Was it really possible? I wasn't a scientist, but it seemed like it was at least plausible. The better question, I supposed, was why was it needed? Glass is glass, and the cases surrounding the amulet and other antiquities wasn't anything really special. Hit them hard enough and they would break, and then it would have been easy to take the amulet and get out, since that was apparently all that was wanted. Possibility after possibility flew through my head, each feeling more ridiculous than the last. Finally I had to settle with the only one that my gut was telling me could be right: it was a test. Perhaps Mr. Mett was right, and it was an audition for the gang, and the prospective dirtbag had to show that he had the stuff. Either way, I had to get more information, and that meant that I had to hope that the only person we knew was there was a lot better earwitness than eyewitness.
It took me an hour and far more aggravation than I expected to make it to the home of Mr. James Vanderhoff, the guard who had failed to guard. As what he had said to Peterson suggested, he was at home and looking like someone who was very much unemployed, if the stubble on his chin and mess of his hair were anything to go by. He was gruff when he answered the door, but when I told him I was a detective he became much more accommodating, inviting me in and offering me something to drink, which I turned down. I had had an extra cup of coffee that I was still working off, and I was following my first possible idea. Wild horses couldn't have pulled me off my track.
"Now, Mr. Vanderhoff," I started, somewhat loudly to make sure he could hear me.
"Hey, call me Jimmy, Detective. Anyone working this case properly is a friend o' mine."
"Alright Jimmy," I continued, humoring him, "I know you got knocked out and didn't see anything..."
He interrupted again, "Yeah, that's right, I didn't see nothin'. Boy, if I coulda, though, I'd have stopped the whole thing. Taken them all on, 'cause that's what I paid to do. I ain't no coward, and I ain't incompetent."
"No one's saying you are, Jimmy," I said, trying to get the conversation back on track.
Jimmy was on a roll though. "Yeah they are. I know the words' goin' round: 'Jimmy Vanderhoff can't guard a cookie jar.' Look detective, I've been guardin' other people's junk for over twenty years, and whoever this joker was made that reputation garbage, and I still can't hear too good. I will do absolutely anything I can to help."
I doubted it would have been a good move to say that the first thing he could do to help would be to stop yammering, so I kept that to myself. "Actually, Jimmy, it's your ears I came to get the scoop on. My buddies tell me that you're hearing a ringing?"
"Yeah, yeah, like you know how you can walk by a construction site and they're usin' them jackhammers, and then you have that high-pitch whine in your ears for a while? It's like that, but worse."
"I see. I don't suppose you have any idea for something that could have caused it? That kind of a loud noise?"
Jimmy screwed his face up in what was clearly deep thought, at least for him. I let him think on that as patiently as I could, and though I hadn't been much of a praying man since I was a kid I said a silent one. Luck was with me, it seemed, though. "Y'know, now that you mention it, maybe. I thought it was just a weird dream I had while I was out, but I do remember a sound. Really loud, like a whistle or something."
"Someone whistling loudly, you mean?"
"Nah, louder, and, I dunno, more pure? Like steam, maybe. Yeah, like a train whistle, but really loud and close. But how would they get a train engine in there?"
I managed to resist the urge to call him a nincompoop, because he really had been helpful, even if he wasn't the brightest bulb. Rather than stay there as I tried to figure out what the sound was, I graciously excused myself. After another ten minutes of listening to him go on about how I had to make the criminal pay, I actually managed to leave and head back to my office. All the way back I was going over what could have made a sound like the one Jimmy had described, and at the volume it would have taken to shatter all those cases. A simple whistle would have had that rattling sound that they have, and Jimmy wouldn't have thought of it as pure. A steam whistle was possible, I supposed, but one loud enough would have required a pretty big apparatus, I figured, and that would have left some kind of mark on the ground. No instrument I'd heard of would be able to make a sound loud enough to cause that kind of effect, either.
I hadn't made much headway when I entered my office to the sound of my phone ringing. Rushing to it I picked it up and breathlessly answered.
The voice of Mr. Mett greeted my ears. "Ah, good, I was about to give up on reaching you. First thing you're getting after this case is a secretary, got it?"
"Got it," I replied, sitting down at my desk. "I wouldn't mind that at all. I could have used one before..."
"Don't get petulant with me, Arthur. I've got some dirt on this Sandiego lady for you. Got something handy to write it down with?"
"Hold on...yeah," I replied, snagging a pencil and notepad from my drawer. "Hit me."
"We have files on one Carmen Sandiego in the system. Looks like she was an orphan, no records on her parents. The records come from the Golden Gate Girls' School from about 20 years ago. We're still digging up everything we can, but it'd probably be faster for you to go there yourself. Looks like it's right across the bay from you. Here's the address."
He gave me the location and I scribbled it down. I could probably make it there before dinner if I booked it and got lucky with public transit, but I had to hurry. I thanked him for the information and hung up, grabbing my trenchcoat as well as my hat as I left. The clouds outside made the sky as obscured as this case's solution, but as I walked out into the street, I thought I could just barely see a ray of light.
(To be continued...)