The Petpet Detectives: Case of the Exported Eustabees - Part Four
The sun became a bit hotter as the day carried on and the breeze overhead reduced to just a minimal whisper. Damien was outdoors, completely exposed to it. He felt the back of his neck heating and his white shirt was starting to stick to his fur. He tugged at the collar to allow air to circulate more freely. Charlie was sitting on his shoulder, almost fully shaded from the scorching rays. The warm weather was more pleasant than the dark clouds yesterday.
Surrounding Damien and Charlie were only a few Neopians who’d stop to congregate on their way down the street. Paloma, the royal Poogle, was speaking with an island Jubjub, Evan, probably about the disappearances. Reflecting the sunlight was her WWDA Badge, the Winding Wood Drive Association.
Things were calmer now than when the detectives first arrived. Damien checked his watch impatiently. Paloma had been speaking with Evan for over ten minutes. The royal Aisha was hoping to catch Paloma at a time by herself, but now he was standing under the sun’s brutal rays. Damien wiped his brow.
“Would you like a glass of Achyfi?” squeaked a voice from Damien’s right.
He looked over. The sound was coming from a small, red Usul. She looked up at him with friendly eyes and a bright smile. Damien smiled and accepted her offer. He was certain that this must be Felecia.
The Usul then did something surprising and poured some Achyfi into what looked like a thimble. Once it was full, and it didn’t take much, she handed it to Charlie.
“Oh.” The pea Chia took the drink, unsure of what to say. “Thank you.” Being so small, Charlie was accustomed to being overlooked by many Neopians.
“How is everything?” Felecia asked.
“Everything is...” Damien began, and he thought about it. For the first time, he wasn’t going to use a generic statement like “fine”, or “good”. He took a sip of his lime Achyfi. “It’s all very surreal,” he said at last.
“Yes, it feels that way,” said Felecia, in her childish tone. The Usul took a long gulp of her drink and hiccupped. “I just can’t wait to see Mimi again.”
Damien assumed she was referring to her Eustabee. He opened his mouth to tell her that they all were trying very hard, but noticed that Paloma had finished her conversation. Wanting to catch her before she became unavailable again, Damien excused himself and Charlie and made his way over to her.
“Good morning, Damien!” she said, spotting his shadow behind her and spinning around. The Poogle’s eyes shifted from Damien’s face to his shoulder. “Good morning, Charlie! I hope everything is going well?”
“It is, thank you,” said Damien with a smile.
Paloma returned the grin, but only for a moment. “I am glad to hear it. It saddens me to see all of these wonderful Neopians at a time of loss. Who would do such a thing?”
“We don’t know yet,” said Charlie, “but it would be safe to say that anyone who owns a Eustabee should take many precautions over these next few days. At least until we get everything wrapped up.”
“Something interesting we thought you would like to know,” started Damien, “is that when we checked the security footage from all seven tapes, at least three different Neopians appeared on them.”
The royal Poogle’s pink face fell into a look of dread. “Oh my,” she said. “So we’re dealing with multiple Neopians in on this?”
Charlie nodded. “That’s what it looks like. You would be wise to keep your petpet secluded as well, even if it isn’t a Eustabee. A person with such authority would be a good target for someone who wanted revenge.”
“Thank you for the advice. If you’ll excuse me, there are some pressing matters back at the office I should attend to.”
She turned abruptly to leave, overwhelmed, walking right through Jazz and Dash. The Gelerts parted but didn’t say anything. Damien knew their cheesy smiles and goofy gaits from miles away. They both smiled again as they started down the street and Damien felt a lurch in his stomach. Maybe they had a lead? The thought worried him a little.
When Luna and I reached Sullivan’s home in less than two minutes, we had a brief conversation with his butler. I was getting the feeling that he didn’t seem so keen on us being here.
Luna smoothed her fur in exasperation. “Look, I know it’s a bit early, but we’d like to speak with Sullivan. Please.”
“Do you have an appointment?” asked the Tonu.
“An appointment?” she echoed, swiveling her furry head around to glance at me. “No, we don’t.”
“Master Sullivan has a guest. He will have to see you some other time.”
The Tonu started to close the door, but Luna wedged her foot between it and the frame. “Sullivan specifically asked us to keep him informed with anything regarding the case. This visit is very important.”
The butler considered it. “Very well. You can wait in the sitting room, although I don’t know how long it will be until you are seen.”
Once comfortable on the Zen Sofa, Luna began jotting down information in her notebook she always carried. She was holding the tiny leaf out at arms length and squinting, drawing an exact replica onto the paper. There was a copy of this week’s Neopian Times on the coffee table, so I picked it up and began to read the headline.
Eustabees Vanish From a Local Neighborhood was the headline. I chuckled. The press must have just printed the story. Under the picture of a group of Neopians gathered on Winding Wood Drive were two large columns of text for me to skim.
“It appears as though we’ve made the front page,” came a low hiss from behind me. “It’s good to see you again, Marlo.”
I stood up from the sofa, put the paper down, and shook his wing. “Likewise.” Luna introduced herself and we all seated ourselves again.
“I’m assuming you didn’t come for a cup of tea,” said Sullivan, with a chuckle.
My white feathers began to ruffle around my neck as I fathomed the irony in his statement. “Actually, yes, we are here because of the tea. Luna found something on Gracie’s deck that might have belonged to you.”
“Hey, Sully, you didn’t happen to see where I put that sample...?” There was a pitter-patter of footsteps on the stairs and a green Kyrii came hurrying down. He stopped abruptly when he saw the three of us seated, and a pink hue colored his green cheeks. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had other company.”
“It’s not a problem,” hissed Sullivan. “I didn’t realize you’d be down here so fast.”
