1965-09-03 - The Case of the Vanishing Crate, 1945
Summary: In 1945, the Munich Central Collecting Point is established to process the return of stolen art, property, and cultural artifacts looted by the Nazis. It's a complicated process, with many opportunities for things to go missing…
Related: None
Theme Song: None
ambrose halgrim 

The Munich Central Collection Point is barely eight months old, and it's already packed to the gills with art, artifacts, cultural effects, manuscripts, religious iconography…and the motley team of historians, archaeologists, and artists who've come from the corners of the world to help sort it all out. There's the personal effects and belongs of the Jewish people who were sent to the camps to separate from raided museum collections and send on to the survivors; there's personal art caches to identify and tag and return to their owners; there's whole museums to refill. It's going to take years.

There's a small army of people doing paperwork and determining provenance and spending day and night on phones contacting peopple and doing inventory of shipments coming in from the field, and among this army is a graduate student who drinks too much and has a loud mouth. But he's faster at the work than many of his peers, for which he's rewarded with more, and if you show up looking for something, chances are you're going to get pointed at him (this happens both because he's more likely to find it fast and because it keeps him out of anyone else's hair).

His 'office', which is one of the tiny rooms clogged with filing cabinets that block the windows and tower over a tiny desk with an ancient phone, has a piece of paper with his name on it in bold, block letters (L I N D Q V I S T) and the same sentence repeated under it in four languages: Rör inte något * Rør ikke ved noget * Fass nichts an * Don't touch anything (the English has several lines drawn under it for emaphsis). All of the doors along this hall are propped open to let the air flow through, filling the passage with the sound of a dozen different phonecalls and the rustle of paper and the clank of drawers opening and shutting. Inside Halgrim's office it's quiet, because he's sitting on the phone, listening to somene yell about something. He looks eternally bored, and possibly thirty seconds from hanging up after giving a flimsy excuse.

First comes the lengthening of a shadow along the floor of the hallway. Then comes the creator of the shadow, past the open door of the young and bored graduate. A briskly-walking figure with an air of militaristic importance is a flash of desert-khaki and an odder darker set of pants that provide minor dissonance. The bootsteps fade and then come to a halt. There's a questioning lilt to conversation from a few doors down, the British accent blending nearly seamlessly into the general hubbub. A confirmative query and then back the footsteps go. They stop outside of the open door and then the man makes a point to lean on the frame.

He's irrevocably present, the brunet with the soldier's haircut beginning to grow long once more. He wears the stubble of few morning shaves missed and an almost sardonic little thin-lipped smile. Folded arms within a desert fatigues jacket a la "Desert Rats" shift a little as he considers Halgrim, waiting for him to either notice or to hang up — whichever comes first. In his hand, an envelope with a folded piece of paper tucked up beneath its lip.

Praise the gods, someone has shown up at Halgrim's door, and now he can hang up by saying there's a very important person with whom he had an appointment and they've just arrived and he *has* to talk to *right now*, can we continue this later. Which is what he does, in Danish, and then he hangs up his phone and rolls his eyes, mutters under his breath in Swedish, and starts writing on a piece of paper. After a second he glances up at Ambrose, and seems surprised he's still there. With a small sigh he says, "Deutsch? Dansk? Norsk?" He visibly notices Ambrose's jacket, and adds, "English?" His accent's fairly good, considering, though it's easily identifiable as Swedish or Norwegian.

He doesn't wait for a reply, just immediately returns to his writing, which is the bottom portion of an official form of some sort or another. He finishes, stamps it with a bright red GENEHMIGT, shoves his chair back, and gets up to file it. He's lean in a way that suggests he's not done putting on weight just yet — can't be much past 20 — and tall, over six feet, which makes getting to that top drawer a non-issue.

"Got it in four," replies the brunet quietly as he watches Halgrim go about his work. The way his eyes then rove about the office is impersonal, not too different from the standard approach that most of the military personnel likely use when interacting with the paper-herders of these offices. The different is likely the interested glint. He's like doing some cataloguiging of his own.

"I need this particular form approved post-haste," he then says with a tone of bland boredom to counter the attentive interest he holds behind dark lashes. The envelope and accompanying piece of paper is then offered out with the rotational flip of a wrist. He remains where he is in his lean at the doorframe, clearly expecting this young Mister Lindqvist to take it from it rather than delivering it to the desk.

"Well I haven't had to deal with a Brit or an American for an entire hour, I was hopeful." Halgrim shuts that drawer, opens a lower one, and pulls out a fat, red, manila envelope. In huge letters across the front it reads TUNESIEN/MAROKKO/AGYPTEN. He gives Ambrose's envelope, then Ambrose himself a bland look and sits back down at his desk. He gestures at a chair next to the door, which already has a sizeable pile of folders ands envelopes. "Right there. Unless post-haste is hasty enough to get you to walk it," he taps the top of his desk as he starts going through the manila folder's contents, "here, in which case, you can get it done that much faster." He flips through the paperwork in the red manila folder with a speed suggesting he's just trying to double-check the contents, not find anything.

