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
Maldwin and the student butlers were prepared for the evening’s festivities. They were all formally dressed and ready to serve. The hors d’oeuvres were waiting to be popped into the oven. Cheese and crackers and crudités were out on the tables. Champagne was chilling in the refrigerator.
“The Princess of Love went hog-wild with this party, huh, Maldwin?” Vinnie asked as he ran a comb through his hair.
“Never comb your hair in the kitchen, please!” Maldwin scolded.
“Now while we are waiting for our guests to arrive, I’d like to go over a few things with you. No sense wasting time. Let’s sit in the living room.”
Vinnie, Albert, Blaise, and Harriet took their places on the love seats around the room. Maldwin stood at the window and looked over the group. It was not exactly an inspiring sight. He cleared his throat. “Now, what is a silent butler?”
“A butler with laryngitis,” Vinnie answered.
“Vinnie!” Maldwin scolded.
“A silent butler,” Harriet began, “is a small receptacle used to collect crumbs off the dinner table and ashes from the ash trays. It is found in every good home.”
“Thank you, Harriet,” Maldwin said.
Harriet beamed at him.
“You all need to study the sheets I hand out to you. I’m going to start giving pop quizzes. But on to other things. As you know, Stanley Stock, the television producer, will be here again tonight. I’m going to suggest to him that he ask each one of you about your dreams of being a first-rate butler. Who knows? Your future employers may be out there watching.”
“How exciting!” Harriet cried. “Can I go first?”
I’m going to get sick, Blaise thought. And I don’t want to be interviewed on-camera. Last night I did my best to stay out of sight.
Lydia’s voice came over the intercom. “Maldwin, I need you for a moment.”
Maldwin looked at his watch. “You may relax until the party starts. Now remember, this is an important one!” He strode out of the room with purpose.
Albert turned to Vinnie. “What are you going to say?”
In front of Ben’s brownstone, a patrol car was waiting with its lights flashing. When Regan and Thomas rounded the corner, the stark reality of the situation hit Thomas like a wet blanket. A small moan escaped from his lips.
Regan hurried over to the car and introduced herself. Squawks were emanating from the radio. There was no doubt the presence of the patrol car was attracting attention.
Officer Dowling, a friendly young cop, greeted Regan and Thomas and walked with them to the outside door. They buzzed, but there was no answer. Dowling unlocked the door, and the three of them hurried up the stairs to Ben’s apartment.
As soon as Dowling pushed open the door and turned on the lights, they all gasped. The place had been ransacked. Drawers in the living room were pulled open, their contents thrown all over the floor.
“Oh my God!” Thomas cried.
“Looks like a B and E,” Dowling said. He got on the radio and called it in.
Regan and Thomas walked down the hall in disbelief, turning on lights as they went. The bedroom and den were also torn apart. “The kitchen must be at the other end,” Regan said, leading the way through the dining room to the kitchen’s swinging door. She flicked on the light.
“Janey’s coat!” Thomas cried. “And the carry bag for the food!” He ran over and stroked her coat lovingly. “Oh, Janey,” he cried. “Janey!”
Thomas looked as if he’d seen a ghost. Or at least heard one. Regan felt pretty startled herself.
“Janey! Where are you?”
“In the closet!”
By now Officer Dowling was also in the kitchen. Thomas pulled on the closet door, but it was locked.
“We’re going to have to get some equipment to break down the door. This is a heavy one,” Dowling observed.
“Janey, we’ll get you out. But what are you
in there?” Thomas asked.
Janey started to cry. “It’s a long story.”
“Does it have something to do with roast chicken?”
“Yes,” she answered feebly.
Thomas turned to Regan and mouthed the words, “Waste not, want not.”
That’s a wrap,” Jacques Harlow cried as the last scene ended with the sheep being carried out of the room by Pumpkin and her leading man, Lothar. “On to our next location.”
“Next location?” Daphne said with a puzzled look on her face. “I thought that this was it.”
“No. We’re going to my loft downtown. That’s where we will shoot the climactic scene, when Pumpkin and Lothar decide they are going to move to Australia and buy a sheep farm.”
“Brilliant idea!” Pumpkin called from the doorway.
“No, Pumpkin, you’re brilliant. A brilliant actress. You’re giving a multilayered, textured performance that is going to knock the critics’ socks off,” Jacques pronounced with a wave of his cigarette holder. “When you picked up the sheep and hugged it, I was blown away.”
“It’s your direction!” Pumpkin said liltingly as she ran toward Jacques for one of their post-acting hugs. “I was so in the moment thanks to your trust.”
“Well, thanks to your being in the moment, I figured out the perfect way to end the story. Now let’s load up the truck. And don’t forget the sheep.”
