Now with 50% more useless text Circulation: 196,005,623 Issue: 887 | 10th day of Sleeping, Y22
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series
 

The Case of the Vanishing Shopkeeper


by _polonius_

--------

     Candace the Weewoo tapped her wing idly over the messenger bag she carried, just to reassure herself that it was there. It was a little strange, of course, but she felt a little anxious and wanted to reassure herself that the bag (and it’s contents) were safe. She had gotten the strangest missive by post and she had tucked it away in her old bag … unopened. All-day long Candace had gone around delivering the mail and packages in Neovia and waited.

     Finally, as the sun set over the canal and the shops shuttered their windows Candace allowed herself to get excited. She, Candace, had a clue … well, she was pretty sure it was a clue.

     Candace busied herself collecting her things from the post office and double-tapped the bag again. She added in notepaper, a pen, and her research. She just hoped her friends would meet her at the shop. She really needed their help. Candace sighed and gathered her things. She had to try.

     Candace hurried along the Neovian cobblestones with brisk steps, her feet sure-footed and purposeful. Candace always had a strong sense of justice when she was small. Now, as she had grown those characteristics combined with a strong sense to do what was right for other Neopians. These traits had made quite formidable and determined.

     Candace set her smart sleuthing hat over one eyebrow as she walked. She did like to dress the part (thinking back to her postal cap back on a hook at the office), but at this stage, Candace felt sleuthing was the likely next step. She did really hope that her friends Paul and Marvin would be meeting her at the bakery. They had a lot to discuss.

     As she got nearer Candace felt strange. Her heart fluttered and she felt almost, dare she say fearful? There shouldn’t be a reason. She was just out of sorts was all. Candace looked behind her and saw nothing, but sped up anyway and got a tighter grip on her case. Just one more block.

     Suddenly between two large buildings a Nuk darted out and took hold of Candace’s arm, Candace was astonished. “Whatever is going on?” she exclaimed in a rush.

     “Hush,” the Nuk whispered sharply, “it isn’t safe.” Candace looked at him sideways.

     He looked quite rattled. Granted, the shopkeeper’s disappearance was news all over Neovia and some in Neopia Central had taken notice. After all, if such a thing could happen here in Neovia, well, it could happen elsewhere.

     In Neovia, this tiny cursed corner … a shopkeeper fading - just vanishing without a trace, what did it mean? Candace had searched for days, making a nuisance of herself, taking time off, asking questions. Finally given a mysterious clue. She wasn’t opening it until she and her friends could hear it at the same time.

     The Nuk had taken her arm and yanked her from one area to another and back through an alley. Dreams of a cup of tea and scones faded. Candace allowed herself to be a little sad. She loved her current and cranberry scones.

     Finally, they came to a small building near the canal. The Nuk set about searching his pockets and found a key. He fumbled into the tarnished lockset and unlocked the door. He gestured Candace inside while looking furtively over her shoulder down the darkening narrow street.

     Candace looked at him skeptically, but at this point, she figured she was deep in the mystery. She stepped into the room. The Nuk shut the door and leaned on it heavily, obviously relieved. Candace looked about the room. It was small and furnished sparsely, but looked kept up. There was a desk and table with worn armchairs in the corners. There was even a fireplace that had coals still burning with wood stacked nearby. There were papers and pens … all sorts of piles and piles of books. She was more and more puzzled by what was going on.

     “It’s been hard to get to you,” he said.

     “Really?” Candace asked, puzzled. She knew that she herself had been out and about Neovia all day so she wasn’t sure why it’d be difficult to get to her if someone was trying to.

     “I’m Mr. Monteblue,” the Nuk said. He removed a pair of spectacles from his waistcoat and polished them as he crossed to a small cabinet. “I’ve been looking into the disappearance of the Crumpetmonger last Tuesday afternoon.” Mr. Monteblue withdrew a stack of papers as Candace edged forward. Candace’s mouth opened in exclamation … so she wasn’t the only one searching.

