The inside of the church left nothing to be desired. The pews were stripped in a trim of gold. Barker guessed it was real. The men and women who paid to sit here funded their golden thrones. He moved out from the overhang by the doors. Here in the middle of the chapel, the ceiling rose at least fifty feet overhead.
Barker would have been amazed at the structure, but he had witnessed it all before. He didn’t even bother to think on the mosaic above him. Instead, out of habit, he ran his hand across the back of a pew and moved towards the altar.
“Can I be of any assistance, sir?” Barker recalled the voice. Without turning he knew it must be the Priest. He noticed something else about the voice, it wasn’t from the city. Barker turned and rearranged his collar.
“Of course,” he said with an over-enthused voice. “I am Detective Barker.” He held out his paw. The Priest was white-haired and thin. That wasn’t what stood out to Barker though; it was that smell of cat that lingers in the air. Barker almost pulled back his paw but held a respectful professionalism instead.
“Detective? Not with the prior group?” the Priest asked. Barker shook his head, as the cat took his paw and shook. The handshake was brief, but Barker felt all the more disgusted for it. He thought of wiping his paw on his suit but refrained due to the white hairs. Instead, he mocked leaning on the pew and rubbed the stray hairs into the lining.
“You see, unlike those detectives, I will actually be able to solve the case.” The Priest laughed like he had gotten an inside joke. Barker stood stone-faced because he was not a comedian. The cat laughed alone for only a brief moment, and then pulled on the hem of his sleeve, looking rather abashed.
“Yes, well, of course. You will want to see the room of the Water Lily then?” Barker restrained from walking past the Priest. He, of course, knew where the room was. Instead, he nodded and followed.
“Where do you originate from, Priest?” Barker asked with an emphasis on the last word. The cat did not turn from his stride. “Just over the mountains,” he answered. To Barker this meant nothing. There were many mountains everywhere. Barker couldn’t place the accent. Maybe Jalint?
“How long have you been here?” Barker put on a conversational prose. The Priest turned into a small hallway. “This will be my first celebration of the Water Lily. I have done many mock celebrations. This will be the first year with the actual gem.” The cat sounded excited and nervous. “Unless the gem continues to be lost that is.” The excitement had left his voice altogether with the last statement.
When they stopped in front of a small white panel, Barker knew they had arrived at the room of the Water Lily. He could have opened the panel on his own, but instead, he waited for the Priest. “This has never been shown to another population of people. You and the other detectives are the first aside from the church to ever see this panel open.” Barker nodded.
He was unsure if the cat had meant to impress him. He hated to inform the cat, but he was not impressed. The door was a simple hatch lock. It wasn’t even difficult to find. The off-white portion of the panel was a push spring. If you put the right amount of pressure onto the spring the door opened. If pressed too hard, or too soft, then the door would set off a silent alarm to the Priest’s sleeping chamber.
The Cat pressed his paw into the small section. The panel clicked and the Priest moved it to the side. “Simple, really,” he said. Barker nodded. To think this was their special guard. Oh, how lucky he must be to see it.
He pushed passed the cat. He would have to dry clean his suit later. Inside the room was much the same, very unimaginative. Barker ran his paw across the wall. His hand came back with more white hairs. Cat’s shed like leaves in the fall, he thought.
The center of the white room produced a small pedestal. It would have normally been the home to the Water Lily. Today, it was as bare as the white walls surrounding it. Barker paused before it and gave the room another glance.
It really was a shame that the room was so dull. Barker had witnessed the breathtaking beauty of the Water Lily, and this room did it little justice.
“So, the gem was just gone this morning?” Barker asked, not turning from the stand. The cat had not entered the room with him. “Late last night or early morning, it is not allowed for a timepiece inside the church.”
Barker turned. He had not known this small fact. That bugged him. He didn’t like to not know the small details. “No way to tell the time?” Barker asked. He tried to remember any device on the walls of the church, but there had been none. “Why?” Barker asked. The Priest shrugged. “It is not in the cannon if you look for it. Rather it is a custom of the Water Lily. There is no time that the Water Lily is not the most important piece of our lives.”
He wondered how many followed this custom. It seemed rather pointless to Barker. Then again, he had never been accustomed to any religion.
“I see, why don’t you step into the room and show me where you were standing.” Barker waited a moment for the Priest who looked nervous. “I am afraid I cannot do this.” He said. “Do you not believe in the floor either? Can you not tell me where in space you were?” The cat shook his head. “Of course, we believe in temporal resolution even without a timepiece. We are also aware of spatial dimensions.” Barker grew impatient. “Then?” the one word was enough to convey aggravation, Barker hoped.
He waited and as he did he adjusted his collar. The habit was old, but one he could not break. “I cannot enter the room with you.” Barker dropped his paw from his neck. “There is plenty of room,” he said and waved his hand. “I see the space. It is another custom. Only one person in the room of the Water Lily at any time,” he said.
Barker stopped from sighing. This church was about as annoying as any other. “Fine, then just inform me with your words.” The cat instead pointed and Barker stepped into the appropriate spot. This was all for show. Barker didn’t need to know where the Priest had stood. How would that even help? It was just to give his madness a form. A method if you will. Something of substance; to sink one’s teeth into.
He shook his head up and down. The cat would believe him to be in some deep thought. Barker moved around the stand. “Anyone else with you?” Barker leaned down and noticed brown hairs at the bottom of the stand. “No, like I said only one into the room at a time.” Barker nodded. “Of course, just protocol.” He looked up with sympathetic eyes to the cat. It was always good to have their trust.
“So, you came from the mountains? Lonely trip?” Barker asked as he stood and dusted his pants. “You could say,” the Priest replied. “Where did they hold you up?” Barker asked conversationally. “Priesthood comes with its perks. I am staying in the eastern lot. They gave me the biggest house on the block. Those who praise the Wife of the Goddess are rewarded.” Barker nodded.
He may not know the quirks, but he knew the cannon. He had made sure to skim it before arriving. It was part of the reason he trailed the other detectives. That and the night before had been a busy night.
“Well, I think I have seen what I came to see.” Barker reached out his paw and shook the Priest’s hand. “What do you think will happen?” the cat asked.
“I think we will find who did this. A gem worth that much leaves a trail. Many things leave a trail. You just have to have the nose for it.” Barker gave the cat a wink. “If all else fails, we can just dig up a bone to put into the water. Those thousands of people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.” The Priest looked at Barker with a nervous pretension. “I jest,” Barker said and patted him on the shoulder.
Barker started to move alone down the hall. “I already have a plan, my dear man. Welcome to the city. I have a feeling you will be here a long time.” He turned the corner and moved through the chapel. The sun had risen as he threw open the doors. The crowd had gathered. Soon they would be in frenzy. Barker soaked in the rays of the sun.