The Case of the Elusive X
Inspector Rex, the red Grarrl, was the head of the Meridell police base. He was also the best interrogator they had. Just ten minutes with him, and you’d be confessing every lie you ever considered saying.
Everyone, that is, except the shadow Mynci, Jason Trix.
Rex sat back in his chair and ground his teeth. “Where were you last Monday night?”
Jason Trix looked smugly at the Inspector. “We’ve been through this already, Rex.”
The red Grarrl folded his arms and stared back at the Mynci. “We’ll go through it again, then. I repeat, where were you last Monday night?”
“I was at home, reading.”
“How to Make a Living from Smuggling. Seriously, Rex, you don’t expect to get a confession out of a book title, do you?”
The red Scorchio standing behind Rex gave a poorly disguised snort of laughter. Sergeant Rayme was Inspector Rex’s best friend and partner. He always made sure he came along for the interviews with Trix. His night out, he called it. Inspector Rex sighed.
“Did you leave the house at all during that time?”
The Grarrl frowned. “It’s Inspector to you.”
Trix shrugged. “C’mon, Rex. You’ve interrogated me so often over the last five years, we should be on first name terms, at least. Actually, I was going to offer to take you out for lunch. For old time’s sake, you know.”
There was no mistaking Sergeant Rayme’s snort of laughter this time. Even the shy spotted Cybunny secretary who sat in the corner and took down minutes chuckled. The idea of the practical Inspector and the quick, witty Mynci being on friendly terms was ridiculous, to say the least.
Sergeant Rex glowered. Time to cut to the chase. “Are you or are you not connected with the pet known as ‘X’?”
“Wait, wait... X... rings a bell.” The shadow Mynci scrunched up his face in mock confusion. “Where have I heard that name before? Oh, yes, I remember now. We’ve only been talking about him for the last hour.”
Rex heaved a sigh and sat back in his chair while he waited for Sergeant Rayme to stop chuckling. He took a deep breath. “I’ll ask you once more. Are you or are you not connected with the X?”
“That’s a hard question, Inspector. Who exactly is the X?”
Inspector Rex clenched and unclenched his fists. The Mynci knew very well who he was talking about. The smug smile showed it plainly. Unfortunately, you can’t lock people up just because they smile. Rex had no choice but to humour him.
“X is the name adopted by a person of unknown species, who specialises in the illegal trade of bottled faeries. He is believed to have set up residence in Meridell, and we have reason to suspect you help him.”
Trix snickered. “Naw, why would you believe that?”
Inspector Rex massaged his temples. He felt a headache coming on. “Because every time the X strikes, you don’t have an alibi.”
“Sure I do. I was reading.”
Rex chose to ignore him. “And seeing as you’re refusing to tell us where you were, we have concluded you must have something to hide.”
“Really? Nice one, Sherlock.”
Rex glowered at the shadow Mynci. They were getting nowhere fast. He had better things to do than interrogate a criminal who wouldn’t admit anything. He pointed to the door. “Go!”
Trix rose and left with a particularly smug look on his face. Once the door had closed Rex looked to the spotted Cybunny who had been recording what had been said. Even before he asked, he knew the answer.
“Did his story have any inconsistencies, Cindy?”
Sergeant Rayme, the red Scorchio, growled in frustration. “He’s mocking us. We know he’s guilty, we just don’t have any evidence. And the annoying thing is he knows it too, and isn’t ashamed to wave it in our faces. He does have some good comeback lines, though.”
Rex fixed his friend with a withering glare. “Despite all appearances, Sergeant Rayme, we are not here to listen to good comeback lines. We are here to convict a particularly slippery smuggler. He can’t lie forever. One day he’ll make a mistake.”
A knock at the door interrupted Inspector Rex. “Enter!” he called.
The door opened and a small red Draik dressed in a policeman’s uniform came in. Rex didn’t recognise him. The Draik saluted smartly, and held out a file.
“Sergeant Madsen reporting for duty, sir!”
Rex blandly flipped through his file. “Oh, you’re the new Sergeant Brightvale promised to send over.” He looked Sergeant Madsen up and down.
