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Authors: Charles Benoit

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“I have connections,” Doug said.

“No you don’t, Douglas, don’t be silly. You live in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. You count bottles for a living. You’re kind, you’re honest, you’re a gentleman in a blue-collar sort of way. You’re just not the sort of man that outwits murdering jewel thieves. Not many people are. The truth is you’re a nice guy, Douglas, and that’s not a bad thing to be.”

“And you look good in a suit,” Aisha said, holding her hand out. “Well?” she added.

For almost a minute Doug didn’t move, then, with a deep sigh, he reached into his coat pocket and took out a small wad of tissues. He placed it in Aisha’s palm.

Aisha peeled back the layers of tissue to reveal the grape-sized red diamond. She plucked it out and held it between her thumb and forefinger.

“Oh my God, it’s so beautiful,” she said as she held it up to the light. Doug watched her as she stared at the diamond, her eyes wide and soft. He wondered what she saw as she looked into the dark red facets. She stared a moment longer, blinked twice, and the look was gone. “It’s worth more than I thought,” she said.

“May I?” Sergei said, reaching across the table. From his pocket he removed a jeweler’s loupe and a small white box. He placed the loupe to his right eye and examined the diamond. “It’s not flawless, but it’s close. And as for its value, you’re not alone Miss Al-Kady, it’s worth more than I dared speculate.” Sergei opened the box and set the diamond inside on a bed of white satin. “Thank you, Douglas,” he said as he closed the lid and returned the box and the loupe to his pocket.

Sergei smiled at Aisha as he opened his menu. “Enjoy your meal, Douglas,” he said. “I’m sure you see it our way. You really have no other choice. As for you, Miss Al-Kady, I suggest either the
risotto
or the
carpaccio
de
Beouf
. Both are marvelous.”

“Sorry, Doug,” Aisha said, laughing, “no hamburgers.”

Doug left his menu closed on the table and cleared his throat. “Actually, I have another idea.”

“For dinner?” Aisha said. “It’s a little late now.”

“No, it’s about the diamond,” Doug said. Sergei and Aisha looked up from their menus.

“You don’t seriously think we’re going to let go of the diamond now, do you?” Aisha said. “Deal with it, Doug. We win, you lose.”

“Now Aisha, no need to be less than gracious. So, Douglas,” Sergei said, setting his menu down and folding his hands in front of him. “After all I explained to you and after hearing Miss Al-Kady’s rather firm declarations, you still have an alternative plan for the diamond. Interesting. And what, may I ask, would that plan be?”

“Well,” Doug said, “it goes something like this.”

Doug raised his hand and caught the eye of the
maitre d’
, who in turn caught the eye of Mr. Fung Kee Fung, who only had to raise his finger slightly to get the attention of Andrew Chan, who, smiling, led a swarm of Raffles security guards and TV camera crews towards the lone table in the corner of the room.

“What’s going on?” Aisha said, her voice anxious and less confident.

“Don’t do this, Douglas,” Sergei said as uniformed guards and the bright lights of shoulder-mounted video cameras surrounded their table.

“Mr. Pearce, it is so very good to see you again.” Mr. Fung Kee Fung extended his arm and cameras clicked as Doug stood and shook his hand. “Your adventures are certainly adding to the storied reputation of our little hotel.”

A crowd three deep ringed the table but they stepped back far enough to allow Doug space to speak. “Thank you Mr. Fung Kee Fung, but it’s this remarkable hotel that adds to my little adventures.” Flashes from a dozen cameras accompanied Mr. Fung Kee Fung’s humble chuckle. Sergei and Aisha sat quietly, swirling their drinks and staring at the ornate ceiling.

“Fifty years ago,
Al Ainab
, one of the most beautiful and legendary diamonds in the world, was stolen,” Doug said, addressing the bank of television cameras and newspaper reporters. “Several people were killed in the process, including my uncle, Russell Pearce. He was murdered in this city and his killer was never found. This man here,” Doug said, turning to face Sergei, “is the educator, museum director, and author Dr. Sergei Nikolaisen.” Sergei stared at a chandelier, took a deep breath and raised his chin slightly.

