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Authors: Lawrence Sanders

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BOOK: The Eighth Commandment
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We sat on the couch and pulled the cocktail table close. I provided wineglasses and paper napkins. We gobbled and we swigged. Not an elegant dinner, but I loved it.

“You first,” he said. “About Nettie…”

So, between chomps of pizza and gulps of Chianti, I told him the whole story, not omitting the shoplifting spree and the scam in the luncheonette. He laughed at that.

“What a character she is,” he said. “A real flake.”

“She is that,” I agreed. “But I don’t think boosting in Saks means she lifted the Demaretion.”

“Mmm,” he said. “Maybe, maybe not. What else?”

I repeated everything Nettie had told me about the Havistock family. Al listened carefully, not interrupting me and not interrupting the destruction of his half (pepperoni) of the pizza.

“You’ve got good recall, Dunk,” he said, sitting back and swabbing his mouth with a paper napkin. “And everything you’ve told me ties in pretty much with what I’ve picked up about the Havistocks. You think Nettie is clean?”

“I think she is, Al. She may be a nut, but I just can’t see her stealing from her own father.”

He brooded awhile. “Maybe it wasn’t her idea,” he said finally. “I told you about the gang of crazies she runs with. Her lover is a black stud who wears a red beret and one gold earring. He might have pushed her into it.”

I sighed. “She’s a mixed-up kid.”

“Oh, sure,” he said. “So am I. So are you. But we don’t rip off Saks Fifth Avenue. The first thing you learn in the detective business, Dunk, is not to let your personal likes or dislikes influence your thinking. Nettie could be guilty as hell. Will you buy that?”

“All right,” I said shortly, certain he was wrong. “Now tell me about Luther and Vanessa.”

“They’re just about what Nettie told you. Luther is a victim. A loser. Vanessa is a real femmy fa-tally.” He said that with wry, deliberate mispronunciation. “She even came on to
me
, for God’s sake. A slob like me.”

“You’re not a slob, Al,” I said.

“No,” he said, “and I’m not Cary Grant either. I knew what she was doing, Dunk, but I’ve got to tell you, there is one exciting woman.”

“Beautiful?”

“Different. Striking. She just gives the impression of being available. She’s not obvious about it. Doesn’t show her thighs or flash her boobs—nothing like that. As a matter of fact, she was dressed conservatively. But she just exudes sex. I think what Nettie told you was right: Vanessa gets her jollies from teasing. I felt sorry for her husband.”

“What kind of a man can he be to let her get away with that?”

“He’s defeated. But so much in love with her—or infatuated, or obsessed, or whatever you want to call it—that he’d never think of dumping her.”

“Al, do you think if she told him to steal the Demaretion, he’d do it?”

“If she told him to slit his throat, he’d do it. Dunk, you’ve got to meet this woman. She’s something, she is.”

“When I asked Nettie to name who she thought stole the coin, she said Luther or Orson Vanwinkle. She said they were both hurting for money.”

“I can believe it about Luther. You should see their apartment. Park Avenue and Sixty-fourth. And the jewelry she was wearing! She had one ring that could feed a Puerto Rican family for ten years. He works for the conglomerate that bought out Archibald Havistock’s textile company. If Luther makes seventy-five grand a year, he’s lucky. But believe me, Dunk, a hundred grand a year wouldn’t cover that apartment and Vanessa’s jewelry and all the paintings and the Mercedes and the summer house in Montauk. Unless Daddy is helping him out, I think the guy is overextended. He’s got that bankrupt look about him: pale, tremors of the hands until after the second drink, lips pressed together, high-pitched laugh. I’ve seen it all before in people trying to hang on to their style of living when they haven’t got two nickels to rub together.”

“So maybe copping the Demaretion could be the answer to all his troubles.”

“It sure as hell would help,” Georgio said, nodding. “He’s got the motive, all right. But I haven’t figured out yet how he could—”

The phone rang and he stopped talking. I have a wall phone in my kitchen, and an extension on a table in the bedroom. Like a complete idiot, I went to the kitchen. Al could easily overhear.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi, luv,” Jack Smack said breezily. “Can you talk?”

“Not very well,” I said.

“Oh-ho,” he said, “company. Al Georgio?”

“I’m busy,” I said.

“Call you tomorrow,” he said, and hung up.

I went back to the living room.

