The Crime Readers' Association

Ringfenced, by Bill Daly

Michelle snuggled in close, as she always did after they’d made love, running her fingers slowly through his long, black hair before languidly tracing the dagger-shaped birthmark on the side of his neck. Pretending to prick her finger on the tip of the dagger, she winced with affected pain as she unwound herself from his arms and swung her legs over the side of the bed.

‘Do you fancy scrambled eggs on toast?’ she asked, getting to her feet and slipping on her red, silk dressing gown.

‘That sounds good,’ he said, yawning and stretching.

 

‘So you’re sure this is it?’ he said, washing down a slice of toast with a swig of black coffee.

‘Absolutely. A black Mercedes pulled up outside the shop last night, just as we were about to close up,’ Michelle said. ‘The driver got out and checked up and down the street before giving the nod to the two guys in the back seat. It was like a scene straight out of a Tarantino movie as they strode into the shop in their sharp suits and dark glasses. One of them was carrying an attaché case, handcuffed to his wrist. Paterson had been expecting them and he ushered them straight down to the vault.

‘The ring is scheduled to be auctioned at Sotheby’s on Monday,’ Michelle continued, ‘but Paterson told me, in the strictest confidence, that the owner has agreed to a private showing on Saturday afternoon to a mega-rich Texan called Frank Maloney and if he agrees to the asking price the ring will be pulled from the auction.’

‘When’s the best time to make our move?’

‘Tomorrow; early afternoon. The shop’s usually pretty quiet at lunchtime on Fridays. I’ll set Paterson up this morning and we’ll take it from there. Christ, is it that time!’ she exclaimed, glancing up at the kitchen wall clock and scrambling to her feet. ‘I’d better get my skates on.’

Hurrying to the bedroom, Michelle quickly put on her make-up before donning what was practically her uniform for work; straight, black skirt coming to just above the knee, cream blouse and braided, black jacket. Picking up her handbag from the dressing table, she checked her appearance in the mirror before slipping her feet into her midnight-blue, Jimmy Choo shoes.

 

When she arrived at the jewellery shop in Knightsbridge, Michelle found Malcolm Paterson fussing over a tray of Rolex watches.

‘Did you manage to get a good look at it, Malcolm?’ she asked quietly.

Paterson nodded, glancing round the shop to check no one was within hearing distance. ‘It really is stunning, Michelle. A thirty-two carat diamond in a gold setting, encrusted with emeralds. The photos in the catalogue don’t begin to do it justice.’

Paterson smiled and waved across to acknowledge a regular customer who had just walked through the door. When he went across to attend to her, Michelle pulled her mobile phone from her handbag. Clicking onto a number in her contacts’ list she snapped the phone to her ear. It was answered on the first ring. ‘Jason?’ she asked quietly.

‘Yes.’

‘It’s me. Call me back straight away on the shop number.’

When the phone on the counter rang out, Michelle picked up.

‘Hi there, honeychild!’ Jason said. ‘Y’all ready to welcome me?’

‘Don’t overdo it!’ Michelle whispered forcibly.

‘I gotta practise the accent, sweetie-pie.’

‘I’ll have to check with Mr Paterson,’ Michelle stated in a loud voice, scribbling down a phone number she had previously memorised on the note pad on the desk. ‘I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.’

When Paterson had finished serving his customer, Michelle called him across. ‘I’ve just had a call from Mr Maloney,’ she said. ‘He wanted to know if we could bring forward the viewing to tomorrow afternoon instead of Saturday.’

Paterson’s brow furrowed. ‘Why?’

‘Apparently he’s been invited by Roman Abramovich to be his guest at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.’

‘Bloody nuisance!’ Paterson let out a heavy sigh. ‘What did you tell him?’

‘That I’d check with you and call him back.’

‘Where is he staying?’

‘Claridge’s – the Brook Penthouse Suite.’

‘Did he leave a number?’

‘Yes,’ Michelle said, reading out: ‘020 7629 8860’ from her notepad.

Confirming the phone number against an entry in his diary, Paterson nodded. ‘I suppose we’d better accommodate him. After all, we’re in line for a hefty commission if he decides to buy the ring here.’

‘Should I arrange a viewing for one o’clock tomorrow afternoon?’ Michelle asked. ‘We’re normally not too busy then.’

‘Please do that.’

Michelle called Jason’s mobile. ‘Could you put me through to the Brook Penthouse Suite, please,’ she said when Jason answered.

‘Consider it done, honey.’

Michelle paused for a moment. ‘A viewing will be possible at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon at Le Trésor in Knightsbridge, Mr Maloney,’ she stated.

Jason chortled. ‘See y’all tomorrow, honeychild!’

