Elise is called to the scene of a jewelry store but nothing's quite as simple as it seems.
|Elise Forester opened the door and a cheery chime filled the air. Wall-to-wall clear glass cases full of sparkling jewelry jammed the store's interior. A slender older man with silver hair, dressed in a dapper black suit approached and held out his hand. "You must be the detective."
Elise shook the proffered hand, trying not to cringe at the man's clammy grip. "That's right. I understand there's a ring missing?"
"Yes, I'm the owner, Jim Tosh. One of our sales staff met with a gentleman who asked to see our engagement rings." He turned toward the back of the store. "Sabine, can you come here please?"
A slim, dark haired young woman emerged from a back room. Her eyes were rimmed in red and her porcelain skin flushed. She held a wadded-up tissue in one hand.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Elise pulled a pen and a small notepad from her pocket.
Sabine took a deep breath, sniffled hard, and began in halting, broken sentences. "He looked normal. He came in like everyone does. He walked the room." Sabine took a moment to wipe her nose with the tissue. "He asked to see our one carat and larger rings. We talked about budget. He didn't really tell me about the woman he was buying the ring for which now seems strange."
"What was his budget?"
"That was strange too - he said he didn't have one, it was more about the ring's quality."
"Did he look like he could afford it?"
Sabine stopped and looked to the right. "I think so. He wore a nice suit. Expensive shoes. Gold cufflinks. He flirted with me a little."
"Do men do that often when shopping for engagement rings?"
Sabine cocked her head, her piercing green eyes staring into Elise’s. "Sometimes."
Elise studied the woman. She was attractive, if a little waif thin. "What happened next? What rings did he see?"
"I showed him five rings, ranging from one to five carats."
"Which one's missing?"
"The five-carat ring. It was almost perfect, nearly flawless."
"What’s the value?"
Jim spoke up. "It's our most expensive ring. $150,000."
"Is it insured?"
Jim nodded. "They all are."
Elise looked around the store and then toward the back room. "Anyone else around in the store? Did you turn your back for a moment? Maybe walk away to get another ring?"
Sabine shook her head and Jim spoke. "Our policy is if someone needs to step away for something, we call another team member over to assist. The client is never unsupervised with jewelry."
"What about surveillance?"
Jim pointed to cameras on the ceiling. "It's a new HD system."
"Let's see the video."
They left Sabine and went into the back room to a computer monitor. Jim navigated the menus to bring up the video. Multiple views showed different angles in the store. Jim rewound the video.
“I’ll need a copy of this.”
Jim nodded. “I’ve already reviewed it, but didn’t see anything strange. I made a copy as well.”
“Was there a time when the rings weren’t visible?”
Jim looked at Elise. “Yes, actually, when Sabine puts the tray back, her head blocked the camera.”
“How long has Sabine worked here? How was her background check?”
“Almost a year. Passed a background check and drug screening.”
“Ever have any issues with her?”
Jim shook his head. “She’s a model employee.”
“What’s her pay rate?”
“$10 an hour plus commission.”
“Does she sell well?”
“Not as good as some of my staff but she does okay.”
“Any money troubles you know of?” Did her boyfriend ever come to visit during lunch?”
“I don’t really know anything about her personal life.”
“Have you ever seen the gentleman before?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Did he seem familiar at all? Could he be a former employee?”
Jim shook his head.
“Let’s see the video.” Jim pressed play and Elise sat in the chair in front of the monitor, watching closely. After a few moments, she straightened.
“Where has Sabine been since that time?”
“She went to the break room and the bathroom.”
“Did she leave the store at any point after the man left?”
“She grabbed some lunch at Subway in Walmart right after she finished with him. She brought back a sandwich. Now that I think of it, it was a bit early for lunch, around 11 I believe.”
Elise laughed. “That’s perfect. Walmart has tons of cameras.”
Jim looked confused. “Why does that matter?”
“I have a hunch Sabine did more than get lunch.”
“I don’t understand,” Jim said.
“I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later her hunch was confirmed. On the Walmart surveillance system Sabine and the gentleman from the store met, she pulled something small from her pocket and handed it to him. He examined it, the overhead lights sparkling brightly off the stone. Elise collected a copy of the video and returned to the store.
Jim greeted Elise at the front door of the store. Sabine stood a short distance away, eyes downcast. Elise walked over to her. “Tell me again about the man who came into the store.” Sabine’s eyes flew to meet Elise’s.
“What do you mean?”
“How do you know him?”
Sabine swallowed. “I don’t know him.”
“Is he a boyfriend?”
Sabine shook her head, her eyes wide.
She shook her head again. “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
“Then why did you have lunch with him and give him the ring?”
Sabine gasped. “I didn’t.”
Elise smiled. “Actually, you did. I have video of you and him getting cozy at the Subway down the street.”
Sabine’s mouth dropped open and she stepped backward. A pulse raced at the side of her neck and her eyes darted around the store.
The smile vanished from Elise's face. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney...” Elise pulled handcuffs off her belt and grasped Sabine’s arm.
“Wait,” she gasped, pulling on her arm. “Please, wait. I didn’t have a choice.”
Elise paused. “Explain.”
Tears spilled from Sabine’s eyes. “I will if you promise not to arrest me. I can't go to jail.”
“Depends on what you have to say. Start talking.”
“Please, you’ve got to help me. He said he’d kill my daughter if I didn’t do it.”
Jim stepped forward. “You have a child? You never mentioned her.”
“I didn’t want you to not give me overtime. She stays with my sister while I’m at work.”
Elise let go of Sabine’s arm. “Start from the beginning.”
The words tumbled over each other in a rush. “Two weeks ago, he followed me home from the store. He grabbed me at my door, pushed me inside, and told me I had to steal the most expensive ring in the store and give it to him. He showed me a picture of Sasha and told me he’d kill her. He said the rings were insured, if we did it right, no one would ever find out. He told me exactly how to do it, how to avoid the camera being able to see the empty place on the tray.”
“Did he tell you his name?”
Sabine shook her head.
“Where’s Sasha now?”
“She’s at her preschool until 3.”
“You need to call your sister, have her take your daughter home.”
Sabine looked at the floor then at her boss. “Mr. Tosh, I’m so sorry.”
Elise looked over at the store owner. “You can guarantee he’ll be back. Crooks like him are always greedy.”
Sabine nodded. “That’s what he said when I met with him. He said he’d be in touch.”
“Tonight, after work. He’s going to meet me at the house.”
“Do you have a phone number for him?”
“There’s a number he sends me texts from.” She pulled a phone from her pocket and showed Elise.
Elise jotted it down. “We’ll trace the call and pick him up. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to recover the ring. For now, Sabine, I need to take you in for a statement, but I won’t handcuff you if you cooperate. Okay?”
Sabine nodded. Elise put her hand on Sabine’s upper arm and escorted her to the car. Once Sabine was inside, Elise looked down the street. At the corner, a tall man in a jogging suit watched them. Elise's eyes met his for only a moment before he walked in the opposite direction, dropping a small black flip phone in a nearby trash can.
Elise took off running. She rounded the corner, hand on her gun, but the street was empty. She took a few steps forward, looking for any sign of him but he was gone.
Word count: 1466