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37

ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, two days after his lunch with Jay Tumbril, Jacques Perly completed a very encouraging conference with two international art thieves and a sometime producer for the Discovery Channel, then drove back to the city from Fairfield County in bucolic Connecticut. The West Side Highway deposited him onto Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, and a few deft maneuvers later he steered the Lamborghini onto Gansevoort Street, thumbing the beeper on his visor as he did so. The battered old green garage door that obediently lifted in response was in a low squat structure that perfectly suited the neighborhood; an old stone industrial building converted to more upscale uses without losing its original rough appearance.

Perly steered into the building, beeped the door shut, and drove up the curving concrete ramp to where the conversion began. The high stone exterior walls up here were painted a creamy white, and ceiling spotlights pinpointed the potted evergreens in front of his office door. This space was large enough for two cars to park, though usually, as now, it contained only Perly's. Leaving the Lamborghini, he crossed to the faux Tudor interior wall and stepped into his reception room, where Delia looked up from her typing to say, "Hi, Chief. How'd it go?"

"Well, Delia," Perly said, with justifiable pride, "I believe we'll have an amphora on our hands in very short order. And thirty minutes of airtime."

"I knew you'd do it, Chief," she said. She'd never tell him, but she loved him madly.

"I thought I might," he admitted. "What's doing here?"

"The crew's reported on that Fiona Hemlow matter," she said. "Jerry sent his stuff over by messenger, Margo e-mailed it in, and Herkimer stopped by with it. Fritz says he'll have pix for you by the end of the day. It's all on your desk."

"Good girl. Man the barricades."

"Always, Chief."

He went into his inner office, a large room with tall windows across the back and a big domed skylight in thick glass, framed in steel. The furniture was clubby and quietly expensive, the wall decorations mostly pictures of recovered art. His desk, large and old and dark wood, had come from one of the daily New York newspapers that had gone under during the final newspaper strike of 1978. He sat at it now and drew to himself the three packets of information delivered by his crew.

Fifteen minutes later, he thumbed the intercom. "Delia, get me Jay Tumbril."

"Right, Chief."

It took another six minutes, while he skimmed the reports once more, before he got the buzz, picked up his phone, and said, "Jay."

"I'll put Mr. Tumbril right on," said a girl whose English accent was probably real.

"Fine." Perly had forgotten that Jay Tumbril was one of those people who scored points for himself in some obscure game if he made you get on the line first.

"Jacques."

"Jay."

"That was quick."

"It doesn't take long when there's nothing there."

"Nothing?"

"Well, not much. There's one little— But we'll get to that. The girl first. Fiona Hemlow."

"Yes."

"She's clean, Jay. A good student, conscientious, as obedient as a nun."

Jay, sounding faintly displeased, said, "Well, that's fine, then."

"Comes from money," Perly went on. "Her grandfather, still alive, was an inventor, a chemist, came up with some patents made him and the rest of the family rich."

"So she's not after Livia's money, is what you're saying."

"She isn't, no."

"Yes? I don't follow."

"For the last three years," Perly said, putting a finger on the name on the top sheet of Herkimer's report, "Ms. Hemlow has been shacked up with a character named Brian Clanson."

"He's the one you're dubious about."

"He is." Perly tapped Clanson's name with a fingernail, as behind him his computer dinged that an e-mail was coming in. "I ask myself," he said, "if this character put up our little nun to ingratiate herself with Mrs. Wheeler."

"So he'd be after her money."

"It's only a possibility," Perly cautioned him. "At this point, I have no reason to believe anything at all. I just look at this character, and I see someone from, to be honest, a white-trash background, a community college education, no contacts of any consequence in the city, and an extremely marginal job as some sort of illustrator for a cable channel aimed at Neanderthals. I can believe Ms. Hemlow hooked up with him because he has that redneck charm and because she's a naif who thinks well of everybody, but I can also believe Mr. Clanson hooked up with her because she has money, or at least her grandfather does."

"Mmm."

Turning in his swivel chair, Perly saw the e-mail was from Fritz, and opened it. The photographs. "Further than that," he said, "I can believe he came to the conclusion that Mrs. Wheeler was the likeliest prospect among your firm's clients for him to get his hands on."

"So you think he set the girl to go after Mrs. W."

Perly opened the photo marked BC and looked at Brian Clanson, arms folded, leaning against a tree in a park somewhere, big boned but skinny, like a stray dog, with a loose untrustworthy smile. "I'll only say this, Jay," he said, looking Clanson in the eye, "it's out of character for that girl to have imposed herself on Mrs. Wheeler all on her own. There has to have been a reason, and I can't find any other reason in the world except Brian Clanson." And he nodded at the grinning fellow, who showed no repentance.

Jay said, "So you want to look into Clanson a little deeper."

"Let's see if this is the first time," Perly said, "he's tried to work something funny with his betters."

"Go get him," Jay Tumbril said.


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