| “How nice to see you, Penelope,” an old woman cried out, wearing a fancy dress gown that was suspiciously similar to one owned by Queen Elizabeth. She skittering over drawing a small crowd with her. They all seemed to say how long it’s been and how pleased they were that she finally accepted an invitation after all they had sent to her over the years.
Penelope wore a dark maroon hourglass-shaped ballroom gown with a mermaid-line skirt and a velvet chocker. The dress complimented her long straight black hair and the contrast of colors drew out her dark blue eyes. No one seemed to be aware of her date’s existence, despite how debonair he looked in a tuxedo. He took off his fedora and handed it to a butler.
“Why don’t you go mingle,” he said.
“I’m not going to abandon you at a party where you don’t know anyone,” she promised.
“They haven’t seen you in years,” he said. “All that talk bore me to death. I’ll go check out this guy’s art collection.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, pointing over to the others waiting for her with his chin. “Get out of here.”
She smiled and kissed him on the cheek before she was pulled away by a crowd holding champagne and martini glasses.
“This is a nice art collection you have,” he immediately said to the old man standing nearby. He wore an outfit that would have been more appropriate at the yacht club. They chatted for a few moments about the various pieces he had on display.
“We haven’t been introduced,” the old man said. “I am Milford Brocklehurst. You must be a collector since your knowledge of art is certainly above pedestrian. Or do you represent an art collectors group?”
“No, I’m with the police,” he responded casually. He was always on duty.
“You must be Nick Einstein,” Brocklehurst droned, turning a few heads.
“Do her parents complain about me to everyone?” he wondered.
“How’d you get in here?” the old man protested.
“I walked through the door just like everyone else,” Einstein responded.
“I’m afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave,” Brocklehurst said.
“Why?” Nick asked. “Because I’m a cop? I would have thought someone with your stature in the community would support the men in blue.” He would sometimes amuse himself by speaking in clichés that he picked up from the movies. A real life cop talking that way seemed surreal and unnerved people.
“Only because you weren’t invited,” the old man said quietly. “This is a private party.”
“I was somebody’s guest,” Nick remarked.
“Please leave nonetheless,” Brocklehurst insisted.
“Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple anymore. Your centerpiece here...”
“I had nothing to do with its theft,” the old man interrupted.
Nick Einstein looked at him curiously and suspiciously.
“Of course I know of the piece’s history,” Milford Brocklehurst smugly remarked.
“So that’s how you knew,” Einstein responded with a small incredulous smile and a nod. “You would also then know that since ‘Eagle Head’ here was stolen in the 1970s, the statute of limitations on the crime had expired a long time ago. I’m not here to arrest you for its theft. Don’t be such a buzzkill. You have a nice little party going on here. Don’t ruin it.”
The old man didn’t respond.
“So did you steal it?” Nick asked suddenly, sounding like a curious schoolboy. “I have always wondered if rich gentlemen such as yourself actually commissioned art thieves to acquire pieces for your private collections. It’s probably just a Hollywood myth, but since I have the opportunity to ask an actual collector with a private collection...”
“Certainly not,” Brocklehurst remarked unconvincingly.
“That too bad,” Einstein solemnly responded.
“Yeah,” Nick said, looking at another painting.
“Why?” Brocklehurst inquired.
“I just thought it would be another interesting element to the history of the piece since the theft was quite the criminal accomplishment,” he suggested. “But if you had nothing to do with it and you bought it from some other collector, well, that’s not nearly as interesting. It’s not interesting at all.”
“It was quite the burglary,” Brocklehurst boasted.
“It sure was,” Nick responded with an appreciative smirk, nodding his head several times.
“I did arrange to have it stolen,” the man quietly and proudly confessed.
“I knew it,” Nick nearly shouted out in a playful excitement. This party to showcase his personal art collection demonstrated and betrayed his hubris and avarice and Nick Einstein knew he couldn’t possibly keep it to himself. “You guys probably steal pieces back and forth from each other all the time. You know what, don’t answer that. I have made you feel awkward enough already. I’ll respect your wishes and hit the road. Thank you for showing me your collection and telling me about it.”
“Thank you for leaving,” Brocklehurst said.
Nick held out his hand and the man shook it. “But you’ll be leaving too because you are under arrest.”
“What for?” the man objected. “You said the statute of limitations had expired!”
“On the theft,” Nick remarked. “But there is no statute of limitations on possessing stolen property, which is a felony.”
“You can talk to my attorney about that!” the old man angrily objected.
“No, your attorney can talk to the judge about that,” Nick corrected him. “But you can talk to these officers who are going to take you to jail and book you.” The front door opened up from the outside and two uniformed policemen entered the house as if they had been summoned by magic.
Penelope pushed through the crowd surrounding the commotion. She was stunned in place like a statue as she witnessed a uniformed officer pull the arms of the host of the party behind his back. The sound of the handcuffs clicking tight around his wrists snapped her out of her daze. “Oh Nick, you didn’t,” she mumbled.
