Chapter 16 Hip Cat Stays Cool

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Victoria stood next to the Bell Town Manor and looked up. It had stopped raining but the thick cloud cover was holding its position. Riggs stepped up to her and adjusted his hat.

Victoria frowned. "And why am I here?"

Riggs rubbed his mustache. "Because everyone seems to agree that Bernard Rompier has a big head and I've got a hunch he'll be more incline to brag—and make mistakes—if he's got more people to impress." Riggs pushed the door open.

"Oh, that's a relief," Victoria said sarcastically. "Because I was afraid you drug me along just because I'm pretty."

"You're trying to solve a murder," Riggs clarified. "Your looks are your own problem."

They went into the tall brick building. The lobby was modern but not overly ornate and the brass elevator was polished to a reflective shine. On the fourth floor they got out and found Rompier's door. It was painted black. As they neared it, Victoria smelled what seemed to be a mixture of spicy incense and men's aftershave.

Riggs knocked and the man who Victoria had seen the museum opened the door. He was wearing a black turtleneck, a brown cardigan that looked like cashmere, and his goatee was perfectly shaved.

He glared at the inspector.

At first, Victoria thought he going to say something rude, but when he saw her he paused. He sized her up slowly and finally swung the door open as though it were a declaration. "Come on in, Inspector." He turned to Victoria and took her hand gallantly. "My name is Rompier. But you may call me Bernard."

She took his hand and smiled. "Victoria."

"The pleasure is mine, Victoria."

He didn't seem to recognize her.

Bernard led them into the vast living room with high ceilings, tall lead-paned windows and exposed brick walls. He directed his visitors to sit down by pointing at the sofa.

"I was about to have some smoked fished and toasted sourdough bread," he explained. "It's so palatable I have it delivered from Pike's Market every Sunday. You are welcome to partake."

The Inspector declined and Bernard addressed Victoria. "How about you, Victoria? I had intended to share it with a woman after all."

"Thank you, "Victoria said, "but I had a late breakfast."

"Suit yourself." Bernard smiled. He went to an open kitchen and made some noise in the cupboard and refrigerator. Victoria glanced around. There was a grand piano in the middle of the room with an enormous mirror on the wall behind it. The furnishings were sharply modern. The air was fresh but with a subtle hint of cologne and tobacco. Bernard came back with a plate of pink salmon, a dish of apples, some butter and toasted sourdough bread. He laid it on the coffee table just as a bubbling sound started from the kitchen. He left and came back with a shiny silver pot and three miniature cups.

Riggs frowned.

Rompier poured a thick black liquid into each cup and pushed two of them towards his guests. "Espresso," he explained and he took his own and sipped it. The aroma was delightful and Victoria accepted it willingly.

Riggs eyed the tiny cup suspiciously.

"Mr. Rompier, I need to ask you a few routine questions."

"You'll have to keep it snappy," Bernard said as tore off a corner of his bread and tossed it in his mouth. "I'm performing tonight at the Paramount. I'm still healing and it might take me hours to get groove back into my fingers." He snapped his fingers once on each hand and turned to Riggs.

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