Jeweled History: A Creative Writing Series - The Golden Bowl, Challenge Accepted (Chapter 5)

 

Gold & Lapis Bowl looted from the National Museum of Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.


 Chapter 5:  Challenge Accepted

“What the HELL, Red,” Adam exclaimed, looking at her as he angled the SUV into the valet parking area of the hotel and snatching the crumpled yellow paper from her hand with a quick glance before passing it along.  “Rice, follow-up.  Now.”

“On it,” she replied, phone already in hand.  “Corey, there’s been a breach.  I need you to get with the Museum Security Director and pull all the security footage from outside the Director’s office going backwards from the time we left by four hours.  Cross reference anyone seen entering his office after Ms. Anne against the guest list and museum staff.  I need that list ASAP with accompanying photos and dossiers.  I also want their movements tracked for the duration of the event for anyone who entered/existed the Director’s office during that timeframe.”

Adam nodded at Rice as he took EJ’s room card from her hand, exchanging it for the yellow paper he’d handed over earlier.  Rice strode towards the elevator leaving Adam and EJ alone in the main lobby.  Adam took EJ’s elbow and led her to a secluded area of the lobby providing him with unobstructed views of all entry and exit points as well as the still running SUV in the circle driveway.

“Explain, now.”

“What the fuck, Adam?” EJ demanded.  In all honesty, she knew exactly where his mind had gone and what had him upset.  She was just irritated and felt like he was running rough-shod over her.  She wasn’t that gangly teenager anymore and her reporter brain was working overtime thinking of where to start because this story had definitely taken a turn and piqued her curiosity.

“You can’t stay here any longer,” he said.  “If they had access to your bag then they also had access to your room card meaning that they could have cloned it.  So while Rice clears out your room, start explaining this ‘Golden Bowl’ shit.”

EJ knew that at this point, there was no arguing with Adam and she had just been downgraded from main player in her own story to stand-in.  Adam was not going to let her out of his or his Team’s sight until he was sure she was fully ensconced someplace safe and he could focus on ‘hunting’ whomever he felt was a potential threat.

“Fine,” she sighed before launching into the full story behind the ‘Golden Bowl’ reference. How Sarek had approached her at the presentation about attempting to locate the stolen artifact at the National Museum’s expense and the potential, if unknown, historical significance of the artifact itself.

“I really wasn’t planning on trying to locate it and I told Sarek as much,” EJ continued, “but obviously someone doesn’t want me looking for it which…”

“Obviously makes you want to accept the challenge,” Adam finished the sentence for her.

“Exactly.”

 “That cliff you said your gut felt like you were standing on,” Adam started, “maybe this is it.  Are you sure you want to go down it?”

“You think I’m being impulsive,” EJ stated.  No malice, no question – just a factual statement.  She knew she could be.  EJ had always been an ‘if-someone-says-you-can’t-then-do-it-twice-and-take-pictures’ type.  One of her many character flaws.  Not to mention that she liked a good challenge and whomever had left her the crumpled warning had certainly issued a challenge.  At least as far as she was concerned.

“What I think doesn’t matter,” Adam smiled.  “You’re going to do what you want to do regardless of my personal feelings.  For now, let’s get you settled somewhere safe and then we’ll discuss next steps.”

Just as Adam finished, the elevator open and Rice stepped off with EJ’s bag.  She deposited the room card on the front desk and headed straight towards the bulletproof SUV still idling in the hotel drive.  Once everyone was loaded in the car again, Rice turned to Adam.

“Sir, I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty of calling your doorman and your building security has been augmented for the short term.  Corey will meet us there for handoff.  I have the Team working on intel gathering and will report back as soon as I have more information.  Is there anything else you’d like me to do in the meantime?”

“Excellent work.  Thank you, Rice,” Adam replied.  “That’ll be all.  Just let me know when you have something else to go on and place make sure Corey is completely up to speed on the latest developments as well.”

“Copy that, Sir.”

“No. Wait, Adam.  You can’t possibly expect me to stay at your place.  I am just not comfortable imposing like that.  I’m perfectly happy staying at a different hotel.  I’ll even let Corey and Rice follow me around like those little lost siblings I always thought I wanted,” EJ tried to negotiate.

“My place has plenty of room and is the safest place in the area.  Not to mention that if required, Rice and Corey can also work from my private SOC if needed,” Adam responded.

“Who has a Security Operations Center in their home,” EJ said in awe.

