The Millinery Mystery
written by Sugarberry

The late afternoon sun was hidden by the buildings along the street; and for that, Vanguard was grateful. It had been a long day and he was tired; all he wanted was to escape into his quiet house-- which was actually Giorgio's Italian home-- and kick back and relax. He found himself looking forward to tomorrow's outing with Clare and Guido. Life had been dull, and he needed a change of scenery.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, he didn't notice his neighbor, Ivetta, watering the flowers in front of her section of the town house until he practically tripped over her. "Oh, excuse me," he apologized, helping to stabilize a tottering flower pot filled with geraniums.

"No problem," Ivetta giggled. She brushed some dirt off her foreleg. "I've watered your plants, too. I always did that for Giorgio."

"I wondered how they stayed so perky," Vanguard grinned. "I assumed Giorgio had a gardener hired for that job."

"He's too attached to his jangles to part with them if he can get a job done for free," Giles, Ivetta's husband, informed Vanguard as he joined them.

"You're not the maid, too, are you?" Vanguard asked curiously. "I notice that all the dust and trash mysteriously disappear at some point in the week."

Ivetta giggled again. "No. He hires a real cleaning lady for that. I just enjoy messing with the flowers." She splashed some water on Giles. "Giles is just jealous because Giorgio is wealthier that we are."

"I think he's into something shady," Giles winked; Ivetta silenced him with a frown.

"Vanguard, can you join us for lunch tomorrow?" Ivetta turned her attention to her neighbor. "Nothing fancy, you know." Ivetta wasn't known for her cooking ability.

"Thanks, but I've got other plans," Vanguard admitted.

"And, remember honey, I've got to work until mid-afternoon," Giles reminded her. "It's my day at the mines," he grinned at Vanguard.

"Sitting in front of a computer can't be that strenuous," Vanguard taunted.

"Ah, yes, but it's the decisions that are made while sitting there that drive a stallion crazy," countered Giles.

Ivetta had finished her watering chores, and came to take her husband's hoof in hers. "Come! You haven't forgotten that you are taking me out for a night on the town, have you?"

Giles smiled at his wife, then said to Vanguard, "Sorry, Van, but duty calls!"

Vanguard watched the couple go off side by side, and thought lonesomely of home.

* * *

The next day dawned with perfect weather. Vanguard found himself as excited about this excursion with his friends as a foal on a much anticipated outing. He drank a cup of coffee while pacing through the rooms waiting for the arrival of Guido and Clare. As his town house was on their way, they were picking him up. When the bell finally rang, he rushed to the door to admit them.

"Good morning! Come in for a roll and some juice before we get started!" Clare had hinted when they planned their day that she would like to get a look at Giorgio's house, so Vanguard added, "Or do you want a tour of the place first?"

"Oh," said Clare, her eyes encompassing every detail of the cozy sitting room before her. "I'll take the tour!"

Guido shook his head. "A house is a house. What do you find so appealing about snooping through someone else's private space?"

Clare ignored the remark and rushed to an ornate wooden settee with floral cushions. "This is an antique-- very expensive. She sat on the piece gingerly, and sighed in delight. "Is the entire house furnished with old things?"

"Come, and you'll see," Vanguard replied. He led the two visiting ponies into the kitchen, which was a combination of modern conveniences camouflaged amidst period splendor. "I love it!" squealed Clare. "I could do this with my kitchen!"

In the small but tasteful dining room, Clare ran a hoof gently along the smooth wooden surfaces of table and hutch, murmuring appreciatively of the quality of each object, and admiring the blue Portuguese tiles on the floor.

"I would have thought that you two would have run in the same crowd as Giorgio," Vanguard remarked, "yet you obviously were never invited to his home."

"Not that stallion. He's an intellectual, not a businessman," Guido offered. Vanguard knew that wasn't entirely true, but couldn't say a word. Guido continued, "I am, however, edging into his territory."

"What's that, Guido?" Clare asked with interest.

