Priests, who joined their gods millennia ago, celebrated a ritual around the crucible. Shiny, black, shaped like a small serving bowl, it was protected from the twenty-first century by a glass display case.
Jennifer stared at the broken enclosure that had held one of the school’s most prized possessions. It hadn’t been touched since the school was founded.
“My bowl, Todd! My bowl’s gone. Look! Someone stole my bowl!”
She remembered how it gleamed behind its protective glass, sparkling black with those little white figures painted all round the outside. Who were they and what were they doing?
* * *
Jennifer arrived at the Braxton University library a few minutes before Todd. She was looking at the new fiction on the shelves next to the check out desk when Todd came in with an armful of books.
“You waiting long?” he asked as he put his free arm around her waist.
“No, Hot Toddie,” she said with a big smile, “just got here.”
On the stairs up to the 900’s, Jennifer said, “I don’t understand why there isn’t anything on the Internet?”
“Fifth century BC Athenian economic info is not the stuff of action movies. I mean, who cares? If we didn’t have this paper to do, nobody would ever read that stuff,” he said. She nodded in agreement.
On the second floor, they walked passed light oak display cases housing the pride of the history department. Arrowheads, beaded chest protectors and a tomahawk were near the books on American history. The next set of cases held a massive bronze hinge from an English castle’s drawbridge. It shared the bottom shelf with a dagger and gloves of a long dead nobleman. His dark velvet cape, although threadbare, hung regally above it. Against the back wall, at a right angle to these cases, was the school’s small collection of pottery and shards from the Ionian peninsula.
Three comfy chairs complemented a low round table in front of the case, an open skylight was in the high ceiling above. No one used this area and, on warm days like this, birds could be heard through the skylight.
Last Tuesday, a bird flitted in and quickly felt his confinement. He darted out but not before startling them and losing a few feathers, one of which floated down onto Jennifer’s open book—the source of prolonged laughter. Then Jennifer’s smile drooped. “If a feather lands on your hand, it means that bad news is coming.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Oh, I read it somewhere, something to do with magic or some old New England superstition,” she said.
Their books were on the table. Todd was sitting on the edge of his chair looking through his notes on his lap for the exact name of the subject they were here to look up. Jennifer, far back in her soft chair, glanced at the display case against the back wall. Her eyes widened, her mouth fell open. “My bowl! My bowl’s gone. Look, Todd, someone stole my bowl!”
Todd jumped up and rushed to the empty display case. Slowly, he touched the edge of the broken glass front. “What do we do?”
Jennifer had her hand on her chest, eyes wide, not breathing, then: “Listen, we’ve got to report this—now! This is serious!” She was standing now, arms akimbo, shaking her head and finally seeing all the little broken glass shards on the carpet.
“OK, OK, you’re right. Let’s go tell someone at the desk downstairs.”
Going To Class
I’m working on a floppy disk drive, trying to get the Post It out of it. Real funny, I’d sure like to find the idiot who put it in the library computer. My job’s fixing the school computers after boneheads screw them up. You’ve got a problem with floppy discs? Our new computers have CD drives but the older ones sill have the floppys. In most cases, kids are copying an article, no pictures, just words so it’s better, and cheaper than burning a disc for one dumb article, right?
I finished my Nescafe and put the cup on my spiral notebooks next to the computer. That means that I’m in class. If I put the cup on my keyboard, it means that I am doing some computer work somewhere. It’s my way of telling people where I am. If it’s in the sink it means that I just washed it. It’s not a perfect system, it won’t replace words but, you have to admit that it’s good. Nescafe as a tool of communication, another use for the drink of the gods—and me.
I checked my Molex. Time to leave for Criminology, my favorite class. Speaking of the Molex: 27 bucks and it’s identical to a Rolex, gold, stainless, bulky, except for the M and the price.
I left my dorm and headed down the main walk to Johnson Hall where they have the sociology and language courses. It’s also where the snack bar is, in the basement. The main walkway connects everything, the classrooms to the dorms and the north parking lot. We call it the “Kennedy” after that expressway in Chicago that runs through everything and connects the downtown to the airport. It even has a commuter train running down the middle of it.
