Stories

The Case of the Gold Pot


The phone in my office rang three times before I picked it up. It was Ms. Iolanthe, as always. Her tinny voice said to me, “You have a client.”

“Who is it?” I asked, feet propped up on the table and fedora low over my eyes.

“He says his name is Adair,” she told me. I could barely hear her voice, even with the amplifier. “He's a leprechaun.”

“Tell him no,” I said and hung up the phone. Even so, a moment later, the door opened up and in walked this red-haired and bearded man in a red jacket, a cocked hat, and buckled shoes. He stood no taller than my waist.

“I don't deal with fae,” I told him quite plainly.

He huffed and hopped into the chair in front of my desk and looked around at my shabby office. “Your secretary is a fairy.” He told me a fact I already knew, Ms. Iolanthe was a fairy plain as day to anyone who noticed her; six inches tall, gossamer butterfly wings, blonde hair up in a bun, dress made out of a petal.

“Who I employ doesn't have anything to do with the cases I take,” I explained. “Now please remove yourself from my office.” It was as polite as I was willing to be with the man and if he tried to resist, I would have to get up and throw him out. I didn't want to do that, as leprechauns could be quite the vindictive sort if they were mistreated, but it was also illegal for the fae to use their magic to cause harm except in self defense. It didn't mean he wouldn't test me on my willingness to go to the cops if I tossed him on his rump.

“I can pay,” Adair told me, reaching into his pocket and removing an old, tarnished gold coin. He tossed it to me and I caught it more out of reflex than any desire to hold his money. It was heavy, good gold. I turned it over in my fingers, but didn't recognize the embossed faces, which seems to be whimsical kobolds.

I tossed the coin back to Adair, who snatched it out of the air and made it disappear almost as soon as I could blink. “Not enough,” I told him.

He looked around my office once again and I could see him taking note of the cracking paint, the file cabinet which leaned so that the drawers were sliding out under their own gravity, a doctorate in world folklore hanging in a frame missing the glass, the rat trap in a corner with a rat currently sitting on it nibbling the bait peanut butter, and several other signs of my current poverty. “You look like you need it,” he said to me.

I pushed my hat lower so that it covered my eyes entirely and I couldn't see him one bit. “I don't care what I need,” I told him. “I need you to leave my office. I don't work for the fae.”

“Why not? What've you got against us?” he asked me. His voice, as might be expected from a man half the size of other men, was high and when he complained it took on a distressing whine. It set me on edge and made me grit my teeth.

“Got nothing against you,” I told him. “Got a fairy secretary, after all. I just don't take cases from fae.”

“It doesn't look like you take cases from normal people either,” he told me quite bitterly.

I ignored his remark, despite its harsh accuracy, and pretended to be sleeping for a few minutes. When I heard no indication that he'd left the room, I removed my hat and sure enough found him still sitting in the chair I'd last glimpsed him occupying. “You're still here,” I said with no little bit of annoyance in my voice.

“My pot of gold has been stolen,” he told me.

“Go to the cops then,” I told him, getting quite fed up with his insistence on staying here and badgering me despite my reasonable explanation that I wouldn't take his case.

“I can't,” the leprechaun said, a desperate frustration saturating his words that finally at least gained my attention enough to take my feet off the desk. Taking my movement for interest, Adair pressed on. “You see, my situation is quite tricky,” he told me. “I am a most well respected businessman in the city. Were it to get out that my pot of gold had been so brazenly stolen, well, it would be quite an embarrassment for me. A leprechaun that can't even keep his pot of gold safe! Well, he's certainly not someone we trust with our shoes.”

I nodded my head. “So you're that Adair,” I said, confirming my suspicions that the man was actually the owner and operator of Adair's Fine Footwear, one of the largest shoemakers on the east coast. It had gone through tough times a few years back, but Adair had brought it back to prominence.

“I am, so you can obviously see my plight. And why I need someone of your... special talents,” he remarked.

“You mean you need some poor, broke schlub who won't be believed if he goes blabbing your secret,” I said. From the bitter expression he made, I figured I guessed right. “And I guess you think the thief ain't human.”

“You'd be right,” Adair said. “In fact, I know for sure my thief isn't a human being, because there's no way a human could get past my guard. You see, there's no one I could come to more qualified for this case than you.”

I sighed and adjusted my hat so it sat loosely on the crown of my head. “Yeah, I can see why you'd want me. So what are you paying?”

Adair smiled and I didn't like it much. “Half the coins in my pot of gold,” he told me. “Upon its safe return.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? Well, I don't work on promises. I need up front payment.”

“You already have one gold coin,” he said, gesturing at my hat. With a sigh I lifted it and the coin I'd tossed back to him earlier came clattering to the desk. “That's worth several hundred dollars in gold weight alone to say nothing of the collector's value of a coin from Lóegaire's treasury.”

I doubted very much the coin was from the vault of that legendary Irish king, nor that there was much way to prove it either way, but he told the truth about the gold. It was enough of a retainer to start on the case, at least. “Fine, I'll work for you. But you gotta be straight with me. Tell me everything you know.”

