THE MISSING JADE AMULET
By Amanda Pizzolatto
Word count: 3438
Summary: A couple schoolgirls find their very own mystery to solve
June Smith walked briskly down the sidewalk. She needed to hurry or she was going to be marked as late, again. She huffed as she jogged along; she didn’t know how she managed to do it without fail, but she was always three to five minutes late. Most of the teachers at her middle school, including Mr. Frankfurt, thankfully, accepted up to five minutes for flexibility, or until roll call, before marking someone tardy, or practically absent. And today, of all days, was the field trip to the museum, though as June neared the museum, she was grateful that it was close enough to her home that she could skip meeting the class at school.
She paused at the top of the steps for a quick breath before catching up to the tail end of her class right before they walked into the building. The lady at the front desk handed out name tags in what June figured was her best attempt to keep the class together, but June knew that it would only work for a little while. However, it might make it easier for the security guards to return them to the right group. The two guards at the front nodded at them as the class walked past.
Once everyone had a name tag on, their guide spoke up. “Hello everyone, thank you all for coming today to see the limited exhibition of the Han dynasty! We have some really unique pieces to show you, some you would consider plain, others are quite exquisite. Once we’re finished with the tour, you can split up in groups of three or four to check out the rest of the museum until it’s time for you to leave.”
At this, Mr. Frankfurt turned and faced the group. “Which will be after lunch, so if you do decide you want to check out other exhibits, please return to the front for lunch.” He eyed each of them in turn before continuing, “Everyone find your field trip partner!” People rushed about, finding their partners. “Hmm, June, partner up with Meiling for this trip.”
“Yes sir,” grumbled June. She walked over to the Asian American and shot her a forced smile. Meiling shot a forced smile in return. “Um, so, listen,” June told her. “I don’t like talking about the latest fashion, or the hottest celebrities, so, uh, just please be quiet.”
Meiling snorted slightly. “Oh, don’t worry, I know how you feel. We moved from Los Angeles so we wouldn’t get caught up in all of that. I hate it.”
“You do?” As Meiling nodded, June let out a sigh of relief. “Oh good, because it gets so annoying when everyone else talks about it! Makes you think that’s the only thing going on in the world!”
Meiling grinned. “No kidding. So, uh, what do you like to talk about?”
June’s eyes sparkled. “Mysteries—there’s still so many in the world that haven’t been solved yet, and I want to be the person to solve some of them.”
“Now that sounds more interesting. What mysteries . . .”
“Alright, thank you for finding your partners, now listen up!” called their teacher.
The guide smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Frankfurt. Alright everyone, come with me and let’s get this going!”
The class followed her farther into the museum, where she talked to them about the Han dynasty, what they did, what the culture was like, and eventually how it turned into the present-day China. June was somewhat intrigued when the guide spoke of a few mysteries that not even the Chinese had the answers to; archaeologists were working on them.
The class was able to stay together through the tour, surprisingly; their guide apparently knew how to make it interesting enough to keep sixth-graders intrigued. But it would soon be over, and the last piece they were to see was an exquisite jade amulet worn by one of the emperors during the Han dynasty. Several students were awed with how lovely it looked, though, as one girl pointed out, it didn’t sparkle like diamonds and rubies. June rolled her eyes. Of course Sara Richards would notice that; she always noticed anything to do with jewelry because she hoped to one day marry some rich guy, particularly a celebrity, and have a lot. The guide just laughed and stated that not everything that is beautiful sparkles; neither did everything that was valuable. June smirked as Sara huffed; this guide was really good. At that moment, June noticed that another museum worker had walked into the room, and he waved to Meiling.
Meiling waved back before explaining to June, “That’s my dad.”
“Oh,” whispered June as she watched Meiling’s father approach.
She could see the similarities between father and daughter—same small nose, a somewhat smaller stature, rounded chin, and bright brown eyes that looked like no detail could get by. Almost as soon as he stepped near the exhibit, the lights turned off. There were screams everywhere, and several people were running around. Mr. Frankfurt, Meiling’s father, and the guide were trying to keep everyone under control, though June and Meiling had grabbed each other’s hands and stayed as still as statues until the lights came back on.
