The Clue in the Mysterious but Otherwise Unimportant Paper by E.J. Aire

(The Thursday, March Twelfth, 2020 Verte de Ville Times, top of page L12, 1st article)

Prologue

Late at night (1:13 am, according to the security camera) ,  a masked thief crept into the prestigious Tolstevsky museum and stole one of the seven wonders of the modernized natural world… no one knew who he was, no one knew what he stole until the next day, his sidekick knocked over a Greek vase, which shattered, but they remained unidentified…

Elizabeth Aire walked in the only park in the small town of Wodloow, in the state of Forntheld, and on the coast of Verte de Ville. Verte de Ville was named for the abundance of beautiful foliage the small country held, like the elegant purple flowers that perfectly conformed to the Golden Ratio, most of which had only been discovered in the past few years, 2017-2020. The crisp morning air smelled clean and full of possibility in March, when it had been raining almost nonstop since the beginning of December. Now, as it was nearing the middle of March, only light showers with rainbows sprinkled the air. Elizabeth thought that the best part was how the lavender was coming up and the bees were coming out.

“Elizabeth!” called Kay Elle Mlinkle, her best friend. Elizabeth hurried to the sound of her voice, the rain misting them more than a little bit now.  Her umbrella opened with a swoosh and a click, then expanded to cover her. Suddenly she stumbled. A laugh rang out, then a quick apology.

“Where are you? I can’t see where you are!” shouted Elizabeth

“Over here! Underground–I’m staying here until SM5 calms down. She went hysteric when I showed her my pet capybara,” yelled Kay Elle. All this time Elizabeth was walking towards the sound. She then saw an inconspicuous wooden cover, painted to look like a big sewer cover. Elizabeth quickly ducked under it and fell into an underground home. It had a bed, fireplace, and a cupboard of food. It’s walls were just big panels of wood cemented to the earthen walls, and painted a sunny yellow. It was all the handiwork of Kay Elle, a carpenter at heart. “I believe I’ll stay here for a while.”

“You know that you can always stay with us. I’m sure that my parents would let you,” said Elizabeth.

“I don’t believe so. I think that I’ll just stay here for a bit, just long enough for my father to quit paying attention to those horrid people, and look out for me a bit,” Her tone grew wearier with every syllable. She looked up, and Elizabeth was certain that there were tears glistening sadly in her eyes.

“Look, I found a note in between the boards of a bench in the park. It looks like a series of text messages that was printed out. You know about how the 39 Gem Geode was stolen from the Tolstevsky?” All Kay Elle could manage was a weak nod. “These people are talking about where it’s hiding. They didn’t bother to camouflage where they were texting from, but guess what?”

“What?” mumbled Kay Elle, clearly emotionally and physically tired.

“It turns out that they were in downtown Wodloow! Right where we are! I want to go look for it. Er, um, do you wish to go too, I mean, with the evil ladies, and your dad, and all of that, and the fact that you’re living underground in the park, would you be able to do it?”

“Are you CRAZY? Of course I want to do it! You know that I love a good mystery just as much as you do, though I do tend to read less about them. Let’s go!”

The next day they caught a bus to the Tolstevsky, which was amazingly open, even though it was only the day after the robbery. They gazed in awe at the gargantuan metal structure, with it’s tiny details that caught your attention, like the little seats built into the side of the building, big enough to sit on and eat on the table that pulled out from the wall, and the check in stations that looked like perfect miniatures of the Tolstevsky, complete with tiny dolls sitting on the seats. Then they decided that they didn’t need to go there, and started trying to figure out what the text said.

“Bank perch. What is that supposed to mean? At the banker’s favorite place, or favorite perch? How would we know where that is, though? Perhaps we ought to go to the bank and take a survey.” said Elizabeth. Presently they went to the bank, asked all 14 of the bankers their favorite place to hang out with the other bankers, and found that the popular Eclipse Café was the spot that all of the bankers held their weekly meetings. Having found out what the ‘bank perch’ was, they went back to Kay Elle’s makeshift house and discussed what to do.

