The First Encounter

It was a cold and dreary night, an awful night to be out on a hunting spree for a blue Lamborghini. My partner looked over at me. Chad could sense my restlessness.

‘What is it?’

I turned away from the road and flipped out my phone.

‘Remind me again why we’re doing this?’

‘We’re two rookies who wanted our big break so bad that we asked the Chief to let us handle something that was way out of our league.’

‘Tonight of all nights when the game is on? What were we thinking!’ I whined, glancing at my phone again.

Chad snorted.

‘What do you think?’ I  ventured, if only to have something to talk about.

‘About?’

‘Mr. Top Gear over there,’ I said, nodding towards the car.

‘It took them over a year to figure out that the painting was a fake, and another to figure out that he could be a possible suspect. I’d say this guy is as slippery as an eel. and that he could get away again if we aren’t careful.’

‘On those wheels, I wouldn’t be surprised.’

‘You would think he’d prefer a certain amount of subtlety.’

‘Smart-ass,’ I mumbled, reproachfully.

I watched as the car pulled into a parking spot a couple of yards ahead of us, drawing curious glances from pedestrians in the vicinity. The rumble of the Italian engine cut off and a man emerged, twirling his keys. Chad slipped into another spot three cars down. I looked over at him before I slipped out the door, and I could tell that we shared the same sense of dread.

‘Charles Yardley?’ I called, as we caught up to him right outside one of the city’s most expensive bars.

He turned around, eyebrows raised.

‘Yes?’

‘May we have a word with you, sir?’ we flashed our badges.

‘Sure,’ he replied, a hint of a smile playing on his lips. A dozen alarms went off in my head as I watched him nonchalantly brush his hair aside. ‘You’re welcome to join me in for a drink.’

Not a hitch in his voice, or a twitch of a muscle. It was quite the act. Chad drew in a deep breath before following him into the bar.

It was the most high profile place we’d ever set foot in. Elegant chandeliers hung from the ceiling, mirrored walls gave it the impression of being infinitely wide, and everyone seemed to have their most extravagant outfits on. Waiters and waitresses darted in and out of crowds with trays of brightly coloured cocktails, and the bartenders seemed to be taming fires from behind the counter every few seconds.

Our fascination didn’t go unnoticed.

‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ he grinned, clearly enjoying our barely concealed looks of awe.

Chad mumbled in agreement before continuing.

‘As we understand it, you’ve been previously interviewed by Detective Carlisle regarding the ‘Roses of Atlantis’? My partner and I are taking over the investigation and we had a couple more questions about the last time that you were seen with the painting.’

‘Anything to ease the progress of the investigation,’ he bowed his head, before raising two fingers at a passing waitress.

When he’d turned his attention back to us, Chad began asking him a string of routine questions about the day that the painting was rumoured to have been replaced with a fake, about his relationship to the gallery owner– a certain Ms. Caswell– and about the nature of his work as an art dealer. He answered them all, slowly and deliberately, in a way that made my skin crawl with unease. He was lying through his teeth, but there was not a lie detector in the world that would’ve been able to confirm my suspicions.

The conversation eventually turned to a similar work of art that had gone missing over a year ago in America, that had suspiciously resurfaced in a different part of town three days after its disappearance. Only upon closer inspection was it evident that the piece was a fake– the details were astonishingly on point and had even the most learned professionals questioning its authenticity– and the original had already made it halfway across the Atlantic before the truth had come to light. Its name cropped up in a different city in Europe every other month, but it hadn’t been seen since.

‘They look pretty similar to me,’ Yardley shrugged, tossing the photographs aside.

‘That’s the fake,’ I pointed, taking a tentative sip of the bright orange liquid that had been placed under my nose a moment ago. It was surprisingly delicious.

He raised his eyebrows, ‘How can you tell?’

‘If you look closely, you’ll find a few details that are off in this one. Especially in the way the paint catches the light.’

Yardley seemed delighted, almost gleeful, at my response, which was odd. I turned to Chad, but he didn’t seem to have noticed while turning the photos over, to check if I was right.

‘Damn it,’ he mumbled, clearly annoyed at how easy it was for me to tell them apart. We’d had so many conversations about how my photographic memory worked, and he’d been determined to unearth a flaw in my abilities–

And then it hit me– how Yardley had managed to deceive so many professionals.

He grinned at the look of apprehension that was clearly etched across my features, ‘I see we share something in common.’

‘What’s he talking about?’ Chad frowned, eyes darting between us as though he was watching a tennis match.

‘He’s got a photographic memory,’ I replied, cursing inwardly at being so slow on the uptake.

‘We’re two sides of the same coin. Look at how differently we turned out,’ he leaned in, eyes glinting, ‘One on the right side of the law, and the other a freethinker.’

‘I’d like to think I turned out just fine,’ I retorted, my mind working double-time as it tried to figure out how to navigate the situation. We literally had nothing on him, and he was going to walk. A guilty man, on the streets of the art capital of the world.

He spread out his arms. ‘And I like to think that I have no regrets.’

I leaned in, ‘I’m going to get you.’

He laughed, ‘I’d love to see you try.’

He downed his glass of electric blue liquor.

‘I’ve got to run, but if there’s anything else that I can help you with, feel free to contact me any time.’

He scribbled on a stray napkin, folded it in half and slipped it across the counter. He winked at me as he stood up to leave.

‘We’ll be seeing each other quite often, I presume.’

And he was gone.

‘On the bright side,’ Chad gestured at his glass bitterly.

I looked down at the piece of paper, before crumpling it up in anger and tossing it away.

Checkmate.

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