The Case of the Broken Ties
Notes: The characters from the television series are not mine. The other characters and the story are! This is a sequel to my story The Case of the Macabre Mansion, but I don't feel it needs to be read first. It's probably going to be quite a strange and wild ride, very different from any Perry venture anyone has attempted before, but I hope you will all enjoy it!
It was a chilly December evening when Hamilton stepped into his secretary's office, weary but triumphant after a long day in court. Leon, hard at work on his laptop, looked up.
"Hello, Sir," he greeted. "Did it go well?"
Hamilton looked to him with a smile. "It's just the first day of the trial, but I'm sure we've got this one in the bag. One count of attempted murder and one count of murder one for Vivalene. Flo's being charged as an accessory to an attempted murder and an accessory to murder one."
"And there's nothing Judge Heyes can do about it?"
"With his office under heavy investigation? No. He won't be able to try busting those girls out in any way." Hamilton headed for the inner office. "And we're going to get him too."
Leon nodded in approval. "I believe you will, Sir." He resumed typing, but abruptly paused and looked up again. "Oh! You had a call while you were out. It was from Howie Peterson. He sounded keyed up."
Hamilton frowned. "Did he say why?"
"He said something about a light coming from a box. I don't know; I couldn't make sense of it."
"Alright. I'll call him back. Thank you, Leon."
Hamilton was troubled as he stepped into his office and switched on the lights. Seven-year-old Howie Peterson and his family were mixed up in the Vivalene case. Vivalene and her sister Flo had been determined to get hold of a supposed treasure in the Peterson home, and had used all manner of trickery, blackmail, and even murder, in their attempts to get it.
During the hearing Howie had given all the testimony he could to the judge and the attorneys in the judge's chambers. They hoped to not call him again unless it was absolutely critical. Today, for the trial, he had been home with his godmother, Mignon Germaine. Howie's parents had been at the courthouse, still needed as vital witnesses.
The case was highly distressing to the impressionable kid. Who knew what he meant by a light in a box. Hamilton honestly hadn't the faintest idea.
He sank down at his desk and grabbed the phone, dialing the Petersons' number. After two rings it was answered. "Hello?"
"Mignon. Hello," Hamilton greeted, recognizing his friend's voice. "I just got back from court. Leon tells me that Howie called here earlier."
"He did." The emotions behind Mignon's level voice were indiscernible. "He's right here, Hamilton. I'll let you speak with him. But first I want to congratulate you. Your progress in court is all over the evening news."
"This has been a pretty big case," Hamilton acknowledged. "Without Vivalene's precious friends for her to lean on, it's been going faster than it could have."
"That's good. The number of public officials Vivalene had working for her is shocking. Or perhaps I should say the names are more shocking than the numbers.
"Here's Howie. He's very anxious to talk to you."
Hamilton barely had time to say "Alright" before a young voice came over the line.
"Mr. Burger! Did Mignon tell you about the box?"
"No, she didn't," said Hamilton. "How about you tell me?"
"We found the treasure!"
Hamilton was surprised. "The treasure on the map?"
"Yup! And this weird box was with a bunch of gold coins and stuff. We can't get the lid off, but it's glowing inside!"
"How can you tell?" Hamilton queried.
"It shines through the crack under the lid. It's creepy!" Howie said.
Hamilton reached for a pen. "What does Mignon think it is?"
"She doesn't know. But she told me I shouldn't touch it."
"You probably shouldn't. Is someone coming out to look at the box and the coins?"
"Yeah, some guy from the museum. Will you come out and see the box first?"
"Me?" Hamilton leaned back. "I don't think I'd be very good at figuring out what it is."
"No, but you could see it," Howie said in earnest.
Hamilton glanced at the clock. Since the treasure fit quite deeply into the case he had been prosecuting, he should see it regardless of what was going on with that box.
"I'll be there within the hour," he promised.
"Yay!" Howie cheered. "Okay, we'll wait for you."
They hung up, and Hamilton moved to tap out another number. He had several phone calls to make. He wasn't the only one involved with this mystery who would want to see the fabled Peterson treasure.
Vivalene gripped a handful of blanket as she stretched out on her cot. Her bangs covered her eyes, but if they were visible the smoldering fire within them would be all too clear. Hamilton Burger had had a triumphant day. For Vivalene, it had been a bad day. An angering day. A day to slap her lawyer and scream at him for his incompetence in defending her and her sister.