He started in right from the beginning. The pot of gold was kept in a special vault at the end of a long hall he called the Rainbow Hall, because it used a prism to take a light and turn it into a spectrum over the entire floor. At the end of the hall was his security, a bulky troll named Grundle, who stood in unsleeping guard over the vault. Grundle had caught hundreds of thieves during his time as guard, both human and not, but this one had somehow slipped through without being detected and absconded with the pot. There were no clues that Adair had noticed, but he suspected I might be able to notice something he'd missed. He also had a suspicion that the pot had been stolen by a vampire named Eclair, as revenge for an old slight he had caused her.

“And what exactly is it that this vampire would hold against you?” I asked him frankly.

He shrugged his shoulders, not out of not knowing, but out of disgust at telling me. “I might have turned an old flame of hers back into a human when he caught me and wished it. He didn't explicitly wish to turn her back into one, and since that was his third wish, I'd held up my end of the bargain.”

I didn't buy his explanation, but I didn't tell him that. Him hiding the truth from me was interesting enough to leave alone and see what dividends it could pay later. “Alright, let's go see this vault then.”

We headed out the front door. Ms. Iolanthe gave me a surprised look as we walked out, so I tossed the coin onto her desk. She had to leap out of the way to avoid being hit by it and she yelled obscenities at me as I reached for my coat. “Take that down to the pawn and see how much it's worth,” I told her.

“And how am I supposed to lift this thing?” she asked, folding her twiggy arms over her chest.

I just shut the door behind me and started heading down the stairs. Adair looked at me sadly. “Pawning it? It has so much more worth than that.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “It's my property now, I can do with it what I want.”

We took my car to Adair's place out in the suburbs. I'd expected he'd have had a limo driver or something fancy for us, but he reminded me that he was trying to keep a low profile, so he'd taken a cab to my place. I apologized for the smell and ripped seat, but he didn't seem to mind. He had a bit less carelessness for the lack of a seat belt, especially as I took some of the turns at high speed.

He lived in an old mansion about a half hour outside the city, one that had been built back in Lord Baltimore's time, though it had gone through enough renovations that I doubted any original lumber still remained. As we reached the porch, Adair pointed at a line of salt stretching across it. “Mind breaking that for me?” he asked.

I kicked my foot through it, sweeping away a section large enough for Adair to walk through. He stepped gingerly past, then glanced back at his broken circle. “I'll have one of my maids come out and repair it later.”

“You get a lot of uninvited fae coming this way?” I asked him, glancing back at the circle.

He nodded to my question. “Fae, the undead, all sorts of things. The circle of salt keeps them from getting in, but it keeps me from getting in and out without someone pushing it out of the way. An inconvenience, but necessary for security.”

“And you checked the circle after the break in?” I asked him.

He nodded his head vigorously as he unlocked the front door. “Of course I did. There weren't any breaks that I found.”

“Sounds like it had to be a human, then,” I told him as we walked inside. The mansion was old and creaky, with a musty smell to it. The furnishings were all very old looking, upholstery beginning to come apart. Nearly everything was half the size of regular furniture, all scaled down to the size of a leprechaun.

He shook his head at me. “Not possible. No human got into my vault. It's just not possible. You'll see.”

I nodded once sharply to him, though I didn't believe him. “Even so, I'd like to check the circle myself once I get a chance.”

He waved his hand dismissively at me. “Of course, you can do that.” He gestured at an old staircase that looked far too rickety for my liking. “But first, the vault.” He bounced up it effortlessly, his feet so light they didn't even make a sound as he went. Of course as soon as I laid a toe on the bottom stair it creaked like something out of a horror movie, sending a shiver up my spine. I took a good grip on the bannister just in case and tread lightly up the stairs.

Motes of dust floated in the beams of light from the dingy window at the top. Adair fidgeted in it, waiting for me to ascend. In the sun, he seemed a bit more shabby than I had noticed before. His red coat was a bit faded and his buttons had a few spots of tarnish.

Once I reached him, he started down a hallway and I followed. The hall took several twists and turns, seeming to nowhere, until it finally reached a full ninety degree turn where a strange device had been placed. It was a pedestal with an old shuttered lantern sitting on it. Only one of the shutters was open, allowing a bright light to shine upon a large prism.

The prism was angled so that it shined its light down the turn. I took a step ahead of Adair and looked; the refracted light cast a rainbow on the floor, making a sort of rainbow bridge. “Bifrost,” I muttered to myself, looking down to the troll standing guard in front of the vault. The troll was a big, ugly one, broad shoulders blocking nearly the entire hallway. He had a hunched posture, his legs bent in a slight squat so that his knuckles scraped the floor.

The rainbow illuminated his warty, green skin in a motley. He wore a tuxedo, though it didn't seem to have been properly sized for a troll and fit him poorly. The sleeves were too short, the pant legs too long, the tie tight around his neck. His hair was stringy and unkempt.

I walked down the hall, watching as my shadow blocked out most of the rainbow. A poor imitation of Bifrost, I thought, and this Grundle was a poor imitation of Heimdallr. If the troll was watching me, I couldn't tell. His bloodshot eyes were straight ahead, but unfocused. If not for his heavy breathing, I would have thought him some sort of taxidermied trophy.

“Pretty impressive, isn't it?” Adair asked, lightly startling me.

“Should we go inside the vault?” I suggested, not wanting to admit that I found the entire setup rather tacky. A rather poor recreation of the myth of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I took a few steps toward the door and the troll made a deep rumble in his chest and turned his face to look at me. His eyes finally focused on me and his lips pulled back, just slightly, in a challenging snarl.

