The stage. 8:20 PM.
“We should change our name to the Dead Mascots,” the yappy one was saying. “The Smooth Moves sounds like a laxative.”
Behind a heavy curtain, Benny leaned forward to listen. He wished he’d thought to take Virginia’s martini, so he could look a bit more natural standing there.
“How ’bout the Backstabbing Chois?” the other guy said with a guffaw.
“Hey, that’s not bad. The Backstabbing Chois.”
“You gotta admit, it was kind of idiotically brilliant. Impersonate a cheerleader, make off with the diamond and the cash, and meanwhile the police are dredging the river for a goddamn blonde.”
Diamond, Benny thought. So Virginia was right, this was really about an actual diamond. Benny’s heart was beating faster. When they’d watched the video footage of the bridge, he’d assumed the shadowy men flanking the bridge were using the word diamond as some kind of code. Benny leaned as close to the curtain as he could without being discovered.
“Shit, man, where the hell did he stash that diamond?” the gruff one was saying.
“Cliff, you gotta get over it. At least we have all the Carnegies’ crap. I bet it’s worth a ton.”
“We were supposed to have a diamond, now we have a yard sale?”
Then the curtains flew open, and Benny was so startled that he tripped over himself and fell backward onto the stage.
“Who’s this kid?” he heard the gruff voice yelling. “Hey, get back here!”
But Benny was already on his feet and running to the door.
The corner booth. 8:25 PM.
Virginia boredly sipped her martini. Angie was telling her this rambling, made-up-sounding story about how the Carnegies were suddenly broke, and jazz musicians were stealing all their furniture.
“And they gave us this really mocking cake,” she added angrily.
What the hell is a mocking cake? Virginia thought. She studied Angie’s face for signs that she was on drugs or experiencing a psychotic break. But she seemed perfectly calm and poised—not at all like the blubbering wreck she’d encountered yesterday in the bathroom. That had been Brittany, she was certain now. She remembered the way Brittany had moaned and cried at the prospect of owing Virginia 40 dollars for the smashed perfume. Actually that made sense now, if what Angie said about being broke was true.
She was about to bring this up when she saw Benny hurrying from the stage toward the exit. He had a panicked look in his eye and was motioning frantically for them to follow.
“Angie, come on. We’re leaving.”
The parking lot. 8:45 PM.
“Here’s what I think happened,” Benny said. He and Angie and Virginia were sitting in the back of Angie’s gardener’s pickup truck. The trucked was parked close the club’s flickering blue neon sign, and they could hear the buzz of electricity. Angie had started braiding Virginia’s hair.
“Do you have to do that?” Virginia said, tilting her head back so Angie wouldn’t yank on it.
“It relaxes me,” Angie said.
“Well it doesn’t relax me.”
“Ahem, is anyone interested in this?” Benny asked.
“Sure, fine, whatever,” Angie said with a sigh.
Benny and Virginia exchanged a look. Angie didn’t seem particularly grateful for Mystery Club’s intervention. Benny was tempted to just leave her there and hash out the case on his own with Virginia. But the Carnegies were integral to these events, and it was Angie’s right to know what was going on with her family.
“The most important challenge in solving a mystery,” Benny began, “is identifying the person at its center—the basic force that provides orbit for the other players. In our case, that person is Mr. Choi.”
“Ew, that perv?” Angie said.
“He wasn’t a pervert,” Benny corrected. “He was just greedy. Mr. Choi was supposed to arrange a trade between the Carnegies and this jazz band, the Smooth Moves. Cash for a diamond.”
“The Smooth Moves?” Angie scoffed.
“Ow!” Virginia said. “You’re pulling my hair.”
“OK, let’s focus, shall we? Presumably the trade was supposed to take place at Friday night’s game. But instead of moderating the deal, he stole the diamond and the cash for himself, cheating both parties. He orchestrated that bizarre scene in the woods in order to create a pandemonium that would make it easier for him to slip away. And he filmed the entire scene, thinking he could use the footage later as security against the Carnegies, who were clearly engaging in some sort of theft ring with these jazz players. Not a bad plan, actually. Except he made two fatal mistakes.”
“What?” Angie asked. She let go of Virginia’s hair, finally starting to seem interested.
“I know the first one,” Virginia cut in. “The footage was crap. You couldn’t see anyone’s faces.”
“Correct,” Benny said. “And the second?”
Virginia thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I guess I don’t know.”
“He died,” Benny said simply. “It was literally a fatal mistake. The jump killed him. It was supposed to be his escape route, but in the end it was his doom.”
In the end it was his doom, Virginia repeated in her mind. She’d never met anyone who actually said stuff like that. She looked at Benny. “Nicely deducted,” she said.
“Thanks,” Benny said, suddenly embarrassed to look her in the eye.
“Where’s the diamond, then?” Virginia demanded.
“I’m afraid we’ll never know,” Benny said, sighing. “That information died with Choi.”
“Wait,” Virginia said suddenly. She looked at Benny, a huge grin on her face. “I know exactly where it is.”