 

On the stroke of one o’clock on Friday afternoon a black stretch limo with darkened windows pulled up outside Le Trésor and a tall, well-built man in his thirties clambered out from the back seat. Malcolm Paterson was waiting in the shop doorway to greet him.

‘Mr Maloney?’

He nodded. ‘You must be Paterson,’ he said, enveloping his fist in a firm grip. ‘Thanks for agreeing to change the viewing day,’ he drawled. ‘I’ve never been to a soccer match and Roman is keen for me to see his boys in action. They’re playing against some team called the Arsenal.  Roman tells me it’s a biggie.’

‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, Mr Maloney,’ Paterson said, coughing discreetly into his fist, ‘but I will require to see some I.D.’

‘Of course, of course. No need to be embarrassed about asking for that,’ Maloney said, producing his passport from his inside jacket pocket and handing it across. ‘I wouldn’t have expected anything less.’

Paterson checked the name and the photograph. ‘Everything seems to be in order,’ he said, smiling as he handed the passport back. ‘How was your trip across?’

‘Swell – apart from the chaos at Heathrow,’ Maloney complained. ‘You would think they would be able to organise some way for the first-class passengers to avoid those damned-awful queues at immigration.’

‘Quite. If you would care to come this way,’ Paterson said, indicating the narrow corridor leading to the vault.

‘We need a young lady,’ Maloney stated. Paterson raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘You can’t judge a ring properly until you see it on the finger of an attractive young lady. Perhaps we could avail ourselves of the services of one of your assistants? How about that charming girl over there?’ he said, indicating Michelle who was re-arranging a display cabinet.

‘I … I suppose so,’ Paterson stammered. ‘Michelle!’ he called across. ‘Ask Andrew to finish off what you’re doing and come with us.’

Paterson did the introductions as they headed along the corridor leading to the vault. At the bottom of the spiral staircase, Paterson tapped in a code, which opened the reinforced steel doors. Switching on the powerful fluorescent lights he closed the vault doors behind them before producing a set of keys, which he used to unlock one of the safes.

Lifting a tray from inside, Paterson removed the velvet cover to expose the ring. Maloney took his half-moon spectacles from his shirt pocket and slipped them on.

‘I gotta get a good look at this little beauty,’ he said, letting out a long, low whistle as Paterson picked up the ring and handed it to him. ‘Now if this ain’t the daddy of them all,’ Maloney muttered respectfully. ‘The owner is asking fifteen million bucks for it, Paterson. What do you reckon?’

Paterson gave a non-committal shrug. ‘Sotheby’s catalogue compares it favourably to the Heart of Eternity diamond in the De Beers collection and the Wittlelsbach in the Austrian crown jewels. Both of those have been valued at over sixteen million dollars.’

‘So fifteen million ain’t too bad a price?’ Maloney mused, stroking his chin. ‘And if I do a deal directly with the owner I won’t have to pay Sotheby’s a buyer’s premium.’ He turned to Michelle. ‘If you wouldn’t mind trying it on for me, Michelle.’

When Michelle held out her right hand, Maloney slipped the ring onto her middle finger. ‘It fits perfectly,’ she said, twiddling her fingers up and down. ‘It might have been made for me,’ she added coyly.

Maloney chortled. ‘My Laura might have something to say about that, honey. But it is stunning, isn’t it?’ he said, raising Michelle’s hand towards the light to admire the glistening stones. ‘Okay if I take a couple of photos, Paterson?’ Maloney said, producing his mobile phone.

Paterson looked flustered. ‘Er… I… I suppose so,’ he stammered.

‘I promised Laura I’d send her a couple of shots of the ring so she can decide.’ Michelle held her hand steady while Maloney took photos from several different angles. ‘Do you have a magnifying glass?’ Maloney asked, turning to Paterson.

‘Of course.’

Michelle let her hand fall and, feeling her whole body tremble, she waited until Paterson started fumbling in his jacket pocket for his magnifying glass before slipping the ring from her finger and making the switch she’d practised a hundred times, handing Maloney the ring she had concealed in the palm of her left hand. Maloney examined the counterfeit through Paterson’s magnifying glass before placing it back on the tray.

‘Magnificent. If Laura decides she likes it, I reckon you’ve got yourself a sale.’ Paterson took a sharp intake of breath as he calculated the commission on fifteen million dollars. ‘Assuming Laura gives it the okay,’ Maloney continued, ‘I’ll contact the owner tomorrow and confirm the deal. In the meantime, don’t you go selling my ring to anyone else,’ he added, digging Paterson playfully in the ribs with his elbow.

‘Er…! Of course not, Mr Maloney.’

 

Jason Burke’s doorbell rang just after five o’clock. When he opened the door he was confronted by two men in dark suits. The taller man held out a warrant card.

