Masks: Part 13

The front door of the Hatch Gallery had been shattered; shards of glass littered the carpet, and Jim twisted as he went in to avoid stepping on them. Steve Connelly was there, along with three other uniforms he didn't know by name. Connelly was talking to Geoffrey Hatch who, understandably, did not look happy. Hatch was wearing perfectly pressed slacks, a sweater, and a leather jacket. Not bad for a man who'd been yanked out of bed because his gallery had been burglarized. Toni LeClaire and Rupert Crowley were there also, both in jeans, his black, hers red. She wore a long red sweater and no makeup. He needed a shave. Jim approached Hatch and Connelly.

"Mr. Hatch. Steve, what's the story?"

"The alarm came in to the service at 5:43, sir," Connelly said, all but saluting. "We were notified at 5:45. My partner and I arrived approximately four minutes later, and entered the building. There was no one here."

"What's missing?"

"Three paintings," Hatch said. "Including a Lopez that was sold yesterday."

"How valuable were these paintings?"

"The Lopez was sold for five hundred thousand dollars; the others, no more than five thousand each."

"Is there anything else missing?"

"That has yet to be determined, Detective," Hatch replied. "The thieves were also vandals. They made a shambles of the back room."

Hatch was right. The desk had been overturned, the computer monitor smashed, boxes broken open, their contents scattered.

Everywhere, there was paper. If Sandburg's copies were in there--and Jim doubted it--it would take hours to find them. The lock had been broken off the file cabinet, but there was no damage to the drawers themselves. Jim took Steve aside and told him what to look for, leaving it to him to put someone on the search. Together, they approached Geoffrey Hatch.

"Mr. Hatch, I'd like to speak to you in your office."

Hatch said nothing, simply led the way upstairs. Nothing there had been touched, but that was no surprise. Hatch seated himself behind the desk, Jim and Steve in front.

"Mr. Hatch, can you tell me where you were at 5:43 this morning?"

Hatch's eyes were cold. Jim tuned in until he could hear the man's rapid heartbeat. "Are you implying that I broke into my own gallery?"

"Mr. Hatch, this was no break-in. The officers arrived here six minutes after the alarm went off. There is no way anyone could have done all this and been gone in under six minutes. Whoever did this let him or her self in with a key, turned off the alarm, took his sweet time wrecking the back room and choosing which paintings to steal, reset the alarm, locked the door, and then smashed it and left. The file cabinet was opened with a key, too. If it had been broken into, the drawers would have been pried open. They weren't. Now answer my question, Mr. Hatch: where were you at 5:43?"

"In the shower. I had planned to play golf this morning."

"Is there anyone who can verify that?"

"No. I live alone."

"What about 11:30 last night?"

He was guessing at that. The gallery closed at nine. Assuming Blair and Toni had gotten along at dinner, they'd probably have been back here around that time. Hatch looked puzzled, but answered without hesitation. His heartbeat was back to normal.

"I attended a charity event. I can give you the names of several people who saw me there."

"Thank you. How many people know the keycode to the alarm?"

"Rupert, Toni, and myself."

"No one else?"

"No. Unless my brother told someone."

"Does that seem likely?"

"No."

"May I have your permission to search your car, or do I need to get a warrant?"

"Go ahead, Detective. But you won't find the Lopez stashed in my trunk, if that's what you're hoping."

Jim bared his teeth in a smile. "Something like that. I'd like to speak to each of your employees separately, and I'll have to ask you not to converse with each other until I'm done."

"If you insist."

Hatch stood up. Jim remained seated, but Connelly rose with Hatch to escort him down the stairs. On the top step, Hatch paused and looked back.

"By the way, Detective, where's your partner today?"

"Teaching. Why?"

Hatch shrugged. "Just curious. He seems to be a very intelligent young man."

"He is."

Moments later, Connelly came back up the stairs with Toni

LeClaire. Jim had moved to the chair behind the desk. Toni took one of the chairs in front, and Steve remained standing. Like Hatch, she had no alibi for the time of the break-in. According to Toni, she'd been home sleeping, alone, at the time. When he asked her about the night before, she looked surprised.

"Didn't Blair tell you?" Toni's heart rate increased, her eyes narrowing. "Is he in trouble? Is that why he's not here? It's all my fault, Detective. I did everything but drag him to that restaurant. I thought you'd be so happy when he gave you the packing slips that you wouldn't mind." She put her hand on Jim's arm. "Are you very angry with him, Detective Ellison?"

"I was," Jim said, wondering why he was telling her this. "I got over it."

"Good." Her heartbeat slowed to a normal rhythm. "Blair worked hard yesterday. He's so afraid of disappointing you."

"Did Blair tell you that?"

"No, of course not. But it shows, Detective. He's just like a little boy trying to please his big brother." Her heart sped up again. "If Blair's not in trouble with you, where is he? Is he all right?"

"Why do you ask?"