She hated them, all of them. Especially the district attorney. And she had no intention of either rotting in prison or being executed. She would find a way out of this. She had always managed to before.
"You have a visitor."
Vivalene looked up as the door of her cell clanged open. The matron watched her, no-nonsense as always. The staff was fully aware of her trickery and treachery. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. No one could let down their guard around her for one moment.
"Thank you, darling," Vivalene said as she got up. Displeasure dripped from every word.
When she was escorted into the visiting room, however, genuine surprise replaced all other emotions. The man sitting and waiting at the table was a complete stranger to her. Vivalene slinked in, not about to let her current, unfashionable attire stop her from making a traditional, sultry entrance.
"Hello," she purred. "Darling, I'm afraid you have the advantage of me. I don't know who you are."
The man stood and held out his hand. "I came on behalf of a mutual . . . friend of ours," he told her.
Vivalene shook his hand slowly, cautiously, still unsure what to make of him. "I see," she said. "You'll forgive my cynicism, but I don't seem to have many friends right now."
When they were left alone, the matron waiting near the door, the man leaned in closer. "Judge Heyes sends his regrets," he muttered.
"I return them," Vivalene said without batting an eye. "He really hasn't proved to be very useful to me this time. The district attorney has gotten his claws into the judge's robes. And he's not about to let go."
The stranger smiled. "That's all going to change," he said. "Is your sister still looking for the Egyptians' Forbidden Box?"
"She was hoping it would turn up with the Petersons' treasure, yes," Vivalene said. She laughed. "I don't believe that any such thing is real. It's only a myth, like Pandora's Box."
"Don't be so sure." He gestured to the table. "Please, sit." Vivalene did so. Her companion sat across from her.
"Are you trying to say you have the box?" Vivalene frowned.
"It's been found." The man's smile deepened into a cruel smirk. "And another mutual friend can gain access to the Petersons' home and set its power loose. All he has to do is go there in place of the man who is supposed to come from the museum."
Vivalene crossed her arms on the table. "This still sounds preposterous to me," she said. "I have no way of knowing that you're telling the truth. And since it's my sister who wants this device, why have you come to me?"
"I have a proposition for you," was the reply. "Tell me what you would like to see in a world of your making—what position you would want to hold. What situations you would want to see your enemies in. Tell me and I can pass the word along. We can make such a world happen."
"With the use of this box of the occult, you mean," Vivalene surmised.
"That's right. Well? Are you interested?" The shadows fell across his features, making him appear all the more deadly.
"I can have any world I want," Vivalene said, desiring to make certain.
"Within reason," her visitor said, spreading his hands. "As long as it doesn't contradict what Judge Heyes wants."
"Ah, there we go." Vivalene's lips curled in a dangerous smile. "Tell me more."
Hamilton drove up to the Petersons' house and parked in front. The others would likely arrive before too long. They had all been greatly interested in the news that the elusive treasure had been found at last. It had played such a critical role in the case.
He frowned as he glanced at the house next-door. It was vacant, and pending the conclusion of the trial, it remained in police custody. Vivalene had lived there for the last few weeks before her arrest. The secret compartments and tunnels that snaked through the old walls had contained several vital pieces of evidence for the state. There could even be more in other, undiscovered locations. Once the trial was over, the house would go on the real estate market again.
It was debatable whether there would be any takers. Some people would probably shy away from it due to the questionable woman who had lived there. Others, adventurous and curious, would likely want it because of that.
Howie was flinging the Petersons' front door open and running to meet Hamilton before he was even halfway up the walk. "Mr. Burger!" he exclaimed. "You're here! Come on, come see what we found!"
"Okay, I'm coming," said Hamilton in amusement. He quickened his pace.
Mignon appeared in the doorway as they arrived. "Hello, Hamilton," she greeted. "This box is a strange artifact. Howie's been fascinated since discovering it, but . . ."
She was cut off by Howie running past and grabbing a rectangular container from off the living room mantel. "See?" he said, holding it out for Hamilton's inspection. "This is it!"
Hamilton's eyebrows shot up. It was quite an ordinary box, really, except for one small thing—the mysterious purple glow that was coming from under the sealed lid.
"You still don't know what's causing this?" he frowned as he reached for it.
Howie gladly handed it to him. "Nope," he said. "It was glowing like this when we found it!"
Mignon stepped closer to Hamilton, lowering her voice as she spoke. "The lock hasn't been tampered with. There's no reason for it to be illuminated, unless the explanation is one you won't want to think about."