“Is everyone alright? Is everyone here?” asked the guide.
Mr. Frankfurt did a quick roll call as the students gathered back around, several of them crying. “That’s everyone. Thank you June, Meiling, for staying where you were and keeping quiet.”
“You’re welcome Mr. Frankfurt,” they chorused.
Another scream went out, clearly from Sara Richards.
“Miss Richards, what . . .”
“The jade amulet! It’s gone!”
June let out a huff as she slumped back on her bed. What an amazing day! First, she had found out that the new student, Meiling Zhao, wasn’t all that bad, after all. But even more fun was the fact that a priceless jade amulet had disappeared right under their noses! Of course, the screaming and the running around by her classmates probably helped the thief more than they realized, for it had certainly been no help to the police. That fact had not escaped Mr. Frankfurt’s notice, and though everyone was allowed to go home early after such a trauma, he first kept the class together to go over some much needed drills. Only June and Meiling were excused from the drills, since they had been calm and quiet.
Had Meiling’s father noticed anything? He was standing pretty close to the exhibit. Could he have stolen it? June sat up and began to think about it. Maybe it was him! But there must have been somebody else standing at the light switch, ready to turn it off. Then, Meiling’s father could have quickly unlocked the case and taken out the amulet in all the confusion. It was brilliant really, and pretty easy.
She paused. Something was off; it was almost too easy…and too obvious that Meiling’s father was standing there really close to the amulet. Wouldn’t the criminal want to throw off suspicion so that the police couldn’t catch them? So, maybe Meiling’s father was actually the scapegoat!
She bounced off her bed; she had to let the police know of her suspicions, and quickly! At that moment the doorbell rang, and she rushed to get it. There was Meiling in tears at the door.
“June, I need your help. They arrested my father for the theft!”
June’s eyes widened. “Say what?”
“Oh please, you have to believe me, he didn’t do it!”
“Don’t worry, Meiling, I believe you.”
“Wait, you do?”
June nodded. “Yes, I do. I was just going over the scenario in my head. Though your father was the closest person to the exhibit, he is the least likely person to do it. For him to have done it, well, it made no sense that he would draw attention to himself before the theft. I recall that several people noticed him waving to you! No, I suspected him at first, but then realized that it was way too simple of an explanation, which meant it had to be wrong. I was just on my way to the police to say so, but if they’ve already arrested your father, maybe we should head over to the museum instead. There’s got to be something they missed that could help clear your father.”
“Oh, thank you so much. I only hope we can find something in time!”
“Me too, and catch the real thief!” June said with a hopeful grin as she led the way back to the museum. Along the way, June asked Meiling what her father did at the museum, and why he had been near the amulet exhibit.
“My father’s a registrar, one of the best; it’s his job to keep track of all the pieces going in and out of the museum. And he came out because I told him we were going to be there. He was going to see if he could join us for lunch. And now . . .”
June sighed. “He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time for the thief. It’s just another reason to find out what really happened.”
“I really am glad you’re helping me, June, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Hey, that’s what real friends are for.” June smiled before entering the museum.
Right away, she noticed the extra security, and the looks people were giving Meiling. June let out an angry huff and glared at a couple of people before dragging Meiling towards the now closed-off exhibit.
An officer stepped in their way, “Excuse me, ladies, but no one’s allowed back in.” He shot a quick glance at Meiling.
June stiffened. “Well, excuse me, sir, but I’m here to clear my friend’s father’s name, since you can’t seem to figure out that he didn’t do it.”
“What did you just say?”
“June, Meiling!” a youthful voice called.
The three glanced at the newcomer.
“April Winnemucca?” asked June.
“Why do you have to keep using my full name?” sighed April.
“Because I find April to be such an odd name for a Native American and, well, I like the way it rolls off my tongue,” shrugged June.
April rolled her eyes. “Whatever; could you come here for a second? I have a question for you.”
June glanced at Meiling and the officer before turning back towards April with a sigh. “Alright, fine. Come on, Meiling.” The two followed April to a more secluded part of the museum. “What did you want? And make it quick, please; we’re on a very important mission.”
