MY WORDS ECHOED silently in the big kitchen.
Fowler, Juanita and Ron all had their mouths open—staring at me. The only sounds you could hear were the kitchen appliances making their mysterious noises and the tree creaking in its rooting.
Ron started to say something. I could almost hear Fowlers insurance detective brain singing ‘I knew it, I knew it, I have her, I have her… ‘ Juanita probably knew that there had to be a punch line somewhere.
I raised my hand. “You never heard that confession. I acted alone. Tomorrow I will contact Andrew Altward and sell the jewels back to him.”
All three were still looking at me, not saying a word. I wondered if Ron was already Mirandizing me in his mind.
Fowler found words first. He spoke very carefully as if any wrong word would blow like a landmine. “And you think that Altward will buy them back from you?”
“I will make him a very attractive offer. He can haggle a little but I don’t plan to ask for more than two million dollars. Consider it a ransom, a commission, whatever,” I shrugged.
Again the calculated words of Fowler, “And Mr. Altward can then resell them to one of his ‘collectors’ for around ten million. Maybe even more, now that we all found out that the Maximilian Jewels are the latest national treasure of Mexico. A sensible price.” He treated me like a little child, still not knowing where this was leading. “However, it remains a mystery why you trade in ten million from ‘The Japanese’ against two million from Mr. Altward.” I just shrugged.
A minute more of silence.
Fowler again. “And how would you convince Mr. Altward that you are in possession of ‘The Max?'”
Now for the dramatic part. I slowly took the envelope, opened it and put a glossy, high quality studio photo of the necklace I had seen around Phoebe’s neck onto the middle of the table.
Fowler was still not convinced. “You really think Altward will deal with you on the basis of a single photo you cooked up with a Photoshop computer program? Come on, girl.”
“So far, no one ever has seen a photo of any of the pieces. Looks convincing to me,” Juanita threw in.
Ron wagged his head. “I have to agree with Fowler. The real thing would be much more convincing.” He turned his eyes at the small velvet pouch and then toward me.
I unknotted the ties, opened the pouch carefully. With two fingers, I slowly pulled out the Maximilian necklace. The very same necklace that I had seen around Phoebe’s neck and on the expertise drawings. I smoothed the little pouch on the table and carefully laid the necklace on it. The gold shone dully and the sparks were flying from the precious stones. Magnificent. Spectacular. “If you can’t be convinced by the photo alone, here is the necklace. Please do not touch.”
Fowler held his breath, studied it carefully, not touching it.
Juanita had her nose close to it, too, checking it out. I could see the female longing for beautiful jewelry in her eyes. Ron was the usual slob and tried to touch it. I quickly hit his fingers and he pulled back.
Slowly, it sank in.
“Bloody brilliant,” Ron muttered suddenly and started to smile. “This is bloody brilliant.” He began laughing for two minutes. He took my hand. “You are a gem, Calendar Moonstone.” Laughing again. “For a minute, you almost had me.” Wiping the tears from his eyes, he turned serious again, turned to Fowler. “You got it, yet?”
Fowler gave him a bland look, clearly not. Juanita hadn’t figured it out either.
“We searched Altward’s homes and the gallery, didn’t find the gems,” Ron looked at Fowler for confirmation and Fowler nodded.
Ron continued. “So, assuming that Altward has the Maximilian Jewels in his possession, what would he do if somebody showed him a piece of his carefully guarded secret?”
Fowler looked at Ron, then at me. “Hang on; Calendar just confessed that she stole the Maximilian Jewels. Why bring Altward in again? He didn’t do it, it was her!”
Ron started again, like explaining it to a child. “Assume that you, Fowler Wynn, stole the Maximilian Jewels and you hid them well. Calendar shows you the photo of one of your pieces that you thought was in your possession. What would you do?”
“I would immediately check to make sure they are still in their hiding place,” Fowler said, slowing down as he spoke. Looking at me, the photo and me again.
“Exactly,” I helped him. “All we will do after I meet with Altward is follow him around San Diego. He should lead us to the Maximilian Set.”
Ron looked at me. “Would the David Copperfield of the gem trade tell us how the trick works?”
“I knew there had to be a punch line to this,” Juanita added.
I winked at her. “There is, of course. To make the plan work I had to produce some bait. Since I am one of the few living people who, in recent times, have even laid eyes on an original piece from the Maximilian Set, I took the liberty of creating a copy.”
After Fowler made sure that I really had said ‘copy,’ he inched up to the necklace to examine it. “I didn’t want to mention it. But from first glance, it lacked the certain ‘magic’ that I had come to expect from the formidable description everyone was giving me, 333 gold?” He looked at me.
“Yeah, that’s all that I could scrape together from my stock in that quantity. Don’t turn it over. It looks like a Mattel die-cast model from the other side.”
Fowler then studied the facetted stones in the necklace more closely.
“Fake?” Ron asked.
“Au contraire! Most genuine,” Fowler corrected him with a slightly shocked expression.
I nodded. “I had to make it look as close as possible to the original and the only way to do that was by using the best material available. The guy at the photo studio did some hue and saturation tricks with his equipment to buff the photo, you were right about the Photoshop trick.”
Fowler gave a weak smile. He briefly looked at me and told me telepathically that he would catch up with me the next time. “Fine, I buy that.” He said.
Ron nodded. “Now that you mention it, I may remember the necklace around Phoebe’s neck, which brings us to our other question. Who killed Wally Eastman? Who killed Phoebe Eastman?”
I raised my hands. “Hey, I am already doing my best to trap the thief. You can do a third degree, or whatever, on him after we have him booked.”
Ron looked at me. “OK, Calendar, you have the floor and you are running the show. How do we proceed tomorrow?”
“You should arrange for a surveillance of Andrew Altward, of course. Some of your colleagues can trace him and we will follow at a safe distance.”
“There is one more thing that will be revealed tomorrow. Please instruct your people not to interact. Simply watch and tell us.”
“You wouldn’t tell us about your other ace in the hole?”
I shook my head, smiling.
I said. “Just to be on the safe side, could you arrange for a surveillance of that UCLA history professor, Benito Salanca?”
Ron raised an eyebrow. “Suspicious, aren’t we?”
“Let’s not underestimate the university connection. Benito has gone in and out of that museum many times. Stephano Toledo could have been a good buddy of his.”