I got up very early the next morning just so I would give myself ample time to get ready for my meeting with Jasper. At 8:15, I watched the front gate with an open book in my hand and an eye out for my employer. At 8:30 sharp, he appeared in the same coat and hat, but wearing a cleaner suit than yesterday. Yesterday he wore a brown suit with matching tie that had seen better days. Today he wore another brown suit that was a shade darker and a tie the colour of cornflowers. I could not tell if the suit looked darker because it was clean or if that was its actual colour.
“Good morning,” I greeted as I approached the gate.
“Good morning, shall we?” As he opened the gate for me, I saw a smile on his lips. He must be having a good morning so far.
“I hope I am dressed as a secretary should,” I waved over my green and black checked woolen skirt and jacket. It was the most professional looking set I had in my possession.
Jasper nodded. “It will do.”
We caught a hansom cab to our office. Once we entered the office, Jasper immediately put me to work starting with a list of things that needed to be done – mostly cleaning and tidying.
“I have to run an errand, so I will leave this place to you. Take any messages.” With that he left before I had a chance to ask him a few questions of my own, one of them just happened to be: Where do you keep your cleaning supplies?
I looked around the office, then at the list and back at my surroundings again. The office was not entirely messy, but it appeared to have been neglected for some time. The floor had streaks of dirt, the glass surfaces clouded with finger marks and dust, the office kitchenette with its small gas burner covered in layers of grime and stains, and that was not even half of the list. A box stuffed to the seams with files needed to be sorted and organized, letters and messages nearly spilling over the “out box” begging to be sent to post, plants withered brown from dehydration (but I think those plants were beyond rescue), tin cans for tealeaves and ground coffee became a home for little critters (had to toss those upon discovery), and more. I sighed.
“Well, I guess I have to start somewhere,” I decided to go with what my mother had once advised me: start with the filthiest place and work your way around.
“Lucky you, you get first priority!” I muttered as I entered the kitchenette. I grabbed a brown and crusty tea towel there and turned on the water tap to begin with the dishes.
Five minutes into dishwashing, I realized I needed soap, sponges, mops, rags, and other cleaning supplies badly. Immediately I turned off the running water and decided to pay a visit to one of the shops. Where should I ask first? I quietly sent a prayer. I need to ask someone who is willing to help me and I can immediately and effectively get my job done by the time Jasper comes back. Whom can I go? I turned to my left and went into the teashop.
“Hi, there! What can I do for you?” a rilud with mixed curls of grey and brown greeted me.
“Hi, I work with Mr. Blake upstairs. Could I trouble you for some cleaning supplies?”
Within a few minutes, I returned to the office with a mop and broom in one hand and a pail containing every cleaning item I could borrow from the shop owner. I leaned the mop and broom to one corner and went back to the kitchenette with the pail in hand. For the next couple of hours, and some elbow grease, I cleaned the place moving from the now sparkling kitchenette to the dusty office area. Another two hours later, windows were opened, glass and polished surfaces glistened and glowed, swept and mopped the floors brought life to the office along with a fresh scent of soap, lemon and vinegar. I plopped myself on the now shiny leather chair releasing a sigh. I closed my eyes as I leaned my head back.
“Thank you,” I whispered to Ishual.
“Wow!” I immediately stood up upon Jasper’s arrival.
“Hi! Sorry, I was just taking a quick break. I still have some filing to do – ” I began explaining myself. Jasper held up his hand. I stopped.
“You don’t have to apologize. You did really well! I was just amazed at how the place looks.” He held up a paper bag. “Have you eaten?”
My stomach growled at the reminder.
Jasper laughed, “Glad I asked. Let’s have lunch. You relax while I bring you the food.”
I sat down again watching him go into the kitchenette. Few minutes later he returned bearing a tea trolley carrying a tea set and some sandwiches on the top surface.
“I hope you like luncheon meat. There was this great butcher shop I found along the way that made delicious deli meats.” He handed me a plate with six-inch sandwiches cut in half, each half speared with an olive on a toothpick.
After saying a brief word of grace, we bit into our sandwiches. I closed my eyes and held my cheek. It was heavenly – the meat with crispy greens held together by two pieces of bread that was crusty on the outside and moist on the inside.
“Mmmmm!” I exclaimed.
“Good, eh?” Jasper took another bite of his sandwich.
“Where did you get the tea?” I asked.
“There was a can in the far back of a cupboard.”
