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The Case of the Diamond Hammer

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It was oppressively hot in Sif's office. The fan was pointed directly at her face, but all it did was shuffle the air around a little, not make it any less sweltering. She'd kill the others for skipping out on her and leaving her here alone; none of them could have done anything to make it less stiflingly hot, but at least she wouldn't have had to suffer alone.

She'd given up the pretense that this day was going to be anything but a wash. She'd put the part of her hair that wasn't rolled up in a sloppy bun; she'd even discarded her shirt, draping it over a chair by the window in hopes that it wouldn't be so sweat-damp when she put it back on.

She'd just gotten to where she might actually maybe get a little comfortable, her feet kicked up on a ledge under the desk and a crossword puzzle in front of her, when, of course, there was a knock on the door. She hurriedly shook out her hair and put her suit jacket on, buttoning it up over her brassiere and thanking God she'd worn the double-breasted today; at least the neckline was high enough when buttoned that it wasn't completely obvious she wasn't wearing anything under it. She was a total mess, but it'd do.

"It's open," she called, and the door opened just as quickly as she'd said it. A man stepped in, and from the moment she first laid eyes on him, she knew there was something different about him. He was tall, wearing his long black hair slicked back from his regal face, and his dark green suit was so sharp it could cut glass. He took off his trilby, holding it as he bowed slightly to her. "Lady."

It wasn't the name on the door, but it might as well have been. She didn't know if she remembered the last time someone other than a debt collector called her by her first name. "Who are you, and how can I help you?"

"My name is Loki Aesir," he said, and she sat up a little straighter in her chair. Anybody with a newspaper and a set of eyes knew who the Aesir family was. The patriarch, Odin, owned damn near everything and had served a couple terms as governor, and he had a society-maven wife to match. His son Thor was being groomed to be his father's successor, but nobody ever said much about the other two sons. She'd heard one of them died during the war, and here was the other one standing right in front of her.

She was sure gonna charge him a hell of a lot more than fifty dollars a day and expenses.

"My brother's gone missing," he told her. "He had a fight with my father and left. None of us have any idea where he went."

She frowned. "Odin Aesir's son goes missing, and the entire police force isn't out looking for him?"

"We don't believe he's in danger," he said, and delicately added, "and we'd prefer to keep this as quiet as possible."

"I can be as quiet as you like," she assured him.

"Can you?" he asked, a funny little smile on his face, and she raised an eyebrow at him. "We need to keep this tightly under wraps."

"I'm good at undercover," she said, just to test him; that was that smile again.

"I'm sure that you are," he replied- definitely flirting with her. It was more interesting than flattering. Getting hit on by one of the Aesir boys was something else, but the ones who wanted to flirt were always ones to watch. More often than not they tried to screw you on fees, as if a few pretty smiles were going to make you forget you had to eat. They were the ones who pulled scams, too, or wanted things that were far more dangerous than they let you know beforehand.

"You should know that I don't work for free, Mister Aesir," Sif told him. "I charge by the day and get expenses. The rates are not cheap."

"I'm sure you're worth every penny," Aesir said. "I'm willing to pay above the going rate if you'll abide by certain," he looked her up and down, "special instructions."

For a moment she was dead sure he was going to tell her to take off her jacket, and she couldn't for the life of her decide if she was going to agree. "And what might those be?"

"I can't have anyone in the family knowing about this," he told her. "Especially not my mother or father. My father is in a delicate state, and he does not need to be troubled with this."

Sif nodded. "Fair enough. You have to understand, Mister Aesir-"

"Please," he said, smiling, "call me Loki."

"You have to understand, Loki," she said, "that the investigation will take more time if I have to avoid people."

"By all means, take your time," Loki said. "I also would prefer it if you didn't discuss this case with your partners."

She raised her eyebrows. "Now that will cost you a good deal extra," she said. She knew very well that she'd discuss it with them, investigate it with them, and split the cash with them; if he expected anything else to happen, he really didn't know anything about her at all.

"I'll pay triple," he said. He reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, pulling out a wad of cash. He peeled off a few hundreds as carelessly as if they'd been ones and put them on the desk. "With money down."

"Well, Loki, you just hired a detective," she said, without hesitation, visions of paid rent and new pistols in her head.

"Excellent," he said, with a smug kind of smile. He looked her over again. "What do you need from me?"

She had no end of great answers to that question, but she ignored them. "Tell me a bit about the last time you saw your brother, where you think he might be."

"He and Father had a fight at the house," he said, like his sprawling mansion deserved a little word like that. "I saw him just before he left, but he was so distraught that he would barely speak to me. He left with just the clothes on his back, and like that he was gone."

"And after that?" she pressed.

"How would I know?" he said, with the kind of fake innocence that was so put on that he had to know that she knew he was hiding something. There was definitely something about this guy; there was something going on that she didn't have a clue about.

Yet.

"If you find out anything at all, I need to know about it right away," she told him.

"Oh, I'll be in touch," he said, smiling suggestively, drawing out the words.

"I'm sure you will," she said back, and his smile only widened. He was up to something, and she was going to know what; she knew a lot of ways to get information out of somebody who didn't think they wanted to talk.

He turned to go, but before he reached for the doorknob, he turned back again. "There is one other small thing that I neglected to mention."

Here it comes, she thought. "And what might that be?"

"Something's gone missing with my brother," he said, and there was a barely perceptible change to his attitude; it hardened, somehow, like he was slipping out of the coy mask that he'd been so anxious for her to see. "It's a diamond pendant that was my grandmother's. It's an unusual piece, shaped like a hammer. It's not very large, but it is very valuable." He softened again, and Sif wondered if he actually knew he was doing it, if it was an unconscious tell. "Of course, my brother's safety is my overriding concern."

"I'll make sure I see all the aspects of the case through," she told him. She eyed him, not even bothering to be subtle. "All of them."

He gave her that suggestive smile again. "Thank you for your help," he said, placing his hat back on his head. "I expect that I'll be seeing more of you."

"Of course," she said, and he took his leave.

She sat back in her chair, drumming her fingers on the arm. He was up to something, alright, but she didn't know what yet. She'd certainly find out; even if he was playing her, he was her meal ticket for the foreseeable future, and she'd never been one to give up a good thing.

Still, the whole thing was curious. She'd have to discuss it with Fandral, Volstagg, and Hogun after they returned, but strangely, she found herself wanting to keep it secret, to leave it just between her and Aesir. She didn't rightly know why; she'd always been cautioned to keep from getting too close to clients, especially slippery ones like she already knew Loki was.

He was interesting, though. Always had to watch the interesting ones.