Dear Harold Wilson,
Your failure to pay the rent for the past six months has left me no choice but to terminate your stay on my premises, unless you deliver the funds you owe me by the date of your eviction. If you remain in these quarters--namely, the office on the ground floor of 126th Street and Fifth Avenue, as well as the one-bedroom loft above it--past January 14th, 2011, I have no choice but to enforce this eviction in court. Please answer this notice immediately upon receipt.
G. F. Norton, Landlord
Court. Detective Wilson shuddered at the thought of it. And he was familiar with his landlord’s lawyers, too--E.S.Q. Patch, or even worse, J.D. Stirrup. Wilson had been in this situation before, and both times, he had been able to evade the eviction. But he knew that luck and persuasive sweet-talk could only help him so many times, and Norton seemed especially vicious this time--he only signed it “Yours fondly” when he was feeling particularly cruel.
On top of that, the letter had been delivered on December 15th. It was the 17th, and Detective Wilson hadn’t notified Norton that he had read the letter and understood Norton’s terms. Wilson preferred to avoid contact with Norton whenever possible, because, as he was continually reminded, anything he said could be used against him in court. And Detective Wilson was known to have trouble shutting his mouth (which was probably why Norton was always so intent on engaging him in conversation; half of Wilson’s inbox was from Norton).
An hour later, Detective Wilson opened his laptop. He knew that he had to stop procrastinating and send an email to Norton, because with Wilson’s landlord, saying nothing was even more dangerous than talking. Wilson squinted at the screen as it powered on. What could he say to Norton? That the case he was working on was extremely profitable, and that in just another week he would be able to deliver the funds? No, he used that last time. How about claiming that he had delivered the rent, but Norton must have misplaced it? That would be a stretch for any landlord, especially Norton, who was the epitome of meticulousness.
Wilson clicked on Internet Explorer and typed in “www.gmail.com”. He hoped that an idea would come to him as he checked his email. But after reading about the new sale at Burlington, his mind was just as blank as before. He stared at the blank email in front of him. From experience, he knew that it was more important to let Norton know that he had gotten the letter than to make excuses, so he dashed off a quick note that was as informal as Norton was uptight.
Hey, G. F.!
I just got your letter. Nice to hear from you the old-fashioned way--it’s been so long since you’ve sent me anything but impatient email. Don’t you think we should stick to the regular way of sending mail? It’s so delightfully slow. You wouldn’t be able to send me more than one letter a day :-) Wouldn’t that be great? :-D
See ya around!
Detective Wilson allowed himself a rare smile. He knew that sending the email would aggravate Norton, which would put him on the defensive. Norton wasn’t the only one who was familiar with court protocol; anything Norton said while he was annoyed could be used against him, too.
Now, back to the issue of how Wilson would actually pay. He rummaged through the papers scattered around his desk for inspiration. A ‘Missing’ poster with the contact information for the Harrison family (Detective Wilson had been searching for their teenage daughter), David Malton’s business card (Wilson was tracking a political opponent for him), and a note on perfumed stationary from Mildred Rosen (someone had broken into her apartment and stolen expensive jewelry)… No obvious moneymakers.
The Harrisons, at first so frequent with their frantic phone calls, had contacted Wilson less and less until he no longer heard from them at all. Wilson supposed that he probably should have been investigating Stevie Harrison’s disappearance better. He’d checked her Facebook page and her Twitter account to see if she had posted anything about wanting to run away but found nothing. He had meant to search more thoroughly, but then he had gotten preoccupied by David Malton and his Wall Street problems--Malton paid better. However, after Malton gave Detective Wilson his first and only check, he cut off contact with Wilson (because apparently, he’d found a better detective for a lower price). So the detective started advertising to rich old women, the type who got paranoid if their favorite diamond necklace or 24-karat-gold brooch went missing. Mildred Rosen was his first client of that sort--and, as of now, his only chance at keeping his apartment.
