Wednesday, September 4
By Wednesday evening the Google alert had been activated for well over 24 hours and nothing meaningful had come through. After dinner, Pete and I were lounging on the living room sofa. Pete was idly flipping through channels and I was texting with Jeff about Gabe’s weekend. We weren’t expecting visitors, so we looked at each other in surprise when the doorbell rang.
Pete looked through the peephole and said, “Oh, it’s Helen.” He opened the door as I picked up the remote he’d dropped and muted the TV.
Helen held out a basket full of tomatoes. “I come bearing gifts. Hi, Jamie.”
Pete took the basket. “Wow, those are beauties. Thank you.”
I said, “Come on in, Helen. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, no. I’ll just stay a minute.” She took the loveseat. “I’m not interrupting, am I?”
Pete had deposited the tomatoes in the kitchen and come back to the sofa. He said, “Not at all. How was the block party?”
“Very nice. I don’t know which caterer they used, but the food was delicious. All of the new neighbors seem like pleasant people. We had a lovely day until the police came.”
I said, “We were amazed to hear that the Carters had even gone to the party.”
“Yes.” Helen rolled her eyes. “Alyssa insisted. I know Rich didn’t want to go, but Renee has a soft spot for Alyssa.”
Pete said, “Rich should have stayed home, given what happened.”
“Oh, yes. And wasn’t he furious when he found out that their door had been left unlocked. The police had to separate him from Renee so they could get a word in edgewise.”
I said, “Renee thought this was a safe neighborhood.”
Helen said, “It is a safe neighborhood, relatively speaking. But for heaven’s sake, this is still Los Angeles. One doesn’t leave one’s doors unlocked.”
A thought struck me. “Did the police make anything of the fact that Alyssa encouraged the Carters to leave the house?”
“Yes, they questioned her extensively. Micah allowed the police to search their house and cars, and Alyssa was able to convince them that they knew nothing about Rich’s book.”
Pete asked, “Did any of the new neighbors know the Carters?”
“Not at all. I saw Detective Hooks this morning on the sidewalk when she came to speak to the Carters. She said that none of the new residents have any connections to the Carters.” Helen nodded at me. “She’s depending on that alert system you set up for her.”
I said, “There’s been zero action so far.”
Pete said, “It’s still possible that the thief sold it to someone in person.”
Helen said, “In that case, Rich may never see his book again.”
Thursday, September 5
When I left the house the next morning, there was an AT&T van parked at the curb. A technician was gathering equipment from within the van, and Renee Carter was standing at her front gate, watching him. I said, “Hi, Renee.”
She blinked at me. “Oh, hello, Jamie. We’re having a home monitoring system installed.”
“Ah, that’s a good idea.”
“Yes, since we’re in town so rarely. Rich wants to be able to keep an eye on the houseremotely.” She sighed. “This used to be such a safe neighborhood.”
I didn’t have time to discuss that misconception with her. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Detective Hooks tells us that you set up an online alert in case someone tries to sell our book online.”
“Yes, ma’am. I checked it again a half-hour ago, and there’s been no notification so far.”
“Do you suppose the thief might be waiting? Maybe he or she thinks that the police will lose interest after a few weeks.”
I smiled. “If they believe that, they don’t know cops.” The technician had closed his van and looked like he was ready to start. “Good luck with your installation.”
When I got to work I checked all the other search engines I could think of, with all the search terms I could think of, to see if there was any mention of a book that might be Rich Carter’s. There wasn’t. I sighed and turned to my own work.
When Clinton approached the reference desk, he smiled. “The word of the day is remplissage.”
Liz checked the definition. “Needless padding in literature.”
I snickered. “Like The Last of the Mohicans.”
She grinned as she recorded the word. “Any progress in finding the book yet?”
“No. Although…” I snapped my fingers. “I forgot to ask the detective about something.”
I took my phone out and texted Scilla Hooks. Forgot to ask you. Was anyone else from the neighborhood at the party?
It was after 3:00 and I was back in my office when she answered. Yes. Several residents from the apartment building at the other end of the block, across from the hospital. Same apartment management company.
They all checked out with respect to Carters?
I wandered next door to Liz’s office. “Let me think out loud for a minute.”
