P.C. Pembleton was proceeding on his stately way along the streets of Holmwood. He was greeting those people that he knew with a nod or a friendly word, reassuring the villagers that he was always alert, noting the smallest unusual detail, or any strangers who might be up to no good.
On this particular morning though, most of his mind was pondering the unusual note from County headquarters about ivory smuggling. He’d looked through his encyclopaedia the previous night, searching for information about ivory, how to recognise it and the uses to which it was know to be put.
Why on earth anyone would want to sell ivory in a small village in the country was beyond him, but orders were orders and he was keeping his eyes open. Obviously he wasn’t looking for huge tusks straight from an elephant, but for small works of art that could be easily moved from place to place.
He was rather pleased with himself for thinking that since ivory carving had been known for hundreds of years, the best places to check out locally would be antique shops. Craft shops usually only sold goods made by the owner or his associates and could be ignored since everything on sale was new. Although there was no local tourist industry, the villagers on the whole were quite well off and were able to keep two or three antique shops in business.
So he was looking carefully at every antique shop that he passed. He’d popped into one of the shops to have a look at a piece that had caught his eye, since a little bit of dirt on a new carving might well fool anyone other than an expert.
The owner had assured him that it was several hundred years old and very valuable. It certainly had the right feel to it and was priced well beyond his own income, so he’d left that shop and was making his way towards the last one on his list.
He was stepping out a bit now as it was getting near the time when he usually took his morning break. The shop he was heading for had a nice little café next door and he was looking forward to a sit down and a piece of fruitcake with his tea. He turned the last corner and hurried past ‘The Smuggler’s Cave’, hardly noticing an unusually simple display in the shop window.
It wasn’t until he’d eaten his fruitcake and was drinking his second cup of tea, that the display in the shop window registered. Normally the window was dressed with lobster pots and old wooden barrels artistically arranged on an imitation beach consisting of sand and gravel. A fishing net always hung on one wall just inside the door and customers had to pass through a fake stone archway into the shop proper. Occasionally special items, such as model fishing boats, or a display of wicker baskets were displayed on the beach, but today all that had gone.
The window held only one item, a large wooden box with a plastic model of a horse and cart standing on top. Nothing too unusual about that, but the box was a real piece of craftsmanship, while the cart appeared to be a near perfect miniature. The thing that he’d really noted subconsciously was the price. Although there was quite a lot of writing on the label, the part that had caught his attention was the price of £500.
He finished his tea in a hurry and went back to the shop for a closer look. The owner was only too pleased to show off the model. Charles picked it up and was immediately struck by its weight. Whatever the material was it certainly wasn’t plastic! The model was about two feet long and had been hand carved from a bone like substance. He’d looked up the differences between ivory and bone only the night before, there were definitely no small black pits in this piece of work. On the other hand nor was there the tell tale criss cross graining pattern of ivory. It had been polished to a high gloss and could well have been marble, although he doubted the availability of a piece this large without any grain or flaws.
The shopkeeper started to look rather nervous as he took out his notebook and made a few preliminary notes of date and time.
“Is there a problem officer?”
“I have reason to believe that his artefact may be illegally made from ivory. I’ll give you a receipt for it, but I’m afraid I’ll have to take it to the station, where an expert will be called to examine it.”
“Oh it’s certainly not ivory!” replied the shopkeeper, “I can show you a certificate to say so. The salesman who sold them to me was most insistent on the point, although he wouldn’t tell me what they were made from!”
“I don’t suppose for one minute that he’d admit it would he! Let’s just wait until the tests are done and we’ll go on from there. If it does turn out to be ivory then I’m afraid you’re in a lot of trouble. I strongly suggest that you give me the address of your supplier and we’ll get in touch with him as well if necessary.”
The shopkeeper looked a bit embarrassed and admitted that the salesman hadn’t left him an address.
Charles gave him an official warning before leaving the shop, carrying the heavy box and its contents back to the police station on his shoulder.