I neatly placed my untouched tea back on my saucer.
“Don’t worry. It’s still drinkable.”
With the sandwiches eaten and tea drank up (I had water instead), we returned to business.
“There were no messages while you were gone, which allowed me to finish cleaning today. Other than my visit to Mr. Digger Leavesden downstairs for cleaning supplies nothing eventful.”
Jasper sipped his tea. “Well, that’s fine. It means we still need to wait for the results. In the mean time, I want you to come with me.”
“But I have some filing.”
“That can wait. A female presence is requested where we are going. Our appointment is in,” Jasper looked at his pocket watch, “half an hour, which means we’ll need to lock the place up.”
In the next half hour, Jasper locked up the office while I went to return the borrowed cleaning supplies to Mr. Leavesden. By the time I came out of the teashop, Jasper had a hansom waiting for me. Once we got on, the driver took us on a drive across the Glacier River Valley to Hilda Estates, a residential area for the middle class. The driver brought us to a quaint looking home with chestnut roof tiles and sidings the colour of pale butter. The house looked aged, but well tended as with its yard.
“Whose place is this?” I inquired.
“The home of Mr. Gavin Tiller,” Jasper hopped off the hansom excitedly.
“Our victim?” I stood, Jasper held his hand out for me. With his assistance I stepped down from the hansom. He told the driver to wait for us as we approached the house.
“We need to interview his sister. However, she is not too comfortable with private visits from men, which is where you come in.” He knocked on the door frame.
The wooden door opened revealing a wiry looking woman with dark earth coloured hair, streaked with ash grey and white across the front half of her head, bundled into tight bun at the back of her head. She wore a conservative black dress that appeared to restrain her already petite form.
“What do you want?” she demanded through the screen door.
Jasper held up something that looked like a circular wallet for the woman to see. “Miss. Peony Tiller? I’m Jasper Blake, a consulting detective. This is Ms. Fullerton, my assistant. We work with the Nordican rangers and would like have a few questions regarding your brother.”
The woman’s eyes studied Jasper’s hand, and then her eyes met mine as I happened to be standing close to him. She opened the door.
Within minutes, we sat in her den. Before us were cups of tea. Miss. Tiller sat across from us in a small cushioned chair.
“I apologize for the untidy place,” she said to me.
The den was spotless and neat. Every furniture and item arranged as if they were assigned there. Oddly there were no photographs or pictures. Not even a hall mirror.
“Our sincere condolences for your loss, Miss. Tiller,” I consoled.
“Please call me ‘Peony’.”
“Well then, Peony, may we ask you some questions regarding your brother?”
Upon receiving a nod, Jasper and I shared a look. He handed me a page torn from his notebook containing a list of questions.
“When was the last time you have seen your brother?” I began.
“Gavin left home about a week ago saying he had something to do.”
“Did he say what it was?”
Peony shook her head. “He said that it was urgent and may not be back until two days. He works as a gardener and yard keeper for a number of places in the city. It is not uncommon for him to be away from home for days in a row.”
“You say he was a gardener and a yard keeper. Could you tell us who his employers are?”
Rilud gardeners offer their services as gardeners and yard keepers by contract; first they hire themselves to one place, such as an upper class family, from there they would branch off and work two or three other locations through their first employers. Because labour was cheap, it explains why these labourers work away from home sometimes with three to five different worksites just to put food on the table.
“Just a moment please,” Peony left us.
I looked at Jasper. He was sitting beside me on the loveseat with his hands cupped and resting against his chin. His eyes were unreadable.
“Here it is,” Peony brought a slim ledger; it was small enough to fit in one’s pocket.
“May I?” I accepted the ledger from her and opened it. On it were dates, times, locations, and the duties that accompany for each location.
“May we borrow this?” I asked.
“Keep it. I have no use for it.”
“One last question,” Jasper interceded. Peony jumped as if he had just appeared out of thin air.
“Y-yes?” her eyes darted from Jasper, then to me.
“Did he have any friends or close acquaintances?”
At the question, I thought I saw her eyes grow slightly. She looked right at me and said, “Not really. He was a busy man.”
“She’s hiding something,” Jasper told me as we made our way back.
“Funny I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Tell me what you saw.”
“The den was tidy and organized. I did not see any photographs or family photos, no mirrors. I found that odd because I kind of expected something of a sort.”
Jasper nodded. “I agree. Though, what bothered me was the setting of the place.”
