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Authors: Lawrence Sanders

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BOOK: The Eighth Commandment
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The day had been a trial for both of us, and after a while I brought out sheets, a pillow, blanket, and made up the couch.

“You’re going to wake up with a sore back,” I warned.

“Not me,” he said. “I can sleep anywhere. That’s what comes from having a pure heart.”

I took him into my arms. He barely came up to my chin.

“You do have a pure heart,” I told him. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me. I love you, Hobie.”

“And I love you, Dunk. Try to sleep. Things will look better in the morning.”

I hoped, but I doubted. We exchanged a chaste kiss, and I went into the bedroom. I don’t know whether it was the strains of the day or the raspberry brandy, but I fell asleep almost instantly. A dreamless sleep. But when my alarm went off and I awoke, things seemed no brighter, and I dreaded what shocks the new day might hold for me.

5

L
EMUEL WHATTSWORTH, THE ATTORNEY,
was a thinnish man: thin face, thin body, thin voice. Even what he had to say was thin, being composed mostly of
whereas
,
heretofore
,
notwithstanding
, and similar expressions designed to make the eyeballs glaze over.

There we were, gathered in the conference room: Whattsworth, Stanton Grandby, Felicia Dodat, and me, awaiting judgment. The lawyer was attempting to explain the possible results (the
ramifications
) of the loss of the Demaretion.

Trying to follow his crazy lecture, I gathered that no lawsuit had yet been filed, but he guessed (
intuited
) that Archibald Havistock would not claim the $150,000 for which he had insured the Demaretion, but instead would demand $350,000 from Grandby & Sons, since that was the estimated value of the coin stated in the auction contract Havistock had signed with Grandby’s

“Naturally,” Whattsworth said, “in fact, indubitably, his insurer will heartedly concur with this course of action. The receipt for the coin was signed by a representative of Grandby and Sons”—here a cold stare in my direction—“so legally this house is responsible. Grandby’s, in effect, stated an item of value was on the premises when, in fact, it was not.”

A little more of this, I thought, and I’d go bonkers.

“Investigations are under way,” he droned on, “and we can but hope this grave offense will be satisfactorily resolved with the perpetrator of the theft brought to justice. Until that eventuality is finalized, it is my considered judgment that Miss Mary Lou Bateson be granted an indefinite leave of absence, without salary, until this distressing matter is explicated. Such a course of action will, in some small way, serve to protect the professional reputation of Grandby and Sons.”

“And make me look like a thief,” I said hotly.

“Not at all,” he said in his tinny voice. “It is merely a temporary measure designed to avoid the rumors and confusion that would inevitably result from your continued employment. After all, Miss Bateson, you
are
deeply involved in this sad incident, and I am sure you can appreciate the need for Grandby’s to, ah, distance itself from your involvement.”

I looked at god and Felicia Dodat, hoping to find support and encouragement. Nothing. Stanton Grandby stared back at me blankly, and Madam Dodat was busy examining the vermilion lacquer on her talons.

So that was that. I was cast adrift, and went back to my office to pack up my coffee mug and few other personal possessions. I was scribbling a short note to Hobart Juliana, telling him of my expulsion, when there was a hard rap on the corridor door. I peered through the judas and saw, held up for my inspection, the gold shield and ID of a New York Police Department detective. I unlocked.

He was about my height, which made it easy to look into his startling electric blue eyes.

“Al Georgio,” he said. “Can I come in and talk to you a few minutes about the theft?”

“I’ve already talked,” I said. “Yesterday. At length. To two of your men.”

“I know,” he said. “I have their reports. But this thing was dumped on me, and I have a few questions I’d like to get cleared up before we prepare a statement for you to sign. Okay?”

“Sure,” I said, “come on in. Coffee? In a plastic cup.”

“That would be great,” he said. “Sugar and milk if you’ve got it.”

I poured us coffee and gave him packets of Sweet ‘n’ Low and some non-dairy creamer we kept around for visitors.

“You just caught me,” I told him. “Another five minutes and I’d have been gone. I’ve been canned.”

“So I heard,” he said. “But not canned; just a leave of absence.”

“Without pay,” I said bitterly.

He shrugged. “Such is life in the great city.”

