Read The Mask of Atreus Online

Authors: A. J. Hartley

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Antiquities, #Theft from museums, #Greece, #Museum curators

The Mask of Atreus (6 page)

BOOK: The Mask of Atreus


She rolled out in one quick movement, passed her hands over her clothes, and opened the bedroom door. Still on the landing, preparing herself for the officers coming up the stairs, was Tonya, the middle-aged maid, in the spotless Nike gym shoes purchased for her, no doubt, by a daughter or niece. Hearing the bedroom door, she spun around, her mouth open, and stared at Deborah with undisguised hostility. CHAPTER 10

The two women considered each other in silence, momentarily oblivious to the sound of the uniformed policemen cautiously announcing their presence as they came up the stairs, one bald and fat but probably no more than thirty, the other lean and black.

"Miss Miller?" said the bald guy, looking from one woman to the other.

"Yes," said Deborah, turning from the black woman with an effort. "In there."

The two cops exchanged looks, and the bald guy moved toward the bedroom doors. He was gone no more than thirty seconds or so, but it felt like an age and a silent one at that. The other policeman hovered, looking embarrassed, as if he had interrupted a church service, though whether that was because he was dealing with two women or with one corpse, Deborah wasn't sure. He said something, but Deborah wasn't paying attention, was straining to hear the chatter of the bald cop's radio as he emerged from the room. She thought he looked a little green but was putting a brave face on it. It was strange, she thought. She had been too consumed by her own grief at who the corpse was to have been horrified or revolted by it.

"I thought I'd get a jump on the day's work," Tonya was saying. "I knew there'd be a lot of cleaning up to do. We had a party in the museum last night."

"And you, Miss Miller?"

"I'm sorry?" said Deborah, turning to the black cop. He had taken out a notebook and was watching her anxiously. He was probably terrified of getting the procedure wrong, she thought, feeling something oddly like compassion for him. 41

T h e M a s k o f A t r e u s

"I got a phone call telling me I needed to get back here,"

she said. "It was a little before three, I think."

It was now almost four. This was what Tonya called getting a jump on the day's work?

"Did you know the caller?"

She said that she didn't, and then went over her movements and the manner in which she had come to find the body. Tonya tried not to look like she was hanging on her every word.

"And you had never seen the room behind the bookcase before?" said the bald cop who had now rejoined them and taken over.

"I had no idea it was there."

"Neither did I," Tonya volunteered. She didn't meet Deborah's gaze.

"It's going to be a little while before the crime scene team gets here," said the bald cop. "Is there somewhere you can wait?"

They left the black cop to guard the bedroom, and Deborah led the way downstairs to the sitting room where she and Tonya perched on Queen Anne chairs, staring silently at the walls, while the bald cop paced, studying pictures and knickknacks at random. Occasionally he made notes, as if proving himself to be a detective rather than a beat cop. It was twenty minutes before they heard a door slam at the front of the house. Then came the swelling babble of voices as an army of investigators and specialists moved in, lugging their equipment with them.

"Why don't we move back upstairs," said the cop. "In case anyone wants to talk to you."

He seemed uncertain, but they followed his slightly faltering lead and took new seats on the landing in a pair of wing chairs, while the cop vanished to consult with whoever was in charge.

"I'm sorry about Richard," said Tonya. It was abrupt, almost brusque: a concession of sorts, but one which stuck in her craw.


A. J. Hartley

Deborah nodded but didn't know what to say. Tonya was a good maid, almost too good in fact, and took the kind of pride in her work which suggested that the work of the museum itself was a colossal inconvenience. She was tough and forthright and--despite doing a job which surely meant she was used to being given instructions--resented any show of authority over her.

Any authority from you, at least,
Deborah reminded herself. She seemed respectful to the point of docility where Richard was concerned. It was just Deborah she didn't like. Deborah had put that down to the fact that she was Tonya's boss while also being young and white and female, but she always felt that there was something else, something personal, a resentment she couldn't quite put her finger on. Now Richard was dead, and Tonya was creeping around his bedroom in the middle of the night . . .
Don't think about it. Leave the detection to the detectives.
Let it go.

