"I'm already looking into the warehouse."Monday afternoon
"And don't tell Ayel what you're doing, okay?"
"A partnership that has an employee who has a security license."
"Kristi likes photos of beds in dim light?"
Ayel jumped out of the van as soon as it stopped moving in the warehouse's parking lot. She dashed to join Kristi and Kieu at the main entrance. "I got your message. What's up?"
"You got me," Kristi said. "Aidan asked me to round everyone up. Did you get the report done for Mr. Morton?"
"Right here." Ayel pulled a manila envelope out from under her jacket. "Feels wrong to just say that the carving's clean now without saying how."
"Got you covered." Kristi opened her shoulder bag. A tiny hand pushed up a box of table salt. "Ginger! I told you to stay behind."
Ginger's head poked up from the bag. "I wanted to see."
Kristi rubbed her forehead. "Don't let anyone else see you, okay? It's going to be difficult enough selling what we're about to do without having to explain a fae in my purse."
Kieu knelt down to face Ginger. "Having fun yet?"
Ginger giggled. "Hiding's fun for a bit, then it gets boring."
"Well, don't get too bored, okay?" Kieu stood back up. "What's with the salt?"
"It works on Supernatural." Kristi shrugged. "I'll sprinkle some in the carvings' crate, say something about the purity of the crystals, and take credit for all of Ginger's hard work. Ginger, I will get you a special coffee when we're done here."
Ayel slipped the envelope back in her jacket. "Let's go see Alex, then."
Kristi stepped in front of the blonde woman, blocking her way to the entrance. "Aidan asked to be here, too." The tawny-haired woman pointed at the street and a red hatchback approaching. "I think that's him."
The hatchback turned into the warehouse's parking lot and coasted to a stop. Aidan got out of the car and waved to the women. "Have you talked to anyone inside yet?"
Kristi walked over to the slim man. "Not yet. What's up?" She tilted her head in Ayel's direction. "Is this what we talked about yesterday?"
Aidan held up several pages of printed paper. "Everything is detailed here." He gave a sheet of paper to Kristi. "One for everyone."
Ginger pulled herself further up from Kristi's shoulder bag. "Aidan!"
"Ginger! Good to see you again! And you're dressed!"
The tiny woman beamed. "I made it myself." She turned around to let Aidan admire her violet blouse.
"I'm impressed. Are you coming in with us?"
Kristi looked up from the paper. "There's no way to stop her. Aidan, are you sure about all this?"
"Most of it is circumstantial and probably couldn't hold up in court." Aidan shrugged. "But, if you run a bluff, you might get a confession."
"Works for me." Kristi turned around to face Kieu and Ayel. "Okay, girls, let's go in there and feel confident in what we're doing."
Kristi led her team into the warehouse, stopping at the reception desk. "Hi, Ashley. Mr, Morton is expecting us. We just have one ritual to perform and we'll be out of everyone's hair."
Ashley picked up the phone, hitting the button for the intercom system. "Alex, you have visitors at reception. Alex to reception."
"Thanks." Kristi joined Kieu in sitting down.
Ayel remained standing, turning in a slow circle. Noticing a photo on the wall, she walked over to get a closer look at it. Taken several years ago, it showed the warehouse's staff of the time. Ayel only recognized Ashley and Morton in the photo. She looked over to the inner door as it opened. Alex stepped through. "Mr. Morton's in back. Are you sure this ritual you mentioned will work?" Noticing Aidan, Alex added, "I don't think we've met."
Kristi got to her feet. "Alex, this is one of our employees, Aidan Lockhart."
Alex shook Aidan's hand. "If everyone could follow me?"
In the back of the warehouse, Morton waited beside the crate of Aztec carvings, the lid already off. Ayel passed the manila envelope to Kristi, who brought it over to the warehouse owner. "All the details are in here, including an itemized invoice. We just have one last thing to do here. Did Alex tell you about the ritual?"
Morton nodded. "He didn't give me any details."
Ayel stepped forward. "Our research indicated that this shipment wasn't just artwork, but carvings used in conjunction with rituals involving human sacrifice. The details are in the report, but, if there is anything currently in the warehouse that could cause a haunting, the carvings are the prime suspect."
Kristi opened her shoulder bag to get the table salt. Ginger thrust the box into the tawny-haired woman's hand. Kristi twisted to keep the tiny fae from being seen, giving her a frown. "Everything that I've been able to find suggests that salt is the best way to cleanse the carvings."
"Not holy water?" Morton asked.
"Holy water works if the entities are aware of the power inherent. Salt, however, is more reliable and easier to acquire." Kristi gave her client a warm smile. "This won't take long." She poured a small pile of salt into the palm of her hand. Closing her eyes, Kristi whispered the few words she knew in Latin, then sprinkled the salt into the crate. After a moment, she opened her eyes again. "That should do it, at least for the carvings."
"And that takes care of the Phantom?"
"Unfortunately, sir," Aidan said, "no. There's evidence that shows that the Phantom is not a haunting and is much more mundane."
