Back at the club, the phone was ringing off the hook. Members who had heard or heard about Clara’s television announcement were calling in and complaining. To the right of the front door was the all-purpose mail room, reception area, and general epicenter for the club’s activities. Whoever was working there answered the phones, greeted the guests, and usually watched a little television. Will Callan, a longtime employee who had no interest in retirement, was on duty when Regan, Thomas, and Janey returned to the club from Ben’s apartment.
“There’s been a lot of excitement tonight, boss,” Will observed as he handed Thomas a stack of messages.
“Tell me about it,” Thomas replied.
“Clara really pulled a good one.”
“What do you mean?”
“I couldn’t believe my ears. I’m sitting here working and all of a sudden I hear Clara’s voice. I turn and look at the TV-it’s one of those true-crime shows, and Clara’s telling all about what happened here last night. I said to myself, ‘Oh boy.’ Next thing you know, the phones light up.”
Thomas took a deep breath and turned to Regan and Janey. “That thoughtless woman! I don’t think I can take much more. I would love to see what my horoscope predicted for today.”
Janey reached out her hand to gently pat his. “Part of it is my fault.”
You’re right about that, Regan thought. “Listen,” she said, “I want to run upstairs to Lydia’s party and get the lay of the land, as they say.” She looked at her watch. “It’s already nine o’clock, which means the party started an hour ago.”
Thomas held up the messages. “I’m going to get on the phone to Clara and then whoever else I need to call back. Then Janey and I will have a quiet bite to eat in the dining room. Why don’t you join us for a nightcap when you’re finished at the party?”
“After being locked in that closet all day, I almost feel like going dancing,” Janey said.
Thomas looked pained. “Tomorrow night we’ll dance at the party.” He then added, “As Rome burns.”
Will had been sitting at his post, listening to the conversation. “At least that movie company packed up and headed out. Boy, were they annoying. They even took Nat’s sheep with them. I tried to stop them, but Daphne said it was okay and they’ll bring them back after they finish the movie.”
“The sheep are gone!” Thomas cried. “I want them back here for the party tomorrow night. I’ll have to have a word with Daphne.”
Will nodded in agreement and slowly blinked his eyes a couple of times.
“Could you get her on the phone?” Thomas asked.
“She went with them,” Will said.
“Please tell her to see me as soon as she gets back.”
Will gave Thomas the thumbs-up sign.
“Okay, Thomas,” Regan said. “I’ve got to run. I’ll see you later.”
Upstairs in Nat’s apartment, Regan quickly took off the pants and sweater she had worn all day. For some reason she knew that they would not be quite dressy enough for Lydia’s party. She freshened up in the guest bathroom, reapplied her makeup, then pulled a black skirt and black leather jacket out of her bag. In another two minutes she was ready.
“Here goes nothing,” she said as she left Nat’s apartment, double locked the door, and stepped across the hall.
One of the student butlers answered the door. He bowed slightly as Regan stepped inside.
Lydia came running over to greet her. She was dressed in a flowing, low-cut, pink silk dress. It seemed to match the room. When she gave Regan an air kiss, Regan got quite a whiff of her perfume.
Oh great, Regan thought. Now anyone who wears perfume is going to be on my list of suspects. “How are you?” she asked Lydia.
“You wouldn’t believe how busy I’ve been today,” Lydia said, then laughed as if it was the funniest thing in the world.
Regan smiled. “I’ve been kind of busy too.”
“Well, come in. I want to introduce you around.”
There were about fifteen people in the room, many of whom were on Stanley’s video. To Regan’s surprise, Lydia started tapping her glass with a spoon and calling for everyone’s attention. When the chatter died down, she began, “Oh yes, hello again, everyone. I’m so glad you’re here tonight. Last night’s fun was cut short due to the death of my dear neighbor. But we have also learned that diamonds are missing from his apartment. So, everyone, we’re here not only to get a chance to know each other, but also to help out my detective friend-” Lydia pointed as though she were announcing the winner of a beauty contest-“Regan Reilly!”
As all eyes turned to Regan, Lydia clapped.
So much for subtlety, Regan thought. “Thank you, Lydia. And thank you all for your attention. You know, I could really use your help. Sometimes we notice something, but it doesn’t really register until we focus on it. That’s why I’d like to ask each of you what you remember about last night. You might have seen something in the hallway or in the lobby downstairs when you came in. It could be anything. I know you all were enjoying yourselves in here for most of the night. But think about when you were coming in and out of the building. Thank you.”
As soon as Regan stopped talking, people turned to each other and started murmuring.
“Let’s have fun again,” Lydia cried as she turned up the CD player.
A guy with a bad toupee hurried over to Regan, his drink spilling slightly down the sides of his glass.
“You must have seen something. Let’s sit down right here,” Regan said, indicating one of the love seats.
He sat down next to her and stared into her eyes. “You know, normally I only go for blondes, but I think that I could like you.” He quickly took a sip of his drink.
This is worse than any nightmare, Regan thought. “Actually, I’m seeing someone right now.”
“Is it serious?” he asked, his eyes growing wider.
“Serious enough,” Regan said, then found herself saying, “besides, I live in California.”
He reached over and touched her hand. “I go out there sometimes on business.”
Regan shook her head slightly. “Sorry, I really am involved with someone. Now tell me what you saw last night.”
“Nothing.” He got up and headed straight for the food table.
Jack should see the competition, Regan thought as she spotted the woman with the Snoopy purse. Regan caught her eye, and the woman came over to her slowly.
“Please sit down,” Regan said. “That’s an interesting purse.”
The woman was somewhere between forty and death. Regan had the odd sensation that she even resembled Snoopy.
“It’s a conversation piece,” she said.
Regan leaned over and touched Snoopy’s nose. She got a quick glimpse of a hidden zipper underneath it before the woman pulled it away.
“Please don’t touch Snoopy,” she said. “I don’t want him to get your germs.”
Oh boy, Regan thought.
“And I didn’t see anything much last night. But I’m very sad that Nat died. He was a nice man.”
“Did you know him?” Regan asked gently.
“He came to Lydia’s Valentine’s Day party. He sat with me for a little while and said he liked my purse. Then he told me he liked sheep. He said he had a couple of life-sized sheep that he’d show me. We talked about them a little bit. Then I went to the bathroom, and when I came out, he was gone.” Her voice trembled as she spoke the last few words. “I guess he didn’t like me.”
“Maybe he was tired,” Regan said.
“The party was kind of breaking up. I guess I took too long in the bathroom.”
“Didn’t you see him again at any of Lydia’s other parties?”
“I caught the flu,” she said and looked at Snoopy. “You did too, didn’t you?” She turned back to Regan. “Last night was my first night back.”
Some witness this one would be, Regan thought. She could just picture her on the stand consulting with Snoopy. “Were these people all at that party on Valentine’s Day?”
Snoopy’s mom looked around. “Pretty much.”
“A nice group, huh?” Regan prodded.
“They’re all right. But a couple of these women really pour on the perfume. How do they think they’re going to get a guy if you can’t breathe around them?”
“Who wears the strong perfume?” Regan asked.
She pointed to the door. “One of them’s leaving right now.”