I went with Alicia to retrieve her car from the underground garage at her apartment building a few blocks from campus and guided her through downtown Santa Monica to the police station as I texted Pete to let him know what I was doing. We showed the duty officer our IDs. A couple of minutes later, Detective Hooks retrieved us from the lobby.
I introduced Alicia to Hooks, and she took us back to her cubicle. Hooks pulled up chairs for us and handed Alicia a list of names. “Tell me if anyone there sounds familiar.”
Alicia gnawed on her lower lip as she read the list. “No.”
I said, “Some of her friends may have gotten married and changed their names. Would you recognize a picture?”
Alicia brightened. “I might. I’ve always been better with faces than names.”
Hooks turned to her computer and began pulling up driver’s license pictures for the people on the list. Alicia studied them, her chin on her fist, her expression growing more glum with each photo. At the end of the identity parade she shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry. No one looks familiar.”
Hooks tucked the list back into a folder on her desk. “It was a good thought. Worth a try.”
I said, “Did Kenzie admit to telling anyone about the book?”
“She said she couldn’t remember telling anyone.” Hooks frowned. “I didn’t think she was lying.”
I remembered what Liz had said. “Did you ask the Carters who’d been at Rich’s birthday party?”
Hooks gave me an odd look and dug out her notebook from under a stack of files. She flipped through it, frowning. “Apparently not. Damn.”
Although she’d made a mistake, I felt bad for Hooks. When an obvious solution was staring a cop in the face, he or she was less likely to consider other avenues. It was an occupational hazard.
Alicia said, “Kenzie was book smart but not people smart, and she was kind of an airhead. If she said she couldn’t remember, that might be true.”
“Yeah, that was my impression of her too. I’ll call the Carters and ask…” Hooks stopped as her phone beeped – just as my phone buzzed in my pants pocket.
We both checked our phones. Our Google alert had paid off. Hooks read the screen and grinned. “Hot damn.”
For sale: James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, first edition, first printing, original cover and binding. $20,000. The alert included a URL.
Hooks turned to her desktop computer and typed in the URL. The website was called oldbooksfirst, and it appeared to be professionally done. On closer examination, though, I grew suspicious. “Detective? May I?”
Hooks traded seats with me. I opened a new browser window and did a Google Images search.
Except for the Cooper book, all of the items listed for sale on the oldbooksfirst website were pictures of old books taken from Google Images.
By Ch. Maderthoner (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hooks raised an eyebrow. “Pretty slick.”
Alicia said, “Not slick enough.”
I said, “A buyer who was either too naive to check or too crooked to care would be drawn in by the low price. As soon as the transaction is completed, the seller shuts down the website and there’s no trace.”
Hooks sent a screenshot to her printer. “There is now.”
Alicia said, “Now what?”
Hooks grinned. “Now I pretend to be a buyer.”
I stood up and got out of Hooks’s way as she slid back into her own seat. She said, “I need to talk to my captain and get this set up. Ms. Kwan, thanks for coming in. Dr. Brodie, I appreciate all your assistance.”
As we left Alicia said, “That alert must be a relief.”
I said, “More than you know. If she nabs the thief in a fake buy, she doesn’t have to tell her supervisors that she forgot to ask an important question.”
“Do the police make mistakes like that very often?”
“They do. In an acute situation, it’s almost impossible for a cop to remember everything he or she should have asked. But I know she’s talked to the Carters a couple of times since then, and I suppose it just didn’t occur to her to ask about the birthday celebration.”
Alicia gave me a sideways look. “Are you going to ask them?”
I grinned. “As soon as you drop me at my house.”
Alicia left me at our front gate. I went inside to tell Pete what I was doing and found him on the sofa, his laptop open. It smelled like we were having roast chicken for dinner.
I set my computer bag on the loveseat. “Can dinner wait five minutes?”
“Sure.” Pete narrowed his eyes, suspicious. “What are you doing?”
“I need to tell the Carters that an alert came through on their book.”
“Yeah, while Alicia and I were at the police station. I’ll be right back.”
It was Renee Carter that opened the door this time. She was surprised to see me. “Jamie. Hello.”
“Hi, Mrs. Carter. I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but I wanted to let you know that we got an alert. Someone’s trying to sell a book exactly like yours online.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, my! Come in.”
I stepped inside as Renee called up the stairs. “Rich? Jamie from next door is here. There’s been an alert on our book.” She gave me a quick smile. “He’s packing.”