He turned quickly when he heard her voice and watched her pull a champagne glass from a tray and quickly guzzle down the alcohol. She returned it upside down back onto the tray and then turned her serious gaze towards him.
“What is going on?” she said with scornful, squinting eyes. “Did you use me to get in here to do this?” she asked before he could offer any sort of explanation.
He did not respond.
When it was obvious he wasn’t going to say anything, she slapped him so quickly that nobody even saw her arm move. Her hand hit his face with such ferocity that it turned his head and made a noise so loud that it could have been mistaken for a thunderclap. The searing pain shot through his jaw in every direction causing his left eye to tear up. He could feel the sting of each finger. The pain shrieked down his neck and into his chest. The pit in his stomach felt as heavy as a black hole and was intensified by the feelings he held for the person who struck him.
She turned around and tramped towards the front door where a uniformed officer blocked her escape. “You assaulted a police officer,” the cop said, grabbing for her arms. She was furious and struggled against him, making it difficult to restrain her.
“No she didn’t!” Einstein shouted at the officer. “Jones, let her go. Let her go.”
The uniformed officer released his grip and held up his hands as she pushed against him and stormed past the other guests. She grabbed another glass of champagne on the way out of the house and drank it down as she stomped out onto the patio. Her heels clacked quickly and noisily against the natural slate tiles. “God damn it!” she shouted from outside.
Nick Einstein approached Officer Jones. Before he could say anything, they turned their heads towards the patio when they heard the crystal glass shatter. He said to the officer, “Take pictures of all the pieces of art, and get statements from anyone who will tell you anything. Don’t expect much. These people have tighter lips than a prison gang. But make sure to get their names at least.”
“Will do, detective,” Jones responded. “Where are you off to?”
“To face the music,” he sighed as he reluctantly wandered out towards the patio.
He would have been more impressed by the exquisite European-style garden in the daytime, but the waning gibbous moonlight made it feel like he was in a scene from an old horror movie. He searched for her around the marble statue of the sea goddess Thalassa squirting water into a round pool when he heard an unhappy voice.
“Over here,” she growled. Penelope was waiting to be found behind a row of tall sculpted bushes, out of view from the mansion. “What the hell is wrong with you?” she scolded him loudly.
He shrugged with his hands in his pockets.
“All those people know my family,” she complained. “Most of them will probably call my father tonight. He is going to be so pissed. And my mother, they’ll have to invent a new word to describe how infuriated she will be. These people will never trust me now. They aren’t ever going to invite me to anything again as long as I live.”
The moonlight made her angry features seem harsher, and for a prolonged moment he looked apologetically into her eyes that sparkled in the moonlight. “So we killed two birds with one stone tonight?” he finally asked softly.
She smiled guiltily. “Yes!” she whispered as she slowly leaned into him and pressed the side of her head against his chest until she could hear his heartbeat. He slowly wrapped his arms around her. “That guy has been bragging how he’s been stealing art for years, ever since I was a little kid,” she said, her words vibrating in his chest. “I knew you couldn’t resist letting me in on this once I got the invitation.”
“One time deal,” he vowed.
“No,” she objected, pushing away from him. “This was so much fun!”
“I don’t want you involved in any of this,” Nick said. “What I do can be dangerous.”
“I can take care of myself,” she insisted.
“Yeah, I noticed,” Nick responded, rubbing his jaw.
“Did I hurt you?” she asked empathetically.
He nodded, surprised that she even needed to ask.
Penelope laughed. “I’m glad you talked me out of wearing the long gloves. The slap was so much louder without them. It was so loud I almost busted out laughing.” She started to snicker. “Did you hear those people gasp? I almost completely lost it.”
“Shhh,” he insisted. “They’ll hear you giggling.”
She turned her head towards the house and cupped her hands over her mouth. “I am so mad at you!” she shouted, and then giggled quietly. “I'll see what I can do to make that feel better later,” she whispered, gently stroking his cheek with her fingers. “Maybe I can convince you to let me in on another one of your arrests. I really think you should have told him to get on the ground like they do on ‘Cops’.”
“You are not going to be one of my informants,” he balked.
“I can be very persuasive,” she asserted, standing on her toes reaching up to kiss him.
“We’ll see.” He shook his head at his own disbelief in himself. “I mean no!”
She smiled at him sweetly, tilting her head.
“Now get out of here already,” he demanded. “And make a fuss. They can never know you were in on this.”
She smiled wickedly and shouted towards the house, “Ohhhh!!!! I never want to see you again!” She then whispered to him, “So are you coming over tonight?”
“Yeah, right after I mop up here and file my reports.”
“You’re not coming over now?” she snapped.
He shook his head.
“Now I am mad at you,” she said.