He wouldn’t have thought this tiny Draik could have been a Sergeant. He was scarcely half as high as the red Grarrl, and looked very young. Well, Rex corrected himself, not that young; but young for a Sergeant. He had to be good to rise in the ranks that quickly. You had to go through the three stages of Constable before you were promoted to Sergeant. After that, there were three stages of Sergeant until you got to Inspector. Inspector Rex was chief of his particular outpost, in the rural area of Meridell. He didn’t like to consider himself old, but he hadn’t risen to his rank overnight.
He glanced at the recommendation report Brightvale had sent. Phrases jumped out at him such as “talented”, “buckets of potential”, and “Superintendent in the making”. He raised his eyebrows. This kid couldn’t be more than twenty-six. If he was as good as the office said he was, it could just be the thing he had been waiting for to catch Trix.
“Sergeant Madsen, you have a new mission. A shadow Mynci by the name of Jason Trix just left. He’ll be filling out his forms at the moment, so you have time to look at his files. You are to shadow him, and see if you can pick up any information about him or his connections.”
Sergeant Rayme shrugged and handed the shocked Draik a thick file. “Good luck, kid.”
The Draik blinked and then saluted. “Yes, sir! Right away, sir!” He turned, and dashed off down the hallway, tripping over his tail twice.
Inspector Rex shook his head. “They make ’em young, nowadays.”
“Do you think he has any chance?” Rayme looked after the retreating red tail sympathetically. “Trix is tricky. Not even our best men can keep up with him.”
Rex shrugged. “Sergeant Madsen’s small. He might get away with following him; but I doubt he’ll find anything useful. But at least we’ll be able to see if he really is as good as headquarters thinks he is.” Rex strode out of the room and into the main office. “We could sure do with some more of that enthusiasm on the force.”
_ - _ - _
“Sir?” Sergeant Rayme peered through the half open door quizzically. “Maybe it’s time to call it a night? Or, rather, very early morning.”
Inspector Rex sighed and rubbed his face. He was in the musty records room, sorting through folders. “Not yet, Rayme. I’ve hardly gotten through the Ls...” he trailed off despairingly.
Rayme entered the room fully, and looked at the folders Rex was sorting through. “Wow, some of this stuff’s got to be decades old. Look at this! I bet Skarl wasn’t even alive back then!” He held up a folder and glanced at the Inspector. “You’re not still puzzling over this Trix problem, are you?”
“I need more coffee,” Rex moaned in despair. Sergeant Rayme frowned.
“What kind of an answer is that?”
“Coffee. Now.” He shoved his empty mug at the red Scorchio. “And if you must know, it’s not about Trix. It’s about the X. A new report just came in. He successfully smuggled two hundred bottled faeries out of the country.”
Rayme whistled. “That’s gotta be, what? 600,000np hard cash, at least.”
“This is getting serious, Rayme. We’ve got to find him and stop him, or the country will go to ruin.”
Sergeant Rayme motioned to the piles of paper littered around the desk. “So that’s why you’ve forsaken your bed to rummage around musty files; to look for a clue about who the X might be.”
Inspector Rex nodded. “I don’t care how good he is, he’s got to make a mistake somewhere, sometime.”
Rayme smiled at his friend. “Sounds like you need some help. I’ll give you a hand.”
“What did I say...?”
“Yes, yes. Coffee. How could I forget?” Rayme picked the mug up and trotted out of the room, leaving Rex to sift through the papers.
“Petty theft... Gelert, convicted for treason... Wocky, deported for creating a disturbance... Usul, three years for stealing...”
Rex was so busy muttering to himself, he didn’t notice Rayme was back until he plonked a mug of coffee on the table. “It sounds like security’s having some problems. I heard a lot of yelling.”
Rex grunted as he picked up another file. “Whatever it is, it’s security’s problem, and not mine, thankfully.”
Sergeant Rayme sat down next to his commander. “So, what are we looking for?”
“Anything. That’s the problem, Rayme. We don’t even know what species X is. We wouldn’t even know he existed, if he didn’t parade his crimes in front of us. It’s always the same; we’ll think everything’s going smoothly, and then- bam- there’s a whole new stock of faeries in Brightvale, or Neopia Central, or Mystery Island. Of course, X always informs us when it was done and how many faeries it was...”
