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 (8 page)

19

Over at the crime convention, Nora Regan Reilly was very pleased with the way things were going. The only disappointment was that Regan couldn’t be there. So many people were asking for her.

“She was called on to a case,” Nora kept saying.

“Since last night?”

“Yes, but she’s still in town. She’s going to try to drop by for one of the seminars. Or maybe even the cocktail party later this afternoon.”

Nora made a quick inspection of the buffet the hotel had put out for lunch. It looked good. Steaming trays of pasta, chicken, and vegetables were ready for consumption. Nora had slipped out of the last seminar just before it ended to make sure everything was set.

It had been a most interesting seminar. An FBI agent had given a lecture and a slide show on con artists. How they manage to infiltrate people’s lives, gain their confidence, and rip them off. Some of them were small-time crooks, whereas others could remove millions from their rightful owners.

“You’ll find them everywhere,” he had said. “They’re like vultures that prey on everyone from lottery winners, to the elderly, to the lonely, to the ambitious, and to the vulnerable. Many people who get ripped off are then too embarrassed to report it. They think they should have been smarter. Big Hollywood celebrities get duped by investment advisers. People with less money get involved in pyramid schemes that collapse around them. It’s bad out there, and these scam artists, when cornered, can be very dangerous. They lash out…”

The slide show displayed grainy photos of just a few of these people in action.

Yes, Regan would have loved this, Nora thought. What a shame.

“Mrs. Reilly?”

Nora turned away from the food table and smiled. “Yes?”

A rather imposing, breathless woman, with her hair swept up in a bun and a notebook in her hand, dropped her purse on the floor. “I’m Mary Ruffner, a reporter with the
New York
World.
I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about the conference.”

“Of course.” Nora led her to a table.

“Everything happens at once. My editor wants me to run over to Gramercy Park to the Settlers’ Club. Some guy who just got sprung from jail is filming a movie there, and the rumor is that someone was murdered in the club last night.” Mary laughed mirthlessly. “As long as he doesn’t expect me to spend the night there. I write about arts and entertainment.”

Nora’s stomach took a dive as her smile faded.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Reilly?”

“No,” Nora said.

“Your daughter’s here too, isn’t she?”

“She’s in town.”

“I know that. Her picture was in our paper this morning.”

Now it was Nora’s turn to laugh mirthlessly.

“Is she at the convention?” Mary Ruffner continued.

“Actually, she’s working,” Nora said.

“On a case?”

“Well, yes, she’s working in New York, but I’m not at liberty to say on what.”

“I hope I get to interview her before the weekend’s over,” Mary said as she pulled the cap off her pen with her teeth.

Something tells me you will, Nora thought. For better or worse, something tells me you will.

20

Lydia sat propped up on one of her love seats, cordless phone in hand, calling all her lovelorn pups who had been present the night before. There had been nineteen of them. Not bad, she decided. She’d been having three parties a week since Valentine’s Day, and as an introductory offer, her “clients” had only had to pay twenty-five dollars a shot if they’d bought a package of four.

She had to admit she felt like she was stealing from some of them. Like the man who wore sandals with his suit and seemed to end every sentence with the phrase “and stuff like that.” Or the fortyish woman who hung on to her Snoopy purse all night, as though it were a security blanket. Actually, Lydia thought, it’s too bad those two didn’t hook up. There should be someone for everyone out there.

By the time she had finished making her calls, talking to some and leaving messages for others, ten had said they’d be glad to come by, a couple had told her they wanted their money back, and three more said they’d prefer to meet a new batch of people.

“Why would I want to come back tonight?” one guy had said. “Nobody there was my type. Isn’t the club’s big anniversary party going to have new people at it?”

“Yes,” Lydia had answered optimistically.

“I’ll see you then.”

After he hung up, Lydia had added his name to her list of those who wouldn’t be in attendance. She’d give the list to Regan later.

Lydia felt suddenly unsettled. What if it was someone in this group who had stolen the diamonds? She was in the business of welcoming strangers into her home. She’d invested her money in a business that could actually be dangerous. She never did background checks on people who came to her parties. How could she?

There were so many creeps out there. She’d met enough of them in her thirty-eight years of being single. She wanted her business to be a happy one. She wanted Meaningful Connections to bring love into people’s lives in New York City. She wanted to boast the most marriages of any dating service.

Lydia looked at her watch. She wished Maldwin would get back soon. It would be at least another hour.

Her phone rang. She pressed the button and answered in a cheerful tone. “Meaningful Connections.”

“ Lydia, I want to come to your parties.”

Lydia ’s face flushed. “Burkhard, no. I told you I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“You can’t keep me away.”

“Yes I can.”

“I love you, Lydia.”

“No you don’t.” Lydia pictured her recent boyfriend, who at first seemed so impressive. It didn’t take long to realize that behind the one expensive suit he owned, there was nothing there. He took Lydia for granted, then when she dissed him, he hounded her. The guy had no job, no employment record-it was as if he appeared out of thin air.

“I’m going to join the club.”

“Burkhard, please, just go away.”

“I always get what I want,” he said in a tone that, if it weren’t so scary, would have been pathetic, like that of a spoiled child.

“You can’t come to my parties.”

“Then I’ll see you at the anniversary party. And I want to get a picture taken with you, Lydia. I know the press will be there. I’m sure they’d be interested to know how you make fun of all your clients.”

“I do not!” Lydia shouted, but the phone clicked in her ear.

“Why did I ever have to meet him?” Lydia screamed as she threw the phone across the room. She felt as if she were about to throw up. No one would want to sign up for a dating service if they thought the owner was unsympathetic. Or if they thought the matchmaker herself made terrible choices in her own dating life. It’s like going to a dentist who has bad teeth.

