I ordered a pizza, she had a salad.
“So. Tell me.” I said. “How does a young lady like yourself get into housebreaking?”
“Housebreaking?” she said. “It was a bit more than housebreaking. You make me sound like a common thief.”
“Well, no offence, Miss Wilde, but...”
“Vicky. Call me Vicky.”
“Ok, Vicky. Like I say, no offence, but when it boils down to it, a common thief is what you were.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Amateur crackswoman or Gentlewoman thief.”
I looked at her.
“Raffles?” I said.
She smiled. “Two points to you, Mr Able.”
“Chuck.” I said. “If we’re on first name terms, I’m Chuck. Seriously. You’re telling me you learned everything you did by reading some hokey old stories about an English toff who stole old ladies’ necklaces?”
She finished her mouthful of rabbit food, shaking her head.
“Not quite” she said. “I read those stories when I was young, and they…”
She stared across the pizzeria for a minute.
“They inspired me, I suppose. If you read them though, you’ll see that he gets caught several times, and spends half his time broke. As a manual for a would be criminal mastermind, it falls some way short.”
“So when I was eighteen I inherited a large sum of money from my parents. It was for the future, for my further education and so on, but I took some of it and announced that I was going to go travelling. A Grand Tour if you will. I took a year and saw some fantastic places.”
She looked over at me as I was wiping marinara sauce off my chin.
“Have you travelled much, Chuck?”
“Went to Staten Island once.” I said.
“Seriously? That’s it?”
“The folks are out in Santa Barbara,” I said. “Get out there once in a while. Went to Toronto, years ago.”
“That’s about it.”
“I loved Europe best.” she said. “I spent most of my time there. Rome. Barcelona. Prague. London. Hamburg.”
Her eyes suddenly started sparkling so much that I wondered if she in fact was Pat O’Halloran’s secret lovechild.
“But my favourite was Paris. It was incredible. And that’s where I met Gilbert.”
“Gilbert was in his fifties. Came from Oxfordshire, in England, and had retired to Paris. After, as I later found out, a long and illustrious career in burglary. Met him at a party and he and I just got on like a house on fire. Nothing sordid you understand, just a meeting of minds. But we just…”
She snapped her fingers.
She pushed her empty plate away.
“He showed me Paris.” she said. “I’d been there a month, and thought I’d seen it, but he showed me the real Paris. And one night we were sitting in some little cafe on the Rue Colbert and I told him about Raffles, and how I’d dreamed of being this thief that made the headlines, and baffled the police and so on. And then he asked me if I was serious.”
She toyed with her fork.
“And I said I was.”
I motioned for her to continue.
“Over six months he taught me all sorts of stuff, and I just took to it like a duck to water. We broke in to all sorts of places. Didn’t steal anything, just broke in to prove we could.
Most of the time I don’t think anybody knew we’d ever been - Gilbert was adamant that smashing your way in was for ‘Amateurs and ruffians. A proper thief doesn’t leave a trace.’
By the time I left him I was pretty confident, but he’d taught me the value of caution and preparation. My first solo job took three months to prepare for. Gradually I got better, and the prep time went down, but the overriding thing was in and out without a trace.”
She sipped her water.
“But the only problem with that was… nobody knew it was me. Obviously I didn’t want anybody to know it was me, or that would have been that. All over. But I wanted to… I don’t know. Make a mark. So I started leaving the cards, as a sort of ‘I was here.’ ”
She looked accusingly at me.
“And I would have got away with it if it hadn’t been for this meddling Private Eye.”
“Right place at the right time.” I said.
“Not for me.” she said. “Seven years in jail.”
“How was that?” I asked.
She drained her glass.
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
We left a while later and agreed to meet at ten the next morning at the Lincoln.
o o o o o
The next morning I swung by and fed Ella, then headed to the Museum. I waited outside until ten after, and then bought a ticket, in case Vicky had already gone in. I hung around in the lobby for another few minutes, then picked up one of the guidemaps and started towards the Martin Gallery.
Alarm bells started ringing when I approached the entrance and saw a cop standing outside. As I got closer I saw he was stopping people going into the main room. I got as close as I could and eyeballed the gallery. At the far end of the gallery was a huddle of people. I could see another uniform, a couple of the Museum security staff, a couple of civilians and, wearing a suede, fringed jacket, Detective Cash.
If I’d known the guy on the door I might have had a shot at getting in, or at least finding out what was going on, but he looked about twelve, and didn’t seem the sort to bend the rules.