“Gavin and Peony are supposed to be brother and sister, yet like you said I see no photographs of them together. I didn’t even see signs of his presence there.”
“She could still be grieving over her brother that she put her brother’s things away.”
“Possibly, but from what I have experienced, most of those who have lost their loved ones are reluctant to touch their possessions.”
“I also noticed Gavin’s ledger had a page torn from it and I think it is recent.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The pages show signs of yellowing and wear from touch and exposure, yet the page torn shows freshness at the tear.”
“Also,” I frowned, “I noticed that Peony addressed mainly to me – perhaps, only to me. Could she be afraid of men?”
Jasper rested his hand on his chin in thought.
“Usually as the hostess, women would take note of their guest’s presence would make some acknowledgement towards them, but I felt she completely ignored –”
I heard a snore and realized Jasper had fallen asleep during the conversation. I sighed, telling myself that Jasper probably did not get enough sleep last night.
Our next stop was the city morgue.
“You go ahead without me.” Jasper said, handing me his notebook. “And take notes if you see anything I have missed in this.” With that he turned to leave.
“You’re just going to leave me here?” I had to ask grabbing his sleeve. I knew I sounded rather childish, but for being in a place like this surely there was something required, like a document or a presence of authority.
Jasper looked up at the morgue entrance and appeared to turn a shade green.
“You’ll be fine,” he said turning away, “The dead won’t hurt you.”
Watching him walk briskly away, I sighed and entered the building.
The morgue entrance was clean which suggested sanitary procedures were followed as expected. As I walked further in there was a hall way, on the wall were two signs each with arrows: one that said “coroner’s office” pointing to my left, the other said “DEAD PEOPLE THIS WAY!” in capital red letters on a white sheet of paper pasted over another official sign that I could not make out.
“Cassisa?” I turned at a familiar voice. A blond haired rilud in a white lab coat greeted me.
“You are…” I tried to place the name with the face.
“Merl Fourleaf,” he said with a grin.
“Yes. You work here?”
“Indeed I do!” He held his arms wide, “Welcome to the Oxen Basin City Morgue!”
I smiled unsure of what to make of this kind of welcome.
“Don’t mind him. He’s always like this when he sees dead people,” said a gloomy voice.
I looked at the owner and saw a petite girl with large sad looking eyes the colour of treacle. She wore gold rimmed spectacles which she pushed up her small nose with her finger. Her hair was braided into a thick braid that hung over her left shoulder. She also wore a white lab coat.
“Dr. Vanessa Whyte,” she said holding out her hand, “Assistant for Dr. Merl Fourleaf.”
“You’re a doctor?” I asked Merl after shaking Vanessa’s hand.
“Former military doctor, now a certified coroner. So what brings you here?” Merl sounded very excited.
Remembering Jasper’s notebook I held it up. “It appears Jasper wants me to take notes on something.”
Merl clucked his tongue. “He decided to give you the dirty work, eh? Well, no worries. He always has trouble coming in here.”
“Usually he would have me come to the door and ask me take notes for him or give him copies of my reports and findings.”
I was a bit surprised when I heard this. This was the man who had done a snappy job in examining a corpse at a murder scene and he could not set foot in a morgue. Merl led me to what appeared to be an operating room that was brightly lit. On the table was a body covered with a white sheet revealing only a pair of hairy feet and a tag tied to its right big toe.
“Our vicky? No, he would be in the ice room.”
“He means ‘victim’,” Vanessa explained. “You’ll learn other interesting names from him.”
We watched Merl stride excitedly to a latched room, where he opened it with a flourish and entered. “So, how did you find you accommodations, Tilly?” he greeted in there.
“A bit on the chilly side? We’ll soon fix that. You have a visitor!” Humming a cheerful tune he wheeled the covered body out to the examining room. As on cue Vanessa closed and securely latched the door to keep warm air out.
“Mr. Gavin Tiller,” Merl introduced as he begin to pull back the sheet, Vanessa pushed it back towards the victim’s face before I had a chance to see.
“What are you doing?” Merl asked.
“I was about to ask you the same thing.” Vanessa said grimly.
“She needs to see him.”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“There’s always a first time, Vanessa.”
“That’s what you said with Jasper and look what happened to him.”
“What happened to Jasper?” I asked. Both looked at me.
“She still needs to see.” Merl argued with her.
