Monty Bust & Carlo – Conclusion


Croesus started down the road. Then stopped. His suspicions were up like the hackles on a hedgehog. “Wait. What d’you mean by that?”

By what? wondered the disembodied voice of Montgomery Prye.

“‘Nothing could be simpler.’ That’s what you said.”

What do you mean, what do I mean by it?

“I mean you mean something.” Croesus wished he could fish the bust out from under his coat, look in its eyes and read its expression. But that would be a bad idea because it wouldn’t work and it would be an open invitation for hypnotism. “The way you said it. It definitely sounded like you meant something by it.”

Dear me, you are as suspicious and judgemental as Seedgrape.

“Hmmph!” protested Croesus. But he didn’t have any more convincing arguments to offer. Because he supposed that must be how he seemed to the bust. Maybe he was judging Monty unfairly. Maybe he was looking for the criminal in everything. The comparison with Seedgrape stung though, that was for sure.

“All right,” he said. “Which way?”

I cannot see. You will have to allow me to survey our position so that I may direct you from here.

“Oh no, I’m not having that. Your eyes stay covered the whole time. No gazing at passers-by and hypnotising them to mug me and run off with you.”

Truly, you are a suspicious man.

“Just cautious. You’ll be free to go wherever you want – assuming you can.” Croesus frowned. Where on earth would a stone bust go – and how would it get there? Hmm. Probably by using others, just as he had used Croesus to get him out of the Palace. Well, it was none of his business where the bust ended up after he was done with the thing. “Never mind. Point is, you will be free to go wherever. After you’ve taken me to Carlo. Meanwhile, Monty, you’re not fooling me.”

I’m not?

“No. You’re Montgomemory. The Great Memory Man. I happen to know you wandered these streets. Plenty of forays outside the Palace, performing at pubs and taverns all over town. And if you knew your way around back then, you know your way just the same now. All these streets are just different branches of memory lane to you. You can guide me blindfolded.”

Ah, there you have me. Yes, I possess a perfect memory map of the city.

Croesus patted the side of Monty’s head, there under his coat. “There you go then. We left the Palace via the main gate and I turned left and I’ve walked all of thirty yards. No more delays. Let’s do this.”

Very well. Monty’s voice sighed, as though defeated. Proceed as you were and at the end of the street take a right.

“Right.” Croesus did as instructed. He smiled at some of the passers-by who regarded him warily. He could’ve been cradling a large cabbage or a bomb under his coat for all they knew. If they called the patrols on him, doubtless he would be able to explain himself but he could do without the interruption to his investigation. Especially at this crucial stage in the game when, if Monty could be trusted, he was closing in on the mysterious and enigmatic figure of Carlo.

Now, twenty-five yards down the hill, take a left into Cobbleberry Lane which you will find tucked between numbers forty-nine and fifty-one.

“I know it,” Croesus assured the bust.

The lane served as a convenient shortcut whenever he had to get to the Palace in a hurry. Like this morning when he’d been summoned on this very case.

Cross Tricklewell Bridge, go round the fountain in Hundred Foot Square.

“Then into Portmelon Street?”

Just so.

Croesus carried on. It was all familiar turf to him so far.

Quietly he followed the bust’s directions all the way to the Crippling Narrows. The neighbourhood he called home.

He halted in the lane that climbed towards his house. And stared down at the ground. Where he imagined a penny had dropped.

Why have we stopped? asked Monty.

“Because we’ve found him,” said Croesus. “Haven’t we?”

You tell me.

Croesus wrinkled his lips, a sour taste on his tongue. What a tool he’d been.

“Good to see you Croesus!” his old contacts had all said. Like they’d known. They’d guessed Carlos’ identity all right. Or he’d told them and sworn them not to let on. They were all glad to see their old mate back in business, on their side of the law.

“You used me.”

I use everybody, to be fair. Nothing personal. Just a matter of necessity when you’re only a head and shoulders of stone.

“My memory picture of the vault. That was yours. Planted there by you. That’s why you weren’t in it.”

Routine inspections. Easy regular access to the vault. You were the ideal partner. The only choice.

Croesus stood rooted to the spot and fumed silently. Then he spun on his heel and marched down the hill.

Where are we going?

“To the harbour. Where I’m going to chuck you in.”

What? You can’t just –

“I can just do whatever I like. I’m finished in this city. Thanks to you. So you’re finished too. You want to talk ‘just’? I think that’s just. You can use your gaze on the fishes. Hypnotise them to clean your head of weeds and such.”

I am Montgomery Prye. Brother to the King! You can’t just throw me in the drink!

It was funny to hear Monty proclaiming his sibling relationship with the King when that had been the source of such ire and resentment.

Croesus arrived at the harbourside feeling rather furtive with the bust tucked under his arm. He probably wasn’t the first individual to pop down to the harbour of a quiet evening to rid himself of some unwanted goods.

Croesus manoeuvred the bust out from under his coat, careful to direct its gaze seaward. At best it would be able to hypnotise the gulls to attack him. But Croesus was confident he could chuck the thing in the water before any birds divebombed.

Wait! Wait! Wait! I can secure you an introduction. A new position. With Mayor Harpsburg down in Tortenschloss.


He would need to leave town after this. Find somewhere new, a healthy distance from the city. And from the King. Tortenschloss was parochial enough that Seedgrape might not bother to chase him down. The Chancellor might just be glad to see the back of Croesus De Vere.

Mayors sounded better than Kings. There was at least some potential for action there, even if they sounded prone to indecision. Mayor. As in may or may not. May or may not return to his old ways, for example. Time and fortune would tell.