In fact, Detective Wilson had a meeting with her that afternoon, in no less than two hours. Wilson groaned. It was annoying enough to drag down to the Upper West Side from Harlem, but it was especially aggravating to do all that travelling just to meet a whiney old biddy--and from her notes, Mrs. Rosen fit that description exactly. Wilson could practically hear her voice telling him about her jewelry and how proud she was of it, yet some dastardly knave had stolen her platinum earrings, which (as Ms. Rosen had stressed) were worth half a million dollars. Or, with the Brooklyn accent Wilson imagined her to have, “Hay-af a million dallahs.” Wilson was not looking forward to meeting her in person.
But he was looking forward to being evicted even less. So he slogged through the layer of tobacco coating his mildewed, coffee-stained rug, tripping over an open instruction manual (open to a page with the heading, “Assembling Your K-Cup Coffee Maker”) and then stumbling over a pile of plastic pieces that resembled a half-built K-cup coffee maker, finally making it to his closet. He opened it and tugged out a trenchcoat (bought at half price on November 1st at Spirit Halloween) and a fedora, which he angled just so to hide the bald patch on the middle of his head. He slipped on the coat and glanced in the mirror. He looked like Hercule Poirot’s döppelganger at that moment, and he had worked hard to perfect his look. All clients expected Sherlock Holmes to greet them, even the old ladies. Especially the old ladies.
Detective Wilson tipped his hat to his reflection, grabbed a pack of cigarettes, and left his apartment, barely remembering to lock the door.
“…and then I said, “Harvey! Look under the bed to see if the thief is there!” but Harvey said that he had to put his dentures in first. And then I told him that since he wasn’t going to eat the thief, he didn’t need to bother with his dentures. So then he said, “Okay,” and I lay there in bed, with my quilt wrapped around me, and waited for Harvey to tell me if anyone was there. And then I heard a snore rising up from under my bed, and I was terrified. I sunk down deeper under my quilt and screamed, “Harvey! It’s asleep!” And wouldn’t you know it, but it turned out that Harvey had drifted off and he was the one snoring. But then--”
“Ms. Rosen,” Detective Wilson cut her off through gritted teeth. She was even more tiresome in person than in her letters. All she had said so far that was of use was that she had woken up and she hadn’t seen her earrings on her night table, where she was “downright positive” she had left them the night before. Wilson continued, “This is all very… interesting information, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to use it. What did the earrings look like?”
Mildred Rosen, who was still recovering from being interrupted, took out a phone. Not just any phone, but an iPhone, a gleaming silver iPhone about twice the size of her frail, veiny hand. Wilson felt a pang of jealousy. All he could afford was a hideous red flip phone, which contrasted with his suave image. Ms. Rosen’s phone, however, turned the heads of the teenagers in the Starbucks where she and the detective were sitting (she had insisted on it; Wilson could tell that she wanted to get to know him before allowing him in her apartment). She squinted at the screen for a few moments and turned the device to Detective Wilson. “I have a picture right here, Detective. I took it when I was at an auction in Virginia--”
“Good to know,” Detective Wilson interrupted through clenched lips. He couldn’t bear another long-winded anecdote. “Now, then…” he said, examining the photo. The lighting was terrible and the angle awkward, but Wilson could tell that they looked as expensive as they were. Lined with ostentatious sapphires and oversized rubies, two platinum hoops shone against a dark wooden background. The woman obviously cared more about appearing wealthy than appearing tasteful. Wilson could feel his heart thumping greedily. If this woman could spend that much money on earrings, what would she pay to have them found?
“I think I will be able to help you… madam,” Wilson choked out with what was intended as a welcoming smile. It looked more like a grimace.
“Oh, good,” Ms. Rosen said. Then her tone changed, becoming much bossier. “Then after this, we will go to my apartment. I will let you search for clues. Then you will get me back my earrings by this Friday, because I have a formal event that I simply must wear my earrings to. Do we have an agreement?”
Detective Wilson could hardly control his features from breaking out into a grin as he thought about how Norton’s face would look when Wilson produced six months’ worth of rent. “Oh, yes.”
