Finder’s Keeper – Part Three
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
The suit was halfway to apoplectic, his face doing a good imitation of a tomato by that point. He opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by his client.
“Mr. Miller, I can handle the meeting from here. Would you mind waiting for me downstairs?”
“Yes. I’ll call when I’m ready.”
“But there’s no place to wait downstairs-”
I crossed over and picked up the clip, then made a show of emptying the rounds from it before I loaded it back in the suit’s Beretta. I handed him back both that and his backup piece before I grabbed an arm and shoulder and played tugboat. As I steered the unhappy suit to the elevator, I said, “We’ve got this great little diner around the corner. The rest of your parade should already be there. I recommend the California Omelet.”
He looked at me like I was speaking a different language. “But-”
“We’ll call as soon as the boss is done with your client.” I pushed him gently into the elevator and hit the down button. “Remember, California Omelet and a large coffee. Ask for Angie. Tell her Louis sent you.”
“Angie?” Miller looked totally perplexed as the doors closed.
I chuckled. “Figure it out, suit.” Satisfied, I headed back into the room. The Boss stood there, arms crossed, a single eyebrow raised. I stopped in my tracks. Uh oh. Tomas didn’t say a word, he just raised one hand.
Holding Miller’s wallet.
Damnit! I reached for it, but the Boss pulled it back and turned to Vee. “Veronica, please call the Harbor House and have the tab for Mr. Miller’s entire retinue forwarded to us.”
“Yes, sir.” Vee shot me a look that told me I would be paying for this later. Literally no doubt. I figured I had ramen on the menu soon.
Tomas turned around and tossed the wallet onto the table. “That brings us to you, Marwan al-Mansouri.” He circled around the table until he stood next to the man’s chair. “My question is simple.” He paused, and I waited for the Boss’ frequent request, the one that focused us on the what we needed to find.
Tomas broke out into a wide grin and opened his arms to hug the client. “How the hell are you?”
Okay, definitely not the question I expected. Vee and I must have stood there at least half a minute, staring at these two slapping each other on the backs. A hiss from Vee interrupted my revelry. I moved over next to her desk.
She tilted her head toward the two going on. “Did you have any idea these two knew each other?” she whispered.
I shrugged. “First time I ever heard of him. I thought you were doing the search.”
She tapped the monitor. “Nothing in there.”
I put my hands in my pockets. “Okay, so he’s someone the Boss knows. He’ll tell us when he’s-”
Vee backhanded me in the chest and made a more emphatic gesture toward the love-fest. “Oh, no you don’t. Get in there now and get me some info!”
I glared at her. She out-glared me back. “Fine, make me the bad guy.” I love these heartfelt chats with Vee.
I cleared my throat. “Uh, Boss, sorry to interrupt-”
Tomas glanced over and smiled. “Ah, yes, sorry. Louis, this is-”
“Marwan al-Mansouri, chairman of EETL,” I waved aside his reply. “Kind of already mentioned it. Missed the part where you told us you knew Manny here.”
The Arab chuckled. “Manny? I like him already, Tomas.”
My boss nodded to his new old friend. “Yes, well, one of the perks and burdens of this job. Marwan, this is Louis Bricke, my right hand, and minder.”
The man did the quick head-to-toe of me, which usually meant I was being assayed for my worth in the position. I must have passed muster because he held out a meaty paw with gold rings on most of the digits and said, “A pleasure. Anyone who could keep up with Tomas must be very skilled indeed.”
The grip was firm, but not overtight. The man was not testing my strength. He squeezed once, then let my hand go. His palm was dry and a bit cool to the touch. I let a half-smile show. “Well, I’m not so much the Boss’ minder as his keeper. I let him out of his cage as needed.”
Manny chuckled again. “A wit, too! I’m sure you have stories to share, Mr. Bricke.”
My smile stayed in place. You have no idea. “None the Boss couldn’t tell better himself, I’m sure.”
Tomas made quick eye contact with me, a hint of warning. Don’t worry, your secrets are safe, Boss. He steered the man toward Vee. “If Louis is my good right hand, then Veronica here is quite obviously the brains of my team.”
al-Mansouri’s face slid for a moment into the quirky look of confusion to a moment of recognition, then brightened into a delighted smile as Vee stood up once more. The Arab was on the short side, and gave her a good ten inches or so. A little voice tickled at the back of my brain. Any Arab this rich is going to travel in circles with attractive women like supermodels. They’d easily be taller than him, too. So why is he so squirrely around Vee?
