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THREE

I didn't know if there was any need to hurry finding Tony's rich guy or
not. The guy had left a clock behind. Which was hardly the stuff of
headlines. There was the possibility that if I waited a day or so on
the investigation that the trail would go cold, and if this had been a
normal case or if there was anything to suggest anything suspicious I
would have started tracking things down immediately. As it was I had
what was left of a nice weekend ahead of me and I decided to take
advantage of it. I spent the rest of Saturday getting a good steak and
playing some poker at the local VFW, and Sunday I took the Plymouth for
a wash and cleaned up around the apartment.

Early Sunday evening I stopped in at the office for a while. Out of
habit perhaps I wanted to start a new file on Tony's case, even if it
didn't pay anything. As the old saying goes, God is in the details. On
most cases you simply had to improvise as you went along. Perhaps it was
my old military training at C.I.D. coming to the fore, but I always
tried to plan at least an initial line of investigation. I got a new
folder for Tony's case and made some initial notes.

It was an old habit of mine not to carry a gun when I wasn't working
on a case. That had it's dangers, inasmuch as you never could tell when
somebody with a big grudge might come after you. In that sense my job
was no different than that of any normal cop. But not carrying had a big
advantage as well. I could live like a relatively normal person for a
while and get my mind away from the job between cases.

Not having anything going I had left my gun at the office the previous
Friday afternoon, but now that I was about to go out on a case I needed
to go out prepared.

I went over to the file cabinet and pulled open W-Z. I had the old .45
Colt auto in there from my military days, which couldn't hit the
proverbial barn and that I no longer used. My main weapon of choice these
days was the .38 Smith and Wesson M&P revolver, the one with the big five-inch
barrel. It was a cannon, and had never let me down over the years both in terms
of accuracy and reliability. I wore the .38 in a shoulder holster fitted under
my left arm.

While I was in Italy I had picked up a small Italian-made .22
automatic that was useful if I needed to pull something out in a hurry.
Though it was only accurate at close range, any coroner around could
testify to the amount of damage the small caliber .22 bullet could do as
it bounced around inside a human body. Human flesh wasn't meant to be
invaded by high-speed metal. Barring a miracle or a shot in the leg the
effect was almost always fatal. That was one of the terrible things
about guns, and why they were such a tremendous responsibility. I
normally carried the .22 in my right jacket pocket.

I took the Smith and Wesson and the .22 over to the desk. Getting some
newspaper from the top of the file cabinet I put some of it down on the
desktop and got my cleaning kit from the bottom desk drawer. The
cleaning kit being right next to my bottle of rye, I pulled that out too
and made myself a drink. Then I broke down the Smith and Wesson and
cleaned it thoroughly, snapped it back together, and tested the
cylinder. I repeated the process, more or less, with the little
automatic.

Since I had been washing the Plymouth I had worn my baseball jacket
out for the day. I took it off and put on the shoulder holster and slid
the .38 into it. I put the baseball jacket back on and put the .22 in
the right pocket.

I put the new file folder for Tony's case in the file cabinet, grabbed
my notebook and pen off the desk and turned off the lights. It was only
about seven o'clock and there was quite a bit of time left in the day.
It was time to go to work.

****

City Cab Company ran its operation out of what looked to be a small
converted warehouse off of Elvira Street. As I pulled in to
what was now their garage there was one cab parked back toward the rear
with its' driver door open, and a few more cabs parked over against the
wall. My guess was that the later were either in need of repair or simply
had no drivers that evening. I parked in a spot that I thought would be
sufficiently out of the way of any traffic and walked up to a pair of
small connected offices at the rear of the garage. A red-haired woman
in her mid-forties wearing huge eyeglasses was talking into a short-band
radio as I walked up. The eyeglasses made her look like some sort of
pretty insect.

"Was he there?" she said into the handset, as I came up to the window.

There followed a lot of squawking blended with what might have been a
human voice.

"I said, was he there?" the woman repeated.

More squawking came over the radio, and the voice at the other end
went on for a bit longer this time.

"So you picked him up then. Gotcha."

There seemed to be a pause in the action and I took advantage of it.

