Read Fleeced: A Regan Reilly Mystery Online

Authors: Carol Higgins Clark

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #detective, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery fiction, #Women Sleuths, #New York (N.Y.), #Reilly; Regan (Fictitious character), #Women private investigators, #Women private investigators - New York (State) - New York

Fleeced: A Regan Reilly Mystery (18 page)

55

All over town, people were reading about the Settlers’ Club. Lydia’s ex-beau, Burkhard Whittlesey, was particularly enjoying the article as he rode a stationary bicycle at the cheapest, smelliest gym in New York City. It was all he could afford at the moment. But he was determined to get back in Lydia’s good graces, so he had to keep in shape. She was his best shot at a decent life. I should have treated her better, he thought. I got a little too cocky.

Of course, in the long run, he considered himself much better suited to an aristocratic type. After all, he was a good-looking guy with a certain amount of charm. That’s why he kept crashing all the high-class gatherings in town. He was always on the prowl for a bigger, better deal.

Since college, he’d managed to get himself on every party list going. He’d also mastered the art of dropping in at the cocktail hour of big benefits held in hotels, cruising around in his tux to see if there was anyone worthwhile, and then disappearing when it came time to take your seat. If he met anyone, he’d claim he had someplace else to go, but could they get together another time? But so far nothing had stuck. Every woman of means quickly figured out that he by no means had any means.

If Burkhard had put half the effort into working at a real job that he put into finding someone to take care of him, he might have been president of a Fortune 500 company. But every job he’d had started out with great promise and then imploded. Stocks he recommended tanked, deals he put together fell apart. Now at age thirty-five he was beginning to worry about his future. His roommate-whose name was on the lease of their dingy one-bedroom cockroach palace-had decided to join a commune in New Mexico. In a matter of weeks, Burkhard would be out on the street.

As he read the newspaper, he rode the bicycle faster and faster. That club certainly has its problems. It’s going to be quite a scene tonight, he thought. I don’t care what Lydia says. I’ll go and turn on the charm for her. Show her what an asset I can be. If she doesn’t take the bait, I’ll make a point of wandering over to any reporters who show up.

At the very least, she’ll write me a check to keep my mouth shut.

Burkhard got up from the bicycle and walked to the showers. The sight of woolly-looking mold festering on the drain was too much for him. He went to his locker and threw on his sweat suit. I’ll shower when I get home, he decided. Then I’ll take a little walk around Gramercy Park, to prepare myself psychologically for tonight.

Lydia was his last shot before he’d have to move back to his parents’ house in the sticks and take a job chopping firewood. He had no intention of letting that happen.

As he exited the “health” club and finally breathed some fresh air, he smiled. It’ll be a benefit tonight. He laughed to himself. A benefit to benefit Burkhard Whittlesey.

56

Regan had just finished dressing when the doorbell rang. Here we go, she thought. It was Clara.

“Thomas told me to come upstairs and see you,” Clara said anxiously, stepping inside.

“I’ve got to go talk to him. Do you know if he’s seen the paper today?”

“He’s a mess,” Clara declared emphatically. “And that girlfriend of his is crying her eyes out.”

“She is?” Regan said.

“Wouldn’t you?” Clara answered, raising her arms in the air. “Thanks to that article people think this place is a tacky madhouse.”

Regan just looked at her.

“All right, I’ll admit calling in to that program wasn’t such a good idea. At least they didn’t mention that in the paper.”

“There’s always tomorrow.”

“Regan!”

“Sorry, Clara. I wanted to talk to you about Nat for a few minutes.”

“Poor man.”

“You heard about the break-in here last night?” Regan led her into the living room.

“Thomas told me. Would you look at this mess! Nat loved his books, and now they’re thrown all over.” Clara shook her head. “It’s terrible. And those sheep. They were in this living room for so long. Now they’re out of the building at that crazy movie set. Daphne had no right to let those weirdos take them away.”

“She promised they’d be back tonight.”

“She still had no right. They were Nat and Wendy’s babies.”

“How long have you worked here, Clara?”

“Ten years next Sunday.”

“So you knew both Nat and his wife?”

Clara nodded. “A darling couple. A little too crazy about sheep for my taste, but to each his own.”

“Thomas told me that Wendy was from England and had grown up in the country where there were a lot of sheep.”

“Yeah, so, I grew up next to a dog pound. You don’t find me with a bunch of stuffed dogs cluttering up my apartment.”

Regan didn’t argue the point. “They must have been perfect for each other then.”

“You know what their song was?” Clara asked Regan. ‘I Only Have Eyes for You.’ That’s
E-W-E.
Nat used to sing it to her all the time. They’d laugh and laugh.” Clara’s voice became softer. “He loved to play practical jokes. He definitely liked to have fun.”

“Clara, did you see any sign that Nat had a girlfriend in this past month?”

Clara looked thoughtful. “You know, Regan,” she said as she started walking down the hall, Regan following her, “he did buy a few new clothes about three weeks ago. He came in with a bunch of shopping bags, and he’d gotten a haircut and a shave at the barber’s. He told me he hadn’t gone out for a shave in years. He laughed and said the barber went to town on him, clipping his nose hairs and pruning his eyebrows. But then one day last week, as he was leaving, I asked if he was going out to get his nose hairs clipped, just kind of making a joke, and he said he didn’t need to bother with silly things like that anymore.”

