Finder’s Keeper – Part Four
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
“Your daughters would be in their mid-twenties now?” asked Vee.
“Yes.” Manny pulled from an inner pocket of his jacket a picture of the twins. Tawny skin, azure blue eyes, raven black hair, standing back to back in identical outfits of silk blouses, slacks, and nice shoes – patent leather pumps with four-inch heels. Donna Karan, I think. Yes, I’d spent way too much time on women’s footwear on the last case.
Two things stood out. Neither wore a hijab in the picture, the traditional headscarf for Arab women. And they were dressed as opposites, one in white, the other black.
Manny pointed to the daughter on the left, in black. “This is Ariana. Always a bit of a, what do you say, tomboy? More athletic, more combative. Fencing, judo, soccer, the like.”
“I never considered soccer a combat sport,” I said.
Vee winked at me. “That’s because you never played at anything above a beer league.”
al-Mansouri chuckled. “Indeed. Although perhaps that’s more in the stands than on the field.” He tapped the picture above his other daughter, dressed in white. “This is Isabeau. She is the artistic soul – ballet, calligraphy, music. Any way to express her inner passion.” Manny sighed. “Since I lost their mother, they have been the flowers of my life.”
“Flowers?” I asked, not seeing the connection.
“Yes. In fact, those were their nicknames. Ariana was my Tiger Lily and Isabeau-“
“Your Water Lily, ” finished Tomas. “Your Nawfar.”
These are those moments I hate. The ones when I realize I’m in a game with a stacked deck because the Bose already knows a vital information that he hasn’t shared with the class. Like he already knew Manny. Or that when he heard the word Nawfar, he already knew the context. I waited to see how this would unfold.
“Mr. al-Mansouri, what are we looking at?” Vee had already started her crawlers on the web the moment she had a target. As the Boss said, Vee was the brains behind a lot of what we did. Without good intel, we walk in blind, which was a good way to get caught, or dead, or both.
“I’m… not sure. I know my daughter is an adult, independent now. But this is beyond being incommunicado. It’s as if Isabeau has disappeared.”
“Kidnapping?” Not our usual line, we tend toward property cases. No scratch that. Rule Three – we don’t do people, period. But this one was personal for Tomas. If we were going to make an exception, it would be this case.
“I wasn’t sure what to think. Then this arrived via courier yesterday at our L.A. office.” Manny pulled a small clear plastic pouch from a pocket and handed it to The Boss, who examined it briefly then passed it on to me. I opened it and dropped the contents into my hand – a pair of pearls. I whistled slowly.
Vee glanced over. “Wow is right. Lavender pearls. Looks like, what, twelve millimeter?” She looked back at Manny. “Freshwater?”
“Fifteen, and no, South Seas. Only quality for my girls.”
Tomas chuckled at that. “Marwan, old man, who told you that?”
“Well, I thought-“
Tomas cut him off. “Louis, if you please?”
“Let me guess,” I said as I examined the pair. “Your daughters wanted them?”
He nodded. “Eighteenth birthday present.”
I lifted one up to the light and looked carefully. “Well, without a jeweler’s loupe to grade them, I can’t be entirely sure, but this looks exquisite. At least AAA quality.” I placed them carefully on the table, then looked at Manny. “But it’s definitely freshwater, not South Seas.”
“Impossible! I was assured-”
I held up a hand. “Simple clue, Manny. There are no lavender South Seas pearls. Golden, yes. White, for sure. But no shades of pink, sadly, unless someone has dyed them. If that’s the case, they’re not worth squat. Destroys the luster.”
“I think we’ve veered a bit off-topic,” said Vee. “These pearls belonged to your daughters?”
“Yes, each had an identical necklace. The pearls must have come from one, or both. As soon as the L.A. office opened the package, they contacted me. I tried to call the girls. It went to voicemail on their phones. Ariana called back. Isabeau hasn’t.”
“When was the last time you’d heard from the girls?” asked Tomas.
Al Mansouri looked down at the table. “It has been much longer than I hoped. Sadly, we are not as close as I wish we could be. A function of their desire for independence, I fear.”
“Girls will be girls,” said Vee, with just a trace of irony in her voice.
