The Mysterious Case of the Missing Skeith: Part One
Also by fuliguline
Author's Note: This series was inspired by the Neodeck entries for Shylock Usulski and her partner, Grotson. (Rather tragically, we misread the Neodeck card and initially wrote the entire story with Shylock as a boy. This was hastily rectified, although not without the horrified shedding of many bewildered tears.) Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoy!
It was a sluggish spring night, the kind that made your skin start to prickle and your mind dream of rain. In the distance, a brown Cybunny walked nervously down the sidewalk before pausing in front of a shabby address. There it was, just like they told her.
221B Crumpetmonger Street. A faded brass knocker hung in the doorway, the image almost completely discolored from decades of decay.
The Cybunny lifted her hand, then paused. Was this really the right address? Here, in this run-down hovel?
Before she could knock, the door suddenly opened, and a small yellow Usul stood silhouetted in the frame. Although nothing was too striking about the Usul initially, a closer inspection revealed an air of considerable alertness and decision. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the Usul were her eyes, decided the Cybunny. Alternatively sharp and indolent, they seemed to take in everything and divulge nothing. It was a feeling akin to being inspected under a microscope.
After a long pause, the Usul finally spoke. "I had a hunch someone was there," she said. "Come on in, don't be shy... Grotson! Are you decent, my good man? We have a visitor."
The Cybunny trotted tentatively into the apartment and looked around. The walls were plastered with wooden bookcases, some of which looked dangerously askew. Stray papers, spilled ink, and odd-smelling chemical stains littered what little remained of the floor.
In short, the room was a mess.
"What complete chaos," she murmured absentmindedly, before she caught herself with a start. How terrible of her, judging such a great mind! Shylock Usulski, after all, was one of the most brilliant sleuths in the world. Perhaps intelligence took up too much room in the brain and edged out less important matters. Like cleanliness and hygiene.
At any rate, she hadn't long to ponder these thoughts before Shylock re-emerged, with a rather flustered green Grarrl in tow.
"Miss Cyvisham, please allow me to introduce my assistant, Dr. Grotson."
"How do you do?" the Cybunny answered warmly, before she suddenly paused. "But I never told you... how—how did you know my name?"
"Elementary, my dear girl," the Usul replied, tapping her cane impatiently against the mantelpiece. "First off, the cut of your outfit—that can only be found in Neovia, I presume? Prigpants and Swolthy stock, if I'm not mistaken. Secondly, on your sleeve there"—here she gave the sleeve a poke—"is an embroidered crest of acorns. A bit faded, perhaps, but still visible to the discerning eye. To my recollection, the only family in Neovia with an acorn in its coat of arms is the Cyvisham clan... once wealthy, yes, but recently fallen into disrepute. Am I incorrect?
The Cybunny gaped at her in astonishment.
"And, if I may presume a bit further, you are Sadie Cyvisham? One of the heirs to the Cyvisham fortune... or what is left of it, rather."
The Cybunny—or Sadie, as we shall now address her—continued to stare. "How did you..."
"That one was simple. Once I deciphered the identity of your family, I thought back to my recent perusal of the Neopian genealogical records. If my memory serves, the only Cyvisham under the age of eighteen was a certain young lady named Sadie."
"But... but... there are hundreds—or even thousands!—of names in those books! There is no way you could've remembered mine... at least not..." Here Sadie fidgeted, unsure.
Grotson finally spoke. "Don't be alarmed, miss," he said, almost apologetically. "Shylock here is too clever for her own good. Never forgets a thing she reads, and notices things that most people wouldn't. Despite that though, she's a decent lass, through and through." He paused, then added gently: "If you have anything bothering you, I hope you'd feel free to tell us."
Sadie looked up at the Grarrl's kindly face and felt a little bit more at ease. "I'm sorry," she began. "It's just that business has been so bad lately, and to add to all that, now this latest mess with the Golden Skeith..."
"What Golden Skeith?" inquired Shylock, with an air of rising interest.
Sadie appeared visibly nervous. "Well, as—as you may already know... my family used to be quite w-wealthy, and... and very respected in the parts where we lived. A few years ago, however, one of my brothers disappeared. Just vanished. Without a trace."
Grotson glanced at Shylock. "I do recall that particular incident, I dare say. It was all over the local news."
