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Week 421
You are on Week 422
Week 423

Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...

We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!

Story Four Hundred Twenty Two Ends Friday, July 24

"Singers, comedians, jugglers, acrobats -- I've represented them all, and plenty more during my many years in showbiz... and yet I defy anyone to find an act that I've worked with over the years who's got anything negative to say about me. Two sevens..."

"Oh sure, Loolah," the portly Tonu said, surveying his cards. "They all love you so much. That's why none of these wonderful talents that you brought in from the cold, nurtured and supported when they were nobodies, and wisely guided to super-stardom will return any of your messages anymore. It seems like, as soon as they get even the faintest whiff of an opportunity at fame, boom! They're off and running, leaving you far behind with nothing to show for your troubles but a few 'I knew them when' stories. Three Jacks..."

"Cheat!" a gaunt-faced Techo quickly blurted out, his suspicions confirmed as the Tonu ruefully picked up his cards. "You know what it is, Loolah," the Techo surmised, hardly bothering to look up as he fidgeted with a clip on his suspenders. "It's because you spread yourself too thin. If you would just settle on one specific kind of entertainer to represent, then you'd be doing everyone a big favour -- the talent, the booking agents, and especially yourself. One Queen..."

"I know, Vilmo. I know... I just can't bring myself to do it, though. My one great gift in this world is that I've got an eye for talent, talent of all types. The thought of turning my back on what I love most -- the pursuit of those elusive diamonds in the rough and transforming them into some of the greatest artists in Neopia -- all for the sake of being some hot-shot agent who has to lavish his every waking moment on three or four superstars, well... it's just unfathomable to me. One five..."

"Cheat... argh! Good game, Loolah. Well, you'd better get used to fathoming it," the Tonu said, "because it doesn't take a Lenny Conundrum winner to know that unless you make some changes and make them soon, it won't be long before that Kita of yours starts looking for greener pastures. She's the most magnificent--"

"Kita?!?" Loolah asked in a bewildered tone. "Why, that girl is practically family! She would never--"

"Yeah, yeah. That's what you said about The Flying Lutarinos," Vilmo said wryly. "When's the last time you heard from them...?"

Author: A Spardel Eat Spardel World
Date: Jul 20th
"True, it's been a while," admitted Loolah, "but Kita's different. She's honest."

The Tonu snorted. "Honest? The girl's a con artist! When have you even heard 'honest' and 'con artist' in the same sentence?"

"It's true, Kita used to be... of a less than savoury nature, but she's reformed," said Loolah. "And with her skill at sleight of hand, she'll be the greatest magician in all of Neopia!" The Meerca made a grandiose gesture with her hands, nearly knocking a bowl of crisps off the table.

"So you've told us," said Vilmo, sounding less than convinced. "I'll believe this girl's talent when I see it. Pardus, pass the Neocola," he said, glancing at the Tonu.

Pardus obliged and took a can for himself as well. Popping the tab, he told the Techo, "Oh, trust me, you'll believe it the second that Kita gets her paws on a deck of cards or some cups and balls. She moves so fast that before you can say 'jumping JubJubs,' you'll be wondering where the ace went and how the queen got back to the top of the deck."

"And I'll probably be wondering how my wallet got into her pocket," the Techo quipped.

"Come on now," sighed Loolah, gathering the cards and putting them back in their pack. "Kita's different now than she was then. She only used those dirty tricks to survive on the streets. Now that she's got an outlet for her talent, she's completely on the up-and-up. Promise."

"All right, if you say so. Just don't come running to me when she robs you blind and vanishes into the night." Vilmo took a handful of crisps and crunched down on them noisily, as if to emphasise his point.

"I do say so." And that settled it. Vilmo and Pardus respected the boundaries Loolah put on their conversations; after all, he was the one paying for the crisps and Neocola at their weekly Cheat! games. All three pets pitched in to help tidy up the card table and then headed toward the door.

"So are we still on for tomorrow?" asked Vilmo, putting on his overcoat. "If this Kita's as good as you say, I wouldn't want to miss a demonstration of her talent before she gets famous."

