A Neovian Christmas Mystery
It was a rather unusual day in Neovia. For once, it was not its usual everlasting dimness. Instead, thanks in large part to the gigantic holiday tree standing in the centre of town (the mayor was quite insistent on showing Neovia's festive spirit this season, and promised to decorate the tree himself), the town was a glow and in a celebratory mood. Crisp green pine wreathes were hung on every available door; bright red ribbon was wrapped around street lamps; and bright red and green holiday lights hung from the eaves of every building. The cobblestoned streets were bustling with activity, as many Neopians harried to and fro hoping to finish their last minute holiday shopping. A line-up had started outside the Neovian Printing Press, as many tried to get their hands on the latest book – The Eve of the Eve – for their Booktastic friends. A group of young Neopians raced past a portly Usul balancing an armload of packages in front of the Crumpetmonger on their way to visit the Apple Bobbing to see if Bart was wearing his Holiday Trousers with Suspenders that he had promised. But of course, the aforementioned Usul was paying very little mind to anything other than the delicious smell coming from the Crumpetmonger.
"Mmm. Definitely ginger," he mumbled to himself, sniffing the air, "and perhaps a pinch of nutmeg..."
"Ah, there you are, Weatherby, old chap," a well-dressed Bruce said, coming up to stand beside the Usul. He smoothed out his Gnorbu-wool blue scarf over his smart brown greatcoat. "I've just come from the Printing Press and managed to get a hold of one of the last copies of The Eve of the Eve. Can you believe how much of a bestseller it is? And a Halloween book at Christmas no less! Fascinating, absolutely fascinating."
"Hmm," Weatherby replied noncommittally, still sniffing the air, and trying to see into the window past the crowd of people.
"Yes, well, shall we get on? I think it's time to go before we get trampled by the last, last minute shoppers," the Bruce said, eyeing the growing multitude of Neopians around him.
"In a minute. I'm trying to figure out what Alice's latest creation is. I tried going into the shop, but of course it was packed to the nines. Her cranberry scones and warm holiday cookies are selling out faster than a swimming Koi. I can't decide whether to work my way into the shop or not," Weatherby replied.
"Ah, well, judging by the faint smell of persimmon, I'd say it was the new persimmon cake you were telling me about last week. Possibly a tweaked recipe with added elements of ginger and nutmeg to spice it up for the holidays. But no matter, you hate persimmons, so let's be off," the Bruce announced, puffing out his chest at his own brilliant deduction.
"Oh, all right," Weatherby sighed, disappointed with not buying anything from the Crumpetmonger (a daily event for all who knew him). The pair manoeuvred their way through the crowd, Weatherby careful not to have anyone bump into his stacked packages, and were just passing a caroling troupe of ELFs (Ever Lyrical Flotsams, who loved to sing no matter what the occasion) when a voice hailed them from behind.
"Oh, Mr Haven! Mr Haven!" a Wocky yelled, as Weatherby and the Bruce, Mr Sherbolt Haven, turned out.
"Oh my word, I'm so glad to have caught you. I was just about to head over to the Crumpetmonger to see if Mr Weatherby knew where you were, and here you both are. Please, you must help! I've heard all about your mystery solving from Mrs Celia Ashton (who would've thought to look for a secret door?) and I need your assistance!" the Wocky said imploringly.
For yes, as you may have guessed, the finely dressed Bruce strolling the brightly lit streets of Neovia was indeed Mr Sherbolt Haven, amateur sleuth extraordinaire (at least in his mind). Reading mystery books had gone from being a hobby to a lifelong dream of becoming a detective. Haven was happy to solve any mystery, no matter how big or how small. He even had a habit of late of making a mystery out of anything (Neovia was a relatively mystery-free town), as Weatherby found out when he accidentally dropped his glove a few weeks ago.
"I would be more than delighted to be of assistance to you, Mrs, er...?" Haven began, bowing to his latest client.
"Mrs Humphrey, sir. Oh, how wonderful! Thank you, thank you! Please, come with me – the presents are missing!" And with that, Mrs Humphrey turned and led the way back down the street, her white-fur trimmed cape blowing in the wind, with Haven and a reluctant Weatherby trailing behind.
Once the trio arrived at the Humphrey town house, Mrs Humphrey promptly led them to her first floor hall closet. The door was wide open, and the closet was empty except for a dark blue coat hanging in the dim space.
"Err, what exactly seems to be the problem, Mrs Humphrey? This seems like a lovely closet. Perhaps a bit on the unused side," Weatherby commented, putting his packages on a side table to get a better look inside the closet.
Haven cleared his throat, giving Weatherby an annoyed glance. "Forgive my assistant, Mrs Humphrey. He can be insensitive to delicate situations sometimes. Please, tell us what happened."
Mrs Humphrey looked relieved to have Haven's undivided attention. "Well," she began, wringing her hands in apprehension, "I found it like this afternoon. You see, I've been storing my Christmas presents in here, to keep them out of the way. Our Zomutt likes to get into everything, and I've already had to re-wrap the presents twice now. Mr Humphrey and I went out for lunch, and I bought a Lovely Decorative Lamp from the Antiques shop. When we returned, I wrapped it up, but when I opened the closet to put it with the rest of the gifts, they were gone!"
