"Detective Finder," said the gruff voice on the other end. I recognized the voice from the time I'd heard it a few months ago.
"Yes sir, Mr. Mett. My secretary's on lunch and all my other guys called in with a case of invisibility," I replied. Maybe I should have been diplomatic, him being the closest thing I had to a direct boss, but after all the time waiting, I felt justified.
"Stow the lip, Finder. I've been doing my best to get you cases, but the kind of stuff we've been looking for has been few and far between. Red tape stops most of it."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll make sure to tell the yahoos on the street they need to up their game or I'll be freezing this winter."
"I said button it. There's a case out there now that you can get into. The cops know you're coming and you can check out what they've got."
"Well that's all well and good, you know. The museum?"
"How'd you know that?"
"I can read, Mett. It's front page news around here. 'Amulet of Egyptian Priestess Stolen Night Before Exhibit.' This new exhibit has been news for a week."
"Fine, then we keep this short. Get over there, find out what you can, get the amulet back. You need anything to cut through red tape, you call me. Get to it."
I had a snappy reply ready, I swear, but it would have been stupid to waste it on the dead line now in my ear. Shrugging, I hung up and leaned back in my chair. I could say it was keen investigative senses that suggested I pick up the paper and reread the article on the theft, but my mom always taught me not to lie. I was feeling petulant, and somehow taking my time getting to the museum felt like justice. The ink said the same stuff it had this morning. A break in at the museum into the new exhibit the night before the unveiling, and the Amulet of Tekh-bes, a priestess of some god or another, was stolen. It wasn't the only case broken into, but it was the only item taken. The night guard had been knocked out and left in the exhibit room, and he said he'd been chloroformed from behind. According to the paper, the police had no leads at present, but the boys in blue often say that. I'd been assigned to keeping the press jackals away from crime scenes enough times to know that. Sighing and feeling like my honor was satisfied, I made the mistake of finishing off my awful cup of joe and headed out into the fog, locking my office behind me. I caught a trolley for most of the trip, and showed up in the late afternoon, when the lower sun highlighted the banners proudly declaring an exhibit that, for now, would not be opening.
I walked past the tape and surveyed the scene. There were still a couple uniforms around, helping a very sour and familiar face to me. "Peterson, that you?"
Hearing his name, the detective turned. "Artie? Wow, so they finally got you to a scene, eh partner? I thought they were going to keep you in that frosted glass pen until you died of boredom," he laughed.
I couldn't help but chuckle with my old beat partner. "You've been keeping eyes on me, Peterson? I'm touched."
"Well, with the bureaucratic nightmare waiting to happen that you represent, can you blame me? What, you thought I did it just because I wanted to know how my partner was doing with his new gig?" We met with a smile and a handshake. "Glad you're here. And thanks for leaving that detective position open."
"No problem. They were smart to bring you up too. So I only know what they had in the paper. What kind of leads do we really have?"
"Not a one," he replied, causing my eyebrows to jump. "We were telling the truth this time. We've got a couple busted glass cases, a useless eyewitness, and a missing old thing worth more than we'll ever make."
"When it is not? And I know what you're going to ask. We're checking with the usual sources, but no one's heard of anyone trying to find a way to unload it. Sounds like they're doing the smart thing and sitting on it until the heat dies down."
"You know, there's nothing I hate more than a smart criminal. Why do they have to make our job so hard?" I walked over to the case that used to hold the item in question and read the little plaque held within. Apparently it was an amulet of a priestess of Bastet, a goddess of cats, and was made of gold and lapis lazuli, a semiprecious blue stone. The glass case had been truly shattered, the whole top broken and a lot of the sides as well. There were a couple other baubles in the case as well, but it was clear that the amulet had been the centerpiece. I heard Roger Peterson walk up behind me, crunching on bits of glass.
"So do you believe me, now? Always have to see it with your own eyes, don't you?"
I nodded and turned to face him. "What about the other broken cases?" I asked, gesturing at the nearby cases that were also broken, though none as much as the one that had held the amulet. "Anything else taken?"
"Not a thing." He frowned a bit, and I knew him well enough from our days on the street to recognize when he was dealing with a puzzle.
"Out with it, Peterson. A clue?"
Shaking his head, he replied, "Nothing so solid. It's just a couple things. First, why take time breaking the cases if they didn't want to take anything. Second, the amulet wasn't the most expensive in this room. It was close, and it was certainly the most talked about, but there are things around here that have more gold and gems. The second says the thief knew what they wanted, the first says they didn't. It just doesn't add up."
He had a point, but after chewing on it a bit I couldn't make any more of it than he could. We spent some more time walking the scene and catching up with each other, but nothing more came to mind for either of us. We parted, and I gave him my card with instructions to call me if he got a hot tip, and I headed back to my apartment office. When I unlocked and opened the door, I expected a slightly darker copy of the room I'd left earlier to greet me, as one does when one locks the door on the way out. For the most part, it did. However, sitting right in the center of my desk was a manilla envelope. I had my gun out of my holster the instant after my brain got over the fact that I was not hallucinating, but when I checked my rooms, I was alone. Only then did I take the time to look at the envelope.
The first thing I noted was that it bulged quite a bit, like it had a box or a bag stuffed inside it. The second was that it had been addressed to me in a very precise but feminine script, and the lack of a postage stamp showed that it hadn't been a very determined mailman that put it on my desk. For a moment I considered that I should be worried about a bomb, but I dismissed that thought rather quickly, due to the simple fact that I couldn't see anyone wanting to do me in. I opened it up, and poured the contents onto my desk. The first thing that tumbled out was a keychain that had a white rabbit's foot at the end of it. The second was a bag of coffee beans, and judging by the amount of accents used on the packaging, I could tell that it was high-end stuff. The third was a folded-up note, and as I unfolded it I noted that the handwriting on it was the same as on the envelope. It read as follows:
My dear Detective,
I give you this rabbit's foot for luck, and I am sending you this note because I don't believe in head starts. We are now in a game, you and I, a game that started last night with the theft of the Amulet of Tekh-bes, and that will wrap up when you either give up or catch me. It will be the most difficult contest of your life. You see, I have planned this game for many years, and I've been waiting for someone with both the skill and resources to play me at it. Your career shows you might have promise, and with your recently granted semi-autonomy by the government's men, you might have the latitude to do what you will have to do to win.
So, the first move is made. What is yours? I assure you that with everything at your disposal here and at the museum, you can find the amulet. I will give you a week. After that, the amulet will be lost to you. I hope you're ready, Detective. Or should I call you Player?
Looking forward to a spirited match,
P.S. The coffee is unrelated, and my treat. I just would hate to have you die from drinking that poisonous slop I smelled in your cup this morning.
As I finished the note, I felt my legs go weak beneath me and I had to sit down. I placed the paper on my desk and closed my mouth, which I'd just realized had been hanging open in shock. The thief had been in my office this morning? That gorgeous woman? And she had the self-confidence to openly declare it and even tell me that there were clues to be found? Either I was dealing with a certifiable nutball, or this case was going to change my life.
I had no idea how right I was.
(to be continued...)