“I heard the two of you got a job yesterday,” Golu said the next day.
“Shhh…” said Rikki. “Don’t tell Aunt about it or we’ll lose our jobs.”
Golu sat down next to Rikki, his eyes narrowed. “Why is that?”
“That’s because Aunt doesn’t want us to work anywhere. She says we’ll waste our time and not study. Besides, she thinks detective work is dangerous.”
“Detective work huh? That’s cool. Maybe I can help.”
“Whoa!” Nathaniel interrupted. “Two are more than enough. We don’t need a third one.”
Golu shrugged. “Reaper is looking hot in that black top.”
Nathaniel looked at Reaper who was writing something furiously. “I don’t know. She is okay.”
I think she is hot,” Rikki added.
Aunt wheeled towards the three. “No talking! Rikki and Nathaniel, you have to do the entire Exercise D today.”
“The entire exercise?” Rikki asked in disbelief while Nathaniel’s jaw dropped.
“Yes, you have to get over with the portion, don’t you?”
About two hours later, Rikki and Nathaniel stood outside in the parking lot with their bikes, after having completed half of the exercise.”
“Whew! Man, I don’t think I have any more gray cells left in my brain.”
“Save it up! We still have Neela’s business to tend to!” said Nathaniel.
When the boys arrived at Neela’s office, it was closed.
“Where is she?” Nathaniel asked.
“She must be at The Bollywood Café. We should have gone there in the first place. Why did we come here? Were you going to give Neela a ride to the Café?”
“Believe me, I have better things to do,” Nathaniel said honestly. “She didn’t really tell us the time. Is she trying to get rid of us?”
Neela was there at the Café, alone, looking at her watch and tapping her foot impatiently.
She noticed Rikki and Nathaniel standing behind her. “Hoo!” she shouted, jumping in her chair. “I didn’t expect the two of you to come.”
Her expression changed from anxious to the disgruntled one.
“May I sit?” Nathaniel asked timidly.
“No!” Neela barked. “Assistants should behave like assistants.”
Rikki had to restrain Nathaniel from attacking her from behind. “She’s a @#%^*$#@$$*^&.” Nathaniel whispered in Rikki’s ear.
“Calm down,” Rikki warned. He cleared his throat in a businesslike way.
“So…Neela…when is our client coming?”
“Well…MY client should have arrived a long time ago. But look, who arrived instead.”
Rikki again had to restrain Nathaniel from attacking. After a few minutes, the client arrived.
He was a little guy, very short and thin. His balding head told a completely different story. He wore thick glasses and a blazer.
“Hello,” he said, introducing himself and shaking hands with Neela.
“I am Ben Kingsley. You must have heard about me,” he said hopefully. He was a well known man, most famous for his art collection and his great taste of art.
“I know you!” Rikki said.
“I am hearing your name for the first time,” Neela said rudely, not looking at Mr. Kingsley.
Mr. Kingsley appeared shocked but quickly recovered.
He sat down and started speaking “The thing is-” he was interrupted by a waiter.
“Can I help you?” the waiter asked, smiling widely.
“Sure you can,” Neela said, not looking at the waiter.
The waiter appeared angry for a second then put his smile back on. “How may I help you?”
“Now that’s a better question!” Neela said, finally looking at the waiter. “Get me my favorite Chinese Noodles. Sweet and sour please. Mr. Kingsley, would you like to have something? Maybe Chicken?”
Mr. Kingsley stared at Neela in disbelief. “No,” he said shaking his head “just a bit of coffee will do.”
Poor Mr. Kingsley, he had hoped the meeting to be more businesslike than this.
The waiter nodded and took his leave.
“As I was saying, some months ago, I bought a painting done by M.F. Hussein. It cost me a lot of money, about one million dollars.”
“One million dollars! God, what a lot of money!” Neela said, looking dreamy.
Mr. Kingsley stared at her suspiciously for some time before continuing. “Five days ago, the painting got stolen. It was in the art gallery I have at home. It simply disappeared!”
“Well if the painting disappeared, I cannot help you in any way Mr. Kingsley.”
Mr. Kingsley sighed in exasperation. “Alright, it got STOLEN!”
“Okay Mr. Kingsley,” Rikki said, taking out a small note-pad. “I’m going to ask you some questions. Answer them very honestly! The first on is: What was the painting about?”
Mr. Kingsley fell silent. “It was a painting of a naked man.”
