OOPS, THINGS GOT serious. I immediately went into turtle mode, took away my hand from his and just raised an eyebrow. “I am listening. Spill.”
He took a deep breath. “I used you to flush out Altward.”
“Yee-es?” I said carefully, not getting where this was leading. “Wait a minute; as I remember, I developed the plan.”
Ron nodded, avoiding my eyes. “And I went along with it and it worked well. Better than anticipated.”
“Come on, tell me. What did you do?”
“The reason for my confession starts a little earlier than your brilliant idea. Did you ever wonder why I asked you to come along to the gallery?”
“Really? Oh, I took for granted that you were a little short of art world know-how and wanted a blonde girl on the side,” I replied.
Ron took my hand again but had to retract it because our order was placed in front of us. Undecided whether to be offended by his remarks or feel hungry, hunger won and I started shoveling pasta into my mouth. I hadn’t had anything all day except for some dry crackers at the station house.
This seemed to unnerve Ron. With no obvious appetite, he poked nervously at his salad leaves. After a few bites, he couldn’t hold back any longer, put away his fork for good and took hold of my spaghetti-shoveling arm.
“Calendar, please listen. If I had needed art expertise, I would have stuck with Fowler. He knows five times more about art than you do.”
I sat back, perplexed and offended. “Oh! Does he now?”
Ron nodded. “You are specialized in antique jewelry. He is specialized in every antique subject you can think of. But, to support your ego, he collaborated with everything you told Juanita and me about Calder, art valuation, Montenhaute and ‘The Max.'”
“Uh-oh… ” I thought and ate another fork of spaghetti to mask my uneasiness.
Eager to get it over with, Ron continued, “Fowler told me in detail about his suspicions regarding your involvement in the gallery break-in. He laid out the typical Calendar Moonstone factors—an impregnable safe, a noble location, no clues and high-class material stolen, never to be seen again.” He ticked off the ‘Calendar factors’ on his hand. “As you know, Juanita and I showed up at your parent’s home, did the interview, you provided us with a solid alibi and that was that.”
I simply looked at Ron.
He added, looking down at his salad. “To be expected, by the way. Fowler told us that you would come up with a very good alibi. The boyfriend plus the neighbors listening in, very good indeed.”
“It is the truth! What do you want to hear?”
Ron waved it off, as if it didn’t really matter. “After the interview, I sat down and thought hard. Fowler provided me with some of his private research about you concerning some extremely suspicious cases, which showed me that you had to be a very resourceful woman. And you seem to have some kind of code, like a modern Robin Hood or something.”
Treading carefully now. “I have no clue what you are talking about. Robin Hood?”
“Well, not exactly Robin Hood, that’s the wrong analogy; you don’t give to the poor.” Who was I to correct him? “But you only seem to steal from very rich people who don’t really miss the money or mind the higher insurance premiums, you are not violent, you are very clean in your job, no mess or destroyed homes… ”
“Fowler brainwashed you, that dirty little trick. Forget my ‘code,’ I should find him and kill him right now.” I raised my voice.
“In the end, I came up with two scenarios.” He held up his thumb. “One—you were involved in the break-in and the murder. To hire you as the jewelry specialist would give me the opportunity to keep track of you and watch you closely. Two—you were just involved in the break-in but not in the murder. Just stumbled upon it by accident. With this one, chances were high that you knew who was behind it.”
“Did scenario three ever occur to you? No involvement at all?”
Ron shook his head. “No, sorry, never. Too many coincidences, the odds were leaning heavily toward you. Or against you, however you see it.” Ron looked at me with his homicide cop eyes. “And I was going with scenario number two. Break-in and knew something about the murder. Which you apparently did. That’s why I gave you such a long reign to flush out whoever was involved. The appearance of Mr. Billy Bounce proved that.”
I was in total deflection mode, all shields up, wisecracking out of desperation. “I was amazed that Billy Bounce actually was his real name; I had expected Olof Lipshutz or something more ordinary.”
“Either way, I decided to involve you in my case. I had a loose trail all the time and my colleagues were telling me that you are a very careful person. If you don’t want to be followed, you won’t be followed,” Ron said. “And in some instances you were gone for more than a day.” He gave me a tut-tut look.
I seethed but managed to swallow, everything.
Ron put away his fork and finally found my hand again. He had to pull hard to get it back to the tabletop. “Poor Calendar, I know that this hurts, being used by someone you trusted. Well, trusted a little bit.”
