Maggie woke up with a headache. She brought her hands to her face to massage her temples, but the moment she did it, pain exploded through her head. She groaned and turned on her side, curving into a ball. She felt concrete underneath her cheek, and frowned. Why wasn’t she in her bed?
She opened her eyes; the light blinded her, her headache intensified, but she fought against it and managed to open them fully. She looked around, and let out another groan, this one in frustration.
“Why does it always have to be a storage room?” she muttered.
Slowly, the memories of the last few days came back in her mind.
Everything was quiet, the lights were turned off. The museum had closed its doors for the day, the visitors had gone home. Besides the security guards, Maggie was alone. She walked down the hallways, stopping to admire the artefacts in the dim lighting. She appreciated the silence surrounding her.
When her college friend, Sara Thompson, had first offered her the job, she had hesitated. Going to London, even if it was only for a few months, hadn’t been in her plans. Her relationship with Sterling had been in the early stages, and she had been afraid that leaving would put a stop to it. She had mentioned it to him, if only to let him know, and he had encouraged her to take it; working at the British Museum was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He had been right, of course. Reassured that going to London wouldn’t hurt their relationship, she had called back Sara and accepted the offer.
Now, she knew that, had she decided to stay on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, she would have ended up regretting it. Everywhere she looked, she was surrounding by artworks, each of them a testament of its time. And she was lucky enough to be able to enjoy them without anyone around to distract her. Each evening, after her work for the day was done, she tried to explore a different department, taking her time, and knowing that she would come back for more before too long. Tonight, her feet took her to the Ancient Egypt.
She stopped before the Rosetta Stone. Her eyes took in the texts before her, even though she couldn’t read any of the languages. It had always amazed her that Champollion had managed to decipher the hieroglyphs from this stone. It had opened the world of Ancient Egypt to archaeologists. Had it never been found, the mystery still surrounding this civilization would be even greater.
Checking the time, Maggie noticed that it was getting quite late. She turned away from the Stone and made her way back to her office. Passing by the door leading to the storage rooms, she noticed that it wasn’t closed. It surprised her; as far as she knew, she was the only one left inside the building aside from the security guards. There should be no one in this area.
Maggie pushed the door open. The corridor leading to the storage rooms was dark, there was no sign of movement. She took a few steps insides, straining her ears to hear a sound, but all was silent. She tried opening the door on her right, but it was locked. She stepped back outside and made sure to close and lock the door with her own key.
She went to her office to pick up her purse but, instead of leaving straight away, she decided to go to the security office.
“Good evening,” she greeted as she opened the door.
“Good evening, Miss Collins”, Carter, one of the nightshift guards, replied; “Leaving late again?”
“It seems that the work never stops, and I just can’t get enough of this museum. Look, I was walking past the door leading to the storage rooms, and I noticed that it had been left open.”
“Really? It’s strange. They never forget to lock it, usually.”
“That’s what I thought, too. This is why I came to you. Did you notice anything on the screens?”
“No ma’am. But I’m going to check now, if you want to take a look.”
Maggie nodded and took the seat the other guard on duty, whose name eluded her, offered her. Carter found the camera that would show the door and played the video on the screen in front of them. He fast forwarded through the day. The museum employees could be seen coming and going. When they reached the end of the working hours, he slowed the video down and they looked more closely but, once the last employee left, the only person seen entering had been Maggie.
“I haven’t seen anything unusual,” Carter said. “It’s possible someone just forgot to close and lock the door. You’re in a hurry, it can happen.”
“I suppose. Will you still write a report about it?” Maggie asked.
“I will, just to be safe. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Miss Collins.”
“I won’t,” Maggie replied, hoping that she sounded more convinced than she felt. “Thank you, both of you. Good night.”
“Good night,” Carter replied.
On her way home, Maggie couldn’t help but think that something was going on at the museum. She just couldn’t shake this feeling. She guessed that after years of being married to Nate, and now dating Sterling, she was bound to have picked up some of their traits and habits. And one trait the two of them shared was being suspicious; it was only really a matter of time before she became suspicious of everything and anything, too. But this time, she was certain that she was onto something.
The thing was that she didn’t know who to trust at the museum. Even her friend wasn’t above suspicion at that point. There was no one in London she could turn to to talk about all this. No one she could trust.
So there was only one thing to do: talk to someone who would trust her instincts and wouldn’t ask too many questions she wasn’t able to answer yet.
Once in her apartment, she took her cell phone out of her purse, sat down on the couch and dialled Sterling’s number. It took a few seconds, longer than usual, for the call to connect, and when he answered, she could barely hear him. Maggie could only make out one word out of three and she gave up trying to ask for his help for now. Saying that she would call him back later, and assuring him that everything was fine, she hung up.
