The Case of the Missing Acara
Ada the Transparent Blumaroo investigates the disappearance of a Green Acara named Belle…
A half-hour passed before a tall Blue Quiggle appeared in the doorway. He slouched against the doorframe, dressed haphazardly in rumpled trousers and a plain white shirt.
I rose from my seat and extended a paw.
"Edward, right? I’m Ada," I said. "I’m –"
"A private investigator," the Quiggle finished, his wide lips curving into a grin. "Martha told me. Well, this is excellent. I suppose you’re here to help me find my missing shoes." He seized my paw and shook it vigorously.
I withdrew. "Ah...not quite."
Edward’s eyebrows shot up. "Don’t say you’re here about something else! Something more serious than my misplaced shoes? They were my favourite pair, you know," he said, his shoulders sinking sadly.
Bemused, I stepped back. "I just need to ask you a few questions, and I’ll be out of your way."
"About something – "
"Unrelated to your missing shoes."
Edward sighed. "Alas. Unfortunately, I never discuss anything remotely serious on an empty stomach. There’s a bakery by the bottom of the hill. Care to join me?"
I blinked. "No."
Edward sighed and reached for the bell pull. "Poor Martha. I’ll have to trouble her for breakfast, then. That’s on you, you know," he added, shooting me an accusatory look. I shrugged, refraining from pointing out it was well past noon, and quite sure that Martha would be enamoured with the opportunity to return to the parlour, even just to bring food in.
Twenty minutes later, the Quiggle lay sprawled across the couch, his meal completed. He brushed the crumbs of his late breakfast off his shirt, polished off the dregs of his coffee, and at last turned his attention to me.
"Now," he said. "You mentioned you had some questions."
I nodded, determined to remain unamused by Edward’s affected airs. I set down my teacup and reached for my notebook and pen.
Flipping my book open, I began. "Martha mentioned you’d been here a while. Do you recall a Green Acara ever visiting?"
Edward offered a lopsided shrug. "Maybe I do, maybe I don’t."
Against my will, I began to tap my pen impatiently against my notebook. I was used to dealing with uncooperative witnesses, but Edward’s twenty minute lunch had tried my patience. His eyes followed the motion perceptively, and the corner of his mouth tilted up in an indolent smirk. He eased backwards, sinking into the couch, clearly savouring my irritation.
I stopped tapping the pen.
"Edward, let me be clear. Martha mentioned you’re a long term lodger here. Given that she's fully committed to assisting me with my case as it pertains to Avalon Lodging House, it's likely that your continued presence here is contingent upon your cooperation with –"
He burst out laughing, drowning out my words.
I swallowed my frustration and waited for his mirth to subside.
"May I inquire as to what it is you find so amusing?"
"You may," he replied. Still shaking with laughter, he waved a hand at me graciously, as if granting me permission to proceed.
I felt my face flush.
"You're doing it again," he remarked knowingly.
Tap, tap, tap.
I set the pen down.
"What exactly are you laughing at?"
"You," he said, "and at the idea that Martha would ever throw me out for not tripping over myself to spend an afternoon being interrogated by a rude stranger."
I stifled a frown. It was possible I'd overplayed my hand there. Martha's enthusiasm for the case would have its limits, and I was unaware of what level of affection she might hold for her long-term lodgers. I had no reason to believe Edward was lying. I had to change tactics.
"You're right," I said.
"Am I?" Edward murmured. "I so rarely am…"
"I apologize for my brusqueness. I would be grateful if you might answer some questions."
Edward grinned. "That's more like it. And alright – but I may have some questions of my own."
I nodded. I had a few strong theories shaping up regarding the missing Acara, and none of them implicated anyone in the lodging house. Nevertheless, I would be cautious with what information I chose to divulge to Edward – or Martha, for that matter. I would relate the facts of the case to secure additional information if necessary, but I wouldn't reveal my theories or personal insights into the matter.
"To start, I'd like to repeat my initial question. Do you recall a Green Acara ever taking up residence here?"
"No, but a Green Acara did stay at the inn down the hill about a month ago."
I looked up sharply from my notes. "And how do you know this?"
"I know everyone in the area," he said, shrugging. "Martha's food is excellent, but when I'm looking for a change of pace I sometimes head to the inn there. I recall an unfamiliar Green Acara being there about a month ago."
"Would anyone else be able to corroborate this? The inn owner, perhaps?
"No," he said firmly. "The Gelert that runs the place makes a point of not having a guest book. There are a few...hm, how shall I put this – unsavoury characters that frequent the place, and she doesn't want to lose their business, but also doesn't want their patronization to be public knowledge should her inn ever be...hmm...let's say, audited, by rival unsavory interests."
"Can you be any clearer than that?" I asked.
"Not without running the risk of being...audited...myself."
"By the Thieves Guild?"
I bit back a laugh. I'd done my research on the neighbourhood, and heard about some of the Thieves Guild conflicts in the area. Edward being mixed up in Thieves business didn't surprise me.
"Did you speak with the Acara at all?"
"I tried, actually. It went about as well as our first attempt at a conversation did." He sighed dramatically. "I asked her about her day, and she politely told me to get lost."
His eyes narrowed.
"Do you have any idea why she was in the neighbourhood?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No. I don't think it was related to any guild business."
"Of course," I murmured absentmindedly, scribbling down notes.
"Of course?" he echoed.
