The World’s Most Dangerous Woman: The Persistent Commoner

I

The redhead sauntered into her living room of her house in Niagara-in-the-Lake known as the Path to Paradise right on the border of the small city-state of Queen’s Heights. She playfully modelled her new outfit to her close friend who seemed excited that the other had finally arrived, even if such a quiet and mundane manner.

Anne Susse looked at Magnus Lyme’s outfit and nodded in approval. “Nice black turtleneck.”

“Thank you. Bradley Stoney bought it for me.”

“Beats the t-shirt and jeans you had for your first case.”

“I threw them both out.”

“Good. Now if you’d throw out your quilt…”

“Annie, please…”

“Your ex-boyfriend who gave it to you was in La Nuit du bas! Your mother told me all about it.”

“He still is in La Nuit…”

“Ugly quilts from villains are just not right to have in your house.”

“Dwennon was never a villain. He was about to bolt when his older brother Felix sabotaged it.”

“I will urge the quilting gods to get that ugly quilt out of this beautiful house and won’t stop my urging until they relent.”

“He tried his best to leave…”

“And one day, the ratty cootie quilt will leave this house, mark my words. I am willing it for it to shred itself into a million pieces and for a gorgeous vintage Alena Love quilt to replace it. Never mind that hideous rag that is beneath you. How is business these days?”

“Slow, but steady.”

“You helped your Italian client?”

“She took her ex-husband to the cleaners sensibly and she is safe as is her impossible daughter. I did get a lawyer who is willing to be of service if I have a client who needs a sharp legal mind if I am helping them.”

“Cool. Who is it?”

“Her name is Athena Tallman, a brilliant Washington DC attorney whose dedication to true justice nearly got her in the crosshairs of the Circle in the Sky and La Nuit, and not only did I managed to get her out of her predicament safely, but she has offered her services as a lawyer should I ever need it, and I accepted as both cabals are absolutely terrified of her.”

“Sounds like my kind of lady.”

“Yes, she is a rather enthusiastic supporter of truth, human rights, and goodness.”

“Sounds like your business is firming up.”

“Yes, I have gotten a new wardrobe to send the proper signals.”

“You’re kidding me. I don’t see you wearing a uniform.”

“No, no, nothing like that. I decided to wear black when I hear a case. It is a sombre hue that would be in tune with a client’s grim mood.”

“Go on, I’m biting.”

“I will wear white as I am gathering the facts…”

“Like a true heroine.”

“It is all about shining a light on various paths until I find the right one. Once I have enough to test a theory, I will wear yellow as signal to all those impossible people that I am on to them.”

“And when you finally have enough to put those cootie creeps in their place?”

“Cootie creeps?”

“If you join an evil cabal, that’s what you are.”

“Gracious…”

“Well, it’s true. Anyway, what is the grand finale…”

Miss Lyme giggled before she ran to her office and came back carrying a long red dress. “This. I had it personally made for me by Emily Krolowa from the Pięknej Sukni.”

“You met Emily?”

“She is rather bold and charming. I did not know she began as a nurse in Warsaw before she switched careers to become a fashion designer.”

“She’s been here a few years. Did she make a fuss that she was designing a dress for you?”

“Gracious, no, why should she?”

“It’s just you haven’t met most of the people living here…”

“I’ve known you, your mother, your grandparents Helen and Thomas, Braddie, his grandmother Beverley, her sister Season, Emily, and Redley Sierra who owns Redley’s Garden Café…”

“But Emily and Redley didn’t grow up here. It’s not the same for them. I want to throw a party so you can…”

Anne was interrupted by a frantic knock on the door. Miss Lyme smiled and walked over to the front entrance and when she opened the door, a frazzled-looking man in his forties fidgeted as she smiled.

“Welcome to the Path to Paradise where the ways of enlightenment will shine a light on your problems and bring you to your solution,” Miss Lyme said sweetly as Anne overheard the peculiar exchange and made a face.

The man looked uncertain of himself. “Let’s see if I understood the right. You’re the Red Queen?”

“I am.”

The man looked somewhat relieved. “I nailed the one. Let’s make it two for two. I need the playing cards.”

“A political problem, I see. Come in, and I will put on a kettle of tea as you tell me what is vexing you, Your Worship.”

Miss Lyme showed the man to her office as Anne waited for her to come out and whispered. “Hey, he’s the mayor of Norfolk Beach, or every calls it North Fogey Beach.”

“Yes, as you are the mayor of Queen’s Heights, you have something in common, but that’s where your similarities end. He is, as you call him, a cootie creep.”

“Blech, a La Nuit scum bucket. He looks like he is sitting in a pants full of bricks. I’ll leave you with your new client. What was that weird spiel all about when you answered the door?”

“I have a secret code.”

“Already? How did you get it out?”

“I have my ways.”

“What kind of ways?”

“Let’s just say Athena is not the only person I retained to assist me. I will call you when my case if over.”