Adair laid a hand on my arm. “Don't worry, Grundle, he's fine.” He gently tugged my sleeve and pulled me back to the beginning of the hallway. “Now you see how a human can't get into the vault.”

I shrugged. “So you gotta nice guard. It doesn't mean someone couldn't get past him somehow. He's gotta sleep some time.”

“He doesn't,” Adair told me. “Trolls only sleep when the sun is on them, but this hallway doesn't get any sun in it, see?” Sure enough, there were no windows in the hall. The only light was from the lamp making the rainbow. “Besides, that's not what I meant. Grundle, move aside a minute.” The troll grunted and pressed itself against the wall. It didn't really clear much space, but it was enough for me to see the vault “door”.

There wasn't one. It was just a wall.

“What's the deal?” I asked.

“I'll show you, watch.” Adair took my hand and stepped forward onto the rainbow. He pulled me along. With every step, I felt myself lose a little cohesion. It made me feel sick to my stomach. The world seemed to become fuzzy around me, almost translucent and unreal. I looked down at myself and Adair. I was still like I'd always been, as far as I could see, though Adair appeared somehow larger even though he stood no taller than before.

With each step we took, the real world became harder to see. Grundle didn't react as we passed him by. Adair stepped through the wall first and pulled me through, though I flinched a little just before I would have hit it. Once we were on the other side, a sudden rush of pressure hit me and I was slapped back into reality.

We were in a small room, no more than ten feet by ten, with old windows allowing light to pour in from three walls. I looked out one, but didn't recognize anything. “Where are we?” I asked.

“The end of the rainbow,” Adair answered with a big grin. “My vault, where I keep – kept – my pot of gold.” He pointed to a pedestal that came up to about my knees, or perhaps to his waist, that was mostly dusty except for a circle in the middle where the pot had presumably sat. It was the only thing in the room, though I noticed a few other spots along the wall where the paint was darker than the rest.

I went up to one of them and examined it. It was a perfect rectangle. “You said the pot was the only thing that was taken?” I asked. I traced a line in the dust over the dark spot with my finger. It was thick.

“Yes,” he said. “You're noticing where my other valuables used to be, I'm sure. There was a quite old painting there. After the break in, I moved them elsewhere until the thief is caught, in case she comes back.”

I went and inspected the pedestal. It was covered in thick dust, except for where the pot had been. I ran my finger over the empty spot and it came away clean. The pedestal didn't seem to have been disturbed otherwise. “You didn't find anything in here that could have been a clue?” I asked.

He shook his head firmly. “Not a thing. But I'm not a detective.”

I made a noncommittal noise in my throat and went back to examining the room. I could make out the outline of footprints in the dust on the floor. A few were mine, a few were Adair's. There were more of Adair's than mine, scattered around the room. There weren't any other footprints that I could see.

I checked the windows. They were also dusty and looked like they couldn't be opened. I checked them anyway, trying to pry one open, but there was nothing. “Careful, don't break those,” Adair warned me.

“Expensive to replace?” I asked as I checked them. They were old glass, thicker on one end than the other, letting me know they'd been made quite a while ago.

“No, but we don't want to let the outside in here,” he told me. “The faerie realm. Not a good place for a human to be exposed to. Even you being here is... tricky.”

I grunted again, but felt perfectly fine. Everything seemed just the same as it had back in the real world. “So we're in the faerie world. No one could come through the windows and get your pot?”

“Not without breaking one of the windows.”

I nodded, starting to get an idea. “Alright, I've seen enough of in here. How do we get out?” There was no rainbow on this side to lead us back out into the hall.

“Close your eyes,” Adair told me and I did. There was a brief feeling like a light breeze across my face and when I opened my eyes, we were back in the hall. Grundle was eyeballing me with an expression I couldn't quite read. It was certainly one I'd never seen on a troll before.

“Alright, I need to interview your man here,” I told Adair with a nod at Grundle. “Alone.”

Adair nodded enthusiastically. “Of course. Grundle, is that alright with you?”

Grundle nodded slowly and I worried I'd be faced with a dimwitted troll, trying to press him for answers. Adair walked off around the corner and I waited until I couldn't hear his footsteps any more. It was possible he'd be listening around the corner, but I decided it was little enough chance to not take a peek. I pulled out a cigarette and lit it, then turned to Grundle and offered him one. He slowly shook his head.

“How long have you been working for Adair?” I asked him.

It took him a few seconds to answer, “A long time,” he said, his voice low and full of the rumble of a rock slide. “Thirty years, at least. He contracted me to protect the vault. I've been here ever since.”

“Thirty years is a long time,” I said. “And you've never let anyone inside the vault?”

“It is a long time,” Grundle answered, his voice flat and tired. “I've never let anyone inside without Mr. Adair being there. No one has ever gotten past me.”

“Have you had to stop a lot of thieves?”

Grundle smiled a little bit at that, showing off a few of his uneven, jagged teeth. “Oh yes. At least a dozen. I've lost count, to be honest.”

I thought about this for a minute, then said, “And did you have to stop anyone coming through recently?” He shook his head, but gave no further answer. “Did anyone come to the vault with Adair recently? Say within the past six months.”

“Only you,” the troll said, his voice dropping an octave as he said it.

“Adair said you don't need to sleep. Is that true?”