The soldier rolls his blue eyes before stepping into the small office proper and over to the desk in question. The envelope and form in his care isn't precisely tossed to the surface, but there's a lackadaisical nature to its arrival upon the polished wood.

"There we are. Post-haste." He takes up a stance of what appears to be a civilian's take on at-ease, weight shifted to one foot as he considers the red folder currently in Halgrim's hands. "Getting a good number of antiques from that sector, then, I suppose?" Idle chitchat and an equally idle question that might garner him some interesting answers.

"Mmmm," Halgrim replies. He finishes with the folder, at least for the moment, sets it aside. "See that line of trucks going most of the way around the block on your way in? Nearly all, from Rommel. Just got here this morning, along with a few from a site near Dresden. So now we start the long process of opening a few hundred boxes and comparing what's in them to what's written down on the manifests," he takes Ambrose's envelope and opens it, shaking the form out and picking up his pen, "try to sort out what's where and who it goes back to." There's not much in the way of personal effects in the office; a coffee mug in plain gray, a black leather jacket that's seen a fair bit of use, a glass tumbler for drinking liquor, though there's no bottles in sight.

"Yes, I saw the trucks." The brunet even looks back over his shoulder, as if he might see the crawling convoy of arriving boxes filled with ancient finds and misappropriated items through the walls of the building. "An exciting time, being able to return what wasn't rightfully taken." For all that he comments neutrally on it, there's still the faint under-tone of excitement. His eyes go back the red folder and he asks,

"Do you mind terribly if I see the manifests, if that's what within the folder there? Curiosity, you see. I spent some time down there and while I'm aware that Rommel and his men were looting, I never saw all of what the bastard touched." Now comes the ice crackling through his words.

Halgrim scans the form, marks a few boxes, crosses something else out, starts writing comments along the bottom. "Is anything ever rightfully taken?" he murmurs in Swedish. His handwriting is draftsman-like in its precision. To the request to look at the manifests, he huffs a laugh. "Oh, by all means, if you want to read through lists of what someone wrote down in a hurry in the desert, maybe or maybe not legibly, and was then typed up by someone else a few days later trying to read that first person's handwriting, then, by *all* means…" He glances at the folder, shakes his head. "And that's without any paperwork mixups. The majority of the first few days is figuring out if we actually know what's *in* the boxes." He seems to feel bad about being disparaging towards his peers and colleagues, because he pauses in the process of picking up the red stamp of approval and clarifies, "It's an imperfect proces, and most of them don't have access to a field typewriter, so they have my sympathies." All of this said he shoves the folder at Ambrose and flips open the top. "Enjoy yourself, English. Let me know if you see anything interesting, I'll go check that box first. I don't mind getting a chance to look at the rarer pieces before we send them home." He stamps Ambrose's form, drops it back in the envelope, and pushes it back across the desk, next to the folder.

"They have my sympathies as well," the soldier replies and he does heart for the men in question. Long hours, uncomfortable tasks in heat and arid desert air, and not to mention the other unspoken list of things that might kill other than dehydration — all in a hunt to find the stolen treasures of the Fertile Crescent. "I know the trials of attempting to translate field-script."

Taking up the red folder, he opens it and begins flicking through the contents. He's not in a huge hurry and not necessarily looking for a specific item, so the pages turn slowly in comparison to Halgrim's earlier once-through. A fingertip alights upon one list and drags lightly down it before stopping and taptapping on a specific entry.

"This small list here," and he turns and tilts the page to display the entries without actually handing back the folder. "I'd recommend checking off these six items. They are an extreme rarity. I hope they skin anyone who damages them during handling," he adds, utterly serious as he rotates back to a normal perusing stance once more.

Halgrim has leaned back in his chair, taking a moment to stretch; he sits up to glance over the list, and raises his eyebrows at Ambrose. "Pretty sure they tossed out flogging as a punishment, but I'll let the Lietenant know," he says, tone dry. He does make a note on a small sheet of paper, however, neatly writing down the six items from his brief glance. He pauses, considering Ambrose, taps his pen against his desk. "What'd you go to school for? Before," he lifts his chin, indicating the uniform. "History? Art?"

Those blue eyes briefly lift from the lists. "I am a lieutenant," Ambrose offers with a smug little smile before continuing more evenly. "A bloody shame that they did away with flogging. You can accomplish so much with it. But you asked after schooling." With his free hand, he scratches at the line of his scruffy jaw, now looking down at the lists.

