I woke up the next day, and felt wonderful.
Then I remembered the pickle I was in, and my mood turned downright rotten. I figured out that day that there's something about facing off against a high-powered criminal organization that I know next to nothing about that really grates my cheese. Sighing, I started up the percolator with some of that special coffee that my adversary had provided, reasoning to myself that I was just doing it to get a better sense of her through what type of coffee she recommended, and it had nothing to do with the fact that I just really wanted a damn good cup of coffee. Sure, it was a thin story, but I bought it. While that was working its magic, I got on the horn to Washington. After about five minutes of waiting, my friendly neighborhood G-man picked up.
"This is Mett," he said.
"Mett? Finder," I replied. If he wanted to be brusque, I could be too.
"A whole lot of questions, not many answers," I replied, truthfully. "First one being, why'd you put me on this case?"
I heard him breathe into the phone for a couple seconds. You know, the kind of thing a schmuck does when he's trying to figure out just how much of the truth he should include with the lie. "There was a possibility that it was going to lead to something bigger than your standard museum robbery. Why do you want to know?"
I've dealt with a lot of shady people in my time, both before and after getting a badge. Some of them are inscrutable, and no amount of pressure or dealing will get you any closer to the truth than they want you to get.
People like Mett, on the other hand, I had learned to read like a dime-store novel. "Because all of your worst fears were justified. You knew that there was going to be a gang starting up, didn't you? A gang of some of the most effective con artists, second-story men, and bruisers this side of the Mississippi, and you needed a way to track them across agencies. That's what you needed me for, isn't it, Mett? Well, guess what, word on the street is that they are fully formed and operational, and word from my office is that some dame is calling their shots, knows about my "agency," and is feeling so very threatened that she walked in here, dropped off a package declaring they had taken the amulet, and was giving me a whole week to find it, just to make it interesting! You couldn't have told me about this kind of thing earlier?" I stopped, my anger making it impossible to make any further intelligible words come out of my throat. I hadn't realized just how betrayed I had felt by Mr. Mett knowing that this pile of trash was going to come pouring down around my head and deciding not to warn me.
Mett replied in a way that showed he had more brains than I had given him credit for. "Well...you said you wanted work."
With those simple words, my anger broke, and I had to let out a small chuckle. Rubbing the bridge of my nose, I said, "So I did, so I did."
Mett picked up the conversation. "Tell me what you have, and what you need."
So I did. I told him about the multiple broken glass cases with just one item stolen. I told him about the Lady in Red, apparently one C. Sandiego, who was supposed to be running the new organization. I gave him the people that I'd heard were in it, and a couple that I wanted to check with him. I told him about the package, minus the coffee that I was about to have for purely legitimate detective purposes. In return he told me that there had been rumblings about this for a long time, originally picked up by one of Hoover's guys. He was able to confirm my suspicions on most of the names I gave him, that they were on their radar too. He didn't have any info on Ms. Sandiego, but he promised to have it checked out.
Finally I asked him the one thing about all this that had seemed very odd to me since the beginning. "If this is some big operation, why just one amulet? Wouldn't it be something, well, bigger?"
Mr. Mett exhaled. "I'm with you. All I can figure is either it was an audition or a job to make sure that the group was viable and no one would try to mess anyone else up. Possibly both. Listen, Detective Finder, it's been a little rough getting the ACME Agency off the ground, and I may have screwed up by not giving you everything, but from now on, we're working on this together. We need to find Ms. Sandiego and her crew and bring them down before they do anything more devious. Agreed?"
I acquiesced. "Agreed. You get back to me when you find out something about the broad. I need to call the local P.D." We said our goodbyes and I rang up Roger Peterson while I poured my first cup of joe.
"Detective Roger Peterson."
"Hey Rog, it's Artie. Anything break during the night?"
"Not really. The guard got back in contact with us, said he wants us to get whoever did this, normal angry rant. Says that no one will hire a guard who doesn't guard well enough."
"Well he's right about that."
"Ha! Yeah. I tried to calm him down, but it was a pain because he said he was having a hard time hearing me. He's had a ringing in his ears ever since he woke up."
"Really?" I asked. "Is that normal for chloroform?"
"Not really, but maybe for some head trauma. Could be he got kicked or his head hit the tile too hard. I told him to go get checked out by a doctor again."
"Yeah..." I trailed off. I'd gotten nominated for that promotion to detective originally because I had learned that when that little spot on the back of my neck started tingling, something was up, and it was tingling then. "Hey listen, I'll let you know if I find anything, you let me know if you do. Alright? I have to go." I knew he knew that I had thought of something, but he would also know that the best results happened when I was able to mull it over by myself.
I had finished the first cup and was most of the way through my second cup when I figured out what the back of my neck was trying to tell me. It was that old urban legend about opera singers breaking glass with their voices. My mind returned to the museum. The cases, the one with the amulet most shattered, the ones around it, less broken, nothing taken. The guard with ringing in his ears.
"Sound," I whispered to myself, afraid to say it louder in case the world noticed and figured out a way to prove me wrong. "She stole it with sound."
(...to be continued)