Rex held out a slip of paper for Rayme to examine. It was short, and hand written.
200 new faeries just arrived in Terror Mountain. I shipped them off last night. Nice going, Inspector.
Rex shook his head. “He leaves the notes in an envelope under the front door of the police station. We’ve tried setting up watches, but too many people walk past each day.” He took a gulp of coffee. “He’s just too clever.”
“And he covers his crimes too well,” Rayme added thoughtfully. “The people he works with either don’t talk or don’t know they’re doing anything illegal. The few we have managed to pick up are on the outside circle, and haven’t even seen him. They got all their instructions in envelopes.”
A smart tap on the door interrupted them. “Yes?”
An Elephante guard opened the door and looked in. “Sorry to disturb you, Inspector, but someone insists on seeing you.”
“Tell him to wait until morning,” Rex said wearily. “I don’t feel like seeing anyone at the moment.”
The guard hesitated. “We tried to tell him that, sir, but he was persistent.”
A small red Draik in officer’s garb shoved past the guard and into the room. “Sorry to disturb you, sir, but I was hoping you’d still be here.”
“Sergeant Madsen, isn’t it?” Rex asked resignedly, noting how the young Sergeant was nearly tripping over himself in his excitement. “So that’s what all the fuss with security was. Are you sure it can’t wait until morning?”
“No, sir.” The Draik grinned. “I found out where the X is going to strike next.”
Inspector Rex and Sergeant Rayme gaped at him. “Not possible,” Rayme whispered.
Rex waved the Elephante guard away. “Leave us,” he snapped. “Sergeant Madson, take a seat and tell us everything.”
Sergeant Madsen stuck out his tongue at the irked Elephante as he left, and slipped into a chair. “I followed Jason Trix just like you told me to, sir. He used a lot of backstreets and if I hadn’t had my wings I would’ve lost him.
“Pretty soon he went into a pub called the Red Draik. That was my lucky break, because the rooms were all painted red, and I blended in. Trix sat down at an empty table, and I hid not far from him. Soon a tall shadow Gelert came in. Trix told him the X had decided to strike again quickly. The Gelert must have access to a shipping company, because Trix organised with him to have a hundred bottled faeries stored in soap boxes, in the hull of the ship called Longrow, to be transported to the Lost Desert tonight.”
“Tonight!” Rex yelped, starting up. “Did he say what time?”
“No, sir, but I checked the docks on my way home, and the Longrow’s scheduled to leave at 3:00 this morning.”
Rex checked his watch. “That gives us just under an hour and a half. Well done, Sergeant Madsen, you’ll accompany us to the docks. Get ready. Rayme?”
“Yes sir!” The red Scorchio was bouncing on the heels of his shoes excitedly.
“Send out an alert through the force. I want a full squad of armed policemen with us. And make sure you keep it quiet. If X gets one whisper of this, we’re done.”
_ - _ - _
At 2:30 Rex, Rayme and Madsen were standing on the Meridellian Wharves. Behind them were twenty or so armed police, who, though not entirely happy about being woken up in the middle of the night, were there nonetheless.
It was freezing, but Inspector Rex was so focused on his mission he hardly noticed it. He took a good look around the deserted wharves and, signalling to his men, set out at a run for the Longrow.
The Longrow was a large ship, and the packing had just been finished a few minutes prior. After a brief argument with the captain, Rex led then down a trapdoor and into the hull. It was eerily quiet, except for the creaking of the ship and the lapping of the water.
Stacked neatly against the walls were twenty big wooden crates labelled “SOAP”, ready for transport. With shining eyes Inspector Rex stepped carefully along the ground, and approached the closest one. He took a crowbar from Rayme, and levered the lid off.
The wooden top fell to the floor with a clatter, and the squad held their breath as the Inspector gazed inside.
It was full of soap.
Rex disbelievingly picked up the top bar, onto which had been tacked a slip of paper.
Nice one, Sherlock.