Croesus hefted the bust in one palm like a really heavy coin, primed for the toss. One that could only come up heads.

All Croesus had to do was decide what ‘heads’ meant.


SAF 2017

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Nine


“So…” said Croesus. “When you say you’ll take me to Carlo…”

Yes, yes. I mean I will guide you to him, the bust assured him. Show you the way. Obviously I cannot take you anywhere. I am entirely reliant on you to take me places. You know, I realise you are a criminal, Croesus De Vere, but you possess a distinctly cruel streak. When a man has lost his legs, not to mention most of the rest of his body, it is really best not to taunt him over semantics about taking you anywhere. I may have been turned to stone, but I still have feelings.

“Sorry. Touched a nerve there.” Croesus grimaced and held his hands up in apology. “I’m an ex-criminal though. It’s an important distinction and one that puts me in a unique position to help you out of here.”

So you will do it?

Croesus pondered. It might be difficult, smuggling something the size of a bust out past the guards. Then again, maybe it didn’t have to be too complicated.

“All right. Come on. Let’s do this. Before I change my mind.”

Croesus grabbed the bust and whipped it off the pedestal, tucking it under his arm, inside his coat. It had some weight to it and he had to support it, cradling it with his other arm. No hands free for anything else.

This is your great plan for smuggling me out?

“Shut up and play along. Actually just shut up. This’ll work. And as long as you’re under my coat you can’t go hypnotising anyone else.” He shouted to the guards outside: “Open the door would you? Coming out!”

There was a pause. Probably the guards wondering why he couldn’t open the door for himself. Eventually they obliged and the doors parted. The guards peered in – with Chancellor Seedgrape standing between them.

“Well now,” he said. And the Chancellor didn’t only mince words, but served them up in a dry, gravyless shepherd’s pie of his own making. “Croesus. What are you up to now?”

“Pursuing my investigations.”

“Indeed? And what is it you are attempting to smuggle out under your coat?”

“Really? Honestly, Seedgrape, I get that you’re convinced I haven’t changed my stripes. That I’m still a criminal at heart. But when I was a criminal I was a master thief. Give me some credit. If I wanted to steal this, I’d devise some sort of master plan. Not just walk out with it under my coat. As for what it is – well, I’ll give you one guess. Seeing as a thief – the thief I’m hunting – walked off with everything else in the vault, there’s only one thing it can be, isn’t there?”

“The bust of Montgomery Prye. Why on earth would you want that?”

“I don’t. Not even the thief wanted it.” Seedgrape had to be in on the state secret. He had to know it was no ordinary bust. That it was the remains of the petrified remains of the King’s brother. But if the King had no notion Monty was still alive and scheming within the stone, then Seedgrape was certainly also clueless. Croesus had to keep that in mind while crafting his story. “There’s some reason he left it here. To make some point that I don’t quite understand yet. So if I remove it now and our thief gets to hear about it, his point goes unmade. And if he’s anything like the thief I used to be, that’ll sting his pride.”

“You mean to bait him with the bust then?”

Croesus nodded. “Oh yes. I’ll take it to one of the established fences. Get word out it’s on the market. He’ll want it and he’ll come for it. Try to put it back in the vault if he can.”

“He would go so far?” Seedgrape clearly boggled at the audacity of the idea.

Croesus nodded all the more eagerly. Playing a touch of the audacious himself. “Oh yes. Vanity, see. It’s the one major weakness of master thieves. I should know.”

To Seedgrape, whose mind was so firmly made up about Croesus, this would sound like an admission of weakness in Croesus himself. And believable because the notion of Croesus as a deeply flawed individual appealed greatly to the Chancellor.

“It sounds a desperate plan,” said Seedgrape. “But if you believe it will catch our thief, I wish you luck.”

Plainly, Seedgrape wished Croesus nothing of the sort. He stood aside, wearing a smile he would be happy to don again if Croesus returned in failure.

Hugging the bust, Croesus marched past and made the long walk from the palace and its grounds. The guards were uniformly helpful, opening gates and doors when they saw he had his hands full. Before long, he was out in the streets.

Croesus patted Montgomery’s head. “There. What’d I tell you? Cunning is wasted on the simple. Sometimes it’s best to just go with the most straightforward solution.”

Point taken. And I quite agree.

“Well good.” A few pedestrians eyed Croesus oddly as he talked aloud to the lump under his coat. “Now you can keep your side of the bargain. Direct me to Carlo.”

Nothing could be simpler.


[To Be Concluded…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Eight


Turn me about, repeated the bust. So that we might speak face to face.

“Oh no. No way.” Croesus backed up. “You’re not using your mesmeric powers on me.”

I feel like I’m some badly behaved child, banished to a corner of the classroom and ordered to stare at the wall.

“Well, good. You go ahead and feel that way. It’s not a hundred leagues from the truth. You have been badly behaved. You nicked all the King’s stuff.”

He has more stuff. A king is rarely short of stuff.

“Even so. All his treasures. From this vault.”

You wish me to make a full confession? The voice had a faintly mocking tone, which Croesus didn’t like. A man had no grounds for being smug when he was only a head. The bust spoke as though it was always ahead. Which was an altogether different thing.

“No,” said Croesus. “I don’t.” He didn’t want the head telling him how all the pieces fit, not after he’d managed to piece it together himself. “I’ve figured it out, thanks. Most of it. I’ll give you the précis.”

Be my guest.

Croesus felt  a bit odd addressing the back of a statue’s head, but better a little awkwardness than being hypnotised into believing he was an ape or a penguin or cupboard or something.