“There are ways of doing this, doctor. Making this into a freak show is not one of them.” Vanessa argued in return.
Merl gave her a dirty look. “All right,” he pulled back the sheet to show the face. “Gavin Tiller, aged 62, death by –”
I did not hear the rest of it because I felt the room swim and felt a pair of thin, but sturdy arms catch me as I fell.
Something strong and awful invaded my nostrils that it made me cough. I opened my eyes to found Merl and Vanessa peering into my face.
“Are you all right? Are you hurt anywhere?” Vanessa looked down at me.
“What the heck was that?”
“Smelling salts. How do you feel?” Merl asked.
“Still dizzy.” I tried to get up.
“Relax and get your bearings first.” Vanessa suggested.
“Now that you have made your virgin viewing, here you go.” A thick envelope was handed to me.
“What’s this?” I asked, accepting the envelope.
“Congratulations! You just received a certificate in I Just Survived Looking at a – Ow!”
Vanessa gave him a swift kick in the leg. “Aren’t you supposed to say something else?” she reminded him.
“Have a nice day?” Merl asked.
“Stop fooling around and apologize!”
Like a child who just got scolded, Merl sheepishly turned to me. “I’m sorry, Cassisa, that was not nice of me presenting you a dead body that way.”
“Ummm, it’s okay,” I said, “I still needed to see him.”
A young man in a white lab coat poked his head into the room. “Dr. Fourleaf, there is a gentleman asking about a Cassisa Fullerton?”
“I guess that’s Jasper.” I got up from the cot I was lying on.
“Don’t forget this.” Merl handed me Jasper’s notebook, “Tell him, he’ll find all the details in there.”
“Thank you, doctor,” I smiled.
“Merl will do.” He smiled in return.
Within minutes, I was out of the morgue. The air was so fresh I stretched as I took a deep breath.
“Was the visit that refreshing?” I turned to see Jasper leaning against the nearby lamppost as if he was waiting for his date.
“Very funny!” I deadpanned. I handed him the envelope and his notebook. “He says that everything is in there.”
He put the envelope into the inner pocket of his coat as we began walking.
“Can I ask you something?” I began after the curiosity got to me.
“What is it?”
“Merl said you have trouble coming into the morgue. Are you afraid of dead people?”
Jasper stopped and looked at me. “Why do you want to know?”
“I just find it strange, from what I understand you seemed to be in this business for years and you have worked in crime scenes that involve dead people, and yet you can’t go into a morgue to see one.”
“I’ll tell you later.”
I was tempted to press further, but there was something about his last reply that told me to let it go. We caught a hansom and made our way back to the office. During our ride, Jasper opened the envelope, inside was a folded written report and a creamy white chess piece. The piece was a bishop.
When Jasper saw the chess piece, I thought I saw his eyes grow briefly. He peered into the envelope.
“Did Merl say anything when he handed you this?” he asked, his tone suddenly grave.
He studied the bishop. “Nothing to worry about,” he said as he pocketed the piece, but I could hear anxiety masked under the carefree tone.
For the rest of the day, we have forgotten about the bishop.
As we finished our work at the office, I got permission from Jasper to replace the cleaning supplies I borrowed from Digger Leavesden. After my errand in purchasing and dropping off the supplies, we closed shop and took the same hansom home (it appears Jasper used that hansom regularly).
When we got home, our supper of vegetable quiche and stewed chicken was already waiting for us. We ate hardly conversing with each other; even Merl was quiet during the meal. As for Jasper, I assumed he was preoccupied with the case. After my visit to the morgue, I was both too tired to talk and could not enjoy the chicken stew. Skipping dessert, I made myself a cup of tea and took it to my room.
I set my tea on my desk and sat down to begin writing notes for myself regarding our visits and finds were still fresh in my mind. I opened my own personal ledger to the page that contained yesterday’s findings:
Date: Tuesday, October 10th, 1841 Case File: 01
Victim: Gavin Tiller (half-rilud?)
Description: Victim’s body found inside St. Eleanor’s Chapel (chapel located at the edge of Oxen Basin) near the front of the sanctuary close to the stone table at the top rising steps; body posed as if crawling with right arm extended forward above head and the left arm lowered near the left thigh; a large gash extended from right shoulder down to the left hip; in his hand was a quartz-like stone (that Jasper removed upon discovery)
I turned to a new page and began a new entry.