“If you need anything…”

“I will call you, Annie.”

Anne gave Miss Lyme a peck on the cheek before leaving the house. Miss Lyme sighed contentedly before she walked to her office to put on a kettle of tea as she spoke to her latest client.

II

Lachlan Alby sat in the chair in Miss Lyme’s office and took the mug of Irish Breakfast tea as he stared sadly in it. “So, back from exile, Miss Lyme?”

“Of course, it was a temporary situation rectified with a good dose of sensibility.”

“Well, I am about to be exiled.”

“I am listening.”

“Well,” Mr. Alby said as he looked uncomfortable, “Hackers broke into our city’s servers and stole all the information.”

“Stole the information? You do have back-ups.”

“No.”

“Gracious, what a tintinnabulation. What happened next?”

“Well, the hackers sent us a ransom demand for one hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars to get it back.”

“Why such a peculiar sum?”

Mr. Alby shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, but we negotiated it down to thirty thousand…”

“Are you telling me that you paid the random?”

“We had no choice.”

“There is always a choice, Mr. Alby. Where was the drop off.”

“There wasn’t a drop off. The hacker demanded the money be paid by cryptocurrency; so it cannot be traced.”

“Of course it can be traced.”

“It can?”

“If the flow of information goes one way, it can go the other. Did you get your information back?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you here? Did the hacker strike again?”

“No.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“My superiors at La Nuit are the problem. I am in big trouble because I made the order to pay the ransom.”

“And what is it that you expect me to do about it?”

“Find out who did it.”

“I doubt that will be possible at this point, and even if I find the source, what good will it do?” Miss Lyme studied the man in front of her. “What is it about this fiasco that you are not telling me? If you expect me to help you in any way, you must be completely forthright and honest, or else I will not be able to help you. I am not here to judge you, Mr. Lachlan, but I am not going into a lion’s den with being armed with all of the information I need.”

The man pursed his lips. “I think the whole thing was a set-up to frame me for something else. The elections are coming up, and I honestly don’t know why they asked for that amount of money or of all the places in the world to strike, a town with a population of five thousand people. It makes no sense.”

“Are there any enemies who would likely pull such a stunt?”

“We’re Norfolk Beach – our medium age if sixty.”

“What about your personal enemies?”

“I fly under the radar. I am the mayor of Old Fogey Beach. Being mayor there is the easiest job in the world. Ribbon cutting, boring meetings, and La Nuit gets a mayor in their column and they don’t bother with me. I thought I found the system that worked.”

“And now they are on your back.”

“I didn’t think they would care about thirty thousand dollars.”

“It is the compromised information that they are worrying about.”

“They think I orchestrated this whole thing, and believe me, Miss Lyme, I would never do it because there is no reason to do it. I ran for mayor here because I never have to campaign or do any heavy lifting. Will you get to the bottom of this because I have managed to avoid detection of those thugs all my life because my mother made me join them because she is a member, and she always thought they were the secret to winning at life.”

“You speak of her in the present, but insinuate that her position has changed.”

“She isn’t able to be active. She’s not sick, just not in the place to be in the thick of things.”

“Where is your mother now?”

“In Selkirk.”

“That is a tiny village on Lake Erie. Hardly the place where members of the Night go to live.”

“She fell in a serious depression when my dad Gordon left her for someone younger than me three years ago. He’s a talent agent, and he mingles with gorgeous young women; and he thinks he’s entitled to replace mom with a younger model.”

“I see, but why Selkirk?”

“Her brother owns a cottage there and that’s where she has been living since dad walked out. Even the women of the Night can be brooding romantics, Miss Lyme. Will you help me? It’s not like I have any love for La Nuit. If they boot me out, that’s fine, but I like my job and my life. I mean, I guess you can figure that out because I’m here and the Night are still really sore at you; so it’s not like I am trying to score any brownie points, but I don’t want to end up like mom, either. Her exile is self-imposed.”

“All right, I will help you. I will look into things today, and get back to you as soon as I have something. I will need all the files and correspondence related to this fiasco.”

Mr. Lachlan took out a memory stick, “Yeah, I know, a day late and a dollar short to back things up now, but this has everything you need to know.”

III

When Mr. Lachlan left, Miss Lyme made a phone call to her young friend Naomi Brentano to come over as she just moved nearby, and there was a case she could be of use. The young woman was in her early twenties and a flamboyant dresser with long blue hair done up in a beehive, heavy make-up, and a form-fitting white catsuit. Naomi squealed in delight and hurried over, arriving less than half an hour later. She ran inside with her arms outstretched to greet Miss Lyme happily.

“Naomi! How wonderful to see you! Have you finally settled in to your new apartment in Carnivalia?”

“It’s small, but it’s so hard to get any place to live here at all. I have so many cosplay outfits to cram in there, but to actually live in Carnivalia is a dream come true.”

“And you are readying to get your pilot’s license?”

