Sorceress-for-hire Marissa Cobalt plays detective this time around as she's hired to find a stolen show dog.
The Case of the Dog-napped Princess:
An Adventure in Sorcery
I was sitting at a back table in Eli's Tavern in Westover, eating a delicious bowl of lamb stew, when they walked in. I spotted them out of the corner of my eye as I was taking a bite of stew. Two people stood in the tavern's doorway, looking around the room. One of them was a tall, skinny young man about my age of sixteen years. He had a pock-marked face framed by greasy black hair and wore the plain clothes of a houseboy. He also seemed to me to be rather nervous, like he really didn't want to be there. The other person was a plump, middle-aged brunette woman richly dressed in a red silk dress and fur-trimmed traveling cloak. Instead of nervousness, I picked up a sense of anxiousness from her, as if she was desperate for something. The duo spotted me, and made their way toward my table. I continued to eat as I watched them approach. I knew what they wanted. They wanted what everyone who comes to me while I'm eating wants – my help as a problem-solving sorceress-for-hire.
“I'm terribly sorry to bother you while you're at lunch, Miss Marissa,” said the woman as she and the young man sat down across from me. The young man kept his head down, not bothering to look at me or his companion. “However, I am in desperate need of your help.”
See? I told you.
“Naturally,” I said as I set my spoon aside and brushed cobalt blue hair out of my eyes. “So, what can I do for you?”
“My baby is missing and I want you to find her and bring her back.”
“Your baby? Well, sure, I could find her for you. But isn't this a situation more appropriate for the city constables to handle?”
The lady shook her head emphatically. “No, no, no. I can't get them involved. The letter expressly said not to.”
My brow wrinkled slightly in suspicion. “Letter? What are you talking about? I though you said she was missing.”
“She is. She's been stolen.” The lady reached into a pocket of her cloak and pulled out a folded slip of parchment, which she held out to me. “Here. This should explain things somewhat. I received it this morning.”
Curious, I took the note and read it. Here is what it said:
If you want your precious Princess back, deliver 1,500 gold pieces at noon tomorrow to the
abandoned warehouse down by the docks. I will return Princess to you then. Do not go to the
authorities. If you do, Princess will die.
Sounds like a fairly standard ransom letter, I thought, so I doubt we're dealing with a criminal mastermind here. There was one thing in the letter that stood out to me, though. “Princess?” I asked.
“Yes,” the lady answered. “That is her call name. Her full registered name for showing is Lysa's Little Snow Princess.”
“Call name?” I repeated in confusion. “Registered name? Showing?” Then I realized what she was saying. “Wait a minute. Are we talking about a dog?!”
“Yes. My baby, Princess, is a champion show dog. She has won multiple Best In Show awards. She's entered in the annual Westover Dog Show that is scheduled for tomorrow night. Please, Miss Marissa, get my Princess back!”
“I don't know. I've never looked for missing pets before.”
“Please? I need my Princess back. I don't want to pay the ransom, but I will if I have to. But if I have to pay to get my baby back, I'd rather pay you, Miss Marissa, than the villain who took my Princess. I'm even willing to pay you the ransom price.”
My eyes lit up at the though of 1,500 gold pieces, but I kept my voice neutral as I answered. “Well, I do like animals, so I guess I can find her for you, ma'am. So, could you tell me everything that's happened so far? But would you mind starting with why you felt it was alright to come to me if the ransom note didn't want you to go to the authorities?”
“My husband suggested I go to you, after I showed him the letter. He said that you had just returned last night from a mission for the Lords of Westover, and that he doubted anyone else in the city knew you were back yet, not even the ransomer.”
“True. I was on a job for them, and I did get back very late last night. But how did your husband know that?”
“My husband is one of the Lords, of course. Lord Abarond.”
My eyes widened a little in shock. What?! I thought. That rotund, bald, mustachioed annoyance is actually married?!
“I'm sorry for neglecting to introduce myself earlier, Miss Marissa,” she continued. “My name is Lysa, and I'm the wife of Lord Abarond. The young man with me is our houseboy, Dirk. He also helps me take care of Princess.”
Dirk continued to look at the table, not even bothering to acknowledge Lysa's introduction.
“All right,” I said. “So, what exactly happened to Princess?”
“Well, Dirk had taken Princess out for a walk late yesterday afternoon. When he returned, it was well into the evening. Princess was not with him, and he seemed a little upset. When I asked him what was wrong and where Princess was, he said she'd been taken.” Lysa paused to see if Dirk would say anything, but he just continued to stare at the table, so she continued the story. “According to Dirk, someone came up behind him and hit him in the back of the head, knocking him to the ground. He was only dazed for a couple of moments, but by the time he came to and got up, he saw Princess being carried by a someone running down the street in a hooded black cloak. They turned down a street, and Dirk gave chase, but by the time he got there, they had disappeared. Dirk searched until it got dark, but he wasn't able to find them or anyone who had seen them. So he came back to tell me what had happened. By then it was too late to keep searching, so we decided to look again in the morning, in the meantime hoping that Princess might find a way to escape and come home on her own. But this morning, I found that ransom note waiting for me instead of Princess. I showed it to my husband, who suggested I come to you for help. And so here I am, Miss Marissa, asking for your help.”