Date: Wednesday, October 11th, 1841 Case File: 01 (continuation of Gavin Tiller Case)
Description: Visited Peony Tiller (victim’s closest kin, sister); wiry looking petite woman with dark brown hair, across the front half of her hair were grey and white. Our visit was rather short for an investigative interview, with both Jasper and myself present I was the only one acknowledged (could she be afraid of men?). The Tiller house was tidy and spotless, not sign of family photographs or portraits, not even a hall mirror was at that home. Perhaps the sister kept her photos in a more private location (such as her own room).
I put down my pen and thought over our visit. Remembering another detail, I added to my entry: House was neat and organized outside, however there was a sense of sterility on the inside.
I paused in thought and added the following after leaving a line blank:
Later in the day, visited the morgue to see Gavin’s body and passed out before I saw anything. Received report from Dr. Merl Fourleaf (coroner).
As I wrote another thought came across my mind, so I added:
Jasper would not set foot into the morgue to receive his reports or take his own notes. (Why?)
Setting my pen down, I rubbing the bridge of my nose, closed my ledger, and turned out my lamp. Tomorrow will be another busy day.
The next morning, Jasper and I left early and had breakfast at the office. We had a room separated by a glass window; there we brainstormed our finds by sticking printed and written documents on the glass using tiny balls of glue. In the secluded room was also a desk that gave us a place to put our notes and our breakfast of tea and frosted pastries.
“Gavin Tiller, aged 62,” Jasper read the coroner’s report, “death by a puncture wound to the heart.”
“I thought he died of a huge cut on his back,” I pointed out.
“It looks like it, but according to what Merl had found there were two major wounds: the large laceration (or cut) across his back, and a puncture wound that was within that laceration. So in other words, Tiller first got the large cut across his back. By blood stains on the chapel floor, it appears he had crawled his way into the sanctuary, and received a finishing blow in the back.”
I winced at the news as I imagined the crime scene take place.
“Also,” Jasper flipped the page and continued, “there were traces of soil in the large wound. As for the puncture wound, the weapon used appears to be about an inch wide and slightly curved.”
“A sword?” I suggested.
“The rangers didn’t find anything of the sort. Though Merl’s findings do kind of bother me some.” He picked a sugary roll from our breakfast plate and took a bite in thought.
“I was studying Gavin’s ledger last night,” I said, as I sipped my milk tea. “In one of his schedules, there were some slots involving Oronean and Zenian restaurants which I find rather odd. I thought rilud workers faithfully serve their employers and have limited work connections.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, from what I usually know about riluds,” I opened Gavin’s ledger, “when it comes to employment they would stick to one and branch out through their connections to about a few others, no more than three. From what is written in this ledger, Gavin’s employers were elven. If he were to have other employment connections they would also be elven (since elves usually do not interact with other races). However, he has three names: one Oronean and two Zenian.”
“Hmmm… That is a good point.”
“The torn page,” I added, “is the other thing that bothered me. I made a pencil rubbing on the page after it and found a name and address.” I opened to the page for Jasper to see.
“Lavinia? That address is in an upscale neighbourhood.”
“And in a location that is out of the way from his employers’ addresses.”
“Perhaps we should first pay these employers a visit,” he said finishing his pastry.
After our breakfast meeting, Jasper and I got a hansom and made our way to Gavin’s employers.
Our first place was the Everwood residence, a middle class elven family of five including the family matriarch. The place was neatly maintained with a symmetrical yard and garden, and a tall black iron fence that surrounded the home giving the passerby a lovely view of their brown and biscuit coloured mansion.
“Gavin was a good gardener,” Mrs. Evie Everwood, the family matriarch, said as she served us tea. She was an elegant woman who was ancient, but aged nicely with her silver and white hair, ivory skin with laugh lines, and large jade coloured eyes. I thought to myself that if I was to grow old I wished to look like her.
“He took pride in his work. He would find ways to bring dying plants to life.”
I glanced at Jasper remembering the poor plants we had to dispose of the other day when I cleaned the office.
“He made sure that nothing was wasted. Once we had a lilac bush that grew wild. He would trim it down, then gather the blooms and give them to us saying that it would brighten our entrance way or our dining room. He was always thoughtful and polite, never missed a day, and always on time.” Mrs. Everwood looked down sadly, she sniffed. “Excuse me,” her smile wobbled as she turned away.
“May I ask you a few more questions, Mrs. Everwood?” I asked.
