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9

Fleeced

Regan followed Thomas off the elevator and down the red carpeted hallway to Nats apartment. The walls were covered with framed collages of black-and-white photos capturing decades of Settlers Club parties.

A lot of history here, Regan said.

One hundred years of history, Regan, Thomas said as he unlocked the heavy wooden door to Nats apartment. It opened onto a foyer with wood paneling. To the right, Regan could see the spacious living room.

And for the last fifty years, Nat called this apartment his home, Thomas said quietly as he led her inside.

One of those great old apartments, Regan commented.

In the living room, Regans eyes fixed on a tiny stained-glass window up in the corner. It gave the room the solemn feeling of an old church. What a wonderful place to escape to, Regan said, taking it all in. And look at these sheep.

Thomas smiled ruefully. The story goes that Nat and his wife bought them years ago. As you look around the apartment, youll see that Wendy had a thing for sheep. As a matter of fact, it was her expressed wish that when they both died these two sheep would have a place of honor in the front parlor. I guess I should bring them down there sooner rather than later.

When did she die? Regan asked.

Three years ago. Theyd been married for forty-five years.

Regan sighed. Thats tough. He must have been lonely.

Nat didnt change a thing around here after she died. Her dressing table in the bedroom still has all her perfumes and knickknacks, just as she left them. He said he kept expecting her to come out of the bathroom and sit down at that table like she used to and brush her hair before going to bed.

He did have good friends, though.

The group he played cards with were his best friends.

Regan walked over to the antique desk. This is where the jewelry was left out.

Thomas looked pained. He just nodded.

Where is the safe?

Behind these books. Thomas removed several old volumes from one of the lower shelves and placed them on the desk. He then pushed the paneling aside to reveal the safe.

Thats pretty well hidden, Regan said. My mother has a safe in the closet of her bedroom, but its in plain view. A couple of years ago the house was burglarized and the safe was bashed in. All of her good jewelry was stolen. She always said it was safer when she hid it in a box in the attic.

Thomas nodded. My grandmother was always hiding her jewelry, but then she could never remember where it was. After she died we had to be so careful about throwing anything out. We found jewelry hidden in secret compartments in books.

You know, Thomas, one of the things I do want to do is make a preliminary search of the apartment to see if the diamonds are here.

Okay, but I still say he kept them in a red box in the safe.

The doorbell rang.

Who on earth? Thomas asked rhetorically as he hurried to the door.

Regan waited, making a mental list of all the things she had to do to get started. And look at all these books, she thought. That red box could be hidden in any one of them.

A sound not unlike a lone dogs howl in the wilderness echoed through the apartment. Regan ran to the front door. Thomas was leaning against the wall, a small red velvet box in his hands. A fiftyish woman dressed in a maids uniform was standing in the hallway with a sympathetic look on her face and tsk tsks coming from her mouth. She reminded Regan of Edith Bunker.

What happened? Regan asked.

I heard all the talk this morning about the red box that was missing. Well, I found it! I knew Thomas was up here, so I ran up as fast as I could.

Its empty! Thomas cried.

Where did you find it? Regan asked.

In the wastebasket in Thomass office.

Regan looked at Thomas, who seemed as if he were about to sink through the floor.


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