I thought over her story for a couple of minutes while I ate. “Do you have any idea who might have taken her?” I finally asked.
“No,” Lysa answered. “No idea.”
“How about any dog show rivals? You said Princess is a multiple champion, and she's entered in the show here tomorrow. Maybe a competitor took her to get her out of their way.”
“But the note said that if I pay them at noon, I'd get her back. And the show isn't until six in the evening...”
“It's very possible that whoever took her only said that to get your money, and they actually have no intention of returning Princess to you, even if you pay.”
“It is? Then you have to find her, Miss Marissa! Please!”
“Don't worry. I'll find her. I promise. Now, what about any dog show rivals? Given the timing of the incident, it's highly possible one of them took her, and I'd like to start by investigating them.”
Lysa thought for a minute, then hesitantly answered, “I hate to think that someone could hold a grudge against me and Princess enough to do something like this. But if you think it might be someone in the dog show, well, there are two people who come to mind, whom I've had arguments with at the last couple of shows. I suppose it's possible one of them might have been more angry with me than I thought.”
“Who are they, and do you happen to know where I can find them?”
“Alfred Jemmson, who is staying at an inn on the east side of the city, I believe, and Myra Alistar, wife of Noel Alistar, the prominent merchant.”
I nodded. “I know of him. So his wife shows dogs, huh? All right. I'll begin investigating after I finish eating, and will let you know what I find out as soon as possible.”
Lysa nodded. “Thank you, Miss Marissa. I really appreciate your helping me.”
“Oh, one other thing. What does Princess look like?”
“She is a small dog, about the size of a house cat, with long white fur, black eyes and nose, and a pink collar studded with diamonds.”
“Okay. Thank you. I'll let you know something soon.”
Lysa stood up, and Dirk followed suit. I'd almost forgotten he was there, he'd been so quiet. “Thank you, again, Miss Marissa,” Lysa said. “I look forward to hearing what you find out.”
And with that, she and Dirk left. I finished my bowl of stew, which had grown cool by then but which still tasted good, and then left as well to start looking for the purloined pooch, Princess.
* * * *
I decided to begin my investigation with the guy staying at the inn, Alfred Jemmson. I figured that since he was staying at an inn, that meant he was from out of town, and that made him seem slightly more suspicious than the local suspect. Plus, it was closer than the Alistar residence, on the north side of town. So I made my way to the east side of town, stopping into a haberdashery along the way to buy a wig of black hair. I wanted to hide my unique blue hair so I wouldn't give away my identity and scare the suspects with my infamous reputation when I talked to them.
The first two inns I checked turned out to be dead ends. But at the third one, I got lucky. When I asked the innkeeper if he had an Alfred Jemmson staying in a room there, he told me he did.
“You do?” I said. “Great! I need to speak with him for a few minutes. Which room is he in?”
“I'm sorry, Miss, but he's out walking his dog right now. He should be back shortly. If you'd like, you may wait at a table in the dining room, and I'll send him to you when he returns.”
“Thank you. I'll do that.”
I turned around and entered the room behind me. It was a large room full of round tables, thought only about half were occupied. I took a seat at a table in the back, away from everyone else, thinking it would provide a little privacy while I talked with Alfred. A waiter came up to me, and since I'd just eaten, I just asked for a cup of water. The waiter returned shortly with my drink, and while I waited for Alfred, I tried to figure out exactly what I would say to him.
About half an hour later, a middle-aged man with shoulder-length brown hair and a slight tan, and wearing a simple white cotton shirt and brown slacks, stopped in the doorway of the dining room and looked around. By his side stood a lean, medium-sized brown and gray dog with a narrow head and muzzle. The leash the man held was attached to a black, silver-studded collar around the dog's neck. Spotting me, the man headed towards my table with his dog in tow.
“The innkeeper said you wanted to speak with me,” he said as he sat down across the table from me. The dog sat down by his side and watched me.
“You're Alfred Jemmson?” I asked, and the man nodded. “Well, Master Alfred -”
“Just Alfred, please.”
“Alright. Alfred. Well, Alfred, I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask you regarding the disappearance of Lady Abarond's dog, Princess.”
Alfred appeared shocked at my reference to Princess's disappearance. But whether his shock was feigned or not remained to be seen. But it certainly seemed real enough. “Princess is missing?” he asked, disbelief coloring his voice.
“Yes. She was stolen while out on a walk yesterday afternoon. Lady Abarond has asked me to help her find Princess. Your name came up in conversation. Apparently, you'd had an argument with Lady Abarond at a recent dog show.”
Alfred's shock gave way to resentment. “And you think I had something to do with Princess's disappearance. Is that it?”
“More or less. I'm just trying to gather information at the moment. I'm not making any accusations yet. So, what did you the two of you argue about?”
