Captcha Thief (Amy Lane Mysteries)

BOOK: Captcha Thief (Amy Lane Mysteries)
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Captcha Thief
Captcha Thief
by
Rosie Claverton

Captcha Thief
© Rosie Claverton

ISBN 978-0-9933815-0-8

eISBN 978-0-9933815-1-5

Published in 2016 by
Crime Scene Books

The right of Rosie Claverton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP record of this book is available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.

For Huw – with you, I am home.
Acknowledgements

I cannot thank Deb Nemeth enough for her work as my editor and novel midwife, continuing to believe in this book and my writing when I was close to giving up. She elevates my writing to a different level and I am so very privileged to work with her.

Thank you to Sarah Williams and all at Crime Scene Books for giving Amy and Jason a future together on the page.

Because of these excellent people, this book is much richer: Professor Ken Pye, for his expert knowledge of beaches; Dyfed-Powys Police, for details of their emergency response and radio protocol; Lisa Gray, for being Jason’s guide to Glasgow; and the Holyhead Coastguard, for helping me commit the perfect crime in their waters.

And thank you to the National Museum of Wales, a magnificent arts institution in the heart of Cardiff, and undeserving of the terrible crime I have placed at its door.

Chapter 1
A mere impression

Night after night, he returned to that one place.

If he listened very carefully, he could hear the water lapping against the gondola. His body seemed to sway with the gentle motion of the little boat, and the air held the cloying mist of a Venice evening, the rich aroma of ripe, roasting tomatoes drifting across the canals. The last rays of sunlight played warm across his face, before the great orb finally dipped below the horizon.

In that beautiful half-light, the vivid pinks and oranges of a Mediterranean sunset, the glorious San Giorgio Monastery loomed before him. With the sun behind the tower, he couldn’t see the detail of it, only shadows in grey and greyer and black. It was breathtaking. It was priceless.

But the real beauty lay in the reflection. The building stretched out over the water, rippling with every wave, the boat moving with the monastery. No clear, still reflecting pool this. The ever-shifting waters tossed the light this way and that, until the magnificent tower was no more than an uncertain shadow on the water. An absence of colour.

Chink!

The sharp noise broke his reverie and Paul Roberts was back in Cardiff.

Angry at the disturbance, he moved his flashlight towards the sound. It was probably just the old building settling, shifting some of the workmen’s tools. The museum renovations were taking bloody months – Mike from the day shift said the builders were more often holding mugs of tea than hammers and saws.

Paul returned to the picture, but Venice was gone, the illusion faded with that rude awakening. He was alone in the chilled gallery, his ill-fitting uniform chafing against his skin. He scratched at the reddened skin where the waistband of his trousers dug into flesh. He had put on weight again.

He lumbered across the gallery, the last vestiges of Italy falling away behind him, as he headed for the pokey little security office and his instant noodles. He might stream the NFL kick off game – working night shifts had given him a taste for American sport. As a Welshman, his first loyalty was to the rugby, but American football had its charms. Even if those boys were sissies for needing all that padding just to run about a field.

Shhhhhck!

The ripping sound cut right through him and Paul turned on his heel, flashlight raised like a baton. ‘Who’s there?’

Between the little puddles of light around the artworks, the black was absolute, only made deeper by the brightness of the lights. Paul squinted into the black spaces, his heart beating up into his throat as the seconds stretched into millennia in his panic. Who was lurking in the darkness and what did they want? His boss was never going to forgive him – neglecting his duties, mooning at paintings. If something was lost, could he forgive himself?

He heard a whisper of movement to his right. Despite the screaming of his nerves, Paul ran through the archway into the adjacent gallery, looking left and right for the intruder.

Then he saw her.

The cruel rend was jagged, uneven across the background – more like a lumberjack’s hack than a surgeon’s precision. The top of the canvas had flopped over like a dog-ear, obscuring face and gloves and bustle. All that remained visible were her perfect skirts, fold upon fold of cerulean, azure and sapphire, and that cheeky inch of scandalous toe protruding beneath them.

The bastard had cut ‘The Blue Lady’.

Paul could weep for her. His hand stuttered forward, to restore her beauty, but then he jerked back. He must not damage her. Talia and Soo-jin and Noah – they would know what to do for the best. They would save her.

He should call them right away, before the cops. They had to preserve her – the weight of the canvas threatened to tear her further, rip her open like one of Jack the Ripper’s whores. Split open for the vultures—

Thud!

