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Her majesty’s bank-notes had plenty to say. I took them to Carry N Cash, one of those joints that offered piss-poor prices for goods then sold them back to the public at a two hundred per cent profit. It was claimed the owner was from Bavaria and used a coffin. One of his staff however, Jack Stevens, was almost human and a walking encyclopedia of information about coins and promisary notes.
Stevens tutted as he examined the first of the fifty pound notes. He was close to retirement age and could still remember the good old days.
“Such amateurish work.” He complained, “When I was young. Ah, there were real artists then and they knew the value of hard work. Fred Dekker would spend hours hand-threading metal strips into five-pound notes.”
I searched his glasses for pink tints.
“This,” Jack sneered, “object wouldn’t fool anyone for longer than two minutes.”
“Long enough for me to bank it?”
“Possibly, but you’d need to single out an inexperienced clerk. High denomination notes attract more attention.”
“Tell you what Con. Even forgeries as bad as this can be of interest to a collector – depending on the juiciness of the notes’ criminal origins. I’ll buy a couple off you for speculation’s sake. Twenty quid.”
We settled at twenty-five and a first refusal promise on the others.
“You find me a nice serial killer, Conan, and give my love to your mother.”
“She’ll only ask how much.”
“Eat at MacBurger’s.”
Having no laconic response to this ultimate insult, I huffed out of Carry N Cash and made a beeline for Wimpy’s.
MacBurger’s was nicknamed Cholesterol Damage and nobody in their right minds ate its alleged food. Consequently, MacBurger’s were opening restaurants all over the UK and raking in millions. After dinner, I went back to my office. I switched on the tape recorder on the desk, swung up my feet next to the machine in the approved, hard-boiled PI style from 40’s movies. The machine didn’t actually work but it gave me an excuse to talk to myself and I made a note in my pad of anything important generated by my cogitations.
“She tries to pay me off with funny money and asks me to find some metallic monstrosity. Question; is she trying to launder the money? Answer; don’t be stupid, they wouldn’t fool a village idiot.”
I re-crossed my feet,
“Another point, why did she buy the sculpture? Which insurance company would underwrite a contact for half a million on rubbish? This boy’s no…..”
I sat bolt upright,
“Could that be it?” I muttered, “I need to know more about this Victor bloke.”
I pulled on my Dannimac and exited office left.
Wearing a Dannimac was uncomfortable in this weather. But without the coat, how would anyone know I was a private detective? I used to wear a coat that Columbo would have thrown out. Due to the nature of my last case which involved hanging around public conveniences and certain people’s tendency to jump to conclusions, I donated the offending item of apparel to an Oxfam shop and invested in the nearly-new Dannimac from the same establishment.
I showed the Polaroid of the ‘Virginity’ sculpture to the owner of an art-shop on Market Street. When he’d recovered enough to speak, he gasped,
“Victor van Gogh would never have spawned that horror.”
An alarm bell went off. The shop owner, Frank Broughton, shook his head,
“Bloody car alarms. No – like I was saying, Victor does sketches and prints. You must have heard of the ‘350’ set. It was stolen from the Hanley Art Gallery about a week ago.”
“No I haven’t checked the paper recently.” Ever since they misprinted my name.
“Well, he’d loaned a set of prints to the gallery. Seven fake fifty pound notes. The gallery manager’s offered a reward of 10 thousand pounds for their safe return. The set is worth about half a million pounds. Are you feeling alright?”
When the floor was steady again, I left the shop and headed back to the office. I needed to think. Placing the prints on my desk I stared at them. Presumably, Ruth Leese was behind the theft of the prints. She needed a safe place for them, I assumed, until she could arrange their sale to a rich art collector who wasn’t too concerned about how the art work was obtained.
Tape recorder time, feet up and thinking head on,
“Ruth figured I would guess the truth about the notes. But reckoned I would keep them from being found because she has a body that reminds me of food.”
I hooked a leg of the arm of my chair, it creaked,
“So logically, what will she do when she discovers I’ve sold two of the notes to Stevens, making the collection virtually worthless?”
As I ran out the door, I answered my question,
“She’ll probably kill me or at least do me a lot of damage. I hope Carry N Cash don’t close early today.”
They didn’t, I staggered in and breathlessly informed Jack of my plight.
“Tut-tut, Conan. Receiving stolen goods, that can earn you a call from the police, you know.”
“So can fencing them, Jack.”
He pondered this point for a second then nodded,
“Fair enough. I’ll sell them back to you for, oh, a thousand pounds, shall we say?”
“A thousand?” I choked, “Where am I going to find that kind of money?”
Stevens shrugged skinny shoulders,
“Not my problem, Conan. Yours.”
If I raised the cash, I could reasonably charge Miss Leese a safe-keeping fee or turn the set over to the police and claim the ten thou reward, which would get me killed. I could say I’d been mugged on the way to the bank, burn the other prints and still be twenty pounds ahead of the game. I made my decision and said to Stevens,
“Give me twenty-four hours, Jack.” And left the shop
Satisfied that Humphrey Bogart would smile favourably on such a dramatic exit, I began my quest.
End of part two.
In five hundred years time, most of us will be forgotten dust. But Hitler will still be remembered, God loves irony.