Braxton U is in the middle of Illinois, in the middle of the Midwest, which is in the middle of the U S in the middle of the world. We are probably the center of the universe, too. Not much excitement here, but we get good corn—cheap.
Walking across campus is really nice. The leaves are changing. The temperature is not too hot, not too cold. The girls are still wearing their summer clothes so there are many great sights on the way to class if you get my drift. I live in Foster Hall, the coolest of the four dorms.
I just passed the bell tower. It’s three stories high and red brick like everything else around here, with a big clock face on all four sides. On special days, they have concerts with the bell tower. You know, the bells play certain songs, usually old stuff that I never heard of. Last year, I was in a class with the girl who played the bells. She called it Caroline for some reason or another and said it was a big privilege to play it and we were fortunate to have one.
I walked into Johnson Hall and down the stairs to the snack shop. Johnson is one of the four classroom buildings and the farthest from the dorms, a two minute walk for me. I saw the LaMonica sisters sitting on the other side of the room. I just met them this year and they seemed nice. I joined them.
Monica was wearing her mandatory navy pledge blazer and Veronica had on a bright red sorority sweatshirt. Monica was pledging Beta Omicron Delta and Veronica was one of their queen bees. Their members were known as the “bod girls,” Interesting that most of them were lookers. There aren’t that many frat and sorority events; people join them for the cool sweatshirts and something to put after their names in the yearbook.
“Good morning Monica, good morning Veronica. How are you today?”
“We’re fine, Jason, but the important thing is, how are you after last night’s date?” Monica replied with a facial expression that revealed that she wanted to know more—all.
“Ya know, I don’t think I’ve got this dating thing down yet.”
“Well, take this last night thing for example. See, they were twins. So I thought that I didn’t want to hurt one girl’s feelings so I thought it was a normal thing, like you know, I thought everybody did it.”
“I thought everyone asked them out.”
“Whatever are you talking about?” Veronica asked.
“I asked them out. I thought since they were twins, they came as a pair, you know, inseparable? So I thought I was doing what everyone did with twins and asked them out.
“I wasn’t looking forward to paying for dinner or the movie, but I was really relishing the thought of the making out. I kind of was thinking along the lines of one of those sultan guys with the harem, you know? Being smothered in kisses by these two girls who shared their looks with each other.”
Veronica gave me a look like she thought I was about to say something stupid.
“What happened?” She asked.
“It started off nice enough, they did let me buy them dinner and we did go to the movie, me with a twin on each arm. I thought I had it down. But they blew me off at the dorm. I got simultaneous hand shakes, one from each.
“So now I know. You’ve got to split them, just as if they were individuals.”
“But they are individuals, meathead!”
“Ya think?” I said, believing that Veronica probably knew more about this than I.
“Hey, have you started the paper yet?” I asked Monica.
“No, have you?”
“Yeah, I finished it and I think it came out OK.” From the back of my notebook I pulled out the three typed sheets that were almost neatly folded and delicately placed them on the table.
“What did you write about?”
“Well, it’s supposed to be a description of something so I wrote about the Cornfest.”
“Really? Could I read it?” Monica asked.
“Only if you don’t make fun of me. I’m not a hot-shot journalist like you.”
She picked it up and read the paper out loud:
I could smell it from my dorm—sort of cooked leaves and I don’t know what else but it sure smells good. That’s the corn on the grill I’m talking about. It’s good—mom’s cooking good. A half dozen tent covered booths sprouted on Main Street for the Cornfest, just like this one in front of the bank.
If I could bottle Cornfest atmosphere, it could be sent worldwide as an example of American Life—camaraderie, neighbor helping neighbor, food fresh from the field, and hope in ourselves and the future.
Enough about me. Now the town.