“Yes, it’s so ultra!” Naomi looked at the red dress lying on the sofa. “I wished I designed your red dress.”

“You were busy with your piloting, and your spreading the word of my code to the appropriate channels.”

“I’m still a hacker. I know how to make it flow to the right channels. So what’s the plan?”

“The plan is to spend a nice afternoon with you as I have barely seen you since I moved here. You need proper furniture to keep all your Azura the water woman books and your outfits in their place. I have allotted a furniture budget for you.”

“You didn’t have to do that, Mags.”

“You are my sole employee right now, and a good friend I wish to dote on. When you were staying in my hotel room in Chicago, my heart broke that you had to keep your things in one corner of the room as you slept on the sofa.”

“Yeah, but it was the happiest time of my life all the same. You’re the mom I wish I always had. The biological one kicked me to the curb when I was a kid. We pulled out of that, even though you had some deep cover thing that kept you away for a year. I mean, I know you can’t tell me just yet, but it was something really serious. I know.”

“Well, I am back, and you’re here, and you have no idea how relieved I am that you are, Naomi. Still, you need furniture, and using old crates is not what you should settle for. As my own budget at this point is still rather modest, we will go to Burlington to your choice of the Re-Store or IKEA…”

“IKEA! If I go to the Re-Store, I’ll want to buy the whole place and then refurbish it, and then my fashion and piloting will slide. It’s an amazing curiosity shop. IKEA will keep me honest, especially if they have something good in the As Is section…and they have frozen yoghurt.”

“IKEA it is.”

“You don’t have any IKEA furniture.”

“No, I don’t. I got all my furniture at the Re-Store.”

“You’re kidding. It’s all grand and epic.”

“And very reasonable.”

“Is there a reason?”

“For what?”

“Not having something from IKEA. You had some of it in your hotel suite in Chicago. You got rid of it?”

“I donated it all.”

“Why?”

“Memories, Naomi. Sometimes you have to let go of the past to move forward.”

“An ex-boyfriend was into IKEA?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“La Nuit du bas happened. It was two wonderful years, but sometimes all the love in the world is not enough.”

Naomi frowned. “That’s too heart-breaking.”

“It is what it is.”

“You got rid of everything?”

“No, not the photographs and not the quilt he gave me…”

Naomi’s eyes suddenly bulged as she gasped. “Not that ugly rag you had in that hotel room in Chicago?”

“Gracious, he gave that to me as a birthday present…”

“Ewww!” she screamed loudly as she hopped up and down looking distressed. “That is not only the ugliest – fugliest – piece of cloth ever made, when you fold it over, it’s porn! As in, real porn!

Miss Lyme smirked. “I take it you folded it.”

“I thought it was some weird secret puzzle thing, and then when I folded it, I had a meltdown. I didn’t know you could make a quilt so hardcore! And this guy you dated gave you a porn quilt on purpose?”

“He didn’t know. It is a Linnie O’Malley quilt he commissioned, and he had no idea until I showed him. He was horrified.”

“Linnie O’Malley? The schizophrenic nun with Tourette’s your mom studied?”

“Yes. He went to her to make me something for my birthday, and he didn’t even know she was going to make a quilt.”

“Who is this guy?”

“Dwennon Garrison.”

“The crime reporter?”

“Yes.”

“I read his stuff. Chicago newspaper. Yeah, he looked pretty old from his picture. It’s hard to imagine you going out with a guy like that.”

“We were very different and life was very cruel to him.”

“He didn’t know you were in Chicago?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

“You never kept in touch with him?”

“No, it was best the we went our own separate ways.”

“That hotel room we stayed in – that meant something, didn’t it?”

“When we were a couple, and I was called away on business in Chicago, that was the room we always stayed in. It was my way of healing an old wound that somehow never fully cured because of the injustice and senselessness of it all.”

“No kidding. He must have been one of the good ones.”

“He was one of the best, yet he was still a man haunted by his own angels. It’s over. Now let’s go out to get you some furniture, and we can discuss my case in the car.”

“How ultra. Let’s go!”

IV

As the two were in Miss Lyme’s Morris Minor on their way to Burlington, Naomi seemed giddy as she looked at the car, while Magnus fixed the collar of her white sleeveless dress.

“I so miss your old car. It was a total superhero ride. I know Rodney was crushed that he couldn’t afford to buy it or carry insurance on that piece of art.”

“It would be too ostentatious for my current line of work. Besides, I always drove a Morris Minor, and it feels good to return to one.”

“What happened to the other one?”

“I sold it.”

“Damn.”

“I had to pay for Jenny’s medical treatments and ensure I could make for all my other expenses once I bought the Path to Paradise without needing a mortgage.”

Naomi frowned. “I miss your cat. Jenny was the best.”

“Me, too. Her medical bills cost me thousands, but it was her time to go.”

Naomi smirked as she raised an eyebrow. “Thirty thousand, maybe?”