Morton tilted his head in confusion. "Mundane?"
"Indeed," Kristi said. "Kieu, want to explain how the video was done?"
Kieu stepped forward. She cleared her throat. "I studied the video footage the night the Phantom first appeared. There were some odd artifacting that I couldn't figure out at first, but then my father showed me his camera's low light setting. When you shine a light at a camera using low light, the image whites out. The camera is blinded, really." The dark-haired woman took a deep breath. "Night vision works the same way, intensifying the light that is there. Too much light, and the camera is overwhelmed." Kieu pulled out the printed picture of her parents' bed. "I took this using my father's camera using the low light setting. It looks much like the video, at least in colour. I think someone may have printed output from your video camera."
Alex raised an eyebrow. "Do you have proof?"
"Not really." Kieu stepped away from the stack of crates, looking up towards the rafters. "Is that where you've put the camera?" She point up at the corner.
"It is," Morton confirmed.
Kieu walked over to stand underneath the security camera. "I'm now outside the camera's sight. To get here, though, I'd have to cross into its view, if I came from outside. But coming from inside the office, I can stay against the wall." She pointed up. "I believe that there's a small hole in the wood from where a picture holder was placed."
"Alex, go find a ladder and check."
Within moments, Alex retrieved a step ladder and climbed up to the camera. He looked around the mounting. "Found a hole."
Kieu ran back to Kristi's side. "From that, I can only conclude that whoever the Phantom is knows the warehouse well," Kieu concluded.
"That leaves figuring out who," Kristi said. "The warehouse sees a lot moving in and out. The only people who really know what's here at any given moment are the shippers and the people here. There's a chance a regular trucker knows the system here, but to get access to the security footage, they'd have to have been shown where everything is kept."
Alex returned to the group. "Why? What's the motivation?"
Kristi beamed. "Art theft." Feeling the eyes of Alex and his boss staring at her, she continued, "The most valuable items are in the crates passing through, but our Phantom didn't know that. The manifests aren't specific. It took some research on Kieu's part to determine what the carvings were. The cargo passing through was safe. Mr. Morton, your art collection became the most likely reason for the Phantom to show up. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I know what the Phantom is looking for."
From within Kristi's shoulder bag, Ginger said, "Toot!"
Kristi's cheeks turned red. "Sorry, that's my phone." She reached into her bag. "I'll just turn it off so it doesn't interrupt us again." The tawny-haired woman pretended to fumble around in the purse. "There. So, where was I?"
"You know what the Phantom is looking for," Ayel said.
"Right, thanks." Kristi centred herself. "Turns out, one of your pieces of art became far more valuable in the past week. Gregori Hapschatt passed away eight days ago after falling ill."
Kieu shook her head. "Who?"
Kristi smiled. "That's the most common reaction to him. Hapschatt isn't well known, but he was a darling of the critics. Speculation over what his pieces were worth raged while he was ill. Mr. Morton, I'm sure you weren't expecting the piece you bought to increase in value by a factor of ten."
Morton blinked. "Wait, is that the purple carving of the butterfly bumblebee horse thing? I bought it because I thought it'd look good in my den."
"How?" Kieu asked.
"Kieu, shush," Kristi said. "That's the one, Mr. Morton. Is it still here?"
"It should be. I still had to make space for it at home."
Ayel stood beside Kristi. "That takes care of motivation." She looked over at Aidan, who nodded back to her. "That leaves the question of who. It's easier to point out who the Phantom isn't right now. The first person I can eliminate is you, Mr. Morton. You already own the Hapschatt. And you were surprised just now about how much more your investment is worth." The blonde woman turned to Alex. "You, I can eliminate, too, Alex. You hired us. Why risk having someone stumble on your scheme, even if it's a new company in an odd line of business. Too risky." Ayel leaned against a stack of crates. "The explosions were key. Kristi?"
"I talked to Constable Frasier, who questioned us after the explosions on Saturday," Kristi said. "He couldn't say anything official, but, off the record, he did mention that the Arson unit did get residue of a type of powder used in fireworks and in theatrical work. The city requires fireworks events to be properly staffed by licensed pyrotechnicians. It's too early to purchase fireworks legally in Ottawa, so the only other source would have to be theatrical supplies. Aidan?"
"Sales are regulated and tracked. Of course, not everything gets used, so that's a dead end." Aidan walked over to join Kristi and Ayel. "However, there are other paths to investigate. That's where the wall comes in. Could we use your meeting room, Mr. Morton?"
Morton led the group back into the office area and to the meeting room. Once everyone was settled, Alex said, "The wall collapsed, no?"
Aidan crouched down, examining the floor on the opposite side of the room of the repaired wall. "No. It fell. Aha!" He picked up a nail from the floor. "As you can see, there's a slight bend to it." Aidan held the nail up so that the others could take a closer look at it. "Kristi and Ayel told me that the entire section fell down, in one piece. Just pulling on it with great force would cause the wall to break. Which leads to the next point. Ayel?"
