Sugar and Spice: The Ana Stasia

Nova closed the file with a snap and tossed it onto the coffee table. There was really nothing else she could do before tomorrow. She had all the question she wanted to talk to the Dolwing about and some idea of what next steps might make sense. Nova glanced at the clock, only 7:30. A small eternity between now and tomorrow.

There was, she recalled, a small bar next to the hotel. She’d passed it everyday this week. Up till now, she’d been too exhausted by orientation to even want to experience the nightlife in Newcrest. But now, with her sister’s words, she decided she too would be going out tonight. It might not be Windenburg, but still, it had to be better than staying in an empty hotel room. She changed out of her uniform and headed outside.

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Timeless was a small bar tucked between much larger neighbors, but it had a bright entrance. Nova was particularly amused by the giant broken clock outside that must give the bar its name. Inside wasn’t particularly busy, but it wasn’t empty either. She found a spot at the bar and waited for the bartender to notice her.

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Several couples were enjoying late meals at the tables, but the rest were just enjoying a late night drink. Nova had met aliens before so the purple-hued bartendress wasn’t startling. She wondered if the bartender was a half-breed like her niece… or whatever you called your cousin’s kids. Second cousins? But Nova didn’t figure it would be polite to ask the stranger about her heritage. The woman slid a menu across the table and looked Nova over.

“Will you want food as well?”

“No,” Nova opened the menu. Crafted cocktails, a hefty wine list and local beers were divided by category. She spotted a familiar drink. “Can I have a Zebra Fizz?”

The woman nodded and moved aside, grabbing bottles with a practiced flair. This was no amateur temping for the evening, but an expert. Nova settled into her stool and looked around. Her first assessment of her fellow patron had been correct. Locals mostly, judging by their comfort with the bar. Several joked with the bartender as she served them. Nova missed that easy comradery. No time like the present she thought sipping her drink.

02-07-16_8-29-11 PM


*****


The Dolwing was an impressive building, an echo of an older time when greco-roman architecture  was in vogue and gave buildings and air of authenticity and authority. Nova was early for her meeting, but as the museum had opened an hour earlier she didn’t see anything wrong with getting the lay of the land before the “official” tour.

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The security guard seemed to double as a the admissions or ticket taker. He was a larger man and, Nova suspected, not expecting visitors so early for he was watching a movie on his computer instead of watching the front door.

“The gallery’s off limits,” he said barely looking up from his show.

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“Where’s that?”

“Upstairs, the rest is free, but if you’re here to see the Ana Stasia – you’ll be disappointed.”

“Why is it off limits.” She got his attention at last, no doubt by refusing to leave immediately.

He sighed heavily and looked up. “Didn’t you hear?” he asked. “The picture was nicked two nights ago.”

Nova frowned. She hadn’t been aware that was public knowledge, it hadn’t been yesterday. The guard misinterpreted her expression.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be back soon enough, I’m sure. You can see it then.”

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Nova nodded. “The rest of the place is okay though?”

“Yup, only that piece is missing.”

“When Director Palmer comes in,” Nova said. “Tell her I’m here.”

The guard looked at her surprise, his expression calculating. He almost said something, but then just nodded. “I’ll let her know.”

Nova thanked him and headed into the first gallery. It was the Jazz exhibit and art lined the walls. Jazz music was piped in for greater effect all hearkening back to a darker time in history. When music was played in secret bars with hidden stairs and quartets played for bootleg bottlecaps instead of money.  Nova had never learned much about the jazz era of Sim life, but she could tell whoever was in charge of this particular gallery did.

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It wasn’t long before Director Palmer found her reading about the use of secret symbols to mark which bars had the jazz. Complex intertwined symbols to make it hard for the police of the time to duplicate. She was glad she wasn’t a police officer back then. How could you arrest someone for playing music? That was absurd.

Director Palmer approached and Nova turned with the clicking of her heels on the stone floor. “Agent Pigglewiggle?” The woman asked.

“Director Palmer,” Nova replied shaking the woman’s proffered hand. The director was older woman, her grey hairs had only just started outnumbering the colored. Not a woman who ran from age, but one who embraced the dignity. Nova hoped she aged as gracefully.

“Sherry, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you.”02-07-16_9-34-04 PM

“No worries,” Nova replied with a smile, “I didn’t have anything pressing this morning, so I came by early.”

Sherry lead her back through the gallery and into the door to the woman’s office. It was clearly part of the larger museum working space. Repair supplies and canvases took up most of the room. The director’s desk took up only a small corner of the room.

The women sat and Nova decided to cut to the chase. “Your guard said that the painting was stolen. Why did you inform the media?”

“I didn’t, but I read it in the paper today,” Director Palmer sighed. She handed Nova the day’s newspaper. Nova was almost more surprised to see an actual paper than the headline “Prized Painting Stolen from Dolwing.”

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“How did they find out?”

The director shrugged. “No one asked me. And there were precious few here who knew. Just the two security guards.”

“Was the gentleman downstairs working the night of the break in?” Nova was fairly certain there had to be an inside person working with the thieves, how else could they get past the cameras?02-07-16_9-44-07 PM

“No, Rico works days. Sterling is our night watch. Has been for years.” Palmer frowned, but didn’t say any more on the topic.

