A Brilliant Plan

Chapter 13

PAUL FAULKNER WAS the missing partner who turned up again. Although he lived close to Andrew Altward, his accommodations were not as posh as those of his companion. He had a nice condominium with a doorman and reception, but no penthouse, and it was about half the size of Altward’s. Another look at the ocean, Coronado in plain view.

“Must be a nice view after dark,” I mused after the introductions.

Faulkner gave a broad smile, pleased that someone noticed. “You are right. It is like a string of glowing pearls over the different shades of black that make out land and sea. Plus the occasional ship. Very relaxing after a hard day’s night.”

“Also attractive for the ladies?” Ron threw in. We had taken our successful roles again.

Faulkner gave him the expected irritated look but gave me a wink that let me know that Ron had been dead on the money. “Sure, impresses the hell out of them.” He said.

Faulkner was younger than his partner Altward was. He dressed a little more casually with an expensive Piquet shirt, Ralph Lauren slacks and Todd’s on the feet. Where Altward, with his trustful European style, tended to deliver better to the older customers, Faulkner probably connected better to the middle aged. Maybe the assistant, who looked a little gay, took care of the Yuppie wallets. Good setup. Faulkner had thick blonde hair, a broad large teethed American smile and a deep resonant voice that personified the convictions of trust and friendship in a salesman. If he hadn’t become an art dealer, he may have become a real estate agent, a car dealer or a politician. Anything involved with selling.

We agreed to some soft drinks and settled around the coffee table.

“Just got in?” Ron started.

“Late last night. Had to finish some business first down in Mexico.”

“Even though there was an emergency at the gallery?”

Faulkner shrugged. “Andrew and Serge were there. And what could I help with? But anyway, terrible thing.”

“You were down in Mexico to prepare that deal with Max?” Ron asked into the blue.

Faulkner looked at Ron and then at me, obviously confused. “Max, who? I attended an auction and visited some artists. Who told you?”

Ron ignored him. “Did you know Mr. Eastman, the dead night watchman?”

“What a silly question, Detective. We are a small outfit, Andy, Serge and me. We know the cleaning ladies, the windows cleaners, the florists and, yes, we also know the night watchmen, Wally and his colleagues Simon and John.”

“But you didn’t know him better?”

“You mean on a personal basis? No. We said ‘Hi’ and ‘How are you’ but that was about it. A tip around Christmas.” Did we detect a hint of hesitation before he answered?

“How do you think the murderer and thief managed to open the safe room?”

“I haven’t got the slightest idea. We, and the insurance company, were always convinced that we had a secure setup.”

“Why do you think that only the Montenhaute was taken?”

“I presume the thief panicked after the murder of the night watchman,” Faulkner shrugged, “and just left with what he had so far.”

Ron continued with more of the same questions he had asked Altward, but with meager results. Then he explored a little more left and right.

“How do you get along with your business partner Mr. Altward?”

A slight smile around his mouth. “We are a good setup. Managed to combine our forces a few years back, Southern California doesn’t need two of us, so we formed a regional monopoly of modern contemporary art, with some niches on the side.”

“Business is good?”

“Sure is,” Faulkner nodded, “we are currently preparing an exhibition with my old employer, the Getty in Malibu. They bring their paintings and we throw in the jewels. Makes a good combination if you see the pictures of old royals and rich people and then, in real life, you see the jewelry that they wore in the paintings.”

He probably expected a ‘Good combination, sounds interesting’ comment from Ron but instead he got a, “When would you have told us that Mr. Altward has a relationship with Phoebe Eastman, the daughter of the dead night watchman?”

Caught in an uncomfortable situation, Faulkner’s face showed some white spots. “I… I would. I didn’t see the connection.”

“Do you know Phoebe Eastman?” Ron interrupted.

“Sure, she’s my partner’s girlfriend. She didn’t hang out at the gallery but occasionally we would go for a double date, dinner, movie, events.”

“Happy relationship?”

“Yeah, sure, why don’t you ask them?”

“Any financial problems we should know about before we dig into your gallery’s financials?” Another change of subject.

“I beg your pardon?”

Ron raised his hands apologetically. “I mean, you are dealing with expensive art, your inventory is quite large, lot of ‘dead capital’ lying around.”

“Sir, you think we tried to set up an insurance swindle that went wrong, or what?”

“Sir, your watchman was killed in a suspicious situation during an ongoing burglary. If I find the burglar, I will probably also find the murderer. So I investigate the burglary. My first question is the ‘Who.’ And my question second is the ‘Why.’ I have to look at all possibilities.”

“Police!” Faulkner exclaimed but he didn’t seem to take it personally. He shook his head and then looked at Ron. “No, I don’t think you will find anything ‘suspicious’ in our books, Detective. All clear, we are a respectable business.”

I wondered how many times Ron had heard that reassurance before?

Ron drove us back to the police headquarters.

“What does it mean to the case that Altward and Phoebe Eastman had a relationship?”

“Don’t know,” Ron answered. After he saw my rolling eyes, he added, “Really. The thing is, there are two basic motives: money and love, love and money. I favor money motives, like Altward stealing from himself to fence the goods for money and then getting repaid by the insurance as well. But add the relationship with the daughter; maybe this changed the dynamics between Altward and his night watchman? Or was there a break-up between Altward and Phoebe that caused someone to become angry?”

“I bet it has nothing to do with Altward or Phoebe or them together.”

Ron nodded. “The truth is—I don’t care. I just follow leads. That is all I can do. And the leads point to Altward and Phoebe.”

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