By seven-thirty the Settlers’ Club was packed. Lydia’s singles, club members, prospective club members, and Nora’s group from the crime convention were all mingling and enjoying themselves. There were even adventurous types who had bought last-minute tickets to the party after reading about the festivities in the newspaper.
On the surface it looked like a successful party at a lovely club. But was it? Stanley was catching all the fun with his video camera, while the reporter who’d broken the scandalous story in the New York World hadn’t dared to show up.
Regan was circulating, keeping an eye out for Georgette. So far there had been no sign of her. Clara was sipping a vodka martini. Thomas and Janey were doing their best to act as hosts. Lydia was chatting with a group in the corner, no doubt trying to recruit them for her own soir'ees. Maldwin watched over his butlers as they made sure everyone had a drink and was well taken care of. Daphne had not been seen at all. She had been so upset with Thomas about the sheep and her lost opportunity in Jacques Harlow’s movies that Regan felt a little sorry for her.
Now if only Jack would get here, Regan thought as she joined the group around her mother and father.
“Those sheep are so interesting,” Nora said. “I like them.”
“So did the movie director who didn’t want to give them back. I guess they’re much more valuable than one might think at first glance.”
“Their eyes do have a certain sparkle,” Nora said.
Regan looked over and noticed a dark-haired woman hanging around by the sheep and occasionally staring up at them. Something about her seemed familiar, but Regan was sure she hadn’t been at the singles party.
“Oh, here’s Kyle Fleming,” Nora said as she spotted Kyle coming through the door. “Regan, you should meet him. He gave the best lecture on con artists.”
“I’d love to,” Regan said.
Thomas was scheduled to give a toast right before they started the buffet line at eight. He went into his office to get out his notes. He’d worked hard on his little speech. If they were ever going to rustle up any new members for the club, now was the time to motivate them.
Thomas shut the door, walked over to his desk, and sat down. When he looked up, Daphne was leaning against the opposite wall, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Can you come out back with me?” she asked, her voice cracking. “I need some air. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.”
“Where’s Thomas?” Janey asked Regan.
“I haven’t seen him.”
“He’s not in his office and he’s supposed to give a toast.”
Everyone turned to see a man who looked as if he’d had a few too many drinks climb the ladder near the sheep. He waved his arms at the crowd.
“I’d like to make an annoucement,” he slurred. “My name is Burkhard, and I know that some of you are here from Lydia Sevatura’s singles parties. I just thought that you should know that she has been making fun-”
“AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” Lydia came charging across the room like one of the bulls running in Pamplona and knocked down the ladder. Burkhard fell sideways, jostling the platform where the sheep were parked, and landed on top of the anniversary cake.
The sudden jolt dislodged one of Dolly’s eyes, and it fell to the floor. As Regan rushed over, the dark-haired woman who’d been staring at the sheep dove for the ground, and an icing-covered Burkhard slid down on top of her.
Just as Regan leaned down to pull Burkhard up, she saw the woman’s hand close over the eye. In a flash, everything came together. I only have eyes for ewe. The diamonds. The sparkly eyes.
“Buttercup!” Regan cried.
Georgette’s head involuntarily turned toward Regan’s voice.
“It’s you, Georgette, isn’t it?” Regan said. “Why don’t you hand it over?”
With her free hand, Georgette reached down the inside of her leg, grabbed her gun, and started to run for the door.
The crowd started to scream and scatter in a panic, trying to get out of Georgette’s way.
With a burst of speed, Regan ran after her and tackled her from behind.
“No, Georgette,” Regan yelled as the gun fired into the air, putting a hole through one of the ancient portraits above the stairway. Regan knocked the gun out of Georgette’s hand as she wrestled her to the ground.
From behind Regan, the voice of Kyle Fleming boomed. “Georgette, how nice to see you again.”
Georgette started screaming bloody murder as Regan grabbed the gun and pried the diamond from her hand. Kyle Fleming quickly slapped a pair of cuffs around Georgette’s wrists.
With the diamond in hand, Regan raced back to the platform, raised the ladder off the floor, scrambled up the steps, and grabbed the three other diamonds from Dolly’s and Bah-Bah’s eye sockets. She turned to the crowd and held out her hand. “The missing diamonds!”
“The club is saved!” someone cried, and everyone cheered.
Just then, Janey’s voice shouted from the doorway, “Regan, I can’t find Thomas anywhere!”
Before Regan could say a word, Harriet came running out of the kitchen. “Fire!” she screamed and turned to run back.
Mass hysteria erupted once again. As it was, the crowd was packed in cheek by jowl. They turned as one and started heading for the door for the second time in a matter of moments.
Regan turned and saw Jack standing in the doorway. “Jack!”
“Regan, who was that woman who cried fire?”
“Harriet. One of the student butlers,” Regan yelled, smoke pouring out all around.
Jack ran toward the kitchen.
“Regan, I have to find Thomas!” Janey wailed.
Nora and Luke were helping usher people out. Regan passed them. “Go ahead. We want to find Thomas. And I’m afraid there’s someone else who might be in their apartment.”
“I’m coming with you,” Luke insisted.
Clara was nearby. “I’m coming too, Regan.”.
Together they all ran down the hall. Smoke was everywhere. “He’s not in his office!” Regan yelled.
“Where is he?” Janey gasped.
Clara grabbed the master key from Thomas’s desk.
“I’m going to try Daphne’s door,” Regan said. They raced down the hall, calling Thomas’s and Daphne’s names. Regan banged on the door to Daphne’s apartment. “Give me the key,” she ordered Clara.
Clara handed it over, and Regan unlocked the door. “Daphne,” she called, turning on lights. Peering into the bedroom, she saw clothes all over the bed. Is she under that rumpled mass? Regan wondered. She flicked on the light, raced over, Clara at her heels, and picked a sweater off the heap. No Daphne.
