The room was as anonymous as the hotel. We showered and my pre-breakfast idea finally got an airing. Charlie seemed very enthusiastic, but I confess my heart wasn’t really in it. Call me an old romantic but the previous eight hours hadn’t really been my idea of foreplay.
In what for me was normally a period when that euphoric post coital glow left me feeling without a care in the world, all I could think about was how to broach the subject of what was in the back pack.
As usual she was way ahead of me. She raised her head from my chest.
‘You want to know what it is?’
‘Well…do I want to know why we abandoned everything to raid a burned out warehouse two hundred miles from home and get something out of my mother’s wrecked sideboard I never knew was there? Er let me think.’
She nipped my chest with her sharp little teeth, making me yelp. She leaped off the bed to rummage in the back pack.
The leather bag still stank of burning but the box looked okay.
I nodded. She opened the box and placed the contents on the small bedside table.
It was black, but not through the effects of the fire. It was polished stone, covered in carvings. It stood almost a foot high but somehow looked bigger in the room. Charlie handled it almost reverently.
‘What is it?’ I looked from it to her. ‘Can I touch it?’
She nodded. ‘Just be careful. It’s very old.’
It felt heavier than it looked. I didn’t know what kind of stone it was made from. I peered at the carvings. On the top half were exquisite pictures of what looked like a temple and stylised lions and someone with a curled beard in a chariot, riding over people on foot. The lower half was covered in pointy lines in a geometric pattern. I wasn’t any wiser.
‘What is it? How did it get in my mother’s sideboard?’
‘It’s a sort of Kudurru.’ She said, as if that explained everything.
‘I’m a simple soul.’ I said ‘I’m not the one with the degrees in archaeology and ancient languages. What’s a whatever you just said?’
She took it back from me and put it back on the bedside table.
‘It’s sort of Babylonian title deed. They kept the stone ones like this in the temple and gave a clay copy to the landowner to mark his boundary.’
I must have looked less than impressed.
‘But this one’s more than that.’ She said.
I nodded as if I knew what the hell she was talking about.
‘That,’ she pointed to the pictures, ‘is the defeat of the Elamites by Nebuchadnezzar I, about 3,000 years ago.’
Now I had heard of him. I wasn’t sure why. He didn’t come up in serious crime briefings very often.
‘And this, says their land is now his, his title document.’ She pointed to the lower design. ‘This is cuneiform script.’ She traced her finger around the stone, ‘and this bit tells you how he did it. This bit wouldn’t be on the clay versions.’
‘So it’s worth a fair bit?’
Her eyes blazed at me. ‘Worth?’ She snorted. ‘Everything.’
‘A million? Cos whatever, it isn’t worth getting…’
‘You don’t get it. This isn’t just another artefact, just a title deed or a military manual, or a history book, this is a gateway to power. This tells you how he really did it. ’
She gazed at me and for the first time I realised that I was a bit afraid of her.
‘This is about power. Real power. How to summon it like he did. Whoever owns this stone can wield it for real power in this world.’
I really didn’t want to ask the next question.
‘So who does own it Charlie?’
‘I do.’ She smiled at me. ‘We do.’
‘And where did “we” get it?’
She looked at me and the craziness I had seen had gone.
‘You know where, you saw me get it.’
I shook my head. ‘No, I mean before it was there.’ I had a fair idea where it had come from before it made its way into my mother’s sideboard. ‘This is from the Minassian case isn’t it?’
She smiled some more.
‘Never catalogued. Recognised it at once. More than that slob did. He’s not going to need it where he’s going is he?’ She got off the bed and started dressing.
‘What? Come on get dressed, we’ll go home now.’
‘Who does it really belong to?’
She looked at me like I was the densest pupil in a remedial class.
‘Me of course.’ She smiled at me. ‘Us darling.’
‘What was the fire about? Who knows about this?’
She finished dressing and put the stone back in the box in the bag.
‘Might be anything. Could be a gang war. Could be somebody burning evidence. You know what gets left in these storage facilities. Who knows what went up in flames in there?’
I raised my eyebrows.
‘I doubt Minassian knows. He never mentioned it, and it was in a box marked “assorted stele”. It was still full of them when it was catalogued by the evidence team.’ She shrugged. ‘There are a few loose ends. You don’t need to worry about it sweetie. Trust me. And the stone. Look at the Minassian case. I’m being promoted for that and it won’t stop there. With practice following the text I could be commissioner in ten years. Maybe politics? Maybe PM in twenty years. Sky’s the limit Sweets. We’re rolling now.’
She pulled a black automatic pistol in a pancake holster from the bag, tucked it into her jeans belt and pulled her top down over it. She swung the bag onto her shoulder and reached a hand out to me
‘Come on darling. Time to go.’