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15

Fleeced

Regan took a look down the hallway before unlocking the door to Nats apartment. Opposite the elevator at the end of the hallway was a steel door. High time to check that out, she thought as she walked down and opened it.

A small square area of gray metal and cement greeted her. A gray service elevator stood like a fortress a few feet in front of her. On the wall to her right was a metal door, on the wall to her left was a metal door, and just next to it was a staircase that went down. The air smelled dank. Two garbage cans for paper and plastic recyclables were positioned next to the elevator.

It didnt take long for Regan to realize that the two doors were the service entrances to Nats and Lydia s apartments. She had seen Nats from the inside when Clara gave her a quick tour of his apartment.

So if anyone wanted to sneak into Nats apartment without being seen, this would be the better choice, Regan thought. Could someone have had a key?

Regan inserted the key she was holding in Nats back door. To her astonishment, it worked. The same key for the front and back doors? she thought. Thats unusual. She pushed the door open, stepped inside, and found herself in the little hallway just off the back of the kitchen. She locked the door. The apartment was still, except for the humming of the refrigerator.

Regan sighed. The kitchen was narrow and long, with cream-colored cabinets and appliances. Some of the cabinet doors were inlaid with glass, through which old-fashioned cups, saucers, and plates could be seen neatly stacked in rows. The room itself was old-fashioned and cozy, but seemed isolated from the rest of the apartment. It must hark back to the days when people who had these apartments didnt spend much time in the kitchen. But their help did.

There was no table in the room. The only concession to modern-day eat-in-the-kitchen living was two stools at the countertop opposite the sink. A swinging door opened onto another little foyer just off the dining room, and a swinging door at the other end led to the hallway down to the bedrooms and the living room.

Did Nat spend much time in here? Regan wondered. Was he futzing around the kitchen yesterday at this time? It certainly looked neat and clean. Clara said she had cleaned the apartment on Tuesday. Today was Friday.

What about Nats dinner last night? Regan wondered. She opened the cabinet under the sink and pulled out the lined plastic garbage can. Coffee grounds, orange peels, cookie wrappers, and a paper plate were right on top. Regan lifted the paper plate and underneath it were several pigs in blankets.

Hors doeuvres.

What youd serve at a party.

Not something youd prepare for just yourself.

Oh God, Regan thought. I must remember to check out the menu at Lydia s get-together this evening. She rifled through the rest of the garbage and found eggshells, an empty vitamin bottle, and an empty mens cologne bottle. Most people put on their cologne in the bedroom, Regan mused.

Regan shoved the can back under the sink and decided she desperately needed a cup of tea. She filled the kettle, then carefully reached in a cabinet for a cup and saucer. She located teabags in one of the ceramic canisters that had paintings of sheep on them. In the refrigerator was a carton of skim milk. It was the same brand shed used that morning in her parents apartment. Somehow it seemed longer ago than that. I wonder how the crime convention is going, she thought. I would love to catch some of it.

Her hot tea in hand, she sat down at the counter in the kitchen and picked up the phone. She dialed the number of Nats brother in Palm Springs, California. A feeble voice answered at the other end.

Regan identified herself.

Oh, hello, Regan. Carl Pemrod here. The voice sounded a little more chipper.

Im so sorry about your brother, Regan said.

Me too. We werent that close, but he was blood. I didnt grow up with him. He was my half brother.

Oh, he was.

Yes. My mother wasnt too thrilled with our father after he left. So we didnt have much contact with his second family.

I understand Nat didnt have any other brothers and sisters.

Not that I know of.

As you know, Im conducting an investigation-

About how he slipped in the tub? It happens a lot, you know. I broke my hip last year. Terrible thing, getting old.

It is, Regan agreed. Did you know anything about these diamonds he had?

Nope. Like I told ya, we didnt have much contact.

Do you know Nats lawyer?

Nope. Like I told ya

Right, Regan said. Well, Mr. Pemrod, first of all I want to thank you for allowing me access to the apartment here.

Oh, sure. Listen, Regan, its no problem. I know Nat wanted to leave everything to that club of his. He was always so proud of that place. Whenever I talked to him, thats all he talked about. The club this, the club that. Truth to tell, sometimes I put my ear on automatic pilot when he went on about it. The members were his family, really.

Im glad he was happy here.

I think he was.

Well, Ill only be staying for a couple of days. I live in California, too, and I have to get back.

If you come to Palm Springs, drop by.

Well, thank you.

I met your mother at the library. Nice lady.

Thank you, Regan said again. Ill keep you posted on what happens here. I understand you want Nats body to be cremated.

Cemeteries are getting too full. We all should be cremated.

Yes, well, apparently that was Nats wish as well.

Wendy was cremated. Nat took her ashes back to the countryside where she grew up, in England. Some of my friends have had their ashes thrown off cruise ships.

Uh-huh, Regan mumbled. Well, I have a lot to look into here, but as I said, Ill keep you posted.

Thats nice of you.

Well, you are Nats brother. And again, thank you for letting me stay here. In the next couple of days I hope to talk to his lawyer and get his affairs in order. Well get everything straightened out, Regan promised in an optimistic tone that did not reflect her real feelings.

Okay. If he left anything to his older brother, Carl, so much the better. Now Im going out by the pool. Its ninety degrees here today. Whats it like there? Carl asked in a teasing tone.

About sixty degrees cooler.

Carl chuckled. I always told Nat he was crazy to live in New York.


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