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 (7 page)

16

Georgette had a bad morning. Here it was Friday, March 12th, and she’d wasted all her time since Valentine’s Day on Nat Pemrod. She was sure that he had fallen for her. That he was just about to give her presents and money. When she’d gotten him tipsy the other night, he’d spilled the beans about the diamonds. He’d even told her he liked to have fun with them. Whatever that meant. But before she had a chance to go out and buy cubic zirconiums to substitute for them, someone else had already moved in for the kill.

Who was it? Somebody else had to have taken the diamonds, and Georgette was bound and determined to find out who it was. She hadn’t been a con artist for ten years for nothing. She and Blaise were usually so good at this game. They just seemed to be down on their luck lately.

Or there was always the chance that Nat had hidden the diamonds somewhere in the apartment. Is that what he meant by playing games? God knows she’d listened to all his stories about the practical jokes he’d played over the years.

She went into a fast-food restaurant on Broadway, purchased a cup of coffee, and looked around. An old man was hunched over a newspaper in a corner booth. Georgette sashayed over and cleared her throat.

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” she asked, pointing to the orange plastic bench that was nailed to the floor.

He looked up at her, smiled slightly, and motioned for her to sit down. He was bald, with a large round face, smooth clear skin, and watery blue eyes. His clothes looked like they had seen better days, but he was wearing a shirt and tie. From the corner of her eye, Georgette could see that he was sporting a pair of thick-soled white sneakers.

A perfect target, she thought. Surely he has a few shekels that he can do without.

“Sit down, my beauty,” he insisted.

This is better than I thought, Georgette mused. “Thank you, sir,” she said.

“What’s a lovely girl like you doing all alone?”

Georgette batted her eyes as she sat on the impossibly uncomfortable bench. “I just moved into town, and I don’t know many people yet.” She leaned in so he could smell her perfume.

He sneezed, waved his hands, and pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket. “Sit back, my beauty. Sit back. Your perfume isn’t good for my throat.”

“Your throat?”

“I was a singer in my day. Performed everywhere. Now I was thinking, if you give me a few hundred bucks a week, I’ll teach you to sing and have you on Broadway in five years. I can still hit middle C, you know.” He opened his mouth and belted out several notes as Georgette jumped up and ran out of the restaurant. On her way, she heard one of the busboys yell, “Cool it, Mr. C. We told you no singing in here.”

Out on the street, Georgette struggled to regain her composure. My planets must not be in alignment, she thought. Just then her cell phone rang. Let it be Blaise, she thought.

“Hello… oh Lydia, what a surprise… Another party tonight?” Georgette’s pulse quickened. “How nice of you… Is there anything I can do to help? I’m actually off today… No?… Well, maybe I’ll get there early… I’d love to talk to Maldwin about signing up for his next butler class… Yes, really… Okay, see you later.”

Georgette put the phone back in her purse and breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I can get back in Nat’s apartment tonight, she thought. As she hurried down the block, she passed a coffee shop. Stopping in her tracks, she turned around and went back. You never know, she thought, as she opened the door and made a beeline for the seat next to an old man at the counter. My work is never done.

17

After Regan spoke to Carl, she took a little walk through the apartment. She found herself back in Nat’s bathroom. No doubt-it was luxurious. The marble walls and floor, gleaming glass shower door, and beautiful porcelain sinks all gave the feeling of well-cared-for opulence. An electric heated towel rack stood against the wall near the Jacuzzi. One large white towel was draped over it. I bet that’s the one Nat would have used last night, she thought.

Regan turned and walked over to the two hand towels that were hanging on a rack between the sinks. She hadn’t really noticed them before, but now she could see that the miniature appliqués lining their borders were little sheep. My God, they had sheep everything, she thought. They’re cute, but they don’t look like the kind of towels that you use. They’re more for show.

There was an empty towel rack on the wall next to the shower. For some reason, it seemed odd to her that it was empty. Just then something on the floor caught her eye. She walked over and picked it up. It was a tiny sheep appliqué. This must have fallen off a towel, she thought. But where’s the towel?

There was no hamper in the bathroom. Regan walked into Nat’s bedroom and opened the closet door. All women’s clothes. These must have been Wendy’s, Regan thought. She shut the door.

In the guest room, she found her suitcase on the floor and hanging bag laid out on the bed. She opened the first of two closet doors. This was obviously where Nat kept his clothes. She lifted the lid of a wicker hamper, but there were no towels in there. Just a couple of men’s shirts, socks, and underwear.

Regan smiled. Even though Wendy had been dead for three years, he hadn’t moved her clothes. He still had to go into the guest room to get his things. One of Regan’s friends had gotten married and moved into her husband’s apartment. He was so persnickety he made her use the guest bathroom and second bedroom closet. Needless to say, the marriage hadn’t lasted. But Nat obviously had been devoted to his wife. And all these sheep might have driven another man crazy.

It was as if Regan were getting a feel for Nat Pemrod. I wonder if he slept in here at all. Just as Regan was pondering all this, her cell phone rang. From the Caller ID she could tell it was Jack.

“Hi there,” she said.

“Regan, how’s it going?”

“Let’s just say it’s interesting.”

“I’m at the office. It’s been pretty hectic, but I talked to a guy named Ronald Brier down at the 13th. He was there last night. He suggested you drop by and talk to him.”

Regan looked at her watch. It was just about noon. “I think I’ll head down there right now.”

