I let my hand fall on her shoulder, just hard enough to bring her up short. “Just a minute, miss,” I said.
She stiffened. And then turned slowly and looked at me as if I had crawled out from under one of the potted plants. “I beg your pardon?” she said in a wintry voice.
“You and I need to have a little chat.”
“I am not in the habit of chatting with strange men.”
“I think you’ll make an exception in my case.”
Her eyes flashed angrily. “If you don’t let go of me this instant,” she said, “I’ll call for hotel security.”
“Will you? I don’t think so.”
“I most certainly will.”
“All right,” I said, “but you’ll be wasting your breath. I’m hotel security. Head of it, as a matter of fact. What used to be known as the house detective.”
She went pale. But she didn’t lose her composure. “Well? What do you want with me?”
“That little chat I mentioned.”
I steered her toward the hotel lounge, not far away. She didn’t resist. It was early enough so that the lounge was mostly deserted; I sat her down in a booth away from the bar and then crowded in alongside her. One of the waiters started our way but I waved him off.
The woman sat glaring at me with enough chill to freeze a side of beef. She was in her mid-twenties, I judged, and very attractive: slim, regal-looking, with brown eyes and seal-brown hair worn short and on the frizzy side. I said appreciatively, “Without a doubt you’re the most beautiful dip I’ve ever encountered.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Dip is underworld slang for pickpocket.”
She tried to affect indignation. “Are you insinuating that…?”
“Oh, come on,” I said. “I saw you lift Andrew Stuyvesant’s wallet and diamond stickpin. I was about fifteen feet away at the time.”
Her gaze slid away from mine. Long, slender fingers toyed with the catch on her purse. Then her shoulders slumped and she sighed–a deep, tragic sigh.
“There’s no point in denying it,” she said. “Yes, I stole those things.”
I took the bag from her and snapped it open. Stuyvesant’s wallet, with the needle point of the stickpin now embedded in the leather, lay on top of the various feminine articles inside. I removed both items, looked at her identification to get her name and address, and then reclosed the bag and gave it back to her.
She said, “Please understand. I’m not really a thief–not the kind you think, anyway. I have a… compulsion to take things. From people, from stores, wherever I happen to be when the urge comes over me. And I’m powerless to stop myself.”
“Yes. I’ve been to three different psychiatrists during the past two years, but they’ve been unable to cure me.”
I shook my head sympathetically. “It must be terrible for you.”
“Terrible,” she agreed. “When… when my father learns of this latest episode, he’ll have me put into a sanatorium.” Her voice quavered on the last word, and kept on quavering as she said, “He threatened to do just that if I ever stole anything again, and he doesn’t make idle threats.”