In which our detective dodges dirty cops, degenerate gamblers, and worse—FIFA executive—in search of a certain piece of hardware
Every so often I make the hour-long drive from Philly down to Atlantic City, a decaying monument to bad ideas where the salty sea air mixes with the sweaty scent of desperation. I don’t gamble, but being around people who do makes me feel better about my own mistakes. It’s refreshing. At least it used to be.
I was standing at a craps table encircled by salivating dreamers and their easily excitable companions. A waitress mistook me for someone with money to spend and brought over a free drink. As she sneered at the loose change I dropped onto her tray, I noticed the tall woman wrapped tight in a blue dress looking my way. She had dark eyes and the posture of a carving knife. When the waitress moved away, the tall woman slinked closer and gave a smile. I took a sip of my drink.
“Are you looking to play?” she said.
“No,” I said. “I’m just here to turn the lights off when everyone leaves.”
She glanced over my shoulder, spotting what I assumed to be a man with a better answer to her question, and excused herself.
There was a cheer at the table and I felt someone step into my back pocket.
“You’re a detective, right?” spat a voice in my ear. I didn’t answer.
A poke in the ribs. “I’ve got a job for you.”
I swallowed the last floes of ice at the bottom of my glass and headed toward the elevators, hoping in my overtired state that I was feeling jabs to someone else’s body. I kept my eyes on the thin maroon carpet and pressed the button to close the doors, but since that never works, a man in black leather shoes that used to be nice slipped in. Before I could get a look at his face, his fist slammed into mine.
When I regained my senses, the most immediate one was of something jagged and cold pressed firmly against my throbbing eye. Whoever had a grip around my neck was also squeezing my hands together behind my back. My head was planted in one of the hotel’s ice machines. I hoped it was the one on my floor.
“There’re some guys coming to Philly to take something from me,” said the voice. “I need you to keep an eye on them.”
“That’s gonna be hard with my head in an ice machine,” I said. Something about my joke made him think I should get better acquainted with the ice. “What are they coming to take?”
My face was starting to go numb and I was slurring my words.
“There are two things that are completely worthless to me: nonalcoholic beer and other people’s trophies. Chances are this guy feels the same way and your precious award is safe next to your Elvis plates. But since I don’t have insurance, I’m gonna need some cash to take care of this frostbite. What are you offering?
I heard the elevator ding, followed by the slow, rhythmic clacking of high heels in the hallway.
“I don’t have any money,” he whispered, shoving my face deeper into the ice. “And I don’t have the trophy. My brother put it someplace safe. You know what? Forget it. Just forget it. You couldn’t stop these guys, anyway. No one can.”
He let go of my neck, and by the time I extracted myself from the arctic portal, he was gone and the woman in the blue dress was standing over me.
“What did he do to you?” she demanded.
“The air-conditioning isn’t working in my room, so I thought I might sleep in there. He just wanted to know if the ice was free.”
“Well, the air-conditioning is working in my room,” she said, putting a soft hand to my battered eye. “And if you’re good, I’ll let you test the light switch.”
It was the luckiest night I’d ever had in a casino. In the morning, I dealt her my business card in hopes I might hit a streak.
“Private detective,” she chuckled. She put her blue dress back on and left without another word.
A couple of days later, a couple of real detectives knocked on my apartment door. Smalling and Cartwright looked like they had swallowed their younger selves and would rather sleep off the indigestion than ask me questions.
There was a fresh corpse in the City of Brotherly Love, and this one happened to have a wife. They had me on surveillance footage with her in the Tropicana Casino. Her name was Brea Collins.
“Am I under arrest?” I yawned.
Smalling rubbed his leathery jawline with the palm of his hand. “You own a gun, Mr. Cattone?”
“I had another visitor today,” I said. “A Frenchman named Valcke. He offered me $25,000 to get the trophy and keep my mouth shut about it.”
“I don’t like guns,” I said, peeking at his. “They don’t always go off in the direction you want them to.” They looked at each other. Cartwright handed me his card as Smalling opened the door to leave. “Feel free to try out some new material on us.”
I got dressed and stepped out the door of my apartment building. Smalling and Cartwright started up their car when they saw me. They pulled into traffic going east but kept their eyes fixed on their mirrors. So I decided to make a show of sprinting the four blocks west to my office.