“I think I found something that might help you, though,” explained April as she reached into her pocket.
Meiling’s eyes widened, “What is it?”
April dropped a button into June’s hands. “I found this before we left the museum this morning. I didn’t get a chance to hand it over to the police in all the commotion, and Mr. Frankfurt just recently released us. I went to the police station first, but everyone kept telling me just to come here and put it in lost and found. Well, I did come here, but only to see if someone will listen to me, and so far, you’re the only ones who will. I think this belonged to the thief.”
“Where did you find it?” asked June as she peered closely at the button. She had seen one like it before, but where?
“It was on the left side of the exhibit, the opposite side of where Meiling’s dad was standing.”
Meiling let out a squeal, “This is proof that my dad didn’t do it!”
“Perhaps,” replied June, “but it won’t be enough proof for the police.”
“You’d think that since they haven’t found the amulet on your dad, that would be enough to prove his innocence,” said April.
“In the meantime, the real thief is getting away!” moaned Meiling.
“Was there anything else you noticed in the room before we left?” asked June.
April shook her head. “No, though I did find it odd that the nearest window was slightly open . . .”
“Really? Do you think you can show us which one from the outside? Because I don’t think we’re getting into the exhibit.”
“Sure, I think so.”
The three raced outside and April showed them the window that she had seen open. All three gasped when they glanced at the grass beneath the window before rushing back inside to inform the police about what they had found—mask and a pair of gloves.
In light of the new evidence, Mr. Zhao had been released from jail. All three girls sat around the Zhao’s dining room table.
“I wonder why the police didn’t notice the mask and gloves outside that window before?” mused April.
“That’s what I don’t get,” declared June as she rubbed her chin. “I may have thought the cops were incompetent to arrest Mr. Zhao, but they’re not that incompetent. They would have found those when they searched the perimeter.”
“Wonder what they’d think of that button?” asked Meiling.
June’s head snapped up, “Right, that button! I know where I’ve seen it!”
Mr. and Mrs. Zhao rushed into the dining room.
“What’s the commotion?” asked Mr. Zhao.
“I think I know who stole the jade amulet!” explained June. “And it was right there, under our noses this whole time! Mr. Zhao, please call the police and have them meet us at the school!”
“What, why there?”
“Please, or we’ll be too late!”
Mr. Zhao picked up the phone and relayed June’s message to the police while the girls piled into the car. Mr. Zhao quickly drove them to the school.
“What makes you think the answer is at the school?” he asked.
“It makes sense; the button is really the only true clue we have. I mean, sure, there’s the mask and the gloves planted after the fact, but why weren’t they planted before? Because the thief didn’t have time to do so until later! And there’s another thing; why did the thief plant them then?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” continued June, “if the thief knew your father was the lead suspect, he wouldn’t have had to worry about planting that fake evidence; he would have let your father take all the blame! No, he didn’t even know your father had been arrested, because he was busy with something else, and probably still doesn’t know. As far as he knows, they’re still looking for a lead suspect.”
“Are you saying that the thief didn’t even know that Mr. Zhao was there until after the commotion?” asked April.
June nodded. “Mr. Zhao was standing in such a spot that you had to be actually facing the amulet exhibit to see him, which the majority of us students were. If anyone stood on the other side of the exhibit, there was no way they would have seen him.”
“And with their backs turned, they didn’t see him come in,” pointed out Meiling.
April’s eyes widened, “Are you suggesting . . .”
“If you came to the same conclusion, then I’m afraid so. Oh, why didn’t I listen to my intuition? I knew something was off!”
“Off about what?” asked Meiling.
“I’ll explain in just a minute; we’re here,” muttered June as she nearly dashed out of the car before Mr. Zhao turned off the engine. “I only hope we’re not too late.”
The other two girls bolted out of the car after June and hurried into the school. The three dashed down the hall and straight into a familiar room.
Meiling gasped, “Mr. Frankfurt! You stole the jade amulet?”
Their teacher’s head snapped up, for the solid proof—the amulet itself—was clearly visible in his open briefcase.