“Only the owner of the premier security and investigative agency in the world,” Rice chuckled. 

EJ sat in stunned silence as their little group made their way through the city, staring out the front window.  Adam’s eyes darting between the mirrors and the road; Rice typing away on her phone or making short, whispered calls from the backseat.  It wasn’t long before, or maybe it was, the car stopped and EJ’s door swung open and a big, meaty hand with long fingers shot into the space between her and the dash.

“I’m Corey Roberts.  Let’s get you inside and settled, then we can chat,” said the voice attached to the thickly veined forearm that led to a set of broad shoulders impeccably outfitted in a fitted black polo with a black holster that stretched behind a wide chest from one arm to the other.  EJ looked up to see a huge smile, sparkling hazel eyes and a shock of bright blonde hair that was buzz cut on the sides but surprisingly long on top.  EJ’s face must have given away the thoughts swirling in her head because she heard Adam chuckling.

“Come on, Red,” he teased.  “He has that effect on women.”  Corey smiled at EJ, a slight pink tint on his cheeks.

EJ’s face flushed to match the color of her hair as she grabbed her messenger bag and quickly climbed out of the car and jogged up to Adam elbowing him in the side.

“Geez, Red,” Adam exclaimed, “No need to get violent!”

“I swear you delight in embarrassing me,” EJ snapped.  “I was not drooling!”

“Sure. Sure.” Adam agreed absently as the building’s doorman and security officer rushed from behind the building’s front desk to open the doors for them. 

“Gentlemen, I believe Rice called you to bring you both up to speed on the situation.  She or Corey – the handsome young man out there with the guns…,” Adam said as he winked at EJ, “will be your points of contact until this situation is resolved.  I’d like you both to meet EJ.”

“Ma’am,” both men said in unison with a nod.  The doorman following up with, “Of course, Mr. Richter.  We’ll make sure everything is taken care of to your Team’s specifications.”

The front doors audibly locked closed behind them.  Rice conferred with the security officer as Adam lead EJ to the elevator at the far end of the lobby using a key fob in this pocket to call it.  As EJ and Adam rode the elevator to penthouse floor in silence, EJ couldn’t stop her mind from wandering back to the topic of the Golden Bowl.  She made a list of questions and potential starting points for her investigation in her head.  Aligning possible sources or informants with each question.  Determining possible avenues for further investigation where she may have to develop new contacts.  In what felt like no time, she felt like she had a pretty decent plan of attack.  Who knew where the story would lead or even if she would be successful finding the bowl for Sarek and the National Museum but it would definitely be an adventure and if there was anything that got EJ excited; it was a kicking off an adventure with a good mystery!

The elevators doors opened and Adam led her into his apartment, “Let me give you the nickel tour.”

“My personal wing is down that hallway,” Adam said as he pointed to his right.  “The common areas – kitchen, dining, living room, half bath and game area are straight back along the window side of the apartment.  The guest areas including several guestrooms, a bunk room for staff when we’re managing an incident remotely, and a small kitchenette are to your left.  Each guestroom has an en suite bathroom so you’ll have some privacy from everyone else coming and going.”

EJ looked around in the space in awe.  The entire back portion of the apartment featured floor-to-ceiling windows with thick drapery strategically placed at varying intervals.  The view over the city was incredible.  Hardly any road noise could be heard because of the thick paned glass. “Probably bulletproof,” EJ thought to herself.  The sealed concrete floor gave the area and industrial feel and the wall opposite the windows appeared to be paneled with white marble slabs with gray veining.  The remaining walls throughout the space were painted a slightly off-white color.

Several seating areas were scattered throughout the large open space with well-worn, brown leather couches and matching club chairs on thick Persian rugs grouped around a hodge-podge of brightly colored tables.  Various forms of lighting dotted the space along with artwork, sculpture and antiques.  At the far end of the space was a floor-to-ceiling black lacquered bookcase that ran from the windows on one side to the wall on the other.  Filled to capacity with books on nearly every topic imaginable, it was obvious the collection even contained a few first editions behind the sliding glass doors.  The finishing touch was a brightly polished brass rolling ladder.  Right before reaching the wall of books, a dark mahogany pool table with green felt sat racked and ready for a game.  Additional cues hung on a wall rack across from the windows along with an antique wooden abacus for scorekeeping.