“Fifteen thousand.”

Naomi whistled. “You really loved Jenny.”

“I always will, but we have at least one hacker who sought a peculiar sum of money, but then settled for a far lesser sum.”

“You think the original amount is symbolic?”

“Yes, what I find singular is that Mr. Alby had no clue what it meant.”

“You think he’s being honest?”

“Yes.”

“So either the hacker assumed the mayor was involved in something he wasn’t, or that sum was a message to someone else…”

“Or, Mr. Alby is being framed, and part of the ruse requires demanding that specific amount.”

“So why settle for a crap amount?”

“Something went awry with the original plans, and the hacker had to cut their losses and agree to a smaller amount.”

“You think it’s an inside job?”

“The hacker would have to be aware of the lax standards for their electronic security, or, security was made deliberately lax so that someone could take the information and make demands, but what I find peculiar is why would someone settle for such a pittance of an amount when the city did not have a back-up of it. They were in no position to negotiate.”

“Maybe the mayor is holding something back.”

“He is all but working on autopilot, Naomi. He is so disengaged from his work that he has no interest in the details. It is the hacker who is engaged in every detail, and that is a valuable clue.”

“So it is an inside job with someone who is doing all of the work there, and is resentful, or trying to draw attention to how that place operates.”

“I doubt this was hacktivist scheme to draw attention to a small town’s lack of awareness to basic cybersecurity. This plot is personal, but as the mayor does not care about his job, he also does not care much about his personal life.”

“Oblivious to reality?”

“Yes, and that is what is thwarting the hacker and at least one accomplice in City Hall. The mayor drags his feet in all of his affairs, and that delay allowed enough time to lapse for some unforeseen problem to hamper the hacker’s plot.”

“So what now?”

“We got to IKEA to get you some furniture. When we are done, you will trace where the cryptocurrency went as the mayor believes it cannot be trace…”

Naomi laughed out loud. “He thinks that? What a bonehead. Of course you can trace it.”

“In the meantime, I have a trip to Selkirk to take to visit Mr. Alby’s allegedly distressed mother.”

“You think she is faking it?”

“Not only do I suspect that she is not all that torn up about her marriage, I doubt she is anywhere near Selkirk, but giving her son a cover story to keep him away from her…”

“You think his mom is messed up in all of this?”

“She is the key to this little enigma, but I need to know more facts before I can make a workable theory to test. As the Internet speed in Selkirk is rather slow, I am certain the hacking did not take place there.”

“You know the Internet speed for Selkirk? Hell, I don’t even know where Selkirk is.” She looked deep in thought before she perked up. “If I find out where cryptocurrency went, can I come to Selkirk with you?”

“If you wish.”

“I’m American, and I haven’t seen too many places in Canada other than Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto, and Grimsby.”

“Grimsby? What were you doing in Grimsby?”

“They have that beach with all the neon-coloured cottages. I just wanted to take some psychedelic selfies to post on my social media.”

“I didn’t see any of those.”

“Yeah, it all clashed with my blue hair; so I erased them.”

“Gracious, Naomi, there are other things you could do aside from taking selfies. There was the beauty of Lake Ontario you could have seen over there…”

“Hey, I am not fluent in nature. I grew up on the streets. I am used to pavement.”

“Then I will take you somewhere after this case so you can enjoy some other blessings of the world.”

“Cool, but I get to go to Selkirk, right?”

“If you wish.”

V

“IKEA is great and all, but we could have gone to the Queen’s Castle in the Heights instead,” Naomi said as they looked at the As Is section first.

“Their furniture is pricier…”

“I already have a futon and a ratty old table for my computers and my sewing machine. I have two folding chairs that I brought from LA with me, too. I just need a dresser…”

“Or five…” quipped Miss Lyme.

“Just for the really, really good cosplay stuff. And I need a bookcase, but that’s about it. I almost feel disloyal shopping outside of the Heights.”

“You can always upgrade later, and donate what you have to the Re-Store. I wish I could reward you more handsomely for finding where the ransom went so quickly…”

“For you, I’d do it all for free. I told you: you’re my mom as far as I am concerned, meaning you’re the only family I got in the whole world.”

“Your kind words touch me. I absolutely adore you, and no matter what a dreadful year I had, I would go through it all again if that was the only way you have met you.”

“That was a rough year for the both of us. At least tracing the ransom money was a snap.”

“Yes, it put much in perspective, but I do believe we are missing the obvious. Let us go to the main floor as none of their furniture here is suitable for you.”

The two ran up the stairs and began to look at the various display areas that were made to simulate various rooms in the house. Naomi had noticed a mischievous air to her companion who smirked and then turned to her.

“Naomi, do you have your new phone on you?”

Naomi whipped her phone out of her utility belt of her catsuit costume. “It was your birthday present to me. I never part with it. It’s my selfie machine,” she guffawed, amusing herself.

“You see those three children over there? They all have red hair.”

