Professor Elliot Rafkin, whose first name I refuse to use on the grounds that I’ve known him as Professor since before I could walk, lives in one of the nicer neighborhoods in the entire city. A life of scientific discovery has left him an exceptionally wealthy man, now that he is old enough to technically retire. I have to say technically, however, because everyone who knows him knows that he will only give up his life’s work when he dies, and many of us aren’t certain even that will stop him.
His house, or manor really, takes up an entire block and resembles nothing so much as a giant laboratory. A straight driveway, that ends in a roundabout at the front door, cuts through a well-manicured lawn worthy of note for any museum grounds. Highly paid gardeners keep meticulous care of the yard, going so far as to shape the hedges in various images from common scientific classes. Here one shrub is cut to depict the planets in the solar system, while over there one can see an enlarged plant-image of the theoretical building block of life, called an atom.
The manor itself appears from the outside to be a two story affair, but I know from experience that it contains at least two separate basements, and I suspect that there are even more than that. A half a dozen smoke stacks of varying shapes and heights stick out of the sloped roof, and rare is the day that black, gray, white, or in one instance when I was younger, purple, smoke doesn’t spew from at least half of them. The manor is a uniform white in color, though this evening it was beginning to reflect the oranges and reds of the slowly setting sun, giving it the illusion that the place is made from frozen flame.
I made my way slowly, but confidently, up the driveway, enjoying as always the apparent calm that the grounds give off. Calm and happiness are two emotions that I have rarely been able to achieve in recent years, but Professor Rafkin’s house always seems to bring them out of me. Here is a place of work and beauty mixed together, the likes of which are rarely seen.
When I arrived at the double wooden doors I casually lifted the Pan’s head knocker and let it fall, sending a resounding boom into the interior of the house. As a friend of the household so close that I may as well have been family I could have simply walked in, but I generally prefer to respect the privacy of Professor Rafkin.
I only had to wait a few moments before a beautiful woman opened the door, a smile across her lips. She was just over five feet tall, with long brown hair that matched her eyes. Her skin was a golden brown where it showed on her arms and face, giving the appearance of a long and healthy tan, and if you weren’t listening for it you’d never notice the ticking sound of her heartbeat. “Well good evening Jake. What brings you by at this late evening hour?” Her voice was oddly metallic, though definitely feminine, as if she was speaking through a metal tube. Which was, in fact, exactly the case.
Aiela was one of Professor Rafkin’s finest achievements. A humanoid, thinking, robot. She was built from tiny tubes and wires, and had a soft plastic skin made from the resin of a rubber tree from the southern rain forests. Her hair was real, a donation from one of Professor Rafkin’s history students, and if you looked closely enough you could see that her brown eyes contained glass lenses with metal adjusters. It was her brain, however, that was the greatest achievement. A solid quartz crystal, with lasers that etched the crystalline matrix, provided her with a working, fully functional, thinking mind, complete with human emotions.
“Aiela,” I said with a smile of my own. “You’re looking lovely tonight.” I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “And nothing official. I’m just here to pick the Professor’s brain a bit.”
“Good.” She told me with a laugh. “That’ll keep him out of mine for a bit. A girl’s got to have a few secrets after all.”
I laughed easily and linked my arm with hers as she led me inside. “Has he been giving you any trouble?” I asked in a big brother tone of voice, jokingly indicating that I’m not above beating an old man.
“Of course not.” She laughed back. “He just hasn’t had any new projects recently, so he’s going back over my schematics and diagnostics.”
“Don’t worry.” I told her. “He won’t find anything to meddle with. He can’t mess with perfection.”
“Oh my.” She giggled. “Someone is quite the charmer tonight. I’ll make sure to make you something extra special for dinner tonight.”
“Now don’t trouble yourself on my account.” I laughed as we entered the study.