"Of course," said Loolah. "Be at my office at eleven. Kita and I will be there, ready to astound."

"Do you mind if I come as well?" asked Pardus, donning his battered hat. "I'd love to see Kita perform again."

"Sure, come along! The more the merrier," the Meerca said happily.

The trio said their goodbyes, and Vilmo and Pardus exited. Loolah closed the door after them, then slumped against it wearily.

Yes, Kita will astound them, thought Loolah. That is, if I manage to find her before tomorrow...

Author: rosabellk
Date: Jul 20th
His gaze flickered to the shelves that lined the walls, shelves heavy with pictures, pictures gathering dust, pictures of faces he'd never seen again...

Loolah sighed and turned away from the blank smiles. If it weren't for him, they'd be nothing. Nothing. And now they were famous, household names, all thanks to him. And they'd just cast him aside like an old toy that didn't please them anymore.

They'd never even said thank you.

But Kita... Kita was different. He was sure of it. No, he was positive. She was overflowing with talent and charm and she would rise above all of them. If anyone could do it, it would be Kita.

And who knows, maybe she'd be the first to thank him.

* * *

Flick, flick, flick.

The cards made soft, soothing sounds as she shuffled them, almost as if they were whispering comforting words into her ears. She closed her eyes and willed herself to believe they were whispers, whispers she hadn't heard in a long time...

Kindness wasn't a commodity she was used to. So whenever she had the chance, she'd exploit it until it went away. Even if it were nothing more than cards beneath her fingers.

The Xweetok sat cross-legged against a wall. It was unnaturally cold there for a summer's day, and although she knew plenty of other, warmer places she could stay, she preferred the chilly alley way. The ice in the air and the firm stability of the brick wall against her back helped her think clearly.

Flick, flick, flick.

She was practising again, even though she didn't need to. It was the same trick she did all the time, the first one she'd ever learnt. It was almost like an old friend to her, so familiar, always the same, the only thing that hadn't changed in this fickle, fickle world...

Kita bit her lip. Just when she had gotten a hang of things, they always seemed to spin out of control. Again. And again. And again.

A con artist. That's what they called her. Ha. If only Ma could see her now...

But, no. It wasn't that hard to believe, really. You did what you did to survive. When you had nothing to lose. What shocked her more was how easy it was. Distracting the gullible fools who stopped to watch her trick, entrancing them with arcs of cards and then stealing their wallet and booking it before they had any idea what happened. Without any guilt, without a flicker of conscience...

Well, until last week.

He was different. The Meerca. He watched her with genuine interest, with that strange, paradoxical sparkle in his eyes... kindness mixed with greed. She had just been about to pickpocket him when he started to applaud, complimenting her skill with the cards, saying, no, claiming that she would be something, someone, touch the stars...

She had been too dumbfounded to move. Or think, really. Before she knew it, he had invited her to lunch and was going on and on about getting her a contract of some sort. He had asked if she knew any more tricks and when she had shown him he became even more delighted.

"You'll be great someday," he had said.

She just blinked, and before she knew it he had bought her a new deck of cards (lovely things, the edges unfrayed and the colours bright), given her his business card, promised to keep in touch and disappeared.

She hadn't seen him since.

It was too hard to believe, really. An opportunity like this. For a second, she believed it. Believed she could be famous, could be something other than a street magician, conning the innocent just so she would have something to eat that night...

But, no. Of course not. Things like that happened only in stories. Not here. Not in real life.

Flick, flick, flick.

Reed had made sure of that. Even now, she could see the malicious glee in his eyes, the greed in his crooked smile as he talked about what could be their greatest con yet. She could still hear his voice.

"It'll be easy, Kita. Too easy. Let him take him under your wing and just when he starts to really trust you, just when things get good, take it. Take it all.

She had never seen him look so... happy. So hopeful. It was almost terrifying. "This could be it, Kita. We wouldn't have to steal anything ever again!"

She sighed and gazed at her cards she was shuffling. The cards the Meerca had bought for her. What was his name again? Lola? No, that didn't seem right... Loolah, was that it? She couldn't remember.

