Joan was in middle of picking one of Sherlock's many padlocks when her phone rang. She gently extricated the slim piece of metal from the lock and looked at the phone screen. It wasn't a number she recognized.
"Hello?" she said.
"Joan!" exclaimed a vaguely familiar voice from the other end. "It's Olivia Bradley. Remember me?"
Joan was bewildered for a moment, before she realized who it must be. "Olivia Jackson? Em mentioned you were getting married. How are you? I haven't spoken to you in what, a decade?"
"I'm great!" said Olivia. "Well, sort of. Not really. Actually, that's why I called. I was speaking to Em, and she mentioned that you're some kind of private eye now."
"That's right," agreed Joan, trying not to sound as curious as she was.
"I need your help, Joan," said Olivia.
"Tell me about it and I'll see what my partner and I can do," advised Joan.
Olivia hesitated. "Do you have to bring your partner into it?" she asked plaintively.
"If you don't want me to I won't," promised Joan. "But if you're worried about confidentiality, I can promise he won't tell anyone."
There was a brief silence; Joan held the phone between her ear and shoulder while she put her lockpicks away.
"I'll tell you about the problem," said Olivia. "If you don't think you can solve it alone, you'll bring him into it. Could I come meet you? It's sort of urgent, and I'm in New York already."
"Of course," said Joan. She gave Olivia her address and exchanged brief goodbyes. After hanging up, she wandered into the kitchen to find Sherlock.
"I was in college with Olivia as a freshman," Joan explained to Sherlock, who was sitting in a kitchen chair while on his computer, probably arguing with people online again. "After that she switched to some sort of art course and we didn't have any classes in common. I think she may have transferred to a different college too. We were acquaintances rather than good friends, but she and Emily were close. She said she'll tell me about the case when she gets here."
"I'm sure you'll do an excellent job, Watson," said Sherlock, swinging around on his chair to look at her. "No doubt it's a trivial matter, but we haven't anything better to do at the moment."
"Actually, she wants me to solve it alone," corrected Joan gently. "I don't know yet what it is, but she sounded pretty frantic." The doorbell rang. "There she is now. You stay out of the way, please. I promised her this would be confidential."
"Very well," said Sherlock, going back to his computer.
Joan ushered Olivia in and sat her on a chair in the living room. She looked just like Joan remembered her - a very pretty short, heavyset black woman with long curly hair and big eyes.
"Thank you for meeting me at such short notice," said Olivia. "I couldn't think of anything else to do."
"Of course," said Joan. "What's the problem?"
Olivia looked around the room, apparently gathering her thoughts. "I'll start from the beginning," she said.
Joan nodded and gestured for her to continue.
"I work for a company that restores old buildings - mansions and churches and the like," Olivia began. "My specialty is wall murals. I was hired to restore a building in New Jersey that was recently bought by someone who's going to make it a museum. Before it opens as an exhibit, though, he's going to make a party there for his daughter." She paused.
"Go on," said Joan encouragingly.
"My datemate's sister Jasmine Brunton and her boyfriend Michael Howells are party planners. I recommended them to the owner of the house when he was there one day - he mentioned that he needed planners. He hired them, and yesterday through tomorrow they're supposed to be setting up for the party, which is tomorrow afternoon."
"They're spending two and a half days setting up for a party?" asked Joan.
"Rich people," Olivia answered with a shrug. "Who else would let fifty twelve-year-olds run around in a house you just payed a fortune to restore?"
"All right," said Joan. "You said they're supposed to be setting up for the party. Do you mean they're not?"
"That's why I came to you," said Olivia. "They were supposed to start around seven a.m. today, but when I got there at eight thirty they weren't around. I tried calling Jasmine - I actually had my datemate Alex call her, because I don't have her number - but she didn't answer, and neither did Michael. They've only been missing for - " she glanced at her watch " - probably about five hours, so I can't go to the police. I'm not sure I'd want to anyways. I did recommend them, after all. I don't know what could have happened."
