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The Case of the Missing Eye: Part Two


by patt788

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I began my investigation of the Countess Lynerda's gallery, examining it carefully with my magnifying lens. After an hour's investigation, I was happy with the results. I now had some clues to work with: several black-and-white feathers, a small metal bell, and a fine layer of dust.

     "What could they mean?" Lynerda moaned, after I had described my findings. "Oh, things just keep getting more confusing!"

     "On the contrary, things get clearer all the time," I disagreed.

     The Countess gave me a quizzical look, but instead of explaining I said, "I think I'll question your butler and housekeeper now."

     Lynerda first led me to the housekeeper's office. She was not there when we arrived, but soon an apparently kind Cloud Pteri entered the room.

     "Oh, good evening, ma'am!" she said cheerfully. "Sorry if I kept you waiting. What brings you here? And who's this?"

     Lynerda gestured to me. "This is Spottedleaf_789. She's a private detective, here to investigate the theft. Spottedleaf, meet Fiona."

     I shook wings with the housekeeper. "Fine to meet you, miss," she said kindly. "I'm glad you're here. Terrible, this theft! It'll be good to have it sorted out."

     "Good to meet you, as well," I replied, smiling. "I apologize for the inconvenience, but I must ask you what you did on the night of the theft."

     "No problem at all," Fiona said, waving away the suggestion. "I've nothing to hide. I didn't do much, any way. As soon as I had dismissed the maids about eight o'clock, I merely walked the halls, dusting here and there." She waved a black-and-white feather duster for emphasis. "Real relaxing, actually, wandering around this big, fancy place... even if I do get lost sometimes! Well, so on toward two in the morning, I think, I dusted the Countess's gallery. After that--"

     "Do you usually dust the gallery yourself?" I interrupted.

     Countess Lynerda answered this with a nod. "I do not trust anyone else to do it."

     "I'm honored, ma'am," Fiona said, blushing slightly. "Now where was I? Yes, I dusted the gallery at two, and finished half-past. Then I went straight to bed." She pointed to a door behind her desk, which obviously led to her bedroom.

     "Well, I have only one more question then," I said. "You say you dusted the gallery?"

     "Indeed I did, miss."

     "When I searched it this morning, there was still a fine layer of dust all over."

     The housekeeper frowned guiltily. "Well, miss... I was tired, see.... And you saw the gallery, did you? Well over a hundred items, miss! Impossible it is to dust them all well and good, miss! And besides--"

     I held up a wing to silence her. "Yes, I understand," I said with a smile. "That will be all, then, Fiona. Thank you for your time."

     Relieved, Fiona bade us good-bye. Immediately Countess Lynerda and I started searching for Menkins, the butler. Lynerda told me that Menkins usually roamed the house, generally managing any work being done. This made it much harder to find him, but at last we tracked him down in the kitchen, where he was watching--or rather, instructing--the assistant cooks.

     "No, no," he said in a quiet, deep voice, "Chokato would be much better.... And you there, use Juppies, not Pimplepeppers.... Oh, Countess! Delightful to see you. I was just assisting the assistants." He chuckled softly at his joke as the cooks scowled behind his back.

     "We noticed," I replied, trying to pass off my amusement as friendliness. "I'm sure you're busy, Menkins, but would you mind answering some questions?"

     With a nod of consent from the Countess, Menkins agreed. He led us to a small sitting room just off the kitchen.

     "What would you like to know, miss?" Menkins asked.

     I took a moment to size up the butler. He seemed friendly enough, although he had a bland, obedient personality, at least while doing his job. The Techo also had one especially notable feature: an eye patch.

     "I just need you to tell me everything you did last night, starting from... let's say Arlinna's arrival," I said, "And through until you first heard Terask's Eye had been stolen, in detail."

     I said that the butler was obedient? So obedient, I soon regretted mentioning the word "detail". He told me everything. He took me through his night, minute by minute, in painstaking clearness. He wandered the halls, overseeing and instructing everything being done, and otherwise did his job. He droned on, wearing down my patience, until at last he came near to the time of the theft. "I passed through the gallery once more at nearly 4:10, ensuring that all was in order," Menkins told me. "After that I finally retired to my room. I was reading when the doorbell in my room rang, at 5:00. Immediately I went to the door, which, strangely enough, slammed shut as I neared it. When I looked outside, I saw a figure flying away."

     I snapped back to attention. "A figure? Flying away?"

     The butler nodded, saying coldly, "That is what I said." Straightening his suit collar, he went on, "I called out, but received no answer. So, after closing and locking the door, I returned to my room. As I was walking down the hall, I met the housekeeper, who told me that the diamond had been stolen. My room, you see, is about halfway along the main route from the gallery to the front door. She was on her way out to fetch a Neopian Defender."

     "I see," I muttered thoughtfully. "Yes, thank you. You have been very helpful."

     Menkins bowed respectfully and the Countess and I departed.

     I was thinking about the mysterious night visitor as another thought struck me. "Countess," I asked suddenly, "How long has your doorbell been broken?"

     "Nearly a week," said Lynerda.

     "Would any of your employees' room doorbells ring if the main one didn't?"

     "No, I don't think they would," replied the Royal Buzz confusedly. "But, what does that--" she paused as understanding hit her. "Menkins lied!"

     "Yes, Menkins lied," I muttered thoughtfully. "That... or he was mistaken. Interesting. Tell me, where is his room?"

