Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: End Times (02/27/14)
TITLE: Presumed Guilty
By Christina Banks
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“I should never have hired an ex-convict.”
His office was in immaculate condition. I studied the door. No signs of forced entry could be seen. The only evidence of a break-in was the empty frame on the wall above Jasper’s desk. The missing painting was an original by an artist I’d never heard of. Apparently, it was quite valuable.
“Henry Sutton is your brother-in-law.”
“As if I would claim him after this.” Jasper shook his head and frowned. “Patricia should have disowned him, as I advised. This will kill her when she finds out.”
It was clear Jasper believed Henry was responsible. He’d been dropping the name from the first moment I arrived. I, however, was not so sure. I’d helped put Henry behind bars all those years ago. While he made convincing forgeries, he was no thief.
“When did you notice the painting was missing?”
“It wasn’t until after the shift change. I’d been in a meeting with some investors. When I returned, it was gone.” Jasper clenched his jaw. “I know the painting was there before I left at 3:00.”
I wrote the information down. “I’d like to look at your employee lockers.”
“Henry never uses a locker.” Jasper said. “He insists on taking everything into his office.”
I was not yet willing to rule out other avenues of inquiry, but I agreed to look in Henry’s office first. Jasper called a janitor to let us in.
“You don’t have your own set of keys?” I was surprised.
I recognized the angry clench of Jasper’s jaw. “They went missing last week.”
Missing keys could give anyone access to the painting. “Was your office key on the ring?”
“Thankfully not.” Jasper shook his head. “At first I thought I had simply mislaid them, but now I’m not so sure. This isn’t the first time things have gone missing, Detective.”
Henry’s office was a messy as any I’d seen. The only area cleared of clutter was his drawing desk. I looked at the advertisement he’d been working on before leaving for the day, and was once again amazed at the man’s artistic ability. If only he hadn’t gotten caught up in counterfeiting, Henry could have become a world-renown artist. Now, he was nothing more than an ex-con working for his sister’s bitter husband. I almost felt sorry for the man.
A search of the room uncovered nothing. I could read Jasper’s frustration in the throbbing vein at his temple.
“I’d like to look at the locker area.”
Reluctantly, Jasper called the janitor again. I followed the men through the halls, noticing the open quality of the office. The large windows of the offices looked onto the busy center of the floor. It would be hard to get anything out of here without being seen and noticed.
The employee room was much like I’d anticipated, stark and unfriendly. The janitor handed Jasper the key and disappeared into his closet. I wanted to search all the lockers, but Jasper insisted that only one was necessary. Henry’s.
My heart sank when I saw the canvas roll in the space. Jasper unrolled the canvas, verifying it was his missing painting. I still didn’t believe that Henry could have done this. It wasn’t his style. But I couldn’t ignore the evidence.
“You’ll arrest him now?” Jasper asked. The eagerness in his tone irritated.
“I’ll bring him in for questioning.” Yes, the canvas was found in Henry’s locker, but even Jasper admitted the man never used it. “I’d like to look around some more, talk to a few people.”
Jasper finally left me to do my job. No one had seen Henry. Only the janitor mentioned seeing him walking toward the employee lounge around half past three. I found the observation interesting. The man did not wear a watch.
I sat at the table in the lounge and thought through my notes. Either Henry had taken the painting, or someone was setting him up. The loud snap of the time clock brought my attention to two employees punching out for the day.
I pulled Henry’s card from the slot. His end times could either condemn him further, or set him free. Henry had punched out at 2:45. I hoped Henry had a strong alibi for this afternoon. Now to find the helpful janitor and find out why he was framing Henry Sutton.
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