A Brilliant Plan

Chapter 26

SURPRISE. THOMAS CORNELIUS III visited my shop. I recognized his voice as he introduced himself to Mrs. Otis and my heart started beating faster. Get a grip, Calendar girl!

“Mrs. Otis, could you give us a couple minutes in private?” I asked Annie as I stepped out of my workshop. She gave a curious little wave and left us in the showroom.

“What an unexpected visit,” I said.

“I am planning to go back East. And thought to drop by.”

“It is too early for lunch.”

“I am not staying that long.”

I leaned against the counter and we examined each other for a moment. Thomas pouted his lips. I gave a little shrug.

“It is strange to have that much contact with you again,” he said finally. “We do not see each other for years and then we run into each other all the time.”

“Believe me, the confusion is all mine,” I replied. “Is it business or just for old time sake?”

“Calendar, what about a little deal? I am offering you double the street price of your little harvest from the Altward chest.”

“I can imagine the condition that is attached with this easy money. The answer is no,” I crossed my arms.

“You show a tremendous amount of skill and energy to discover who has the Maximilian Jewels. You are aware of the facts of this case and you are chummy with the police,” Thomas counted off on his fingers.

I said, sullenly, “I wish.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“The policeman in question is unfortunately not as interested in me as he is in solving this case. He hasn’t asked me for a date, yet.”

Thomas laughed his nice laugh. “You haven’t changed a bit, Calendar. Again, here is the deal: I pay you double price on your little Altward stones and release you. In exchange for the Maximilian Jewels.”

“Thomas, you are a cheap shot!”

“Moi? Cheap?” He looked genuinely offended. “Come on, dear. That is a fair deal.”

“My pitiful loot is nothing compared to the value of ‘The Max’,” I poked a finger at him.

“Well… ” Thomas had to shift his weight on his other leg.

“You take the Altward stones for fair value plus I get a ten percent finder’s fee for the Jewels.”

“Hang on, ten percent of what?” Thomas looked alarmed.

“Of what you will make on the closed market. You must have an idea by now.”

Thomas chewed his lip. “Impossible. You don’t know what you are asking.”

“I asked the specialist at UCLA and he estimated their value at between five and 10 million dollars,” I bluffed. “Even with only eight million dollars, you can easily spare the 800K for my services.”

“I have a serious offer of 12.5 million dollars,” Thomas said.

I blinked, truly speechless.

“You steal, I deal, honey,” Thomas gave me his same small shy smile that I had loved so much way back then.

“Come on, what makes you hesitate? You don’t have to share with Altward, do you?”

“What do you mean?” Thomas eyes became small slits.

“Do your math. Either Altward himself stole them, trying to cheat you out of your part of the deal. In that case, should I retrieve the jewels, he can’t complain to anyone. Shady in the first place, stolen by him in the second and stolen again by me for you. He wouldn’t need to know that you fenced them for yourself. And in case I find the stones to be with someone else, I will retrieve them and hand them over to you. All you have to do is to fence them silently and never tell Altward. You both run around with sad faces, yours forced, for another year, split your losses and call it a day,” I ran out of breath.

Thomas shrugged. “Fair scenario. Not unlikely. But I still think that it is too much money for you.”

“Twenty percent is your take on every transaction,” I pointed out.

“I am up to twenty-five now but I don’t want to boast about that,” Thomas said dryly. “So, you think you can find the jewels?”

“Can I ask you something, Thomas?”

“Almost anything that does not put me in jail.”

“Did you kill Phoebe Eastman? Or have her killed?” There, it was out. But I needed to know. I wanted to see his reaction.

Thomas looked at me sharply. “Phoebe Eastman is dead? What are you talking about?” He was controlled but his surprise seemed genuine.

“Her body has not been found, yet. But I ran across it.”

That shut him up. He started to say something. Then stopped.

“While you are recovering, I need you to locate a person for me in or around New York City.”

“I thought that’s what I hired you to do?”

“No, you hired me to get back your beloved jewels. I am looking for a person who is hiding out.”

“In or around New York?”

“Last seen boarding a plane to NYC.”

“Anyone I know?”

I gave Thomas a quick rundown on what I knew about Hans Polter, the missing hacker. “My personal theory is that he is good in hiding because he got himself a new ID. He can hack himself into plenty of databases and institutions and establish a good background that way. Can you help?”

“I can pump some connections. Can you get me a photo and more information?”

I nodded.

“How are you able to discuss this inquiry with me after you just gave me this Phoebe Eastman bombshell?” Thomas asked.

“Did you kill her? You have not answered my question, yet.” I insisted.

“What would I have to gain from killing the girlfriend of my business associate Altward?”

“I have seen a piece of the Maximilian Jewels around her neck.”

“You must have figured out yourself that this makes no sense,” Thomas said. “If I killed her to retrieve the jewels, why would I need your help to find them?”

“Maybe because you haven’t retrieved all of them. Maybe because you killed her accidentally and need to keep up the face of the jewel hunter?”

“What can I say? No, I did not kill her. And to answer the second part of your question: No, I didn’t order a hit on her either. She was a nice kid. A useless artist, but a nice kid. But if you are looking for any sort of alibi, I can’t give you one.”

“Thomas, it is fine, I studied your reaction. But I had to know.”Again, we studied each other in silence.

“So, we have a deal?” I inquired.

“This is the strangest conversation I have ever had with you,” Thomas sighed. “Fair market value plus 7.5% of the revenue.”


“We have a deal.” Thomas stepped around the counter and gave me a shy kiss on the cheek. I felt the first whiskers of his beard rubbing against me.

“Where did you stay?” I asked Thomas as I walked him out. A little lunchtime rain shower had started.

“Chateau Marmont, of course.”

“That old heap is still standing?” Ages ago, we had gone there, after shows, for drinks in the beautiful bar of the hotel.

“It wears a patina quite well,” he said, touching his gray streaks of hair. “It reminds me of better times when life was simpler and I was still a little naive.”

“I think you still are, Thomas.”

He stepped into his car and rolled down the window. “Bye, then.”

“Bye, yourself.”



“Can you answer me one question? Do you think it ever could have worked out between us?” He looked into the distance, not at me, when he asked it.

Looking at the rain-streaked streets, I thought about the personal tragedy that stood between us and the guilt we both felt so deep in our hearts. Maybe I should have asked him if he felt it too, the unfathomable sadness like an ice block deep in our stomachs and hearts. And I thought about the situation we found ourselves in, at this time and place. The jewelry thief and the stolen art fence talking about stealing already stolen goods from another thief.

Time and change, Thomas.

I turned around and walked back into my shop.

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