“Perhaps. But my daughters both admired you, Miss Davis. Ariana would be over herself to know I’m talking to you now.”
I studied the pearls again. “So, these were a message of sorts. Do you know if they came from the same necklace?”
“What do you mean?”
I placed the pearls side by side on the table. “If they came from two separate sources, then it’s two pearls for two daughters. That sends one sort of message, like ‘whoever we are, we can reach both targets.’” I shifted one pearl, so it was now aligned atop the other. “Now if the two pearls instead originate from a single source, belonging to the same daughter, the possible message is different.” I paused, hesitant to speculate further.
al-Mansouri pounced on my silence. “Tell me.”
I glanced at Tomas, who sat perched on the window ledge, watching, his expression schooled. Gee, thanks, Boss. No guidance there. I walked out onto the proverbial ledge with Manny. “It could indicate your daughter’s already been taken by someone. It might be a different type of message, a countdown of some sort.”
Have to hand it to Manny, he was consistent in his reactions. He jumped up and leaned across the table. “Countdown? To what?”
Now the Boss decided to chime in. “Marwan, without further information anything we offer at this point is conjecture and speculation. That leads to mistakes. My guess is you’ve already gotten your share of those from your friends downstairs.”
Our client started to pace by the windows. “You can’t speculate? My daughter is missing, possibly abducted and you lot won’t even guess?!” Manny began to clench his fists. Uh-oh, bad sign, he’s fight or flight. I stood up, ready to intervene. Marwan turned to face the Boss, voice rising in anger. “Miller was right, this was a waste of time talking to you. You claim this talent as a finder, yet in the end, after all these years, you’re still nothing more than a common sneak thief!” He pushed Tomas in the chest and started toward the elevator.
Bad idea. I went to intercept Manny. The Boss made a hand signal for me to back away as he took two steps to his left, jumped onto the railing, then somersaulted ahead of Manny and blocked his way. “Marwan, now wait-“
“Out of my way.”
“No. You need to calm down and listen. I haven’t even said if I’d take the case and you’re already firing me? Admittedly, that’s fast, even for me.”
I joined the Boss. “Manny, I am sorry. This is my fault.”
He blinked in surprise. “Yours.”
“Sure. I got you more alarmed about your daughter’s situation. Speculation can do that. Truth is, we don’t really know what the pearls mean. It’s just a guess. We need to figure out more about who sent them to you, or hope they open a line of communication.”
Manny looked back and forth from me to the Boss. Finally, his fists unclenched, and he sagged, the desire to rabbit leeching out of him. “I’m sorry. But I’m so-“
“Scared?” Tomas put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and guided him to the bar. “Here, let me make you a smoothie. They calm me right down. And while I’m doing that we can talk about how I’ll take your case and find your daughter.”
“Was there ever any doubt?” The Boss looked back at Vee and me. “So, who want’s papaya?”
About thirty minutes (or one mango-pineapple-kale-chia-coconut milk-lemongrass smoothie) later, the Boss went streetside to accompany al-Mansouri over to the Harbor House where the entourage cum clown brigade waited. In their absence, Vee and I huddled at the conference table to discuss possible courses of action.
“You were right about the pearls being a message,” said Vee.
I raised an eyebrow. “Wait. You just gave me credit for something?”
“Broken clock syndrome, Louis. Don’t get used to it.”
I sighed. One step forward, two steps back. “Obviously a message. But unless we find the key to decipher it, we’re still in the dark.” I looked at the bag the pearls came in. “You’d have thought with as many people as Manny has someone on his security team would know how to handle evidence.”
“What do you mean?”
I pulled out my cell phone and activated the flashlight app. The bag lit up like a Jackson Pollock painting. “Everyone and their brother has been playing hot potato with this packet. If they hadn’t, maybe we could have lifted some sort of usable print off it.”
“Give it to me,” said Vee. “Let me take a shot at it anyway.”
“Really? Okay, have at it.” I rubbed my chin in thought. “Miller’s firm will already have an investigator on the courier who delivered the package.”
Vee crossed her arms and leaned back. “I get the feeling that Remington wasn’t so happy about today’s proceedings. Something strange going on there.”