Alfred glanced around the half-empty room. Seeing that no one was close by, he turned back to me. “I suppose it's alright to discuss this here,” he said, his voice low so it wouldn't carry. “It was at the last dog show, in Nortown, about three months ago. Princess and Max, my dog, had both won their respective groups, and we were back stage waiting, along with the other group winners, to be called out to the ring for the Best In Show round. We happened to be standing next to each other. Max and Princess started sniffing at each other, like dogs will when they want to greet each other. Now, you'd think that someone who owns and shows dogs would know better. But Lysa – Lady Abarond – got all flustered and upset, and started accusing me allowing Max to try to have his way with Princess. I tried to explain to her that the dogs were just being friendly and greeting each other, but she wouldn't listen. Thankfully, we were called out to the ring then, and we put the argument behind us as we headed out for the Best In Show contest.”
“And that's it?” I asked, stunned. “That's what your argument was over?”
“Yes. Silly, isn't it? Certainly nothing for me to hold a grudge over.”
“I would tend to agree. But I'll reserve judgment for now, as I'm only just starting my investigation. I have just a couple more questions, Alfred, if you don't mind.”
“Where were you, late yesterday afternoon? And do you have a hooded black cloak?”
“No, I don't have a black cloak. As for where I was, I was here, eating dinner after having taken Max out for a walk.”
“An easy enough alibi to check, if I need to. Alright. That's all the questions for now, Alfred. Thank you. Now, would you mind if I took a quick look in your room?”
“My room? To look for Princess, you mean. Sure, go ahead. You won't find anything. I didn't take her, so I have nothing to hide.”
Alfred led me upstairs. His room was at the far end on the left. He opened the door and let me in, remaining in the hallway with Max to watch me and give me room to search. It didn't take me long, since it was a relatively small room furnished only with a bed, a small desk, a dressing table with a bowl and pitcher of water, and a wardrobe. The lone window was open and let in a small breeze that blew the thin white cotton curtains. I looked all around the room, and found no trace of Princess nor a black cloak. There was, however, some parchment and a quill pin and jar of ink on the desk. But when I took the ransom note out of my pocket and compared it to what was on the desk, they didn't match. The quality of the parchment of the ransom note was better than what was on the desk. I decided to do one final test. I called Alfred in and asked him for a handwriting sample. Slightly confused, but also curious, he did as I asked, scribbling on a piece of parchment. I compared his handwriting to what was on the ransom note, and found that the two samples weren't even close.
“Well, Alfred,” I said, crumpling his writing sample into a ball and tossing it on the floor, “you were right. I didn't find anything. So I guess you're in the clear. For now, at least. I'll be going now. I have some more investigating to do. Thank your for your time.”
“I hope you manage to find who took Princess and get her back, Miss. Her owner may not be the brightest person, but Princess is a sweet dog, and a champion show dog. I'd hate for anything bad to happen to her.”
“As would I.”
* * * *
About an hour after I left Alfred's inn, I stood outside the gate of the Alistar residence, on the north end of Westover. I looked between the bars of the wrought-iron gate at the large white house sitting a few hundred yards ahead of me, at the end of a cobblestone path that was flanked by rose bushes on each side and that stretched all the way to the ornately gilded front door. The house wasn't the size of the mansions of the Lords of Westover, but it was close. And from the looks of it and its posh surroundings - the rose bush path, the large gardens and flower beds all around the house, and the large fountain off to the side – I got the feeling that the owners weren't satisfied with being just a prominent merchant and were trying to play at being city nobility.
I put my face up against the bars and looked around as much as I could. I spotted no guards. Good. I stepped back and grasped the gate with my hands to swing it open, but it wouldn't move. It was locked. No wonder there were no guards. I looked at the stone wall on either side of the gate, but it was too high and smooth to climb. I considered casting a Levitation spell, but the sight of me floating up and over the wall might draw unwanted attention if anyone happened to be nearby and watching. So instead, I reached into the magic pocket on the inside of my brown cloak and brought out a small key that had no teeth. What good is a key with no teeth, you ask? A lot, if it's a magic key like this one. It can open most normal locks.
I placed the key in the gate's lock and heard a small click. I returned the key to my pocket and quietly swung the gate open and entered the large yard. After closing the gate behind me, I walked up the cobblestone path towards the Alistar home. I considered taking a look around the outside of the house, to look for signs of Princess, but given the size of the place and the lateness of the day – it was already late afternoon – I decided to hold off on that until after I had talked with Myra Alistar. So I stepped up to the door, took hold of the gold door knocker, and knocked.
After a few moments, the door opened to reveal an older man in a butler's uniform. “Yes?” he asked, seemingly not bothered by my presence.
“I need to speak with Myra Alistar,” I replied.
The butler stepped aside and let me enter the brightly lit foyer. Then he closed the door behind me. I saw there was a long hallway directly ahead of me, and a pair of rooms were to either side of me. “Please wait in the lounge,” he said, motioning to a door to my left. “I will let her know you are here. Whom may I announce to her?”
“Ma -” I caught myself before I could say “Marissa Cobalt”. I didn't want to ruin my disguise. “Maria Consuela,” I said instead, giving him an old – and abbreviated – alias of my mine. “Tell her I wish to speak with her about Lady Abarond and her dog, Princess.”
