MICHAEL'S BUDDY in the police crime lab managed to find an empty office for them, but it was at the back of the building, meaning they had to run a gauntlet of friendly salutations, interested stares and raised eyebrows.
"You sure are a popular guy," Rebecca muttered as she followed him into the quiet office at last. "Or is it infamy?"
Michael gave her a sidelong glance, then put, the statue on the beige metal desk that dominated the small room. He kept the magnifying glass he'd borrowed in his hand. "Most are just co-workers."
"Whatever, there's lots of them."
He shrugged. "It's a big department."
The harsh incandescent lighting glared off the photographs as Rebecca arranged them around the figurine. Her long hair kept falling forward over her shoulder and Michael watched with interest as she quickly twisted it into a loose knot at the nape of her neck, securing it without pins or bands.
"It takes practice." Rebecca set the last of the small photographs along the edge of the desk.
Between them, they picked up one photo after the other holding each one up to the figurine for comparison until they had been through them all.
"Not only doesn’t match the colors, but the striations also don't match, either," Rebecca noted.
Michael tapped the photo nearest him. "But none have that shiny spot on the backside." He paused and pointed at the figurine. "But the actual statue does."
"Then Sarah was right, this one isn't hers." She picked up the eleven-by-fourteen photo. "Hmm. Hand me the magnifying glass, please."
He handed it to her and moved in to look over her shoulder. "What'd you see?"
"Marble is relatively soft. If you touch it over and over, you'll get a change in color—and it'll pick up oil from the skin."
"And Sarah stroked hers every night for fifty years. That should have left one heck of a mark."
One by one they took turns studying each of the photos again. "Good idea," Michael said, "but when she took this photograph she wasn't focusing for blemishes."
"No, but that shows up clear enough. It's not something that the thief could have wiped off," Rebecca said, setting the magnifying glass down on the desk. "This is definitely not her statue."
At that moment the door to the office flew open and a wild-eyed young man with black glasses rushed in, panic on his face. "Give me that thing quick! The old battle-ax is back from lunch early."
Michael handed him the figurine. "Do you want me—"
"No! I'll be back." He slammed the door behind him.
"Who is the old battle-ax?" Rebecca scrambled to gather the pictures on the edge of the desk.
Michael grinned and the corners of his eyes wrinkled. "She runs this department and has everyone terrified. Been here forever and has lots of power. We can't wait until she retires next year."
The door flew open again and the young man rushed back in. He collapsed in the chair behind the desk with a big sigh and pushed his black-rimmed glasses up on his nose.
"Join us why don't you?" Michael murmured.
"Don't mind if I do. Whew! That was close."
"What's the problem?"
"She saw me with that figurine this morning and took a liking to it. I was afraid she'd come looking for it and I'd have to lie about where it was. And you know I'm a rotten liar, Michael. No one ever believes me."
"Rebecca, meet Lloyd," Michael said.
She shook his hand. Lloyd was about five-five, skinny, short hair the same color as his bookish black glasses.
"Pleased to meet you, Lloyd."
"He lifted fingerprints from the figurine this morning but hasn't found a match, yet," Michael informed her.
"Hey!" Lloyd protested. "That reminds me! I came in early again this morning to do that for you and you didn't even bother to bring my pay. Like you probably 'em on the way here, didn't you?"
Michael leaned back against the doorjamb. "Don't worry you'll get your sugar cookies—if you find a match," Michael taunted.
"I'm working on it, and a million other things, too. I work better with cookies, though." Lloyd raised his thick black eyebrows. "That's a hint."
"How about in an hour and a half when the job is completed," Rebecca suggested.
"That'll work." He winked at her. "I like your style, Rebecca."
Michael raised a finger. "I'll agree to that if you let me take the figurine out of the building."
"What?" Lloyd sat up. "Michael, are you nuts? That could cost me my job! It's case evidence."
"So? I'm a cop, too, remember?"
"Yeah? Then show me your badge," Lloyd said and grimaced.
"I wish I could." Michael blew out a long breath and slumped in his chair, shaking his head.
"Damn. I'm sorry, I didn't mean... You know I think your suspension sucks, too. It's a pile of political hooey. I just don't want to get pitched out in the snow with you."
"You'll only get in trouble if you're caught. And if you do, all you'll get is a write-up. I'm the one who'll really be in the can, and I'm so far down it won't matter."
"I'll get two write-ups, and one will be for associating with you," Lloyd returned his grim smirk. "You already got me in enough trouble."
"Remember, it's for Grandmother."
"That's not fair," Lloyd moaned. "Why take it anywhere?"
"To find out if it's valuable."
Lloyd tapped the photographs on the desk. "Use these."
Michael shook his head. "That won't work. I'll be visiting art galleries and creeps that deal in black market items. They're going to have to see the real McCoy."
"You know which galleries to go to?" Rebecca asked.
"No, but Lloyd can get us a list," Michael assured her.
Lloyd stood up, still grousing. "Oh, sure! Lloyd'll do it!" He glared at his friend. "Are you certain there isn't anything else I can do for you? Pick up your cleaning? Wash your car? Maybe you'd like me to whack off my right arm."
Michael grinned. "Well..."
"No!" Lloyd protested, dragging his hands through his hair and making it stand up. "No more, friendship only goes so far. And you owe me big time already."
Michael stepped in front of the door. "I can always dig the information up myself."
"Oh, No!" Lloyd bellowed. "You stay away from my computer, it hasn't recovered from the last time. He let out a long-suffering sigh. "All right, you win. I'll find the information for you."
Michael didn't much like computers and they certainly didn't like him. "Thanks. When can we have the figurine?"
"Tomorrow." Lloyd shook his head. "Tonight I'll do the paperwork to transfer it over to the holding unit. Pick it up early, that way if someone comes looking for it, they'll think it's in transit. You have it back by tomorrow night."
Michael stepped away from the door. "Sure thing, Lloyd."
"Just remember, I'm only doing this for Gran." Lloyd snatched up the magnifying glass and toward the door. "It's not fair, Michael. You know it's not. I take all the chances and you get the pretty girl. It's not fair."
Rebecca picked up the photos. "Was he serious?"
"About the cookies? Michael held the door open for her. "Very. Lloyd's addicted to Grandmother's cookies. He visits at least once a month to get a supply. They stood in the corridor for a moment, steeling themselves for the return trip past Michael's co-workers. "Want to have lunch with me?" he asked.
Surprised by the invitation, Rebecca stared at him for a moment before answering. "I'd like to, but I have a three o'clock appointment in Sharonville."
"Too bad." he shrugged.
Once outside, Michael steered her in the wrong direction. "Where are we going?" she demanded. "I can't make lunch, Michael. Our cars are back the other way."
"You may not have time for lunch," Michael informed her, "but you do have time to pay your parking tickets!"
She stopped and pulled away from him. "I can't."
"I...I can't afford to pay them."
"Liar." He grabbed her elbow. I saw that big check, sticking out of your purse earlier."
"It's the principle of the thing." Rebecca explained as they crossed the street. "You shouldn't have to pay for parking when you're at the public library."
"So tell City Council. I vouched for you yesterday and you're going to pay those fines if I have to shake it out of you."
They entered a crowded lobby and Rebecca smiled coyly. I don't have time to wait in those long lines."
"You won't have to." Michael grinned. "Even a suspended cop has privileges. I'll get you taken care of right away."
"Okay, I give in! But I'll take you up on that lunch offer tomorrow, and you're buying."