Grace and I headed to the security office by way of the common area, a roundabout route, but I had a couple of errands to take care of. Shirley has gone ahead to prepare a conference room for us.
"So they found the briefcase?" Grace asked. "Then why didn't you say something to Gozon and Galendor? Why make them meet us in a conference room in an hour?"
Grace snorted. It was basic elf politeness to delay important news until all the facts and ramifications were checked--something the Elvish nations wished your Mundane news services would learn--but Grace knew me better.
"I want to check it out first. Besides, Schrödinger may have caught something. At least he feels clean inside."
As we approached a hallway snack section, I heard Brunhilde and Siegfried arguing. Sig was rattling off names: Cambridge Ramada, Guy the bellhop, Carl at the reservations desk and Coyote. Brunhilde replied that girls just want to have fun, yah?
Great. Of all the Madonnas to take life lessons from.
Now Brunie was going on about "it was a joke" and her career and he didn't understand...
Wait a minute--Brunie knows Carl at Reservations?
I cleared my throat loudly as we neared. They shut up faster than Thor could recall his hammer. I turned my head their direction as we walked by.
"Santa Fe room. Fifty minutes." I told them. I ignored Grace's querulous look.
As we passed the hospitality suite, I heard Coyote sniffing and whining around the buffet table. This time of day, they'd only have fruit and chips out. I didn't even bother to stop, just modulated my vocal cords to reach a tone only he would hear.
"If you don’t want me to have you arrested for obstructing justice, you'll meet me in the Santa Fe room in 45 minutes and be ready to explain yourself."
I heard him snort, but he doesn’t know me like Grace does. He couldn't be sure I was bluffing. And if he tried to run off, I'd have an excuse to hunt him down. Maybe I'd eat him this time. Could be worth the indigestion.
Meditating on that happy thought almost made me miss the security office.
On the back desk lay two briefcases, identical except that one was purring. The officers were giving them a wide berth.
"Think you could explain that?" he asked as he pointed to the bags with his taser. "They just appeared there. Turned by back one minute and--" He shrugged.
"You didn't try to open it?" I asked. If they'd looked inside, they'd have observed a Brownie and it would have not been there. Quantum brownies, what a bother.
"You told us not to. Besides, it hissed at us. I'm no fool. I've read Terry Pratchett."
I grinned and Grace gave a small chuckle as she approached the desk. She hummed a short tune over the purring purse and Nekosan returned to his original catbag form.
"That's better, thank you. Now I may have something for you...or I may not," he crooned.
"Good kitty!" Grace picked him up with one hand and stroked him with the other. The purring returned in earnest. "Shall we continue this conversation in the Santa Fe room? I think Shirley will want to see it."
"Hang on." I opened up the other bag. If, if, we had a brownie in Nekosan, it wouldn't matter if one had--or had not--been in this bag. A quick glance inside told me all I needed to know.
"How many of you humans have this briefcase?" I moaned.
"Oh, no! Not Gozon's?"
I flicked my head in the dragon equivalent of eye rolling, then looked a little more closely at the contents. If some university has wasted money on a study of what the average briefcase holds, they'd find every item there, including pens tucked into the special slots, with their clips in perfect alignment. Plus an identity tag filled out with otherworldly precision. "Is our life ever that easy? No, this one belongs to none other than Cambridge Ramada."
The guard looked confused. "The hotel?"
"Detective. Acquires rare artifacts."
"Oh, like Indiana Jones?"
"Oh, he's two or three times the man Indy is," I said, which earned me a slap from Grace. Yeah, it was a cheap shot, but I was getting tired.
"Tell you what," I said to the guard. "We'll be seeing him in about soon. We can return it to him then. Oh--there might be an arrest to be made. We'll know in about half an hour if you want to have someone meet us in the Santa Fe room. Depends on what the brownie that may or may not be inside the cat-turned-purse has to say about stolen Church documents. Personally, I'm hoping to bag Coyote, but it could be Ramada--or maybe Brunhilde's gone from being a Valkyrie to being a burglar. Interesting career change. Still, not sure yet. Come on, Grace: we've got suspects to gather before Gozon and Galendor declare war on behalf of their tribes and drag down Tavendor and the International Mensa with them."
We left him slouching at his desk, shaking his head and muttering, "Even Pratchett couldn't prepare me for this."
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(c) Karina Fabian. World Gathering first appeared in serial in The Prairie Dawg