The Case of the Missing Acara
Ada the Transparent Blumaroo investigates the disappearance of a Green Acara named Belle…
"So," I said to the Red Grarrl sitting across from me. "Belle never arrived. Is that typical of her? To miss an appointment?"
Sophie shook her head. "No, not at all. She’s so punctual, so on top of everything. If something had come up, she would have sent a note."
"A note?" I asked. "So, you didn’t go to the bank with her?"
Sophie shook her head.
"When did you see her last?"
Sophie frowned. "Months ago…When she opted to continue her studies, I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do without her. I’m not very interested in academics, and I didn’t want to take up an apartment by the university and simply wait for her. I decided to do some travelling."
"Where did you go?"
"Oh – everywhere! I saw the Shrine of Coltzan in the Lost Desert, ate fresh Tchea fruit ripe from the trees of Mystery Island, visited the Deserted Fairgrounds and tried my hand at Test Your Strength…"
"And all that time, Belle was continuing her studies?"
"Yes," Sophie said. "We kept up a correspondence during my travels – I still have some of her letters. Her last letter was from two weeks ago, saying she’d wrapped up her thesis and would be applying for a loan from the bank for her half of the funds. She suggested we meet here, so that we could begin looking at real estate immediately."
"I see…" I said, scribbling more notes down.
"Ahem," Sophie said. I looked up. She gestured toward the teapot between us. "Will you be drinking any of the tea?" she asked.
I shook my head. Sophie smiled and poured herself the remaining tea.
"My throat is quite parched from all that talking," she said.
"Of course," I said. "Not to worry – we should be done here soon. Just a few more questions."
Sophie nodded, setting the teapot down. She picked up the cup, and fumbled it, spilling the now lukewarm tea down her shirt. "Oh, drat!" she exclaimed. She snatched a towel off the tray, rattling it, and blotted at her shirt. I reached out and steadied the tray quickly.
"Sorry," Sophie said, irritation evident in her dry tone. "I can't help being clumsy." She sighed. "This is a new shirt and everything."
"It's fine," I said. "Would you like to change before we continue?"
"No," she said quickly. "I want to give you all the information you need to find Belle right away."
I inclined my head in thanks. It was presumptuous of her to assume I would be taking the case, but privately, I already knew I would be. Given the sums of money involved, I was planning on charging twice my usual rates.
"You mentioned correspondence from Belle," I said. "Would you be able to share those letters with me?"
"Yes, they're in my room upstairs – I'll fetch them for you when we're through here."
"Thank you. Now, what did you do when Belle didn't show up?" I asked.
"I...I waited," Sophie replied. "I assumed it was some minor delay. But after the first day, I wrote to her old apartment's address by the university. But yesterday, I received the letter I sent back, unopened, with a note attached from the Neomail Service saying that the individual the letter was addressed to no longer lived at that address. That's when I got worried – that's why I reached out to you."
"Is there anyone else who should be notified that Belle is missing?"
"Not that I know of, no. She was a private Acara, with few friends. I admired her independence."
"Do you have any suspicions at all regarding where she might be, or what might have happened to her?"
Sophie considered this carefully. "I think...I hope this isn't the case…but maybe, if she procured the money from the bank, she might have been robbed? But aside from that...I have no idea."
I made a note.
"One final question," I said.
Sophie nodded. "Yes?"
"Where is your share of the money?"
She smiled brightly and provided the answer I'd both expected and dreaded. "The fifty thousand neopoints that make up my share are upstairs, in my room, in cash."
After our conversation, Sophie retrieved Belle's letters from her room, then departed once more to tidy herself up. I gathered my belongings and headed to the adjourning parlour. The main room was open to all lodgers, and I wanted to organize my notes and peruse the letters undisturbed.
I sat in the parlour, thumbing through the letters Belle had sent Sophie. There were four in total, each sent a month or so apart. The most recent one confirmed the information Sophie had provided. Belle had written to Sophie saying they would meet at The Avalon Lodging House three days past, and tour the neighbourhood to find a cheap rental space for their bookstore. The rest of the letters were varied in their contents. Little was said about the academic work that Belle had apparently been focused on. Most of the letters began as a response to things Sophie must have written – they were primarily commentary on Sophie’s travels, interspersed with platitudes and general well wishes. The subject of the bookshop came up rarely, and only in relation to finances.
Belle had inquired about whether Sophie had procured her half of the funds, and assured Sophie that she would be good for the money as well.