The study more closely resembled a mix between a bar and a small library. Bookshelves ten feet tall, with rolling ladders spaced intermittently, covered two and a half full walls that ran nearly twenty feet long. The bookshelves themselves were made of ancient looking oak and were filled to near bursting with books on nearly any topic one could imagine. On the third wall, directly across from the entryway and nestled between two bookshelves, was a fully stocked minibar, holding spirits of every color, flavor, and age imaginable. Seated at one of the bar’s four plush stools was my younger brother Jimmy. In the center of the room there were two large, and I knew from experience, comfortable couches facing each other across a low coffee table.
Aiela touched her hand briefly to my arm and replied, “If I can’t trouble myself for you, who can I do it for?” And with that she left the room, gliding gracefully on her clockwork legs.
I crossed the room and studied my brother closely as I moved to sit next to him at the bar. He was wearing a bright blue trench coat, a symbol of his status as a reporter, and had a fedora nearly the match of my own sitting on the bar next to him. He was slouched, leaning his elbows on the bar with his face in his hands. His medium length brown hair was in complete disarray, and I noticed an empty glass sitting next to him. As I sat down he mumbled, “Please tell me you didn’t read the paper this morning.” His usually bright and sunny disposition wracked with grief.
“Why would I do that?” I asked in mock confusion, setting my hat down on the bar and innocently placing my hand over my heart while widening my eyes in innocence. Jimmy moved his hands just enough to glare at me. “It’s not like,” I continued relentlessly with an evil grin, “The only real family member I have left woke me up in the dead of the night to make sure I read it.”
“You,” Jimmy said, finally lowering his hands to look me full in the face, “Can be a real ass sometimes. You know that?”
I laughed and punched him lightly in the arm. “So they didn’t publish your first article.” I told him seriously. “It’s not the end of the world. There will be others.”
He sighed and sat back against the small back of the stool. “I know, I know. But I was so proud of this one. It should have made a name for me. It was filled with deceit and betrayal from Chief Rider.”
“You don’t need to dig too deep to find that.” I laughed. A thought quickly crossed my mind. “But you know what? I may have something to help you out.”
“Oh yeah?” He asked, perking up. “What’s that?”
“I’m not promising it’ll make your career or anything, but I’m working on a case and I could use your help on it. It’s a simple lost and found job, but if you help me out I may see to it that you get your hands on the case file when it’s all wrapped up.”
“Seriously?” He asked, instantly brightening up to his usually cheerful manner. “What do you need?”
“You still friends with Lois at the DMV?” I asked him.
“Sure!” He replied enthusiastically, “We just had dinner the other night!”
“Excellent.” I said, pulling a pencil and notepad out of the pocket of his jacket. I jotted down the make and license plate of Grace’s car and handed the pad back to him. “Why don’t you see if she can run down the name and address that’s registered to this car for me? It’ll be a big help.”
“Sure thing Jake!” He told me, jumping off his seat and pulling out his company cell phone. “I’ll call her up right now and get it squared away!” I shook my head as I saw his little phone. Just because I didn’t trust the things, didn’t mean it ran in the family it seems.
Jimmy rushed over to one of the couches and was soon talking animatedly with, who I presumed to be, Lois. I felt someone enter the room behind me, and a moment later a deep voice with a definite English accent told me, “That was nice of you Jake, my boy. He needed something to perk him up.”
I spun around quickly with a ready smile on my face. Professor Rafkin stood behind me, his comfortably overweight frame of five and a half feet resting easily on a thick oak cane. He was quickly losing the battle with baldness, but given that his once brown hair was now a solid shade of gray, I’d say he put up a fairly good fight. His slightly chubby face wore a huge grin, and his robin’s egg blue eyes were framed by round glasses that sat on the end of his rather short nose. As was usual, he was dressed in a gray business suit, even this late at night, in his own home.
“Good evening Professor Rafkin.” I said, offering him my hand.
The Professor shook his head jovially, taking my hand in both of his. “Why must you insist on calling me that lad? It always makes me feel so old. Elliot is a perfectly good name, to be used freely by family members and my closest friends, of which you certainly qualify for both.”
I shrugged in half surrender. “I just can’t do it, sir. You’ve been Professor Rafkin in my head for so long that the idea of calling you… that, is like a sin on par with kicking puppies under moving carriages.”
