Sunday, May 24, 2015

Walt Murphy – PI – 7

Leaning back, I steepled my fingers, saying, "Details, please."

"All right. To begin with, you need to know that I own an antiques store—Things Past. We deal primarily in furniture, tableware and objet d'art from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. However, we also have a small selection of rare and first-edition books, and carry some antique jewelry. We acquire the books and jewelry primarily as a part of lots purchased at estate sales."

I nodded, commenting, "All valuable, I presume." My thoughts immediately went to what Officer Parker had told me about Caiazzo, and the rumor that he ran a sophisticated theft ring. I wondered if he specialized in the sorts of things Philips carried, specifically jewelry or art objects.

"Not all, but most. Some command quite high prices."

"So where does this necklace someone thinks you gave me to take to the appraiser come in?"

He took a deep breath. "A man came into the store approximately a week ago. Now just so you know, I'm very careful about what I buy, especially if I don't know the seller. Items have to come with provenance papers to prove the ownership is legitimate."

"In other words you want to be certain something isn't stolen."

"Precisely. Taking stolen items could ruin me. Back to what I was telling you. This man came into the store. He appeared to be in his thirties and was well-dressed. He had a cardboard box with him which he set down on the counter. Inside was a smaller, jeweler's box, well wrapped in layers of tissue paper. He dispensed with the paper and opened the box. It contained a necklace which appeared to be platinum over white gold, filigreed, with inset diamonds and pearls. From my initial examination—if it was real and not a good copy—it dated from around nineteen-fifteen."

"Did he have provenance papers for it?"

"No. Of course that immediately made me wary. When I asked, he said he hadn't remembered to bring them with him when he got the necklace from his safety deposit box." Philips frowned, staring off into space momentarily. "I told him I was interested, but only if he brought in the papers. I also explained to him I would need to get the necklace appraised before I could give him a price."

"How did he react to that?" I asked.

"He seemed very relieved and told me that as long as I had a safe where I could store it, he was willing to leave the necklace with me so that I could take it to an appraiser. He also promised he'd bring the papers in the next day."

"Did he?"

"No. He left the store and that was the last I saw of him. At the moment, the box is locked in my private safe in my office. Despite what I told Hawley, what I want to do is hire you to guard me while I move it to the safety deposit box at my bank."

"Why? Okay, the guarding part I get, but why move it?"

"As I told you, something happened. Someone broke into the store. They weren't able to breach the safe—although it was obvious they tried to. The thing is, they only tried the one in my office, not the larger one behind the counter where we put small valuables after we lock up for the night."

"Interesting. It certainly sounds as if the necklace was the target. You called the cops?"

"The security company did, before contacting me. The police did what they do, searched for evidence, and came up empty-handed." Philips looked squarely at me. "I'm presuming that somehow the person who broke in knew the man had left the necklace in my care, and they want it."

"I agree. Did you tell your business manager about the necklace?"

"Hawley? Yes. I also told him—a couple of day before the break-in—that I hadn't put it in our stock safe. At that point it wasn't ours, and wouldn't be until the owner returned with the provenance papers, and I determined a fair price to offer him for it. So it was, as I said, stored in my private safe."

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