Read Fleeced: A Regan Reilly Mystery Online

Authors: Carol Higgins Clark

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #detective, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery fiction, #Women Sleuths, #New York (N.Y.), #Reilly; Regan (Fictitious character), #Women private investigators, #Women private investigators - New York (State) - New York

Fleeced: A Regan Reilly Mystery (10 page)

27

When Maldwin and his posse returned to Lydia’s apartment, he found her in the master bedroom with the covers over her head.

“Miss Lydia,” Maldwin said to her. He knew that something was up. “May I bring you some tea?”

“I don’t think tea will solve my problems,” Lydia declared as she lowered her quilt.

Maldwin sat on the side of the bed. It was not something a butler of the old school would have done, but Maldwin believed that butlers of the twenty-first century should practice compassion for their employers. He felt he was Lydia’s protector, confidant-in a way, her soul mate, even if she did occasionally drive him crazy. “What is it, Princess?” he asked.

“Burkhard called.”

“That no good…”

“Why was I ever attracted to him in the first place?” Lydia implored.

Good question, Maldwin thought, but he tried to appear thoughtful. “At first Mr. Whittlesey gave an impression of class and breeding.”

“Someone with class doesn’t stick the lady with the check all the time…”

“I understand.”

“Someone with class doesn’t threaten to take things I said in private and twist them around.”

“You mean about making fun of your clients?”

“Maldwin!”

“Sorry.”

“He was only interested in my money. He thought he could manipulate me because he went to college and I didn’t. But I’ve got street smarts.”

“That you do, Miss Lydia.”

“I’m afraid, Maldwin.”

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” Maldwin said, even though he didn’t believe it.

“I’ve invested so much of my money in this business. I want you and me to be a big success in New York City. We’ll have our fingers on the pulse of dating and butlering for the third millennium. Burkhard could destroy that for me.”

“We won’t let him,” Maldwin said firmly.

Lydia sat up. “How was your day?”

“A challenge. I’m afraid Vinnie and Albert do not have personalities suitable to a life of private service.”

“I could have told you that.”

Maldwin ignored her. “I thought they would be acceptable because my butler school is one for the changing times. It is impossible to think that you’re going to find students who fit the mold of the classic English butler-the perfect Jeeves who seems like an aristocrat himself.”

“Those two are far from it,” Lydia agreed. “But as they say, good help is hard to find. I’m lucky I found you.”

Maldwin winced. He hated to be thought of as “help.” He ran the damn place as if it were his own. He cleared his throat. “As Meister Eckehart said, ‘Everyone is born an aristocrat.’ Unfortunately most people lose their charm in childhood.”

“Who’s Meister Eckehart?”

“A wise man.” Maldwin stood. “We will prevail. Sunday night Stanley Stock’s program will air, and I’m sure that on Monday the phone will be ringing off the hook. We’ll get through this weekend and all its unpleasantries.”

“And if Burkhard shows up for the party tomorrow night?”

“We’ll handle it. I think we should focus on
our
party tonight.”

Lydia pulled the covers back over her head. “I knew I should have taken that other apartment I looked at. I wouldn’t be dealing with this right now!”

“Regrets are a waste of time,” Maldwin said. “Now get dressed. We’ve got to make your gathering tonight the best one yet.”

28

Back at their rented room, Georgette was sitting at the all-purpose table, examining the loot that she had procured from Ben’s apartment.

It wasn’t much.

She still couldn’t believe that that woman, whoever she was, came in to take Ben’s food. Talk about nerve. Well, at least she didn’t see me. Who knows how long she’ll be locked up there?

Georgette giggled. She looked up when she heard the key in the lock. Blaise came in looking as grumpy as he had when he left.

“What’s all that?” he asked, pointing at the cuff links and foreign coins and silver brush-and-comb set.

“You’ll be so proud of me,” she said.

“Why?”

“Remember the spare key ring I stole from Nat?”

“Yes.”