Up and down Main Street, people crowded the booths, mostly men and students, all bending over trying not to get butter on their shirts. Moms carrying kids’ jackets flowed toward the park and the beanbag toss. I could hear the Hastings high school band behind Mercle’s Drugs. Some of Hastings’ finest were attempting to clear a path down Main Street accompanied by joking and greeting friends and storekeepers. Lawn chairs were laying on the sidewalk staking out individual watching spots for the parade. The chairs were there since yesterday—no one would dream of taking the chair or the space. That wouldn’t be right.
A lot of students and kids wore costumes. I don’t want to say that they’re corny but… Some moms had pilgrim hats picked up at Mercle’s—a dollar fifty. They’re paper and looked just like the hat a pilgrim woman would wear except for the Mercle’s, Your source for Good Stuff Cheap printed on the brim.
Fortunately, the weather was doing its part to make Cornfest better than last year when the wind blew over all the booths and scattered corn under the parked cars. The gust lasted for only half a minute but the whole festival was knocked down.
The corn was allegedly washed and put back up for sale. Everyone knew that they all weren’t washed so the “broasted corn” sales fell to zero. I got some damaged corn free. The wind also hurt the arts and crafts people so this year most paintings were flat on tables in the tents and not on easels as they were last year. Next year, back to easels?
The people with the saved spots on the sidewalk will have a good view of the parade when everyone gets off the street. The fire truck was there in front of the three police cars. I can’t see the ambulance but I’m sure it’s somewhere. Rumor on the street is that the Braxton Library bought four new books on corn for the celebration and has them on display at the check out counter. No, you can’t take them out—yet. Is there no end to this extravagant school spending?
Now the camera pulls slowly back into the sky showing Hastings’ main street with its shops and booths: the Kiwanis next to the Reelect President Clinton booth next to the PTA, then the other town streets with their one story red brick houses. Continuing to rise, I can see the farm lands that brush up against the back yards of the nicely kept houses, once all green, now brown stalks dominate as far as the eye can see and it can see far. I see Braxton U, on the south edge of town, with its pond and parking lots dominating the scene. The dorms and the bell tower are surrounded by the trees.
The camera spirals higher in the clear blue exposing miles of harvest, criss-crossed with black topped ribbons. A lone yellow car wanders north toward and a beer truck heads into town. I lied, it’s a bread truck.
The buzz that you hear is the plane’s engine, the plane that I’m riding in over this Midwestern town, this town with the school attached: or is it the other way around? The town is a part of the university, the university is the heart and the town is the muscle, the lungs? I don’t know.
When I first arrived last year, all this was new, the stores, the restaurants, the school itself, but now, it’s an old hat, a comfortable place where I don’t only live, but rule. And I got a free plane ride today. Thank you Braxton University Computer Club for letting me take the pictures today.
“The end,” Monica said. She put down the paper. “I’m impressed, Jason, I could really see the town.”
“I agree,” Veronica said. “I felt like I was there.”
I said “thank you” as humbly as I could, but it was hard because I did think it was a good paper.
“Well, it’s not due till next week,” Monica mumbled, “so I’ll start on it on the weekend. Life’s so boring that working on the paper will probably be the most exciting thing happening.”
Little did she know.
The Theft Problem
“What’s this about a missing something from the library?” I asked Fay as I took off my coat and saw the small pink note on my desk.
Fay continued putting completed exams into a gray filing cabinet and said without looking up, “Good morning, Professor. One of the security guys asked me if this was Professor Palma’s office. I said yes and he said I should give that note to you as soon as you come in.”
Fay is my girl Friday, if I can use that expression. She does everything for me. Sometimes she’s a little—how could I say it—unfocused? But I like her because she tries to do her best and always thinks of my needs first.
“This looks like it could be something big,” I mumbled under my breath as I pulled out the thin writing board that was on top of my desk drawers. It had the school phone directory taped to its top surface.
“Myrna, this is Palma. What’s up? I hear you lost something,” I said when the assistant librarian picked up.
“A bowl? Why not go down to the caf and get another. The breakfast rush is over.
“Oh, a special bowl. Am I in trouble for making light of it? Are we still pals?
“All right, we’ll get right on it. Goodbye.”
