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26

Fleeced

Regan and Stanley cabbed it down to the converted gas station.

Now Ive seen everything, Regan thought as Stanley escorted her inside.

What do you think? he asked with a big smile. Other people convert warehouses into palatial apartments. I turned a gas station into a cozy home.

Youre a genius, Regan said.

Thank you. Please sit down.

Regan sank into the couch, still amazed at her surroundings. Shed seen a lot of crazy abodes in her day, but this one took the cake.

Would you like a cup of tea? Stanley asked.

Fill er up, Regan wanted to say, but thanked him and accepted a cup of special herbal tea that Stanley assured her cleared everyones sinuses. Im not really sure I want my sinuses cleared in this place, Regan thought. But the tea did taste good.

Stanley sat down and slipped one of the tapes from the party into the VCR hooked up to his big-screen television. The tape began with people milling around, chatting. The butlers were passing hors doeuvres.

Pigs in blankets, Regan commented.

Some people consider them low class. But they always go over well, Stanley said as he stared admiringly at the screen.

How did some of them end up in Nats garbage can? Regan wonderedWhat did you make of the crowd? she asked Stanley.

Generally nice people. Not everybody wanted to be on camera.

How many didnt want their faces shown? Regan asked.

About half of them. As you can see, I still got the feeling of a big party. Theres Lydia conferring with Maldwin and the other butlers in the kitchen

Theres a female butler, Regan observed.

A hard worker, Stanley said vehemently. A hard worker.

Now they were watching a man talking to a woman holding a Snoopy purse.

Thats some purse, Regan said.

Stanley sighed. She hung onto it all night. As a matter of fact, she got very upset when the whole commotion started and we found out Nat Pemrod had died.

Did she know him?

She said to me that she had met him at one of the other parties. He told her he liked her purse.

Could she be Buttercup? Regan wondered. Could one of these other women be Buttercup?

Regan didnt have time to watch every minute of the nearly four hours of tapes, but what she saw acquainted her with some of the people shed be meeting at the party tonight. What happened when the police showed up? she asked Stanley.

Stanley fast-forwarded to the end of the tape, which showed a policeman standing outside Nats apartment. Then it went blank.

Thats it? Regan asked.

I ran out of tape.

It figures, Regan thought.

But they wouldnt let me inside anyway. Stanley pressed the OFF button on his set. Was that helpful?

Yes, Regan said truthfully.

You know, I take a lot of footage and then boil it down to the most interesting sound bites.

I understand, Regan said, then lowered her voice in a way that indicated she wanted to make Stanley a confidant. Bring a lot of tape tonight, would you? Ill pay for it. Your camera can be another set of eyes for us. You never know what well pick up.

Stanley beamed. Maybe Ill get a network show out of this, he thought.


When Regan left, she hailed a cab uptown. It was four oclock, and even though it felt cold and wintery, the days were getting longer and longer. Springtime was just around the corner.

Of course, April is the cruelest month, she thought. Although I think that for certain people March is a strong contender. Certainly for Nat and Ben.

I so want to help Thomas, she thought. But it seems as if he just makes things worse for himself. If someone from Lydias party stole the diamonds or killed Nat, its because Thomas allowed Lydia to invite strangers into the club.

But there was no sign of forced entry. Anyone who ended up in Nats apartment, Nat must have known.

Regan took out her notebook. She jotted down a few thoughts. Talk to Clara again. Find out if there was anything she saw in the apartment that might indicate the presence of another woman. Get a list from Thomas of everyone who lives in the club. Talk to the waiter who served Nat, Ben, and Thomas lunch. Find out who Nats lawyer is. Where is the will? Finally, she wrote: Talk to the owner of the Snoopy purse.

For some reason, I think shes going to be pretty interesting, Regan mused as she leaned her head back and stared out the window.


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