I caught sight of them again as I rounded the corner and approached my office building, but instead of turning inside and climbing the five rickety flights of stairs, I resisted the urge to to vomit from windedness and crossed the street, slipping down the alley behind the dive bar that I kept in business.
The Dumpsters in back were almost completely full. I rolled up my sleeve and gave a stir to the putrid slop inside one of them, then strolled back out to the street, where my ducklings were idling in their unmarked Ford. I walked to my front door, then leaped up the stairs in time to enjoy the sight of two professionals reluctantly taking off their jackets to play a game of murder-weapon three-card monte in a couple of fetid garbage bins.
I would’ve made popcorn and watched them take the plunge had I not turned around to find a man in a three-piece suit standing quietly in the corner of my office. He held a flat cap in one hand and a paper coffee cup in the other. He had the face of a bespectacled rodent under a tuft of graying hair. Everything about him politely demanded to be punched, but I resisted.
“May I presume that you are the Anthony Cattone who recently spent a night in Atlantic City with a Mrs. Brea Collins?” he said with a substantial French accent.
“That’s right,” I said, “But there’s only room on the door for my name. Where’d you get the rest of that?” I sat down behind my desk and he took one of the wooden chairs across from it, placing his cap and
the steaming coffee on the surface in front of him. “A fair question, to be sure, but one that I am afraid I cannot answer. My name is Jérôme Valcke. I am attempting to recover a keepsake that has been misplaced. I believe the woman with whom you spent that night may have it. This keepsake is a small trophy — a football trophy. On behalf of the trophy’s rightful owner, I am prepared to offer $10,000 for its recovery, and $25,000 if no questions are asked.” “Football?” I said. “As in soccer? Why do you people keep coming to me?”
“We have been watching you for some time, Mr. Cattone,” he said with a smile. “Your adventures in Manchester and Madrid have earned you a reputation with several of our peers. One of discretion. Which is almost as rare as this trophy.”
The sound of a Dumpster lid slamming shut reverberated off the walls of the alley. I glanced out the window, and when I turned back to Valcke, he was holding a .22 caliber pistol.
“Place your hands on top of your head, come around the desk, and I will search you,” he said politely.
He held the gun in one hand and patted me down with the other. When he bent down to reach my legs, I spun around, yanking the gun from him with one hand and tossing the coffee at his face with the other. His yelps let me know neither of us was dead. He stumbled back, holding his face, and curled up against the wall. I picked up the gun and then reached inside his jacket pocket, where I found a wallet, a Swiss passport, an unmarked medicine vial, and a syringe that was probably intended to be a gift for my neck.
Valcke made a few more noises and then stood up. “You’ve ruined my suit,” he said, dabbing his chin with a handkerchief.
“And you ruined my day with your fugazi offer.”
“I assure you my offer is 100 percent legitimate, Mr. Cattone. I will pay you for the trophy. I was simply trying to save the owner any unnecessary expenses. Surely you can appreciate that. Please… where is it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Does this look like the office of a man who wins a lot of awards?”
“This is very upsetting, Mr. Cattone,” he said as he retrieved his hat. Half his face was red from the scalding; the other half was red from embarrassment. “But just because you have not seen it does not mean you can’t retrieve it by any means necessary. And I still believe you are the man to do that. Even if you haven’t won many awards.”
“I appreciate your confidence, Mr. Valcke,” I said while riffling through his wallet. “By the way, who’s this rightful owner?”
“No questions, remember?” he chuckled. “But to reassure you of my seriousness, you may keep the $500 in the wallet.”
“I’ll keep the gun, too,” I said, counting the money.
“Of course, of course,” he said as he stood up. “I am staying at the Four Seasons, room 1214. Please come to see me as soon as you have the trophy.”
“And what does this precious souvenir look like?” I grinned.
“It is a small goddess holding a decagonal cup over her head. All gold. It is unmistakable.”
He put on his cap and tipped it goodbye.
“You might want to use the back exit,” I said. “There’s a couple of nosey garbagemen out front.”
I tracked down an address for Brea Collins in Ridley Park, a rental not far from the airport, and took an expensive cab ride out there that night. When we got close, the cabbie said the beat-up green Chrysler riding his bumper had been behind us the whole way. I told him to drop me at a restaurant close by instead.
