“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…]