-- by Laura Collins --
"You know perfectly well what necklace. My diamond necklace; the one you just spent an hour looking for." Francie's eyes narrowed. "The one I saw in your hand just now when you
thought my back was turned."
Robie took a step back, toward the French doors the led out to the
balcony. "I'd get my eyes checked if I were you. Whatever you thought you saw, I don't know anything about your diamond necklace."
"No?" Francie took a step toward him, slowly and deliberately. "Well,
then maybe you can tell me why you were prowling around the house in the middle of the night."
Robie crept back further. "I sleepwalk."
Francie raised her eyebrows.
Robie nodded. "Have done for years."
"Why, that's terrible."
"It's a dreadful affliction." He stopped with a jolt; he had backed into
the French doors. Francie continued to advance, one step at a time, until they were inches apart. Slowly, she slid her hand down his chest and into the pocket of his jacket.
"What have we here?" She drew out a long, sparkling strand of jewels.
"This looks an awful lot like that necklace you don't know anything about. Now, how do you suppose it got there?"
Robie's breathing quickened. "I have no idea."
"Funny, I have quite a few. And I'm sure the police will have some ideas
all their own."
He felt behind him for the door handle and began to ease it open.
Francie's hand came down on his.
"That's an awfully big drop," she said.
"I've done worse."
"You might do better."
Robie looked down at her. "How so?"
"Well, I don't want any trouble. I have my necklace back; there doesn't
seem to be any reason to get the police involved. But there is the little
matter of your debt to society."
"Hmmm. And how would you suggest I go about discharging that debt?"
"You're an awfully clever man." She put her arms around his neck. "I'm
sure you'll be able to think of something appropriate."
"What about something...inappropriate?"
He drew her closer to him, and was preparing to save the taxpayers the
cost of a trial, when all at once the room was ablaze with light.
"What ARE you two up to?"
Francie turned, squinting in the sudden brightness. "Oh, hello, Mother."
"I thought she wasn't due back until Saturday," Robie muttered.
"Well, that's one of the things I love about Mother," Francie sighed.
"She's always so full of surprises."
"You young jackanapes nearly scared me into an early grave," said Jessie Stevens, oblivious to the tender marital scene she had interrupted. "Why, I thought it might have been burglars--ones we
weren't related to, that is. Whatever possessed you to go stomping around at two o'clock in the morning with no lights on?"
Robie exhaled in frustration. "We were testing the fire exits!"
"And they work," said Francie, "so now we can all go to bed." She and
Robie hung back as Jessie headed back down the hall.
"I guess that means no more fun and games, now that your mother's back."
Francie smiled. "Think again, buster. You're on the hook to me for life,
without possibility of parole."
"That's fine with me." He put his arm around her. "After all, how can I
learn my lesson if you don't punish me?"
"That's the spirit. I'll make an honest man of you yet, John Robie. Now,
I'm just going to go get Mother settled in, and then I'll be right back up
to help you see the error of your ways."
"I'll be waiting."
As he watched her go, Robie couldn't help but worry. The insurance
payment would be due soon on that necklace they'd been playing with. (If there's one thing every burglar knows, it's the importance of insurance.) And he didn't imagine that his mother-in-law's trip to
Minneapolis--or was it St. Paul?--had been any less costly for being shortened. He was behind on the mortgage, and every day more and more smaller bills were coming in, some for the second or third time.
It was all adding up.
For safety's sake, Robie had been limiting himself to small jobs--a
bracelet here, a painting there. But his financial situation was growing
dire, and it was time to leave safety behind. The Cat was going to
unsheathe his claws.
Robie looked out the window at the lights of the museum twinkling across the bay. All he needed was one big haul, just one, to dig himself out of this hole. Then he could go back to the less risky
nickel-and-dime jobs; or, if the score was big enough, maybe even retire for good. Again. But where could he find a job that big? He started upstairs, lost in thought.
Meanwhile, across the bay, an armored truck was pulling up to the back
entrance of the museum...
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