Chapter 5 Artists and Lovers

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The record player stopped. Bernard Rompier snuffed out his cigarette and came back indoors. He scowled around the room, and particularly at Jerry, before sitting down at the grand piano. Without any obvious effort, he slipped into a sultry jazz number. Riggs couldn't tell how much of it was improvised but it was flawless. Bernard's fingers danced on the keys like a fallen leaf flitting along a tumbling brook, irregular and unpredictable but absolutely perfect. From the sofa, the secretary, Jerry Tannenbaum, glanced at Woodrow and noticed Riggs for the first time. He said something to Hattie and the two of them stood up and came over.

Woodrow turned to Riggs. "This is Inspector Riggs. Inspector, this is my secretary, Jerry Tannenbaum, and this charming young lady is Miss Hattie Lake."

Jerry was older than Riggs had initially guessed; probably closer to 30. He had a muscular, athletic build, with wide shoulders, and sandy blond hair. Hattie Lake was a pretty young woman in her mid-twenties. She had medium brown hair and a figure that fit ideally into the most fashionable dresses. She shook Riggs's hand. "It's nice to meet you, Inspector."

"The police?" Jerry repeated. His voice was solid and steady. He glanced over his shoulder at Bernard Rompier and back to his boss with a questioning look.

Woodrow shook his head. "No, Inspector Riggs is investigating something else in the neighborhood."

The music stopped while the musician took a break to pour himself a drink.

Jerry smiled and said, "Well if there's anything I can do to help you, Inspector, please don't hesitate to ask."

From the across the room, Bernard Rompier joined in loudly, "Oh, yes, the fat cat we need in any situation is Mr. Jerry Tannenbaum. He's a hero and I'm sure there isn't anything he couldn't manage."

Jerry turned irritably and objected. "Cool your heels, Bernard, or folks might start to think you're sour."

"But we all want you!" the pianist insisted sarcastically. He sat down abruptly, plopped his iced tumbler directly on the piano and broke into a trite melody on the keys. "Why?" he continued childishly, "Because you were in the Special Combat Unit, of course, as everyone knows. Fat hero. In fact, Jerry boy, is so hip to danger, he probably won the entire war all by himself." Bernard played a melodramatic string of notes that ended in triumphant mockery.

Jerry grumbled under his breath, but Woodrow Kent rested his hand on Jerry's arm for a moment and walked over to the musician. "Bernard, you've been in a foul temper all evening. Look, Loretta obviously isn't coming and you want to be fresh for your opening tomorrow. How about if I telephone a cab?"

Bernard waved his hand dismissively. "I was only joking, Woodrow. Your secretary can take a joke. Can't you, Jerry? But you are my host and if you say I've been rude, I'm terribly sorry and I will reform myself and behave like a respectable square for the rest of the evening." He stood up on the piano bench and gave a grand low bow. "With my apologies, Ladies and Gentlemen!" When he straightened up again, he noticed the inspector. "What have we here? More competition?" Bernard smiled and whispered loudly, "But this old gray goat is square. Looks, yes, but he doesn't stand a chance with my fair lady."

Bernard walked over to Riggs and put his hand forward. "May I introduce myself, Sir? Bernard Rompier. If you happen to like jazz and rhythm I'm your magician, but if you don't care for the swing'n stuff then I'm just a conceited beatnik who makes noise. And I do make noise."

Riggs had expected him to smell of alcohol, but all he could smell was a mixture of expensive hair treatment, cigarettes, and musky cologne.

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