“So, you and your brother, the King, didn’t get on especially famously. And when you had an unfortunate encounter with a Gorgon, that was his opportunity to hide you away, out of sight where you wouldn’t be an embarrassment. Official story: you perished in a riding accident.”

I did. Kind of. After my petrifaction under the Gorgon’s gaze, my brother sought to transport me to the Palace without drawing too much public attention. He ordered my legs broken and my newly be-statued form to be cloaked and strapped into a saddle. Alas I was not strapped securely enough and I fell and broke some more. So the King had most of me broken up further and stored only what you see before you now.

“All right. That was the one bit I needed filling in. Yes, so I get it now. Revenge. This wasn’t just about stealing. This was about breaking the treasures up. Dismantling all the items, remaking them into other objects, that wasn’t just about selling the goods on. That was another way to stick the knife in. So that when I go report he’ll know everything is broken, with no chance of him ever getting any of it back. Does your brother have any idea what a malicious lump of granite you are?”

None. He believes, like most, that petrifaction means death. But living on past the point of being turned to stone, that is nothing to a mind such as mine.

“Right.” Croesus took a little stroll around the centre of the empty vault. Thinking with his feet, out loud. “So here you were, shut up in the vault with all the treasures, nothing to do all day, week after week, month after month, but think. And plot and scheme. And observe the routines and study the security measures. My security measures. And, crucially, commit every individual treasure – and its exact placement – to your remarkable memory.”

Indeed. Go on.

Croesus spun and pointed dramatically. A gesture probably lost on the back of a marble head. “And that’s how you did it! As long as you retained a perfect mental picture of this vault and its contents, that was a picture you could quietly project into the mind of anyone who entered. So your thieving partner could sneak in here between inspections, flit off with some small piece or two, and nobody would notice anything missing. Because anyone else coming in, all we’d see was that mental picture. An illusion. That’s how things have been disappearing gradually, for months. Until last night when finally it’s all gone and you drop the mental projection and let the King see the full extent of what he’s lost. Wham! Fait accomplit, as the Francans say.”

Croesus shook his head. Trying to shake off the smidgen of admiration he felt.

Tricky to prove.


Well, when you present that account to Seedgrape, said the bust, my lips will be sealed, of course.

Croesus scowled. The head had a point.

“True, a man is innocent until proven guilty. But… I’m not sure the same applies to a bust. A bust of a brother for whom the King has no love. I mean, think about it. Sure, I imagine Seedgrape will have a hard time believing you’re just a lump of stone. But if the King has any doubt  that you’re maybe still his brother in there and maybe you did this to his precious collection – d’you think he’ll hesitate to have the last of you broken up?”

There is that possibility, admitted the bust. And it was kind of gratifying to hear it being a bit less sure of itself. But will the King be satisfied with your results?

Probably not. “No. I’d still need to find the mysterious Carlo. Maybe recover some of the stolen goods too, if I can.”

Then let me strike a bargain. You get me out of here. Steal the last of the treasure. And I will take you to Carlo, my accomplice.

Hmm. Tempting.


[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Seven


Croesus marched up to the vault door. The guards crossed their halberds, barring his path.

“No admittance,” stated one, as though the message of the crossed weapons was ambiguous.

“I know,” grated Croesus. “By my order. Or by Seedgrape’s order, but it originated from me. Because I didn’t want anyone interfering with the crime scene. But I’m the investigator. So I’m going to need access to the scene. To investigate. Aren’t I?”

Croesus smiled a tight smile, like he was stretching his face to make a drumskin. He waited for the guard to reason his way through the difficult decision-making maze. Finally, the guards relaxed their polearms and returned to standing stiffly either side of the door. Croesus passed between them.

He shoved the doors open. Paused and spun in the opening and told the guards, “I’m not to be disturbed. And if Seedgrape insists, you can inform him I’m close to solving the case and any interruptions could jeopardise the whole thing and I’d be sure to make it very clear to the King who it was did the jeopardising. Clear?”

“Clear.” The guards nodded to Croesus then to one another. Croesus ducked into the vault and closed the doors.

Shutting himself in with the suspect.

En route to the palace, Croesus had swung by home to pick up some of his old tools of the trade. A short enough detour, but he’d also stopped to wash his head of some of the effects of the rum he’d consumed, with a mug of coffee. By now it was evening and the vault had succumbed to gloom. Only broken by thin slats of dusky light sliding down from the high shutters.

The first thing he did was to approach the suspect, hugging the wall so as to advance from the target’s flank. Once within reach, he grabbed the pedestal and turned it so that the bust was facing the wall.

“So,” he said to the back of Montgomery Prye’s skull. “We meet at last.”

The bust gave no answer. At this stage, Croesus realised he’d given no thought as to whether it could speak. He supposed he should have considered the question before now. A does or three of rum might slur your syllables but a pair of stone lips would surely impede speech more. Never mind. For now, he only needed the bust to hear him out. And Croesus could speak freely without fear of any mesmeric effects from that stony gaze.

“Suffice to say, I have you bang to rights. I should’ve seen it sooner. Much sooner. Who knows – maybe you were using your hypnotic powers to dull my senses, but I’ve got it all figured out now. Oh yes.”

The bust listened. Or pretended not to hear him. Tricky to say which.

Croesus rested an elbow on the back of the pedestal. “Come on, Monty, my old china. Fess up. I know you were in on it. You and your accomplice, Carlo. Oh yes, I’ll track him down sooner or later, don’t you worry your not very pretty head on that score.” Croesus laughed. “Yes, you can give me that cold shoulder treatment all you like. But I’ve got you. It’s the only possibility that adds up. There’s a few minor details I’m missing – like how you went from being a whole petrified brother to just a bust on a plinth, but I’ll give you a chance to tell me all about that.”

