I was just finishing the Saturday NYT crossword (15 minutes, not bad) when she walked in. She had the flowing crimson hair of a Pre-Raphaelite (I mean one of the models and not the artists who were sort of louche) and an IQ that would give a heart attack to a MIT professor.
“You must be Bart Steadfast,” she purred as she flipped her long red hair toward the identifier (“Bart Steadfast Finder of Lost Objects”) painted on the glass door to my office. “I hear that you find lost objects.”
“That’s the tautology, sweetheart,” I growled, as I let the newspaper slip seductively to my desk.
“I’m missing something, Mr. Steadfast, and I think you’re the person to find it for me,” she said, twisting a scarlet tress around her finger like a strangler wrapping a scarf around the throat of someone with lacquered nails for a face.
“What makes you think I’m the guy for this job, doll baby?” I queried while wondering how long it would take for her to tell me her name. Was I supposed to guess?
“I know a guy in cosmology down at the Institute. He said that you had helped them out with a case.”
“Yeah, they were looking for some missing dark matter in the universe. I found it for them. No big deal.” I offered modestly.
“Well, maybe, you’ve heard of the von Radium diamond tiara. Someone snatched it from my palatial estate last week.”
“You don’t say, sister,” I murmured while considering whether what I’d just said was a declarative or an interrogatory sentence.
I heard a noise behind me. Before I could react, I felt a sharp pain across my cranium. My consciousness slipped away like I had been deconstructed by a French semiotician.
I woke up face-planted between the ACROSS clues and the TWO TOUCH puzzle on the open NYT on my desk. It took a moment for me to sort things out in my mind, even though there were only two things there: a glamorous hairstyle and a name, von Radium.
I snapped on a fedora and high-tailed it down to the street where I hailed a cab. “Palatial von Radium estate,” I barked, “and there’s a ten thousandth of a bitcoin in it for you if you make it in thirty.”
“Wow,” the cabbie enthused, “the von Radium place, Big doings up there. Cops found old man von Radium dead in his locked library last week and now both the von Radium diamond tiara and his beautiful patrician daughter, Gertrude, have gone missing. The tecs say it might have something to do with supply chain issues.”
I was still woozy from the lick I’d taken. “I’m sorry,” I growled, “could you go over that again, a little more slowly. I want to write it down.” Anyway, I knew now why she hadn’t told me her name.
The cabbie let me off on the circular drive (more like a semi-circle really, otherwise there’d be no way in) that led to the von Radium front door. I rang the buzzer while trying to avoid the door camera, so I didn’t end up on the Nextdoor site again with the statement, “Watch out for this man.”
The guy who opened the front door was clad in jodhpurs and a turban with the cruel smile of an accountant pasted across his ugly puss. “I am Simon de Butler, Professor von Radium’s assistant. Please come in. We were expecting you.”
I crossed the threshold into the shadowy foyer while I pondered whether he was saying “Simon de Butler” or “Simon, the butler.” Suddenly, I felt a bolt of cold steel fall across my curly-haired pate. I pitched forward into a whirlpool of darkness that seemed to go on forever like a class action suit.
When I woke up I wished that I hadn’t. My head was ringing like Quasimodo was pulling the bell chain. I tried to move my arms and found that I had been tied to the piano leg of a Steinway grand piano. Across from me, tied to a piano bench, was a woman with pretty hair. I think her name was Gertrude. She had seemed taller when she was in my office.
I could see her eyes pleading for me to do something to get us out of there. Damn, girl, you’re tied to that teeny tiny piano bench. You do something. I’ve got this 88-key monster strapped to my back.
Then, I sorta remembered that there was this whole thing about a missing diamond something. Also, this big guy—wasn’t he Samuel Butler, the author and critic?