"I'm going to be conducting some mini-courses on business techniques," he responded. "Leonardo University approached me about it last spring and I'll be trying out my teaching skills when the fall semester starts."

Going back to Vanguard's original query about Giorgio, Clare reminisced. "Agatha said Giorgio was the most elusive bachelor in Vulcanopolis. He always stayed aloof of her invitations."

"What... some sort of recluse?" Vanguard asked curiously.

"No. Not that. Just very discriminating in whom he associated with. He seemed to favor the students on campus," Guido stated.

"He has a winsome manner about him that appeals to the college crowd," Clare added.

"I hear that he is an excellent teacher," Vanguard stated, "and very intelligent."

"He was some kind of child prodigy," Guido enlightened his friend. "His dad was chancellor at Leonardo, and gave Giorgio all the breaks he needed to begin college early, and graduate as quickly as possible."

Clare shook her head. "He didn't need ‘breaks'. He was terribly, terribly smart."

"So why does he stay with a teaching position rather than moving up the ladder?" Vanguard asked.

"He must get paid for his brains, not his position," Clare said as she examined a very expensive set of dishes in the china cupboard.

They now moved up the carpeted stairway that curved into the second floor living area; the first room's white stucco walls and deep white carpeting were accented with a comfortable black leather sofa, slate tables, and black director chairs; the severity of color was broken by potted greenery at strategic locations.

Even Guido was impressed. "Not bad," he commented as he sat on the couch and surveyed the stark impressiveness of the room.

But Clare had already moved through the arched doorway to the den, and was exclaiming over the efficient yet luxurious design of the space. "And a terrace, too!" She rushed to the doors, and stepped out onto the sun-drenched platform, soaking up the warmth. Guido and Vanguard followed her out to enjoy the view of neighboring homes surrounded by the tumultuous colors of a multitude of flowers. "Everything looks so alive!" Clare reflected.

Passing back through the den, Clare caught sight of the picture on the desk. "So this is your Sugarberry!" she observed, picking up the framed photo of Vanguard and Sugarberry. She studied it intently. "Yes, it is a good match," she said, handing the picture over to Guido.

"She's quite pretty," Guido offered. "And what are your future plans?" He handed the picture on to Vanguard.

"Plans?" Vanguard echoed. "Everything's on hold until I finish my stay here in Vulcanopolis." He fell silent as he looked at the picture in his hooves.

"You will marry her," Clare said softly.

"If she waits for me," Vanguard said almost imperceptibly, and he returned the picture to its place on the desk.

Clare noticed his briefcase on the floor next to the desk. "When I was in school, I always wished I had access to those satchels the teachers carried with them-- all those answers to the test questions!"

Vanguard was taken off guard and nearly choked. "Well, it is locked," he managed to say.

"Not a problem to an enterprising student," Guido said.

"Or a desperate one," Clare added.

Vanguard looked at the two intently; how had they stumbled onto this particular topic? He felt a chill run through him. Don't trust anyone, Tawny had said. But he quickly dismissed that idea from his thoughts.

The tour continued with a pass through the master bedroom and the smaller guest room on the third floor. Then, the trio made their way back to the kitchen where Vanguard set out sweet rolls and grape juice to fortify them for their upcoming trek.

"How much do you know about this Thomas that Tabby is engaged to?" Guido inquired of his host. Clare snickered, but refrained from any snippy remarks. She, too, turned to Vanguard to hear the answer.

"He's a well-established veterinarian, and is a serious and well-liked stallion. He had moved to town not too long before I took my position at Pony Pride University. We're both relative newcomers to Dream Valley."

"Do you see him socially?"

"As a matter of fact, Sugarberry is the receptionist at his clinic; and she and Tabby are very close friends. So the four of us are together quite a bit."

"No wonder you seem so lost sometimes," Clare teased.

"Tell me about it," Vanguard frowned.

