Cover

Prologue

Since my tenth birthday, I knew what I wanted to become: rich! As rich as Scrooge McDuck. He was my role model. Well, he’s male, and well, he’s old. But still the wealthiest man in the world. Okay, the wealthiest duck in the world, but who’s picky, right?

 

 

 

Chapter One – Maurice

I let myself drop down into the designer chair. Bad mistake, as the chair was extremely uncomfortable. I hit my left shoulder so hard that I cried out and a few teardrops ran down my cheeks. Guy, my best friend, looked me over closely. I knew exactly what he was thinking: Those tears had been there before – as my ruined make-up clearly indicated. I am very fastidious when it comes to hair-do, make-up, and nails. Thanks to Marilyn who always made sure that I never forget to pay close attention to these things. I always do, except when I´m in misery.

I presented my hands to Guy. “It’s just so awful!“, I wailed.

Guy looked at them and agreed, “You're absolutely right, sweetie, you’ve got a split nail and the polish chipped off.“

Really?“ I looked closer at my fingernails. “Oh, that´s awful! What a luck, that I was able to get an appointment with you so quickly.”

Guy was the most popular nail designer in town. In order to get an appointment you had to call in months in advance. That I was able to call and get in right away was due to two facts: First, Guy and I were best buddies for over a year now, secondly, he knew I would only come in on short notice when there was an emergency.

He understood I was in dire need for his expertise – his excellent listening skills as well as his nail art. Grief and despair were best overcome with perfectly shaped and artistically polished nails. I thought again at the reason for this sudden need for an appointment. My hands trembled and my voice quivered.

“You’re not going to believe it!“

“What exactly, honey? Spill the beans.“

“Fred has left me.”

“Fred is an idiot!“

I sighed.

“Well, thanks, but he’s the third guy who walked out on me this year! It has to be me.“

Guy shot me a strange look, raised en eyebrow, and shook his head.

“Maybe you’re just looking for the wrong type of man.“

Now it was my turn to shake my head.

Fred is CMO – Chief Marketing Officer at Drofano! I have learned so much from him. Just think of his pointer regarding Grannaforce shares! I made a good thousand Euros! But seriously, it wasn’t all that bad. Fred was good in bed and Maurice the prettiest cat on earth!“

Again some tears trickled down my cheeks.

“Oh dear, Maurice....”

“What’s the deal with this cat, Maurice?“

“I fell in love with Maurice and now I won’t ever see him again.“

“It sounds to me that you’re missing the cat more than Fred.“

“Fred and Maurice, they’re one, they belong together.“

“Then I’m glad I don’t have a cat!“

“Well. I can't have you anyway.“

I sighed. The perfect man was sitting right in front of me and he had to be gay. I looked at him closely. Oh yes, he was way too good looking and neat. Besides, only two weeks ago I saw him downtown walking hand-in-hand with a man. Well, I didn't wear my glasses that day, but I'm pretty sure it was him. The way he was walking and moving, so very typically for Guy, it must've been him!

Guy smiled lazily, “Yeah, that's true.“

I sniffled one more time and looked thankfully up at him.

“It’s good to have a best male friend I can go to when I forswear all men.

Guy looked at me, thoughtfully.

“I can’t imagine you in a world without men since so many of them swarm around you!“

My mood uplifted, I grinned.

“Since there are hardly any women working in the marketing department, I’m doomed to become weak again and fall for another man. I just can’t say no to a hot looking dude able to help me climb the ladder to success!“

Guy stared at me for a long while. Then he concentrated again on my split nail.

Are you at least a little bit angry at Fred?“

I gave that a brief thought.

“I suppose at the moment I’m only sad. But then, as I read in a magazine the other day, anger follows sadness.“

“In that case, let’s hope that you don’t ruin any more nails when you’re angry!“

 

Guy Manilo, which was his actual name as well as his name as an artist, was a professional nail designer. In all of Ludwigsburg, one couldn’t find a better nail artist then him. Out of an unassuming pink nail he could create a masterpiece, always perfectly matched to its wearer. His choice of profession became apparent early on during his childhood. He had looked at the nails of his family and friends and dreamed of means and ways to beautify them with polish and tinsel. He told me once that thanks to his very tolerant mother and her nail polish he was able to experiment with nail designs. He invested his pocket money not in Playboys (this in itself made it clear how unavailable for me he was) but in anything to do with nail improvements. I was sure that all the girls had loved him. He didn’t come on to them and he improved their nails for free and with enthusiasm.