“Yeah?”

“I have an idea. When I give you the signal, you are going to take my picture with them.”

“What for?”

“To prove a point. Wait here.”

Miss Lyme went over to the three children and began to talk to them. They were all siblings, and she asked them to indulge her to take a picture with her on the display sofa in the cubicle that was made to look like a living room, and for their troubles, they would receive frozen yoghurt money. They readily agreed, and when Miss Lyme sat down, they sat down beside her, as Naomi snapped a couple of photographs and gave the thumbs up. Miss Lyme then asked the children where their parents were, and they pointed to a woman who was complaining to one of the workers that her kitchen required more attention than other people’s. Miss Lyme then brought the children to their mother, and explained they helped her with an experiment, and she gave them money for yoghurt.

Just as Miss Lyme was about to leave, an angry manager confronted her, sternly lecturing her as he accused her of corporate espionage. Naomi ran over, before poking her finger in the man’s chest.

“Espionage?” shouted Naomi, “Do you think she’d be a spy bringing along a blue-haired woman with a beehive and a catsuit?”

The manager looked at Miss Lyme searchingly. “Do not accuse me of being a corporate spy and then look to me to help you. Why would I bother to take a photograph of a sofa when it is an older model that is in your catalogues and website?”

The man stood was stammering for an answer as the two left.

“I am not shopping here for junk,” said an offended Naomi.

“It is all right. You are not being disloyal to me if you buy something here. There was that lovely sofa you were eyeing as well as that glass bookcase. We will get both, and I saw a very nice pine table you could also use to replace your old table. There is a dresser that is very reasonable with lots of space, and we will get two: one for your regular clothes, and one for your cosplay. We can have it all delivered to your apartment, and when they arrive, I will come over with take out from Redley’s, and then we can assemble them; so, your new place can be homey.”

“Okay, sounds like a plan.” Naomi stared at her smartphone before showing it to Magnus. “You always look like a million bucks, but why did you take a picture with those kids?”

“You’ll see. Email me those photographs so that I can have one of them framed, but first, let us take pictures of the numbers of those three items, and then off to Selkirk.”

VI

After buying the furniture and booking the delivery, Miss Lyme and Naomi drove off to Selkirk to see Mrs. Alby at her brother’s cottage on Lake Erie. The two discussed the case, but when they arrived on Lakeshore Road and saw that the cottage was off on a private road, the Miss Lyme looked her companion and smirked.

“Gracious, what is the matter?”

“This is Selkirk?” Naomi groused as she scrunched her face. “Like, run-down shacks.”

“Not all of the cottages are so modest…”

“Like some La Nuit diva is gonna slum it here? Those chicks live to brag about their mansions. How badly did she take the dumping?”

“You are very passionate about this turn.”

“You said she wasn’t really here.”

“But it is her brother’s cottage. It’s the smallest one here, and there is a car parked on the lawn.”

“The beater, you mean.”

“I am going to go and pay whoever is in there a visit. Do you wish to come and observe an interview, or do you wish to stay in the car?”

Naomi pursed her lips. “You think I might freak someone out? Not everyone can deal with Azura the water woman blue hair. Maybe I should dye it blonde like Eumelia the air woman.”

“You should keep it whatever colour you wish, and your hair colour should not disrupt a short interview.”

Naomi jumped out of the car, and both walked to the front entrance where Miss Lyme knocked on the door.

The door creaked open and a wan man in his sixties peered out.

“Yes?” he said before he saw Naomi and gasped.

“Mr. Ryan Jones, my name is Miss Magnus Lyme and this is my assistant Naomi Brentano…”

“You look just like Azura the water woman,” the man replied as Naomi squealed in delight.

“You know Azura?”

The man perked up. “Oh yes, I am quite the fan of Verity Lake’s surrealist novels.”

“How ultra!” Naomi looked sheepish. “We’re not here because of that, mind you, – but Maggie here is the great-granddaughter of Jane Carrington – who was the inspiration for Ingrid the fire woman.”

At that mention, the man became bouncy. “Ingrid was my favourite. My favourite storyline was the one where she accidentally turned the gods into French toast and then ate them by mistake.”

“I am overjoyed to hear it, Mr. Jones, but this is about your nephew Lachlan and his mother…”

The man rolled his eyes as he signalled for his guests to enter his cottage. “Those La Nuit nerds?”

“Nerds?” said Naomi.

“You know of their affiliation?” asked a surprised Miss Lyme.

“My sister Margaret was always the competitive and contrarian little brat. The only reason she joined La Nuit was to stick it to me for being a superfan of Dr. Verity Lake…”

Miss Lyme looked around the room and noticed the extensive collection of Azura the water woman books, sculptures, and paintings.

“Wait a minute!” Naomi said as she snapped her fingers. “I recognize all of these things! You’re one of the founding organizers of the AzZa Cons!”