Georgette sat up straight, excited by what she had to report. “I had taken Nat’s key off of it But I got to thinking today. So I came home and looked at the other keys. In tiny letters, two were marked B.C.”

Blaise’s face remained impassive.

“Don’t you get it? Ben Carney! Nat’s best friend! The one who died last night! That’s why Thomas Pilsner came running up to Nat’s apartment in the first place.”

“I know who you’re talking about.”

“I figured they had to be the keys to Ben’s apartment, so I looked up his address and went over there. The keys worked!”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because he’s dead. I thought maybe he had the diamonds in his apartment. You never know, ya know?”

“That was stupid.”

“Why?”

“Because if you’d gotten caught we wouldn’t have a chance to look for the diamonds in Pemrod’s apartment. And they’re more likely to be there if they’re anywhere.”

“No harm in trying,” Georgette said, clearly annoyed that Blaise didn’t praise her ingenuity. And now I’ll have to tell him the rest of it, she thought. Here goes nothing. “Someone walked in when I was in the bedroom going through Ben’s stuff.”

“What?” Blaise looked alarmed.

“Don’t worry. She didn’t see me. I sprayed her with Mace and locked her in the closet.”

“Georgette! Are you out of your mind? All you got out of it was a few trinkets and someone who just might be able to identify you.”

“I’m telling you, she didn’t see me! And what if the diamonds had been in there? You’d be singing a different tune.”

Blaise sat down on the kitchen chair opposite her and rubbed his eyes. “I just came home to get my tux. Lydia’s having another party tonight.”

“I’m going.”

“You are?”

“Yes, she called and said she wanted to apologize for the confusion last night. So she’s having the same group back tonight, no charge.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Blaise said. “It’s getting too hot around here. I think we should get out of town very soon.”

“But what about the diamonds?”

Blaise thought for a moment. “After the party tonight, we’ll both slip into Pemrod’s. We’ll search the place. If we don’t find them, then I say we take off.”

“What about your butler classes?”

“I can’t stand them! I don’t care about the proper way to iron the newspaper or draw a bath or polish the silver!”

Georgette picked up the tarnished silver brush she’d found on Ben’s dresser and smiled at him. “You can practice on this.”

“Very funny.” He took her hands in his. “Georgette, something’s up with Lydia. I can just tell. They’re probably having us all back tonight so the police can question everyone.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t go.”

“That would look bad. And I want to get a shot at going through Nat’s apartment. Then we’re out of here.”

Georgette looked around. “I’ll be glad to leave this dump.”

“Me too.”

“What if we get caught tonight?”

“We won’t let anyone get in our way.”

They laughed together.

29

Janey lay in the fetal position on the floor of the closet. Her eyes stung, and she was cold. She pictured her nice, warm coat draped across one of the kitchen chairs, just feet away. She still couldn’t believe what had happened.

It almost felt as if her life were passing in front of her. All my hard work has come to this, she thought. A stupid mistake. Stupid, stupid, stupid. This definitely qualifies for an episode of “My most embarrassing moment.”

Will someone find me? she wondered. Do I even want to be found? I could jump up and down, but I don’t think anyone would hear me. This place is built like a fortress.

Her cell phone rang for the third time. It was in her purse, next to her coat on the chair. With my luck, it’s Mrs. Buckland looking for her roast chicken. But in her heart she knew it was Thomas calling. He called her ten times a day. Sometimes if she was busy delivering meals, or stopping for a visit with one of her elderly clients, she didn’t call him back right away. Like last night. So I wasn’t there for him when he needed me.

Will he be there for me? He always has been. Will he even think to come looking for me here? Why would he? Who knows when they’ll find the niece Ben always talked about? It could be days before they locate her and weeks before she comes to clean out the apartment.

And the anniversary party is tomorrow night! Janey didn’t want to miss it. She thought of all the scrumptious desserts she’d made for it, the great big cake that would be a showstopper. All the help she was going to give Thomas recruiting members to the club. It was all too much to contemplate. Black depression was closing in on her as tears not caused by the Mace formed in her eyes.