"Formally, I was schooled at home. Tutor. My parents though it better than public schooling. In regards to the realm of antiques? I would best describe it as journeyman learning. I've been handling rarities for some years now." He turns another page and frowns down at it.

"You're *a* lieutenant," Halgrim says, "not *the* lieutenant." He points at a name on a piece of paper, a co-signature for a form that's sitting to one side on his desk: CH Smyth. "The man in charge. Everyone else, General or Colonel or Sergent or infantrymen or whatever, in this place, we answer to him."

He snorts and shakes his head at Ambrose, not sure if he's joking about flogging or if Brits are all way too serious for their own health. "Homeschooled, eh? Still — you've got an eye." He raises an eyebrow, suggests, "Come downstairs in a," he checks the clock on his wall, "half-hour when we start unloading the boxes. They don't mind extra hands. Hands attached to someone who has half an idea of what they're doing," he shrugs, "those aren't bad to have around."

Ah…Lieutenant Smythe. The brunet gives the paper bearing his signature a lengthy glance before 'hmph'ing softly to himself. Brows rise and fall, the silent equivalence of an unimpressed comment. Still, Halgrim is entirely correct. The whole process would fall to tatters without the man and his ability to run the show.

"Half an hour?" He too glances to the clock before reaching into one of the inner pockets of his jacket. He pulls out a pocket watch, polished and shined in gold, and flips open the lid to check against it. Accurate. "Half an hour it is," he agrees before slipping the pocket watch away again and closing the red manila folder. He offers it back to the young man, certain to keep his fingers far enough away that no contact will occur. "Everything square on the form then?"

Accepting the manila folder back (and flipping it open to double-check the top sheet is still the same), Halgrim grunts an acknowledgement and taps the envelope. "You're set there." He pulls a paper off of a stack on a three-level organizer and begins scanning it; it seems to be some sort of provenance document. He apparently intends to work right until someone comes and fetches the manifests; the joys of being the person it starts with. "We'll get ourselves some boxes and see what's inside them."

He takes up the envelope with its signed document once more and slips the paper inside it. Away it goes into an interior pocket of the jacket and the soldier eyes the red folder once more. A chance to come back and further surveil its contents certainly won't be ignored.

"I certainly can't wait. Don't work too hard in the meantime, hmm, Lindqvist? Time might not wait for anyone, but burning the candle at both ends means transcription errors and who knows what Smythe might have to say to that." The smile given to Halgrim isn't necessarily unkind, but still thin. "Half an hour then." With that, the lean soldier moves to leave the room and its piles of paperwork to its minder. He has a short list of his own to check off within the next thirty minutes.

Halgrim glances to watch Ambrose go, says, "What else are your twenties for but working and drinking yourself into an early grave." Out in the hall, the phonecalls and paper shuffling carry on. Downstairs rooms are being cleared out to accommodate the wave of boxes from North Africa and France; three men are directing the efforts to make space for the unpacking process once it starts. It's something of a circus of German interwoven with British and American accents of a wide variety, yet somehow things get done.

Outside the troops watching the trucks are getting a little bored and have begun leaning against the vehicles and chatting, paying only a little attention to anything going on around them. Not that there's much to watch out for; the rubble which is the remains of Munich beyond the Central Collecting Point isn't crawling with enemies anymore, just people trying to clean up and go on with their lives. Certainly there's no one out there who poses a threat to a military convoy.

Ambrose makes his way first outside to see precisely how the troops are scattered about. He's not looking to lose any form of connection to the military itself — after all, his efforts in northern Africa had lasting ramifications for the very objects brought in to be catalogued and returned. He notes where the pockets of soldiers are as well as where the various blind spots exist. He marks one particular truck that's parked off to one side, not currently in use, and memory jogs that it's been seen both leaving and arriving back on-site for errands about Munich itself — the functioning parts of the city, at least.

Nodding to himself, he then returns inside and makes his way downstairs, greeting the few faces he knows in passing with bland comments. Halgrim was not incorrect with his earlier supposition about the necessity of proper handling; the brunet has demonstrated the ability with previous artifacts arrived at the MFAA processing site. He enters the downstairs room and steps to one side to allow someone to bustle past, too absorbed in their clipboard otherwise to actively avoid any collision, and tsks. There he stays, out of the way of the immediate flow of traffic, and watches the arrival of the boxes, one by one — and waits for Halgrim to arrive, all the better to direct him to the particular box containing the particular list he noted earlier.