“Ah, that’s right, you’re leaving tomorrow.”
Rich thumped down the stairs. “You’ve found our book?”
“Possibly.” I explained the details of the alert. “Detective Hooks is going to pretend to be a buyer.”
Rich scowled. “There’s no indication of who the seller might be yet?”
“No, sir. If you don’t mind me asking – who was here when you opened your birthday gifts?”
Rich and Renee looked at each other. Renee said, “We’d come back from dinner with Kenzie and her boyfriend. We ate cake while Rich opened his gifts.”
I said, “Is Kenzie’s boyfriend local?”
Rich said, “He is now. They met at USC, and he stayed here for grad school. At UCLA, as a matter of fact.”
Renee said, “We’re trying to discourage Kenzie, without being pushy about it. Michael is getting a master’s degree in literature. If they end up together she’ll be supporting him for the rest of her life.”
I said, “Long distance relationships are tough. Maybe it’ll die out on its own.”
Rich grumbled. “That’s our hope.”
“What’s his last name? If he’s at UCLA, maybe I know him.”
Renee said, “Fitzpatrick.”
Michael Fitzpatrick. I said, “No, that’s not familiar.”
Rich said, “Too bad. You could spy on him for us.”
Oh, hell, no. I smiled, trying to look sympathetic. “Sorry. I’d better go, my dinner’s waiting. I just wanted to let you know about the alert.”
Renee reached out to shake my hand, and squeezed it. “Thank you so much for all your help with this.”
Rich shook my hand somewhat more grudgingly. “Yeah, thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Safe travels.”
I texted Detective Hooks with the name and details of Michael Fitzpatrick; she sent back a terse K. Thx. She was probably in the middle of contacting the online seller.
Who just might be Michael Fitzpatrick.
I told Pete about the developments as we ate. He said, “You’re right, that’s a common mistake. A theft takes place during an event like that, the cops are going to assume that it’s linked to the event. I wonder if the boyfriend has a key?”
“Based on what Rich said about him, I doubt it. Although Kenzie might have given him one without her parents’ knowledge.”
After dinner, I got out my laptop and typed the URL for oldbooksfirst into the browser.
The website was already gone. Hooks must have made contact. I was sure that whoever had the book was anxious to get rid of it and pocket the profits.
I wondered, if Michael Fitzpatrick was our thief, if Kenzie Carter had any idea what her boyfriend was up to.
I hoped not.
Friday, September 6
As I closed the gate between our front yard and the sidewalk the following morning, I saw Detective Hooks approaching from the south. She lifted her hand in greeting. “Good morning. I’m coming to speak with the Carters before they leave town.”
I asked, “How did your sting work out?”
She grinned. “Like a dream. It was Michael Fitzpatrick, Kenzie’s boyfriend, and she had given him a key to the house without telling her parents.”
“Did you arrange a meeting with him?”
“Yep. Told him I needed to bring an authenticator with me.” She grinned. “The authenticator was our other property crimes detective. He’s about twice my size. I didn’t want any trouble.”
“I guess Fitzpatrick wasn’t worried about authentication. He knew the book was real.”
“He wasn’t worried about it at first. When my partner asked for documentation of provenance, he produced a badly faked letter from UCLA.”
I laughed. “When did you spring it on him?”
“We showed him the cash. Drug deal seizures do come in handy. He handed over the book, and we slapped the cuffs on him.” Hooks chuckled. “He never saw it coming.”
“Not a candidate for Criminal of the Year?”
“Hardly.” She shook my hand. “I’d better see the Carters. They’ll want to get this wrapped up so they can leave town.”
“Right. I’ve got a bus to catch. It’s been a pleasure, Detective.”
She grinned. “Pleasure was all mine.”
When I got to the library, I told Liz and Alicia about the resolution of the case. Alicia shook her head. “Poor Kenzie. She always had lousy luck with boyfriends. She wasn’t a good judge of character.”
Liz preened a bit. “I’m going to take the credit for solving this one, since I thought of the crucial question to ask.”
I held up my hands. “Go right ahead. I sincerely hope that my burgeoning career as an investigator is over.”
Alicia laughed. “Famous last words. You probably just doomed yourself to another case.”
Liz poked me in the shoulder. “You enjoyed this one.”
“Only because no one ended up dead.”
Alicia raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’d think that would be preferable.”
“Come on.” Liz tugged on my arm. “You can buy me a coffee to celebrate our victory over the forces of evil.”
I laughed and followed her.