A Sydney Reardon Mystery

      If Ian was there he was not answering. Sydney let it ring. He'd never have a machine answer for him. Too ordinary. She shook her head. She didn't have a machine, either. But the hotel had a switchboard. He just might not wish to speak to her-or to anyone. Finally she returned the receiver.
            For the umpteenth time she looked at her watch. It would still be hours before she could reach Kim in New York.
            "Come in," Sydney called when there was a knock. She had, many of her friends thought, a bad habit of not securing locks.
            Ian opened the door and came in, for him tentatively.
            "I've been calling you."
            "I thought you might have been. May I explain?"
            "I was transporting the object for a rich client as I told you. What I didn't tell you was that he was paying a million pounds. I didn't know it was stolen."
            "Somehow I don't believe you."
            "Somehow I thought you wouldn't, darling."
            "You stole that object and you let me set Kim up."
            "I removed the object from the museum as you are surmising. Had it removed, actually. Everything would have been all right but Danny O'Rahilly tricked me."
            "Who's Danny O'Rahilly?"
            "The magician?"
            "He's done several jobs for me over the years and performed well. This important one he botched. He killed the guard. He didn't tell me the plaster replacement was broken. It's all his fault."
            "Oh, Jesus! And you killed Danny O'Rahilly."
            He moved toward her casually, his coat open, his hands in his pockets. It shouldn't have been threatening, but it was. Sydney took a step back and too late realized she was standing in the open doorway, the balcony behind her. She panicked, remembering a conversation she and Townie had once about a scene in a play in which she was attacked and knew she would be killed.
            "I would scream," she had told him. "And scream and SCREAM!"
            That was the way she played the scene. Audiences loved it. So did the critics, she remembered. It was all true, your life flashed past in a matter of seconds when you were about to die.
            Ian had removed a small gun from his pocket and was advancing slowly.
            She didn't scream.
            "Shoot me, please," she murmured. It was a desperate plea.
            Yes, the balcony was behind her and she had never stepped out on it in all the years since she first came here as a child.
            He was still moving slowly toward her, a small smile playing around his lips.
            "This is a shame," he said softly. "I'm truly fond of you."
            She stepped back yet another foot.
            "Please shoot me."
            "Far too messy. And the five-floor fall is much more accidental in point of fact." He returned the gun to his pocket. He knew by now that she was immobilized like a frightened mouse being taunted by a lazy cat that could wait as long as it wished before springing.
            He took an almost idle step forward.
            Sydney did not step back.
            They were face to face, only inches apart.
            "I don't expect this is going to be easy. For either of us."
            She thought she was speaking but there was no sound. Her head was spinning. Her knees gave way. She didn't fall. She crumpled.
            She was tall but she was slim. Ian lifted her without effort and rolled her gently over the low railing.
            He didn't have to look. He had checked the awning as he passed on his way to the back stairs. A clean drop to the concrete. It was much easier than he had anticipated. For both of them.
            "So sorry, old dear."
            No one had seen him enter.
            No one saw him leave.
            He cut through the service drive to White Horse and joined the foot traffic moving away from Piccadilly.