“Oh my God!” Regan yelled.
“Oh, sweet Jesus!” Clara cried.
There were two sheep appliqu'es stuck to the right arm of Daphne’s sweater. “It was Daphne who killed Nat!” Regan said in horror.
Janey howled. “And she’s furious with Thomas!”
“Let’s go!” Regan said.
“I bet they’re out back!” Clara cried.
They ran into the hallway, which was thick with smoke, and hurried down the staircase and out the back door. Daphne had Thomas cornered. She had a huge knife in her hands.
“Daphne!” Regan yelled.
Daphne turned to Regan, her eyes filled with hate. “He ruined my career!”
“What about Nat?” Regan asked, feeling for Georgette’s gun in her jacket pocket.
“I was so good to him and Wendy. But after she died he only cared about his friends who played cards. I wanted him to be with me! But he said he could never be with another woman. Then he found somebody else. I know he did. And he had that big secret about the diamonds that he kept from me. I went crazy when I found out about that. He betrayed me!”
“Daphne, put down the knife,” Regan pleaded.
Thomas was quivering in the corner.
“Put it down.”
After a moment, Daphne dropped the knife and started to cry, this time real tears. “I lost all my chances. Nat…my acting career…”
Thomas and Janey had yet another hug-filled reunion as Regan picked the knife off the ground. “Dad, could you hold this? I’ve got a phone call to make.”
Regan pulled out her cell phone and called Edward Gold’s home number. “Any chance you can get in here tonight with that certified check?” she asked him when he answered.
“What?” Thomas cried.
Regan held out her hand. The four diamonds were resting in her palm. Now it was Thomas’s turn to cry. “They were in Dolly and Bah-Bah’s eye sockets,” Regan explained. “It’s a good thing Janey brought them back.”
Thomas turned to Janey. “Will you marry me?”
Back inside, the smoke was clearing. Regan hurried to find Jack. He was in the kitchen with Harriet, who was now in handcuffs.
“Regan,” Jack said softly and put his arms around her.
Finally it’s my turn, Regan thought.
“Our butler here was doing her best to spread the fire,” Jack informed her. “Now I’ve got to visit her boyfriend, Thorn, who is staying across the street. They’ve been working as a team to destroy any butler schools that compete with them. Because they thought no one would recognize her here in New York, she posed as a butler student.”
Harriet scowled at him.
Maldwin was in the corner of the kitchen, trying to help clean up the mess. “I should have known that Thorn would try to infiltrate my school. He never liked me,” he said. “But I’ll show him. I’m going to keep going with my school. At least three of my butlers were good people,” he said.
“Make that two,” Kyle Fleming called from the doorway. “I’d been looking for that Blaise character for a while. We got him detained out front too.”
Maldwin almost collapsed.
Across the way, Vernella and Archibald were astounded by the smoke.
“The place is on fire!” Vernella cried.
“That’s awful!” Archibald said. “I want them to close, but I don’t want people to get hurt. Not to mention the smoke damage to my building!”
In the commotion outside, they saw someone hurrying across the street. Their doorbell rang. Vernella and Archibald looked at each other.
It was Jack Reilly.
“Can I help you?” Archibald asked him.
“Is Thorn Darlington here?”
“Cousin Thorn is upstairs.”
“I’m here to place him under arrest for conspiring to commit arson.”
Archibald whirled around. Thorn was standing at the top of the stairs. “You’ve ruined our family’s good name!” he cried. “Ruined it!”
“And our chance to be the King and Queen of Gramercy Park,” Vernella snarled as she rushed to grab the champagne flute from Thorn’s hand.
An hour later, the party was back on inside the club. It was safe to say that the smoke had cleared. Edward Gold arrived with his wife, carrying a huge certified check for four million dollars made out to the Settlers’ Club. “We would have gotten here sooner, but there was a lot of traffic.”
“Sooner!” his wife exclaimed. “He drove like a madman!”
As the crowd gathered around, Thomas climbed the ladder in front of the sheep to make the toast.
Everyone raised their glass. Regan and Jack stood arm in arm by the fireplace with Clara next to them. Nora and Luke were there with the crime-convention people. Lydia was with her singles, her arms draped around two of them like a mother bear with her cubs. Burkhard had been banished from the premises, cake crumbs and icing stuck to his one good suit. Maldwin stood between his loyal butlers, Vinnie and Albert, who suddenly looked more butlerish. Janey stood adoringly at Thomas’s feet, and the club members filled out the crowd, suddenly prouder than ever to be part of such an establishment.
Stanley was ecstatic as his camera rolled. My special’s going to be unbelievable, he thought.
“I’d like to toast the memory of Nat and Ben. Thanks to them the Settlers’ Club will live on. We will all continue to be together for many years to come as we live, work, and thrive inside these smoky walls.”
Everyone laughed and took a sip of their vintage champagne as Dolly and Bah-Bah stood guard over the club.
Nora and Luke and Kyle were standing together.
“We’re going to have a lot to talk about at the brunch tomorrow,” Nora said.
“Too bad we can’t have our friend Georgette appear in person.” Kyle laughed.
“In one of her disguises,” Luke added.
Jack turned to Regan and smiled. “Now, where were we?”
Regan smiled back. “I think we were planning a trip to California.”
“I can’t wait,” he said.
“Me neither.” Their hands became entwined.
“Ya know,” Clara announced as she practically planted herself between them, “my sister and I went out to California just last year. Oh, it was lovely…”
Jack squeezed Regan’s hand.
I really can’t wait, Regan thought, as she smiled and squeezed his hand back.
“Now have you ever driven down the Coast?” Clara continued. “Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. You two should try it…”