Thirty minutes later on the dot Halgrim comes downstairs with the red manila envelope in one hand and a blakc leather work bag in the other. He hands the envelope off to a middle-aged man with a long nose and large ears in casual Naval dress, who accepts it with a nod. Halgrim says a few things to him, and the man pulls four manifests off the top of the folder, looks them over, and gives them to Halgrim. Halgrim dips his head at him in a thank you, moves past the Naval officer, and towards the entrance.

Catching sight of Ambrose, he detours and comes to stand next to him by the wall. "These," he holds up the manifests, "will be in there." He juts his chin at a modest-sized side room with two heavy work tables and a small corner draped with drop cloths for taking photographs. Soon enough the four boxes are carted in, and Halgrim shoves off the wall and goes to talk to the soldiers doing the carrying. They double-check the pages against the huge numbers scralwed on the boxes, then depart, and Halgrim gestures for Ambrose to join him.

Having patiently watched for the young man's arrival, Ambrose's cool blue eyes then mark him and his actions. He nods a silent greeting to Halgrim on the approach and then glances from the manifests to the side room in question. He continues to stand where he is, observing the interactions of the soldiers with the effect of the paperwork, his arms lightly folded. Once beckoned, he breaks into a smooth walk and joins Halgrim in the smaller side room.

His nod indicates satisfaction after noting the contents of the room. "This will do indeed," he says to himself softly, in an almost musical cadence. Hands clap together no more loudly than necessary and rub as he looks to Halgrim. "Archival gloves? I'm not about to place bare skin on these antiques."

"You are damned right you're not," Halgrim says, and drops his work bag on the floor. He unbuckles it and pulls out a pair of cameras and attendant flashes and packs of film, two note books with pens, and two pairs of archival gloves. He sets all of this out on one of the tables in two piles. "One of these has the items you indicated, and another has something *I* want to have a look at. The other two are just ones that looked interesting in passing." He pulls a crowbar out of the work bag and sets to prying open the lid of each box in turn.

One that's done, he says, "Let's see what we can see," and hands Ambrose the manifest with the six items he'd previously pointed out. He points at a box next to the other table. "That's that one," he says. "Photograph everything — you can use the little photobooth we've put there if you need to. Take notes on the condition, write down if something's in the box that wasn't on the manifest or the other way around. Repackage it properly, put your descriptive pages with it…" He gestures idly, expecting Ambrose to know this part. "Take your time, ask questions. We're not in some sort of hurry."

Another cool smile appears on Ambrose's lips as he gives the young man a lofted eyebrow. He glances down at the list handed to him and walks over to the box in question. Nestled as carefully as can be managed are the six items. Immediately, Halgrim's voice becomes a background drone as his heartbeat suddenly resounds in his ears; the fine hairs on the nape of his neck even rise. These are…absolutely of the origin he suspected and by God, if that particular piece of pottery has traces of paint…?

He slips on the pristine lint-free gloves and returns to the box with camera and flash as well as notebook. He'll play along…for now…and to better get to know the pieces he intends to leave with. Reaching into the box, he pulls out first a small carved head. It appears to be an antelope, the blank eyes huge and corrugated horns stylized along the back of the neck. "Ibex…?" he says softly to himself, squinting as he holds it up and turns it about in the room's light. "Sandstone, I think," he says as he writes down the very things he's saying aloud. "Mesopotamia, more likely…" he rubs his fingertip along the creature's nose and nods. "Sandstone." He ponders the era even as he places the artifact carefully down in order to prep the camera and flash.

Halgrim, meanwhile, is working with the efficiency of someone who has opened way too many of these boxes, in utter silence. The top layer of his box has a variety of interesting odds and ends: a collection of dinosaur fossils, all cast in plaster, which makes describing and photographing them an interesting study in light manipulation, but he makes do; some pottery from Volubilis, all shards; two parchments fragments, carefully contained in sealed glass containers to allow them to expand and contract with minimal movement. And lastly…

"Ah," Halgrim says, and leans down to look at the bottom-most piece in his first box, pulling out the straw and blankets that that were cushioning it. "Come give me a hand with this one," he says, gesturing at the other end of the box. It's a long, single piece of something wrapped in heavy paper and secured with twine.

The flash goes off to document the carven Ibex head before Ambrose looks up, his expression vaguely irritated for what he first thinks to be an interruption of his good work. Not one to work in a team, this man. Still, realizing that the artifact in question might be of interest, he sets aside the camera and walks over to assist Halgrim.

"Wonder what it is," he says by way of trivial comment as he stoops and takes up his end of the mysterious package. He'll assist in handling it to Halgrim's table and then steps back to watch the young man reveal what's inside the heavy paper.