     “I’ve seen and heard you about,” Mr. Monteblue said, “I thought I’d wait and see if you were able to get better answers than I got.” Candace narrowed her eyes.

     “I see.” Candace wasn’t happy. She had thought that she was alone in her investigations. It would have been nice to have had a partner this whole time. A partner who didn’t think she was just overreacting and being silly. Some of the people she spoke to just had thought that the Crumpetmonger had taken a holiday. Candace knew that wasn’t true though - the shop was in disarray and the Crumpetmonger was particular about her shop. She would never have left it like that if going on a holiday. Candace eyed Mr. Monteblue and his superior little spectacles and waistcoat. Who did this Nuk think he was. Her feathers ruffled irritably.

     Suddenly a large oversized Doglefox shoved his way into the room. The Nuk appeared to be unsurprised, but Candace was surprised. She thought that the door was locked and that they were alone. This whole business had her completely out of sorts.

     The Doglefox snarled impatiently, “Monteblue, the shopkeeps at Prigpants are fine - nothing amiss there. There’s something wrong with that Mynci though.” The Doglefox waved offhandedly seeming annoyed. Monteblue nodded at the Doglefox.

     “Indeed, Mr. Swolthy is a little off-putting at the best of times … but he does sell some charming monocles.” Monteblue polished his glasses a little more in a wistful fashion.

     “Honestly,” Candace exclaimed. “Who are YOU?” She was on the verge of irritation at this point. She had places to be, a clue to unravel, her friends were waiting. Mr. Monteblue starting pulling papers from a small desk.

     “I’m Gus,” the Doglefox replied. “I work with Monteblue here … whenever he needs me. Mainly with this disappearance stuff. Nasty business.” Gus shook his shaggy head in a disgusted fashion and threw himself into the armchair near the fireplace.

     “Take a look at these, “ Monteblue shoved the papers towards her. Candace spread them out carefully over the desk. It appeared to be notes and photos about other disappearances. Most of them centered in Neovia, but some from Neopia Central. All of the individuals had visited Bart at the Apple Bobbing Tank more than once Monteblue had deduced. Candace thought quickly as she scanned the documents and photos. This was important information. Far more important than keeping a clue to herself. She reached for her bag and opened the flap.

     “I received this today,” she started. “A message from someone who said it was about the Crumpetmonger. I was going to wait until I was with my friends. To get some help with the clue. I hope it’s a clue anyway. However, I think we should look at it together.”

     Mr. Monteblue leaned forward, “You did? How odd. Do you know who sent it?”

     “No, I don’t. It came with a note.” Candace pulled the small parcel out. On top was a note that said. ‘To help you with your case’. The parcel was wrapped in simple twine. Candace reluctantly handed it to Monteblue, but she was quite excited to see what was in it. Monteblue unwrapped it eagerly and Gus rose from the chair and came over to look.

     “Poor Mrs. Crumpetmonger. I do hope this is something that will help bring her back home where she belongs,” Gus said, leaning over the desk.

     “It’s a … book??” Monteblue exclaimed. “Unexplained Disappearance … by Neovian Press. Well, this isn’t a big surprise. This supports the Bart theory. They went Apple Bobbing and something happened to cause them to vanish.”

     “Or it could be as simple as a vanishing potion,” Candace proposed. “We can’t really rule that out. Although, the Apple Bobbing theory does seem tempting. We can’t jump to conclusions. Lots of people go visit Bart after all. Have you spoken with Bart yet? What does he have to say about all this?”

     Monteblue was taken aback. “Spoken to him? Well, no. I don’t particularly wish to go there. What if I vanish?”

     Candace couldn’t help herself. She broke out into peals of laughter and had a hard time stopping. “Really? Is that why you were following me about? You want me to do the questioning and the disappearing if it comes to it?” She laughed again. “That’s quite funny.” She looked at both of them with fresh eyes. Here she had thought that she was just a little Weewoo playing at investigation when in truth she had been doing a good job of it all along … these petpets were just following her footsteps the whole time.

