By the time I’d finished my malt, Brenda had come up with several other theories. Some of the best included a Museum cleaner whose mother had a terrible disease, and so needed money for treatment... The owners of the piece had broken in and taken it for insurance purposes (although unless the Sullivans had fallen on hard times over the last decade, I seem to remember them being ok for a buck or two)... The Museum management had done it as a publicity stunt to up the profile of the exhibition...
At one point a shady Government department was involved, and I was considering introducing her to English, but then she dismissed that as ‘a bit silly’.
I decided that I’d better get going while the getting was good. Brenda didn’t show any sign of slowing the theory-producing machine down, and I could be there all day. I excused myself and stood up.
“Oh, give me your number,” said Brenda. I want to be able to find out what’s happening with Vicky. And I might have some more ideas that’ll help you!”
Rather reluctantly, I handed over a card.
“I’ll call you later to see how things are going. Are you going to get Vicky out of jail now?” she asked. She reminded me of a large puppy, full of enthusiasm.
“I’m going to see if it’s possible to get Vicky out on bail, yes,” I said, moving away from the table. “Now, I really should get going.”
As slowly as I could, I fled, before Brenda started talking again.
o o o o o
I made for the office to be greeted by a hungry and grumpy cat. She doesn’t miss too many meals, so having breakfast a couple of hours late wasn’t going to do her too much harm. I fed her, but while winding herself round my ankles in an enthusiastic fashion, she managed to stick a claw in my leg, just as a reminder that she had a schedule and she liked to stick to it.
I picked up the phone, called the station and asked to be put through to Russo. I got his machine, so I left a message, enquiring about whether Vicky would be able to make bail. I said I’d call back in an hour. Didn’t want to find out that they’d let her out, and then the bail bond department was closed. It was a Sunday after all.
In the meantime, I fired up the machine and had a look to see what I could find out about Sarah Farraday and Matthew Blake.
They both had a small write up on the Museum’s website. She was a 35 year old history grad who’d been an assistant curator and then curator at the Lincoln for about seven years. She had an interest in ancient Egypt, apparently.
Assistant curators only warranted a single line. Matthew was also a history grad (figured, I suppose), was 27 and he’d been at the museum a little over three years.
Matthew also appeared on a couple of social sites, pictures of him at various parties and so on. Sarah was either a lot more protective of her on-line identity or, as I suspected, she just never went out.
I poked around a little more, but didn’t turn up much. I decided I’d run them both through the search engines in the archive room to get a little more background.
The hour was almost up since I’d called Russo, so I put another call through to him. This time he picked up.
“Captain? It’s Able. Just wondered what the deal was with Victoria Wilde? She going to make bail?’
“Sorry, Able,” said Russo. “I’ve spoken to Detective Cash, and he’s appraised me of the situation. It’s too late in the day to go through normal bail procedures now, and I can’t justify bending the rules just for you. Come down in the morning and I’m sure we can sort something out.”
I thanked him and hung up. Looked like Vicky would be spending the night behind bars, but there wasn’t much I could do about it.
I grabbed my coat and headed for Mac’s.
o o o o o
Being a Sunday afternoon, the bar was pretty quiet. There was a radio behind the bar, turned down pretty low, playing a rock tune that had been old twenty years ago. That’s one of the things I like about Mac’s - they know what they like and don’t see any reason to change it. It was your classic bar; dark wood, low lights, good beer and friendly staff. And that was about it. A few months back, one of the barmen had mistakenly ordered a case of the ‘dry roasted’ peanuts rather than ‘salted’ and the patrons had damn near revolted.
The name hadn’t altered either. It had been Mac’s as far back as most people could remember, and none of the last few owners had thought to change it.
I took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. The girl was one of the regular staff, a pretty young blonde with her hair piled up in a sort of muddle on top of her head. Probably took her ages to get it looking like that. She wiped the bar, put down a beermat and placed a tall glass down in front of me with a smile. I looked around as I took a long pull. A handful of people were scattered about. I recognised a few faces as ‘regulars’ rather than ‘people I knew’, but that was about it.
Hal, current owner of the bar, appeared from out back and came over.
“Hal.” I said, raising my glass.
“How’s tricks?” he said. “Keeping busy?”
“Kinda. Got one of those ‘non-paying’ type of cases going on at the moment. I’d ditch it, but trouble is, it’s bugging me.”
He laughed. “They’re the worst kind, aren’t they? Anythng interesting?”
“Remember ‘The Phantom’?” I said.
He stood there for a minute, trawling through the memory banks.
“The jewel thief?” he said, eventually. “Years back. Used to do over posh houses.”
“That’s the one.”
“Hey, didn’t you catch her? It was a her, right? You definitely had something to do with it.”
“Guilty as charged.”
