The PI’s truck roared to life as CJ turned the key, and he sighed. Glenn turned to his old friend with an eyebrow raised.
“The facts?” The site manager asked with a knowing smirk. “The facts.” CJ responded with a decisive nod as he turned the truck onto the path back to the main road into town. “Here’s what we know so far:”
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 bat hasn’t been found.
The thieves ransacked the camp, tearing out tents and shades, scattering supplies and generally left the place a mess.
This was a critical project for the program that employs the archaeologists and site managers - if it ends as a failure, the university will pull all funding from similar projects in the future.
For some reason, university documents were being forwarded to the activist group organizing the protest against university activities, specifically this dig - the local university extension has been coordinating with the Sheriff, as well as said activist group.
“So what do you think? Find the bat, find the thief?” Glenn mused as the truck drove past the protestors’ camp that was quickly breaking down. The folks there were exchanging smiles and handshakes as they set to leave, and CJ noticed more than one pair of eyes following the truck as it went by. The PI frowned, but kept driving.
It wasn’t long before the red rocks of the dig site faded in the rear view, to be replaced by agricultural lands, then homes and businesses as the truck cruised past the ‘Welcome to the town of Tabasin!’ signs. The principal town of Saria county wasn’t big, but it was home. It stayed busy enough as a transit center, and CJ did surprisingly good business finding missing persons on the hiking trails, locating lost valuables and locating runaways seeking solace in the quiet rural area.
“If it’s that easy, we’re dealing with some very inexperienced and clumsy criminals.” CJ responded as he pulled the truck into the local gas station. He gave a few affable nods and returned some friendly greetings from a few of the townies as they went by or gassed up, and Glenn chuckled almost sheepishly. “Hey, some criminals are inexperienced and clumsy.” He said with a shrug. “Maybe this time you’ll get lucky.”
“I’m more interested in finding the artifacts.” CJ admitted as they entered the gas station to grab a soda and muse a bit on where the day was headed. As promised, CJ comped his poor compatriot a coke, and the pair took a seat on a bench outside.
“So you’re … what? Headed to knock on Maxwell’s door?” Glenn asked between sips. To CJ’s eye, the site manager was clearly rattled; for all his geniality and jokes, Glenn was clutching his drink with both hands, seated stiffly on the bench and sweating a little more than the heat would justify. CJ patted his old friend on the shoulder. Don’t you worry about it. Get home, relax a bit. I’ll take it from here.”
The PI stood. In a town like Tabasin, nowhere was more than just around the corner from the central gas station, so CJ was comfortable letting Glenn cool off with a Coke and walk home. There was still PI work to be done. Glenn gave him a nod and a curt “Fine, fine,” and with that, CJ was off again.
Maxwell’s home wasn’t too far out of town, but it was far enough to warrant a drive - CJ still wasn’t sure exactly what Maxwell did for work, but he did it from home and it made enough to own a decently sized chunk of unincorporated land. CJ had crossed paths with the Eternal Heritage founder more than once on past business - their encounters thus far were affable enough for CJ to be comfortable enough to approach the man at home, but not affable enough for CJ to leave him be without at least asking a few questions. The property led the truck on a winding trail through cedar and pine trees up to a generously proportioned home at the top of a hill overlooking it all.
The whole place smelled of sap and pine nuts, something CJ could appreciate as he stepped out of the truck and went to ring the doorbell. The bell rang loud and echoing in the halls of the big house, and CJ tucked his hands into his pockets and enjoyed the scenery while he awaited a response. He turned when the door opened, to find a young lady with wide eyes and dark hair waiting for him.
“Is your dad home?” CJ asked and tried for a friendly smile. The girl nodded and wordlessly turned to hurry back into the house - leaving the door open, and giving the PI a chance to observe the front few rooms of the home. The decor was all clear references to local culture; maps of red rock hikes, pictures of old meeting houses, Native American imagery with sun, water and traveler motifs woven into rugs and jewelry and sand art aplenty. CJ’s attention was on one particular piece, a fired jar that seemed to be in the style of old horse hair art, when a familiar figure began to descend the stairs just inside.
“Sheriff Stewart,” Brian Maxwell said with a smile and opened hands, “what brings you all the way out here? Come in, come in, make yourself at home.”
“I’m just CJ these days.” The PI responded shortly, but entered at Maxwell’s request. “And I’ve come to … appeal to your expertise.” He said cautiously. CJ allowed himself to be led to a sitting room just off the main entryway - the room was host to more than one of the cultural pieces he’d been observing just before.
Maxwell sat across from him. The activist was an older fellow, but one who had clearly taken pains to stay healthy. He was fair-skinned, and lean compared to CJ’s stockier frame. Maxwell had shaved the top of his head clean, presumably turning into the skid of a receding hairline, and the hair just above his ears was blonde-going gray. His eyes were keen and intelligent, and CJ’s eyebrows knitted when he saw the clever smile glinting behind those eyes.
“What do you know about the archaeological dig Peter Glenn is managing? The old cultural site on the border?” CJ tried to remain casual as he leaned back in his chair.
“Quite a bit.” Maxwell said with a smile to match the gleam in his eyes. “I organized protests against it, after all. Just one more cultural site being handled by a university halfway across the state, with no personal interest beyond profit and prestige. No consulting local experts, no working with local authorities. Shameful.” His smile dropped as he shook his head.
“So, I imagine you’re satisfied with the way things have turned out?” CJ prodded.
“Of course not.” Maxwell replied with a frank shake of his head. “I didn’t want to stop the study of the site, and I certainly didn’t want the loss of the precious cultural pieces contained there. I wanted the study to proceed correctly, not to cease entirely.”
The PI was stroking the stubble on his chin as Maxwell went on. He watched for tells, for hints that Maxwell was less than genuine, for notes of deception. Maxwell’s hands were steady, his breathing was calm, and he looked CJ directly in the eye whenever he wasn’t shaking his head or raising his eyes to heaven in exasperation.
“So you’re aware of the missing artifacts, then? Of the thievery that took place just this morning?” CJ said, nonchalant as ever. He leaned back in his chair, resting his hands on the armrests and raising a curious eyebrow.
“Please, Sheri– erm, CJ.” Maxwell stuttered as he corrected the title. “Some of my closest friends and coworkers are camped half a mile out of the site. They heard things and naturally they reported back to me. I had people calling and investigating probably before even Peter did.”
CJ observed the collection of beautiful cultural pieces lining the walls of Maxwell’s sitting room. He could only imagine what the man’s office looked like. His suspicions were confirmed: Maxwell had just openly admitted that his protestors knew something. The question now was, how to get him to share what he knew?
What should CJ ask first?
A. Take the roundabout route; ask Maxwell general questions about the site, the protest, and ease him in to the questions about the CC’d emails and his knowledge of the university shutting down operations in the area.
B. Be direct. Maxwell seems to smart to be lulled by doublespeak and intrigue. Ask him the straight questions: Why is the university emailing you? How did you know the dig was happening before it happened? What do your people know about the theft?
C. Be accusatory; this is our prime suspect! He stands more to gain than anyone from this dig failing. Put the screws to him by exposing what you already know, and demand to know more about his conspiratorial involvement with university communications and protests