A Brilliant Plan

Chapter 43

“MR. ALTWARD,” JUANITA said, “We are now arresting you for the death of Wally Eastman.” She read him his rights, again. “Do you want to call your lawyer now?” She spoke softly, as if not to break the chilling mood that had fallen over the room.

Altward rubbed his face again and shook his head, sobbing.

“Mr. Altward shook his head, indicating ‘No,'” Juanita said for the recorder.

“What happened to Phoebe Eastman?” Ron continued.

“That is the hardest part to explain, because I only know one thing for certain,” Altward said, looking pleadingly between us. “I know that it wasn’t me who killed her.”

Ron wasn’t impressed in the least. “Let’s do this step-by-step, Sir. You said that you took the Maximilian Jewels to her place.”

“Yes, right after… the accident,” Altward swallowed. “After I arranged the break-in, I closed the gallery. Then I thought about an alibi for myself. So I rode up to La Jolla and spent the rest of the night with Phoebe.”

“Just to get the record right. You dined with Mr. Thomas Cornelius in the Gaslight Quarter, went over to your gallery to get something from the safe floor for a customer date the next morning, had the conflict that resulted in Mr. Eastman’s death, then you called your partner Faulkner who arranged for the safe-hacker. The hacker arrived and did his thing, giving you a digital alibi. You grabbed the jewels and drove to see Phoebe Eastman in La Jolla.”

“That is correct. The next morning was pretty hectic because my assistant called about the burglary and the dead Mr. Eastman. I had to leave early, of course, and couldn’t talk to Phoebe. A terrible morning, I had to break the news to her of the death of her father and my conscience had to carry that load. One of her girlfriends came over to keep her company and I drove back to San Diego.”

“And the Maximilian Jewels?”

“In the hectic events of the morning, I left the jewels in Phoebe’s apartment.”

“You simply forgot them?”

“Yes, all of them. They were in the side pocket of my jacket. Because of my hectic departure, I left the jacket on the hanger.”

“The Maximilian Jewels were in a jacket on a hanger in Miss Eastman’s apartment?” Ron probed and showed his disbelief.

“Yes, together with the Montenhaute pieces and the stuff for my customer that morning. While I spent the next two days at the gallery with your colleagues, Mr. Wynn and you, Phoebe and one of her girlfriends spent the day mourning and distracting themselves. They came across the jewels. Nothing to it, Phoebe sometimes lent herself some of my pieces; she could wear certain styles very well. Hell, sometimes I even encouraged it.”

“When did you notice that they were missing?”

“The one piece?”

“No, when did you remember that you left the jewels at Phoebe’s place?”

“Oh, right away. I left Phoebe’s place around nine in the morning and I remembered on the drive to the gallery. It was like a mental check, my God, what if they search you and find the jewels that you will claim to have been stolen. But then I thought, ‘good thing I left them with Phoebe.'”

“When did you manage to get the jewels back into your possession?”

“Two days later, it must have been Saturday or Sunday, I had free time to meet again with Phoebe. We had phoned several times, I mean, it was very hard for both of us. I had so much to hide and her father was dead.”

“You were still on good terms?”

“Of course, we were on good terms. There was no argument or any such. As I said, it was simply a bad situation, for both of us. I visited her, and managed to retrieve my jacket but didn’t check the contents. Phoebe was around after all. I didn’t spend the night at her place, I simply couldn’t and I also wanted to give her some room to grieve properly. Later, at home, I found out that the Maximilian necklace was missing. At first, I was a little nervous. Had I left it accidentally at the gallery? Had I dropped it on the floor? Nonsense of course, except for the missing Montenhaute, the searches and inventory counts never revealed anything out of the ordinary.”

“You called Phoebe later?”

“Not right away. We had a date for dinner the following night. I simply asked her for the missing piece, she apologized for not telling me, which I accepted. I mean, in those circumstances, it was not a big deal. Her father had been killed. She handed the necklace back to me that night. Case closed. As far as I was concerned, I had the complete set in my possession again. The next morning was Monday and I drove to Marion’s weekend house and stored the jewels there.” Altward pointed his thumb in the rough direction of the house next door.

“When did you see Phoebe next?” Ron was leaning toward Altward and he stared intensely at his face. Altward was a broken man, he had confessed, we had him.

Altward lifted his head, a glassy unfocussed look in his eyes. He simply stared between Fowler and me into the bright blue ocean. After a minute, he responded, “I never saw her again after that night.”

Tears were streaming down his face.

After that, Ron decided to break up our little assembly. He had enough on tape to put Altward behind bars and he didn’t want to risk any lawyer bickering about the style of the interrogation.

Andrew Altward was put into handcuffs and brought to police headquarters in Downtown San Diego. Juanita got an update from the crime scene techies next door. Fowler and I killed some time, went out into the garden, and warmed ourselves in the sinking afternoon sun.

“What will happen to the Maximilian Jewels, now that they have been found?” I asked Fowler.

“Judging from the recent publicity, it is very likely that Mexico will claim them very quickly. And the State Department will give in for the sake of bilateral peace. A day or two?”

“Even though they are held as evidence?”

Fowler gave his thin disillusioned smile; been there, heard that, seen it all. “It will depend on whether the district attorney defines the Maximilian Jewels as evidence. If the DA is comfortable with the case without the material evidence, he may waive it being produced at the trial. The DA and the defense may agree on the facts and stipulate that the Maximilian Jewels played a minor part in the murder of Wally Eastman and carry on without them being physically present. Remember, the murder of Mr. Eastman was over something completely different. And Altward’s attempted insurance fraud was with the good old Montenhaute grandma stuff. And whether it was legally or illegally, we still don’t know how the Max Jewels came into Altward’s possession.” Fowler sighed. “But, of course, these charges are comparatively minor to the murder charge.” He glanced over at me. “And you, are you happy that your plan worked out all right?”

That was probably as far as Fowler would lean over to me to tell me that he was wrong in accusing me of the break-in.

“The jewelry thing, yes. I am glad that it is over and that we found the jewels and the killer of the night watchman. But what about poor Phoebe?”

“I bet that was Altward, too,” Fowler said. “He would fit the bill.”

“But what’s his motive?” I thought about Mundy’s theory that Phoebe and her dad had stolen the jewels.

“For not telling or for killing her?” Fowler frowned. “For not telling, that is easy. Killing her dad is brought down to manslaughter. But killing Phoebe makes it two in a row and that doesn’t make it look so good. The DA could throw in plenty of motives—lovers’ quarrel, greed, panic, calculation, whatever.”

“But do you think those were his motivations?” I insisted.

Fowler gave me the same kind of look that Ron had given me all those weeks when I always appeared to be one step ahead of him.

Fowler raised his hands and said, “OK, I give up. Either you tell me what you want or you leave me alone.”

I beamed at him. “I want to be there when they hand over the Maximilian Jewels to the Mexican representative.”

He looked astonished for a second and then his eyes grew into their usual suspicious slits. “That’s all?” I nodded.

“I think that will be easy to arrange, you being the one who came up with the trap to retrieve ‘The Max.’ I will see to it.” He made it sound happy for me but he did not look the part.

PoorFowler, he wouldn’t see it coming.

Tip: You can use left, right, A and D keyboard keys to browse between chapters.