They were so clean, so beautiful, unlike anything she had ever owned before... and he had just given them to her. No one had ever done something like that.

Flick, flick, flick.

What if he was right? Loolah. What if she was destined for greatness? If so, would it be worth it? She wouldn't have to steal or con ever again...

Flick.

The cards spread above her in a magnificent arc, then fell slowly, like snow, to the dirty pavement. Kita watched them, not really seeing.

Maybe it would be fun, being a magician, being someone else. She wasn't too fond of the stealing and the conning and the cold nights spent shivering in boxes... but the tricks. No, the magic. She loved the magic.

Maybe it would be her chance to get away.

Could she really leave it all behind? Would she be able to? After all, if it weren't for Reed, she'd probably be dead by now. Would she be able to leave him behind, abandon him, like Ma had done to her? Kita closed her eyes. No. She didn't think she could...

She picked up the cards, arranging them in a pristine pile.

Still... to get away. That was more than anything she ever wanted.

Flick, flick, flick.

She started shuffling again. Loolah's business card seemed to expand in her pocket, pressing against her through the thin fabric, feeling as if it had suddenly caught on fire...

She should stop by his office sometime. Maybe even tomorrow. Maybe. Maybe then she would know some answers...

Author: reveirie
Date: Jul 20th
* * *

It was ten thirty, and Loolah was going through a minor panic attack. Vilmo and Pardus would be coming soon, and Kita was nowhere to be found. Nowhere. The Meerca had checked the street where he'd found her, all the streets surrounding that area, and even poked through a few back alleys filled with hungry Kadoaties and lost Warfs.

Nothing. No pretty little Xweetok shuffling cards. No Kita.

Where could she be?

Loolah felt a certain desperation to find her, beyond the fact his friends were coming over, and beyond the money that could be made if she managed to become a true star. The way she'd stared at him when he'd given her the card pack... scared, confused, but deep down, hopeful and delighted...

She wanted to get out of that conning life she lived. And Loolah knew he could help her. Yes. That was it -- knowing he really could help but being unable to do so, for such a silly, simple reason as not being able to find her.

The Meerca spun around in his swivelling chair until he felt dizzy and lightheaded, and then mashed his face into the desk. Ten forty five.

Knock, knock, knock.

Loolah lifted his head and blinked. They couldn't be here already, could they? He'd said eleven, and neither Vilmo or Pardus were the early type.

Knock, knock, knockity-knock-knock-knock. Whoever was out there was awfully impatient.

"All right, I'm coming," Loolah shouted at the door, hurrying over to open it. "Patience is a virtue," he mumbled under his breath.

The door swung open, and Kita forced her mouth into a smile. It felt more like a grimace. "Um, hey there," she said quietly, her performer's confidence lost off the streets. "You gave me your card the other day, and I..." She trailed off, not sure what to say next.

Loolah sighed in relief. "Oh, thank Fyora. I was beginning to think you'd opted out on me, and it would really be a waste for such brilliant talent -- sorry, come on in, please, please -- You're truly excellent, Kita, I've never seen anything like it, and you made a good choice coming here -- believe me, I can help you go far." He was babbling.

I can help you go far. Maybe coming here today was the right choice. Maybe this was the answer to the confusing and desperate question of her life. Kita nodded and stepped inside the office.

"Are those..." she asked, pointing at the pictures on the wall. She recognised them.

"Former talents," Loolah said. "Now, we can discuss getting you a regular time slot someplace later, but... see, two of my friends are coming over in about five minutes, and I did brag a little about your skill with cards to them, so -- sorry to put you on the spot like this -- but would you mind showing them a few of your tricks?"

Kita nodded mutely, reaching into her pocket to grip the shiny, new deck of cards.

Knock, knock, knock.

Loolah practically jumped on the doorknob. "That'll be them," he said. "Vilmo, Pardus, come on in, so glad you could come!"

The Techo and the Tonu walked in, nodding, talking, greeting Loolah and Kita. Absentmindedly, the Xweetok shook their hands, trying her best not to tremble.

She recognised one of them. Knew them. Reed. Reed was here...

