May 7, 4:48 p.m.
It hadn't occurred to Ida and Craig that Alexis Hoffermuth not only regarded the police as public protectors; she saw them as her personal servants. Through taxes and contributions, she paid a large portion of their salaries, and she wanted a return on that investment.
Her call to the police had been prompt, distraught, and demanding. When Alexis Hoffermuth spoke, people listened. When she was upset, they listened extra hard.
The bracelet in the imitation Gucci purse had itself been an imitation. Even though it wasn't the
Cardell bracelet, it was a pretty good paste facsimile. Some smartass crooks were playing with Alexis Hoffermuth's mind to keep her off balance and buy time, toying with her, toying with the police, making a fool of her and the police commissionerâHarley Renz.
Renz wouldn't have that. Absolutely wouldn't.
Neither would Alexis Hoffermuth.
So here Quinn was with Pearl to see Alexis in her apartment in the exclusive Gladden Tower, an impressive edifice her late husband had constructed.
Rather, paid to have constructed.
An unctuous doorman met them in the marble lobby and interrogated them as if they really didn't belong in the building, but maybe, just maybe, he would permit their temporary presence. Quinn made a mental note of the fact that the marble desk where the doorman usually sat had a brass plaque on it identifying him as Melman. No first name, unless it was Melman.
Quinn would remember Melman.
After they'd passed inspection in the lobby, they were given the privilege of riding the private, walnut-paneled elevator to the fifty-ninth-floor penthouse. They stood side by side, their bodies touching, as they rocketed up the core of the building. The back wall of the narrow elevator was lined with tufted taupe silk. There was no sound.
“Zoom,” Quinn said.
“Reminds me of a vertical coffin.”
take it with you.”
Quinn had been expecting a butler, but when the elevator finally settled down, rather than enter near space, its paneled door opened, and Alexis Hoffermuth herself met them.
The widow had the immediate commanding presence that sometimes accompanies great wealth. She was in her early fifties, lean, cosmetically enhanced, and attractive. When twenty years younger, she'd probably been stunning. She was wearing a sleek black dress and black high heels, and looked as if she might be ready for a luncheon date to discuss a million-dollar endowment. Society page newspaper photos Quinn had seen came to mind. Alexis was active in the city's social as well as political life and would usually be on the arm of a younger, handsome escort.
would be on
arm. Alexis was what the current flock of society journalists called a cougar. Quinn thought she looked the part. She even moved like aâ
, Pearl thought. The woman looked and moved more like a cat than any human she'd ever seen. She gave Pearl the creeps.
“Please do sit down,” Alexis said, gracefully gliding to the side. She motioned toward a sitting area defined by a large Persian rug, matching cream-colored sofas, and easy chairs. One wall of the vast penthouse was glass, affording a stunning view of the buildings to the east and then the river. The high, high ceiling was also partly glass. Beyond it clouds floated past like lost souls of the city. All in all, the apartment reminded Pearl of an airport terminal. If dirigibles were still in fashion, surely they would dock here.
Looking as if any second she might pause and arch her back, Alexis moved to a small mirrored table. She opened the drawer and drew out a handful of glitter.
Pearl and Quinn were seated side by side on the soft leather sofa facing the glass wall. Quinn thought they must look like the pilot and copilot of the
Alexis glided over and showed them the two bracelets.
“They're beautiful,” Pearl said, staring at the glinting clear diamonds and gleaming rubies.
“But they're imitations.” Alexis pointedly turned her attention to Quinn. He was the power half of the duo that had come to see her. “Good imitations, for sure, but I want the genuine bracelet back.”
“Tell me how it was stolen,” Quinn said.
Alexis recounted how some blond woman had piled into her parked limo, yammering and pretending she'd made a mistake and entered the wrong vehicle. Black limos looked so much alike. Oh, she was always screwing up. “Bad girl! Bad girl!” she had actually said.
During all the apologies and confusion, she'd switched purses.
“She apologized a dozen more times as she clambered out of the car, and left me with an imitation Gucci purse containing an imitation Cardell bracelet,” Alexis said. “Later, my actual purse was returned to me by the postal authorities. Someone had dumped it in a mailbox. Either the person who stole it, or someone who found it after the thief had disposed of it. Miraculously, it still contained all its contents, and something elseâwhat appeared to be the Cardell bracelet. Closer inspection revealed it to be almost worthless paste, yet another imitation.”
“Somebody went to a lot of trouble,” Quinn said.
Alexis Hoffermuth nodded sagely. “People will do that,” she said, “for a lot of money.”
“But it's an odd way of stealing,” Pearl said.
Alexis stared at her as if offended. “Why? It caused confusion and misdirection, bought time, and by now the crooks might be in some other country, toasting their success and each other.”
“Or that might be what they want us to think,” Quinn said.
Alexis looked at him not at all the way she'd looked at Pearl. The handsome-homely Quinn filled his space and could inspire confidence and give hope, sometimes just by being present. He gave the impression he'd wandered down from Mt. Rushmore to become a cop.
Alexis smiled dazzlingly at him. Cougarishly, Pearl thought. “Do you really think, Detective Quinn, that we have a decent chance of recovering the real Cardell bracelet before it's disassembled and sold by the stone?”
“It's enough of a chance that it's worth taking, dear,” Quinn told her.
Why did women fall for his bullshit?
Why did I?
“Commissioner Renz spoke very highly of you and your agency,” Alexis said. “Of course, he's as much a politician as he is a policeman. I would go so far as to say he can't be completely trusted.”
“I would go so far as to say you might be right.”
Alexis favored him with another predatory smile. “I appreciate the restraint of your reply.” She repositioned herself about five feet to her left, slim hips moving like silk, so she was facing Quinn directly and placing Pearl on the periphery. “Shall we talk fee?”
“I appreciate your directness,” Quinn said.
And fee they talked, as if Pearl didn't exist.
But Pearl listened, and was astounded by how much Alexis Hoffermuth would pay for the return of the genuine Cardell bracelet.
Pearl didn't look at Quinn as they were shown back to the private elevator, fearing that they both might break out in grins. As the elevator descended she could imagine Alexis Hoffermuth upstairs cleaning herself with her tongue. She decided not to mention that imagery to Quinn. Men and women saw the Alexis Hoffermuths of the world differently.
When they'd left the elevator and exited the lobby, both of them did smile.
“I can still smell the money,” Pearl said, as they walked away from the stone and glass tower where Alexis Hoffermuth lived like Rapunzel with a short and stylish do. She glanced over at Quinn. “You weren't shy about asking for our share.”
“Alexis is the type who isn't shy about giving.”
“I sensed that about her, too.”
“I was thinking about her charity events.”
There was a break in traffic, so they jaywalked.
“You've got Jody pissed off now,” Pearl said, as they gained the curb on the other side of the street. “First you put her on the cat case because it wasn't important, and now you've got her back at the office doing paperwork and missing cat research while we go talk with Alexis Hoffermuth.”
“The case got more important,” Quinn said. “I know that because Renz is bugging the hell out of me to get it solved.”
They came to where Quinn's aging but gleaming Lincoln was parked in a loading zone.
“Back in the real world,” Pearl said, when they were in the old car's quiet interior and buckled up.
“You sure?” Quinn asked.
She smiled. She liked it when Quinn got all metaphysical.
“Seldom,” she amended, hoping to draw him into a complex, philosophical discussion. That was always good for some smiles.
But he drove in near silence, his usual taciturn self. Complicated yet simple in way and deed. Smart enough to be direct and unerring in his aim.
She wouldn't love him nearly so much if she could figure him out.