He dumped me at the Starlite Diner on West Chester Pike. I went inside the wood-paneled cafeteria and took a booth by the front window as the Chrysler parked. The driver was a kid with the complexion of a park bench. He couldn’t have been older than 22, which also looked like his belt size. He wore jeans and a navy-and-gold Philadelphia Union jersey. He walked into the diner, watching me watch him, and sat down sideways at the counter, facing me.
A waitress asked if he wanted anything, but he ignored her. She came over to me with the same question. I ordered a page of the menu and quietly explained that the boy at the counter was homeless and too proud to ask for handouts, but I had managed to convince him to let me buy him something to eat. I told her to bring him all the food at the same time and peeled off a hundred from the five bills I’d taken from Valcke.
It didn’t take long for the food to come out, carried by five members of the staff, who surrounded the kid as they tried to fit it on the counter in front of him. As he protested that he hadn’t ordered anything, I slipped out and cut across a couple of blocks toward the address I had for Brea.
The small brick house blended into its middle-class neighborhood nicely. You’d never know that the family living there was composed of a dead husband and a wife with more trouble than she knew what to do with. I rang the bell, and the woman from the casino answered the door, auburn curls delicately framing an expressionless face. I might as well have been the mailman.
“Did you kill my husband?” she said.
“I’ve never seen your husband,” I said. “I don’t even know his name — or yours.”
“You don’t detect much better than you screw.” She smirked.
“Well, maybe you’re better at murder than monogamy.”
“Brea Collins,” she said, then led me into a sitting room lit only by a crackling fire. “Freddie Collins was my husband, and I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you think.”
“Freddie said it was once the most important trophy in the world. That many people had forgotten it, but the important ones never did.”
“You follow me around a casino in another town and then your husband turns up dead back in the one where I live. I may not be good at what I do in the office or in the bedroom, but I know that’s too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. You were looking for a two-for-one deal: a new boyfriend and someone you could give to the police, and maybe not in that order.”
Her backbone gave out and she covered her mouth.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said in an entirely new voice. A soft one. A real one. “I know you didn’t kill my husband and I know you think I did. My name is Brea Collins and that’s the truth. You must hate me.”
“Names didn’t matter when we first met,” I said. “And hatred’s nothing to worry about now. The police are your concern.”
She jolted up. “Can you help me?” she said, looking at me like I was a lost puppy and she was the loneliest person in the world. “If I pay you, I mean. And if you believe me.”
“Maybe I’ll believe your money, Mrs. Collins.”
“Freddie was the only person I had to help me, but he’s gone,” she said, softly. “You’re my only chance. I know I’ve already caused you trouble and you don’t deserve it, but you’re a good man. I knew it the minute I saw you. Please.”
“Now, now, Mrs. Collins. It’s not too late to salvage something here. And with the dogs sniffing out both of us, we might have to. Just tell me the truth and we’ll sort this out together. Why did you come find me in that casino?”
She sat back down. “Freddie and I have only been in Philadelphia for a short time and we haven’t been married much longer,” she said. “Before coming here, we were in Dubai. Freddie was a gambler. He had debts in more cities than he could name. He always carried a gun and he would put Bubble Wrap on the floor wherever he was staying so he would hear if someone was coming.”
“So these were only his enemies and not yours,” I said.
“Probably,” she mused. “Unless they weren’t. I don’t know.”
“That’s enough,” I said, taking a couple of melodramatic strides toward the door. “I don’t know how much of this is real. I don’t even know if you know.”
“Please don’t go to the police,” she begged, following me.
“I don’t have to,” I said. “Turns out we’re right in their delivery zone. I’ll tell them whatever nonsense I know and be done with it.”
“That’s only fair,” she said. “I’m sorry I got you wrapped up in all this, Anthony. I hope it’s only the police you have to worry about.”
“Subtle.” I sighed. “How much money do you have?”
“About a thousand dollars.”
“That happens to be my new rate. I get paid in advance, so you’re already behind.”
She opened her small designer purse, pulled out the cash, and held it up for me. I grabbed it, and the purse, too. Inside was my card and two identical keys. I kept one, then gave her back the purple bag and a few bucks.