"Are you the dispatcher?" I asked through the open glass area of the
window.

"You must be a genius, fella" she said. It might have been a little more
insulting if she hadn't been smiling when she said it. I figured she was
a woman I could talk business with. I handed her one of my cards.

"Private-eye, huh? I don't much like private-eyes myself."

"Maybe I'm the lovable and handsome exception" I smiled at her.

"Or maybe you're just a pain in the ass" she said, smiling again.

"I'm trying to get a line on one of your fares. He was picked up last
Wednesday on the 1200 block of East Walnut. I don't know if he called in
or not, chances are he just flagged one of your drivers down."

"I might be able to find something on the sheets. Assuming you've got
a spare Lincoln on you."

"A Lincoln? Hey, I'm just a working stiff like you."

"Yeah, right. It's a Lincoln or nothing."

"I'll tell you what" I said. "If you come up with a name or address
for me, preferably both, I guess I can spare a Lincoln."

"Hmm. But you better not stiff me" she said, as she pulled a few
clipboards from the back wall.

"You said Wednesday?"

"Yeah, about three-thirty P.M. One passenger."

She flipped through the pages on the clipboard. Then the squawking began
again followed by another incomprehensible voice. She grabbed the
handset.

"Okay" she said, curtly.

The squawking and the voice erupted again.

"I said okay Go to lunch. See if I care" she said, slamming the
handset back. She looked up at me and shook her head sadly, then started
looking through the records again.

"That was Pauly. If there's so much as a ten minute gap between fares,
he wants to go to lunch. But he drives more than he eats, so…"

"Hey, I think this might be it." She made a mark with a pen next to a
line on the sheet and handed me the clipboard.

Each of the sheets on the clipboard was divided into separate columns
for information. The pick-up spot was listed in the first column
followed by the time, and the destination was recorded in the third
column with another time behind that. There were two other columns for
what looked like a mileage estimate or something. On about half the
entries there was a name written in above the pick-up spot.

"Looks to be the right block, right time" I said. "But there's no
destination listed"

"Airport, most likely, if it's not recorded" she said.

"But there might be an exception?" I asked, wanting to be careful.

"Could be. We usually want them to fill it in. We're a classy outfit
here, can't you tell?"

I looked around the garage.

"Yeah" I said. "This place has class written all over it."

"Okay, genius. Now give me my Lincoln."

"This entry doesn't have a name written in like some of the others.
Why is that?" I asked.

"No name if it's a flag-down fare. We only list the fare's name if
they call in for a pick up."

"I guess that makes sense" I said. "Is this the cab driver's name on
the top? And then you get your Lincoln."

"Yeah, speak of the devil. It was Pauly."

"I'd like to talk with him a bit. What time does he come back in to
the garage here?"

"He usually knocks off around midnight. But if you hurry you can catch
him at Taco Joe's. He always has lunch there. And breakfast. And supper.
Now, how about that Lincoln?"

I pulled out a five from my wallet, rolled it and handed it to her
through the window.

"Hey, what's your name, anyway?" I asked her.

"You gonna ask me out for a drink or something?"

"I might."

"Uh huh. Anyway, the name is Rosalyn."

"Thanks, Rosalyn. Gotta run."

I started to walk away. Rosalyn leaned out the window and yelled at
me.

"Hey, private-eye. I've got some tequila under the desk. If you're
ever back in the neighborhood, drinks are on me."

****

There wasn't much business at Taco Joe's that Sunday night. A man and a
woman sat at one of the outside tables quietly talking and eating. At
another table a guy sat by himself eating a plate of large burritos,
washing them down with several bottles of Coca-Cola. He was a large
round solid man, in his early thirties by the look of it, already
balding. He wore a pair of denim pants and a bright Hawaiian shirt. He
looked like a man who could eat. Seeing as there was a City Cab parked
right next to the tables, I figured the guy by himself must be Pauly.

Since I hadn't eaten yet I went up to the window and ordered the
taco-burrito plate and a Coca-Cola. While I was waiting for the order I
went up to the guy sitting by himself.

"Are you Pauly?" I asked him.

He chewed on his burrito and studied me, as if deciding whether he
really needed to answer or not.