Of particular note, though, was the tone of the letters. Sophie had described a strong bond between her and Belle, but I saw little evidence of that. The letters were friendly, but impersonal, leading me to wonder if Sophie perceived her friendship with Belle as being stronger than Belle found it.
While this case had the potential to be interesting, a straightforward explanation for Belle's absence was beginning to take shape in my mind.
Sophie was a sympathetic figure, a bumbling and awkward Grarrl, and naive enough to keep fifty thousand neopoints in a bag beneath her bed at a shared house. The conclusion she had jumped to – that something bad had befallen her Acara friend, wasn’t one I was inclined toward given the facts of the case so far.
I set the letters down, and reached for the bell pull to ring for Martha.
Less than a minute after the bell rang, the Elderly Aisha in question burst through the parlour door, beaming.
"Detective Ada!" she exclaimed.
I frowned at the label. "I'm a private investigator, not an official detective. Just call me Ada."
"Of course," Martha said. "My apologies, Ada. So, why did you ring? Would you like some tea?" She rocked back and forth on her heels, fairly humming with excitement at having her presence requested.
"No," I replied, grudgingly charmed by her poorly concealed enthusiasm. "I wanted to ask you for your thoughts on the case."
"I would be honoured to help, of course, but you'll have to explain it first," Martha replied, adopting a deliberate look of wide-eyed innocence. The effect was enhanced by the intense magnification of the lenses her elderly eyes required.
I met her gaze evenly.
Martha gulped audibly.
"Martha," I said.
The Elderly Aisha smoothed her skirt nervously. "Yes?"
"Why don't we avoid wasting precious time pretending you weren't eavesdropping during my conversation with Sophie?"
"Eavesdropping? Well!" Martha huffed. "That doesn't sound like me."
"Nevertheless...I'd be a poor private investigator if I didn't hear you rush to crouch by the door the moment I shut it." I smiled.
"Oh, alright. But – you're not mad?" Martha said, nearly collapsing onto a couch with relief at the sight of my smile.
"Not at all," I assured her. "It saves me from having to recount the specifics. I have an inkling of what might be going on here, but uncovering the truth is going to require your cooperation."
"Me? Helping out? With the case? Oh!" she exclaimed, each syllable a pitch higher the last. She sank back into the couch for a moment, then perked up, pulling her elbows onto her knees and facing me. "If you don’t mind my asking...how did you hear me? I tried to be quiet."
I pointed at my ears. "Blumaroo," I said. "Big ears."
Martha flushed with embarrassment. "Of course."
I smiled again, hoping to set her at ease. "So," I said. "I have a theory on why Belle never arrived at your lodging house three days ago, but I’d like to collect a little more information before I draw any firm conclusions."
Martha nodded. "How can I help?"
"I’d like to ask you a few questions. First, has a Green Acara ever stayed at this inn before?"
"Hmm...I don’t believe so, but I can give you the guestbook so you can look through it, if you’d like!" Martha said, brightening.
"Wonderful," I said. "That would be helpful." I was curious about why Belle had decided to meet Sophie here. If she had some familiarity with the house, that would explain the seemingly random choice.
"How many other lodgers are here at the moment?" I asked.
Martha hesitated. "Just one, but he's...ah…" She paused. "Edward is a little...difficult, sometimes – but I doubt he's mixed up in this," Martha said at last.
"What do you mean?"
"Perhaps it's best if you meet him yourself," Martha said. "He's a long-term lodger, so he may even be able to share information helpful to the case. I can send for him now, if you'd like! He's a very late riser – likely waking up as we speak."
"That would be convenient," I said. "One last thing – do you think I could spend the night here? I'll pay for lodging, of course."
Martha lept from her seat with shocking agility for an Elderly Aisha, and did a small dance. "Here? In my home? Of course! And I won't take a neopoint from you," she said, wagging a finger at me.
I smiled once more, a rush of genuine pleasure at her eagerness suffusing me. It was easy to become jaded in my line of work, but Martha's artless enthusiasm was contagious.
"I'll go and fetch Edward now," Martha said. "He takes some time to rise, so I'll fetch the guestbook as well so you can look through it." She paused in the doorway, a frown marring her face. "And I really am sorry I eavesdropped. It's just that...I couldn’t help it. I must confess...I’m rather excited to be involved in all this."
I smiled. "Are you? I hadn't noticed."
To be continued…