An all time classic crime mystery featuring a detective with shaky conscience, a suspiciously exquisite client, a beautiful damsel in distress, mafia and a diamond necklace.
It’s 10 a.m. and I’m already sitting in my office, bare as it is, sipping scotch and looking at the clock. My secretary Shirley is out in the front room playing games on her phone and I’m waiting for an appointment at 11. Not much to do but sit and wait, I’ve already read the paper and looked at my email. Another client is a good thing; have to maintain my inflated lifestyle. Looking at my surroundings sometimes, I think my life should have been lived in a ’40s film noir set in some dark gray Midwestern city. But here I am in New York City, 1653 West 53rd Street and it’s the 21st century.
I’m a lawyer, or at least I went to law school. Struggled through and then busted my ass to pass the bar. I wanted criminal law, thought it would be exciting but all the big firms passed me by. I worked two years in the PDs, that’s public defender’s office, then got riffed in a budget crunch. I landed a job at Cumming and Haverford doing mostly investigative stuff. When I found out how much the investigators made, I got myself a private investigator’s license and hung out a shingle for myself both as a lawyer and a PI. Found an office in Brooklyn. People call me by my middle name, Pete, so I put two names on the door—Peter Devlin, Private Investigator and Daniel Devlin, Attorney at Law. Most of my living comes from investigations for law firms.
I was struggling by until I ran into a guy I knew in Law school, Paul Demell. He was the biggest slacker in our class; cheated his way through classes, somehow passed the bar. He spoke Spanish and became an immigration lawyer. He was as crooked as they come, buying and selling green cards. After we talked, he hooked me up with some of his clients, wetbacks in trouble, and I began handling small-time lowlifes. At this level, word of mouth travels quickly and pretty soon I had a flourishing clientele of scumbags and small-time crooks who paid. This and the investigative work played off each other and in time I was earning a good living and moved to this office in Manhattan and into a nice apartment in Bayside.
My wife Melanie though was long gone. She was gorgeous but not too bright. I met her at a dance club during law school and she thought I was going to make a mint as a lawyer. When I graduated and she realized I wasn’t going to make any big money she flaked off quickly. She’s married to an accountant now and lives in Great Neck.
At 11 sharp Shirley buzzed me. “Pete your client’s here.” It’s not usual for my clients to be this punctual but I had her send him in. He was tall and thin with pale pasty skin and wispy brown hair but dressed better than I could ever imagine. His suit must have been a several thousand dollar piece, his nails were done, and he had a silk tie with a diamond stick pin; perhaps out of style but at his apparent pay grade he could dress the way he wanted. He was holding a large manila envelope.
“Are you Mr. Devlin?” he asked.
“Which one do you want?” I answered. He seemed amused by that and said, “I need both but I know you’re one person.” I was curious. “I’m Devlin” and I stood up. He held out his hand. “I’m John Lapointe.” Something about him looked familiar but it took a moment or so to place him. John Lapointe: big in social circles, old money, the LaPointe foundation, I had seen him in the society pages.
“What do you need” I asked him.
“First I need you on retainer” he answered, “so I can speak freely. People who recommended you said you were an understanding guy.”
I couldn’t imagine who in his circles could recommend me but I said okay.
“Is a thousand enough to retain you.”
“Sure,” I told him, and he placed 10 crisp, brand new $100 bills on my desk. “Now tell me what you want?”
He took out of the Manila envelope two glossy pictures that appeared identical. A face and shoulder shot of a beautiful woman wearing a gaudy diamond necklace.
He pointed at the picture and told me. “That’s Mira Schuyler, wife of Thornton Schuyler.” I recognized her also from the society pages. “See that necklace; it’s worth 1.5 million.” “Lot of big-ass diamonds,” was all I could answer.
“See any difference in the pictures?” he asked. I told him no, it seemed to me that they were copies of the same print.
“There is” he went on. “The necklace is different.”
I was curious but impatient. “So get to it, what do you need from me?”
He took out of his pocket the same necklace as in the pictures and placed it on my desk. As I looked down on it, it was a magnificent piece of jewelry and I could understand the million-plus price tag.
“See Thornton Schuyler loves Mira,” he started, “and loves to give her all she wants. That’s just one of the baubles he’s gifted her. Mira, however, likes hard cash more than glitter. I have a jeweler friend who can make identical copies so that only a good jeweler with a good glass can tell the difference. Mira lends me her necklace and I return it or one that’s identical to it together with a big wad of cash. Mira’s happy, Thornton has no idea and I’m happy. It’s a win- win.”
“What do you need me for?” I asked him.
“I was told that you could find a suitable person to handle the transactions. You will do all the dealings.”
I knew who he wanted. My biggest client Harry Sienna was a jewel thief who dealt with a big-time jewelry fence Nathan Ferlisi.
“What’s my fee?” I asked him.
“I thought 25,000 would be fair,” he answered.
“25G for 1.5 million seems kind of paltry. I’d say 10 percent. That’s 150,000.”
He shook his head and said “That’s kind of steep.”
In the past, I had walked the thin line between honesty and crime but never before had I actually crossed the line. Here I was treading on thin ice and putting myself at big risk. Greed overcame me; it was too big to pass up. “You could always find someone else,” I told him.
Lapointe reluctantly agreed. He pointed at the necklace on my desk “That’s the real one.” I almost jumped back, he treated it so cavalierly. “”Take care of everything and then I’ll take care of you. I was told that you are a man who can be trusted to not try to help himself. Call me when it’s done.” He placed a card on my desk with his phone number.
“I hope that it can be done in less than week” he said.
“I’ll try my best.” I told him. “A suitable buyer has to be located and it might not be easy.”
As he got up to leave, I asked him “What are you doing this for? You’re a rich man. I know who you are, Lapointe foundation and all.”
He shook his head. “That’s my family yes, but I’ve had some reversals and getting extra money is always pleasurable.” With that he shook my hand and left.
I looked at the necklace and carefully placed it in my office safe. I didn’t feel secure having it with me and I wanted this done also as quickly as possible.
I called Ferlisi and arranged to meet him at Le Chenoir on 81st and 1st. He liked to eat and sip wine and although it was crowded at Le Chenoir, no one listened to your conversations.
Over wine and a nice Filet Mignon I explained the whole setup to Ferlisi and showed him the photo of Mira Schuyler, who he recognized immediately. Ferlisi had tons of contacts for good stolen jewelry but even he was taken aback at the cost of the piece.
“Might be somewhat hard to unload at that price” he told me. “It’s a well-known piece and whoever buys it will have to alter it a bit. Give me a few days.”
Ferlisis was very good at what he did and within a week he had set something up. I brought him the necklace and he took it from there. Two days later I picked up a satchel in Ferlisi’s jewelry store in Garden City with 1.3 million in cash. Nathan had taken a $200,000 fee.
I had never seen so much cash in one place and like the necklace itself I was nervous holding it. I have a carry permit but I only rarely pack. However with the satchel I holstered up and put in my 357 Magnum. It made me feel somewhat secure. I called Lapointe and he told me to come to his foundation office on 51st and Park.
I met him there, handed him the satchel and he spent a good 10 minutes counting it. He then handed me a smaller satchel with 150,000 in cash. The entire deal had gone smooth as silk. “I’m very happy with this Mr. Devlin” he told me. “We’ll have some more pieces to deal shortly. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” He shook my hand and I left.