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40

JAY TUMBRIL HAD all Thursday night to brood about Livia Northwood Wheeler and the Chicago chess set, which didn't leave much time for sleep, but he couldn't very well do that in the office either, so by eleven Friday morning he was both sleep-deprived and jittering on the edge of panic. He hated to admit there might be a circumstance in which his control of the situation was less than perfect, but there were such circumstances and this was one of them, so it was time to pull the emergency cord.

The point was, if you found yourself in a position so far outside your expertise you hadn't the faintest bloody idea what to do next, then the thing to do next was to call upon someone who does have expertise in the area, whatever that area might be. In this case, there was only one expert in the area that Jay knew, so just after eleven he picked up the intercom and said, "Felicity."

"Sir."

"Get me Jacques Perly."

"Sir."

Three minutes later, Felicity was back on the line: "Mr. Perly says he's in his car, northbound on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive, speaking on his hands-free carphone, and wonders if he should ring you back later or will you rough it now."

Jay knew damn well Perly had actually said "the FDR Drive," but Felicity was so proud of her studies to become an American citizen that he merely said, "Thank you, Felicity, I'd rather talk to him now, it's a bit urgent."

"Sir."

Jay broke the connection, and spent the next twenty-five seconds rehearsing how he'd describe the situation. Then the buzz sounded, and he picked up and said, "Jacques."

"I'll put him right on."

"What?"

"Just joking," Perly said.

"I knew that was you, you didn't change your voice or anything. What do you mean, joking?"

"Your secretary said it was urgent."

"Yes, well Yes, it is. Also, Jacques, extremely confidential."

"We know that."

"Sorry. Didn't mean to insult you. The truth is, I'm a little tense, didn't get much sleep last night"

"You, Jay?"

"It's Livia Northwood Wheeler again!"

"What? The Hemlow girl? Or did Clanson make his move?"

"No, nothing to do with them. This is something completely different."

"Tell me."

Jay forced a deep breath, assembled his thoughts, and said, "Among the items under dispute in the law case involving Mrs. Wheeler and several of her relatives is a chess set, never I believe properly evaluated, but said to be worth in the millions."

"Worth fighting over, in other words."

"Yes. Since the suits began I'll only say by now they sue and countersue and cross-sue one another to a degree of complexity you could only otherwise find in a map of the New York City subway system the courts have placed this asset in the care of the law firms involved, four of whom, including us, have offices in this building, so that for the last few years the chess set, called for some reason the Chicago chess set, though I doubt it was made there, has been in the sub-cellar vaults beneath this building."

"And likely to stay there for a while, I should think."

"Except," Jay said, "now Mrs. Wheeler wants it brought up and placed somewhere that experts of various stripes may examine it."

"Dangerous."

"Infuriating," Jay corrected him. "As her attorney in this matter, it is up to me to take this request to the court. I unfortunately see no reason why the court would deny it, nor why any of the other litigants would object. I can see that every blessed soul concerned with this matter would like to take a look at that bloody chess set."

"So what's the problem?" Jacques asked.

"Where it is now," Jay told him, "in that vault beneath this building, it is safe as houses."

"But a little too inaccessible," Jacques suggested, "for perusal by experts."

"Exactly. Nor will the bank accept the concept of various people trooping through their vaults. It must come up. But whose task will it be to keep the damn thing safe while it's up and about, like the groundhog looking for its shadow?"

"Oh, I see."

"Yes, you do. It is up to this firm to find a site both accessible to the experts and agreeable to, if not the other litigants, at least to their legal representatives."

"And still be safe as houses," Perly suggested.

"If only we could." If Jay had had hair, he'd have torn it. "Not in these offices," he said. "We can't keep track of the copiers around here. And no other firm has more secure offices. It's not an official investigation, and so we can't ask the police to step in, and in fact for various potential ownership rights and inheritance liabilities, we'd rather leave officialdom out of this matter."

"When does she want to make this move?"

"Now! Yesterday!"

"Well, that's not possible. I could make a suggestion, Jay."

"Then why don't you?"

"I'm afraid it Excuse me, there's a multiple-car collision up ahead, I'll just steer around Oh, good, the police are on the scene, I'm being waved through Oh, my God! Jay, you never want to see anything like that your whole life long."

"Don't describe it to me."

"I will not."

"You were going to make a suggestion."

"Oh, Lord. Give me a second, Jay."

"Of course."

That must have been horrendous, Jay thought, to rattle Jacques Perly. How much simpler life was when people couldn't tell us what they could see from their cars.

"What I was going to say, Jay"

"Yes, Jacques."

"That I was hesitant to make my suggestion because it could seem self-serving."

"You want to guard the piece? You're not a sentry, Jacques."

"I wanted to suggest my offices," Jacques said. "Extremely safe, extremely secure, but absolutely accessible. You've been there."

"Well, yes, but I don't know what to say."

"You would hire private security, of course, 24/7, but the building itself is ideal for you, and I'm sure we could work out a rental acceptable to all concerned. I would have to keep my own business going at the same time, of course."

"Of course. Jacques, the more I think about this"

"Well, think about one more thing," Jacques told him. "Ah, we're in the snowbelt now."

"Are we?"

"Ask yourself this, Jay. Why now? You said Mrs. Wheeler now wanted this, and wanted it at once. Why, Jay? After all these years, why now?"

"I haven't the vaguest idea."

"Could it be, Jay, because of her recent hire?"

"You mean?"

"Has Fiona Hemlow put that suggestion into Mrs. Wheeler's head? And did Brian Clanson set the whole thing up? Is Brian Clanson just sitting there, waiting for that chess set to come up out of that vault?"

"Oh, my God."

"I'm already on Clanson, Jay, because of that other thing you asked me to do, though of course he has no idea he's under surveillance. We'll intensify that, study his associates. If your Chicago chess set is in my offices, and Brian Clanson makes a move to snatch it, we'll have him, Jay, in the of our"

"Jacques? You're breaking up."

"We'll later." And Jacques Perly was gone.


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