"What makes you think they didn't just arrive late or forget to come?" asked Joan.
"The front door was unlocked and Jasmine's car was there," explained Olivia. "They could have come in seperate cars yesterday and gone home together, but the door would still be locked. I was the last one to leave yesterday and I know I locked it, and other than them only the owner has keys. I know the owner - his name is something-with-an-R Musgrave - didn't come in, because he's out of the country until tomorrow. That's why he needed party planners who do all of the work."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Joan.
"Come with me to the mansion, if you're willing," said Olivia. "I'll pay you, of course. Look for footprints or whatever it is detectives do. Just find them before they get in trouble for not being there and I get a reputation for recommending thieves."
"Do you think they stole anything?" asked Joan sharply.
"I didn't see anything missing," said Olivia. "And the only things of value are either part of the walls or furniture, neither of which they could bring with them."
"But you do think they'd have stolen something if they could," said Joan.
"Not Jasmine," said Olivia. "I don't really know Michael well enough to say if he would."
"All right," said Joan. "How far away is this mansion?"
"It's in New Jersey, like I said," replied Olivia. "A little more than an hour's drive. So you'll come?"
"Yes," said Joan. "I don't think I need to bring Sherlock - that's my partner. I'll just tell him where we're going in case I need him later."
"Thank you," said Olivia, looking very relieved. "I'll drive us there. I parked just outside."
They didn't talk much on the car ride. Joan tried to start a conversation, but Olivia was too tense for more than one-word answers; the light drizzle that started forty minutes into the drive didn't help calm her at all. Joan soon gave up on talking and sat back. Olivia turned on the radio and tapped the steering wheel with her fingertips as she drove.
By the time they arrived, the rain had stopped, though it was still overcast. Joan, however, ignored the weather in favor of gaping at the property. The grounds were enormous and carefully groomed, and the driveway up to the house was nearly a mile long. The mansion itself was so large it could have been called a castle. It was made of stone and looked like it was brand new, though Joan supposed that must mean the restoration was almost finished. A gray car was parked near the house. Olivia pulled in next to it and turned off the car.
"That's Jasmine's car," she explained. "I hope they're in the house somewhere. It would mean I wasted your time, but at least they'd be there."
"The house is very big," Joan pointed out. "Are you sure you didn't just miss them?"
"Pretty sure," said Olivia. "I spent about an hour looking for them, and they would only be in the rooms being used for the party anyways."
"Which rooms are those?" asked Joan.
"I'll show you," said Olivia. She got out of the car and led Joan into the mansion. It was brighter and more cheerful than Joan had expected.
"Most of the restoration was adding electricity and running water without destroying the house," Olivia explained. "It's all finished except for my part. I'm touching up a mural in one of the rooms that won't be used during the party - it's a bat mitzva, in fact - so I don't need to be finished before then." She turned a corner suddenly and Joan followed her into what seemed to be a ballroom. It currently contained two long tables and about ten small round ones, all with lavender tablecloths. There were also matching lavender ribbons around vases of fake flowers sitting in a cluster on the floor. "This is where most of the party will be," explained Olivia. "The only part that won't be here is the treasure hunt."
"Where will that be?" asked Joan.
"I don't know where it's ending," said Olivia. "I only know it starts here. I can find the clues, though. Do you think it's important?"
"If the only place they're supposed to be other than this room is wherever the treasure hunt goes, yes, it's probably important," said Joan.
"Good point," said Olivia. She gestured at a pile of bags and cloth in a corner. "That's everything they're working with," she said.
"I know they printed out the clues already - I think they were going to hide them today, but we can probably find one set there."
Joan and Olivia searched for ten minutes. The bags were very disorganized, but at last they had to admit that there was nothing there.
"Can you think of any of the hiding places?" asked Joan.
