"How do you feel about taking a vacation?" James Caldmann1 asked, tapping his fingers on his desk.
"What do you mean?" Jenna Thackery2 asked, fearing a firing was impending.
"A vacation. Just a few weeks off in the country. Nothing much, just some relaxation. We've gotten enough new hires that we could spare you for a few weeks."
"I know. That's why I took my vacation last week."
"Oh, you did?"
"What's this about?"
Caldmann sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. "Well…we've gotten a reputation."
Thackery sighed. "Oh god, don't tell me—"
"Oh, come on! We have a security force!"
The Archival department in general, and Thackery in particular, had gotten a small reputation as the go-to people for tough mysteries. Thackery had the kind of mind that was entirely at sea in normality and simplicity; any standard mystery escaped her entirely.
"Well, I was talking with my good friend—"
"You have a good friend?"
"—who heads up security at a major site that will remain unnamed—"
"—who knows another head of security who has a bit of a problem in an observation post."
There was another pause.
"Like?" Thackery asked.
Caldmann leaned forward and smiled. "It went like this," he said. "Five people lived in the observation post. One day, the chef decided to make some homemade soup. All five people sat down to dinner and ate the soup. Later that night, all five of them got sick—food poisoning, or so they thought. But one of them, a Ms. Yoshimo Vohido, died."
Thackery nodded to herself and fiddled with a few strands of hair. "And what did the toxicology reports show?"
"Arsenic poisoning, low-level. All except for Ms. Vohido, who had ingested a lethal dose."
"I see," Thackery said, interested despite herself. "And there was no way of tampering with the bowls themselves?"
"I don't know. That's why I thought I'd send you down there. Have you take a look."
"And see if there's anything to it."
"You mean if it's murder?"
"It really has to be, doesn't it?"
"It sounds like an accident."
"Arsenic usually doesn't end up in meals on accident."
"The fact that everyone was poisoned suggests otherwise."
"But only one person died."
"Maybe they ate more."
"What's this really all about?" Thackery asked.
Caldmann looked around his office (a bit melodramatically, Thackery thought). "What I am about to say," he said, "stays in the strictest confidence."
"Just say it," Thackery said.
"The observation post in question…handled large amounts of Foundation assets."
"Large amounts of…sensitive material passed through the post. For the purposes of the anomaly."
Caldmann groaned, genuine misery on his face. "The skip in question…requires being fed large amounts of paper money. The observation post was a storage center for it."
Thackery nodded. "I see. How much?"
"Over three million, in mixed denominations and currencies."
"And it's all gone?"
"No, no. Nothing that…gauche. But there have been some discrepancies in the amount that is present."
Another pause. Caldmann seemed on the verge of saying something more.
"And?" Thackery prompted.
"My good friend—"
"You have those?"
"—received an anonymous message about it. Several days before the incident."
"What did it say?"
"Just to look into the amount of cash present. And that the…Mrs. John Doe had information that could conclusively prove who was behind it."
"It all seems very clear, doesn't it?"
"But why send an anonymous message? Why not just send the evidence along with it? And more importantly, how was it done?"
"So you want me to go?"
"And my friend—"
"You have those?"
"—would as well. Take the Archive3 along too. It's shown an interest in these sorts of things."
"Do I have to?"
"It could help."
"I doubt it."
"But will you do it?"
Thackery sighed. "Alright," she said. "I'm curious. I'll take a look." She wagged a finger at Caldmann. "No guarantees, though."
That was how it started.
Observation Post 4954-A's surroundings were picturesque. It was a small old cabin smack-dab in the middle of a meadow in the Canadian Rockies. Wildflowers erupted from it, the epicenter of the blast, spreading in every conceivable direction. The mountains spread and smeared across the background, hemming it in in a valley among the clouds.
The post itself was a two-story plank cabin, beaten and weathered. The Foundation had found it and refurbished it, giving it the air of a turn-of-the-century National Park relic. Everyone assigned there had agreed it was a very nice place to live.
Thackery was being flown in via helicopter.
"This used to be Switzerland," the helicopter pilot said to her through her headset.
"What?" Thackery asked.
"The mountains stood in for the Alps."
"I see," Thackery said, still confused. Her earpiece buzzed.
-the Canadian Rockies served as a stand-in for the Alps for many motion pictures in the last century
"Thank you, Archive," Thackery muttered. "You're a real help."
She could see it, though. The mountains had the suitable grandiosity, the right snow. Even the cabin, when you saw it, looked right for the part. All the pieces seemed to shift, right in front of her eyes, rearranging themselves into a little diorama. She started to see ghostly little glimmers of yodelers and cowbells, skiers and glamour, durndels and strudel, creep in. It was comforting, in its way.
"We're setting down now," the pilot said.
The wildflowers ripped and withered as the helicopter set down. A rather sour-faced and solidly-built young man stood at the edge of the meadow, watching the descent. He ran up and helped Thackery out of the helicopter.
"Jenna Thackery?" he yelled over the rotors.
"That's me," she yelled back.
"I can't imagine what you're doing down here," he said, as the helicopter lifted back off. "We have the situation pretty well under control here."
Thackery shrugged. "It was a request," she said, trying to sound resigned. "I couldn't refuse."
"Sure, sure," he said. "Detective Andrews."
"Pleasure to meet you," Thackery said.
-detective andrews. 24. young for a detective. he has a fairly impressive record. though i suppose you have to to become a detective.
Thackery grit her teeth and had to suppress the urge to mutter thank you, Archive.
"We got lucky," Detective Andrews said. "The bowls hadn't been washed when the victim died. We managed to pull residue off of them."
"And?" Thackery asked.
"Low levels of arsenic in almost all of the bowls. Elevated levels of arsenic in Vohido's bowl."
"I see," Thackery said. Seems awfully convenient, she thought.
-that's very tidy for the investigators.
"Mm," Thackery said.
"What?" Detective Andrews asked.
"Just clearing my throat," Thackery said.
They walked into a small sitting room. A stone fireplace took up most of one wall, and old heavy wicker furniture most of the rest. It was very cozy, in its way.
Thackery grabbed the heaviest of the chairs and started dragging it towards the center of the room. It made a hideous screeching noise as it was dragged along.
"I can help—" Detective Andrews said, horror on his face and hands over his ears.
-just pick it up. it's not that heavy. please.
"I'm fine! I'm fine!" Thackery said, as the screeching continued. "I'm almost there! Just about—"
The screeching stopped. Detective Andrews removed his hands from his ears with a sigh of relief.
"Oh wait," Thackery said. "I wanted it over here…"
The girl's an idiot, Detective Andrews thought morosely as the sound started back up. Nothing but dead weight.
Thackery sat down in the wicker chair and bounced a few times. "Right," she said. "I'd like to interview the suspects." She paused. "If they're still here." She paused again. "If you don't mind."
"We already inter—"
"Great! I'll take them in here." She bounced on the chair a few more times. "It has a suitable…atmosphere."
Why? Detective Andrews asked himself. Why me?