“And one other thing.”

“What?”

“Think about where you want to have dinner on Sunday night. I’ll call you later.”

“Okay.” Regan hung up and sat on the bed. She picked up one of the framed pictures on the bedside table. It was an old black-and-white picture of four men playing cards. This must be the Suits, she thought. Regan put it down and glanced at the other photos. They were mostly pictures of a couple at various stages of life. In one of them they were standing in a field, surrounded by sheep.

Regan pulled open the drawer of the table. A notepad and pen had been neatly placed in there. She lifted out the pad and opened it up. The page was dated Thursday, March 11th. Yesterday!

Regan began to read and was astonished by the words in front of her.

My little Buttercup,

These last four weeks have been undeniably joyous. After my dear wife, Wendy, went off to the Lord, her shepherd, I never thought I could feel anything deep for another woman. I guess I was right. While I enjoy your company, I don’t think it’s right to keep sneaking around with you.

I’ve decided that the rest of my life should be spent doing good for others. Who knows how long I have left?

They say that if you find one true love in your life then you’re blessed. I figure I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Best of luck!

Natty Boy

Regan couldn’t believe her eyes. Natty Boy! And who in God’s name is Buttercup? More than ever, Regan felt certain that Nat’s death was no accident.

18

Careful! Please be careful!” Thomas urged the men who were carrying all the film equipment into the front parlor of the club. “Don’t bang into anything, please.”

He was largely ignored. As anyone who’s spent time on a movie set knows, the crew go about their business, unimpressed by celebrity, surroundings, or gawkers. They simply do their work.

In contrast, Thomas was running around trying to make order out of something he could not. Hollywood had arrived, and time was precious. They had one afternoon to film an important scene.

Thomas suddenly wondered if he had gotten in over his head. Outside on the narrow street, the movie trucks were taking up a lot of space. Production assistants were trying to direct traffic around the park. Electric cables were strewn all over the sidewalk.

Thomas looked out the bay window and saw people staring into the front parlor of the club. Oh dear, he thought. Sometimes things can seem like such a good idea in the planning, but then when they come to pass, your palms start to sweat. Especially now. He wanted the Settlers’ Club to gain attention. But only in the right ways.

“Could you move, please?” a burly fellow holding a large piece of lighting equipment asked Thomas in a tone that barely masked his impatience.

Thomas stepped back quickly. “Of course.” What can I do? What can I do? he thought. I know! I’ll bring the sheep down. Wendy wanted them here, and it might be a nice touch for the movie.

Ten minutes later, with the help of Regan, who was on her way out, they brought the two sheep into the parlor and plopped them down on either side of the fireplace.

“Excuse me!” An efficient-looking thirtyish guy wearing a cap and carrying a clipboard rushed over to them. “What are you doing to the set?”

“These sheep are important to our club,” Thomas said. “We thought you might want them for the movie.”

“All the casting has been completed. Could you please remove them?”

Regan looked at Thomas. “Why don’t we carry the sheep into your office? We’ll bring them back out when they’re finished filming.”

“I just wanted to do the right thing by Wendy and Nat.”

“I understand,” Regan said. “But let’s move them.”

Regan had Dolly and Thomas had Bah-Bah in their arms when from behind them someone yelled, “Stop!”

They turned to see a wiry man dressed in black, sporting a black beret, and carrying an empty cigarette holder, coming toward them from the doorway. “I like the sheep. Put them back.”

Regan and Thomas both shrugged and put the sheep down.

“I’m Jacques Harlow, the director of
We Must Be Dreaming.”

“And I’m the president of the club, Thomas Pilsner, and this is my friend Regan Reilly.”

“Nice.”

“I’m pleased you chose to use the club for a scene in your film.”

Jacques bit on the edge of the cigarette holder and spoke through his teeth. “I like the vibes here. I don’t work with a script. My actors all improvise their lines. I think that a setting such as this inspires our deepest hopes and our darkest fears.”

Does it ever, Regan thought.

“Would you like to be an extra?” he asked Regan with a touch of a leer.

“No,” Regan answered quickly, then added. “I’m pretty busy.” She turned to Thomas. “I’m heading out.”

“Come to my office for a moment, Regan.”

They excused themselves, stepped around the piled-up equipment, and went into Thomas’s office down the hall, shutting the door behind them.

“That guy is weird,” Thomas said.

“Thomas, what kind of movie is it?’

“The location manager told me it was a period piece.”

“What period?”

Thomas’s lip quivered. “I didn’t ask. I assumed he meant Victorian.”

The phone on the desk rang. Thomas picked it up and identified himself.

“The
New York
World
?… Yes, there is a movie shooting here… He what?… Just got out of jail… he trashed a location in New Jersey?… I can’t talk now… Good-bye.” Thomas dropped the phone back in its cradle.

“I hate to ask,” Regan said.

“Jacques Harlow is a nut case. He trashed a bowling alley in New Jersey where they were shooting a scene last week. He thinks he’s one of the Sopranos. They just released him from jail.”

Regan grimaced. “Well, somebody’s paying for this film to be made. I wonder who?”

“I think it’s low budget,” Thomas said in a tiny voice. “We were desperate for new sources of revenue, but this isn’t so good for the club.”

Regan stood. “I’m going down to the 13th Precinct. I’ll give them your regards.” As she walked out, Regan wondered when the next flight to London was leaving.

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