“Good good. I know legislature and red tape aren’t your thing Cal, but I appreciate you taking the time. I know there’s some delicate stuff going on with the Sheriff’s office…” Glenn forced another sheepish smile as the P.I. signed Calvin J. Stewart on the paperwork.
“Just glad for the job,” CJ waved off Glenn’s apologetic airs, “and I don’t mind dealing with the boys from the office, so long as nobody brings up old grievances - I’m sure there’s a few worth bringing up.”
With the bureaucracy out of the way, CJ turned once again to the case at hand. He took mental stock of the details as he prepared to scan the scene. From what he could gather …
The archaeological dig site had been hit somewhere around midnight, 1 a.m. the night before.
The thieves had taken most of the dig site’s artifacts, notes, photographs and other items of scientific value - but they left much of the dig’s expensive equipment untouched.
The on-site security guard had been knocked unconscious with her own baseball bat without seeing her attacker.
The thieves ransacked the camp, tearing out tents and shades, scattering supplies and generally left the place a mess.
CJ was briefly distracted by a hubbub to the south, along the dirt road that led to the dig site. He’d driven past the little surprise town that had sprung up right along with the dig - protesters, there to resist the defiling of cultural sites by archaeologists. The PI had no bones to pick with them; they had been reasonable as far as he knew, chanting and waving signs, no real harm done.
“How long has the protest been going on?” He prompted Glenn.
“Longer than the dig has - they set up the day before on-site operations were set to start. They must’ve gotten our schedule from the university or the county office if they knew when we’d be here.” The site manager responded. Glenn’s normally affable demeanor soured a bit. “They have a few people posted 24/7. We had to have the Sheriff send a deputy out to relocate the ones obstructing the roads when we had our gear shipped out.”
CJ hummed around the grass stem and scratched at the stubble he hadn’t had a chance to shave off that morning. “If we can get them to cooperate, we might just have a whole camp’s worth of night guards who may have seen something. They’re here to protect the dig site’s contents too.”
“Yeah, in theory.” Glenn retorted with a huff. He’d gained a little weight in recent years, which normally made him look jolly, but that fouled quick when he got in a mood. “In practice, they’re here to make my life miserable and impede the academic process.”
The PI gave his old friend a sympathetic smile, then a ‘you say tomato’ shrug.
“For now,” CJ pulled out his interview book and his trusty ‘Saria County Sheriff’s Office’ pen, “let’s talk to the guard we know will cooperate. We’ll have a chance to speak with them later.”
The PI crossed the wreckage of the dig-site to approach the old camp trailer. The guard - Lyla Franks, according to CJ’s report from Glenn - was reclining on the foldable step of the trailer with an ice pack pressed to the back of her head. She looked well qualified to do her job, outside of the current concussion - tall in the neighborhood of 5’ 8”, athletic and broad shouldered. Not mean looking, but CJ could see her being quite intimidating if she set her mind to it. She was currently being tended to by a shorter woman with round features and even rounder glasses; the archaeologist on site, Dr. Hewett, if CJ’s notes were correct.
“Ms. Franks. Dr. Hewett.” CJ took off his wide-brimmed hat to greet them both.
“Did he just doff his hat at us?” Lyla said with a snort.
“Hush.” Dr. Hewett said with only mild reproach, then turned to the PI. “Yes, and you must be the investigator. If I may be forward - why aren’t the police doing the investigating here?”
“That I am - Calvin Stewart, PI. The situation is… sensitive.” CJ replied. He took a breath to elaborate, then swallowed his words with a sheepish rub of the back of his neck. “Perhaps too much so to get into right now. Let me assure you, I’m a licensed PI in Utah, licensed and sponsored in Arizona, and my hiring to investigate this was a compromise that suited the situation.”
The doctor gave a quiet “Mmm-hmm,” but nothing further. A tense silence fell, which CJ had neither the patience nor the luxury of time to allow to hang.
“If I may, Ms. Franks -” “Lyla.” The guard replied with a wave of her hand, still leaning back and closing her eyes.
“ Lyla. ” CJ nodded. “You told Peter it was around midnight, you’d just done a check of the grounds.”
“ And that’s the last thing I remember.” The guard leaned forward with a groan and finally opened her eyes to address CJ directly. “I came to with Dr. Hewett taking care of me and the camp in a mess. I barely remember the rest of the night.”
“You don’t remember hearing anything? Nothing out of the ordinary before … lights out?” The PI prompted, pen pressed to paper.
The guard closed her eyes and pressed her hands to her forehead, as though she were physically trying to coax the information out of her brain - which left the icepack by the wayside, allowing CJ his first look at the red-soaked bandages on the back of the poor woman’s head. She’d been savaged, no doubt about it; head wounds always bleed, and this one was no different. The bandage was just about ready for changing. To CJ’s eye, the attacker must have been tall and strong, but not so strong as to have done more permanent damage - though he’d need to see the cut itself to know more.
Lyla wiped a trickle of clear fluid from her nose and sniffed. “I mean, the protestors’ camp was making noise as usual. They play music ‘till late. There was shouting, but it’s a protest, when isn’t there shouting? I didn’t hear anyone open my trailer door, I didn’t hear anyone go in to get my bat. Anyone who stays in one of these things knows how noisy they are anytime anyone sets foot on or in ‘em. I do know this though-”
“Mr. Stewart,” Doctor Hewett cut in, “Lyla needs a hospital. She needed a hospital four hours ago. She’s clearly concussed, perhaps worse.” Her tone was concerned, but that concern was tinged with irritation. Her eyebrows came down in a severe knot, and her hands were fretting over Lyla’s icepack and bandage.
“Cal.” Glenn’s familiar voice drifted over the dig site. He was holding the little plastic receiver for the satellite phone the dig had been using for communication - not a lot of cell service out here. “You’ll never guess who - the Sheriff is on the line for you.”
CJ’s lips pursed around his grass stem. Lyla gave him a smirk, which only made his mood more dour - she was an intuitive one, to read his mood so easily even in the state she was in. The PI took a deep breath through his nose, and surveyed his options…
A. Keep talking to Lyla. She seemed to have more to say, but she is in rough shape… and this means the phone call will have to wait.
B. Go interview the protestors at the camp. They were active at the time of the theft, and in position at the only road in, they must have seen something. This means Lyla will likely leave for the hospital, and the phone call may be missed entirely.
C. Swallow concern and talk to the sheriff. He doesn’t call lightly, it’s probably important. This means Lyla will likely leave for the hospital, and now that the dig is in shambles, the protestors may not stay around for much longer …