Toni glanced at Connelly, and leaned in closer, her voice so low only Jim could hear. "He was behaving--a little oddly last night, just before we said good night. He seemed frightened, but he wouldn't tell me why. I nearly cried just looking at his face." She met Jim's eyes. "Is it something terrible?"

"You'll have to ask Blair."

"But you know?"

"I know," he admitted.

"And you're helping him?"

"I'm doing my best."

"Good."

Well, at least he met with her approval. Why did he think he should be relieved? "Ms. LeClaire, I'd like permission to search your car."

Her eyes widened. "I don't suppose I can clean up a little in there first?"

"We'd prefer that you didn't."

"I was afraid of that."

Connelly brought Rupert Crowley up last. Crowley flung himself into a chair, where he slouched like a sullen teenager.

"Where's the boy-genius?"

"Funny," Jim said. "Everyone wants to know where Sandburg is. What's your interest in him, Crowley?"

"None whatsoever. I just want to make sure he's not coming."

"Why?"

"Because I don't like the arrogant little prick." Crowley smiled. "He assaulted me yesterday."

"Yeah?" Jim lounged back. "I heard it was the other way around."

Crowley's heart skipped. He shifted uncomfortably, but his voice was cool. "He's a liar. I touched his arm to ask him a question and he went crazy. He threatened me. Has he been tested for drugs lately, Detective?"

"Where were you at 11:30 last night, Crowley?"

"At a club. The Cobra. Do you and the--your partner ever go there, Detective?"

"Did anyone see you there? Anyone who'd remember you?"

Crowley shrugged. "I doubt it. Did you know he went out with Toni, Detective? Or are you the permissive sort?"

Jim stood up. "Officer Connelly, I think Mr. Crowley, here, wants to continue this down at the station."

Connelly moved to stand behind Crowley's chair, setting one heavy hand on his shoulder. Crowley squirmed, his heartbeat so fast that Jim thought he might faint.

"No," he said hastily. "This is fine."

Steve was grinning, and Jim had to fight to keep a straight face. "Oh, this is fine?" he echoed.

"Yes."

Jim flattened his palms on the glass desktop and leaned forward, practically in Crowley's face. "Then I suggest you answer the questions and cut out the smartass remarks. Think you can do that, Rupert?"

"Yes."

"Good." Jim sat down, nodding at Connelly, and Steve took up position beside Crowley's chair. "Now. You said you were at the Cobra last night. Aren't you supposed to be in mourning?"

"My employer died two weeks ago, Detective. I have a life."

"Your employer? I heard he was more than that, Rupert."

"You heard wrong."

"Are you telling me that you and Arthur Hatch were not lovers?"

"Who told you that?" Crowley demanded.

"That doesn't matter, Rupert. All that matters is that it's true. Isn't it?"

"All right, yes, we were! But only for a few months. We broke up three weeks before he died."

"Before he was murdered, Rupert. Arthur Hatch didn't just die. Someone killed him. Why did you break up?"

Rupert scowled. "He found someone else."

"Who?"

"I don't know his name. Some boy."

"A kid?"

"A college student." Rupert sneered. "Barely out of diapers. Just like your partner, Detective."

"So what happened, Rupert? Arthur dumped you for a younger guy, so you got mad and killed him? Is that it?"

"No!"

"No? What about the masks, Rupert? Tell me about them."

"I don't know anything about the damned masks."

"I think you do."

"Well you're wrong!"

"Where were you at 5:43 this morning, Rupert?"

"In bed."

"Alone?"

"Yes."

"No luck at the club, huh, Rupert? Everybody's going for the younger guys these days? Bet that pisses you off, doesn't it?"

"I did not kill Arthur Hatch!" Rupert shouted.

"I'd like to search your car, Rupert. You got a problem with that?"

"Search anything you want, Detective. You won't find anything."

All three cars were parked out back. Toni's Jaguar had already been searched. Other than cd's, books, clothes, and a collection of coffee cups, they'd found nothing. Two of the uniforms were in the process of searching Hatch's Mercedes. Pulling on a pair of latex gloves, Jim approached Crowley's BMW, keys in hand. Before opening the door, he used his Sentinel sight to scan the interior, but saw nothing unusual or out of place. He opened the doors, felt under and between the seats, searched the glove compartment and cd rack, slid a hand inside the cd player. Nothing. He popped the trunk and hood, got out of the car, and went to the trunk first. A tan blanket was folded neatly inside. Jim lifted it, revealing a jack, a crowbar, and a brown leather backpack, worn from years of being carried everywhere from the halls of Rainier University to Kenya and the jungles of Peru. Even if he hadn't recognized it on sight, Jim would have known it for Blair's pack: the leather carried his partner's scent. He picked up the backpack and faced Crowley.

"That's not mine," Crowley declared.

"No, it's not. It was stolen from my partner last night. You're under arrest, Rupert."

Crowley stared, all trace of attitude vanished. "What for?"

"Armed robbery, to start with. Then there's breaking and entering, grand larceny, and a whole bunch of other things, eventually. Up to and including the murder of Arthur Hatch."

 

End Part 13

Part 14