She told me that the bowl was one of the most important pieces in the school’s small collection of antiquities. Myrna also said that it was loved not only because of its age but also because of its beauty—small and precious.
I sat back in my pleather swivel chair and surveyed the wall of books that stood in front of me. I looked to the right through the leaded glass window that faced Mittler Auditorium, and saw the yellow leaves fluttering on the big Linden. A book hit the floor and I turned to my left and saw Fay at her desk in the adjoining room shuffling papers and mumbling.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’ve got class now and I can’t find my French notes. I’ve got the 402 notes but where are the 312’s?” She mumbled more to herself than to me as she quickly moved her hand around inside her big carry-all bag. Her knitted brows said it all.
I spun back and looked at my shelves behind my desk, my classy walnut stained shelves. I keep my stuff there, things that I like to look at, art if you will. An MG TC model car is on the shelf at desk height along with a model of a red 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle. Next to it are a skull, a plastic human, a squid suspended in a bottle of clear liquid and a compressor from an under-the-counter refrigerator. The shelf above it has several computer manuals, a six inch piece of galvanized pipe, threaded on both ends, and a cottage cheese container half-filled with different size screws and nuts and hardware junk. Next to that is a tarnished bugle and a nine volt power supply for a computer printer or CD player or some such gadget, I don’t remember which. An old British SU carburetor and a stack of CDs—Gypsy Kings, Ravel, Muddy Waters, stuff like that—sit on the window sill.
I really like this place. It has beauty, not like Paris, but in an unassuming Midwestern way. People give you straight answers here. Lock your car, don’t lock your car—it makes no difference; these are honest people who live on campus and the nearby town, Hastings.
What to do, what to do? I scratched my chin while thinking of the direction that I should take. I heard Fay putting on her coat and gathering her things, getting ready for class. She must have found her notes.
I should talk to Larry, see what he knows. Lawrence Schwartz is the Dean of Students and a person in the loop. Either he made the decisions for the school or was consulted before the decisions were made. I was lucky to have him as fan a of mine.
“Larry, it’s Palma. How are you?”
“Good. What can you tell me about the theft in the library?” We talked for several minutes.
He told me that it was a very delicate situation. The theft might dissuade donors from contributing to the school’s collections because of the “appearance” of lax security. Also, there were political overtones. Several administrators’ contracts were coming up for renewal shortly and this may affect some careers, what with all of the politics going on in the ivory towers. Homecoming was only a few weeks away and it would be bad PR if something as important as the bowl was not on display at that time.
It looks like the ball is in my hand. I must make things right, and if it takes more than two weeks, some people are going to look mighty bad, maybe even me.
When Fay came back from class, I asked her to type up invitations and hand deliver them to some of my students. By three o’clock, all eight had received the note.
The note said that we were to meet at a quarter to four in room G-03 for complimentary snacks and beverages and to discuss on-the-job-training. G-03 was in the basement of Griffin Hall, the science building.
They all arrived before the appointed time and were sitting there waiting for me. I said, “Please help yourselves to the snacks and there are cups over there on that table for the drinks.”
The two girls got up to get cups and the boys ripped open the bags of chips. The chips were the individual size bags and were on a regulation Formica cafeteria table.
So I said, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you all together today.” I was standing at the head of the table. Everyone nodded. “OK, something has happened here, here at Braxton.
“All of you are now taking or have had a criminology course with me. I chose each of you for several reasons. One of them was that you are all interested in law or law enforcement. Another is that you’re all smart. And what I consider the most important reason: I think that you’ll be able to work together. You will be a team.” They all smiled self-consciously.
“This task will take away from your study time and your social lives. I don’t know how long this will take but I need a commitment from you. This is a criminal investigation and it will be a paid job, $8 per hour, just like working in the cafeteria. You will be paid for twenty hours a week, the maximum that the school allows a full time student to work. Most weeks, you will be working more than that. Please don’t consider this investigation for the money. I put in for a budget to pay you so you won’t have other jobs competing for your time. This will be good practical experience for you. You will be doing the same work an investigator would do on a case.
