After a quick lunch back at the office, Nova turned her attention to James Montgomery. She gotten copies of the case files sent over from the Newcrest police and they’d run background checks on all the employees at the Dolwing Museum as a matter of course. Overall he appeared to fly under the radar. No previous arrests, no tickets, no interesting family history, nothing. James’ credit report was the most interesting thing about the man.
He lived in a fourplex in the part of town known as Blue River. A neighborhood of cheaper starter houses and rentals. An easy place to begin life in Newcrest. James had lived there for almost seven years. He’d had a string of girlfriends over the years, none suspicious, and had been working at the Dolwing since he’d arrived in town. His bank account was running on fumes, but despite that, he still had a line of credit from the bank for 10,000 simoleons, untapped and a bunch of empty credit cards. No balance on a single one.
Time to pay James a visit. She rang the doorbell to apartment three.
“Yeah?” James peered through the door. He was young and fit, a twenty-something and had clearly just woken up. His hair was a mess and he’s obviously tossed a shirt on just before answering the door.
“I’m Detective Pigglewiggle, I’ve got some questions about the Ana Stasia.” No reason to lie, yet.
James looked alarmed, but he let her right in. His apartment was not going to be winning any ‘Better Homes and Garden’ contests.
“Sorry, I just woke up.” He poured himself a coffee and gestured to couch. Nova sat, carefully. His couch had seen better days.
“I saw nothing unusual that night, I told the police the same thing.”
“I read your report.” Nova admitted. “I expect you didn’t.” She smiled and looked around. His TV was one of those new surround sound types she’d heard her cousin talking about.
“Did you tell the media that it was stolen?”
“Hell no.” James snorted. “I’m not stupid.”
“No, you’re not,” she cocked her head at him. “However…you are lazy.”
“Working the same dead end job for seven years? The same apartment? Harold’s got kids, makes sense he’d want the stability.”
“What time did Harold come in two days ago?”
“Huh?” He scratched his chin and looked at the clock on the wall behind her. “I dunno the exact time…7 probably.”
Nova smiled. “James,” she began conversationally. But he immediately sat up straight hearing the censure in her voice. “The tapes show you leaving at 6.”
He paused and licked his lips. His eyes darting to hers for a second before moving on. “You think it was stolen then?” He sounded hopeful.
But Nova shook her head. An hour to steal that painting? Maybe, but why steal in the daylight when there was the whole night to work in. “No, it was stolen before then.”
“But I didn’t see anything unusual that night,” he protested. Unusual…he’d used that word twice now. And she’d read his police statement too. He’d used it then as well. All manner of sins could be hidden behind that particular statement.
“No. But you saw something that has happened before. Around two years ago.” That was when the last piece went missing from the Dolwing. And the time before that was five years ago. Every two or three years something went missing, usually something small and valuable. This was the first time it was really going to be missed.
He shut up. Nova leaned forward.
“Two years ago you were up to your ears in debt. Then, suddenly you paid it all off. How?”
“In-inheritance, my grandma died.”
“She died when you were seven.” The Newcrest Police were thorough when you asked. And once she’d noticed the odd credit she’d had them do some digging over lunch.
“Well, some relative,” he hazarded, thinking hard.
“Some relative.” Nova nodded. “The same relative perhaps that showed up last night after the Dolwing closed? The same relative who paid off all your debts yesterday?”
“James. It’s clear someone gave you a great deal of money. Either into your hand, or into your bank account. Just like two years ago when the Minotaur’s Tear disappeared.”
He was silent. She had enough to book him, but he was young and foolish. She didn’t care about him in the long run. She wanted the painting.
“Now, either way, I fear you’re out of a job once Director Stevens learns about this. But that’s not the worst thing. Taking bribes is a crime. Aiding and abetting a theft is a crime. The Monte Vistan government is not going to be happy to learn of this particular theft. This isn’t a small valuable that few will miss; the Ana Statsia is a national treasure. They’re planning to prosecute all who are involved in this crime. And if you turned the security off, that is theft in the first degree. You could go to prison for life for that.”
“But I didn’t turn anything off! All I did was let them in!”
She had him.
James did. He’d met “them” six years ago. All he had to do was ignore them when they entered the rear of the building. He could see them on the security monitors, but they never showed up on the tapes. They took care of everything.
“I didn’t know they were going for the Ana Stasia – that’s crazy I would have told them. The other stuff, that wasn’t that valuable, not one of a kind or anything. I didn’t think they’d be that stupid.”
“Names, James, or I can’t help you avoid prison.”
“I don’t know any.”
“Honest! But…but I’ve seen them around. They don’t live here, but I’ve seen them at Molly’s.”
“What do they look like?”
James described them. Nova took notes.
“I have to take you in, you know.”
James nodded, head heavy.
“Don’t worry,” she stood up and flashed him a genuine smile. Sure he was a stupid kid, but he wasn’t a bad kid. “You’ll be okay. I’ll make sure you get a good attorney.”
Molly’s bar. That was one of her four remaining leads. She also had the maintenance girl, the Monte Vistan appraiser, and the forged painting itself. Since the cat as out of the bag, so to speak, Nova got permission from Director Stevens to take the forgery. Stevens hadn’t been pleased to learn she’d had a dirty guard and now needed to hire a new one. Plenty of leads, and one had already panned out. Would the other’s be so fruitful?
Shasha Letters was the name given to Nova by her colleagues. Nova took the painting to the woman’s shop. Then waited for her to finish with her customer before she flashed her badge and informed her she wanted to ask some questions.