"Something I was hoping they might get back," Halgrim says. "You're in for a treat, English." Whatever it is, it's heavy and solid, and nearly two feet wide; too heavy for the average man to lift alone. Halgrim nods at the open side of his table for them to set it down, and with an absent, "Thanks," he pulls out a pocket knife and cuts off the twine. He unwraps the paper carefully, exposing each end and double-checking inside before he removes the rest. It's a long chunk of wood, shaped into a gentle curve that coils tight on one end, with a face carved into it — a dragon, perhaps, though time has worn down the finer details into suggestions. "You're a handsome devil," Halgrim says, leaning over to begin inspecting the piece, "what's your name."

The crinkling of the paper seems loud in the small room. Ambrose cranes his head at the first sight of the weather-worn wood. He frowns and steps in closer even as the unwrapping continues yet. Eventually, his steps bring him up beside Halgrim, a silent reverence now about him. He reaches out to glide gloved fingertips along the regimented pattern of designs along the curving neck of the design.

"I'll be damned," he mutters. "It's not…a prow? From a longboat? Good lord, how'd they come across this? I mean, it's not impossible for the Vikings to have reached the northern reaches of Africa, but…the rarity," he emphasizes quietly.

"Nekor," Halgrim confirms, leaning in to squint at the vague suggestion of knotwork that remains. "Mid-ninth century, from a raid where they sacked the city. This is part a ship that sank into mud, stayed there for millenia. Lack of oxygen, kept it from disintegrating. Storm surge exposed it about forty years ago." He straightens and picks up his camera, pauses to consider it. "They sailed in these all the way from Denmark. Sixty-two ships they left with. Raided all up and down the Iberian Peninsula, and into the Mediterranean." He shakes his head, laughs. "Crazy bastards."

Despite himself, a faint laugh escapes Ambrose at Halgrim's comment. He continues tracing along the prow's faint designs, envisioning what he can of what might have been those thousands of years back.

"Crazed bastards indeed. I can't imagine what they must have been thinking — or those they raided. Was it that they'd found Valhalla or did the locals think that the gods had sent demons to plague them?" Another quiet laugh, more of a short sound through his nose, and he moves to return to his Ibex head. "More of your demesne, I believe, than mine, that era."

Halgrim shrugs. "Personally, I think they were thinking that they had good boats." He traces a finger along the beast's face. "And a ship's not for sitting at anchor in a harbor." He's thoughtful for a minute, imagining this ship or another one like it rowing out past the breakwater. He continues, "And Christianity was just showing up then, displacing their native religion, so that probably pissed them off no end." He smiles, wryly, gestures expansively with his camera. "There's plenty of evidence suggesting they were, indeed, considered demons. Probably not an unfair take on them, considering what they were up to."

"Of course — and I use 'demons' in a colloquial sense, not in any way literally," says Ambrose from his table. The sandstone Ibex head is now in the process of being properly repackaged after having been catalogued both visually and by written note. He pauses to look over at Halgrim. "Imagine. Pale raiders with flaxen hair suddenly setting your village alight. No wonder the Beduoin tell their tales…" He half-smiles and then seems to retreat into his work, no longer inclined to expand further on that thought.

The next object to emerge from the box he calls his own appears to be an axe-head once revealed from its wrapping of heavy paper. He turns it over a few times, admiring the patina of orange upon it, and then gets to taking what notes he can, frowning and muttering to himself. His short-hand is far less clean than shown earlier by Halgrim, but still legible and with a hint of a stylized grace not seen for many decades.

Halgrim begins taking photographs; he's been judicious with his film until now, but for this piece he takes extra pictures. No doubt some of those are going home with him to Sweden as keepsakes. "Oh, with all those stories about seikonur and seimenn, I wouldn't put it beyond them to be more than just colloquially demonic," he says, absently. Done with photos, he starts in on his notes. He's quiet for a spell, until he's moved on to rewrapping, resecuring, and finally, arranging everything on his table so he still has room for the contents of the other box. He looks down at the rewrapped prow for a moment, pats it, and says, "Nice to meet you."

He moves to his second box; as he reaches in for the first item (a reasonably well-preserved Tunisian amphora with a simple woven design around the opening), he spies Ambrose's handwriting and grunts. "Your tutors force that penmenship on you?" He hefts the vase over to his table and gently sets it down, supporting it with one hand. "I took a drafting class so I could stop using that cursive nonsense. Just made my writing a huge mess."

Halgrim receives little noncommital sounds and half-nods from his cohort. At one point, Ambrose does glance up at the mention of the seidr-users, but the words mean nothing to him and he merely makes a note to look them up later as time allows. At the comment in regards to his handwriting, he pauses in the middle of a rather swooping C and looks over at the young man more pointedly.

"You are about the nosiest damn person I've worked alongside in months. Yes, my tutor required this level of precision in lettering. It was — is a sign of neatness, of care in what's being put down upon paper. I find that I can write more quickly. It rarely matters if anyone can read it," he grumbles, going back to his notations.

