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“You want to hear a bedtime story?”
“Yeah! A mystery tale, please.”
“Alright, then. I’ll tell you about a wallet—a wallet that ended up solving the biggest case I’ve ever known…”
After the Prisoners’ War ended with all sides negotiating neutrality, Evkeya was split into two:
The New City, where high-rise towers, skyscrapers, and aeroplanes boasted of the new era of innovation and modernization—and the Old City, left behind in the shadows, the utmost slums of the nation.
The dark, soggy streets of the Old City were overflowing with garbage bins, rats, and drunk lunatics—but that wasn’t all.
They were occupied with crime.
And Thelenia Passage was no exception.
Flickering lightbulbs dangled from decaying wooden posts, casting a sickly yellow glow over murky, stagnant water below; slippery ledges worn with footprints yet covered in a layer of whitish-green mold extended from even slimier walls of dull cement; hundreds of steel ladders stretched straight above into seemingly endless darkness.
The waterway beneath the Old City had stopped flowing decades ago, long before Evkeya was divided into two parts. It had been the trade route where brokers’ leaky boats and official shipping vessels alike traveled on, until an accident occurred in 20xx.
I knew the facts very well; the moment Detective Lime and I advanced into the gloom of Thelenia Passage, we would only have a fifty-fifty chance of getting out unscathed.
I regarded the tattered leather wallet clenched in Lime’s gloved hand with apprehension. Certainly, we would never have considered recklessly walking into Thelenia Passage even if our lives depended on it. And especially not at 5 o’clock in the morning.
Except, we had something to finish. Someone to find.
“Are you sure he disappeared around here?” I asked, uneasy. “We don’t need to go in there now, do we?”
Lime seemed unusually anxious as well. Apparently, he didn’t want to step into Thelenia Passage any more than I did. “We can… take a look at the wallet first,” he said, opening the clasp with a flick of his thumb. We scanned the contents:
A few receipts from the U-Mart of 12th District.
An adult ticket to the nearby amusement park, crinkled and turning yellow at the edges.
8452 oo worth of paper and 15 oo worth of coins. Stuffed together in the inner pouch.
A small gray tag titled “Belle’s Cleaners; Order #62”.
A note with a date and time scribbled on it, along with “pick up new glasses.”
A tiny plastic bag filled with slips of paper from fortune cookies.
And finally, a blurred photo of a little Asian girl eating an ice cream cone. “Little Mandie” was scrawled at the bottom right corner.
Lime cleared his throat and said, “The Waveley Park Incident. When was that?”
“27th of August, right?”
“Yeah—look at the ticket. Notice the small words?” Lime didn’t wait for a reply. “The date. 0827xx.”
I peered closely at the text. “The same, huh.” That came as no surprise. We were trying to solve the Waveley Park case after all, and our target was the mastermind behind it.
Lime slid out the picture from its frame. He started tugging his gray-streaked eyebrow, as he always did when he put on his thinking cap. “In the photo,” he muttered, “a toddler. In the bag, fortune cookie slips.”
Lime pondered over these for a long time. He plucked at his eyebrow again, then turned to me and said, “Well, his shopping life is easy to understand. You see here, on the receipt? Spicy chicken jerky, spearmint gum, Rollie Rock beer—these don’t seem to be for little kids. He probably visited U-Mart alone.”
“From the receipt, he… seems like an ordinary person,” I said, hesitantly.
Ignoring me, Lime snatched up the photo and flipped it around. “This was taken in 21xx, which means the person must’ve had the photo for only a few years.” He mulled over this, and then his head shot up. “I see!” He said, gleefully, and started to talk in a rush, his words tumbling out like water. “Our target liked Chinese food—the fortune cookie paper slips. However, he often received unlucky messages in the fortune cookies, such as ‘Your problem became bigger’, ‘He who laughs last is laughing at you’, ‘The second mouse gets the cheese’. ‘He who hurries cannot walk with dignity’, et cetera. He began having trouble at work, got fired, started accumulating a debt—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I cut in. “You do realize that all this is a bit hard to believe, right?”
“Just because it’s supposedly hard to believe doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”
“Alright,” Lime snapped. Perhaps he himself thought that his analysis was rather questionable. “I’ll think about it again. Let’s go take a look at Belle’s Cleaners first.”
I let out a sigh of relief. The dark entrance of Thelenia Passage was not inviting at all.
Striding forward with a purposeful gait, Lime passed the wallet to me and withdrew a cigarette from the depths of his heavy hessian coat. “Do you have any ideas who our target might be?” Casually lighting the cigarette, he stuck it into his mouth and inhaled deeply.