Very quickly, he had advanced his career and became famous. With only sixteen he opened up his first shop, but because he was not of age then, it was in his mother’s name. And the clients were crazy for him. Guy just had to look at a woman, make chitchat, inspect her nails, and he knew intuitively what nail type this particular woman was. Be it extravagant, alternative, modest, conservative – for each type, he had a personalized solution. During my many visits I had watched him create the most dazzling pieces of art, many of which on my own fingernails! We’ve known each other for a year now. When I first walked into his studio, he was twenty-eight, me twenty-four. It was almost a repeat of today, me with a tear-streaked ruined make-up, showing him my nails, and a similar “man story.“ Since then he witnessed several relationships gone awol. But this time it was worse. I had never been in tears over a cat before – the case was hopeless.

“Kim, are you up for lunch?“

I glanced at him, and asked, “Do you have time? Usually you’re up to your ears in appointments!“

Well, it is my lunch break and I’m hungry,“ he smiled. “Besides, I just cannot abide the idea of letting you walk out of my shop with a heavy heart. Can the work on your nails wait a bit?“

“Let’s go.“

My best friend was going to spend his lunch break with me to make me feel better! Keep a good thing if you have found one, I said to myself. Nail damage and a broken heart were forgotten. Lunch was on!

“How about we go to Storks? They have the best pasta this town has to offer. Aglio e olio, or all'arabiata, huge portions, and....”

“Stop it, my stomach’s growling,“ Guy was laughing.

“And it’s affordable during lunch hour,” I added.

Storks was owned by a sturdy guy called, incidentally, Storks. For many years now, he was cooking Italian dishes – and he wasn’t even Italian! He just read up on them in cookbooks. His talent was extraordinary. His dishes couldn’t have been more Italian. The tomato sauce simmered with celery and carrots over low heat for at least ten hours at a time, and the noodles were perfectly ‘al dente.’ All of his customers praised his dishes. His restaurant was always full to capacity, but Storks had a big heart. There was no such thing as a problem, and if there was no free table in the dining area, he would let you dine in the kitchen. Guests were sworn to secrecy.

“Don’t tell anyone, otherwise I am in big trouble.”

Nobody would have breathed a word since everybody loved Storks.

Outside of Storks we made ourselves comfortable in a sunny spot. Each of us sat on a small cushion (even the kitchen had no seats available), balancing a full plate of penne all'arabiata, and munching away vigorously. The combination of Guy’s company and good food worked to dispel my misery. I found myself gradually leaving the “sadness” state and entering the “anger” state. Using my fork like a regular sword buckler, I exclaimed, “Just you wait and see, Fred!”

“A full stomach works wonders, right, Kim?“ Guy said and added, “How about a night on the town, like, say, going to the movies?”

We often went out together: to the movies, theater, museums, and the Ballet. We watched romantic, funny, or action movies, Oscar Wilde on stage, Shakespearean plays – our interests varied. Guy was Beethoven and I more like The Three Stooges.

“That sounds great, but let’s do something tomorrow evening. Tonight, I have plans.“

“That’s fine!“

 

Chapter Two – Beautiful Maurice

The next day we met in front of the Poseidon, the largest movie theater in Ludwigsburg. We bought our tickets and while we were buying popcorn, Guy noticed how happy I looked.

“Why so cheerful?”

I laughed, “That’s because I had myself an adventure yesterday.“

“Don’t tell me that there is already a new man in your life?” Guy sounded aghast.

“No, of course not,” I said indignantly. “I don’t fall in love that fast!”

Inwardly, Guy swiped his forehead.

“Okay, you got me curious. What kind of adventure?”

With a big grin on my face I answered, “I saw Maurice again.“

“The cat?“

“Of course! Maurice, the cat!“

“So?“

“I took the liberty and borrowed him. I took the dear thing to the pet beautician.”

“You did what!?“

“I felt sorry for the poor thing with its boring ‘fur-do.’ So I let him have a perm. Quite an expensive one, mind you.”

“A perm?“ Guy was stunned.

