I woke, got showered and still couldn’t figure out what the note was about. While I still thought it was a load of hooey, having recently solved ‘The Case of the Poor Detective and the Non-paying Client’, I found myself with little time on my hands so decided that I’d be good to my word and delve a little deeper. I ducked in to the office to feed Ella, then swung by the Cup ‘O’ Joe for some chow. Breakfast rush was still on and Nancy didn’t have time to chat, so I grabbed a paper from the counter and flicked through while I was waiting. It was a pretty slow news day. The city traffic wardens were threatening to go on strike - bet nobody wants that to last for more than, say, a couple of years. The Mayor was opening an exhibition at the Lincoln Museum tonight. Somebody was proposing that Thanksgiving be moved to August so ‘It’s not so close to Christmas.’, and the crime figures were up 5% on last year. I could almost hear Captain Russo yelling ‘I told you so.’ from here.
I flipped over to the sports pages and started reading about last night’s Giants game while I ate.
The wind was getting up, and I had to hang on to my hat as I made my way up to the 18th. As I went in, I was met by the usual crowd of weirdos and whackjobs that seem to be drawn to Police stations like a herd of elephants to a bun.
Pat must have been off today, so I spoke to the Sergeant on duty and signed out a pass. He buzzed me through and I left the crazy on the other side of the barrier.
After a couple of minutes I found my way down to the archive room. For years, this had been my office when I was the data wrangler here. It had been my job to take requests from Detectives, and trawl for relevant information, make connections and so on. Now and again a Detective would come down and do his own research, but most of it was requests. Since I’d left, the inevitable cutbacks had meant that ‘wrangler’ was cut down to a part time job, and now a young policewoman by the name of Lucy Baines did wrangling in the afternoons while carrying out other duties in the morning.
My AC licence was of a sufficient level that it gave me access to the archive room, and unsurprisingly, at this time of day I had the place to myself.
I put my hat and coat over a chair and sat down. As I did, the proximity of my pass fired up the machine on the desk. I cracked my knuckles and pulled up the search engine list.
Like I may have mentioned before - the net ain’t as free and open as you might think. What Joe Public gets to see and what the privileged few get to see are a bit different. I pulled up a search engine I guarantee you’ve never heard of, and looked for :
The machine churned away for a few seconds and started spilling data across the screen. I refined the search to her personal information, found her registration id, and with that, got enough private information on her to give a civil liberties campaigner a heart attack.
I searched again, this time for information specifically related to her burglaries, or at least the ones that had been attributed to her. She’d been a busy girl. Mostly in the USA, and most of them in the New York area, but a few across the country, and a couple in Europe. Always went for jewellery, usually single pieces. Often it had taken a while for anyone to realise that there had been a burglary, as there was rarely a sign of a break in. But when the homeowner did check the safe or whatever, they’d find their sparklers missing and a small plain business card with a lipstick X on it. It had never been made public, but forensics had established that the lipstick was a particular brand and colour, that was no longer being made by the time the robberies started, and had only been available from a couple of stores in Paris. Not that it had helped the Police. I read a couple of the reports. A team, headed up by a Detective Renko had been on her trail for some time, but just came up against dead end after dead end. One of their biggest problems was the fact that none of the stolen pieces ever turned up. Most thieves get caught because somebody else knows something, and they either get encouraged, or leaned on sufficiently, to talk. It looked like Victoria had never fenced any of the stolen items, so didn’t leave any loose ends.
I made a mental note to ask her about it.
I then started cross checking the victims of her thefts. If anyone was going to be out for revenge, then presumably it would be one of them. Without exception, insurance records showed that the victims had been covered, and paid out for their losses. That got rid of one motive, although I could understand that a cheque for $20,000 wasn’t quite the same as Great-Auntie Mathilda’s wedding ring.
From what I knew of the well heeled and their insurance arrangements, the cheque was probably worth a darn sight more…
I had a quick look at her parents. William and Marianne Wilde. Wealthy, well to do. A place in New York and another in Aspen. He’d made his money in stockbroking, and it looked like Mrs W. had been independently wealthy before they married. Thanks Mom and Dad! I thought about my own parents. They’d left NYC and moved out west with my younger brother when I was 18. I decided to stay. They were great folks, but if I was ever going to be ‘independently wealthy’ courtesy of my Ma and Pa, it’d be because they won the State lottery and then died from shock!
I was thinking of calling it a day when I remembered something else Victoria had said. A few minutes work, and I had a thumbnail sketch of ‘Uncle Richard’. Another of the independently wealthy types, he’d done ok for himself as a property dealer, and still dabbled in it, but had made his fortune on the professional poker circuit. From a few old magazine articles I found, sounded like Victoria was right. He was the black sheep of the family. A few gossip columns had hinted at a falling out between him and Victoria’s father.
