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43

AT JUST ABOUT the same time that Dortmunder and Eppick were consulting about the Chicago chess set en plein air, another meeting was coming to order on the exact same topic, but with a very different membership and in a very different setting. The setting, in fact, was the largest conference room in the offices of Feinberg et al, and still it felt crowded. It was a hush-hush top secret meeting attended only by those who absolutely had to be a party to it, and still that meant seventeen people.

Representing both Feinberg and Livia Northwood Wheeler, and therefore more or less conducting the meeting, was Jay Tumbril, accompanied by a stenographer named Stella, who would take notes of the meeting and record it as well, on cassette. Representing the other principal law firms connected with the Northwood matter were nine senior lawyers, the men in navy-blue pinstripe, the women in navy blue pinstripe plus white ruffles. Representing the NYPD, who would monitor the chess set's movements through the city streets, were two senior inspectors from Centre Street, both in uniforms heavy on the brass. Representing Securivan, the company whose armored car would actually transport the set from the sub-basement in this building to the second-floor office of Jacques Perly, were two sternly fit men with identical crew cuts and square jaws, and with brass Marine Corps insignia pins on the lapels of their pastel sport jackets. And finally, representing the intended destination of the set was Jacques Perly, who'd brought along his secretary Delia, who would also take notes and make a recording, and who was blinking a lot at the moment, not being used to life outside the office.

Once the necessary introductions had been made and business cards distributed, Jay, at the head of the conference table, stood and looked around at those assembled either at the table or in chairs along the wall, and decided to begin with a quip: "I'm happy that at last, after years of litigation, everyone connected with the matter of the Northwood estate has finally found one area of agreement. Everybody wants a look at that chess set."

Apparently no one else in the room realized that was a quip, so Jay cleared his throat into the silence and said, "We all understand there's a certain degree of peril in this move, particularly if word seeps out that it's about to happen, so I hope everyone here realizes the need for total secrecy on this matter until the move is done."

More silence, which this time Jay took for consent. "When a task is difficult and fraught with peril," he went on, "the wise man turns to the experts. I hope we're all at least that wise, and so I want to turn to the experts in our midst today, from Securivan and from the NYPD. Harry or Larry, would you share your thoughts with us?"

Harry and Larry were the Securivan men. Jay sat down and Larry remained seated as he said, "Keeping a secret that seventeen people in this room already know about, plus the judge and other people at the court, plus one or more people at the bank, plus at least one of the principals in the lawsuit means, not to offend anybody present, but it isn't a secret you're gonna keep secret for very long."

The more senior of the NYPD men present, whose name was Chief Inspector Mologna (pronounced Maloney), now said, "Speakin for myself, and speakin for the great city of New York, I can tell you right now you already got your secret blowed. This city does not raise up a criminal class that don't have its eyes open and its ears open and its hands open every blessed moment of the night and day. They're out there already and they're waitin for you. You put together a mob scene like we got in this room, of course, you're just engravin an invitation."

"Unfortunately, Chief Inspector," Jay said, "this is the minimum number possible to obtain agreement."

"Oh, I understand," the chief inspector said. "You got your protocols and you got your noses that might get out of joint, so you gotta have this social before you get down to business. But when you do get down to business, take it from me, the crooks will be right with you, every step of the way."

Larry of Securivan said, "Harry and I think the chief inspector's right, so, because there are those sharp-eared crooks out there, and, because we don't want to give them too much time to make their own plans, the sooner you make this move the better."

"That's right," the chief inspector said. "Don't shilly-shally."

Jay said, "No, we certainly don't want to do that."

"Harry and I," Larry said, "think the best time to do this is Sunday night."

"This Sunday night?" Jay asked him. "The day after tomorrow?"

"Yes, sir," Larry confirmed. "We'd want to get our armored car into position at the curb downstairs here at oh two hundred hours Monday morning."

His partner Harry spoke up: "This thing weighs, so we're told, a third of a ton. We'll have a crew of four with the armored oar, to bring the object up and place it into the vehicle."

"And we," Chief Inspector Mologna said, "are gonna have patrol cars on that block, and patrol cars up at the next intersection to divert traffic, so you are gonna have no vehicles in that area except your van and our patrols."

"This all sounds very good," Jay said.

Jacques Perly said, "When do you think you'd get to my shop?"

Larry considered that. "If we start at oh two hundred hours," he said, "say it takes fifteen minutes to bring the object up and secure it. At that time of night, fifteen or twenty minutes to drive down to your area. You should count on an arrival time of oh two-thirty to oh two-forty hours."

One of the other lawyers present said, "That means the experts could start examining the artifact Monday morning."

"Not quite," Jay said. "We don't want to tell anybody else about the move until after it's made." With a bow toward the chief inspector, he said, "Granted that secrets are difficult or impossible to keep, we'd still like to limit the advance knowledge of the move as much as we can."

Another lawyer said, "But they can start their inspections Tuesday morning, surely."

"I don't see why not."

"Some of our principals," another lawyer said, "and some of our senior partners as well, will certainly want to take this opportunity to see the thing in the flesh, as it were."

"We'll make accommodations for that as we can," Jay assured him. "But we don't want it to become a tourist destination."

That quip got its chuckle, and another lawyer said, "Oh, I think most of us are mature enough to show restraint."

Another lawyer said, "However, speed in assessing the object is also a priority, of course. I understand we're all paying Mr. Perly a per diem for the use of his space, and of course every day the object is out of the vault the risk of theft increases."

Another lawyer said, "What we're talking about here is not one object, but thirty-four. A theft doesn't have to be of the entire piece."

Jay said, "We're arranging for private guards to stay with the object 24/7 while it's at Mr. Perly's. We'll all breathe easier once the set is back in the vault downstairs."

"Amen to that," said another lawyer, and still another lawyer said, "In fact, the per diem is not that much. In this instance, it is truly better to be safe than sorry."

Which caused a general murmur of agreement, followed by Jay saying, "Does that cover it all?"

"I'd like to say one thing," said the chief inspector, and got to his feet. He also picked up his braid-rich hat from the conference table, so he apparently didn't intend to stay much longer. "At oh two hundred hours in the ayem of this comin Monday morning," he informed them all, "I am gonna be asleep in my bed in Bay Shore, Long Island. And I will not be wantin any phone calls." And he put on his hat.

On that note the meeting concluded, having worked out about as satisfactorily as the one just ending in the park downtown.


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