Olivia was still digging through the piles of material. Instead of answering, she held up a stack of paper in triumph. "I found it!" she exclaimed. She handed them to Joan. It was a pile of about twenty five lavender slips of heavy cardstock, professionally printed. They all said the same thing: I go up and down but never move.
"A staircase," said Joan. "This is easy enough so far."
"It's geared towards twelve-year-olds, and you're a detective," said Olivia, laughing a little. "I'm glad you're here, though. Even if I had thought to follow their clues, I'm not very good at riddles."
"Which stairs would the next clue be near?" asked Joan.
"Probably the ones by the kitchen," said Olivia. "I'll show you there." Joan left the stack of papers in the bag and followed her.
Sure enough, as they neared the kitchen, at the end of a corridor lined with closed doors, Joan and Olivia saw another stack of lavender paper sitting in a niche in the wall that was probably meant to hold a vase or statue.
"I live when I eat but die when I drink," Olivia read aloud. "Even I know this one - a fire. I don't think there will be any fires, but this mansion has an abundance of fireplaces."
"Which one will the children be allowed to see?" asked Joan.
Olivia shrugged. "I don't know, actually," she said. "Definitely not a room I've worked in, and probably on this floor, but I don't know any more details."
"Let's try the kitchen," suggested Joan. Olivia nodded in agreement.
The kitchen fireplace proved to be very clean, but empty. Joan checked the stove and oven as well, but there was nothing there either. Olivia sighed, tapping her fingers against each other nervously.
"Don't worry," said Joan reassuringly. "We'll find them, I promise. If they're not at any point along the scavenger hunt, I'll figure out some other way to find them. I think this is our best chance, though."
"OK," said Olivia. She took a deep breath.
"Good," said Joan. "Now, where else might the children go?"
"There's a study somewhere across from the ballroom," said Olivia. "I think it has a fireplace."
"Lead the way," said Joan.
The study door creaked as it opened to reveal a room with dark wooden bookshelves and a large fireplace. The mantelpiece above the fireplace had a stack of lavender paper. These read I get wetter as I dry.
"A towel," said Joan. "This will be in whichever restroom they're using."
"Up the hallway and turn right," said Olivia. Joan led the way and found more pale purple papers.
"Do you have any idea how many clues there are?" she asked as she picked up the stack.
"No," said Olivia apologetically. "What does that say?"
"I am tall and brown and lose my clothes in the autumn," read Joan.
Olivia stifled a giggle. "Sounds like my three-year-old nephew," she said. "Only he tends to lose his clothes whenever he can."
Joan smiled. "It's a tree," she said. "There are dozens of trees here, though."
"There's only one tree in the side garden, which is where they'll be allowed to go," said Olivia.
The side garden proved to be as large as some houses, smoothly grassy with one large tree as promised. There were narrow flowerbeds around the edges, interspersed with some shrubs. The clues by the tree proved in a small plastic box with a lid, presumably to keep them from blowing away or getting wet. "I am dark in the sun but nothing without it," read Olivia.
Joan thought for a moment. "A shadow," she said. "Probably the tree's shadow." She looked at the sky; there was still no visible sunlight. "We can't wait for the rain to clear up, can we?"
Olivia shook her head. "We can try to find them a different way," she suggested. "I'm not convinced they're anywhere along this treasure hunt. Wouldn't they answer their phones in that case?"
"My suspicion is that they got locked in somewhere along the way," said Joan. She glanced at her watch. They had been following the scavenger hunt clues for about twenty minutes. "If we don't finish this within twenty minutes, I'll try something else," she decided. "I'll check if there's an app that can calculate where the sun will be when the party is going on; that's probably how Jasmine and Michael figured out where to hide the next clue."
"All right," said Olivia, seeming mollified, though still anxious. She stayed silent as Joan tapped at her phone, though she tapped her fingers against her thigh nervously.
"Here," said Joan. "At our current location, tomorrow at what time?"
"I think they mentioned that the scavenger hunt is around 4:30," said Olivia. "So we'll use the angle of the sun to figure out where the shadow will be?"