"What does Tabby see in him?" Guido bluntly asked. "Is he wealthy?"

"Not like you," Vanguard smiled across the table, "but he's doing okay for himself. He's dedicated to his work and knows where he's headed." Which is more than I can say for myself, Vanguard thought to himself.

"Do you think Tabby has made the right decision?"

Vanguard mulled the question over in his mind for just a moment before responding, "Yes, Guido, I do."

The yellow stallion who had everything that jangles could buy fell silent, and Clare and Vanguard fell into small talk for the remainder of the time before they finally set off. Their quest lay in a visit to the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii; Guido and Clare were eager to impart the full history of the once bustling city, and its destruction by the forceful Vesuvius. The ponies toured the reclaimed streets and mingled with the memories of life and death that played out on this theater of the past.

It was late afternoon before the threesome searched out a sidewalk cafe to refuel their nagging appetites. Finding a vacant table, they were soon appeasing their hunger with minestrone, insalata, formaggio, ravioli, and vino. The cheerful voices of other sightseers and locals filled the air with a party atmosphere.

Topping off the meal with ice cream and coffee, Clare leaned back and sighed in satisfaction. "This has been a relaxing break in the routine. I'm refreshed and ready to tackle any challenge now!"

"I though we were forbidden to discuss business this entire day," Guido raised an eyebrow quizzically. Clare had been preparing for a fashion show which would reveal her latest styles, and had been pushing herself ruthlessly. It was her custom to take the day off before the opening of her show to revitalize her energy and her nerves. And that is why she had put this exclusion on the topics of discussion.

"I'm purged of all worries and have a clear mind now to face all the problems and concerns I'll have to decide on. It's a good feeling."

"What amazes me," admitted Guido," is that the day before the unveiling of a new line, you can walk away from all the last minute decisions that certainly still need to be made."

"I have an excellent staff," Clare smugly replied. "That's what makes my line successful... everyone knows what is expected and does his or her best work."

"You're fortunate to have such reliable employees," Vanguard observed.

"I personally choose them all, not only on their qualifications but on that certain something that tells me they will be an integral link in my family of employees." She darted a glance at Guido. "That's what my business is... a family."

Guido laughed. "Don't believe a word of it, Van. She's a tough taskmaster and makes her workers toe the mark. She doesn't give slackers a break."

Shaking a hoof at her contradictory friend, Clare chided, "I have never hired a slacker, Guido, and you know it. I trust my instincts and..." Clare's voice trailed off; she stood up so abruptly that her chair toppled backwards.

"What's wrong?" Guido and Vanguard asked together, standing too, and searching the immediate vicinity to locate the cause of Clare's distress.

"They are wearing my designs!" she stated through clenched teeth, and marched to intercept two fillies who were passing by the eating spot.

"You would think she'd be pleased to see her fashions on ponies," a puzzled Vanguard said to Guido.

"Something tells me these particular pieces aren't to be made public until tomorrow's showing," Guido replied, moving closer to Clare to provide his support. But the indignant mare didn't need help from Guido or anyone else.

"What do you think you are doing wearing my millinery?" she challenged the two startled fillies.

Both fillies reached a hoof to the headgear they were wearing. "Wha... what do you mean... yours?" one of them stuttered, completely intimidated by the menacing anger on Clare's face.

"Those hats haven't been released for sale yet. Where did you get them?" Clare repeated.

The second filly found her voice to answer. "We got them in the market." She pointed off down the street.

"That's impossible!" Clare ranted. "Those hats won't be available until my fashion show tomorrow."

The girls' eyes widened. "You're Clare, of Clare's Creations!" one of them said in awe.

Softening a bit, Clare asked, "May I see your finery for a minute, please?"