He was a big, rumpled man who looked like he had been sleeping in his clothes. About thirty-seven to forty years old, I guessed—around there. A face like a punched pillow, except for those sharp eyes. And a smile of real warmth. I thought he was a charmer. Also, I thought he might be hung over.

“So,” I said, “what can I tell you?”

“Who was in the Havistocks’ apartment when you witnessed the packing of the coins?”

“Mr. Archibald Havistock and his secretary, Orson Vanwinkle, who is also Havistock’s nephew. And a woman let me into the apartment. I had never seen her before, but she was dressed like a maid or housekeeper.”

Detective Georgio took out a little pocket notebook and flipped a few pages. “Housekeeper,” he said. “Ruby Querita. Her brother’s in the slammer on a drug bust.”

I looked at him in astonishment. “You guys do move, don’t you?”

“Occasionally,” he said. “You saw no one else on the premises?”

“Only the two guards from the armored truck service. They were waiting in the outside corridor. I never saw more of the apartment than the hallway and the library where the coins were kept. But I got the impression it was an enormous place.”

“It is,” he said. “Eleven rooms, three bathrooms. And there were a lot of people there you didn’t see.”

“I met Mrs. Mabel Havistock and Natalie, their younger daughter. But I didn’t see them yesterday.”

He consulted his notebook again. “They were there. And the son, Luther Havistock, and his wife, Vanessa. Also the older, married daughter, Roberta Minchen and her husband, Ross. The whole family was going to have lunch together.”

“An occasion?”

“Sort of. It was Mrs. Havistock’s birthday.”

“Oh, God,” I said despairingly. “The burglary must have put a damper on the festivities.”

“Robbery,” he said. “Yes, I guess it did. When Havistock put the Demaretion in the display case, did he—”

I held up a palm. “Whoa. He didn’t put the coin into the case. It was already in there when I inspected it.”

“So there was no possibility of sleight of hand? A little juggling?”

“Absolutely not. The Demaretion was in its case. I examined it through the glass lid.”

“It was the real thing? Not a counterfeit?”

“It was the real thing.”

“And you saw the case sealed?”

“I did.”

“And the case put into the Styrofoam box?”

“I saw that, too. Then the container was closed with masking tape. That tape was still intact when I opened it in our vault.”

“The container was already labeled? Marked with the number thirteen?”

“That’s correct.”

He looked up suddenly from the jottings he had been making in his notebook. “Who do you think did it?”

I was startled. “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“That makes two of us,” he said, giving me that melting smile again.

He really was a most attractive man. A little frazzled around the edges, like a worn French actor, but all the more comfortable for that. I mean he wasn’t trying to be anything he wasn’t. His heavy face, wrinkled clothes, his slouch, the way he moved—everything about him said, “What you see is what you get.”

He finished his coffee and stood up. He looked at the catalogues, books, knitted cap, a pair of snow boots, etc., all piled on my desk.

“Hey,” he said, “you clearing out? Going to take all that stuff home?”

“That’s right.”

“Where do you live?”

“Isn’t that in your little black notebook?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said cheerfully. “West Eighty-third Street. I’ve got a car outside. Can I give you a lift to your apartment?”

I was wary. “Detectives aren’t mad rapists, are they?”

“Not me,” he said. “I haven’t got the energy.”

He helped me down to the street with all my junk, got it stowed in his double-parked, faded blue Plymouth, and drove me home. Then he helped carry everything inside.

“I have some vodka,” I offered.

“I’ll pass,” he said. “But I could stand another coffee—if it’s not too much trouble.”

“All I’ve got is instant. Black.”

“My favorite vintage,” he said.

When Hobart Juliana had left my apartment early that morning, I had folded his sheet and blanket and stacked them atop his pillow on the couch. They were still there, and I knew Detective Al Georgio noticed them. But he didn’t say anything.

I made him a cup of instant decaffeinated. He blew on it to cool it. My father used to do that.

“Tell me about the coin,” he said. “Please.”

I described the Demaretion, and then showed him an exact-size photograph in one of my catalogues.

“Doesn’t look like much,” he said.

“It is much,” I said indignantly. “A beautiful example of classic Greek minting.”

“How come it’s worth so much?”

