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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2188567-Chapter-5
Rated: 18+ · Chapter · Mystery · #2188567
A picture in marble
CHAPTER 5


FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later, Rebecca parked at the offices of North Central Consolidated Insurance Company. Her sleepless night left her ready to go home for a nap, but first, she had to an update Ester Clark on a matter she had been hired to investigate for one their executives and find a copy of Sarah's lost form. The elevator opened to the claims division on the third floor and Rebecca stepped out into the busy anteroom.

         She spotted Ester at her desk through the glass-windowed office and knocked lightly before entering. Unlike Nancy, this woman never had a moment of doubt about where she was going. When she graduated from college last year, she hopped on the corporate ladder and began a fast, no-nonsense climb.

         "Morning, Ester."

         Ester stopped typing and smiled, showing perfect white teeth in her perfect, heart-shaped face. Her short black hair feathered perfect, blow-dried style, complementing her sharp business suit and pale pink blouse. "I wasn't expecting you Rebecca. What's up?"

         "I need a copy of a claim filed by one Sarah Hall."

         "Why?" Ester's defensive shield jumped to the fore. "What's wrong with the claim?"

         "Geez! I must be getting a bad reputation or something. There's nothing wrong." Rebecca pulled a chair beside Ester's desk. "Sarah Hall is a friend and her cat ate her copy of the report. I offered to try to get one for her.

         Ester breathed a sigh of relief and pressed a button on her computer. "Sarah Hall...Give me what you know"

         After supplying the information, Rebecca watched Ester's nimble fingers ran over the keyboard. Moments later she saw the happy smile fade and the other woman's lips purse.

         "What'd you find?" Rebecca asked.

         Ester ran a pink nail down the computer screen.

         "I don't see anything. Are you sure she mailed it in? Maybe she forgot."

         "Or maybe it just hasn't gotten into the computer, yet," Rebecca suggested.

         "Could be." Ester pressed another button and her screen went blank. Maybe, but we aren't behind right now. "Maybe her agent still has it."

         "That's an idea. But you're probably right. I'll bet Sarah forgot to mail it in. She is eighty-one," Rebecca added.

         Ester scribbled the information on a post-it note, then stuck it on the edge of her computer screen. "If you can get me the printed number off the form she has, I'll try and trace it that way."

         "I don't think she has that, but I'll try. Thanks for checking."

         Ester glanced at the office door and spoke more softly. "Have you come up with anything on that other problem yet?"

         "That's why I stopped by. I've--"

         Rebecca shut up as a tall, brown-haired man suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Ester," Roger Drexel said with a polite nod. Then he looked at Rebecca. "I didn't know you were working on anything for us right now."

         (i)Why does Ester look so nervous?{/i} "I'm not, I'm trying to help an elderly friend out who's lost her copy of a claim form," Rebecca kept her tone civil for Ester's sake. She liked Roger even less than Tom Smith, if that was possible.

         "Then what problem was Ester talking about?"

         "You're as nosy as ever." Rebecca smirked. "I know it's hard for you to believe, Roger but some people do have lives outside of the insurance business. The problem is personal, okay?"

         Roger stuck one hand into his black dress slacks, his wavy brown hair and dark eyes complemented his winter tan. "I didn't know you two were friends."

         "See, you don't know everything," Rebecca shot right back.

         Ester interrupted. "Here are the figures you wanted, Roger." She hit a couple of keys on her computer and the printer came to life. "Anything else?"

         "Not right now." Roger stood in the doorway pretending to study the report.

         Rebecca knew Roger was not leaving till he had his nose trouble satisfied. Her animosity went way back. While they both worked at Ohio Southern Roger had twice been promoted over her, his degree from Ohio State holding precedence over her hard work and efficiency.

         The worried expression on Ester's face held a stronger comment in check. "Can you come out to my car and look at it?" Rebecca asked her.

         "Sure." Ester almost jumped to her feet.

         "Look at what?"

         Rebecca sighed. "Listen, Roger..."

         "I'm going to look at a dress, Roger." Ester grinned. "Do you want to see it, too?"

         "Oh, girl stuff. No thanks."

         He dismissed them with a wave of his hand and finally turned back to his own office. Rebecca and Ester went out to the car. The underground parking garage was chilly as they sat in Rebecca's car, staring at each other.

         "What's wrong with you?" Rebecca asked. "You don't really suspect Roger, do you?"

         Ester bit her lower. "Oh, not really, I guess. Or rather that I don't think he smart enough to figure it out on his own. Anyone in the company might be doing it, and he's as likely as anyone. That's why I hired you."

         "I thought I was working for the company."

         "You are, indirectly." Ester said. "Don't worry, I promise you will get paid."