With a shrug of their shoulders, the ponies removed their bonnets, and handed them to Clare who inspected them from every angle. "Inferior workmanship," she grumbled. "Very shoddy job." She then concentrated on the label sewn to the inside edge, and read the name with distaste, "Pacificus." She looked at the fillies with a sympathetic demeanor and with a cutting edge to her voice said, "I hope you didn't put too many of your hard-earned jangles towards these bogus imperfections." She handed the hats back to the young mares who took them hurriedly and scooted off into the crowd.

Clare stood glaring at their disappearing backs. Without looking at either of her companions, she moved off down the street in the direction of the market. Vanguard and Guido quickly paid the bill, and fell into step behind the determined mare.

They soon came to the piazza at the center of town which was crowded with shoppers. Clare was drawn as if by a magnet to her destination-- a stall selling an array of headwear. She halted only when she stood directly across a display from the proprietor.

"Pacificus!" She hissed the name in such a manner that those near her could hear the venom dripping from it. The silver grey stallion was caught unawares, and his mouth dropped open. He stared at Clare, then swung his gaze to take in Guido and Vanguard who had arrived as backup, then dumbly returned to Clare.

Testily, Clare queried of her competitor. "Your design style has improved significantly, Pacificus, but your craftsmanship leaves something to be desired." She picked up an airy floral picture hat. "I haven't seen quality like this since I put together my first hat when I was a foal."

Vanguard grimaced as he watched Clare pluck each and every flower off the piece, and throw them into a heap on the table. Pacificus groaned and made an effort to retrieve the hat from her destruction, but Clare pulled it back out of reach. "Would you mind telling me how you happen to have a good portion of my still unreleased original designs here on your market table, Pacificus?"

Vanguard was reminded of a cat toying with a mouse. He was amazed that the gentle, soft-spoken Clare could be so patiently cruel. He felt genuinely sorry for Pacificus even though he was the villain in this scene, and glanced at Guido to check his reaction. But Guido appeared to by enjoying the showdown, a grin lighting his face.

Finding his voice, Pacificus managed to stammer a pathetic, "I'm sorry, Clare."

"Sorry doesn't come close to what you'll feel when I'm finished with you!" she spat. "You will have to destroy this ill-gotten merchandise!"

Visibly shaken, Pacificus stepped back. "No, I can't do that."

Turning to Guido, Clare posed a question. "What are my legal rights in this situation?"

"Let's just say that the design community won't see Pacificus around for quite some time," Guido bluntly responded.

"Just let me explain..." Pacificus begged.

But Clare cut him short. "How many items did you sell today?"

"I don't know," Pacificus shrugged his shoulders. "Some."

"A number, Pacificus. I want a number," Clare relentlessly pursued.

At this point, a filly materialized from the sidelines, and came to stand by Pacificus. She was the color of a perfectly ripened watermelon, and her mane and tail as green as the watermelon's skin. She laid a hoof on Pacificus' foreleg, and facing Clare, said, "Thirty hats. We began the day with thirty hats. We have twelve left..." here she dropped her gaze-- momentarily surveying the pile of plucked flowers-- "minus one."

It was now Clare's turn to stand agape at the arrival of this new character on the set. "Angela!" she gasped. "What part do you play in this?"

"Pacificus is my brother, Clare. I did what I had to do."

"What you had to do? And what became of my trust in you?" The two ponies held eye contact as they each assessed the problem before them, Clare angry and upset, Angela resigned but strong.

"I didn't intend to steal your ideas, Clare. Events just got in the way and I had to put family over business."

A muffled chuckle was heard from Guido at the use of the word "family". "A black sheep in your family, it would appear, Clare."

The fight drained out of Clare as Guido's words hit her. Angela was one of her business family, and for the first time Clare had made a poor choice in judging character. She sighed deeply, and said to Pacificus, "Just get rid of the stuff, and be prepared to explain yourself in my office Monday morning." She abruptly turned to go.

But Angela's voice stopped her. "What about me, Clare? Do you still want my help on your show tomorrow?"

Clare swung her head around, bitter words on her tongue. But she checked her anger, and told the pony, "Yes, Angela. I will need you to handle your assigned responsibilities." And Clare moved on as Angela watched in amazement, completely unsettled by this change of temper.

