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56

Fleeced

Regan had just finished dressing when the doorbell rang. Here we go, she thought. It was Clara.

Thomas told me to come upstairs and see you, Clara said anxiously, stepping inside.

Ive got to go talk to him. Do you know if hes seen the paper today?

Hes a mess, Clara declared emphatically. And that girlfriend of his is crying her eyes out.

She is? Regan said.

Wouldnt you? Clara answered, raising her arms in the air. Thanks to that article people think this place is a tacky madhouse.

Regan just looked at her.

All right, Ill admit calling in to that program wasnt such a good idea. At least they didnt mention that in the paper.

Theres always tomorrow.

Regan!

Sorry, Clara. I wanted to talk to you about Nat for a few minutes.

Poor man.

You heard about the break-in here last night? Regan led her into the living room.

Thomas told me. Would you look at this mess! Nat loved his books, and now theyre thrown all over. Clara shook her head. Its terrible. And those sheep. They were in this living room for so long. Now theyre out of the building at that crazy movie set. Daphne had no right to let those weirdos take them away.

She promised theyd be back tonight.

She still had no right. They were Nat and Wendys babies.

How long have you worked here, Clara?

Ten years next Sunday.

So you knew both Nat and his wife?

Clara nodded. A darling couple. A little too crazy about sheep for my taste, but to each his own.

Thomas told me that Wendy was from England and had grown up in the country where there were a lot of sheep.

Yeah, so, I grew up next to a dog pound. You dont find me with a bunch of stuffed dogs cluttering up my apartment.

Regan didnt argue the point. They must have been perfect for each other then.

You know what their song was? Clara asked Regan. I Only Have Eyes for You. Thats E-W-E. Nat used to sing it to her all the time. Theyd laugh and laugh. Claras voice became softer. He loved to play practical jokes. He definitely liked to have fun.

Clara, did you see any sign that Nat had a girlfriend in this past month?

Clara looked thoughtful. You know, Regan, she said as she started walking down the hall, Regan following her, he did buy a few new clothes about three weeks ago. He came in with a bunch of shopping bags, and hed gotten a haircut and a shave at the barbers. He told me he hadnt gone out for a shave in years. He laughed and said the barber went to town on him, clipping his nose hairs and pruning his eyebrows. But then one day last week, as he was leaving, I asked if he was going out to get his nose hairs clipped, just kind of making a joke, and he said he didnt need to bother with silly things like that anymore.

That must have been when he decided to break up with her, Regan thought. But he didnt tell you anything about a girlfriend?

No! He might have felt funny, because all he did before that was talk about Wendy. Almost as if she were still alive. Come to think of it, for a few weeks there, he didnt say a thing about her, but then last week it was Wendy this and Wendy that again. I dont think he ever got over losing her.

Clara paused at the door to the master bedroom. After she died, he wanted to keep everything the same. Im not surprised it didnt last if he did take up with someone new. She then wandered over to the bathroom. He had this all redone for her. All of a sudden she gestured wildly with her arm. Thats what it is, Regan!

What?

Wendys towels are missing!

Wendys towels?

Yes. They always hang on the rack over there. Clara pointed to the empty rack on the wall. With the shock of it all yesterday, I didnt think of it. Nat never used those towels, but he always wanted them there. Occasionally Id wash them, just so theyd look fresh.

Did they have the sheep appliqu'e on them? Regan asked.

Of course.

I found one of those appliqu'es on the floor by the shower, Regan said.

Theyre very delicate. It must have fallen off.

So the towels are missing, Regan mused, and one of the appliqu'es was found by the shower. Why would someone take the towels the night Nat died? she asked aloud.

Clara looked befuddled. And dont forget, on that night Nat takes a bath, not a shower. Thats what he always took. A shower. Between ten and ten-thirty every night, he told me.

So if he did take a shower that night, and whoever came in here wanted to make it look as if hed slipped in the tub, they would have had to dry off the shower stall in case Nat was found before it dried off by itself. So they grab the towels in a hurry and rub vigorously-

And the sheep falls off! Clara blurted out, finishing Regans sentence. Nat must have been murdered!

Clara, youve got to keep an eye out for those towels. Whoever took them might have hidden them somewhere in the club.

A murderer was here, Regan! A murderer!

Clara, we dont know that.

Yes we do. Why else would those towels be missing?

Good question, Regan thought. Clara, please dont call-

Im not calling the crime show. Dont worry! But Ill search every inch of this club, looking for those towels. Clara clutched Regans hand. I want to help you find who did this to Nat. Im telling you. He made my job easy. The man hated to take a bath!


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