Ms. Rosen padded out of the bedroom, calling over her shoulder, “I’m just going to the bathroom. Don’t open any of my drawers without me!”
Detective Wilson was standing in the middle of her bedroom, investigating her apartment. He was almost certain that he knew where the earrings were. Ignoring Ms. Rosen’s warning, Wilson began rummaging through her room, fighting to keep the Cheshire Cat grin off his face.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t find anything today, Ms. Rosen,” said Detective Wilson as he left her apartment. He had been so sure that he would locate the earrings, and that he would be smiling smugly as he sauntered toward the Columbus Circle train station with a bounce in his step and a check in his pocket. But the detective had not deposited Mildred Rosen’s earrings in her wrinkled palm. The only upshot was the promise of $10,000 when he finished the case.
On the train ride home, Detective Wilson pondered. Probably, a ransom note would turn up soon. If the earrings were worth half a million, the note would probably ask for a quarter of a million. It would also provide a location, and most likely a clue about the thief’s identity. Detective Wilson smiled. He thought he could manage a breakthrough.
As he hurried through the early winter snow, clutching his trenchcoat close to himself and cursing himself for forgetting gloves, Detective Wilson lit a cigarette with practiced hands (although moderately shaky hands, due to the cold). The puff of tobacco eased him, pushing a warm feeling of strength through his body and propelling his thoughts one step further. If he succeeded in this case, Ms. Rosen would probably tell her friends, who Wilson was sure would be rich crones like Ms. Rosen. Then he would have clients for years to come… or at least, until they moved to their private villas in Florida, or to their final resting places, or something. Then he would have to find some new group of people to manipulate. But hopefully, by that time, he would be rich enough to retire.
That night, Wilson was busy working on the new case. After planning his next steps, Detective Wilson decided that he had done enough for one day--he’d done more in the past three hours than in the last three weeks--and that he would treat himself to dinner out. He hadn’t done that for months, living mostly on Ramen noodles and coffee, but he thought that it would be okay to splurge just this once. He may not have been able to afford it now, but soon he would.
Detective Wilson threw back on his trenchcoat, which he had draped on the back of his chair, and left the building (this time remembering gloves). He also grabbed his laptop and stuffed it in his briefcase, which he scooped up while lacing his shoe. Swinging the briefcase by his side, Detective Wilson sauntered off to Cedric French Bistro and Bar. Not quite gourmet, but definitely a step above Ramen noodles. Wilson ordered a drink and settled back in his chair, contemplating what he would do with the money he would get for finding the earrings.
Wilson took out his laptop and searched Google for apartments in downtown Manhattan. Chelsea seemed like a nice neighborhood. Wilson decided that he would move there as soon as possible, both so he could walk down the street without being afraid that he would get attacked and so he could escape Norton. Ah… the prospect of waking up one morning and not getting bombarded with phone calls about paying rent! Detective Wilson was positively dreamy at the thought of it.
Wilson’s computer buzzed. He had an email. And considering Wilson’s gaping lack of social life (his last girlfriend left him when she found out that he was lying about his rich uncle… and that was five years ago), it was probably Norton. Detective Wilson ignored it. He would deal with Norton later.
Wilson sent a few emails of his own, then packed up his computer. He even left a tip.
“Detective Wilson! There’s a ransom note!”
Good Lord, thought Detective Wilson. It was six o’clock in the morning. Must Ms. Rosen screech so shrilly? He had been up until midnight, when he finally dozed off, envisioning the home he would have in Chelsea. And he had planned to sleep in. That is, until Ms. Rosen called.
“Look, Ms. Rosen,” Detective Wilson slurred. “I understand your concern. I’ll be over in four hours to examine the note.”
With that, he promptly fell back asleep. But he was soon awoken, once again, by the hysterical screaming of Ms. Rosen. “No! No! Not four hours. That’s too late! I want you here by eight o’clock at the latest. And you will come prepared. The ransom note is an email. I’m forwarding it to you. And you will have a solution when I next speak to you!”
