Peter was down in one of the seized goods warehouses, cross-referencing some files. If it wasn’t so high-profile, he would have sent another agent to handle it, but it concerned a senator and the buck had stopped right on him.
About an hour or two in, he was still searching for the right items when he slid a case of bourbon out of the way – and saw it.
It was an understated thing, that box. A cigar case of rich, rippled walnut wood, simple design made of decadent materials. It sat among seized bottles of over-serious wine and haughty perfumes, standing out as the only thing not trying to be anything it wasn't or more than it was. A glance made him hesitate. In the dusty warehouse, it gleamed as if freshly polished. A sense of deja vu licked at the back of his mind as a tantalising scent of high quality tobacco teased his nose.
By some compulsion other than his own he reached out, his original task forgotten. His fingertips slid over that lid with as little friction as if it were encased in silk. The lights overhead dimmed for a few moments. His curiosity drew his fingers to the lid's catch - gold, he was sure - and without a hesitation he opened it.
Of course, the lights took that moment to start to flicker like crazy. The whole warehouse was thrown into a spasmodic twilight.
Peter sighed. "Michaels, what's with the lights?" There was no reply. "Michaels!"
A scuff of a heel several feet away made him twist to face it instinctively, though the voice that curled through the dark wasn't that of the guard. "Well now, ain't that a wonder."
What brief light there was showed the silhouette of a slender man, casually leaning against some shelves, one thumb hooked in a pocket and the other hand pinching the brim of a hat tilted low over his brow.
It wasn't anyone Peter recognised - or someone who looked like they were meant to be inside a Federal warehouse. His hand moved slowly towards his holster. "Hello? Who’s there?"
"Easy, Charley, I'm just the native bum." The lights overhead clunked heavily and flared back to life, dramatic as a magician snatching a sheet from a table without letting any glassware shiver or cutlery clatter. The first word that jumped into Peter's mind as he looked at the man was 'Suave' - the cut of his muted grey suit predated Peter's own by several decades - the trilby turning something that might pass as business-like into costume. It should have been ridiculous, over-the-top, cheesy, but by the strange grace the interloper embodied he carried the style with grace. The lower half of his face was all that was visible, his jaw bold yet delicate with a slight dusting of scruff, his lips curved in a far-too amused smirk.
That smirk widened as the silence stretched.
Peter glanced towards the door, realising the man couldn’t have come from the outside unnoticed and narrowed his eyes in suspicion and said, “I didn’t know anyone else was in here. “
Those words won a flash of teeth from the man. “No one here but you and me, Charley. You come to top up your gasoline? Had two in here already today doing just that.” His chin lifted slightly, a gleam of a brilliant blue eye showing just under the brim of the hat. Whoever he was, he was young. No more than thirty, thirty-two.
His patience was wearing thin. He was being teased by a kid with a Rat Pack fixation. He dropped the half-dozen files with a smack that echoes back from the high walls. “I don’t like the implication – what’s your name? What division do you work?”
The man pushed away from the shelf, straightening his jacket with a brisk brush, his gaze not leaving Peter as he gave a smooth shrug, his grin fading. “I told you. I’m a nobody. Just a dying soul looking to get into The Casino. Give a pallie a pointer?”
Peter clenched his teeth. “This is a Federal warehouse. I should charge you with trespass – hey, hey, don’t touch that!” The man had reached out to toy with a cherub-bedecked music box from the shelf he had been leaning against. Peter strode forwards, unhooking the cuffs from his belt. “All right Mr Dying Soul, I’m placing you under arrest for trespass and tampering with Federal proper- woah!” He reached out, intending to snap the cuffs on, but instead of grasping warm, solid skin his fingers encounter cool, alien emptiness. If anything, he felt a resistance like trying to press two fridge magnets together.
He jerked his hand back – the coolness lingered on his fingers unpleasantly – and stared. His hand had passed through the man’s arm. “What was that, what’s wrong with you?”
The man tutted and pouted slightly. “You should really work on them manners, Charlie. Nothing’s wrong with me – I’m just an eighteen-karat spook.” He tugged his hat up away from his eyes, his dark eyebrows lifting in amusement. “In the Latin, I’m a ghost. Oh, how about you sit down for a minute?”