It was about seven o’clock on Saturday night, and Alex and Harold were in a coffee shop in Maple Grove, one of the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis. There were a couple of other people there, but it was hardly a hot spot. At a table in the corner there was a small group of guys playing Magic: The Gathering. By the window was a woman who was completely engrossed in whatever she was looking at on her phone. And Harold and Alex were sitting in the armchairs by the fake fireplace, waiting to meet Dr. Porter’s assistant.
All Alex knew about her so far was that she worked for Dr. Porter, and that her name was Kaylee.
She came in to the coffee shop around seven thirty, and joined them after she’d gotten a latte and a black and white cookie.
“I’m glad you guys didn’t stand me up. It was a long drive for me to get here,” Kaylee said.
“It was a jaunt for us, too. Why did you want to meet way out here if it’s not convenient for you either?” Alex said.
“Because we can be one hundred percent certain that Dr. Porter won’t show up here. She lives in St. Paul, and wouldn’t be caught dead out in the suburbs. Especially in a suburb that built a fake downtown in what used to be a gravel pit. She considers herself far too cultured and urbane to tolerate this kind of thing,” Kaylee said.
“Fair enough. I take it you don’t particularly like working for her, then,” Alex said.
Kaylee shrugged and said, “She’s not any worse than any other boss I’ve had. And working for her means my tuition is covered, so I can put up with her ego for a while longer.”
Kaylee took a bite of her cookie, and grimaced.
“Ugh, yuck. Why does this taste like anise?” she said. She took a couple of sips of coffee in quick succession, and pushed the cookie away from herself.
“OK, well, if you don’t mind working for her, and you also don’t want her to know that you’re meeting with us, I have to ask - why did you offer to help us? It doesn’t seem like it’s in your own best interest.” Alex said.
“Well, I was eavesdropping. And you guys didn’t sound like the usual people who come around asking about Thomas Smith. Dr. Porter actually knows a ton about him, she’s just tired of dealing with people who show up and expect her to give them all of her expertise for free. People can be pretty rude. If she hadn’t gotten all defensive right away, she would have understood that you’re just trying to get some things back to their rightful owner.”
Kaylee then smiled slightly, and said, “It might have gone a little smoother if you’d made an appointment, too.”
She took another sip of her coffee then, and continued. “Anyway, it sounded to me like you guys aren’t trying to summon demons, or turn lead into gold, or do anything else ridiculous, and you don’t sound like you’re trying to take someone else’s research and call it your own, so I figured I’d help you out, if I can.”
“So, if I’ve understood you right, you’ve come well out of your way to meet us, just because you want to be helpful?” Harold said.
“Well, I guess so,” Kaylee said.
“You would probably make an excellent butler,” Harold said.
“Um. OK,” Kaylee said. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and looked mildly insulted.
“Don’t mind him,” Alex said. “Coming from Harold, that’s incredibly high praise.”
“I’m sure,” Kaylee said. “So, what do you guys want to know about Thomas Smith?”
Alex took a sip of his coffee, and said, “Well, honestly, I think we really just want to know who might have been motivated enough to steal these disks from a museum in London.”
He took out the photos Mr. Darcy had provided and handed them to Kaylee. She took them, and had a look at them. Surprise, or shock, crossed her face momentarily.
“Wow, someone stole these from a museum? I didn’t realize I’d be helping out with investigating an art heist,” Kaylee said.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I mentioned that yesterday. Any ideas about who might want them?” Alex said.
“Well, I didn’t overhear everything you said. Anyway, tough question. Who wouldn’t want them? At least, among people who have an interest in Thomas Smith, or his work. Hmm, I’ll need to think about it a bit,” Kaylee said.
She took out a notepad and a pen, then sat and thought quietly for a minute.
Alex checked his watch.
After a couple of minutes, Kaylee began writing down what looked like names, websites and email addresses. Once she had filled about half of the page, she handed the list to Alex.
“These folks are who I think would be interested enough to be involved. And if they’re not, they might have some idea about who actually was involved,” Kaylee said.
Alex looked at the list. There were a couple of names that had been in the information Mr. Darcy had given him, but a lot of the names were new to him.
“Who are these people?” Alex asked. “I mean, are they collectors, or occultists, or what?”
Kaylee was putting away her notebook, and gathering her things. She said, “Collectors, occultists, academics… They’re all experts on Thomas Smith, anyway. Any of them would love to get their hands on some of his stuff. They’re all looking for the key that will unlock whatever mystery it is they’re particularly interested in. Anyway, I hope it helps. Good luck with the search.”
She got up and left the coffee shop.
Alex said, partly to himself and partly to Harold, “I hope this gets us a little closer to reaching the right person. I’d been hoping she might have been able to give us a little more than just another list of names.”