Read Alex Ames - Calendar Moonstone 02 - Brilliant Actors Online

Authors: Alex Ames

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Jewelry Creator - Cat Burglar - Hollywood

Alex Ames - Calendar Moonstone 02 - Brilliant Actors (23 page)

BOOK: Alex Ames - Calendar Moonstone 02 - Brilliant Actors
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I walked over to the delivery elevator, pressed the button for the thirty-third floor, and rode up. According to Fowler Wynn, there was no special security on the thirty-fourth floor, where Webber had his apartment, just an additional set of cameras that were installed right opposite the elevators and the two staircases that led to the floor. I glanced at my watch; it was close to 12:30 A.M., two more minutes to go.
 

The delivery elevator gave no sound as it stopped and the door opened. I got out and climbed up the stairs before glancing at my watch again. At 12:30 sharp, my prepaid burn-phone began to vibrate.

“Somerset, good evening,” I said cheerfully.

“Good evening, madam, this is John from Downtown Express Pizza. You requested a call before we went into your building.”

“Yes, thank you. Please proceed to the receptionist and simply ask for me. Mary Somerset, Apartment 1104.”

I hung up, switched off the phone, and waited one more minute. Now the young man with a stack of about ten pizza boxes was annoying the receptionist and Mrs. Mary Somerset in Apartment 1104—and, hopefully, the receptionist was too busy to watch the monitors.
 

I opened the door to the thirty-fourth floor and stepped over to number 3401. The door was quickly opened in another well-done twenty seconds, and the beeping alarm system was dutifully silenced with Fowler’s code.
 

As usual, I didn’t switch on any light but spent the first five minutes just listening to the sounds of the apartment. The elevators outside were emitting a low buzz and occasional clicks. Water was flushing somewhere, and some muffled street noises seeped up from below.
 

I switched on the Maglite and gave every room a quick check. If I approached a closed door, I put my ear close to it, listened hard, gave the doorknob a slow turn without opening it, and then turned the knob back. That was a good measure in case of a well-trained dog behind the door. If he was trained to deal with burglars, he would start yelping and barking the minute I came close to the door. If he was trained to kill silently, as some drug dealers’ and pushers’ dogs were, he would wait behind the door with a wagging tail and drooling fangs until I had opened the door. Just turning the knob confused the pup, and it should make him do something; the usual reaction would be to sniff loudly or scratch the door to test it.
 

But Commissioner Webber had purchased neither an anti-burglar nor a drug mafia killer dog recently and, to my satisfaction, I was the only living person in the apartment apart from the goldfish.

The commissioner and his third wife occupied about three-thousand square feet; the apartment took half of the whole thirty-fourth floor.
Maybe I should get into public service, too?

I concentrated on the task ahead and made a quick overall inventory—plenty of rooms, loads of bedrooms and baths, a giant kitchen, reading room, work-out. I tapped here and there on walls and the floor, trying to get a feel for the layout and possible hidden rooms or locations of a safe. I ran carefully over the contents of his personal working desk without finding any incriminating content.

I got lucky after ten minutes of searching and found a pretty basic hiding mechanism—a fake wooden panel in the back of his dressing closet. Sliding it upward unlocked the panel-door and revealed a small room. It contained a wide and deep metal filing cabinet, about three feet high, like you saw in galleries or paper shops for large sheets of prints or paper. It had eight low drawers covering the whole width with the capacity of maybe 30 by 60-inch sheets of papers or prints.

It was a piece of cake to open the standard lock that blocked the drawers, but it took an expert to do it without any scratch marks on the shiny metal of the locks. The commissioner was a cop, after all, and you never knew what they might remember from their days of actual doing police work.

