The Mysterious Case of the Missing Skeith: Part Two
Also by fuliguline
Previously, on TMCOTMS:
Sadie Cyvisham decides to seek the help of legendary detective, Shylock Usulski, to recover a missing family heirloom. After the situation is explained, the group proceeds to the crime scene to hunt for clues. Which leads us to where we last left off, in Neopia Central...
Twenty minutes later, they were at the door of the bank, Shylock wildly waving pedestrians out of the way as she forged her way to the entrance. A distinguished-looking green Skeith arrested their progress at the door. "May I help you, Shylock? Not here to stir up trouble again, I trust. Last time was a bit—"
"I certainly am!" declared Shylock, brandishing her walking stick in the air. "Sadie, if you don't mind, would you tell the good man our business?"
"Oh yes, of course," said Sadie, quickly rushing to Shylock's side. "Um... if you don't mind, could we please have access to the Cyvisham safety deposit box? I have identification if you need it—"
"No need, Miss Sadie," the Skeith said munificently. "I remember all my customers." His face softened. "And especially you and yours, young lady. I trust you remember where your box is?"
"Of course! Thank you, sir," Sadie replied, as the group hastily slid past the manager.
A seemingly endless maze of corridors elapsed before the Cyvisham vault finally came into view. Sadie ran up to it breathlessly. "Here it is!" she said. "Now let me just enter the code and you can inspect it for yourselves. Oh, what was it... one, six... here we go!"
The door swung open, and the group peered inside. The interior of the vault was a large metal atrium, reinforced by bolted steel plaques. A few shelves lined the walls, filled with various trinkets and knickknacks. Among these bric-a-brac was a conspicuously empty space where the Golden Skeith must have originally lain.
"I suppose the Skeith was here?" asked Shylock, pointing at the empty spot.
Sadie nodded her head fervently. "Yes."
Shylock paused, tapping her chin in thought. "Of course. Now then, if you don't mind me asking, who knew the combination to this room?"
"Not many people. Only my immediate family. No outsiders, if that's what you're asking."
"And those people would be the same ones you mentioned earlier?" Shylock asked, taking out a magnifying glass.
"Yes, the same ones. My sister, my two brothers, and... me, of course." She paused. "Mercutio used to have access to the vault, but my brothers changed the code after he disappeared. Andrew and Theodore are, well... a rather secretive sort, so I'm sure that they wouldn't have mentioned the number to anyone else."
"Hmm," Shylock said vaguely, inspecting the safe. Sadie stood by awkwardly as Shylock began looking around the remainder of room, muttering at random intervals under her breath.
After a few minutes, Shylock returned. "Grotson, my good man, help me think for a moment." The Grarrl looked up attentively. "How would you continue from here?"
"I'm not sure," the honest Grotson confessed. "I don't think I see anything worth taking note of."
"Ah! Now that is because you are not Shylock Usulski"—and here the young Usul gave him a wink. "First of all, look here, near the floor."
Sadie and Grotson both crowded into the corner to get a better look. "It's just a smudge of dirt," Sadie finally said, confused.
"To the untrained eye, perhaps. But look closer. Or rather, instead of using your eyes, use another sensory organ. Like the nose, perhaps?"
Grotson leaned forward and sniffed deeply, before starting in surprise. "Smells a bit like salt," he said.
"Correct, Grotson. But not just any salt—ocean salt. Deepwater ocean salt."
"You mean"—Sadie said almost breathlessly—"as in, from Maraqua?"
"Excellent deduction, my dear girl." Shylock inspected the spot once more under her magnifying glass. "And just our luck—it seems fairly fresh. Not more than a few days old, I presume." She turned to look at Sadie. "Has anyone in your family been to Maraqua in the past week or so?"
Sadie shook her head quickly. "Of course not! My brothers hate traveling, and my sister Sylvette is always ill. We only travel when we absolutely have to."
"Well then, it seems we have our first clue to the thief," said Shylock, looking the slightest bit smug. "Not bad for our first five minutes, I dare say."
"But, Shylock—thousands of pets must have been in Maraqua these last few days! How do we figure out who took the Skeith?" It seemed almost impertinent to say this, but Sadie couldn't help blurting it out.
"Calm down, my dear girl," Shylock said. "No need for worry. We simply must continue our little hunt for evidence, that's all."
This blasé remark did not appear to assuage Sadie's mind. "Yes, of course, but—oh, what if we don't catch the thief in time? What if they sell the Golden Skeith to someone else? Won't that make things much more difficult?"
"I suppose," said Shylock absently, staring at something on the floor. "Ah, but hello... what have we here?"
The Usul carefully swept a few items from the ground and deposited them in a plastic bag.
"What did you find, Shylock?" Grotson asked curiously.
"Something that may or may not be of importance," Shylock replied, her forehead wrinkled in thought. She turned to Sadie. "I don't suppose you would mind if I had a brief word with the manager before we left?"
"Oh, yes! Certainly," said Sadie. "Er... please feel free."
