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       Forgotten, p.17

           Catherine McKenzie
 
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  “I should’ve woken you.”

  “That would’ve been nice.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “No, it’s okay.”

  “I feel like, like . . . I’ve fucked everything up.”

  Not yet, but I have a feeling you just might.

  I stay silent.

  He lets out a slow breath. “This is hard for me to say, but I thought a lot about this on the plane, and I think we made a . . . a mistake.”

  My throat constricts. “You do?”

  “Yeah, not that it wasn’t great.”

  “Right.”

  “I’m not happy about doing this on the phone, okay? It’s just, I’m not there, and, you know, I’m all fucked up right now. About Emily, and . . . everything. And after everything you’ve been through, I don’t want to—”

  “Lead me on?”

  “No.”

  “I understand.”

  “I’m sorry, Emma.”

  I look down at my hands. They’re gripping the phone cord so tightly my knuckles are white. “It doesn’t matter.”

  “No, it does matter. That’s not what I want you to think.”

  “Okay, I won’t think that.” I pause, trying to steady my voice. And breathe. Breathing is important too. “Anyway, I’m kind of busy here. I’ll see you when you get back.”

  “Emma, I—”

  “Have a good trip, Dominic.”

  I hang up with a shaking hand and turn my chair until I’m shielded from the people passing my fishbowl office, living their ordinary lives. A few hot tears slide down my face. I let them fall.

  He thinks it was a mistake. One of the better nights of my life is something that he wishes had never happened, that he wants to forget. Well, that probably won’t be too difficult. I’m pretty forgettable these days.

  Did I really misjudge Dominic by this wide a margin? I thought I was smarter than that.

  But that’s always been my problem, hasn’t it? Thinking that because I’m smart, I should see things coming. Like being smart gives you precognition, or defensive skills that other people don’t have. When all it really does is makes you blind, and stupid about the things that come easily to others.

  My phone rings and I answer it automatically. “Emma Tupper speaking.”

  “I’m sorry, that was an invalid response. Please press one—”

  Will you think less of me if I collapse in a heap on the floor?” I ask Stephanie.

  We’re sitting on the squashy white couch in her beach house–themed living room. The cool-blue walls usually make me feel peaceful, but it’s going to take more than a jar full of beach glass and an ocean-sounds CD to heal what ails me.

  “Of course not,” Stephanie says. She’s sitting in the matching armchair wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. She looks about twelve years old, haircut and all. I think she may have been cutting her own bangs again. They have that ragged off-cut look I used to give to my Barbies.

  “Good.”

  I lay my head down on the couch and pull my knees up into the fetal position. If only I had a nice, warm womb to hide in.

  “That’s all he said? That he didn’t want to lead you on?”

  “Yeah. Or maybe I said that, and he agreed? The details are a little fuzzy.”

  She looks thoughtful. “And he seemed nice too.”

  “Not at the beginning. That first night, when he was moving into my apartment, he didn’t believe me. He thought I was a crazy person. I should’ve remembered that.”

  “I don’t think that qualifies as a warning sign that he’d regret sleeping with you.”

  “No? I’m not so sure.” I stare off into space for a minute. “I just wish my life would go back to the way it was.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I was happy then. Things weren’t perfect, but still. I knew where I fit. I knew where I was going.”

  “And you don’t feel that way anymore?”

  “No. I feel kind of . . . lost in the middle of my own life, if that makes any sense.”

  “I think it’s normal to feel that way after everything you’ve been through.”

  “Then how do I make it go away?”

  “Not by expecting everything to go back to the way it was, I don’t think. Your life has changed, whether you wanted it to or not. You have to adapt.”

  “How do I do that?”

  She leaves her seat and sits next to my head. She rubs her hand gently over my hair, smoothing it away from my face. “This really isn’t like you, you know.”

  “I know, right?”

  “What are you going to do about it, then?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Are you going to lie here while your life passes you by, or are you going to fight for what you want?”

  I sit up. “Hey! You said you wouldn’t think less of me if I collapsed in a heap.”

  She smiles. “I don’t, but I do expect more of you.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you do great things. And you’ve done them all by yourself.”

  “Such as?”

  She ticks a list off on her fingers. “Graduating near the top of your class. Getting that scholarship. Making partner two years before you’re supposed to.”

  “No, I haven’t done that,” I say petulantly.

  “Well, you did those other things.” Her eyes turn thoughtful. “Where’s that Emma?”

  “I think I lost her in Africa.”

  “She’s not lost. She’s right here if you want her to be.”

  “You sound like Dominic. He told me I should treat what happened to me like an opportunity to change the things in my life I didn’t like.”

  “That sounds like good advice.”

  I pick up a pillow and whack her with it. “I’m sorry, that was an invalid response.”

  Chapter 17: Groundwork

  When I get to the office the next day, Sophie is sitting in my chair, waiting for me. She’s wearing another one of her immaculate black suits, and a pair of shiny red heels that remind me of the ruby slippers the Wicked Witch of the West wanted to steal from Dorothy.