“Rarity. It’s a real museum piece. And the quality of the minting. Also, there’s a story connected with it. It was made in Sicily when the Greeks occupied the island. Gelon, the Greek commander, defeated attacking Carthaginians at the battle of Himera in Four-eighty B.C. I guess Gelon was going to cut off all their heads, or something—he was supposed to be a genuine bastard—but his wife, Demarete, interceded on behalf of the Carthaginians, and Gelon softened the surrender terms. In gratitude, the Carthaginians gave Demarete a gold wreath in the value of a hundred talents. From this, she had minted a series of big coins, dekadrachms, that were named for her. How do you like that romantic tale?”

He looked at me thoughtfully. “I thought this coin was silver.”

“It is. Not pure silver, of course. That would be too soft for a coin. But an alloy with a high silver content.”

“Well, if this Demarete got a gift of gold, how come she had silver coins made? Why didn’t she have the wreath melted down and have gold coins minted?”

I laughed. “You really
are
a detective, aren’t you? A lot of numismatists have asked the same question. Some of them think the story is pure hogwash. Some keep looking for a gold Demaretion. But no such animal has ever turned up. Just the silver variety.”

“How many are there?”

“In the world? Maybe a dozen. Possibly fifteen. Those are the known ones. There may be others in private collections no one knows about.”

He shook his head. “Crazy business. What’s a talent of gold worth?”

“About six thousand drachms. Ask what an ancient Greek drachm is worth in today’s money—or an ancient Syrian shekel—and you’ll get a million guesses. But no one really knows exactly.”

He sighed. “I suppose all I’ve got to know is that the missing Demaretion was insured for one-fifty big ones and valued by Grandby’s at three-fifty. That’s grand larceny no matter how you slice it.”

I stared at him. “You don’t think I stole it, do you?”

He stared back at me. “I’m just starting on this thing,” he said quietly. “I’d like to be able to tell you, No, I don’t think you did it. But I can’t say that. Right now everyone in the Havistock family and everyone connected with the transfer of the coins is a possible perpetrator. Including you. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“I guess,” I said miserably. “But for what it’s worth, I didn’t do it. I could never do anything like that. I love coins too much.”

He threw his head back and roared with delight. “That’s one hell of an alibi,” he said.

Then I laughed, too, realizing what I had said.

“Where do you go from here?” I asked him. “What’s the next step?”

He sobered. Frowned. “I think I better meet with Havistock and the secretary, Vanwinkle, and get their story on how the transfer was made.”

“They’ll verify everything I’ve told you.”

“Will they?” Then, suddenly: “I’d like you to be there. If they say something that doesn’t check with your recollection of what went on, I want you to speak up in their presence. Sometimes a confrontation of witnesses can help.”

I considered that for a moment. “Grandby’s attorney told me to have absolutely no contact with Havistock, but that was when I was an employee. I’m on leave of absence now, without pay, and I want more than anything else to clear my name. All right, I’ll go along with you.”

“Good,” he said. “I’m glad you feel that way.”

“Listen,” I said, “apparently we’ll be seeing more of each other, so what do I call you? Detective Georgio. Mr. Georgio?”

“Al will do fine,” he said. That smile again.

“Al? For Albert?”

He may have blushed. At least he looked up into the air over my head.

“Alphonse,” he said in a low voice.

I didn’t laugh. “People call me Dunk,” I told him.

“Dunk? For basketball?”

I nodded.

“That’s cool,” he said. “I follow the Nets.” He stood up to leave. “Thanks for the coffee. I’ll give you a call when I set up a meet with Havistock and Vanwinkle. Okay?”

“Fine,” I said. “I can make it anytime. I’ve got nothing else to do.”

He moved to the door.

“Al,” I called, and he turned back. “Have you got any idea at all how someone got the Demaretion out of that sealed display case within a taped box?”

He grinned without mirth.

“Dunk, my old man was with the Department all his life. Mostly on what they called the Bunko Squad in those days. Scams and cons and the Gypsy Handkerchief Drop, and a hundred other tricky swindles. He taught me a lot. Everyone wants to know how it’s possible to steal a coin from a sealed case within a taped container. It’s not possible. No one copped that coin by itself. The whole box was switched.”

6

T
HAT AFTERNOON, ABOUT TWO
o’clock, I got a phone call that added another potato to the stew.

BOOK: The Eighth Commandment
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