Giving it barely a thought, she called Nate. His way of working might actually be better suited for what was – might be – going on at the museum. He and Sophie might have retired from this life, but they wouldn’t mind going back to it to help her, she was sure of that.
It rang a few times before going to voicemail. She hung up without leaving a message and dialled Sophie’s number instead. This time, it went directly to voicemail. It surprised her, but she guessed that they were somewhere with little to no reception.
She was considering her remaining options, and there was just one for her, when she received a text from Sophie.
Sorry, bad reception. Working a case with Sterling. Ugh, how can you stand him? They said to call the team if you need help. Talk to you soon.
Sorry, bad reception. Working a case with Sterling. Ugh, how can you stand him? They said to call the team if you need help. Talk to you soon.
Maggie laughed at her friend’s text and smiled when she read that both Nate and Sterling understood that she needed help. (Well, considering that she had tried calling the three of them in turn, and they were very obviously together, it should have been easy for them to figure it out.) It did surprise her that Sterling would willingly suggest that she bent the law, but she was certain that he would deny it if she ever mentioned it.
Calling the team was the option she had been considering when Sophie’s text came in, but she didn’t want to take them away from more pressing jobs. There were people out there who needed their help more than she did, right now. Still, she knew it wouldn’t hurt to call and ask for their opinion.
Maggie had spent the last two days keeping a close eye on what was happening at the museum. Using the pretence of planning a future exhibition, she had taken a look inside the different storage rooms. Nothing had seemed out of place at first. But then, she noticed something odd about an Etruscan statuette. From afar, it seemed fine, but as she took a closer look, she saw that it didn’t appear as old as it should be. She remembered seeing it in the catalogue, and there had been a small dent on the left hand. She knew it had been fixed since the photo was taken, Sara had told her so, and the repair was unnoticeable to the untrained eyes. But her eyes were trained to search for such repairs and she couldn’t see it. She ran her fingers where the dent had been, and again, she couldn’t feel the repair. Whatever happened, she knew one thing for sure: this wasn’t the original statuette from the catalogue.
The problem with the statuette made her wonder if it was the only object that had been replaced by a copy. If there were others, she had no way to know until a complete inventory of the collection was made. To do that, she would have to talk to her colleagues. The thing was that she still wasn’t certain she could trust them. The discovery of the counterfeited statuette made her think that it was an inside job, and until she knew who was or wasn’t involved, she was on her own.
She left the storage room, deep in her thoughts and didn’t noticed that someone was on her heels. She startled they talked.
Before she could say anything, a hand was put on her arm and she was led into another storage room.
“Who do you…?” she started, turning around to face the man. “Eliot? What are you doing here?”
“Well, you did ask for help, didn’t you?” Eliot answer.
“Yes, but I thought you were on a job.”
“We were. Hardison and Parker still are. But he checked into what you said, and you were right: something is going on. The video you told us about was on some kind of loop. You’ll have to ask Hardison,” he added. “He couldn’t find the original file on the servers but he believed there might be a hard copy somewhere.”
“And so you came to find it. But what about Parker and Hardison? If they’re still working that other job, will they be fine without you?”
“I now owe Quinn a favour.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you came because I’ve just found out what’s really going on. They’re replacing original artworks with copies. I’ve only found one so far, but if there’s one…”
“There’s more,” Eliot finished for her. “Do you know who’s behind this?”
“Not yet, but it’s looking like an inside job.”
“I’d say you’re right.”
“I guess that’s why you’re dressed as a security guard. What should I call you?” Maggie asked, not wanting to make a mistake that would break his cover.
“Paul Davies. Born and raised in Boston, and recently moved to London to follow my fiancé.”
“You have his story down.”
“It seems that security guards love to talk.”
“I noticed.” She marked a pause before asking the question that had been on her mind since Eliot told her what Hardison had found. “Do you think the security guards are involved?”
“It’s possible. They have access to the security cameras and the entire museum.”
“Yes. But they ran background checks on them, just like on every other employee, myself included.”
“If you’re right, at least one fell through the cracks.”
“And how did you do it?” Maggie asked.
“I came highly recommended by Interpol.”
“If he finds out…”
Eliot grinned. He wouldn’t mind it if Sterling found out that they used his name. He had promised Nate some time ago not to attack the Interpol Agent unless provoked, but there were times he could barely control himself. If Eliot could annoy the man just as much as he was annoyed by him, he would be happy. He really didn’t understand why Nate and Sophie occasionally worked for him or why Maggie was dating him.
“Because he can be charming,” Maggie said.