Detective Wilson was about to answer when Ms. Rosen slammed the phone into her reciever, leaving Wilson to listen to the dial tone. Unfortunately for him, the dial tone was not a particularly soothing noise, and it did nothing to lull him back to sleep. Wilson sat up. He wondered what Ms. Rosen did with her time, and exactly why she was up and checking her email at six o’clock. Grumbling, the detective trudged over to his laptop, which was still in his briefcase. But exactly where was the briefcase? Wilson could have sworn that it was under his desk--no, it was inside his closet.
Removing the laptop and setting it on his desk, Wilson powered it up sleepily and checked his email. Just as she said, Ms. Rosen had forwarded Detective Wilson a copy of the ransom note, as well as her own harried message to “find out what this means immediately!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Wilson skimmed the note, although he already had a pretty good idea of what it would say.
To: Mildred Rosen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: The Boiled Owl <email@example.com>
Hello, Mildred Rosen!
I have the platinum earrings for which you search. They certainly are beauties, aren’t they? The sapphires glisten on my own delicate ears in a much more becoming way than they do on yours. Forgive me. That must have sounded insensitive. However, I shall be willing to part with these treasures for the small sum of $250,000. Please deliver the cash to me this afternoon at two o’clock, and leave it underneath the bench directly to the right of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle--the one right in the middle of the circle. Under the bench will be a CVS bag with a rock inside it as a paperweight. I hope you enjoy depositing your money in it!
The Boiled Owl
“The Boiled Owl? How very frightful!” Ms. Rosen said. “Have you any idea why this thief is calling himself the Boiled Owl? This is so horrible! I will never reclaim my earrings. Please, detective, do find them!”
Detective Wilson suppressed a smile. “This note gives us more clues than you would expect, Ms. Rosen. One is that this Boiled Owl is not a he, but a she, if she is wearing the earrings. The writing style is also decidedly feminine. This email also tells us that she is familiar with the area. Go on, agree to her terms. I’m… curious to see what she says next.”
Ms. Rosen collapsed into an armchair in her living room. “Are you certain?” she asked, her face as plaintive as a small child’s.
Wilson pretended to think for a moment before assuring her that this was the way to progress. He knew that women like her valued it when a detective appeared to contemplate their actions instead of rushing into them. Of course, Wilson was sure that proceeding like this would lead to success, so he was not being rash by wanting to move quickly.
Ms. Rosen sent a remarkably short confirmation email, in which she agreed to leave the money. “But I still feel wary of this,” Ms. Rosen said to Detective Wilson reproachfully.
Wilson patted her on the back awkwardly and said, “Don’t worry. I’ve been in this situation plenty of times, and I’ve always caught the thief. This Boiled Owl seems playful. I’m quite sure that we can get her to make a slip that will tell us how to recover the earrings, without you having to pay a cent.” To the Boiled Owl, at least, Wilson added mentally.
“Come on,” he said abruptly. “Let me search your bedroom again. I might find something.”
Ms. Rosen agreed readily. She seemed to want to get as far away from her computer as possible. The two walked from the living room to the bedroom, Detective Wilson slowing his pace to keep by the side of the shaky Ms. Rosen. As she sunk down on her king-sized bed with Wilson watching enviously, she began to order the detective. “Now, then, I want you to look under the bed, and after that, you will inspect the window.”
Detective Wilson nodded and dropped to his hands and knees obediently. He fished a flashlight out of his pocket and clicked it on, lifting up the comforter to look under the bed. Nothing. It wasn’t a surprise, really, because he had scoured that area yesterday. Then he stood up and walked over to the windowsill. It was a fresh white. “Ms. Rosen,” Wilson said, “when did you get your windowsill painted?”
“Very recently,” she replied. “The construction on our apartment finished last week. I get cold easily, and since it is winter, we haven’t even opened the window yet.”
“Hmm,” muttered Detective Wilson. “Have you placed anything on the windowsill?”
