The Usual Suspects
For the short of mind, allow me to sum up the story thus far. I’m a PI—hard-boiled, etc—in a bad spot in a foreign country with limited options to crack the case, get the dame, and save my skin. How’d I get there? Like I said in my last brief reflection, I had just arrived in Oxford, England to retrieve some kind of treasure stolen from my home turf of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. I got to work immediately and found out that a few suspects were traveling to the Ashmolean museum…
I knew my fair share of memorable characters back in Poughkeepsie—the sort that make you wish you were born with eyes behind your back, and maybe an extra nose, too. I once had to cool down a nearly spicy situation between the Bacio’s boys and a rugby gorilla; I’ve fallen out of love and into heartbreak on the floor of Matthew’s Mug with the sweetest siren that side of the Atlantic; hell, I’ve had some close calls with Noyes Wellness. The Vassar folk that escaped to the Queen’s country are something else, though; from the start, there was something shady about each of them—a jewel-thief kind of shady.
‘Til one of them slipped up, I had to ease my way into their world. First, I had to make them all comfortable. I knew they were heavy into the brains, but I never met an owner of a medulla oblongata who snubs the day of rest at a museum. My first week here and I leave the Friday night pub dames to the Brits. What can I say? Sacrifice is part of the package when you’re a PI.
A step through the door of this place and it’s like I fell into some movie-esque time machine. We weren’t in Poughkeepsie anymore, but the Ashmolean didn’t feel too unlike the Villard room after one too many berry rumbas—a lot of uncomfortable-looking folk dressed in bed sheets with underbrush in their hair.
Around all these brawny stone fellas that made a PI want to stop deleting his “In the Pink” emails and cut down on Julie’s blueberry crumble, I chatted up the first suspect.
Jessie Classic ‘14 majored in Economics and GRST back in Poughkeepsie. She acted relaxed and friendly, especially when it came up that I was also a Vassar expat. She couldn’t play it coy enough for me, though; I could tell she was ruthless, trying to size me up for the quick con. Forty-five seconds into that conversation, my hand found my wallet and didn’t leave it ’til she was more than a javelin’s throw away. Her alibi for skipping the pond was to meet the stone gents surrounding us. She yapped on for a while about some ancient history, Cuneiform B, but I kept the conversation going like I knew my stuff. I told her that I learned a bit of Latin growing up, and she wanted to converse. I said, “isthay tupidsay idkay,” and she stormed off like I had offended her or something. Some stuffed head at Vassar used to greet me with the phrase—probably has something to do with good looks.
Lady luck finally threw me a break: I found the next suspect eyeing up some porcelain.
Oriental Eddie says he spent last semester in China and knows nothing about jewels or Vassar. Likely story. This character has a bit of a reputation as a Jewett, a drifter, a wanderer—that sort who would easily turn to the jewel-thieving kind of life if the price was right. He looked the part of a European. Had a scarf and a jacket that screamed, “Condescend on Uncle Sam”. His clothes couldn’t keep the rest of the body cool, though—the look on his mug eyeing up the museum’s hard earned treasures was a bit too hungry for me. I began to introduce both myself and my good friend, Mr. Clenched Knuckles.
Before I had the chance to make the acquaintance of my soon-to-be dear friend Edward, I saw a glint of pink-and-grey out of the corner of my eye. Hey, I didn’t get this far in the PI business by tripping over the best clues that fall in my lap, and I followed the hunch. I don’t know how for long or how far, but I was on that light’s trail like white on rice. Next thing I know, I’m waking up bruised and cold in a real seedy Underground. My vision’s all blurry, but I still make out a few shapes—most of which make me wish I were still unconscious.
In a pinch, my wits never let me down, so I followed my intuition (and a green “Exit” sign) to freedom. The pink-and-grey light was nowhere to be seen, nor were the two characters I met earlier. Shaken and upset, I shuffled back to Oxford, stopping at a few pubs in between. After making it back to my home-base, I calmed my nerves and devised a plan.
I remembered the oldest PI trick in the book: imagine yourself as the jewel thief and ask, “I’m the jewel thief. What would I do right now?” One obvious answer appeared: tour Europe. I grabbed my travel necessities, suitcase, and a book of stogies, and made my way to the first streetcar I saw. Next thing I know, I hear, “Fasten seatbelts, please,” and I’m half asleep—always with one eye open—40,000 feet above the old country.
I had slipped up big-time.
Next time: Europe, revelations, and the hidden in plain sites.