“I had another visitor today,” I said. “A Frenchman named Valcke. He offered me $25,000 to get the trophy and keep my mouth shut about it.”
“Freddie knew him,” she said. “I have to talk to him but not here. I know I haven’t given you reason to trust me, Anthony. But you don’t have to trust someone to help her.”
She walked toward me as she spoke and once I could feel her breath, she kissed me as if she were reaching for a life vest in the middle of the ocean and trying not to seem too eager about it. It was different from when I thought we were just a couple of strangers messing around. She was still using me, but I couldn’t tell if it was because she wanted to or she had to. For the moment I didn’t care.
“We’ll meet him at my office,” I said. “We can sort this out tonight. By the way — your husband, Freddie, he didn’t happen to be in Atlantic City a couple days ago, did he?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “He tried to keep his gambling a secret from me. Why?”
“Something Valcke mentioned,” I said, using the phone to call the Four Seasons and another cab while she put out the fire. When we left, I didn’t see the kid or the Chrysler.
Back in the city, I wasn’t terribly surprised that the light was on in my office. I checked my pocket to make sure Valcke’s pistol hadn’t jumped out.
The door was unlocked, so we were able to ambush Mr. Valcke, who was wearing a tuxedo and rummaging through the unremarkable contents of my filing cabinet.
“Thanks for observing the dress code,” I said, startling him.
“Pardon me,” he sputtered with a bow of his head. “You wouldn’t let me search the premises earlier, so I thought I would spare you the inconvenience and do it before you arrived.”
“How thoughtful of you,” I said, slamming the cabinet drawer shut.
“Where are my manners?” Valcke said, turning to Brea and extending his hand. “It’s wonderful to see you again, Mrs. Collins.”
She gave it a quick shake. “Likewise.”
I could hear the muffled sound of the jukebox inside the bar playing hits from 30 years ago. There was only one person on the street. He stood in the dim light of the neon beer signs, staring up at me. By the looks of things, he was still a Union fan. Or at least dressed like one.
Brea sat behind my desk and Valcke took the same seat as before. I kept my legs stretched.
“Mr. Cattone told me about your offer,” Brea said. “I’m afraid we can’t do it for any less than $50,000.” “You are a shrewd negotiator, Mrs. Collins,” Valcke said. “I can have the money for you shortly after the banks open in the morning. Shall we say ten o’clock?”
“Ja,” he said. “I cheer Union Philadelphia. I am Son of Bern.”
“That’s fine,” Brea said. “But I don’t have the trophy. I might not for another few days.”
“And may I ask where it is?”
“Where Freddie put it. I haven’t touched it. I don’t want to touch it except to get rid of it.”
“Yes, I was very sorry to hear about Freddie,” Valcke said, shaking his head. “I don’t mean to pry, but do you know who did it?”
The room went quiet. Brea closed her eyes. “The Old Man.”
Valcke stood up. “The Old Man is here?”
“He must be,” Brea said. “But I haven’t seen him.” “That would explain the fellow outside,” Valcke said.
Brea came around the desk and stood beside me. “You can get rid of him faster than you did that goon in Dubai,” she told Valcke. “The Old Man has never been good about picking competent bootlickers.”
His face switched on a level of fury unbecoming of a man in a tuxedo, and Brea tried to slap it out of him before he could stand up, causing his nose to spring a crimson leak. He reached inside his jacket, so I pulled the gun out of my pocket.
“Easy, Valcke,” I said. “This’ll hurt more than the coffee.”
“You were to blame for that!” he shouted at Brea, pressing his crisp white sleeve to his nostril.
Her rebuttal was preempted by a knock at the door. Through the frosted glass we could see two figures on the other side.
“Working overtime so you can afford some clothes that don’t smell like garbage, detectives?” I said, opening the door.
Smalling and Cartwright stepped inside and surveyed the room.
“Sounded like you were having party in here,” Smalling said. “So we thought we’d stop by.”
“Detectives Smalling and Cartwright, Mrs. Collins you know, but the gentleman bleeding from his nose is Mr. Jérôme Valcke. He had a bit of unresolved business with Mrs. Collins’s husband and he thought I might be able to help settle the matter. That was before he pulled a gun on me while you were rooting through the trash this morning, but I won’t be pressing charges.”