“Well.” I studied the wallet with great care under the dim light of dawn. “There are bite marks here, about a centimeter apart. Most likely from a small-sized dog like a beagle or an Affenpinscher, which means that the person might’ve either owned a dog or passed by a dog who bit his wallet. The latter would be almost impossible since wallets are never taken out unless needed, so we can simply assume that our target owns a small dog.”
“Good observation.” Lime blew a thin swirl of smoke into the air and gave me a shrewd stare. “What else?”
A little nervous, I replied, “The wallet has a brand name, GS, which probably stands for Gordan Shwiff.”
“The modern clothing brand? Are you certain?” Furrowing his brow, he breathed out a cloud of smoke.
“Yeah.” I wrinkled my nose in distaste. “Tobacco?” I sighed. “Why do you have such an old-fashioned style?”
Lime suddenly paused in his tracks. “Give me the wallet,” he said, but before I could reply he snatched it out of my hands.
“Of course!” he cried, sniffing at the leather like a police hound. “A lingering stench of tobacco. I knew it!”
“That’s from your cigarette, not the wallet.”
Lime paid no attention to what I said. Triumphantly, he declared, “Since the wallet’s all frayed and worn, I assume that the person’s owned it for a somewhat long time. GS stands for Great Sansby, a handbag brand that was popular about eight years ago in the New City. The smell of traditional tobacco indicates that the person used tobacco often enough to make the stink settle in his belongings. And if you want to know, I never smoke real tobacco. This is an e-cigarette.”
“So, our target owns a small dog, and he also smokes tobacco,” I recounted. “The wallet is from the New City, but quite old. The supermarket he visited is also located in the New City. This means that he lives there. However, he’s from China because of the photo of the Asian toddler and the fortune cookie slips in the plastic bag.”
“Not necessarily so,” Lime broke in, stroking his eyebrow again. “Fortune cookies did not originate in China. Very few Chinese people even eat fortune cookies, and almost none would believe the fortune-telling paper slips. But the toddler is interesting. ‘Little Mandie’ means that she is related to the wallet-owner in some way or other. Since the person was more than willing to put her photo in the wallet, she should be a relative, like a daughter or niece. Therefore, we can conclude that our target is of Asian descent but lived in our nation for a long time, possibly his whole life.”
“Maybe I should try tugging my eyebrow to see if I could be as clever as you,” I said, grudgingly impressed.
Lime laughed, seeming slightly pleased with himself. “Any other observations?” he asked, handing the wallet back to me.
I saw no point in finding clues personally when Lime could’ve done so far more accurately, but I spoke nonetheless: “The wallet was dropped when the target stumbled around a lamppost last night, so we can’t determine if it was released on purpose or if it fell by accident. In spite of this, his intention could not have been to mislead us into thinking he was a different person because there is a Waveley Park ticket on the day of the incident. Everyone knows that our target was involved in that particular case, and the person we chased yesterday couldn’t have owned a ticket—it wouldn’t be that coincidental. So, I don’t believe our target deliberately dropped his wallet.”
We had arrived at our minivan. Unlocking the vehicle, I slid open the rear compartment door and clambered inside. “Can you contact the base?” I called, reaching for my seatbelt.
Lime didn’t reply. When I glanced back, he was standing still, pulling at his eyebrow.
“Why would our target keep the ticket,” Lime said thoughtfully, “if he wanted to get rid of any evidence that he was there when the Waveley Park Incident occurred? Did he predict that we would consider this lest we ever managed to get our hands on the wallet, and he purposefully kept the ticket so that we would think it was just a coincidence?”
“At any rate, finding out how the person looks should be our first priority,” I responded. “Hop in.”
Lime jumped into the car. I started the engine and backed out of the alleyway we were parked in.
“We can infer that our target wears glasses,” said Lime, continuing to contemplate. “However, his glasses might not be working well because he is due to get new ones. Presently, he might not be able to see very clearly.” Fiddling with the buttons and switches on our minivan, he pulled a small microphone down from the ceiling and tapped it.
A static crackle filled the vehicle.
“Lime, do you copy?” a raspy voice said.
“Loud and clear, sir,” Lime replied.
“Have you confirmed the criminal’s appearance yet?”
“We’re on our way to do so, sir.”
“Do you need backup?”
Lime glanced at me, and I leaned sideways to speak into the microphone while keeping my eyes on the road. “Sir, Simon talking. A regulation force should be in the 12th District before 7 o’clock.”
“No, sir.” I swerved left onto the main street linking the Old City and the New City, narrowly missing a fire hydrant.
“Alright. They’ll be at U-Mart at 6:55 AM sharp. Anything else?”
“We need all the CCTV footages from U-Mart in the last three months.”
“I shall request U-Mart’s security team to give us access.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Let me know when you locate the target. Out.” There was a click, and the voice disconnected.
