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63

MRS. W SAID, "What's taking so long?"

Fiona, seated on the next settee, had wanted to ask the same question, but was still somewhat intimidated by Jay Tumbril, particularly here in his own office, and so had kept silent.

"In my experience," Tumbril answered, "arrest is sudden, but release takes a little longer."

"It's nearly six o'clock," Mrs. W pointed out. "They've had nearly two hours to let poor Brian go."

Tumbril started, "Yes, but—" and was interrupted by his phone. "Maybe this is Michael now," he said, reaching for it.

While Fiona, Mrs. W, and Tumbril waited here in Tumbril's office, another Feinberg beastie, not so wee, named Michael, a cadaverous seven-footer in a black suit that made him look like an exclamation point, had been sent to retrieve Brian from the police, after Tumbril had phoned to explain the situation to the assistant district attorney who'd been assigned the case. Now, into the phone, Tumbril said, "Yes, Felicity? Good, put him on. Michael, what's the delay there? What? Jacques is absolutely certain of this? Put Roanoke on." That being the name of the assistant DA. Tumbril raised baffled eyebrows at Mrs. W, then said into the phone, "Mr. Roanoke? Jay Tumbril here. Are you certain Jacques Perly's certain? Well, if you don't mind, we'd like to be on our way there as well. Mrs. Livia Northwood Wheeler, with her assistant, and I shall come along personally. We'll get downtown just as rapidly as we can."

Breaking the connection, Tumbril pressed another button on the phone and said, "Felicity, call us a car. Soonest."

Mrs W, increasingly irritated and impatient, said, "Jay? What is this? What's going on? Where's Brian?"

"Jacques Perly," Tumbril said, "the private investigator whose office—"

"Yes, we know who he is. What about him?"

Tumbril spread his hands. "He says he has proof positive Clanson was part of the gang."

Fiona said, "That's ridiculous."

"Jacques is on his way to the DA's office with photographs."

Sounding like Queen Elizabeth the First in a testy mood, Mrs. W said, "I will wish to see these photographs."

"We all will," Tumbril assured her. "That's why I ordered the car."

Perly had arrived ahead of them, an outraged capon, too agitated to sit. He bounced around the small messy office of Assistant DA Noah Roanoke, and began squawking before Mrs. W and Fiona and Tumbril had even finished crossing the threshold: "You were going to let him go? You were going to release him? After what he did to my building? And your chess set!"

"Just a minute, Jacques," Tumbril said, and approached the balding neat metal-bespectacled man behind the room's standard-issue gray metal desk. "Mr. Roanoke?"

Roanoke rose, hand extended. He was as calm as Perly was excited. "Mr. Tumbril," he suggested, as they shook hands.

Tumbril gestured. "Ms. Livia Northwood Wheeler. Her assistant, Fiona Hemlow."

"Please sit," Roanoke offered, and took his own advice.

But nobody else did, because Perly, having vibrated through the introduction ritual, now said, "I cannot believe this! And you didn't even consult me!"

"If you have evidence, Jacques," Tumbril told him, "I assure you we all want to see it."

"Didn't even consult."

"We're here now, Jacques."

"I've turned the photos over to Noah," Perly said, with a quick brushing-away gesture toward Roanoke.

Who said, "Please, ladies. Those chairs aren't terribly comfortable, but they're better than standing."

Along the wall to the left of the entrance were three gray metal armless chairs with green cushioned seats, the sort of chairs you'd associate with Department of Motor Vehicles waiting rooms rather than doctors' waiting rooms. Since Mrs. W now took the one farthest left, Fiona took the one farthest right, as Roanoke handed a manila folder to Jay, who opened it and said, "Jacques, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me what I'm looking at here."

"As you know, Jay," Perly said, "we've had our suspicions about young Clanson for some time now, so much so that I began an investigation of the fellow."

Mrs. W almost but didn't quite pop back up onto her feet. "You did what? To Brian? On whose authority?"

"Jay's," Perly told her. "As your attorney."

"Without telling me. And who was supposed to pay for this?"

"Mrs. Wheeler," Perly said, "I am sure you will find the result well worth the expense."

"Oh, are you."

"Jacques," Tumbril said, "I'd still like some help here."

"All right," Perly said. "Here's the sequence. On Saturday night, an agent of mine kept tabs on this fellow Clanson, and late that night — just twenty-four hours before the robbery! — photographed him casing my building!"

Tumbril nodded at the folder open in his hands. "Oh, is this him in the backseat?"

"And that is my building, just beyond him. What my man did," Perly said, "when he saw what neighborhood Clanson was headed toward, was to take a faster route, and be in position when the car went by."

"Then this next picture," Tumbril said, "is him and some others getting out of the car. We're farther away here, hard to make it out."

"My man did what he could with a telephoto lens. But I can tell you that's a low-life bar farther down my street. Meeting the rest of the gang there, no doubt."

Mrs. W said, "Jay, let me see those pictures."

As Jay handed her the folder, Fiona slid one chair to the left, so she could look at the photos, too, and Perly said, "Unfortunately, my man couldn't get clear pictures of the others in the car, but he said one was a tough-looking older woman, some sort of harridan, a real Ma Barker type, probably the brains of the gang."

Fiona looked at the photos. In awe, she raised her eyes to look at the stony profile of Mrs. W as that lady said to Perly, with icy calm, "A tough-looking older woman? A harridan? A Ma Barker type?"

"When we get our hands on her," Perly said, "and we will, I can guarantee you she'll have a record as long as your arm."

Now Mrs. W did stand, though not precipitately or with apparent excitement. She stood as a thoughtful judge might stand when about to pronounce a death sentence. "The vehicle Brian is riding in, Mr. Perly," she said, "is mine. I am the harridan seated next to him."

Perly blinked at her. "What?"

"The third member of our nefarious gang in my limousine, Mr. Perly," Mrs. W went on, "is Fiona here, my assistant. We had come from a party given by Brian's television station, and we were on our way to a lounge considered at the moment to be the most desirable social venue in the entire city."

Perry's mouth had sagged open during Mrs. W's speech, but nothing had come out of it, so now it closed again. He continued to stare at Mrs. W as though all cerebral function behind those eyes had come to a halt.

Tumbril, clearing his throat, said, "Livia, I don't think Jacques is usually in that neighborhood at night."

"He doesn't seem to be all there by day, either," Mrs. W said, turning her icy gaze on Tumbril. "And if you intend to pay him for this harassment of an innocent boy, Jay, it shall come from your pocket, because you are no longer my lawyer."

"Livia, you don't want to—"

"Mr. Roanoke," Mrs. W said, turning toward that interested observer, her manner still steely but less aggressive, "we would like Brian returned to us now."

"Yes, ma'am," Noah Roanoke said.


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