(Image credit: Flickr user Peter Morgan)
The American agent used his skeleton keys to work on the lock while his female partner acted as lookout. It was hard to see clearly in the dreary hall light in the dreary apartment building in the dreary winter weather of Beijing. But David Richman finally cracked the mechanism and opened the door.
"Hurry," he whispered, motioning for Julia to join him. Inside it was just as chilly as the hall.
"We're looking for photographic negatives," he told Julia for perhaps the tenth time. "35 millimeter. Lu Ching hasn't had time to reduce them any further. Thank goodness it's a small apartment."
It was small, all right. The tiny studio contained a futon bed that doubled as a sofa. There were also a bookcase, a table, two chairs, and an old-fashioned desk fan that whirred noisily on top of a cluttered desk. A hot plate served as the apartment's kitchen. From a small adjoining bathroom came the sound of a leaky toilet.
"We have to find them," David whispered as he went directly for the bookcase. "The lives of a dozen Chinese contacts depend on our finding those eight negatives." He was already going through the books page by page, checking the covers for any telltale slits where the agent for the People's Republic might have stuffed them.
"Lu Ching didn't have a lot of time to hide them," David added. "And he needed to keep them in a pretty accessible place. It shouldn't be too hard."
But it was. They checked under everything, from the desk clutter to the chair seats. They checked the water flow in all the faucets and the toilet tank. David became so frustrated he was almost ready to cut open the futon.
Julia stepped back and surveyed the room. "I see it now. I know where they probably are," she said softly.
What clue is Julia looking at?
The whodunit above was provided by American mystery fiction author Hy Conrad.
In addition to his work in mystery and crime puzzles, Hy was also one of the original writers for the groundbreaking TV series Monk.