She hadn’t been aware that there was a plan - the entire venture seemed fairly haphazard.
Frank drew from his stack of papers a stapled packet, saying, “Cassie Webb doesn’t know that we suspect her involvement here, and we’re going to keep it that way. If there’s any evidence, it’s going to be located—“
“—In her house,” Marcus finished. “Since you’re her neighbor, you probably know all the entrances.”
But something still didn’t seem right to Misty. If Cassie were really the one behind it, she wouldn’t have helped her get into the daycare; it would have made more sense for her to pretend that Lucia did not exist within the daycare’s files and let the whole thing die down…
“—And once you’ve disabled her alarms, we’re going to rush inside, grab Cassie, and look through her house. Got it, Misty?” Marcus was saying.
“Sorry, explain to me again what my part was?” said Misty, having missed the entirety of the explanation.
An hour later, she stood on Cassie’s front porch and rang the doorbell, still not quite believing that the pieces of the puzzle matched up. Cassie, as far as she knew, was a perfectly ordinary Neopian, who had quit her job teaching second graders to become a writer. And yet, as she waited, the ringing of the doorbell echoing in her ear, it seemed as if everything about her neighbor had been a lie.
Misty turned to find Cassie peeking out from one of the bushes growing by her mailbox. “What are you doing?”
“Are they gone? Is it safe to come out?”
Misty scrambled off the porch and down the cobblestoned path. “Cassie, what’s going—“
“I followed you, Misty. They put you under and then took you to this bunker-thing on the edges of Neopia Central. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, but—“
It was at that exact moment that Frank and Marcus appeared from behind the house, prompting Cassie to yelp and throw a brick in their general direction. Her aim, however, was slightly off, and it almost hit Misty instead.
“Grab her!” Marcus shouted.
“It’s them!” Cassie screamed.
Something was really not right here, thought Misty, caught between her neighbor and the detectives in a stand-off on Cassie’s lawn.
“We’ve got to report her to the Defenders of Neopia,” said Frank. “Don’t move.”
“Stop,” Misty said. “No one move. Frank, Marcus, I don’t think Cassie’s to blame here.”
“Then how do you explain her disappearing class?” Marcus snapped, whipping out the Neopian Times clipping with relish.
Cassie gave a loud, impatient, huff. “Is that still news? They figured that out ages ago. Didn’t you read the news the week after? We were on a field trip to the Rainbow Fountain, and accidentally got splashed with the water there. They didn’t disappear, they were invisible. Literally.”
“I really don’t think Cassie is the one behind this,” said Misty slowly. “Maybe this is just all a big misunderstanding.”
They were silent for a moment, until Marcus said, “If it wasn’t her, then who was it?”
With Lucia bundled up in her arms, Misty sat in one of the armchairs in the waiting room of the daycare. On one side of her was Cassie; on the other were Frank and Marcus.
“Misty Forrest?” The daycare manager appeared at the door.
“That’s me,” said Misty.
“I feel like I’ve seen you before,” the manager remarked, none too pleasantly.
“That’s because you have,” said Misty. “I was wondering if you could show me all your records of this baby Xweetok.”
They followed the manager into the office, where the cabinets of files now sat in broad daylight. Misty recalled the pain of rummaging through them when the daycare was closed.
“Here,” said manager, opening the file. “She was picked up by a purple Shoyru named Franklin Emory after being dropped off by a Cassie Webb yesterday.”
“That seems about right,” said Misty. The signature that had seemed faint and messy the day before was now distinguishable as that of Franklin Emory, though the handwriting was still notably messy. “Has she been dropped off here before?”
The manager frowned as he flipped through some of the pages. “In fact, she has. Various Neopians have dropped her off here, but it’s always an agent from the Neopian Pound that comes to pick her up.”
Realization flashed through the four of them all at the same time.
“She’s from the Neopian Pound,” said Cassie.
“Yes. Not an uncommon occurrence, actually. Spending your childhood in the Pound isn’t exactly a happy matter, so sometimes, they try to find homes for the younger Neopians. I suppose your Xweetok here is one of them.”
“I found her on my sidewalk yesterday morning,” said Misty. “I don’t really know if I’m ready to take on a baby right now, but I’d feel really bad if we just sent her back to the Pound.”
“Same,” said Cassie. “Someone has to take her.”
“Perhaps one of you, then,” said the manager, gesturing towards Marcus and Frank.
“But… we’re detectives,” said Marcus, for once, sounding confused and taken aback.
“I don’t know the first thing about being a parent,” added Frank.
Cassie smirked. “It’s not as if you guys know the first thing about being detectives, either, and that hasn’t stopped you.”
Frank and Marcus exchanged glances, and both looked down at Lucia.
“If you cared enough about her to go to all this trouble, then I think it’s worth a shot,” said Misty.
“Most parents don’t really know how to parent at first,” said the manager. “If you end up deciding to adopt her, you should probably go fill out the paperwork at the Pound.”
“Well, Frank,” said Marcus. “What do you think? Is it time to give up our days of solving crime and mystery?”
“I think we could manage it,” said Frank softly.
They exited the daycare building and headed for the pound, down the sidewalk and into the the warmth of the beautiful sunny day.