Excerpt from "Not Abigail!"

"I'll also need a prospectus on Intel, their current price-earnings ratio, a couple aspirin, and a wife."

Abigail Hastings' rolling ball pen left a black blotch where it came to a halt on her yellow legal pad. She'd been dutifully taking notes while her boss, Max Gallagher, president and CEO of The Gallagher Group, paced his spacious office and dictated the TO DO list for that day.

Nothing unusual about that. This was how they'd begun each day since Abigail came to work for the San Francisco-based investments titan, nine years ago. Granted, he'd asked her to do some strange things in that time, including babysit his senior varsity college football trophy so his best friend couldn't kidnap it.

But she couldn't have heard him right just now.

He was still deep in concentration as she looked up.

"Excuse me, Mr. Gallagher?"

He turned with an expression of mild surprise on his handsome face. Abigail smiled inwardly, fondly tolerant of her boss's eccentricities by now. He'd obviously zoned out for a moment and forgotten she was there.

Max Gallagher, whose chisled jaw was a Renaissance sculptor's dream, and whose irises were as midnight blue as the pinstripe in the Italian suit she'd picked out for him, had a focus like the Eximer Laser. He was a one-track thinker, and nothing else existed except the express train he was riding. He still called her Ms. Hastings after all this time, but not out of an excess of politeness. He couldn't seem to remember her first name from one day to the next.

Abigail had stopped being offended a long time ago. It was common knowledge that if you wanted to get Max Gallagher's attention, you had better be a cash flow chart.

"Excuse you, Ms. Hastings? For what?" he asked.

"I wasn't sure I heard you right."

"Oh, that." He frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Surprised me too. I can't remember the last time I had a headache."

"No, not the aspirin--" But Abigail had already lost him. He was pacing again, absorbed in his thoughts and the financial coups that lay ahead of him that day.

"Would you alert Research to keep their eye on the dollar/yen rate this morning?" he said. "I'd like an update every fifteen minutes. Oh, and tell them I'm still waiting for the results of my blue chip market timing model."

Abigail went back to taking notes, despite her confusion. She wouldn't dream of interrupting him. This was the man they called Midas Max. He'd knocked the international financial world on its keister with his deceptively simple investment policies, and made himself impossibly rich. He'd amassed his first billion by age thirty, more that doubled that by thirty-five. Now he was coming up on forty, and there didn't seem to be any limits to what he could accomplish.

"Read the list back to me, would you?" he said.

This was part of their routine too. Every morning he gave her his list and every morning he wanted it read back to him, perhaps several times while he juggled goals and strategies in his mind.

Abigail went through the first nine items. When she got to the last one, she hesitated. "And number ten . . . find you a wife?"

"Yes, right. Good." He checked his watch. "Think you can get all that done today?"

"You want me to find you a wife, Sir? Today?"

"Oh . . no!" He laughed as Abigail stared at him in shock. "You can have until the fourteenth on that, which is my fortieth birthday. That shouldn't be any problem, should it?"

Abigail was speechless. February fourteenth was two weeks away, Valentine's Day, but even if it had been two light years away, she would have been speechless. She'd heard him right, but it must have been a Freudian slip. He meant find him a life, a steak knife? Maybe a drum and fife?

His phone rang before she could ask him to explain.

"That's probably Daniel Kim from the Asian office," he said as he strode to his desk and hit the speaker phone button. "Looks like the bottom's dropped out of the electronics sector, and it's time to buy."

A liltingly accented male voice came on the line, and Max gave Abigail the sign that it was going to be a long, involved conversation. There was no point sitting and waiting anyway, she knew. She had a busy day ahead of her as well. She would catch him later and he could clear up the misunderstanding.

But when she stood she had the sensation that the floor had mysteriously been tilted a few degrees during the last couple of moments. Her office adjoined his and she might have walked into the half-open door if he hadn't called out to her.

"Oh, Ms. Hastings, I forgot to tell you--

"Yes?" Abigail spun around and got even dizzier. She just knew that he'd finally realized what he said and now they would have a good laugh over it. Wife? I meant wine! I'd like you to pick out a case of really good Merlot to send to Warren Buffett for the stock tip.

Abigail was all ready with a big smile. Another great Max Gallagher story to share with Mavis, the receptionist who'd been with him even longer than Abigail. But he was still embroiled on the phone. He'd picked up the receiver and he was covering the mouthpiece with his hand as he whispered to her.

"I'm having lunch with Jeff at the athletic club today," he said. "Could you make sure we get a table that's not by the steam room door? You know, the smell--"

He gave her a thumb's up, and she nodded dumbly.

"Can do," she whispered back, words she had uttered so many times they were automatic. And then she turned around and walked headlong into the door.