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61

WHEN FIONA GOT back from lunch at her favorite bistro down on Seventy-second, it was not quite one-thirty, and Mrs. W was waiting, perhaps patiently, in the office Fiona shared with Lucy Leebald. "You heard me on the phone," she said, "that there is to be a meeting this afternoon about this dreadful event."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I want you with me."

Surprised, Fiona said, "You do?"

"I will want a reliable witness," Mrs. W said. "I may want a lawyer, of which you are still one, and with some familiarity with the case involved. And I may need moral support."

"You, Mrs. W?"

"We'll see," said Mrs. W, pulling on her gray suede gloves. "Come along. We'll be back anon, Lucy."

"Yes, ma'am."

The meeting was in a large conference room at Feinberg, her old stamping grounds. It felt very strange to walk through this tasteful gray territory as someone else entirely, no longer a wee beastie, but well. No longer their wee beastie, but Mrs. W's wee beastie, a far better job description indeed.

The sleekly dressed secretary who led them through the Feinberg maze was a new one, but that was often the case. They turned at last into a short corridor and there, obviously waiting for them, was Jay Tumbril, as hateful-looking as ever. He gave Fiona a quick dismissive sneer and said to Mrs. W, "You brought her. Good."

"You said you would explain why when we got here," Mrs. W said.

"All in good time," Tumbril said, and gestured to the nearby open door. Inside there, Fiona could see, was the conference room, full of people, none of them looking happy.

But that wasn't the point. She said, "Mrs. W? He asked you to bring me?"

"All in good time, as I say," Tumbril answered, and pointed at one of the two low sofas along the corridor. "Wait there, young woman," he said. "Do not try to leave the building."

"Why would I leave the"

But he had already turned away, ushering Mrs. W in. Without another glance in her direction, he also entered the conference room and shut the door.

This was a dead space in the Feinberg domain, a short corridor with a large conference room on each side, for meetings that wouldn't fit into the smaller rooms such as the one where Fiona had first talked with Mr. Dortmunder. There was no other furniture here than the sofas, each accompanied by a low end table on which reading matter was carelessly stacked, most of it three-year-old New York magazines.

Having nothing else to do leave the building, indeed! Fiona sat down and tried to find a New York too old for her to remember the articles inside.

The meeting went on and on. Fiona read New York magazines. She read TIME way out of time. She read Golf Digest. She even read Yachting.

Inside the conference room, the meeting was occasionally stormy. From time to time she could hear voices raised, male and female, though never what they were saying.

Every once in a while, she sensed movement and would look up to see one of her former co-workers staring at her from the end of the corridor. They always fled away like Eloi when she caught their eye, too afraid to be seen with her to allow them to satisfy their curiosity as to why she was here. And to think she used to like some of those people.

The meeting, which had begun at two, didn't end until nearly four, and then seemed to trickle away more than finish. The door opened and people began to come out, but they were all still talking, arguing, gesturing at one another. They paused in the corridor or back in the conference room or the doorway between, to make another point. None of them had grown any happier since the meeting had started. The exodus was like the end of a church service, but hostile.

And then, among the departing parishioners, here came Mrs. W and Jay Tumbril. Fiona stood, the two approached her, and Mrs. W said, "Well, Jay? Now will you tell us what it's all about?"

"Ms. Hemlow will, I believe," Tumbril said, and gestured at the closed door to the other conference room. "We'll have some privacy in here."

So the three went in, Tumbril shut the door, and he turned to say, "We might as well sit."

It was a very long conference table. Tumbril sat at its head, with Mrs. W on his left hand and Fiona on his right. Mrs. W said, "Jay, I don't handle suspense particularly well. Say what you have to say."

"Let's give Ms. Hemlow the opportunity." Tumbril turned his spotlight glare on her. "Would you like to tell us about it?"

Bewildered, Fiona said, "About what? I don't know what you mean."

"No?" Another smirk from the senior partner. Sitting back in his chair they were actually quite comfortable chairs he said, "Perhaps I should tell you, your coconspirator has already been arrested."

"My what?"

"He's probably already implicating you," Tumbril went on, "putting all the blame on your shoulders to try to make things easier for himself. That's what his sort generally does."

"Jay," Mrs. W said, "you are perplexing the both of us. If you have something to say, man, say it."

"Your sweet little assistant here, Livia," Tumbril told her, "is part of the gang that stole the Chicago chess set."

Fiona felt her face go beet-red, and her heart pounded as though it would explode. How could they have found out? She might have blurted something irretrievably incriminating if Mrs. W hadn't distracted Tumbril from her flaming face by saying, "Jay! Have you lost your mind? This girl couldn't lift that thing!"

"She was what I believe the police call the inside man," Tumbril said, "or in this case the inside woman. She's the one passed on to the gang the details of where the set would be kept while out of the vault. That was all they needed."