“Bah!” He sighed cheerfully, stepping behind the bar. “For tonight, I’ll once again give over. But one of these days my name will slip past your tongue, and then I’ll hold you to it for the rest of your life.”
“If you say so, Professor.” I laughed, drawing out the title.
Professor Rafkin made an unkind sound in the back of his throat, then waved a pudgy hand towards the myriad of alcohol behind him and asked, “Can I offer you a drink? I’ve got this wonderful whiskey, aged nearly a hundred years, that I’ve been dying to test out for a special occasion.”
“You know that stuff is illegal now, right?” I asked, leaning back in my stool with a smile.
“Ahh,” The Professor replied with a sly wink. “That’s not entirely true. It is now illegal to purchase or sell alcohol within the city limits. It is not, however, illegal to own alcohol, or to give it away for free within your own domicile. A slight mistake made when the bastards wrote the idiotic new law. But a mistake I will happily hide behind in any court that dares take me in.”
Jimmy stepped back up to the bar, having finished his phone call. “But Elliot,” he asked, freely using the Professor’s name in the way I couldn’t, “Weren’t you on the committee that wrote the law?”
“Egad!” The Professor replied, placing his hand to his chest. “You’re right! I shall have to chastise myself thoroughly for such a grievous oversight, just as soon as I’m sober enough to give a damn. Which, if the two of you would hurry up and agree to a drink with me, will not be for a very long time.”
Jimmy and I laughed heartedly at the jest and readily agreed to the drink. Before long we each held a small glass of dark amber whiskey. “And to what should we toast to?” I asked, holding up my glass.
“To John Rider of course.” The Professor replied.
“What?” Jimmy and I asked at the same time, shock on our faces.
“To John Rider.” The Professor repeated with a smile on his face. “May his testicles shrivel on the withered vine they hang from.”
Laughing, the three of us clinkered our glasses while toasting, “To John Rider!” The whiskey was strong and smooth, leaving a dull and pleasant burn in my throat on the way down.
“That was quite an elegant toast.” Jimmy told the Professor.
“Why thank you Jimmy.” Elliot answered, “I’ve decided to broaden my horizons with poetry. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“It was a perfect toast.” I agreed.
We finished our drinks slowly, enjoying the flavor as the three of us made small talk. Once the glasses were empty, Professor Rafkin pulled out the bottle and slowly refilled them. “So what brings you here tonight, Jake?” He asked as he put the stopper back on the bottle. “I’m sure it wasn’t to raid my liquor supplies.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure.” I replied, holding my glass up to the light, earning a small chuckle from the Professor. “But you’re right.” I said after a moment, setting the glass back down. “I’m actually working a case, finally, and thought you might be able to help shed some light on it.”
“Why of course, my boy, I’d be happy to.” He waved a hand towards the couches as if asking if I’d like to sit down at a more comfortable place. I nodded and got up, and the three of us sat down on the surprisingly comfortable couches, Jimmy and I on one, and Professor Rafkin on the other. “What kind of information can I offer you?” He asked once we were seated.
“I’ve been hired to find something that was lost here in the city, but other than a basic description, I know nothing about it. It sounded like it was something you may have heard of though.”
“Well you’ve certainly piqued my curiosity.” The Professor replied, taking a sip from his drink. “What is it exactly you’ve been hired to locate?”
“Something called a Moonstone.” I answered with a shrug.
Nothing could have prepared me for Professor Rafkin’s reaction. He was in the middle of another sip when I said ‘Moonstone’, and he reacted quite violently. The small sip of whiskey blew out of his mouth in a surprised spray, and he began coughing heavily as he tried to clear the alcohol from his lungs. His drink would have fallen to the table if Jimmy hadn’t jumped up to grab it from his hands. I half stood from my seat on the couch, but the Professor waved me away with one of his hands, while hitting himself in the chest with the other. “Sorry about that.” He choked out, indicating the spray of whiskey on the table. “Caught me a bit off guard.”
“Obviously.” I told him, heading over to the minibar to grab some napkins. By the time I returned and began wiping up the mess Professor Rafkin had managed to stop his coughing. “I’m guessing you’ve heard of it?” I asked sarcastically.
