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.
[To Be Continued…]