Mr. Jones nodded matter-of-factly. “You didn’t recognize me because I am not dressed as Leith the water man. It takes me three hours to get into character.”

“I can’t believe this! I want your autograph! I am, such, a huge, huge freaking fan! This is such an honour! I am just going to die!” Naomi danced around excitedly as her enthusiasm became contagious and the man soon seemed as ecstatic as she was.

“There is a more urgent reason why I am here, Mr. Jones.”

“You want to know about Margaret and her madness. I can tell you all about it, but I have yet to find the sanity key.”

“Azura reference,” Naomi said to Miss Lyme who nodded.

“Please, sit down.” Mr. Jones cracked an impish grin. “I will tell you anything you want to know on two conditions.”

“Yes?”

“I can take my picture with you two ladies because it is every Verity Lake fan’s dream to be standing next to Ingrid and Azura.”

“Not a problem,” smiled Miss Lyme.

“And you both stay over for French toast.”

Miss Lyme nodded as Naomi playfully clapped her hands. “Mags, this is the best day of my life, you realize.”

“Mine, too,” said the man who ran to make French toast for his guests as Naomi turned to me, “Wow, he thinks your royalty.”

“I am a commoner,” Miss Lyme replied, “Albeit a persistent one. Now that this little enigma is starting to clear, let us find out what transpired to set off the series of events that lead to this mysterious ransom demand.”

VII

The peculiar, but productive meeting ended on a high note, and the Red Queen and her friend drove back home where Naomi stayed in the guest room for the night. Miss Lyme went to make several phones, but by the following morning, she was wearing a striking yellow dress as she made breakfast.

“Yellow means you are almost ready to solve the case.”

“I am.”

“So what’s the deal?”

“You discovered the cryptocurrency was sent to a shell company belonging to one Heath Baxter, whom I have discovered is a personal trainer in Toronto.”

“So how did he know how to pull off a complicated hacking operation and target Old Fogey Beach?”

“Tsk, tsk, Naomi…”

“It’s true. You should see their website. Something right out of 1996. I mean, what city uses Comic Sans for a font? In neon green? I was tempted to hack into it and bring up to code or something.”

“I did notice that dreadful website, but even a small place such as Norfolk Beach would be a little more current than, as you put it, 1996. I discovered the webmaster is a young man by the name of Bailey Heath…”

“An inside job. Bailey makes sure everything looks out of date and is easy to hack…”

“Or he just did the deed himself and sent everything to his accomplice brother.”

“So, they rob the town? Was the weird amount some sort of misdirection?”

“No, because I have found something else about Heath Baxter last night.”

“Don’t keep a bestie in suspense.”

“He has a specific clientele…”

“Ryan said his sister didn’t stay at his place for more than a week because she thought it was a hick town, and got a condo in Toronto. So let me guess: Heath targets rich divorcees and has affairs with them.”

“It is not Mr. Baxter who targeted Ms. Alby, but the other way around. She knew his older brother Bailey.”

“So the three of them were in on this?”

“Netting ten thousand dollars each, which seems like a very paltry amount for Mrs. Alby to take. It is an enormous risk if she is caught, and considering she is in La Nuit, such an unsanctioned gambit would be more trouble than it’s worth.”

Naomi counted on her fingers. “She lies where she is staying. She hooks up with two young guys to fleece her own son’s town of thirty grand. She knows this is going to put her son in danger with La Nuit. All roads lead to her, but none of it makes any sense.”

“As this incident seems to be a family affair, there is one more person we can see?”

“Who?”

“Her ex-husband Gordon Alby.”

“Do you think he’ll talk?”

“I will get him to talk.”

“You would, too.”

“What can I say? I am a persistent commoner.”

VIII

The two women drove to Toronto, and when they arrived to Gordon Alby’s office, Naomi had been surprised that he seemed almost relieved to see Maggie. He asked for the two to wait in his office while he finished dealing with a client. As soon as he left them and closed the door, she went to a large and exotic-looking black table in the middle of the room and began feel around it.

“What are you doing?” asked Naomi.

“I am looking for the secret compartments. It is a Prism.”

“A what?”

“An exclusive table that are a favourite among wealthy men as it has secret compartments and are custom-made with limited runs.”

“Not a woman thing?”

“My mother studied their owners for a research project, and received one as a gift.”

“Does she like it?”

“Not particularly.”

“Do you think Mr. Alby is hiding something in there?”

“No, but I believe Mrs. Alby did when she paid him a visit a week ago.”

“How do you know that?”

“I looked through the visitor sign-in book and saw her signature.”

“You’re thorough.”

“I was a journalist who worked as a detective for two global cabals for two decades in order to expose their secrets, Naomi…” The sound of a click made the She-luminati smile as she opened the drawer and pointed to the contents as Naomi jumped up and looked.”

“A memory stick and some papers?”

“Those were planted in there to frame Mr. Alby for the extortion.”

“You’re sure he’s not in it?”

