Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Eight

marblebust

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.

“Hmm?”

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…]

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Monty Bust & Carlo – Part Seven

marblebust

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

marblebust

“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

marblebust

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.”

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…]