Ayel glanced at the slim man. "Er, right. Next point. We already know that the Phantom is an insider, someone who has access to alarm codes and knows the layout of the warehouse. Someone who can take down a wall without breaking it. Someone with the sense of the dramatic. Someone with carpentry skills on top of pyrotechnics and sewing. Mr. Morton, when was the last time you gave out raises?"
Morton shrugged. "With the economy the way it is, and the constant turnover, I can't remember."
"Right. I think I know who our Phantom is." Ayel stepped to the front of the meeting room, standing in front of the whiteboard. "I believe that your receptionist is the Phantom."
Alex blinked. "Ashley? But she was around when the wall fell down. She called the fire department after the explosions."
Ayel nodded. "Ashley is also the only person who has been here for any length of time. She knows the alarm codes, coming in on weekends to catch on paperwork. We may even find her involvement in Little Theatre in Ottawa."
Morton stormed out of the meeting room. Kristi chased after him, followed by her business partners and Aidan. The warehouse owner stopped at the reception desk. "Ashley, you have some explaining to do."
Ashley closed her desk drawer. She stood up, raising her hand to reveal she was holding a claw hammer. "I don't think I do, Mr. Morton. Now, all of you, stand aside."
Kristi pulled Morton's arm. "Better do what she says."
"Don't even think about following me." Ashley smashed the phone with the hammer, sending bits of plastic flying. "Unless you want to look like that."
Ayel put an arm out to stop Alex. "It's not worth getting hurt over."
"Ashley, put down the hammer," Kristi said. "Please."
Ashley brandished the hammer, holding it up, ready to strike. "Stay back."
Kristi set down her shoulder bag. "Ashley, you don't have to do this. You can drop the hammer."
"I'll drop you if you get any closer."
Aidan took a step closer, ignoring Ayel warning him. "You haven't committed assault yet. Not even attempted assault." He held out his hand. "Give me the hammer, Ashley."
"Aidan, careful." Ayel reached out to the slim man, not quite touching him.
"We can talk this out, Ashley." Aidan edged around the desk. "We're not going to hurt you."
Ashley waved the hammer, taking a swing to keep Aidan back. "Damn straight you're not."
"Please, Ashley. There's no need for violence." Aidan took a few more steps towards the receptionist. With a snarl, Ashley brought the hammer in an arc over her head. Aidan stepped to the side. He grabbed the receptionist's arm, letting her provide the momentum to pull her further down. Aidan flipped Ashley over. She landed on her her back but kept a grip on the hammer.
A small blur zipped out from Kristi's bag. Ignored in the chaos, Ginger ran under the desk, carrying a nail. She reached Ashley, who struggled to escape Aidan's grip. With a quick jab, Ginger poked the receptionist with her nail. Ashley's struggles stopped as she fell unconscious. Ginger winked at Aidan, then ran back to Kristi's shoulder bag.
Aidan stood up straight. "Someone want to call 911? I, er, I think she bumped her head."
Kristi ran over to the slim man's side. "Aidan, are you okay?"
"Just shaken." Aidan steadied himself, leaning on Ashley's desk.
Ayel took a breath to calm down. "And there you go. The Phantom." She turned to Morton. "I trust everything is to your satisfaction?"
Morton blinked. "I'll have a cheque cut for you tomorrow."
Kristi returned to the van in the Tim Horton's parking lot with a tray of coffee and a box of donut holes. Aidan took the tray from her and began handing out the drinks, starting with the small coffee for Ginger. Kristi set the Timbits down on the floor of Ayel's van. "Congrats, guys! We did it!"
"Hooray for us!" Kieu opened the box of Timbits and snagged a chocolate donut hole. "Though, there's a lot less yelling than I expected right now." She looked over at Ayel. "We did ignore you and asked Aidan to keep looking into the warehouse."
"Funny thing about that." Ayel forced a laugh. "I also asked him to keep looking." She gave Kieu and Kristi a sheepish smile. "Funny, right?"
Kieu scowled. "You told us that we weren't licensed!" She began to laugh. "I guess you're okay." The dark-haired woman popped her chocolate Timbit in her mouth.
"I knew you wanted to see this through," Kristi said. She wrapped an arm around the blonde woman's shoulder. "Next time, how about talking to us about your idea?"
"Love you, too, Kristi." Ayel leaned against her van. "Other than the bit with the hammer, it went well. Aidan, thank you for being brave."
Aidan took a sip of his coffee. "Don't worry about it. That's why you have me on retainer. Now, about my pay."
Kristi smiled. "Once Mr. Morton's cheque clears, we'll slip you something extra."
"Once I figure out how payroll taxes work." Ayel gave her head a shake. "It might be easier to just slip some cash under the table here."
"Don't worry about it." Aidan sat down on the floor of the van. "Let me spend some time with Ginger here."
The tiny fae set down her coffee and ran over to hug Aidan's arm. "Love you, too, Aidan."