“She assaulted me,” Valcke said.
“Is that so?” Smalling said. “Well, why don’t we move this shindig down to the station and sort it all out there?”
“That won’t be necessary, gentlemen,” I said. “Our friend here is just prone to nosebleeds, isn’t that right, Mr. Valcke?”
“Yes,” Valcke said with a forced grin. “She only slapped me because I made a rude comment about her bottom.” He adjusted his bowtie and edged toward the door.
“Leaving so soon, Jérôme?” I said.
“I am suddenly feeling very tired. Perhaps it is the blood escaping from my head, or the burns I suffered earlier today. Now I will say adieu.”
Valcke’s footsteps receded down the hallway. “If you boys want to stay up chatting all night, he’s the one to do it with,” I said.
Smalling and Cartwright followed him without so much as a goodbye.
“I should go, too,” Brea said.
I shut the door. “You talked to Valcke. Now you talk to me. What happened in Dubai, who is this Old Man, and what in God’s name does everyone want with this stupid trophy?”
“I thought you were being paid not to ask any questions,” she said.
“Not by you.”
Brea rested against my desk, her legs crossed and her heels digging into the floorboards.
“It’s a golden statuette of some kind of goddess holding a cup above her head,” she said. “But you probably know that.”
“What makes it different than any other shiny reward for unnecessary achievement?” I said.
“Freddie said it was once the most important trophy in the world. That many people had forgotten it, but the important ones never did. They promised to wipe some of Freddie’s debts if we helped them get it from the man who had it. Then Freddie suspected Mr. Valcke would take it from us for nothing in return, so we cut him out first.”
“Okay,” I said. “How did you end up here?”
“Only Freddie could tell you that,” she sighed. “I trusted him. All I know is we couldn’t stay in Dubai.” “What was the trophy for? Did it have any kind of inscription?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t get a very good look at it before Freddie hid it away.”
I sat on the desk beside her.
“Did Freddie have any family?” I said. “Siblings? Aunts or uncles? A particularly friendly mailman?” “It was just the three of us,” she said. “Me, Freddie, and his debt.”
“How much of that sob story was true?”
“Some,” she said with a note of hopefulness.
She walked to the window. I followed, and when she turned, I kissed her hard against the wall. It was the only time I knew her lips were speaking the truth. We spent the night in the office while our chaperone waited outside.
The next morning I went to the Four Seasons. The lurker had beaten me there. He even had time to change his jersey: same team, but this one was a more cheerful light blue and white. I asked for Valcke at the front desk.
They buzzed his room but got no response.
I took the seat next to the kid, who was pretending to read the paper. The lobby’s oak walls were trimmed with marble and small rainforests sprouted between the furniture.
“You a soccer fan?” I said. “I’ve been to Europe a few times. Those guys aren’t as special as you might think.”
“Ja,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on the paper.
“What part of town are you from? Little Berlin?” I said sneeringly.
“Ja. I cheer Union Philadelphia. I am Son of Bern.”
“I’m sure old Bern and the Union appreciate that. Where’s Valcke, Mr. Superfan? Still with the cops?”
He didn’t answer.
Leaning down, trying to read over his shoulder, I whispered, “How about the Old Man? I hope he’s paying you as much as he offered me.”
He gritted his teeth and slapped me in the face with the paper.
“Follow,” he said. “I end zis.”
I followed him out to the green Chrysler and we took a short, silent ride to the Residences at Dockside, a luxury apartment building shaped like a giant cruise ship on the edge of the Delaware River. We parked in the garage beneath the building and signed in with the desk clerk, who greeted my companion with a familiar smile. The kid wrote “Horst” in the guestbook, continuing a pattern down the page. I went with “Sam Hammett” just in case the police used it for bathroom reading.
We took the elevator all the way up to the second floor, where he pulled a key out of his pocket and opened apartment 2C.
It reminded me of my own abode, just bigger and 35 times more expensive. The walls were bare and the only piece of furniture in the living room was a white, L-shaped couch. Behind that was a sliding glass door that led out to a balcony overlooking the river and with a view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. To the left was a kitchen still in its original packaging; to the right, a hallway that presumably led to the bedrooms.
