The Mysterious Case of the Missing Skeith: Part Three
Also by fuliguline
Previously, on TMCOTMS:
An exhaustive search of the crime scene provides a few vital clues. Shylock demands to meet the Cyvisham family, and Sadie acquiesces. Which now leave us at the brink of the Haunted Woods...
It was almost midnight when they reached Neovia. Then again, it always feels like midnight in Neovia, so it didn't make a terrible lot of difference.
"Well, here we are," said Sadie, gesturing timidly toward a manor in the distance. "It used to look a great deal better, but now it's... fallen into a bit of disarray."
"Never mind that," Shylock said cheerfully, and Sadie abruptly remembered Shylock's own run-down abode. "Maybe she likes dilapidated buildings," Sadie muttered to herself. For whatever reason, this humanizing trait was oddly cheering.
"Well, my dear girl, if you would be so kind as to open the door..." Shylock vigorously leapt onto the porch. "Ah, Grotson! Nothing like being on a case to refresh the nerves!"
Grotson, for his part, looked somewhat preoccupied, having been mistaken for a giant juice container by a group of hungry Meepits. "I suppose," said the Grarrl hesitantly, as a particularly feisty Meepit attached itself to his nose, "a little bit of help would be in order here."
"Oh! Meepits!" Sadie hastily rushed to dispatch the miscreants, blurting out breathless apologies as she whacked the offenders (and occasionally Grotson) with a broom.
"Don't worry, that's quite all right," Grotson replied afterwards, affixing a bandage to his nose.
"I'm terribly sorry," apologized Sadie for the twenty-first time. "They're practically everywhere these days... then again, I suppose they're really a mascot for this part of the Woods, and —"
"Well, all's well that ends well," Shylock interrupted, robustly dusting her friend off. "Now Sadie, if you're ready, let's head up and meet your family."
Sadie scurried to unlock the door, and the trio filed inside. The interior of the house wasn't quite as dilapidated as the exterior. The carpet, though faded, was still plush, and intricate gold filigree could still be spotted on the walls.
"Hello? Is anyone home?" Sadie called out. There was an initial silence, and then a great noise erupted from upstairs.
"Sadie! You're back!" A small brown Blumaroo bounded into the room and promptly latched herself to Sadie's backside. "You were away for too long! Did you nab the thief?"
Sadie laughed and gently pried the Blumaroo loose. "If only! But I'm trying my best. Here are the people who are helping me—the Usul's name is Shylock, and her partner is Dr. Grotson."
"Pleased to meet you!" The Blumaroo made a small curtsey. "I'm Eleanor, the maid of this family. Although I'm not a terribly good one!"
"She's the only one who's stayed with us through the years," said Sadie fondly. "And that makes her the very best."
As Eleanor hopped off to fetch some tea and cookies, a studious-looking red Gelert strode past her into the foyer. "I thought I heard you, Sadie," he said, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. "And who are these visitors, might I ask?"
"Oh, Andrew!" Sadie hurriedly scrambled to her feet. "Shylock and Dr. Grotson, this would be my brother, Andrew. Shylock here's a great detective, and she's helping me with the... G-Golden Skeith..." Sadie's tone faltered as her brother's expression darkened with disapproval. "She's amazing, really. Sh-she could notice all these things in our safe, and—"
"I wish you wouldn't bring other people into family matters, Sadie." This voice came from the other end of the room.
"Oh, Theodore, it's you!" Sadie sounded positively pleading. "I—I didn't mean any harm... I read about a case she did in the newspaper a few months ago, and when the Skeith disappeared, I thought that she could—"
A massive white Lupe appeared in the doorway. "It's not that I doubt your intentions," he said slowly. "Rather, it's that I doubt hers." He pointed at Shylock, who was busy inspecting a large assortment of shoes in the far corner. "You know how we don't like bringing outsiders into our family affairs."
Shylock suddenly looked up. "My intentions are all in the name of logic and justice, I can assure you," she said cheerily.
"I promise you, sir, Shylock is completely dependable," Grotson added, in a desperate bid to keep the peace. "She has been called upon by none other than Queen Fyora herself, as well as by the Altadorian Council during a—a rather discreet affair, but one which earned her the lasting gratitude of King Altador."
("Indeed, if 'gratitude' refers to nauseatingly copious amounts of Lupe Treats and Hero Gyros," Shylock muttered quietly to the side.)
"I still don't trust her," Andrew told Sadie. "And you, my dear, shouldn't either."
"...Boys, what's the fuss?"
The light from an adjacent room flickered on, and a blue Aisha in a nightgown appeared in the doorway.
"Sylvette!" Sadie ran to her side.
"What's wrong, dearest? And who are these visitors?"
"They're... people I brought in to help find the Golden Skeith. Shylock—she's the Usul—is an amazing detective, and I really think she can help us. Andrew and Theodore don't trust them, but you do, don't you, Sylvette?"