The bust maintained its stony silence.

“Of course, if that’s the way you want to play it…”

Croesus flung his bag of tools to the tiled floor. They clanked. He crouched and rummaged in the bag. Stood up, armed with hammer and chisel. He reached around the bust to waggle the tools before the thing’s eyes.

“Your friend, Carlo, has apparently been breaking the stolen items down into smaller pieces,” he told the bust. “Selling them off as other goods. Maybe I’ll take you out of here piece by piece. What should I chip away first? The nose? Yeah. You’ve got a generous hooter on you. Could afford to have that whittled down a bit.”

The bust said nothing. Croesus touched the chisel blade to the side of its nose.

He held the hammer, poised.

No reaction.

Croesus gave the chisel handle a delicate tap with the hammer.

The tiniest crack appeared above one nostril and a minuscule flake fell away from the stone.

All right! All right!

The voice echoing around Croesus’ head was not his own. It was like thunder breaking in a cave. Every syllable of iron hammered out like blades on a blacksmith’s anvil.

Turn me about and we shall talk.

“I was right!” said Croesus. “You are alive. And you were in on this whole business.”

Funny, said the stone bust. You sound more surprised than satisfied.

The bust had a point. Being right should have lent Croesus a sense of superiority. Instead it had thrown him a little off-guard.



[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Six


“Good to see you, Croesus.”

Croesus hopped onto a stool and slapped the bar. “Just pour.”

Good old Tavernier obliged straight away. Fixed him a glass full to the brim, no rocks. Never any rocks when he was in this mood. Rocks displaced too much volume meant for drink.

The place was mostly deserted, save for one snoring sailor carpeting a patch of sawdusted floorboards under a corner table. Croesus slurped his drink noisily and didn’t care. He slid his empty glass forward, presenting it for a refill. Tavernier was there with the bottle, no hesitation.

Good old Tavernier. Croesus didn’t mind the ‘good to see you’ from him. At least their relations hadn’t changed since Croesus’ career move to law enforcement.

“Rough day on the job, eh?” said the barkeep. It was barely noon. “Who’s got you running this ragged?”

“Seedgrape. Chancellor. Tries to corner the market on snootiness. Would monopolise it if he could, but you know, he works in the palace so snoot is hardly in short supply.”

“Ah. Well, you know snoot is just like snot. Only spelt longer cos they let you see further up the chimney.” Tavernier tipped his head back to allow Croesus an illustrative view all the way up his nose.

Croesus laughed. Then killed the laugh with a swig of his rum.

“Thing is,” he said, “it’s not really Seedgrape driving me crazy. He’s just the one waiting to ruin me when this case runs smack into a dead end. If it hasn’t already. It’s two others who are causing the real headache. And there’s something – something Seedgrape isn’t telling me.” Croesus dug at a knot in the bar with a fingernail.

Tavernier topped up his glass. “Unlike you to be so defeatist, Croesus, old mate. If you’re struggling for clarity, tackle your problems one glass at a time. Who’re the others who are giving you so much grief?”

“New operator in town. Shady character. Potentially a better thief than me. And all I’ve got is a name. Carlo.”

Tavernier sniffed. “Never heard of him.” Croesus drained his glass. Tavernier refilled. “Who else?”

“Montgomery Prye. Brother to the King, apparently. Died in mysterious circumstances. Well, riding accident, according to Seedgrape. But that’s one of the areas where I’m sure there’s something he’s not telling me. Or he’s telling me that something to cover for the other something – the true something – that he’s not telling me. You know what I mean.”

“I do. Amazingly.” Tavernier’s ability to interpret even the most incoherent of drunken mumbles was legendary. “What’s more, I know a thing or two about Montgomery Prye.”

Croesus sat up. Slapped both hands on the bar. “You do? Spill.”

Tavernier smiled. “I never spill.” He refreshed Croesus’ glass as though to prove the point. “Are you sipping comfortably?” Croesus sipped. And nodded. “Then I’ll begin…”

Tavernier propped himself on the bar, bottle close at hand in case of emergency top-ups. He coughed by way of a throaty prologue.

“Old Monty was something of a regular around the pubs in this area. Course he used to travel in disguise, but we all knew who he was. He had those stares so hard you could climb up em into his head, folks used to say. But you’d never quite know what was going on up there. Deep one, he was. But he loved to entertain. That’s why his brother, His Majesty, never much liked him. Considered the entertainment business unbecoming of royalty. Thought it reflected badly on the Crown and the family name, a brother who toured local hostelries and drinkeries, delighting and amazing us mere plebeians and commoners with his tricks.”

“Tricks? What sort of tricks.” Croesus heard a slur in his voice, so indicated for Tavernier to pour him another. That ought to smooth out the rougher edges of his speech. And sharpen his thinking.

“Mesmerism. Montgomemory, he used to call himself. Well, the Great Montgomemory, to use his full stage name. He’d get folks looking into his eyes and hypnotifying them to do all sorts of tomfoolery. Amusing or amazing feats they never thought they was capable of. Why, he had one fellow here – Clumsy Pete – juggle twenty tankards while balancing on an upturned table leg. He was that good was Old Monty, he could convince folks they was cats then train em to do tricks.”

“Sounds improbable.”

“Aye, it was. Had to be seen to be believed. And he also had the most amazing memory. He’d get the whole crowd to show him a trinket or something from their pocket, then have them all shuffle round while he wasn’t looking. And he’d turn round and name each and every article and who it belonged to. Didn’t matter if there was hundreds in the crowd. He’d remember them all.”