With a bow, he turned and walked off down the hall, heading deeper into the house, and I entered the room he'd indicated to me. The room was medium-sized, with a large window across from the door that gave a nice view of the yard and gardens. Sitting on the right wall was a liquor bar. On the left wall hung paintings of a small dog with curly brown fur, floppy ears, and a narrow muzzle. Below the paintings was a glass case with some small trophies and blue award ribbons. Scattered about the room were some plush, cushioned chairs. I sat down in one and waited for Myra Alistar to arrive. She did so about five minutes later, with her husband and the butler trailing behind her.
Myra Alistar was a handsome middle-aged blonde woman in a green tartan dress. In her arms was a little brown dog just like in the paintings. Myra's husband, the merchant Noel Alistar, was taller than Myra, and had graying brown hair framing his ruggedly handsome face. He flicked a piece of lint off the sleeve of his brown business suit as he entered the room. The butler brought up the rear, and stood off to the side.
I stood up when they entered. “Thank you for seeing me,” I said politely.
Myra and Noel sat down in chairs near me, then I sat back down. The butler remained standing by the door.
“Colin said you wanted to speak to me about Lysa and Princess,” Myra said. “Did something happen? Are they all right?”
“What makes you think something has happened?” I asked suspiciously.
“Well, it's just that you've shown up suddenly, unannounced, wanting to talk about them, and there's the dog show tomorrow evening...”
I nodded. “Fair enough. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Ma'am -”
“Please, call me Myra.”
“Alright. Myra. As I said, I'm afraid I do have some bad news. Princess has been stolen. Lady Abarond has asked me to help find her.”
Myra and Noel both stared at me in shock. “Princess was stolen?” Myra squeaked out in astonishment. “How terrible!”
Noel regained his composure before his wife. “That certainly is horrible news. But I don't think you'd come here just to tell us that, Miss Maria. So why exactly are you here?”
“As I said, Lady Abarond wants me to help her find Princess.”
Myra caught on to what I was saying, and her disbelief grew. “Wait a minute. Are you saying you suspect me of having something to do with Princess being stolen?”
“I believe that's exactly what she's saying, dear,” Noel said, his voice tinged with a little hostility.
“Well, I resent that!” Myra returned, now somewhat angry herself. “I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I would never do something like that.”
“Calm down,” I told them. “I'm not accusing anybody yet. I'm still investigating. But I wanted to ask you a few questions, Myra, since you reportedly had an argument with Lady Abarond at a dog show recently. I would like you to tell me about that incident, please.”
“Very well. But only to show you that I have no reason whatsoever to take Princess. The incident you are referring to happened about six months ago, at a dog show in Apo. I was backstage with my dog Pumpkin, here, giving him a final grooming before heading out to the ring for Pumpkin's breed round. Pumpkin was standing on a small table, and I was using a pair of scissors to give his coat a last trim, when Lysa came strolling along with Princess. She wasn't watching where she was going, and as she went to set Princess on the table next to ours, she bumped into me just as I was cutting on Pumpkin's coat. My carefully crafted styling of Pumpkin's coat was ruined by the huge gash that resulted. Angry and upset, I turned around and yelled at Lysa for not being more careful. She apologized, but it seemed like a halfhearted apology to me. Then she nonchalantly suggested that I fix it by restyling Pumpkin. I couldn't believe it. She said it as if she thought it would be just the easiest thing in the world - which it isn't, especially when you only have a few minutes before you have to go into the ring. But I had to do something. I couldn't show Pumpkin with his coat like it was. So, with a quick prayer to Dumarh, I took her suggestion and started cutting and styling to fix the mistake. What I came up with wasn't quite to standard, but it didn't look bad, either. I finished just as they called Pumpkin's breed to the ring. The new styling was a surprise to everyone there, but they liked it, and the judges approved it, so I wasn't penalized. And Pumpkin and I made it all the way to Best In Show. So you see, it all turned out well in the end. So why would I take Princess?”
“Perhaps you were still upset over Lysa's behavior?” I suggested.
Myra shook her head. “No. By the end of the day, I'd forgiven her. I even apologized to her after the show. We've been on friendly terms since.”
Or so you say, I thought. “Do you have any proof of this story?”
“Proof?!” Noel exclaimed. “My wife is telling the truth! What do you need proof for?!”
Myra held up a hand. “That's enough, Noel. Colin, show her the trophy.”
The butler, Colin, went over to the glass case and took out a small trophy, which he brought over to me. I took it and looked at it. It was engraved for a Best In Show win, in Apo, dated 6 months ago. And it had Pumpkin's name on it.
“As you can see, we won Best In Show that day, thanks to Lysa's suggestion.”
I nodded and handed the trophy back to Colin. “Alright. I'll believe you. For now. I just have a couple more questions, though, if you don't mind. Where were you late yesterday afternoon? And do you have a hooded black cloak?”
“A black cloak? No. None of us here has one. As for yesterday afternoon, we had been invited to dinner at the Listannan's home, so we were there all afternoon.”
“Very well. That's all the questions I have. But would you mind if I had a look around the premises? Just to make sure.”
“If you feel it necessary,” Noel said. “We have nothing to hide. But we'd like to go along with you, Miss Maria.”
“No problem.” I stood up. “Lead the way.”
