I jotted down some more notes as Grace Redding left my office. Once she was gone I opened up the envelope. Call me a cynic, but I like to count my money. True to her word there was a thousand dollars inside, all in crisp, new twenty dollar bills. Paper clipped to the first bill was a small business card, plain white, with only a phone number typed onto it. It was a local number, but not much to go on.
I turned my chair around and stared out the window, letting the small fan throw a slightly cool breeze into my face. Two stories down on the dirt packed street below, I watched as Ms. Redding exited the building. She stood on the wooden sidewalk for a minute, simply staring out into the streets. Then a car pulled up in front of her. It was a Phantom, jet black and shining as if it had been recently washed. The whole car was built for speed, its body smooth and rounded, much like Ms. Redding herself. The two headlights, off at the moment since it was the middle of the afternoon, stuck up from the hood of the car like two sightless eyes. Its four whitewashed wheels stuck out of the bottom of the car’s body, leaving only the bottom halves of them showing. ‘Must be a pain to change a tire.’ I thought.
Ms. Redding got into the passenger seat and the car pulled away smoothly, merging into the light traffic behind a horse drawn carriage. Just visible between the car’s two large back fins was a license plate that read: GRC RDD. I wrote the license plate down on my notes, then stepped away from the window.
I took my time closing up, though there wasn’t much to do. I slid most of the papers on my desk into a small trash bin, instantly overfilling it, and unplugged the fan in the window. I locked the door as soon as I was out in the hallway and headed down the stairs. Once outside I took a better look around me.
The city of Vells captioned itself as the ‘City of Science’. Scientists from around the world came here to work on their projects, argue with their peers, or just plain hope for their fifteen minutes of fame. Electric lights? They’re here. Radio stations? Got those too. And most recently a guy by the name of Teneson Clark found a new radio wave. He named it the CM wave, after himself. With this new radio wave a whole new craze has started: mobile communication. They call them cell phones, though I don’t know why. Each one has a specific radio frequency attached to it, so all a person has to do is dial in the recipient’s frequency and they’re connected. Of course, being radio frequencies, sometimes the calls leak through in the middle of a radio program. I don’t trust them, myself. But then again I don’t even keep a regular phone in my office.
Large speakers had been set up on the light posts on every street corner, which were connected directly to the personal microphone of the new chief of police, John Rider. Rider was a pencil pushing, brown nosing, son of a bitch, who took the law just a little too far. The police were supposed to protect the people, not shove a bunch of pointless rules down their throats. I should know, before Rider, I used to be an officer.
A small wind built up, throwing dust picked up from the dirt streets into my face. I calmly put on my fedora, which I’d taken off of my chair in the office, and pulled a bandana up over my nose and mouth to keep the dirt out of my lungs. All along the street people were doing the same. Children ran through the middle of the roads carrying buckets of water. They would throw the water on the street, which would turn the tightly packed dirt into mud, in an attempt to keep the dust from billowing up. But in the middle of a summer afternoon, the water dried almost as quickly as they could pour it. It was a dangerous job, and a lot of children got injured, or even killed, each summer, but there was never any lack of volunteers for it.
I started down the wooden sidewalk with my mind lost in thought. I’d just taken this case and already something about it didn’t feel right to me. A strange, nagging, feeling in the back of my mind that told me I was missing something important. I decided it must be Ms. Redding herself. She’d given me a fake name, of that I was sure, yet her car’s license plate seemed to hold up to the name she gave me. GRC RDD, Grace Redding. That seemed like a hell of a big step to take just to confirm your I.D. with a private investigator. For that matter, the woman herself had changed in mid-conversation with me. First she was blunt and up front, then, when I started to waiver, she flashed her goods, and threw a lot of money at me. And why would a woman who obviously has that much money to throw around not be able to hire anyone else?
I was getting nowhere. Questions just turned into more questions. The fact of the matter was, she’d paid me to find this rock, this Moonstone, and that was exactly what I was going to do. I can’t stand mysteries, and I’m good for my word. I’ll figure out what’s going on here, that much is certain.
A voice blaring over the speakers around town broke me out of my reverie. “Good afternoon citizens!” The voice of John Rider said in the obnoxious way he often spoke. “Remember, for your own good, curfew tonight is at eight o’clock sharp. Be sure to finish your shopping accordingly. And remember, be safe!” The speakers clicked as they shut off.
The man was a power hungry, pompous ass. The first thing he did when he got elected was do away with elections for chief of police. How he got that passed through I’ll never understand, but in the blink of an eye the position of chief of police became a permanent gig. Next he decided that alcohol was one of the leading contributors to crime, so he made it illegal. Whole businesses suddenly went under in a single night as the police were forced to raid the very places they used to frequent. And now he’s instigating a curfew.
I touched the scar that began above my left eye, and ran almost straight across my face to where it ended below my right ear, skipping over the necessary part of my right eye in the process. Rider had given me that scar the day I quit the force. I wonder, sometimes, if the scar I gave him still gives him trouble at night.
In my aimless wandering I had made my way into downtown. The whole place was terribly uncomfortable for me. First of all, my sixth sense screams at me the entire time I’m there. Being able to somehow know, not think, but know where people are when they are within thirty feet means crowded areas suddenly become more crowded. Not to mention the fact that here in downtown the buildings soared into the air to dizzying heights, sometimes as high as ten stories. The streets themselves were carefully maintained cobblestone, which made the driving of cars easier, but was hell on carriages. Trash cans were spaced evenly along the street, one on every corner, and one in the middle of each block. Even the sidewalk was made of a finer wood than the rest of town. It was meant to make the city look cleaner than it was to tourists. Though here, where everything looked shiny and new, even I could see the improvement.
A cell phone store, its windows promising better rates than anywhere on earth, sat side by side with an ice box store that promised to always have ice on hand for sale, no matter what the weather. A young girl, who couldn’t have been older than ten, was skipping down the sidewalk alone, timing her skips to the music coming out of her portable radio. Off in the distance, a train whistle, sounding almost like a deeper, louder, tea kettle, announced its imminent arrival to the station.
I found myself shaking my head and muttering a phrase my dad taught me before he died, “The world is too crazy to make any sense.”
In the end there was really only one place that I could go to find out any information about the Moonstone. I should have thought of it before, but it wasn’t until I thought about my father that I realized the answer. My father’s friend, Professor Rafkin, was a world renowned scientist, whose main areas of study included robotics, languages, history, and of course, geology. He was the perfect companion for my father, also a well-known man. Though my dad’s area of expertise was archaeology and treasure hunting.
Deciding against a taxi, I let my feet carry me across town to my family’s old friend.