"What's that?" Hamilton hefted the box. The light did not so much as waver. "Black magic?"
Mignon nodded. "The glow makes me uneasy."
"Well, it makes me uneasy too," Hamilton said. He set it back on the mantel. "But that doesn't mean I think it's anything supernatural. There's probably just something normal in the box that causes a glow."
"Such as?" Mignon returned.
". . . I don't know," Hamilton admitted. "I can't think of anything that would cause a purple light. But there has to be something!"
He glanced at it once more. "What are these hieroglyphics on the lid? Ancient Egyptian?"
"Yes. The man coming from the museum, Mr. Welles, is an Egyptologist. He will translate if he can." Mignon was still visibly concerned. "It may be a spell that unlocks the box . . . or something inside it."
Hamilton chuckled. "The worst thing that might be in there is probably ancient Egyptian dust."
"But that wouldn't explain the glow," Mignon pointed out.
Hamilton sobered and sighed. "No, it wouldn't," he consented. "I just can't believe that something as crazy as black magic really exists. I guess that would mean that white magic is real, too."
"Would that be so terrible?" Mignon returned.
"Either of them defy logic," Hamilton said, shaking his head. "It just sounds like something out of some kid's fairytale book." He looked at Mignon, thoughtful. "Tell me, Mignon. You believe in this kind of stuff, but have you ever seen any proof that magic exists?"
Mignon considered her response. "I feel that I have," she said. "Of course, I'm sure a skeptic could come up with a different explanation every time."
"I'm sure I could," Hamilton said.
"A lot of the true power of magic is in the mind, as you yourself deduced," Mignon said. "Those who refuse to believe cannot be affected, at least not in the same way as a believer. Perhaps for them, sometimes, it's worse."
"Worse?" Hamilton echoed. "I'd like to have you explain that one to me."
Howie was most uninterested in the grown-ups' conversation. He scurried back to the door at the sound of more car doors slamming shut. "Mr. Mason! Miss Street!" he called, waving wildly from the doorway.
Perry, who was escorting Della by the arm to the front yard, looked over in surprise. "Hello, Howie," he called back. Della waved.
Howie skipped back inside to await their arrival.
Della smiled. "It's really amazing, how much he's started to open up," she said.
Perry nodded. "It's almost hard to believe this is the same boy who was so quiet and didn't want to talk to strangers."
"I'm sure finding out his toys didn't cause Vivalene's sister to fall down the stairs helped," Della said. "That must have been a terrible burden weighing on his mind."
"I don't doubt it. But I think associating with Hamilton has helped a great deal too." Perry smiled. "It's easy to see how much Howie idolizes him."
"I was surprised when the Petersons asked Mr. Burger to be Howie's godfather," Della said.
"From what Mignon said, no one was more surprised than Hamilton," Perry remarked. "But I think he's been enjoying it."
Hamilton came to the doorway as they reached the steps. "Hello, Perry, Della," he said.
"Hello, Hamilton," Perry said. "I'm assuming you've seen this legendary treasure you called about?"
"I've seen part of it," Hamilton said. He stepped out of the way so they could enter.
"What's it like?" Della wondered. "I've been so curious."
"Well . . ." Hamilton hesitated. "I'd tell you, but I'm afraid it would sound more than outlandish."
Della only half-heard. As she and Perry walked into the entryway, the box caught her eye. Her mouth fell open. "What on earth . . . !" She made her way over, lifting it from the mantel and studying it in bewilderment. "What's making it light up?"
"There must be more treasure inside!" Howie grinned from the couch. "There was a whole bunch of gold coins in the big chest everything was in!"
Perry came over to examine the box as well. "That must be some treasure," he said. He sat down on another couch, facing Howie. "How did you find this chest, Howie?"
"It was hard," Howie said. "Those maps were really weird! They didn't show anything the way it was supposed to be. The chest was up in the attic in this old wardrobe. And we weren't even using the map then!"
"Howie was in the attic looking for some old toys of his father's," Mignon put in. She, Perry, and Della exchanged greetings.
Now Perry registered surprise. "I thought all indications were that the solution to the maps was in the basement."
Howie gave a sage nod. "Yeah. It was like the maps were upsidedown or something!"
"Is that possible?" Della wondered. "There wasn't any writing on them to be able to tell for sure."
Mignon sighed. "No, but it did seem as though they were meant to be aligned as we originally thought. The illustrations made the most sense that way. Maybe the chest was in the basement and then moved." She stepped away. "But it doesn't make sense that a large trunk of gold would be moved without anyone looking inside."