I took my fork, poked his hand hard to hurt him, and pulled my other hand away. He gave a small yelp and sat back forcefully. I stood up. “Fuck you, fuck you, Ronald Closeky.” The result was a stark silence in the restaurant, everyone looking at me. “What do you want now? That I tell you the names of everyone involved?”
“No, no, I don’t want that. Please understand—you were a tool for me. And a very useful one. You gave us the murderer of Wally Eastman and the stolen goods. Despite the fact that Phoebe’s murderer is still running free, this is a great success. It is your success. Come on, Cal, we’ve had the FBI and the State Department both on our backs.”
“Glad to be of help to your career, Mr. Detective.”
“Calendar, please forgive me. When I said that you were just a tool for me, I lied. Maybe in the beginning, but what I said in Mexico still holds true. After the case is finished we may see where something… well anything may develop.”
A look at me and he realized that his chances were dwindling by the minute.
“What do you want to do now? With me? On the case,” I clarified. “More murderers? More thieves?”
“Nothing of that sort. Looking at Billy Bounce, I think it would be very unwise to make you rat out the whole jewelry art crime society of America. The way I see it, you helped us, you did a great job, and you are an honest… ” I bet he wanted to say ‘thief’ but he caught himself again and finished lamely with “… an honest person. And I am in love with you.”
I looked at Ron, closed my eyes briefly and decided not to slug him in front of a hundred people. I took my bowl of carbonara and my fork and went over to the bar to finish eating. The barkeeper put a glass of Johnnie Walker in front of me, unasked. I downed it in one swallow and it brought tears to my eyes.
I took a taxi to my parent’s house. Ron followed in his car. I paid, jumped out and ran to the door.
“Calendar, wait. Hear me out,” Ron shouted after me through the passenger window.
I had to fumble with the front door lock so he had time to say his thing. “Remember Mexico City. It was a very nice moment, don’t you think?”
That made me lose my key, I had to search for it in the dark.
“And I still hope we can be best of friends after all,” Ron continued. “And maybe a little more.”
I finally had the key, managed to open the door and flee into the kitchen.
“I love you, Calendar,” Ron shouted after me.
The door slammed shut, I locked up and leaned against the frame, closing my eyes. The tacky ending to a very terrible evening.
“I remember, we had a similar scene many years ago,” Mom said, holding her night-tea mug, observing me. “That guy from your school theatre group? William Bolding? Wolding?” She was sitting at the kitchen desk, catching up with the evening edition of the Sunday paper. It featured our story on pages 1, 2, 3 and 4. Joni Mitchell was crooning quietly from the kitchen stereo.
“Mom, I don’t feel like 1999.”
“You could at least have answered him. He sounded sincere.”
“Ron is a weasel. A sharp-toothed weasel. He used me from the beginning to crack his damned case.”
Mom poured me a tea and led me to the table. “Well, you didn’t resist, did you. You were eager to help and crack the case yourself. Surely, out of your incurable curiosity. And partly to be around his very nice eyes.”
“Curiosity killed the Cal,” I cited a pet-aphorism of Dad. I sipped some tea. “Now I know what guys mean when they claim to think with their pricks. Exactly my problem here: I thought with my pussy, that’s what happened. Ron’s puppy eyes hung to every word I said and I had the hots for him. I had fantasies of him and me and Hawaii and the warm surf. And I let down my guard.”
Mom regarded me for a few moments. “Cal, apart from all that motherly mumbo jumbo I usually fill our conversations with, please let me tell you this, I think I am a good judge of human nature. In my humble opinion, I think that Officer McCloseky is a decent guy, very likable and trustworthy. From the tone of his voice that I managed to make out over the music, he honestly cares for you. His only fault that I can spot is that he takes his profession over his feelings. And Calendar, whatever the problem between him and you is, I think he is a very good person to let down your guard for. For once.”
Mom patted my hands, gave me a hug, refilled my mug and started to leave the kitchen. “Let down your guard and simply be held by a man, honey. It would do you good.” Mom sighed. “Enough said from an old hippie hag. I leave you alone with your defeat. And your victory.” She patted the newspaper, gave me a kiss and went upstairs. On the stairs, I could hear her mumbling to herself, “Who would have thought that I defended a police officer in front of my daughter? Must be getting old.”
I drank up the tea, cried a little on the kitchen table, killed the lights, went to bed and cried some more.