“I’m going to leave to make a phone call for a minute. While I’m gone, think about what I said. When I get back, I’ll answer any questions you have and then if you want to do this job, you’ll sign an agreement.” I left.
They all stopped talking when they saw me reenter the room. “OK, any questions? Yes, Ms. LaMonica?”
“Yes Professor Palma. I’d like to know if we would be working regular hours every day?”
“No, we’ll work when we need to. If you have a test or a paper due, you can be excused. But, don’t forget to tell me first. You see, we’ll be a team and every one should be able to count on everyone else. Yes, Mr. Diedrich?”
“What are we going to investigate? What’s the job?”
“It’s a burglary of school property. I can’t say anymore until we have all of the questions answered and those of you who want to do this have signed up. I don’t believe that the person who did this is violent so I’m not expecting this to be dangerous.”
“I’m working at the post office now,” Ralphy Diedrich continued, “Can I continue working there while working on this investigation?”
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to quit that job in order to work with us. This investigation will take considerable time and effort so if you have any other activities that you’re involved with, I suggest that you put them on hold during the investigation.”
“OK? Next question. Mr. Malloy?”
“Are we going to work five hours a day or ten hours a day? Will we work on weekends? And, will we have to get up early?”
“The answer to all those questions is yes. I don’t know what is going to happen. Sometimes we will be waiting for something—lab results, something in the mail, someone getting back to us with some information. Then everybody does their regular work. And then sometimes we are all needed right now.” I stabbed at the desk with my forefinger for emphasis. “We work when we need to, just like the police. Only with us, we will only have this one investigation. Yes, Mr. Schultz?”
“I was wondering. What if you don’t feel comfortable doing this? I mean I know it could be good experience but I’ve got other things to do also. Like my studies and I go home every weekend.”
“If you don’t feel comfortable doing this then that’s OK. We only want you on the team if you want to be on the team.
“Any other questions? All right then. Who would like to give this a try? Who would like to be on our team? Raise your hands please.”
Two boys got up and left. The rest raised their hands looking around with smiles on their faces. I passed around an employment application/waiver of lien form which they all began studiously filling out, consulting wallets and purses for personal information that was not committed to memory.
In five minutes, everyone was finished and looking at me for directions. I collected the forms and sat down at the table with them. “This is about the theft in the library last Sunday. Has anyone heard about it?” They all nodded. “OK, we will discuss that in a minute, but first I would like you to introduce yourselves to your team members. Tell us your name and what you think that you will get out of this investigation. Who wants to go first? Yes, Mr. Diedrich?”
“First, although my name is Randolph, everybody calls me Ralphy.” He was chewing gum while he talked.
“I think that I’ll see if this is the type of work I want to do. I mean I think it is but maybe it isn’t like what I am expecting. It would be bad if I spent four years here and a lot of money and found out that this is not the job for me. So I want to see what law enforcement officers really do.”
“That’s good, Ralphy. Who’s next? Miss LaMonica, Veronica?”
“Well, I’m Veronica. I’m a junior and this is my sister Monica. She’s only a sophomore. We talked it over and we want to do this to meet people, and to learn more about the school, the different offices and the secret nooks and crannies. And,” she said as an afterthought, “to learn more about criminology.”
“Good. Jason, Mr. Malloy?”
“I’d like to know more about the technical aspects of investigating. You know, the finding of evidence and testing it in the lab. Will we do that Professor?”
“I don’t know. Most detectives in most cases don’t have the luxury of using a lab. Because of budgets and backlogs, even if the lab is in a detective’s district, the chances are not good that the lab can be used for everyday cases. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to use the county lab. We will be the only people looking at this crime scene for evidence. This isn’t like television where a dozen people in lab coats are seriously examining everything at the crime scene.”
“And I guess I’ll have to quit my job at the library. I fix the computers there,” Jason said.
“Yes,” I replied, “but only temporarily. This should be finished up in a couple of weeks.”
“I sure hope so,” I said. “Yes,Veronica, a question?”