“I see,” Nova lied, but she would talk to both men later. “I read your statement to the agency, but I’m hoping you could tell me exactly how you knew the painting was a fake.”

“Of course,” Sherry replied. “Do you want to see it?”

Nova nodded and the woman stood, leading her upstairs while she spoke. “I check the museum every morning when I come in,” she explained.

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“At 9am?”

“Yes, there’s just not enough visitors to justify coming in before we’re open. I check all the galleries. The visitor gallery, I checked last, since it’s upstairs.”

“Do you always check it last?” The director led Nova past the rope barrier they’d set in place to keep folks out of the room with the fordged Stasia.

“Yes, I start in the jazz exhibit and then continue clockwise to all the galleries below, then I come up here.”

“Were there any visitors between the time you started your check and found the painting replaced?”

“Not that I know, Rico would know for sure.” They turned the corner. “Here it is…or was.”

Nova cleared her mind and entered. It looked similar to the rooms downstairs. Tall ceilings, stone floor, and painting and artefacts lining the walls. Here Monte Vistan music was piped in for ambiance. Just faint enough not to be annoying.

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“Was the painting the only thing of value here?” Nova didn’t recognize any of the other pieces in the exhibit, but then again Monte Vistan history was not her strong suite either. Perhaps it should be.

“Oh, no.” The Director pointed at a glass case. “Anything in there would be worth as much as the painting herself and be more portable.”

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“And none of them are fake?” Nova peered at the gems below. They could be genuine or glass for all she knew.

“They’re all legit. After I noticed the painting had been replaced I called in our appraiser to check. They’re all genuine.”

“Who’s the appraiser?”

“Margaret Woodatti, she travels with this collection when it’s on tour.”

Not likely to have taken the piece now, Nova thought. Margaret could have stolen the painting at any time if she was in charge of it’s care.

“She knew the painting was fake, too?”

“Oh, yes, she knew right away, same as me…well, look at it. It’s obvious isn’t it?”

Nova turned to the wall. Rope guards kept the curious at bay, or would if there had been any curious allowed in the gallery. A single framed picture sat in the spotlight. It looked like the Ana Stasia to her. Or at least it looked the same as it had in her school books. She hated to admit that though. Nova stepped past the barrier.

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“It’s all wrong,” the director continued. “Upstrokes where there should be down, left when it should be right.”

“But the color and lines are accurate.”

“Yes, yes. But it’s like they didn’t care at all. Any first year art student would know better.”

Nova decided to take the woman’s word for it. She examined the painting instead.

“What’s this” She asked leaning towards the thin almost invisible wire leading from the frame into the wall.

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“Oh, don’t touch that,” Director Stevens cried out. Nova had no intention of touching the thing. “It’s an alarm. If it or the painting is moved in anyway the alarm downstairs goes off.”

“It didn’t go off the night the painting was taken.” Nova observed. She would have read that in the report.

“No.” The woman admitted.

Nova leaned in close and saw exactly what she had expected. She backed up to get a better view of the room. Large windows lined the far wall, but they were on the second story. Nova checked them anyway.

“Is there access to the roof?”

“Not from inside. There’s an exterior stairwell for maintenance.

Nova checked the floor in front of the painting. “Was the rope in place when you entered yesterday?”

“I think so,” The woman frowned trying to remember.

“Who else has access to this room after hours? Yourself, the Monte Vistan, the guards…the maintenance person?”

“She only comes in weekly. There’s not much to do. She’s due in tomorrow.”02-07-16_9-41-01 PM

“I’ll want names and addresses for everyone,” Nova said standing up. There wasn’t much more she could learn from the ‘scene’ – the Newcrest police had already taken plenty of pictures. She’d just wanted to confirm their findings and get an idea of the space herself.

“I have the information in my office.”

Nova followed her back downstairs. “And they all have worked here for some time?”

“Yes, yes. Susan replace her father … oh three years ago. The guards have worked here even longer.”

Nova wrote down the information and thanked Director Palmer. “I’ll call you if I have an further questions.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh – ” She said as she started to leave. “The last piece that went missing, you said it was two years ago?”

“Yes, the Minotaur’s Tear. It was a nice vase, but hardly irreplaceable.”

“Thank you.”

Nova stopped by Rico’s desk on her way out.

“Agent,” Rico nodded in greeting. Nova smiled, she wondered if he’d figure it out.

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“Do you work every morning?” He nodded. “What time did you arrive two days ago?”

“7:00.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary? Any visitors?”

“No.”

“Was … what’s his name…” Nova tried to remember the name of the other guard.

“Sterling?” Harold shrugged. “Seemed normal enough to me when I relived him.”

“You didn’t tell the media about the painting?”

“No, Sherry said to keep it quite.”

“Thanks. You’ll be available if I have more questions?”

“Yes.”

Nova left and Rico turned back to his monitor. She looked through her list four names and addresses.

  • Susan Thomas – maintenance
  • Rico Fawley – day guard
  • Sterling Pearson – night guard
  • Margaret Woodatti – Monte Vistan curator
    02-07-16_9-46-01 PM

If there was an insider involved. She’d best meet everyone.\


 

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