The Mysterious Case of the Missing Skeith: Part Four
Also by fuliguline
Previously, on TMCOTMS:
Shylock Usulski meets the Cyvisham clan, although the encounter is initially less than cordial. After a few misunderstandings are cleared, however, buried family secrets finally come to light...
"My father was taken aback, of course," Andrew went on. "But as he turned the situation over in his mind, he realized that this could potentially be a worthy investment. If the boy was really as good at predicting the markets as he claimed to be, then my father might have found an heir capable of managing the Cyvisham business empire. And so, after a long pause, he agreed. He didn't really expect the boy's predictions to come true, anyway. After all, the metalworking company he was planning to invest in had been stable for a good twenty years, and he had never even heard of the company the boy pointed out at the bottom.
"The night came and went, and early the next morning, my father went to check on his stocks. And what do you think he found? The metalworking company had crashed overnight, and was now running in the negatives. I'm sure you can guess the next part—the other company's stocks had skyrocketed. The million my father had invested the day before, at the boy's suggestion, was now seven million, and still rising.
"'Well?' came a voice below him, almost jubilantly. 'I was right, wasn't I?'
"All my father could do was nod, and stare at the boy dumbfounded. 'You were right,' he finally said. There was a pause, as the boy continued to stand there expectantly. You could say many things about my father, but he was always a man of his word. And so, at sundown, he took the boy back with him to Neovia.
"You could imagine how much of a nasty shock it was to me and Theodore when our father told us the news. Here, a beggar, was to become one of the Cyvisham heirs? The only ones who seemed to take kindly to the news were our sisters. Sylvette grew attached to Mercutio almost instantly. Sadie was still young at the time, but after a few weeks, she and Mercutio were practically inseparable. That's the way our sisters are, you understand—innocent and sweet, but agonizingly naïve.
"I wish I could say that our father made a mistake in bringing Mercutio home, but—at least at first—it seemed to be the right decision. Our business grew faster than ever, and our father finally seemed at peace. He assumed that Mercutio would take over the reigns in the future, and our family legacy would stay intact.
"My brother and I still resented Mercutio, but we eventually came to realize that having him around was a necessary evil. We were hopeless at finance, and having Mercutio to take care of the money allowed us to live our lives with minimal strain. And so, we tolerated him, and—at rare times—even came to enjoy having him with us.
"My father eventually passed away, but with Mercutio controlling the money, our business continued to flourish. We were living the high life. Money, fame, success... we had it all.
"And then, one night, it all came to an end. Sylvette fell rapidly and terribly ill. We tried every remedy that money could buy, all to no avail. We were so distracted during those weeks that we never noticed Mercutio directing more and more of our funds into a certain suspicious-sounding company—"
"—Greenvethe, Inc.," interrupted Theodore with a snarl. "I'll never forget that name for as long as I live."
"I've never heard of it," Shylock said.
"No one has ever heard of it," said Andrew impatiently. "It was obviously a dummy company Mercutio set up while we were busy with Sylvette. Made it easier to direct the funds away, you realize." He rubbed his eyes, sighed, then continued on with his story.
"One night, right when Sylvette was at her worst, Mercutio suddenly left the house and disappeared. We didn't think much of it at the time, until we tried accessing our finances the next day. That's when we realized that almost all of it was gone. Hundreds of millions, gone in a single night. All my father's work, all those years of building an empire... completely reduced to nothing.
"That dirty, good-for-nothing thief! He must have planned this from the very beginning—getting into my father's good graces, gaining access to our money, using our sister's illness as a decoy. Poor Sylvette. We couldn't bear to tell her the news, since she was still in recovery, but eventually she asked for Mercutio. When we finally told her, all she said was, 'He'll be back. You'll see.' Even now she refuses to hear a word against him, and she still believes that thieving scoundrel will come back to us."
"I hope he comes back—I'll wring his filthy neck!" Theodore roared.
"Indeed," murmured Shylock soothingly, who had been busy jotting down notes. "But what about Greenvethe, Inc.? Why didn't you follow up on that?"
"We tried," said Andrew, looking positively choleric. "But apparently the company had disappeared overnight. An elaborate scam Mercutio set up, no doubt. Some fishy work had been done to cover up the trail, and none of the detectives we hired could come up with anything."