“Jack Smack?” Al asked.

I couldn’t lie to him. I nodded miserably.

“That’s okay,” he said. “You’re entitled. I know you’re not carrying tales.”

“I’m not!” I said hotly.

“I
know
that,” he repeated patiently, trying to smile. “Jack has got his job to do, too.”

Still, there was constraint.

“So…” I said, “where do you go from here?”

He shrugged tiredly. “Dig deeper. Try to find out who would profit most. This thing is a can of worms. And I’m getting a lot of flak. You’ve been reading the papers? The tabs love it. Who stole the priceless Greek coin? The Department is leaning on me.”

“I can imagine,” I said. “Have some more wine; there’s plenty left.”

“Splendid idea,” he said, and this time his smile was warm and charming again. He topped off my glass and filled his.

“Where do you live, Al?” I asked him.

“Queens,” he said. “Basement apartment. My ex got the house. But I’m not complaining; I’ve got a place to sleep.”

“You cook for yourself?”

“Of course. When I get the chance. I happen to be a good cook.”

“I’ll bet you are,” I said. “Italian stuff?”

“Mostly. I can gussy up chicken breasts until you’d swear you were eating veal.”

“Stop it,” I said. “I’m gaining weight just listening.”

He looked at me. “If I invited you out, would you come for dinner?”

“Just try me,” I said.

“Thanks, Dunk,” he said. “You’re good people.”

I took the empty pizza box and used napkins out to the kitchen and dumped them in the garbage can. I couldn’t have been gone more than a minute. When I went back to the living room, Al Georgio was fast asleep; it happened that quickly. His chin was down on his chest, he was breathing deeply, and the wineglass he was holding was tilting dangerously.

I lifted the glass gently from his fingers and set it aside. I turned off the overhead light and switched on a table lamp next to the only comfortable chair I owned: an oversized wing with enough soft pillows to make snuggling easy. I put on my half-moon reading glasses and dug out the needles, wool, and the Afghan I had been working on for the past four months.

I enjoyed needlework. Great therapy. Once you learn how, grasp the basic pattern of what you’re doing, your hands fly, almost of their own volition. It’s a pleasure to be creating something, and it’s so automatic that your thoughts can soar. I’ve heard of women who knit sweaters while they watch TV soap operas. I believe it.

The Afghan I was working on was just a big shawl in an open, boxy pattern. Light blue. Not as deep as Al Georgio’s eyes—more of a sky blue, an azure. So while Al dozed, my needles went clicking quietly away, and I could think about the lives of the Havistocks, much more tangled than my skeins of wool.

The complexities of that one family amazed me. And fascinated, too, I admit. My life, so far, had been simple and straightforward. Problems and troubles, of course, but nothing cataclysmic. Not even very dramatic. Now I was plunged into the operatic existence of the Havistocks—or so it seemed to me. I was playing a small role—extra or walk-on. But I found it exciting.

I called to mind all the members of the Havistock ménage, frying to decide which one was the thief, because Georgio and Jack Smack both thought the crime had been committed by a family member, and I agreed. Al had told me not to let my personal likes or dislikes influence my thinking—but he was a man, and I was a woman, and I wasn’t certain he was correct. Men have this big love affair with logic, but cold reason can’t explain everything.

So I just let my instincts roll, and decided Orson Vanwinkle did it. Or if he didn’t steal the Demaretion personally, he was involved in the theft. Why did I believe that? Because he had a clammy handclasp and treated me in a lewd, insinuating manner. That was enough to condemn him. He was what my grandmother used to call a lounge lizard.

I was working on the puzzle of how Vanwinkle might have switched display case number thirteen, when Al Georgio roused. His head snapped up, he looked about, stupefied with sleep.

“My God,” he said. “What’s the time? How long have I been out, Dunk?”

“About a half-hour.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” I said. “You obviously needed it.”

“Where’s the John?” he said. “Maybe some cold water on my face will help.”

He came out of the bathroom shaking his head ruefully. “I don’t know what happened to me.”

“The wine,” I said.

“Nah. We didn’t even put a dent in the bottle. I think I better get home and sack out for about eight hours.”

“You’re sure you want to drive?” I asked anxiously. “You can sleep here on the couch if you like.”

That melting smile again. “Thanks, Dunk, but I better not. You may never get me out of the place.”

