Cash was clearly fishing. Truth be told, he was probably as baffled as me. He’d got a bunch of circumstances and every one of ‘em looked more suspicious than the last. Trouble was, what he hadn’t got was a crime. Somebody had left that card, and so there was a possible case for breaking and entering. But while while the CCTV clearly showed some entering, the cops hadn’t been able to find evidence of any actual breaking.
He questioned Vicky for about thirty minutes, and asked me a few too. We stuck to the truth and he began to realise that he wasn’t getting anywhere. Vicky did tell him about the notes that she’d been sent, but he didn’t seem too interested.
He was winding things up - lots of ‘don’t leave town’ and so on, when there was a knock at the door. Cash turned off the recording and went over. It was a uniform and they stepped outside for a brief conversation. I strained to hear what they were saying, but couldn’t hear a word.
Moments later, Cash came back in. The grin on his face immediately started alarm bells ringing.
Cash sat down.
“Well now, Miss Wilde.” he said. “There have been what we like to call… developments.”
“And what do you mean by that?” said Vicky.
“What I mean, is that I‘m arresting you on suspicion of theft.”
“What?” I said. “Theft of what?”
“I believe that at some point of Friday evening, Miss Wilde here stole the piece of jewellery known as the The McGuffin Brooch from the Lincoln Museum.”
“That’s crazy.” I said. “I saw that brooch, in the museum, not two hours ago.”
“Well now,” said Cash, “you’ve been back to the scene of the crime, have you?”
This was not going well.
“I just wanted to look at the scene for myself,” I said. “where this card had been left, that you obviously think Miss Wilde has something to do with.”
“I think it was more than jus’ leavin’ a card, Mr Able. Like I say, ah reckons she took the brooch too.”
Vicky hadn’t said anything through all this, but had gone pale.
“I am not going back to jail for something I didn’t do.” she said slowly.
“Hang on a second,” I said. “now Detective Cash, what exactly are you saying has happened? Nothing’s been stolen, so why are you talking about arresting Miss Wilde.”
“It’s the darndest thing,” said Cash. “Miss Farraday, down at the Museum, she got a ‘nonymous phone call a little while back. ‘pparently the caller suggested they take a good look at the McGuffin brooch and then hung up. What with all the ‘citement they bin havin’ recently, she figured she best jus’ do that. And you know what she found?”
“What?” demanded Vicky.
“That there brooch is a fake!”
“What do you mean, a fake?” she said. I could see she was starting to get angry.
“All exhibits are checked and verified when the Museum ‘ccepts them for an exhibition.” drawled Cash. “Couple of places have been stung with insurance scams when somebody lends a priceless item, something happens, maybe it gets broke. Or stole. And then it turns out that the piece supplied wasn’t the real one. That’s at home in the safe, next to the insurance payout. So museums are right careful about checking the... veracity of items they get lent.”
He paused for a moment, then continued, his moustache curving up as he smiled.
“When the Museum took the brooch, it was confirmed as genuine. Miss Farraday has just checked, and the piece sitting in the cabinet right now is a fake.”
Vicky turned to me. Her eyes were flashing with fury.
“This is a setup. Somebody’s doing this. You have to find out what’s going on. You have to.”
Cash read Vicky her rights. After he’d done so the uniform in the corner came over to escort her to a cell.
“I’ll see if there’s bail being posted,” I said. “Don’t worry, we’ll have you out of here in no time.”
“Do me a favour,” she said, just before she was led out. “I was going to meet Brenda for brunch. At Al’s. Twelve o’clock. Go and let her know what’s happened. Pat behind the counter will point her out.”
I said I would, and she was led away.
Cash turned back to me.
“I’ll walk y’all back to the front desk.”
“I can find my own way - I worked here long enough.”
He raised an eyebrow as I started back towards the front doors.
“Zat so? Well ok, but Mr Able...”
I turned back.
“ppreciate it if you didn’t leave town for a few days neither, if you know what I mean?”
He strode off after Vicky and the cop, his cowboy boots clacking on the floor.
I strode off in the opposite direction, wondering what the hell just happened.
o o o o o
I took the scenic route back, via Captain Russo’s office. Whoever was on the other end of his phone wasn’t having a good day. As I slowed to walk past his door he put the phone down and looked up.
“Able? You here again? No wonder I can’t afford to replace any squad cars.”
“Not working, Captain,” I said, “I was, er… helping out with an enquiry…”
“Explain yourself,” he said, pointing at the chair. “Nobody with a record gets an AC licence from this Precinct. What’s going on?”
I took a seat. His office never changed. It was a kind of breeding ground for paper. Piles of it on the desk, the chairs, the floor. An in-tray and an out-tray on his desk had been buried many years ago and hadn’t seen the light of day since. He’d forbidden the cleaners to touch anything, and so pretty much every flat surface was a layer cake of paper and dust.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Jimmy Hoffa was under there somewhere.
The Captain sat down. I couldn’t see him any more behind a wall of reports, but I could certainly hear him.
“So what’s all this about?”
I gave him the potted history. Vicky coming to see me about the notes. The exhibition. The card in the cabinet. And now the apparent theft which had led to Vicky’s arrest.
“So what’s your feeling on this?”
“Well, Cap.” I said. “Difficult to say - I only met Wilde a couple a days ago, and ok, I know she’s got form, but even so…”
I looked up.
“Stop staring at the ceiling and get on with it!”