The green Kyrii made his way to the side of the sofa. “Hello, Luna,” he said. “Pleasure to cross your path again.” He turned to me. I recognized him as one of the clients. Luna must have spoken to him yesterday. “My name’s Montgomery, but friends call me Monte. I live at 4130. You must be Marlo?”
“Yes, nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his paw. Monte’s voice was smooth like polished wood but his handshake was as rough as a Skeith’s back.
“Enough of the formalities,” said Sullivan, adopting the similar irritated tone he had yesterday when we first arrived. “You have something that belongs to me?”
Luna handed him the small leaf. “This right here. It struck us as odd because of the unique markings and pattern. Marlo recognized it to be one of your tea leaves.”
The ghost Hissi took the item with immense interest as he studied it carefully. Monte leaned over his shoulder. “Good Fyora, Sullivan, they’re right.”
“Are you familiar with this?” Luna asked the Kyrii.
Monte nodded. “It does look familiar. See,” the Kyrii handed back the leaf and leaned back, “I’m a traveler... well, that and a chemist. I’ve come across leaves like these on Mystery Island. I’ve been there on numerous occasions.”
“May I ask what for?”
“Mostly business, but I’ve saved time for recreation, too.” He crossed one leg over the other and folded his paws together. “It’s beautiful there. Have you ever been?”
Luna’s paw was furiously scribbling down bits of information so I answered for her, “Once or twice on a mystery, never for recreation.”
“You should consider going soon,” Sullivan told me. “What with Eyrie Cab and ferry prices these days, it’s hard to get a good deal.”
Transportation fares couldn’t have been farther from my mind.
“The purpose of this visit,” I replied, “is to ask you if and when you were at Gracie’s house, Sullivan. I’d like to inform you that the spot we found the exotic leaf was the exact place a kidnapper was a mere number of nights ago.”
“My relationship with Gracie is one of nonexistence,” said Sullivan. “We are not friends, or even friendly for that matter. It’s nothing personal, I assure you; I suppose we just don’t get along.”
As I considered what the Hissi said, a wisp of thought fell upon me. This mystery sure had weird ways of combining some of the strangest Neopians together. There were Gracie and Sullivan, who didn’t like, but didn’t dislike, each other. Then Nina and Felicia, who were “friends to the end” but had a bit of a falling out, and Monte and Sullivan who were old comrades, traveling everywhere together.
“Is...” I began. I never thought of asking something such as this when we first arrived. There was too much going on and too many people to speak with. But now I was certain that a situation like this must be linked together. “Is everyone who has lost a Eustabee on this street... connected in any way?”
“Actually, yes,” said Sullivan. “Though I must admit, I find it hard to believe that you just found this out now---not that I am doubting your ability---just that no one told you.”
“Told us what?” Luna asked, leaning forward in her seat.
Sullivan shuffled in his chair and sipped his tea. “Monte and I, Gracie, Evan, Nina, all of us who have lost a Eustabee...” He took another sip. “We all were classmates at the Howard P. Charleston Academy in Faerieland.”
My beak dropped numbly and my heart thudded somewhere around my throat. “Oh,” was all I could manage to say.
“The Eustabees were given to us as a graduation present.”
“I suppose none of the others were keen on sharing that with you,” said Monte, clicking his tongue.
“We were viewing the case at an entirely different angle,” I admitted, “but now this turns things around. How many graduates were in your class?”
Monte turned to Sullivan. The ghost Hissi cocked his head in thought. “Twenty or so? Would that be about right?”
“Yeah, I’d say about twenty.”
“So if only seven of you are missing petpets...”
“...then some people, possibly some of your own classmates could be the ones responsible,” Luna finished. She turned to the Kyrii and Hissi. “Do you happen to have a picture of the graduating class?”
I knew what she was thinking. Perhaps one of the Neopians who had shown up on the surveillance camera would show up in the picture.
“I have one somewhere,” offered Monte, with a firm nod. “I could find it tonight and neomail it to you tomorrow morning. Would it be helpful to have addresses of all of the other classmates? I could probably find those, too.”
Sullivan shot him a look that we all caught. The ghost Hissi looked down at the floor, but he was still shooting his friend a fiery gaze.
“It would,” said Luna. Her smile was slightly strained. Monte seemed to notice.
“Hey, I just want to help,” he said, putting up his green paws as a sign of surrender. “My Eustabee is missing, too.”
“Thanks,” I told him. “We should get going.”
Luna carefully packed away her notebook and pencil and practically dragged me to the door. Once we were both out and the door clicked, she whipped around and pressed her ear to the wood. I followed suit. We strained to hear what they were saying with baited breath.
“If they somehow acquire a class photo complete with addresses of everyone in it, they’ll likely be able to solve the case...”
“I know. Sullivan, what’s your problem? You want your petpet back don’t you?”
“Look Monte, one of the Neopians they’re looking for is a blue Krawk. We both know that’s Roger!”
“Hey, calm down,” Monte’s voice went back to that cool and collected tone.
Sullivan’s voice grew loud and more defensive. “Monte, he was one of our friends! We both know he wouldn’t do anything like this, but a blue Krawk showed up on some of the tapes. How do you think that’s going to look?”
“I still don’t get you. They’re detectives, right? They aren’t just going to make a wild guess and then go cuff someone. If Roger isn’t guilty, then they’ll find a way to tell. And hey, even if he is, he’s part of a group that committed a serious crime.” A long pause followed, and then we heard Monte say, “Well, I better get going, too. I have some digging of my own to do.”
Thinking fast, I knelt down and Luna climbed up onto my back. Whoosh! Before the knob could turn, we had swooped up into the sky and began contemplating the overheard conversation.
To be continued...