“Thanks to evidence that has recently come to light, I can say with confidence that it was
this
man,” Doug continued, pointing at Sergei, “who made the recovery of
Al Ainab
possible.”

The news cameras shifted to Sergei as a dozen reporters scribbled approximations of his name in their notebooks. Sergei’s shoulders relaxed and he turned to look up at Doug. “Thanks to his expertise, his wisdom, and his incredible patience, we were able to recover this legendary diamond.”

“And this is Miss Aisha Al-Kady,” Doug continued. The cameras shifted and zoomed in on Aisha while reporters, security guards and hotel management committed her name to memory. Aisha held a flat, hard smile as she stared at Doug. “It was Miss Al-Kady’s brilliant research that enabled us to track the diamond to Singapore.” As if on cue, Aisha tilted her head and smiled while lowering her eyes modestly. For a moment that corner of Raffles Grill lit up like noon from a barrage of camera flashes.

“Thanks to the knowledge and dedication of these two scholars, it was easy for us to locate the diamond, hidden among my late uncle’s belongings, held in trust by the fine staff of this hotel. With Mr. Archer’s assistance,” a few cameras turned away from Aisha to get a shot of the museum curator bowing, “and the help of Chong Kim Siap of the Singapore Police Department,” Kim winked and gave Doug a thumbs-up, “I’m pleased to say that the mystery of
Al Ainab
has been solved. Now,” Doug said, turning to Sergei, “if Dr. Nikolaisen would be so kind….”

Sergei glared at Doug as the reporters and guards looked on. Then suddenly he smiled and stood up next to Doug.

Doug turned and offered his hand to Aisha. She gave Doug a cold smile as she took his hand. The cameras clicked to capture the group photo.

Sergei reached into his pocket and retrieved the small white box. “It’s been our great honor to play a small role in the history of
Al Aniab
.” He lifted the lid and held the box so that the camera crews could zoom in on the red glow.

Chapter 37

Edna Bowers signed her name with a flourish and handed the check to Doug.

“This should cover all these expenses,” she said, referring to the pile of receipts on the glass-topped coffee table in front of them. It had taken over a month for the last charges to appear on his Visa statement and Edna had insisted that he wait until it was updated. “I added a little something extra, sort of a bonus. I don’t want to hear any nonsense about you not earning it.”

Her townhouse looked as it did in early June. The plants were a bit fuller after the summer sun and there was a stack of new books next to her chair, but not much had changed. Edna still looked far younger than her age and her slight tan indicated she had benefited from some time in the sun as well.

Doug’s pickup truck had been stolen in early July. The neighbors couldn’t recall a specific date they first noticed it missing, but it was insured and the money allowed him to rent the bubble-shaped sedan parked out front. Doug wore one of the shirts Sergei had bought him in Cairo and a pair of pants he had bought the night before in Buffalo. He hadn’t put back on the weight he had lost that summer, but his tropical tan had faded away.

“So have you found any work yet?” she said, leaning back in her chair.

“Funny thing about that,” Doug said. “A week after I’m back I get a call from the brewery. They want me back with a bit of a pay raise and a better position.” He sipped his glass of red wine. “You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?”

“It’s only fair,” she said, “seeing as I’m the one that had you fired in the first place.”

“When Mr. Odenbach offered me the new position he mumbled something about a foreign investor making staffing decisions for him. Didn’t sound too happy, by the way.”

“He’ll get over it. Anyway, I needed you more than they did. When I learned that Sergei was still alive I had to put something together quickly. He’s not as young as he looks, you know. I always thought that he knew something about the whereabouts of that diamond and I just knew that if a long-lost relative of Russell Pearce was asking questions, he’d assume that you knew more than he did and move things along for me.”