Paul’s head collided with the painting and he slid, stunned, to the ground. He tried to get up, face his attacker, but his arms were strangely heavy, his legs uncooperative. His body was a sack of stones, beyond his control, a ghost of something like pain spreading over the back of his head.

He gasped for air that would not come and, as he looked up at the encroaching darkness, his vision was filled with the most perfect blue.

And a splatter of red.

Chapter 2
The mausoleum on the corner

The museum was lit up like a carnival, the flashing blue lights reflecting off the white marble façade as if a waterfall had suddenly sprouted from above the colonnade.

Jason parked his vintage Harley beside Detective Inspector Bryn Hesketh’s unmistakeable unmarked car. While many ageing cops had back seats covered in dog hair, Bryn’s was matted with the fallen strands from the heads of his brunette daughters. Jason had yet to discover either of their names, as Bryn had made it clear that he was risking his manhood by even asking.

Two uniformed coppers nodded as they let him through the cordon, no questions asked despite his shaved head and leather jacket. The pair were young enough to only remember Jason as the hacker’s assistant and not from his prison record or handcuffing him for swinging a punch down St Mary Street on match day.

The imposing wooden doors stood open, midmorning light flooding the beautiful atrium. Jason hadn’t visited the National Museum of Wales for years, not since he was a boy running among the dinosaurs, but time hadn’t taken away from the awe he felt in the space. The vast marble ceiling stretched above him, dark red banners jutting out from the walls to contrast with the white. A statue sat at one end, frowning down at the horde of law enforcement officers that had taken up temporary residence.

Another uniform directed him up the right-hand sweeping staircase, past a tense, middle-aged woman wearing a bright, flowery blouse. She was frantically talking into her mobile phone in a language he didn’t recognise, her striking eyebrows threatening to hit her hairline. Jason’s knowledge of Welsh consisted of one to ten and a handful of stock phrases – ’I like coffee’, ‘fish and chips, please’ – but this sounded like something more European. Spanish, perhaps, which made sense with the light brown tint to her skin. The woman nervously wiped her forehead with a handkerchief, beads of sweat immediately replacing those removed. ‘Bad day at the office’ didn’t even begin to cover it.

At the top of the stairs, Jason rounded the balcony and looked down into the hall below. It was huge, beautiful staircases at each end, and framed by a circular gallery at the top. The statue suddenly seemed small, barely more than an ornament on a stark mantelpiece.

Behind him, someone cleared their throat. Jason turned and recognised the sour-faced crime scene attendant waving a pair of white overalls and little booties at him. He donned them without much fuss – an old pro at this crime scene malarkey – and signed his name on the clipboard:
Jason Carr. Assistant to Amy Lane, Independent Police Consultant.

He ducked the crime scene tape and stepped into an art gallery. Even with his Neanderthal tastes, Jason could tell this was pricey stuff, a collection of the best paintings in Wales. Some of the pictures looked vaguely familiar. It was a pretty impressive collection if he recognised the paintings.

However, as he couldn’t see a crime scene, he walked on before hearing voices from the right-hand gallery. As he entered, he was struck by the famous flowers on water painting by that French bloke. Lily pads? Something like that.

‘From the stellate shape of the wound, I think we’re looking at a garden-variety hammer.’

Indira Bharani’s voice carried easily in the small space and Jason’s eyes were drawn to the pathologist. She was kneeling beside the body of a security guard with a bloody mess where the back of his head should be. She nodded to Jason as he entered, and he was glad for her calm, considered presence over her more intolerant colleagues. The police department still held plenty of animosity towards outsiders hanging with their pack, especially when those outsiders were ex-cons.

Behind Indira and the body, DI Bryn Hesketh examined a seemingly-empty picture frame. It was massive, stretching from Bryn’s ankles to just above his head. It took Jason a moment to realise this wasn’t some piece of modern art, but a painting with a large hole in it.

‘Robbery gone wrong?’ he asked, gaining Bryn’s attention.

‘Looks like,’ Bryn said. His suit’s creases had creases, and his greying hair had several tufts out of place – he’d obviously been roused from his bed by the case, called in on his day off. The privilege of being the most senior detective in the department, one of only a few left after a recent shake-up.

He beckoned Jason closer. ‘But see here, how this bit of blood has a tear through it?’

‘He killed him and then he finished removing the painting.’

Jason expected to feel revulsion, the turn of his stomach, but he was surprisingly unmoved. Maybe he was getting used to murder.

‘He was stone cold about it. I think we’re dealing with a professional.’

Bryn’s gloved fingers dipped into his pocket for his ever-present leather notebook.