Hmm. Must’ve used a visualisation trick like Croesus did with all the treasures that had occupied the vault.

Croesus threw the rum at the back of his throat. It hit like a train on fire. His senses sharpened in an instant. He tested his powers of speech. “What happened to him?” No slur. An edge of suspicion.

“Lost a staring contest with a Gorgon, they say. Tried to hypnotify her and – ”

“Turned to stone,” Croesus concluded on Tavernier’s behalf.

He fell off his stool and ran for the door.

[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Five


Too curious.

But no matter how Croesus looked at it, no matter how many times he wandered around his memory picture, that bust wasn’t there. Not present. Nor past either. Not correct.

Fletcher coughed. “It’s all right. I’ve got all day.”

Croesus shook his head. Whatever the niggle, it could wait. He had lines of enquiry to pursue. And he wouldn’t want to get in the way of the rush of customers for Fletcher’s wares.

After a pointed survey of the mostly deserted store, Croesus pressed on with his list recital: “One ivory crown encrusted with tiger-amber gemstones; four clockwork musketeers of sixteen different precious metals between them; the famed Double-Headed-Sceptre Of Osterberg Quirth –”

“Oh now hang on a minute.” Fletcher raised a finger as though testing wind direction. “Clockwork. That rings a bell.” Sometimes, thought Croesus. “Different precious metals too. Yes. Wait right there.”

“The musketeers! You’ve seen them?”

“Not quite,” said Fletcher, disappearing through the door to the back. Croesus readied himself to spring over the counter in case the storekeep was thinking of bolting. But relaxed as the man returned and laid a fine pocket watch and chain out for inspection. The timepiece was made of four different metals at least and the links in the chain were just as varied. After a while, Fletcher turned the piece over and flipped open the back to show off the intricate workings. Cogs, coils and springs of a variety of shiny metals.

Croesus snatched up the piece and stared into its innards. If the thief had had the clockwork musketeers broken down and remade as watches, there was no telling what had happened to the other items. And his job of recovering the goods looked a lot harder. But the real question was time. There was no way there’d been time to re-purpose the components like this…

“How many of these have come through here?” he demanded. “How long have you had this?”

Fletcher eyed the watch like a seagull sizing up a pasty. Obviously hungry to get it back. “They’ve been coming in – pieces like that – two or three a time for months.”

Hmm. Croesus dropped the watch back into Fletcher’s waiting palm. There was no way this could be the remains of one of the clockwork soldiers. Was there?

Even so, something compelled him to ask the question: “Where d’you come by them? Who brought them in?”

“My usual sources. You know I don’t take anything direct. But they said they came from some fellow by the name of Carlo.”

“Carlo?” The name rang no bells.

Fletcher shrugged. “Some new player in town. That’s how it works, Croesus. You quit the profession, someone else moves in to take your place. And, I guess, if he’s knocked off the contents of the Royal Vault, that would make him better than you, wouldn’t it?”

Croesus scowled. And warned Fletcher, “I might be back.”


It was a similar story at Wainwright’s.

His workshop was busy, with a number of crews fitting together different wagons. So Croesus dragged the proprietor aside from his supervisions for a quiet word in the office. Quite a ream of quiet words, of course, since Croesus had to run through his list again, from the top.

“…set of nine silver flagons, emblazoned with the crest of House Harpsburg; a vest of chainmail with each individual link fashioned into a unique charm…”

Croesus could pick out every detail of that ridiculously elaborate chainmail shirt, but his mental picture still refused to include the damned bust.

“We did have a steady run on charm bracelets for a while,” admitted Wainwright, distracting Croesus from his current distraction. “Sold the lot of them eventually. Sorry. You probably missed the last one by about a week.”

A week ago? How could anybody fence stolen goods a week – or more – before they were stolen? Either the charms were a coincidence and the watches nothing to do with the clockwork musketeers – or the world had stopped making sense.

“All right. I might be back for a list of buyers.” Yeah. Good luck, Croesus wished himself. Track down all the charms, maybe. Reassemble them into a chainmail shirt? Not likely. “Just tell me who brought them in.”

“Three or four different folks,” said Wainwright. “Said they were looking to shift some items for some fellow called Carlo.”


Croesus nodded slowly. And took his leave.

“Good to see you, Croesus,” Wainwright called after him.

Croesus stopped in the doorway. Yep. The world had totally stopped making sense.


Same story at Cooper’s.

There wasn’t much activity at the warehouse. The workers were on a break and the barrels stood silent. Cooper wasn’t too happy having his lack of work interrupted, but heard out the list with an attentive tilt of the head.

“…crystal King and Queen cruet set with gold-crown lids; bearskin rug of genuine Arctic Ursophant…”

Shameful waste of a beautiful beast. Still no sign of that bust in his memory vault.

“We got a couple of white teddy bears with small gold crowns last month,” said Cooper. “Beautiful they was. Sold em, no probs.”

“Let me guess? Carlo?”

Cooper nodded. “Good to see you, Croesus.”

Croesus wished people would stop saying that.


[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Four


“Croesus! Good to see you. What can I do you for?”

Croesus sauntered into the shop. Then stopped, mid-saunter, before he’d reached the counter. “What did you just say to me?”

“Eh?” asked Fletcher. Suddenly the man looked wary and shady, ready to dive for cover behind his counter, which was carved into the crenellated shape of a castle wall. “I only asked what I could do for you. You know, doin my bit to be friendly. Helpful, like. Providing a spot of customer service. Not that I’d take you for a routine customer. You’re not usually in the market for arrows. What’s up? Taken up archery in your spare time?”

“No. Before that. ‘Good to see me’. What was that?” Croesus advanced with eyes narrowed.