‘Detective Inspector Crawford,’ he stated, flipping open his I.D. ‘This is Detective Sergeant Hudd,’ he added, jabbing his thumb in the direction of his companion. ‘We’re looking for Jason Burke.’

Jason hesitated. ‘That’s me.’

‘Can we come in?’

‘What’s this all about?’

‘We need to ask you a few questions.’

Frowning, Jason led the way along the hall to the lounge where he indicated the settee.

Settling down, Crawford asked, ‘Do you know someone called Michelle Grant?’

‘Sure. She’s a good friend.’

‘Do you know where she lives?’

‘Of course.’

‘Write down her address for me,’ Crawford said, handing Jason his notepad and pen.

‘What’s going on?’ Jason frowned as he was writing. ‘Is Michelle in some kind of trouble?’

Ignoring the question, Crawford took back his notebook. ‘At three o’clock this afternoon, an email was received at Knightsbridge police station – it had a photo of you attached.’ Jason swallowed hard as Crawford maintained eye contact. ‘Let me tell you what it said.’ As Crawford flipped back a page in his notebook, Jason felt the hairs on the back of his neck start to crawl.

‘At one o’clock this afternoon Jason Burke, impersonating an American businessman, stole a valuable ring from the vault of Le Trésor in Knightsbridge by switching it with a counterfeit.’

‘That’s utterly preposterous!’ Jason blurted out.

Crawford fixed him with a stare before referring again to his notebook. ‘The counterfeit ring was made by a man called Stevie McCormick.’

‘Who is well known to us,’ Hudd interjected. ‘He has form.’

‘McCormick,’ Crawford continued, ‘made the copy of the ring from photographs in Sotheby’s catalogue. He also forged an American passport in the name of Frank Maloney, using Jason Burke’s photo.’

‘This is complete and utter nonsense!’ Jason protested.

Crawford closed his notebook and got to his feet. ‘At four o’clock this afternoon we went to Le Trésor and asked the manager to open up the vault. Mr Paterson checked the ring and confirmed a switch had been made. He also confirmed that the photo of you that we showed him was the man who had posed as Frank Maloney.’

The colour flared up in Jason’s cheeks. ‘Okay, okay, I admit I was there,’ he stammered. ‘But we were just fooling around. One of Michelle’s girlfriends bet her a hundred quid we couldn’t get a photo of her wearing a priceless ring. We conned her boss into believing I was a mega-rich American interested in buying the ring, but only to take a photo of it, for Christ’s sake! Not to steal the bloody thing!’

Crawford shook his head. ‘That won’t wash, Burke. The vault is covered by CCTV cameras. We checked the footage.’ He let his words hang in the air as he stared at Jason. ‘All the time she was in the vault, Miss Grant had her left fist tightly clenched. When you turned to Paterson to get his magnifying glass Miss Grant did a switch and handed you a counterfeit ring.’

‘For God’s sake! I don’t know anything about a counterfeit ring! All I was doing was helping Michelle win her bet.’

Crawford shook his head dismissively. ‘Where is the ring now?’ he demanded.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about a bloody ring!’

‘If you’re going to stick to that absurd story,’ Crawford said, ‘Sergeant Hudd will accompany you to Knightsbridge police station where you will be formally charged with complicity in stealing a ring valued at fifteen million dollars. Miss Grant will be facing similar charges.’

 

Michelle hurried to the door when she heard her bell ring.

‘Detective Inspector Crawford,’ Crawford intoned gravely, flashing his warrant card. ‘Planning a trip, I see,’ he said, eyeing the suitcase standing in the hallway.

Michelle didn’t respond.

‘Did an American called Frank Maloney visit Le Trésor in Knightsbridge this afternoon to view a ring?’

‘Yes,’ she said quietly.

‘Did he ask you to try the ring on?’

‘He did.’

‘Was the person who claimed to be the American businessman, in fact, your friend, Jason Burke?’ Michelle cast her eyes down. ‘Did you switch the ring for a counterfeit? There’s no point in trying to deny it, Miss Grant. We have the CCTV footage.’ Michelle nodded her head slowly. ‘Do you have the ring in your possession?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she said in a barely a whisper.

‘In which case,’ Crawford stated, grinning from ear to ear as he picked up her suitcase, ‘it’s my duty to inform you that, courtesy of Stevie McCormick, I have passports in the name of Mr and Mrs Henderson and air tickets to Sydney, via Paris, where a fence has agreed to buy the ring from us for five million dollars.’

With a fit of the giggles, Michelle flung her arms around his neck. Running her fingers through his long black hair, she gave the dagger-shaped birthmark on the side of his neck a long, lingering kiss.

 

Ends

Find out more about author Bill Daly here.



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