Chapter 37: They Listen In
By the time Alex called on Monday, Nikola was ready for anything. She had recovered from the initial onslaught of her new-found memories, as well as the previous day's hangover. If anything, she now had a new level of confidence. It stemmed not only from knowing where she came from, but even more from the love and pride she felt for her mother, and therefore her background and history.
Nikola and Eddie reported to Nikola's apartment in the late afternoon. Alex had asked for Nikola to come alone, but she insisted on bringing Eddie along. She felt sure that Eddie could hear anything that he had to say to her, and in fact she wanted Eddie to hear it, since she felt she needed an objective perspective.
Even though Nikola entered the apartment with her key as she always did, she found that once she got inside it no longer felt like her own place. Alex really hadn't changed much aside from adding the equipment and a few personal effects, but the place no longer felt like home.
"I have a number of things to tell you," Alex said when they arrived. "There have been interesting developments in both cases."
"Really?" Nikola was surprised. The gallery had hardly even crossed her mind lately. "Tell me about my family first."
"I went to Grove this morning to look at their records. For the most part, they correlated with what your father told us, with two notable exceptions. The first is that there is no record of his sister's death."
"Not necessarily. If she died out of the area, or out of the country, it may never have made it into the local records. There really isn't much else on the family. All of you must have been privately tutored, because there are no school records on you, your father, or your aunt." Alex delivered his report very professionally.
"She was in my dream last night," Nikola started pacing and she, once again, replayed the dream. "It was the dream of my mother's death. Only it was different. This time she was murdered. She was pushed from the top of the stairs, and my aunt pushed her. Deliberately."
"Are you sure? I didn't know you even knew what your aunt looked like." Alex took a step towards Nikola.
"I didn't." Nikola backed away from Alex, and continued her aimless pacing. "At least not for sure. But while I was having the dream this time, I knew it was a memory. I was remembering it as it was happening, and some other memories came through with it. I knew who all the characters were. There's no doubt in my mind. Mary pushed my mother. I was there as a child... Watching the whole thing... It was terrible..." Nikola felt tears coming to the forefront again. She turned away from Alex in an effort to control herself.
"Her name's Mary. I saw it listed in local census reports." Alex waited until she was ready, and then continued, "The second thing is one your father neglected to mention, a very interesting birth record. Your aunt had a son. Two years before you were born. Father unknown."
"Could he be the boy from my dreams?" Nikola spun around to face Alex.
"Possibly our intruder as well," Alex said softly, directly towards Nikola.
"Why wouldn't my father tell us about him?"
"That's a good question, and one I don't know the answer to yet, but give me a little more time and I will find out." Alex resumed his professional demeanor, and spoke to both Eddie and Nikola. "Meanwhile, there are some very interesting developments at the gallery. You were right to suspect something. I have heard a number of conversations that indicate... Well, perhaps you'd rather hear them yourself."
Alex walked over the table where he had the taping equipment set up. Moments later Nikola and Eddie heard Martha and Alan's voices booming throughout the room.
Martha: "Have you finished the new one yet?"
Alan: "The new one?"
Martha: "You know what I mean."
Alan: "The Lautrec?"
Martha: "Be careful!"
Alan: "Aren't you a bit paranoid?"
Martha: "Better paranoid than caught. So, have you finished it?"
Alan: "No, not yet. You can't do anything 'till it's dry anyway."
Martha: "Yes, but the faster you finish it, the sooner it'll be dry."
Alan: "What I do is not easy, you know, it takes time. Your part's the easy part."
Martha: "Don't be ridiculous. I'm taking all the risks. I have all the connections. I have to convince them it's authentic and get them to use Todd to certify it. I have to meet with all these sleazy types. I'm up there on the front lines - so don't talk to me about easy!"
Alan: "Whatever you say."
Martha: "Is the last one dry yet?"
Alan: "Yeah, it's coming along pretty well. It should be ready to show by tomorrow."