“Heard of it?” The Professor replied indignantly, “Hell boy, I’m surprised you haven’t. It’s what your father was looking for when he disappeared fifteen years ago.”
The whole room froze for a moment, turning Jimmy and I into mute statues. He was leaning over, placing the half empty glass of whiskey on the table, and I was in mid-wipe as I cleaned up the mess.
My father. Jack Malone had been everything a boy could ask for. He was witty, and funny, kind, and loving. He had a rover’s heart, and a full imagination. He used to regale Jimmy and I with stories when we were kids of all the adventures he had been on, and all the ones he had left to do. He was an archaeologist and a treasure hunter, known throughout the globe. I’m told he had been a loving husband as well, but our mother died in childbirth with Jimmy, so I never knew that side of him. Jack had had a reputation to maintain, even while we were growing up, and he would often disappear for months at a time, leaving us with Professor Rafkin to watch over us. When he’d return from his trips he’d always be sure to bring Jimmy and I lots of souvenirs, trinkets and artifacts from his digs and findings. He would then go into extravagant detail over how he had to dig his way out of this cave, or single handedly fight off that group of natives, just to get home to us. Fifteen years ago, when I was ten, he left on an expedition to the southern rain forests, and never came back. Jimmy and I had lived with Professor Rafkin after that, making his place as much like home, as home had been.
Words failed me. I found myself sitting back on the couch, with an empty glass in my hands, though I couldn’t remember either sitting down, or drinking. “Oh dear.” Professor Rafkin said into the silence, staring back and forth between Jimmy and I. I forced my head to turn to Jimmy, and found him seated in the same position I was, a look of shock and pain written across his face. “Perhaps I should have braced you for that.” The Professor apologized.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when Jimmy’s cell phone broke the silence in a loud ring. Jimmy answered it, his movements jerky and robotic. “Jimmy Malone.” He said, his voice monotone. “Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay. Thanks.” There was a pause. “Not really. Kind of out of it right now. Sure, tomorrow night. Bye.” He turned to me, his mind obviously grasping at the first straw it could find. “That was Lois. She went back to work right after I called her and found the info you wanted. Registered to a Grace Redding, twenty five. Lives on twelve oh one Jackson Street, number seven.”
I mechanically jotted down the information, once again using Jimmy’s pencil and paper from his jacket pocket. I ripped the page off and put it in my pocket, before returning the pencil and pad of paper back to Jimmy. When I looked down my glass was full again, and Professor Rafkin was seating himself once more on the couch across from me, setting the half empty bottle on the table within easy reach.
“Why didn’t you tell us what Dad was after down there?” I demanded, a torrent of emotion plunging through me.
Professor Rafkin waved a hand as if brushing away a fly. “It didn’t matter what he was after. And if I’d told you, I knew you’d have tried to go after it yourselves.” He sat back wearily. “I’ve already lost two friends in the Malone family. I didn’t want to lose any more.”
I woodenly picked my drink up and shot it down in a single gulp. The alcohol burned badly on the way down this time, and it was enough to get my brain to reboot itself. “Okay.” I said, shaking my head to ward off the effects of the alcohol. I don’t usually drink much, and the Professor had already poured three large drinks for me. “I’ll process this later. After I find the Moonstone. In the meantime, I need to know what it is, and where it might have been headed after it was discovered.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you too much.” The Professor said with a sigh. “I tend to deal with objects of reality, not myth.”
“What do you mean?” Jimmy asked, the conversation pulling him out of a trance of his own. “If Jake’s been hired to find it, doesn’t that mean it is real?”
“Not necessarily.” Professor Rafkin argued. “Whoever hired Jake could be insane, mislead, or grasping at straws. There are plenty of people who have spent their lives searching for the Holy Grail, after all, even though there is no empirical proof that it exists.”
“So the Moonstone is like the Holy Grail?” I asked.
“Not really, no.” The Professor replied with a small laugh. “That was merely an example.”
“Then what is it?”