“So what’s the skinny? She out and started up where she left off?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “She’s the one who’s currently not paying me.”
“Wait there while I get me a beer. This I gotta hear.”
“Well if you’re going that way...” I said, draining my glass and pushing the empty towards him.
I gave Hal the cut down version of the story, leaving out some of the more illegal elements. Hal was a trustworthy guy - he’d been running this place as long as I’d been in the P.I game, and you don’t stay behind a bar too long if you have a habit of flapping your mouth off - but it was a bar all the same, and you never know who’s listening.
“So the Sundance Kid’s got her locked up at the moment?”
“Yup. I’m hoping we can get bail tomorrow, as long as Cash doesn’t make things difficult.”
“Guy probably just wants to put a notch on his gunbelt by the sound of it. A couple of the guys have mentioned him. Sounds like he breezed in from the mid-West thinking he’d be the greatest thing since squeezy cheese, but he’s found that the big city’s a bit different to Hicksville, Idaho.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. Just wants to do a bit of reputation building. Catching an infamous thief wouldn’t do him any harm.”
“That’s all very well,” I said. “but there’s the small matter of her probably not being guilty.”
“Well, sometimes cops get so fixated on the result that that’s all they can think about,” he said. “They get obsessed. I’ve seen it happen before.”
He fixed me with a stare.
“Don’t you go getting obsessed with this woman!” he said, laughing as he went away to serve another customer.
I had one more beer as I flicked through the sports pages of the paper, then decided to call it a day. Hal picked my empty up off the bar.
“Don’t suppose you’ve seen Flint around lately, have you?” I asked.
Hal shook his head.
“Not for a while. You want me to ask around?”
I thought about it for a second.
“No, don’t worry about it. Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Ok, see you around.”
I pushed out through the door into the afternoon sun. There probably wasn’t much more I could do today. I went back to the office to check on Ella and look through my notes. I’d been staring at them for about twenty minutes, when the phone rang.
“Chuck Able, Private Detective.”
“Mr Able? It’s Brenda Rowland. Vicky’s friend? From earlier.”
“Hi, Miss Rowland.”
“Any news on Vicky?
“Not good, I’m afraid.” I said. “I wasn’t able to get her bailed today, but I’m hoping that’s just procedural, rather than there being anything seriously wrong. I’m pretty sure I can get her out tomorrow.”
“Oh, no! Oh that’s not good. That’s not good at all. Will she be ok? Will they put her in leg irons and make her work on the chain gang?”
I managed to turn the laugh into a cough.
“Ah, no. Chances are she’s just in a holding cell. They’ll feed her, she’ll sleep there tonight, and hopefully be out by lunchtime.”
“But what about work?” said Brenda. “She’s supposed to be at work tomorrow.”
“Good point. I’ll see what I can do about that. Thanks for the heads up.”
I rapped on the desk.
“Sorry, Miss Rowland, someone at the door - gotta go. Thanks for calling. Bye.”
I hung up.
I looked up the details of the bookshop and dialled the number. After a couple of rings, a woman answered.
“The Manhattan Book Company, Marsha speaking.”
“Hello, Marsha, is it possible to speak to the manager, please?
“I am the duty manager today.”
“Great. My name’s Chuck Able, I’m a friend of Vicky Wilde. I’ve just been round to see her and I’m afraid she’s feeling very ill. Food poisoning I think. She asked me to call and say that she may not be in for a couple of days.”
“Ill, you say?”
“And you’ve just come from her now?”
Why didn’t this sound right?
“Well, a little while ago… is there…?”
I wasn’t sure what had got Marsha so suspicious.
“Only I had a phone call a short while ago. The gentleman didn’t leave his name, but said Vicky wouldn’t be in to work tomorrow.”
“And did he say why?”
“He said she’d been arrested for burglary. And now you tell me she’s ill. Is this some sort of prank that Victoria’s perpetrating?”
“Ah, that could be it.” I said. “You know what Victoria’s like. Always messing about. She was probably pulling my leg about being ill too. Well I’m really sorry to have wasted your time, Marsha. Maybe I’ll go back and see how she’s actually doing. Goodbye.”
I hung up before the conversation got any more awkward. Vicky’s Uncle Richard obviously knew about her past, but chances are the store staff didn’t. I was willing to bet good money that whoever had just dropped her in it at the bookshop was the same anonymous caller that had phoned Sarah Farraday at the museum this morning. Someone was definitely trying to make her life a mess.
I sat and tickled the cat’s ears for a while as I thought things over. If someone just wanted Vicky to take the fall for the burglary, then the call to the shop didn’t make any sense.
I was getting pretty fed up with always being on the back foot, and having to react to whatever this clown was playing at.
Well, Able. Rather than sit and wait and see what he does next, why don’t you make the next move?
I picked up the phone.
Time to up my game a little…