     “Here’s what I think we need to do,” she began. She spread out the notes, the book, and a fresh sheet of paper. Candace wrote the number one at the top of the blank sheet. “First, we need to go through this book and make notes …second we need to go see Bart …” She held up her wing as Monteblue began making noises of protest. “I’ll go in first and you and Gus can watch my back just in case. “Third, we need to go to the potion shop in Meridell and ask about the Vanishing Potion. Find out how it works and if it can be reversed. Kayla should know.”

     “Oh, and if they sold any recently,” Monteblue interrupted.

     “Good thinking,” Candace answered as she finished the list. “Who can start on the notes from the book? Shall we do it together?”

     They agreed that together was the better choice. So together it was. Candace, Monteblue, and Gus stayed up late into the night going through the book, their notes, and making more notes into disappearances and vanishings trying to make sense of it all. In the end, though most people reappeared. Candace was stumped. The Crumpetmonger had been gone for 4 days now … Candace wasn’t sure if they should be worried or if maybe the Crumpetmonger had stumbled onto a potion she shouldn’t have or if Bart had given her a prize that wasn’t so great and it was a temporary side effect. Personally, most Neovians steered clear of Apple Bobbing Bart, but it seemed as if the Crumpetmonger visited regularly. Candace sighed … well, they’d find out in the morning when they visited him.

     When the sun peeked over the canal Candace, Monteblue, and Gus headed out to see Bart. He wasn’t known to be a morning person, but Candace thought it was best to keep all questioning done in the daylight … just to be safe.

     Bart wasn’t super happy to have early visitors, especially visitors that weren’t going to bob for apples. Candace was adamant that no one in their party participate, although Gus thought he might want to give it a try. Candace told him in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t allow it - after all they were on a case. He could come back later if he wanted to take his chances.

     Bart was a shyster in Candace’s eyes, selling dreams of riches and giving out prizes that were often not as advertised. She wasn’t fooled. From his patched trousers, ratty gloves, and the gleam in his eyes she was on guard … even if she thought him sort of charming in his own way (not that she’d admit it to anyone).

     “Hello Mr. Bart,” Candace began. Bart raised an eyebrow at her.

     “It’s just Bart.” He threw her a wink and tipped his hat. Candace gave him a hard look.

     “Fine then.” She drew in a deep breath. She was nervous. “Bart.” She steadied herself and pulled out a photo of the Crumpetmonger and showed it to him. He looked at the photo and then back at her. Then he looked over her shoulder at Monteblue and Gus (who were trying very hard not to be noticed). There was a long pause. Candace looked over her shoulder at Monteblue and Gus who looked like they were trying to blend into the wall behind them. They were shuffling their feet and in general being very unhelpful. “Well?” Candace prodded.

     “Well, what?” Bart replied. Leaning back against his “Bob For Apples” sign and crossing his boots. He stuck a toothpick in his mouth. “The Crumpetmonger - what about her?”

     “She’s missing …” Candace leaned in a little. “Do YOU know anything about that?”

     “It’s not Apple Strudel day yet - so no.” Bart uncrossed is feet and moved over to the barrel and leaned over it staring at his reflection for a moment. Candace waited to see if he would say anything else. Apple Strudel day? She was thinking back to the Crumpetmonger’s pastry schedule. She was pretty sure that the Crumpetmonger just made strudel once a week - was it Tuesdays?

     “She came to visit you though. Last week and then she hasn’t been seen since,” Candace persisted. It was pretty close to a hard accusation. She felt fairly bad about it because she really didn’t have much proof, but it was the truth. The Crumpetmonger was seen on Tuesday coming to Bart’s and then after that … nothing. Bart turned around - the gleam in his eye had hardened to a decided glare.