Again, Grundle paused in answering. “I don't need to sleep,” he told me.

“You don't need to,” I pressed, “but you could if you wanted to.” I knew the answer already, of course. A troll couldn't sleep unless it was out in the sun. When it was in the sun, a troll would turn to stone, only to reawaken when the sun went down.

“I can't sleep,” Grundle said. “I don't sleep. I haven't slept since I've been working for Mr. Adair.”

“Not even a few hours of shut eye?” I asked him. “A quick nap here or there when someone might have snuck in?”

The troll quickly shook its head. “No. I've not been asleep since Mr. Adair hired me. Not once.”

I nodded again and took a long drag of my cigarette, then tapped the ashes onto the floor. A few fluttered down through the multicolored light. “Well, that's all I got, I guess. You didn't see anything the night the pot went missing?”

“Only one thing,” Grundle said. “The rainbow went out for a second, but then it came back on.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn't think about it. The wiring here is old, it flickers sometimes.”

I started to walk away, but stopped when I reached the corner. I looked back over my shoulder. “This rainbow light, it doesn't bother you at all? I know you trolls prefer the dark.”

Grundle paused and shrugged his shoulders slowly. “I got used to it a long time ago,” he said. I nodded and walked back through the halls. I found Adair waiting for me back near the staircase to the entrance. I told him I'd need to talk to the other servants, so Adair rounded them up for me. A few maids, a butler, a driver, a cook.

They all told me the same story; they hadn't heard anything, they hadn't seen anything, Adair only rarely took someone up to see the pot and only he could get into the vault anyway, Grundle never left that spot and never slept, they were the only ones ever in the house, and Adair wasn't hiding any servants from me. They all agreed that Adair was a very fair employer, and a generous one, and hadn't missed paying them ever and never tried to short them.

With that line of questioning getting me nowhere, I excused myself. I got the address of this Eclair woman he was sure had been responsible for the theft. Before I left, I walked around the outside of the house, inspecting the circle of salt.

The place where I'd pushed it out of the way for Adair had been repaired, the salt fresh and white. The other salt was browning from dust and dirt, though I suspected it had to be replaced any time there was a rain. There were a few places I could tell the salt had been wind blown, but not enough to break the circle to allow anything in.

As I was about to give up this line of inspection, I saw a shadowy woman in all black standing at the edge of the circle. I walked toward her and noticed she was not quite all there; her clothes were frayed at the edges and pieces seemed to flake off and reappear with each slight gust of wind. She could have been a peasant out of the middle ages.

“Have you found anything, detective?” she asked me as I got nearer. Her voice was hollow and grave, with a whistle like the wind through bare trees in winter. Her hair was long, stringy, and black. Her nails were black and cracked.

“No, I haven't,” I admitted to her. “And just who are you?”

“I am vâlvă,” she told me.

I rubbed my chin. I'd heard of the vâlve before; they were Romanian spirits. “A black vâlvă,” I noted. “What do you want with the leprechaun?”

She shook her head slowly. Her hair hung in the air like a dark halo, almost as if she were underwater. “Not the leprechaun. Not him. The one who stole the gold,” she told me. “It was I who led its finders to the vein. It is I who must avenge its theft.”

“A vâlvă of the mines, then,” I said, rubbing my chin again. “And now you've turned into a black one, an evil one.” She didn't say anything to my statement. “Why are you skulking around here if you should be punishing the person who stole it?”

She looked at me with big, white eyes that were almost empty save for two points in the center. “I cannot get inside. I cannot track the thief. I know it was taken, but that is all. Break the circle for me and I can do it.”

“And do what, kill the perp?” I asked, shaking my head. “Sorry, sister, I'm here to bring the pot back to Adair, nothing else. I'm not going to help you.”

She stared at me, then turned back toward the mansion. “So be it. But I will discover the thief eventually and have my vengeance.”

I walked away from her, back to the front door. The butler answered and then went to fetch Adair. He was surprised to see me, but not surprised about the vâlvă. “She's been there since the pot was stolen. She wants to come in and do her own search.” I asked him why he hadn't let her and he seemed shocked at the idea. “I just want my pot back. I certainly don't want someone killed for simple theft.”

I excused myself and drove off to Eclair's. She lived in the city, in an apartment by the Inner Harbor. It was a nice place, but not too nice. The kind of place a person with a nice job would live, but not someone who really had money. I buzzed up to her apartment, but got no answer.

It wasn't yet dark, of course. She'd still be sleeping, which was good for me. I waited around the outside of the apartment, smoking cigarettes, until a young woman came up to the apartment. I gave her a friendly nod and waited as she passed by. She didn't give me a second look and opened the door. As it was slowly swinging closed, I flicked the cigarette away and hurried up the steps after her.

I got my hand in the door right as it was closing and slipped inside. The girl stopped and turned to me. “Do you live here?” she asked.

I smiled at her and said, “Yeah. Apartment 312.”

“Oh,” she said, “Ok. I've just never seen you before.”

I chuckled, “I've never seen you before either, but maybe I'd like to see more,” and gave her a wink. She rolled her eyes and turned away from me and went to the elevator. I turned and went to the stairway. It was a rough trip up to 312, which was actually Eclair's apartment. I wasn't quite in the shape I'd been as a younger man.

