RON DROPPED ME off at The House of the Moon and I stepped up to the porch. It was around midnight; my parents were obviously out, since the cats were still prowling around in the garden, waiting patiently for the late night milk my mom would be putting on the patio before closing shop.
I felt dead tired, the mess of the bungled job, the dead night watchman, the closeness of the police, Ron’s nice smile and eyes and then the appearance of Thomas Cornelius. Not to mention Fowler Wynn. I opened the door to my room, prepared to jump into my soft bed and simply fall asleep without bothering to undress, when I spotted Mundy reading Huckleberry Finn, Junior Edition.
He looked at me and immediately read my distress.
“I am dead.”
“You look like it,” Mundy stated and got up, snapping the book shut, the sound made me jump. “Whoa, I see nerves!”
“Mundy, can you shut up and hold me for a second?” I suddenly sniveled through the mist of my eyes.
“Are you acting the part now?” Mundy didn’t know whether to play along or whether to step back from me.
“For real! Hold me please,” I cried. Mundy stepped forward, made two awkward attempts to hug me, our arms were in each other’s way but finally we simply stood in the middle of my childhood room, holding each other. I snuggled up to his neck, spilled a few tears in his hair and got patted repeatedly on the back. Mundy’s way of saying he was there for me.
After a final sniff, I drew back and fetched a tissue from the bathroom. When I came back, he had retreated to the petite writing desk, doodling on a Disney notepad. He didn’t look at me due to embarrassment.
“You want to talk about it? Fowler Wynn?” was Mundy’s guess.
“I met Thomas Cornelius tonight,” I started.
“Who is Thomas Cornelius?”
I sat down on my little girl couch and drew my legs up under me. “Thomas Cornelius III is a renowned and respected collector and curator of fine arts. He is one of the foremost authorities on American art of the last, well, the nineteenth century.”
“The Third, eh?”
“His family is old money. In East Coast terms, this means nineteenth century money. Railroad and shipping.”
“Oh, those Cornelius. The Rockefeller Astor Cornelius I am impressed that you know someone that prominent.”
“We met before several times but never got into any business dealings so far.”
Mundy’s eyes grew to slits. “Why is he bothering you so much?”
I drew a deep breath. “Because Thomas Cornelius is the greatest dealer of stolen gemstones and jewels along the East Coast. His network controls every criminal transaction involving stolen gem art east of the Mississippi. Nothing goes without his saying. Talking about organized with a capital ‘O.'”
“A fence? He’s got a secret identity as a fence?” Mundy’s mouth fell open.
“Mundy, he is not ‘a’ fence. He is called ‘The Fence’ by criminals and authorities alike. Not many people know his true identity. He is working through several layers of trusted middlemen and a computer network. The middlemen structure is build very similar to the Mafia. Someone near him is arrested; he walks the walk but he talks no talk.”
“Cornelius has never been arrested then?”
“Not even suspected. Never had anything traced to him. Concerning the police and the New York art society, his shirt is spotless. And most of the underworld only knows him by his nickname ‘The Fence.'”
“Which brings us to the question as to how you two master criminals originally met,” Mundy prodded.
“To make a long story short, we had a relationship when I was living back East with Uncle Mortimer.”
Mundy’s mouth fell with an almost comical expression. “You went to… ” He caught himself and his manners in time. “You went out with a master criminal.”
“In fact, we were engaged and were about to marry.”
Mundy’s mouth stayed open, overload. “You… ”
“I didn’t know it at the time!”
Mundy stopped. His gear was rattling inside his skull. He finally gave up trying to comprehend and simply asked, “How did you find out about his secret identity? Pillow talk?”
I cleaned one thumb’s nail with the other. “It came out one day when curiosity got the better of me and I opened a safe I wasn’t supposed to open.”
“Let me guess, the safe belonged to him!”
I gave a tight-lipped nod and crinkled my nose. There was much more to that story but this wasn’t the time to let Mundy’s brain explode and splatter all over the room.
Fortunately, Mundy let go of Thomas’ and my history. “You two seem to synchronize your actions well, don’t you think? What is the chance that years later you two raid the same location at the same time?”
“That is the worst of it! I think he was about to raid the Altward gallery. But someone was faster and had already nicked the stuff that was due to belong to The Fence.”
“With you in the middle….”
“Mi-ddle.” I slumped back into my couch, feeling small.
“Can’t you simply tell him the truth? Get it over with; throw in the old relationship and all.”
“Let’s not raise his blood pressure unnecessarily. What are the chances he will believe me? Two groups hitting the very same spot at the exact same time?”
“What are the chances that you actually stole his stuff?”
“Trust me, the chances are zero. What I took from the back-office safe is not in the style of someone as big as Thomas ‘The Fence’ Cornelius III. Or his sense in beauty and value has declined dramatically in the last few years.”
Mundy cocked his head to listen. “Your parents are back.”
“Let’s call it a night,” I said, “I need to get up early tomorrow.”
“But tomorrow is the day after Thanksgiving?”
“Policewoman has to work.” I said as I stood up and went over to the walk-in closet to retrieve the winter blankets and some sheets for Mundy.
“And that is another story altogether,” Mundy groaned and prepared to sleep on the couch. He bustled and shuffled with the blankets and cushion and finally settled down. Very formally, like two strangers on a bus, we wished each other a good night. Mundy was too shy to make any remarks about sleeping with the woman of his dreams, and I was simply too tired to care.
The last duty of the day was the setting of my old alarm clock. I simply fell onto my bed, left switching off the light to Mundy and slept.