_ - _ - _
Rex sat sullenly on one of the wharf crates. It was 4:00am and beginning to drizzle. Sitting on a crate in front of him was the bar of soap with the note.
Rayme sat moodily on his left, and Sergeant Madsen equally quietly at his right. The rest of the squad had been sent home.
Madsen kicked at the ground, but the crate was too high for him, and his boots missed it by about a foot. “Trix must have seen me following him. It was a set-up.” He glared accusingly at the note.
Rayme leaned forward so he could talk to Sergeant Madsen past the bulky Grarrl Inspector. “He’s too clever. We’ve been trying to catch him for almost five years now. No one expected you to get him first go.”
A fiery determination blazed up in Madsen’s eyes. “I don’t care if he’s smart.” He slammed his fist on the crate he was sitting on. “We’ll just have to get smarter. He must have left a clue.”
“Well, he hasn’t,” Rex growled. “We looked through all those crates and searched every room in that ship, remember?”
Madsen was getting excited now. “But he has left a clue!” He pointed triumphantly to the note. “We just need to decipher it, that’s all.”
Rex and Rayme exchanged sceptical glances.
Madsen hopped down off his crate, and carefully picked up the slightly soggy and slightly soapy note. “The ink hasn’t bled yet, so we’d better keep it dry. Now...” With no small difficulty considering his size, he hopped back up onto his crate, and scanned the note several times. “It seems slightly familiar...”
“I got that sense, too,” Rayme volunteered. “I just assumed it was because I’ve seen so many of the X’s notes.”
Madsen was silent for several minutes, when he clicked his fingers. “That’s it! That’s it!”
“What’s it?” Rex asked, his gloominess lifting briefly.
“I know where I’ve seen this handwriting! I only read five and a half form pages full of it while I was watching Trix in that pub!”
“Do you have any of Jason Trix’s handwriting?”
Rayme laughed. “Only forms filled out from five years worth of suspected crimes.”
Madsen carefully gave the note to Rex. “Good! Let’s go and see if it matches.”
“You don’t mean...” Rex trailed off. It had just hit him why the note was so familiar. ‘Nice one, Sherlock’. Trix had said the exact same phrase to him, just the day before, while they were interrogating him. The Grarrl’s eyes widened, and he jumped up, and ran with Rayme and Madsen to the police station.
Once inside they pulled out Trix’s complete file (containing over 200 cases of suspected crimes), and also all of the X’s previous notes, and compared them.
Inspector Rex breathed in deeply after several moments, savouring the feeling of success. All of the writing matched. At last, they had some hard evidence to convict Trix.
“Even if he isn’t the X himself, this at least connects him to the whole business. Rayme, go and get Trix as quickly as you can. Make sure he doesn’t get away. Madsen, you can join us in interrogating him.”
It was almost 5:00am when Rayme returned with the shadow Mynci, Jason Trix. Rex had spent the last half hour pacing restlessly up and down the deserted hallway, pausing every few minutes to look at the notes and forms, and grin.
Jason Trix beamed as he entered. “You’re up early, Rex. Busy day? Going on vacation, maybe?”
Rex pointed at the hallway. “Interrogation room. Now.”
“Alright, alright.” The Mynci shrugged Sergeant Rayme off. “No need to escort me, I think I’d know the way by now. I say, you’ve changed the pot plant in the corner. Is that new?”
Rex simply poked him in the back to make him walk faster.
Once they were in the interrogation room Rex closed the door, and they took their usual positions. Rex sat at one side of the small wooden table, closest to the door, and Trix sat opposite him. Rayme stood in the shadows, leaning against the wall with a broad grin on his face. The ever patient Cybunny took up her position at the back of the room, recording what was said. After glancing around, Madsen stood next to the door.
Inspector Rex smiled at Trix, and tried to keep the glee out of his voice. “Where were you last night?”
“I was in bed, asleep. Where were you?”
“That’s off topic.”
Trix grinned mischievously. “No, no. I think it’s very much on topic. We’re talking about beds. Mine’s a big wooden one. How about you? Did you sleep on twenty mattresses with a pea underneath them, or something? Because you look tired.”