“He’d have no motive, while his wife has every motive to frame him.”

Just then, Mr. Alby entered the room. “What have you found, Miss Lyme?”

“A shocking plot your wife concocted to frame you for your son’s scandal.”

Mr. Alby blanched. “She was here last week. She waited here.”

“She knows about this table?”

“She bought it for me years ago as an anniversary present. She wanted it back when we got divorced, but I wouldn’t let her have it. That’s a very rare run, but my new wife didn’t approve of it being in our house; so I borught it here.”

“Did she make any comment about it?”

“Something smug about how I was being selfish keeping it, but bygones had to be bygones.”

“What was her pretence for being here?”

“She said she was worried for Lachlan, which was a laugh because she was too busy collecting designer dresses and handbags. She always had an insatiable need to spend money we didn’t have. The divorce could have bankrupted me, except when we got married, my father insisted we have a prenuptial agreement, or else we’d be kept out of the will.”

“I see. You said you were relieved to see me.”

“Strange things have been happening, and I thought the worst of it was Lachlan’s troubles. Margaret was calm, though. I was in the process of looking for a private investigator, but I suppose you are one.”

“I am a consultant.”

“She is framing me and Lachlan. Why, Miss Lyme?”

“What is the significance of one hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars? Or thirty thousand?”

“I don’t know about the thirty, but one hundred and twenty-two was what she netted after lawyer’s fees in our divorce.”

“I am surprised your son did not make the connection.”

“He doesn’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Part of the agreement was confidentiality…”

“But your son would still know…?”

“He’s disengaged, Miss Lyme. He never bonded to either of us, but then again, we were always too busy for him, and then he just gave up. You can get him out of this trouble?”

“Yes, imminently. I will need to take photographs of the entry log, any surveillance of your wife’s entry in this building, and of course, these items in the drawer.”

“Whatever it takes, just do it.”

IX

After they finished at Gordon Alby’s office, they returned to Niagara-on-the-Lake where Miss Lyme informed her client of the situation. He merely sighed and asked whether he could leave La Nuit as he would no longer feel comfortable and worried if he would be ostracized for his mother’s transgressions, and he promised to send payment for Miss Lyme’s services, and did not wish to confront his mother.  

After going through the disc, papers, and surveillance, the Red Queen made several more phone calls before changing into her new red dress.

“I am heading to see Mrs. Alby.”

“I’m coming,” chimed Naomi, “I want to see the look on her face. Are we meeting Lachlan over there?”

“He wishes to have nothing more to do with her, and seeks no confrontation. Let us go.”

Miss Lyme took her briefcase and the women returned to Toronto, and went to the high rise where Mrs. Alby lived. After Naomi used her new phone to bypass the building’s security system before Miss Lyme could protest, the women went up to the door as the Red Queen knocked on the door.

The door opened and Ms Alby was in a black negligée as she seemed not to notice who had knocked. “Oh, come in Heath, darling, I…who are you?”

“Mrs. Alby, we have much to discuss,” Miss Lyme said as she forcefully walked in with Naomi hopping inside.

“Yeah,” Naomi added with a guffaw, “And boy, are you going to get it now!”

“Who are you?”

“I am Magnus Lyme and your son hired me to see who had been trying to embroil him in a hacking and extortion scandal. Imagine my surprise to discover his own supposedly depressed mother who told her son she was suffering in a shack in Selkirk was behind it in Toronto, along with her boyfriend Heath Baxter, and his webmaster brother who works in Norfolk Beach City Hall.” Miss Lyme threw a file on a table. “I see you have your own Prism table. Not as exclusive as the one your husband kept after the divorce – the one where surveillance cameras caught you planting evidence in it.”

Mrs. Alby said nothing but seemed livid.

“There is no pointing denying any of it. Bailey Baxter was arrested along with his brother where they are confessing to their roles in this debacle. I traced the cryptocurrency, and had productive talks with both your brother and your ex-husband. I also had a nice, long chat with your supervisor in La Nuit, and they do not like rogue members who upset their own plans with familial dysfunction. Framing an ex-husband for giving you a low six-figure divorce is a waste of time and energy, but then to embroil your own child…”

“My own child, my foot!” shouted Mrs. Alby, “Lachlan was always a burden! He took his father’s side! Not once did he bother to pick up the phone to see where I was!”

“Most likely because he could sense nothing you ever told him was the truth…”

“I got him that easy and secure job! How does he repay me? By ignoring me, that’s how! His father screws me over, and he just sits there like a lump. I had it with the both of them! I was going to teach them both a lesson! I was going to destroy them both for ignoring me! I had a right to that lifestyle because I had a hand in creating the legend of Gordon Alby! He was a king-maker, because me! I threw the parties, and I made the connections, cultivating media sources, and getting him the right publicity. I made Gordon Alby the king among kings, and what thanks do I get? He dumps me, and then won’t even give me a table so I could at least sell it. That one is worth thirty thousand dollars. He wouldn’t even give me one stupid table…”

Mrs. Alby collapsed in a chair and began to weep as the police came to her door.