“Yes, why aren’t the police doing this? Aren’t we covering up a crime?”
“No, were not covering up a crime. The police have been notified of the theft as has the insurance company. This is a valuable object that has been taken and it is insured.
“After a meeting of ‘The Powers that Be,’ it was decided that this issue could be resolved with the least amount of disruptions if it were done in house, so to speak. A police report has been filed but since Hastings is a small town and doesn’t have much crime, they use the county for detective work. The county spends most of its time on violent crime and would not give this case a high priority. So, this crime will be exclusively investigated by the insurance company, Mutual Assurance of Wisconsin.
“I worked at MAW, that’s what we called it, ‘Maw,’ several years ago as an investigator so they know me. They hired me to investigate this incident.”
“Well, why the eight dollars? I mean, if the insurance company is paying you, they aren’t paying eight dollars an hour. That’s a big company with lots of bucks. Aren’t we poor students getting short-changed by the man?”
The rest of the group turned and glared at Mr. Diedrich.
“Normally, I would do this alone. You have been brought into this for experience in an actual investigation. This will be beneficial to you and will be good on your resumes.
“There are several of you, each on the payroll, and there are expenses; this adds up. These expenses aren’t only for things like fingerprint powder, but they are for more practical items like copying and transportation. If we have to investigate off-campus, the costs mount very quickly. For example, if we had to travel to Springfield to look at documents or interview someone, it would cost us about $200 a day for each person there.
“And food. We usually will meet at a restaurant so we can be spending $70 dollars for just a half hour meeting that we’ll be doing almost everyday. That is one of the perks of the job, free food.”
The boys liked that. They smiled and nodded while looking at each other.
“This whole cost issue is something that you will have to understand if you are self-employed or working for a company. You’ll always have a budget for your investigation, expenses that someone must pay.
“OK, the problem. Some person or persons unknown has stolen a priceless antique bowl from the library. It’s a Greek bowl that was made around 500BC and discovered and brought to our school when it was first founded.
“We don’t know why this article was taken, or exactly when, but our job is to get the bowl back.
“OK, after I leave here, I’m going to work out a plan and specific things for you to do.
“I’ll see you all at the Bar Bar at seven tonight. Oh yeah, another thing, I’m going to write a letter that says that you’re working for me. You can use it to show people that you have a right to inquire about this theft. I should have it ready for pick up tomorrow morning. So come in and pick them up from Fay at my office.” If they don’t know Fay already, they’ll meet her tomorrow.
The LaMonica sisters huddled together, talking quietly with bright eyes and raised eyebrows. The boys were leaning back in their chairs with satisfied looks on their faces which said, “I am so cool.”
All of them, my new investigators, look like they are expecting to have a fascinating adventure.
* * *
The meeting at the Bar Bar was short. I mulled over what the kids did best. Ralphy was the most outgoing and oldest so he’ll be our interviewer. Jason was a technogeek, he loved computers and repairing anything. He’ll be our technical consultant, and the LaMonicas will be our researchers, digging around for anything that relates to the case.
I told Jason to go as soon as the library opened tomorrow and check the crime scene for evidence. I wasn’t expecting much since the bowl was probably taken several days ago and dozens of students have been in that area since. I told them that we would meet tomorrow for lunch here at the Bar Bar and discuss what Jason found.
They left with Jason telling the LaMonicas how he was going to impress everyone on campus with his cool new job.
What would he find?
Sunset at Jason’s
I watched the sun go down while having my twentieth Nescafe.
These Illinois sunsets are not like California or New England where the sun comes up or goes down into an ocean. A Midwestern sunset usually doesn’t include water—salt or fresh. Sure, there’s Lake Michigan. If you’re some kind of wealthy dude, you could live next to it and see the sun come up from the water. But that’s not the normal thing.
Day begins with the light seeping into the sky. At Braxton U, the sun is first seen on the roof of Bellerman Hall, at least from my room it is. A slight illumination (good word eh?) and then this ball of light creeps over the roof’s ridge and into view of all in Foster Hall.