These days he seemed to have a finger in several pies, one of which was the bookshop ‘The Manhattan Book Co’, that Victoria worked in.
I stood up to go and grabbed my coat. As I did, the note fell out. I glanced at it one last time, and the Latin gobbledigook caught my eye again. I sat down again, and typed :
Much the same info came back. I clicked on a couple of links at random. It was the Latin name for a swallow, the first one said.
The Latin name for a Swallow or a Martin said another.
In the back of my head, like that crazy French hunchback guy, the word Martin started ringing a bell.
Somewhere today I’d already heard ‘Martin’, and I don’t do coincidences. I printed the page out, shut the machine down and headed out.
o o o o o
A train ride later, and I found myself walking past Gramercy Park. Two blocks later and I stood eating a bagel while I looked at the Manhattan Book Co across the way.
I wiped my fingers and, dodging the traffic on the way, crossed the street.
The Manhattan Book Co turned out to be a large place that was pretty new but had had a lot of dough spent on it to make it look old. Plenty of wood. Reading tables, and proper shelves, rather than just books piled up which is what I remember bookshops usually being like, not that I go in them very often.
Hey! I don’t get time to read so much - I’m a busy guy.
I browsed and listened to the laid back jazz coming over the stereo. There’s definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon.
I caught the attention of a young girl who was carrying a couple of boxes.
“Excuse me, Miss? Is Victoria Wilde around today?”
“Vicky?” she said. “Yeah, sure, she’s upstairs. Stairs are in back.”
I thanked her, and headed in the direction she’d nodded.
The second floor was much the same. I looked around and saw Victoria with a customer, so flicked through the collected works of Shakespeare while I waited. Don’t know what people see in him myself - guy couldn’t even spell!
As she finished up, Victoria noticed me and came over.
“Mr Able?” She frowned. “Turned anything up.”
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “Got a minute?”
She looked at her watch.
“I’m on break in five minutes. There’s a coffee shop called ‘Al’s’ on the corner. I’ll see you in there.”
As I turned back to the stairs, she called out.
“Black, no sugar.”
o o o o o
I found Al’s and got two cups of coffee and a couple of pastries. Victoria looked like she had the sort of shape that required three laps of Central Park a day, so I figured they were both safe, but when she arrived she dug into one anyway.
“I’ll run an extra twenty minutes tomorrow.” she said, through a mouthful of Danish. “So. What have you got?”
“Nothing, to be honest. Just something bugging me. Does ‘Martin’ mean anything to you?”
“Martin? Who’s Martin?” she asked.
“I don’t even know if it’s a who,” I said, “but your ‘Hirundinidae’ is a Swallow or a Martin, Swallow doesn’t mean anything to me, but Martin’s been bugging me…”
She shook her head.
“If I think of anything I’ll let you know. Anything else?”
“Well I had got some questions about your previous… career.” I said. “The more I know, the more likely I am to figure who might be sending the notes. What time do you get off work?”
“Well I finish at six, but I usually meet my friend Brenda on a Friday night. How about brunch tomorrow?”
We set a time and place and she headed back to work, while I finished picking over the crumbs on the plate.
I turned things over in my mind as I headed for the office. I’d got some vague threat - what was it ‘Vengeance shall be had for crimes you committed’ or something? Of course I was assuming that this was in some way related to the jewellery thefts. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask if she’d got anything else on her criminal record that I ought to know about. Certainly nothing had turned up on the search, but maybe there was some other stuff that she had got away with. There ain’t no criminal record if you never get caught.
I sat on the couch and tickled Ella while I went through the stuff that I’d printed off earlier. A couple of hours later and the phone woke me from where I’d dozed off.
“Chuck Able - Private Investigator.”
“Mr Able? It’s Vicky. Brenda couldn’t make it tonight, so do you want to get something to eat and I’ll see if I can answer some of your questions?”
We settled on a pizza place halfway between the bookshop and my office. I found a quiet table where we were unlikely to be disturbed, and we both looked down the menu.
“So. Get blown out by your friend?” I asked.
“Oh no, not really.” she said. “She has to work tonight. She’s over at the Lincoln Museum and the Mayor’s opening an exhibition tonight. I think it’s all hands on de...”
I looked up as she trailed off.
“No… no…” she said. “I…”
She suddenly started digging in her handbag.
“Brenda told me about the exhibition last week.” she said. “Gave me a flyer. Here…”
She pulled out a folded card from her bag, looked at it and slid it across the table.
I smoothed the flyer out.
‘An exhibition of early 20th Century jewellery by European Master Craftsmen. For 5 weeks only. The Martin Gallery at The Lincoln Museum, New York.’
I looked up from the flyer.
“I don’t do coincidences.”