After about five more minutes of wallowing in her misery, Janey made a decision. I’ve got to think positively, she thought. My life won’t be over if I get out of here. How many celebrities have made big mistakes right in the public eye? All they did was apologize, some of them anyway, and then go on with their lives.

I know! she thought. Whoever sprayed that Mace in my eyes is a real criminal. They were scavenging through the apartment. Surely they must have stolen some of Ben’s things.

If I get out of here, I’m going to do my best to help find them. Janey concentrated hard. Now let’s see. It was definitely a woman. And I thought I felt long hair brush against my face when she shoved me in here. And her perfume! I’d recognize that smell anywhere.

The thoughts cheered Janey somewhat as she reached in front of her and pulled a box of what turned out to be Rice Krispies off the shelf. She stuck her hand in the box and helped herself to a handful. Snap, crackle, pop, she thought. That’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get out of here and find out who did this to me.

She suddenly thought of her favorite movie,
The Sound of Music,
and began to sing softly, “‘When the dog bites, when the bee stings…’”

30

Nat’s answering machine light was flashing when Regan got back to the apartment. She pressed the PLAY button.

“Nat, this is Edward Gold. What happened to you and Ben? You never showed up today. We made a blowup of the check for the party tomorrow night. Give me a call.”

Regan’s eyes widened. She replayed the tape again. Who is Edward Gold? she wondered. And why didn’t he leave a number? Was this a check for the diamonds?

She quickly called information. There were three Edward Golds in Manhattan. Regan called each of them. One was home. He didn’t know what she was talking about. The other two calls she made were picked up by answering machines. One called himself Eddie and the other Teddy. It was clear from their voices that neither one of them was the man Regan was looking for.

She was sitting at the counter in the kitchen. The Yellow Pages must be around here somewhere, she thought. In the second drawer she opened she found them. She pulled the heavy volume out, placed it on the counter, and opened it up to the Jewelers section. There were several pages of ads for jewelry buying, selling, repair, custom design, and appraisals. Estate jewelry bought and sold. Ear-piercing services. And then she found it. The ad for Edward Gold Jewelers, located on West Forty-seventh Street.

Regan picked up the phone and placed the call. In a minute she was speaking to Edward Gold. She told him who she was and the news about Nat and Ben.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “They were in here just the other day. We appraised the diamonds and were going to give them the check today. Tomorrow night we were going to bring the diamonds to the Settlers’ Club so everyone could take a look at them, and we had a blown-up replica of the check like they do for lottery winners. It was going to be such a blast.”

“You actually saw the diamonds.”

“I just told you, I appraised them! They’re beautiful. I even have someone who is interested in buying them. It’s his fortieth wedding anniversary, and he was going to have them made into earrings for his wife.”

“Some earrings,” Regan said.

“I feel terrible.”

“Did you know Nat well?” Regan asked.

“I knew that whole group who played cards together. What a bunch of characters. Can you imagine throwing a valuable diamond in a pot and leaving it there for all these years? Last one alive gets to keep all four. Those guys were funny. What a shame.”

“How long did you know them?” Regan asked.

“About ten years. I met them at a jewelry show. They all retired a few years later. Sometimes they’d come up to the office for a chat.”

Regan thought about “Buttercup.” She wondered if by any chance Nat had confided in Edward.

“What is going to be done with the diamonds now?” Edward asked. “They were both so excited about donating the money to the Settlers’ Club.”

Regan hesitated. This guy sounded on the level. She looked at her watch. It was four-thirty. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Do you think I could drop by your shop?”

“Now?”

“I know it’s late on a Friday, but since the party is tomorrow night, and for the moment I’m handling Nat’s affairs, I’d love to talk to you for a few minutes.”

“Come on over. I’ve got a bottle of schnapps I was going to crack open with Nat and Ben. Maybe we should have a drink in their memory.”

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