Sunset uses the trees beyond the pond. It aims for the tree tops alongside the highway which is the western border of the campus and then filters through these trees dimming the whole campus and then, when it is totally under the treetops, we get some color, red, bright red usually, unless it’s Friday. Why is that? I don’t know. Am I a chemistry major or something? Wait, I should know that. I should know everything. After all, I am almost a Criminal Lab Technician!
Meeting at the Bar Bar
“Hi guys, what’s going on?” Ralphy Diedrich said. He pulled up a chair. ”Can I have some, Professor?” he said to me as he put one of the tortilla chips into the melted cheese dip before I could answer. He was the last one to arrive. The lunch time crowd had thinned out. We had the place to ourselves.
“Jason was just telling us what he found at the library. Please go on, Jason,” I said.
“There really wasn’t much. I dusted for prints; found smudges. It wasn’t that the guy was being careful or anything. It was that so many people touched the glass that there was nothing useful on it.” Jason grabbed a handful of chips and stuffed them into his mouth as soon as he finished speaking.
“Did you dust the inside of the glass? You know, behind the broken piece. He might have touched there and it would only be the thief’s prints because the back of the glass is not available to the public,” I said.
He nodded yes and raised his hand for us to wait until he finished a mouthful of chips which was dripping cheese onto his shirt. “I checked that too and came up negative. There really wasn’t anything there except the broken case and the missing bowl. We’ve got nothing to work with here,” Jason added as he rubbed the cheese into his shirt with his hand.
Both LaMonicas were taken aback by this unsanitary activity.
“What about fiber evidence?” I asked.
“I vacuumed in front of the case and there was so much there because it was a public area that I couldn’t tell what was left by our villain. I also checked inside the case and there was nothing. So I drew a blank on that. Sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. You did the best anyone could do,” I said, trying to cheer him up.
“Do you think anything else was taken?” Veronica asked. “Maybe some other items were taken but nothing was broken, you know? Maybe they got into other cases and didn’t have to break them. Maybe they took some books.” Monica nodded in agreement.
“Good point, Veronica,” I said.
“The library had one of their guys go through and check everything out and they found nothing else was missing,” Jason said.
“One of their guys?” Ralphy said disgustedly, “Their guys are freshman jocks. They couldn’t find a bull in a bathroom with a searchlight.”
“Searchlight?” Jason asked.
“You get my drift,” Ralphy replied.
I thought for a minute. “After we break up, Ralphy, go to the librarian, either Ms. Beems or Ms. March, and ask to have one of the permanent staff—not a student—go with you through the collections and make sure that everything is OK. Better yet, have the person in charge of the collections go with you.
“Monica, you and Veronica go to the library and get the names of those who were working on Sunday. You’ll have to interview them. Ask them if they noticed anyone suspicious or anyone who acted strange.”
“OK,” Monica replied.
“Did everybody pick up their ‘letter of transit’ from the office?” They all nodded.
“OK, next thing is the phones. Does everyone have a cell?” They all nodded. I gave each of them a cell phone with 120 pre-paid minutes on it and a charger. “These will help us keep in touch. Always have this one with you and keep it turned on. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘Oh, if only I had my phone.’” They nodded.
“Please notice the speed dial. Number 7 is setup for a conference call. So, if I hit 7, it dials Jason, Monica, Ralphy, and Veronica. Then I can talk to all of you at once. Another use is if someone is in danger. The chances that all of us would be unavailable at the same time would be pretty slim so someone should pick up. Put it on the charger when you go to bed. But be sure to always take it with you and always keep it on.
“Any questions?” They all shook their heads. “All right, Ralphy, get back to me after you’re finished at the library. The rest of you, I’ll see tomorrow.”
They filed out playing with their new toy and left me alone with the bill for their mid-morning snack The bill wasn’t too much and even if it was, it’s being paid for by MAW. I put MAW money on top of it and walked toward our waitress. The bill felt funny, it was like two sheets thick. I turned it over and saw the yellow post-it that was stuck on the back. There was a small drawing of a dagger with drops of blood dripping from it. It was done in red ink and looked like it was hastily done, not an art major I’m sure. Who could have put it here, and why? What did this mean for our group? Should I tell them? I pondered this question as I marched back to my office in Fogel Hall.