After catching my breath, I found her door and knocked, just in case. There was no answer, so I scoped out the halls and then got to work picking the lock. It wasn't too difficult and no one bothered me, so I slipped inside and took a look around.

The apartment was messy, for a woman's place. The coffee table was covered in opened mail and a half-read copy of the Sun. The television was a small, old box set with a cable box sitting on top. I turned the set on; it was on a shopping channel. A pair of boots lay on their sides by the couch, while a pair of stockings were laid over the arm. The recliner chair was opened and had a small red stain on it.

I meandered into the sparse kitchen. There was a stove and a fridge; the stove was clean and the fridge was empty. This was a woman who did not receive many visitors. There were dishes in the cupboard, most looked unused except for a small plate off to the side. It had been poorly washed, at the very least, and had some white flakes of dried food stuck to it. I gave them a little taste; mashed potatoes. I replaced the plate.

I went back into the living room and started to poke around. I opened up drawers on cabinets and shuffled through them. For the most part, it was just old mail, bills and records, a few phone numbers and addresses written on wrinkled sheets of paper (I examined these, but didn't notice any that seemed worth remembering), a date book that was three years old.

With the living room a bust, I went into her bedroom. The thick curtains were drawn, though her coffin was shut tight. I unlocked it and hefted it open. She was a pale, pretty girl with light blonde hair and thin eyebrows. She wore only a simple black nightgown that reached down to mid thigh. I closed the lid and made sure it was tight, then flung the curtains open to illuminate the room.

Like the living room, it was mildly messy, with dirty clothes tossed into a corner rather than a hamper and clean ones split between the top of the dresser and a disorganized closet. I started to poke through her clothes, casually tossing aside the undergarments to reach the things with pockets. She seemed a modest sort of vampire, with jeans and the like, rather than one of those types that went all-out Victorian. None of the pockets revealed anything noteworthy.

Finally I turned to rummaging through her drawers, but aside from a socks, bras, panties, and stowed winter clothing, I didn't find anything. I only made half an effort to return things as I'd found them. The girl wouldn't recognize I'd been going through her stuff if she kept her place in a state, after all.

I was about to give up the snooping when I noticed an empty box sitting tucked off in a corner. It was green and had the words “UV LAMP” in big red letters across the front. I picked it up and examined it. The box had a picture of a snake and an iguana on it, assuring purchasers that it provided a full spectrum of light for basking reptiles. The box was empty and I hadn't seen any reptiles in the apartment. I put the box back where I'd found it.

I opened the coffin one more time and checked her skin. It was all perfect, pale, the color of tiger lotus petals. I locked it up again and checked the time. It was a few hours until sunset and I was starting to get hungry.

I left the apartment building and walked to a local bar. I bought a cheap hamburger and a bottle of Natty Boh, then sat back and enjoyed my meal as best I could and ruminated on everything I'd learned in the day. I went out to the patio to smoke a cigarette and wait for the sun to set. The waitress came around and got me a second beer, then mostly left me alone for the rest of my wait. I emptied my wallet to pay and leave a tip, which was too small for the service but all I could manage, and headed back over to the apartment.

I buzzed up just as the sun dipped below the horizon. I had to try three times before I got an annoyed answer from above. “Who is it?” Eclair groaned, sounding in tone not unlike myself after a night of hard drinking. I gave my name and told her Adair had sent me and asked if I could come up. After a few moments of hesitation, in which I was sure she'd tell me to bugger off, she told me to come up with a sigh.

I rode the elevator up this time and knocked lightly on the door. Her voice, sounding much more chipper than before, answered, “Just a minute.” When she opened the door, I was actually rather shocked by how much better looking she looked awake. She'd brushed out her hair, added on some dabs of makeup to cover up her vampiric colorlessness, and put on a simplistic baby tee and hip-hugging jeans. She smiled at me, showing two prominent hooked canines, and invited me into the apartment.

“So Adair sent you?” she asked me as she cleared off a spot for me to sit on her couch. “I should have figured this would happen eventually.”

“So you were expecting to get caught?” I asked flatly.

She quirked her head to one side and scrunched up her eyebrows. “Caught?” She laughed, but not at me. When she saw I wasn't laughing, she asked, “What do you mean caught?”

“Don't play with me, sister,” I told her. “His pot of gold. You stole it from him, didn't you?”

She put her hand to her forehead and looked down, but she was smiling. “Someone stole it from him?” she asked with amusement. “Serves him right. But it wasn't me.” She looked back up at me. “I can't even get into his place, you know. He's got a salt circle around the entire thing.”

“You could have had a helper break the circle,” I suggested. “A ghoul; you vampires have ghouls.”

With a glance around her apartment, she shrugged her shoulders. “Do I look like I have a ghoul?” she asked. “Because I don't. I didn't take his pot. Why does he think I did?”

“Why don't you tell me?” I asked her.

She shrugged again. “Because he's a petty, jealous man, that's why. He never trusted me in the first place.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “He told me that you hate him because he turned your boyfriend human, but left you a vampire.”

Her cold pale skin flushed a light red color in her cheeks, probably the very last of the blood she'd had the night before. “He told you that, did he?” she asked through clenched teeth. “Well, it's true. I begged him to make me human too, but he told me we'd caught him once and he'd filled his end of the bargain. This was years ago, of course. Back in the 18th century, before they let us come here without having to worry about those sorts of things.”