         She'd known Ester from her first day on the job, almost a year, and believed she could trust her. "Okay. I still haven't come up with anything new. This could have been a onetime thing. But I would have taken a lot of planning to pull it off. Since it worked once, the temptation to do it again will be pretty strong.

         "Pretty strong! Someone finds a way to manipulate in the computer to pocketed fifty grand of the insurance company's money--and got away with it--they're not going to stop at once." Ester asked.

         "Probably not. But unless they do it more than once, we're not going to find out who it is," Rebecca warned, not wanting Ester to get her hopes up. "Even then it'll be like pulling teeth. I've finished going through the backup data you gave me. Do you have more ready?"

         Ester grabbed her arm. "You didn't bring them with you?"

         "No, I didn't. Cool down." Yesterday's events still had Rebecca on edge, and she found Ester's nervousness annoy and contagious. "You sure you told me everything?"

         "Yes, it's just that, ever since my desk was broken into I've been jumpy. I'm not used to this cloak and dagger stuff."

         "You're not alone there. Will you be home tonight? I'll pick up data files if you have them ready."

         "Yeah, picking them up at home is better. I don't want to send them by email. You never know who is snooping." Ester played with the ring on her little finger.

         "With solid proof, we can expose this and it'll be quite a feather in your cap." Rebecca smiled. "Might, boost you up the company ladder few rungs."

         "And get you a lock on future business with the company," Ester added. "Be careful. I got a feeling there's more to this than we've seen so far."

         "I will," Rebecca promised.
* * *

FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER Rebecca was in the industrial section of town, at the commercial photographic lab where she had dropped off Sarah's negative with a flood of explicit instructions the night before. Among those instructions had been the name of the technician she wanted to handle the job.

         Dexter was busy, so Rebecca sat in the waiting room trying to figure out what the huge black and white photographs on the cement walls were.

         It was a game she'd played before. Perhaps she wasn't that accustomed to cloak and dagger, but she had solved almost as many puzzles using photographs as she had filtering paperwork. In insurance, a picture is worth a whole lot more than a thousand words.

         The posters on Dexter's walls, however, were all pieces of things she couldn't identify, and Dexter had no intention of satisfying her curiosity.

         "Rebecca," he said as he came into the room, "I should charge you double for all the speed you demand." He set the photo on the counter between them. "Post haste, indeed," he gave her his usual, disarming smile.

         Dexter was a little man, not over five feet five, with short dark hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Rebecca had never seen him wearing anything besides plaid shirts, blue jeans, and loafers.

         "Charge me double next time," Rebecca said, moving over to the counter. "These are coming out of my own pocket."

         He spread three photographs out on the counter. "Don't think I won't. And next time, keep your grubby thumbs off the negative."

         "Sure thing," she promised.

         Mollified, he pointed at the photo. Eleven by fourteen is the largest I could go and keep the grain a reasonable size. Lousy neg. The colors are intact only due to my sheer genius." He pointed to the next one. "But I think this one is the best for what I want. The eight-by-ten holds the form well."

         "They're very good." Rebecca knew it was time for a compliment. A set of four by six photographs were on the counter, too. And those?"

         Dexter fanned the photos out like a deck of cards. "These are all the shades of green you can get, depending on how you read the color balance."

         "What does that mean?" Rebecca stared at the varied colors, from a shade of brown to light pink.

         He handed her the photos. "Marble has fine lines in it and the colors vary. Technically, if you're trying to prove something matches, it won't hold up in court. As you can see, it's too easy to change the shades of color, even if you happen to know the lace doily is pure white, which it probably isn't."

         "But the shiny patch on the buttock of each one is consistent?"

         Dexter nodded. "Oh, sure. That part holds true. Of course, somebody of my caliber could change it in the darkroom, even make it disappear. But I printed 'em straight."

         A few minutes later Rebecca left the lab, all thoughts of a nap gone for now. She couldn't wait to compare the photos with the figurine in Sarah's bedroom, to see if they were in fact different.

         But there was one little problem. Sarah no longer had the figurine because Michael would have had to turn it in to the police to be tested for fingerprints. That means she was going to have to call Sarah to get his phone number. Surely Michael would get her access to the figurine.

         Rebecca lived simply-and cheaply in a one-bedroom apartment. Not part of an apartment complex. Hers was above the cavernous old garage at a private residence in the middle of five wooded acres. It had at one time, been a place for the owner's party guest to stay when they visited. It had been Rebecca's home for five years, and the privacy suited her very well.

         The huge garage, actually a convert stable, was two stories high, with the apartment on top. Parking her car beneath one of the large shade trees that lined the front, Rebecca climbed the steps, possibilities concerning the figurine running through her mind. Nearing the top landing she suddenly stopped, frozen.

         Then retreated backward down the steps. The door to her apartment was open. There were only two keys to that door, as far as she knew, hers and her landlord's. And her landlord was out of town.


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