"Mmm. Curse of being a lefty when I was young I suppose. Cursive's entirely backwards. Never got the hang of it." With a sly smile, Halgrim suggests, "We could get you some earphones to cancel out the noise." Then he's back to work with the amphora, taking time to sketch out the pattern on the opening. He's notably writing and drawing with his right hand, however.

The rest of his box is more curiosities; another set of fossils, these from fish found in the Kem Kem Beds; a set of quartzite blades, probably arrowheads; and a set of Egyptian necklaces from a variety of materials, most notably lapis, malachite, and turquiose. The stones flicker in the late afternoon light as Halgrim lays them out, carefully coutning the beads and inspecting them for damage.

One last pause on the downswoop of a T to give Halgrim a gimlet glance, but the effect is lost considering he's working at translating the pattern found on the amphora to paper. "«Earphones, my ass,»" mutters the brunet in Persian under his breath before setting aside the axe-head. What comes out of his box next is a set of three cylindrical seals. There will be time later in a more refined environment to take impressions of them; for now, he simply describes what he can tell of their worn surfaces and sets them aside after photographing them.

The last item to come out of the box is lifted up to the light and Ambrose whistles softly to himself. "If only you were whole," he whispers to himself. The pale clay beaker is beautifully decorated in circular geometric patterns; where the fracture line begins, there may be the impression of a face upon it, not human by what dimensions can be observed. "A damn shame." He thins his lips as he sets it down and attempts to sketch out what he can of the designs upon it.

Outside the other groups are finishing up, save for one or two who found themselves in posession of boxes with dozens of small items. Halgrim straightens from couting beads, stretches his back, and gets to wrapping the necklaces back up. He arranges the items on the table, gives the prow a last pat, and collects his film into a small box. "Box here for your film," he says over his shoulder. "Put the manifests in the box with them, notes on each item." He yanks off his gloves and lenas out the door, calling out to someone named Bran. A few seconds later a young sergent with short cropped, curly blonde hair and gray eyes in British colors appears with a clipboard. Halgrim starts reading off the box identifiers to him, which 'Bran' checks off.

Having successfully catalogued all of the items from the particular crate he was interested in, Ambrose sets the last aside most carefully wrapped up. He glances over at Halgrim as he straightens from stooping to nestle the small clay beaker and his light eyes linger especially on the new arrival. Never mind the film, though he does walk over to claim his own box for it.

He marks the small nuances of this…Bran, especially his denoted place in the hierarchy and the attentiveness to which he performs his duties with clipboard in-hand. The smile forming on the Jackal's lips is something thin and cool. He's certain to avert his face as he works at organizing his own set of items, half-listening to the conversation between the sergeant and Halgrim.

As Halgrim and Bran, whose uniform indicates he's a Sergeant, go over the items Halgrim has documented, it becomes increasingly clear that Bran is nervous. Jumpy, even; so much so that when someone calls 'Lindqvist!' loudly from the hall Bran actually jumps and almost fumbles his pen. Halgrim, recognizing the voice, rolls his eyes and mutters, "Gods what *now*," under his breath. "Be right back," he says to Bran, clapping him on the back and heading out into the hall. Bran takes a deep breath, lets it out…and only then does he realize Ambrose is, in fact, a lieutenant. His eyes widen in panic, and he salutes. "Apologies, sir, I didn't — see that —" He decides he should just shut up and does that.

Outside, in the hall, Halgrim is now in deep (and if the way he's frowning at a stapled sheet of papers is any indication, frustrated) conversation with three other tall, Norwegian-uniformed soldiers. One of them seems to be more explicitly the man in charge of the other two; he's practically leucistic, with white-blond hair and pale blue eyes, in distinct contrast to his two subordinates, who are both swarthier.

Ambrose pauses in placing the roll of film into its small box and briefly looks beyond Bran himself to the hallway outside. Oh yes — that conversation sounds conflicted…and involved. His eyes slide back to the young man.

"At ease, sergeant," says the brunet evenly. "I'm glad to find you present." He places the film inside and closes up the small box, even going so far as to pat the container gently atop it as if it were a pet. "You're here to assist in the recovery efforts?" He motions for Bran to come over and moves around the other side of the crate, as if he were to require another body to pick it up from its placement. Perhaps he's going to move it out of the way? Or maybe atop the table. Either way, the next step once Bran is in reach is like as not to snake out a palm towards bare skin, one way or another.