What am I going to do? she thought frantically. What am I going to do?

21

When Regan met Detective Ronald Brier, she immediately liked him. He was in his late thirties, with brown hair, a stocky build, and a twinkle in his eye.

Regan sat across from him at his desk in the 13th Precinct. She’d walked over, glad for the chance to get some fresh air and clear her head.

“So you’re a friend of Jack Reilly’s?”

Regan smiled. “Yes.”

“I remember the reports after your father was kidnapped.” He shook his head. “How is he doing?”

“Never better,” Regan assured him. “We were very lucky.”

Ronald had the police reports in front of him. “You’re staying at the Settlers’ Club now?”

“For the weekend. My friend Thomas Pilsner is the president.”

Ronald rolled his eyes. “That guy’s very excitable.”

“He cares a lot,” Regan said.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Regan leaned forward. “Tell me your impressions from last night.”

“We got the call that the old guy was found in the tub. There was no forced entry. No bruising. No sign of foul play. Your friend Pilsner says that he saw the diamonds yesterday. Now, they could have been with the other guy, Ben Carney, who had the heart attack. As you know, his wallet was stolen.”

“Yes.” Regan paused, then continued slowly, “The red box that the diamonds were in was found in Thomas’s office wastebasket this morning.”

“No diamonds?”

“No diamonds.”

“You don’t think your friend was involved?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Who knows? They were going to sell them, maybe Ben Carney took them out of the box after their lunch and stuck them in his wallet. Threw the box in the wastebasket in Pilsner’s office on the way out. His office isn’t far from the front door of the club.”

“So whoever stole Ben’s wallet could have made off with four-million-dollars’ worth of gems.”

“Not bad for a simple pickpocket. I have to tell you, though, we’ll be keeping an eye on Pilsner. See if he disappears to the Islands in a few months.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m going to talk to people in the club this weekend. See what I can find out. I have a feeling that Nat’s death is tied to the diamonds.”

Brier just looked at her and waited.

Regan shrugged. “It’s too much of a coincidence for me that the diamonds disappear and Nat dies the same night. To say nothing of the fact that the co-owner of the diamonds drops dead in the street.”

“Ben Carney died of a heart attack. No question about it,” Brier said flatly.

“By the way, where is Ben’s body?”

“At the morgue. Apparently he has a niece in Chicago. They’re trying to reach her.”

“Could you let me know when you do? I’d like to talk to her.”

“No problem.”

“Tonight I’m going to a party across the hall from Nat’s apartment. The woman who lives there is trying to get most of the people back who were there at her singles party last night. I might ask you to do some checks on them.” She pulled the red box out of her purse. It was wrapped in a plastic bag. “Can you run this for prints?”

“I’d be happy to. We’ll do anything to be of assistance.” He paused. “Regan, there’s no record of these diamonds. Pilsner is the only one who saw them. There’s no appraisal slip. This could be much ado about nothing. If they do exist, they might be worth a heck of a lot less than four million dollars.”

“I understand,” Regan said. “But for these next few days I’ll be the in-house detective at the Settlers’ Club. I’ll see what I can dig up.” She stood and extended her hand to him.

“Jack Reilly’s a great guy.”

“I know,” she said, smiling.

22

Janey pulled a sizzling-hot apple pie out of the oven. Her little one-bedroom apartment a few blocks from the Settlers’ Club always had delicious smells wafting from it. If it wasn’t the baked goods she was making for dessert, it was one of her specialties such as lasagna or meat loaf or any one of the other comfort foods she enjoyed preparing for her clients.

She loved going into their apartments and filling their refrigerators and freezers with her plastic containers full of food. It excited her to think of them coming home after a hard day and zapping her loving efforts in the microwave. And now she was preparing some special desserts for the anniversary party at the club, including a huge tiered white cake they’d display on a big white table decorated with red ribbons.

Anything to cheer Thomas up.

Hey, I lost two clients yesterday, she thought. Nat and Ben had both loved her cooking. She had even dropped food off at Ben’s apartment yesterday when he was out. Now it’ll just go to waste, she thought.

It had been a busy week, and after she finished preparing the cakes and pies, she planned to go back to the club. Her phone rang just as she was placing the apple pie under the window to cool. It was Mrs. Buckland, a good but demanding client.

“Janey, I’m having three unexpected guests for dinner and I need food.”

“But Mrs. Buckland…” Janey began.

“I know you can do it, Janey. Didn’t I introduce you to all my friends?”

Janey held the phone in her hand, trying to figure out what to do. After a moment, she said, “Okay, Mrs. Buckland. What time do you need it?”

“In a couple of hours. Thank you.”

Janey replaced the phone in its cradle. “I don’t want to go food shopping now. And all that cooking. I don’t even have time!” she wailed in a ladylike voice.

A thought came to her that she didn’t even want to entertain. But like most crazy thoughts, if you give it a minute or two, it can take on a surprising sanity.

The food she had delivered to Ben’s apartment yesterday had obviously not been eaten. Heck, she’d probably never get paid for it anyway, and she still had the keys.

It was a lovely roast chicken with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and her special gravy. She’d also prepared peas and carrots, baby corn, and a key lime pie. It was enough for two meals for Ben, four for people with less hearty appetites.

Well, why not? He had lived in a walk-up, so there was no doorman. She’d ring the bell. If someone was there, she’d say she was only stopping by to express her sympathy.

Quickly untying her apron, Janey grabbed her coat, purse, Ben’s keys, and the bright-red thermal carrying case with her logo on the side, and ran out the door.

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