A Brilliant Plan

Chapter 24

I STOOD BEFORE Mundy in the light of the morning sun, a girl dressed in black, urine-soiled trousers, stained t-shirt, blue lips of shock and puffy thick eyes from crying without tears. He was standing there, fully dressed, so much for proper alibis, with a concerned look behind his thick glasses. He caught me gallantly when I broke down in his doorframe.

I did everything like a machine ready to be switched off, shutting down my functions one by one. The last thing I felt was the warmth when Mundy handed me a pill, pushed a hot water bottle under the blanket and pulled the curtains closed. Everything went dark, alas, no dreams.

Dancing over my eyes, a single sunray found its way through a crack in the curtains covering Mundy’s bedroom window and the sunlight on my face finally woke me in the late afternoon. I felt serene, as if nothing had happened at all and I had just spent a day in bed out of pure luxury, something I did now and then. But the bad thoughts and memories came back, bit-by-bit, vision-by-vision, and I pulled the blanket over my face for a few minutes because the room started to spin around me and I began hyperventilating again. I was safe here; it was warm and cozy, sheets smelling of Mundy, my knight in armor—in certain situations.

Finally, I stretched loudly and looked down to check on my level of decency. I wore an old Berkeley College T-Shirt and a pair of baggy grey jogging pants. Nothing else, and I mean, nothing else. Did I have reasons to be embarrassed? The state I had been in came back to me a flash. I could always check Mundy for red ears. Just as I decided to get up, the door opened silently and he popped his head in. Mundy had probably checked on me every hour for the last 12 hours, on the hour, what a sweetie.

“Hey,” he said quietly in a soft voice. “How are you this, eh… afternoon?” He sat down on the bed beside me and patted my hand like a grandmother.

“What happened to the shop?” It was the first normal world thing that came into my mind.

Mundy rolled his eyes as if he had expected this massive avoidance of the core subject. “Fine. I managed to talk to Mrs. Otis after her jealous husband threatened to rip off certain parts of my anatomy because he suspected that I had an affair with her. I told her that you had suddenly fell sick and that she was supposed to put out a sign at the store and otherwise remain home. Was that OK?”

“You are a dear, Mundy.”

He looked at me seriously. “Cal? Would you like to tell me what went down in Newport? You looked and smelled terrible, you were in a state of shock and I actually thought about calling the doctor.”

“Which you didn’t do, I hope.”

“No, of course not. I helped you get cleaned up and I tucked you in,” Mundy said.

“I hope it wasn’t too embarrassing for either of us?”

Mundy’s ears got a little red. “I swear to God, I looked away when necessary.”

I took Mundy’s hand. “I know you did. Thank you very much. Can we get something to eat? I haven’t had anything to eat for nearly 24 hours.”

He glanced at his watch. “I figure you are in for Mundy steak therapy! What about the Outback behind Del Amo Fashion Mall?”

“The lady likes it raw. Can you fetch me something to wear?”

I took a quick shower, dressed in some borrowed jeans, shirt and jacket from Mundy, together with some sexy male underwear and cheap tube socks. Mundy drove us to the restaurant where he had called ahead and reserved us a table in the back. To Mundy’s delight, the bumpy bouncy teenage waitress rotated her hips unbelievably, as she led the way to our table.

“What is that you are carrying with you?” I asked and pointed at the folder in Mundy’s hand. I hadn’t noticed it before.

He placed it in front of me and opened it. “I took the liberty and printed out the pictures from your digital camera. Came out really good. Very interesting read.”

There they were, the other articles in the set of Maximilian Jewels, the Native American’s gift to the new emperor.

I rubbed my eyes. “Unfortunately, the best stuff is missing. Drawings, detail descriptions and all.”

“Where did you find it?” Mundy asked.

The waitress came and we ordered immediately without even glancing at the menu. Mundy ordered two porterhouse steaks that could feed a third world country.

“Where did you find it?” Mundy asked again after the waitress had left.

I went through the events of last night. The empty-handed search of Phoebe Eastman’s apartment in La Jolla and the findings in Altward’s weekend residence in Newport. Mundy’s reporter self was close to interrupting me several times, but the friend in him let me tell my story.

After I had finished with my disgraceful exit from Altward’s home, he ordered an emergency Scotch, waited until it came running and downed it with one big gulp. Then the waitress brought the two cows.

“How come you always run into these things?” He finally asks, pronouncing every word. “Shit, you stumble over the dead father and now over the dead daughter. Both murdered. And both murdered on Altward’s properties.”

I didn’t say anything. I had already done the math, too.

Mundy said it anyway, “If I was the police and I knew all this, I’d concentrate on two suspects, Andrew Altward and Calendar Moonstone.”

I wolfed down my steak. “I hope the police don’t look too closely at the balcony door and notice my drill marks when they find her.”

“Oh, you of the optimist tribe. When do you think they will find her? Don’t you think you should call the police?” Mundy pointed his fork at me.

I shook my head. “I don’t think that is an excellent idea. They will trace it back, record my voice and play it to the lead detective, namely Ron, and the shit will hit the fan. The cleaning lady will find her, or Altward himself.”

“What will you do with the Maximilian Jewelry information?”

“Another tricky subject,” I said. “Most of the information I got is from public sources. I could pass that on to Ron; mention that I got word from sources about them being on sale on the black market or some such. But this… ” I tapped on the folder on the table. “… of course, is taboo until I find a different legit source.”