"Who wants to know?" he finally said.

"Name's Maginess. I was talking with Rosalyn at the garage and she
said I could find you here. I've got a few questions about a fare you
picked up last week. No big deal, really. Just checking a few things
out."

"Are you a cop?" he said, chewing.

"Nope. Not a cop. I'm a private investigator. The guy you picked up
last Wednesday at the 1200 block of East Walnut, he flagged you down.
Remember him?"

Pauly ate and considered the question for a minute.

"He was very well-dressed" I added, trying to refresh his memory. "A
rich guy. Black jacket, grey vest. White hair."

"Oh, yeah. That guy's a big tipper."

"Where did you take him?"

"To the airport, eventually."

"What do you mean, eventually?"

"We stopped at the bank first. The little savings and loan over on Vine.
I can't remember the name of it."

"First Western Savings?" I asked.

"Yeah, that's it."

At that point the cook inside Taco Joe's called out my name.

"Hey, I'm just gonna get my food, okay?" I figured by the food on his
own plate that Pauly wasn't going anywhere for a few minutes, but I
wanted to make sure. I picked up my order and went back to the table,
sitting across from him.

"Hmm. Not bad" I said, chewing the first bite of the burrito.

"Yeah, they have pretty good food here. I eat here a lot."

"So I've heard. So how long was the guy in the bank?"

"Oh, about twenty minutes. Came back out with some sort of a package."

"What kind of a package?"

"One of those big yellow envelope type things."

"A manila envelope?" I asked him.

"Yeah, I guess."

"And then you took him to the airport? Didn't make any more stops?"

"After the bank we went right to the airport. He gave me a ten dollar
tip. Nice guy, very polite."

"Did he say anything to you about where he was going, anything
personal like that? Or anything about a clock?"

Pauly picked up another burrito. "A clock? No, nothin' about a clock.
He really didn't say much. Hey, one thing he said, he said he felt young
again."

"He told you that he felt young again?"

"Yeah. That's all he said. I just said, you know, like that's really
great."

I started in on the taco. I was hungrier than I had thought. I was
about halfway through the taco when Pauly brought the subject up again.

"I had him as a fare before, once. He gave me a big tip that time too.
That's why I picked him up when I saw him on Walnut."

"So you had him before. Could you tell me about that?"

"Not much to it, really. I picked him up at a cafe in South Hollywood.
Took him home."

"Home? You sure?"

He chewed and thought about it. "Well, not exactly. It was a big mansion
up north. I just figured it was his house, ya know?"

"Remember the address?"

"Not really. But it was a big mansion up on Pines Avenue. Had a big
black iron gate in front, big dark brick wall all around the place. You
could only see the top of the house sitting way back, because of the
wall and all. And it had a kind of plate on one side of the gate."

"You remember what the plate said?"

"Nah, it's been too long. That was a couple of months ago. It was a
big dark grey plate about this big." Pauly stretched his arms out to
show me approximately how big. It would have been about three feet deep
by four feet wide.

"And oh," he said, "it was about two miles up on Pines, I remember that
much."

I finished off the taco and Cola and gathered the trash up. I pulled a
five dollar bill out of my wallet and handed it to Pauly.

"What's this for?" he said.

"Call it dinner" I said. "And thanks, Pauly."

As I walked back to my car I saw Pauly looking at the five I had given
him and then back over at the order window. I was no psychic, but I had
a strong feeling that there were going to be more burritos in Pauly's
immediate future.

FOUR

The next morning I was behind my desk looking through the telephone
book. I seemed to remember that there was an art auction house in the
city somewhere that I had come across in passing on another case. Most of
the entries in the book under Art-Antiques were for antique stores or
art galleries. One listing was for a place called Art Auction House of Los
Angeles. That one registered in my memory somehow, so I dialed it up.
The polite woman on the phone informed me that the auction house was in
fact open on Mondays, from ten until six. I told her something of what I
was working on and asked her if I could see the owner of the place. She
set me up for an appointment at eleven-thirty.