Shylock gave a curt nod. "Proceed, Miss Cyvisham."
The Cybunny shifted uneasily. "What the news didn't report was that... my brother—he also happened to manage the family finances. When the rest of my brothers went through the records, most of the money was gone. Seventy-five percent of it. Of course, we never made that knowledge public—to keep what face we had left, I suppose."
"So he wasn't kidnapped then? He embezzled the money and left?" asked Shylock.
"Everyone said he was a thief. It was all so long ago, and I... I don't know what I believe, to be honest." Sadie rubbed her eyes. "He was always very kind to me. But I've just heard so many different stories, I can't..." Her voice trailed off.
"Do go on," encouraged Grotson.
Sadie resumed her story haltingly. "After he disappeared, our family became involved in serious debt. Part of the reason was because of the money he took, but part of it was because he had always been the one in charge of handling our business. He was a natural at that sort of thing—a bona fide marketing genius. The rest of us just didn't have the knack for it."
Shylock's thin, angular features looked deep in thought. After a brief moment, she turned to Sadie. "Your missing brother's name was Mercutio, I presume?"
The Cybunny gaped in surprise, then quickly recollected herself. "An amazing memory indeed. Yes, that was his name."
"A very odd name, isn't it? Doesn't quite fit in with the rest of your family."
The young girl flushed dark red. "Oh yes, well... that was because Mercutio—he was adopted, actually, from a very early age. It's a long story, but my father always kept the fact very hush-hush from the general public. I never quite understood why, to be honest."
"I see," replied Shylock, jotting something down in her notebook. "And by family, who are you referring to specifically?"
Sadie paused. "Only a few of us are left," she said finally. "My other two brothers, Andrew and Theodore. My older sister, Sylvette. Our maid, Eleanor. And—well, me of course."
Shylock wrote something down in her notepad. "Thank you, Miss Cyvisham. Please proceed, if you would."
"We recently decided to sell the few heirlooms we had left, as a last resort. One of them was a peculiar-looking old statue—we nicknamed it the Golden Skeith for short. None of us had any idea what it was worth. We were hoping to get a few hundred thousand, but even that sum that seemed extravagant." Sadie hesitated. "So you can imagine our surprise when we had it appraised at the auction house. Fifty million. Fifty million. Can you imagine? My brothers were overjoyed, of course. We thought it could bring back some of the family's old repute. But yesterday morning, as they went to bring it out for the auction— " Sadie's voice broke off.
"It was gone," finished Shylock, leaning back into her seat. An uncomfortable silence settled over the small room.
"Yes," Sadie finally broke the silence, meekly. "So if you could help get it back, I—I'd do just about anything!" An awkward pause elapsed, before she added, almost inaudibly: "Please."
The Usul didn't respond straight away. Instead, she stared into the fireplace morosely, before suddenly—and rather melodramatically, Sadie thought—springing up from her position on the ground. "Well," she said, "if that's the case, then we haven't got a moment to lose! Grotson, my good man, if you would please fetch me my coat.
"Now then," she turned to Sadie with a strange glint in her eye, "I would like to see exactly where that Skeith was being kept." Clapping a rather strangely-shaped hat on her head, she leapt for the door. "Quickly, my dear girl! Let's not stand around like Grundos! Lead the way!"
"Y-yes! Of course, right away!" Sadie bounded to her feet. For the first time in a long time, she felt vaguely hopeful. And maybe... just maybe... the tiniest bit excited? "Th-then—to the bank in Neopia Central!"
"You heard her, Grotson!" Shylock called over her shoulder. "To the bank!"
Within a few minutes, the Eyrie cab Grotson sent for had arrived at the doorstep. Shylock leapt on first, followed by Sadie, and finally Grotson, carefully folding his umbrella before neatly stepping onboard.
"My dear Grotson," said Shylock, turning to face her colleague. "It appears to me that we've stumbled upon a most fortuitous stroke of luck. It isn't often that one is brought an interesting case, and even less often, a dangerous one. This one appears to be both." The Usul paused, and her face suddenly lit up in an exuberant grin. "Risking life and limb and all that—quite an exhilarating prospect, isn't it, old chap?"
To his credit, Grotson did not reply.
To be continued...