“You still have Benito Salanca’s material. You could tell Ron of the possible value of the Maximilian Jewels based on your own estimation. Nice money motive, he will like that. Plus, tell him about your suspicion that Phoebe had been wearing one of the Maximilian Jewels when the two of you interviewed her last week. Maybe it will make Ron look at her more closely. And then he stumbles over the body.”

Over coffee, Mundy asked the question of questions. “Who do you think killed Phoebe?”

I played with leftover sugar packets. “Difficult to say. First to my mind comes Billy Bounce. He fits the bill, in search of the jewels, very brutal crime with high shock value. The choking thing seems to be this year’s model.” I told Mundy about the cat incident.

He just said, “You drive home!” and raised his hand for another emergency Scotch.

“Thomas seems desperate enough to force his hands to get his fingers on the jewels. And Billy Bounce is such a brute that the killing could have been accidental. His way of ‘Oops, did I press too hard?'”

“I have my money on Andrew Altward,” Mundy disagreed. “He finds out that Phoebe had been involved in the theft, emotions go high and he kills her. Intentionally or accidentally. Wraps her in plastic to store her for a few days until he has some idea what to do with her.” Mundy nibbled on one of the Italian cookies. “While I said that, it already sounds like a serial killer TV-script that HBO rejected.”

“Both of our chief suspects are just that, suspects. We have no evidence whatsoever, and, come to think of it, Phoebe’s body hasn’t been reported yet.”

Mundy started his story and replayed it with cookies and sugar packs on our table. “Phoebe and Altward are an item. Phoebe fakes the love; it is all made up to stake out the Altward Gallery. Phoebe and her father hit the gallery. Altward surprises them and kills her father in the gallery, Phoebe escapes, unrecognized, the Maximilian Jewels in her possession. She keeps up the appearance, plays the mourning daughter to the police. Then Altward finds out about her involvement in the theft and kills her. The Maximilian Jewels are back in Altward’s hands.”

“But then the original plan is back to zero. No need for Thomas to force me to look for the Maximilian Jewelry,” I remarked.

“Altward can’t tell Thomas that he has them back. He just killed his girlfriend over those jewels. Maybe this realization makes him think about alternatives. He can sell them on his own.” Mundy shrugged. “That is my play. Without a shred of evidence to support it.”

I raised my hand. “My version: Phoebe is involved somehow in the heist, gets possession of the jewels. She then contacts someone in the underworld to get rid of the jewels, triggering Thomas Cornelius into action. Thomas is already involved in the original Maximilian Jewels project with Altward. Then he finds out that Phoebe has the Maximilian Jewels. Thomas hires Billy Bounce, Billy finds Phoebe, kills her. Has ‘The Max.'”

“Andrew and Thomas have their ‘project’ back on track and can continue living happily ever after,” I said. “Except for Phoebe.”

“Something is missing, though. If everything is back on track, why are they hassling you?” Mundy was asking the right questions.

“I met with Thomas on Sunday evening. Phoebe was probably killed on Monday or Tuesday; I found her Wednesday night. They have left me alone for a few days now.”

We ordered another round of beer.

Mundy thought loudly, “What will happen now? If we are careful and simply observe the behavior of the participants, we should find out who did it.”

“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, curious.

“Imagine the situation; there is the body of a young woman in Altward’s apartment in Newport. What would Altward do if he was the murderer?”

“Very stupid to leave the body in the bathroom. I would get rid of her and sink her into the ocean.”

“Right! That is what a guilty Altward will do. But if Altward should turn out to be innocent, we will probably read about the dead girl in Newport in a few days. Either Altward or the cleaning lady will find her and report her.” Satisfied, Mundy looked around as if anyone of the other guests were noticing us.

“Either way, I don’t think Altward can win. Whether he killed her or not, he has to get rid of her body. I mean, both the father and the daughter were found dead on his property, come on. If the police find her in his bathroom, whether he did it or not, he is going to fry. With murder, you have trouble arguing coincidence.”

“And what about Thomas?”

“That is a good question. If Thomas Cornelius didn’t have her killed, he will simply wait for the next tripwire that tells him the jewels are on the move.”

“And if he had done it?”

“If he had killed her, he… ” Mundy chewed his lip for a minute, shifting cookies aimlessly. “OK, I agree, here the model stops working. If he had killed her, it is not predictable what he would have done next. Or what he will do? Most likely, he will fence the stuff and wait until some grass has grown. If he killed Phoebe for nothing and the jewels are not in his possession, he may continue with shock tactics. Aaaahhhh!” Mundy shook his head in despair. “This is getting complicated. I hate it.”

“OK, we stick to the first plan,” Mundy had an idea and he rose a finger into the air like in first grade class. “Bring your policeman friend Ron on track regarding the Maximilian Jewels. That surely makes the police curious regarding the value and the circumstances. Because suddenly, it’s not about grandma’s jewelry and there is a lot more at stake, a lot more motives. Then they have grounds to investigate a little further.”

“I’ll sleep over it. But what do you think? Do you think that whoever killed Phoebe got the Maximilian Jewels? Or was the murder over something completely different?”

“Well, if you follow your theory that Billy Bounce works for Thomas Cornelius and that Billy killed Phoebe then Thomas may have them in his possession right now.”

“Never to be seen again.” I mused.

Or were they?

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