"Hot monkey sex, why else?"The next day
"Coffee, coffee, coffee."
"There's a stranger on our couch!"
"Go get some fresh air, Kieu."
The three young women met at a Tim Horton's after ten o'clock, well after the morning rush. Two medium and one extra-large coffee sat steaming as Kieu examined her tablet. Ayel stifled a yawn before picking her medium coffee. "I couldn't find anything in the cargo that was unusual," the blonde said. "Kristi, what about the art?"
"All lesser works. Nothing important, nothing known to be carrying curses. Some of it is worth real money, but stealing it means finding a buyer, and I think Alex's boss is the only buyer for that art here in Ottawa."
"It is real!" Kieu waved turned her tablet around to let Kristi and Ayel see what was on screen. "There's even a street view of it!"
"Of what?" Ayel asked.
Kristi leaned in closer to get a better view. "That looks like . . . that is Jimmy's boat. And that's Vince's truck and trailer." She leaned back. Kieu, did you just look up my hometown?"
"It didn't sound like a real place." Kieu retrieved her tablet.
"We live in a country that has place names like Dildo, Flin Flon, and Vulcan, and Moose Factory is what you think isn't real?"
"Don't forget Come-By-Chance," Ayel said.
"Not helping, Ayel."
"My parents prefer taking trips to Jamaica for holidays," Kieu said.
Kristi let her head fall on the table. "Focus, girls. Focus. We have a client who is being haunted."
"Sorry," Kieu said. She tapped at her tablet's screen. "I do have a question related to the case. Ayel, why did you not include the carvings from Belize in the list of art?"
Ayel peered over at the tablet's screen. "That's just passing through. Alex's boss never bought those himself."
"But aren't they art?"
Kristi lifted her head. "They are, but if they're sealed in a crate, there's no way for Alex to show us what they look like. Is there a description of the carvings?"
"'Mahogany wood carvings, eleven, various,'" Kieu read. "That's all it says."
Ayel slumped in her chair. "I should have asked Alex for the insurance on each of these. I doubt he'd have that info, though."
"We do have the shipper's name, right?" Kristi asked.
Kieu pointed at it on her tablet. "Right there." She typed the name into Google's search bar. Several links appeared, the first few in Spanish. "Easy enough."
"Except it's in Spanish. Does anyone speak it?"
Ayel shook her head in the negative. Kieu, however, said, "Si."
"That's your job, then, Kieu," Kristi said. "Ayel, can you help me figure out which cargo or artwork is the most valuable and easiest to fence?"
"Um, Kristi, we don't have the right licenses for that," Ayel said. "Remember when I asked you about private investigator's licenses and you brought in Aidan? We're already just on the edge of the regulations for security firms. I know I can't afford the fines."
Kristi rolled her eyes. "We have to do something."
"We are. Alex hired us to find a ghost, not thieves. We don't even know if there is a thief."
"And by seeing if there's nothing valuable, we eliminate that possibility. If it makes you feel any better, if we turn up anything mundane like thieves, we'll turn everything over to the police and wash our hands of the affair."
"I guess." Ayel took a sip of her coffee. "And then we get paid."
"That's the spirit." Kristi's tone remained flat.
Kieu tilted her head over her tablet. "Oh, hey, turns out there's an English site after all. Does anyone know anything about Aztec religious art?"
Kristi blinked. "A little. I had to take the broad history of art courses in first year. Why?"
"That's what got shipped." Kieu let the her business partner see the web page. "Aztec carvings with religious significance, being sent to a private collector in Gatineau. Insured for a half million dollars."
Kristi looked over at Ayel. "There's motive for theft right there."
The blonde woman nodded. "If anyone knew what was in there."
"Didn't the Aztecs do human sacrifices?" Kieu asked. "I think I saw a movie about it. Could be that the carvings were involved."
Kristi leaned back in her chair. "And there's the ghost angle." She sat up straight again. "Ayel, you said that Alex's data didn't have the value listed, right?"