     “Are you accusing me of harming her in some way? I wouldn’t do that.” Bart didn’t seem to take kindly to Candace’s accusation. She thought about taking it back but squared her shoulders.

     “She was seen coming here,” she persisted.

     “It’s true that she came to see me on Tuesday. Tuesday is strudel day and she knows that strudel is my favorite. I do business you see - with the Crumpetmonger. She doesn’t always use all her apples. I take some off her hands you see. She makes some of my cakes for prizes, gingerbread, muffins, cookies, the strudel is for me though,” he winked at Candace. “I love the strudel. So if she’s missing that isn’t good for business. Not to mention, I like her … she’s always been kind to me … doesn’t judge. Unlike some.” There was a clear emphasis on the some Candace was sure for her benefit.

     “I see.” she didn’t really but wasn’t sure what else to say. It was hard to picture the cheery Crumpetmonger coming to do business with Bart; however, it wasn’t her place to say in the end. “Well, do you have any ideas on how or why she could have vanished or gone missing?” Candace threw the last out desperately.

     “She did say something about a delivery to Meridel when she last saw me,” Bart said. “Have you checked there?”

     Candace’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Really?” Candace whirled to Monteblue and Gus. “Meridell!” She said in a rush. “Thank you! You’ve been very helpful! Come on … we’ve got to go.”

     “Hurry up and find her. I’ve got prizes to give out. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out,” Bart called out as the trio rushed from the tent.

     Candace couldn’t believe it. This whole time it was a potion from Meridell. Maybe Kayla at the Potion Shop could tell them something. Poor Crumpetmonger … hopefully, they could undo the potion. She wondered where she was at - was she just wandering around aimlessly? It had been days since she had disappeared and the potion hadn’t worn off yet.

     Candace was glad they started early. It was late by the time they made it to Kayla’s Potion Shop in Meridell. They had had to go through the Gypsy Camp at the edge of the Deserted Fairground and make some (in her mind) shady dealings in order to get to the potion shop in a timely fashion; however, they made it.

     Kayla was busy behind the counter with her potion bottles and once again Monteblue and Gus seemed to hold themselves back and wait for Candace to go forward with the questioning. Candace pulled out the photo that she had of the Crumpetmonger and went to the counter.

     “Hello, Kayla. How are you today?” Candace began. “I was wondering if you’d seen the Crumpetmonger recently?” Candace slid the photo onto the counter.

     Kayla picked up the photo of the Crumpetmonger and looked noticeably concerned. “Hi, Candace. How’s Neovia? Well, yes I saw her on Tuesday. She came to drop off my order of scones that I typically get from her. She does make the best scones.”

     “Neovia is okay. Missing a shopkeeper.” Candace paused for a moment and tried to look stern. “She certainly does make the best scones. I love the ones with the currents.” Candace did love the current scones so it was a genuine statement; however, she was guarded. Kayla looked wary and Candace wasn’t sure why. Buying scones from another land wasn’t a crime so she had no reason to look guilty. Unless ….

     “She typically doesn’t buy anything from the shop,” Kayla continued to Candace’s relief.

     “Oh?” Candace began. “What was different this time? You aren’t in any trouble Kayla. We are just trying to find her. To help her.” Kayla was tracing the wood grain of the counter without looking up.

     “Well, you might change your mind after you hear what I have to say.” Kayla had a guilty expression. Monteblue and Gus took a step forward. Candace put her bag on the counter and drew out a piece of paper with her notes and looked over them again. It appeared that the other shopkeepers who had vanished also had visited Kayla previously as well as Bart. Candace couldn’t believe they had missed it. “It was an accident,” Kayla continued. “I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

     “I believe you,” Candace nodded. She wasn’t sure what Kayla was referring to, but she did believe that whatever it was Kayla was sincere. Much to her annoyance, she could see that Monteblue and Gus had backed up again. “Can you explain what happened or where the Crumpetmonger is?”