“I don't care when you did it,” I told her. “But that sounds like a pretty good motivation for revenge. You wanted to be human again, he didn't help you.”

She laughed again. “To tell the truth, he did me a favor!” She smiled at me, wide. “It was so much harder being a vampire back then, but now we're just another bunch of people. I can go down to the market and buy enough blood to last me a month, or even go down to a club and find a dozen guys willing to doll for me. If he'd turned me into a human again, I'd just be a pile of bones and dust. No thanks.”

“I've got the feeling you're not telling me the whole story,” I said to her. “You said he was petty and jealous and didn't trust you.”

“Well, of course not. I dated him for a year, you know.”

I didn't know that and wondered why Adair hadn't bothered to tell me. “He mentioned that, but didn't tell me anything more.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “There's not much to tell. We met at a charity event. I went with my sire, Salvatore, oh... About two years ago. Well, Adair noticed me, but didn't recognize me. I made some small talk, we wound up hitting it off, and soon we were dating. To be honest, he was head over heels for me, but...” She sighed and shook her head. “I should have never told him who I was. He wouldn't have ever remembered. Once I did, thinks changed. He started being suspicious of everything I did, he kept claiming Salvatore had set us up for some sinister reason, that I didn't really care about him. Things like that.”

“But that's all bunk, isn't it?” I asked with a smirk.

“Of course it is!” she snapped. “I actually liked Adair! He's charming and nice. But he's paranoid, after all. He's had that salt circle around his house even before I met him. Salvatore told me so.”

“Salvatore's your sire?” She nodded. “And he's known Adair for a while now?”

She nodded again. “They're old business partners. Salvatore loaned him the money he needed to start his business, years and years ago. Adair put his pot of gold up as collateral.”

“Really?” I asked, intrigued. “And would Salvatore try to steal the pot if he wasn't paid?”

She laughed. “Oh, please. That debt was paid off a long time ago.” She shrugged one more time. “But if there was another debt, well. Maybe, I guess, Salvatore might have stolen it.” She shook her head. “But it's impossible. There's no way Salvatore could get into the house to take it. Even if he did, there's no way he could get past the troll.”

I rubbed my chin and thought about everything she'd told me for a moment. “Say he could get past the troll somehow. Could he get into the vault?”

“He's an old vampire,” she said. “If he turned into mist, he could get in there. Even with that silly rainbow pathway Adair's got. But like I said, there's no way he gets past the troll.”

I leaned back in the recliner and propped my feet up. “That's true. You know the troll well?” I asked. “Would he tell a lie? Or accept a bribe?”

“I'm afraid I don't know,” she told me. “I only talked to him a few times, mostly just to say hello when Adair took me to see the vault.”

“What do you think about your sire? He the type who would raise some sort of convoluted plan to get the pot?” I asked her. I already knew he would be; he was a vampire, after all, and vampires loved the convoluted mess. But I wanted to hear her answer.

“If Salvatore wanted something, he'd stop at nothing to get it.”

I smiled at her and sat back up straight. “Thanks, miss, I think you've helped me a great deal.”

She put a hand to her breast. “Do you think Salvatore stole the pot? I told you, it's not possible!”

“You have any pets?” I asked her.

The unexpected question took her aback. She stuttered for a moment, before shaking her head and saying, “No.”

“Does Salvatore?”

“A cat,” she said, “I think. Why?”

I didn't answer her, but instead asked, “Do you know what a vâlvă is?”

What little color there was drained from her face, but she shook her head. “No,” she answered firmly.

“A nasty spirit, they come for people who steal gold that was given from the mines they protect. Gold like from Adair's pot. One's trying to find out who stole the pot and get vengeance for it.” Eclair's eyes went wide. “You know, I don't think they'd bother with an accomplice, but a mastermind... Well, unless they have to come after the accomplice to get to the mastermind. I'd be careful, if I were you. If Adair tells it you were behind the theft, it'll come after you I'm sure.”

She nodded her head slowly. “I'll keep that in mind,” she said softly.

I stood up and started to leave, then stopped at her door. “You know, I believe you didn't have anything to do with stealing the pot,” I told her. “But Adair thinks you did.” I waited for her to say something, but she didn't. “I think if you want to be safe, you'd better come with me, talk to Adair in person. Smooth things over.”

“I don't think that's necessary,” she said hesitantly.

“You don't?” I asked seriously. “Adair seems to think you were behind it pretty strongly. He said he wouldn't get the vâlvă involved, but if I come back and tell him you weren't the one responsible, he'll ask me what other leads I have and I'll say none. And then he'll think that a pretty girl like you, she's got ways to keep me quiet. Then maybe he tells the vâlvă and she comes after you...”

She looked around nervously. I could tell she didn't want to go with me, despite the threat to her, but that she couldn't just keep saying no without a good reason. “You got something to do tonight?” I asked her to interrupt her thinking.

“No,” she said, before she really thought about the answer, and I could tell she wished she'd said yes. She lowered her eyes. “Fine, I guess you're right. I'll go.”

“You got a car?” I asked her. “I don't have cash for a cab.” No point in wasting my gas if I could waste hers.

She did and we walked a block to where she'd parked it. We made the trip in silence, though she turned on her radio to listen to the O's game as we drove. I didn't pay attention, I'd never been much of a baseball fan.