Police on the scene and no sign of Vicky. I began to get a bad feeling.
o o o o o
I debated whether to go back to the office or whether to head straight for the 18th. The office was the only number Vicky would have had for me, but then again it was pretty presumptious to assume that she’d use her one phone call on me.
‘Woah! Back the truck up, Able!’
I didn’t even know if she had anything to do with this. For all I knew, she was stuck on the subway. Even so - something fishy was going on and it was smelling more like week-old haddock by the minute. I made a decision and took the subway towards the Precinct.
The same Sergeant as yesterday was on the desk - Pat must be working the late shift. I got a pass and headed in, looking for a familiar ear to bend.
As luck would have it there was nobody around I was on first name terms with. I thought for a second and headed down to the archive. It was still early, so no sign of Officer Baines. I fired up the machine furthest from the door, in case someone should walk past and glance in, then got started.
I’d ‘accidentally’ left a couple of spare ID’s unregistered in my last few weeks as wrangler. This meant that the passwords didn’t expire, and they didn’t show up on any admin lists.
It was a good job that nobody knew about them, otherwise they’d be able to access Station records…
I looked up the calls that had come in that morning, and there, on the log at about nine am, was a call from the Museum. I turned the machine’s volume down low, and played the audio of the call that had come through.
“Police. Go ahead.”
“Hello. I’m not really sure whether I should be calling you or not.”
“Who is this please, ma’am?”
“Sorry. This is Sarah Farraday. I’m a curator at the Lincoln Museum.”
“What seems to be the problem, Ms Farraday?”
“Well, we premiered a new exhibition last night. It went on quite late, after the rest of the Museum was shut. Everything was fine when we left, but when we came in this morning…”
“Well. I think we’ve been broken into.”
“You think? You don’t know? Has anything been taken?”
“Well what makes you think you’ve been broken into then, ma’am? It doesn’t sound as if there’s been a crime committed.”
“Well, no. Nothing’s been taken as such, it’s more… well. It’s more that something’s been left.”
“I beg your pardon, ma’am?”
“In one of the cabinets. There were some pieces in a locked display cabinet, and as far as we can tell, they’re all there, and the cabinet is still locked, but now there’s something else in their too.”
“And what’s that, ma’am?”
“It’s a business card. A business card with a pink cross on it.”
I listened to the rest of the converstation, then dumped a copy onto a data stick. The dispatcher had agreed to send somebody down to talk to this Farraday dame, which is where Cash came in I guess.
I looked around, but there was nothing else on the system yet. It was early days, but it either meant that Cash was still down there, and something was going on, or he’d decided it was a false alarm and so he’d come away without filing anything. By rights he should file a ‘no action’ report, but they’re so far down a cop’s list of priorities that sometimes they don’t get done for weeks, if at all.
So I didn’t know if there was anything going on, and I didn’t know where Vicky was. If she’d been arrested I should have been able to see something, so that was a good sign at least.
I decided that the office was the best place to be.
o o o o o
When I got back, the message light was blinking on the answering machine. It was Vicky, and she sounded worried.
“Chuck? Chuck, if you get this, meet me at the cafe from yesterday, at noon.”
I looked at my watch. It was 11.45am. Lady Ella, who’d been watching in case I planned on going anywhere near a can of tuna, grumbled and went back to sleep as I left.
As I went down the stairs I debated. Subway or cab? By the time I’d gone a block it was obvious that the traffic was thicker than molasses.
I hit the subway.
At 12.15 I made Al’s. I went inside and saw Vicky sitting at the back, in the same booth we’d been in yesterday. I slid in opposite her.
“Weren’t we supposed to be meeting at the Museum?” I said.
“What’s going on? she said. “First that note, then the Martin Gallery… I got to the Museum early this morning, and I was waiting outside when I saw the Police turn up. I bought a ticket and went in, but when I saw they were in the Martin Gallery I got worried and left. I’ve been walking the streets ever since trying to decide what to do.”
She drummed her fingers on the coffee cup in front of her.
“It’s probably nothing, right? Just a coincidence. That stupid note has made me nervous and now I’m jumping at shadows.”
She drained her coffee.
“Come on.” she said, sounding determined. “Let’s go. I don’t know what I was worried about. I was just being stupid.”
I put a hand out.
“Not so fast. I saw the cops too, and did a little digging.”
“It turns out that the Museum had a break in last night.”
“Oh, ok. And that’s why the Police were there.” She breathed a sigh of relief.
I looked her in the eye. She frowned.
“I have to ask you this, and I hope you’ll do me the decency of an honest answer.”
“I don’t follow.” she said. “Ask me what.”
“One of your old calling cards was left in a display case,” I said. “So I have to ask you...”
“...where were you last night?”