I glanced at my running stopwatch, fifteen minutes into the game. Not too bad, but cutting it close already. With a breath for good luck, I opened the upper drawer of the cabinet. Bingo! It was filled with about thirty pieces of modern art prints, each in a fitting cover. My layman expert opinion was confirmed by the large letter signature in the corner of each print. The names I recognized were Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Basquiat. Some others I didn’t, but judging from style and quality, they fitted into a similar group. The drawer below showed some more prints, mixed with drawings, this time clearly a little earlier in the twentieth century, before WWII.

I got out my digital camera, snapped a series of photos for Fowler, and pushed the drawers back in. While I made my planned way out of the apartment, I made a quick summary of tonight’s action for myself: for a regular commissioner in LA, he clearly didn’t have the means to afford limited edition prints and original drawings of twentieth-century artists, at least not in that quantity. I could dig one print as an extravaganza or inheritance, but not over a hundred. So it had to come from somewhere.
 

The bad thing was that nothing indicated whatsoever that Commissioner Webber fancied jewels as much as modern art prints. No safe to store them, and his wife’s jewelry box held only standard retail stuff in the four- and five-figure range. And, another giveaway: no books about jewelry on the shelves.

Thirty minutes in and out—already a high-risk operation, as my usual target time was twenty minutes. But everything had gone well. My inner tension was escaping slowly as I unlocked my car with a slightly shaking hand, sat down, started up, and left the area. After a few miles, I left the freeway and drove to an all-night diner near Inglewood.
 

Fowler was sitting in a booth. There was only one other customer on the other side of the room. The cook was banging pans in his kitchen, and the night waitress was doing crosswords beside the counter.
 

I slid in opposite Fowler, and we looked at each other for a while. The waitress came over, and I ordered an herbal tea.
 

After a few more moments without words between us, a quick smile crossed Fowler’s mouth. He cleared his throat, sipped on his coffee. “Well, the dynamics between us probably prevent any other beginning of a conversation, don’t you think?”

I shrugged, poured some sugar into my iced tea. Then I opened my small leather backpack and removed the memory card from my digital camera.
 

“Is the commissioner a known collector of rare twentieth-century prints?” I asked hopefully.

“He isn’t, at least not up to this point,” Fowler said.

“Webber definitely has some interesting stuff around. It will be up to you to make anything out of it.”

“Found our jewels?”

Shook my head. “No signs of our jewels nor any others. No indication that he is involved in our thefts.”

“Too bad. So, it is just the prints?”

 
“I found both, drawings and rare prints—and in such a quantity and quality that makes hobby or legal activity very, very improbable. I snapped photos of about ten of them, five known artists, five unknown artists. Well, unknown to me, anyway.”

Fowler looked at me with a neutral stare. “Okay, if the pictures link with what we have in our databases, then we know we need to look a little bit more closely.”

“Any possibility of an official search of his premises and other possessions to look a little more closely at the jewelry angle?”

“We will see,” Fowler said noncommittally.

“And you should look into his finances more closely. He lives in an apartment that costs three million minimum.”

“Webber is old money; his family made its former fortune by shipping concentrated orange juice around the world, so he has the means to live and act rich and serve the public.”

“And maybe purchase collector’s prints?”

“That is a possibility, but not a very likely one, as he executes his hobbies quite publicly.”
 

“Webber is still at the party?”

“Yup. My guy gave me a report about ten minutes ago. You were in no danger whatsoever.”
 

“Good luck. For both of us,” I said and got up. “He’ll get my drink,” I said to the waitress in passing.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Fall-out

I slept soundly on Mundy’s couch, woke up with him already gone to work, had a leisurely breakfast at the Casino Cafe, did some workout in Rockwell’s Fit studio, honed my skills in opening locks with my left hand, and jogged from Redondo up to Del Rey and back without getting mugged on the way.

Mundy was pacing the rectangle of the swimming pool when I arrived home. He held some printouts in his fist.

“You’ve been framed!” he said, waving the stack of paper. “Your sneaky British faker did it again. He used you for the Webber job!”

