Next morning, I dragged myself into the Cup ‘O’ Joe at about 8.00. Nance gave me the same jibes she always did if I appeared before 11.00, and went to rustle up some breakfast. It was busy, and I had to share a table with another guy. He looked like any one of a million office workers, and was busy reading a paper while he worked his way through a fry-up. He’d discarded the Arts section, so I asked him if I could read it. He nodded and carried on eating.
I got pretty simple taste when it comes to art. If I look at it and I can’t tell what it’s supposed to be in 5 seconds or less, then you can keep it. All of this ‘Reflection on the state of mankind’s relationship with an uncertain future’ that turns out to be three coathangers and a Xerox’d bank statement which some mug bought for fifty grand makes me think that P.T. Barnum was right.
There’s a sucker born every minute.
I flicked through the paper, but it didn’t seem like anybody was going for ‘Pictures of things that actually looked like the thing they were supposed be.’ these days. It was art installations... It was ‘a series of canvases exploring the red spectrum’... It was some guy sitting in a bath in Times Square for a week… There was an article about two French guys who had glued the numbers 1 to 100 at various places on the city sidewalks last month, and thousands of people had given up their free time to go hunt them all down.
Maybe the world’s gone crazy and I just didn’t get the memo.
By 8.30 I was loaded up on grease and fighting my way through the rush hour to get back to the Musuem. The noise of the city’s kinda soothing. It’s always there, but after a while you tune it out. Once in a while it’s good to listen in again.
Just before 9.00 I made the Museum, and I got a ticket as soon as they opened the doors. I headed straight for the Martin Gallery. Clearly all the fuss yesterday hadn’t lasted long, as the room was open again, with no sign of the boys in blue.
There was, however, a Museum guard perched on a stool just inside the room.
I went over to the cabinet that had been the centre of all the attention. It was a plinth about four feet high, with a glass case on top. Inside, there were stands, made out of clear acrylic. I guess that was so they didn’t detract from the baubles that were sitting on them.
Lower down in the case were two necklaces, one on each side. A small label gave some information about each piece - what the metal was, what the stones were, and who the current owner was. On the tallest stand was a small ring with a huge ruby. The card identified it as ‘The Edmund Ring’. And between that and the necklaces was the brooch that I fished out of Vicky’s pocket ten years ago. It was a fairly simple brooch, made, I read, out of platinum. And at the centre was a diamond that was worth enough to keep me in fine whisky for the rest of my days. And quite a long time after that, too.
I strode over to the Museum guard, who looked like he wasn’t quite ready for his day. As I fished an ID card out that looked official as long as you didn’t peer at it too closely, I checked out his name badge.
“Morning, Phil. Detective Able.”
Well it was kinda true.
Phil looked up with a start, and I flipped the badge away and carried on before he could get in with any awkward questions like ‘Could I see that badge again?’
“I believe you had another Detective down here yesterday, Detective Cash? There were just a few more questions we had. Could you ask Sarah Farraday to come down here, please?”
“Now. Please. I don’t have all morning.”
Get ‘em on the back foot and keep ‘em there.
“Err, yes, sure. Just a minute.”
In the corner of the room there was a phone on the wall. He punched in a number and had a rapid conversation.
“Umm, she should be down shortly.” he said, as he returned.
“Good job, Phil, appreciate it!” I said, slapping him on the shoulder and walking off to the far end of the room to avoid any further conversation. From the reflection in the cabinet I pretended to be interested in, I could see him stare after me for a few seconds, then shrug and go back to his seat.
I glanced around the room. It was about a hundred feet end to end, and about 60 feet across, with a fairly high ceiling. As I thought, there were no windows. The floor was polished wood, while the walls were the sort of colour that paint companies like to call ‘cotton dream’ or ‘summer magnolia’, as people don’t like handing over thirty bucks for a bucket of ‘off-white’.
A couple of minutes later, a woman in her mid thirties, wearing a smart black suit came in. She had dark hair, pulled back in a pony tail and a pair of black rimmed glasses on. She looked like she should be working in a bank rather than a museum.
Phil pointed at me, and she came over.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Sarah Farraday. I believe you were asking for me?”
She put out her hand and I shook it.
“That’s right.” I said. “I’m Detective Able. Sorry to bother you, I know you spoke to Detective Cash yesterday, but there were just one or two other things I’d like to check.”
“Well, I gave a full statement yesterday…” she said, sounding a little dubious.
I turned on the Able charm.
“And we much appreciate it, ma’am, and I assure you I won’t take more than a few minutes of your time. I’m sure you have plenty more curating to do.”
I gave her a smile so winning that bookies would be giving it odds of 5 to 4 on in the Kentucky Derby.
It clearly worked.
“What can I tell you, Detective?”
“I just need to clarify a few things. I’ve seen the CCTV footage, and when the intruder is on screen at…”
I frowned at a blank page in my pocket book.
“...3.16am, it’s difficult to tell where they came from. Can I just double check whether there are any other entrances to this room other than the main entrance?”