"Excellent, my dear!" The Usul immediately strode out the door. "Come now, hurry along!" her voice was heard echoing through the corridor. Sadie and Grotson stared dumbly in her wake.
"Is she... always quite so... uh, vigorous?" asked Sadie finally, at a temporary loss for words.
Grotson chuckled before heading out the door. "Unfortunately, that she is. Always."
When Grotson and Sadie finally found Shylock, she had already cornered the bank manager and was busy doing what she did best: getting herself involved in other people's business.
"And which pets exactly came in that evening, my good man?"
"What, on Tuesday night?" The manager looked affronted. "Surely you don't expect me to divulge—"
"As I recall, you mentioned that you never forgot any of your customers. I suppose that was a little white lie, of course? You can't really remember who came in, can you?"
The Skeith bristled. "Of course I can! Please don't underestimate my abilities, madame."
"Oh come now, no one can remember something like that... except for myself, of course. It's all right, old bloke, we all have our little bluffs. No need to get defensive."
"I'm not defensive!" bellowed the manager, before hastily salvaging his composure. "Madame, I assure you, I can recall my customers perfectly. First Lady Stuffington came in, from Upper Brightvale. Then Marina Tilly, from Kiko Lake, then Monsieur DePonc from Mystery Island. Of course, Miss Cyvisham's brothers visited too that evening. And we had a few new customers as well—there was Tiffany McMillan from Kreludor, Charlie Dedham from Moltara, and finally, near midnight, Miko Hatsui from Shenkuu Palace." The Skeith's face looked uncharacteristically smug.
"Ah, I see," said Shylock, jotting something down in her notebook. "I dare say, I did underestimate you, old chap, and I apologize most profusely." She paused for a second, before sliding up to the manager and slipping her arm around his shoulders. "Would you also be able to tell me the color and species of these pets you just named? Or would that exceed your exceptional ability?"
"Not at all," said the Skeith, who appeared to be enjoying his moment in the limelight. "Lady Stuffington was a purple Poogle, Miss Tilly was a spotted Kiko, Monsieur DePonc was a silver Moehog, and Miss McMillan was a speckled Aisha. Now let's see... Mister Dedham was a magma Lupe... ah, Miss Hatsui was a faerie Gnorbu." He ticked the Neopets off his fingers. "And of course, Miss Cyvisham's brothers were a white Lupe and a red Gelert." He puffed out his chest, clearly basking in the attention of his visitors.
"Bravo, my good man, bravo," said Shylock, patting him robustly on the back. "I must say, that was a splendid display of memory, absolutely extraordinary. Now, if you don't mind, our little group has a few errands to run. Although I trust that I will see you next time, my good sir?"
"Oh, of course, Miss Usulski," said the bank manager, obviously easy to appease. "Watch your step on the way out."
As the group left, Shylock turned to look at her comrades. "Nothing like a bit of flattery to get you where you want, eh?" she stated with a grin.
Grotson shook his head morosely. "Shylock, that was uncalled for. The poor fellow."
"My good chap, he was enjoying himself, didn't you see? We boosted his ego, and he gave us a bit of information. I'd say it was a fair trade, wasn't it, Sadie?"
Sadie looked embarrassed. "I suppose you're right, Shylock," she said, choosing her words slowly. "So all those pets he named could have potentially been the thief? I mean—excluding my brothers, of course."
Shylock stared at her archly. "Well, we do have to consider your brothers as well."
As Sadie opened her mouth in protest, Shylock held up her hand. "I'm not saying that it was your brothers, just that we have to be open to every possibility. That is the mark of a true detective. Even you are technically a suspect in this case, if we must put it squarely."
"Me? Me? But I was in school the whole time! You can even check with the headmistress, if you want. And why—w-why would I steal from my own family?" A dismal hiccup surfaced in Sadie's small voice.
Grotson rubbed the Cybunny's head comfortingly. "No worries, Shylock is just being Shylock. Don't take it too personally. When I first ran into her, she suspected me of being an accomplice as well. But she always finds the right culprit in the end, so don't you fret, my dear." Grotson shot Shylock a hard look, and the Usul shrugged in apology.
Sadie rubbed her face. "Yes, of course, I suppose you're right. But, really... shouldn't we interview all those pets? Although there were a terrible lot of them in the bank that night. I suppose it'll probably take days to find them all," she added, looking dispirited.
"No need," said Shylock cheerfully. "I've already narrowed the list of suspects down considerably. As my friend Hercule Poogle says, you have to use the little gray cells." She paused, tapping the side of her head. "But before we get ahead of ourselves, would it be possible to meet the remaining members of your family? Let's just say—I have a hunch it may be important."
"Oh, yes!" Sadie quickly dried her eyes. "Absolutely."
"Then lead the way!" Shylock cracked her knuckles ceremoniously, before staring briefly at the sky in the thought. "Somehow," she muttered quietly to Grotson out of the corner of her mouth, "I have a feeling that there's more to this story than first meets the eye."
Leaving the Grarrl to ponder this ominous statement, Shylock quickly clapped on her hat and followed Sadie down the street.
To be continued...