“Horst, who have you brought with you?”
The voice had a vague European affectation. A pasty balding man with a band of white hair wrapped around the back of a glistening pate stood up from the couch. His face was wrinkled yet cherubic. He radiated a false sense of harmlessness and offended the senses in an African robe he wore as a housecoat.
“Ze detective,” said Horst. “Cattone.”
“Ah, Mr. Cattone,” the Old Man said, offering me his hand. “It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I’m Joseph Blatter.”
“Likewise,” I said.
He kept hold of my hand and led me to the couch. Horst disappeared down the hall. I heard a door being closed. Blatter filled a tumbler with a clear liquid and handed it to me. Despite his age, he moved quickly, with the confidence of a stuntman who retained all of his original teeth.
“It’s only water,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind. I never trust a man who drinks alcohol while the sun is still up.”
“And I never trust anyone who reserves their sins for the cover of darkness,” I said, lifting my glass before realizing it was a wasted gesture.
Blatter laughed. “I appreciate your candor, Mr. Cattone. I don’t hear it as often as I would like. In that spirit, I must ask — are you here on behalf of Mrs. Brea Collins or Mr. Jérôme Valcke?”
“I’m here on behalf of my bank account,” I said. “It has a transient relationship with money.”
“Indeed,” he chortled. “I never trust a man who says he does business for any reason but money. Now then, the trophy. Do you have any idea of its value?”
“It’s worth more than a human life or two,” I said, taking a swig of water. “But monetarily? I have no idea. Valcke offered me 25 grand for it.”
Blatter made a show of gasping in disbelief. “As I’m sure you have guessed, that’s only a small fraction of its true worth. But if not that, what did they tell you about it?”
“They both knew a bit about what it looked like, but nothing more.”
A grin spread across his cleanly shaven face.
“Then I am the only one who knows precisely what it is and where it might be found.”
“I guess I’ll be going then,” I said, putting down my glass and standing up.
“The what and where are only but two questions, Mr. Cattone,” Blatter said. “The matter of procuring it remains.”
“Tell me what the hell I’m procuring and maybe I’ll be willing to do it,” I said, sitting back down.
“Very well.” He cleared his throat. “Tell me, Mr. Cattone, are you a football supporter? Pardon me — a ‘soccer fan’ as you Americans say it.”
“Of the game? No,” I said. “Of the business its most paranoid and indulgent practitioners give me? Sure.”
“Well, perhaps in your travels you’ve heard talk of the now mythical Jules Rimet Trophy. It was the original prize given to the winners of the World Cup from 1930 to 1970. Named after the FIFA president who initiated the tournament, it was made of gold-plated sterling silver atop a base of lapis lazuli and depicted Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. When World War II began, Italy were the holders of the trophy and the president of their football federation hid it from the Nazis in a shoebox under his bed. In March of 1966, the trophy — then valued at just 30,000 pounds — was stolen while on exhibit in London. Stamps worth three million pounds in the same exhibit were left untouched. Several days later, the trophy was found wrapped in newspaper under a South London garden hedge by a dog called Pickles while out for a walk. England won it after eight years in possession of the Brazilians that same year.”
“You don’t expect me to believe any of this, do you, Mr. Blatter?” I said. “If you want to waste my time with fairy tales, at least include an act of god.”
“Ah, that didn’t come until 1986,” Blatter said, leaning forward. “I’m sure you’ve been lied to many times in recent days especially, Mr. Cattone. But I assure you every word of this is true.”
“As soon as he starts raving about a soccer trophy believed to have been melted down 32 years ago, they’ll throw him in the loony bin for the rest of his natural life,” I said. “This is America.”
“Now then,” he continued. “FIFA denied the English Football Association’s request to produce a replica — a decoy for public display, if you will. But the English, being the nasty sort that they are, don’t take no for an answer. So a replica was made in secret. And when the original was won back by the Brazilians for the third time in 1970, allowing them to keep it forever, as stipulated by Jules Rimet himself forty years earlier, the replica was hidden under a bed as well. This time, its creator’s. The Brazilians encased the original in bullet-proof glass and put it on display at their federation’s headquarters. In 1983, hooded men tied up the night guard and used a crowbar to pry the wood off the back of the display cabinet. Four men were convicted of the crime in absentia, but the original trophy was never recovered. It was widely believed to have been melted down for its gold, but some of us never believed that. In 1997, the English replica was bought by FIFA at auction for 254,500 pounds — a price inflated by rumors that it was, in fact, the original. But it wasn’t. After years of searching in vain, the original turned up in a modest home in Buenos Aires, then in an underground shop in Tokyo and finally, in a palace in Dubai. Are you starting to believe me yet?”