Author: mithril_mithrandir
Date: Jul 21st
And he knew that she was here too.

Kita felt the thin Techo's eyes on her while she stood trying to make pleasant chatter with Loolah and Pardus. She had seen through his cordial smile when he'd introduced himself to her, as if they didn't already know each other. She felt him smirking now; he was enjoying watching her, no doubt mentally chuckling to himself at how well she was playing the part.

But what on Neopia was Reed doing here? How had a lowlife from the streets managed to get himself acquainted with a manager in show business? Evidently he was good friends with Loolah, from the way they were talking together -- but perhaps that was just another one of Reed's tricks. She was aware of his ability to ingratiate himself with anyone within a day or two for the sake of a con. And how well did she herself know him, anyway? For months they'd been a team, she scamming gullible pets on the streets while he coached her, yet in all that time she'd never heard anything about him hanging around with this wealthy agent under an assumed name. He looked different from how she knew him on the streets; though still as greasy and scrawny as ever, now he had the air of a businessman about him, and not a speck of dirt stained his suit. She didn't even know how he had been able to afford those clothes, but Kita knew it was all an act for the sake of the con.

The con. The con that she was supposed to be pulling right now. Her heart sank as she realised that her chance at an honest life in show business had vanished the second Reed had walked into the room. With that Techo watching her every move to make sure she did the job right, she'd never be able to escape her life as a trickster and a cheater.

How had she been planning to escape, anyway -- by becoming a magician? Magic was only tricks in the end. However amazing it seemed, eventually it would all be revealed as an illusion. Kita squeezed the deck of cards in her pocket tightly and expected to feel them crumple, but the stiff new cards held their shape.

"Well, Kita," Loolah said, rubbing his hands and looking from her to his friends with a wide grin on his face, "since you're willing, how about you show them a few tricks?"

Kita took a deep breath and nodded. With Reed's eyes on her, she felt her old instincts taking over. She hid her nervousness, freezing a smile onto her face and projecting the confidence necessary to draw them in. It was all for the sake of the con.

"Go on, little lady," Pardus said, looking amused, as if he were used to Loolah showing off his new recruits. "We're pretty sharp around here. Do you think you can put your tricks past us?"

Reed smirked and leaned over to Loolah. "This is the poster girl for your brilliant new show? She looks like a street rat to me. Mark my words, she'll run out on you within a week and leave you nothing left in the bank."

Kita froze, struggling to keep her cool. He'd just given the con away!

Loolah shook his head, frowning at the Techo. "She'll prove you wrong, Vilmo. Be quiet and watch."

Kita couldn't believe her ears. Loolah had defended her from that blatant accusation -- another show of kindness. She felt her facade crumbling; how could she betray him after he'd shown so much faith in her? No one had ever believed in her before; no one had ever believed that she could be more than a con artist making a dishonest living on the streets.

"The show begins now." The Xweetok took the shiny new pack of cards out of her pocket. Kita looked straight into the Techo's eyes. "And this first trick is just for you..."

Author: nut862
Date: Jul 21st
She gave Reed The Smile.

It was something that seemed to come naturally to Kita -- a half-innocent smile with a mischievous glint in the eyes.

Onlookers would, of course, know that she was up to something, but they'd never dream it was malicious. No, such a sweet Xweetok wouldn't do them harm. She was merely anticipating her performance...

Reed, of course, knew better, and Kita knew that he knew better. Maybe it would throw him a little off-balance.

Still looking directly at the Techo, she fanned out the cards, face down. "Pick a card," she asked, proffering the deck.

Eyes ever-so-slightly narrowed, Reed took it.

"Show it to the others, but don't let me see it," she instructed, going through the normal script.

Reed showed the card to Pardus and Loolah, then looked back at Kita. He knew the spiel as well as she did.

"Now, put it back in." He did so, and she closed her eyes briefly. This was the tricky bit.

She closed the fan of cards and began to shuffle them, slipping Reed's card into her sleeve as she did so.

She flicked the cards from hand to hand, creating an arc of flying cards between her two outstretched paws, fanning them out again and, with a flick of her wrist, tossed the cards, snatched the card from her sleeve, and caught the cards again in a blindingly quick movement.

