“That’s not how I remember it,” Amber said leaning forward, the meerkat’s clawed hands rested on the desk as she stared down the occupant opposite her. It was hot and overcast outside - creatures braving the wet heat to get to their jobs looked like ants down below.
“Really? Then how do you remember it?” The hardboiled rat detective behind the desk responded.
Amber leaned back and folded her arms across her chest. “I’m so glad you asked, Skreet,” she replied sarcastically. “I was following a tip from one of my sources: a lead that would lead me to the scoop of a lifetime - blowing the lid off of a smuggling ring and some crooked customs officials.”
Skreet nodded. “Alright, go on.”
The rat poured himself a shot glass of whiskey, paused and then eyed Amber.
“You want a glass too?”
“It’s ten in the morning, Skreet!”
“So it is. Guess you drive me to drinking early.”
The meerkat journalist bared her teeth. “Honestly!”
“Applejuice?” Skreet asked.
“The only thing I want from you is your undivided attention.”
Skreet downed a shot. “You’ve got it sister - please continue. You were after the scoop.”
Amber twitched her ears. “Yes. It was a foggy night as I found myself at the docks. The freighter Cornell had arrived in the dead of night - no running lights, just as my contact had said. The cargo of illicit goods. Stolen artifacts, to be precise.”
Skreet tapped a claw against his muzzle. “Do go on.”
Amber did so. “Well, I got to the docks and dodged an otter lookout, using the box and various containers as cover, I drew closer to the ship. I could see the smugglers then: a pair of rats, a dingo, and the crooked customs officer.”
Amber took a breath and thought back to her recollection. “I drew closer and caught something about a ‘Glade Figure,’ and how they were worth a lot. The smugglers and the officer were arguing. The soiled enforcer wanted double his usual fee and the smuggler captain, the dingo, was not happy about that.”
Skreet stretched in his chair. “Typical.”
“They were arguing loudly until something got their attention. Think there was a shout or something, but they suddenly started looking around. I thought it best I scrammed, so I started making my way back when the two rats were suddenly barring my way, crowbars in their hands.”
Skreet steepled his fingers. “Then what happened?”
Amber sighed, “Well I wasn’t armed but I did have a good camera around my neck with a bright flash. So I snapped a picture right into one of their mugs. He shouted and waved his arms blindly... It gave me the chance I needed to escape. One of the rats grabbed me by the shoulder, but I know a thing or two. I used his size and weight against him and flipped him into a crate.”
“Ah!” Skreet interjected. “That is where I have to interrupt you,” he said, wheeling his chair a few degrees towards the window. “That’s not what happened.”
Annoyed, Amber scrutinized the rat. “Oh? Do tell, Mr. Snickertooth.”
Skreet nodded. “Gladly, Ms. Zazuetta.” He flipped open an old notepad. “I had taken a case: my client had come directly to my office with a problem - no appointment. Many of their cultural items had been stolen from their families back in their country of origin. They wanted me to find evidence of where said items had ended up. Of particular note was a jade jaguar figurine.”
Amber’s ears pricked forward. “Jade figure, not ‘glade’ figure!” The investigative journalist jotted it down on her own notepad.
“Right,” Skreet grunted before continuing his narrative. “Anyway, I checked my own sources and ran them against my client’s info. I knew with certainty where the ship would be. My client was wary of going to the police, and certainly seemed even more distrustful of customs. A smuggler ring doubtless had a few crooked authorities on their payroll.”
Amber looked up over her notepad at Skreet, impassively, as the old rat detective continued.
“Anyway, I made my way to the docks, borrowed a rowboat and approached the docks from the seaside. There was no fog but the sky was overcast and there was no moon.”
“There definitely was fog, detective!” Amber shouted.
“I didn’t see any fog sister,” Skreet replied. “I’m still telling my story here.”
Amber threw up her paws. “By all means, continue your dime novel.”
Skreet squinted and disregarded the comment. “In any case, I got the boat under the docks and scurried up one of the supports. I knew that route would be less expected. As I drew closer, though, I ran afoul of a skunk who went for a pistol in his coat. I acted quickly and gave him a punch to the jaw, and sent him tumbling into the bay.”
Amber nodded, figuring that was what had grabbed the smugglers’ attention. Skreet continued.
“Well, I was on the move trying to avoid these crooks. That’s when I saw you being accosted by those toughrats with crowbars. I’d brought a blackjack along with me, so I hit one over the head just as there was a flash. The second rat was stumbling around blinded so I kicked him behind the shins and belted him one against the skull with the Jack. Then I reached out for you and you Judo threw me into a crate.”
Amber’s tail swished. “Oh, my apologies.”
