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38

AT THE SAME TIME that Jacques Perly and Jay Tumbril were discussing the investigation into Fiona Hemlow and Livia North wood Wheeler, those two ladies, all unknowing of the scrutiny, were discussing the results of Fiona's own investigations. "There's just no record," Fiona was saying, spreading her hands in helplessness as she stood in front of Mrs. W's desk.

Mrs. W had a photo of the chess set displayed on her computer, and she now frowned at it with the same mistrustful expression that Perly, downtown, wore when gazing on the photo of Brian Clanson. "It's vexing," she said. "It's just vexatious."

"Your father, Alfred Northwood," Fiona said, consulting her memo pad, in which she had placed careful and thorough notes of the history just as though she hadn't had it memorized a long time ago, "came to New York from Chicago in 1921. We know that for certain. We know he was in the army in Europe in the First World War and became a sergeant, and went to Chicago after he left the army, though I couldn't find any records of what he was doing there. There's also no record of his having the chess set in the army or in Chicago—"

"Well, certainly not the army," Mrs. W snapped. "Nothing as valuable as that."

"No, ma'am. We know your father's friends and business associates called it the Chicago chess set because he brought it from there, but I can't find any circumstance in which he called it the Chicago chess set."

"Or anything else."

"Or anything else," agreed Fiona. "There is no record that he ever said where it came from, or how he happened to own it. I'm sorry, Mrs. W, there's just no history."

"Well, there, you see," Mrs. W said, with an irritated head-shake at the picture of the chess set. "Behind every great fortune there is a crime."

Alert, Fiona said, "There is?" because she found that a truly interesting idea.

But now Mrs. W's irritated headshake was directed at Fiona. "Balzac, dear," she said. "P`ere Goriot. And I fear that the crime behind my family's fortune may have more than a little to do with that chess set."

"Yes, ma'am."

Again Mrs. W frowned at the picture on the computer screen. "Will the crime be found out? Is there risk in that ugly toy? Is there anything to do other than let sleeping chessmen lie?"

"I don't know, Mrs. W."

"No, you don't. Well, thank you, Fiona. I'll think about this."

"Yes, ma'am." Fiona turned to go, then said, "Mrs. W, there is something else."

"Yes?"

"I wasn't even going to mention it, it's so silly."

"Well, either mention it or don't mention it," Mrs. W told her. "You can't dither forever."

"No, ma'am. It's my boyfriend, Brian."

Mrs. W's eyebrows lowered. "Is something wrong there?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Fiona assured her. "It's just — Well, you know, he works for a cable station, and they have a party every year in March, sort of the end of winter and all, and Brian said I should invite you. He's wanted to meet you, and—"

"Been telling tales about me, have you?"

Mrs. W hadn't said that as though she were angry, yet Fiona became very flustered and felt the color rise up into her cheeks. She couldn't think of a thing to say, but apparently her pink face said it all for her, because Mrs. W nodded and said, "That's all right, dear. I don't mind being an eccentric in other people's stories. I can't imagine what Jay Tumbril says about me, for instance. Tell me about this party."

"It's really very silly," Fiona said. "A lot of the people there dress up in costumes, not everybody. I won't."

"Like Halloween," Mrs. W suggested.

"Sort of."

"And when and where is this?"

"Saturday, down in Soho. It starts at eight, but Brian doesn't like to get there until ten."

"Very sensible. Let me think about it."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And," with a sudden snap to her voice, "get me Jay Tumbril on the phone."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I've made up my mind," Mrs. W said. "The time has come to bring in experts, to get to the bottom of this. Fiona, we are going to look at that chess set."


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