There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 3

When I rang the doorbell, Rich Carter yanked the door open. “I’ve told you everything–” He stopped. “Oh.”

Good thing I wasn’t the cops; that attitude wouldn’t go down well. “Hi, Mr. Carter. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Jamie Brodie, from next door.” I pointed in the direction of our house.

Rich scowled. “Right. What can I do for you?”

“I’m a librarian at UCLA. Detective Hooks told me about your theft, and she’s asked me to introduce her to our rare books librarian on Tuesday. I thought you might be able to give me some information that would speed the process along.”

He gave me a calculating look. “You know about rare books?”

“I have some knowledge, yes. I’ve also been involved in solving two cases of rare manuscript thefts in the past.”

He thought about it for a second, then opened the door wider. “I guess it couldn’t hurt. Come in.”

“Thank you.” I stepped into the Carters’ living room, which was a mirror image of our own. The fireplace was on my right, the kitchen up a half-flight of stairs to my right. It was disorienting.

From the kitchen, I heard Renee’s voice on the phone. “Yes, that’s correct…”

Rich said, “Renee’s talking to the insurance company. Have a seat.”

“Thanks.” I lowered myself gingerly onto the floral upholstery – it felt like silk – of the overstuffed sofa. “When did you realize the book was missing?”

“When we got back from the party. I’d left it on top of my dresser. I went up to the bedroom and saw it was gone.”

“How long had you owned the book?”
“Renee bought it a couple of months ago, but I didn’t find out about it until yesterday.” His expression was sour. “It was my birthday gift.”

“Oh. Happy Birthday, although under the circumstances it doesn’t seem quite appropriate.”

He snorted. “Yeah, thanks. I had the thing for less than 24 hours.”

“So Mrs. Carter brought the book here for your birthday.”

“Yeah.”

“Did she insure it?”

“Yes, thank God. I’m amazed that she remembered.” He shot a scowl in the direction of the kitchen. “She was the one who left the door unlocked this afternoon.”

I didn’t want to throw any fuel on that fire. “Do you know where Mrs. Carter bought the book?”

“Some outfit online. She showed me the receipt. Not a place I’d heard of.”

I’d ask Mrs. Carter for the name, if she ever got off the phone. “The police seem to think that someone from across the street stole the book.”

Rich shrugged. “Who else would it have been? Other than Helen, those kids next door and us, the only people at the party were from the new building.”

“No one else from the street came?”

“Not that I know of.”

I heard someone coming down the stairs. A female voice said, “Dad? Who…”

I stood up as a young woman with Rich Carter’s eyes, and a dark-haired young man in a UCLA t-shirt came into the living room. The girl stopped abruptly and said, “Hello.”

I said, “Hi. I’m Jamie Brodie, from next door.”

Rich said, “This is my daughter Kenzie.”

Kenzie glared at her father and added, “And, this is my boyfriend Michael.”

I shook hands with them both. “Glad to meet you.”

Kenzie said, “You, too. Dad, we’re going out.”
“All right.” Rich watched them leave then shook his head. “You expect when your kids become adults that they’ll stop being idiots.”

I didn’t think I should reply to that, and tried to draw Rich back to the problem of his lost book. “Do you know anyone that lives across the street?”

“How the hell would we know any of them? This is the first time we’ve been here since the apartments were finished.”

“Who else knew that Mrs. Carter had bought the book?”

He made a dismissive gesture in the general direction of the kitchen. “She apparently told all sorts of people. Everyone in our family and probably half of Manitou Springs. Seems the only one who didn’t know was me.”

I heard Renee say goodbye, and she came down the stairs. “Who… Oh. Hello. Jamie, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry to hear about your burglary.”

She shook her head. “Unbelievable. This was such a safe neighborhood. Any time they let renters in, trouble always follows.”

Rich said, “He’s here because he’s helped track down old books before. The detective’s going to work with him.”

Not exactly true, but I wouldn’t correct him.

Renee’s expression lightened. “How interesting. Are you in the book business?”