“No. Did you find something? Anything?” Ms. Rosen said eagerly.
With a pleased smile, Detective Wilson turned from the window to the old woman. “I may have our first clue. Come take a look at this.”
Ms. Rosen hopped down from the bed and trotted over to the windowsill. Wilson pointed to a smudge on it, a light grey, with a pattern like that of the sole of a shoe. “Very heavy tracks,” the detective pointed out. “But a very feminine look. Yes, this is how she got in and out.”
“Are you sure? Those look a lot like my husband’s dress shoe tracks,” Ms. Rosen said dubiously.
Wilson corrected her hastily. “No, it’s definitely female. It’s just that women’s and men’s dress shoes have very similar soles--you know these modern manufacturers; every shoe they design looks alike.”
“If you’re sure,” said Ms. Rosen, smiling tiredly.
Detective Wilson went to a nearby Starbucks for lunch, observing the people in the area and Googling information, trying to find a women’s shoe that had a sole like the one that had been on Ms. Rosen’s windowsill. No… not this one, or this one… Aha! A perfect match. Glancing down at his own embarrassingly small feet, Wilson sent a few more emails, one short note to Norton about prolonging the time between then and his eviction, and another quick email to Ms. Rosen, to which he attached the photo of the shoe that looked like it had made the track. Then he stopped at the drugstore, got himself more cigarettes, and approached Ms. Rosen’s building again.
“And here’s a second clue,” said Detective Wilson. “Well, it might not be a clue, but I am predisposed to believe that it is, because you seem like a very neat woman. Ms. Rosen, what brand and color of eyeliner do you use?”
Ms. Rosen replied, “Bobbi Brown pencil, in peacock blue.”
“Then this really is a clue! Fantastic." Wilson peeled back the rug to reveal a tube of purple liquid eyeliner. “Here is an eyeliner from…” Wilson squinted to read the lettering on the side of the tube. “L’Oreal Paris. Now we can be sure that this Boiled Owl is female.”
Ms. Rosen snatched the eyeliner from Detective Wilson. “This is such a young color. It’s glittery. No self-respecting woman would wear this; the thief must be a girl in her teens or twenties.”
Wilson sighed relievedly. He was glad that Ms Rosen had identified the age; having been single for the past five years, he wasn’t familiar with makeup brands. “Yes, Ms. Rosen, certainly. And now, all we need to do is find a clue that tells us where to find your earrings. Then we can look for a young female who would have the motive and opportunity to steal from you and arrest her, as well as reclaim your earrings.”
“Oh, thank you, Detective Wilson!” said Ms. Rosen. “I can’t say how to repay you. I must, of course, give you a bonus. You deserve much more than ten thousand dollars.”
“She sent another email!” shrieked Ms. Rosen.
Detective Wilson strode over to where she was sitting, by her computer. It was Wilson who had suggested that Ms. Rosen check; he reasoned that the Boiled Owl would have had enough time to respond by then.
To: Mildred Rosen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: The Boiled Owl <email@example.com>
Thank you for agreeing so readily, Mildred! (Is it all right with you if I call you Mildred? Of course it is.) Well, then, there’s nothing left to organize. I won’t meet you in person to collect the money, of course, but I will see you at the formal event on Friday!
The Boiled Owl
“Oh!” Ms. Rosen let out a gasp of shock and fell out of her chair. Helping her to her feet, Detective Wilson asked her, eyes wide, what the matter was.
“What is the matter? What is the matter? Why, Detective Wilson, the matter is that she has been listening to my private conversations! How else could she know about the event this Friday? No young women are invited to that! Unless…”
Ms. Rosen turned to the detective. “I know who she is, and where to find her.”
Detective Wilson was doing a final search of the apartment. He had his doubts about Ms. Rosen’s theory; she believed that it was the daughter of one of her friends. According to Ms. Rosen, the daughter had always detested her, despite Ms. Rosen’s attempts to act like the daughter’s aunt. Apparently, “this is just the sort of cruel prank she would attempt in order to humble me,” as Ms. Rosen put it.