“There is a creation myth told by one of the tribes indigenous to the rain forest, I forget which one exactly, that speaks of the Moonstone as the ultimate creator of life on Earth. They say that when their god, Oaxyl, looked down upon the vegetative world, he decided that there should be beings who could walk, talk, eat, and live. The myth continues that he took a piece of the dark side of the moon and cast it to the earth, where it formed a mighty crater. Into that crater he threw a bolt of lightning, striking the Moonstone, and that from the sparks of the blast the race of Man was created.”
“That makes absolutely no sense.” I said, to which Jimmy nodded thoughtfully. Though I noticed he was writing everything down with nearly religious abandon.
“That’s what I told your father when he told it to me. But he was convinced that the Moonstone was not only real, but that he could find it.” The Professor paused to take another drink as he contemplated his next words. “Truth be told,” He finally said, “If anyone could have found it, it would have been Jack.”
The door to the study opened to reveal Aiela, who was holding an overly large tray of food in one hand. She smiled at everyone and walked over, placing the tray onto the table. On the tray were three plates filled with barbequed steak, cheese covered mashed potatoes, gravy, and a pile of steaming rolls, as well as an entire pot of coffee and three mugs. “Dinner.” She told us, as if we didn’t know, the smile still playing across her lips. “I hope you enjoy it.” She gave me a look and her smile grew slightly.
“It looks delicious.” I told her seriously. And I suddenly realized that I was starving. I grabbed my plate quickly and began to eat. “How in the world do you do that?” I asked Aiela after my second bite.
“Do what?” She asked, concern flitting across her features.
“It tastes better than it looks.” I told her honestly.
She laughed merrily. “I’m glad you like it.” She told us. “Dr. Johann has been giving me cooking books to learn from.”
Professor Rafkin suddenly snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Of course!” Before we could all turn to look at him he continued, “I should have thought of that before. Aiela, is Dr. Johann still here?”
“Yes?” She asked hesitantly. “I believe he is in the sub-basement, going over some notes.”
“Excellent! Would you mind getting him for me? We have a few questions for him.”
“Of course Professor.” She replied, nodding her head down and to the side, slightly baring the right side of her neck. “I’ll go get him.”
“Thank you dear.” The Professor replied smiling like a cat that just got into the cream.
“Who is Dr. Johann?” I asked after Aiela left.
“He’s my new assistant.” Professor Rafkin replied smugly. “Just hired him last week. Though he comes highly recommended.”
“Alright, I’ll bite.” I said after a moment. “Why did you send her for your assistant?”
“Because, dear boy, while I keep my studies concentrated on the real world, Dr. Johann’s specialties lie in the paranormal.”
“You hired a man who spends his time researching something you don’t even believe in?” Jimmy asked in surprise.
“Well of course.” Professor Rafkin replied in a confused tone. “I can’t research it objectively myself if I don’t believe in it.”
“But why research it at all then?” Jimmy pressed.
“Why, to be able to refute it, of course.” The Professor replied between bites, obviously confused as to why we didn’t understand.
“So, let me get this straight,” I began. “You hired a man to do research in your own home, simply so that you can prove him wrong on a regular basis?”
“Exactly.” He replied.
Instead of responding Jimmy and I both hid our smiles by digging into our meals, enjoying the wonderful flavors in relative silence. After a moment, the Professor shook his head in confusion and followed suit.
A few minutes later, just as our plates were scraping empty, Aiela returned with Dr. Johann. Dr. Johann was tall and rail thin. He had black hair with a short mustache and goatee combo that framed his mouth. The glasses he wore were thick and black rimmed, and he had a soft smile constantly on his lips. “You vanted to see me, Professor?” He asked, his speech very heavily accented. Eastern European, if I had to guess.
“Of course, of course!” Professor Rafkin replied, waving him over to the empty seat on the couch next to him. “Have a seat. My friends here have some questions about something in your area of expertise.”
Dr. Johann’s eyes lit up brightly at the thought and he quickly sat down, grabbing one of the few remaining rolls for himself as he did. “I’m sorry, Dr. Johann.” Aiela said from the doorway. “I forgot to offer you dinner tonight. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“Vhat? No, no. I’m fine. I had a big lunch earlier.” He replied, tearing a piece off the roll and stuffing it in his mouth.
