We stayed for several hours, eating, drinking, and talking. I made Gabe stay out of the pool after he ate. After he’d played Fruit Ninja for thirty minutes, Kevin took him to the yard beyond the pool to toss a baseball.
The party began to break up in late afternoon. The Fortners were staying overnight; Neil and Mark had another gathering to attend. We confirmed the details of our plans for a mountain hike the next morning, convinced Gabe to pack up his belongings, and headed home.
At the stop sign at California Avenue and 17th Street, we saw the flashing lights on the other side of Wilshire. They looked as if they were right in front of our building.Gabe said, “Oooo, cops!”
Pete said, “Well, crap.”
I said, “Turn right.”
Pete turned right onto California and drove past the middle school, turning onto 14th Street to cross Wilshire. We continued on 14th to Arizona Avenue and returned home the same way we’d left, parking in our spot under our first-floor deck. We went into the house through the back door and walked right out through the front door to see what was going on. I put Gabe to work pulling weeds from the flower beds by the patio so I could keep an eye on him.
We were immediately approached by a uniformed police officer. “We’ve been knocking on your door. Where have you been?”
Pete said, “We were visiting friends and just came in through the back. What’s going on?”
The cop wasn’t ready to answer any questions yet. He pulled out a notepad and pen. “Name?”
We gave him our names, showed him our driver’s licenses, and offered up Neil’s name for confirmation of where we’d been all afternoon. When he was satisfied, he put the notebook away. “Stay here, sirs. The detective will want to talk to you.”
Pete and I looked at each other in alarm. I said, “Detective? What the hell?”
The cop spoke to a woman in jeans and a windbreaker, pointing at us. The woman headed our way. Pete said, “We’re about to find out.”
The woman nodded to us and held out her badge. “Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Brodie, I’m Detective Hooks, Property Crimes, Santa Monica PD.”
Pete said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Detective. What’s going on?”
Hooks crossed her arms and gave us an assessing look. “Your next-door neighbors were burglarized during the block party.”
I said in disbelief, “The Carters?”
“Yes, sir. Why is that a surprise?”
Our next-door neighbors were Rich and Renee Carter. Their permanent home was Manitou Springs, Colorado; they owned the townhouse next to us as a vacation property.
I didn’t know the Carters well. Since I’d moved in with Pete, they’d only been present for a few days here and there. Pete said they’d barely tolerated his Uncle Arthur and Arthur’s partner Lewis, who had owned the townhouse since the 1980s. As a result, Pete had never made the attempt to socialize.
Pete said, “The surprise is that the Carters would go to the block party.”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“They’re only here a few days a year. It just doesn’t seem like their kind of thing.”
Hooks looked like she agreed with Pete’s assessment. “The neighbors on the Carters’ other side convinced them to go.”
That would be Micah Sherman and Alyssa Castillo. Micah was a moderately successful documentary filmmaker; Alyssa was a wildly successful food blogger and cookbook writer. Micah and Alyssa were both extroverts who never wanted anyone to feel neglected. I could imagine them dragging the Carters across the street to join the fun.
I said, “Hard to believe they left their door unlocked.”
“Yeah, they’re blaming each other for that. Still pretty bold, though, for a thief to walk right through the front door when the owners are in view across the street.”
I glanced behind me to make sure Gabe was where I’d left him, only to see him throw a weed with a clod of dirt over his shoulder. The patio was half covered with weeds and dirt.
At least he was following instructions. I’d make him sweep the patio when he finished.
Pete said, “So the thief was someone who knew the Carters were at the party.”
“Seems that way. You know anyone in those apartments across the street?”
Pete shook his head. I said, “We’ve barely seen anyone over there.”
“What about the people in that house?” Hooks pointed to the single-family home that was just south of our building.
Pete said, “They’re longtime residents. I only know them to say hello as I walk past. They’ve got to be at least seventy.”
“Probably not viable suspects.” Hooks narrowed her eyes and looked across the street, where more cops were questioning small groups of people. “We think it has to be someone from the apartments.”
I said, “There goes the neighborhood.”
Hooks gave me a sharp look, then a half-smile.
Pete asked, “What was taken?”
“Cash and some kind of valuable old book.”
My ears perked up. “Old book?”
Hooks said, “You know something about that?”
“Not what the Carters owned specifically. But I’m a librarian at UCLA. I know about old books.”
“Ah. The details on the book were…” Hooks referred to a notepad. “First edition, first issue, original binding of The Last of the Mohicans. Mr. Carter says it’s worth around forty grand.”
Pete whistled. I said, “Sounds about right. But who would know the Carters had that?”
Hooks pointed in the direction of the apartment complex. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”
Pete said, “Nothing else was taken?”
“No. And the Carters were only at the party for about twenty minutes. The thief would have needed to know what he or she was looking for.”
I said, “They’ll try to sell it.”
Hooks asked, “We assume so. How would they go about that?”
“They’d need a dealer. It’s possible that they’re already working with one.”
Pete groaned. “Not another antiquarian bookseller case.”
Hooks looked confused. “Another?”
I said, “LAPD had a homicide case back in January involving antique book dealers. But if the thief knew what to look for, he or she also knows that you all will be checking the local shops. They’re more likely to try to move it online.”
Hooks looked grim. “Which makes it far more difficult to trace.”
“Is there any way to put out an alert for a book like that?”
“Now you’re getting out of my area of expertise. You should check with the librarians in our special collections department. One of them would know.”
Hooks glanced at her watch. “I guess there’s no one there over the weekend, huh?”
“No, ma’am. Not until Tuesday morning.”
“All right. What if I call you Tuesday, and you can make the introductions?”
“Sure.” I gave her my phone number.
“Thanks.” She nodded to us and went back to the apartment complex.
Pete watched her go, shaking his head. “Why would the Carters have something like that at this house?”
“We should ask them.”
Pete shot me a look of concern. “You’re not getting involved in this case, are you?”
“I’m already involved. I’m going to introduce Detective Hooks to Lisa Bello. She’s our rare book specialist. Would the cops ask the Carters why they had the book at this house?”
“They should. But what they probably asked was, who knew it was at this house. Not why.”
“The Carters may have just bought the book. If so, it would be interesting to know where they got it.”
“Am I going to be able to dissuade you from getting mixed up in this?”
“I’m not getting mixed up. I’m just going to express my sympathy to the Carters and ask them a few questions. If they have interesting answers, I’ll call Detective Hooks.”
Gabe sprang to his feet. “I’ll come!”
A reminder that, even though he might be doing something else, Gabe was always listening. I said, “No, Gabers. Are you finished weeding?”
He’d been thorough, not only removing all of the weeds but a few flowers as well. I said, “Great job. Now you need to sweep the patio. Uncle Pete will show you where the broom is.”
Pete said, “I’d come with you if I wasn’t supervising broom duty. But the Carters may be more forthcoming if they don’t see us together.”
“As in, if they don’t see us together, they’ll temporarily forget their homophobia?”
“Not forget it, just not be acutely reminded of it. And I’m more of a reminder than you are.” Pete turned toward our own front door. “Good luck. C’mon, Gabe.”
Gabe turned to follow Pete into the house. I called to him, “Take those dirty shoes off at the door!”