Since I’m the senior detective in MAFCU — the Missing Apparel, Footwear and Collectibles Unit — this case was tailor-made for me. And I could tell this was big; bigger than the bobblehead case I’d been working the past few months.
“Yessir,” I said. “Description?”
“White and blue. The number 12, front and back. Says ‘Brady’ across the shoulders.”
I muttered a word my sainted mother would have slapped me for. “You mean, a jersey identical to the shirts being worn by thousands of drunken knuckleheads running around Houston right now?”
“You got it,” the lieutenant said. “And one more thing.”
“This could get … messy. Be careful out there.”
I could feel that familiar white rage welling inside me, a rage rooted in the stress of my job. It had cost me two marriages, three promotions — and Vera. I wondered where she was right now, but my anger pushed thoughts of even her out of my head.
This supposed victim is a movie-star–handsome millionaire, has a model for a wife, has just won his fifth Super Bowl and fourth Super Bowl M.V.P. Award — and now I have to go find his used jersey?
Snap out of it, I told myself. You’re a cop. And a damned good one. Do your job.
I grabbed a coffee to sober up, drove to the football stadium, and found my way down to the locker-room crime scene. A couple of Patriots flunkies were hanging around, but they were too emotional to talk. So I chatted up a security guard who had some video.
Watching it over and over, rewinding, fast-forwarding, I knew in my gut that something had gone down. Something … un-American.
10:05: The victim, wearing a Super Bowl championship T-shirt, is driven by golf cart to the locker room. The only others present are teammates, Patriots hangers-on, and N.F.L. muck-a-mucks.
In my book: suspects.
The victim sits down near his locker and turns his attention to all the love in the room.
10:17: Some disheveled characters waddle into the scene, looking like tourists searching for the nearest Olive Garden. The media, I’m guessing.
10:20: Now the victim, visibly upset, is searching a carry-on bag, his locker, the floor around him. He asks someone to see if the equipment guys have found his game jersey yet.
“I put it right here,” he says. “I know exactly where I put it. Crazy.”
Not crazy; this was evil. And I knew from hard experience that the longer the jersey was missing, the more likely it would wind up in the private collection of some memorabilia sicko, never to be seen again by a worshiping public. The coffee churned in my stomach.
I drove home and tried to sleep. I muttered a prayer to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost items. I turned out the light. Then everything went dark.
The good saint never answered. Instead, I woke up to the news that the lieutenant governor of Texas — the lieutenant governor — had announced that the Texas Rangers — the Texas Rangers — were joining the hunt.
“In Texas, we place a very high value on hospitality and football,” the lieutenant governor said. “Tom Brady’s jersey has great historical value and is already being called the most valuable N.F.L. collectible ever.”
He added: “It is important that history does not record that it was stolen in Texas.”
As if I needed the extra pressure. We’re not talking here about Jim Bowie’s knife, I thought. This is a sweaty shirt owned by a guy who can afford to buy another one!
I was losing it again. I slapped myself hard. Quietly recited the MAFCU oath (“I hereby swear to uphold the sartorial promise of this great nation …”). And began searching through a sample book of cloth swatches for an idea, a clue … anything.
The phone rang a long time before I picked up. I knew who it was. With nothing to report, I quoted the Sherlockian theorem that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
“In that case,” the lieutenant said, his voice mocking, “you believe that, however improbable, this football jersey just climbed out of that duffle bag? Is that what you’re telling me, Detective?”
“No sir. I just …”
“Just nothing!” Now he was screaming. “I’ve got the lieutenant governor and the Texas Rangers butting in! I’ve got crazies blaming Syrian refugees! I’ve got the Vatican calling to say this jersey might have spiritual significance!”
He caught his breath and lowered his voice.
“This goes all the way to the very top, Detective. Do you understand? The victim has … connections. And now I’ve got the White House offering the services of some black-ops agency so secret it doesn’t even have an acronym. It’s referred to only with a series of coded grunts.”
His voice rose again. “So, Detective, what does all this mean?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“It means it’s getting awfully crowded up in my boxers! So FIND THAT JERSEY!”
“Yessir,” I said to dead air.
I started to write down the names of anyone who might want to wish the victim ill. Seven hours later, my half-finished list included the Atlanta Falcons; the N.F.L. commissioner; some lawyer named Ted Wells; and most of the 300 million Americans who live outside New England.
I slammed down my pen. I wanted a drink, bad. I wanted to be with Vera, lovely Vera, making her laugh as she worked the counter down at the Bowl-O-Rama. But you can never go back.
Desperate, I decided to retrace my steps, beginning with another hard look at that locker-room video. This time, I noticed that at the very end, the victim’s voice can be heard cracking slightly as he asks:
“Guys? Did anyone see it?”
I started to choke up, so I hit pause. Staring at the frozen crime scene through a blur of tears, I cursed the twisted, thieving S.O.B. who had besmirched this day: the holiest day on the American calendar.
I vowed then and there to bring the fiend to justice. And to track down this precious piece of polyester knit.
He looked down at the table, then at the wall, then at the ceiling, and then back at the table. Reaching for his glass of water, his hand quivered like disturbed Jell-O.
I had to ask.
“Is everything all right, Commissioner?”
Continue reading the main story