* * * *
I had them show me every room in the house – library, study, bedrooms, all of it. Because of the size of the place, it took some time to see it all. So it was after dark by the time I brought my search to an end. And once again, I found no trace of Princess. I found no black cloak anywhere, either. In the library, study, and bedrooms, I found desks and tables with ink and parchment on them, samples of which I compared to the ransom note. The quality of the parchment of these samples was very good, of a much higher standard than what I'd found in Alfred's room. But they still did not match the ransom note. The quality of it was just slightly better. To be thorough, I collected handwriting samples from Myra, Noel, and even Colin and the entire household staff. I compared them all to the ransom note. Not one of them matched.
Stumped, I apologized to them for any inconvenience, thanked them for their time and help, and took my leave, locking their gate behind me. Once out of sight of the house, I took my wig off and put it in my pocket. Then I wandered the streets for a while, thinking over the case and what I'd learned so far. Which didn't amount to much, really, since my two best leads had turned out to be dead ends. So just what had happened to Princess?
My stomach began to rumble, so I headed for the nearest restaurant to get something to eat and ponder the case further.
Sitting at a table in the back of the dining room of Shel's Pub, I ate my shepherd's pie and hot rolls while running the facts of the case through my mind over and over. Something about it wasn't making sense, but I wasn't sure what. Princess was missing, reportedly stolen. The owner, Lysa, had received a ransom note. She had no idea who would have taken her dog. The two people she mentioned who might have had a grudge against her had turned out to be innocent, from what I could see. So the only things I had to go on were the ransom note on some very high quality parchment, and the story that the houseboy, Dirk, and told Lysa and which she'd in turn told me.
Hold on, I told myself. That's it. The houseboy, Dirk. I'd almost completely forgotten about him. It was him and his story that were nagging at me. He had said he was out walking Princess when someone hit him from behind and took Princess, and when he chased after them, he lost them. Then he had said that he had searched for them but couldn't find them or anyone who'd seen them. That certainly seems suspicious. At that time of day, there should have been quite a few people out and about, so someone should have noticed a person in a black cloak running while holding a white dog. And you'd think that Princess would have been struggling and making noise, or something, if she'd been taken abruptly by a stranger like that, and someone should have noticed that, too. So why was Dirk not able to find a witness? That means all there is is his story about what happened.
And then there's his behavior when he and Lysa came to the tavern to find me. He had seemed like he didn't want to be there when I saw him standing in the doorway, and he had sat quietly the whole time, looking only at the table, leaving Lysa to do all the talking. It was like he was doing his best to remain invisible. I'd thought he was just nervous about being in my company. But maybe he was trying to keep me from remembering him? Why? Did he have something to hide?
The more I thought about it, the more suspicious he seemed. And add in the high quality of the parchment used for the ransom note – parchment that would fit right in in a Lord's household – and I have another suspect. One who had the perfect opportunity to take Princess and hide her somewhere.
What do I do now? I wondered. Should I go now and tell Lysa and Lord Abarond that their houseboy is a suspect? Or should I wait until morning to break the news and confront Dirk, and try to find Princess in the meantime?
I decided it would look better for me to show up in the morning with Princess safe and sound, so after I finished eating, I headed out to search for the missing dog. Standing on the street, outside the pub, I wondered where I should begin my search. Dirk probably isn't keeping her at the Abarond residence, I reasoned. It'd be too risky for him; too easy for someone to accidentally come across her there. So where would he keep her? I thought about it for a couple of minutes. He wouldn't have taken her there, would he? It'd be too obvious. But I did think from the beginning that we weren't dealing with a criminal mastermind, so it's possible she's there. And if I remember correctly, it's not very far from the Abarond residence, either.
With no better option in sight, I set off westward through the city towards the docks.
* * * *
The city of Westover at night is no different from any other city at night. There are the typical, evenly-spaced lamp posts along the streets that provide light and attempt to provide a sense of security for those peaceful, law-abiding residents who happen to still be out and about. And there are also the typical, not-so-peaceful residents who happen to be out and about, as well. In the year or so I've lived in Westover, I've become somewhat familiar with the city at night - and with its somewhat colorful nightlife - and have learned what areas to avoid if I don't want to get involved with said colorful nightlife. Not that I really needed to learn it, thanks to my infamous reputation.
Anyway, the docks at night are one such area that aren't really all that safe for a young girl to be wandering around at night, what with the thieves and cutthroats that hang around, looking to prey on unsuspecting sailors, shipping merchants, and overseas travelers. And there are the seaside pubs that sailors like to frequent, too, so you have to be careful of them as well.
As I walked along the docks, I tried to stay in the light from the lamp posts as much as possible, not for my safety so much as for the safety of anyone who might get the idea to try to rob me or something. So I was trying to let my identifying blue hair be as visible as possible. And it seemed to work, since no one bothered me as I made my way to the abandoned warehouse situated about midway down the docks. Since it was the only abandoned dockside warehouse that I knew of, I figured it must be the one mentioned in the ransom letter.
I stood outside the warehouse and studied it get a feel for my surroundings. It was a large, two-story building with only a couple of small windows on each floor. There was a large bay door to allow loading and unloading of cargo. The exterior of the building was still in fairly good condition, so I figured it hadn't been abandoned for very long. There weren't any other buildings or any ships very close by, so someone coming and going from the warehouse wouldn't be easily noticed.