Detective Wilson thought that it was more likely to be someone who wanted money, but Ms. Rosen dismissed his theory immediately, saying that she knew her friends quite well, and that the email was proof: her friend’s daughter was to be the only younger woman at the formal event, which turned out to be a sit-down dinner at an upper-class restaurant.
But Wilson knew better than to argue. Ms. Rosen was paying him, so she was always right.
That was the reason why he exited the room without complaint when Ms. Rosen called the detective from the other room to tell him that he was going with her to drop off the ransom money. Then he paused. “Ms. Rosen?” he said. “Why do you need to leave the money if you know who she is?”
Ms. Rosen skittered into the bedroom, where Wilson was. “She will be there, watching. And I shall catch her, and ask what brings her to Columbus Circle this afternoon. I will enjoy watching her struggle to answer me, and then I will suggest that she is here to collect a quarter of a million dollars. Then you will call a police officer, who will arrest her. Do you understand?”
Wilson reminded himself that she was paying him, which convinced him to force his head to nod. “Yes, Ms. Rosen. I understand.”
As promised by the Boiled Owl, the CVS bag with a rock in it was underneath the bench to the right of the statue in Columbus Circle. “This is the correct bench; right, Detective?” said Ms. Rosen bossily.
Detective Wilson refrained from asking her what else it could be besides the correct bench (honestly, who puts rocks in CVS bags?). Instead, he commented stiffly, “It certainly appears that way.”
It was lucky for Wilson that Ms. Rosen had not heard the sarcasm in his voice.
“Good, then. I suppose we’ll have to DEPOSIT THE RANSOM IN HERE,” remarked Ms. Rosen as she scanned the area for anyone who responded to her attempt to bait the thief. Surprisingly enough, the area was almost deserted, occupied only by a tourist couple speaking rapid French and goggling at the statue, a shabbily dressed man sitting on a folding chair and painting, and a group of obnoxious teenage girls laughing loudly. None of the people even looked up when they heard Ms. Rosen’s words. That’s New York for you, thought Detective Rosen.
“Do you recognize anyone here?” he whispered, glancing around. No one seemed aristocratic, but he supposed that not all rich people flaunted their wealth.
“No!” Ms. Rosen hissed at Wilson. Then she regained her composure. “But we can manage without the thief’s help. You look around the area for clues.”
Detective Wilson bent down obediently and began to examine the bench. Nothing there. He lifted up the CVS bag, not expecting anything to be underneath it, but willing to give it a try. No, not there either. He knew that it was improbable that the thief had dropped something in the bag, but it was worth a shot, too. After rummaging around inside it for a few seconds, he gasped and bolted upright so quickly that the top of his head collided with the bottom of the bench.
Clutching his head with one hand and gripping the clue with the other, Detective Wilson turned to Ms. Rosen. “I found something! Something major.”
Ms. Rosen, who was checking again to see if anyone she knew was watching them, whirled around. She peered at the object cradled in the palm of the detective’s hand. It was a key. A small, lightweight, dark silver key topped with curlicues. It was the right size to fit in only one type of keyhole: that of a safety deposit box.
Ms. Rosen glanced from the key to Detective Wilson’s eager face. “Change of plans,” she said. “I’m not paying this ransom. Instead, we’re going to find out what box this opens. Hopefully, my earrings will be inside it.”
Ms. Rosen rushed up to a worker in a Citi Bank and commanded him to identify the key. “This isn’t our bank’s design; ours has a circular top,” he said apologetically.
Without another word, Ms. Rosen rushed out, dragging Detective Wilson with her. “Sorry about the inconvenience!” the hapless bank worker called after them. Ignoring the employee, Ms. Rosen proceeded to TD Bank, with Wilson standing silently by her side, and a similar exchange occurred. Then they came to Wells Fargo. This time, Detective Wilson spoke before Ms. Rosen could open her mouth. “Hello. I’m a detective, and we are trying to match this key to a bank. We have strong evidence to believe that a piece of stolen jewelry belonging to Ms. Mildred Rosen--” he gestured to her “--is in this box. Is this your bank’s key?”