"Is this the card?" she asked. The expressions of Loolah and the Tonu told her clearly that it was.

"Hah! See, I told you she was something!" Loolah exclaimed. "Now do you believe me?"

The Tonu smiled and clapped. "Yes. That was quite impressive... Kita, was it?"

Kita smiled and looked away bashfully (all part of the act, the act she'd practiced a thousand times...) "It's nothing, really. Just simple sleight of hand."

"Nothing indeed," said the Techo dryly.

Kita started, then turned to look at Reed. What was he doing?

"I saw her putting that card up her sleeve. A pretty trick to fool the unaware, but performed like an amateur," Reed said disdainfully.

Kita just stared at him, stunned. Why would he try to sabotage his own plans?

Or was he? Reed was shrewder than that, she knew all too well.

"Don't be ridiculous," said Loolah, appearing to puff up a bit. "She performed splendidly. I've seen a good many acts in my day -- got plenty of the greats to where they are now, in fact -- and she was absolutely flawless." He paused. "Even if you happened to see something... well, it's obvious she's got the makings of a great magician! All she really needs is a bit of guidance."

"Hm." Reed looked at Kita, and his eyes flashed with... triumph? "We shall see, won't we," said the Techo. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've just remembered I have an appointment I simply cannot miss. I beg your apology, Loolah. I will be certain to be there next Cheat! night, of course... farewell."

The Techo slipped out the door, leaving Kita staring after him.

She had the uncomfortable feeling that more was going on than he was telling her...

Author: cookybananas324
Date: Jul 22nd
...And that she'd soon be finding out just what was going to happen.

"I'm so proud of you, Kita," Loolah said, beaming with pride. Kita forced a smile in reply but couldn't manage to say anything to the Meerca who was trying to change her life, while she was prepared to con him for everything he had.

"Yes, it was a rather marvellous performance," Pardus said, with a glint of awe in his eyes. "And don't worry about what that mean old Vilmo says -- he wouldn't know talent if it hit him in the face."

Kita couldn't help but chuckle. It was true; Reed had no talent whatsoever and relied wholly upon exploiting the skills of others. She was just stupid enough to have joined up with him.

But it wasn't as if she had a choice. It was Reed or the pound.

"So, Kita, I suppose we should be discussing a contract for you," Loolah announced. "I'll get in touch with all those big names; you'll make it in no time."

Kita nodded.

"But, of course, you'll have to perform some more shows for them. Just to prove how great you are, of course. You don't mind that, do you?"

Kita shook her head. Any kind of vocabulary had left her mind now, and instead she could only think of Reed and his devious intentions.

Loolah turned to Pardus. "Sorry, Pardus, I never discuss business and contracts with a client in front of non-clients. You understand."

Pardus gave a firm nod of his head. "That's fine with me. I'll see you for our next Cheat! game then," he said with a smile, before walking over to Kita. "Well done on a great performance. Loolah's right, you'll be a star -- and you have him to thank for it." With that, Pardus stepped toward the door.

"So now, Kita, do you have a name in mind for the act?" Loolah asked.

Kita timidly shook her head.

"Kita's Courageous Card Show?"

Kita wrinkled her nose.

"Okay, maybe not," Loolah replied with a laugh. "Well, you give that some--"

"OW!" Loolah was interrupted by the shriek of Pardus, as the door flew open and hit him square on the snout.

Kita's eyes bulged as she saw Reed standing in the doorway, looking very angry.

"That magician of yours stole my wallet..."

Author: jayo289
Date: Jul 22nd
Three mouths dropped in quick succession. First it was Kita's, then Loolah's, then Pardus's. Six pairs of eyes stared at Reed/Vilmo, who was seething and pointing at poor, clueless Kita, who had dropped her cards along with her jaw.

"But I - " The Xweetok shuddered, her words fading as she glanced from Loolah to Reed, to Pardus, to Loolah again, and back to Reed. "I didn't do it!" she finally spluttered, not sounding as adamant as she had wanted to.

