Monday, September 2
I was jolted awake the next morning by a crash from the kitchen. Pete sat straight up in alarm. “What the hell was that?”
“Dunno.” But I had a suspicion. I pulled on a pair of sweatpants and tiptoed to the guest room.
As I’d thought, the door was open and Gabe wasn’t in bed. I went to the kitchen to find Gabe hurriedly stacking cereal bowls on the counter. I said, “What’s going on, buddy?”
He froze, guilt written all over his features. “I was getting a bowl.”
“I see that. You knocked a few over, huh?”
“I couldn’t reach the top of the stack. So I tried to get the one on the bottom. Nothing broke.”
Fortunately, our cereal bowls were nearly-indestructible Corelle. “Did all of them hit the floor?”
“No, sir.” He held up one bowl. “This one was in my hand.”
“Okay.” I took Gabe’s bowl, poured cereal and milk, and placed it on the table. “Here. Eat.”
“Yes, sir.” He dug in, but kept watching me.
I opened the dishwasher and loaded the bowls that had landed on the floor. “Do you get your own cereal at home when Dad and Mom are still in bed?”
“Dad and Mom always get up before me.”
“Ah.” Life on the farm.
Pete staggered downstairs, rubbing his head, making his hair stand up. “What happened?”
“Gabe knocked over a stack of bowls. No damage done.”
Gabe said, “Sorry, Uncle Pete.”
Pete ruffled Gabe’s hair. “It’s okay. Ready for a hike?”
Gabe grinned, relieved that he’d gotten away without reprimand or punishment. “Yes, sir.”
We gathered at the entrance to the East Topanga Fire Road – Ali, Mel, Lauren, Dustin, Kevin, Abby, Pete, Gabe, and me. Gabe hopped back and forth between Kevin and me as everyone strapped on their backpacks and tightened the laces of their boots. I asked Lauren, “What are your parents doing this morning?”
“Visiting friends in Tarzana. They’ll beat us back to the house.”
The Fortners were taking Gabe home with them; we had his full backpack in the Jeep. I said, “Maybe we’ll tire Gabe out on the hike and he’ll sleep in the car on the way home.”
Lauren laughed. “Has that ever happened?”
I just grinned.
We started up the trail, Gabe bouncing between Kevin and Abby at the front. “Uncle Kevin, guess what? The cops were at Uncle Jamie’s house when we got home yesterday.”
“To be exact, they were next door.” I explained.
Kevin said, “Oh, God. Not another rare book case.”
Pete said, “My sentiments exactly.”
I said, “This one seems to be a simple burglary. The mystery is, who knew the book was there?”
Kevin frowned at me. “You’re not getting involved, are you?”
By the time we we were halfway back down the trail after lunch, Gabe was dragging. We distributed the items from Kevin’s backpack into everyone else’s, and Kevin piggybacked Gabe for a while. When he got tired, we made Gabe walk again, but in a mile or so he was complaining. Kevin took Pete’s backpack and Pete took Gabe, then I took my turn.
By the time we reached the parking lot, we were all sweaty and exhausted – except for Gabe, who’d been resting for several miles and had regained his exuberant energy. He ran in circles, arms out, pretending to be an airplane, while we sorted everyone’s belongings and transferred Gabe’s backpack to Ali’s car.
I stepped in front of Gabe and scooped him up, spinning him around a couple of times and making him laugh, then stopped and held him against my chest. “Hey. You’re going to behave on the way home, right?”
“Do what Miss Lauren tells you.”
“Can you remember to tell your dad to text me when you get home?”
He grinned. “Yes, sir. But what if he’s not home?”
“Then tell your mom, you nut.” I hugged him and set him down. “Love you, buddy.”
“Love you, too.” Gabe wiggled out of my grasp and hugged Pete, Kevin and Abby. Kevin made certain that Gabe was strapped securely into Mel’s car, and we waved goodbye.
When they were out of sight, Pete sagged against the side of the Jeep. “My God. How do Jeff and Val do it?”
Kevin chuckled and slapped Pete’s shoulder. “Listen, Gabe’s a tranquil child compared to some I’ve seen.”
Abby said, “Compared to some of the brats in my family. At least Gabe does what you tell him.”
I smiled inwardly. My goal in bringing Gabe up for the weekend had been to disabuse Pete of the notion that he might like to have a kid of our own.
Sounded like I might have accomplished my mission.
Tuesday, September 3
As soon as I got to work the next morning I sent an IM to Lisa Bello in Special Collections.
Let me know when you have a minute this morning. I need your expert advice.
Twenty minutes later she responded. I’m in the bindery, if you can come down now.
Be right there.
When I got to the door of the bindery, Lisa was demonstrating a repair technique to a pair of MLIS work-study students. “Keep these edges overlapped and make sure the glue doesn’t seep out. You both try a couple, and I’ll be right back.”
Lisa was a foot shorter than me with a snub nose and curly black hair that refused to obey the laws of gravity. She came into the hallway smiling. “You haven’t found another page of the Book of Kells, have you?”
“Ha! No, the item in question this time is considerably newer.” I told her about the theft. “What’s the most likely avenue for the thief to try to unload the book?”