  “Keeping bankers’ hours, I see,” she says in her tight, precise diction.

  I glance at my watch. It’s 8:13. I’d bet good money that she, Matt, and I are the only three people on the whole floor.

  I will not let her bait me, I will not let her bait me, I will not . . .

  “Gee, Sophie, are you thinking about taking over another one of my offices? I would’ve thought I’d be safe from that in the Ejector.”

  Her eyes narrow. “I came to retrieve something that belongs to me.”

  “Oh? And what would that be?”

  “You know exactly what I mean. Where’s my file?”

  The file is in the briefcase swinging in my hand, where I put it last night in case I got inspired to work at home. I ended up moping at Stephanie’s instead, but Sophie doesn’t have to know that.

  I put my briefcase on the floor. “Are you talking about my file?”

  “Your file. Please. That file was mine, as you very well know. I want it back.”

  “I don’t know what to tell you, Sophie. You know how Matt is when he makes a decision.”

  “Ha! I know what really happened.”

  “What’s that?”

  “You obviously cried victim to Craig, and he convinced Matt to give you the file.”

  I laugh. “You really think I’d ask Craig for anything right now?”

  “Of course you would. You want him back.”

  “You’re delusional.”

  “Then why’d you kiss him on Cathy Keeler?”

  “Because I didn’t know you’d stolen him yet.”

  She falters. “You were dead.”

  “No, I wasn’t.”

  “You can’t have him back.”

  “Sophie, let’s get one thing straight: I don’t want Craig back. But if I did, that would be for him to decide, not you. He’s not a piece of property, and this isn’t the
school yard. Grow up and leave me alone.”

  She stands aggressively, anger crinkling her face into a snarl. “I want that file.”

  “Take it up with Matt. Get out of my office.”

  “This isn’t over.”

  She marches past me. I watch her red heels click, click, click down the hall toward my old office. I can almost hear the cackle of her voice muttering, I’ll get you, my pretty.

  It’s bad enough that we all have to work in the same firm,” I say to Craig. “But to find her lying in wait for me, and to have you directing pity files my way. It’s too much, Craig. I can’t take it.”

  We’re in the break room, where I went in search of a full-fat croissant after my exchange with Sophie. When I found Craig there, standing at the cappuccino machine, it took me about three seconds to lose it.

  “It wasn’t pity, Emma,” he says, his frothing milk abandoned on the counter.

  “Don’t bullshit me, Craig. Please.”

  “Why’d you take the file, then?”

  “Because the files Matt’s been giving me are boring as hell. I’d be crazy to turn something like this down. And you knew that. You’re manipulating me.”

  He raises his palms in protest. “When have I ever been able to do that?”

  He has a point, but I can’t let him know that. Especially not when too large a part of me wants to let him comfort me. Craig’s always great in a crisis. It’s one of his best qualities.

  “Just keep Sophie away from me, all right?”

  “I’ll do my best.”

  I turn to leave.

  “Emma?”

  “What?”

  He gives me a knowing smile. “Don’t forget your croissant.”

  When my phone finally stopped ringing yesterday, I called the president of the museum and asked him if he could arrange a meeting with the detective in charge of the theft investigation. He was a little reluctant at first, but since it’s in the museum’s interest to cooperate with us for now, I eventually got my meeting. So here I am, back at the police station, walking through the rows of cubicles full of outdated computers and stained coffee mugs.

  I shoot a look at the large case board as I pass it. I scroll through the names, but as predicted, mine is gone. A new year means the black standouts among all the sad red stories get erased, filed away. It’s hard to believe I was standing here less than a month ago, sure I’d gotten the hard part over with.

  Detective Nield walks toward me with a welcoming smile on his round face, his Newman-blue eyes glinting. He’s accompanied by a tall, plain woman in her midthirties with strawberry-colored hair that’s parted in the middle and falls stick straight to her shoulders. She’s wearing gray slacks, a white dress shirt, and simple black pumps. She has an olive-green folder tucked under her arm.

  Detective Nield takes my hand, pressing it firmly. “Ms. Tupper, good to see you again.”

  “You too.”

  “This is Detective Kendle. She’s in charge of the investigation.”

  We shake hands. Hers is rigid and strong. “Thanks for meeting with me.”

  Her green eyes appraise me steadily, reminding me of Dominic. I’ve tried hard not to think about him since I left Stephanie’s last night, and it’s worked, mostly. I can’t be responsible for my dreams.

  “Of course.” She has a flat accent that sounds like it’s masking something broader, coastal. “Shall we go somewhere more private?”

  She leads me toward a metal door that has a cutout made of that meshed safety glass you see on cop shows. She inserts a key into the lock and opens it. Inside, there’s a simple metal table with a chair on either side. The walls are painted that builder’s white that new homes come in. The air smells like fear.

  “Is this the Box?” I ask.

  The left corner of her mouth rises slightly. “We call it Interrogation Two, but yes, this is the Box.”