“We are in agreement. Divide and conquer, Vee. You burrow in on the jurisprudence side and figure out the true Hollywood Story behind Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe down there. Me? I’m going to make some calls. That’s an awful lot of muscle for a firm like that. Even one where Lonnie’s involved.”
“What’s Tomas going to do?”
“This one’s personal. He’ll be hands-on with the family. Best guess – what’s up, Tiger Lily? Works for me. It helps figure out that somebody stole her pearl.”
“And if they didn’t?”
I frowned. “Hope I’m wrong. Because then we’re really on the clock, and that does not bode well.” I looked out the window for a moment at the Pacific Ocean, composing my thoughts. “I’m going to drop another on your plate, Vee.”
“Gee, as if I’m not the Internet’s plate spinning champion.”
“Try this. Let’s see if we can trace the pearls. There can’t be many places modifying large freshwater pearls at a whim.”
“We know al-Mansouri ordered it once, what, seven years ago.”
“No, he ordered necklaces.”
The lightbulb sprung much brighter for Vee when it lit. I imagined an arena full of camera flashes. “The jeweler will have a regular wholesaler of pearls, which might be a lead. Two in one day, Louis?”
“Must be the smoothie talking.”
Vee’s tablet beeped. She checked it and looked up. She had one of those ‘uh-oh’ grins forming. “Louis, your go-bag is in the car, right?”
“Always. You got something?”
“I know where Ariana is.”
I looked at my watch. “Less than forty-five minutes? And with multiple confirms?” Vee nodded. “I’m impressed, Vee of my dreams. New personal best, I believe. If she’s that easy to find, I don’t see what Manny is all worked up—”
I closed my eyes and groaned. Eleven hours in the air. Jet lag. Bad food. Weapons laws.
Beer’s not bad. Whiskey’s better. I’ll need both. I opened my eyes. “I’ll bite. She lives there?”
“No, she lives in England now according to her passport. But she’s there for a tournament.”
“Tournament? What sport?”
Vee turned the tablet around so that I could see it. Ariana al-Mansouri had her own website as Argana – Warrior Princess. Like any self-respecting warrior princess, she was dressed in a metal bikini, battle silks, and little else it appeared. I noticed an embedded video on the page and ran it. It was a combat session from a previous tournament. Ariana was up against two men nearly twice her size. She made quick work of them.
Damn, the girl’s got skills. Like, nearly Tomas level skills. “Uh, Vee, you should go with the Boss on this one.”
“What, afraid of a girl?” She sneered at me.
“In her case, durn Skippy.”
Tomas chuckled from the elevator. “So don’t be a fighter. Be a lover.”
“Easy for you to say, Boss. You don’t have this mug.” I got lucky enough in my life to get struck by one of Cupid’s misfires once. I doubt the dude is ever going to be that careless with an arrow again.
He walked over and clapped me on the shoulder. “Thank God for small favors. Vee, follow up on the package and courier for those pearls. Plus, what is the story behind Remington Miller and his entourage.”
“Gee, Tomas, what a brilliant idea,” I said drily. “Why ever didn’t we think of them.”
Vee ignored me and asked, “Trouble?”
“Let’s just say I distrust any circle of bodyguards where all the weapons are pointed inward.” He headed for the stairs and paused at the first step. “Louis, I almost forgot. Lonnie says hello.”
“I trust you didn’t reply for me?”
He wagged a finger at me. “Louis, really. What sort of friend would I be if I did such a thing? I told her you were busy on a case and would be gone for quite some time.” He started up the stairs.
I sighed. Good. Dodged a bullet for once.
Tomas’ voice drifted down from the kitchen. “But I did order her two dozen roses on your behalf.”
I thumped my head down against the conference table. Some days, I just wanted to strangle him. It’ll never work, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to.
The Boss yelled down from his office. “Come, Louis, Ireland and our warrior princess await. I need to teach you how to fight with a broadsword in midflight.”
I looked up sharply.
Vee had both hands up. “Louis, I swear, I didn’t text him or tell him.”
I thumped my head down onto the table again and mumbled into the wood, “The TSA is gonna love us.”