"Exactly," replied Joan as she put in the date and time. "How's your trig?"
"But we don't know the height of the tree," Olivia pointed out.
Joan stopped tapping. "Oh," she said. "We could search the whole yard, maybe?"
"That would take a very long time," Olivia pointed out. She sighed.
"Here's the angle of the shadow," said Joan, waving her phone at Olivia. "Let's search along where it will be. We don't need to know how far it will reach."
"That's true," admitted Olivia. "We don't even know where along the shadow the next clue would be even if it were sunny out."
"Let's hope it is another clue," said Joan. "If the scavenger hunt ends here, your datemate's sister and her boyfriend are somewhere else entirely."
"Imagine if they just decided to take a hike around here or something," said Olivia.
"Then my day would have been spent solving a children's scavenger hunt," said Joan.
"I hope that's all that happened," said Olivia. "If it is, I'll send your bill to them. Serves them right for running off like this and not answering their phones when they're supposed to be here working."
"This is the angle of the shadow," said Joan, gesturing with her arm. The angle encompassed a long stretch of grass, two or three decorative bushes, and the stone wall which separated the garden from its surroundings.
"Under the bushes?" Olivia suggested.
Joan shrugged. "Let's check," she said, and did so. Nothing was visible under the bushes. "It could be on the wall," she said.
"Or this is where they're going to hide the prize and they haven't done it yet," said Olivia. She looked around nervously.
Joan shook her head. "Here," she said from next to the wall. A box was tucked at the base of it, small and clear like the one that contained the clue under the tree.
"It's empty," said Olivia, coming to stand next to Joan. Joan shook her head.
"There's something in it," she said, crouching down to pick it up. The something proved to be an electric pink post-it note with 'pantry - clue tbd' scribbled on it in nearly indecipherable handwriting. She handed it to Olivia.
"That's easy enough," said Olivia. "There's a pantry right near the kitchen. I think the children will be allowed in."
"We were right there," said Joan. "We passed it when we found the clue by the stairs, didn't we?"
Olivia nodded. "I think the door was closed," she said.
"It was," confirmed Joan. She led Olivia back down the corridor towards the kitchen.
"I don't know which room it is," Olivia admitted when they got there. "I just know it's somewhere in this hallway." She tried to open one of the doors; it was locked.
"It will probably be unlocked," Joan pointed out. She tried another door. It was also locked. "You take that side and I'll take this side," she said.
There were nine doors all together, and Joan and Olivia soon discovered that all of them were locked. Joan looked at Olivia, who was gazing at her hopefully. She sighed and took her lockpicks out of her pocket. She didn't want to display her more questionable skills in front of Olivia, but she didn't seem to have any other choice.
"Which is the most likely to be the pantry?" asked Joan.
"One of these three," said Olivia, gesturing towards the end of the hallway nearer the kitchen. Joan picked the locks quickly and competently. The first one was just an empty room. The second one seemed like it might be a pantry; it was full of heavy metal-framed shelves with nothing on them.
"This is probably it," said Olivia, standing on tiptoes to see the room over Joan's shoulder. Joan opened the door all the way and looked in. The room was empty of everything except for the shelves, even dust.
Joan walked in, looking around the dim room. There were no windows, and not much light filtered in from the hallway. She remembered that the renovation of the mansion had included wiring it for electricity and reached for the light switch, but couldn't find one. Olivia, hovering in the doorway, watched in nervous silence.
"Do you know if there's a light in here?" asked Joan.
Olivia shrugged. "Probably," she said. "I think they put in lights everywhere."
Joan looked at the floor, then at the layout of the shelving.
"This shouldn't be here," she announced. "This shelf. It doesn't belong next to the door. Someone must have moved it, and recently."
"It could have been the electricians," said Olivia. "Maybe Jasmine and Michael didn't make it in here yet and that's why the door was locked."