“Friendly. You know. Being nice. You oughta try it sometime.”

“All right. Never mind.” Croesus relaxed, laid an arm atop the counter’s faux battlements. The fact was, he didn’t have a lot of spare time for archery or anything. And he stood to get a few more answers if Fletcher wasn’t on the defensive. He let the unexpected friendliness go this once. “What you can do or me is tell me if certain items have shown up in your shop.”

“Arrows, you mean? Certain types of arrow? We only sell arrows here, mate.”

“Don’t get cute.” Fletcher had inherited his original trade from his old man, but it had quickly turned into a front for more underhand commerce. He was a pasty-skinned fellow with red hair and a moustache that drooped to partially hide a droopier face. Croesus would have deemed him well-suited to boredom, but he had found the business of churning out arrow after arrow to be pointless drudgery and had sought to spice up his life by fencing stolen goods.

The shelves and racks out front were stacked with arrows. Every possible variety plus bolts for crossbows over in their dedicated corner section. But Croesus knew if he hopped the counter and wandered into the back rooms he’d find other treasures missing from their rightful homes. Not necessarily the specific treasures he was looking for, but still several hot items waiting to be sold that were not cakes.

Not only did he know that, he knew that Fletcher knew he knew it. And knew that he could have guards summoned for an impromptu store inspection and shut him down. Which was quite a lot of knowing between them and Croesus framed as much knowing as he could in the look he gave the bushy-lipped storekeep.

“All right, all right,” Fletcher caved. He leaned across the counter and muttered through his moustache. “What sort of items d’you have in mind?”

Croesus reeled off the first few objets d’art like he was reciting his week’s grocery list. “Two commemorative silver sandwich platters marking the centenary of the Battle Of Thistle Fjord; glass galleon threaded with dragonscale filigree; one sapphire-collared porcelain Pekinese; seven authentic gold-framed triptychs by Avgost Velophin depicting the Trials Of Lady Jenoise; diamond chess set with pearl and jet gameboard and hourglass pawns; twelve Sinoan warrior figurines fashioned from pure – ”

“Wait, wait,” Fletcher waved him quiet. “Can’t you just give me a list?”

“What does it sound like I’m doing?”

“No, no. Written. On paper. A proper list list.”

Croesus wrinkled his upper lip. “Because I don’t have one.” He tapped the side of his skull. “It’s all up here. Committed to memory.”

“Really?” Fletcher eyed Croesus’ head dubiously, as though doubting there was room for so many words between his ears. He sniffed eventually though, apparently impressed. “Quite a feat if you ask me, to keep that lot stored in your head. Some days I can’t even remember whether I’ve brushed my teeth or not.”

Croesus would hazard a guess not today. Although the smell of stale food may have emanated from morsels lodged in the man’s moustache.

“It’s not that difficult. The King has me do routine inspections all the time. Number of times I’ve toured that vault and checked inventory, wasn’t hard to learn it all. What’s more I don’t just know every item in the collection, I know exactly where it is.”

Croesus nodded, allowing Fletcher time to be impressed some more.

“Except now, you mean,” said Fletcher.

Croesus grumbled irritably. He straightened, tired of leaning on the counter. “Yes. As it happens. Except now. What I mean is, I keep a mental picture of all the items and their position in the vault – as they should be. Bit like I now have a vivid mental image of you languishing in His Majesty’s dungeon feeding the royal rats.”

“Steady on, Croesus, I’m doing my best to assist.”

“All right then. I’ll keep going. You just nod if anything rings a bell.”

Fletcher made a face like he was all ears. Leaned forward some more.

“Right, where was I?” Croesus shut his eyes momentarily to recall his mental picture. Turned the image of the vault interior around in his head. Noting each item again in turn, up to the Sinoan warrior figurines.

“Go on then,” urged Fletcher, a touch impatient.

“Wait,” said Croesus. That was odd.

He stared hard at the insides of his eyelids. Wherever his mental image was projected, everything was in its place. Except –

No marble bust of Montgomery Prye.

Funny. Why wouldn’t he have memorised that?



[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Three


“The King wants results, De Vere. I understand results may take time, but do not fool yourself that you have an ample supply of hours to play with.”

Croesus fought the urge to yawn his way through the Chancellor’s lecture. If he pretended attentiveness and showed a keen eye, that might buy him some allowance when negotiating terms for his investigation. He had to be free to operate on a lengthy leash. So that, at a minimum, he might be able to wing it until some inspiration struck. For now, Chancellor Seedgrape was not quite done.

“But in the meanwhile, you must have theories. Something to impart. It falls to me to report to the King and I cannot go to him empty of words.”

Croesus considered it very unlikely that Seedgrape ever found himself empty of words. He appeared to have paused his speech for now though.

“Well, best I can tell you is we’re dealing with an absolute mastermind. A genius to rival my own. But I’m sure you figured out that much yourself.” Croesus cracked a smile like he used to crack safes. “But the good news is, we don’t have to trouble ourselves with working out how it was done.”

“We don’t?” queried Seedgrape.

“Not a priority. We’ll have to eventually. Well, I’ll have to. There’s some security loophole about the size of a volcanic crater, obviously, so I’ll need to see about plugging it at some point. But the beauty of stolen goods, from our current point of view, Chancellor, is that regardless of how they went walkies they have to go somewhere.”

“Ah.” Seedgrape nodded sagely. And with an arch of his nostrils that hinted of disapproval. “You mean to contact your associates of old. Fences, I believe, is the term.”

