“I’m late for class,” he gasped and handed me a bundle of envelopes. “Will you give Mrs. S. her mail? And a messenger just delivered that big envelope for Phil DuPre. You know why he was here last night?”
“He said you could open it since it wasn’t going to be here by the time he had to leave.” Glen ditched into his room, grabbed books and jacket, and sped back up the hall.
I went into the kitchen. Mrs. Sperling was eating, as usual: veal chops, glazed carrots, broccoli and thin crepes with powdered sugar. I sat down and helped myself.
“Good morning,” Mrs. Sperling said.
“Good morning. Morning, Mrs. Osgood.”
“Good morning, Donna. I also have carrot bran muffins, if you like.”
“They smell like they’re fresh, too. Thanks.” I took a warm muffin from the basket offered by Mrs. Osgood and spread butter across the top. It melted, and I had to lick up the little rivulets as they dribbled down the side.
“Did you see Phillip before he left?” Mrs. Sperling asked.
“No. Did you see him?”
“I talked to him briefly.” She smiled facetiously.
“Funny,” I grumbled, unamused.
Mrs. Sperling frowned. “Were you hurt also last night?”
“I’m a little sore. I’m grouchy ’cause I’m worried about something. There was a reporter from the Enterprise at the bar last night after the trouble broke out. He recognized You-Know-Who. My mother just happens to love the Enterprise and that gossip they post. You-Know-Who told my brother that you’re a P.I. last night. My parents are going to be worried sick. If my mom sees that article, if it exists, they won’t stop pestering me until I’m back safe in the womb again.”
“It can’t be helped now. Phillip told me what happened after the man struck you.”
“That was Edgar Hendricks. He was lying about Wednesday night, through his teeth. The bartender never saw him, and she seems reliable.”
“Given Mr. Hendricks’ reaction, I wouldn’t doubt her word. Well, that opens up a whole other line of possibility. You set something on the table when you sat down. What was it?”
“Your mail. Glen gave it to me as he ran off.”
“Oh, good. Please go through it with me.”
I thumbed through the stack. “Mostly bills, it looks like.”
“Those go to my accountant.”
“A Braille magazine. You’ll have to figure out what it is.”
“I’ll have to teach you Braille someday.”
“A big envelope from D. Froman, postmarked San Francisco.”
“A letter from my brother. I’ll deal with that. It’s probably deathly dull anyway. I’m afraid Dale is the black sheep of our family. He became a banker, married a lovely wife, had two lovely children and went to live in the suburbs.”
I snickered. “For shame, for shame. You also have a postcard. From Nepal.”
“My parents.” She brightened. “Do read it.”
“Let’s see. What handwriting!”
“That’s my father. Everyone complains about it.”
“Alrighty. ‘Hello, Dolly. Having a smashing time, but is it cold in the hills! Had to stop our climb. The guide was afraid your mother wouldn’t make it. It’s gorgeous here, but Philly says you wouldn’t like it. You’d have to keep your gloves on all the time and you wouldn’t see a thing. Tally ho. Off to India. Love, P. and P.”
“I figured they would while they were in the neighborhood.”
“Go to India, you mean? Your folks get around.”
“My father has a strong aversion to moss, physical or mental. Fortunately, my mother is blessed with an equal amount of energy.”
“My mother. It’s short for Philadelphia. My grandfather was born and raised in that city and put his foot down when the baby was named. Grandma was aghast but too well-bred to argue. My mother comes from a long line of New York society people.”
I picked up the envelope addressed to Him. “May as well open this. I was told I could open it. Oh, great. Just what I was looking for.”
“A copy of the Los Angeles Enterprise?”
“Right, as always.” I thumbed through the first section. “Oh, damn!” I spread the newspaper next to me. “Here it is. Director involved in Westwood bar fight. At approximately eleven o’clock last night, in Emil’s bar in Westwood, movie director Phillip DuPre became involved in an altercation with an assailant later identified as Edgar Hendricks, the owner of an art gallery in Beverly Hills. According to witnesses, Hendricks attacked an unidentified female at the bar, when DuPre stepped in and wrestled Hendricks to the floor. Hendricks struck DuPre with a shoe and escaped. DuPre sustained minor injuries and later left Emil’s under his own power. Hendricks is believed to be still at large.” I looked up. “That’s it.”