Opposite the library wall, was a well-appointed open galley-style gourmet kitchen.  The upper and lower cabinets formed a “U” shape along three walls and were painted a high gloss spring green with a matching white marble countertop.  The center island cabinetry was a matching black to the library wall with a thick butcher block top and several counter-height barstools along the side opposite the sink.  A row of modern brass pendant lights hung above the island.  Just in front of the island was a long, narrow antique harvest table with matching benches along both sides and a mixed metal industrial light fixture above.  The icing on top of the gloriously eclectic d├ęcor was an enormous pitcher of fresh cut flowers right in the center.

“What, no throw pillows,” EJ chided Adam.  Adam chuckled.  “In all seriousness, Adam, if I’d have known your place was this amazing I would have insisted on staying here earlier!  It’s beautiful.”

“Not what you were expecting, huh?”

“Honestly, I expected something a little more sterile and ultra-modern but this is incredible!  Your artwork and antiques are mind-blowing!  Never mind the wall of books,” EJ said.

“Well,” he said, “I do like to keep the ladies guessing.  If you want to see modern and sterile, follow me.”

Adam led them towards the kitchen.  Along the wall just before you got to the harvest table, on the left was what looked like a large burgundy-red handprint painted askew.  Adam walked up and placed his hand directly in the middle of the handprint.  After a few seconds, the marble panel next to the handprint slide behind the one next to it and lights immediately flicked on inside.  The large rectangular room featured an oval conference table in the center with multiple laptops, a phone and integrated outlets.  A wall of monitors were mounted along the far side of the room perpendicular to a security station with two side-by-side computer stations, some sort of control panel and additional wall-mounted monitors.

“This is the auxiliary heart of Richter Security, Inc.,” Adam said proudly.  “This is my secondary security operations center.  If something happens at our main SOC located off-site, we could run every op and ensure every clients’ protection from this room alone if we had to.  Or if I just don’t feel like driving into the office.”

“Wow, this is really something,” EJ marveled. “And you keep it close to the kitchen for midnight munchies!”

“Of course.  Can’t have the peeps go hungry,” he laughed.  “Now let’s get you settled.”

Adam took them out a door at the back of the room which opened immediately into the guest wing hallway.  EJ noticed a matching cornflower blue handprint painted on the wall.  Just as the door closed behind them, the elevator doors opened.  Rice and Corey stepped out with EJ’s bag, a black duffle a manila envelope.

“Perfect timing.” Adam reached for EJ’s bag, “Go ahead and get settled.  I was just showing EJ to her room and then we’ll convene in the SOC.”  Corey and Rice nodded before heading in.

After several feet, the hallway made a left turn.  Several doors lined both sides.  Adam went to the first door on the left and opened it for EJ.  The room was wonderfully appointed with a large king sized bed and a small seating area.  A TV was mounted above an antique mahogany highboy dresser.  Next to the dresser on the right was a small closet and on the left was another door which led to the bathroom.  The guestroom and accompanying bathroom was outfitted similarly to the rest of the house.  Sealed gray concrete floors were covered with plush Persian rugs.  The cream walls displayed artwork and any furniture that wasn’t an antique was lacquered a rich black.  The bathroom felt more like a wet room with the free-standing soaker tub and shower behind thick glass along one side and an antique table turned into a vanity with a porcelain vessel sink.

“On second thought, maybe I’ll make this my home base,” EJ mused.

“Stay as long as you want, Red.  I just don’t want to compete with Corey for your attention,” Adam teased.

EJ grabbed a pillow from the bed and chucked it at Adam.  He caught it easily before turning towards the door, “the staff bunks are on the other side of the hallway.  They normally pair up two to a room when the whole team is here but since it’s just Rice and Corey, they’ll probably each take a room….just so you know.”

EJ glared at Adam at a complete loss for words.  Not that the ideas weren’t swirling in her head but she had a golden bowl to find and an adventure to get on with.

“I’ll let you get yourself settled and then I’ll meet you in the SOC,” he said.  “Just press your palm to the handprint.  It will beep and alert us you’re outside.  We’ll buzz you in and get your print scanned and into the system so you can come and go while you’re here.”

Before EJ could say anything else, Adam tossed the pillow back and was out the door.

It didn’t take her long to unpack the few things she had.  She quickly found an outlet to plug her laptop into and fired off a quick email to her producer letting her know how the presentation of the seals had gone and that a related story was already spooling up to be something big that may require her to stay in Dubai a few more days.  EJ noted the time difference in her email and assured her producer she’d check in later tonight via phone to bring her up to speed.  Closing the lid, she headed down the hallway to the SOC.


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