The Case of the Missing Eye: Part One
I am Spottedleaf_789, P.I.
And that was the sound that both started my investigation, and--though I did not know it at the time--proved to be the key to the mystery.
The ring of the doorbell was not a common occurrence at this time of night. I was upstairs in my room at the time, reading. Curiosity compelled me to investigate who our midnight visitor was, while at the same time I had just reached the climax of the story. I glanced from the book in my wings to my door, uncertain of which path I should take.
Funny how it is so often in these moments of indecision that things get decided for you.
"Spots, it's for you!" came the voice of my owner, echoing up the stairs.
And so I left Mystery of the Kougra's Paw sitting on my bed. In a few moments I found myself at the foot of the stairs, facing the open door, and the elderly Buzz it framed. She was dressed that day in a fancy veiled hat and an overly frilly dress, her colour Royal, giving the overall appearance of a cultured Neovian heiress with more Neopoints than she knew what to do with. My fees, I was sure, would give her a few ideas.
"I am sorry to call so late, madam, but it simply could not wait. You are Spottedleaf_789, the private detective?" she questioned.
"I'm your hissi," I answered, ushering her into the sitting room.
The heiress seated herself on the plushy sofa, careful not to wrinkle her dress, as I coiled up in my favorite armchair. Skipping the pleasantries, she got right down to business. "My Eye has been stolen," she announced.
"They both seem intact to me," I replied, observing her eyes. Normally, I assumed, they were very pretty, but that night they were weighed with worry.
"No, not my eye." The heiress waved in impatient hand. "Terask's Eye!"
"Whoever's eye it is, it sounds like a painful loss," I said sympathetically. "I'll be happy to help him locate it if you just give me the facts."
"You don't understand! The Terask's Eye Diamond!" said the Buzz, in a hiss to rival my own.
"Now we're getting somewhere! That makes much more sense," I said. "Go on. I need data! I cannot make bricks without clay."
The Neovian nodded and took a deep breath. "First, I believe I failed to introduce myself. My name is Countess Lynerda. I am sure you have heard of me," she announced, in pompous certainty that I knew the name. However, I did not. "I am heiress of a large estate in Neovia, and collector of fine valuables. The Terask's Eye Diamond is my favorite, the most rare, and the most valuable. And it was, as I've told you, stolen last night."
"Who else lives in your manor, beside yourself?" I asked suddenly.
Countess Lynerda did not appreciate the interruption. "Only the housekeeper, butler, chef, and gardener. The rest of my staff--maids, assistant cooks--all have their own homes, and leave far before the time of the robbery. And the chef is on vacation right now, in Tyrannia."
"Tyrannia?" I muttered thoughtfully. "A convenient place to lie low after committing a theft."
"He left over a week ago."
I smiled. "Already the suspects begin to clear. Go on."
"My gardener does not live in the mansion itself, but a modest cabin near the edge of the grounds," Lynerda continued. "However, miss, I do not believe any of my employees could have stolen from me. I trust them all completely. Most of them have been with me for a very long time. Menkins actually worked for my father."
"You think it was an outside job, then? Is there any one you suspect? Any enemies, for example?" I inquired.
Lynerda laughed softly. "Enemies? Of course. You cannot help it, when you have so much money. Why, some dislike me merely because I am rich."
"Because they are jealous of your money? Because they want to be rich themselves?" I suggested. "Do you know any one like that?"
The Countess blushed. "Why--no... I can't think of any one."
I knew she was hiding something. "I can't help you if you don't help me," I said simply.
Countess Lynerda sighed. "Yes, I do know such a person, a very good friend of mine.... Or, she--she was. She was always jealous, I could tell, but it rarely got between us. Some months ago, however, it led to a terrible argument. The last thing she said then was, 'Make like a big shot while you can! Some day, perhaps, I'll be the one with all the money and you can live in an old shack, and we'll see how you like that!'"
"It sounds like I have my number one suspect," I observed, rubbing my wings together gleefully. "That's practically a confession!"
"Oh, but it couldn't have been her!" Lynerda cried. "Not Arlinna! She's already apologized! Just--recently she visited me to say how sorry she was for acting so foolishly!"
Sensing something missing, I asked, "And when exactly was this?"
Lynerda's gaze fell. "Last night."
The pieces were falling into place like rain from a storm cloud.
"That's motive," I said, "And opportunity. I know who my primary suspect is. But for now, give me an account of the night the diamond was stolen, starting when Arlinna arrived."
The Countess conceded. "Arlinna arrived just as I was leaving for dinner. She apologized--said she had been a fool--that she was sorry she had threatened me so, she had not meant it--and I forgave her. So we went dining together, and afterward I--I invited her to stay the night. My guest room wasn't being used at the time, and I wanted so much to completely patch up our argument.... That was my foolish apology, I suppose." She sighed heavily. "So we returned to my manor, where we talked for several hours. At roughly midnight I showed Arlinna to her room and then checked on my gallery. The guard was there and everything was in order, so I went to bed. When the night guard awoke me, early the next morning, both the Terask's Eye Diamond and Arlinna were gone."
