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36

Fleeced

When Regan got back to the club, it was nearly six-thirty. Lydias party was starting at eight, and there were still some things Regan wanted to get done beforehand. She found Thomas in his office, looking pale.

What is it? she asked.

Janeys been out of touch since she left here this morning. Its totally unlike her.

Youve tried to call her?

Of course I have!

Regan felt sorry for him. He had been worried before, but the expression on his face now showed total distress.

She was going to come over this afternoon for tea. Something must have happened to her, Regan. She would have called if she couldnt make it.?

Do you have a key to her apartment? Regan asked quietly.

I do.

Should we go over there now?

Yes, Thomas said simply. With great dignity he stood up and reached for his coat. If shes all right, then Ill be able to handle anything, Regan. When youre worried about losing someone you love, all the other stuff seems trivial.

When they walked out of the club, they did not notice Mary Ruffner getting out of a cab.

Regan, what did the jeweler say? Thomas asked, almost absentmindedly.

He said that he had appraised the jewels. That he had the check written out to present at the party

Do you think Janeys disappearance has anything to do with all this?

Thomas, dont think like that, Regan cautioned. In a few minutes well be in her apartment.

Ive got to move now, Mary Ruffner thought. Regan Reilly! she called as Regan and Thomas started down the street.

Regan turned. Yes?

Mary extended her hand. My name is Mary Ruffner. I was just having a drink with your mother and father at that terrific crime convention she put together. I recognize you from your picture in the paper today.

Oh yes, Regan said, quickly shaking her hand. Mary, this is my friend Thomas Pilsner.

Hello, Thomas said.

Regan could tell he was frantic to leave. So was she. Were in kind of a rush

I dont want to bother you. Im actually a reporter for the New York World, and I wanted to do a story on the Settlers Club for its one hundredth anniversary. She looked at Thomas. Arent you the president?

Yes, Thomas said in a guarded tone. Can I call you later? Or tomorrow?

Later would be better, Mary said crisply. She handed him her card. Its easiest to reach me on my cell phone. Im very anxious to talk to you. She turned to Regan. Will you be coming to any of the lectures at the conference?

Im going to try, Regan said honestly.

Good. Then I hope to be seeing you both very soon.

Regan and Thomas said their good-byes and hurried a couple of blocks south, toward Janeys apartment. She lived on the fourth floor of a walk-up. Outside the building, they buzzed 4A. There was no answer. Thomas took a deep breath, unlocked the door, and ran up the steps two at a time. Regan was right behind him.

At the door to Janeys apartment, Thomas said a silent prayer, unlocked the door, and pushed it open. The living room was straight ahead. To the right were the bedroom and the kitchen. There was no sign of Janey anywhere.

I guess you could say Im somewhat relieved, Regan, he said. But where could she be?

Regan looked around the small living room. The apartment was neat and orderly. The furnishings were simple but tasteful. Regan could see that some of the framed pictures were of Janey and Thomas. The dinette table was covered with files. Regan went over and took a glance.

She kept meticulous records about what she cooked for her clients, Thomas said.

Regan picked up a piece of paper that had been left on the table. It was a list headed Deliveries made Thursday, March 11th. A look of surprise came over Regans face. She cooked for Ben Carney?

He loved her chicken, Thomas said sadly. He ate like a horse. She was just saying this morning that she was sorry he never got to eat the chicken she made for him yesterday.

Thomas followed Regan into the kitchen. An apple pie was on the windowsill. Dozens of chocolate chip cookies were lined up on paper towels. Several cakes were out on the counter, waiting to be iced.

She wouldnt have left this stuff out for hours without covering it, Thomas said. If there was anything she hated, it was a stale cookie.

The answering machine was on the counter, tucked in the corner. The light was blinking.

Do you want to check her messages? Regan asked.

Thomas nodded. We have nothing to hide from each other.

All of the messages except for one were from Thomas. Janey, this is Mrs. Buckland. Its six oclock. Where are you with the dinner? My guests are arriving in an hour! How can we have a dinner party with no dinner? Call me! Im very upset!

Lets get her number, Regan said quickly.

Thomas went and got the file. Regan dialed the number and identified herself to an irate Mrs. Buckland.

We dont know where she is, Regan said. And were very concerned.

Youre concerned? You know what its like to invite people over and all you have is a bag of potato chips to put out?

Regan tried to cover the irritation in her voice. Mrs. Buckland, when did you speak to Janey?

At about one oclock. I called her up and told her it was an emergency. At first she hesitated about cooking for me for tonight, but then I reminded her of all the people Id introduced her to. So she said shed do it.

What was she going to make for you?

Roast chicken. I must say she does a good job with it. The turkey she makes can be a little dry, but the roast chicken is fabulous. On the second day it tastes even better.

Mrs. Buckland, Im sure you hope, as we do, that Janey is fine. In the meantime, why dont you take your guests to a restaurant tonight?

You know how expensive that gets?

Im sure you can find a place thats reasonable, Regan said.

I suppose it would be nice not to have to clean up after dinner, Mrs. Buckland said, her voice softening. I hope Janeys all right.

Thank you, Regan said. Well let you know. She hung up the phone. Janey was supposed to deliver a roast chicken to her this afternoon.

They looked at each other. They knew that they were both thinking the same thing.

Not my Janey, he said. She wouldnt have taken Bens chicken.

Mrs. Buckland said it tastes best on the second day.

Oh God, why? Thomas asked.

Lets call over there.

Thomas got out the file labeled CARNEY, and Regan dialed the number. There was no answer.

What if she went over there and and I dont know what? Thomas wailed.

The police have the keys to Bens apartment, Regan said.

We have no choice but to call them, Thomas whispered. No choice at all.


Five minutes later, they were out the door, with plans to meet one of the patrolmen from the 13th Precinct at Bens apartment building. They had no way of knowing Mary Ruffner was right behind them.


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