I made a quick search around the outside of the warehouse and found no trace of anyone hanging around or anyone having been there very recently. I found a service door in the back of the warehouse, and when I tried to open it, I found it was unlocked. It was dark inside, so I cast a small Light spell. A small ball of white light appeared in the palm of my hand, and I entered the warehouse.
The ball of light only illuminated about ten feet around me, so I had to move carefully as I looked around the dark building. From where I entered the warehouse, I found a few abandoned crates along the wall to my right, and off to my left there was a staircase leading to the second floor. I considered climbing the stairs and looking around the second floor, but I didn't think Princess would be kept up there. But I decided that if I didn't find her downstairs, I would check up there.
After searching around downstairs for a while, I found only a few more abandoned crates and a bunch of dust and cobwebs (and thankfully no spiders). There was no sign of Princess. So I made my way back over to the stairs and carefully climbed up to the second floor.
There wasn't much on the second floor, which was basically just a long walkway circling the building, with a railing to keep people from falling off. I walked along it carefully to see what I could find, and only found three doors. The first door I checked, located at the top of the stairs, turned out to be an empty storage closet. The second door was about halfway along the walkway, and had been a kitchen area. There was a long table in the middle of the room, and cabinets hung on the wall. The third door was a little farther along the walkway, and turned out to be the former office. There was a desk on one wall, a couple of dirty windows across from the door, and a couple of dusty plush chairs on the wall across from the desk. On the floor in front of the desk were a couple of small bowls. One looked like it had water in it, and the other had a few scraps of meat in the bottom. And curled up on one of the chairs, sleeping, was a small, long-haired white dog with a pink, diamond-studded collar.
“Princess!” I said aloud in surprise.
The dog's floppy ears twitched in response, so I said her name again, and she stirred awake. I said her name a third time, and she yawned, stood in the chair, and stretched. Then she looked at me with her black eyes, and I could have sworn she had a look in her eyes that said, “How dare you interrupt my sleep. This had better be good.”
I slowly walked over to Princess so that I wouldn't scare her, and held my free hand out to her so that she could smell me. I really wished I had a treat to give her, though, but I didn't, so I had to make friends with her this way instead.
Princess sniffed my hand for a few seconds, then her stumpy little tail wagged back and forth, and I smiled with relief. I really hadn't wanted to try to leave with her if she didn't like me.
“Hello there, sweetie,” I said in my most pleasant voice. “What do you say we get out of this place and get you home?”
Princess's tail continued to wag as she watched me look around for some rope or something to attach to her collar. I found something better than rope, though – her leash. It was lying on top of the desk. As soon as I grabbed the leash with my free hand and turned to face Princess, she got excited and started jumping up and down on the chair. I couldn't help but chuckle. She was a very cute dog.
“I guess you're ready to go, huh?” I said as I approached her. “Alright, then.” As I reached for her collar with the leash in my hand, she settled down and held still so I could hook it. Once the leash was attached, she jumped down to the floor. Then we made our way out of the room, back downstairs, and out of the warehouse through the service door.
Princess sniffed the ground and relieved herself against the side of the warehouse as I looked around to see if there was anyone nearby. Seeing that we were alone, I canceled my Light spell, extinguishing the ball of white light, and led Princess away from the warehouse and the docks. It was too late to pay Lysa a visit, so I decided to take Princess home with me for the night and take her home in the morning. Thankfully, the magic shop that I rent a room at wasn't very far away, so I had Princess there in about half an hour. Sure, I could have used a Teleport spell to get us there quickly, but I wanted to enjoy the experience of walking a dog for a change.
The magic shop's owner, Master Kimmbel, had already closed up for the day by the time we got there, so I took my spare key from my cloak's pocket and unlocked the door and quietly entered the store. Then I locked the door behind me and, as quietly as I could, took Princess upstairs and to my little room at the end of the hall.
Once we were shut up in my small, simply furnished room, I placed Princess on my bed, then took off my griffin-leather tunic, pants, white cotton shirt, and dragon-leather boots, undid my braided blue hair, put on a sleeping gown, and crawled into bed. Princess snuggled up against my legs, and we both fell asleep.
Early the next morning, just as sunlight was beginning to come in my window, I got up and quickly got dressed and braided my hair. I wanted to get an early start so I wouldn't run into Master Kimmbel and have to explain Princess. When I was ready, I headed out with Princess to return her to Lysa and confront Dirk.
* * * *
When I knocked on the door of the Abarond mansion, it was answered by the butler, a man in his late forties, maybe, with receding dark hair and a mustache. “Yes, Miss Marissa?” he asked. Then he noticed Princess sitting on the ground at my feet, and his eyes widened. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “You found her! Thank Dumarh!” Then he realized he was out of character, and he cleared his throat, composing himself. “Come in, please, Miss Marissa, and wait in the study. I'll summon Lord and Lady Abarond.”
I stepped into the foyer, and the butler closed the door behind me. Then he escorted me down the short hallway to a wide atrium and a door on the left. As he shut the door behind me and Princess, I took a look around the room. It was a large room with a desk on one wall, wide windows across from the door, and plush chairs scattered around the room. On the wall across from the desk was a small bookcase. On top of the desk was a quill pen, ink bottle, and some parchment. While I waited for Lysa and Lord Abarond, I took out the ransom note and compared it to what was on the desk. It matched.
