I stared at the girl. She looked at me like I was something the cat had dragged in on a night when the cat really wasn’t having much luck.
“That card...” I started. “Does that mean…?”
She nodded, and without thinking, I started to let the gun drop towards the floor.
I’ll admit it. I was swayed by the fact that she was a pretty girl. What I was more swayed by though, was that apparently she was one of the most notorious jewel thieves of recent years. For a second I looked back at the card propped up in the safe. It had appeared at crime scenes all over the country, and on a couple of occasions, beyond. Some of the raids had seemed near impossible, and this had led to the brains in the newspapers coming up with the nickname ‘The Phantom’. Whenever a new crime had been committed, you could count on one of the papers running the strapline ‘Another kiss from The Phantom’ or words to that effect.
Criminal she may have been, but as someone who had had to break in to a few places over the years, I had to confess to some grudging respect.
“So are we just going to stand here and wait to get caught?” She finally spoke. Her accent reeked of education and upbringing.
“Yes, I was wondering much the same thing.” said English.
“How did you get in?” I said.
“None of your business.” she retorted.
“You taken anything?”
“I only came for that.” She jerked her head towards the box in the safe.
I thought for a minute and contemplated doing something very stupid.
“If you leave now, in the next…” I glanced down at my watch.
On reflection, that was the stupid thing. As fast as lightning her hand went to the chest I’d been admiring a few moments earlier and whipped out a small pistol. It was hardly a .44 Magnum, but at less than six feet away, it would make a mess of my shirt.
And the contents of said shirt.
My respect, grudging or otherwise, evaporated.
“Drop the gun.” she said, her eyes never leaving mine.
I slowly lowered it to the floor and nudged it away with my foot.
“Good.” she said. “Now back up. And hands in the air.”
Only after I was pressed right against the wall, did she step forward and pick up my revolver.
A thought occurred to me.
“I’m not alone, y’know.” and glanced over her shoulder, trying the classic ‘Hey! Look behind you.’ move.
“Me?” said an astonished English in my ear. “You must be joking. She’s got a gun. Correction. Two guns. I’m staying right here. You get yourself out of this.”
The girl smiled.
“I don’t think so. Now. I’ll just get what I came for and be on my way. The question is, what do I do with you?”
Under different circumstances I could think of plenty of creative answers to that question, but when your own gun is being pointed at you, it depresses the libido a little.
“How about you just let me leave?” I suggested. “I won’t say anything.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Honour among thieves?” she said. “I don’t think so.”
“How did you get in?”
“None of your business.” I replied, as drily as I could.
She cocked the hammer on my revolver, and the small amount of light in the room glinted on the barrel.
“Through the drawing room,” I said. “And if we’re not back through that door in…”
I craned my neck to look at my watch. Which was still on my wrist. Which was still over my head.
‘...the next two and a half minutes, we’re going to have a lot of company.”
She grabbed the box from the safe and silently urged me towards the door. She stayed a few paces behind me, and we crossed the hall, both staying off the rug, and back into the drawing room. The curtains moved gently in the breeze from the hole in the window.
She indicated the hole, and I carefully stepped through.
“Stay by the wall.” she whispered, as she followed me through. “I’m sure you don’t want those cameras seeing anything any more than I do. Now. Presumably you got across the lawn without being spotted. Lead on.”
I edged back along the wall.
“MOVE!” yelled the voice in my ear, and I dived sideways onto the lawn, just in time to avoid being clattered over the head with my own gun. The girl was thrown off balance, and I scrambled to my feet and hurled myself at her. The guns went flying and we rolled across the lawn. She may have had ten years on me, but as they say, ‘Old age and treachery beats youth and skill every time.’ I ended up dragging her to her feet with her arms behind her back. She writhed and kicked out at me, but I’ve dealt with worse.
By this time, lights had started coming on in the house, and I hauled the girl back through the French door. As I did, the lights went on and a tall, distinguished looking guy, or at least as distinguished as you can look at that time of day, carrying a shotgun came barrelling through the door.
“Hands up!” he roared.
I was getting pretty tired of hearing that.
“Mr. Sullivan?” I said.
“I said hands up!”
“Mr Sullivan… is your wife at home?”
As the girl twisted round with a look of bafflement on her face, Sullivan stared at me. A woman wearing a dressing gown pushed through the door behind him.
“Andrew? “ she said. “What on earth is…” She caught sight of the two of us by the window and stopped.
“Morning, Mrs Sullivan.” I said. “Sorry to disturb you.”
“Mr Sullivan?” I continued, “Could I ask you to put the gun down and call the police?”
The dame put a hand on her husband’s arm and got him to lower the firepower. By this time a maid had appeared.
“Jenny?” said Mrs Sullivan. “Would you be so kind as to telephone the Police and ask them if they’d mind paying us a call? We seem to have intruders.”
