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.”
“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?”
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.