“Let’s see then,” he said, “you get me fired from the only job I ever had, toss me in the path of a known murderer….”

“I wasn’t certain he had killed Russ,” Edna said.

“But you were pretty sure. You let me get led halfway around the world on the hope that something would pop up.”

“Now that’s not fair. Yes, I did send you to Morocco and yes, I knew Sergei would be involved and, yes, I did encourage you to go to Cairo since that’s where
I
thought it would be, but I didn’t have anything to do with all those things that happened to you. Next thing I know, you’re in Singapore. That came as a surprise.”

“You were kind of loaded when I called,” he reminded her.

“Well it was quite a surprise the next afternoon, I can tell you. In any case, you proved that Charley didn’t kill Russ. That makes it all worth it, it’s all I ever really wanted. I knew that Charley was innocent all along.”

“Of course you did, Charley,” Doug said. He took another sip of his wine. “This is good. Cabernet, right?”

Edna sat quietly for a minute. Her index finger tapped the rim of her glass as she looked across at Doug, a smile slowly forming on her face. “Was that a guess or did you know?”

“A guess,” Doug said. “But now I know. You were there in Cairo, I saw your picture, but the notes you sent me made it sound as if you learned about it all second-hand. That got me thinking. That and the pronoun.”

“The pronoun?”

“Lack of, actually. It was always ‘Charley this’ and ‘Charley that.’ You never said ‘he.’ After a while it sounded funny.”

“I stopped being Charley Hodge that week in Singapore. I assumed that if I told you I was the chief suspect in your uncle’s murder, you would have never gone.”

“So all those comments about Charley’s wild encounters with beautiful women were just to throw me off the track?”

“No, those were real. There are some parts of my life I’m not afraid to admit. That doesn’t mean I want to discuss them with you.”

“And that’s fine with me.” He remembered Nasser Ashkanani’s photograph with Uncle Russ and a young Edna Bowers, and he remembered the old man saying how the woman was too wild for Cairo. And he remembered how the old man said she was the mastermind behind it all.

“When I first heard Russ had been killed I felt so horribly guilty. We had had a little argument in Egypt over a young lady. We patched things up before he sailed but I was still angry. I was so young at the time,” Edna said, shaking her head, still a beautiful woman. “I got drunk one night and told Sergei that Russ was taking the diamond to Singapore.”

“Sergei is a resourceful man,” Doug said. “He would have found him without your help.”

“When I think it through, I know I’m not responsible for Russ’ death. Years would go by and I wouldn’t think about it.” She closed her eyes for a moment and Doug could just make out a soft sigh. “Recently, however, I’ve been looking back a lot. The guilt, as irrational as it is, was getting to me. I needed to know what happened.” She looked across to Doug. “Thank you.”

“Anything for a friend of the family,” Doug said as he checked his watch. “Geeze, I got to get moving. I’m meeting a friend at the Toronto airport. It’s her first international flight. She’s arriving from Singapore.”

“That’s wonderful. You going to show her Pottsville?”

“No, we’re gonna swing down to New York City for a few days. And I want to stop in Cooperstown, see if I can pick up a ball to replace this one.” He held up the gutted remains of the old Reach. “After that? We’ll see what happens.”

Edna nodded her head and smiled. Doug had seen that smile before. His dad smiled like that when he came to watch Doug play ball. His mom smiled like that no matter what he did. And he’d seen that same smile on Sergei’s face when Doug told him how he had solved the murder.

“I saw in
The New Yorker
that Sergei accepted a position with the museum in Brussels,” Edna said. “And there’s a flattering if somewhat risqué profile on Miss Al-Kady in the European edition of
Vogue
. And as for me, well, you know I’ll always be grateful. But it seems, Douglas, that everyone got what they wanted but you.”

“Actually I found what I was looking for,” Doug said and smiled, “inside a pyramid.”

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BOOK: Relative Danger
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