     “She’s in the kitchen. Baking.” Kayla gestured towards the stairs in the back of the shop that led towards the living quarters. “The thing is … she’s still invisible.”

     “Oh, oh. I see.” Candace did see. A vanishing potion or an invisibility potion that Kayla had made by accident had caused all this. What a disaster.

     “I’ve been working to fix it. She should reappear on her own by tomorrow at the latest, but the potion fell from the work station while she was here. I was experimenting on the last batch of antidote when she came in with my order. I had been making a potion last month and stumbled upon a Vanishing Potion.” Kayla was talking in a rush now. Candace thought perhaps it was a relief to get everything out of the way “Very useful of course; however, it isn’t useful if you can’t UNDO the potion. It has to be reversible. So, I’ve been working on that and there have been some setbacks. I’ve had friends who volunteered to test it. Shopkeepers that I know. The Crumpetmonger wasn’t part of my test circle though.”

     “So the other disappearances. Those weren’t reported by anyone because they were all gone only for about three days. It appeared that they were on holiday. So those were all planned. Friend of yours?” Candace looked at the small list. It all made perfect sense.

     “Right. They made sure to make arrangements for someone to watch their shops. Fyora, Kauvara, Tarla … these are all Neopians who know how potions need to work. The Crumpetmonger wasn’t part of the test group. That wasn’t part of the plan. She did kindly offer to bake while she waited for it to wear off. She wasn’t cross about it. Said she understood experimentation. I am very sorry.” Kayla peered over at Monteblue and Gus and looked like she was going to ask about them and then changed her mind.

     “So I guess that solves the mystery then.” Candace collected her things from the counter briskly, while being careful not to touch anything else. While she understood experimentation, she didn’t want to disappear either. She knew Kayla was sorry, but she also didn’t think Kayla could help herself either. “We just need to check in with the Crumpetmonger. You say she’ll be visible and back to work by tomorrow or tomorrow afternoon?” Candace asked.

     “Yes, that’s right. Today maybe. The bottle that was knocked over was quite large so it has taken a little longer than normal. I’m closer to the antidote, but she’ll reappear on her own before I’m done.” Kayla paused, “I’m terribly sorry to have troubled you and to have deprived you of your baker.”

     Candace smiled lightly. “Well, I’m just happy to have solved the mystery. I’ll go check in with the Crumpetmonger for a moment and perhaps see if there is a spare scone.” She winked at Kayla.

     Candace, Monteblue, and Gus (who still seemed to be waiting for something to bite them, drop, or otherwise harm them) went up the stairs to find scones, pies, tarts, cookies, and all sorts of baked goods piled high on the counters. While they couldn’t quite see the Crumpetmonger, there was a vague outline fading in and out in the middle of the kitchen surrounding what Candace was sure was the Crumpetmonger.

     “Oh hello dear,” the Crumpetmonger said genially. “Did you miss your scones? I have plenty.”

     Candace’s heart leapt. She had solved the mystery and she was going to get scones after all. It was a good day.

     The End.

 
Search the Neopian Times




Great stories!


---------

A Shattered Confession:Part Three
All eyes were on the back doors of the courtroom as they opened with an echoing boom. A straight beam of sunlight practically split the courtroom in half as Sylvana slowly entered, escorted by two towering knights, a draik and a bori.

by fallingdaybreak

---------

Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Nine
“Wait a moment, Or’, start again from the top. Erin was what?” It was Keon who first spoke when he stepped out of the kitchen with a steaming quiche in his hands. He set it on the table, where Orlitz, Iskeen, and Elva were seated.

by josephinefarine

---------

Head in the Clouds: Legends and Letters
The perks of having two leaders...

by yoshisislandbandit

---------

Chaos Causers: Adventful Schemes
Adventful? Get it! Oh... you must not be a big fan of portmanteaus

by huntercn



Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.