[Co-written and edited to Chase’s point of view.]
Some time, now or never…
Tarragon, St. Paul’s Bay, Malta
Chase Devineaux took a flight from San Francisco to Milan, a train to Naples, a car to Salerno and then boarded a boat to St. Paul’s Bay in Malta. Granted, he took the long route, but he had more than one associate to encounter. Every stop was a security meeting, except Malta wasn’t in his official itinerary.
Tarragon, an unassuming restaurant with views of the Mediterranean, served some of the best food the island had to offer. Devineaux arrived late afternoon, called the restaurant to confirm a reservation, and checked in at the Gillieru Harbour hotel for a shower. Before he knew it, the sun was setting and he was seated by the maître d' before a North-facing window.
A waiter announced the arrival of his ‘date’ about ten minutes later. She was punctual, as expected. In a laced dress of layered white silk, she wore Italian leather sandals whose strings climbed up her calves and ended in tassels an inch below her knees. Around her neck was a platinum band, plain, understated and hallmarked by a personal jeweler in Venice.
He stood to greet her, she completed the kisses and let the waiter push back her chair as she reclined.
“Thanks for coming,” Chase started, turning first to the drinks menu, “Want to… share a bottle or--”
“Have you had Maltese Wine?” she tapped his wrist.
“No,” he answered, “let’s do that, with fish.”
“Pescatarian?” she laughed lightly and ordered a bottle of chilled Marsovin Sottovoce Ġellewża and two fish dishes. With that out of the way, she studied the man before her and attempted to guess why he would want to meet so fastidiously this summer.
“You… want to keep internally guessing, or should I get to it?” Devineaux asked, turning from the cooling seas to his dinner company.
The wine came, he tasted, approved; then both glasses were filled and she took her first sip.
“You have documents,” she hinted to the large brown envelope next to him, “I thought we agreed to never speak of work?”
Chase smiled, but omitted his usual chuckle at her teasing.
“This isn’t work...,” he pulled the envelope into view, “Rosen did as she promised after the operation in Kamchatka, she destroyed the files. Except for a few of yours.”
“She got rid of your files but kept mine?” her dulcet laughter preceded another sip of rosé, “That sounds like her.”
“They were important,” he exhaled, “these are yours… incident reports about a hotel fire, child services, everything that got you into the system. It’s not much, but what I have in here are the remaining physical copies.”
A silence extended and the thief was momentarily still.
“Have you made these digital?” Her question was nonchalant.
“Yes…” hesitantly, he told her the truth.
“Then send that to me, and burn all this.”
Chase breathed, “Wait, there’s more.”
Her body language conveyed little, but her eyes clearly hinted curiosity.
“Have you heard the name Malcolm Avalon?”
Leaning back into her chair, she crossed her legs, “You’re going to tell me about him?”
“Argentinian businessman, collector, acquired an Amedeo Modigliani sculpture last month?”
“Modigliani, a Tête de Femme?” she commented and took another casual sip of wine, “Good turn-of-the century pieces are rare, do you know his broker?”
“Hold on,” Devineaux paused, “let me focus.”
“Then focus,” she mildly mocked him and put her glass down for the waiter to refresh.
“The night of the fire, Avalon lost both his wife and daughter, there’s a corresponding police report… a few newspaper articles…” Chase scrolled through items on his tablet, “You were found not far from the hotel…”
Salads arrived and she took a bite. Then she watched him move around making his case, and gave a slight approving nod.
“It could have been sloppy police work, or some misunderstanding, but at the time, nobody made the connection.”
“And why are we trying to make this connection?” her question lingered at the word ‘why’, “Is it so impossible that my mother was an undocumented hotel staff?”
“You think that’s your story?”
“I think it makes no difference,” that statement flowed easily, and Chase believed her.
“Right,” Devineaux nodded, “So, some of ACME was at Avalon’s Buenos Aires Hacienda when the Modigliani was delivered, small party.” The detective moved to an image of ACME’s Secretary of the Board Gunther Metzger among some nameless faces in front of a large artwork, “The woman in that painting--”
She held his arm to better study the picture.
“Chase,” she sighed, “why didn’t you start with this?”
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