THE LOTTERY WINNER
ALVIRAH AND WILLY STORIES
from "The Lottery Winner"
"Alvirah. Come at once. I need you desperately!"
Alvirah's eyes snapped open. In a split second she emerged from a comfortable dream in which she was at a state dinner at the White House to the reality of being awakened at three in the morning by a pealing telephone, followed by the panicky voice of Baroness Min von Schreiber.
"Min, what's wrong?" she cried.
Willy grunted awake beside her. "Honey, what's the matter?" he mumbled.
Alvirah laid a soothing hand across his lips. "Sshhh." Then she repeated, "Min, what's wrong?"
Min's tragic groan rushed across the continent from the Cypress Point Spa in Pebble Beach, California, to the luxury apartment on Central Park South. "We are going to be ruined. There is a jewel thief among the guests. Mrs. Hayward's diamonds have disappeared from the wall safe in her cottage."
"Saints preserve us," Alvirah said. "What is Scott doing about it?" Scott Alshorne, the sheriff of Monterey County, had befriended Alvirah when she helped solve a murder at the spa a few years earlier.
"Oh, dear me, it's so complicated. We cannot call Scott," Min said, her voice uneven. "Nadine Hayward is hysterical. She doesn't dare admit to her husband that the insurance lapsed on the diamonds. She persuaded him to give the handling of their personal insurance policies to her son by her first marriage so he'd get the commission, and he gambled the premium check away. The insurance company would be responsible because her son was their agent, but then he would be prosecuted, and she can't bring herself to file a claim and have him sent to prison. So she has some wild idea of having paste copies made of the diamonds to fool her husband."
By now Alvirah was fully awake. "Having paste copies worked in 'The Necklace' by de Maupassant. I wonder if Mrs. Hayward has read it."
"De MOWpassant, not de MOPpassant," Min corrected. Then she sighed heavily. "Alvirah, it is ridiculous to let anyone get away with stealing four million dollars' worth of jewelry. We can't just ignore this. Another theft could occur. You must rush here. I need you. You must take charge of identifying the culprit. As my guest, of course. And bring Willy. He could use the exercise classes. I shall assign him a personal trainer."
Fifteen hours later the limousine carrying Willy and Alvirah passed the Pebble Beach Club, then the estates lining Shore Drive. It rounded the bend, passing the tree that gave the Cypress Point Spa its name. Driving through the ornate iron gates of the spa, the car wound its way toward the main house, a rambling three-story ivory stucco mansion with pale blue shutters. Even though she was exhausted, Alvirah's eyes were snapping with anticipation.
"I love this place," she told Willy. "I hope Min gave us Tranquility. it's my favorite cottage. I remember the first time I came here. It was right after we won the lottery, and the prospect of spending a week hobnobbing with all the celebrities made me think I'd died and gone to heaven."
"I know, honey," Willy said.
"It was the beginning of ending out how the other half lives. What a lesson! Why --" Alvirah stopped suddenly, realizing she'd been about to remind Willy that when she'd helped to solve a murder at the spa, she'd almost gotten herself killed doing it.
It was obvious Willy remembered. He put his hand over hers and said, "Honey, I don't want you to get yourself in trouble worrying about somebody's lost jewelry."
"I won't. It will be fun to help out, though. It's been too quiet lately. Oh, look, there's Min."
The car had pulled up to the front door. Min came sweeping down the steps to greet them, her arms outstretched. She was wearing a blue linen dress that clung to her full but excellent figure. Her hair, not a shade different than it must have been twenty years ago, was twirled in an elaborate French twist. She was wearing pearl and gold earrings and a matching necklace; as always, she looked as though she had stepped out of a page in Vogue.
"And to think she's five years older than me," Alvirah muttered in awe. Behind Min, a stately Baron Helmut von Schreiber descended, his military carriage making him seem taller than his five feet seven. His perfectly trimmed goatee drifted a bit in the breeze as his welcoming smile revealed perfect teeth. Only the crinkles around his blue-gray eyes hinted that he was in his early fifties.
The chauffeur hopped out to open the door, but Min beat him to it. "You are true friends," she gushed, her arms open to embrace them. Suddenly she stopped and stared. "Alvirah, where did you buy that suit? It is well cut, but you must not wear beige. It washes you out." Then she stopped again, shaking her head this time. "Oh, but all of that will wait."
The chauffeur was directed to take the luggage to Tranquility cottage. "A maid will unpack for you," Min informed them. "We must talk."
Obediently they followed her up to her sumptuous office on the second floor of the mansion. Helmut closed the door and went over to the sideboard.
"Iced tea, beer, something stronger?" he asked.