We got to Adair's place at almost 9. Even though it was dark, I could see the vâlvă creeping around the boundary of the circle. I stooped down and scooped a bunch of the salt into my hand, sticking it in my pocket as I walked through. Eclair followed me up to the house and I knocked.

A servant answered and was surprised to see Eclair, but let us both in once I said so. I turned back and nodded at the vâlvă, who was inspecting the break in the circle. I don't know if she noticed me or not, because I stepped inside before she could do anything else.

The maid brought Adair a few minutes later. His own eyes went wide at seeing Eclair and she remained stiff and avoided looking at him. “What's going on?” Adair asked.

“I caught the thief,” I said to him.

His eyes went wider, then quickly smaller, and he looked at Eclair. “So it was her?” he said, not at all pleased with finding out he was right.

“Yes,” I said and Eclair jumped up, mouth agape.

“No!” she protested. “I told you it wasn't me! You said we were just coming to clear my name!”

I smirked at her. “Just a lie, miss. I knew it was you all along. Don't think I'm stupid,” I said. “You were gunning for Adair the moment you saw him at that function. You might not care about being a human any more, but Adair still embarrassed you all those years ago. You wanted to embarrass him back and what better way than seducing him and then dumping him? Of course, when you were going to have your moment of triumph, and tell him everything, he turned the tables on you.”

“No!” she shouted loudly. Adair was just watching her, passively.

“You expected him to say he was sorry, and then you'd tell him you bet he was, but that you hadn't forgotten, and then dump him as he begged you to stay. But instead he got angry and thought the whole thing was a setup. He kicked you out, so you had to go to another plan... Steal his pot, embarrass him that way.”

“No!” she repeated. Adair looked at me, his expression unchanged.

“It's true,” I said to Adair. “She's behind it all.” I looked up at the murky figure lurking in the shadows and gently raised my hand, bidding it wait a bit longer. It remained motionless. I turned back to Adair. “I don't know where she hid the pot, but I think we go out and tell the vâlvă and we should get our information in a few minutes.”

“It's not true,” Eclair said, turning angrily to me. “I told you everything I knew! I didn't take his pot! You told me we were coming so Adair didn't sic the vâlvă on me! I've told you everything I know! Why would I come here if I was the one really behind it?”

“That's a good point,” Adair said. “If she was the crook, why would she have come willingly to my house with you?”

I smiled as the final pieces all came together in my head. “She tried not to,” I said. “She kept saying no, but couldn't come up with an excuse. So she finally came because if she begged off, it would look suspicious.” I turned to the vâlvă waiting in the shadows. “Vâlvă, why don't you come and punish the thief?”

Adair and Eclair both whirled as the vâlvă, all black shadows and ghostly skin, emerged from hiding, clawed hands outstretched on spindly arms. Eclair shrieked and Adair wailed, “How'd that thing get in here?”

I smiled. “I had to break the circle to get Eclair in here, after all. It followed us in.”

As the vâlvă got closer to her, Eclair shrank back away, pushing herself down into the couch as if she could simply vanish into it. Her eyes were wild and wide and she looked at Adair for salvation. “Stop him!” she cried. “Please! I didn't do it! I swear! Adair, stop!”

Adair laid his hand on my arm and gripped it with urgency. “Now, listen, I don't want anything like this happening in my house. Surely the girl's words are enough for you to believe! If she was behind it, she'd tell us, wouldn't she?”

“You're right,” I said so softly that it seemed no one heard me. The vâlvă hesitated, though, and turned to look at me. Then it seemed both Adair and Eclair had heard my words and looked at me too. “Eclair didn't steal the pot. You did.”

“Excuse me?” Adair asked, his words catching in his throat with a high pitched squeal.

I extricated myself from his grip and fished out a cigarette. “You stole your own pot, Adair. It's the only explanation that makes sense.”

Adair shook his head fiercely. “Nonsense! Why would I steal my own pot? I can't steal my own pot!”

The vâlvă nodded its head slowly and said, in her voice that was a midwinter wind, “The pot belongs to him, by all rights. He cannot steal what is his, yet I have been summoned because something ill has happened to it.”

“Something ill did happen to it, or at least ill was being done with it,” I explained. “You see, Adair was sure it was Eclair who stole the pot from him. He told me so right from the beginning and told me the story about her boyfriend from all those years ago to prove she had motive. But he left out the part about them dating? Why? A jilted lover would have given just as much motive for revenge as anything else.

“Then there was Grundle, who doesn't sleep and would never miss an intruder. He's also honest; he's been guarding that vault for thirty years and hasn't slept a wink. He wouldn't have let anything by and wouldn't have taken any sort of bribe either. He had to be telling the truth that no one but Adair ever got into the vault.”

I took a drag from my cigarette and let it hang in my lungs as the gathered digested my words. The look in Adair's eyes told me he knew what I was building toward, though he held out hope I'd get something wrong that he could beg off. “Then there was the vault itself. There were spots on the wall where paintings had once hung, and others where other valuables had been kept. The walls around where they'd been kept were faded from the sunlight, but the spots were still dark. Adair told me he'd moved everything out after the theft, as a precaution.

“But where could he move something that'd be safer than the vault, even if it had been broken into. And the thief already took what he'd wanted, the pot, so why think he'd come back for the stuff? Plus there was dust on the walls where those other valuables used to be, but there was no dust where the pot had sat. So the other valuables had been taken out long before the pot had been.

