Chapter Four

The Grover Cleveland Detective Agency continues below:

Andy's scheme to buy property on the Northwest Passage in anticipation of global warming making Canada's northern coast the next Riviera Maya is a good idea.

“It’ll be called New Jamaica, and people will pay out the ass to vacation there.  Don’t worry, I will gladly franchise my resorts to Hanscom alum.”

“Will these resorts also have to be in Canada — along the, recently melted, Northwest Passage?”

“No, you could build in Greenland, Russia, or Alaska, but anything south of 50 degrees north latitude will be too hot.”

I entered the so-called office of Thomson University Center’s house staff.  It was a small square room at the center of the large square building.  There were no windows, but there was an obsolete computer on a table in one corner.  Couches and over-stuffed chairs lined the rest of the rough brick walls.  Andy lay on the carpeted floor, his feet on a couch.  He continually tossed and caught a grapefruit as he spoke.  Lindsay sat in one of the chairs, a biology textbook open in her lap.

“Andy was just telling me about how climate change will transform Canada’s northern coast from snow and ice into a tropical paradise,” Lindsay said.

“I heard.  And, as always, if I give Andy $100,000 now, it’ll be $1 million by our first reunion?”

“Especially if inflation tops 1,000 percent,” said Andy, a junior from Rockford, Illinois, who studied economics.

Lindsay stood.

“Well, Andy, now that Grove’s here, we can get started setting up the tables for the president’s banquet.”

These regular banquets hosted by the president for distinguished alumni were major fundraisers.  Every detail had to be perfect, as though attendants sitting seven, rather than five, degrees behind those in front of them would result in them writing checks with fewer zeroes on them.

“I’ll grab my protractor,” Andy said, only half joking.

The banquet hall was the largest room at Thomson University Center, it was on the second floor and had storage closets near both entrances to hold the tables and chairs used to fill it.

Lindsay and Andy started at one end and had me start at the other.

As I rolled a cart into the hall, something caught my eye.  I abandoned the tables and found a flash drive on the floor.  I picked it up to examine it.

“What are you doing?  You’re not going to meet us in the middle at this rate!” Andy yelled from across the room.

I pocketed the flash drive and returned to work.

* * * * *

After arranging the banquet hall and making a coat check of another of the meeting rooms, Andy, Lindsay, and I returned to the office.

Lindsay and Andy, done for the day, packed their things and left.

Two hours of my shift remained, and I had nothing to do but await the arrival of the night crew, who would start trickling in in about an hour, or a table emergency.

I had some Plato to read, but as I moved to retrieve the book from the backpack I had dropped on the floor, I remembered the flash drive in my pocket.

“I should really hand this over to the lost-and-found,” I thought.

Instead, I started the ancient computer and looked at what was on the drive: some photos of a wedding, some of the more popular Arcade Fire tracks, and a document labeled “thesis.”

“thesis” was written by a graduate student in the school of journalism named Brenda Mathis.  I sent her and email, to which she responded in minutes.

Brenda wrote that it was fortunate she hadn’t yet realized she had lost it because she would have been crazy since the day before trying to find it.  The flash drive contained the only copy of her work.

She had no idea how it ended up in the banquet hall and would be over immediately to pick it up.

And, when she did, she gave me $20.

* * * * *

During the next few weeks I returned a homemade scarf and laptop, three phones, and nine books.  For most of these, I received a reward of small bills or free goods or services.  A couple of items, left by the same person, were returned without gratuity.  I vowed to make Joshua Thomson-Ellis locate his own belongings in the future.

Thus began what I came to call The Grover Cleveland Detective Agency, a retrieval service specializing in lost or stolen property.

Less than a month after its incorporation, my fledgling agency had its first legitimate client, and its most intriguing case yet.

* * * * *

On a Friday afternoon, I sat in the house staff office.  Alone and re-reading “The Republic” in preparation for an impending midterm, I noticed the same person peeking in as he walked past.

These peeks became less furtive, lingering longer.  Annoyed, I turned from Plato and said, “Can I help you?” to Hanscom’s version of a thug, who wore a sailor’s knot bracelet, sagged Dockers with a crisp crease and a Cubs cap perched sideways on his head.  I would have laughed had his face not looked so serious.

“You Chester Arthur?”

“If you mean Grover Cleveland, then, yes, I am.”

Stepping inside the office and lowering his voice, he said, “I heard you find things.”

“Strictly speaking I return things.  At least that’s what I’m paid for, returning things I happen to find.”

He stared at me blankly.

“Yes, I find things.”

“And you know the dead kid?”

“Jason Baxter?”

“Yeah, well, he died before paying me what he owed for some, uh, merchandise.”

“He’s been dead over a month.  What’s it to you now?”

“My, uh, associate is returning from, uh, abroad next month.  And he’s a bit more concerned about cash flow and the financial dealings of our, uh, business than me.”

“What kind of money are you talking about?”

“Either $10,000 in cash or, if undistributed, my, uh, merchandise back.”

My jaw dropped momentarily, but I collected myself.

“Well, they’re still not letting anyone in his room, and if your, uh, merchandise, is illegal — and I suspect it is — it’s going to cost you.”

“How much?  40 percent?”

“I was thinking 25, but if you’re offering more, I’ll take 30 percent.”

“Shit, well, it’s either that or my, uh, associate dumps me in Lake Michigan.”

“Well, if it can be found, I’ll find it.”

Without reply, he turned and left the room.

I fell back in the chair, forgetting “The Republic.”  $3,000 and international (well, most likely Mexican) intrigue.  The students of Hanscom College would have to find their own shit for a while.

I had to get into Jason Baxter’s room.

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