“In a way. I’m a librarian at UCLA.”

“How can you help find our book?”

“I’m going to take Detective Hooks to our rare book specialist on Tuesday. We’ll put our heads together and see if we figure out a plan to get it back.”

Renee clasped her hands together. “That would be wonderful.”

I figured I’d better dial back on the confidence. “We may not be able to track it, if the thief has already sold it on.”

That deflated her slightly – the effect I was hoping for. “Of course. I understand. I appreciate whatever you can do.”

“Yes, ma’am. Did you give the detective a copy of your receipt for the book?”

“Yes. Do you want one as well?”

“No, that’s not necessary.” I could ask to see the detective’s copy. “Do you happen to remember the name of the seller?”

“Yes. Booktiquities. It’s an online seller.”

“Booktiquities.” I’d remember that without having to write it down. “Is there anything else you can think of that might be helpful?”

Rich had been glaring at Renee throughout her conversation with me. Now he said, “It would be helpful if she remembered to lock the door.”

Oh, no. I said quickly, “Do you collect old books, Mr. Carter?”

“Only Cooper.” He allowed himself a faint smile. “He’s always been my favorite writer.”

“Yes, sir.” I stood. “Thank you for answering my questions.”

Renee said, “If we think of anything else, should we tell you?”

I said, “No. Call Detective Hooks. You have her card, right?”

Rich said, “We do.”

Renee said, “You’ll keep us informed, won’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. How much longer will you be here?”

“We’re leaving Friday morning.”

“All right.” I held out my hand to Rich; he took it somewhat grudgingly. I gave him a firm grip that widened his eyes slightly. I allowed a tiny smirk to flit across my expression – he wasn’t expecting the gay guy to have a manly handshake. “I’ll be in touch.”

 

The patio was clean. Gabe’s shoes and the broom were propped beside the front door. Inside, the air was redolent with the fragrance of tomato soup. I sniffed appreciatively as I locked the door behind me. “Smells wonderful in here.”

Pete and Gabe were on the sofa, watching a nature show; Pete muted the sound but activated the closed captioning so Gabe could continue to watch. “We ate so much this afternoon, I figured we’d have a light supper. Did you learn anything?”

“I did.” I told him what Rich and Renee had said.

“Interesting. But it doesn’t sound like anyone local was involved in the sale.”

“No. And it doesn’t sound like anyone local knew the Carters had the books.”

“Are their kids here for Rich’s birthday?”

“The daughter is – I met her briefly. You think maybe she told someone?”

“She went to USC. I know she has friends in town. Maybe she mentioned it to someone who took the opportunity to make a quick buck.”

“That person would have to know about the block party, though.”

“Yeah…” Pete shook his head. “However many people Renee told, there are that many possibilities.”

 

The_Last_of_the_Mohicans_1826

By unknown, неизвестен [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At eight I supervised Gabe’s preparations for bed then tucked him in. “Do you want me to read to you?”

“Yes!”

“Did you bring a book?”

His face fell. “No…”

“No worries. Be right back.” I retrieved my phone and opened the Project Gutenberg website. “This is a book called The Last of the Mohicans. It’s about Native Americans.”

“Cool!”

I began to read. “It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist…”  

Gabe was asleep in five minutes.

 

I closed the door softly and joined Pete on the living room sofa. He said, “Is Gabe asleep?”

“Yeah. I read him the first couple of paragraphs of The Last of the Mohicans and he was out like a light.”

He looked surprised. “You have that book?”

“No. It’s long out of copyright. It’s freely available online.”

“Why would anyone spend forty grand on a book that’s free?”

“Because the first edition, first printing that Rich owns is extremely rare. We have a copy in Special Collections. People don’t buy books like that to read. They’re considered investments.”

“Still seems like a waste of money to me.”

“For an individual? I agree. Did you ever read it?”

“No. You?”

“I tried. I found it tedious. Not as bad as Moby Dick, though.”

Pete grunted. “Seriously. Those 19th century writers needed editors.”

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