Bran relaxes, and even looks relieved to be talking to Ambrose. He sees the direction of Ambrose's brief interest in the hall and says, "Commander Aanensen." He keeps his voice low, as if they might be overheard. "Sounds upset. When things supposed to go back to Norway get lost in the shuffle he cracks heads until they're found. Or he makes Lindqvist do it." His accent is distinctly Welsh. He moves immediately in response to Ambrose's gesture, the reaction like second nature, placing him in easy reach. He's so glad to be talking to a fellow Englishman that it doesn't occur to him to be wary at all. Ambrose is a Desert Rat and there are no yelling Scandinavians in the room, this is the safest Bran Driscoll has been since he left school. "Yes, I'm an art history major at Cambridge. But" He cuts a glance at the door and admits, "these huge Viking people all over? They're terrifying. They're—stressful."

The brunet laughs softly even as he holds his crouch, one knee planted on the floor and hands hidden briefly behind the rise of the crate.

"I understand. They've a touch of the harsh-handedness to them, don't they. It stems from the passion present. We've all got ghosts that haunt us in that which arrives here…one way or another." His voice drops a touch in volume briefly before he seems to come back to the present.

"I've heard of the commander as well…but to have the young man, Lindqvist, do this haring and hunting?" He rolls a shoulder in a graceful shrug, his eyes falling back to Bran from briefly listening in again to the discussion out in the hallway. "He's a scholarly sort, I'll grant you that, but he doesn't seem one to…crack heads. But here…"

And that's when Ambrose reaches out for the nearest wrist, presuming that the sleeves of the sergeant's jacket have pulled back to reveal it. The rush of pins-and-needles delving into skin is replaced shortly after by the flush of returned life-energy. The lieutenant speaks softly for Bran's ears alone now, holding his eyes. "Now, Bran. I Suggest that you help me move this box. Are you prepared to follow my commands, soldier? It is a matter of utmost secrecy. You cannot let on that you are listening to me in the least. You must behave entirely as you normally do."

Bran is about to remark on the hilarious notion that Lindqvist isn't one to crack heads, because scholar or not he's seen with his own eyes how Halgrim expresses his distaste for particularly rude opinions, and it's not verbally. And then Ambrose's fingers are on his wrist and Bran isn't thinking about those numerous occasions a bar brawl involving Halgrim and someone else has been broken up; instead he's thinking about how he has to help lift and move this crate. It's Important (obviously, the Lieutenant said so), and he has to *also* be his ususal self, so he nods, and says, "Of course, sir. Where to?"

The discussion out in the hall has now grown to include two more people, non-military of some sort or another, and they're all listening as Halgrim gestures at pages and lines and explains to them how this can't be that because it's this, and this went back to Copenhagen last week but was the wrong item because it had been mislabeled and improperly catalogued. (In twenty years he will teach a class about all of this. Right now he's trying to get a Norwegian Commander and his two Sergeants and two German art historians to follow along.) Apparently, whatever the mix up was, it was complicated, and has everyone's undivded attention.

Ambrose releases the sergeant's wrist and stretches his fingers; as ever, the Bane nips at him almost in reprimand for not partaking of the life-energy and returning it instead.

"When I paused outside earlier today, I saw a Jeep sitting off to one side of the road. It'll be easy enough to hotwire. I need assistance getting this crate settled in the back and tucked beneath the tarpaulin. Once we're at that point, I'll tell you if I need further assistance. Wait here for a tic."

Rising to his feet, the brunet stalks over to the doorway. The conversation is still going on at least twenty-five feet down the hallway yet. He leans out quickly, weighs chances, and decides to move. Back he goes to the table. The small box of film goes into one of his coat pockets; the notes are folded away and stuffed into an inner pocket. He moves to the crate and instructs Bran to lift on three. The crate is just heavy enough to warrant two sets of hands. Over to the door they go and then out into the hallway, risking the off-chance of being seen. With any luck on their side, they're out and into the sidehall leading towards the main road without being noticed.

|ROLL| Halgrim +rolls 1d20 for: 19

No one is paying attention to where Ambrose is going with Bran and the crate; the heated conversation over Commander Aanensen's missing artifcats is still underway, and everyone else is ferrying inventoried items to the various collection rooms. A loaded crate could easily have processed artifacts ready for shipment back to their source, and no one has the time to demand to know where Ambrose and Bran are going anyways. If Ambrose is marginally familiar, Bran is a known quantity, and Bran seems fine. No one gives them much more than an absent glance on their way to the main sidehall.

Out to the side street they go then, Ambrose being certain to maintain an air of casual boredom about himself. Just another crate to move, pardon us, coming through. The Jeep in question does sit off to one side, currently not in use. The Jackal coaches Bran softly through working the wooden box and its precious occupants into place in the back of the vehicle. He climbs into the back to carefully secure it beneath the tarpaulin and then looks over to Bran.