Miss Lyme let them in and pointed to the files on the table before she and Naomi left the building and hopped back into the car.

“Wow,” said a sombre Naomi, “She held one huge grudge.”

“She should have walked away from the both if she was offended by them, and moved on.”

“La Nuit always has a job for players. She could have made way more money if she wasn’t wasting time trying to make her husband into some sort of king.”

“He never was a king. He was just a commoner, like the rest of us.”

“Do you think her son is upset at all because his mom tried to help frame him with her boyfriend and his brother?”

“He is so disconnected from her, I doubt he will be upset over it. His only concern is being employed and getting out of La Nuit as he finds being a member taxing. He didn’t even come along tonight or show a least bit of interest in this case.”

“His uncle is right. He is a nerd.” Naomi considered. “I am going to hack into his computer and leave that message.”

“Now, now, Naomi…”

“Well, he is a nerd. How can you be caught up in some high-tech ransom plot where your own mom is your big bad villain, and respond by going golfing or something? Like a said, nerd.”

“At least you enjoyed your escapade, and after Mr. Lachlan pays my fee, you will have more than enough in payment to go to the AzZa Con.”

“Life is ultra.”

“Indeed.”

“I just have one question.”

“Yes?”

“You didn’t use the picture I snapped at IKEA. What was the deal with that?”

X

Anne looked at the framed snapshot and laughed. “This photograph looks like you took pictures with your kids in your living room.”

“Yes, my last case inspired me, and my clients will need to see it.”

“Why?”

“So they learn that first appearances often hide a deeper and far deeper story than what first appears. My last client had missed every obvious sign, and it will also serve as a reminder to me to remember if I can stage something so convincing on that spontaneously while not being deceitful…”

“Then so can anyone else. How’s your workload otherwise?”

“I have had a few more very promising inquires, but I will be away for a couple of days.”

“A client?”

“No, a quick trip to Latvia.”

“What’s in Latvia?”

“Aside breath-taking Art Nouveau architecture, the white wagtail.”

“What’s a white wagtail?”

“An adorable bird that makes my heart sing whenever I see it. I am taking someone to see nature in that part of the world, and I am excited to see them, and hope my travelling companion finds things to make her heart sing just as happily. By the time I come back, I am sure those who are ready to free themselves will be knocking on my door…”

“Asking for the Red Queen to read their future.”

“They may have missed all of the signs before, but when La Nuit or the Circle begin to make threats, they know exactly what their future will hold. It was always that way, but now, the difference is there is a way out.”

“And you’ve become the portal to it.”

“I got out of both those cabals once I had enough to expose them. It didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped, but even after they banded together to destroy me, I got out a third time, and when you have the gift of escaping their clutches, even with their combined might, it would be a waste to ignore that talent.”

“You have a plan. I can tell.”

“It will be one that will finally work.”

“Experience?”

“That, and the last time, I was silent about my motives for infiltrating. This time, I am letting people know of my intentions.”

“I can’t wait to see the next act. Too bad you can’t have your office on a stage in Carnivalia. Anyway, have a fun trip, and we’ll do lunch when you come back.”

“I am looking forward to it, Annie.”

XI

Naomi kept the door open as Magnus brought in a tiny piglet in her arms. When Naomi brought Miss Lyme’s suitcase, she closed the door and went to the living room where Miss Lyme placed the piglet on the sofa and petted it as it seemed to melt and fall asleep.

“Aww, Inga’s so cute,” gushed Naomi as she sat on the other side of the sofa and petted the pig’s head.

“She is rather shy right now.”

“I can’t believe you wrestled that big farmer with the axe and whipped his butt to save her.”

“He was going to chop her head off, which was completely unacceptable. I tried to reason with that impossible man with a good dose of sensibility, but when he lifted that axe over his head, I had no choice but to rescue her.”

“In the mud. Boy, are you persistent, but I got it all on my new phone. So ultra.”

“Yes, and now that the entire world has seen it…”

“Aww, come on, you got a lot of support from the animal rights community.”

“And much derision from farmers and butchers.”

“Screw them. I side with you and Inga. She’s so sweet and brilliant. She is no common pig, that’s for sure. That was the best nature trip ever, even if I didn’t get to see any birds because Inga upstaged them all.”

“Just how many selfies did you take with her?”

“I lost count. I am going home to make her a onesie.” Naomi gave Miss Lyme a kiss on the cheek. “You’re the best mom ever. I mean it. I love you so much you’ll never know.”

Miss Lyme pulled Naomi for an embrace as Inga slept soundly between them. Her new venture was beginning to soar, and the most thrilling part of it all, in her escapades, there were always kind hearts, from her friends, to her flora, and ever-growing fauna, who were there every step of the way to remind her that kindness was the best adventure of all.