It was about nine-thirty, so I had some time to kill. The clock was
sitting on my desk, still partially wrapped in the yellow paper, the
string hanging kind of loose. I decided that it might be more convenient
to get it out of the paper and into some sort of little box or
something. I pulled the clock out of the paper and put it in front of
me. It seemed in good condition, clean and with no visible dust. I
eyed-up the dimensions of the clock and committed them to memory. I
wasn't sure where I was going to get a box that size, but I figured that
the only way to get one was to hit the pavement and find what I could
find.

There were a lot of people out on the street it being a Monday
morning, and the traffic on the street was steady. Since it wasn't too
hot yet I decided to walk. I headed west for no reason in particular,
walked down past the Alley Cat and the Regal movie theater and then
headed south. Along the way I kept an eye out for shops that might have
the kind of box I needed. Three blocks down from the Regal I came across
Murphy's five-and-dime store. That seemed promising, so I went in and
walked around the aisles a bit. I came to a large counter that sold
chocolate, carmel corn, cotton candy and other assorted treats pretty
much guaranteed to make a person fat and happy.

A young girl was working behind the candy counter who immediately
caught my eye. She was obviously very young but had a body that wouldn't
quit, long wavy blonde hair and a face that you could stare at forever.
And I must admit I stared pretty hard. Even in a town full of blonde
bombshells the girl was obviously something special.

She caught me looking at her.

"May I help you, sir?" she said, in a soft, ultra-feminine voice. Her
voice was like a silk scarf carried by a gentle breeze.

"Uh, maybe you can. I'm looking for a box to put something in. About
this big by this big. It doesn't have to be fancy or anything. You
wouldn't have anything like that here, would you?"

"Gee, I don't know. I think we might have something like that. Why
don't you come with me, maybe we can find something."

She walked me through the store and we looked for boxes. As I followed
her I found myself playing the what's-their-story game again. Her
clothes were rather plain and obviously inexpensive. She was wearing a
light yellow sundress with a light blue cardigan sweater, and a pair of
cheap blue flat-heeled shoes with white socks. Except for what was
obviously a very professional quality make up job and hair, she looked
like she could have just stepped off the bus from Omaha or something.
Which maybe she had, for all I knew. From the make-up, I guessed that
she might be an actress or had ambitions to be one. The sweater puzzled
me, as it was really too warm for a any kind of a sweater, even the
light one she had on.

"So what's a gorgeous girl like you doing working in a five-and-dime?"
I asked her as we passed a display of children's toys.

At that she bent forward a little at the waist and pulled both sides
of her sweater in. It was a strangely defensive gesture.

"Oh, you know" she said, kind of sadly. "I guess I'd like to get into
the movies."

Almost by accident we came across a display of small gift boxes.

"Oh!" she said, rather excited. "Some little boxes!"

I took one of the gift boxes and checked it out. It was a little on
the light side, but it was about the right size and I thought that it
would do as long as I was careful.

"Oh, and look!" she said, still excited. "The big box has another little
box inside it!"

I guess her excitement was contagious. I opened the box I had picked
up and checked it out too, though it was obvious that all of the boxes
would be the same.

"My guess is that there's one inside that one too" I told her.

She opened up the second box.

"You're right! Another one!" she cried.

At that point I couldn't help myself. I just had to break down laughing.
She kind of went back onto her defensive mode for a second, but then she
started to laugh as well.

"So, would you like to purchase the boxes, sir?" she said.

"Yeah, and could you put them in a box for me?" I smiled.

At first she took me seriously, looking at the box she was holding and
then around the store as if wondering where she was going to get a box
to put the box in. But then she realized that I must be joking with her.

"Oh, that's just you teasing me" she laughed. "That's not very nice of
you, sir." I could tell she didn't mean it.

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. Will you ever forgive me?"

We walked back to the candy counter and she rang up the sale. Then she
slowly leaned forward across the counter and chewed on her pinky nail. In
just that split second it was if she had turned into another creature.
She was positively oozing sex appeal.

"Would you like me to put the box in a sack, sir?" she said in that
soft, silky voice.

"Uh, a sack?" I said, my brain half numb. And then it hit me that she
was teasing me this time.