These few seconds when Tumbril was distracted by having to explain things to Mrs. W were all Fiona needed to get control of herself. She could feel the blood recede from her cheeks as sanity returned to her brain. Whatever had gone wrong, what she had to do now was just keep denying everything, she knew that much. Deny deny deny. But she couldn't help wondering, who had the police caught? Mr. Dortmunder? Somehow, she hoped not.

Mrs. W was saying, "I don't believe that for a second, Jay, and if you weren't blinded by prejudice you wouldn't believe it, either. And how is it you never mentioned this magnificent break in the case during the meeting we all just underwent together?"

"The police don't want it made public," Tumbril told her, "until it's wrapped up. Preferably with a confession. From the fellow they've already got, or possibly from this young lady here."

Now Mrs. W was openly scoffing. "Look at the girl," she said. "She would no more gallivant with a gang than you would play basketball."

"Bas Livia, try not to wander. I told you at the beginning she was up to something. Didn't I? When she flung herself on you in these very offices."

"Flung her"

"Mr. Tumbril," Fiona said, and, when she had the man's gimlet-eyed attention, "who did they arrest?"

"Ah, yes." The smirk raised itself a notch, and Tumbril leaned forward, the better to observe her reaction. "His name is Brian Clanson. Do you recog"

"Brian!" This was so astonishing, so absurd, she almost laughed out loud. "Brian? You think" Then she did laugh, at the thought of Brian organizing a robbery like this. Or organizing anything, for that matter.

But then the laugh cut off in her throat and she too leaned forward. "They arrested him?"

"That's what usually happens to thieves. Wouldn't you like to make your plea bargain with the district attorney before he does?"

Brian knows, she thought. I told him about Mr. Dortmunder and the chess set months ago, when I thought it couldn't ever happen. He's certain to remember.

Will he tell the police, to protect himself? But how would that protect him? If he said he didn't do it, but he'd known it was probably going to happen and he hadn't reported it, how would that do anything to save him?

The only thing Brian could possibly do was keep silent and wait for them to realize they'd made a mistake. The only question was, would he understand that was the only thing he could possibly do?

Was there any way she could get to him, talk to him? Would they let him have visitors? But didn't they secretly record jailhouse conversations? Wasn't that in the papers all the time, that they weren't supposed to tape private conversations but they did anyway, and then people got convicted of things?

But even if she could see Brian, what could she say to him? And what would Brian say to the police?

Brandishing a self-confidence she didn't at all feel, Fiona said, "Brian didn't have anything to do with stealing that chess set. It is just a stupid mistake, and they'll have to let him go."

"Is that so?" Now Tumbril leaned back, hands folded on his paunch. "And are you claiming the chess set is not the reason you approached Mrs. Wheeler?"

Fiona hesitated, and in the hesitation knew that the hesitation itself had given the answer, and so changed her own response even as it was forming. In fact, she was a good lawyer. "No," she said. "I won't deny it. It was because of the chess set."

"Fiona!"

"Tell us more," Tumbril offered, with his little smirk.

"I'll have to tell you the whole story."

"I have all the time in the world," he assured her.

"All right, then," she said. "In 1920"

And she went on to tell them the entire history of the chess set and the platoon members' failed efforts to find either it or their missing Sgt. Northwood. She told them of hearing the story from her grandfather, and ended with her coming to work here at Feinberg, where she had learned about the lawsuits with all the Northwoods attached, and with that very same chess set attached.

"And I told my grandfather," she finished, "that at last we knew what had happened to the chess set, so he could at least be content at the end of his life knowing the answer to that awful mystery." Turning to Mrs. W, she said, "And I did want to meet you because of that. Your father stole everything from my great-grandfather, and stole his hope from him, or all of our lives would have been very different."

"Dear God," Mrs. W said, in the faintest voice she'd ever used in her life.

"Tell me about your grandfather," Tumbril suggested, smirking as though he thought he was being sly.

"He's an eighty-year-old millionaire in a wheelchair," she told him, "with a fortune from patents of his inventions in chemistry."

Tumbril blinked, slowly. For the first time, he seemed to have nothing to say.

"And to think," Mrs. W said, "you wanted to accuse this child of theft. How long, Jay, do you suppose it would be before that story of hers went public? Our fortune, our lives, based on a despicable crime? My father stole from his own soldiers!"

"I remember you said, Mrs. W," Fiona said, "every fortune starts with a great crime."

"Balzac, dear," Mrs. W said. "Always give credit where due."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I do not want to see," Mrs. W told Tumbril, "my name, my family or my face on the cover of New York."

"No," Tumbril said. "No, that's true."

"So now, you horse's ass," Mrs. W said, "for once in your life do something sensible. Get on the phone. Get that poor boy out of quod."


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