"Ah, but you didn't hire me," said Shylock, with a smile.
Theodore looked as if he was about to blow a gasket. Grotson quickly cut in before some irreparable injury could take place. "Please continue, my good sir."
Andrew cleared his throat huskily and resumed his story. "Within the year, most of our businesses were closed. Theodore and I tried to helm the remainder as best as we could, but everything just kept going downhill. We had no money to keep up with maintenance, or taxes, or repairs. We ended up selling most of our family's assets, but we always kept a few of the oldest heirlooms around. It felt almost criminal to sell those, you understand.
"Unfortunately, things have recently gotten so out of hand that we finally decided to auction our remaining antiques. The most valuable one was the Golden Skeith. We had no idea it was worth so much, to be honest—it was simply an old statue that had always been gathering dust in the family safe. We expected no more than a couple hundred thousand, so as you can imagine... we were overjoyed. Finally, it seemed, things were working out for us.
"And so on Tuesday afternoon, Theodore and I went down to Neopia Central to prepare for the next morning's bids. We checked on the Skeith beforehand. Everything looked fine. My brother and I retired to a neighboring hotel, and when we woke up, we went to the bank to retrieve the Skeith for our auction. But when we got there..."
There was a long pause. It seemed difficult for the Gelert to resume speaking.
"There, there," Grotson said mildly, patting him on the shoulder. He gave Shylock a pointed look.
"No need to continue, I gather I know what happened," Shylock said. "You can rest for a bit, my good man." After tapping her chin for a brief moment, she looked up. "Sadie told me that only you four knew the passcode to the safe. Is that true?"
"Yes, only the immediate members of the family," repeated Andrew, eying Shylock warily. "Myself, Theodore, Sylvette, and Sadie."
"No one else?"
"The Cyvishams don't share secrets with strangers," Theodore cut in, his voice gruff. "You two should be grateful that we're even speaking to you at all."
"And if you're wondering about Mercutio, we changed our code years ago after he left," Andrew added. "So you can rest easy on that count."
"I see," said Shylock, making a final jot in her notebook. And then, more kindly: "Thank you for telling me what must have seemed difficult. You may not believe me, but I am certainly not unsympathetic to your plight. And I promise you—we will get that Skeith back."
The brothers appeared rather skeptical, but the speech had a mollifying effect. Before they left the room, Andrew turned back to look at Shylock. "How do you know that we will get it back?"
"Why," Shylock said, flashing him a radiant grin, "because I am Shylock Usulski!"
It was to the Gelert's credit that he did not press the matter further, as this seemed like a very unlikely reason to be getting even a dirty sock back, much less a priceless antique.
"Oh, and before you leave, gentlemen, may I ask you one more question?" Shylock called after their retreating backs.
Theodore sighed, then shrugged his shoulders tiredly. "What do you want?"
"Has anyone in your family recently visited Maraqua?"
The brothers stared at each other with looks of genuine surprise. "What does that have to do with anything?" asked Theodore. "But to answer your question—no one here has visited Maraqua for at least half a decade. Nothing to see there anyway... and dreadful place, really. Terribly damp."
"Ah, I see. Thank you for your interviews, gentlemen," said Shylock, and resumed writing in her notebook.
"Well, Shylock, what do you think?" Grotson asked when the brothers were out of the room.
"My dear man, use your senses. Haven't you noticed anything since we've been in this house?" At Grotson's blank expression, Shylock sighed. "You'll see soon enough, I suppose." After a brief moment, she beckoned at Sadie.
The Cybunny ran eagerly towards them. "Well? Did you solve the case?"
"My dear girl, I appreciate you thinking so much of my abilities, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Will you be so kind as to summon your sister from upstairs?"
"Oh! Certainly." Sadie leapt away to acquiesce.
During Sadie's temporary absence, the little Blumaroo maid came in with a platter of tea.
"I hope the two masters weren't too harsh on you," she said, happily arranging the biscuits on the plate. "They may seem a bit mean, but they are decent folk, to be sure."
"Thank you," said Shylock. She paused for a second, then: "If you don't mind, may I ask you a few questions?"
"Aye, but o'course!" said the maid as she sat down cheerily. "Nothing like an interview to make you feel important!"
Grotson rubbed his temples and sighed. This was going to be a long night.
To be continued...