"My brother is a gutter rat!" the woman said as she smothered her cigarette butt onto a chipped and blackened saucer. "Just because Bernard plays the piano, he thinks he's God's gift to the world."
Inspector Fisher's hat was sitting on the table beside him and he adjusted it nervously. When Bernard Rompier's sister had first opened her apartment door, Fisher had high hopes. After all, she was thirty something with brown hair, blue eyes, and a slim figure. But then she'd opened her mouth and everything was back to business.
"I'd like to say Bernard wasn't always that way, but he was," she went on, "ever since we were kids, he's been wrapped up in Bernard and how wonderful Bernard is. He figures that since he plays the piano so good he's too good for everything else us normal people have to do."
She leaned forward. "I usually tell people that, The fame hasn't corrupted my brother, he was already corrupted, if anything it's the other way around."
The last part didn't make any sense to Fisher so he decided to skip it. "How often do you see him?"
She shrugged. "We see each other on holidays and that sort of thing. I work all day to keep a roof over my head. I lost my husband in the war and so Bernard is the closest thing my little Richie has to a father. Ain't that a scream?" She shook her head and took out another cigarette to keep things going. "Don't get me wrong, Bernard always gives Richie nice presents, I will say that for him. He's not stingy with his money. He's helped me out a little here and there. Not as much as he could have I'm sure. And for Richie's last birthday, Bernard gave him a shiny new red bicycle."
She held the cigarette up and waited for Fisher to play the gentleman. He obliged but he didn't enjoy it. She puffed.
Fisher leaned back. "Did you ever meet a woman named Loretta Newcastle?"
"Nope. I read about her in the papers, though. Isn't she's the one who got herself bumped off last week? Over in some high-end neighborhood in Magnolia?"
Fisher nodded. "That's right."
"So this Loretta broad must have been my brother's newest fling? Otherwise, you wouldn't be here asking me about Bernard? I saw her picture and she was pretty enough for my brother. Bernard only dates beautiful women. Nope, I never met her, but I knew that Bernard liked the current one."
"Did he say that?"
"No, but there was something in the way he talked about her; something different. I thought that maybe, for once in his miserable life, he might actually like a woman as much as himself. Not more than himself, mind you, that would have been a miracle. But he might have actually had a thing for this Loretta. And now she's the one who's dead. Ah, what an awful break."
"Did you ever meet a woman named Sarah O'Reilly?"
"Yeah, she was last year, or maybe it was earlier this year. A dancer, I think. Not that kind of a dancer; she was respectable; a ballerina or something classy. Bernard won't hang around the other kind. He only likes women with class and talent. Sarah was all right, though. But she must have been too smart for Bernard, cause their engagement didn't last long."
"They were engaged?"
"Briefly." She puffed her cigarette. "Last spring Bernard was running low on cash. That happens to artists too apparently, but Bernard's too good to economize. The musician must have his lifestyle." She mocked sarcastically. "Sarah told me last April that they were engaged and she'd loaned him a tidy pile of cash. It must have been quite a bundle because he also managed to buy himself a new car and all new furniture for his flat."
"That was generous of Miss O'Reilly."
"Oh, sure it was. But next thing I know, I'm reading in the newspapers that she's disappeared. I asked Bernard but he played stupid; said she'd joined a ballet company in Chicago. And gave it his cool cat routine. He always had some excuse when his ladies have had enough. But I knew she'd loaned him the dough."
"Do you know where she is now?"
"No idea. Maybe my brother was telling the truth for once and she really did head out to Chicago. I met Sarah O'Reilly, and let me tell you, that girl had brains. She could have done anything."
"Do you know if your brother and Miss O'Reilly were on intimate terms?"
Bernard's sister stopped talking and smirked. She slowly drew on her cigarette and exhaled. "Inspector Fisher, I'm sure you're not asking me about my brother's sexual relations," she paused.
She smiled and resumed, "Although I suspect he has them. If you're asking me if Sarah O'Reilly could have been in the family way, I have no idea. We weren't close and I'm sure she wouldn't have confided in me if she was pregnant."
"What about their relationship otherwise; was it good?"
"If you're asking me whether or not my brother ever hit her, I can only tell you that as far as I know, he's a vein cad but not a violent one."
"What do you think happened to her?" Fisher asked.
"I think Bernard just got bored with her, or he met a new woman. Either way, he would have called off the engagement. That way, he wouldn't have to pay her back. That's the kind of louse he is. But it's always possible that Sarah realized she was louse, and she decided to cut her losses. Either way, she's free from him. Like I said, Sarah O'Reilly had brains."
Five minutes later, Fisher thanked Bernard's sister and put his hat on. That was three for three. Bernard's neighbor, a bass player he sometimes played with at a jazz club on Elliott, and now his own sister; all confirming three pertinent facts. First, that Miss Sarah O'Reilly and Rompier were not only involved, they were briefly engaged. Second, while they were engaged, Sarah O'Reilly loaned Bernard Rompier a sizable sum of money. And third, shortly after loaning him that money, Sarah O'Reilly disappeared without a trace.
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