"Fascinating," Haven said, pulling out his trusty eyeglass from inside his coat. He carefully examined every inch of the closet, from the piece of shiny silver wrapping paper on the floor to the sparkly blue ribbon just outside the open closet door. He took out his notebook and drew some diagrams, as Mrs Humphrey and Weatherby watched over his shoulder. Tapping his pencil against the paper, he walked the length of the hall, stopping every now and then to adjust his notes. Mrs Humphrey watched anxiously, while Weatherby was trying not to roll his eyes. Suddenly, Haven gave a loud "AHA!" before shutting his notebook and turning to his eager audience.
"Mrs Humphrey, you'll be happy to know that I have solved the mystery. I believe this to be the work of a humbug, that is, someone against Christmas. This humbug was very crafty. Indeed, my calculations suggest that there was more than one humbug at play, judging by the imprints on the carpet here. They must have been studying your house, waiting for a prime opportunity to enter and take the gifts. Based on the temperature of this piece of wrapping paper, I think this must have happened after lunch. Why, it might've happened just before you came home." Haven paused, as Mrs Humphrey let out a loud gasp. "But never fear, I think I know who is responsible for this. The ELFs!" Haven declared triumphantly.
"No, not the ELFs!" cried Mrs Humphrey.
"Yes, I know it's hard to believe. They had the opportunity this afternoon, strolling the streets, looking for the perfect house under the guise of carolling. I knew there was something suspicious about them! Quickly, we must confront them before they get a chance to take someone else's presents," Haven exclaimed. Weatherby sighed; it was always the same with Haven, jumping to the most drastic conclusions.
"Er, Haven," Weatherby said, just as Haven was leading Mrs Humphrey to the front door. "Are you quite sure that that's what happened?"
Haven paused, turning back to Weatherby with a confused look on his face. "Of course. The evidence doesn't lie."
"Yes, well, are you sure that the presents left the house? I mean, there is another piece of wrapping paper on the stairs here, which seems odd if someone did in fact take them. And the imprints in the carpet also suggest that the presents were dragged towards the stairs. And I find it odd that there is one coat hanging in the closet. Mrs Humphrey, when you put all of your presents in here, did you remove anything?" Weatherby asked.
"Why, er, yes. There were some old boxes and a few coats that I moved to the upstairs closet. Now that you mention it, I did move all the coats upstairs. I don't know how I missed this one..." Mrs Humphrey replied, looking closely at the coat. "Oh my word, it's Mr Humphrey's coat that he wore to lunch today!"
At that very moment, Mr Humphrey was descending the stairs. He had been napping upstairs (he had about a dozen scones at lunch, after all), and was starting to feel peckish again. Trying to decide what to snack on, he didn't notice Haven and Weatherby until he heard Mrs Humphrey call out his name. Puzzled at the presence of the well-dressed Bruce and portly Usul, Mr Humphrey turned to Mrs Humphrey. "Is something the matter?" he asked.
"Oh, Mr Humphrey! The presents are missing! I didn't know what to do, and didn't want to disturb your nap, so I sought out Mr Haven to help solve the case. He thinks it was the ELFs, but Mr Weatherby has just pointed out that your coat is here in the closet. Did you come across anyone ELFs when we came home from lunch?" Mrs Humphrey implored.
"ELFs? In our house? I highly doubt that," Mr Humphrey said, scratching his chin as he thought back. "No, no. While you were wrapping that lamp, I went to put my coat in the closet, only to discover that it was full of presents! I was quite shocked. You know how much I like to hang my coat in the downstairs closet. So I simply moved them to the upstairs closet. Didn't I tell you? Well, there you have it. Now if you'll excuse me, my dear, I think I've decided on a sandwich. Good day, Mr Haven, Mr Weatherby," Mr Humphrey finished, stunning Mrs Humphrey and Mr Haven with his explanation.
"Well, I never," Mrs Humphrey said. "I'm so sorry to have bothered you with all of this, Mr Haven. To think, if I had only checked the upstairs closet! Well, thank you so much for trying to help. You were so close to solving it!"
"Yes, er, thank you, Mrs Humphrey. It was my pleasure. Happy to help! Weatherby and I will see ourselves out. Good day to you!" Haven said, bowing his head. Weatherby offered Mrs Humphrey a mumbled 'Happy Holidays' as he picked up his packages and followed Haven back out onto the street.
"Another mystery solved by Sherbolt Haven, sleuth extraordinaire, eh, Weatherby? That was quite the puzzle, if I do say so myself. I somehow missed the wrapping paper on the stairs. So good of you to point it out. Now, let's away to the office, as I want to type this up into my files before the Hughes' Christmas party," Haven said, as he stared suspiciously at the group of ELFs walking past. Weatherby rolled his eyes at his exuberant friend, and followed him down the street, happy that the mystery had been solved.