He hadn’t voiced his thoughts out loud, but she could see it written on his face. She wasn’t really surprised by this reaction to her relationship with Sterling; Nate and even Sophie had a similar one when she first told them. Sterling can be aggravating, even she could see that, but it was only a façade that some couldn’t or weren’t willing to see past. For Eliot, she knew it was more about settling old scores.
“So, how do you want to proceed?” she asked him, wondering if he came with a plan in mind.
“We need to find out what happens to the artwork after it leaves the museum. Do you have any contact that could help with that?”
“Outside of Sophie, no. And she’s not available, right now. Well, there might be someone,” she added as an afterthought. “A fence Nate had helped arrest. He ended up helping Nate on a couple of cases before moving to the United Kingdom. Let me see if I can dig up a phone number for him.”
“Good. And take this,” he said, handing her an earbud. “We need to be able to communicate easily.”
“Do you have a button camera, too?” she teased him.
“It’s more your thing, if I remember correctly.” They shared a smile, reminiscing about one of their first encounters. “Now, we should get out of here.”
The walked to the door and he opened it, gesturing for her to precede him.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said as he closed the door. “When I saw these stains on the back of that painting, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.”
“Better be safe than sorry,” Maggie said, playing along. “Have a good day.”
Eliot nodded and walked away just as Sara Thompson approached Maggie.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. The new guard was patrolling in the storage room when he noticed what he thought might be mould on the back of a painting. He asked me to take a look but it was just stains.”
“Thankfully. I can’t imagine what we’d need to go through if we were to find traces of mould. It’s good to see a conscientious person. The other guards just care about security and the rest has no importance for them. Now, excuse me, but I have an appointment, and I’m going to be late.
As she watched Sara walking away, Maggie felt grateful that Sophie had trained her to be a grifter; her lie had fallen effortlessly from her lips. Still, she felt bad that she had to lie to her friend. She knew that, until she and Eliot got to the bottom of things, it couldn’t be prevented, but it didn’t mean that she had to like it.
She went back to her office and started her search for the fence. If he was still going by the same name – and in this world of his, it wasn’t sure – he would be easy to find. If he had changed names, she would have to call onto some of her contacts in the insurance world to reach him.
It turned out that she hadn’t need to worry: he had kept his name. One phone call, and a mention of Nate’s name, had been all it took for him to promise to ask around for artworks coming from the British Museum. It was the way he had put it on the phone, but Maggie hope that he would be more subtle than that or their thieves could disappear before she and Eliot identified them.
That evening, Maggie decided to stay late at work. She wanted to take a look around in one of the storage rooms to see if she could find other counterfeited artefacts. She informed Eliot of this via their earbuds.
“I don’t like this, Maggie,” he had said. “I can’t stay. I’m new, the nightshift crew doesn’t know me, and they’ll be suspicious if I stick around past my shift.”
“I’ll be fine, Eliot. They’re used to see me at late hours, roaming around the museum.”
“You shouldn’t take this kind of risk.”
“Are you afraid Jim would blame you if something were to happen to me?” she had joked.
“No, but Nate…”
“I’ll be fine,” she had repeated. “And anyway, you’re going to be right outside the museum just in case, aren’t you?”
He hadn’t replied anything but she heard a grunt she had interpreted as a positive answer. She understood his concerns, but she had to do this. She couldn’t keep checking on the collections during her working hours; people would start to wonder what she was really doing there. She also had her own work to consider; she simply couldn’t drop everything and concentrate on the thefts. It would raise too many questions.
Her solution, although not the ideal one, was the best they had for now. She wouldn’t spend the whole night there, only an hour or two, just like she would do on any other night. The only difference was that, instead of admiring the collections on display, she would look at those hidden from the eyes of the visitors. She felt a thrill at that thought, even though she knew she was doing it to find proof of stolen art.
She waited until everyone else had left to get out of her office. She let Eliot know she was on her way to the storage rooms. Tonight, she chose to check the one where she had found the counterfeited statuette. She didn’t know whether they would risk stealing more than one artefact from the same storage room, but as she had found nothing so far elsewhere, this was the best place for her to start a more thorough search. She would need to avoid the security cameras as much as she could; she didn’t want to arouse suspicion.
She entered the storage room and went to the back, where there were less cameras. She would ignore the artefacts in the crates for now and concentrate on those that sat on the shelves.
More than an hour had passed without Maggie finding anything when she heard a noise behind her. Before she had time to say anything, she was hit on the head and fell into the arms of her attacker without making a sound.