He can’t see me! How does he do that? Mirrors?
“My gut feeling is that she’s got nothing to do with this. It’s not her style. Why leave a fake? She never left one in the past, why start now? And she always worked alone. So who made the phone call to the museum? You ask me - someone’s setting her up for a fall.”
“Is it wise for you to be involved in this, Able?” said the Captain from behind the papers. “I can see why Cash would be suspicious.”
“She came to me, Captain.” I said. “And the Police don’t pay me enough to turn away clients...”
He harrumphed, and I thought it best not to mention that Vicky wasn’t actually paying me.
“So, what’s this Detective Cash like?” I asked. “He’s got kind of a unique… style.”
“He’s still settling in to city ways.” said Russo, sounding a little awkward. “Took us a few days before we got him to understand that we don’t hog-tie prisoners.”
He sighed audibly.
“Sure, he rubs a few people up the wrong way, and he’s got some some unusual methods. And he dresses like a damn cowboy!“
Russo cleared his throat.
“But he’s a good cop.”
I asked about bail for Vicky.
“Let me see what the situation is, Able. I’m not promising anything, got me?”
“Got you. Thanks Cap.”
I made for the exit.
o o o o o
It was bright when I got back on the street, and the wind was picking up again. I stepped it out down the hill to the subway to go and find this Brenda dame and let her know that Vicky wouldn’t be joining her.
On account of being behind bars.
As I emerged from the subway a while later, something occurred to me. I had no idea whether this Brenda knew about Vicky’s past. Maybe she did. I’m pretty sure Vicky had called her ‘my best friend’, but I didn’t know for sure. Do you tell people that when you meet them? ‘Hi, I used to be a burglar and I spent seven years in jail.’ Probably puts them off inviting you round to their place I should think.
I guess I’d just have to play it by ear.
I made it to Al’s just after midday. The guy behind the counter had just served a customer, and was wiping down the stainless steel counter.
“Yes sir, what can I get you?” he asked as I walked up.
“Pat?” I asked.
“That’s me!” he said. “What can I do for you?”
I looked up at the menu behind the counter.
“Can I get a chocolate malt, please…”
“Coming right up.”
“And can you point out Brenda for me?”
“I’m a friend of Vicky. Got a message for Brenda.”
Pat seemed satisfied. As he mixed my malt, he pointed out a stocky, dark haired woman sitting on her own on a table near the window.
I paid, thanked him, and a couple of minutes later, walked over with my malt.
“Excuse me miss,” I said as I got to the table. “Brenda?”
“Yes?” she said, looking up.
“Mind if I sit down for a minute. Got a message from Vicky.”
“Vicky? What’s up? Is she ok?”
“She’s fine,” I said. “Do you mind if I sit down?”
She nodded and pointed at the seat opposite. I sat down.
Brenda looked to be about 30 She wasn’t frumpy but she wasn’t no glamourpuss. She was wearing a sensible sweater and a pair of jeans, and had glasses on a chain round her neck.
“So what’s going on, Mr…?”
“Able. Chuck Able.”
I took a slurp of malt. Hey! Good malt. I’d have to remember this place.
“There’s been a bit of a... misunderstanding, and she’s in the Police Station at the moment.”
Brenda looked puzzled and glanced at her watch.
“What kind of misunderstanding? How long’s she going to be?”
“Well,” I said. “Put it this way.”
I took another slurp of malt.
“You may want to go ahead and order.”
o o o o o
As I walked into the place, I’d decided I was just going to say what had happened this morning, and not mention the burglary stuff. If it came up, it came up.
As I looked at Brenda and wondered how to start, she suddenly clapped a hand to her mouth.
“She hasn’t gone back to housebreaking again, has she?” she gasped.
Well that answered that question.
o o o o o
A few minutes later, and I’d explained what had gone on this morning.
“Did Vicky say that you worked at the Lincoln?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s right. I’ve been involved in setting up the exhibition in the Martin Gallery, but I finished work on Friday night and I wasn’t due to work this weekend, so I haven’t been back since we closed up after the thing with the Mayor. God, Sarah must be doing her nut!”
“Sarah? Is that Sarah Farraday?”
“That’s right. She’s one of the curators, and she was in charge of putting this exhibition on. She’s lovely, but she’s a bit of a control freak. This will be driving her crazy.”
“So,” I said. “I’m thinking that Vicky’s been set up here, and somebody’s taken advantage of her… colourful past. First off I thought that maybe someone was trying to get revenge on her, but with this thing this morning, I’m changing my mind. I reckon someone meant to steal this all along and they’ve lined Vicky up as a fall guy.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” said Brenda.
“Maybe, maybe.” I thought for a minute. “I’ve got a hunch that this might have been an inside job. Or at the very least, there was an accomplice on the inside.”
Her eyes widened.
“You don’t think Sarah had anything to do with it do you?”
“Don’t know.” I said. “I only met her this morning, and that was just for a few minutes. Who else was involved with the exhibition?”
“Well it was put together by Sarah and Matthew. Matthew Blake. He’s the assistant curator.”
Her eyes widened.
“Maybe Matthew wants Sarah’s job and he’s setting her up! Maybe he stole it, used Vicky as the ball boy,”
“Fall guy. And he’s trying to discredit Sarah! She gets sacked and he gets her job!”
She sat there beaming, looking very pleased with herself.
“So, er… read many thrillers?”