Thursday, November 3, 2016

NaNoPost 016

Everybody stopped eating and looked at me.  I took a long time finishing my pizza slice.  I hadn’t had many breaks on this case and I was going to milk the ones I got.

“Well?” said Brenda.  “Who is it?”

I looked round the table.

“Sarah Farraday.”

I was met with stunned silence.

“Uh, I don’t get it.” said Lee after a few moments.

“I pulled up some details on Farraday and Matthew Blake the other day.” I said.  “Sarah Farraday got married about eight years ago.  Before that, she was Sarah Clarkson-Clothier.”

Brenda’s eyes bulged.

“So Sarah faked the robbery to get revenge on Vicky for stealing all her family’s money.” she hissed in the kind of stage whisper that they could probably hear on the Staten Island Ferry.

“Hey!” said Vicky.  I didn’t take anybody’s money.  Just… trinkets…”

“It all makes sense!” said Lee.  “Farraday would be able to access all the keys at the museum and she would most likely have seen Vicky’s card first hand when her family were robbed of all their stuff…”

“I didn’t take everything!” whispered Vicky, furiously.  “Are you people listening to me?”

“Then she takes the brooch…” said Brenda.  “She’s worked in the museum for years, she’s bound to know someone who could make a copy.”

“Then she gets someone to make the call to the Museum…” said Lee.

“If there was a call at all!” said Brenda.  “She probably made it up!”

“There was a call.” I said.  “I checked it out.  It came from the phone booth, remember?”

“I bet it was Matthew!” said Brenda, getting very excited. “I’ve seen the way those two look at each other.  I bet they’re having an affair!

Vicky had sat back in her seat and was shaking her head.  Whether it was astonishment or despair, I couldn’t tell.

“No,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back to reality. “ We think that the phone call to the museum came from Lindhoffer.”

“Sarah’s having an affair with Lindhoffer?” gasped Brenda.

“No, no, no.” said Lee.  “Lindhoffer’s dead!”

Brenda clapped a hand to her mouth.

“Sarah found out that her husband suspected she was having an affair” she said, “and Lindhoffer was threatening to make it public, so Sarah stabbed him!” 

She was waving her knife around in quite an alarming manner.  I took it out of her hand and put it down a safe distance away.

“Ok, we may have gone a little far there, folks.” I said.  “It’s possible that Vicky robbed Sarah’s family.  But even if that’s the case, we don’t have a connection between her, and Lindhoffer, who was the one actually making the calls.”

The table went thankfully quiet for a while.

“They were artists.” said Vicky quietly, picking the anchovies of her last slice.  “Could they have had something exhibited at the museum?  Maybe got to know Sarah that way?”

I didn’t think so, but it was the most plausible thing I’d heard in the last five minutes.

“I could check!” said Brenda.  “The museum will have records of their exhibitions.  I could look and see if they’ve put anything on by Stephanopolis and Mardis-Gras.”

“Le Stephanois and Le Milanais.” I said.

“Yes, them.”

We kept quiet while the waiter cleared the table.

“I’ll check out ‘Rififi’ again.” said Lee.  “I haven’t seen it in years.  There might be a clue in there somewhere.”

“And we’re going to check out Le Milanais.” I said.  “If he’s been Lindhoffer’s partner for fifteen years or more, he’ll know something.”

o o o o o

After Brenda had filled up on ice cream - like she needed any more sugar in her system - we called it a night.  Vicky and I headed for the subway, while Lee offered to walk Brenda home, as it was on his way.  They left, having demanded that we contact them as soon as there was any news.

“What do you say we leave the kids at home next time?” said Vicky, laughing, as we got to the train.

“Might be an idea,” I said.  “but where are we gonna get a babysitter that’ll take on the two of them?”

We found a couple of seats and picked over the details of the evening as we went back to Vicky’s apartment.

o o o o o

“You got that notebook?” I said, as we got in.

She disappeared into her room and came out with it a moment later.  I flipped through until I found the details of the Clarkson-Clothier job.  It had been up in Vermont about twelve years back.  Vicky had waltzed out with a tennis bracelet worth more than I’d make in five years.  Alice and Michael Clarkson-Clothier had been the previous owners of said jewellery.  I supposed the insurance company was technically the owner of it now.  I made a note of the address.  In the morning I’d see if that had any connection to Sarah Farraday.

