Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 197,486,709 Issue: 985 | 16th day of Relaxing, Y25
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Mae's Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Necklace


by satintiger

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Mae felt that even if she wasn't already aware of what pagoda Casara was staying in, she could've easily picked it out from all the pagodas on the mountain. It was several stories tall, with roofs a bright shade of cherry red and curtains made of golden silk. The lawn was overflowing with beautiful flowers and trees bursting with cherry blossoms.

     Jazz music was playing quietly in the garden behind the pagoda. Mae walked carefully down the stone path, following the sound of the music. The garden was adorned with many pieces of stone garden furniture and large statues, all starting to grow hints of moss. The air around her smelled of flowers and freshly cut grass. She felt herself relax a little at the serenity of the grounds.

     It took her a second to notice that Casara was there. She sat with her long legs stretched out in front of her on one of the stone benches by a fountain that was bubbling with glistening water. A small radio was next to her -- the source of the jazz music -- and she had her eyes closed, her head leaned back against the statue behind her. Mae was so caught up in the elegance of the sight in front of her that she couldn't get a word out.

     "Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to come sit?" Casara said suddenly, her eyes still closed.

     Mae coughed as the colour crept into her cheeks. "O-Oh, I'm sorry, I was just taking in the beauty of the garden. It's magnificent."

     Casara opened her eyes lazily, and rolled her head to look towards Mae. "Mary, was it?"

     "Mae," she corrected, starting to walk closer.

     "Yes, Mae, of course. How could I forget? Your uncle hardly shuts up about you." She closed her eyes again. "What do you want?"

     Mae's blush deepened. Normally she would be flattered to hear that her uncle spoke of her so frequently, but something about the way Casara said it made her suddenly self-conscious. "I'm... wondering if you would be okay with talking about what happened last night."

     Casara reached a hand down and switched the radio off. "Sure, why not? It certainly was exciting, wasn't it? A famous necklace goes missing during a dinner party. It's just like a book."

     Mae nodded in agreement. "Yes, I was hoping you could tell me if you noticed anything strange last night."

     The Aisha snorted. "Stranger than a priceless piece of jewellery disappearing into thin air?"

     Mae could tell her face was getting so red she looked like she was painted Strawberry. "Other than that. Like anything anyone might've said or did that seemed suspicious."

     At that, Casara swung her legs off the bench and sat up. "Playing detective, are we? That's cute. Come with me."

     Several minutes later, Mae found herself inside the pagoda's tearoom with Casara, seated on a pillow at a low circular table. The room was fairly empty, aside from some bonsai trees by the windows and many handpainted scrolls on the walls. She could hear the gentle rush of the spring breeze and the tinkling of wind chimes in the distance. A plate of cheeses and berries along with a pot of Aquaberry tea were on the table between Mae and Casara. "Help yourself," Casara said, waving a hand. "I had it prepared yesterday but it all still should be adequate enough. Now, what did you want to ask me, Super Sleuth?"

     "Well," Mae started slowly, taking one of the berries off the plate and popping it in her mouth. "I've been trying to talk to everyone who was there. I think it had to be someone at the party. Can you remind me of your own movements around the time of the theft?"

     Casara laughed. "Sure thing, sweetie. I think I can help cross my own name off the suspect list. I never had the chance to steal the jewels."

     Mae tilted her head. "Khadi-Ra said something to that effect as well."

     Casara sat back and crossed legs. A lock of her hair fell forward gracefully into her face, and she flicked it backwards. "Oh, did he?"

     Mae nodded. "Yes, when I saw him earlier, he mentioned how you and I are really the only ones who couldn't have done it."

     "Right. So we all saw the Heart of the Sun together, and we all went to the gallery together. That stupid chef broke my glass. Everyone went bananas. After dinner, I had to step outside to get some air after watching the knight and Khadi trip over themselves to act so very gallantly about me having Neopia's smallest cut on my hand from the glass." Sarcasm dripped from her voice as the last few words spilt out of her mouth. "When I came back in, Psylina had just made her big entrance sputtering about the necklace."

     "You're right," Mae said thoughtfully. "Khadi-Ra told me as much."

     Casara shrugged. "Rarely when I'm at a dinner party does it cross my mind to commit a crime. Although I do think those jewels would look great on me." She laughed softly and ran her hand distractedly across her collarbone.

     "How do you know my uncle?" Mae asked. "I don't think he ever told me."

     "Oh, Jovron? We met at an auction. I was there looking at some jewellery, and I believe he was there looking for anything interesting that he could get his wings on. He was sitting in the seat next to mine. He nearly spent a small fortune on an item I knew to be worthless, and I whispered as much to him before he could place his final bid. So he treated me to lunch afterwards as a thank you, and now he stops by to see me any time he's in Meridell."

     Mae smiled. Even at times like this, she loved hearing stories about her uncle. "He said you're a member of King Skaarl's personnel. What exactly is it that you do?" she continued.

     Casara smirked. "Oh, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I'm a secretary to the King. But my real value," she leaned forward, the same lock of hair falling back into her face, "is that I know everything."

     Her statement caught Mae offguard. Noticing Mae's blank stare, Casara giggled. "When you're a secretary, you hear a lot. I'm surrounded by people all day, from Neopia's nobody to the highest of the elite. People talk without thinking about who might be listening, and King Skaarl likes to hear the scuttlebutt, even if he'd never admit to it. I'd either met or at least seen everyone at your uncle's party before."

     "Really?" Mae perked up. "Everyone?"

     Another giggle escaped the Aisha's lips. "Mmhmm. Take Psylina for example. She's been to see the King before." She leaned a little farther forward, and lowered her voice. "About money. I think her family's going broke. Sounds like her daddy spends a little too much time at the Cheat table, if you know what I mean. She stopped in a few months ago with some proposition that would end with her getting funding from the King."

