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LATER THAT SAME day, Kelp was in his own apartment in the West Thirties, chatting with Anne Marie Carpinaw, the friend he'd made one time on a trip to Washington, DC, and had brought home to protect her from that place. Deciding to raise a certain issue, "You're a woman," Kelp pointed out.

"I believe," Anne Marie said, "that was the first thing you noticed about me."

"It was." Kelp nodded, agreeing with them both. "And as a woman," he said, "I just have this feeling you might maybe have some certain expertise."

"About what?"

"Well, in this case, jewelry."

"Yes, please," she said. "It's never in bad taste, and never out of style."

"Not like that," he said. "A different kind of expertise."

The look she gave him had something caustic in it. "I could show my expertise at sulking, if you like."

"Come on, Anne Marie," Kelp said. "I just wanna pick your brain."

"Well, that's all right, then," she said. "I was wondering when you'd get around to my brain."

"I didn't have that much need for it up till now." She laughed, but pointed a finger at him. "You're on the lip of the volcano there, pal."

"Then let me ask my question," he said. "It's most likely you don't know the answer, but I definitely don't know the answer, and I gotta start somewhere."

"Go ahead."

They were in their living room, which earlier he had salted with a manila envelope on the coffee table. This he now picked up, and withdrew from it two photos of the red queen from the chess set, plus the sheet giving the queen's dimensions and weight. "What I wanna do," he said, handing her these documents, "is make a fake one of these. It doesn't have to be a hundred percent perfect, because we're gonna paint it with red enamel."

"This is the thing," she said, studying the photos, "that John is working on."

"Well, we both are," Kelp said, "if we get past a couple little problems. And one of them is how to make a copy of that thing there, same size, same shape, pretty much the same weight."

"Well, that's easy," she said. "Particularly if the jewels don't have to match."

"No, they're gonna be painted over. Whadaya mean, it's easy?"

"You came to the right person," she said. "What I will do is turn this over to the Earring Man."

"The who?"

"Women lose earrings," she pointed out. "You know that."

"You find 'em in cabs," Kelp agreed, "you find 'em next to telephones, you find 'em on the floor the morning after the party."

"Exactly," she said. "So there you are, you had a pair of earrings you loved, now you've only got one earring, and one earring isn't going to do anything for anybody except some pathetic guy trying to be hip."

"I've seen those guys, too," Kelp said. "They look like they're off the leash."

"So if you're a woman," Anne Marie went on, "with one earring of a pair you loved, you go to this jeweler that everybody calls Earring Man because he will make you an exact match."

"That's pretty good," Kelp said. "I never knew that."

"I think there's probably an Earring Man, or maybe more than one, in every urban center in the world where women don't have to wear headscarves. The one I know is in DC. I wore earrings a lot more when I was a congressman's daughter than when I'm some heister's moll."

Surprised, Kelp said, "Is that who you are?"

Looking at the photos again, she said, "How much of a hurry are you in for this?"

"Well, since John says 'we're never gonna get our hands on the real one, I'd say you could take your time."

She nodded, thinking it over. "I still have some unindicted friends down in DC," she said. "I'll make a couple calls and probably fly down tomorrow. He'll most likely want a couple weeks."

"He'll know," Kelp said, "there's a certain amount of secrecy involved here."

"Oh, sure," she said. "Earring Man would never betray a confidence." Grinning at the memory, she said, "The great story about him is the time a woman came in, very sad, with the one earring, and she lost the other in a cab, just like you said. He went to work on it, and a couple days later another woman came in with the other earring and claimed she lost the missing one in a cab. He never called either of them on it, never found out which one was lying, didn't care."

Kelp said, "Anne Marie, in that case, how come you know about it?"

She couldn't believe the question. "Andy," she said, "people gossip all the time. That isn't the same as tattling."

Sometimes you know when the explanation you've got is the only explanation you're going to get. "Fine," Kelp said. "Whadaya wanna do about dinner?"

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