Vicky made coffee.

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow, then?  We go and see this Steenrod chap?”

I chewed my lip.

“If he was in with Lindhoffer, then chances are he holds a grudge against you too.  You turning up on his doorstep might not be wise.”

“I’m fed up of running scared from these people,” said Vicky, “maybe if I do show up, it’ll shock him into doing something to give himself away.”

“Maybe, maybe.”  

I wasn’t convinced.

Vicky cracked open a bottle of scotch and we sat up chewing the fat for an hour, then she announced she was turning in.  I decided to hit the hay too.

That night I dreamed of knife-wielding love triangles played out in the lobby of Tiffany’s while a museum guide showed a busload of tourists around.

o o o o o

The next morning I woke up with a sore head.  Last night felt more like ten months ago, not ten hours.  I made a mental note to go easy on the booze on a schoolnight in future.  Clearly my liver ain’t as good as it used to be.  

Vicky looked depressingly bright and breezy, and rustled up some coffee and bagels while I grabbed a quick shower and got dressed.

“So what’s the plan, Mr Detective?” said Vicky, as we hit the street.

“First we go and feed Ella, then we go and see Steenrod.” I said.

An hour later we’d left a satisfied cat behind, and we made out way down Turner.  The doughnut shop was open, and some fantastic smells were coming out and making a beeline for my nose.
“God, who eats doughnuts at this time of the morning?” said Vicky.

I’d just been about to suggest that we grab some elevenses, but clearly that wasn’t going to fly.  My stomach made it’s disappointment known.

Some time later, we stopped in front of a converted warehouse.  According to the nameplates, the second floor was occupied by ‘Art Must Be Free’.

I pushed the buzzer and waited.  A few seconds later a shaky voice came from the intercom.


“Mr Le Milanais?  I’m Detective Able, and I need to ask you a few questions about  Mr Le Stephanois.  May I come up?”

I ignored the look that Vicky gave me and pushed the door as the buzzer sounded.

She shrugged and followed me in.

I looked around the first floor.  It was a central corridor with an elevator at the far end.  There were double doors on both sides, about halfway down.  As we passed I checked out the nameplates - on the left was a graphic designer, and on the right, ‘Transparent Aluminum’ gave no clue as to what the occupants actually did.

We reached the elevator and I punched the button.

“So what are you going to ask him?”  said Vicky, as the bell pinged, signalling the arrival of our ride.

“Not sure at the moment.  Just stay out of sight until we’re in the door.”

The elevator door opened onto a small lobby with a couple of pot plants that looked like they could do with a drink.

I knew how they felt.

Across from the elevator was a smoked glass door, with ‘Art Must Be Free’ etched into it in a fairly industrial looking type face.  As I rapped on the glass, Vicky turned away to study the plant behind her.

Seconds later I saw a figure on the other side of the glass.


“Mr Le Milanais?  Detective Able.”

The door opened a few inches and a small, dark haired guy peered out through the crack.  He looked me up and down.

I did the ‘wave the ID’ thing and had it back in my pocket before he had a chance to grab it.

“May I come in?”

He hesitated for a few seconds, and then opened the door wider.

“I’ve already told the Police all I know.”  he said, stepping back.

“Yes,” I said.  “But you haven’t told us.”

The colour drained out of his face as he saw Vicky walk in behind me.

“No!  No!  What’s she doing here?  Who are you?”

Steenrod flailed backwards with a look of panic on his face as I closed the door.

“Morning, Mr Steenrod.  I’m Chuck Able, Private Detective.  From your reaction, I’m guessing you already know Miss Wilde here.  Now what do you say we all go and have a cosy little chat?”

The look of panic hung around on his face for a few seconds then decided it had better places to be.  It was replaced by a look of resignation.  His shoulders slumped and he sagged.

“Come in,” he said, not sounding thrilled about the idea at all, and led the way down the corridor to an open plan area which was presumably for schmoozing clients.  The place was expensively empty.  He slumped into a chair and waved at a sofa that looked like the designer was more concerned about style than comfort.  When I sat down, my butt came to the same conclusion.  Vicky loitered behind me.

“So, Mr Steenrod.  Or should I call you Monsieur Le Milanais...?”

“Steenrod’s fine,” he mumbled.

“Ok, Mr Steenrod.” I said, “How about you tell us exactly what’s going on?”