Just as I returned the note to my pocket, the door opened and Lysa came in in a simple pink cotton house dress, followed by Lord Abarond, a bald, rotund man with a droopy mustache. He was dressed for business in a blue suit. The butler came in last and shut the door behind them.
Lysa took one look at me, and Princess sitting beside me, and covered her mouth with her hands as she gasped. “You did it, Miss Marissa!” she said, her voice full of relief. “You found my baby! Thank you! Thank you!” She knelt down, and Princess ran up to her and licked her face. Lysa smiled and picked up the dog. Then she stood up and faced me with tears in her eyes. “When Carl came into the dining room and told me you were here with Princess, I could scarcely belief it. But it's true , and I'm eternally grateful to you, Miss Marissa.”
“You did a terrific job, Miss Marissa,” Lord Abarond said. “I thank you for taking my wife's case and finding her dog for her. Could you tell us who took Princess? Was is Alfred Jemmson? Or Myra Alistar?”
“Neither,” I said simply.
“Then who?” Lysa asked in confusion. “Who else could it be?”
I looked from Lysa to Lord Abarond. “I think you'd better have a seat.”
The couple looked at each other, their eyes echoing the shock each felt, then took my suggestion and sat down in a couple of the chairs. Princess curled up in Lysa's lap and watched me as I took a seat in another chair.
“I talked with Alfred Jemmson and Myra Alistar,” I said, explaining the steps I had taken but in reality postponing giving them the bad news, “the two people Lysa thought would have a grudge against her, since she'd had arguments with them. But upon hearing their stories, it seemed to me that neither had good reason to take Princess. Both had solid alibis as well. I also checked Alfred's room and Myra's home, and found no trace of Princess or a black cloak. I also compared the ransom note to samples of parchment they had, and compared handwriting samples as well. None of the samples matched the ransom note. So I ruled them out as suspects. Upon considering what I'd learned from my investigation and the other facts of the case, I was able to determine who the real suspect was and to find where Princess was being kept.”
“So, who did you decide was the thief?” Lysa asked.
I looked her in the eye, took a deep breath, and told her, “I hate to say it, but it was Dirk.”
Lysa and Lord Abarond stared at me in shock. “Dirk?!” they finally managed to say.
Lord Abarond composed himself first. “How did you come to this conclusion?”
“It was the only thing that made sense. I don't know why he would do it. But I'm sure he did. He had the opportunity, since he was the one walking Princess. According to his story, there were no witnesses to the figure he claimed to have seen running off with her, and given the time of day, there should have been someone who'd have seen a person in a black cloak holding a white dog. And if Princess had been taken abruptly by a stranger, I'd think she'd put up a fight or make a ruckus or something, and someone should have noticed that as well. That there were no witnesses didn't make sense. So all we have is his story about what happened. Also, he was late getting home, claiming he was out looking for Princess. Plenty of time for him to have hidden her somewhere. He obviously wouldn't have kept her here, where someone might come across her by mistake. Incidentally, I found her at the abandoned warehouse mentioned in the ransom note. The warehouse is not far from here, an easy location for him to hide her at. And Princess was being kept in a room where she had a comfortable place to lay, and a bowl of food and water. So whoever took her cared about her welfare enough to provide her appropriate shelter and to make sure she was adequately fed. Someone like Dirk, who helps take care of Princess.
“Then there's the way Dirk acted when you came to talk to me yesterday, Lysa. When I saw the two of you in the doorway, he seemed like he didn't want to be there. And he sat at the table the entire time, not saying a word and just looking at the tabletop. At first I thought he was just nervous being near me. But then I realized he was trying to be inconspicuous so that I'd forget about him. And it almost worked. But why would he act that way, unless he had something to hide?
“And there's the ransom note itself. As I mentioned earlier, the samples from Alfred and Myra didn't match the note. The parchment in Alfred's room was of a much lower quality than the ransom note. And Myra's parchment was of a much better quality than Alfred's, but not as good as that of the ransom note, which is of a very high quality. The same quality as that of the parchment here.”
I got up and retrieved a piece of parchment from the desk, and handed it to Lord Abarond along with the ransom note. He examined the two pieces closely, and I saw his eyes widen. “You're right, Miss Marissa. The two pieces of parchment are of the same type and quality.”
I nodded. “Dirk could easily have taken a piece of parchment from here when no one was around and written the ransom note himself, then make it look like it had been delivered by the person who supposedly had taken Princess.”
Lysa and her husband looked at each other, then back at me. “You present a pretty convincing argument, Miss Marissa,” Lord Abarond said. “It certainly sounds like Dirk could be the thief.”
“Yes, it does,” Lysa said. “But it's so hard to believe he would do this. I'd like some real proof.”
“Fair enough,” I said, and turned to Carl. “Does Dirk know I'm here with Princess?” I asked him.
Carl shook his head. “No, Miss Marissa. The only people who I told are the Lord and Lady.”
“Good. Could you bring him here, please? Don't tell him why, though.”
Carl bowed and left.