Alvirah always was tickled by the fact that absolutely no liquor was allowed on the premises of Cypress Point Spa -- except in Min and Helmut's private quarters. She opted for iced tea. Willy looked pathetically grateful at the thought of a beer. Really, she thought, it had been mean to roust him out of bed in the middle of the night, but it was the only way they could make the nine o'clock flight.
Even then, they hadn't been able to get in first class, and each of them was squeezed into a middle seat, between other people. Willy's first words when they got off the plane were, "Honey, I didn't know how much I'd gotten used to the good life."
Sipping the iced tea, Alvirah got right to the point. "Min, exactly what happened? When was the robbery discovered?"
"Late yesterday afternoon. Nadine Hayward arrived on Saturday, so she'd been here three days. Her husband is staying at their condo in the Pebble Beach Club. He's in a golf tournament there. They're going on to San Francisco for a charity ball, so Nadine brought all her best jewelry and put it in the wall safe in her cottage."
"She's been here before?" Alvirah asked.
"Regularly. Ever since she married Cotter Hayward, she comes to the spa whenever he's in one of his tournaments. He's a fine amateur golfer."
Alvirah frowned. "That's what's been throwing me. There was another woman named Hayward one of the times I was here -- a couple of years ago. She was Mrs. Cotter Hayward too.'
"That was the first wife, Elyse. She still visits the spa, but usually not at the same time as Nadine. Even though she loathes Cotter, she was not happy about being replaced, especially since she unfortunately introduced the new wife to him."
"They fell in love under this roof," Helmut said with a sigh. "These things happen. But to complicate matters, Elyse is also a guest this week."
"Wait a minute," Alvirah said. "You mean to tell me that Elyse and Nadine are both here?"
"That's exactly it. Naturally we have placed them at tables distant from each other in t he dining room and arranged their schedules so they should never be in the same exercise classes."
"Alvirah, honey, I think you're getting off the subject," Willy suggested. "Why don't you stick to finding out about the robbery and then maybe we can go over to the cottage and catch a nap?"
"Oh, Willy, I'm sorry." Alvirah shook her head. "I'm so inconsiderate. Willy needs more sleep than I do, and he couldn't close an eye on the plane. His seat was between two kids who were playing checkers on his tray table. The parents wouldn't let them sit together because they fight so much."
"Why didn't the parents sit with them?" Min asked.
"They had their hands full with three-year-old twins, and you know how good hearted Willy is."
"The robbery," Willy prompted.
"This is what happened," Min said. "At five o'clock Nadine had gone to the salon to have her hair recombed. She got back to Repose cottage at ten minutes of six to find it torn apart. All the drawers had been rifled, her suitcases pulled out. Someone, or perhaps several people, had thoroughly searched every inch of the cottage."
"What were they looking for?" Alvirah asked.
"The jewelry, of course. You know how everyone gets dressed up for the evening. The women love to show off their gems to each other. Nadine had worn a diamond necklace and bracelet the night before. Someone was looking for those pieces but couldn't know that she also had the Hayward tiara, rings and two other bracelets with her as well." Min sighed then burst out, "Why did the stupid woman have to bring everything she owned? Surely she couldn't wear all of that to the charity ball."
Helmut patted her hand. "Minna, Minna, I cannot allow you to let your blood pressure rise. Think beautiful thoughts." He took up the story. "What is odd is that the intruder apparently stumbled onto the safe only after searching through everything else. It is hidden behind the picture of Minna and myself in the sitting room of the cottage."
"Wait a minute," Alvirah interrupted. "You just said that you thought someone must have seen Nadine wearing the jewelry the night before. Did she leave the spa that evening?"
"No. She was at what we jokingly call the cocktail hour, then at dinner, then at the Mozart recital in the music room."
"Then the only people who would have seen her are the other guests and the staff, and every one of them would know enough to look for the safe. All the cottages have one now." Alvirah sucked in her breath and smoothed the skirt of the beige suit she had been sure would find approval in Min's eyes. I did forget that she said beige washes me out, she thought ruefully. Oh, well.
She resumed her train of thought. "That's something else. Was the safe jimmied?"
"No. Someone knew the combination Nadine had set."
"Or was a professional and knew how to find it," Willy added. "What makes you think the thief isn't a thousand miles away right now?"
Min sighed. "Our only hope is that if it was an inside job and Alvirah can track down the perpetrator, we may be able to force him or her to return the gems. All the guests are known to us. Their reputations are impeccable. There are only three new staff members, and their movements are absolutely accounted for." Min looked suddenly ten years older. "Alvirah, this is the sort of problem that can ruin us. Cotter Hayward is a very difficult man. He will not only prosecute Nadine's son, but I also wouldn't put it past him to find some reason to hold us responsible for the theft."
"When is Nadine supposed to leave for San Francisco and the charity ball?" Alvirah asked.
"On Saturday. That gives you three days to perform a miracle."
Copyright © 1994 by Mary Higgins Clark