He looked up.  

“Carl’s dead.  I’m probably next.  What else do you want to know?”

“What makes you think you’re next?” I asked.

Steenrod suddenly sat bolt upright.

“Maybe you didn’t hear me.  Carlton is dead!  Somebody stabbed him.  With a knife.  And if they killed him, they’ll kill me.”

“Who’s they?” I asked, wondering if this whole thing was going to be wrapped up in time for lunch.

“I don’t know.” said Steenrod, looking down at his shoes.

My vision of lunch faded.

“So,” I said, settling back on the sofa as best I could.  “Why don’t you tell us what you do know.”

He glared at Vicky behind me.

“I know this is all her fault.”

“My fault?” she snapped.  “How the hell is this my fault?  I’ve no idea who you are.”

“Let’s all just calm down,” I said.  “Now, Mr Steenrod. How’s about you just start at the beginning...?”

“I’ve told the Police everything.” he muttered.

I stood up and loomed over him.

“And now you’re going to tell us.” 

He started to say something, thought better of it and scowled.

“Oh, what the hell...” he said, and started talking.

Forty five minutes later we rode back down in the elevator and found our way back out onto the street.

“So what do you think?” asked Vicky as we started walking.  “because that sounded like rubbish to me.”

I turned Steenrod’s story over in my mind like shirts in a washing machine.

“That’s the trouble,” I said.  “If he was making it up, he’d have come up with something a darn sight more plausible.”

“What?” scoffed Vicky.  “You don’t mean... seriously?”

I stopped and looked at her, my mind having come to a conclusion.

“Yep.  My gut feeling is that that pile of hooey he just told us...”

I shrugged.

“I gotta feeling it was the truth.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

NaNoPost 015

Vicky waited, and eventually kicked me under the table.

“Come on!” she said. “What have you found?”

I passed the notebook back to her, open at the page I’d been staring at.

“Clarkson-Clothier?” she said, looking up at me.

“Hmm. It’s an odd name, and that’s twice I’ve seen it in the last few days. Like I say, I don’t do coincidences.”

“Well they do happen,” said Vicky with a smile. “that’s why they have a word for it.”

Everybody’s a comedian…

“So think.” she said. “Where have you been recently? What have you done? Looked through the phone book? Address book? Seen it in the paper?”

I racked my brains, but it was like trying to grab a bar of soap with wet hands.

“It’ll come to me.” I said.

Vicky finished leafing through the book for a second time.

“Definitely no Lindhoffer in there. What about the other chap. His partner in the art firm. Do you think he’s changed his name too?”

“Almost certainly,” I said. “Le Milanais is probably Henry Jones or somesuch. We’ll do some digging when we get back to the office. That sort of thing should be a matter of public record. Maybe his family are in here somewhere.”

I tapped the book that Vicky had placed on the table.

“Talking of this notebook. Two safe deposit boxes and three hours on a train?”

She shrugged.

“It’s basically evidence, circumstantial evidence admittedly, but evidence nonetheless, of every job I pulled. Sure, I could have made it all up, but it would have been pretty damning if it had appeared in court. I made sure it wasn’t going to be found easily. Like I say, no offence, but I will be moving it.”

“What’s done is done.” I said. “You’ve served your time.”

“Well,” she said. “Most of it. What I was charged with and what’s in here doesn’t quite tally.”

I looked at her, frowning.

“Whaddya mean, doesn’t tally?”

“Well the prosecutors took into account every job they knew about. The ones with my card at the scene. But they only knew about the ones that were reported. There’s a handful that for whatever reason, the victims never spoke up about. I can only speculate as to why. Maybe the things I took shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Who knows? But let’s just say I’d prefer to keep that book away from prying eyes.”

I nodded. I‘d had a few cases in the past where I’d been asked to retrieve something, and then it turned out that the client who wanted it back wasn’t as entitled to it as they’d have me believe.

There’s a lot of crooked people out there, folks. They don’t all have a heart of gold like me.

Still. Crooks keep me in business.

I looked around to make sure there was no-one in the carriage within earshot.

“So what did happen to all the things you took? I remember looking at the original case notes, and one of the biggest problems the cops had was that you never seemed to fence any of the things that you stole. Still got them stashed away in a safe deposit box somewhere?”

