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.
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.
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.”
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 gotta feeling it was the truth.”