“Yes, it looks good on him. And who says Persians cannot have curls?“

“Well, I guess so.“

“And his new fur color looks nicer as well. Who wants to be the every-day-gray when one can be blue?“

Guy gulped before he groaned, “Blue!“

“Yup, blue!“ If possible, I grinned wider.

“Azure-blue. You should see him. He is the most adorable and beautiful cat ever. And that means something, as he was already beautiful. The new ‘look’ only improved him.“

“Azure-blue!“

“Hey, Guy, what’s wrong with you? You keep repeating everything I say!“

Guy gulped again and made a show of watching intently the ad on the screen. Then he turned to me and asked, “And what about Fred?“

“Oh, he’s the same as always. Although I would have liked to see his face when he saw the new and improved Maurice – and the bill for the perm. It’s his cat, after all!“

“I hope we never become enemies!“

I sidled up to Guy and smiled warmly up at him.

“You are my best friend ever, now and forever! My lovers might walk out on me, but you, you stay.“

Guy sighed quietly, “Yes, I stay.“

Chapter Three – Marilyn

Already in my PJs, I sat on the combination sofa/bed in my miniscule one-room-apartment. Everything was small: the kitchen, the bathroom, the main room; but the rent was affordable. I pushed number ‘1’ on my speed dial, calling up Marilyn Staufer. Marilyn’s my world’s best girlfriend ever since we were little girls. After only five seconds she picked up.

“Do you have a minute?” I asked before she even could say Hello.

“Actually, I can give you half an hour. Then I have to leave. What’s up?”

Short and to the point, I related my news. Time was money and we only had half an hour. Besides which, we knew each other for so long that sprawling explanations were futile. Our friendship was as close as ever, even though 130 kilometers separated us. Marilyn had stayed in Wuerzburg, our hometown, while I had moved close to Stuttgart in order to work in the marketing department of a large energy company. It was a stepping-stone professionally speaking and an opportunity for success I couldn’t have passed up at the time.

Marilyn laughed, “Oh, Kim, what I wouldn’t give to see Maurice!”

“I thought you might and thanks to my foresight I can provide you with a wonderful picture. I’ll mail it to you right away.”

“I bet you have about a dozen pictures of Maurice but none of Fred.”

“Wrong, I have about a hundred pictures of Maurice but none of Fred.”

I paused for a moment and reflected.

“You know what? I actually liked the cat more than the man.”

“You don’t say! So far, have you ever truly loved any of the men in your life? Do you have just one picture of any one of them?”

I sighed, “You know me too well. You’re right; I don’t have any picture of any of the men of my past. What do you think, should I enter into a relationship with a cat?”

“Kim, a cat takes time and money to keep!”

I laid myself down on my bed. “Why do you think I don’t own one? I neither have the time nor the money to spare on a pet.”

“Well, right now you don’t.”

“Well, at least not until I made my first million!”

“Do as I do – try hooking up with a millionaire.”

I grinned, “Let’s wait and see which one of us reaches her goal first. Do you have a new millionaire-candidate on the line?”

Marilyn was a true replica of her namesake: hourglass figure, slender waist, blond hair, pert nose; in short, a man’s wet dream come to life. Our mutual bond was formed early on in childhood when we noticed that we both had the same dream and goal in life: to get rich. Only the means to get what we wanted differed. I tried my luck on my first million by working hard and economizing uncompromisingly. Marilyn on the other hand was forever trying to catch and marry a wealthy man. Even as teenagers our different methods were evident. I invested every euro I earned, took on every imaginable teenager job available (collecting trash, working on factory lines – as long as the dough rolled), and followed diligently the rise and fall of the stock market. Marilyn? She invested every cent she had in her body: nail polish, cosmetics, designer clothes, and fitness-studios. While she perfected the look, the pout, and her flirt technique, I increased my knowledge of economics. We made a perfect team: Marilyn made sure I knew how to put on a striking but still modest make-up, kept me informed on the latest fashion and before there was Guy, she even took care of my nails. On the business side of things, I briefed her on the best investment possibilities on the stock market.

Marilyn laughed out loud in answer to my question.

“In fact, I do have a new prospect in sight. He has a doctorate in physics, is worth about two millions and to top it off, he’s tall and sexy.”

“Only two millions? That’s not much.”