She looked at me for the longest time, then stared out the window. I could almost hear the wheels in her mind turning.

Suddenly she looked back.

“I was wrong! I know two interesting things about Poughkeepsie. It’s where Sterling Morrison from the Velvet Undergound comes from.”

She put the notebook back in her bag, and the rest of the trip passed in silence.

o o o o o

Back at Grand Central we returned to the bank, where presumably Vicky returned the key for the Poughkeepsie safe deposit box back into this safe deposit box. She didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask.

Back on the subway, I looked at my watch. It was just after 2pm and my stomach was beginning to think that my throat had been cut. My survival instinct kicked in, and before 3.00 we were in a booth at the Cup ‘O’ Joe.

Lucy came over with a pad.

“Hi Chuck, what’ll it be?” she said, snapping her gum.

“Hamburger and fries please, Luce. Vicky?”

“Do you have a green salad?” she asked.

Lucy stopped chewing.

“Green salad? Like the stuff in a hamburger?”

“Umm, yes.”

“So you want the hamburger too?” She pronounced it ‘hamboiger’.

“No, no. Just a green salad, please.”

“Hang on…” Lucy walked over to the hatch.

“Lee! Can you make a green salad?” she hollered.

Lee’s head appeared through the hatch.

“What? Nobody comes in here for sal…”

He spotted us.

“Hi guys. Sure. Salad - no problem.”

Lucy came back over.

“You want a drink with that?” she asked.

We got two coffees.

“Say Luce, where’s Nancy? She off today?”

“Naww. She just stepped out while it was quiet. Had somethin’ to post I think. She’ll be back soon.”

She brought the coffees over, and ten minutes later, Lee came out and served us himself. I looked at Vicky’s plate. I’ve seen what passes for salad in the Cup ‘O’ Joe, and I got the distinct impression that Lee had run to the Fruit and Veg store up the street and bought everything fresh, five minutes ago. Maybe Vicky had an admirer.

He lowered his voice.

“So how’s the case going? Have we had a breakthrough yet?”

We? What’s with the we?

“Well,” I said, though a mouthful of hamburger. “The stiff was an artist called Lindhoffer, although he called himself Tony Le Stephanois for some reason. Worked with a guy called Le Milanais.”

Lee suddenly looked excited.

“Le Stephanois and Le Milanais?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, wiping mustard off my chin. “Why? Heard of them?”

“And you say they were artists.”

“That’s right.” chipped in Vicky. “They had a company called ‘Art Must Be Free.’ ”

“You sure that wasn’t just a front?” said Lee. “You sure they weren’t jewel thieves?”

I stopped with the hamburger halfway to my mouth.


Lee slid onto the seat - next to Vicky rather than me, I noticed - and lowered his voice to a whisper, despite the fact that Lucy was the only other person in the place.


“Who?” I said.

“Not who.” said Lee. “What. ‘Le Rififi Chez Les Hommes’. It’s a 1950’s film about a jewel heist. The whole robbery takes place in real time over about 30 minutes, in complete silence. It’s an absolute classic of the genre. And two of the main characters are Tony Le Stephanois and Cesar Le Milanais.”

I looked at Vicky, baffled, while Lee just looked excited.

“It’s gotta mean something, right?” he said, his enthusiasm rising by the second. “They must have been big time jewel thieves and the whole art thing was just a cover, and all the time they were laughing at the establishment. They probably got access to all sorts of places as artists, then cased the joint, then came back at night, drilled a hole though the ceiling in an homage to Jules Dassin and…”

He was interrupted by Vicky’s phone ringing. She answered, and after about thirty seconds, she hung up.

“Brenda wants to know how the case is going and what she can do to help. We have to meet her for dinner tonight, 7.30 at Pizzarella’s, corner of Fitch and Wilshaw.”

“Great,” said Lee, “that’ll give me time to get cleaned up. I’ll see you there at twenty past.”

With that he disappeared back into the kitchen.

I wondered idly to myself, as I ate. When, exactly, did I get so many partners? And just what sort of theories we were going to get when we put Lee and Brenda in a room together.

o o o o o

We got back to the office at about 4.30. Vicky fed Ella while I tried to think where I’d seen the name ‘Clarkson-Clothier’ recently. It eluded me like a tenant who was three months behind on the rent.