Any lingering doubts she had were immediately put to rest by my obvious inside knowledge, which can only have been obtained by being a part of the investigation.
When you speak to a cop, folks, always ask for a good look at the badge.
“Well, like I said to Detective Cash.” she said. “There is a door at the far end, but it’s always locked. It’s designed to look like part of the wall - all the rooms in museum have similar doors. It’s so we can more easily move things around when setting up or taking down exhibitions. They all lead to a network of internal corridors. They’re only disguised to that they don’t detract from the aesthetics of the room, though - nothing sinister.”
“I see. And that would definitely have been locked the night before last?”
“And who has access to the keys?”
“Well… quite a few of the museum staff could get hold of them I suppose. It’s not like they’re the keys to a safe or anything.”
“I see. And the cabinets themselves?”
I tapped on the one I was standing next to.
“Security glass.” said Farraday. “You could probably get through it with a sledgehammer, but I think we’d notice if a visitor was carrying one of those. Otherwise, you need the key.”
“I see. And those keys...?”
“The cabinet keys are locked away in the curator’s offices.”
I could sense that my winning smile was fading in the final furlong and Ms Farraday was starting to wonder why she was repeating all this. I decided to cut and run.
“One last question, Ms Farraday. The figure in black. I know you couldn’t see their face, but do you have any idea who it might be? Did the figure look familar?”
“Are you suggesting that it was a member of museum staff?” she said, her voice rising. “No, I have no idea who it was.”
I’d outstayed my welcome.
“Well, thanks again for your time, Ms Farraday. We’ll be in touch.”
I made a swift exit.
o o o o o
At quarter to ten, I walked into the Precinct. I took a seat on a bench and watched the ballet of chaos that is a Police Station unfold around me. Five minutes later Vicky walked through the door. She spotted me and came over.
“Hello.” she said.
“Hi.” I said. “How you doing?”
“Ok, I suppose.” she replied. “But I’m a bit worried about this.”
“Well I’ve seen the CCTV footage…”
Her eyes widened.
“How did you manage that?”
“A… friend… Let’s just leave it at that. And in fact let’s not mention to anybody that I’ve seen it. Don’t want to complicate things. But somebody was in that room two nights ago. Black outfit. Couldn’t see the face though. So in theory, they’ve got nothing on you. Just answer their questions, and we should be out of here soon enough.”
“Ok.” she said, looking at her watch. “I suppose we’d better go.”
We went over to the desk and Vicky explained that she was here to see Detective Cash. The Sergeant motioned for us to take a seat again.
Five minutes later, and Cash appeared, still looking every inch the cowboy.
He came over.
“Howdy, Ms Wilde, thanks for comin’ in.” he said in a Texas drawl. He looked at me.
“Don’t think we’ve met, pardner.”
I stuck out a hand. “Able. Chuck Able.”
“Cash. Jack Cash. ‘tective in this here station.”
“Well I’m an… acquaintance of Miss Wilde,” I said, “and she asked me if I’d come and sit in this morning. That ok with you?”
“I s’pose. Like I said yes’day. This is jus’ a friendly chat.”
We were both given passes, and followed Cash through the station to an interview room and sat down.
The room was small, spartan and just had a desk with a few chairs, and some recording equipment on a shelf on the wall. Cash made a phone call, and soon a uniform joined us, and took a seat in the corner.
Cash, after a few preliminaries, started the recording.
“Miss Wilde, two nights ago, an unknown person broke into the Lincoln Museum, and made their way to a cabinet containin’, among other things, the McGuffin brooch. Said person then left a small card, with pink X on it, written in lipstick.”
“Miss Wilde, does any of this sound familiar at all?”
“I assure you,” said Vicky, “that I was not in the Museum two nights ago. Or any other night. And I know nothing of this break in.”
“I see.” drawled Cash. “So where were you on the night in question?”
“At home.” she said. “I got in at about 8.30pm, watched some TV, went to bed about 11.30.”
“Uh huh. And do you have anyone who can verify this?” he said, looking at me.
“No.” Said Vicky. “I was alone all evening.”
“Right, right…” said Cash. “Now, remind me will ya?” he flipped through a notepad on the desk. “When you were caught, about ten years ago, you were trying to steal…”
He stopped, and read through the notes some more.
He looked up at me.
“Wha’d you say yore name was, pardner? Able?”
“That’s right. Chuck Able.”
He looked back at the notes.
“You wouldn’t, by any chance, be the fella what caught this little lady ten years ago, now wouldya?”
He sat back in his chair.
“Well, well, well. If that don’t beat all. An’ now here you both are, sitting here just as friendly as can be.”
“Miss Wilde came to me recently looking for help.” I said. “It’s purely a business relationship.”
“I see,” he said. “Y’know, when I first went down to that there Museum yes’day, I thought this was gonna be a wild goose chase and it’d all be over by dinner.”
He leaned forward on the table.
“But y’know somethin’. I reckons this is gettin’ more int’restin’ by the minute.”