Five minutes later, he returned with Dirk. Dirk took one look at me, at the note and parchment in Lord Abarond's hands, and at Princess sleeping in Lysa's lap, and his eyes widened and the color drained from his face.
“What...How...No...Impossible,” Dirk stammered and took a couple of steps backwards towards the door, but Carl shut the door and placed a hand on Dirk's shoulder to stop him.
Lysa and Lord Abarond frowned at Dirk.
“Thank you, Dirk,” I said. “That was all the proof we needed, though a handwriting sample from you wouldn't hurt, either.”
Dirk hung his head. “There's no need for one. I wrote the note. And I took Princess, as you obviously have figured out, Miss Marissa.”
“Why, Dirk?” Lysa asked, her voice full of hurt and disappointment. “Why?”
Dirk looked at Lysa accusingly. “Why?” he repeated. “I wanted to see just how much you really care about Princess.”
“What do you mean? I love Princess.”
“But you don't take care of her. You dote on her, spoiler her with attention and all, but I do all the work, walking her, feeding her, bathing her...You don't do any of that. You leave it all for me to do.
“Don't misunderstand me. I don't mind doing it, even though I'm supposed to be a houseboy and not a kennel worker. I like Princess. She's a sweet dog. But I'm not her owner. And it'd be nice to have some help once in a while, as well as some recognition for all I do for her. I don't even get to go to the dog shows, and I'm the one who trains her and grooms her for them.”
“Why didn't you just come to me and let me know you felt this way, Dirk? Why resort to such drastic measures?”
“Because I knew that you wouldn't take me seriously otherwise. If I came to you and told you how I felt, you'd only pay me token attention and forget what I would have told you as soon as I was gone. I had to do something to get your attention, to make you listen.”
“So a fake dog-napping was the best way you could think of? Were you really planning to kill Princess if I didn't pay?”
“Of course I wasn't going to kill her. I was planning to wait in disguise at the warehouse, and give Princess back to you if you paid. And if you didn't, I was planning to return here later with her and say that I had found her wandering around, having most likely managed to escape on her own at last.”
“I see. So, Dirk, what should we do with you? Should we keep you around, or notify the authorities?”
At that point Princess woke up. She spotted Dirk, and jumped down from Lysa's lap and ran over to him, tail wagging. She pawed at his leg, looking to be picked up. Dirk smiled and obliged the little dog, who licked his face as he held her.
“Well, I guess she decided for us,” Lysa said. “You may stay, Dirk. Your method may leave something to be desired, but you had a valid point to make, and no one was hurt.”
“Thank you, Ma'am.”
“I will try to help you out more with Princess's care. And I will thank you more often for taking care of her like you do. Including giving you a pay raise, since you are correct in that you were taken on as a houseboy, and I put more responsibility on you by asking you to take care of Princess. I will let you come to dog shows from now on, as well. Starting with the one this evening.”
Dirk bowed. “Thank you.”
“And if I forget any of these agreements, don't be afraid to remind me. And please, next time you feel there is something that needs to be brought to our attention, tell us directly. We will listen to you.”
“You may go now, Dirk.”
Dirk bowed, set Princess down, and Carl opened the door for the young man. Princess followed him out of the study.
“Well, Miss Marissa,” Lysa said. “You have certainly earned your pay. Thank you again for all of your help. Now, I believe I said I was willing to pay you the 1,500 gold coins mentioned in the ransom note.”
“Yes, you did. But you don't have to pay me that much.”
“Are you sure?” Lord Abarond asked. “You more than deserve it.”
“I'm sure. I'll settle for 100. I believe that amount is appropriate for this case.”
“As you wish. Carl, bring Miss Marissa her payment.”
Carl bowed and left the study. He returned a few minutes later with a leather bag, which he handed to me. I accepted it and peered inside. Gold coins filled the bag. I nodded and closed the bag. “Thank you,” I said, and stood up. “Well, I guess I'll take my leave, now that my job is done. Good luck at the dog show later.”
Lysa and Lord Abarond stood up. “Thank you again, Miss Marissa,” Lysa said as she and her husband shook my hand.
Carl escorted me from the study and to the front door. “Thank you, Miss Marissa,” he said as I stepped outside, then he closed the door behind me.
As I walked away from the mansion, my stomach rumbled. I never did eat breakfast, I realized. I had been in such a hurry to return Princess. So I tied the leather bag of coins to my belt and hurried off to find somewhere to eat.
* * * *
The next morning, as I was about to leave the magic shop to go get something to eat, Master Kimmbel - a tall, skinny man with graying brown hair - called out to me from behind the counter of magic items he was tidying up before opening for business for the day.
“Miss Marissa,” he said. “I have a letter for you. It just arrived a few minutes ago.”
“A letter?” I asked, curious, and approached the counter.
He reached into a pocket of his brown jacket and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. “Here,” he said, holding it out to me. “It looks like it might be important. It's sealed with the crest of Lord Abarond.”
Raising an eyebrow in surprise, I took the letter, broke the wax seal holding it closed, and opened it. As I read what was written inside, a small smile formed on my lips.
What was the letter? Just a small note from Lysa, thanking me once again for my help, and letting me know that Princess had won Best In Show again.