IT TURNED OUT, the C&I International Bank Building, up there on Fifth near Saks, was operating under an alias, or at least a later modification of its original name, which you could read inside in the lobby. On a marble side wall was a big black board in a gold frame with all the tenants listed in white block letters in alphabetical order, and across the top of this board it said Capitalists & Immigrants Trust. So, somewhere along the line, somebody stopped liking that name and decided C&I International would go down smoother, though mean less. Maybe the capitalists and immigrants had stopped trusting.
Feinberg, Kleinberg, Rhineberg, Steinberg, Weinberg & Klatsch was indeed, according to this board, on the twenty-seventh floor, so Dortmunder took a 16–31 elevator with a couple messengers and looked at the reception area while they transacted their businesses with the receptionist.
It was a large though low-ceilinged place with gray carpet and gray furniture in the two seating areas and black desk space in front of the receptionist and along the wall behind her. The walls, a soothing dusty green, were mostly covered with big swirling pieces of abstract art in non-startling colors, so you could feel you were hip without having to do anything about it.
The receptionist, once the messengers cleared the area and Dortmunder could step forward in their place, was just exactly too beautiful to be real, though she seemed unable or unwilling to move any part of her face. She looked at Dortmunder's hands for the package, didn't see one, and finally made eye contact, so Dortmunder could say, "Fiona Hemlow."
She reached for a pen: "And you are?"
She wrote that on a pad, applied herself to her phone bank, murmured briefly, then said, "She'll be out in a moment. Do have a seat."
The seating area had gray glass coffee tables among the gray sofas, but nothing to read, so Dortmunder sat on a sofa and looked at the paintings and tried to decide what they looked like. He'd just about come to the conclusion that what they mostly resembled was the bowl after you've finished the ice cream when a very short young woman in black skirt, black jacket, high-necked plain white blouse and low-heeled black shoes marched in from a side aisle, looked around, gave Dortmunder a real estate agent's smile and strode over, hand out: "Mr. Dortmunder?"
Rising, he said, "That's me."
Her handshake was firm but bony. Her black hair was short, curled around her neat small ears, and her face was narrow; good-looking in an efficient sort of way. She looked to be in her mid- to late twenties, and there was no point even looking for a familial resemblance between her and the medicine ball in the wheelchair.
She said, "I'm Fiona. You met my grandfather."
"This morning, yeah. He gave me the background. Well, some of it."
"And, I," she said, being perky in somehow a subdued fashion, which was maybe how girl lawyers effervesced, "will give you the rest. Come along, I'll escort you back."
He followed her down a hall with doors on one side, all open and showing small cluttered offices, each with a neat middle-aged man or woman at a desk, intently concentrating on the phone or the computer or a bunch of pages. Then she went through an open doorway at the end of this hall into a much larger space all broken up into small pieces, like an egg carton, with chest-high walls every which way so you could see what everybody was doing. The people at the machines in these little cells were generally younger than the ones in the private offices, and Dortmunder had already come to suspect that Fiona Hemlow's work environment was in this mob scene somewhere when she said, "I arranged a small conference room for us. Much more private. No distractions."
To get to this small conference room, she had to lead him a zigzag route through the people-boxes, and he was surprised the black composition floor wasn't covered with lines of breadcrumbs left by previous people afraid they wouldn't be able to find their way back.
A perimeter of the boxes was reached, and Fiona led the way along a wall to the left with alternating closed doors and plate-glass windows, through which he could see the conference rooms within, some occupied by two or more people in intense head-thrust-forward conversation, some empty.
Into an empty one she led the way, shut the door, and said, with a smile, "Sit anywhere. A beverage? Coke? Seltzer?"
Dortmunder understood that in the business environment it was considered a gesture of civilization to offer the guest something to drink without booze in it, and probably a hostile act to refuse it, so he said, "Seltzer, yeah, sounds good."
She went away to a tall construction on the end wall that contained everything necessary to life: refrigerator, a shelf of glasses, TV, DVD, notepads, pens, and paper napkins. She poured him a seltzer over ice and herself a Diet Pepsi over ice, brought him his drink and a paper napkin, and at last they could sit down and have their chat.