* * *
“Security was lax on the bowl since it was in that same place for such a long time and nothing happened,” Ralphy said. I was just about to leave the office for dinner when he popped in. He was standing in front of my desk. “The person in charge of the collections is Wydra Beems.”
Wydra Beems, everybody knows Wydra Beems, I mused. She’s been around the school since before Arizona was a state, first as a student, then as an administrator, as library staff, and finally as head librarian. She is wiry and quick for a person who dated Hoover—the President or the Director, nobody knew for sure which one.
“Anyhow,” Ralphy continued, “the archive’s in the basement of the library and that’s where the majority of Braxton’s collections are. It’s one of those places that most people don’t know about. She said that the school has over 1,300 pieces in its permanent collection and it’s her job to keep track of it all. They are loaned to other schools and museums or are studied by students here in history, archeology, or sociology classes. Either the students come to the archives, which she told me she hates, or the object is signed out by the teacher and brought to the class, which she also hates,” Ralphy said while fidgeting with the small carburetor that adorns my window sill.
“And another thing, 1,300 objects? What, historic corn? ‘And here is corn grown by Lincoln’s brother for the inauguration,’” Ralphy said in a basso profundo voice.
I nodded in agreement. Thirteen hundred what in our library basement? “Well, what about the day in question? Was she there?” I asked returning to our main topic.
“It was a Sunday so she wasn’t there. She wasn’t there on Saturday either. She was there on Friday but she said she doesn’t remember the last time that she saw the bowl. She said she rarely goes up there because her office is on the first floor. She also works a lot in the basement— she calls it ‘the archives.’” He made quotation marks with his fingers. “It’s still the basement to me.”
“When you get your advanced degree, it’ll be the archives to you too,” I said. “So, when was it taken? It could have been taken a week ago, two weeks ago. How do we know?”
“We know that it wasn’t taken before Wednesday night because that’s when the cleaning people came. They would have noticed the broken glass and mentioned it to someone.”
“Yeah, that sounds reasonable,” I said, “but let’s check with them to make sure. I’ll call them tomorrow.”
I got up and followed Jason out the door, locking it behind me. I walked to the lot and got in my car. It started without a fuss. It’s been doing that lately. It is a 1987 XJ6 Jaguar that I love even though its reliability wears my nerves thin. I’ve replaced everything that could prevent the car from starting with good old American parts (made in China or Brazil) so it should run like a new car—which it does occasionally.
My place is in town, Hastings, a few minutes from the campus. In the mornings I pick up hordes of students from private housing who are trying to get a ride to school. On the five minute ride home, I try to get the fine arts music station from Chicago. Tonight, all I got was static. Does this mean solar flares? Will my satellite TV be down?
I parked in the garage next to my apartment and walked to the front of the building, up the squeaky stairs to the second floor. I unlocked the door, hit the lights in the living room and set the mail on the coffee table. I went through the dining room down the hallway to the kitchen and into my big bedroom. I threw my coat on the bed and went back to the kitchen to listen to my messages—nothing. Tonight, supper will be penne with tomato and basil and a salad. The pasta and sauce come in a box, frozen, and the salad, well, I make that. Sounds healthy but I’ll make up for it tomorrow.
What should I do about that note? I took it out of my pocket. Looking back, I should have preserved it like a piece of evidence which it very well might be. The drawing was on a yellow post-it, the most common size, about three by three. The lines were drawn too long or too short, not connecting. The drops of blood (what else could it be) were all of different size and they weren’t falling straight down from the blade. Either the artist was not very good or he was hurried in his drawing—maybe both.
Should I tell my student investigators about this? Would this scare them? If I didn’t tell them, would that be dishonest, keeping from them an important fact of the case or possibly, a potential for harm to them? What is best for the investigation? What is best for them?
Dissing the Discoverer