“Father, might I have a word with you?” Kanaya looked across the kitchen table, polite and interested, her hands folded in front of her. Sleuth, desperate for any opportunity to avoid eating the broccoli she’d prepared ‘for nutritional purposes,’ dropped his fork with a clatter.
“Yes, Kanaya, of course.” He sat back.
She looked to his plate, and her expression hovered to the disapproving side of neutral. “Father, broccoli is a vital source of many vitamins and minerals, and it is rich in anti-oxidants, which have been shown in preliminary studies to slow the process of aging. Not to mention it is a vegetable, of which you are supposed to eat three to four servings each day.”
“I had some V8 earlier,” he lied. “Don’t worry, Kanaya, I get plenty of whatever. Now what’s on your mind?”
She looked away from the broccoli, back to him, and leaned forward. “Have you resolved to drop the case concerning Crowbar?”
He took a breath, looked down, caught sight of the broccoli and felt tremendously guilty, and looked back up. “Well, sweetheart, here’s the thing: It’s . . . it’s an interesting case.” He held up his hands and reassured her, “Don’t worry, I’ll be careful; I’m going to handle this one with kid gloves, alright? I was down at the police station today looking at some case files and I let SV in on what I’m thinking – they’re watching out for it too.”
“But were your initial suspicions correct? The information gathered from the Midnight Crew and the case files – does it seem to coincide?”
“From what I can tell, yeah.” He frowned. “Why the interest? I thought you were dead set against me taking this case.”
She weighed her words for a minute while he sipped at his coffee. “I would be open to considering that perhaps the case is not totally without merit and dangerous besides. I have been speaking with some of the girls at school, and perhaps there is more to this than we initially imagined.”
A little shiver of pride ran through him. He’d never asked her to help him with the detective stuff or the stupid puzzle shit, but ever since she’d been little she’d taken an interest in his work. And now, here she was tracking down leads on a case he hadn’t even officially taken yet . . . “Father?” he snapped back to the present, startled. She was looking at him, a little wary. “Are you alright, Father?”
“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Yeah, fine. So, uh, you and your friends were talking about this at school?” He frowned. “Who? I’m not sure this is something that you girls should be getting involved in –”
“Terezi Pyrope and Aradia Megido.”
“Oh.” Snowman and Droog’s girls. That was fine, he thought. They might even know more than he did. “What did they have to say?”
Kanaya shifted in her seat, sat up straight. “Well, to begin with Terezi seemed to be almost totally positive that not all of the murders committed in the city by Crowbar actually were committed by Crowbar. Certainly the murderer looks the part, but according to all of Terezi’s sources, Crowbar himself has not committed anywhere near the number of murders that are currently being attributed to him.”
“And Terezi’s sources, I’d imagine, are the Felt, so that’s pretty reliable . . .” Sleuth mused.
“Yes. She says it has everyone very much on edge at the mansion.”
“She have any idea why someone would be framing Crowbar?” Sleuth gestured with his coffee mug. “He’s the brains of that entire operation, apparently; seems like suicide to go after him.”
“No. There are no leads as to who it may be, or their motives for such activity. But yes, it does seem like a foolish thing to do, we all agreed.”
“They still haven’t got caught, though, so they can’t be dumb.”
“But Father,” she went on, urgent, “there may be more to this than meets the eye. There was a murder at the docks last night –” he froze, save to blink, surprised and caught off-guard, “– of a bootlegger that is typically in direct competition with the Midnight Crew. The murderer was spotted, and between the eyewitness account and the fact that the victim was killed by a cue stick to the neck, the chief suspect is believed to be Diamonds Droog. Indeed, even the Felt was of the impression that Aradia’s father had carried out the deed.”
“But he didn’t,” Sleuth breathed.
“So you have already heard about this and made your own judgments?”
“Sweetheart the cops are hushing that murder up – how did you know about it?”
She shrugged. “Neither the Midnight Crew nor the Felt were fond of Unscrupulous Bootlegger. Apparently Terezi overheard discussion about the murder during her breakfast. Aradia had not heard of it, but she was immediately able to vouch for her father’s whereabouts.”
“I can vouch for his whereabouts. He didn’t do it.”
“We considered,” she went on, “that perhaps the murders are related.”