Blinking her tears, the lady nodded.
“Did you make other employment arrangements for Mr. Tiller?”
“I was the one who introduced him to Mr. and Mrs. Sunnydale and Mr. Pinegrove.”
“Anyone outside the elven community?”
“Well, no. I don’t know of anyone outside the elven society.”
“Oh, Gavin was a very good gardener,” said Mrs. Heather Sunnydale. She was a slender elven woman with hair the colour of corn silk, creamy skin and laughing sapphire eyes.
“In fact, I don’t think we would ever find anyone else like him,” Mr. Ernest Sunnydale agreed. He was a rather plump and short man for one of the elves, but he was long limbed giving him the illusionary height; his dark blond hair was thin at the top.
The Sunnydales were the next elven family on the list. Their mansion residence was a charcoal rooftop and a milky white sidings; the garden was a flowery garden with blooming bushes and shrubs trimmed into conical and round shapes. Most of the bushes were roses of various shades and colour, even the hedges surrounding it were white and yellow rose bushes maintained with great care.
“Our family loves roses,” Mrs. Sunnydale sighed.
“Yes, there is even a rose on our family crest,” Mr. Sunnydale put in.
“Roses are one of the difficult flowers to grow, but Gavin always does wonders and makes them bloom beautifully, even during seasons that are difficult.”
“Remember that year he made that pink rose bloom? The one we planted when our daughter was born?”
“How could I forget!” Mrs. Sunnydale began, “It was a small bush, but a very finicky one. If you water it too much it dies, if you don’t water it enough it dies, even with the amount of sun it would refuse to bloom.”
“But Gavin brought it to life –”
“Indeed, he did! It was a sight to see!” Mrs. Sunnydale suddenly fell quiet.
Mr. Sunnydale reached over and squeezed his wife’s hand.
“Now who will take care of our rose garden?” Mrs. Sunnydale sniffed as she covered her mouth with her laced handkerchief.
“Do you know if Gavin had done other work outside the community?” Jasper asked.
“Why would he?” Mr. Sunnydale asked, “He seemed happy working with us.”
“Oh, that one,” said Mr. Francoise Pinegrove with disinterest as he looked down at us from his upturned nose. He was tall with iron grey hair and jade green eyes. His dark suit made him look more like a butler than the master of the house.
Mr. Pinegrove lived in a rather secluded mansion located near the edge of the neighbourhood and over looked the river valley. The Pinegrove mansion was a large sprawling place the colour of ashen grey with columns of matching grey stone, roof edges with a laurel design in matching grey, and tall narrow windows that allowed limited view out to the front as well as limiting the light into the home. The mansion yard was sparse and neat, with a lawn that was meticulously raked and trimmed; a maple tree in one corner was the only thing that gave the place some colour. The whole property was surrounded by a high stone fence with black iron spearheads standing guard along the top edges warning intruders to keep out and mind their own business.
“We don’t have any problems with him. Comes on time, does his work, leaves as expected, minds his own business. Can’t complain,” Mr. Pinegrove sniffed with disdain. “Stays in the yard as expected, unlike some lot who think they have the right to enter through the back for a glass of water.”
I raised an eyebrow as Jasper and I stood at the door and listened.
“Pity really, he was the cheapest labour we had on our property. Well, there are plenty of others who would do the job.”
“Do you know if he had other commitments?” I asked.
“Is that why he was killed? Good heavens!” Mr. Pinegrove said as he looked up. “Well, serves him right. You never know with people like him these days.”
“Well, I guess we could generally say that he was well liked,” I said as we got on a hansom. “Although that last interview kind of left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.” I muttered under my breath.
“You’re not jumping into conclusions already are you?” Jasper said after giving the driver another address.
“About Tiller? Not yet. What about you?”
“I think we should visit some restaurants while we are at it.”
As we drive I glanced at Jasper. He was watching the scenery. I could not help wondering what he was thinking. Did he see things that I cannot see during our investigation? Am I doing my job right? Am I meeting his expectations?
“You know it’s rude to stare.” He looked at me with small smile curling in the corner of his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” I forced myself to turn away as I felt my face burn.
“What’s so funny?”
“I am just excited.” His tone was light.
I forgot to ask what he meant because we arrived to our first non-elven destination for questioning. The place was Pearl Soup House. It was a small Zenian noodle shop that had strong scent of spices ranging from anise to ginger to green onions to the greasy frying oils greeting us as we entered.
