Render Unto Caesar
By Jeff Baker
“The University is up in arms,” Inspector Maguire said.
“I know,” said Professor Carrolton, sitting down at a desk in the University laboratory.
“The Mayor is asking questions, they want the Police Chief fired.”
“I heard,” Professor Carrolton said, wiping his glasses. “That’s the problem with medium-sized towns; everybody knows everybody’s business.”
“The statue’s picture was in the afternoon paper and now the statue’s gone,” Maguire said.
“I’m amazed we still have an afternoon paper,” Professor Carrolton said.
The statue, a bronze figure of Julius Caesar, big as life and a lot heavier and with the face of one of the University’s major donors had been relegated to a far corner of the campus where it was boxed in by tall hedges and an old, chipped sidewalk. Professor Carrolton stared at the photo in the paper; it had been taken that morning, the picture had appeared that afternoon and someone had noticed the statue had vanished that evening. The picture showed the statue, stern and imperious with a young man, grinning ear-to-ear in a Millington University tank-top flexing his muscles until his watchband nearly popped off.
“You questioned the young man in the picture I assume?” the Professor asked.
“Brian Knapp,” Maguire said. “Yes, we did. He and the photographer both. They didn’t see anything. Nobody lurking around with a forklift. No helicopter hovering overhead. Knapp was in class from nine in the morning until three that afternoon. Then he had basketball practice. And the photographer showed me the timestamp or whatever they call it on the digital camera. Hate those modern things!”
“The paper gets zapped onto our e-mail if we subscribe but some of us get a print copy,” the Professor said smiling.
“Anyway, the picture was taken at about eight-forty-five, and the photographer was downtown at the newspaper office right after that and stayed there the whole afternoon.”
“The last person to see the victim.” Professor Carrolton said as he walked across the room to a table filled with identical flasks of identical cloudy liquid. “The world is full of mysteries. Like which one of these flasks did I hide my car keys in so nobody would get them?”
“You hid your car keys in there?” Maguire asked. “Well, I guess if it works for you.”
“You should try not using the obvious places sometime,” Professor Carrolton said.
“Well, nobody would steal them or even look for them in there,” Maguire said.
Professor Carrolton smiled. “I didn’t hide my car keys in chemicals. I wouldn’t. But you believed I would for a moment. People can be led to believe all kinds of things with the right set up. Let’s get a close up of that picture. Where’s my magnifying glass?”
Maguire pulled out his cellphone and brought up the afternoon Millington News on the screen.
“Oh. Right,” the Professor said, smiling again, “Zoom in right there. There. Yes. Oh. My.”
The statue was found where it had been wheeled on a hand truck by Knapp, the photographer and two others the previous morning. Whether it was a prank or a heist Maguire wasn’t sure. But the time on the digital camera had been set ahead a day to make it look like the picture had been taken Wednesday not Tuesday, so everyone would have thought the statue had been stolen Wednesday when Knapp and the others had airtight alibis. The close up of Knapp’s picture in the paper revealed the face of his watch, what the Professor called “one of those digital thingies.” The display clearly showed Tuesday’s date and the time eight-forty-three.
“It was simple, really,” Professor Carrolton said. Nobody gave a second thought to the statue or even noticed it was gone until that picture appeared in the paper, documenting that the statue was there until Thursday morning. Like I said, people can be led to believe all sorts of things with the right set-up.”
It was only when Professor Carrolton got out to the parking lot that evening that he realized his keys weren’t in his pocket.