“Put that together with the shabby state of this mansion and I realized that Adair had been hard up for money recently. He'd sold the other valuables to pay someone. But I didn't know who until I talked with Eclair.

“You see, Eclair told me about Salvatore and how he once loaned Adair some money with the pot as collateral. She said Adair paid that loan off, which may be true. But when his business was going through that rough patch a few years back, Adair borrowed some more. Except this time, he couldn't pay it back. He would have had to give up the pot. Eclair suggested that if Adair refused, Salvatore would steal the pot from him.”

Adair snapped his fingers and said, with far too much enthusiasm, “Yes! That must be it! Salvatore stole it!”

I glared at him. “Let me finish. You know damn sure that's not true. Salvatore wouldn't do anything without a contract, he's a vampire. They're always good about that sort of thing. He didn't need to steal anything. He could have just gone to court to get it, or whatever piece of business he wanted from you.

“You couldn't let that happen. You didn't have anything else to sell to make your loan repayment, so you got desperate. You stole your own pot, knowing that a vâlvă was protecting the gold in it. You came to me, thinking I'm a poor, broke detective so I must be dumb, and I'd be easy to mislead into doing what you wanted. You wanted me to pin the blame on Salvatore, so the vâlvă would go after him and kill him and get you out from under the debt. You'd be free of blame, too, since no one would question it if I came out and said the vâlvă had killed him because he stole the pot.

“And Eclair here was in on it. She was too eager to tell me about her past relationship with you and Salvatore. He's supposed to be her sire, but she sold him out without me having to even try. People don't do that, not for nothing, so I knew she was in your pocket somehow. Maybe she loves you, maybe you told her you'd turn her back into a human if she helped, maybe she was just in it for money. Maybe she just hates Salvatore after all these years.

“When I mentioned the vâlvă to her, she wasn't surprised to hear about it. She knew what it was, but she knew that she'd never get implicated if everything went according to plan, but she also knew that if she didn't go with me it'd make me suspicious of why she wouldn't do everything to keep herself safe, especially after I told her I thought she was innocent. So she had to come with me here.

“I said she was behind everything to see your reactions. She didn't try to convince Adair that she was innocent; he already knew she was. She tried to convince me and the vâlvă. And Adair, if she was really responsible for the theft, you knew the vâlvă wouldn't let her go unpunished anyway, so asking me to stop the vâlvă let me know that you knew she was innocent. If you knew that, you knew who the real criminal was. And the only way you'd know that is if you were the one behind the theft the entire time.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and waited for them to react. Adair had gone pale beneath his red garb and hair. He made a good match with Eclair now, in skin tone. The vâlvă remained silent, standing impassively, staring at Adair, waiting for a final confirmation before striking. Eclair was the only one who had already decided things were over. She had her head down and sat with her hands folded in her lap.

“But,” Adair said raspily, then stopped to lick his lips and repeated it, “But if Grundle is as honest as you say, he would have told you I left the vault with the pot.”

I smiled and nodded my head. “Yeah, I thought about that. Why didn't Grundle mention that? Except he never did see anything, because he was turned to stone when it happened.”

Adair shook his head. “Impossible! There's no sunlight in that hall!”

“But there doesn't need to be,” I explained. “Grundle mentioned that the rainbow went out for a minute, then came back on. He thought it was just a flicker from the bad wiring in this place. But it wasn't. Someone switched the bulb in the lamp really quickly, replaced it with a UV bulb.”

“A what?” the vâlvă asked. Adair and Eclair both knew they'd been caught, so said nothing.

“A UV bulb,” I said. “They usually use them for pet snakes and lizards, to give them something to sun themselves under. I found the empty box in Eclair's apartment. I have to admit I broke in before I had a proper chat with her, while she was sleeping. You see, the reason trolls turn to stone in sunlight is from the UV light. It's the same reason vampires burn themselves. Except the thing is, Eclair didn't have any burns on her. She would have had some signs of burning if she'd been the one to use the lamp.

“The box might have been there for me to find. To throw me off the scent and think she'd bought it for her boss or something. It might have fooled me if not for all the other incongruities. She gave the bulb to Adair, who plugged it into the lamp at the prism. It kept the rainbow on the floor, so that he could get into his vault, but it also turned Grundle to stone so that he wouldn't be seen. After taking everything, Adair replaced the bulb and to Grundle, it just seemed like a brief flicker.”

I looked at Adair and Eclair. They were both silent, faces hanging low. The vâlvă hung over them like a curse. “So I guess I'm not going to get paid any more,” I said to Adair.

He looked up at me and gave me a black smile. “I suppose not,” he said.

“Too bad,” I said. I turned to the vâlvă and said to her, “You're a black vâlvă, the ugliest and evillest of all the vâlvă. But if you take your revenge, you turn back into the vâlvă of the mines that you were before. So it's not my place to tell you how to take your revenge or not.”

The vâlvă remained silent and I started to walk away. As I reached the front door, I heard Adair say, “We can run, Eclair. Let's run away together.”

I closed the door before I could hear her answer. When I crossed the spot I'd cleared off earlier, I took the handful of salt from my pocket and reconnected the circle of salt. Nothing magical could get in, now. Nothing could get out either.

It was a long walk back to my office and it was dark, but I tried to keep my thoughts on better things.


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