Joan shook her head. "These scuff marks are too recent," she said, pointing at the floor. "This shelf was moved not long ago, probably today. Any more than two days ago and there would be some dust covering them. Help me move this to the side."
Olivia joined Joan in the room, and between the two of them, they managed to slide the shelf along the wall to the corner, where it belonged. Behind where its side had been was the light switch. Joan flipped it on. Right next to her feet, where the shelf had been, was the outline of a trapdoor.
Joan bent down and pulled it up. It was made of the same dull gray stone as the rest of the floor and very heavy. She got the edge up, and Olivia darted forward to help. Underneath was a hole about three feet deep and six feet square, lined with concrete. Lying in it, curled up on her side, was a young woman. Her clothes were dusty and her hair was matted with sticky blood. As soon as she opened her eyes and saw the open trapdoor, she shot up into a standing position, then gasped and staggered. Olivia caught one of her arms, leaving Joan to hold the heavy door herself.
"Jasmine!" cried Olivia. Jasmine looked up.
"Olivia?" she said. "What... what are you doing here?"
Joan leaned the trapdoor against the wall and took Jasmine's other arm. "Can you make it out of there yourself?" she asked gently.
"I think so," said Jasmine. She used her arms to pull her top half onto the floor, then rolled so that her legs were up too. She sat up and leaned against the wall, but didn't try to stand.
"Jasmine, what happened?" cried Olivia.
"Michael," began Jasmine, then began coughing. "Water?" she gasped.
"In the kitchen," said Olivia. "Let's go there. There's a chair for you to sit on." Jasmine nodded, still coughing, and pushed herself to her feet. She leaned on Olivia's shoulder as they walked across the corridor to the kitchen, where Joan quickly found a plastic cup and filled it with water for Jasmine.
After she had finished drinking, Joan asked Jasmine, "How did you end up in that hole?"
"Sorry, who..." Jasmine trailed off, looking at Olivia.
"This is Joan Watson," said Olivia. "She helped me find you. Joan, Jasmine Brunton. Jasmine, what happened? Where's Michael?"
"We - Michael and I were making the treasure hunt I told you about," began Jasmine, talking mostly to Olivia. "We were going to put the prizes on the shelves here in the pantry. When we came in, we noticed that one of the shelves was in the wrong place. One of the electricians must have moved it, for some reason. We decided to put it back. When it was gone, Michael noticed the trap door on the floor. We opened it, and we saw that it was filled with... well, treasure. There was a heap of gold jewelry in the middle. I took it out while Michael held the door open, but then - " she stopped and took a breath. She seemed to be near tears. "Michael swung the cover of the hole - the trapdoor. He hit me on the head with it. I wasn't exactly unconscious, but I was... He shoved me in and closed the door. Then I heard scraping sounds. He must have covered it with something, because I couldn't get it open."
"There was a set of shelves covering the trap door," explained Olivia. "The door to the pantry was locked, too."
"May I examine your head?" Joan asked. Jasmine nodded.
"You'll be fine," announced Joan. "Go home and rest. It's better if you aren't alone for the next few hours, but you should be OK even if you are."
"You can stay with me and Alex if you want," offered Olivia. "You need to call and tell aer you're all right anyways. I had to get your number from aer, so ae knows you were missing."
"I'll do that," said Jasmine, smiling weakly. "But what about Michael?"
"We'll tell the police about him," said Joan. "There isn't really anything else to do. Did you and him come here together or in separate cars?"
"We were both in my car," said Jasmine.
"So he's on foot," said Joan. "Your car is still here. We'll find him, don't worry."
"Oh, good," said Jasmine.
"Let's leave," said Olivia. "We'll have to tell Musgrave that one of his party planners is gone and the other is injured. We'll call him on the way."
"I'll figure something out," said Jasmine. "There isn't a lot left to do anyways. We already put out the tables and put on the tablecloths and hid all the treasure hunt clues."
"We know," said Olivia, grinning at Joan, who smiled back.