Martha: "Good. I'll come and pick it up tonight. And I can see how you're coming along on the new one."
Alan: "What's the big rush? Run out of money already?"
Martha: "You know this can't go on forever. We've got to get what we can now. The market's jumping."
Alan: "Fine, whatever you say. But get here before six, because I'm going out."
Martha: "I can't leave before the gallery closes."
Alan: "Cynthia can watch the gallery."
Martha: "You should be home working, anyway."
Alan: "If you're not here before six, I won't be here to let you in."
Martha: "You should really give me your keys, you know, so I can come and pick them up when you're not around."
Alan: "No way. Don't even think about it. Before six, okay?"
Martha: "Fine. I'll be there - and don't leave before I get there."
Alan: "I'm outta here at six."
The conversation was terminated with the characteristic click of a phone receiver being replaced in its cradle, followed by the sound of desk drawers opening and closing. Alex stopped the tape and fast forwarded it to a new position.
"Marty was right!" Eddie exclaimed, "And I'll bet he died for it like Donna believes!"
"They could have been talking about anything," Nikola replied.
"Wait, there's more." Alex interjected, and started the tape player up again.
Martha: "I have a new piece here that I'm sure you'll be interested in."
Man's voice: "What period?"
Martha: "Post Impressionist."
Man: "Is it hot?"
Martha: "It can't be traced."
Man: "Are you sure?"
Martha: "Positive. My connections are secure. Just ask anyone who's dealt with me before."
Man: "Fine, I trust you, but I can't handle anything right now. I have a friend who I think might be interested. I'll give him your number. He'll say he was referred by Mr. Bendini."
Martha: "Okay, I'll be looking forward to his call."
Alex paused the tape and said, "This is the break we've been waiting for. If we can contact Martha before 'Mr. Bendini's' friend, then we're in. I think we should bring the police in on this. They should make the contact."
"The police?" Nikola was surprised. "I can't believe you're suggesting the police."
"Why? I used to work with them all the time, and I still have a lot of friends there."
"But every time I mention the police, you're dead set against the idea."
"That's because I know how they operate," Alex said directly to Nikola. "They wouldn't have been able to help much with the intruder. There wasn't much to go on: an intruder who doesn't take anything does not get a lot of attention in a city like this. But this is something really concrete. Something they can work with."
"Won't they object to your tapping people's phones?"
"If they go in and make the arrest, they won't have to say where they got the tip from. Besides, as I said before, I have friends there. If something gets into their jurisdiction, they know I'll keep them informed, and in return, they look the other way when it comes to my investigative activities. I don't do anything that the FBI doesn't do on a regular basis. You'd be surprised at how many supposedly private phone calls are being listened to all the time."
"I'm sure I don't want to know," Nikola mumbled.
"Do you think they're listening to me?" Eddie asked, fascinated.
"You never know. If you use a cellular phone or a cordless phone, almost anyone with a good short wave radio can listen in."
"Really? I have a cordless at home." Eddie said thoughtfully.
"Then you're broadcasting to the neighborhood."
"What a concept. Maybe I should go back to the wire phone, but the cordless is just so convenient."
"Be careful what you say on it."
"Believe me, from now on, I will."
Alex turned to Nikola and asked, "How are you feeling?"
"You know you can come back anytime. You're safe with me."
Nikola looked up at him and almost believed it. His police connection certainly made him seem more trustworthy, but she still had her doubts. "I think I need more time. I'm enjoying staying at Eddie's. It's a nice change of pace."
"You're welcome there as long as you want to stay. I kind of like having a roommate," Eddie interjected.
"That's all for the moment. I'll call you when there are new developments."
"Great." When Nikola and Eddie left, all Eddie could talk about was the gallery intrigue. Nikola hardly listened, absorbed in trying to analyze her feelings about Alex and the news about her family, but Eddie didn't seem to care.