"What do you see?" asked Paige anxiously.
I pointed to an area of glass on one of the side panels that undulated slightly. The area was roughly the size of the manuscript.
"I noticed that," said Paige. "I thought it was a flaw in the glass."
"Toughened bullet-proof glass?" I asked her. "No chance. And it wasn't like this when I supervised the fitting, I can assure you of that."
I stroked the hard glass and felt the shiny surface ripple beneath my fingertips. A shiver ran up my back and I felt a curious sense of uncomfortable familiarity, the feeling you might get when a long-forgotten school bully hails you as an old friend.
"The work feels familiar, Paige. When I find the perpetrator, it'll be someone I know."
"You've been a LiteraTec for seven years, Thursday."
I saw what she meant.
"Eight years, and you're right--you'll probably know them too. Could Lamber Thwalts have done this?"
"He could have, if he wasn't still in the hokey--four years still to go over that Love's Labor's Won scam."
"What about Keens? He could handle something as big as this."
"Milton's no longer with us. Caught analepsy in the library at Parkhurst. Stone-cold dead in a fortnight."
I pointed at the two video cameras.
"Who did they see?"
"No one," replied Turner. "Not a dicky bird. I can play you the tapes but you'll be none the wiser."
She showed me what they had. The guard on duty was being interviewed back at the station. They were hoping it was an inside job but it didn't look like it; the guard had been as devastated as any of them.
Turner shuttled the video back and pressed the play button.
"Watch carefully. The recorder rotates the five cameras and films five seconds of each."
"So the longest gap between cameras is twenty seconds?"
"Got it. You watching? Okay, there's the manuscript-" She pointed at the book, clearly visible in the frame as the VCR flicked to the camera at the front door. There was no movement. Then the inside door through which any burglar would have to come; all the other entrances were barred. Then came the corridor; then the lobby; then the machine flicked back to the manuscript room. Turner punched the pause button and I leaned closer. The manuscript was gone.
"Twenty seconds to get in, open the box, take Chuzzlewit and then leg it? It's not possible."
"Believe you me, Thursday--it happened."
The last remark came from Boswell, who had been looking over my shoulder.
"I don't know how they did it, but they did. I've had a call from Supreme Commander Gale on this one and he's being leaned on by the prime minister. Questions have already been asked in the House and someone's head is going to roll. Not mine, I assure you."
He looked at us both rather pointedly, which made me feel especially ill at ease--I was the one who had advised the museum on its security arrangements.
"We'll be onto it straight away, sir," I replied, punching the pause button and letting the video run on. The views of the building changed rhythmically, revealing nothing. I pulled up a chair, rewound the tape and looked again.
"What are you hoping to find?" asked Paige.
I didn't find it.
From The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Copyright © February 2002, Viking Press, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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