"Liar!" Reed shot back; although she was in trouble and had absolutely no idea what was going on in his twisted, scheming brain, she had to admit that he was a good actor. He even turned out his pockets, emphasising his point. "Thief! My wallet is gone! One of my pockets felt lighter when I left..." Turning to Loolah, he snarled, "I knew it, that no-good con artist..."

"Are you sure you didn't just drop it somewhere, Vilmo?" asked Loolah, his voice beginning to fluctuate; it was defensive, defensive of Kita, but a little uneasy. "You probably have holes in your pockets..."

The Techo narrowed his eyes, even more incensed than before, if that was possible. "I most certainly do not! Besides, I would have noticed if it fell out! I bet you're even in on this whole scheme, playing along with her!"

Pardus blinked several times. "Hey, wait a minute - "

"I most certainly am not!" snapped Loolah. "Why would I want to steal from you?"

"Maybe you're so washed up that you're resorting to such underhanded tricks," replied Reed dangerously. "And when I find out that my wallet has found its way into her pockets, I'm going to sue you, Loolah! Sue you for every Neopoint you have! This is false advertising and robbery!"

The Meerca made a noise of indignation. "Why, you - "

"Arguing won't solve anything," said the Tonu calmly, stepping between them and holding his arms out in case they decided to settle things in a more physical, painful manner.

"Yeah, good for you, at least you've still got your money," grumbled Reed.

"We'll settle this in a more logical manner," retorted Pardus, rubbing his snout. "I suggest we inspect our suspect's pockets." Loolah nodded his agreement and looked at Kita. His expression seemed to make her heart vanish; consternation and disbelief were etched all over his face. It was enough to make her want to apologise, even though she had done nothing.

Kita knew she was innocent. She had only been shuffling cards, performing her trick, and possibly pondering Reed's intentions. Except for Loolah's calling card, her pockets were completely empty, and they were her only means of carrying -- or hiding -- items.

However, she also knew how cunning Reed could be. He would definitely figure out a way to blame Kita, if that was his plan all along.

"Fair enough," Reed answered diplomatically, and his grin made Kita want to run. Needless to say, if she did so, it would only make her look worse than she already was.

So her feet remained rooted to the spot.

A part of her mind wanted to believe that Reed was her friend, and he would get her out of the mess he had placed her in. Was it still part of their collaboration? He had never mentioned anything about turning her into a scapegoat. He had never mentioned that he actually knew these bigwigs in the showbiz industry. Most of all, he had never mentioned trouble like this, or even the prospect of suing Loolah.

If Reed sued, the amount of money he could get by pinning everything not only on Kita but also on Loolah was unimaginable. And it seemed that he was more than willing to put Kita on the line.

The Techo approached her, still wearing that shrewd grin of his, and whispered, "It's a Spardel-eat-Spardel world, Kita. It was nice knowing you."

Only Kita saw something slide out of his sleeve as he reached into her pocket. A weight dropped into it, and was hauled up once again by his quick fingers. Only Kita saw the trick -- one of her own -- used against her.

But everyone saw the wallet come out of her pocket, almost as if by magic...

Author: precious_katuch14
Date: Jul 23rd
"See?" he said, pointing at her. "This here's the cheater! She had it all along!"

Loolah stood still, his jaw dropped as he stared at her. Kita's heart sank to the bottom of her stomach, and her cheeks blazed as she looked around at all of the shocked and furious faces around the room.

Tears burned in her eyes, and she frowned, turning around and looking at the scheming Techo. He had a cheeky grin spread across his face that made her shudder with just the sleaziness of it, and her heart turned to stone as she stared at him, sinking into her stomach.

All of a sudden, a thought popped up into her head...

"You trickster, Reed!" she said, hurt and anguish choking her voice. "You saw I was going to get to the top and had to put a stop to it!"

"'Reed?'" asked Pardus, looking extremely confused. "Vilmo, this Xweetok sounds like she's very familiar with you."

"It's all part of her plan, said Vilmo, looking smug. "I just saw her once, on the street, and she decided she had this pretty nickname already made up for me. You should choose your riffraff more carefully. It'd save you a lot more money, Loolah."