Vanguard followed Clare to give her his silent support while Guido stayed behind to impart one final piece of advice to Pacificus. "I'll be keeping an eye on you, Pacificus. And if Clare has one iota of trouble from you in the future, I'll arrange it so you never sell another article of anything anywhere ever again." His glowering countenance stilled any replies from either Pacificus or Angela, and they gratefully watched Guido melt away into the crowd.

"What are we going to do now, Pacificus?" Angela asked her brother who was already clearing his stand of its contraband.
He stopped to gaze off in the direction Clare had disappeared. "We'll trust in Clare's compassionate nature to understand our plight." Dropping his head, he added, "I guess we should have done that to begin with."

Angela touched the mutilated hat parts thoughtfully. Would Clare show them mercy, or would she rip them to shreds? she wondered to herself.

* * *

With mixed feelings, Vanguard arrived home at the end of the eventful day. He had thoroughly enjoyed the sightseeing he, Guido, and Clare had done, but the friction and grief that had engulfed Clare over her business problems had been unsettling. Clare had been quiet and withdrawn on the walk home, even turning down Vanguard's invitation to her and Guido to come in for coffee before continuing to their own homes.

Vanguard wearily fixed himself a snack, and finishing that, carried his coffee to the second floor balcony to enjoy the early twilight settling over the town. The twittering of the birds and the soft hues of color were calming to all his senses, and Vanguard soon felt relaxed again.

Deciding to write of the day's excursion to Sugarberry, he moved into the den, and sat at the desk. After writing the salutation, he looked to Sugarberry's picture for inspiration.

"That's strange!" he said out loud. He remembered explicitly setting the picture on the lefthoof side of the desk after showing it to his guests that morning. It always sat directly behind the telephone. But it was now perched on the righthoof side of the desk. Thinking back, Vanguard was sure he'd put the picture in its usual place after Guido handed it back to him. And no one would have been here since.

"Unless the maid came today," Vanguard murmured, "But she usually comes on Thursday." He checked the wastebasket, and found it still partially full of papers. "That's odd."

His attention moved to the briefcase; it was in the same position as this morning, and it was still locked. For that he was grateful. He repositioned the picture to its proper place, and shook off the feeling that someone had been there in his absence. But he found himself looking over his shoulder every few minutes as he wrote and finally got up to make a thorough check of the house.

He went to the third floor to start with his bedroom, then moved to the spare room. As he rarely came to this room, he wasn't sure he could account for anything being different; but as it turned out, a book from the wooden bookcase lay on the floor. "Clare checked out the titles to see what reading material Giorgio keeps on hoof," Vanguard rationalized. " She must have knocked it off."

Picking up the thin volume-- Poems of Life and Love-- Vanguard noticed a bookmark slip from the pages and drop to the floor, disappearing under the bed. He reached down to retrieve it, only to find on turning it over that it was a photo.

He gasped as he recognized several of the ponies pictured. The mare was undoubtedly Strawberry Shortcake, Sugarberry's mother. The stallion at her side Vanguard had seen in a portrait hanging in the main hall at Leonardo University-- the former chancellor, Giorgio. The two foals he had never met, but he had seen pictures in Sugarberry's family album-- her two sisters, Gooseberry and Raspberry.

Vanguard stood aghast. For the life of him, he couldn't imagine a connection between Giorgio and Strawberry Shortcake, but here was proof that their paths had crossed; and agreeably, by the happy looks on the faces of those involved.

Looking on the back again, he found no names or place where taken, just the date, 1975. "Twenty-five years ago," Vanguard mused. "That was the year Sugarberry was born." Mystified, he stared at the picture trying to imagine a scenario that would fill in the missing pieces, but all his leads ended with nothing but more questions.