Ayel nodded. "Right. And if anyone was looking at the manifests, they wouldn't know what was in there was worth a lot."
Kieu set down her tablet. "We're back to square one, then."
"No. More like square three. I'll need to find out what those carvings are, but I have all of the other artwork to look up, too." Kristi jumped as her cell phone vibrated. She reached into her jacket to get the phone. "It's Alex," she said, reading the call display. She swiped to answer the call. "Hello, Alex. Really? Sure, we'll be right there." Kristi set her phone down. "Alex wants us to go to the warehouse. He said there was something odd caught on video two nights ago."
"That's when we were there." Ayel finished her coffee. "Lovely."
"He didn't say anything about seeing us. Should I call Aidan?"
"No. We'll need him to call a lawyer for us."
When Ayel drove into the parking lot of the warehouse, Alex was already outside waiting. He walked over to the passenger's door, hand thrust deep into his pockets. Ayel, Kieu, and Kristi hopped out of the van, forming a semi-circle around their client. "We came as soon as we could," Kristi said. "What's going on?"
"My boss was reviewing the security tapes for the week. He saw a few things that were just, well, you know. I let him know that I hired you, off the books, out of my own pocket, to look for ghosts. He had me call you."
Ayel looked around the parking lot. Several cars were there, of various makes and models, but nothing stood out as belonging to the police. "What sort of strange? Did he call the cops?"
Alex nodded as he ushered the women to the warehouse's main entrance. "There were here yesterday, but they didn't find anything." Once inside, he directed the group towards the meeting room. The fallen wall was gone, though the gap it had left was still there. "Mr. Morton, these are the people I told you about."
Kristi stepped forward to shake Morton's hand. "Hi, Kristi Theissen. These are my partners, Ayel Lindeman and Kieu Vo. Alex mentioned that there were some odd happenings and wanted us to looking into them."
"Paranormalists?" Morton asked, his voice gruff.
"We research sites and determine if there is or isn't a paranormal happening."
"And where are your nuclear accelerators?"
Ayel smiled. "We're investigators, not exterminators. We're not the movies."
Morton turned on the television in the room. "Then can you explain this?" He picked up a remote and pressed Play. On the screen, a grainy video of the reception area appeared. Kristi and Ayel exchanged a glance as they watched. The time stamp neared when they had broken into the warehouse that night. The door opened. After a moment, it closed again. Desk drawers opened and closed. Lights flashed. After several minutes of strobing lights, the door opened and closed again. "All this was taken two nights ago. The time stamp is correct, and nothing went missing from the front desk."
Kristi cleared her throat. "That is unusual."
"Could we get a copy?" Kieu asked. "I'd like to see if the video has been tampered with."
"That's not the only video from that night." Morton stopped the playback and switched DVDs. He pressed Play on the new disc. A green image of the warehouse's large storage area appeared, the camera sweeping across the floor methodically. "Night vision camera," Morton explained. "Beats leaving the lights on all night." He stopped the camera as a piece of cloth fluttered past. "You three are the experts. Was that a ghost?"
"It's hard to tell," Kristi said. "I'd need to see more than just something in the wind."
"Wait for it." The video continued playing. As the camera swept across the storage area again, the image went white, then a figure leapt out, its face melting. Morton paused the playback. "Is that a ghost?"
Ayel moved around the room's large table to get a better look at the now still image. "Did the police find anything?"
"Then it's possible that what we see on screen," Kristi paused, trying to form her thought, "is maybe a ghost."
Ayel nodded in agreement. "Is it possible to get a copy of that video as well, to make sure that there isn't any tampering. Kieu is our technical expert and I am sure that she could find evidence that the footage hasn't been altered."
Morton sat down. "You'll get everything you need. As of this moment, I am paying you, not Alex."
"And none of it makes sense."
"What are you doing Friday night?"
"I thought you didn't want to be seen."
"Such a dirty mind, Kieu."