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6

Fleeced

Thomas Pilsner sat at his desk in his office on the first floor of the Settlers Club, wringing his hands. Normally the sight of his Oriental rug, faded leather club chairs, and handsome rolltop desk soothed him. But not today. His mind was racing, and his heart was beating at a rate that would only have been acceptable if he had just finished a run around Gramercy Park.

How he loved it here. Gramercy Park, with its graceful trees, shady lawns, cast-iron gates, and flagstone sidewalks, was like a mirage just steps from Midtown Manhattan. The park was the cloistered centerpiece of the neighborhood. It was a landmark that had been called the cherished jewel in the crown that is New York City. Original town houses in Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Victorian Gothic surrounded the park, and one of the citys earliest apartment houses had been built on its southeast corner.

Everyone who lived on the square received a key to the gate of the private park-a two acre haven of pastoral charm, accessible only to bordering property owners.

People felt as if they were stepping into another century when they rounded the corner and the park came into view. Noise receded, and time moved much more slowly. The chaos and confusion of the city seemed to disappear as the skyscrapers and traffic jams were left behind.

This place feels like anything but a haven now, Thomas thought miserably. Why didnt I live here a hundred years ago, when the writers and painters and architects all made their homes in these beautiful buildings and life was so much more civilized? When the club didnt have all these financial difficulties?

Thomas blew his nose and willed himself to be calm. Regans coming, he thought. Shell help me with all this.

The phone on his desk rang.

Regan Reilly is here, the security guard told him.

Send her in.


Jacks arm was around Regans shoulder as he guided her up the staircase to the main floor and down the hall to Thomass office.

This doesnt sound like it qualifies for the Major Case Squad, but Im anxious to hear whats going on, he said to Regan.

Thomas greeted them at the door. Regan, he cried, not a moment too soon.

Regan introduced Thomas to Jack. They sat down in the chairs across the desk from Thomas.

Jack has to leave soon, Regan said, but hes with the Major Case Squad in Manhattan and is a good friend of mine. Hes here to help us.

Thomas gave Jack the once-over. I need all the help I can get.

Ive already filled Jack in on everything you told me, Regan said. What else can you tell us about whats been going on around here?

I was hired last September, after I graduated from business school, to try and bring some new life to this club. The place might not look it on the surface, but its falling apart! It needs so much work, and it needs new members. With all the health clubs springing up, people arent joining the old clubs anymore.

Regan nodded her head as if urging him to continue.

Ive done everything I can to drag people in here. A movie company is even using the front parlor this afternoon to shoot scenes for their latest film. Were having a gala anniversary party here tomorrow night. The club is one hundred years old. Thats why Nat and Ben decided to make the donation now. It would have brought such excitement and publicity. It was our only chance. Id even lined up a couple of reporters to come over and cover the party. But now theres no donation, and I have to try and hide the fact that there was probably a murder and a robbery here! Who would want to join a club where these terrible things have happened? Thomas broke the pencil he was holding in his hands and dropped the pieces on the desk. His upper lip was starting to sweat.

How many apartments are on this guys floor? Regan asked.

Just two. Theyre the penthouses.

Was there anyone home across the hall last night? Jack asked.

Thomas rolled his eyes. Was there ever! The woman who lives there has singles parties. She started a matchmaking service. She was having a little do last night.

Well, someone from the party could have gotten access to Pemrods apartment, Regan suggested.

She also has a butler who runs a butler school up there. He only has a few students, but they were working at the party. When the police helped me downstairs after I fainted, everyone was standing around. It was terrible!

Could you have left the door open when you ran downstairs after discovering Nats body? Regan asked. There would have been time for someone to steal the diamonds and get out before the police arrived.

I suppose, Thomas said slowly. I was in such a state. Its not every day that you find someone floating in the tub. I should just have called the police from there

Regan sighed. Were there people in the hallway before word got out about Nats death?

People were going out to the terrace at the end of the hall to smoke. Lydia doesnt let people smoke in her apartment.

And people had heard about the existence of the diamonds? Jack asked.

Apparently the place was buzzing with the news.

Maybe Nat or Ben told someone of their plans, Regan said. Thats the kind of secret thats hard to keep. What about Nats next of kin?

I just spoke to his only relative, a brother who lives in Palm Springs. His name is Carl Pemrod. He knew nothing about the diamonds. He cant travel anymore, so he wont make it out here. Nats body will be cremated. Carl wants you to call him, Regan. I have his number for you. He met your mother once when she spoke at the library out there. He said youre welcome to stay in the apartment and do what you need to do.

Regan raised her eyes. Stay in the apartment?

Yes. There was a flood in our guest suite in the basement, and it smells kind of musty. Or else you can stay in my apartment, but I only have one bedroom. I can sleep on the couch.

No, Regan said almost too quickly. Ill stay up there. I assume the police have no problem with that.

They didnt declare it a crime scene! I wish they had!

It has two bedrooms and baths? Regan asked.

Yes.

Good. Id prefer not to use the bathroom he was found in.

The phone on Thomass desk rang. As he picked it up, Jack reached over and grabbed Regans hand. Ive got to go. Walk outside with me.

Regan followed him out into the hallway, down the steps, and out the front door. The day suddenly felt chillier, and the sky was a more ominous gray.

Jack reached over and pulled on the lapels of Regans jacket. I wish I didnt have to go away.

Not more than me. Regan leaned her head against Jacks shoulder. That apartment is going to be lonely and eerie when Im here all by myself.

Jack laughed and put his arms around her. Lock the doors, baby. Im going to call over to the 13th Precinct and talk to whoever was here last night. As soon as I do, Ill let you know and get you the reports. Stay in touch with those guys.

Well, it sounds to me like this is going to be my investigation. It doesnt seem like theyre pursuing it.

No sign of forced entry. Jewelry left out. No letter of intent about the diamonds. Old guy slips in the tub. They might be operating under the assumption that there was no crime.

But I believe Thomas. Those diamonds have to be somewhere.

Even if they are, if the bequest isnt in Nats will, then the diamonds would go to his brother.

Regan shrugged. Ill look into it all. She smiled up at him. I think were both going to have some weekend.

Jack leaned down and kissed her. Sunday will be the best part.

Regan turned and peered up at the club. It had a slightly foreboding look. If I make it to Sunday, she said.


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