“I’ll take that chance.”

He laughed and came over to kiss my cheek. “I like you in glasses,” he said.

“You do?” I said, astonished, peering up at him over my half-moons. “Why do you say that?”

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “Somehow they make you look more sexy.”

“Then I’ll wear them all the time,” I said. “Al, most of your wine is left; take it with you.”

“No way. You keep it. It’ll give me an excuse to come back.”

“Anytime,” I said, and remembered I had told Jack Smack the same thing. Dunk Bateson—the femmy fa-tally!

At the door, Al said, “Thanks for the hospitality. And the nap. Next time I’ll try to be a little more alert.” Then: “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Sometimes, I had learned, you can stagger men with complete honesty.

“I was wondering,” I told him, “if you had asked to spend the night, not on the couch but in my bed, what I would have said.”

He took me in his arms, pressed. He was very warm, solid, comforting. He touched my hair.

“When you decide,” he said, “may I be the first to know?”

“Absolutely,” I promised.

“Ah, Dunk,” he said, almost groaning, “what the hell is going on here?”

“I’m not going to worry about it,” I said. “Are you?”

He moved away and stared at me. “There’s more to you than meets the eye,” he said.

“That’s right,” I agreed. “I’m not just another pretty face.”

We both broke up and, like imbeciles, shook hands firmly before he left.

10

H
AVE YOU EVER HAD
an experience like this:

You’re trying to remember the name of an old friend, or the title of an old tune, or who played the male lead in an old movie—and you can’t recall no matter how much you worry it, no matter how many names and titles your mind suggests. You go to sleep, still stymied.

Then you wake up in the morning—and there it is! Your brain worked while you slept and dredged up the recollection you sought.

I had related the details of the packing and transfer of the Havistock Collection from East 79th Street to Grandby & Sons on Madison Avenue at least a dozen times, to various people. And I had gone over the sequence of events in my own mind another dozen times. In all those retellings, I had searched for something missed, something that I, and everyone else, had overlooked that might provide a vital key to the mystery.

I sat up in bed the next morning, wide-awake, knowing what had been missed, and furious with myself for not having seen it before. But then, as far as I knew, no one else had either.

I showered, washed my hair, and wondered for the hundredth time what I could do with my mop. It wasn’t short and it wasn’t long; it just sort of hung there with no wave, no curl. And for the hundredth time I vowed that as soon as I got a few bucks ahead, I’d surrender myself to a hairdresser—someone named Louis or Pierre—and let him do with me what he would.

I looked at my Snoopy watch, but it was too early for Hobart Juliana to be in the office, too early for me to confirm the Great Revelation that had brought me sitting upright in bed that morning. So I went out, bought a buttered bagel and the
Times
, came back and made a cup of instant decaf.

I kept watching the kitchen clock, and at 9:30 I called Grandby & Sons, hoping Hobie wasn’t off somewhere on a field appraisal. But he was there and sounded delighted to hear from me. We chatted and laughed for almost ten minutes, and I got caught up on all the latest office gossip at Grandby’s, including the rumor that Felicia Dodat had been to a plastic surgeon and was contemplating a fanny lift.

Then I turned serious and got down to the reason for my call.

“Hobie,” I said, “something has come up, and I need your help.”

“Of course,” he said immediately. “Anything.”

“On the day the Havistock Collection was shipped, I came back to Grandby’s to accept delivery. I stood in the vault and signed a receipt for the thirteen cases. Then you came down, bringing me a coffee. Remember? I wanted you to see the Demaretion, so I opened the thirteenth container and slid out the display case. That’s when we saw the Demaretion was missing. Is all that correct, Hobie?”

“Exactly,” he said, picking up on my earnestness and not joking anymore. “That’s just how it happened; I’ll swear to it.”

“All right. Now, when I held the empty display case out to you, do you remember how it was sealed?”

“Sure. There were strips of masking tape on all four sides, overlapping the glass lid. And in front, near the lock, there was a blob of sealing wax on the junction of lid and case. The wax had an imprint. You said it had been made by Havistock’s signet ring.”

“You’re positive of that, Hobie? You saw the wax seal and you saw the imprint?”

“Absolutely.”

“Thank you, darling,” I said. “I saw it, too. I just wanted confirmation.”

BOOK: The Eighth Commandment
9.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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