“Well, yes. The goods have to be handled. And I know all the leading players in the business.” Croesus leaned in to confide – and also because he knew the closeness would get up Seedgrape’s sensitive nose. “Thing is, I have to act quickly – most of these items will be hotter than hot potatoes so our thief won’t want to hold onto them for any length of time. Same goes for the dealers. Some folks like to sit on the fence, but fences rarely like to sit on anything for too long. Trickier aspect is, I’ll also have to tread carefully. Most of my old associates care less for me than you do. Since I turned coat and started working for the law they don’t appreciate when I come calling. And I don’t know if you’ve ever done anything quickly and carefully at the same time, mate, but try running a tightrope some day.”

Seedgrape sniffed and spent a while clearing his throat. “Yes, well, I quite appreciate the difficulties. But I will not concern myself over the methods, De Vere, as long as you produce the results. Recover the goods – as many of the items as you are able. And bring the criminal to justice. You need not apprehend him yourself. Merely supply his identity and the guards will do the rest.”

“Right. I’d best get my careful skates on then. Leads to pursue, inquiries to be made. I take it I’m free to go?”

Seedgrape stepped aside. The guards parted to make an exit. Croesus started along the aisle they’d created between them.

“Just one thing.” He halted and spun about in detectively fashion. “Out of curiosity. What’s the story on that marble bust?”

“That thing?” said Seedgrape. “Well, it’s not marble as such. But it is a bust of Montgomery Prye. Brother to the King.”

“Oh? The King has a brother?” Couldn’t be much love lost there, figured Croesus. The King prized the valuables (that had been) in his vault, but surely such a fine likeness of his own sibling would carry additional sentimental or emotional attachment and you’d give it pride of place somewhere you could look on it every day. Unless it was a poor likeness, in which case the reverse would apply. In other words, you’d give it pride of place if you didn’t like him. Love, hate. Either way, emotional attachment was involved.

“Had,” amended Seedgrape. “Regrettably the King’s brother – passed away some years ago.”

“Oh.” Croesus wondered if a ‘sorry’ was called for. But he had no idea how Seedgrape felt about the dear departed Montgomery Prye. He ran through his reasoning again, calculating how a deceased state might alter the rules. But no, it didn’t change a thing. You’d keep the statue or bust in daily view if you loved your brother and the sculpture was a decent likeness. You’d display it even more prominently if you hated the guy and it was a shabby likeness. Emotional attachments deepened when the subject was dead. Especially if the emotion was loathing.

“What happened to him?” Croesus wondered.

“Ah – an unfortunate riding accident. The King does not care for us to speak of it. Now, if that will be all – ”

Interesting. Relevant? Possibly. Or possibly not. Croesus filed the information away right next to whatever Seedgrape wasn’t telling him.

He had people to see. Most of whom would not be wanting to see him.





[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Two


Scene of the crime.

The first, most immediately obvious thing that struck Croesus was that Chancellor Seedgrape had told a porky. The Royal Vault was only mostly empty.

A solitary bust, mounted on an ebony pedestal, observed Croesus from one alcove. Croesus did his best not to let the stern gaze bother him as he completed his third circuit of the chamber.

Nope, he thought. This was wrong. All wrong.

The vault was housed under a sixteen-sided dome. And no, Croesus did not know the geometric term for the structure. He thought of it as hexadecagonal as that was adding ten and six and putting pieces together was his specialty. In his old days, the maths had been more about subtraction: one vault minus much of its contents. Rarely all though. All wasn’t often practical.

All was to make a statement.

He finger-drummed on his lower lip. Shot a glancing frown at the marble bust. “Curious. Between you and me,” he addressed the sculpture, “this has me foxed. Temporarily.” He wagged a finger. “Yes. Only temporarily, mind. So no need to go blabbing to old Seedgrape.” Seedgrape would pounce on any opportunity to have Croesus fired. Seedgrape was probably one of the advisers who whispered in the King’s ear when the question arose of where to house Croesus while on staff. “Not in the palace, Your Majesty. Anywhere but the palace.” Yes, Croesus could hear the old sourface muttering those exact words. “Well,” Croesus declared aloud, “stumped is not out.” He was about as familiar with the sport of cricket as he was with geometry. “The pieces are all here – even if they’re also all gone.”

Croesus toured the chamber again. Examining the mosaic floor, bending to inspect individual tiles – both to check for scuff marks and to be too close to view the overall picture. Although he was fully aware the mosaic formed a portrait of the King, graced with a pair of eagle’s wings and framed against a burning sun. Croesus had heard that fable and knew how it turned out. He poked around in every alcove. Recalled how he’d told the King alcoves were a bad idea. Alcoves afforded hiding spots for thieves. But the King liked them as an architectural feature and for the presentation of some of his valuables. And to be fair they only worked as places of concealment when masked by curtains or with things other than thieves in them. Objets d’art of concealment. There were none here. And no thieves.

The chamber stank of emptiness. It echoed of cleaned out.

The echoes were trapped inside, obliged to bounce back off the high hexadecagonal dome.

The shutters were closed, allowing in only slatted light. Narrow shafts like harp strings, waiting to be played by the waltzing dust. The shutters were part of his security installation, the oculus and decorative petal windows being an early-identified weakness that any thief unafraid of heights and rooftops would have cheerfully exploited. All the windows had been fitted with bars over the stained glass, but Croesus had ruled it insufficient. Armoured shutters routinely locked into place over night and clearly Seedgrape or somebody had ordered them to remain closed, perhaps to guard against further break-ins. Yeah. In case the thief came back to steal the mosaic tiles off the floor. Or the bust. But nobody in their right mind would want that thing.

Croesus was accustomed to working in shadows, had a good pair of dark-adaptable eyes. So the current gloom of filtered winter daylight was nothing to him.