Sleuth coughed, half-choking on his coffee. “What, the same person’s framing Crowbar and the Droog? Sweetheart, it’s not impossible but it is improbable because if it is the same person they’re not dead yet.”
“I agree that the plan is suicidal but perhaps it is a plan to consider?” She smirked, and stood up, carrying her own plate (empty) to the sink. “Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance to your case. Despite my reservations about the safety of this enterprise, I must admit to having an interest in the progression and eventual outcome.” She walked off, down the hall. “I will be doing my homework.”
“Good,” he said, faintly, his brain suddenly firing on all available cylinders, half of which were trying to figure why someone would want to frame Droog and Crowbar, and the other half of which were busy trying to figure out how he could ever express his unabashed fatherly pride. “Great. Let me know if you need help.”
Well, the Droog and Crowbar thing was easier. Taking out Crowbar would hamstring the Felt, leaving them vulnerable and possibly prone to mistakes. Taking out Droog would disorganize the Midnight Crew and effectively accomplish the same thing there. If the murders were related, and someone really was trying to lock up Droog and Crowbar, it seemed likely that that someone would stand something to gain by knocking out the city’s two biggest gangs.
As for the other thing . . . perhaps he could call the Egbert boy’s dad. The man was a paradigm of fatherly pride and Midnight City’s undisputed Icingmeister. An inscription across a tray of candy corn brownies would doubtlessly be child’s play.
In a nice townhouse in a distinctively more upscale district of the city, Aradia Megido had similar intentions as Kanaya – her father would certainly want to know if he was being framed for murder, after all. The tricky part was that if she just brought the topic up, he’d ignore it, brush it off, redirect. So the trick was to soften him up; to so destroy his psyche that he would be desperate for any other conversational topic, including and not limited to possible framings for brutal murders.
She did this by talking about boys.
“– and then Equius brought me some flowers that he’d picked while we were supposed to be looking at the leaves and identifying tree species,” she went on, making sure to include every single male interaction that had occurred during her Horticulture class’s trip to the park, “and it was all very sweet but I just had to tell him that Sollux and I were talking about going to the movies this Friday, and I couldn’t possibly make other plans.” She sighed, dramatic, and kept going, a little louder over the crackle as he hastily peeled the plastic off a fresh pack of cigarettes.
“And I guess Eridan must have overheard, because then he got all upset because he and I are supposed to be meeting in the library after school on Friday to work on our toothpick bridge, and I guess he thought we would be there for a while.” She flipped her pencil around and rubbed the eraser across a line of equations. Algebra was more difficult when she was plotting, but an extra forty minutes on homework would be worth it. “Of course I didn’t mention to him that the movie we’d wanted to see doesn’t even start showing until eight thirty, because then he probably would have suggested we go back to his apartment to keep working –” It was a low blow and, apparently, the final straw.
“You will not.”
She blinked, feigning surprise, and then scoffed. “Please, Daddy, it’s Eridan. You couldn’t pay me to go back to his apartment. For any reason.”
Droog watched her over the paper, grey eyes narrowed, and then he shook the newspaper back out and disappeared behind it once more. “Good. Fine. What else happened at school today?” There were perhaps two people in Midnight City that would have recognized the hasty change of subject as being a signal that Diamonds Droog’s last nerve was frayed to the point of no return. Aradia was one of them. She brushed some of her hair out of her face and thought.
“Hm. Well . . .” She tapped her pencil on her notebook. Her thoughtful manner was only half-faked; pushing her guardian’s buttons was easy enough, once you knew what they were, but getting him to talk about something he would normally be opposed to was a delicate operation. One misstep and he’d end up saying something like ‘hm’ and that would be the end of it, or worse, he’d tell her to go to bed.
“Not much,” she concluded. “I helped Kanaya and Terezi with some things for history over lunch, but really nothing else exciting. Oh, but did you know Unscrupulous Bootlegger died last night? Terezi was talking about it.” She sniffed. “I told her she might do better in history if she managed to tear herself away from her police scanner for two hours, but she won’t listen.”
The paper had twitched aside though. Victory. “Did he?”
She nodded. “Down at the docks. Murder, obviously. Why else would the police be involved?” And then she laughed, just a little. “Funny thing about it was, Terezi was saying it was you that did it, but I told her she was an idiot. Just because someone in a suit kills someone else with a cue stick doesn’t always mean –”
“Where did she hear that?”