“That’s a start. Once I have my hands on his money I’ll increase it putting to use your valuable stock market pointers.”

“Right,” I snorted. “You’ll take every cent the poor guy has and use it on your body. I know you!”

“Only until the ship is tightly secured in the harbor, meaning until he popped the question and I’m wearing his ring!”

“You’re better being careful. He might set up an iron-fisted marriage contract.”

“I’ll have my way, you see!”

I had absolutely no doubt about the men-snaring skills of my friend. Curiously enough though, she wasn’t any closer to her goal than I was to mine. There was always something not quite right: either a previously unknown hereditary disease, or an absolutely horrible mother-in-law, or terrible sex (unbearable, we agreed), and so on. One thing though was for sure: not one of the ‘candidates’ had walked out on her. Quite the opposite: They were devoted to her, showered her with expensive gifts, and were all together heart-broken when she eventually terminated the relationship.

I sighed once more and said, “Have fun with the physicist. I hope he’s good in bed and your body cult is worth the trouble.”

“I tell you all about it – tomorrow. Gotta go, my door bell’s ringing. Sleep tight, Kim!”

And with a last click, she rang off.

While I was getting ready for the night – I wanted to get an early start at work – I mused over the different worlds my friend Marilyn and I seemed to inhabit. I needed my full night’s sleep, Marilyn though went out to spend yet another exciting evening. Was her way the right way? She was lavished with expensive gifts, was taken to exquisite restaurants, spent romantic hours with her beau, and visited snobbish parties. For me, it boiled down to: if it wasn’t my money, it wasn’t worth it. Quite frankly, with my hometown-girl-appearance, I am good-looking in a nice and common enough way, but nothing compared to Marilyn. Besides which, any talent for bewitching is lacking on my side. A pout seems goofy to me, eye jangling ridiculous and I also dislike being reduced to my body. My strong attributes were my keen business sense and my above-average intelligence. Not too many men find these characteristics attractive in a woman. Which man likes the idea to be beaten ten times in a row in a game of chess – and his opponent being his lover? Marilyn might be as good in playing chess as I, but she would let her men win each and every game - happily so. Here you have it: that’s why men walked out on me but not on Marilyn. Oh pooh, what depressive thoughts! Decisively, I beat my pillow. Time to sleep. I was I. Marylin was Marylin. We both would reach our goals sooner or later. How and when, only time would tell. Now, it was time for my nightly ritual: I shook up the snow globe sitting on my bedside table. I smiled while I watched the snowflakes dance and flurry around my first hard-earned euro, which was sitting throne-like in the middle of the snow globe. Once the snowflakes had settled down, I turned off the light. As I fell asleep, the last I saw was my favorite dream image: the humongous money vault of Uncle Scrooge.

 

Chapter Four – Leopold

Exactly one hour after my alarm had gone off, at 7:30 am, I entered my tiny office. I loved the sight the window offered: the skyline of the city of Stuttgart, approximately 10 kilometers away. For me, Stuttgart was the metropolis where power, success, and wealth were waiting for me to be taken. That at least was what I was hoping for. I sipped from the coffee I had gotten out of the machine on my way up to my office. It was hot, with lots of milk, and without sugar. Just the way I liked it. And the best part: free for employees!

I quickly glanced over my agenda for today: at 8 o’clock a meeting with the CEO of the company, Dr. Moose, together with Leopold, the head of marketing. Well, I could think of better ways to spend my morning, but since it was with the ‘big cheese’, as I called Dr. Moose, it might be an opportunity to advance my career within the company. All I had to do was to find the best way to present myself and to prove what I already knew: Leopold didn’t measure up to my superior marketing knowledge. I checked my business outfit. Okay, it was second-hand, but still, the latest fashion and I saved at least a hundred euros!

Thinking of and smiling about my good fortune regarding shopping, I made my way to the office of Dr. Moose. Today was my day - I could feel it!

“Good morning, Steff!”

“Good morning, Kim!”

Steff was the executive administrative assistant of Dr. Moose. She was smiling conspiratorially at me and said, “He is in an excellent mood today!”

“Enough so for a pay increase?”

She pulled a face.

“You got one only three months ago!”

“Three months is a long time, and time is money!”

Steff grinned, “You’re funny, Kim.”