  I wonder how long it would take for her to get me to confess to a crime I didn’t commit. Judging by the hard glint in Detective Kendle’s eyes, I’m guessing not long.

  “I know this might sound kind of juvenile, but . . . cool.”

  She gives me a trace of a smile. We sit across from each other, and she opens her file. It’s thick with official-looking forms and witness statements. A photograph of the painting is stapled onto the left side of the folder.

  “Why are you here exactly?” she asks.

  “I’m investigating the claim before we pay out. It’s standard procedure with claims of this size.”

  “Why don’t you just invoke one of those loopholes you lawyers always put in the contracts?”

  “We haven’t been able to find one that applies,” I say dryly. “What have you found out?”

  Her eyes are full of displeasure. “We don’t usually share the details of our investigation with civilians, but the museum authorized us to disclose whatever we could.”

  “They have a lot of money on the line.”

  “Naturally. I imagine your client’s going to have to pay, though.”

  “Not if the museum is at fault.”

  “I don’t know about that. Seems to me they had all the usual measures in place.”

  “Such as?”

  “Well, for one, all the staff hired for the event were checked by a private security company.”

  “So no one with a criminal record, et cetera?”

  “Exactly.”

  “What about the catering company?”

  “They’ve been in business for over twenty years and have done a lot of high-profile events, several of them for Mr. Bushnell.”

  “Where did the party take place exactly?”

  She flips through the file and pulls out a folded piece of paper. It’s a floor plan of the museum, which is a large, circular building. A series of five interlocking circles make up the separate galleries inside.

  “The party was here,” she says, pointing to the innermost circle, which looks small on paper but is actually a space the size of a gymnasium.

  “What time did it start?”

  “Seven. They closed the museum at five. Security swept the building and set the alarms in all the galleries except the center one. The catering staff arrived at three and were confined to the main gallery, the kitchen, and prep rooms that are located here and here.” She indicates a series of square spaces tucked between the right side of the inner gallery and the next circle out.

  “Where was the painting?”

  “In this gallery here.” She taps the left side of the third circle.

  “Not where the party was?”

  “No. The Bushnell Gallery isn’t big enough to hold that many guests, and there are no kitchen services.”

  “But wasn’t the whole point of the party to celebrate the gallery opening?”

  She shrugs. “Mr. Bushnell wanted to invite five hundred people and serve canapés. This was the only space large enough to accommodate them.”

  “The guests didn’t see the paintings at all?”

  “No, they did. Two security guards escorted groups to the gallery for viewings throughout the night.”

  “Were the guests vetted?”

  “As much as they could be. Bushnell’s people provided a final list forty-eight hours before the event, and Security ran basic checks. Of course, there were at least thirty people at the party who weren’t on the list.”

  “Are any of them suspects?”

  “No.”

  “Why not?”

  She locates a list of names in the file and hands it to me. “These are the uninvited guests.”

  I read it. My eyebrows are raised by the third name. Most of them could afford to buy a Manet if they wanted one. All of them are names I recognize. It’s highly unlikely any of them would be involved in art theft.

  “I can see why they were let in.”

  She blinks slowly, her voice devoid of expression. “Yes. That kind of person will not be denied.”

  I smile. “How do you know all these people were t
here if they weren’t on the list?”

  “There are security cameras located at the entrance.” Her index finger trails along the floor plan to the front doors. Her nails are blunt, unvarnished. “We’ve been going through the tapes, matching them up to the guest list.”

  “Who did it, then?”

  “We have no idea.”

  “Do you at least know how they did it?”

  She frowns. “We haven’t figured that out either.”

  “But you must have a theory?”

  “Sure. I’ve got lots of theories. Some of them even involve magic tricks.”

  I smile again.

  “You think I’m joking?” She leans toward me. “The recordings from the security cameras for the Bushnell Gallery show nothing except for guests being led in and out all night. We don’t know what time the painting was stolen, except that it must’ve been after the last group was taken through at about nine thirty. The problem with that, though, is that the alarms were put back on once the gallery was empty. The painting was discovered missing when the guards did their first sweep the next morning. The frame was on the wall; the canvas had been cut out of it.” She leans back in her chair, placing her hands flat on the table. “Whoever did this knew what they were doing.”

  “Where are the cameras positioned?”

  “Outside the gallery entrance.”

  “There aren’t any cameras in the gallery?”

  “They hadn’t been installed yet. Construction only just got done in time.”

  “Who knew about that?”

  “Way too many people for that information to be useful.”

  “Well, what about the cameras outside the gallery? Nothing shows up there?”

  She shakes her head. “No, those cameras aren’t fixed. They rove between that entrance and the one for the next gallery over. If you were careful, you could avoid being seen.”

  Well, that might be something to work with.

  “When did the guests leave?”

  “They were coming and going all night, but the event ended at eleven.”

  “Were they checked as they left?”

  A flash of annoyance crosses her face. “No. You have to go through a metal detector to get in, but not on the way out. Seems no one thought that anyone would want to steal something from a museum, what with the million-dollar paintings and sculptures and all.”

 
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