Paging through the book from which the picture had fallen, Vanguard found it to be a collection of romantic verses. He also noted that the publication's copyright was in 1975 also, yet it bore few signs of wear. It was as if its sole purpose had been to enshrine-- or hide-- the picture that now had come to light.

Vanguard returned the picture to the book, and began to replace it on the shelf, when, having second thoughts, he again removed the picture, returning only the book to its vacant slot. Taking the photo back to the den, he slipped it into an envelope and buried it under a stack of mathematics texts on the back corner of the desk.

Still pondering the implications of the photo, he continued his examination of the house, floor by floor, to see if any other signs of an uninvited visitor existed. He found nothing else out of place, so he returned once again to his desk and the letter that he had started to Sugarberry. The confusing thoughts swirling through his head made it difficult to write, however, and he finally gave up the attempt. Maybe things would be clearer in the morning. It was getting quite late, so with a last quick look around the premises, he went to bed.

* * *

Monday morning found Clare in her office well before normal. The fashion show had been extremely successful, and she had ended the day with the compliments of her clients ringing in her ears. But when she was finally alone, the problem with Pacificus and Angela was first on her mind.

She sat at her desk, thinking back on all she knew of Pacificus. They had been in design school at the same time, but their personal lives had seldom crossed. She realized, with a twinge of regret, that she had not thought of him once since she had set up her business. But those had been busy days. Guido had supplied the financial backing for her enterprise, and she did all in her power to make it successful to prove to him that she was capable of entering into his world of corporate affairs. Her reasoning behind this was more of a private nature, however, than on a professional level, she admitted to herself with a wry smile.

Pacificus... she could remember a hard-working student who understood the concept of the design trade inside and out, but whose ability at sketching a pattern that would catch the attention of the fashion world was sorely deficient. In other words, he lacked imagination. Clare smiled to herself, pleased with her own talent to envision innovative styles and designs that kept her fashions novel.

A rap at the door brought her back to the serious matter at hoof. "Come in," she called, her voice sounding authoritative and just a tad harsh. She stood as the door opened to reveal both Angela and Pacificus at her disposal.

"Angela, your presence at this meeting will not be required," Clare observed, frowning at her assistant.

"But, Clare, I... " Angela faltered.

Cutting her short, Clare admonished, "You have work to get done."

"Yes, Clare," the chastised filly responded; and, with a quick glance at her brother, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Please be seated, Pacificus," Clare invited with a wave of her hoof. The stallion slipped into a seat without a word, and the two ponies contemplated one another in silence.

"I remember now; you always were one of few words," Clare said with a hint of a smile playing across her lips.

"It's easier to blend into the background that way," Pacificus admitted, but offered no more.

"You weren't in the background at the marketplace, were you, Pacificus?" She leaned back in her chair. "Care to tell me about that incident?"

Pacificus dropped his gaze to the floor under Clare's punishing watch; then, sighing, he looked her in the eyes and simply stated, "I made a bad decision."

"I would say that's obvious."

Not knowing where to start, Pacificus remained quiet.

Clare sat up to her desk, folding her forelegs in front of her. "Why did you have Angela steal my designs?" A surge of anger had crept into her demeanor.

"The most basic of reasons, Clare. I needed the jangles."

"What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?" she asked unsympathetically.

"My mother had been ill for several months, and the doctors finally admitted that her only chance at survival was a relatively untried operation. It proved successful, but the expenses were overwhelming."

Her compassion overpowering her irritation, Clare unhesitantly asked, "Your mother? She's okay then?"

"Yes. She is still convalescing, but doing fine. But the point is, the bills need to be paid."

"Surely your business is lucrative enough to handle the crisis."

Pacificus stared hard at Clare, then shook his head. "When is the last time you've seen one of my projects compete with yours, Clare?"

"Well... I... ah... I must admit that I don't pay much attention to my rivals."

"My ‘business' never took off like yours, Clare. I've sought out commissions here and there, but I've never broken into the profession the way you have. That's why the unpaid bills loomed like a suffocating cloud over my family."

