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All over town, people were reading about the Settlers Club. Lydias ex-beau, Burkhard Whittlesey, was particularly enjoying the article as he rode a stationary bicycle at the cheapest, smelliest gym in New York City. It was all he could afford at the moment. But he was determined to get back in Lydias good graces, so he had to keep in shape. She was his best shot at a decent life. I should have treated her better, he thought. I got a little too cocky.

Of course, in the long run, he considered himself much better suited to an aristocratic type. After all, he was a good-looking guy with a certain amount of charm. Thats why he kept crashing all the high-class gatherings in town. He was always on the prowl for a bigger, better deal.

Since college, hed managed to get himself on every party list going. Hed also mastered the art of dropping in at the cocktail hour of big benefits held in hotels, cruising around in his tux to see if there was anyone worthwhile, and then disappearing when it came time to take your seat. If he met anyone, hed claim he had someplace else to go, but could they get together another time? But so far nothing had stuck. Every woman of means quickly figured out that he by no means had any means.

If Burkhard had put half the effort into working at a real job that he put into finding someone to take care of him, he might have been president of a Fortune 500 company. But every job hed had started out with great promise and then imploded. Stocks he recommended tanked, deals he put together fell apart. Now at age thirty-five he was beginning to worry about his future. His roommate-whose name was on the lease of their dingy one-bedroom cockroach palace-had decided to join a commune in New Mexico. In a matter of weeks, Burkhard would be out on the street.

As he read the newspaper, he rode the bicycle faster and faster. That club certainly has its problems. Its going to be quite a scene tonight, he thought. I dont care what Lydia says. Ill go and turn on the charm for her. Show her what an asset I can be. If she doesnt take the bait, Ill make a point of wandering over to any reporters who show up.

At the very least, shell write me a check to keep my mouth shut.

Burkhard got up from the bicycle and walked to the showers. The sight of woolly-looking mold festering on the drain was too much for him. He went to his locker and threw on his sweat suit. Ill shower when I get home, he decided. Then Ill take a little walk around Gramercy Park, to prepare myself psychologically for tonight.

Lydia was his last shot before hed have to move back to his parents house in the sticks and take a job chopping firewood. He had no intention of letting that happen.

As he exited the health club and finally breathed some fresh air, he smiled. Itll be a benefit tonight. He laughed to himself. A benefit to benefit Burkhard Whittlesey.

| Fleeced | c