"Oh, you're good, gorgeous" I said, picking up my boxes. "And don't
you worry. You'll have all of them in a box. Really, really soon."

****

Back at the office I removed the inner boxes and saved them up on the
file cabinet. The larger box I took over to the desk. I lowered the
clock down into it.

"Not a bad fit" I said to myself. But I was worried about breaking the
damned thing.

I took the clock out and stuffed the yellow paper that it had come
with down into the box, trying to line the bottom and a portion of the
sides as best I could. When I set the clock back down into it, it seemed
a lot more secure. I closed the lid and put it under my arm and closed
up the office. With traffic and taking my time getting there, I figured
I would get to the auction house just about right, with a few minutes to
spare.

The Art Auction House of Los Angeles was located on the second floor
of the Dewey building over on Montevale south of Hollywood. There
weren't any parking spots available around the building and I ended up
having to park about two blocks away. I was suddenly glad I had gotten
the little box. It was a lot more convenient carrying it in the box than
in the flimsy yellow paper.

The building itself was a rather nice one, probably about mid-scale as
rental prices went. I took the elevator up to the second floor and
emerged into a long, slim, lobby-type area with wood panelling and thick
burgundy carpeting. To the left there was a window facing the street
with two tall potted plants on each side. To the right far end there was
a small receptionist counter and a few more plants. Behind the counter
and attached in some way to the panelling there were faux-gold letters with
the name of the auction house. Along the long lobby between the window
and the reception area there were paintings, each placed about six feet
from each other.

I looked at some of the paintings as I walked up to the reception
counter. Some were old looking, some modern. One at the very end caught
my attention. It was a modern, abstract-type painting. There were a
variety of colors to it. At first it seemed to be composed mainly of
rigid squares and rectangles, but as I looked at it I noticed that the
squares were not all that square and the rectangles not all that
rectangular.

My concentration was broken by the receptionist, who had seemingly
appeared from nowhere and posted herself beside the counter.

"My name is Maginess" I told her. "I think I have an appointment with a
Mr. Murdock for eleven-thirty?"

She looked up at me and smiled, and I found myself thinking that she was
a very nice looking girl.

"Yep. You do" she said, clasping her hands in front of her face.

There was a bit of a pause.

"And?" I said.

"And it's not eleven-thirty yet."

"Oh" I said, rather stupidly.

I looked at my watch. I had about eight minutes to wait. Then I looked
back at the lobby. There weren't any chairs around to sit in, so I guess
I was just supposed to stand there.

"You people have something against chairs or something?" I asked her.

"We have showings that sometimes spill out into the lobby area" she
told me. "Chairs we'd just have to move in and out all the time. Why,
you got an old war wound or something?"

"No, no" I said, rather flustered.

I found the girl a little bit intimidating for some reason, and I
realized that I was avoiding looking at her. I decided to overcome my
nervousness and look at her anyway.

She was probably about late-twenties, slender, with very short black
wavy hair cut close to the head and a dazzling set emerald green eyes.
She was wearing a white long-sleeved blouse with a large collar, and
from what I could see behind the counter she had on a black skirt. The
receptionist counter was slightly elevated, but I guessed from her
proportions that she was very petite. She didn't have a wedding ring on.

As I looked at her she looked at me, and I tried to convince myself
that her interest must be more on the professional level than mine was.
At about that exact moment she changed my mind.

"You're a handsome man, Maginess"

I was now very nervous indeed. I was trying to come up with something
brilliantly witty to say, when she struck again.

"Do you like art?" she said.

"Well, sure" I said dumbly.

"You know anything about art?" she said.

"Not really."

"Oh well" she said, as if that was that.

I was just considering that it might be a good time to run away with
my tail between my legs when she stood up behind the counter.

"Time for your appointment. Follow me, please."

About eight feet behind the receptionist counter there was a pair of
doors, one to the right of the counter and one to the left. I followed
her through the left door and down a long hallway that was simply a
narrower version of the lobby and which was also lined with paintings.
As we walked I noticed that she was taller than I had estimated earlier,
due to the fact that she had very long legs. She walked with her right
arm swinging freely and with her left hand placed on her shoulder. She
had a strange irregular gait when she walked, and I found myself falling
slightly behind and then almost running into her.

