[Written with @Ivy.]
Ann fondled her keychain as she glided past the dingy hobo sitting on a bench outside the company’s headquarters. A greasy black cat sauntered up to her, tail weaving a pattern in the brisk air. The young woman quickly kicked up her heel and glided on a little quicker on her toes, narrowly avoiding ankle contact with the animal--however, she made a point to look down and nod at it with courtesy. “Bastet,” she acknowledged respectfully, referring to the feline goddess of an earlier era in Egyptian history. Eventually she escaped the radius of the cat’s psychological tethering to the street bum. Odd to come across a loyal cat.
The immaculate tower was situated behind the Academy from her viewpoint, a glimmering spiral that penetrated the sky against the gleam of the seascape from the adjacent bay of San Francisco. It seemed classy enough. ACME so far appeared to be a healthy organization to plant her foundation upon. They had numerous locations all over the world, and the education grants her program would receive might likely make her situation the most ideal. She suddenly realized how glad she was to have acquired this job near the beginning of her career.
Entering the Student Services lobby, Ann approached the nearest office and peeked inside. “I’m here to meet a… Miss Monogram?”
At the question and subsequent mispronunciation of her name, Ivy resisted the urge to cringe.
“It’s… Monaghan,” she exhaled, “People get it wrong all the time.”
Smiling, Ivy took a second to observe the girl in front of her. Ann Tickwittee had rather exotic features. At a glance, she seemed rather delicate, like she could possibly be blown away by a strong gust of wind, though her eyes were stable, bright and observant. Their golden-green hue seemed to provide an air of subdued intelligence.
“Tickwittee, right? Your boxes arrived a few days ago. The classroom is this way.”
Urging the girl to follow, Ivy walked down the old Academy halls. These were the parts of ACME that seemed to stay locked in time, only growing more rigid with each yearly coat of paint. They stopped before a solid oak door with a wire glass panel, the word ‘Archaeology’ was plastered clearly in big bold letters.
Inside, about a dozen pine wood crates were stacked on the floor and desk. They bore handwritten and shipping labels and were all carefully stamped with a red ‘fragile’ and ‘this side up’ warning.
“You’ve already seen the lab at Accolade, but this is where you’ll be teaching. The instructor’s lounge is just down the hall. Let me know if you need anything…”
The raven-haired girl was sallying towards the crates before the redhead had even completed her introduction, meticulously reading over the printed shipping labels and the handwritten tags she had personally applied prior to transport. She double-checked each note with its packaging sticker to doubly verify complete receipt of her collection: genuine antiques and ancient artifacts--some from her own personal catalogue of treasures while most were on loan from various museums.
She was completely ignorant of anything but the boxes, and quite unaware that Monaghan was still present. Marking off each crate on her checklist, she eventually arrived at a certain container that had two of the self-administered stickers but only one item indicated on the carrier label. Overcome with a surge of panic, she grabbed a prong and pried open the crate.
Her jaw dropped as she realized this box only contained the ancient Greek play mask of hers, and no Han Dynasty censer. The censer was on loan to her program.
Ann shrieked. Realizing that Ivy was still just outside the door, she turned to the ACME commander and marched up to her, eyes filled with accusation. “You let someone snatch my artifacts? Do you realize how valuable all this is? You can’t even keep tabs on your shipments--I thought you had a big security operation! This is disgraceful.”
It took Ivy a moment to catch what Ann was yelling about, though she could already tell the girl was beyond distressed. For someone so small, she was capable of being very loud, and this immediate scene attracted the attention of the only other person in the hall, ACME’s resident custodian, Dugal Goodwin.
“One of your items is missing?” Ivy repeated, just to be sure she heard correctly.
Detective intuitions kicking in, she walked back into the classroom with Ann to review the crime scene. Clearly one of the the crates was now opened and Ivy knelt down to take a closer look, wooden crates with their jagged grooves were terrible for fingerprint analysis. Turning to Goodwin who was now leaning on his mop, Ivy asked, “Did you see anyone come in after these were delivered?”
Mopping his bushy unibrow with a checked handkerchief, Goodwin shook his head. “No ma’am, no one’s come in since they were delivered.”
“Then it must have happened in transfer,” Ann insisted, “I don’t miss things.”
Ivy took a step back. All the crates looked identical to her, but she wasn’t the archeology expert. Though maybe it wasn’t differences that she should be looking for. Each of the boxes had near-identical markings, the illusion helped along by Ann’s perfectly symmetrical handwriting. “Was the security seal broken when you opened the crate?”
The archaeologist hesitated. There had indeed been a complete seal on the box, and the lid was particularly difficult to pry--unlike a previously opened package. She settled her breathing for a moment. “No, I guess not.”
Returning to clamber about the secured crates once again, Ann muttered aloud to herself, “I don’t get it. Had to be stolen. I don’t miss things…”
“What exactly are we looking for, again?” Ivy rifled through handfuls of shredded wood.
“A censer--Han dynasty. Located in Mongolia,” Tickwittee replied absently, re-checking every box and every label once again. She touched her finger to a rough patch on the single opened box that was supposed to have contained the item of her focus. It felt like leftover adhesive from a peeled sticker.
Ann blinked. “Well, the good news is that it was here,” she informed Ivy. “The bad news is that it’s… not.”
“What about all these other crates?” Ivy picked up a crowbar, “You know, when I moved back from Hong Kong it took six months to find my eskrima sticks, they were misplaced in a box with Tank-- um, I mean some tank tops.”
Clearing her throat Ivy pried open another box, she could tell Ann paid no mind to her story as the antique expert continued to search, looking strangely focused and frazzled at the same time.
“I am so dead,” Ann lamented, “That piece was on loan from a museum.” She sat down on one of the wood-slatted containers for a brief moment and tried to secretly blink away a tear. “I don’t understand it. I watched everything being packed. It was there.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find it.” Ivy tried to reassure Ann, but she was already thinking about how to report the stolen item and whether or not it would be a good idea to call Molly from the crime labs to gather trace evidence as soon as possible.
Then something caught her eye, not only did ACME lose a valuable item, it seemed someone was careless enough to place a crate upside down. The red ‘this side up’ arrow pointed squarely to the floor. Ivy sucked in a breath and internally debated if she should tell Ann or secretly flip it over to prevent more hurt on the girl’s part. Looking again, she noticed something odd with the numbers.
“Hey… Ann?” Ivy matched the lid and label of crate 116988, which was supposed to carry the Han Dynasty censer with 886911, the overturned crate. Both numbers were nearly identical when flipped.
Tickwittee perked when her name was called, though her eyes continued to betray her gloom. “Yeah?” she responded with a sniff, standing back up and slinking over to Ivy’s side. And then she realized what the detective had seen. “But I never miss these things...” she remarked, confounded.
With a fire in her eyes, the archaeologist snatched the crowbar from Ivy’s hand and voraciously shunted the clawed end underneath the lid and set her weight against it. The securing nails squealed as the top popped off. Ann’s fingers immediately released their hold on the iron tool and curled around the handle of the interior graphite case. Suddenly overtaken with a gentle constitution, she slowly removed the black box and tenderly set it on the floor.
She did not even need to open the case to know what was inside. Unhinging the lid, Ann bit her lip and nodded. “Naturally...”
Ivy sighed in relief as she saw the object of their search. It sat as if happy to have been found, slightly dusty, but otherwise unharmed. “So… I’d call that a successful excavation. What is it that you archaeologists do to celebrate?”
“Well, for me,” the new hire replied, “I usually celebrate with lots of marzipan.”
Ivy quirked her brow before smiling, “Then I think a tour of the Accolade cafeteria has been long overdue.”
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