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…]