I looked up. "If you had even the slightest suspicion my line of questioning was related to whatever guild business you're involved in, you wouldn't be speaking to me."
He grinned broadly. "Correct. Now, I believe it's my turn to ask some questions."
I set my notes down.
"Who is she? The Green Acara, I mean."
I hesitated. "She's a person of interest in a case."
"Obviously," Edward snorted. "But why?"
"She's been reported missing."
"Ah, and you're trying to find her last known whereabouts?"
"Something like that."
Edward quirked a brow. "You know, I can't help but feel you're not being as forthcoming as I was, which is, may I say, exceedingly rude."
I paused, trying to determine how much to tell him without potentially compromising the investigation.
"Exceeeedingly," Edward reiterated, drawing the word out. "Exceedingly rude."
I made a quick decision. "Are you familiar with Sophie, the other lodger here?"
"Of course," he said. "The Red Grarrl. Like I said, I know everyone in the area – of course I know the only other lodger in residence."
There was a hint of a strange expression on his face – a crinkle in his brow, an upward glance of the eye – before he rearranged it, adopting a relaxed look.
"What was that?" I asked.
"That look on your face. Why don't you like Sophie?"
"I don't dislike Sophie."
"Very well," I said, letting the matter drop. "Sophie reported her friend Belle missing. Belle is the Green Acara I've been making inquiries about."
"And Belle was last seen here? In the Neopian Central old town?"
"Her last assumed location is the Neopian Bank, although I haven't confirmed this with the bank yet. She was meant to obtain a loan for a certain sum of money and meet Sophie here, but she never arrived."
"I see…how did you know she'd been in the area recently?"
I glanced around the room. "Why pick this place unless she was familiar with it? It would be an otherwise random choice."
Edward rose from his seat and paced to the window, where the steady rush of the stream wrapping around the house thrummed below. "You're telling me more than I thought you would," he said, all humour gone from his voice.
He turned. "Why? Is the Acara in trouble? Do you need my help somehow?"
My eyes shot to his face. I did foresee many of the potential avenues of this investigation requiring the assistance of someone like Edward, who was familiar with this neighbourhood and, apparently, everyone in it. A resource like that was invaluable, particularly for groundwork.
"I need information," I replied.
"I've been forthcoming."
"You're not telling me why you don't like Sophie."
He returned to the couch. "Let's make a trade. I can't' help it – I'm quite curious what's happened here. Usually nothing in this neighbourhood escapes my notice. But this...this disappearing Acara? Well, that I know nothing about."
"What do you propose?" I asked.
"You tell me what you think happened, and I'll tell you why I dislike Sophie."
"That seems unfair." I risked the integrity of my investigation, but he risked nothing.
"And yet…" Edward grinned.
I frowned. "And yet I'm going to say yes."
Edward settled into his seat. "As a show of good faith," he said, arching one brow, "I'll go first."
"To be clear – I don't dislike Sophie. I simply don't trust her," he began.
"And why is that?"
"Have you looked at the guest book?" Edward asked.
I nodded. Martha had procured it for me earlier. It had revealed nothing unusual.
"And what did the entry for three days past say?"
"The only entry on that day was Sophie's. She arrived at noon and checked in."
"No," Edward replied smugly. He crossed his arms. "She wrote that she arrived at twelve noon. She actually arrived at midnight. Twelve AM, not PM."
"In the book it says –"
"I know what the book says. She wrote it incorrectly. Martha's a sound sleeper, so she never wakes up to let guests in. She left the door unlocked, because she knew she had a guest arriving that night. Sophie showed up at midnight, and filled the guest book in with the wrong check-in time."
"It was likely an accident," I said. "How do you know what time she arrived, anyway?"
Edward shook his head. "It wasn't an accident. She was up to something, and she didn’t want any official record of it. I was awake when she checked in. I tend to sleep late and rise late," he said. "When she arrived, I'd just gotten into bed. I heard her walk up the stairs, and then I heard some sort of commotion in her room."
"Commotion?" I looked up from my notes. "Could you be more specific?"
"I heard someone cry out, like they were hurt. Naturally, I got out of bed to investigate. I went into the room and knocked, but there was no reply. I knew what I'd heard, though...so I picked the lock and opened the door. I wanted to make sure nothing was wrong."
"You do realize you're confessing to breaking into a stranger's private suite?"
"Hey," Edward said, throwing his hands up, "I was trying to do a good deed. I thought someone was hurt."
I eyed him sceptically.
"Anyway," he continued, "I could hear someone running about when I was messing with the lock, and then when the door swung open –"
He broke off abruptly.
"Yes?" I prompted.
He shrugged. "Nothing. It was just Sophie, sitting on the couch. The lamp was lit, and nothing was amiss. But I heard something," he insisted. "Something happened that night in that suite...I just don't know what."
"What did Sophie say when you broke in?"
Edward looked sheepish. "She thought I was trying to rob her. I said I’d heard someone cry out, but she insisted I was lying, and was there to steal something."
I considered the matter. "Hm."
"Hm? That's all you have to say?" Edward looked disappointed. "You're a private investigator. Aren't you going to investigate this?"
"Sophie is my client," I said. "Not you. I've made note of your concerns."
Edward sat back, mouth agape.
"Catching flies?" I couldn't resist the jab, given that he was a Quiggle.
He scowled then took a long draught of tea, which seemed to have a calming effect on him.
"Fine," he said gruffly. "Your turn. Tell me what you think happened to Belle."
To be continued…