May 14th 2039
“I am Rupert Deloy from the fifth brigade, this way inspector.”
The policeman led the inspector along a large empty corridor, only a few plastic plants gave a little bit of life to the white walls. Only a few plants gave a bit of life to the long white corridor. The two men walked through four heavy dark wooden doors before getting to the end of it.
“This is where the mask was resting before it was stolen.”
The room in which they just entered was lit by three large windows, one on each of its side and one directly in front of the main door, they offered an incredible view of the city. In the center of the large rectangle room were placed three pedestals made out of white marble, all of them encased in thick glass cages. Two of these cages were intact but the one on the right had been completely blown up. Some glass shards were still standing on the pedestal but most of it was spilled on the floor and it seemed desperately empty without the Aztec silver mask that used to lie on the fine red square of cloth on top of the pedestal.
“Each pedestal should be with an Aztec funeral mask, the golden one and the copper one are still here but the silver one has disappeared.”
“When was this noticed ?” The policeman stepped aside to let Inspector Volgard get a closer look of the desperately empty pedestal before he answered.
“It was reported at seven thirty three this morning by the owner, three minutes after his arrival. From what the security system can tell us the theft should have taken place between four or five this morning.”
“The security system ? Don’t we have an exact time ?” Asked the inspector.
“No, no exact time. Nor any footage be it image or sound. Everything has been disabled at four am precisely and reactivated at five twenty-one. The technical staff is still trying to understand how he did it and to salvage any data they can but there is little hope.”
Volgard nodded and sighed without answering. He started to look around and observed every entry with extreme meticulousness, but curiously he could not find any sign of an eventual break in.
“Were there any signs of a break in ?”
“No, there are no visible traces either on the doors or the windows inspector. The one who did this managed to go around the firewall, deactivate the whole security system and to walk past the three night guards on the lower floors without getting noticed.” Answered the policeman.
Thomas Volgard had said that more to himself than for the policeman that had welcomed him on the crime scene. He had indeed had to deal with the same modus operandi a few weeks back when a very rare and precious celtic stela had disappeared from the archeology museum to the south of the megalopolis.
“Did you notice anything when you got here ? Was there anything that seemed out of place ?”
“I couldn’t say sir, you should ask the owner of the place to do an inventory of the room to have a reliable answer.” Apoligized the young officer of police.
“And where might the owner be ?” Asked Volgard.
“Mr. Stanley is in his office on the other end of the floor, I’ll go and fetch him so that he can check if everything is in order sir.” Volgard nodded in approval and as officer Deloy walked away to fetch Edward Stanley, the owner of the whole building, he started looking around again. He had already heard about the man, apparently he had a keen interest in myths and legends but had never had the occasion to meet him. Edward Stanley had managed in the early twenties and against all odds to get the real estate branch of his company back on its feet when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. He had accomplished what many call a miracle by renting his buildings to rich investors and to companies in need of well situated premises. That had allowed him to get back on the market and some time later to crush all his competitors with he help of his newly acquired investors and clients. Now officially retired and almost at the age of seventy he had withdrawn in one of his private buildings with his wife and his collection of rare artefacts to make the most of it in peace. The total value of his collection was invaluable but it had made his fame in the archeological sphere. He sometimes rented some of the pieces of his collection when the cause was of some relevance to him but never lightly as he was in love with it.
One can easily understand how the theft of one of his most prized artefact could have been a trauma to him. He was sitting on his chair looking straight forward with unfocused eyes and a dull expression when the young policeman came into the room requesting his presence at the crime scene.
“Mr. Stanley ?”
The old man didn’t react immediately. It took him several seconds to come back to his senses and get back his bearings.
“Ah yes ! The police. Yes indeed… What is it young man ?”
“Mr. Stanley, Inspector Volgard had arrived and he asks for your presence at the crime scene to make sure nothing else than the mask is missing or out-of-place.”
“Oh… Yes, of course, I’m coming !”
The septuagenarian slowly got up from his chair, showing evident signs of discomfort at the idea of standing up. The officer made him walk in front and they moved towards the big exposition room at the other end of the corridor. The old man shivered as he came in the room where only two of his cherished masks remained but he didn’t stop and went directly to the inspector.
“Inspector Volgard I presume ?”
“Yes indeed sir, Thomas Volgard. You must be Edward Stanley. I apologize to have made you come back here, I know you must be quite preoccupied with all this. ” The old man nodded. “But I need your help here. I have to find out if anything else than the silver mask has been stolen or if anything seems out of the ordinary.”
“Of course inspector. Anything to help you find whoever did this.”
Edward Stanley straightened and took a deep breath to give himself a semblance of courage and confidence.
“Tell me what I can do for you.”
“Well, I need to you to look around carefully tell me if you see anything else than the mask that could be missing or that seems out-of-place. Something that seems different from the last time you came here, any little detail is important !”
Volgard had already had to face people who had trouble controlling their emotions, that were extremely nervous or that were completely lost after similar happenings. Therefore he knew that involving the victim in the investigation sometimes helped finding clues but most of all it gave them the feeling of being useful and reassured them. This helped them overcome the bad things that had happened to them more easily. Asking the old man to help with the investigation was partly to help him get his mind off of the loss of his mask and allowed the inspector to check if the gut feeling he had been right.
After having gone around the room three full times the old man came back towards inspector Volgard with a step that seemed more sure and upbeat.
“Inspector, I think I found something.”
He brought him to the south corner of the room, the one facing the central window on th left of the door. Stanley pointed at a design of the wallpaper striped of crimson and gold, a thin drawing of a fleur de lys in gold painting.
“Do you see this fleur de lys ? Well if you look closer you can see it is a bit different from the others, its petals are a bit more arched than those of the other flowers. I know because I made all the arrangements for this room myself. And then there is this…”
The old man passed his hand on the flower he had designated and let his fingers run around the edges and trace a rectangle surrounding the flower on the wallpaper.
“If you feel the wallpaper with your finger you will notice there is a slight difference in thickness between this place and the rest of the paper.”
The owner stepped aside, letting Volgard feel the square for himself. Noticing nothing strange except the design o the flower in the beginning he started to feel the difference after a few seconds. The anomaly in the wallpaper surrounded the flower in a perfect rectangle. He got closer to the flower and as he looked he noticed that a square had been pasted on the real wallpaper, a square of the exact same color, almost unnoticeable to the human eye. The inspector then tried to peel it off, he took out his swiss knife and used the thinnest blade to do it after he got the agreement of the owner who now seemed a lot more interested in his discovery than in the loss of his mask. After a few minutes of meticulous work he managed to take off one of the top corners enough to be able to pull on it. He slowly ripped of the fake wallpaper, under it one could see the real wallpaper and another fleur de lys in the exact same shape as all the others that the culprit had attempted to copy. He turned the thin layer of paper around and after half a second a knowing and somewhat bitter smile appeared on his face. Edward Stanley looked over his shoulder, trying to see what was on the other side of the paper.
“What is it inspector ? Is it a clue ? What’s that on the other side ?”
The young policeman had also gotten closer, unable to resist his curiosity. Volgard turned the little square of paper over and showed it to the two other men. On the other side one could see a small symbol : a dark green triqueta drawn on the white background.