Pat took a long, hard look at Vicky, and then turned his gaze on me.
“To be sure, Chuck, I never remember you mentioning a sister before. You’ve got a young brother if I recall. George, wasn’t it?”
“But a sister. And such a pretty young thing as this…”
He stood up.
“Pat O’Halloran. How do you do, miss?”
Vicky shook his hand.
“Hello, Pat. I’m, er…”
“Sorry, where are my manners?” I said. “This is Susie.”
“Hello, Susie.” said Pat. “So Chuck,” he said, turning back to me. “how’s that case you’re on. If I remember rightly, you’re chaperoning a Miss Victoria Wilde.”
He looked pointedly at Vicky.
“Oh, slow going, Pat, slow going. I’ve got a friend keeping an eye on her for an hour. Say, do you think Susie could wait here while I just duck in the station for a few minutes?”
“I’ll make sure she stays… safe.” said Pat with a smile, and indicated the benches. Vicky sat in the corner and buried herself behind a magazine. I took the pass that Pat pushed over, and hurried through as he buzzed me in.
I went straight down to the archive room, fired up a machine and started looking for the details of the dead guy from last night. The investigation had barely started, so there was ony the bare bones in the case file, but it was better than nothing. I took a copy, pocketed the datastick and was out less then five minutes after I sat down.
I was almost back to the front desk when an office door opened and Russo came out. He looked at me.
“Able.” he said. “Aren’t you missing something? Or somebody?”
My heart sank.
He shook his head in exasperation.
“I don’t have the time. I didn’t see anything, and I don’t want to know. Now get!”
Pat buzzed me back through the barrier, and I handed back the pass. As I did, the station door opened, and with a swish of fringe, Detective Cash walked in.
“Well, well. If it ain’t the Private dick. Say, Mr Able, ain’t you s’pposed to be keepin’ an eye on that young lady? ‘Cos if you ain’t, I’ve got a nice comfy cell where she kin cool her heels awhile.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Coming, Mr Able.”
Vicky put down the magazine and walked over from where she’d been sitting in the corner.
“Morning, Detective.” she said to Cash with a smile, and sashayed out the door.
Several uniforms turned to watch her go. As sashays go, it was one worth seeing.
“Guess I’d better go and keep a close eye on her.” I said with a grin, and followed her out.
o o o o o
We got back to the office, and I plugged the datastick into my machine.
“Right. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Vicky leaned over my shoulder to see the screen as I pulled the file up.
“Ok. What have you done to annoy a mister…”
I read it twice.
“Monsieur Le Stephanois?”
“Tony Le Stephanois.”
I trawled down the file.
“Age 41. Five eight, hundred and sixty five pounds. Short, dark hair, no distinguishing marks. Wallet contained a driving licence, small amount of cash, couple a credit cards and some business cards.”
I craned round to look at Vicky, who was still reading the screen.
“You hacked off any artists when you were breaking and entering?”
“Artist? Doesn’t ring a bell.” she said.
“Well that’s what his card says, look.” I pointed at the screen.
Apparently the business card read : ‘ M. Tony Le Stephanois, Creative Director, “Art Must Be Free” ’
“You do any jobs in France?” I asked.
She straightened up.
“Well, all the stuff with Gilbert, obviously. But we didn’t take anything. Every one of those jobs was a training exercise on getting in and getting out. The first job where I actually stole something was Hamburg.”
“Well, let’s see what ‘Art Must Be Free’ is all about.”
A few moments later, I pulled up their website. “Art Must Be Free” appeared to have ideas above its station. While M. Le Stephanois may have been the Creative Director, he also appeared to be 50% of the company, along with a M. Le Milanais. And as far as we could tell, that was that. Looking at the list of their past ‘works’, it also seemed that their idea of art differed from mine. They didn’t do paintings of fruit, put it that way.
“I read about that the other day.” I said to Vicky, pointing at their most recent ‘installation’. “They made the numbers 1 to 100 out of acrylic and stuck them around the city, then somehow convinced a bunch of people to try and find them.”
I turned round to look at Vicky.
“Is it me? Am I missing something?”
She patted me on the shoulder.
“I think you’re probably just getting old.” she laughed.
I muttered something rude and went back to reading the screen. The office of ‘Art Must Be Free’ was, unsurprisingly, over in the warehouse district, a couple of blocks from the phone booth. I wanted to pay them a visit and have a word with this Le Milanais guy, but I’d need to wait until the police had been. Turning up before the cops would look more suspicious than we needed right now.
Suddenly a thought struck me. Somebody had stuck a knife in Le Stephanois, and assuming it wasn’t random, then chances are the murderer knew him. It was almost certainly the person I’d seen at the phone box last night. Could it be this Le Milanais guy? It seemed a bit too obvious. But it often seemed that when someone had reached the point where they’re prepared to stick a knife in a body, or pull a trigger, then you weren’t thinking too straight. And business partners falling out with each other? That was as old as the hills.
“So neither of these names ring a bell?” I said.
“I’m afraid not.” said Vicky.
“So you remember every household you turned over?” I said, twisting round in the chair.
She straightened up and looked out the window.
“I think so. I could…” She hesitated for a moment. “I could check.”
“I kept a journal. Places, dates, times, details. It’s… hidden. The Police never found it.”
“Well it might give us a hint.” I said. “Where to?”
She was quiet for a moment, then obviously came to a decison.
“Grand Central Station.”
o o o o o
It took about forty minutes to get to Grand Central. But when we got there, Vicky headed for the street. I said nothing, but followed along. After a couple of minutes walk we went into a bank.