“A small story like that, there’s a good possibility your parents will miss it.”
“Or they may not realize I was involved. Wait a minute, he didn’t tell Peter his last name. My parents will never know.”
Mrs. Sperling nodded, then got up and summoned Eleanor.
“Why don’t we take the De Ville today,” she said as we went out back. “I understand there’s a chance of rain, and we have to confront Ms. Bistler again, so we want some authority. I’m also thinking we may want to visit Mr. Hendricks’ gallery, too.”
“I don’t know. After last night.”
“I would guess that the newspaper has good reason to believe Mr. Hendricks is indeed still at large. We also have to explore the Hoffman matter. It’s probably coincidental, but I’ve a nagging suspicion it’s not.”
Mrs. Sperling stopped and faded into one of her thinking dazes. I didn’t notice at first as I was pulling the De Ville out of the garage. She wasn’t paying attention as she loaded Eleanor in the back seat, then got in the front next to me.
“Your seatbelt,” I reminded her.
“Oh, yes.” She snapped it on. “That’s something that simply did not occur to me before, and yet it fits in perfectly with the concept of a conspiracy.”
She turned to me, fully conscious. “I just now remembered that all of Glen’s other serigraphs are genuine. He got them from Mr. Stein’s gallery, which is why he was so surprised when I noticed that his HN6 was a fake. If Phillip’s art is all genuine, which I’m fairly certain it is, and he has been getting it from Mr. Hoffman for some time, then there must be a break in Mr. Hoffman’s pattern somewhere, which in turn, could lead us to Mr. Stein’s murderer.”
“Could Hoffman have done it?”
“Then why was he killed? There must be some sort of conspiracy going on, with the counterfeiting being a new element. Niedemans aren’t cheap, but they don’t bring in that much money compared to some other things. In a way, it’s almost a perfect theft. Who would notice a five hundred dollar print missing when you’ve many other originals for tens of thousands? And if it’s worth murder to protect, then there must be other thefts involved, and other people, too. Remember Ms. Bistler’s gas purchase? She is a fairly lightweight woman, judging from the pitch of her voice. She couldn’t have moved her husband’s dead body without some help.”
“What if she works out?”
“Unfortunately, she strikes me as being the type of person who is too lazy to exercise beyond what is absolutely necessary to maintain her figure. One doesn’t gain that much strength just doing aerobic dance.”
“So you think she did it.”
“She certainly had motive, and it would appear opportunity. We know she’s lying about that night, but I couldn’t call that sufficient evidence to convict her. It’s too circumstantial. Frequently that’s the best you can get. But when it’s this sketchy, and I fail to find any more, I look in other directions. I, unlike the police, have the time to do so. It doesn’t help, more often than not, which is why the police can usually be relied upon to bring the guilty to the courts. Whether or not justice is done is another story and not any of my business beyond that of a concerned citizen.”
Neither, really, was her investigation. But I declined to say so. Mrs. Sperling had a client, and she was entitled to sell her skills at whatever price she wanted, even nothing. She didn’t need or want the money anyway.
“Where to first?” I asked.
“Why don’t we take care of your car first?”
“I suppose,” I grumbled.
At the garage, I held out for seven hundred and fifty dollars and got it in cash. It felt funny cleaning out the Altima.
“I thought I was going to have a party the day I got rid of that turkey,” I told Mrs. Sperling as we left.
“Our cars are a part of us, even when unwelcome.”
“I just don’t know what I’ll do for a new one.”
“Feel free to use any of my cars, as you see fit. There’s no point in them just sitting around most of the time.”
“Thanks.” I laughed. “I can just see driving myself to McDonald’s in the limousine.”
Mrs. Sperling winced. “The thought of driving to any fast food emporium in any type of vehicle is not a pleasant one.”
“I’ll have to take you to Tommy’s someday. They have a chili burger people have been known to kill for.”
“From what I understand about the neighborhood it’s in, that’s not at all surprising.”
“It’s the safest place in L.A. Where to now?”
“Ms. Ramona Bistler’s.”
“On the double.”