That must have been when he decided to break up with her, Regan thought. “But he didn’t tell you anything about a girlfriend?”

“No! He might have felt funny, because all he did before that was talk about Wendy. Almost as if she were still alive. Come to think of it, for a few weeks there, he didn’t say a thing about her, but then last week it was Wendy this and Wendy that again. I don’t think he ever got over losing her.”

Clara paused at the door to the master bedroom. “After she died, he wanted to keep everything the same. I’m not surprised it didn’t last if he did take up with someone new.” She then wandered over to the bathroom. “He had this all redone for her.” All of a sudden she gestured wildly with her arm. “That’s what it is, Regan!”

“What?”

“Wendy’s towels are missing!”

“Wendy’s towels?”

“Yes. They always hang on the rack over there.” Clara pointed to the empty rack on the wall. “With the shock of it all yesterday, I didn’t think of it. Nat never used those towels, but he always wanted them there. Occasionally I’d wash them, just so they’d look fresh.”

“Did they have the sheep appliqué on them?” Regan asked.

“Of course.”

“I found one of those appliqués on the floor by the shower,” Regan said.

“They’re very delicate. It must have fallen off.”

So the towels are missing, Regan mused, and one of the appliqués was found by the shower. “Why would someone take the towels the night Nat died?” she asked aloud.

Clara looked befuddled. “And don’t forget, on that night Nat takes a bath, not a shower. That’s what he always took. A shower. Between ten and ten-thirty every night, he told me.”

“So if he did take a shower that night, and whoever came in here wanted to make it look as if he’d slipped in the tub, they would have had to dry off the shower stall in case Nat was found before it dried off by itself. So they grab the towels in a hurry and rub vigorously-”

“And the sheep falls off!” Clara blurted out, finishing Regan’s sentence. “Nat must have been murdered!”

“Clara, you’ve got to keep an eye out for those towels. Whoever took them might have hidden them somewhere in the club.”

“A murderer was here, Regan! A murderer!”

“Clara, we don’t know that.”

“Yes we do. Why else would those towels be missing?”

Good question, Regan thought. “Clara, please don’t call-”

“I’m not calling the crime show. Don’t worry! But I’ll search every inch of this club, looking for those towels.” Clara clutched Regan’s hand. “I want to help you find who did this to Nat. I’m telling you. He made my job easy. The man hated to take a bath!”

57

At New Scotland Yard, Jack was unsuccessful in finding anything that meant anything in the pile of papers, pictures, and maps found in the suspect’s apartment.

His friend Ian finally suggested, “Why don’t we wrap up here and go across to Finnegan’s Wake for some lunch?”

Jack looked at his watch. It was already after two. There was a 6:00 P.M. flight he could catch home. “Sounds good,” he said. I’ll call Regan on my way to the airport, he thought.

At a corner table in the pub, they ordered pints of beer and shepherd’s pie.

“So you don’t want to stay and make a night of it here, Jack?” Ian asked him. “We could go out and have some fun.”

Jack shook his head and smiled. “Thanks, Ian, but I’ve got to get back.”

“Something tells me it’s not for business,” Ian said with a glint in his eye.

Jack took a sip of his beer. “Not really business, no.” He told Ian about his relationship with Regan and what she was doing that weekend at the Settlers’ Club. “It’s funny, there’s somebody running a butler school out of an apartment there. I mentioned it to the maid in my hotel here, and she said there’s a lot of competition among the butler schools here.”

Ian rolled his eyes. “It’s more than friendly competition. We have one guy we’re keeping an eye on. Thorn Darlington. He runs the biggest butler school, and he’s trouble.”

“Why?”

“He thinks he’s the only one in this country, or the world for that matter, who should teach butlers how to serve tea. Most other schools that have opened over here have shut down. Usually under suspicious circumstances. The owner of one died in a late-night car crash. Another school burned down when a grease fire started in the kitchen. Yet another school’s students all came down with food poisoning. A few of them nearly died. Needless to say, it was impossible for the school to find anyone new who would enroll there. But Darlington’s school always remains untouched.”

“You think he was involved in the incidents?”

“Let’s just say his name is written all over them, but we can’t prove anything. We’ve heard he wants to open a butler school in New York now.”

Jack frowned. “The butler school at the club is across the hall from the apartment where Regan is staying.”

“I’d be interested to hear about it,” Ian said. “Who knows whether this Thorn Darlington has gotten wind of it?”

Jack suddenly felt uncomfortable. “I’m glad I’m getting back today.”

“If my girl were in a situation like that, I’d certainly want to get back there.”

“It’s not that she can’t take care of herself…” Jack began.

Ian held up his hand. “I understand-when you love somebody…”

“Love somebody? I didn’t say…”

“You didn’t have to. Now I’ll get the bill and go back to the office and run a check on Thorn Darlington’s recent activities. You go get your things from the hotel, and I’ll have a car pick you up in a half-hour to take you to the airport. I’ll give the driver any information I have on Darlington.”

“Thanks, Ian.”

“Not at all. Next time you come over, bring this Regan Reilly. I’d like to meet her.”

“I will,” Jack said. More than ever, he felt restless, eager to get back home.

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