The woman locked her front door and brought her to the back room where Nova unveiled the painting.
“Ah,” the woman said theatrically covering her eyes. “That is horrible. Who would do such a thing?”
“Rory thought you might know.” The woman sighed and took out a small magnifying glass. She bend close to the painting.
“The strokes are all wrong.”
“So I’m told. An amateur? Anyone new in town, perhaps looking to make a name for themselves?” Shasha’s business was legit, barely. But NICE turned a blind eye to her pawn shop in exchange for leads and advice into the art underbelly of Newcrest. Nova hadn’t realized Newcrest was big enough for an art underbelly.
“No, no.” She continued to examine the painting. “I don’t know of anyone who would do this.” The disdain she felt for the forgery was clear. “No one would be fooled by it.”
Nova wasn’t going to admit she still couldn’t see what the fuss was about. And she’d spent several hours examining the photos. Perhaps if she had the original in front of her as well she would recognize it. Next time, she was paying more attention in art class.
“This is like a kind of joke,” the woman said tucking away the magnifying glass. “The paint, the canvas, are all fine, the art too – but it is so obvious, yes. Like an April Fools.”
“So you don’t know who would have done it?”
“Sadly no. I would like to help. But in this?” She shrugged. “This is new.”
Nova admitted defeat. “You’ll tell me if you think of someone?”
“Of course, I always help you Nice men and women. Doesn’t Rory tell you this?”
“Yes.” Nova handed over the small box Rory had given her.
“Don’t ask.” Was all her coworker had said. The box disappeared into the woman’s hands and then was tucked away.
Nova left with the painting, none the wiser. Now there were only three clues left.
There had been nothing suspicious about the maintenance girl, Johanna. But Nova questioned her anyway. As she’d suspected a dead end. The girl hadn’t been to the Dolwing since the previous week. And she’d noticed nothing amiss when she’d worked there yesterday.
At Nova’s hopeful glance, she laughed. “No, nothing weird. The wiring there is old. It shorts out the lights at least once a week. Director’s too cheap to pay for new wiring, so instead I just keep plenty of bulbs on hand.”
The Monte Vistan curator proved more interesting, but only just. She had tipped off the media.
“But, Ma’am, the media called me to ask me about the theft. I thought they already knew.”
The journalist that had called her, Tim Smith, said he’d gotten an anonymous tip. Nova suspected he knew more, but he tossed journalistic privilege at her and without a warrant she couldn’t make him tell her his lead. Although if her last lead was a dead end as well, she’d consider it.
Molly’s was a bar was on the other side of Newcrest. Armed with James’ descriptions and a warrent to arrest anyone matching it, she headed across town. At least it was a good way to get to know the city. If she could find a nice apartment she could move out of the hotel. She hoped James’s out of town ‘relations’ hadn’t packed up and gone home already. But it had only been a few days since the painting was stolen, and only two since the news broke. There was a chance they were still in town.
It was Nova’s lucky day. One of the men matching her description was playing foosball.
Nova wanted to question her new suspect, but boss man said to go home. “This isn’t a one-day case,” he warned. “Don’t rush it. Go home, rest.”
Nova obeyed, more because he locked the cell door on her new captive than because he’d ordered her to.
She found herself again at Timeless and ordered a dim and gusty and a late dinner. She was tired of trying to cook for herself. Halfway through her meal the empty seat next her gained an occupant. Nova looked up as the woman sat down and ordered a drink.
“Alysia, you’re not working tonight?” one of the other patrons called out.
“Nah – boss lady gave me the week off,” she smiled.
“You’re a bartender here?” Nova asked the obvious question.
“Part time.” The woman smiled, and Nova couldn’t help but smile back. “New in town?”
“Yeah.” Alysia received her drink and raised it to Nova.
“Welcome to Newcrest.” They saluted each other with their glasses.
“So, where’re you from?”
“Is it as hot there as they say?”
“Yes.” Nova grinned. “I’m from Willow Creek originally and I never got used to the desert. Newcrest is much nicer. You from here?”
“Yeah, born and raised. I know all the good places in town.”
“Oh?” Nova raised her eyebrows inviting more. Wait a minute, was she, Nova Pigglewiggle flirting? She was, wasn’t she? But well, Alysia had curves in all the right places.
“Looking for a night on the town sometime?”
“Not tonight,” Nova backpedaled quickly. “I’ve got work tomorrow.”
Alysia was flirting back, wasn’t she? Nova smiled.
They exchanged emails. Alysia seemed to know about everything in town. Once Nova had admitted she was looking for a place to live, Alysia had her scrambling to write down the best neighborhoods for apartment hunting. Another thing she needed to do this weekend.
Eventually it grew too late for Nova to justify staying any longer. Not when she wanted to get in early.
“Well, I’ve gotta head back to the hotel. She said signaling the bartender for the check.
“Don’t worry about that.” Alysia said catching her wrist and shaking her head at the woman. “I’ve got it.”
“It’s not like I don’t have a job,” Nova protested. Alysia’s hand burned on her wrist. She feared she was blushing.
“Never said you didn’t, but it’s a tradition here. To welcome you, Nova.”
The woman’s eyes were like pools of chocolate that Nova wanted to melt into. She’d never felt like that before. “I’ll let you know when get off work Friday,” Nova promised and she shook herself standing up and breaking the spell between them.
“Please do.” The woman smiled and let her go freely.
“Another conquest, Alyse?” Mina asked.
“Be careful, there.”
But Mina’s warning fell on deaf ears as Alysia was already plotting where to take her new friend on Friday.
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