“That throw took a lot out of me. I spent a minute recovering from the pain and disorientation before I managed to get myself back on my feet. My client had promised a big sum if I could secure evidence, and an even bigger sum if I could recover the Jade Jaguar. Right then everything seemed like it was ruined.”
Amber frowned. “Do continue.”
“Well, I made my way to the ship as I heard a gunshot. I found the dingo captain lying on the gangplank and the customs officer a few feet away - also downed, gun in hand. I thought there must have been a double cross.”
“He didn’t shoot the captain,” Amber said.
Skreet ran a finger along his incisors. “I had my doubts. There was only a bit of blood - like a pinprick - definitely not consistent with a bullet wound. What do you know, Amber?” Skreet asked, his long pink tail curling and uncurling.
“After my run in with - well, you, apparently - I knew I had to do something or I would have nothing but a blurry photo of a rat thug for my story. I moved closer to the ship and snapped some photos, hoping I’d catch the registry number or anything else incriminating. The customs officer must have panicked after seeing the flash in the dark because he fired blindly at me. I ducked down behind a barrel and watched as the dingo captain ran for the gangplank while the customs officer crept towards me.”
Amber shuddered at the memory and continued.
“Thankfully I had grabbed a chunk of wood and as the customs agent passed by me. Then I-” Amber slapped her hand for emphasis. “-BAPPED him over the head. When I looked up I saw the captain was down. I made my way to him and saw the most curious thing: A dart sticking out of him. I of course bagged that.”
“A... poison dart?” Skreet asked.
Amber shook her head. “I think it was some form of sedatives. He was breathing when I checked on him.”
Skreet nodded. “Another reason I didn’t think he was shot. I noted he seemed to be breathing when I got to the gangplank.”
“Did you see any crew when you got aboard?” Amber asked.
Skreet inclined his head. “Yes: All seemingly unconscious.”
“I didn’t see any crew till I got down to the hold,” Amber admitted.
“Why did you even go down there?” Skreet asked.
“Investigative instinct. Probably the same reason you went aboard.”
“Fair enough,” Skreet replied.
“I got to the hold and that’s when I saw it an unconscious opossum who was guarding a door. I went through and saw a weasel girl or something with a statuette in her paws. She said something snarky to me and struck me with the statue before scampering away.”
“It was a ferret to be precise,” Skreet said. “I saw her exit the hold and gave chase as she skittered back up to the deck. I followed her just in time to see her swing off of the ship and onto the docks. I then went back and heard you moaning for help.”
Amber pointed a claw at Skreet. “That’s where you’re wrong detective: I never moaned for help, I was already on my feet by the time you got there.”
“No, you weren’t,” Skreet shot back.
“Yes, I was!”
The two glared at each other before Skreet spoke.
“Look, regardless, we’re in a bind. We have no idea who stole the Jade Jaguar, perhaps if we work together we can crack this case.”
Amber nodded. “Alright, I won’t print anything till we resolve this.”
“And keep my name out of the paper!” Skreet added.
Amber rolled her eyes, “Come on, isn’t it good publicity for your business?” The meerkat took in the rather ramshackle office. “You look like you could use it.”
“Hardy har har,” Skreet grunted as he pulled out some files. “Lets try and narrow our little thief down, hmm?”
Amber adjusted her seat. “Lots of ferret thieves in those files of yours?”
Skreet rifled through the files, looking for any ferret he had crossed paths with in the years he had been a detective, and even the years before, when he was a policeman. He started mumbling to himself.
“A ferret cat burglar, let’s see...” He pulled up a file from earlier in his career.
“Are there a lot of ‘ferret cat burglars’?” Amber asked, relaxing in her chair. “Sounds like an oxymoron, you know.”
Skreet pulled up a photo of a ferret dressed as a bellydancer.
‘That, your private collection? I thought you’d go for rat girls.”
“No Amber. This would be Farah: the most notorious burglar out there by my estimation.”
Amber squinted. “Yeah, that looks like her. She seemed like a real tart.”
“Don’t underestimate her,” Skreet said, pacing around his desk while still scrutinizing the picture. “Decades in the business and no evidence collected. None that a judge would accept, in any case.”
Amber ran a claw along her muzzle, “Oh, is she the same one that stole the Rajah’s gem?”
“Again,” Skreet replied, “...nothing that could stick.”
“Plot thickens it seems. Someone else hired a criminal to steal from criminals.”
“Or she just saw an opportunity and went for it.”
“I’ll see what my contacts have,” Amber nodded.
“Yeah, I’ll try mine too,” Skreet grunted.
Seemed they were working together. For now.