“I’m still deciding,” I yawned. I drank some more water.
“This was where I came closest to acquiring it. I sent some… agents… to visit the sheikh, who had it in his possession. My men convinced him it was a fake, and once his defenses were lowered, they took it. Now they’ve got it. They dared to betray me and now they’ve got it. For 26 years, I have been chasing it. I want it. And I will have it.”
“What exactly do you do, Mr. Blatter?” I asked. “Besides chasing the ghosts of trophies around the world.”
“Whatever I please,” he said with a grin as he reclined back into the couch.
“And what’s my end in this?” I said, growing impatient as my vision blurred a little more than usual.
“I could offer you half a million dollars,” Blatter said. “Maybe more. I have considerable resources, Mr. Cattone. Considerable resources, and no one to answer to. It’s really quite wonderful.”
The number didn’t seem real, but then no numbers seemed real. My head weighed more than all the bowling balls in China. The glass fell from my hands. I tried to get up and instead fell down. I saw three sets of feet in front of me and then one of them turned out the lights.
When they finally came back on, it was dark out. I pushed myself off the ground and felt a bruise the size of a cantaloupe on the side of my forehead. Once the empty room came back into focus, I stumbled out and caught a ride.
First I went to my apartment. Brea wasn’t there. I went to the office next. That was clear, too. As I ran down to exit the building with the aim of heading out to Ridley, I heard a groan from under the staircase. A man in a long coat with a mountain range of bruises across his face was lying in a shallow lake of blood. There were bullet holes in his clothes.
“I’ll get help,” I assured him, as if words could still do that.
He couldn’t move his lips, but he managed to spit out: “The dumpster… behind the bar,” before giving in to his wounds. I felt for a pulse that wasn’t there, then checked him for ID. His driver’s license said his name was David Collins.
Nestled inside the dumpster, sitting atop a throne of garbage, was a package bundled up in newspaper and string. I didn’t touch it. Instead, I closed the lid and half hoped the trash truck would come by before I could return. I walked back to my apartment to regroup.
When I reached the building, Brea came running out from around the corner, wobbly and out of breath.
“I was going to meet David at your office, but — ”
“Did you see who did it?” I said.
She shook her head.
I took her up to the apartment and once I flipped on the lights, I felt a gun in my back. Blatter was sitting in front of us with Valcke standing behind him, leaving Horst on stick-up duty.
“Have a seat, Mr. Cattone,” Blatter said as if he owned the joint. “And it’s lovely to see you again, too, Mrs. Collins. I must say that I like your shoes. If only we could get our lady footballers to play boots like them.”
“I have the trophy if you have the money,” I said. “Then we can all get started on never seeing each other again.”
Blatter held out an envelope.
“That’s $20,000,” he said. “I know we discussed a much larger figure, but given the circumstances, I think this is a very generous offer.”
I took the envelope and handed it to Brea.
“More important than the money are these two murders,” I said. “The cops are going to pin them on somebody and it isn’t going to be me. Certainly not for $20,000.”
“Then who?” Blatter said.
“How about your lap dog?” I said, feeling the gun dig into my back a little deeper. “After all, Horst’s the one who actually did them, isn’t he?”
“Horst?” Blatter said, his voice even more theatrical than usual. “I could never do that to him! Anyway, what’s to stop him from telling the police about the trophy and taking you all down with him?”
“As soon as he starts raving about a soccer trophy believed to have been melted down 32 years ago, they’ll throw him in the loony bin for the rest of his natural life,” I said. “This is America.”
Horst pushed me down to my knees and cocked his gun at my head.
“I’ve been wanting to do this since the first time I saw you,” he said.
“Horst! Horst, no!” Blatter shouted, though I noticed he didn’t bother to get up.