     Mae exhaled. A priceless necklace would certainly help recover a once-gilded family from ruin. "Is that right...?" she said, trailing off.

     "That artsy-fartsy Lutari is no saint either," Casara whispered.

     "Khadi-Ra?"

     "Really, it's the handsome ones you need to be careful of." Casara moved the lock of hair back into its place behind her ear. "Khadi-Ra and I have known each other for a long time. You know he's not really from Qasala? We lived in the same neighbourhood for a little while growing up. He's got the whole Desert act down, but he's as Qasalan as me or you."

     "Does that matter?" Mae asked uneasily.

     Casara shrugged airily again. "Who knows? You're the detective, you tell me. The guy is really convincing at putting on an act, that's all I'm saying. And he'd certainly know where to get rid of a priceless heirloom, what with his art 'business' and all."

     This was the second time Mae had heard someone calling Khadi-Ra's integrity as an art dealer into question. She frowned.

     Casara studied Mae for a moment, then tilted her chin upwards and looked down her nose at Mae. "Sure, he's cute, isn't he? Makes you want to believe whatever he tells you," she said with a wink.

     This was the deepest Mae had felt herself blush all day. "N-No, it's just that--"

     The Aisha laughed loudly. "It's okay, It's just us girls! I simply know for a fact that Khadi-Ra is okay with breaking rules to get what he wants. We used to have race together all the time when we were little and I never won once. He always claimed he was just faster than me, but I think even way back then he was cheating. Be careful if you buy art from him -- you might get a knock on your door from the Defenders."

     "Do you know anything about him getting caught selling forged pieces of art?" Mae asked.

     Casara's eyebrows raised for a second, but then she smirked. "Oh, you heard about that, did you? Yes, it sounds like Khadi may be in some hot water. Although, I believe he claims it never happened. Completely denies it, pretends he has no clue what you're talking about, all that. It's entirely possible it was an accident. He's a good guy deep down, really, but even good guys can do bad things." She shrugged.

     Mae made a mental note of what Casara had told her so far. "What about Sir Palomir?"

     Casara scoffed. "That boring old fuddy-duddy. I've never seen someone who takes themselves so seriously. Yes, he's been to the castle and around Meridell many times. The King and King Hagan throw these parties a couple of times a year for Neopian knights where they all sit around and toot their own horns about how chivalrous they all are."

     "Right, I think he mentioned that." Mae lifted her paw to her head and rubbed her temple. The information Casara was giving her was definitely very helpful to her, but it seemed that it was opening almost too many doors in her investigation.

     "Could've been an inside job, too," Casara said flippantly, opening her eyes.

     "What?!" Mae sputtered, startled. "An inside job?"

     "No offence intended, dear, but you know your uncle. Like I told you before, I almost watched him lose a lot on a piece of garbage. Maybe that finally happened and he needed to make up for it. So when this priceless necklace fell into his lap and he knew he couldn't sell it honestly, he staged a burglary to make it look like it was stolen. Then he's free to sell it on the black market while everyone else is pointing fingers trying to figure out where it went."

     The colour now fully drained from Mae's face and she felt her mouth rapidly dry out. She hadn't thought to consider a possibility like that. But she quickly dismissed it, shaking her head. "No, Uncle Jov wouldn't do something like that. I know it. He's careless and maybe a little irresponsible, sure, but he's not a criminal."

     Casara tossed her hair and sat back. "If you say so. Besides, I think it was probably the cook."

     "Tadriel?" Mae said. "If Sir Palomir said he met Tadriel at one of King Skaarl's parties, does that mean you know him too?"

     "Yup, sure do. Not well, though. He's catered dinners here and there in Meridell, and I know he's been a chef for the wealthy all over Neopia. I hear he loves to show off how well-travelled he is with his cooking and only cooks dishes from places he's worked recently. King Skaarl found out about him from King Hagan, who found out about him from some other rich person, I think in Faerieland. Apparently, he's in very high demand. I don't know if I see the appeal since he quite literally dropped a drink into my lap, but even I have to admit his food is out of this world."

     "Uncle Jov thinks he's the one who stole the Heart of the Sun too, though I'm not sure how he would've found out about it. My uncle is adamant that nobody knew," Mae explained.

     Casara tilted her head to the side and closed her eyes, thinking. "Even if he didn't know, he could've seen the necklace after your uncle showed us and decided he needed a little extra change in his pocket. That grin of his is a little toothy for my liking. You should look more into him."

     "I suppose so," Mae sighed.

     The Aisha reached her hands up above her head with a yawn, stretching. "You sure you don't want some of this?" She gestured at the cheeseboard on the table in front of them. Mae declined politely. "Well, anyway," Casara continued, "I think you missed something."

     Mae looked down at the cheeseboard. "No, I'm just not very hungry."

     Casara stared at her for a second, then threw her head back and howled with laughter. "Not the food, Mae! In your investigation!"

     Mae physically recoiled, and her eyes grew to the size of saucers. "What?"

     Casara stood up from her chair and strolled idly over to the window looking out into the garden. "If you're in your uncle's gallery and left to go to the bathroom, which rooms would you pass?"

     "Which rooms would I--" Mae started. She thought back to the layout of her uncle's mansion, and the many times she herself had walked down that same hallway to that same bathroom.

     Suddenly, it hit her. The excitement rushed through her so powerfully she jumped straight out of her chair, knocking it backwards onto the floor.

     "You've been really helpful, Casara. Thanks again," Mae quickly as she made her way towards the door.

     Casara stayed at the window looking outwards. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, Super Sleuth."

To be continued…

 
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» Mae's Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Necklace
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