“Holy crap!” Nathaniel shouted in surprise. He looked embarrassed when people turned to stare at him.
“Mr. Kingsley, tell me, do you have a special interest in…pornography?” Neela asked incredulously.
“No ma’am, it was art work!” Mr. Kingsley whimpered, sounding close to tears.
“Second question: Who is allowed into this art gallery of yours?”
“Not many…just my-” sluuuuuurrpppp. Neela’s noodles had arrived. “Go on,” she mumbled, talking while eating.
Mr. Kingsley continued, his eyes bulging “Just the maid. She cleans the gallery everyday. But she-” sluuuurppp “-says that she didn’t take the painting. When she was in the gallery to clean it up, the painting was there. It disappeared later- I mean got stolen later.”
It looked like Neela wasn’t listening. She was concentrating on her noodles rather than Mr. Kingsley.
“Did you hear what I said?” Mr. Kingsley asked, unsure of anything.
“What more can I say? I have given you all the information I have!” Mr. Kingsley said. He didn’t look too happy having given all the information to Neela.
Rikki had noted down everything, it looked like this:
September 26, 2009
Client’s name: Mr. Kingsley
1. The painting is expensive; it’s a painting about a nude man.
2. Suspects till now- Mr. Kingsley’s maid.
3. Investigation to take place for further information.
4. Does Neela have manners?
“Well Mr. Kingsley, we will arrive in the evening to investigate. Keep the gallery tightly locked. We’ll see you in the evening,” Rikki said, shaking hands with Mr. Kingsley.
Mr. Kingsley said goodbye and left.
Later, Neela and her assistants gathered in her office. Neela was rubbing her stomach “Ahh…what a nice meal I had today. So, what do we have here? I am aware Rikki noted down everything. Can I take a look at the note?”
Rikki had the note in his hand, he quickly crumpled it. “Uh…I have it…but not here, I will show it to you later.”
Neela looked angry. “Is this how you work young man? I want to see the notes real quick!”
Rikki and Nathaniel arrived at Mr. Kingsley’s place. The place was huge. The special thing about the place was that it faced the golden beaches and the endless blue sea; it captured the enigmatic beauty of Goa in its entirety.
Rikki and Nathaniel were greeted by two Labrador Retrievers at the gate. Mrs. Kingsley greeted the two investigators. She was a thin, frail looking lady with blonde hair.
“Come in boys,” she said “it’ll be good if you solve this mystery”-she paused, breaking into tears-“his health is deteriorating day by day. He is worried sick about the painting.”
“There, there, Mrs. Kingsley. By the way, do you know that the painting is about a nude man?” Nathaniel said, snickering.
Mrs. Kingsley immediately stopped laughing; she drew in her breath, apparently shocked. “A nude man? He said it was me in the painting…nude…I’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Mrs. Kingsley led the two in. The house was surrounded by a huge garden. There was a child playing in the garden. Rikki looked at Mrs. Kingsley questioningly.
“Oh, that’s my granddaughter. A sweet little girl she is! She was forbidden from entering the gallery.”
“I can completely understand. I mean some paintings can give children nightmares,” Nathaniel said, trying to be soothing. It didn’t work. Mrs. Kingsley looked at him with narrow eyes.
“There he is,” she said, pointing towards the gallery. Mr. Kingsley was seated outside on his armchair, lost deep in thoughts.
“Hello Mr. Kingsley. What a bright sunny day. Aren’t you feeling good?” Nathaniel asked.
“Not exactly,” Mr. Kingsley croaked.
“Let’s go inside and take a look!” said Rikki.
The gallery was quite dark. There was not much lighting and the windows very colored dark. All paintings were covered with a cloth.
“Mr. Kingsley, what did you see the day the painting disappeared?” Nathaniel asked while Rikki took out his pad to note down everything.
“Well, I came in to check out my favorite painting. The name of the painting was…err…‘The Nude Dude’ and yes, it was my favorite. I came in, everything was normal, nothing was touched except for this”- he said, pointing towards a now empty case.
“So…there must have been a cloth on the painting?” Rikki asked.
“Yes, there was, it was lying down.”
“Did you pick it up?”
“Did you notice anything? Was there something on the cloth?”
“Yes…um…there was human booger.”
“I said human booger.”
Rikki and Nathaniel exchanged a puzzled look.
“What happened to the cloth?”
“My wife washed it. She is a cleanliness freak.”
“Your wife did that?”
“Was any window open when you came in?”
“These windows don’t open.”
