“How’d it happen?”
“The cops think it was a mugging – he was found in an alley off Spartan Street behind the Heavenly Fragrance cafe. He’d been shot at close range and his wallet was found nearby. His credit cards and money were gone”
“That’s not right.” said Othello. “He was supposed to be on vacation in Hawaii and wasn’t due back till next week. How could he have been here?”
There was a pregnant pause as this sank in.
“Perhaps he came back early from his holiday?” suggested Teatime, somewhat diffidently as he was not sure how the humans would react to his including himself in their discussions at this sensitive time.
“I doubt it,” replied Othello, “He’s talked about nothing but this vacation for months – it was a dream holiday for him. There’s no way he’d have come back early.”
“Do the cops have any leads?” asked Prada.
“I don’t think so,” sighed Mercury, “Spartan Street’s in a bad neighbourhood and they’re overworked. Emerald’s case will probably end up at the bottom of the pile in some rookie lieutenant’s in-tray. They’ve done the basics as far as forensics are concerned and nothing came up, so it’s not a huge priority for them.”
“I’m wondering if there’s any link between Emerald’s death and what we’re currently investigating.” Said Othello. “Maybe we should do some investigating of our own. At the very least I’d want to know whether Emerald ever went to Hawaii – and if not, why not.”
“Well, the police have returned his personal effects,” Mercury held up a plastic evidence bag. He had us listed as his next of kin, apparently. His keys are here, maybe we should have a quick look around his place.”
There was an uncomfortable silence: one the one hand, the agents wanted to find out what had happened to their friend, while on the other, going into his home felt like an intrusion.
In the end, though, it was decided that they would visit Emerald’s home – if only to see if there were any contact details for family members that might need to be informed of his death.
Emerald’s apartment was the first human residence Harold had ever set foot in. Standing in the small, tidy main room, his eyes were drawn to the many framed cartoons adorning the walls. Evidently, Emerald was something of a fan of the funnies and quite of few of the pictures appeared to have been autographed by the artist. Better than any tacky printed sampler, thought Harold, thinking back to the Sleezee Motel. One picture – “Larry the Lark and the Pirates of Treachery Bay” – was slightly askew, which seemed odd to Harold, given the meticulous neatness of everything else. Instinctively, he reached out to straighten it.
“Don’t touch that!” snapped India, “Keep your hands off his things.” Harold snatched his hand back is if burned.
“What’s going on?” demanded Mercury from Emerald’s bedroom, where he was looking for address books, letters or anything of that kind.
“Nothing,” said India firmly and, favouring Harold with a warning glare, she went to join Prada in the tiny kitchen.
“This picture is crooked, I was going to just…”
Othello, who had just booted up Emerald’s computer, hurried over. He took in the scene briefly then reached out and took the picture down off the wall.
“Emerald was a total neat-freak,” he said, “There’s no way he’d leave a picture hanging like this.”
“Oh, come on!” groaned Prada, re-entering the room, “This isn’t some low-budget TV whodunit, you know, where the victim leaves a mysterious clue by deliberately – “ She broke off as Othello, having turned the picture over, removed and held up a folded piece of paper that had been tucked into the frame, completely hidden when the picture was on the wall.
“You have got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed.
Mercury and India came over. Othello set the picture down and unfolded the paper.
162.500 – 22.98976 – 95.96
“What on earth is that?” said Mercury.
“I have no idea.” Replied Othello, shaking his head, “But Emerald hid this, knowing that only someone who knew him really well was likely to find it.
“Oh, great,” sighed Prada, “Now it’s the DaVinci Code!”