“About the book theft?”
“Yeah.” I held up one finger. “Whoever stole the book had to know that the Carters owned it, and that Renee had brought it here. They also would have needed a reasonably good idea as to where in the house it was, since the Carters were only out for twenty minutes.”
I held up a second finger. “The thief also had to know that the block party was going on.”
Liz asked, “Was the party advertised beyond your block?”
“No. Everyone at the party was from our block. And Detective Hooks said that there are no connections between any of the party attendees and the Carters.”
I looked at Liz in surprise, then nodded as the truth of that sank in. “Yes. Because here’s another thing.” I held up three fingers. “The thief went in the front door. Any experienced burglar would have gone in the back. He or she would never have taken the risk of being seen, no matter how small that risk might be. Rich or Renee could have glanced across the street at any time.”
“How would the burglar know the Carters were going to the party?”
“They wouldn’t, necessarily. If they were already at the party and already knew about the book, they may have seen an opportunity when the Carters showed up. Although that’s leaving a lot to chance.”
Liz said, “How would the burglar know that the front door had been left unlocked?”
I smiled as the realization dawned on me. “They wouldn’t have needed to know that if they had a key.”
Liz looked smug. “And if it was someone who could explain her presence in the house, then anyone who saw her go in would think nothing of it.”
“But why would the daughter steal the book? She doesn’t need money. Even if she did, her parents would probably just give it to her. Besides, she wasn’t at the party.”
Liz said, “Then a friend of the daughter’s. Someone who lives in those apartments who lied to the cops about knowing the Carters.”
“But a friend wouldn’t have the key.”
Liz cocked an eyebrow. “Unless the daughter was involved. Or maybe she innocently gave her friend a copy of the key at some other time.”
I mused. “Maybe the friend needed money. The daughter knew the book was insured, so the theft wouldn’t be a financial loss to her parents, and offered to help out.”
“But no one has sold the book online yet.”
Liz said, “Know anyone who went to USC recently?”
A grin spread slowly across my face. “Yes, I do. And so do you.”
Liz grinned back as it hit her. “Alicia.”
Alicia Kwan was a new graduate of UCLA’s MLIS program and was working in our East Asian Library on the other side of the second floor from Liz’s and my offices. She’d gotten her bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies from USC three years ago.
I texted Pete. Any idea what Kenzie Carter’s college degree is in?
He answered immediately; he was likely to be home by now. I only know about her major because I asked her once, soon after I moved in with Uncle Arthur. Asian-American studies.
I laughed out loud. “Bingo.”
Liz said, “Could be coincidence.”
“You should know by now, cops don’t believe in coincidences.”
She grinned and stood up. “Let’s go find Alicia.”
Alicia was at her desk, frowning at her computer monitor. The frown morphed into a smile when she saw us. “Hi, guys. What’s up?”
I said, “A long shot. Do you know anyone from your days at USC named Kenzie Carter?”
“Yeah, I do. I had several classes with her, and we lived in the same dorm.”
Liz applauded. I said, “Did you know any of her friends?”
“Some of them. Why?”
I gave Alicia a quick synopsis of the theft. “I think Kenzie may have told someone about her father’s birthday gift, and that someone may be the thief.”
Liz said, “Oh, this just occurred to me. Maybe the thief knew about the book because she was at the dad’s birthday party.”
I made a mental note to ask Detective Hooks who’d attended the birthday party and said, “Or Kenzie took it herself.”
Alicia wrinkled her nose. “Nah, that doesn’t sound like Kenzie. She wouldn’t pull a prank like that, and she wouldn’t need the money. She might have told someone, though.” She shook her head. “Kenzie was naive. She trusted everyone. She was always getting stuff stolen from her room because she’d leave the door unlocked or she’d leave her laptop unattended in the library while she went to the restroom.”
Maybe Kenzie had inherited that trait from her mother. I said, “Would you be willing to look at a list of names and tell the Santa Monica police if you recognize any of them?”
I called Detective Hooks, who asked Alicia if she could come to the station in an hour. Alicia agreed, as long as I could go with her. Hooks said that was fine.
Good thing, as I’d intended to show up anyway.