“Won’t be a minute.” she said, and went to speak to one of the tellers.
“Safe deposit box?” I asked.
She nodded. A moment later a member of bank staff came up to her and she disappeared though a door with him. I took a seat and looked around. The bank was old school. Polished wood floors, brass and wood on the counters, a uniformed guard on the door. Not like some of these modern day places that look more like a supermarket.
I was admiring the legs of a rather attractive customer when Vicky reappeared and came over.
“Got it?” I asked.
“Not yet.” she replied.
I frowned, followed her out of the bank, and back to Grand Central. We walked down the steps to the main floor, sidestepping the tourists and rubberneckers who are drawn to it like fat people to sports clothing.
“It was simpler when there were left luggage facilities in the Terminal.” she said as we walked. “But when they took them out, I had to get a safe deposit box.”
“So now where to?” I asked.
We got in a queue, and after a couple of minutes, were at the window.
“Two round trips to Poughkeepsie, please.” said Vicky to the ticket seller.
“That’ll be $58.00 please.” she drawled.
Vicky looked at me and smiled, and I rolled my eyes as I reached for my wallet. I pushed three twenties across, and the lady gave me the tickets and a couple of bucks change.
As I put my wallet away, Vicky checked the boards.
“Platform 105, ten minutes.” she said. “Let’s go.”
o o o o o
I picked up a paper as we made our way downstairs and found our train. It wasn’t too crowded, and we managed to get a table to ourselves.
“Poughkeepsie?” I said.
“Poughkeepsie.” she replied. Clearly I wasn’t going to get much out of her just yet.
A few minutes later the train jolted as it pulled out, and I spread the paper on the table. I flicked through, and on the bottom of page 14 I found what I was looking for.
New York artist murdered.
The body of Tony Le Stephanois, an artist with the group ‘Art Must Be Free’ was found last night in a city phonebooth. He had been stabbed through the heart. M. Le Stephanois, originally Carlton Lindhoffer, recently staged the event ‘The City Counts’. As yet, police have no motive for his murder.
Four lines. That’s all you get to show for a life. Harsh though it was, I was more interested in the name. I tapped the paper.
“So. Le Stephanois might not ring any bells, but how about Lindhoffer? Got any of their precious heirlooms stashed away anywhere?”
Vicky read the article and shrugged.
“Sorry. Lindhoffer doesn’t mean anything to me either.”
I carried on reading the paper while Vicky stared at the passing scenery.
o o o o o
About ninety minutes later, I woke with a jump. Vicky was shaking my arm.
“Wakey, wakey. We’re here!”
I roused myself and looked out the window; we were just pulling into the station. I folded the paper up, stuffed it in my coat pocket and we stepped off the train as the doors opened.
Outside the station was a cab rank.
I turned to Vicky. “Do we need a cab?”
“It is quicker.” she said. “First National Bank, please.” and climbed in.
I could tell my wallet was not going to have a good day.
Ten minutes later, the cabbie dropped us off outside another bank. Smaller then the one back in NYC, but no less grand. I tipped the guy a couple of bucks and made a mental note to start making a note of all the costs I was incurring. Someone was going to foot the bill, and I was darn sure it wasn’t going to be me.
The inside of the bank was what you might call faded glamour. It looked 1920’s. The wood might have been worn, but boy had it been polished! It reminded me of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.
Vicky spoke to a teller, who slipped off his seat and came out front.
“Another safe deposit box?” I asked.
“Back in a second.” And she was gone.
The First National Bank of Poughkeepsie might have nice decor, but their customers don’t have such nice legs, I’ll tell you that for nothing. As I sat there, I wondered whether Vicky’s journal - assuming she was going to get it, and we weren’t about to take another train to Vancouver - was going to turn up a job at a Lindhoffer mansion.
Somehow I doubted it.
A few minutes later, and Vicky was back. She checked her watch.
“Next train back to the city isn’t for 45 minutes. Feel like walking?” she said.
It was a bright, cold day, and hey! It would be cheaper than taking a cab!
“Fine.” I said.
o o o o o
“Come here often?” I asked, as we walked.
“Now and again.” she said. “I have some things here, and I move them around periodically. Now you’ve seen where they’re kept, I’ll have to move them again.”
“Things? Expensive things? Expensive things that belong to other people?”
“No.” she said. “Nothing like that.”
“But you do keep them somewhere?”
She walked on for a few moments in silence.
“The only interesting thing I know about Poughkeepsie,” she said, “is that the world’s worst film director, Ed Wood, was born here.”
Clearly I wasn’t going to get any more out of her on the subject of loot.
It wasn’t until we were back on the train and heading for the city, that she reached into her bag and pulled out a small black book, held shut by an elastic closure. She slid the band off and leafed through.
“Thirty seven jobs.” she said. “Would have been thirty eight if I hadn’t bumped into you that night. All the details are there. But I’m pretty sure there isn’t a Lindhoffer in there.”
She pushed the book over.
“Nobody else has ever seen that book.” she said. “You’re honoured.”
I opened the book and started reading. Each entry, in copperplate handwriting, ran to several pages, and contained a post-robbery summary of each job. The date and time. Whose house it was. Details of security systems. What she’d taken. What she thought of the place and the people, and any number of other small details.
I flipped through, concentrating on the names. Suddenly I stopped on number twenty six.
Vicky saw me frown.
“What is it? It’s not Lindhoffer, is it?” she said.
However I was looking at another name I’d seen recently.
But for the life of me, I couldn’t think where.