‘Though he wasn’t expecting trouble,’ Indira interjected, her dark eyes flashing between her cap and mask. ‘A hammer is a poor murder weapon.’

‘What did he steal?’ Jason asked.

The remaining canvas was a wash of pale blues, pinks and greys and could’ve belonged to anything, no trace of its main subject visible in what remained.

‘Only the most famous piece in the museum.’

Jason grinned at the newcomer, clapping Detective Sergeant Owain Jenkins on the shoulder so that his floppy fringe bounced.

‘Owain! When did you start back?’

Owain’s return smile was a touch off his usual easy expression. ‘Two weeks or so. First time they’ve let me away from my desk.’

Jason regretted bringing it up now. He didn’t want to think about the visits to Owain’s hospital bed or the weeks after, when he was too pale and too tremulous to even hold a spoon. A gunshot wound had almost stolen him away, the resulting fallout from the botched investigation sending an earthquake through the department. From what Jason had heard, the detective superintendent had lost his job and they were down two full-time detectives. No wonder Bryn had bags under his eyes.

Owain quickly reported to Bryn, as if he was also eager to shrug off the past few months. ‘Security logs confirm that there was no break-in. The robber-slash-killer used one of the staff’s swipe cards – uniforms are with her now. Her car was broken into last night.’

‘Professional outfit. I knew it.’ Bryn turned to Jason. ‘That’s where you come in, boy.’

Jason was jotting down notes in his own notebook, near identical to the ones in Bryn’s and Owain’s hands.

‘Sure. I’ll tell Amy the bones of it. She’ll want to see the security logs, of course, and the CCTV footage.’

Bryn hesitated. ‘That’s not … This one’s not for Amy.’

Jason looked at him blankly. ‘But you called me.’

‘You. I called you. I was hoping you had a few old street contacts who might know who’s dealing in art over coke these days.’

Jason laughed. ‘I was never in that kind of gang. We were more into chucking stones at expensive cars and—’

‘Robbing the gold exchange.’

Jason’s expression was stone. ‘Nothing to do with me, that one.’

The oft-repeated lie came smoothly and Bryn obviously didn’t believe a word of it. They maintained the polite fiction that Jason had paid his public dues for all his crimes and that Bryn didn’t know the truth about how Jason ended up in prison.

‘Well, see what you can dig up.’

Bryn turned back to the painting and Jason felt like he’d been dismissed, even though the whole thing sat uneasily in his gut. How could he go back to Amy and tell her that he had a case but she didn’t?

‘So … you’re not after Amy at all? You’re really gonna leave her out of a murder?’

He caught the look between Bryn and Owain. It was a look full of secrecy – and doubt. If no answers were forthcoming, Jason would work on the younger cop down the pub after they finished for the day.

‘She’s got a lot on her plate, hasn’t she? Between those private cases and this new-found love of the great outdoors?’

‘I wouldn’t go that far,’ Jason said.

He had seized on Amy’s ability to make it into his car with only one or two pills as a crutch, just taking the edge off her crippling agoraphobia, enough for her to make that giant leap without descending into panic. He could persuade her outside the house for short excursions, sitting in car parks at the edges of natural beauty spots and gazing at them through glass.

‘Well, whatever she’s up to, it’ll do her good to have a break, won’t it?’

Bryn wouldn’t meet his eyes. What was going on here?

The uneasy feeling intensified and Jason decided to play on his friends’ soft hearts.

‘Listen, she’s bored to tears. She needs something to focus on, something nice and legal that we can all approve of.’


Legal
isn’t the word I’d have used,’ Owain muttered.

‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you,’ Jason said. ‘Please, Bryn – she’s driving me crazy. Do us a favour, will you?’

‘All right, all right.’ Bryn held up his hands in surrender. ‘She can look at the CCTV. But I don’t want her sticking her nose into art trafficking. That’s big business for the gangs, bigger than drugs. She’d be tempting all sorts of trouble down on her.’

‘I’ll tell her to be careful.’ But Jason knew there was a fat chance of that once Amy heard the painting’s story. International paper trails were her favourite type of hunting.

‘Make sure you do. Can’t lose our pet hacker now, can we?’

Jason grinned. She might struggle to step outside the front door, but Amy always dived in head first where a murder was concerned. He would never be able to keep her away from a chase like this.

And, when the fire filled her eyes, the thrill of investigation animating her body, Jason couldn’t see why he’d ever want to.

BOOK: Captcha Thief (Amy Lane Mysteries)
13.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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