Tom wanted to get it over with, but he wasn’t sure where to start. Valiss still hadn’t shown up – maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe that was okay. Tom remembered his second encounter with the detective, the way he’d framed his questions. It might work on his uncle.
“Why don’t I tell you what I know,” said Tom. “Someone in the Prelligate family sells something they shouldn’t—valuable paintings, tribal art, rare sculptures—the kind of high-quality black market items you can’t just pick up on the street corner. Maybe the family knows, maybe they don’t, but a family like that knows how to keep its secrets. This doesn’t go on for years. This goes on for generations.”
Uncle Paul shrugged. “Maybe I’m confused. What’s that got to do with me?”
“For a while? Nothing. For a while the Prelligates have connections. Times change, though. Wodeville’s small; people get nervous, start looking around for someone they can trust. The Avon family’s been in this city almost as long as the Prelligates. We’re not big on change, us. Not the kind to move to New York and seek our fortunes. So one day, somebody answers the phone. Rosie, maybe, or you. Maybe even my dad. Somebody needs help moving goods. Somebody needs another set of hands, a front. A shithole like the Everything Store is just the thing. You sell a piece that turns out to be stolen, you can always say it was an accident, picked up with a truckload of garbage from some estate sale. How am I doing so far?”
“It’s a cute story,” said Paul. “I’d buy it at an airport. But tell me. Why, in all the time you worked here, didn’t you see any of these stolen goods?”
Tom could hear Ellen and Remley behind him, could hear them nervously shifting on the gravel drive, but he kept his eyes on his uncle. “Because the thing is, who’s going to believe you’re sitting on a Picasso? And who are your connections? Takes a special client to buy what you’re selling. That’s where I come in. Seems I had a girl on my arm once, nice girl, maybe slumming it a little because I make her laugh. You remember what business she’s in, but more important, where. You get Rebecca Strahm on board, you’ve got a connection north of the river, somebody who rubs elbows with money on a daily basis.”
Uncle Paul cracked. It wasn’t much—just a twinge near his eye, the parting of his lips—but Tom could see his words landing, prying something apart.
“Should I go on?” Tom asked.
“Tom, what you’re saying here, what you’re accusing me of… this is some goddamn serious shit you’re saying. You really believe this? About me? About your father?”
“Somebody told me once it made no sense, what happened at the auction. Why would she spend all that money? Why draw all that attention? She was trying to send you a signal, wasn’t she? Ditch her cash, make a scene – you don’t want connections with somebody like that, not in your new line of work.” Tom forced himself to straighten up, to make sure the tiny lens of his camera had a clear shot over his collar. “And that letter? I think that’s what spooked her. Somebody makes a confession like that, even in private, even anonymously, that strikes a nerve. How long could it go on? I don’t know how, but I think Rebecca put it in the Mystery Box. I think that’s why she made so damned certain I’m the one who took it home.”
Uncle Paul shook his head and spat at the gravel, twice. “Real shame to hear you say that, Tom. Shame to hear you don’t trust me.”
“I did,” said Tom. “Turns out that was the problem.”
“So, what now, then? You take your speculation, your nonsense to the police, and they tell you to get lost? Nobody’s going to touch that, Tom. And you and I both know what those records you stole from my office say. Rebecca’s name crops up, what, a half dozen times? What is it you think you have? What is it you want?” Tom’s uncle folded his arms, trying his damnedest to look more disappointed in his nephew than scared of him. “Is this because I fired you? Do you want your job back, Tom?”
“No. I want you to turn in the person who killed Rebecca Strahm. I want you to put Sal behind bars.”
At Sal’s name, Uncle Paul’s eyes traced up to some spot on the horizon past Ellen, Tom, and Remley. And then they heard it—the crunch of boots over gravel. The three of them turned to see Sal standing behind them, his stubbed shotgun level with Tom’s gut.
“I told you,” Sal said. “This kid’s nothing but trouble.”