Outside the museum, Eliot was sitting restlessly in his car. His foot was tapping on the floor and he was constantly checking if his earbud was working. Maggie wasn’t talking to him, except for a quick check-in every fifteen minutes. He could heard her moving things around from time to time as she checked artefacts, but that was all. He understood that she couldn’t talk to him constantly, especially as she was supposed to be alone in the room; if someone were to come in, they would find it strange.
He wished he had been able to hack into the surveillance system, but he was no hacker. Hardison had been unable to help, to palliate Eliot’s absence, he had left the van and was playing a more active role in the con. The Hitter just hoped that it would end as Hardison had a tendency to exaggerate everything when he was playing a role. He really didn’t want to have to run back to Portland to save him.
So lost in his thoughts about his teammates, it took Eliot a couple of minutes to realise that Maggie had missed her last check-in. He strained his ears but he could hear no sound, no movement coming from her side.
“Maggie?” he called. “Maggie, do you hear me?”
When no answer came, he swore and got out of his car, leaving the jacket of his uniform behind.
“Dammit, Maggie,” he muttered to the night.
As Maggie finished remembering, she checked her watch: less than half an hour had passed since she had been knocked out. She tried calling Eliot’s name, but she quickly realised that her earbud was missing. They might have found it or it had fallen out when she had been hit; whatever happened, she couldn’t contact Eliot. She knew he wouldn’t need long to realise that something was wrong. She wouldn’t be surprised if he was making his way into the museum, right now, and she expected him to open the door to get her out of here before too long.
As she finished this thought, she heard the door unlock. But instead of Eliot, Carter and Sara entered. Maggie didn’t need to wait for them to start talking to understand what they were doing here: they were the ones who were robbing the museum.
“I didn’t want this to happen, Maggie,” Sara said.
“Then, maybe you shouldn’t have asked me to come.”
“I didn’t expect you to stumble upon our little operation, here. And you would never have if these idiots didn’t forget to close a door,” she added, looking pointedly at Carter.
“Why do you do this, Sara? Why do you steal these artworks? Do you need money?”
“Why should it be about money?”
“I’m guessing you’re not giving out the art for free,” Maggie replied.
“You’re right. It’s a bit about the money, although I don’t need it. You can’t believe what some people are ready to pay to be able to own a little piece of history.”
“They’re not theirs to buy nor yours to sell. You used to be so passionate about art, Sara. What happened to you?”
“Life is a bitch. You should know that better than anyone, Maggie.”
Maggie didn’t have to guess to know what Sara was talking about. That thought of her son, instead of saddening her, as it usually did, made her angry, this time; she didn’t want Sara to try and use Sam against her.
Before she had time to reply anything, the door opened, surprising Sara and Carter. They turned to see Eliot, now sporting a split lip, standing in the doorway. Before the corrupt security guard could react, Eliot was already on him. Maggie didn’t stay idle: she stood up and pounced on Sara. Her former friend fell on the floor, and Maggie pinned her arms behind her back.
“You really should have restrained me,” she said. She looked up to see that Eliot had easily subdued Carter. “You took your sweet time,” she said with a smile.
“Call your boyfriend, will you?” he said, handing her a cell phone; they would have an easier time explaining all that to Interpol than to the police.
“You know, when I asked you to call the team for help, it wasn’t for you to ditch Spencer at the first occasion,” Sterling said as they were sitting on the couch the next night. “You’ve taken a risk and you could have been hurt more seriously,” he added, his fingers brushing against the bump on her head.
“Eliot couldn’t do all the work,” she reasoned. “I had to do my part and should I remind you that I was better suited to examine the artefacts?” She paused and looked at their linked hands. “I’m sorry I worried you.”
“You like that, don’t you? Taking part in investigations,” he clarified; he refused to say ‘cons’, even though he knew that the team had put her to contribution at some point.
“It’s a nice change from my usual work”, she admitted.
“You’re going to need to take self-defence lessons, at the very least.”
“Jim?” she asked, confused, but he ignored her.
“I’m sure Spencer could help with that, but you should ask Sophie and Parker, too.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked again, even though she started to understand.
“I could use someone who knows their art, not all the time, but sometimes. My team is good, but there are some things they don’t know or don’t notice.”
“But there’s you, and Nate and Sophie, too.”
“None of us are experts, despite what Sophie claims. Your judgement would be trusted, no questions asked.”
“Are you serious about this offer?” she checked.
“I am. But you need to be able to defend yourself, that’s non-negotiable. And you’ll have to follow my orders.”
“I will,” she said, kissing him.
“Is it a real ‘I will’, or a Nate and Sophie kind of ‘I will’?
“Does it really matter, right now?” she asked, her fingers already unbuttoning his shirt.