     Countess Lynerda led me to the butler's room. I tried opening the door, but it was locked. But that did not matter.

     I made a quick investigation of the hall, whose walls were decorated with paintings, tapestries, and a few tables topped by ornaments.

     "Did you find what you were looking for?" Lynerda asked when I had finished.

     "I will tell you as soon as I've seen the entrance hall again," I replied.

     The Countess led me to the entrance hall, which I had not thought to search earlier. I made a quick search of the room, and soon found what I was looking for.

     "More evidence," I announced, showing two more black-and-white feathers to the Countess. "One was outside Menkins's room, and the other here by the front door."

     "But what do they mean?" Lynerda asked, surprised.

     "I am not entirely sure myself," I said. "But I did notice that the housekeeper had a feather duster... with black-and-white feathers."

     Lynerda groaned. "Not her, too.... Then who was it, really? Who stole the Terask's Eye Diamond?"

     I shrugged. "I don't know yet. It could have been the housekeeper, the butler, or even the guard! But there is one more place I must look for clues. One more witness to question, my number one suspect! Where does Arlinna live?"

    ? ? ?

     I knocked at Arlinna's door. She had no doorbell. It was a rather pitiful shack she lived in, actually. It had some of the elegance of all Neovian homes, but it was small and run down. I couldn't really blame her for feeling jealous of her friend's riches.

     I stood alone outside her home. Lynerda had wanted to come with me, but I had convinced her the situation would be much less awkward if she stayed at her manor. It was not a good idea to accuse your best friend of theft right after making up for a fight. Even if Lynerda herself was convinced of Arlinna's innocence.

     "Hello? May I help you?" asked a friendly, high voice. A Skunk Lenny stood before me in the open doorway, wearing a simple Neovian dress and a pretty necklace of small bells, which made a pretty jingling when she moved.

     "Hello. Yes, I think so, are you Arlinna?" I asked.

     "Yes, I am. Who are you, miss?"

     "Good day, Arlinna. My name is Spottedleaf_789," said I. "I'm a private detective, here to help Countess Lynerda. See, last night--"

     "Yes, I expected this," Arlinna interrupted, smiling bitterly. "I knew I'd be suspected for stealing the diamond."

     I frowned. "No, being accused of a crime is not a happy feeling. But I assure you that Countess Lynerda doesn't think you're guilty."

     Arlinna brightened up a bit. "No... not Lynerda. She would know I'm innocent," she said. "I'd be happy to help you clear up the case in any way I can."

     "Thank you," I said, as the Lenny invited me into her house. The furniture was simple and cheap, but it had a much warmer, homey feel. I slithered into a chair as Arlinna sat facing me. "First, I'd like a good reason for why you left last night."

     "You must understand, miss Spottedleaf, that I am very poor. I struggle just to pay for food and a home." Arlinna shook her head sadly. "But I am no sponger. And I would never steal. I still have my pride. I would never accept nor steal money from any one, much less my best friend. Naturally, Lynerda has offered to help me out some times, which was a tempting offer," she said. Lifting her head proudly, she added, "But as I said, I have my pride."

     "That's all very well and good," I replied, "But that doesn't explain why you left last night."

     "Of course I left! I was turning green with jealousy!" Arlinna cried. "I was taunting myself with what I can never have, and selfishly envying it all! I couldn't stand it, Spottedleaf."

     I nodded sympathetically. "I understand. But why didn't you tell Lynerda?"

     Arlinna sighed. "It was foolish of me not to, but I just couldn't. I thought I'd have more courage in the morning, so I left without a word."

     There was silence. I stroked my chin thoughtfully. A good sob story... but was it the truth?

     "Tell me," said I at last. "What time was it when you went home?"

     "I'm not sure, exactly.... Nearly five o'clock, I think. In the morning, of course."

     "And did any one see you leave?"

     Arlinna shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think so. Someone opened the door while I was flying away, I think, but... I'm not sure."

     I nodded. "Just one more question," I said. "Crusher, the gallery guard, told me you passed by last night. Am I right?"

     "Yes, I got lost on the way to the restroom," Arlinna answered with amusement.

     "And how long were you there?"

     "Only a minute or two," said the Lenny, "For Crusher to point out the way for me."

     "Was any one else there? Did you see anything interesting?" I asked.

     Arlinna shook her head.

     "Very well, then," I announced, leaving the comfortable armchair. I was about to leave when I noticed something on the floor beside Arlinna. A feather.

     "You're molting, I see," I observed sympathetically. "That's very annoying, I know."

     Arlinna tutted and nodded. "It's molting season again," she said, picking up the fallen feather. "Quite a nuisance."

     "Well, that will be all, then. Thank you for your time, Arlinna," I said.

     I was halfway out the door when Arlinna asked hesitantly, "Spottedleaf, I--you don't think I stole the diamond, do you?"

     I smiled. "Arlinna, for me, everybody is a suspect until I know who the real culprit is," was my answer. "Even I might have stolen the diamond--although, I do have a pretty good alibi and a complete lack of motive on my side."

     Laughing, we said farewell, and I slithered slowly back up the Neovian streets, toward the large manor. Now that I had all the pieces of the puzzle, all that remained was for me to put them together.

To be continued...

 
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» The Case of the Missing Eye: Part One
» The Case of the Missing Eye: Part Three



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