“I think that we should go to Eclipse Café and investigate whether or not someone has come in and tried to inconspicuously hide something,” said Kay Elle

“Sorry, but do you really think that Ellen will respond kindly? You saw that article in the newspaper about how she was named Meanest Café Worker, right?”

“Yeah, but…”

“She’s a criminal. Do you really think that she wants to help us fight crime?”

Kay Elle had to concede that it wasn’t the best plan. “Well, then what if we don’t ask Ellen, but one of the others? Maybe they’ll be more willing to help.”

“They all have to report back to Ellen. She’s like a Lady Voldemorta, with complete power over her employees.” Elizabeth read a lot of books, and had read the Harry Potter series several times, resulting in lots of literary connections, like when she said that an unnecessarily mean teacher was like Mr. Brocklehurst from  Jane Eyre. “Here, to take you mind off of that mean person, a newspaper article.” She inhaled sharply as she saw the headline, seeming to grow six inches, then she slowly let her breath out, reverting to her original height. “It’s about the thievery, and look! The article is about the thievery of the geode, and it has notes on it saying where to go to find it.” Indeed, it did have markings on it, like a crude map. Elizabeth laid it out onto the ground, and they both sat beside it to examine it carefully. It looked like a bench near a pond, with the geode in the second plank of the bench. It was from Blake Leif Neun the 45th to Vadid Yorter. Vadid Yorter, the infamous criminal?

“Elizabeth, do you really believe such nonsense that there could be the world’s greatest geode in the park bench in the random city of Wodloow? Do you really believe that two twelve year olds could find it, even if it was there?” asked a skeptical Kay Elle.

“Yes. Why couldn’t there be hidden treasure? After all, the museum formerly housing the geode is in the so-called ‘random’ city of Wodloow. Let’s go around the koi pond to the second plank of the bench.” Thus they went around, and found that the second plank was made of two planks glued together. When they went back to Kay Elle’s underground house, they immediately got out screwdrivers and glue.

Finally they went back to the bench. The air was cold, as it was night, and the light from Elizabeth’s keychain provided only just enough light to see the slight crack in the board, just the tiniest difference in the grain of the wood. Indeed, whoever did this thought of most everything. They had even used glue that dried thin, smooth, and clear, so as to not call the crack to attention of most eyes. All but the most observant did not know that the most famous geode of all time, the most famous hollow rock with at minerals already formed inside of it, was hidden in a bench that was sat upon daily–by the old lady with the blue-white hair that fed the squirrels, to the singing man who could be heard by the passengers on the subway passing by, to the artists painting the koi, all of the people could be sitting right on top of a priceless natural jewel collection–yet they didn’t know it.

Elizabeth and Kay Elle decided that it would be best to work from the middle of the plank out to the edge, with them going in two different directions. When they finally pried their screwdrivers in, they both hit a piece of metal. “No problem, I’ll just head back and grab some metal solvent. Stay where you are, okay?” said Kay Elle.

Soon Kay Elle came back with the solvent and two syringes. They also had thick gloves, strong enough to protect their hands from any rogue splash of solvent. Seeing as they were ready, they began to squirt and pry open the metal with the screwdrivers. What they saw was another layer of metal, this time with a protective layer of soft and sticky sap upon it. They wondered why there would be sap on it, until they tried to use the solvent. The solvent just made the sap harden, so they got out a putty knife and scraped it off, using another solvent meant for chewing and bubble gum that was in the bucket with the metal solvent to get the last sticky strands of the clear, amber goo off. It reminded her of The Janitor’s Boy, by Andrew Clements, especially the part when the kid is scraping gum off of desks, with a putty knife and solvent. This time when they used the metal solvent and pried it open, they found a large frosted glass box. How tantalizing the glass was, frosted just enough to see the rough outline of the small geode, but a hint too frosted to see the beautiful colors that they were sure would be revealed if the glass wasn’t there.

A small hinge on the box showed that there would be an opening lid. Elizabeth gingerly grasped the box and pulled it out. She set it down on the ground between them and started to glue the boards back in place, helped by Kay Elle. Finally they were done, and they went to Kay Elle’s underground house to examine the box and it’s contents.