"So you found this thing," Dortmunder began. "This chess set."
She laughed. "Oh, Mr. Dortmunder, this is too good a story to just jump in and tell the end."
Dortmunder hated stories that were that good, but okay, once again no choice in the matter, so he said, "Sure. Go ahead."
"When I was growing up," she said, "there was every once in a while some family talk about a chess set that seemed to make everybody unhappy, but I couldn't figure out why. It was gone, or lost, or something, but I didn't know why it was such a big deal."
She drank Diet Pepsi and give him a warning finger-shake. "I don't mean the family was full of nothing but talk about this mysterious chess set, it wasn't. It was just a thing that came up every once in a while."
"So last summer it came up again," she said, "when I was visiting my father at the Cape, and I asked him, please tell me what it's all about, and he said he didn't really know. If he ever knew, he'd forgotten. He said I should ask my grandfather, so when I got back to the city I did. He didn't want to talk about it, turned out he was very bitter on that subject, but I finally convinced him I really wanted to know what this chess set meant in the family, and he told me."
"And that made you find it," Dortmunder said, "when nobody else could."
"That's right," she said. "I've always been fascinated by history, and this was history with my own family in it, the First World War and invading Russia and all the rest of it. So I took down the names of everybody in that platoon that brought the chess set to America, and the other names, like the radio company they wanted to start, Chess King Broadcasting, and everything else I thought might be useful, and I Googled it all."
Dortmunder had heard of this; some other nosey parker way to mind everybody else's business. He preferred a world in which people stuck to their own knitting, but that world was long gone. He said, "You found some of these people on Google."
"And I looked for brand names with chess words," she said, "because why wouldn't Alfred Northwood use that kind of name, too? A lot of the stuff I found was all dead ends, but I'm used to research, so I kept going, and then I found Gold Castle Realty, founded right here in New York in 1921, and then it turned out they were the builders of the Castlewood Building in 1948. So I looked into Gold Castle's owners and board of directors, and there's Northwoods all over it."
"The sons," Dortmunder said.
"And daughters. But mostly now grandsons and granddaughters. It had to be the same Northwood, came here from Chicago when he stole the chess set, used it to raise the money to start in real estate, and became hugely successful. They are very big in New York property, Mr. Dortmunder. Not as famous as some others, because they don't want to be, but very big."
"That's nice," Dortmunder said. "So they've got this chess set, I guess."
"Well, here's where it gets even better," she said, and she so liked this part she couldn't stop grinning. "The original Alfred X. Northwood," she said, "married into a wealthy New York family—"
"Things kinda went his way."
"His entire life. He died rich and respectable, loved and admired by the world. You should see the obit in the Times. Anyway, he died in 1955, aged seventy, and left six children, and they grew up and made more children, and now there are seventeen claimants to Gold Castle Realty."
"Claimants," Dortmunder said.
"The heirs are all suing each other," she said. "It's very vicious, they all hate each other, but every court they go into they get gag orders, so there's nothing public about this information at all."
"But you got it," Dortmunder said, wishing she'd quit having fun and just tell him where the damn chess set was.
"In my researches," she said, "I came across inklings of some of the lawsuits, and then it turned out this firm represents Livia Northwood Wheeler, Alfred's youngest daughter, who's suing everybody in the family, no partners on her side at all." Leaning closer to him over the conference table, she said, "Isn't that delicious? I'm looking for the Northwoods, and everything you could possibly want to know about their business for the last eighty years is in files in these offices. Oh, I've done a lot of after-hours work, Mr. Dortmunder, I can assure you."
"I'm sure you have," Dortmunder said. "Now, about this chess set."
"It used to be," she said, "on display in a bulletproof glass case in the corporate offices of Gold Castle Realty in their thirty-eighth floor lobby of the Castlewood Building. But it is an extremely valuable family asset, and it is being violently fought over, so three years ago it was removed to be held by several of the law firms representing family members. Four of these firms are in this building, For the last three years, the chess set has been held in the vaults in the sub-basement right here, in the C&I International bank corporation vault. Isn't that wonderful? What do you think, Mr. Dortmunder?"
"I think I'm going back to jail," Dortmunder said.