“What Webber job?” I said, feeling nervous. Mundy had been my alibi, and we both were on thin ice. If Fowler framed me for a break-in, things would look good on paper but probably not good in front of a jury or a judge.

“Read this, just came over the ticker; it must have flooded the internet by now, and tomorrow’s papers will be full of it. I bet CNN and all the major networks are already covering it.”

“Okay, what is this? Webber arrested, FBI, possession of stolen art, long planned operation,” I quickly scanned the news print out, the printer’s ink staining my sweaty fingers. I wasn’t getting it. “Translation please!”

Mundy sat me down on the deck chair before the pool and sat opposite of me.

“I went to your almost friend Lieutenant Lucas Graves and had a journalistic quick peek at the suspect lists that Fowler supposedly provided you,” Mundy explained.

“The ones with the contacts and guests of the Hollywood Cat Burglar victims?” I asked.

“Exactly. And I took the liberty to compare it to the lists that Fowler gave to us.”

“All right?” I wasn’t sure where this was going.

“And guess what: the name Webber only showed up on one party, not on many of the parties, as originally assumed.”

“Do you mean that Fowler added the name ‘Webber’ to the lists to frame him? That’s strong!”

“Not really. Don’t you get it, Cal?” Mundy walked up and down impatiently.
 

I shook my head. This didn’t make sense.

Mundy stopped pacing and turned toward me. “Fowler added the name of Commissioner Webber to the list because he wanted you to investigate him.”

“But why, when he has nothing to do with the Hollywood break-ins?”

“Fowler was working on another case. Not yours. He used your expertise to pre-investigate his chances of finding something hot in Webber’s residence.”

“And I mean, we found something, didn’t we?” I argued. “I took photos.”

“Come on; use your brain,” Mundy looked at me. “To arrest Webber and search his house, Fowler and the police had to have warrants. How were these warrants issued?” he continued and answered his own question, “Fowler had to prove his suspicions beforehand to a judge or a grand jury. And he wasn’t able to take your pictures and tell the judge, ‘Sir, while breaking into Commissioner Webber’s apartment, we found these prints.’”

“So my activities were totally useless to him! Why did Fowler manipulate me into investigating Webber?” I asked.

“Simply to have insurance that incriminating material would turn up. I bet you that Fowler and his chums had their eyes locked on Webber long before last night. They had suspicions, a fence had told them, the maid, whoever. They collected evidence of Webber’s illegal hobbies, enough to ask for a warrant for a high-profile suspect.”

“So I was merely the icing on the cake?” I stated dumbly.
 

Mundy nodded. “As soon as you showed him the findings of your little field trip, Fowler and the police probably took off to submit his legal evidence and executed the search warrant. He was fail-safe now, because he was one-hundred percent sure that he would find something.”

Then the final consequence struck me. “And what about my jewels?”

“Still at square one! Without any clue!” Mundy said, sounding bitter. “And few precious days to prove your innocence.”
 

“I have something. We have to meet immediately,” I told Fowler on the phone.

“Sure, let’s meet again in Redondo in a few hours. I’m busy right now,” he replied, but I could hear anticipation in his voice.

“It can’t wait. I am coming over right now to show it to you,” I hooked him. “Where are you holed up?”

“We are in Century City in an office building, opposite of the Chamber of Commerce. Ask for ‘Cardigan Inc.’ at the reception; they will send you up.” Fowler gave me the address, and we hung up.

I took a long shower to relax and to clean up. Then I smashed an empty bottle of beer because I was so mad at Fowler. As I cleaned up the mess in my kitchenette, my anger built. Finally I took off to hunt Fowler down, stopped at a vendor cart opposite a mall, and bought a large portion shish kebabs with a double extra portion of garlic sauce. The stink lingered in the elevator up to the investigation office of the building where the Webber task force—Cardigan Inc.—had their headquarters.
 

BOOK: Alex Ames - Calendar Moonstone 02 - Brilliant Actors
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