Even from the middle of the chamber he could tell the bust was ugly. Well, not ugly exactly. But the subject had been in some kind of mood whenever he’d posed for the sculptor.

Bald as a dragon-egg, the subject had a nose that might have served well as an axe-blade and a set of cold marble lips that sneered at the world. The eyes had been left as a pair of blank orbs and that didn’t help make the subject’s expression any rosier. Add to that the chiselled bony cheeks, the wattled turkey-neck and a forehead with more ridgelines than most mountain ranges and Croesus could see why a thief might leave it behind. Few fences would want that face staring at them from some corner of their warehouse. It might have some value as a piece of art, he supposed, but who would you offload it on?

But – but – but –

Croesus sauntered in a small area in the centre of the vault and those dead pupil-less eyes seemed to follow his motions. If only they could tell him what they’d witnessed during the night.

He shrugged. And slouched out of the chamber.

He set his shoulders straighter and firmer as he met Seedgrape outside, waiting in the antechamber with a dozen guards. “Well?” said the Chancellor.

“There were a few telltale clues. I’m optimistic,” Croesus lied. What he really wanted to do was climb all over the building and inspect the exterior inch by inch. Or go home and think for a week.

Fat chance of the latter. He could tell from Seedgrape’s scowl his investigations were on a clock. At best, if he couldn’t produce answers, he’d be getting all the thinking time he could ever wish for. In the dubious comfort of a dungeon cell.



[To Be Continued…]

Monty Bust & Carlo – Part One



Croesus De Vere re-read the telegram through a haze of lost sleep and steam from his hastily brewed cuppa. He wished he could read it another way – like, come at once and stop the King from doing whatever. Sending telegrams before breakfast, for instance.

But once broken, the code of the telegram’s manner of punctuation allowed little room for misinterpretation. The King demanded the presence of his Court Investigator.

Croesus massaged away the sleep-deprivation, knocked back a gulp of his tea, then threw together his outfit with the same care as he’d taken in tossing the tea bag into the mug.

The morning was as bracing as a torturer’s rack. No sense wasting time stretching his legs. Croesus ran, hurdling the neighbourhood cats who populated the maze of narrow lanes he called home. Although an appointee on the staff of the Royal Court, Croesus was not of worthy enough stock to qualify for quarters within the palace grounds. Truth was, he had been born in a district not unlike this one and risen only so far as was needed to climb in through people’s windows. A shady past, long-since pardoned, followed him like his shadow. And while the King employed him as ‘Thief Of Police’, the royal visage probably held him in about as high regard as the scruffier felines of the Crippling Narrows.

Pah. Kings. What did they know?

‘King’ was the world’s shortest verb. To be king was to do precious little. Duties included a lot of sitting on thrones, which were only a form of chair made grand and impressive enough to accommodate all the sitting that had to be done by blue-blooded behinds.

Ah but, Croesus, some had argued, kings preside and decide over a host of difficult and weighty issues. But Croesus had observed this process in what might be termed ‘action’. Matters were raised, questions begged of the monarch’s ears. To all of which, the kingly head would nod, before turning to ask advice from a collection of counsellors, experts and authorities on this and that. And if a matter fell outside of the comfort zone of any one of the available advisers, new experts were sent for. Once equipped with the facts and a number of possible answers, the King would pick the solution he liked best and, by voicing it while wearing a crown and sitting on the aforesaid throne, convert it into law. It always seemed to Croesus that you could achieve much the same with just the council of experts and a bucket, in which they could chuck little scraps of paper inscribed with the best solutions to any problem. And hold a lucky dip. A governmental tombola.

But until anyone thought to replace the King with a bucket, Croesus was among those experts called upon to counsel and advise. His own purview: crime. And the position provided a steady income. With the only downside being the occasional emergency summons, like today’s.

Warmed up a tad, Croesus slowed his jog for the middle stretch of his journey. Progressing through the market district at a more seemly rate and taking care not to bump baskets out of shoppers’ hands. Then he upped himself to an energetic dash for the last leg, demonstrating a committed sense of urgency once within sight of the palace walls.

Croesus darted across the bridge, running the gauntlet of twenty-foot statues. All of them brandished polearms with blades that looked set to fall on faintly treasonous necks. And thoughts of replacing kings with buckets probably qualified as treason.

The actual ordinary flesh-and-bone guards ushered him through with half-salutes and tips of their helms. But the figure awaiting him in the Palace forecourt was ready with a greeting that had a bite similar to the ‘fresh’ morning air.

He stood to the left of the great needle of shadow cast by the giant sundial that was the courtyard’s centrepiece. As though to imply he had stood there all the while that shadow crawled by over him.

Croesus figured he’d been there a minute or two at most. “What’s His Maj panicked about this time?”

“If I were you, I would not compound my tardiness with disrespect.”

Croesus slapped on a fake smile. His disrespect was all for this bloke. Chancellor Seedgrape always had a pinched-nose look like he was helping down a bad taste. “I was only implying if there’s such a flap on, His Maj is unlikely to be very jesty.”

“Indeed. Perhaps even you will be keen to set such humours aside once you learn what is amiss.”

Amiss? Croesus hadn’t imagined anything was actually amiss. The King was a security hypochondriac. Always perceiving flaws and potential weak points where there couldn’t be any. Because Croesus had devised the system himself and he did not do flaws.

“Go on then – what’s amiss?”

“Everything,” said Seedgrape. “The entire vault has been emptied.”

Croesus swallowed some tea that wanted up again. “Stone me,” he said.

Knowing full well that was one very possible outcome.


[To Be Continued…]