Deborah sighed and continued to watch as the house filled up with people, several armed with cameras and evidence bags and rolls of yellow tape. Occasionally people--men, they were all men--muttered to each other and gave her and Tonya sidelong glances, but for what seemed like a long time no one spoke to either of them, so that she began to feel like the audience of a strangely intimate and surreal performance. For a half hour, people came and went, talking and scribbling notes, lit by the occasional brilliant flashes of cameras from inside, and still no one spoke to her. A female police officer arrived after another twenty-five minutes, a heavyset, kindly woman who offered her water and tried to occupy Deborah's eyes as the body--Richard's body--was wheeled out of the bedroom on a covered gurney. A man she took to be the pathologist was talking to the detective who seemed to be in charge. He gestured with his hands, indicating something about fourteen inches long, then again with his finger and thumb showing a space about the width of the incisions.
The weapon.


T h e M a s k o f A t r e u s

"Miss Miller?" said the detective, as the medical examiner bustled away. "We're ready for you now."

He nodded to Tonya. "If you wouldn't mind waiting here for a few minutes," he said, "we'll be out to ask you some questions shortly."

He was tall, about her height, square-shouldered and athletic, dark-haired and tanned. Most women would find him handsome, she thought vaguely, not bothering to wonder why she didn't.

"I'm Detective Chris Cerniga," he said. "Do you think you could step back in here?"

He said it delicately, as if the trauma of returning to the bedroom might be too much for her, though his earnest look faltered when she rose to her full height and strode in. He straightened up, throwing his shoulders back a little more than was strictly necessary, and followed her in past the black uniformed cop. There was another detective inside, a balding man in a stained synthetic suit. He was studying the bookcase as they came in and didn't turn round.

"Dave," said Cerniga. He turned to acknowledge the witness, and his gaze lingered on her. She was unexpected, it seemed, though why--beyond the obvious--was uncertain.

"This is Miss Miller," said Cerniga. "She found the body."

"Detective Keene," said the balding man, not offering either a hand or a badge. In fact, now that she had been brought to his attention, he acted as if she didn't deserve it, turning back to the bookcase and considering the titles.

"I realize this must be very difficult for you," said Cerniga,

"but I was hoping you could answer a few questions."

She nodded, mute. The bedroom was as she had left it, the hidden alcove behind the bookcase still open, its walls glowing with their strange treasures. Only the corpse was gone. The space on the floor where Richard's body had been was stained a dark and telling crimson in the curiously focused lights that shone down, forming a rectangle around that very spot. The entire alcove had been marked off with crime scene tape. Deborah felt like she was seeing it all through someone 44

A. J. Hartley

else's eyes, or that she was experiencing some strange waking dream where the world seemed skewed and unreal.

"Would you happen to know if the museum contains any ceremonial weapons?"

Cerniga's voice brought her back to the moment. She blinked.

"Ceremonial?" she said, momentarily baffled. "There's a tomahawk in one of the cases downstairs . . ."

"No," he said. "I mean a weapon with a slim blade, like a dagger or a sword."

She stood there for a second, her mouth slightly open, as she realized what he was talking about, then flushed.

"Right," she said. "Of course. No. There's nothing like that here. Sorry."

She didn't know why she said
. She could tell her hand was shaking slightly. Cerniga was checking his notes.

"Rough night for old guys in the ATL," said the cop who had called himself Keene. He flashed a hard grin at Cerniga.

"I'm sorry?" said Deborah.

"Second homicide tonight," said Keene, shrugging. "The other was, like, a block away. Another old guy."

He said it like he was commenting on a sandwich.

"Are they connected?" said Deborah, still bemused as much by his glibness as by what he was saying.

"Nah," he said. "Totally different MO."

"You told the officer outside that you had never seen this room behind the bookcase before, is that right?" said Cerniga, looking up from his book.

"Yes," said Deborah.

"You just stumbled on it tonight," said Keene, "by chance?"

There was something in his eyes she didn't like, something cocky and suspicious.