Aradia shrugged. “Either the police scanner or someone up at the mansion, I’m sure. I didn’t ask. The police will clear it up soon, though, I bet. What’s the square root of 121?”
“Thanks, Daddy.” She penciled in the answer. “You’d think she’d be more understanding of that with all the stuff she’s been telling me about Crowbar lately – you know someone’s framing him for a bunch of murders? Kanaya’s dad’s looking into it. Crazy.” She looked up when he didn’t say anything. Droog was just watching her, perhaps a little confused, or maybe stunned. “What?”
“Have you girls ever considered that you talk too much?” he finally said.
She smiled as sweetly as she could. “Never.”
And meanwhile, in the green architectural disaster on the outskirts of the city that was Felt mansion, Terezi was engaging in her own brand of deductive inquiries. This mostly consisted of irritating whoever she ran across first.
“Hey, Die!” she dropped into the chair next to the thin man, causing him to yelp and drop his doll. She waited for him to seize it once more, sunken eyes wide as he clutched it to his chest. “Whatcha doing?”
“Oh. Terezi. Nothing.” He composed himself, re-adjusted his top hat, and frowned as she grinned and kicked her legs back and forth, drumming her fingers on the table. “What are you doing?”
“Just, you know, checking in on my favorite voodoo uncle.”
His expression flattened, and he frowned a little, rolling his eyes. “Itchy gave you coffee again, didn’t he?”
“Just one cup!”
“Hey guess what.” She leaned in, her bony shoulder grinding into his chest. He sighed. “Guess, you know you want to.”
“Itchy’s going to be found dead later with a pin in his jugular?” Die mused.
“No, silly. You know that murder last night down at the docks?”
Die thought. Of the Felt members, he was second only to Snowman in being intentionally ignorant of most of the petty gang activity in the city. He kept up on the bigger stuff, of course, but the scuffles and minor disagreements that occurred between, say, the Shamlegger Street Rude Boys and the South River Prospitans were . . . well, it’s not like there was much for him to do with them. He couldn’t have a pin for everyone in the city, after all.
“Itchy and Clover knew what I was talking about right away,” she sighed, exasperated. “Unscrupulous Bootlegger?”
“Uh . . . nope.” He shrugged. “Sorry, Rez.”
She threw her hands up and grabbed his wrist. “Well as long as I have to explain everything we might as well find Crowbar. This is of vital importance, Die; there is a nefarious plot afoot.” She jerked his arm, and he followed her, if only because he feared for the future integrity of his rotator cuff.
“And I need to get involved in this,” he asked, flatly.
She stopped short and spun and treated him to a look that suggested that he was possibly the stupidest person she’d ever met. “Nefarious plot. You’re my creepy voodoo uncle: nefarious is what you do.”
“Does your mother know you’re doing this?”
“So where’s Crowbar?”
“Alright, so that’s a no.”
“I would tell her! I just haven’t seen her yet. I’ll tell her.” Terezi nodded, solemn. “I swear. Cross my heart and hope to –”
“God help you if you finish that phrase.”
“– perish.” She beamed. “So where’s your boyfriend?”
He glared, but he rather suspected it was lost on the blind girl. Who knew, though – she picked up on enough to keep everyone guessing. “Probably the bar.” He hardly had time to finish before she wrenched him by the arm again and motored off toward the mansion’s impressively extensive barroom. When Terezi kicked the doors open, Die was tremendously relieved to see Crowbar sitting on one of the couches, notebook and heist plans open in front of him. Terezi released him and left him standing there, doll tucked under his arm, trying to rub the life back into his wrist and hand.
“Crowbar guess what!” She flung herself down next to the man, sending papers flying. “Guess what.”
He scooped up a handful of papers while Die sat down next to him, handing him a collection of photographs. “Itchy gave you coffee again?”
She paused, thoughtful. “Well, yes but no. Yes he did but that’s not what I wanted you to guess.”
Crowbar looked to Die. “Tell me you’re not a part of this.”
“Of course he is; it’s a nefarious plot,” Terezi hissed, while Die shrugged. “You know that murder down at the docks last night?”
“UB?” Crowbar nodded, hesitant. “Yeah. What about it?”
“Droog didn’t do it.” Crowbar and Die exchanged a look. “I talked to his daughter at school today – she said he was home last night when it happened.”