A short plump Zenian waitress met us. “For two?” she asked with an accent.
“Actually we are here on an investigation.” Jasper held up his circular wallet.
A look of panic crossed the woman’s face. “No-no! I don’t know anything! Don’t know Common Western!”
“Madam,” I said quietly in Zenian, “We are not here to arrest anyone. We are looking for someone who could help us with a mysterious death.”
The waitress looked at Jasper, then at me.
“I don’t know Common Western! I want no trouble!” Her tone was pleading.
“I understand. We don’t want any for you either. Could you help us please, madam?” I said slowly and gently.
Seeing that we mean no harm, she relaxed a bit. “What do you want?” she asked nervously.
“Do you know of a rilud man named Gavin Tiller?”
“Mr. Tiller? Yes-yes. I know! I know him.” Her voice was calmer as she explained, “He came twice a week for wonton soup. Good man.”
I translated what she had just told me to Jasper.
“Ask her if he helped out around the neighbourhood or community.” Jasper requested.
I relayed the question in Zenian.
“He once could not pay for his soup, so he spoke to our boss and offered to clean our dishes. He even sharpened our cooking knives,” the waitress explained, “Our boss impressed. Liked Mr. Tiller because he was polite and did a good job.”
“Did he do anything else?” I repeated Jasper’s question.
“It was only that for one time.”
“I didn’t know you spoke Zenian,” Jasper said as he made our way to the next restaurant.
“Not as fluently as I like. I just picked up a few phrases during my travels in the Eastern Kingdoms.”
“That didn’t sound like a few phrases to me.” He sounded pleased.
“By the way, what was that you’ve been showing to the waitress when you told her we were investigating?”
Jasper reached into his chest pocket and brought out the circular wallet. “It’s a special permit provided by the Nordican government.” He handed me the wallet.
Inside was a circular badge made of messrihl, silver in colour the main body was a shield quartered with a tiny green enameled knight chess piece on the top left; the top right were two yellow seven-pointed stars one on top of the other; the bottom left was a purple eternity symbol; the bottom right had a gold capital “D” in a red field with a silver dwarven mallet. Five maple leaves in colours of ruby, gold, silver, bronze, and emerald crowned the badge with the ruby maple leaf at the top bearing a golden crown. Beneath all that was a banner that said, “Not by Force, but by Virtue”.
“I’m impressed,” I said returning the badge.
He grinned at my compliment.
Our next restaurant was a large shop called the Lotus Garden. The waitress who greeted us was a young slim and pretty girl.
“Mr. Tiller sometimes sees Baba (daddy),” she explained, “Baba used to make herbal remedies when he was living in his village. Mr. Tiller once had a stomach-ache and Baba gave him something for his stomach. When Mr. Tiller comes he brings cooking herbs and rare ingredients for Baba as a thank you. Some were hard to find because they were out of season, or could only be found in the Eastern Kingdoms, but Mr. Tiller always finds something unusual and fresh. Baba is always pleased.”
“What sort of ingredients does he find?” I asked.
“Fiddle heads, pine mushrooms, ginger stalks, wild onions, and other herbs to add to our dishes.”
“Did he do anything else?” Jasper asked, “Any offer of help around your place or the neighbourhood?”
The girl paused in thought. “He once asked Baba if he had heard anything about a rock crystal, or came across rumours involving them.”
“When was this?”
“About a month ago.”
The last place we came to was an Oronean restaurant. Because it was late, we decided to have our supper there. Jasper ordered a “mother’s taste” dish. I ordered the same thing. What the dish contained were a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso soup with chopped onions and tofu pieces, a plate of mackerel stewed in miso and ginger sauce, and a small cabbage coleslaw.
“We get all sorts of customers here,” our waiter was a young man with brown fluffy hair and pimply face.
“How about a rilud man?” Jasper asked.
“We get some riluds here too.”
“We are looking for a rather tall rilud. Did you see him here?”
“If you are talking about a tall one, yes, he did come here a few times. I remember because he was meeting a lady friend. She was an elf, I could tell because I saw her pointy ears. Very pretty with yellow hair and large green eyes, dressed fashionable-like; she seemed rather nervous when she came here.”
“Anything else we should know about?”
“The man called her Lavinia and the lady called him Gavin. All I could say is that they were meeting in secret – probably an affair. The lady was wearing a gold ring with a ruby on her left hand.”