"Why didn't you ask for help from someone?"

"I have no collateral. The banks just laughed at me."

"But surely your friends..."

"I don't exist in your circle, Clare. My friends are no better off than I am. We don't have access to Guido like you do." He stopped short, realizing he may have said too much.

"Guido has invested in many young enterprises," Clare retorted.

"But only those that have some connection to him through his affluence." Clare made an attempt to deny that, but Pacificus continued. "You were his confidant since the time you were foals, Clare. You might not have been his financial equal, but you certainly held a special place in his life."

Clare smiled warmly. "Yes, he and I have been through a lot together. Living next door to one another the way we did made us soul-mates long before Guido became obsessed with... wealth," she finished feebly.

They both turned their thoughts inward for several minutes before Clare cleared her throat and asked, "Why did you decide to defraud my company to make yourself profitable?"

"I always admired your work in school, Clare. You were always so confident and so full of unique ideas. I envied you. And after school, you became the biggest success of any one of us. Why wouldn't I have picked you to emulate?"

"Emulation is one thing. Deceit is quite another."

"Things got out of control. Angela interviewed for the job with you, and was hired. She was going to work long enough to learn your secret to success, and then come to work with me. But the medical crisis was an unforeseen factor that we hadn't planned for."

"Whose idea was it to go underground?"

"I take full responsibility for that decision, Clare. I thought if we were able to get enough together to make an initial payment, the bill-collectors would be satisfied; and that would allow Angela the time to get the experience she needed. You know the rest."

Clare sat considering the information their conversation had yielded, and Pacificus watched her with a resigned look. Clare knew that Pacificus was right about one thing-- it was Guido's backing that had allowed her to enter the fashion world so successfully. Without his finances and connections, would she, too, still be unrecognized?

What would it be like for her without having had the helping hoof that Guido provided? Would she be scraping along from paycheck to paycheck, never having her talents recognized? She shivered, thinking of how lost she'd be without her life's dream of owning her own business. That Guido himself was still an unrealized part of that dream was another story.

Her intuition about this stallion before her told her he was trustworthy, even if he had felt himself forced to compromise his values. He had placed family first; that had to acquit him of some of his wrongdoing. Could she be responsible for inflicting further pain on him and his family?

Suddenly rising, Clare extended an invitation. "Would you like a tour of our facility?"

The stunned stallion stuttered, "T... tour?"

"Sure," Clare grinned. "If you are going to learn how to be successful, you've come to the right place."

Upon opening the office door, she found Angela hovering close by. "I expect you to have those statistics on my desk by the time I return," she told the bewildered filly, who could only exchange a questioning glance with her brother before Clare whisked him out of the room.

It was only after a thorough explanation of each step in the complex that made up Clare's millinery workshop that she returned to her office with Pacificus. She asked him to be seated while she poured two cups of coffee from the automatic coffee-maker.

Seating herself behind the desk, she took a sip of coffee before leaning back in her chair. Her hoof rested on a stack of papers compiled by Angela showing the preliminary profits for the company from the latest show. She pushed the papers in Pacificus' direction.

Pulling his chair closer to the desk, Pacificus mulled over the facts and figures for several minutes before raising an awed face to Clare. "Your business is that profitable?"

Smiling, Clare nodded in the affirmative. "I've one major problem, however. Gabriel, our manager in charge of business operations, turned in his two-week notice after our show was completed. I'm compelled to find a replacement as soon as possible. Are you interested?"

Pacificus sat up straight, his benumbed mind inappropriately thinking that the orchid mare before him was the most beautiful angel he'd ever seen. But he braced himself for the fall. "Did I hear you right?"

"I'm offering you the aforementioned position with Clare's Creations starting two weeks from today."

Rising, Pacificus held out his hoof to Clare; "I accept," the stallion stated gratefully as they shook hooves over the transaction.

"Good," Clare smiled. "Welcome to the family!"

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