For the most part, they ignored me.
The tour actually started in the basement, where Messer had built an enormous German beer garden. It had a large, environmentally controlled wine cellar, an exquisite handmade pool table, and a mahogany bar that was bigger than the one at Rickie’s. Upstairs we toured an immense kitchen, a breakfast nook, a dining room, a library, a music room with a grand piano and a hired pianist, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, three sitting rooms, a solarium, and a game room that had stained glass skylights facing north so the sun wouldn’t warm the place—after all, there was no AC when Messer built his dream house. It was stunning to think that after Kathryn left him he had lived in it all alone.
There were several decorators strategically placed throughout the house, and they and the tour guide emphasized that each room had been restored to it original condition for purposes of the tour. (It was suggested that the new owners would bring in their plasma TVs, PCs, CD players, and microwave ovens after we all left.) The Bellini landscapes on the wall had belonged to Messer, as well as most of the books on the shelves and the crystal and china in the dining room. There was a line drawing of a child building a house out of cards in the corridor with the legend LE PETITE ARCHITECTE that Messer was supposed to have received from his bride on their wedding day.
There were three framed photographs in the master bedroom as well. On the table next to the bed was a head-and-shoulders shot of Kathryn looking both lovely and earnest. I recognized her immediately from the photo she had taken with Frank Nash in Guardino’s Italian Restaurant. A second was placed on a dresser. It showed Kathryn and Messer dressed in what can only be described as a rich man’s idea of cowboy garb; she was sitting on the running board of a car with Messer posed next to her as if they were both intrepid adventurers. The third, a much larger photograph, was taken on their wedding day and was mounted on the wall. Kathryn was radiant, her veil flapping in the breeze, her arm hooked around Messer’s. He was dressed in a tuxedo cut in the English style and clutched a top hat in his free hand. He looked indescribably happy.
I caught Dahlin staring at the photographs and wondered what he was thinking. I was surprised when he told me.
“My mother gave all this up to sleep with a gangster,” he said. “What the fuck?”
Finally we were standing in Messer’s office, the six of us plus most of the tour group; the rest were forced to peek into the small room through the doorway. There was a large partners’ desk, the kind with drawers on both sides, a Jacques Garcia Tuileries chair and ottoman, scroll book boxes, a floor lamp, an ivy pot, a smoking stand, an hourglass, a framed clock, and a stuffed owl. Yet what I was staring at—what all six of us were staring at—was the waist-high oak wainscot paneling behind the desk.
The guide said something about the strong, masculine feel of the room and quiet contemplation and escaping the pressures of the day, but we weren’t listening. Nor did we follow when she shooed the rest of the tour out of the office and down the corridor. Instead, we stood there, just stood there, mute, staring at the wall for what seemed like a long time.
“What if it’s not there?” Nina said.
“What if it is?” Heavenly replied.
“The residence has a pretty sound security system,” I said. “Just in case anybody is considering a little breaking and entering. We might have to add another partner.”
“The man who bought the house?” Dahlin said.
“It’s his property.”
Whitlow stepped forward. We were warned before the tour began to not touch anything, but his hands were all over the wall searching for a switch to open the magic door.
“Why don’t you yell open sesame,” I said. “Abracadabra.”
“Oh, hell,” Dahlin said. He stepped around the desk, took Whitlow by the arm, and pulled him away. Without a word, he kicked the paneling with the flat of his shoe—and kept kicking it.
“No,” I said. “Mr. Dahlin—”
He didn’t do much damage. A moment later Allen joined him.
His heavy foot brought the young guide running.
“What are you doing?” she said. “Are you crazy?” Her pretty voice was not made for screaming. It had a high-pitched, whining quality that was almost laughable, and when she started chanting, “Stop it, stop it,” I did laugh. “I’m calling the police,” she shouted and ran in horror from the office.