The teller glanced at it and replied, “Yes, it is. But our branch does not have this box number.”
Detective Wilson thanked the employee profusely. He and Ms. Rosen left the bank. “Listen,” the detective said. “I might know which Wells Fargo bank has this box. I bank at the Bank of America, but I know that there are four Wells Fargo banks in the area where I live, and I once saw a key dropped outside a branch with a number close to this one.”
“Box number 5386? Yes, Detective Wilson, of course. So nice to be seeing you again so soon!”
Detective Wilson fidgeted and glared at the teller. “What is it, Detective? Rough day?” the teller continued, oblivious. “Must be really annoying to visit this bank twice within twelve hours. With all that mystery about you, I can’t help but wonder what you’re depositing or removing in there. I bet it’s something--”
“It is really none of your business,” Detective Wilson said loudly, trying to drown out the teller.
But he was too late. Ms. Rosen had already heard. She turned her glare on Wilson. “Detective Wilson,” she said in a clipped but quiet voice. “And here I thought you bank at the Bank of America.”
“I really--” started Wilson.
“Oh, no, let me finish… Detective,” Ms. Rosen said in a voice like a dagger on velvet. “It was you all along. You were the one who stole my earrings. You are the Boiled Owl. Detective Wilson, I never would have thought that it was you. Not for a moment. You always seemed so cool, so suave, so put together. So honest. I suppose you took the earrings, then contacted me with the full knowledge that I was in need of a detective. You took advantage of my suffering! And I should have known.” Her voice became choked. “I should have known! At first, when you found all those clues that I had not discovered, when I looked so hard--and yes, I did search, even before you began your bogus investigation. You planted them there! You did it yourself! I was surprised about how easily the pieces fit together, and how obvious the clues seemed. Everything was a bit too coincidental, wouldn’t you agree? But I waved it away. I told myself that you must have a… a magic touch, of sorts. I was desperate! And this explains how the so-called Boiled Owl knew about my event on Friday, too. But now… but now this? The key belongs to your own account?”
Detective Wilson cowered in the corner of the bank. At that point, he was terrified of Ms. Rosen. She was vicious. So Wilson did what was natural to him in a situation like this (he’d had plenty of practice with Norton and his lawyers): he talked fast. “Ms. Rosen… I suppose you are right. I did steal your earrings. But it wasn’t like you think! I was behind on rent, and I was about to get evicted. And I did not set you up. It’s just… the first day I searched, yesterday, I found the earrings in a drawer. And I was going to give them to you. But I thought… I thought you would pay me more if it seemed as if I had actually recovered the earrings, as if they were actually stolen! So I left the clues myself and sent the emails. And it would have worked if Loose Lips over here hadn’t given me away. But I promise, I wasn’t going to take the ransom money; I was going to give you the earrings now, just pretending that my box belonged to someone else.”
Ms. Rosen sneered. “I would not believe anything you say now. Guards!”
Bank guards sprung from corners, latching themselves onto Wilson. As they began to escort him to out of the bank, Ms. Rosen called, “Wait!”
The guards turned, as did Wilson. His eyes gleamed with hope. Perhaps… perhaps she knew that he was, for the first time, being honest? Maybe she was taking pity on him?
“Wilson, I am not taking pity on you in the least. I will prosecute you to the full extent of the law, and I guarantee that I shall make sure you are punished in the most vile way possible for causing me all this anguish. But first, one question. Why the Boiled Owl?”
Wilson’s eyes, simmering with defiance, met Ms. Rosen’s. “Because that’s what I am. Owls have the reputation of being wise, like detectives are supposed to be. But neither I nor an owl is benevolent--we’re really predators, just doing what it takes to survive. And when something is boiled, it is reduced to its essence. I wanted to show that at my core, I’m a completely different person than I convinced you I was. I wanted to prove that even if I was caught, I was still able to outwit you.”