"Sergeant, find me another few boxes. Wooden, empty or not, but make certain that they've been broken. Look there first, in the alley." He nods towards the narrow space between buildings where refuse can already be seen. "I don't care how badly they've been broken, I want this bed filled with them by the time I've got the truck going, am I understood?"

Inside, Halgrim sweeps back into the room, cursing in Swedish. "Sorry Bran, Yates is on his way to—" He pulls up short when he sees neither Bran not Ambrose are there. As there's lierally nowhere for them or the other crate (and its contents) to be hiding, he gives the room a truly perplexed look. "Where did…" Someone calls his name out in the hallway, and he sighs explosively. "Figure it out later," he mutters to himself, and begins shoving his things back into his work bag.

A few seconds later another Sergeant, Yates (short and stocky, with wiry black hair and blue-black eyes) comes in. "Where the fuck is Driscoll?" he says.

Halgrim, who's finished putting the cameras and his notebook back into his bag and buckled it shut, shakes his head. "Absolutely no idea. Maybe that Lieutenant needed him for something."

Yates frowns. "Callahan?"

"No, someone else. North African regiment."

It's Yates who looks confused now. "Hm, wonder which one," he says, tapping his clipboard with his pen.

Halgrim pats Yates on the back as he exits the room. "It's your problem now," and he's off to sort out the mystery of Commander Aanensen's missing cultural relics.

Bran is the picture of an obediant serviceman. He's careful, as well; his time as an art history major and here at the site have given him better than average training in handling fragile cargo, and he has no trouble assisting Ambrose in placing the box in the Jeep. "Boxes," he says, nodding smartly. "Got it." And then he's off, moving with a purpose, but an acceptable one; the kind of speed a Sergeant uses when a Lieutenant has given him an Important Task but also asked him to look normal and like nothing is off. (Because nothing is, of course.)

Ambrose watches the young sergeant go with an attention to the aforementioned state of Nothing Being Off — because nothing is, of course. Not at all. Once he's fairly certain that his Suggestion is holding true, he moves around to the driver's seat. Door's open and thus, he breaks into the console of the steering wheel. Leaning in, he gets to working at getting the wires to arc. With tongue held between teeth at the corner of his mouth, he grumbles to himself as they prove less than obliging at first. Enough time passes for Bran to return with at least one broken box if not as many as four, given another lucky chance or two.

Down the block Ambrose can hear other motors starting up; some are being packed with new boxes, ready for return to their country of origin, while others are being sent back out into the field. Despite this activity, no one outside has really noticed Ambrose's attentions to the Jeep, and Bran is far too involved in his task of obtaining boxes. Plenty of boxes. He manages to get five, in fact, and arranges them around the crate in what he assumes ia a manner which will protect it (conveniently this also makes the crate very hard to see).

The sound of vehicles beyond his own beginning to rumble is enough to goad him into a snarled curse. One last yank at the wiring and crossed metal and the engine starts up with a coughing growl. Blowing a hard sigh, he then extricates himself from the seat and turns about to locate his erstwhile sergeant. Such luck, there's the lad right there, helpful as he is.

"Bran! Good man, attend on me," says the brunet with a smile. Once the young man is standing before him, he continues. "Listen well. I Suggest you return to your duties. If anyone asks of me, I made absolutely certain that the crate and its accompanying documentation went on its merry way and to the correct location. Hand them this here." It's the very form that Halgrim signed not an hour back, detailing a location that will lead to another lovely bit of confusion for anyone intent in snooping. "Afterwards, I went into town to be certain to donate the broken boxes towards the rebuilding efforts. We've got enough crates to use, don't you think?" He grins almost conspiratorially at the jumpy sergeant. "At this point…I believe we're all done." He reaches out and pat-pats the lean shoulder, being certain that his thumb brushes against Bran's neck. "I Suggest you continue on with your day, lad. Never mind what we just accomplished. You need to get back to your work."

With that, he leaves the young sergeant to return to those aforementioned tasks. Into the driver's seat he goes and shifts the Jeep into gear. He's motioned into line with the rest of the vehicles and even salutes at one of the guardsman as he drives by. Oh yes. For now, life is sunny and there are antiques to ship back to Basra!

Bran watches Ambrose intently as all of these instrutions are delivered, nodding once Ambrose is done. As the Jeep moves off, he stands there, watching it go, and when it's out of sight he slowly blinks. He spends a second or two looking around himself, then shrugs off the odd feeling that something's amiss. He looks down at the form in his hand, identifies it as something that needs to be filed with the returns group (who are down the hall from Halgrim so conveniently he's unlikely to see it), and goes to do that. He wonders, absently, if they're done with this batch, or if there's more inventory to mark down. It's just a few quick steps and he's lost in the shuffle and buzz of the building as the processing continues, as it will for years to come.

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