His eyes narrowed as he quickly closed the briefcase and growled, “What are you three doing here?”
June took a step forward. “Solving a mystery, Mr. Frankfurt. And it looks like we caught you red-handed.”
Frankfurt let out a snarl as he grabbed the briefcase, rammed into them, and kept going.
“We can’t let him escape!” blurted June.
April was already getting up on her feet, and sprinted after the crook. When she got close enough, she lunged and tackled him to the floor. Just then, two police officers showed up.
“What is going on here?” asked one of the officers.
April got to her feet. “Open his briefcase, sir, you’ll see.”
“You have no right to . . .” began Frankfurt, but the officer quickly opened the briefcase and took out the jade amulet.
He faced Frankfurt. “Care to explain?”
Frankfurt only glared back.
“Officer, if I may?” June stepped up. He glanced between her and Frankfurt before nodding. Then she pulled out her piece of evidence. “This button was found at the scene of the crime, the only clue, really, that we had to go on. True, it could have fallen from Mr. Frankfurt’s jacket during all the commotion, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see that this is a rather high quality button. It would not have just fallen off; it would have to have been almost cut off by something, in this case, the door to the exhibit. The jacket must have gotten stuck, and when Mr. Frankfurt pulled on it, the button popped off. Then there were the mask and gloves that magically appeared after Mr. Zhao had been arrested.”
Frankfurt glanced at Zhao in surprise. “You were arrested?”
June looked at Meiling and April. “See? He didn’t know Mr. Zhao had been arrested, so he had to leave behind some kind of evidence to throw the police off his trail. Hence the mask and gloves. He apparently rushed back to the museum once all of the students were gone, left the evidence, and returned here to gather a few things, and the amulet, before leaving. But, what I want to know is, why? Money might be a part of it, but there’s something else, isn’t there?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” scoffed Frankfurt.
“Of course I do, considering that you’ve always had this fascination with Chinese culture, and expensive pieces in particular. Plus, there was an almost unhealthy fascination with thieves of various sorts. Are you a hired thief, and only took the job as a teacher thinking it would give you easier access to the museums?”
Frankfurt kept quiet, though his eyes seemed to say it all as he glared at June.
“Maybe the police should check out his house; there might be other incriminating evidence, and information on any accomplices,” pointed out April.
June nodded, “Right, there was no way he could have turned off the lights without us seeing, so there had to have been someone else working with him.”
“We’ll definitely look into it. Thank you for all your help.” The officer accepted the button and saluted them before both officers escorted Frankfurt out of the school.
Mr. Zhao smiled at all of the girls. “You three did a wonderful job, not just in clearing my name, but also in catching the real thief.”
“Thanks dad! And that was actually kind of fun, too,” blurted Meiling as she hugged her father.
“So, now what?” asked April.
“Well, we could head over to my house and look over other mysteries,” began June.
“I would like to! Dad, may I?”
“Of course, I’ll drop you off there. April, what about you? Or would you rather go home?”
April thought for a minute before replying, “I think I’ll go to June’s; I’d actually like to get to know her better.”
June grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
“Why didn’t you know each other before?” asked Meiling as they walked back to the car.
“Well, April’s a cheerleader, and, well, I thought she’d be like a regular cheerleader, interested in only boys and looking pretty.”
April smiled. “There’s definitely more to me than that.”
“I know that now. Sorry, I judged you too quickly.”
“So, now that you’re planning on becoming detectives together, you’re going to have to come up with a group name.”
“Yeah, how about, the Detective Club?” suggested Meiling.
“Nah, sounds too generic and too high school.”
“How about the Sleuthing Trio?” suggested April.
“Hmm, that doesn’t sound too bad.”
“I kind of like it; thanks, April.”
April smiled. “No problem.”
“Oh, by the way, now that you’re going to be such good friends, you can call Meiling by her nickname, May,” Mr. Zhao stated before he began to chuckle.
June glanced at her in shock. “Oh no, please no.”
Meiling blinked. “What?”
June just glanced at April. “Please tell me April’s a nickname, too.”
April just shrugged, and winked.