"And if they did, they wouldn't leave it," Perry said.
"Maybe they were planning to come back for it," Hamilton said. "They could've stored it where they thought it would be safe until then."
Perry nodded, thoughtful. "They could have."
Della looked to Mignon. "Aren't Howie's parents here?" she wondered.
"They're in Douglas's study, discussing the treasure," Mignon said. "I'll tell them you're here." She turned to start down the hall.
"Hello?" Paul called, peering through the open front doorway.
Perry glanced over. "Come in, Paul," he said. "We're just discussing a mysterious glowing box."
"A what?" Paul stepped inside and hastened over to the scene by the mantel. "Holy mackerel!"
"Interesting, isn't it." Perry followed Paul's gaze.
"Weird and creepy is more like it," Paul said. "We already had Halloween. This looks like a leftover prop from Flo's haunted house."
"She didn't put any boxes like this in the house," Howie objected. "This is some of our treasure."
Paul looked to him. "That must be some doozy of a treasure."
"Well, good evening. Are we late for the party?"
Everyone turned to face the doorway as Lieutenants Tragg and Anderson wandered into the house.
Perry smiled, standing up to greet them. "Why, no. You're both just in time." He walked over, the others following. "How are you, Andy?"
"Just fine, Perry," Andy smiled. "The doctors gave me a clean bill of health. I'll be back on the job in no time now."
Perry nodded in approval. "I know I speak for every one of us when I say we'll all be happy to see you return to work."
Della was in complete agreement. "Andy, you're looking well," she said.
Andy looked to her. "Thank you. It's been a long road back, I can tell you that." He still moved slightly slower than usual, but other than the scars it was the only remaining indication of his ordeal. And that would heal before long as well.
"I'm doing everything I can to make sure Vivalene pays for what she did," Hamilton vowed.
"I know you are," Andy said. "And I want to do my part and testify against her when the time comes."
It was partially Vivalene's attempted murder of Andy that was resulting in a very expedited hearing and trial. Everyone had been outraged by the cold, cruel manner in which she had sniped at Andy in the Peterson home nearly two months before. She was a deadly woman. To have shot Andy and not feel any remorse, who knew what else she might be capable of doing.
"Well," Tragg said as he wandered farther into the living room, "I don't see our friend from the museum. Hasn't he arrived yet?"
"No," Hamilton frowned, glancing at the clock. "I thought he might have got here before any of us."
"And he would have, if he hadn't been held up all of a sudden."
Hamilton jumped a mile at the unfamiliar voice. As he and the others turned to look, a strange man stepped onto the Welcome mat. He smiled a greasy smile, tipping his hat to the side.
Hamilton frowned. "I see," he said in reply. He cast an offhand glance at Perry. This was not who he had expected to see. He was not sure what to make of it. And from Perry's expression as he returned the look, neither was he.
Mignon returned to the living room at that moment, Martha and Douglas Peterson in tow. When she caught sight of the newcomer she stopped short, her expression turning frostily suspicious. "You are not the man I spoke with over the telephone," she declared.
A unconcerned shrug. "Mr. Welles couldn't make it, so he asked me to take over. My credentials." He produced several articles, which Douglas took and looked through.
"Everything seems to be in order," he said. "Mr. Vann." He handed the papers back.
Mignon leaned over, whispering to Martha and Hamilton. "Mr. Welles didn't have any other appointments," she said. "He made coming here his top priority."
Martha nodded with a frown. "Sir, about Mr. Welles. . . ."
Mr. Vann was replacing his credentials in his briefcase. "He sends his deepest regrets. It came up all of a sudden as he was leaving. Some sort of family crisis."
Martha and Douglas exchanged looks. "Nothing serious, I hope," Douglas said at last.
"I'm not sure, actually," Mr. Vann said. "He was in such a rush to get away."
"Well . . ." Martha stepped forward, still looking uneasy. "We were planning to invite him to dinner before he inspected the artifacts. It's ready now, so if you'd like to join us . . ."
"I would be honored," answered Mr. Vann, perhaps a bit too smoothly.
"Then come this way, everyone," Martha said, bravely turning towards the kitchen.
Paul leaned over to Perry as they started to walk. "Don't look now, but I've got a bad feeling about this guy," he muttered.
Perry frowned. "Something is off," he agreed, studying Mr. Vann. "But I'm not sure what it is."
"I say we'd better figure it out, and fast," Paul said.