The Prophetess's Tale: Part Nine
Wentworth closed his eyes, and pretended the last day had not happened.
He was under house arrest. There were at least three guards outside his door, and one inside. It was a miracle that they’d let him back into the room the castle lent him, but he found that they had scoured the place and taken his possessions which qualified as “evidence”—mainly, papers discussing his previous won cases and the two bottled ships he had brought over from his collection at home.
Working up an unpleasant sweat, Wentworth had done nothing but worry about his career. He’d solved so many cases—dozens of cases, really, dozens upon dozens—and he’d done them so capably. He was no amateur to the scene, and yet he’d performed so poorly. His reputation was ruined. There would be no going back from this. No turning a new leaf. He’d be put down in the dungeons, probably in isolation like Emilia. Oh, how he knew she hated it. Oh, how he would hate it. He thought of his poor mother at her humble home, and how she would never see him again, never see him grow up with a family or anything. This was the end of him.
Considered a co-conspirator, Emilia was in there with him. “I was in the dungeons when the crime happened, you dimwits,” she hissed at the poor yellow Vandagyre on guard. He looked very much like he did not want to be there. “I didn’t have a visitor for nearly four months before that. How, exactly, am I expected to be involved in the crime, even if you were dumb enough to actually think that one of the most esteemed detectives in the area caused the crime?”
The Vandagyre sweated profusely. His eyes darted around the room, and he finally settled on turning around and just facing the door instead. Emilia laughed. “Yeah, you should do that. Just pretend I’m not here. You little…”
“Emilia, really. You’re saying the sort of things the less sophisticated criminals shout at me when I go down to the dungeons. Please control yourself.”
“I’m angry, Wentworth.”
Well, there go all formalities. Wentworth mourned them. She refused to call him detective, and now she wouldn’t even grant him a “Mr. Wentworth.” Blast it all.
“You really have no right to be. I had the agreement signed that you’d be up here for two weeks, and you will. They’ll put you back after that and life will resume.”
“Life? You call living in that dungeon life?” Huffily, she tossed herself onto the bed. “I’m not going back there. You said you’d talk to the king.”
“I can’t stand it down there. It’s terrible. I’m not. Going back.” She turned her head away from him. “Even if the king did sign some silly little contract, do you think he’s going to care about that if he thinks you’re guilty? If you’re guilty it could nullify it, and if they think I did something then I’ve breached the contract and am going back there immediately.”
Wentworth mopped at his face with a rag. “I am sorry for not taking you more seriously about Grite.”
Her eyes flashed up. “Yeah. Well.”
Pacing the room was too tedious. Wentworth slouched in front of his desk in defeat. “Do you really think they could convict me of this crime…?” he muttered to himself.
“Not if they have any brains. You have too much to lose by doing this; there is no clear purpose behind the crime; they’d have to be really, really unprofessional to not question Grite,” Emilia answered anyway.
Wentworth glanced at his desk. Someone had delivered the list of people in the dungeon, as he had requested. “Maybe it’s worth clearing my name then,” he murmured.
Emilia gently approached him and put her hands on his shoulders. “Is that the list?”
“Yes,” he said. “I mean—yes. Is there anyone in particular you’re looking for? And are you certain it will help?”
Emilia took the list and began skimming it. “He didn’t bring up anything about the dungeons when he accused you, which means that he wasn’t there for evidence. It’s worth checking out.”
“Now, Emilia, you need to be more open-minded—perhaps he was just curious about the area, or he was looking for evidence there but didn’t find any.”
She held up her hand to keep him quiet, and he sullenly obeyed.
Wentworth stared back at his desk, his vision blurring. He was not someone who enjoyed showing negative emotions, and he would not show them now. Newspaper clippings littered his desk. Useless. Of course they were. They had helped him in the past, with huge cases: he’d find an anomaly which related to the problem and see if something could be worked out. Maybe the case had been too little this time…
“There aren’t any guards with the last name ‘Lomne.’ I guess that would be too suspicious to visit a family member with the same last name, but still. The rest of the guards’ names mean nothing to me, without looking into each and every one of them. We don’t have time for that,” Emilia said, discarding part of the list.
“They said the questioning would be later today…and the confession, if they can get it out of me…” Wentworth scraped the clippings off his desk and into the trash can. “Useless,” he repeated at them.
Emilia glanced up from her list. “You’re not confessing to anything. And stop throwing out potential evidence. You never do that.”
“It has not been helpful and thus deserves its miserable bottom-of-a-trashcan grave.”
Laughing, Emilia discarded another part of the list. “You’re acting like a child, Mr. Wentworth. Pull yourself together.” And then, more seriously: “You’ve got a lot of big criminals on this list.”
“Don’t blame me. I didn’t lock them up,” he said, his head in his hands.
“Actually, some of them, you did.” She gestured toward the trashcan without looking up. “Now bring those clippings back, will you?”
Upending the trashcan on his desk, wrappers and clippings fluttered down everywhere. Emilia sighed and set her list down to help pick them up. She set them all neatly in piles with Wentworth carefully removing her nicely placed piles and reorganizing them.
“Wait!” she shouted.
Wentworth blinked at her. She had a clipping in her hand. The other side of it was just a wall of text. “What?” He got up too quickly, knocking over his chair. “Did you find something?”
“Tigermelon!” she exclaimed.
His face fell. “This is no time for jokes, Emilia.”
“I’m completely serious, Mr. Wentworth. You know how his name sounded unnatural? I just realized why. It’s an anagram.”
“An anagram for what?”
“For tigermelon!” She looked excited now, excited to turn out the information.
“But why in the world would he choose tigermelon for an anagram?”
“‘Tigermelon Prices Rising,’” she said. “Tigermelon. It’s been… there were traces of some sort of juice in the prince’s room, right? And nobody could identify it, because tigermelon is scarce right now. It’s ridiculously expensive. Look.”
“You think the juice was tigermelon juice?” Wentworth asked, accepting the article. It didn’t say anything special. “How does it correlate? Grite didn’t address it in his—”
“OH! Oh, Mr. Wentworth, you won’t believe this. I know who he is.”
Wentworth could have hugged her. “Who is he? Tell me! Is he someone we know? A known criminal? Someone who hasn’t been caught?”
“Now,” Emilia said, scouring her floor for her list, “is the interesting part. Because we were both there on the day that the informant came, right? And Grite offered to help with the case as though he knew the informant was done speaking. Which, honestly, was the first suspicious thing about him. But you know: familiarity with the sea. Scratch the desert part, because the desert can be reached by the sea, and someone who’s familiar with the sea could be familiar with everywhere else.”
“What are you getting at?” Wentworth asked. He loved this part of the case; the buildup of the answer, the anticipation surging through his veins. Of course, he usually liked to be the revealer of the information, but he had asked for Emilia’s help for a reason. She was competent.
“There’s a notorious pirate who was known for his obsession with tigermelon. You know, it’s like…like every pirate has a trademark, an eyepatch or something. And his trademark was tigermelon. He used to buy it all up whenever he touched land to let people know he was there. Yeah, he was quirky,” she said, in response to Wentworth’s obvious skepticism, “but he was clever. He got away with so many scams, so many things…”
Wentworth noted the admiration in her eyes and frowned at it. She still had a bit of that criminal in her, a longing for the old life.
“…and guess what, Mr. Wentworth? His name is on the list. Verris Oakley. That pirate is in the dungeon here. And guess what else, Mr. Wentworth?”
She grinned at him. Wentworth could not help but smile back.
“He had a son.”
To be continued…