Rex closed his eyes and counted to ten slowly. When he had finished he opened his eyes again.
“We had a tip off about some faeries being smuggled out of Meridell and to the Lost Desert. When we went to check it out we found we had been duped. Do you recognise this note?” He held out the slightly crumples piece of paper for Trix to see.
“Negative, Rex.” Trix smiled smugly.
“What a shame,” Rex purred, holding up a sample of one of the Mynci’s forms. “It matches your handwriting perfectly.”
The smug smile disappeared from Trix’s face, to be replaced with an ashen whiteness. He glanced at the paper, at Rex’s face, at Rayme and Madsen, at the door, and then back to Rex. His knuckles on the table went white.
The red Grarrl Inspector sat there smiling at him, waiting for an answer. He didn’t get one. With a yell, Trix jumped up and bounded over Rex’s head towards the door.
“Stop him!” Rex yelled, jumping up. Sergeant Madsen leapt in front of the door to block his exit, and the Mynci flailed into him desperately. With a yell Rayme jumped at him and pulled him off the tiny Draik, who had stood in the doorway like stone, regardless of attacks.
Rex pulled out some handcuffs and fixed them to the struggling Trix’s wrists.
“Take him and lock him up,” he snapped to Rayme. The red Scorchio’s eyes flashed with fire as he led the furious Mynci out of the room.
“You haven’t heard the last of me, Inspector!” Trix yelled vehemently. “I am the great X! You cannot confine someone of my genius to a cell! I will get out, and I will make you pay!”
With a final tug Rayme pulled him around the corner and his voice faded.
Rex glanced gleefully at the Cybunny secretary who had been taking minutes. “Did you get that confession, Cindy?”
“Sure did, sir.”
“Good.” Rex looked at the red Draik. His nose was bleeding, but otherwise he seemed unharmed. “Well done, Sergeant Madsen. If it hadn’t been for you he would have gotten away. Are you alright?”
“Fine, thank you sir.” Madsen wiped at the trickle of blood. “So Trix was the X after all. We should have known.”
“He was very good at acting, I’ll give him that. Thanks to you, he’s locked up now, and won’t be causing any more trouble.” Rex nodded. “I’ll see what I can do about a promotion.”
Sergeant Madsen’s eyes widened. “Thank you, sir!”
The red Grarrl grinned and checked his watch. “It’s nearly morning, and unfortunately I have a job to do. Looks like I’ll be needing more coffee.” He made a wry face. “I think I’ll clean up this X business and check out early. I suggest you do the same. Go and get yourself cleaned up.”
With a salute the Draik scuttled out of the room. The shy Cybunny secretary came up beside Rex. “Who would have thought someone so young could be so good?”
Rex nodded. “Superintendent in the making, indeed! I can see that easily.”
_ - _ - _
As soon as the Sergeant Rayme had finished gloating and left Trix alone in his cell, the Mynci doubled up with laughter. They had taken the bait perfectly. They thought they had finally caught the elusive X! This was just the beginning. Trix was first in a line of people whom the X would plant as suspects to confuse the police.
Muffling his hysterical laughter, Trix glanced out of his cell. Soon the X would come and let him out, and then he could go back to smuggling. The plan had been pure genius.
The whole thing had been the X’s idea: faking the cargo load of faeries, having Trix write his notes for him, and the act in the interrogation room. Thanks to gentle manipulation and the careful, half concealed arrangement of evidence, X had made the police think they had worked it all out themselves! The thought made Trix double over with silent laughter again.
Wouldn’t the X be pleased with him! He’d done his job well. No one suspected a thing. He grinned at the memory of Rex’s triumphant face. Wouldn’t he love to see him when he discovered his precious criminal had gotten loose!
_ - _ - _
The X walked confidently down the hallway of the police station, smiling to himself. Inside he was laughing. They had actually pulled the act off!
He felt his pocket to make sure he still had the key he would give to Trix. Once he was out of the building, Trix could let himself out, clearing X from any suspicions.
As he rounded the corner he passed a policeman who had come in early. The Gelert smiled at him.
“Nice work catching the X, Sergeant Madsen!”
The X just smiled more broadly, and kept walking.