Rikki and Nathaniel blushed.
“What about the maid? Does she”-
“I see where you are getting at. No. She only vacuums the floor and that’s it.”
“I guess that’s it Mr. Kingsley. Leave the rest to us. We’ll reach a conclusion in a week…or money back guarantee,” Rikki said.
A bored looking Mr. Kingsley suddenly looked interested “Money back? I didn’t know you had a scheme like that!”
“That’s because you didn’t read the back of our card. We should leave now,” said Nathaniel.
“Wait guys. I think you should come in and have a drink. You guys must be thirsty after all this traveling!”
“It would be our pleasure.”
Mr. Kingsley led the way to the main house. A butler greeted them with a slight bow. He introduced himself as Andrew. He was a young man, handsome, and sturdy. He looked at Mr. Kingsley with respect and was a warm and friendly guy.
The living room was filled with artifacts made glass. It spoke volumes about Mr. Kingsley’s good taste in art.
Mrs. Kingsley was seated with a middle-aged man, thin, he had patches of hair left on his head and he wore striped shorts.
“That’s my son, Bart Kingsley,” Mr. Kingsley said, introducing his son.
Bart didn’t smile. He left the room without a word. Mrs. Kingsley explained it by saying that Bart’s love life is shattered. His wife left him five days ago without any explanation or a note. Rikki quickly noted it down.
“I don’t know why, Bart has been treating me like I am some fool for the last couple of days,” Mr. Kingsley said sadly.
Andrew brought the fizz. Rikki and Nathaniel were enjoying each moment, sipping on soda and studying the unique, interesting artifacts. That’s when something odd happened.
While a maid was dusting the artifacts, Mrs. Kingsley grabbed her throat and collapsed within seconds.
All the people hurried around her. “She is very allergic to dust!” Mr. Kingsley said, worry in his voice.
At that moment, Bart walked in. “How many times have I told the maids not to dust while Mom is in the room? But no one listens to me!”
The maid burst into tears and ran out of the room.
In the commotion, Rikki dropped his note pad on the floor. Nathaniel picked it up, thinking about the Mrs. Kingsley’s sneezing incident. His face lit up and he ran out shouting “I solved the mystery!”
“How did you guys do it?” Neela asked in amazement. The detective trio was meeting in her office.
“It was piece of cake, really,” Nathaniel said, grinning.
“Will you explain how? I know you guys solved a mystery.”
Rikki did the explanation. “Mr. Kingsley told us that the cloth he used to cover ‘The Nude Dude’ was found on the floor with human booger on it. We went inside for a drink and there was this maid who was dusting the artifacts. Mrs. Kingsley inhaled a bit of that dust and collapsed. I ran towards her, dropping my note-pad on the way. Nathaniel picked it up, and adding two plus two together, he found out the criminal and ran out shouting.
He met Bart outside. Nathaniel took a handful of dust and blew it at him. Bart sneezed loudly. He is allergic to dust like his mother; it’s in his genes, only not to that extent. He doesn’t collapse like his mother does, but he gets a really bad cold.”
“But why did he steal the painting? For money?”
“You are right,” said Nathaniel “but he didn’t get it. He stole the painting five days ago. He should have tried to leave the place and go somewhere else but his plans failed. The painting turned out to be a fake one. It was done by a scientist called ‘Hussain’. Hussain is homosexual and has a special interest in pornography. You see, it was signed by ‘Hussain’ the scientist and not ‘Hussein’ the great painter. The painting was later stolen by a group of criminals and sold off at an exorbitant price. Mr. Kingsley bought that painting, being the fool he is, he didn’t do any research on it. His son, Bart stole the painting. He didn’t have to break a window or enter illegally. The painting wasn’t touched for a long time; the cloth covering it had accumulated a lot of dust. When Bart moved the cloth, dust flew, making Bart sneeze. With the manners Bart has, he wiped his nose with the cloth. Afterwards, Bart tried selling the painting to earn money. He had gone bankrupt and that is the reason why his wife left him.”
Neela nodded, smiling.
“There is one thing though,” Rikki said “I found this on your desk when we came in,” he said, taking out a printed page.
On the page was information printed about ‘The Nude Dude’, the criminal gang behind it.
Neela smiled again “I didn’t go for investigation doesn’t mean I was killing time.”
“You know what, you are no fool yourself. I will be really interesting continuing work with you,” said Nathaniel.
Neela snickered as the boys took their leave.