The hall ended at a window with another potted plant and angled ninety
degrees the right. We walked down another forty feet or so and came to a
door. The receptionist knocked twice on the door and then opened it.

"A Mr. Patrick Maginess to see you, Rupert" she said as she walked
in. Then she turned to me and nodded her head as if to say "There you
are" and walked out, closing the door silently behind her.

A slim man with a thick head of gray hair and a British army
mustache came out from behind the desk. I noticed he had a slight limp.
He offered me his hand and I shook it.

"Rupert Murdock" he said. He had a thick British accent.

"Pat Maginess" I said back at him.

I took a quick look around the office. It was elegantly decorated,
pretty much what one would expect for a man involved in the arts. There
were more paintings and a few small sculptures, and books all over the
place. I was glad to see a set of chairs in front of the desk. He
offered me one of them.

"Thanks for seeing me, Mr. Murdock" I said, setting my box down on the
floor.

"That's quite all right. Call me Rupert. I don't really like all that
formality and such."

"All right, Rupert. I'm not much of one for formality myself. Call me Pat."
I lit a cigarette, crossed my legs and relaxed for a bit. It was a
comfortable chair.

"From the way you handle yourself I judge you are a former military man,
am I correct?" Rupert said.

"Yeah, U.S. Army" I said. "Retired" I added, laughing.

"Aren't we all, aren't we all. I got into the fray a bit myself for a
bit, R.A.F. and such. Had a bit of a sticky situation in '42 and lost my
leg. Spent the rest of the war with a pair of binoculars, looking for
villains."

"And did you find any?" I said, smiling at him.

He gave me a good-natured smile in return.

"A few, a few. Well now. How may I be of service?"

I handed him one of my business cards.

"I need some professional advice, Rupert. I've wandered into an area
that I don't know anything about. Do you know anything about antique
clocks?"

"Hmm. What kind of clocks?" he commented. "The big grandfather
variety, or the little mantle top variety?"

"More like the little variety. I have an example, if you would like to
see it."

"Of course" he said.

I reached down and pulled the clock out of the box and carefully set it
on the desk in front of him.

"Somebody left this in my client's shop. I thought it might be valuable,
and would like to return it to him. Can you tell me anything about it?"

Rupert turned the clock face towards him began to examine the clock. He
turned it slowly around, squinting from time to time, lifted it up and
looked at the bottom of it, turned it from side to side. While he was
doing all of that he made small humming noises to himself. Finally, he
put it back down on the desk.

"Do you have the key with it?" he asked.

I got the winding key out of my pocket and handed it to him.

"Excellent" he said.

He stuck the key in and gave the clock a wind.

"You have to wind them slowly" he explained. "Just stick the key in
and wind it until you begin to feel the mechanism get rather tight. Then
stop. The last thing you want to do is to over-wind them, that will
break the mechanism. And then they won't wind any more. No spare parts
for these little lads. And they are pretty much worth nothing then,
either as a timepiece or monetarily. Pretty to look at perhaps, that's
all."

"So, can you tell me anything about it?" I said.

"I could tell you quite a bit about it, actually. The question is, how
much do you want to know? I could give you the long version, which might
very well bore you to tears, or I could give you a summary."

"Well, why don't you give me the summary first" I said. "If that doesn't
work, maybe we'll go for the long version."

"Very well. The clock is a Cogliani. You may have seen that printed on
the face. Even thought the name is Italian it was actually made in
Hungary, due to the fact that the maker, Cogliani, did his
apprenticeship in Italy but then moved to Hungary to open his own shop.
He didn't register the date of his clocks. But they were all made
between 1791 and 1815. According to the story, his shop burned down and
he went broke. This particular clock is probably one of the earlier ones
he made, due to the fact that it has more Italianate elements. That also
makes it rather rare, which is good from an auction standpoint. It is in
excellent condition, in working order with original key, and is a lovely
sample."

I was glad that I had asked for the short version.

"How much is it worth?" I asked him.

"I would say that if you put it up for auction here in Los Angeles it
would fetch about four hundred fifty. In New York or London, slightly
more perhaps. Are you interested in auctioning it off? I think you will
find that our percentage here is quite reasonable."