"And you noticed nothing unusual throughout the night?" I asked.
"And you summoned a Defender of Neopia, correct? Did they find any thing?"
"Again, no. Not a thing."
"Thank you, then, that is all I need for tonight," I replied. "Tomorrow I will visit your manor to investigate the scene of the crime. Then I'll be paying our primary suspect a visit. Good night, Countess Lynerda."
? ? ?
Early the next morning I arrived at my destination in Neovia. It was a very big house, with a beautiful estate, but I knew it wasn't the time to admire the scenery.
I rang the doorbell and waited patiently. I toyed with a stray black-and-white feather on the porch. After a few minutes, I rang again. There was still no answer to the third ring, so I used the fancy knocker impatiently. A moment later a Xweetok appeared, smiling kindly. I could tell by her attire that she was one of the maids.
"Good evening, ma'am," said she. "Sorry if I kept you waiting, the doorbell hasn't been working. Are you here to see the mistress?"
"This is Countess Lynerda's home?"
"Yes, miss." The maid nodded.
"Then yes, I am here to see your mistress," I said.
The maid showed me in and left to summon the Countess. I waited in the large, extravagantly decorated entry hall.
Lynerda did not keep me long. "Oh, Miss Spottedleaf! I'm so glad to see you. I didn't sleep a wink last night! I was too afraid that something might happen again."
"And did it?" I asked.
"No, no, thank goodness!" the elderly Buzz exclaimed. "You will see my gallery now, then?"
"If that's where the diamond was stolen, then yes," I replied.
In a quarter-hour we at last reached Lynerda's gallery, after three wrong turns and only once finding ourselves in a room she did not remember at all.
The Countess's gallery room was very large, filled with rows of items resting on wooden pedestals, guarded by glass cases. Both guards were present, the day guard patrolling the room while the night guard leaned against a wall, looking nervous.
The place to start, I decided, was with the night guard. He was a big, strong Grarrl, quite intimidating but for his anxiety. He looked as if he had met Hubrid Nox in a dark alley.
The Countess quickly introduced me to "Crusher" before I began my questioning. "Mr. Crusher, on the night of the theft, you were guarding this gallery, from the time you relieved the day guard, to the time you realized the Terask's Eye Diamond was stolen. Am I correct?"
"But you did not notice any thing unusual?"
"I did, ma'am! I noticed that Terask's Eye was gone," the guard replied in confusion.
I sighed. Grarrls! "Yes, of course.... Did you notice any thing else before then?"
The Grarrl thought for a moment. "Not much, ma'am," he said at last. "The butler passed by a few times, the housekeeper dusted once, and Miss Arlinna came in once to ask for directions to the restroom."
"Please tell me everything that happened throughout your shift, in order," I instructed.
"Well... I relieved the day guard at nine o'clock. I walked around, checking that all the items were in their cases, until midnight. That's the last time I saw the Diamond. After that I stood in the middle of the room and slowly spun so I could watch everything at the same time," said Crusher. "At 12:27 Countess Lynerda arrived to check in. At 1:43 the butler passed through. And Countess Lynerda left near one o'clock. The housekeeper began dusting at 1:54. The butler came through again at 2:33, and we talked for a few minutes before he left, the housekeeper with him. It was nearly three o'clock when Miss Arlinna asked for directions. I pointed out the way for her, and then--"
"Sorry to interrupt," I said suddenly, "but did you turn your back on her at all? Was there any chance she did something you did not see?"
Crusher looked uncomfortable at this question. "Well... I suppose. I wasn't watching her when I looked into the hall to point out the way to the nearest restroom."
"Thank you, that is all," said I. "Continue."
"Miss Arlinna left, and that was it until... 4:09, when the butler passed by again. After that I checked on all the items again, and noticed at exactly 4:48 that the Terask's Eye Diamond was missing. Then I woke Countess Lynerda and she summoned a Neopian Defender. I guarded the gallery while he investigated, until ten o'clock AM, when the day guard took over. And that was it," recounted the Grarrl.
"And you are sure of all these times?" I checked.
Crusher nodded. "Completely sure. There's a clock in the gallery, and I always check the time often."
He may not have been very bright, but he sure had a mind for details. "Thank you, then, that's all," I said, dismissing the guard.
"What do you think, Miss Spottedleaf?" asked the Countess eagerly.
"Any of them could have taken the diamond, even the guard," I replied uncertainly.
"Oh, but I just don't believe it, I don't believe any of them could have taken it!" Countess Lynerda cried.
"Somebody did," I said thoughtfully. "I just don't yet know who...."
To be continued...
If you're reading this, it's my first ever story in the NT! Yay! By the way, Spottedleaf_789 belongs to my side account.