Orchid by Jayne Castle

Book: Orchid by Jayne Castle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jayne Castle
“Collectors are a unique breed.”
    Orchid thought of Elvira Turlock. “Do you think there’s actually an underground market for alien artifacts?”
    â€œIt would not surprise me.” Rafe took a thoughtful sip of his brandy. “But there are other possibilities.”
    â€œSuch as?”
    â€œThe Return cults. Some of them have seized on the discovery of the alien relics to expand their crazy claims about the Curtain. It’s conceivable that one of the more off-the-wall cult leaders arranged for the theft in order to get his or her hands on a genuine alien artifact.”
    â€œI see what you mean. Be great for show-and-tell at the next meeting of the believers, wouldn’t it?”
    â€œYes.” Rafe paused. “But the fact that the cult leader would have to display the stolen relic to his followers inorder to get any mileage out of it makes me think that’s a less likely scenario than it appears.”
    â€œWhy do you say that?” Orchid waited expectantly. She knew that Rafe would have a reason for his deduction. He always backed up his leaps of strat-talent intuition with cold, hard logic.
    â€œBecause as soon as the cult leader starts to flash his own, personal alien artifact around at the temple meetings, he or she runs the risk that someone in the audience will mention the relic to outsiders. And sooner or later, someone will. It’s inevitable.”
    â€œYou’re right.” But then, he was always right, she thought. It was one of his less endearing traits. “People, even devout cult members, are bound to talk about something like that. Once the word got out that the leader had the artifact, everyone would know what happened to the stolen lab relic.”
    â€œAll of which does not mean that some cult leader did not steal it. Crazy people do crazy things. But most of the leaders in the Return cults are businesspeople, first and foremost. They’re in the racket to make a profit. They’re not stupid or crazy. I doubt if any of them actually believe their own drivel. Why do something that would jeopardize the scam?”
    â€œSo, I take it you’re leaning toward the theory that the relic was stolen by an eccentric collector?”
    â€œAt this point, it would seem to make the most sense.” Rafe hesitated. “But I’m not sure. There’s something about this that doesn’t feel right, yet.”
    â€œOkay, you’ve got two possibilities so far, an eccentric collector or a mad cult leader. Any others?”
    Rafe raised his gaze from the flames. His eyes were as enigmatic as any alien relic. “No. But I may come up with some after we pay a visit to the lab that lost the artifact.”
    â€œWhen are we going to do that?”
    â€œTomorrow evening after the staff has left for the day.I’ve made arrangements with the lab’s director, Dr. Alexander Brizo. He’ll meet us there.”
    â€œWe’re going to visit the lab after hours?”
    Rafe’s mouth curved faintly. “I do my best work at night.”
    â€œYes, I know, but I would have thought time was of the essence in this situation. If you wait until tomorrow night to start on the case, you’ll have wasted a whole day.”
    â€œI’ve already started work and tomorrow won’t be wasted, either. There’s a lot of basic investigation to do before we go to the lab.”
    â€œSuch as?”
    â€œI contacted one of my sources on the street. A man named Whistler. He’s got contacts into the underground art world. If there are any rumors about the artifact going into a private collection, he’ll hear them.”
    â€œSounds like a good start.”
    He arched one brow. “Thank you.”
    She blushed. It occurred to her that the remark had been the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head. “You know what I mean.”
    He ignored that. “I also spent today talking to some people who knew the

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