“It’ll have to be a private sale. No reputable bookseller will agree to handle it. There’s a database of stolen items that an honest dealer would consult if someone approached with a book like that on offer.”
“Ah. So if the thief didn’t know about the database, that would be one way to track him. Or her.”
“Right. But you said the thief apparently knew exactly what he or she was looking for. If so, chances are they know about the database.”
“A private sale like that could be handled either online or in person, I suppose.”
“Right. Unless the book was stolen with a specific buyer in mind, though, it’s likely to take place online.”
“Is there any super-secret way to uncover a transaction like that?”
She laughed. “Nope. I’d use a Google alert for that just like I would for anything else.”
“Perfect. Thanks, Lisa.”
My phone rang as I was climbing the stairs to the second floor. I pushed the fire door open as I answered. “Hello?”
“Dr. Brodie, this is Detective Scilla Hooks. I’m calling in reference to the theft we discussed on Sunday.”
Doctor Brodie? She’d been checking up on me. “Yes, ma’am. I just came from talking to our rare book specialist.” I repeated my conversation with Lisa. “Did you know about the database of stolen books?”
“Not before Sunday. After I left you, I spoke to someone at LAPD’s Art Theft Unit who told me about it. I added Mr. Carter’s book to the database Sunday evening. Do you know how to set up one of these Google alerts?”
“Where is your office?”
I gave her directions to YRL. “Stop at the front desk and they’ll call me.”
“All right. I’ll be there within the hour.”
Liz had come out of her office as I was finishing my conversation. “Who’s coming to see you?”
“A Santa Monica PD Property Crimes detective.” I told her about the Carters’ theft as I unlocked my office door.
She sat across from me, shaking her head. “I know this is blasphemous for a librarian, but I just don’t get collecting old books like that.”
“I think our problem, if you want to call it that, is that we see books as books. To be read, enjoyed, shared. Someone like Rich Carter is only looking at this book in terms of its investment value. Although, he did say Cooper was his favorite writer.”
Liz wrinkled her nose. “Did you ever read The Leatherstocking Tales?”
“They’re supposed to be pro-Native American, but they’re not. The difference between Cooper and other writers of the time was that he didn’t believe the tribes should be exterminated, just relocated. That supposedly made it great literature.”
Liz was half Hawaiian and one quarter Vietnamese. I said, “I’m sure your grandparents have strong opinions on European colonialism.”
She snorted. “You could say that. I was always in trouble in school for standing up in class and announcing that what the teacher had just said was the product of centuries of Anglo-European oppression.”
I grinned. “I wish I’d known you when we were kids.”
She grinned back. “I was a total brat. You might have hated me. And then where would we be now?”
Thirty minutes later I was studying the Booktiquities website when I got an IM from Connie Bright at circulation. You have a visitor.
Be right there.
When I got to the first floor, Scilla Hooks was looking around in interest. “Not as busy as I expected.”
“We’re on the quarter system. Fall classes don’t begin for two more weeks. Can I buy you a coffee?”
We went to Café 451, where Hooks took a sip of her latte and smacked her lips. “Damn, that’s good. You ever had police station coffee?”
“No. But I’ve smelled it.”
“I guess you have. I checked up on you and Dr. Ferguson.”
I grinned. “Our secrets are out.”
“I got curious. How would a librarian know about an LAPD homicide case?”
“And now you know.”
“Yep.” She took another sip and leaned back, giving me an appraising look. “Have you spoken with the Carters?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I repeated my conversation with Rich and Renee. “I checked out the seller website. It looks legitimate.”
“Yeah. I called a couple of the rare book dealers in town this morning, and they confirmed that.”
I said, “I saw the Carters’ daughter and her boyfriend at the house. Is their son in town?”
“No, and the daughter didn’t go to the block party. You know her?”
“I’d never met her before. Pete says she went to USC.”
Hooks looked thoughtful. “Why would Kenzie steal her dad’s book, though? I ran a check on both her and her brother. They have clean records and good jobs. Neither of them is hurting for money.”
“No idea. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d do for a prank.”
“No.” Hooks picked up her latte. “Why don’t you show me how to set up this alert?”
We went to my office, where Hooks looked around in interest. “You’re quite the book collector yourself.”
“Yes, but none of these are rare or valuable. I read and use almost all of them.”
I logged on to my computer and opened the Google Alerts page, typing in “Last of the Mohicans” “James Fenimore Cooper” “first edition” “first printing” “for sale” “on offer” “available”.
I asked, “Are there any search terms you want to add to that?”
“Can’t think of any.”
“You want the alerts immediately, right?”
“What’s your email address?”
“Scilla dot Hooks at smgov dot net.”
I added her email address to my own; I was curious to see what alerts, if any, came through. Hooks asked, “How long will this last?”
“Until you tell me to stop it.”
“Okay.” She stood and shook my hand. “Thanks for your help.”
“Yes, ma’am. One more thing – we have the same edition of the book that was stolen, if you’d like to get a visual on the item you’re trying to retrieve.”
She brightened. “I’d love to.”
“Come to Special Collections with me. I’ll show you the book and introduce you to our rare books librarian.”