By Michael Kurland (born 1938).
First appearance: The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes (2000).
Reprinted in Images, Conceits & Lollygags (2003).
Novelette (24 pages).
"It's this old picture. It's disappeared. The way they tell it, there's no way it could have gone, and there isn't anyone who could have taken it, but it's gone any-way."A painting worth $1.2 million and with a pedigree up to here goes missing from an LA apartment under impossible circumstances, irritating the insurers enough to hire the services of Continental Investigations & Security, who quickly drop the case squarely in PI Stanley Baum's lap.
Before he can complete his investigation of the missing masterpiece, however, Baum is confronted with another crime, a murder in a locked room just across the street from the first one. Are the two cases somehow related? Initially they don't seem to be, but some smudges on a glass pane, a little dab of putty on a window sill, some plaster dust, a coil of rope on top of a garage, a misplaced rung on a curtain rod, and some undue hostility on the part of a suspect all, in our detective's mind, add up to one crime.
At Continental Investigations & Security's Los Angeles branch:
~ Abe Wohlstein (a.k.a. Junior):
". . . older than sin and not at all presentable, but he knows everything there is to know and he runs the place."
~ Stanley Baum, our narrator:
"There was a copy of the original insurance application; an international form with all the questions asked in three languages above neat rectangular boxes just too small to write in the answers. The questions had been answered in English, I noticed, in a small, round hand written with a fine point fountain pen. We detectives notice details like that."
At Fid Mut:
"A short, narrow, prissy-looking man with a thin black moustache above thin lips, he looked as though he was prepared to disapprove of me at the slightest provocation. But maybe that's just the way he looked."
~ Graf Maximilian Czeppski:
"A tall man with rounded corners wearing a brown suit, a white, button-down shirt with vertical green stripes, and a forest-green tie as wide as his smile, he shook my hand with a hardy, vice-like grip. I managed to pull the hand free before any of the larger bones were broken, and returned his smile."
~ Grafin Sylvia Czeppski:
"She seemed distinctly annoyed at having to speak to me. I couldn't tell whether it was because I was a detective or because the lapels on my jacket were too narrow."
~ Paula Czeppski:
"The daughter, sitting on the couch at the short end of the L, was the woman I had been dreaming about at least once a week since I was seventeen. I won't tell you what sort of dreams they were, but I imagine you can guess."
"'Don't say anything else until I read you your rights. This time we’ve got you cold!' His name was Gibson, and we'd worked together on a few cases here and there in the past."
~ Feodore, Maria, Estafia, and Dr. Gadolfus.
"'The way they tell it, it's simply impossible.' He smirked. 'But we know there's nothing impossible, don't we?'
"I told Jamieson that I'd take his word for it, that epistemology wasn't my field, and sug-gested that he get on with the story. He looked at me with a hurt expression, as though he had just been bitten by a pet guppy."
"'You offering a reward?' I asked. A polite way of asking whether Fiduciary Mutual was willing to buy the painting back from the thieves. They always were unless they thought it was an inside job. Most insurance companies have the ethical standards of rattlesnakes without the rattles. They should be required by law to tie rattles on as a warning when dealing with claimants."
"'The police and I have different goals.'
"'Yes,' Grafin Sylvia said. 'The police are trying to catch the miscreant who took our picture. You are trying to find a way to avoid paying us one million and two hundred thousand dollars'."
"'I think what we got here is the invisible man. You know – like the Shadow. The guy possesses the power to walk out of rooms without nobody seeing him.'
"I raised one eyebrow, a gesture I've been trying to perfect since high school. 'Life is a glorious cycle of song!' I said. 'Two impossible crimes on the same day'."
Typo: "Fid Must"
- Unlike so many authors who have appeared in these webpages, Michael Kurland is still happily very much with us, turning out fine Sherlock Holmes/Professor Moriarty and Lord Darcy pastiches, with more than a few nifty impossible crimes tossed into the mix: Wikipedia HERE, the SFE HERE, the ISFDb HERE, and his own webpage HERE.
The bottom line: "'I have committed another crime, Hadley,' he said. 'I have guessed the truth again'."
— Gideon Fell