Daphne sat listening to the two biggest phonies she’d ever met in show business, and she was more and more annoyed with each word. But when she heard that they were going to take off with Nat and Wendy’s sheep, she jumped up. “You can’t take those sheep. They belonged to a couple, now deceased, who belonged to the club and wanted them to stay here in the front parlor.”
“We’ll bring them back,” Jacques said.
“I still don’t think it’s right. The president of our club isn’t here right now, so we can’t ask him.”
Jacques walked over to Daphne and took her hand in his and kissed it. “I’m sure we can give you a real part in this final scene. If you’d like…”
“Playing what?” Daphne asked tentatively.
“The beautiful and wealthy owner of the sheep farm, who has just moved to New York.”
“Let’s go,” Daphne agreed quickly.
Jacques grabbed his walking stick from his ever present assistant, raised it in the air, and cried, “We’re off!”
Stand back,” the Emergency Services Unit officer called out to Janey. “I’ve got the gear to break down the door.”
“What gear?” Janey yelled.
“A hatchet?” Janey cried.
“A hatchet,” he confirmed. “It’s a beauty.”
“Be careful,” she urged, then remembered to add, “please.”
“I’ll try. How much room you got in there?”
Thomas whimpered. He and Regan were standing at the other end of the kitchen. The apartment was full of detectives, patrolmen, and emergency services personnel.
“Well, here goes.” The ESU officer lifted the hatchet over his head and brought it back down against the door. The metal head struck the heavy wood with a snapping, crackling sound not unlike twigs burning in a fireplace.
There goes Ben’s security deposit, Regan thought.
It took several minutes, but finally bits of the door had been hacked away. Another few minutes and Janey was stepping through the jagged opening and running into Thomas’s waiting arms.
Murmurs of relief and “good job” rippled through the kitchen. One of the police officers stepped into the living room to pass along the good news to the cluster of folks out there and in the hallway, including a couple of neighbors and the building’s superintendent.
Regan stood back as Janey and Thomas locked themselves in a passionate embrace. She certainly doesn’t seem as meek as she did this morning, Regan thought. Well, it’s the quiet ones who will get you every time.
“Miss,” one of the detectives said to Janey, when she and Thomas finally unhinged from each other. “I’m going to need to talk to you.”
“May I use the powder room first?”
While Janey disappeared down the hallway with her purse, Regan decided to take a quick look in the bedroom. She hadn’t had a chance to look for Ben’s journal once they realized Janey was locked in the closet.
The bedroom was a mess. Ben’s nightstand had been emptied onto the floor. His closet had been picked apart. Photographs, books, papers, and clothes were strewn all over. Regan lifted up a few of the papers, a couple of pairs of pants, and then she spotted a spiral notebook sticking out from under the bed.
Regan picked it up and opened it. It was Ben’s journal! The first page was marked January 1st of this year. She quickly flipped through the pages. The last entry was dated Wednesday, March 10th. Two days ago. Unbelievable.
It was a fairly brief entry.
Well tomorrow is our big day to break the news to Thomas at the club. It’s exciting. The big party is Saturday. I told Nat I wanted to invite a date. He told me he’s breaking up with his girlfriend. He said it would embarrass him to bring her to the party because of their age difference. I told him fuhgedaboutit!
Regan turned back the pages. There were more brief entries that didn’t reveal much. And then the one marked February 28th was longer.
Today Nat and I went bowling. We got to talking about Sadie Hawkins Day. I said it was too bad there was no February 29th this year. Maybe some nice lady would ask me out. He started to laugh, and I knew something was up. Finally he admits he’s been seeing someone a little bit. The sly devil! He said he likes her, but there’s only one problem. When you get close, her perfume is so strong. I told him to go buy her a new bottle. I said maybe I’ll find someone and we can go to the club’s anniversary party together. Then he said he felt guilty. I said, about what? Wendy? She’d want you to be happy. He just shook his head and said he didn’t want to talk about it. So I let it go. I still say a double date would be fun.
Regan flipped through the remaining pages. No name of the girlfriend. No other references to her. Oh, Ben, why didn’t you ask Nat her name?
Regan dropped the notebook on the bed in frustration and walked into the living room. Thomas was sitting with his arm protectively around Janey as she answered the detective’s questions. “Her perfume was kind of strong,” Janey noted.
Regan paused. Perfume? But then she heard a voice in the doorway and turned her head quickly. Mary Ruffner was scribbling notes as she talked to Officer Dowling. “… so she came here to pick up the food she had dropped off yesterday…”
I can just imagine tomorrow’s headlines, Regan thought.