"I'm sure it is, Rupert. But like I said, I'm just trying to find the
owner. You wouldn't know who around L.A. collects clocks like this,
would you? Evidently it belonged to a gentleman of some means."

"Well, Pat, I haven't a clue. Let me tell you something about collectors
of that sort. They usually are rather quiet about their collections. An
obsessive breed. Some of them are bona fide hermits. If the items in
their collections do come into the light it is usually due to the fact
that the collectors die and their heirs have no interest in their little
hobby. So they sell the collection. Usually all at once. What we call a
large lot."

"So you don't know anybody here in town that would own a clock like
this?"

"I don't know of anyone in town with a large antique clock collection,
no. That doesn't mean there isn't one. Or even several. It would just
mean that if there are that they haven't tried to sell their collections
through me or have not contacted me about procuring any clocks for them
out in the larger marketplace."

"So I guess I'm out of luck, then" I said.

"Well, perhaps not. When you mentioned a gentleman of means I may have
gotten off on the wrong track a bit. As it happens, there has been one
person who has done some business here over the past few months. He came
to me wanting to sell a small Kleinschmidt. That's another kind of
mantle clock. I auctioned it off for him and it brought three hundred,
less my commission. He brought back several after that, all fairly good
pieces. I sold those too. But he was by no means a wealthy gentleman.
Just a lad, really. Works at the Aquarium, actually."

"What was his name?" I asked, suddenly glad to be getting somewhere.

"DeMargio. Steve DeMargio. As I said, he works at the Aquarium. His
address is 1112 West Sunset. Apartment D."

I wrote the information down in my notebook.

"You know that off the top of your head?" I asked him.

"I have a photographic memory" he said, matter-of-factly.

"Oh" I said. I found myself wishing I had a memory like Rupert's. It
would save me a lot of pencils.

"Would you like his telephone number?"

"Sure."

I wrote down the number, and then decided to get back to the clock.

"So how many clocks did you sell for DeMargio, sum total?"

"Nine."

"And it didn't make you suspicious or anything? A guy of little means
selling off a lot of expensive clocks? I don't mean to question your
integrity or anything, I'd just like to know."

"Of course. No offense taken. I do run into thieves and con-men on
occasion. As for DeMargio, he told me that he had inherited the clocks
from his uncle, but now he was down on his luck and working at the
Aquarium and needed the money. It had the ring of truth. And I had no
notification from the police about any clocks being listed as stolen
property. I took DeMargio at this word."

"I guess that makes sense" I said, putting away my notebook.

I took the clock off the desk. It was now ticking after being wound by
Rupert. I put it back in the box, and could still hear it ticking. I
hefted the box into my left arm.

"Rupert, I can't thank you enough for your time. I'll let you get back
to your art. Incidentally, who is the receptionist? She seems…nice."

"Ah, that would be Christine. A lovely girl. And very talented. Do you
think you can find your way out, or should I walk you? I like to
exersize the leg a few times a day. Good for the body and soul."

"Thanks, Rupert. But no. I think I can find my way out. Kinda hard to
get lost in that hallway."

He laughed.

"Quite."

Walking out Rupert's door I began to think about the receptionist
again. I had been intimidated by her on our first encounter, but I
figured that was simply because I hadn't run into her type of girl
before. I thought that if I could talk with her a bit and get to know
her that I would grow more comfortable with her. The only good way I
could think of to accomplish that was to ask her out.

"Time to step up to the plate, Maginess" I said to myself.

She was on the phone as I passed through the door to the lobby. I
stopped at the counter and put the box on it and waited for her to get
off the phone. When she did, I came right out with it.

"I don't know much about art, maybe" I said, "But I think I know
something about beauty and grace. And I think you have both. Would you
like to have dinner with me sometime? Christine?"

She rested her head in the palm of her hand and tilted it to the side,
smiling. Somehow in the time that I had been back in Rupert's office she
had acquired a pair of black oval-shaped eyeglasses.

"How about Wednesday?" she threw out.

"Wednesday's good. Pick you up here at six?"

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