As I walked down the corridor on seventeen, much like Fagin, I was reviewing the situation. The wills were definitely going to be switched. Barclay, who appeared to be the lawyer in the case, was definitely in on it. He had at least one accomplice, and from the fact that he’d only dialled four digits, the accomplice had to be in the hotel. I thought back to what he’d said.
“If this goes wrong, I’m dead and you’re going to j...”
Going to Jersey? Going to join the Automobile Club? My money was on ‘jail’. So if A.N. Other was going to jail, why did Barclay think he’d be popping his clogs? The State of New York didn’t often kill lawyers for fraud. Plenty of people thought they should, but at the moment it didn’t happen. So what was he so afraid of?
And who was his sidekick?
Unlikely to be Chastity, unless she was pulling some elaborate double-cross that I hadn’t figured out. Jezebel? Maybe. Lily? Seemed a bit more likely, given the connections she had.
Although, Chastity had said the ‘the girls’ had come up to her last week and told he to make the most of the next seven days. So were they working together? They both stood to benefit if Chastity got cut out of the will completely.
At the moment, I had more questions than answers. And I was only adding to the pile. Like, where was the genuine will? I’d figured that Barclay would have taken it down to the hotel safe in reception, but he was only out of the room for a couple of minutes. So chances are it was either on this floor, one up or one down.
I checked behind the pot plant down the corridor, just in case. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t there.
My main problem, right now though, was that I was too sober by half. I called the lift, rode down to the ground and headed for the bar. I stopped at the phone in reception and called Chastity’s room but there was no answer. It was 9.30 - probably not back from dinner yet.
I made my way into the bar and found myself a booth round the corner. That way I could watch people coming in without being seen myself. A waitress came over and I ordered a double whiskey on the rocks.
When she brought it over, I sipped my drink and felt the burn of good quality booze going straight to my brain via my stomach. Twenty-six and a half hours ‘til the clock ran out on this one. I felt like I was surrounded by loose ends and I was a boy scout who’d failed his ‘knots’ badge.
I sat and munched at the complimentary peanuts while I watched the people coming in and out of the bar, checking out all of the guys shoes. All I’d seen of Barclay was a pair of grey trouser legs and black shoes. So far, nobody had fitted that description. At 10.00, I wandered out and tried Chastity’s room again - this time she picked up.
“Ms. Lillywhite? It’s... your employee...”
She twigged straight away, and left my name out of the conversation. I gotta stop hanging around English.
“Good evening.” she said.
“Fancy a drink?”
“Certainly. Give me a few minutes.”
I like a dame who gets to the point.
Five minutes later she walked into the bar and looked around. I caught her eye and she walked over. We didn’t say anything until the waitress had taken our order and brought our drinks over. Making sure we weren’t in earshot of anybody, I started talking.
“Ms. Lillywhite. Who is William Barclay?”
“Mr Barclay? He’s the family lawyer. He’s here in the hotel - he’s the one reading the will tomorrow night. Why?”
“Well you were right about the will being messed with. And your Mr Barclay is one of the people doing the messing.”
“But, but... but Mr Barclay has been with the family for years! Norm said that he was at his wedding to Grace. Are you sure about this?”
“Sure as I can be. I’ve seen the will that he’s planning to read tomorrow.”
I looked her in the eye.
“And you ain’t in it.”
She clapped her hand to her mouth.
“However, it ain’t all bad news. If my hunch is correct, then the genuine will is still in this building. I guess until this business is all over, Barclay doesn’t want to let it out of his sight. Trouble is, I may have spooked him, and now he’s hidden it. I need to find it before tomorrow.”
She took all this in.
“But why? Why would he do such a thing?”
“I’ve got my suspicions,” I said. “but I know he’s not alone. He’s definitely working with somebody else in this hotel. At the moment, from what you’ve said, and from what I’ve heard, I gotta assume that it’s Lily and Jezebel, and they just want to cut you out. If it’s just one of ‘em, then my money’s on Lily. But right now, I don’t have no proof. Do you know where they are right now?”