I grinned back, “I take that as a compliment.”

With gusto I opened the door. Knocking beforehand was out when one – as I have done – made friends with the personal assistant.

Both Leopold and Dr. Moose were seated at the conference table. They both looked up at my sudden appearance.

“You’re too early!”

“Only the early bird catches the worm!” I grinned from ear to ear.

Before they bent their heads over their paperwork again, they gave me a strange look. I was used to that.

“Well, since you’re already here, why don’t you bring us some coffee?”

Geez, Dr. Moose didn’t even look up! Who was I to him? I was disgusted. His personal gofer? No way! I was holding the position of marketing assistant! I was the one who devised the genius strike of a marketing strategy that made ENERGION look like an ecological sound company without putting extra effort in the scheme! That should count for something around here, shouldn’t it? Granted, it wasn’t the most environmental friendly strategy, but it worked. My goal was to become head of marketing before the end of the year, basically take over Leopold’s job. I was of the opinion that Leopold was totally clueless about the job. My reproachful look should have made them shrivel but I could have saved me the trouble. Neither one of them gave me a second glance. So I put my wounded pride aside, opened the door, and through clenched teeth I shouted to Steff, “They want coffee. They told me to get them coffee – ME!”

“Oh, don’t take it so personally,” Steff smiled up at me. “They are often so deeply involved in their work, they don’t notice whom they address.”

She got up and said, “Just go back inside, I’ll take care of things.”

I swore to myself that once I earned my first million I would take on Steff – there was just no better personal assistant than her.

For the second time this morning, I opened the conference room door and again both men seemed to be surprised by my entrance. They probably hadn’t expected me back so soon from the ‘coffee-mission.’

Therefore, the first question out of Dr. Moose’s mouth was, “Where is the coffee?”

Unperturbed, I smiled at him and said, “Ms. Diesel will bring it in just a moment, sir.”

I stepped up to the table. Something seemed to be wrong, I noticed, as Leopold started to shuffle the spread-out paper back into a pile and shoved it into a black bag.

“Let’s begin with our meeting, the other topic can wait until later.”

“You’re right,” assented Dr. Moose. “We’re talking about a new marketing strategy: The New Look. You’re a genius, Leopold!”

I swallowed, “Actually, that was my …”

Leopold cut me short, “Yes, we know.”

Really? Did Dr. Moose really know it was my strategy outlined on the table or was I just being told to hold my tongue? I would find out and then: Beware Leopold!

“Ms., well, Ms…” Dr. Moose was trying to remember my name. He seemed to be blind as well as not being able to remember my name, since my name was written in bold letters on the company nametag I had pinned onto my jacket.

“Ms. Kim Ritter, marketing assistant,” Leopold helped out with a benign smile on his lips. “She’s my assistant, you know,” he added for good measure.

“Yes, well, Ms. Ritter, you’re the one doing the fine tuning, then, designing flyers and so forth, being the right hand to Leopold’s left.”

“I suppose so, but …” I couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

“Then let’s get going with it and let us talk about the details.”

Dr. Moose led us to another table in the room on which MY plans were spread out. So my gut feeling had proven right, Leopold was deceiving me. He was showing off my plans as his. His name, ‘Leopold Maurer,’ was covering up the letters of my name. I tend to fly off the handle when I feel myself being cheated. My blood was boiling and I was just about to explode when Leopold hissed in my ear, “Stay quiet, I’ll explain later. There might even be a pay raise in it for you!”

“You better have a very good explanation!” I hissed back.

Dr. Moose seemed to be oblivious to our hissing, although Leopold and I weren’t very quiet about it. The alternative was that it didn’t matter to Dr. Moose, that we, or I, were so undeserving of his attention.

With slight misgivings, I began to outline and describe my strategy. Slowly but surely I started to warm up to the theme: hey, it was my idea, my genius on the table, my baby so to speak. Over the course of my ever-increasing enthusiastic presentation, the expression of Dr. Moose’s face changed from mild to heightened interest. When I finished, his whole posture expressed respect and esteem. He put his large hand on my shoulder and said, “Well done, Ms. Ritter. You have obviously given Leopold’s strategy your undivided attention, have put yourself in his shoes, and presented it marvelously well. There will be a pay raise in it waiting for you!”