“Alright, fine,” I said. “Then how about Mr. Valcke or, hell, even Mrs. Collins. Someone’s going to take this rap and since I’m the only one who knows where the trophy is, it’s not going to be me.”
Valcke whispered something in Blatter’s ear.
“I’ll bet you one priceless World Cup trophy that they’re conspiring against you,” I said to Horst.
He moved his gun up from me to Blatter and Valcke, so I took the chance to knock it out of his hand and tag him with a right hook to the eye. He staggered and went down as Brea grabbed the gun then handed it to me.
“You’ve made your point, Mr. Cattone,” Blatter said. “As you say, it’s only fair that the guilty party face the consequences for his actions. I’m very sorry, Horst. I’ve known many men, but only one Jules Rimet Trophy. One original, anyway. Speaking of which, where is it, Mr. Cattone?”
“Someplace safe,” I said.
“I would suggest you go and fetch it,” Blatter said. “But I don’t like the idea of letting you out of my sight. Not that you could run from me, Mr. Cattone.”
“How about we make a field trip of it?” I said.
We formed a raggedy conga line and hit the road. Brea was up front with Valcke behind her, then Blatter, Horst and me giving directions from the rear. When we reached the dumpster, I pulled out the bundle and placed it in Blatter’s trembling hands. He unwrapped it like a child forced to wait until New Year’s Day to open his Christmas presents. Once all that was between the trophy and his touch was a thin layer of cotton, he stopped.
“Twenty six years…” he said, his voice trembling. He threw off the cotton and clutched the trophy against his fleshy chest. The winged goddess glistened in the moonlight. The four of us stood motionless as we watched him squeeze it tight, then hold it out in his fingertips. He weighed it with his hands.
Blatter reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade, but instead of threatening us and making his escape, he took it to the trophy, scratching beneath its golden surface and frantically felt its insides with his finger.
“No… no…” he said. “It’s lead! It’s not real, it’s lead!”
“You old idiot!” Valcke shouted. “You stupid, old idiot! The sheikh knew what we were doing from the start and let us take a decoy! You led us all this way for nothing!”
Valcke did a strange little hop and then put his head between his knees and began to cry. Blatter dropped the trophy, put away the knife, and wiped his brow.
“Yes, it was definitely the sheikh,” Blatter said with a perverse laugh. “Should we cry and make rude comments about each other, or go to Dubai? What do you say, Jérôme? I’ve been at this for 26 years. What’s one more?”
“Okay,” Valcke sniffled from between his legs.
I looked to my right and saw that Horst was gone.
“And you, Mr. Cattone,” Blatter said. “Will you join us on our journey? I can offer you money, and, as president of FIFA, so much more than that. Including the services of Mr. Valcke, our secretary general. But most of all, who can turn down an adventure like this? Perhaps one day we’ll even make a film about it.”
“I’d rather you use that knife to see if my neck is filled with lead than go anywhere with any of you,” I said.
“Very well,” he said with a laugh. “Then this is where we say goodbye.”
He pulled out a small gun with an ivory handle and pointed it in my direction as Valcke helped him back out of the alley.
I had Brea come into the bar with me, where I called the police and asked for detective Smalling. I told him about the body across the street and gave him descriptions for Blatter, Valcke and Horst, but he seemed more interested in me than any of them.
Brea ordered herself a drink. Something sweet with vodka in it.
“You should get going,” I told her.
“I know,” she said.
“You killed him, didn’t you? The guy across the street,” I said. “They beat the tar out of him to get him to say where it was, but when he wouldn’t tell you either, you shot him. Was he your brother-in-law? Freddie told me his brother had it that night in Atlantic City. You have the trophy, don’t you?”
She kissed me. Her lips lingered against mine.
“You shouldn’t ask so many questions, Tony,” she said. “They tend to have answers.”
She paid for her drink and left. The detectives and their cleanup crew arrived a few minutes later. I gave them the fake trophy and they put me in handcuffs.
“What is it?” Smalling asked, holding the trophy like it might explode.
“The discarded seed of the world’s obsession.”
Brooks Peck is the founder of Dirty Tackle and tweets from @BrooksDT. Patrick Leger is an illustrator and frequent contributor to Howler.