanced up at her cute, freckled face. "I didn't at first," I said, "but I think I've been dreaming about those stupid shoes for a week."


"So let's look," Becky said. She used the papers to gesture at my computer. "You can check the database for that woman's name, can't you? Your old boss."


I smiled. "Sure can. Be my lookout, okay?"


Becky nodded and pulled out the extra chair. "Wait a minute," she said. She got up from the chair and walked to the copy machine across from my desk. It was right next to the stairs. She hit the print button and started copying the sheets she'd gathered.


I turned to my computer and logged back into the database. I did that twice a day per protocol. When I left for lunch I was supposed to log off so that unauthorized persons couldn't access our database. Forget the fact that any unauthorized person would have to get past Becky, down the stairs, and know that mine was the right computer.


I typed in Simone DuPre's name and glanced at the stairs while the computer searched our files. The coast was clear, but Becky was almost through copying her stack of paper. The system was set up to be searched by first name, last name, or social security number. On a special screen, I could even search by what kind of stock clients bought or which broker they used. Since we were hooked up to the mainframe in Chicago, my search checked all several million records in the entire firm. If Simone was a client, I would find her.


"Rebecca!"


Becky recognized Harriet's bellow even before I did. "Downstairs," Becky said in her level receptionist's voice. "I'm making copies." She walked up four or five steps to wave upstairs. "I'm almost done," she said.


She came down the stairs and pushed the print button again on the documents she'd already copied. She took a step out of the sight line of the staircase.


"Got it?" she whispered.


I looked at the screen. The white text read, "No such client found. New Search?" I typed "no" and hit the return key. I turned to Becky and shook my head.


"What?" she said.


I shrugged my shoulders. "No dice," I said.


"Has Paulette returned from lunch?" Harriet boomed again from upstairs. Becky climbed up five steps again and responded in the affirmative. "Then she can finish your copying," Harriet said. "I need you up here to answer the telephone."


As usual, Harriet had forgotten that with the new-fangled, telephone technology, my handset would pick up any call that Becky missed. I shook my head in commiseration with Becky, took the sheets from her, and waved as she climbed the rest of the stairs.


Dutifully, I covered her by copying the market order sheets for the third time. I brought them up a half-hour later. By then, Harriet was ensconced in her office with the door closed. Despite the closed door, Becky indicated with gestures that Barney hadn't come in and wasn't expected.


I waved and descended to the basement again. In fact, my chilly little office was my only personal space since my apartment had been torched. And, if I'd had a door, I probably would have closed it.

Detective queens need their privacy when pondering huge questions of impropriety and stupidity. I was afraid I was guilty of both.

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