“After dinner, I think Lily and the Senator went back to their rooms. Jezebel was going to meet her boyfriend. You know, the young actor? I think she said he was coming this evening.”
“Ms Lillywhite. I think for now, it would probably be better if you didn’t mention to anyone that I was here. I suspect that the parties involved will expect me to show up at some point, but no need to go advertising the fact. I’m sure I’ll run into them soon enough.”
“Of course. Is there anything else?”
“No, not at the mom...” I looked over her shoulder at the bar and jolted.
“Yes, there is actually. Do you recognise the man at the bar in the black suit?”
She turned round slowly and looked over her shoulder.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. Should I? Do you know him?”
“I do. He goes by the name of Smith.”
o o o o o
So. Smith was in town. And chances are, Floyd wasn’t too far away either. Suddenly I had a pretty good hunch where Barclay had stashed the real will. I didn’t remember seeing ‘Smith & goon’ on the hotel register, so it looked like I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like handing over their details to hotels.
I pushed myself as far back into the corner as I could. The bar observed at least one of the cardinal rules of bar-dom, and the lights were pretty low. I reckoned I was safe from getting spotted unless he was actively looking for me. Right now, he looked like he was looking for someone else.
I nursed my whiskey and watched. Smith was checking his watch every couple of minutes, and it looked like he was getting more and more agitated. Finally he looked up as someone approached him. Someone in a grey suit with black shoes. Must be Barclay. I waited for him to turn round so I could get a look at him, but he just stood with his back to me - didn’t look like he was planning on stopping.
Just as they were about to go, the waitress came up and started fussing with my table, clearing the empty glass and sccoping up the monkey nut shells. I craned my neck around her, but Smith and Barclay had gone.
With an ‘excuse me’ I fumbled a couple of bucks out of my wallet and threw them down on the table, then hurried out, just in time to see the lift doors close. I stood and watched the dial as it worked it’s way up to seventeen, stopped briefly, then moved onto eighteen. Then it came back down to the ground. Ok, so I know where Barclay’s room is, so Smith must be on seventeen. The only room I could eliminate was the little old dear who’s balcony I’d gatecrashed earlier. That still left seventy-odd rooms to choose from.
I was walking back to the bar when I suddenly heard screams from behind me. I spun round, and my hand was halfway to my borrowed revolver when I realised it was two young girls in the foyer. Hands clasped to their faces, and knees buckling, I turned to see what had got them in such a flap.
Coming through the door was a drop dead gorgeous brunette. But I guess what was giving the girls a fit of the vapours was the guy with the designer stubble and linen suit who was with her. I wasn’t up on my film studies, but even without Nancy to hand, I guessed that this must be Matt Kennedy.
After a bit of nudging, the two girls finally plucked up the courage to go and ask him for his autograph. I could see he was lapping up the attention. The woman with him, who could only have been Jezebel Lillywhite, looked less than impressed, and made a big show of inspecting her nails. I retreated into the bar and watched them. They picked up a key from reception, and with a bell boy trailing behind them carrying a couple of bags, took the lift all the way to twenty one. Top of the shop.
I took the next lift and got out at seventeen. I didn’t much fancy running into Smith and Floyd, but I needed to find out where they were staying if I was going to have any chance of finding that will. I walked up and down the corridor a couple of times, getting as close to the doors as I dared, trying to hear any voices that might give their location away. By the time the lift attendant had given me a second funny look, I figured I was wasting my time.
I made my way to the end of the corridor, thinking I’d take the stairs back down to twelve, when the service elevator door opened. The waiter smiled at me as he pushed a trolley containing three huge club sandwiches, a big bowl of ‘slaw, onion rings and a couple of big cream soda’s.
‘Somebody’s got an appetite,’ I thought. Then Floyd’s delicate frame sprang to mind...
I watched the waiter push the trolley down to 1712, knock, and moments later the door opened and he disappeared inside.