Vee held out her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. al-Mansouri.” She probably expected him to shake it, but he grasped it with both hands and bent over it, pressing his forehead to it. Vee looked over the man at me, mouthing a question, but I just shrugged in confusion myself.
Al-Mansouri finally looked up at her, looking all of a kid walking into Disneyland the first time. “It is wonderful to see you again, Miss Davis.”
I don’t get to see Vee flustered very often. I looked on with fascination, wishing right then for some popcorn, maybe a little light on the butter. “I’m…I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I’m pretty good with names and faces. I’m certain I’d remember if we’d met.”
“Oh, we’ve never met. But I had so many chances to see you.” The hairs on the back of my neck rose. This guy’s some kind of stalker? Boss’s friend or not, nobody messes with Vee that way. I started to move when Manny looked over at Tomas. “Courtside seats for two seasons with Fenerbahçe. You remember, Istanbul?”
Tomas nodded. “How could I forget?”
I relaxed. Not a stalker. Manny’s a hoops fan. Considered that for a moment. Might actually be worse, considering how crazy some of them got.
“Your Miss Davis was an incredible center, ” al-Mansouri continued. “Led the team to the Euro League Final Four her first season. Would have done it again the next if she hadn’t been injured. She had this most grace rainbow shot-”
I have not seen Vee light up like that in a long time. Basketball was her passion, and she is very proud of her career, even if few around here knew of it. “We call it a hook shot. And you flatter me. Sadly, that injury ended my playing career.”
“So I heard. A pity. You were a force on the court.”
“She still is a force,” said Tomas, steering al-Mansouri back to the conference table. “Just for me now. Arguably the best of my team.” Vee’s grin grew as she glanced at me. I just nodded. Why argue with fact?
“This isn’t a social call, Marwan,” the Boss continued. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have needed your friend with the omelet. So, let’s get down to it.”
The Arab’s expression became grave as he sat. “Yes. I agree.”
I joined them, cup of coffee in hand. “Tomas, put the brakes on a sec. This is a little murky territory here for me.”
“What do you mean?”
What do I mean? Hate it when he plays obtuse like this. “Meaning you’ve never mentioned Manny in any of our conversations before-”
He frowned, rubbing his chin. “Surely I must have-”
I cut that off. “Just pretend for a moment that I’m a dumb, clueless hunk of muscle.” Vee snorted at the coffee station. I ignored her. “Why don’t you explain it to me now? You can even use small words if you want.” I despise these games, but I’ll endure them to get some kernel of truth out of the man and us closer to the case. After all, Tomas really couldn’t help himself, it’s just the way he’s wired.
“Very well, if you insist, Louis. This would have been, what, sixteen years ago now?” He looked at al-Mansouri, who nodded in agreement.
I did the quick math. “You were still a teenager?”
“Oui, technically. I was eighteen, barely out of my apprenticeship after Henri…” Tomas paused and looked toward the Pacific for the moment, lost in memory. Then he was back with us. “Well, after that happened to us. In fact, this was my first attempt at, how shall we say, going legit.”
My ears perked up. Vee walked over quickly and sat down. “Tomas, Louis is right. If this is your true origin story, we’ve never heard it before.”
He paused a moment and considered what he’d just done. “Ah.” The briefest of pauses, then he plunged ahead. “Please, then, forgive my omission. It must have been an oversight.”
“Sure,” I agreed. My ass. You always know exactly what you’re doing, del Mundo. Trust me, we are going to have a talk about this later.
“Anyways, soon after Interpol released me, I was approached by a representative from the Vatican.”
“Someone trying to save your soul?”
Tomas grinned at my joke. “One cannot save what does not exist. No, it turns out something had been taken, and they wanted someone with my, how do they say in your movies, very particular set of skills to find and retrieve it.”
“What was it?”
“A holy relic. Specifically, a patchwork quilt made in the 16th century by Saint Catherine of Genoa. It had gone missing during World War II and was feared lost due to the heavy bombing of the city, but rumors of my abilities–”
“Had reached the Vatican.”
