“Shall I take a run down to Main Street, boss? I have a hunch about this one.”
“Don’t tell me it reminds you of something?”
“It does.” Sgt. Billie Husted grinned broadly. She still couldn’t get over the fact that Officer Nelson had expected the rookie cop to be a man, but she’d set him straight on that. “My name’s Billie, as in Billie Jean,” she’d told him.
“We need something more concrete to nab the perps who’ve been pulling off the heists at the jewelry stores on Main Street this week. The robberies have been happening always when their staff take staggered lunches. The stores have an alarm system that’s turned on at night. It looks as if the culprits know that. Think you could look into it?”
Billie drove to Main Street, parked, and found a table by the window at Al’s Diner, where she had a clear view of the jewelry stores across the street. Though modest, they probably had enough expensive merchandise, which, if hawked, could fetch a small fortune.
Al came over. “What’ll it be today?”
“Chili and coffee.”
“Heard about he robberies across the street?”
Billie nodded. “During the daytime, too. See anything unusual?”
“Nothing special. Lunchtime is quiet. Everybody’s grabbing a bite to eat. A few days ago, I saw a man walk in at lunchtime. Then I saw him again. Guys don’t spend a lot of time comparing prices at the jewelry store, I thought.”
“What did he look like?”
“He looked well-dressed and had a beard.”
“See anyone else?”
Al shook his head and left to bring her the chili.
After lunch, Billie went into one of the jewelry stores across the street. The sales clerk was showing a bracelet to a woman at the counter. Rings and necklaces winked in a glass cabinet and Billie lingered to take note of the items. She wanted to talk to the sales clerk, but she decided to go next door first.
The sales clerk in the other jewelry store was putting away necklaces and looked up as Billie entered.
“Good morning, Officer. What can I help you with?”
“I need to ask you a few questions about the burglary yesterday. Were you here?”
“Yes. It was almost empty except for the woman I was waiting on and a man at the other end of the store. He looked at some necklaces and then asked me to put them away. Said he didn’t care for the styles.” She brushed off a piece of lint from a black velvet pouch that held a gold set. “Later I realized that a diamond necklace and a few rings were missing.”
“What about the woman you were waiting on?”
“She didn’t buy anything. She left soon after.”
“What did she look like?”
“Blonde, shoulder length hair, leather jacket.”
Billie returned to the first store, where the woman was about to leave. She took a good look at her. Broadish face, shoulder length blond hair, leather jacket.
After she left, the officer approached the sales clerk.
“Has that woman been here before?”
“Yes, but she never buys anything. She just tries them on and says that something isn’t to her liking and leaves.”
“Does she have anyone with her?”
“Was there anyone else in the store?”
“Once or twice I noticed a man come in during the lunch hour and look at the rings and bracelets. Once he bought a ring. For his niece, he said.”
Billie whipped out her small notepad and scribbled something in it. She raced outside to see if she could see where the woman went. She spotted her coming out of a snack bar, get into a sedan and pull out onto the street.
Billie followed her. A few blocks down, the woman parked at an apartment building and got out. Billie parked on the street adjacent and trailed her at a distance.
The woman entered the apartment building. Billie waited to see which apartment she’d go to. The woman stopped by the mailboxes, opened the first one, took out its contents and then went upstairs.
Billie looked at the mailbox she’d opened. It was No 6, with the names Bunnie and Claude Whiting. Waiting a few minutes, she went up to Apartment 6 and rang the bell.
The woman opened the door.
“Sorry to bother you but I believe you dropped something.” Billie handed her a brochure somebody had left by the mailboxes.
“Thank you.” The woman took it without looking at it.
“That’s a beautiful vase.” Billie took a few steps inside.
“It’s an urn. It contains the ashes of my beloved mother.”
Billie looked around. The apartment was sparsely furnished, as if its occupants would vacate any time.
“Who’s that, Bunnie?” A male voice called from the bedroom.
“A police officer.”
“What does he want?”
“May I see the urn?” Billie took it before the woman could grab it. It slipped from her hands and out fell a jumble of glistening gems—rings, a diamond necklace, bracelets.
Later, at the police station, her boss asked, “What tipped you off?”
“The names—Bunnie and Claude Whiting. Bonnie and Clyde—now don’t knock it. When the salesclerks both said the woman and a man were there, I got to thinking they might be somehow connected—working together. Then when I got to the apartment, I worked on the premise that if they were the culprits, they wouldn’t have had a chance to hawk the jewels yet. So it would be somewhere in the apartment in plain sight. When I saw the urn that could pass off as a vase . . .”
“How did you find their apartment?”
“I took a chance in following the woman, and when I looked at the mailboxes and the names, I had to go with a hunch.”