“Well obviously she would,” Crowbar scoffed. “Besides, Rez, I don’t give a shit whether Droog did it or not: half the city wanted the guy dead, no skin off my nose who actually did it.”
“You’re missing the point, Crowbar.” She grabbed the lapels of his coat, knocking the re-organized papers askew again. Die stifled a groan and started gathering them back up. “Droog was framed.”
The men stopped what they were doing (shuffling papers and trying to escape Terezi) and looked to each other, then to her. “Yeah?” Crowbar asked, finally. “You got proof?”
“Other than that the eyewitnesses said it was Droog while the actual Diamonds Droog managed to be at home two districts away? No.” She sat back, gesturing widely. “It’s just like you, right? Someone is trying to frame both of you.”
“Well they’re easy targets,” Die pointed out, but he sounded skeptical. “Someone looking to get away with murder would know Crowbar and Droog aren’t likely to take a lot of flak from the police. They could even be unrelated.”
“Yes, but the nefarious plot is more fun and more advantageous to a particularly ambitious scofflaw.” She stood and paced in front of them, her hands folded behind her back. “Think about it, gentlemen, if you will: the “Crowbar” murders and the “Droog” murders become so numerous that eventually the police are forced to take action and bring both criminals to trial. You will obviously be found guilty –”
“– Let’s not act as though you are innocent to begin with!” she snapped over his objection. “Anyway, both of you will be found guilty and imprisoned. Which would leave who in charge of the Felt? My mother? Die?”
Die paled. “Oh God, no.”
“My point exactly! My mother would kill everyone within the week and Die would have a nervous breakdown four hours in. Maybe less, if Eggs and Biscuits are feeling particularly frisky that day.
“And what of the Midnight Crew? Droog technically isn’t their leader but without him managing them the other three would fall to pieces; Slick’s no good at organization or forethought. So where would that leave the two premier gangs of the city?” She turned to them and adopted a wide stance. “I leave that to you gentlemen to consider.”
Crowbar looked to Die, who still looked a little rattled at the hypothetical prospect of spearheading the Felt. “So what, Rez? Fake-Droog’s killed one guy, and it was a guy everyone and their bloody mum wanted dead anyway. Your logic is flawed. At best.”
“I’m just saying, the connection is something to consider. Are there any gangs that might be motivated to take over the city right now?”
Crowbar snorted. “All of them.” He took the papers from Die’s still-shaking hands and paperclipped them together. “Rez it’s an interesting thought, but I’m not buying it yet. This not-Droog character kills a few more people and we’ll see.”
She frowned, clearly disappointed. “But what if it’s too late? Action must be swift! You and the Crew both stand to lose –”
Crowbar pinched his nose with one hand and slung his other arm around Die. “We ain’t working with the Crew. Doesn’t matter what the hell’s going on.”
“Which is why it’s really lucky that Problem Sleuth is –”
“I can’t wait until your mother hears these theories because clearly you haven’t told her yet.” He leveled her with an almost-glare. “Go to bed, Terezi.”
“Out.” She stared at the two of them for a minute and then huffed, turned on her heel, and stormed from the room. Crowbar slumped back into the couch, stretching his legs out. “That girl is scary.”
“She had a point about you going to prison though,” Die murmured, curling into him. “I’m going to buy a video camera. We’ll film you constantly, right, and that way when the cops come looking for an alibi we’ll have hours of footage and –”
“Hey.” Crowbar interrupted his train of thought, surprisingly gentle, and kissed him. “It’s not gonna come to that, alright? It just . . . we’ll find this guy before it does, alright? It’ll all go away.”
“But maybe you should stay at the mansion until –”
“Relax. I’ll get Trace and Fin on it tonight, okay? They might even find something. By accident,” he added, darkly, because there are certain things that every Felt member knows and one of them is that Fin and Trace, as wannabe crime scene investigators, were completely useless.
“I still think you should stay here.” He sat up and straddled Crowbar, grabbing him by the lapels and leaning in. “You cannot go to prison. Can. Not. The minute you do I am out of this timeline like a chicken at a Santeria ritual.”
Crowbar kissed him again and leaned back, smirking. “Relax. Last thing I’m gonna do is go to the rock, alright? Don’t get all worked up about nothing.”