The maid skedaddled.
“Now. What in blazes is going on?” demanded Sullivan. “Who is she? Who are you? And how do you know my wife?”
He peered past us.
“And what the hell have you done to my French door!”
He pointed to a sofa.
I relaxed my grip on the girl’s arms and we both sat down, very aware that Sullivan’s finger was still resting on the trigger guard of the shotgun.
The maid reappeared.
“The Police are on their way, ma’am.” she said, and did one of those bobbing curtseys.
“Thank you, Jenny.” said Mrs Sullivan. “Now do you think you could make us some tea, please?”
Jenny did the curtsey thing again and vanished.
Sullivan turned his gaze from his wife back to me.
“Now. Start talking.”
“The name’s Able, Mr Sullivan. Chuck Able. I’m a private detective, and I was hired by your wife a week ago to check the security on your house.”
The look of astonishment on his face was matched by the look of astonishment on the young girl’s face. They would have made interesting bookends. Sullivan turned to his wife.
“Is this right?”
“Yes, dear.” she said. “After Alice had the McMurdo stolen last month, I’ve been so worried. You know her brooch and mine were a pair, and I thought that if one had been taken, then the thief might try to take the McGuffin too. And it seems I may have been right.”
“But I told you I’d had the security system looked at when that happened. Upgraded.”
“I know, dear.” his wife said. “But you will insist on economising. Just because Grant is a member of your club, it doesn’t follow that is son knows anything about alarms. And you kept saying how it was such a bargain. I just wanted to be sure that we were protected, and… well…”
She looked at me.
I looked at the broad next to me.
“I’ll discuss the finer details with you in private, Mr Sullivan,” I said “but suffice to say it wasn’t impossible to gain entrance to the premises tonight. For either of us.”
“So is she your assistant or something?”
The girl snorted, and Sullivan looked a little closer at her.
“Wait. I know you. You were with the caterers on Saturday.”
“She may have been a caterer on Saturday,” I said, “but most of the time I have reason to believe she goes by the name of ‘The Phantom’.”
Mrs Sullivan gasped.
“Then… the McGuffin?”
I reached into the small bag strapped to the girl’s waist.
She rushed over and took it from me. The girl next to me stared into space not saying a word.
At that point the maid came back with tea on a tray.
“Ma,am.” she said. “I believe the Policemen have arrived.”
o o o o o
When it became apparent that the Police were on their way, English had informed me in no uncertain terms that his involvment in the night’s activities were at an end, and pausing only to remind me that his bill would be with me shortly, cut contact and presumably scrammed. I then managed to remove the earpiece and mic and stash them in my pocket, and avoided any mention of him. No point in complicating things.
The guy in charge was Detective Harris. He’d been pretty frosty to me at first, but when I’d explained that I was there at Mrs Sullivan’s request, and she’d got in touch with me after I’d been recommended by Captain Russo down at the Eighteenth Precinct, he thawed a little.
“So lemme get this straight.” he said. “Mrs S.’s friend…”
“Sister. Alice. Alice Connaught. She was the one that had the break in last month?”
“Malone. Who was working the Connaught case?”
“Renko,” replied the uniform. “He’s gonna be gutted he missed this!”
“Right. And Mrs Connaught had some brooch taken?”
“Yep.” I said. “Had a rock in it the size of a cat’s eye. Known as the McMurdo stone.”
“And this McMurdo was one of a pair?”
“That’s right. The two sisters owned one each. Alice has the McMurdo, and Phyllida here,” I nodded towards Mrs Sullivan. ‘has the McGuffin.”
“And she was worried that hubby was scrimping on the security, so to cut a long story short, she asked me to check it out ‘by any means necessary’. Didn’t take much to encourage one of the installation guys to ‘lose’ a copy of the plans of this place. And with a bit of technical jiggery pokery, I find my way in. And five minutes later I find myself in the study, looking down the wrong end of my own gun.”
“Being held by ‘The Phantom’ ”?
“I ain’t proud of it. Anyway, I get a break, she trips, we scuffle, I grab her. You know the rest.”
“So you caught one of the most infamous criminals of the last decade by blind luck?”
“I prefer to think of myself as in the right place at the right time.” I said.
Harris walked away chuckling.
“We’ll need you down at the station later.” he called back over his shoulder. “But for now, you’re free to go.”
I made a mental note to collect English’s binoculars on the way out as long as I could be discrete about it. I finished up a cold cup of tea that was still sitting on the tray, said my goodbyes to the Sullivans and made my way out to the front door.
As I opened it, I heard a noise behind me, and two uniforms escorted a cuffed catsuit girl out of the house and towards a waiting black and white.
As she passed me she turned her head, scowled, and whispered to me.
“I’ll see you again, Able…”