The Aisha patted Sadie on the head. "Well, I trust you, Sadie, and I trust your judgment. If you trust them, then I do too."
Andrew looked at her with a worried expression. "Are you sure you should be out of bed, Sylvette? Your symptoms have been getting worse these last few days. I wouldn't want you to collapse again... or... anything else to happen."
The Aisha smiled, but the corners of her eyes looked tired. "I'm fine, Andrew. I don't know why I've been so ill these last couple nights. Ever since it was stolen..."
"It must be the stress," Theodore said. "You should go back to bed."
Shylock suddenly cut in. "If you don't mind, would it be all right if I interviewed everyone before anyone leaves? Sadie has told me the basic story, but it would be much better if I could get your individual points of view."
There was a stifled pause. The brothers looked as if they were about to refuse, until Sylvette abruptly shot a smile at her sister. "Well, I don't see why not. Teddy, Andrew, be nice and help Sadie's friend please? I'll go upstairs and rest for a bit, but just send Sadie to fetch me whenever you're ready."
Sadie whispered to Shylock, "You'll have to excuse Sylvette. She's been sickly ever since I was very young, but she is so incredibly sweet; she'll be sure to oblige with anything."
"Oy, Shylock, we don't want to push the poor lady too hard," murmured Grotson. "Or the rest of the family, for that matter."
"Don't worry, this won't take long," said Shylock. "And I think this will be important. Now then," she raised her voice, "my good men—I hope you don't mind me addressing you as Andrew and Theodore?—if you would please come with me to the parlor there, where we can have a nice quick chat. Why yes, thank you, I will have a seat. Now, what is this business about the Golden Skeith? I would like you to tell me everything in great detail."
The two brothers stared at each other, before Theodore finally let out a tired sigh. "I suppose there's no helping it," he said morosely. "Better to just let it all out and have it done with."
Shylock clapped him the shoulder. "There's a good man!"
Giving the young Usul a glare, Theodore continued. "However—if I find that any of this information has leaked outside the house, I will personally find you and hold you accountable. And believe me," his fangs slowly bared, "that is something you definitely would not want."
"I'm sure I wouldn't," Shylock said agreeably, polishing her cane.
Sadie stepped in before the conversation could escalate. "Theodore, we agreed to trust her, right?" she pleaded. "I'm sure she would never tell."
The Lupe glanced at her, then let out a second sigh. "Let's just... get this over with," he said finally. He turned to Shylock. "Tell me, detective—what do you know about our family?"
Shylock tapped her chin thoughtfully. "It was once very wealthy and prestigious, and held a high degree of social influence. Over the last few years, however, many of your stores have gone bankrupt, your reputation has deteriorated, and the remaining members of the family have gone into hiding."
"Well you certainly don't mince words," Andrew said, then gave a small laugh. "That's more or less correct, I suppose. And it was all because of that no-good, thieving..."
Theodore nudged Andrew and stared pointedly at Sadie, who was standing just outside earshot.
Andrew cleared his throat and started again. "It was all because of our... brother, if you could even call him that. Mercutio."
"What about him?"
"We don't care to slander him too much when Sadie's around, since our sister was always fond of him. But by Fyora, does that louse deserve it!" Theodore's low voice was suffused with disdain.
Shylock looked extremely interested. "Would you care to elaborate on that?"
"Well—it's... it's hard to know where to begin," said Andrew, laying a calming hand on Theodore's shoulder. "You see, our father was a great businessman. Much of our land and property was a product of his brilliant investments, and he was the one who singlehandedly made our family name famous outside of Neovia.
"Unfortunately Theodore and I inherited none of his financial genius. Our father always worried what would become of the family business in the future." There was a silence, and then Andrew continued on, almost bitterly. "That is, until one day, when he came home with a scraggly-looking orphan boy. Name was Mercutio. No surname. Had been on the streets ever since he was three. My father met him outside the stock markets, just as he was about to buy five thousand shares in a now-defunct metalworking company.
"'I wouldn't do that if I were you, sir,' came a voice below him. And when my father looked, there was Mercutio, almost unrecognizable in all his rags and filth.
"'Why not?' my father had asked.
"'I've been living on these streets for a while, sir, and I've been watching those numbers go up and down every single day. There's a pattern to them, you see. Tomorrow that company's number is going to fall, and this one'—the boy pointed to a small, obscure name towards the bottom of the screen—'will go up.'
"My father was incredulous, but he was in a good mood, and he decided to humor the boy. 'All right, my lad,' he said. 'Let's make a bet. If you're wrong, you have to give me'—he paused here, for the boy had nothing really to give him—'that little brass ring you have on your belt. But if you're right, and the numbers go the way you tell me, I will buy you a five-course supper tomorrow evening. How does that sound?'
"The boy had given him a keen look, and shook his head. 'No,' he said. 'If I lose, I will give you everything I own, down to the last scrap of clothing on my back. But if I win'—and here he had fixed my father with a strange look in his eye—'you have to make me a Cyvisham.'"
To be continued...