"Not by chance," she said. "I had been looking for Richard--Mr. Dixon--and came in here. I picked up this piece of pottery, and I saw a trace of oil at the foot of the bookcase . . ."


T h e M a s k o f A t r e u s

She held out the fragment of ceramic she had been nursing absently since the whole nightmare had started, and caught herself as the two detectives stared.

"Sorry," she said, feeling yet again like she had done something amazingly idiotic. "I should have given it to the first policeman who arrived. Or left it where it was maybe . . ."

"Ya think?" said Keene with heavy sarcasm.

"Where did you pick that up?" said Cerniga. He looked irritated.

Deborah pointed.

"Great!" Keene snarled. "So the crime scene is contaminated!"

"What is it?" said Cerniga, brushing his colleague's indignation aside.

"I'm sorry?" said Deborah.

"The piece of pottery," he replied. "What is it?"

"A fragment of a vase or pot," she said, turning away from Keene. "It looks old, but it could be fake. Maybe Greek. Mycenaean."

"Greek?" said Cerniga. He sounded . . . what? Impressed?

Intrigued? Something.

"Where's the rest of it?" said Keene.

"Over there. I think."

She pointed into the corner of the room where the other fragments lay scattered.

"Is it worth anything?" said Cerniga.

"Depends whether it's real," Deborah answered. "Old, I mean. If it's fake, it's worthless. If it's real . . . different story."

"Even though it would have to be stuck back together?"

said Cerniga.

"Everything this old has to be stuck back together. So long as it's done properly, it would still be valuable."

"How much?" said Keene, cutting in like a dance partner in hobnail boots.

"I really don't know."


A. J. Hartley

"Take a shot."

"I'd need to see it assembled. It would depend on the shape and size--"

"I said 'take a shot.' What is this, the freaking

"Thousands," she said, shrugging. "Tens of thousands. Maybe more."

"For this?" said Keene, looking suddenly baffled and impressed.

"For the whole pot, maybe," said Deborah. "If it's real, it's Mycenaean."


"From Bronze Age Mycenae in ancient Greece."

"How old is Bronze Age?" said Cerniga.

"Three thousand to about twelve hundred bc," said Deborah. "Or thereabouts."

For a second the two detectives stared at the fragment in Keene's hand with something like reverence, and Deborah, ever the curator, smiled in spite of herself.

"So . . . the rest of this stuff?" said Cerniga, sweeping a hand over the display cases. "It's all Bronze Age? It's all Mycen . . . ?"

"Mycenaean. It looks like it, but . . ."

"But what?" said Keene, as if he thought she was being professionally pedantic, splitting hairs instead of cutting straight to it.

"I don't see how they can be real," said Deborah. "People would know about it. People would have seen it before. You don't just stumble on collections like this."

"But if it is real," said Cerniga, "what would it be worth?"

"Millions. Billions," she said. "I couldn't begin to put a price on a collection this important."

A long silence descended on the room as the two detectives turned from her and considered the gold, bronze, and ceramic artifacts gleaming dully in the soft lights. It was a moment of reverence, like sitting alone in temple between services as she had done once years after her father had died, 47

T h e M a s k o f A t r e u s

a moment overwritten with memory and bafflement and sadness.
Could it all just be about money? Is that why Richard

"What about this word?" said Cerniga, snapping her back to the present as he held up the pad of paper--now bagged in polyethylene--from Richard's nightstand. "Atreus. Does that mean anything to you? Anything personal or business-related connected to Mr. Dixon?"

Deborah shook her head.

"Only legends," she said.


They sent her home at five forty-five in the morning, telling her they'd need to speak to her again after she had gotten some sleep. She gave them her home number and said she'd be in the museum all afternoon. For the second time that night she went out into the parking lot to get her car. Nothing about the two moments felt remotely similar.

Richard. God, she just didn't know what she would do when the reality of his death really wormed its way into her mind. At the moment there was only a sudden blankness in her heart, like some part of herself had been taken, torn away so fast that she didn't know what to feel. It would come, searing, burning, scarring, but right now there was only a hole, a void, albeit one which would eventually overflow with feeling.

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