A few moments later, the waiter came out with an empty trolley. I nodded to him and walked down the corridor like I had a reason to be there. Rounding the corner, I stopped to think for a second. Smith looked like the kinda guy who had ideas above his station. If I knew people, and most of the time, I did, then there was no way Smith would be sharing a room with this big tub of lard.
I walked down to the last room and listened at the door. I sounded quiet and I couldn’t see any light under the door. I did the knock down ginger thing and waited round the corridor. Nobody opened the door. I fished the picks out and got to work on the lock. A few moments later the door was open. I ducked inside and headed for the phone.
Dialling 1712, I put on my best impersonation of Pat O’Halloran.
“Ah, good evenin’ sir, sorry to be bothering ye at this hour,” I said. “It’s Michael on the front desk. The gentleman that you arrived with asked me to say would you be koind enough to meet him in the bar on the ground floor?”
“Huh?” replied Floyd. At least I knew I'd got the right room.
“The gentleman in the fine black suit. I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name, ‘twas me bad ear. He said could I ring room 1712 and ask you to join him in the bar. On the ground floor. Now. Thank you kindly.”
And I hung up before Floyd got to suspicious about my appalling accent. Hightailing it out, I was at the corner of the corridor in seconds. Moments later, Floyd appeared, looking as annoyed as a man who’d just has his evening snack interrupted. Which I guess he was.
As the lift doors closed, I was working on the lock. I was getting pretty handy at these hotel locks by now, and I was through the door in seconds.
A quick scan round the room and I found the check in paperwork. The lunk was staying under the name of Boyd Harris. While I was here, I figured I might as well check the safe. There was no way that Smith and Barclay would have left the will with Boyd / Floyd, but it would be stupid not to check.
Once again, the safe was set to the standard combination. When I got home I’d drop the hotel a note. Didn’t want to say anything just yet though - I didn’t know how many more safes I’d need to open before tomorrow night. I spun the dials, but the cupboard was bare.
I got out. Didn’t want to be there when Floyd came back.
I also didn’t want to bump into him in the lift, so I took the stairs to the ground floor. Something told me Floyd wasn’t a staircase kinda guy.
Seventeen floors later and I was beginning to wish I’d grabbed one of Floyd’s club sandwiches - I was working up quite an appetite. A quick glance round the lobby to make sure that Smith wasn’t about, and I walked up to the desk. I noted that the dame from earlier must’ve finished her shift, because there was a young kid there in a suit that looked like he’d borrowed it from his Dad.
“Hi,” I said walking up to him.
“Good evening, sir.” replied the kid.
“I wonder if you can help me. I lost my wallet in the hotel earlier today, and...”
“I’ll check and see if it’s been handed in, sir!” said the kid, bounding up like some kinda goofy labrador.
“Woah, wait up a second!” I said. “It’s ok, I’ve got it back.”
“Oh. Right.” said the boy, looking a bit baffled.
“Y’see the thing is, one of the other guests found it, and got it back to me. I’d really like to thank him, but I didn’t get his name. He’s about yay high,” I said, indicating how high ‘yay’ was. “Black suit, white shirt.”
“Ummm,” said the kid.
I made a big thing of thinking for a coupla seconds.
“Hey! I know.” I was talking to his friend - big guy. Boyd somethin’. Boyd... Harris! That was it. Boyd Harris.”
I mimed how big Boyd Harris was, and this seemed to ring a bell with the desk guy.
“Ah, yes. I know Mr Harris. Checked in this morning. I’m, err... I’m not sure that I can hand out guests details really, sir...”
I put on my best ‘Hey! Look how trustworthy I am.’ look.
“Ok, I understand. Just wanted to say thanks in person. Not often you meet an honest stranger these days, and I’m outta here tomorrow. Oh well...”
I threw a bit of ‘sad’ and ‘disappointed’ in with the ‘trustworthy’. Clearly it was a winning combination.
“Well I guess it wouldn’t hurt.” said the kid. “He’s Mr Jones, and he’s in room...”
He ran a finger down the register.
“That’s great,” I said, thanking him.
“I’d hate to have left town without running into him again.”