I smiled weakly. Is this what I had wanted? Actually, I rather would have liked to kill Leopold, but that wasn’t smart with witnesses present. While I was still preoccupied with death-devising thoughts, Dr. Moose closed our meeting with the words, “Keep at it.”

Right then the door opened and Steff poked her perfectly coiffured head through the door, “Please excuse the interruption, Dr. Moose, but you’re next appointment has arrived. Mr. Munterlang is waiting for you in your office. Would you want me to take the coffee over there or is it still wanted in here?”

“Please take it to my office, Ms. Diesel, thank you.”

Steff disappeared with a smile on her lips.

I wasn’t letting myself kicked out of the conference room that easily and especially not before I had a little heads-on with Leopold.

“I’ll need another minute, Dr. Moose, while I collect the plans.”

“Yes, yes, quite, Ms., well, Ms. Ritter. I won’t forget you.”

I very much hoped so since I had been promised a pay raise!

Dr. Moose added, “Leopold, you’ll come with me. I need men with good ideas at my side!”

Oh no, Leopold was getting away from me. Never mind, I would get back at him later. The men left the room and closed the door behind them. I ran over to the other table where Leopold had stashed papers in a black bag earlier this morning. I pulled them out and found certificates, deeds, surveys, property settlements, and other documents. I quickly photographed everything with my smart phone. At the moment I couldn’t get a handle on what the documents meant, I only noticed that one name showed up repeatedly: the name of a bank, Dogmann Direct.

That done, I snapped up my plans from the other table, stowed them in the carrier bag, and left the room. Oh no, I wasn’t done with Leopold yet. I would document this obvious forgery of his by expertly removing his name in front of witnesses. With my head raised I left unperceived the conference room, Steff was not at her desk. I locked the carrier bag with my precious plans in my personal cabinet. On the spur of the moment, I decided to take the day off. My first vacation day for this year! It was Friday after all and I was of the opinion I deserved a long weekend. I sent a quick E-mail to Steff, informing her of my promised pay raise. Then I filled in the necessary vacation day form and dropped it off at the personnel department on my way out the door.

 

Chapter Five – Marlon

Boy, this morning had had it: demoted to coffee-gofer, a pay raise promised, weird papers found and to top it off, a traitor found out! Leopold owed me a very good explanation for his deceit and he better was ready for me come Monday! Today, I left him to his own devices; let’s see how he fared without me.

By foot, I made my way over to the train station and rode back to Ludwigsburg. There, I went to the Baroque Gardens surrounding the royal palace of Duke Ludwig Eberhard of Wuerttemberg. These vast gardens compensated me for the fact that I didn’t have a terrace or a garden of my own. Every year I bought a season’s ticket; with it I was able to access the gardens through any gate anytime during opening hours.

The sun was shining and began to slowly warm up this spring morning. Leisurely, I strolled along the paths that wound their ways through bushes. I loved these gardens, especially now in spring when one could see the first faint leaves and flowers just beginning to sprout and grow. Landscaping personnel worked the flowerbeds pulling out weeds in-between the growing spring flowers. I found a bench and took a seat. I had a free day, all to my lonesome, so what should I do with this freedom? I didn’t need to go grocery or clothes shopping, so actually, nothing pressing was waiting for me. After a while, I left the gardens and walked into town. I went to the library. First, I read the newspaper, then I went over to one of the library computers. I downloaded the photos I had taken of the documents and printed them out. I read through them at least three times, researched on the internet the bank mentioned throughout the documents, Dogmann Direct, but I was getting nowhere. The only thing I gained where more questions than answers. I picked up the printouts and left the library. I ambled again through the town center. Unconsiously, I walked over to “Guy Manilo – Nail Design.” Since it was mid-morning, Guy probably didn’t have a whole lot of time on his hands for me, but nevertheless, I stepped in.

“Hi Guy!”

“Kim, dear, welcome. Take a seat, honey.”

Guy was busy with a

Imprint

Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG

Text: Mona Lida
Images: Gestaltung: Sascha Pikkemaat (s.pikkemaat@gmx.net) Bildmaterial: Thinkstock
Editing/Proofreading: Aileana Blair / Ruby
Translation: Petra Haskell
Publication Date: 11-24-2014
ISBN: 978-3-7368-5849-7

All Rights Reserved

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