Gasping in surprise, Kay Elle ran her fingers lightly over the ornate box, finally seeing it in light, with all of it’s carvings of roses. Something was wrong, though, and she simply couldn’t figure out what. Suddenly it hit her, like a speeding train. She had seen this box before! It was the box that the landscape designer that her dad used kept his beloved pens and pencils in–the ones that were hundreds of dollars because of the superb quality. How could it have landed here? She mused about this as she fell into sleep, dreaming of frosted glass roses dancing with pens that had tags that said ‘$1000’.

When Elizabeth looked at Kay Elle again, she found that she was asleep. The map…it was signed Blake Neun, to Vadid Yorter…who was this thief? She shook Kay Elle awake, and asked her if she knew who Vadid Yorter was. She mumbled “My daddy’s landscape designer,” obviously tired. This made her wonder if she should look up who he was. She presently found out that Kay Elle was right, he was a landscape designer, currently in jail for stealing canopic jars from the Tolstevsky. Good thing that they didn’t have to worry about the nasty thing. Now the small matter that the box was locked…

15 minutes later, after a quick nap, Kay Elle dextrously picked the lock with an anxious Elizabeth watching. She lifted the lid and both simultaneously gasped at the magic let out of the box. Sunlight through the one window streamed over the geode, sending a veritable rainbow of colors onto the wall. They were both at loss for words. Suddenly there was a lot more sunlight…and a police officer staring down at them. The police officer fell into the underground dwelling, onto the bed, bouncing up and down several times, and Elizabeth couldn’t suppress a giggle at his misfortune. At the almost the exact moment she had giggled she wished that she hadn’t, for the police officer looked as though he wanted to rip her world apart for some time. He cleared his throat, and with a trembling mustache said “What do you think you’re doing with the geode?!? It is property of the Tolstevsky, not some thieves in an underground hideout!”

“Sir, we have just recovered this geode from a map blowing about the street, and it was stolen by Vadid Yorter. It was encased in the bench near the koi pond in the park, and we plan to give it to the Tolstevsky when we’re done.”

“Hah! I don’t think so,” said the police officer. “I intend to take a good look at this map of yours.”

“Fine, here!” said Elizabeth, and she slammed the map a bit too  forcefully into his hand. “Take the map. Look for yourself. All we did was carefully take apart the plank of the bench and put it back together. We are going to give this marvelous thing to Tolstevsky–see, there’s a curator over there, she knows that I had better give it back, or we will all be hearing about it. Now, good day to you, and I will leave.” True to her word, she stomped away in a whirlwind of fiery anger about the injustice of the situation. She made her way to the Tolstevsky, where she found an old coffee can, rolled the geode tightly in a bit of cotton batting, tucked it away in the can, sealed the lid with a bit of superglue, and carefully set it upright at the first check in station. She ran away, back to the park, satisfied with her bit of a good deed, spun about once, looked at the soft tangerine sun rising in the sky, and ran home, where she promptly rolled into bed, pretending to have been asleep this whole time. She was thinking about her emotions. Joy at her good deed and shame at breaking into the bench clashed inside of her, at war with many other feelings, but she saved that for another day…

Epilogue

Twelve years later,  the most successful young entrepreneur, Elizabeth Aire, 24 years old, walked into the Tolstevsky. She walked with purpose past all of the exhibits, even the popular new Men on Mars exhibit. When she stopped, she was facing the 39 Gem Geode. Only her and the guard, her best friend, knew just how important the geode was to her. Smiling mysteriously, the guard, Kay Elle Mlinkle,  reached into her pocket and pulled out a large frosted glass box, with frosted glass roses on it. With it she brought out a picture, obviously taken incognito, of a police officer bouncing on a bed underground, with a sunny yellow wall in the background. The guard mouthed something: I still live there! They exchanged a smile again, a different type of smile: a knowing smile. Pivoting on her toe, Ms. Aire walked into the sunshine of the only park in the random small town of Wodloow, where she sat on the only park bench, near the koi pond, running her hands over the slight crack in the second plank, nostalgically remembering their nighttime adventure. She turned to the pond and smiled.

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