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The Case of the Missing Acara


by sunbathr

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[i]Ada the Transparent Blumaroo investigates the disappearance of a Green Acara…[/i]

     It took about fifteen minutes of knocking before Edward answered his door.

     "Good morning," I said.

     "Wah?" The bleary-eyed blue Quiggle rubbed his face, sagging against the doorway.

     "It’s nine in the morning," I informed Edward pleasantly, handing him a cup of coffee.

     He stared at the coffee. "Wh...what?"

     "Here you are." I handed him a scone as well.

     "What...is this?"

     "This is an apology," I said. "And an invitation."

     His eyes focused. He looked down at the scone in his hand, brows drawn together, as if confused as to where it had come from, then up at me, and gulped. "You...you look...ah...Would you like to borrow a comb?"

     "No."

     "A mirror, perhaps?"

     I smiled. "We can discuss my hair later."

     He grimaced. "Do we have to? Wait a moment – an apology?" His jaw grew slack. "Waking me up at nine in the morning is your idea of an apology? And – what are you even apologizing – " He stopped, eyes widening, and lowered his voice dramatically. "You searched her rooms. You searched Sophie's suite and you found something. I knew that Grarrl was up to something!"

     I nodded. "Something like that. Could you grab your coat? We have places to be."

     Not ten minutes later, we exited Avalon Lodging House. Edward began to stroll down the road that wound down the hill into the neighbouring locale, but I pulled him aside.

     "No," I said. "We’re following the stream."

     "Alright," Edward mumbled through a mouthful of scone. "But why?"

     I glanced over my shoulder, toward the lodging house. "I’ll tell you in a bit," I said. "When we’re further away."

     Edward wagged his eyebrows. "A secret! I love secrets."

     We followed the stream down the hill and toward the woods in relative silence. The stream flowed, uninterrupted, until we entered a thicket of trees, where the bed became rocky and the water wound back in a curved pattern.

     "We’re far enough away now," Edward said. "Is there a reason we’re following a random stream into the forest?"

     I nodded. "Because I think you’re right. I think Sophie was trying to hide something the night she arrived, and I think you interrupted her, so she had to dispose of whatever it was quickly."

     "So...are we making our way to some sort of massive rubbish dump to search for her trash?"

     "No," I laughed. "We’re following the stream to find my hair ribbon."

     Edward rocked back on his heels. "...Right. Are you, ah, sure you don’t want to go back to the lodging house and get some sleep? You were up all night, I’m guessing…"

     I grinned. I couldn’t help it; I always felt excited when a case picked up like this. Things were getting interesting.

     "I searched her rooms and found nothing, but there should have been – by my calculations – at least five thousand neopoints worth of something."

     "What do you mean?"

     I explained what I had discovered last night, briefing him on the eight thousand neopoints that had been missing, and how Sophie had apparently stopped for an extended shopping spree before arriving at the lodging house.

     "The clothes only accounted for three thousand neopoints worth of purchases," I said. "So there’s something worth five thousand neopoints that she needed to hide. You interrupted her when she was arriving, so I don’t think she had a chance to hide it in her suite. I searched the place and found nothing. I think she disposed of whatever it was...by tossing it out her window, right into the stream below."

     Edward nodded along.

     "When I was leaving her parlour this morning, I tossed my hair ribbon into the stream from her window as well. I checked below her window this morning; the water is shallow there, and nothing unusual was below the surface. If she threw something out the window, we’ll find it wherever my ribbon is."

     "Unless she took whatever it was out of the water already," Edward said.

     I nodded in agreement.

     "And you think this has something to do with your case? With Belle’s disappearance?" he asked.

     "It's an avenue worth exploring," I said. "It's possible this is entirely unrelated from the case, but my client is lying to me about something, and I need to know why. I still intend to pursue my original hypothesis. Belle didn't show up to steal the money last night, but she might tonight."

     "You will sleep at some point, right?"

     I laughed.

     Edward frowned.

     "The ribbon is bright red," I said.

     He nodded, and the two of us split up, searching the shallows for stones or outcroppings of dirt or roots that the ribbon may have caught on.

     The sun was directly overhead by the time I heard Edward's shout.

     "Over here!"

     He was nearly a dozen yards away. I rushed to the bend of the stream he stood over. Fluttering in the water was a red ribbon, caught on a large branch. The branch had formed a small dam in the water's flow, catching twigs and dried leaves.

     "That's it, right?" Edward asked.

     I nodded, reaching down to untangle the ribbon from the branch.

     "Do you see anything else?"

     I rolled up my sleeves and cleared away some of the leaves and twigs. Edward fetched another branch, and I stepped aside as he began to use it to clear away some of the mud.

     I let out a sharp breath. "Stop! There!"

     Peeking out from beneath the dirt was a piece of fabric. Edward set the branch aside, and grasped the fabric, gingerly tugging it out from within the mound of dirt and leaves. A drawstring bag emerged. He set it upon the stream's bank, and looked at me.

     "Care to do the honours?"

     I knelt and opened the bag. We both looked within. Nestled upon a bed of rags was a gleaming, empty glass bottle.