Tomas bowed slightly. “As it were. I was asked to find it, if possible.”
Vee shook her head. “I will not ask how. Somehow you did.”
He wagged a finger at her. “Veronica, you of all people should know it’s amazing what one can learn if you’re simply willing to do the homework. The quilt had been removed from the basilica in Genoa for its safety at the start of World War II. The diocese there decided the best place was inside something large, metal, with thick walls.”
“A local bank?” I said. “This became a simple bank job?”
Tomas held up a finger. “Patience, Louis. World War II. The bank became nationalized by Il Duce himself, Mussolini, who confiscated all its holdings – including any art contained in the vault. At this point, the quilt became mislabeled, not as a holy relic, but as a piece instead celebrating the return home of Genoa’s most famous native son, Christopher Columbus.”
Vee stared at him. “Wait. I’ve heard of this. You’re saying the Columbus Quilt and the Catherine Quilt- “
“One and the same. No one ever put that together. The word of the relocation was sent to the Vatican, but misfiled, so they had no idea of the location. Hence the lost relic. From this point, the Catherine Quilt disappears – but the Columbus Quilt mysteriously appears. It was a matter of tracing that artifact through my resources. It had gone to Rome as part of Il Duce’s personal own treasure horde. From there the Nazis liberated his fortunes to Munich in advance of the Allies liberating Italy. Finally, before the end of World War II, a number treasures were redistributed among Nazi officers who assumed identities as citizens of various countries around the world as they scattered like rats in advance of the Americans and Soviets.”
Vee glanced at me. “Pont of fact, we’ve had more than a few of those cases ourselves since we started.”
Tomas nodded. “For good reason.”
I rubbed my chin. “So you ended up tracking it down to-”
“A particular Luftwaffe colonel with a spectacular flying record and a new life on an estate in La Tonnaz,” said Tomas.
Manny looked at me. “When I purchased the property after the man’s death, I was completely unaware of its history.”
I was unsure of how much of that I believed. I shared a quick glance with Vee. Tomas caught that and moved on. “I was convinced the Catherine Quilt was in the main house of the estate and, given my experience, felt I could circumvent all the security measures to get to it. I actually did, too.”
Al-Mansouri chuckled. “Except for one.”
I raised an eyebrow. Boss is usually more careful than that. Then again, why am I along on jobs now? I considered it for a moment. “So, what happened?”
“My twin daughters,” said the client. “They arrived home from boarding school literally while Tomas here was making his way onto the estate. The quilt hung on their bedroom wall. They walked in, saw him, grabbed a bedspread and threw it over him, then knocked him down and sat on him until my household staff arrived.”
Vee stifled a giggle. “You were captured by a pair of teenagers?”
Al-Mansouri shook his head. “Oh, they were only nine at the time.”
That was it. Vee lost it. Having been in situations where a seeming overmatched opponent had gotten the better of me, I knew better than to say anything. The Boss smiled wanly. “They were… quite skilled for their age.”
Vee stopped a moment at that. Then she laughed even harder.
I looked at Manny. “When you finally unwrapped the Boss here, why didn’t you hand him over to the authorities?”
“Believe it or not, that was also my daughters. The whole time he was bundled up, Tomas didn’t struggle. Instead, he calmly explained why he was there. He taught my daughters the history of the quilt, its significance to the people of Genoa and the Catholic Church, and how it was a war prize.” He looked at Tomas. “I arrived in time for the latter portion of the lesson and hesitated, listening from the doorway. That’s when I knew Tomas was no common thief – and no ordinary man. I aided him with the return of the quilt – anonymously, of course.”
I smiled. “Of course. Boss had a reputation to maintain, after all.”
Tomas shook his head. “Not at that point, Louis. But it grew soon after. Marwan and his family have been friends since. His daughters are a joy to behold – smart, funny, and someday, I hope, a help to you in your ventures.”
Al-Mansouri shook his head. “You and your radical ideas. There are some rivers that even my society might never cross. That is why I encouraged them to study in the west, expand their horizons. But–”
I alerted on that. “Something’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure. That’s why I need your assistance with the twins.”