Another completely new chapter!
Chapter 12: Mystery of a Brother
"Sure, Syl – I'd love to go out tomorrow. You want a movie or something else?"
"How about Sabers of Twilight? I've heard that one's a lot of fun and just up your alley, Jason."
I grinned into the phone. "Because of the pretty girls in interesting costumes? Sounds fine. Odd how you don't mention the pretty boys in tight leather outfits."
"I didn't say it wasn't up my alley too," she said with a laugh. "All right, after we lock up tomorrow then."
I turned back to the pictures on my screen. This is a real possibility.
Verne had given me the go-ahead to both start figuring out how to put select pieces of his collection onto the market, and to start helping him find proper clients that he could be a patron of. The first part was not terribly hard; it was more a matter of deciding how much should be sold and how much should be donated, since a lot of the really valuable stuff was considered national treasure by places like Egypt. While Verne's possession of these treasures was (obviously) far before the cut-off date at which such possession would be considered theft, it was still a matter of political delicacy and publicity; giving the treasures, at least the most high-profile ones, back to their original owners for display, would earn Verne a lot of respect.
If, of course, we could keep people from asking too many of the wrong questions.
The other side was somewhat harder. In the long run, Verne would probably do the selecting himself – he was after all the guy who was supposed to be the patron and knew a lot more about art than I ever would. But he was also busy… rebuilding himself, I guess would be the way to put it. The Verne Domingo I now spoke to was rather different than the one I'd first met, and I knew part of that was through making an effort to re-connect with his older self, and with the people who had followed him through history.
I'd remembered an art show I'd gone to with Syl some time back, and seeing the paintings online confirmed my memory. There was something special there, even to my casual eye. This Sky Hashima was a good candidate, and even better, he was local.
The door chimed, and I glanced at the clock in surprise. It is that time already.
Xavier Ross sat down nervously. "So… did you…"
"You were right, Xavier," I said without beating around the bush. Taking the laptop from the drawer I'd kept it in, I handed it back to the young man. "There were other entries during that period of time. Someone deliberately erased them, and a pretty large amount of other data too, before the police got their hands on the machine."
He leaned forward. "Is there… anything that tells us what he was doing?"
I shook my head. "Not much. There were quite a few missing entries – looks like he was on the trail of whatever-it-was for at least three months. A couple of earlier entries had been modified after their apparent date, so probably there were hints even as long as five months ago, but from what you said your brother knew how to keep a secret.
"What's in those entries, though… I can't get much of anything. Whoever did the erasure knew what they were doing. I only got a few cryptic phrases out of dozens of entries – I've collected them here," I handed him an envelope, "And one last interesting point."
"The most recently tampered-with files I managed to get enough out of to see that they were written in the format he used as a tickler file for travel. He had apparently bought himself a ticket to JFK Airport in New York City – he was supposed to be leaving within a few hours of the time he died. Since the police didn't seem to look into it, I'd guess he'd done so with cash, under another identity."
"Really? Where do you think he was going?" Xavier blinked. "Wait, another identity?"
"Not entirely unheard of for people looking into dangerous stuff. He probably had used this other ID several times."
"Can you … find out more about what he was doing? Track him, now that you know something?"
I frowned. "I… guess I could do a little more searching. If I can figure out his alternate ID or IDs, that'd make it a lot easier. But that's way out of the work we'd already agreed on."
"I'll pay for it."
I hesitated. He's really … obsessing over this. I could tell by the intensity in his gaze that this was desperately important to him. I'd also checked with Renee about the case, so I knew that Xavier simply didn't agree with their conclusions.
I also knew that Renee wasn't entirely happy with the way the Los Angeles police had closed the file, either, but she had no say in the matter. It was their jurisdiction; this was just where the victim's family lived.
"All right," I said after a moment. "I'll see if I can trace where he went and what he did. That'll be a thousand-dollar retainer, though; I have no idea how hard this will be."
After I ran his card and he left, holding the laptop tightly to him, I stared out the window for a while. I didn't have whatever weird sense Syl used, but I was very used to trusting my instincts. Most of the time, when the police investigate a case and close it, it's because they've actually found the perpetrator and the case is closed.
But my gut said that in this case, Xavier Ross was right to be uncertain; it wasn't just what I'd found on that machine, but what Renee had said. If Lieutenant Renee Reisman wasn't happy with the way a case had been solved, that was enough for me; something wasn't right. Unfortunately, while the answers the police had given Xavier didn't take into account this evidence, getting them to reopen the case directly on what amounted to stuff that wasn't there? That would be a tough, tough call.
"Okay, Jason," I said to myself. "Let's see if we can trail someone who didn't want to be found."