     Edward let out a low whistle. "So," he said, "we're going into town to ask the apothecary about that, right?"

     I nodded. "Right after I take a nap."

     "A nap?" Edward rose to his feet, outraged. "On the cusp of discovery? You want to take a nap?"

     I yawned. "Weren't you encouraging me to get some sleep just an hour or so ago?"

     "Yes," Edward said, "but that was before we were on the cusp of discovery."

     I succumbed to another yawn and chuckled. "Discovery will have to wait a bit."

     ~

     I rose, refreshed, after two hours of rest.

     I had lain in bed a full half hour before succumbing to sleep, as ideas raced through my mind. The empty bottle lay at the crux of all this. I considered and abandoned a dozen different theories on what may have been contained within it, piecing each possibility into the rest of the narrative to see if it fit.

     An idea regarding the bottle had begun to take shape in my mind – a new theory regarding the case. It was so outlandish that I wasn’t ready to inform Edward, but the scattered pieces we had collected of the night that Sophie had arrived were beginning to coalesce into something hazy, yet concrete.

     Her late arrival, the mistaken time in the guest book...The presence of a Green Acara in the town a month prior...her shopping spree prior to her arrival, and the bottle, that in all likelihood had been tossed from her window – and quite recently, since it was still intact. It was beginning to fall together into a narrative so bizarre that I decided to keep it to myself until I could speak it with confidence.

     I was as eager as Edward to proceed with the investigation, awash with excitement, but a short rest had been necessary. I had slept from nearly six in the morning to eight, but our morning excursion into the woods had left me fatigued. I was fairly humming with nervous energy when I descended the stairs to meet Edward in the main parlour. He had the bag we’d discovered in the woods stuffed under his coat to avoid suspicion should Sophie come downstairs.

     "Finally," Edward groaned when I entered. "Let’s go."

     I grinned, not shaken by his frustration. I could understand his impatience, and even shared in it. I typically worked cases alone. Edward had somehow become my de facto partner in this one, and I was surprised to discover I enjoyed working the case with him, and sharing its excitement.

     We exited the house and set out once again down the hill, this time following the path in the direction of the neighbouring buildings clustered at its base.

     Edward eyed me as we strolled down the path. "I see you’ve procured a new hair ribbon. It’s impressive that one small ribbon is all that stands between you and the, er, look you were sporting this morning."

     I didn’t dignify that with a response.

     Martha had given me a new ribbon, insisting that this colour – a pale pink – would compliment my complexion. I’d refrained from pointing out the obvious to the Elderly Aisha. I was a Transparent Blumaroo. I had no complexion.

     Edward ploughed ahead, disregarding my silence. "So," he said, "any new theories on the case, or on how this business with Sophie might be connected to it?"

     I hesitated only for a moment. "No."

     I wasn’t ready to share my idea yet. Putting something so outlandish into words didn’t feel right; I needed more evidence first. If my idea was correct, he was about to find out, anyway.

     The streets were nearly deserted, and we passed only a few pedestrians as we went – those that we did pass, Edward greeted by name. When I had first arrived, I had noted a small, rundown shop advertising itself as an apothecary in the locale; that was our destination now.

     The bottle we had discovered within the bag had borne no obvious marking, but it was shaped similarly to vials commonly sold in apothecaries. It was our best lead regarding the missing five thousand neopoints, which was why our current course of action was to visit the local apothecary and attempt to determine whether the bottle had been procured there, and if so, what may have originally been in it. The apothecary down the hill was directly on the path that Sophie would have had to travel from the bank to reach the lodging house, which also made this particular store a likely contender for the bottle’s place of purchase.

     I had an idea of why Sophie might find it necessary to smuggle a bottle into the lodging house under cover of darkness. Typically, a bottle would be easy to conceal, but if my inkling was right, discovering the old contents of this bottle would point toward an even more intriguing secret.

     There was also the possibility that Sophie’s midnight arrival to the lodging house had been insignificant to the case, or there was something else – something besides the bottle – that had warranted it.

     The walk to the apothecary was short, and we arrived within a quarter hour. The shop was small, and dwarfed between two larger buildings, it’s door covered in flaking red paint. An ill-used sign hanging on a rusting chain above the door advertised the store as "Alberta’s Apothecary".

     "Wait," I said, catching Edward's sleeve as he reached for the door handle. "Give me the bag."

     "Why?"

     "We need to approach this situation with finesse."

     Edward frowned. "And you doubt my ability to do that?"

     "Yes."

     Edward chuckled and handed me the bag.

     "What do you know about Alberta?" I asked. Edward had proclaimed that he knew everyone in the locale. That knowledge would now come in handy.

     Edward’s brow furrowed. "She’s a Mutant Chomby...She set up shop here ages ago and never left." He hesitated, then lowered his voice before continuing. "She does have Thieves Guild dealings, so she’s quite tight-lipped. Barging in and asking whether that bottle was purchased at her shop is definitely the wrong tactic."

     I nodded. "Follow my lead."

     Edward smirked. "Of course."

     I paused as I reached for the handle. "Is there something you’re not telling me?"

     Edward’s eyes widened and he shook his head, the very picture of innocence.

     I pushed open the door.

 
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