We drove in silence for quite some time, and soon tall skyscrapers were flashing by the window, cars’ muffled honking just audible outside. I maneuvered the minivan into a side-parking slot, barely managing to avoid scraping the car in front of us.
Belle’s Cleaners welcomed us with a strong gust of warm, fresh-scented wind. I pushed open the glass door and headed straight for the front desk.
“Cahn ‘ah help ya, Misters?” a woman said with a thick accent. “Loandry, dry claining…”
“I was wondering if we could speak with the owner,” Lime answered politely.
“The own’ah?” She shook her head, her short, curled hair bobbing. “Sorr’, he’s not here today.”
“We have an order number.” Lime’s voice was soft as he took out the small card, along with his own ID badge. “Do we have permission to see the order?”
Before long, we were being ushered into a small room crammed with plastic bags and hangers. The walls were oddly pale compared to the rest of the shop, and a disinfectant-like smell barely managed to cover the reek of sweat and unwashed clothes.
“59, 60, 61… 62. Here it is.” The woman plucked the bag out from a cluster by the left wall and threw it to us. “Haven’ washed ‘em yet, though.”
“Do you remember who brought these here?” Lime asked cautiously. “Can you describe him?”
She shrugged, disinterested. “Don’ remember faceez.”
“I see,” Lime said, after a short pause. He gave the bag a shake and dumped its contents onto the floor. “Tobacco,” he murmured to me as I leaned down to inspect the garments scattered across the marble tiles. “Extra-Large size, scuffed sleeves, wrinkles on the shoulders, faded blue jeans smeared with a powdery material.” He jotted these down on a notebook, then straightened up, satisfied.
We left Belle’s Cleaners at 5:40. As soon as we neared our minivan, Lime held up his palm to show me a few tufts of hair. “We should be able to get some good results from this.”
“And now we know the measures of our target’s clothes, right?”
Clambering into the passenger seat, Lime pulled out a small device from the locked compartment. “Yeah,” he said. “Here. Take a look at these. I think they sent the CCTV footage already.”
The screen was filled with panels, each showing a paused video of U-Mart’s front entrance.
“We need to check the ones filmed on August 14th, September 2nd, 6th, 20th, 23th, and October 9th,” Lime told me. “Our target bought from U-Mart on those days.”
“This person wears glasses, and also smokes,” I remarked, pointing at a stout man in the September 2nd panel.
“He doesn’t wear extra-large clothes,” Lime countered, yanking hard on his eyebrow as he squinted at the footage. “That’s an e-cigarette like mine, and he doesn’t have a dog with him. I have a sense that our target should be… him.” He tapped the screen. “A bulky Asian man with faded blue jeans and a large sweatshirt, wearing slightly-slanted glasses, holding a cigar in his hand… And he’s here on all the dates I mentioned.”
I leaned forward eagerly. “There’s also an Affenpinscher tied to the post nearby.”
Then, slowly, Lime said, “I believe… he’s the person we’ve been searching for.”
We held our breaths, staring at the screen, as if the panels would disappear any second. The cars outside stopped honking—and there was a moment of extreme silence.
Without warning, Lime jolted up and fumbled with the microphone on the ceiling.
“Sir!” he said. “We have our primary suspect!”
The voice connected. This time, it was a lot more excited than before. “Appearance?”
“He’s tall, around 6’5; powerfully-built, dressed in large clothes and most likely jeans; wearing rectangular glasses tilted downwards—”
“His vision is not the best, so it’ll be easy to capture him, sir,” I said.
“No!” Lime snatched the microphone away. “The target can see well. Please be careful when tracking him down. Over.” He turned and snapped at me, “Didn’t you see the CCTV footage? Who bumps into the same door six times in a row? Even a senseless fool will learn from his mistakes. It’s apparent that—”
“Send the CCTV captures of our target,” the raspy voice from the microphone interrupted. “Good work, Lime, Simon.”
“Thank you sir,” I replied. “Over and out.”
“The end. And there, my dear grandson, is the story of Detective Lime.” I stroked the little boy’s head, feeling a deep nostalgia well up inside me.
“Did they catch the bad guy?”
“Of course,” I answered. “Nobody escapes from the best detective in our county.” The bed creaked as I stood up with a wistful sigh. “Good night, now. Sweet dreams.”
Outside the bedroom window, a shrill whistle sounded in the distance, followed by a soft whoosh. From my seat by the bed, I saw the night metro slide onto the elevated railway, its headlights sparkling like jewels. It turned a corner, and its sleek silhouette slowly disappeared into the horizon.
The New City lay under the silky moon, shimmering skyscrapers blinking with multicolored lighting. Far below, cars sped past on the busy street, where nightlife was just beginning to show itself—and I wondered if my comrade from decades ago was watching this scene as well.
Or perhaps he was hidden in the darkness of the Old City, chewing over a new criminal case yet again.