Aiela nodded her head to him, once again revealing her neck slightly as she did so, then left the room, closing the door behind her. Dr. Johann looked at Jimmy and I expectantly and asked, “So vhat can I tell you about?”
“I’m investigating something called the Moonstone. Professor Rafkin thought you might know of it.”
“Know of it?” Dr. Johann exclaimed happily. “Of course I know of it! It vas all over ze paper a couple of veeks ago.”
“Really?” I asked. “Do you happen to know what day? I’d love to read the article.”
Dr. Johann waved his hand through the air. “No need to find it.” He began pressing lightly on the pockets of his suit jacket before finally settling on one of the inside ones. Out of it he pulled a newspaper article and handed it over to me. “I have it right here.” He told me.
The article Dr. Johann gave me was not from the newspaper that Jimmy worked at, the Metropolitan Gazette, but was instead from a tabloid called the National Supernatural. The National Supernatural was known for running articles like: Woman Gives Birth to Lizard!, Will The Dog Boy Ever Find Love?!?, or Five Reasons the Government Doesn’t Want You to Know that the Alphabet Song Brainwashes You Into Worshiping Aliens!. I have to admit, that last one was a great article, with the basic principle being that there’s no reason to make singing the alphabet sound like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
So it was with great reservations that I read through the article Dr. Johann gave me. “June first!” I read aloud. “Scientists undergoing a secret mission deep into the rainforest, have uncovered an Amazing object that will change your whole belief system forever!”
“Stop that.” Jimmy chastised lightly.
“Stop what?” I asked.
“You’re reading it like a radio announcer.” He laughed. “Just read the thing.”
I chuckled, then continued on in the same voice, “While our sources refuse to tell us just who was funding the great expedition, they have revealed that they have, indeed, found the fabled source of creation itself! The mystical Moonstone of Oaxyl, source of all life on Earth, is on its way as we speak to our very own Natural History Museum to be studied by the greatest of the great scientists that our city has to offer!”
“Balderdash.” Professor Rafkin exclaimed. “They never gave me a single call.”
“Zey called me instead.” Dr. Johann admitted quietly.
“They what?” The Professor demanded.
“Zey told me zat you vere not very open minded vith ze supernatural element of ze Moonstone, so zey asked me to come instead.”
“That’s, that’s, that’s!” Professor Rafkin sputtered.
“Completely accurate.” I said with a vindictive smile. I turned back to Dr. Johann while Professor Rafkin tried to come up with some kind of retort. “What happened when after that?” I asked.
“Nozing happened after zat.” He told me with a shrug. “Ze Moonstone never showed up at ze museum. After many days ze curator said I could go home. Zat it vasn’t coming after all.”
“I may have some questions for the curator then.” I mused, looking out the window. “But I’m guessing it’s too late to do that now.”
“Especially with the curfew.” Jimmy noted.
“Balls.” I swore. “I forgot about the bloody curfew. What time is it?”
Professor Rafkin, still sputtering quietly to himself, checked a small clock on the minibar. “Just after seven thirty.” He informed us.
I stood up quickly. “Great. So if I’m not home in half an hour I’ll have to deal with Rider’s thugs patrolling the streets.” I turned to Dr. Johann and said, “Thank you. You’ve been a great help.”
“It vas no problem.” Dr. Johann replied smiling. “I vish you luck. Ze Moonstone should be on display somevere.”
I nodded to him, then turned to Professor Rafkin, “Looks like I’ll have to cut tonight short Professor. I should be back by in the next few days. If you come up with anything else before that, give me a call?” I asked.
“Sure, sure.” He replied, his eyes reflecting that he was lost in thought. “Have a good night Jake.”
“Jimmy?” I asked.
“No thanks, I’m going to stay here and have another taste of that bottle. I’ll see you around. And don’t forget about the case notes!”
“I won’t, I won’t.” I assured him with a smile. Then, with the clock to curfew counting down, I headed towards home.