While I let that tick away in the back of my head, I went online and found the State Of New York court records. There was a mountain of stuff in there, but fortunately M. Le Stephanois and M. Le Milanais weren’t the first people I’d had dealings with who’d changed their name, so I had an idea of where to look. I set up a search and left it running.

I paced up and down the office.

“Sit down, big guy,” said Vicky in her best Lauren Bacall, “you’ll wear a hole in the carpet.”

I sat down, and Ella took advantage of the suddenly available lap. Within moments, she was asleep.

While I was incapacitated, Vicky sat on the couch and read through her notebook again. She looked like she was a million miles away. I guess after you’ve been an international jewel thief, selling books is a bit mundane.

After about 15 minutes, the machine beeped to say the search had finished. I rolled the chair over to the desk without waking the cat and looked to see what had come up.

Sure enough, there was a record of Carlton Lindhoffer changing his name to Tony Le Stephanois and on the same day, one Raymond Steenrod became Cesar Le Milanais.

It was nearly fifteen years ago.

o o o o o

At 7.15 we walked up Fitch towards Pizzarella’s. I could see Lee waiting outside already. Oh well. I guess four brains are better than one. He waved as we got closer, and held the door open for Vicky as we arrived.

“Hi guys!” he said. “I don’t know what your friend looks like, so I don’t know if she’s here yet.”

We couldn’t see Brenda, so went up to the bar to get a drink while we waited. Lee had pulled out all the stops: clean shirt, hair combed to within an inch of its life and smelling of something vaguely musky.

Vicky and I hadn’t changed, but then again, we hadn’t been standing over a griddle all day.

Dead on 7.30, the door opened and Brenda came bounding through. She gave Vicky a peck on the cheek, and said ‘Hi’ to me.

“Brenda this is Lee,” I said, “Lee this is Brenda. Brenda, can I get you a drink?”

“No thanks,” she said. “Let’s eat. I want to know what’s going on. Sounds like I’m way behind.”

A waiter showed us to our table, and, with Vicky and Lee chipping in, I started to get Brenda up to speed, while we picked over a bowl a bowl of olives.

“So let’s take this from the top. Ten years ago, Vicky’s reign of terror is ended by the handsome ‘tec.” I pointed at her with an olive. “And you go to jail.”

Vicky musta had a cold - it would explain the snorting noise.

I carried on.

“But before that, back around the time you started, Lindhoffer and Steenrod change their names to these French guys…”

“Which they got from the film ‘Rififi’.” said Lee, butting in.

“Right, which they got from this film about jewel thieves. You serve your time and get released. Eighteen months ago you get an anonymous note. Then nothing for a year or so.”

“Then a few months back I got another one.” said Vicky. “And then that last one about a week ago.”

“Then the gallery gets turned over.” I said. “At first it looks like it was a prank, and your card was left, but then,”

“Then the anonymous phone call to the Police!” said Brenda. I guess she was feeling left out.


“Then you got arrested, and while you were languishing in jail, Chuck came to see me and we discussed theories as to the motive behind the fiendish crime!” squeaked Brenda, who was fidgeting so much I thought she’d fall off her chair.

At that point the waiter arrived with our pizzas, and it all went quiet for a while.

I took advantage of Brenda having a mouthful of quattro formaggi to wrap it up.

“Then someone rings the bookshop and drops Vicky in it there. We think it’s Lindhoffer. Then we set Vicky and Lee up on a date. Sure enough, Lindhoffer tries to spoil the party, but in doing so, gets a knife in the ribs, courtesy of person or persons unknown, but probably the guy I saw at the phone booth just before Lindhoffer.”

I put down my slice of pizza.

“So our problems are. One. We don’t think that Vicky hit either Lindhoffer or Steenrod’s places in the past, so we don’t know what their beef is. Two. We have no idea who the knifeman is or how he fits into the picture. And three, I can’t remember where I’ve seen the name ‘Clarkson-Clothier’ before, but I’m sure it’s tied up with this somehow.”

Everybody thought hard while they finished their pizza.

“Hey, there’s another thing!” said Brenda suddenly. “We forgot about the brooch! That’s gone too. I know the Musuem are going crazy about that. They’re doing everything they can to keep it quiet, but it’s bound to get out sooner or later.”

I stared at Brenda.

“What?” she said. “Have I got cheese in my teeth?”

“No,” I said. “But now I know where I’ve seen that name before…”