“Look, bro, don’t get jealous. She just called up outta the clear blue, said she was sorry for everything and wanted to know if you were around. I told her you’d moved out and she said ‘Okay’ and hung up before I could give her your number. I called back but it was a phone booth so I couldn’t get her again.” Jared went on talking, but Connor didn’t hear. His mind had begun to work again, looking for pieces to put back together into some sort of whole.
“Jared,” he interrupted suddenly, “when did she call?”
“’Bout four days back.”
“Is the number still on your caller ID?”
“It’s from a pay phone, you moron!”
“That doesn’t matter!” He was surprised to hear himself shouting back—he never shouted. “Is it?”
Jared grumbled that he’d go check and threw the receiver down. Connor was searching through the online version of the local paper, looking for the Arts & Life sections from two weeks ago. (46) There had been a tiny blurb about a new collection on display at the museum, the works of the nouveau French art scene. He barely noticed the event before. Now he was speed-reading through the smudged pages, looking for three short lines.
The phone was crackling behind him. Jared’s faint voice shouted, “Are you even there? What the hell is wrong with you anyway?”
“Sorry, sorry … I was looking for something. What’s the number?”
Beverly sighed as a shadow fell across her doorstep. A rapid knock, her resigned "Come in," and he was in her house, babbling. It was too early to deal with him without coffee. “Trouble with a capital T. What’s up, Connor?”
“I need your help.”
“Connor, please just stop. Listen to me.” (47) He fell silent. “You're not well. You’re too thin. You’re all stressed out and nervous, look at how your hands are shaking. And you’re over all the time, begging me to look up this and that. The sun isn't even up yet and already you want me to look something up for you. Can’t you see you’re chasing the wind?”
“No,” she said and turned away, almost running to the kitchen. She viciously took up a heavy mug. “You’re killing yourself. Whatever this demon is, you’re using it to kill yourself. I’m not going to help you do it anymore.”
“No.” Cream cut through the strong coffee. She couldn’t look at him. His eyes would break her resolve in an instant. “I have work to do, Connor. Actual police work, not this gunslinging you’re so fond of. I'm sorry, but I need for you to leave now."
A test tube of tiny shavings got the attention of the bored lab techs. A smile got them to analyze the material itself.
They gave him a printout of the results. Wooden statue, made of a species of cypress indigenous to France. Clay statue, silt and silica content confirmed within a 0.0010% margin of error to be from the banks of the Seine River. He thanked them and took it home, adding it to an ever-growing collection of papers and clippings, photos from surveillance, receipts, leads scribbled on napkins. It was the 'demon' that Beverly despised, the obsession that he fed even as it ate him alive.
He read the results again over his solitary dinner at the new diner (48), which had just re-opened under new management. Jared had never been in there. He bore a grudge as they would not hire him for any position higher than a shift leader. He argued that he used to be the general manager, but the new owners pointed out all of the health-code violations that they had to correct before they could open for business. Connor wasn't cruel enough to tell his brother that the food tasted much better now.
"She's not stupid," he muttered to himself. "She's gotta know ..."
He still hadn't been able to convince the police department that the sculptures on display in the museum were actually Rosalind's work. He brought in an art professor, who affirmed that the chiseling technique on these pieces was exactly the same as the forged sculptures that they had confiscated from the basement of the halfway house. The detectives just rolled their eyes. "When'd you become an art history expert?" they scoffed. "That junk all looks alike anyway, anyone with a mallet can do it."
"But that's my point," Connor insisted. "Have you ever actually tried to sculpt anything with a mallet? It's damn near impossible if you don't know what you're doing! Don't you remember how exactly she was able to copy an artifact, right down to glazing and aging it? Don't you guys know anything about forgery and how hard it is to do it well? And now that you've got a substantial lead, you can't even be bothered to pursue it?"
"Substantial," they sighed. "You see a piece of rock that came from France and you assume it had to be her."
"But we know she's in France, I've got the records to prove—”
"To prove that she made a single phone call from a pay phone in Paris," Beverly interrupted from across the room. "If I call a friend from a phonebooth in Los Angeles, does that prove that I live in California? For all you know, she made that call from the airport as she was getting ready to fly somewhere else."
"No," Connor said.
They all looked at him. He kept talking, trying to persuade them, knowing that they weren’t hearing anything he was saying. Poor Frio. He’s gone round the bend. Finally one of the rookies said, “You know, if you’re so sure she’s in France, you could just go there and look for her. I’m just sayin’.”
That idea, as sarcastic as it had been, was actually the best advice he’d gotten so far. Once he arrived in Paris, her trail had become concrete rapidly. Several art dealers in the area knew her work. But, they explained, they had never met her in person. None of them could pick her out of a police dossier and no one recognized her voice, and she had taken care to keep it that way, conducting all deliveries and transactions through an anonymous agent. One dealer confessed that he had donated her pieces to a museum in hopes that the publicity might draw her out. It hadn’t. Another admitted that he had tried very hard to track her down through her various IP addresses with no luck. “The IP originates in Indonesia, and I assume she isn’t there.”
“No,” Connor agreed. “She is good with a computer, after all.”
He kept asking questions, searching through dusty art galleries, poring over his copious notes. He searched the underground and spoke discreetly to black market dealers. He managed to gain an evening audience with a private collector who had several of her pieces on display.
"She's quite the talent," Mrs. Grenoit murmured in a creaking voice as a maid poured tiny glasses of rare vintage. "A woman sculptor is unusual enough, but she seemed to come out of nowhere. She's not associated with any of the large art academies, she wasn't mentored by any of the big names in the art world, and no one's ever heard of her before. Still though, her work is so good that no one seems to mind. I'd love to meet her personally, pick her brain a bit, see where all of that intensity originates. I've never been able to arrange it though. They tell me she's a recluse, refuses all social affairs. Artists ... eccentric bunch."
"Would you be willing to let me know if it's ever a possibility to meet her?"
"Of course, dear." The elderly heiress nodded in between sips.
He went back to the hostel, head full of questions. There were too many possibilities, but really there was only one possible answer. She was in France ... just not in Paris.
He could deal with it in the morning. Right now, it was time to sleep and dream that old familiar dream. (49)