"Liar," said the Xweetok, her jaw clenched as she stood up and walked over to him. She prodded him in the chest with her finger. "You told every one of us to call you Reed, because you never wanted us to say your first name... your real name."

He looked as if he were hearing the most ridiculous thing in the world as he pushed her away.

"Calm down, sweety, or I'm going to sue him for all he's worth," he said. Kita wrinkled her noise and glared at him, but went and walked past the others and sat in one of the chairs, folding her arms as if she were furious.

"All right, Fluffy," she said, and Reed's cheeks turned red.

"Now, isn't that better?" he asked, and walked over to her to pat her on the shoulder. As she turned her head away from him, he bent his mouth down to her ear and whispered, "Good job, kid."

The Techo straightened up and adjusted his coat as if he'd been delivered the most grievous insult he could've possibly received from coming to watch Kita. He looked each of the pets in turn, particularly at Loolah, and strode away.

"Hey, Vilmo, your pockets look awfully bulky," commented Pardus. The yellow Techo stopped in his tracks.

"Really?" he asked, shooting a quick glance at Kita.

"Yeah, they weren't so bulky when you came to the game earlier," said Loolah, frowning. "I'm surprised I didn't notice how full they were until now."

"That's impossible," said Reed, not taking his eyes off the Xweetok but managing to look the victim all the same. He dug furiously at his coat, twisting and turning, until his hand found one of the pockets and dived in.

When he pulled it out, everybody gasped, for it wasn't his own wallet, but Loolah's, Pardus's, and Kita's tiny purse...

Author: shadow_sabre_
Date: Jul 23rd
"You're the thief!" exclaimed Kita. "That proves it! You faked the theft of your own wallet, pinned it on me, and tried to steal these other pets' money to boot!"

"That's ridiculous," scoffed the Techo as he handed all the wallets back to their respective owners. He tossed Kita's purse to her with a sly smile. "Obviously, this little Xweetok tried to use some sleight of hand to frame me."

This was indeed what Kita had done, but she hadn't expected to be called out on it. She was at a loss for words. "I... but you... you have their wallets!"

"But I returned them as soon as I saw what you had done. Really, you don't have much proof to back up your little theory."

Kita turned to Pardus and Loolah for support, but found none. The two pets were nodding at what Vilmo had said, as if it made perfect sense.

"I'm sorry, Kita, but Vilmo is right. Why should I trust your word over his?" asked Loolah.

Pardus said to Vilmo, apologetically, "It seems you were right all along about Loolah's new find. We should have trusted you from the beginning."

Loolah looked at Kita sadly. "I'm sure you realise that this is the end for the two of us. I can't represent a thief who refuses to change her ways."

Kita stammered, "But he's... his name's Reed! He's a con artist!"

Loolah shook her head slowly. "I've known Vilmo for several months, and I'm afraid I trust him quite a bit more than you, especially given this day's events. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave now."

Kita's jaw once again hung open in disbelief. How could this have happened? I had the truth on my side!

"Are you still planning to sue me, Vilmo?" asked Loolah.

"Well, now that you've shown repentance and recognised your error in hiring this street urchin, I think we can come to a... reasonable settlement. Half your Neopoints plus thirty percent of all the profits from future signings?"

Loolah sighed ruefully. "That sounds fair, Vilmo. Once again, I'm very sorry for what I allowed to happen."

Pardus meanwhile had walked over to Kita and put a burly paw on her shoulder. "Come on, you charlatan, Mr. Loolah asked you to leave!" Kita found herself shoved unceremoniously out the door, which Pardus slammed shut behind her.

What just happened? Kita thought, her head still spinning. Did Reed... win? But he was flat-out lying! The bad guys aren't supposed to win!

But, Kita reflected, if I've learned one thing from my life, it's that at the end of the day, the conman always ends up holding the loot. The mark gets robbed, the shill gets taken advantage of; the swindler walks away to swindle another day. The Xweetok sighed and headed into the cool summer evening. Alone, penniless, defeated.

***

A few months later, three pets sat around a battered card table. The Lenny put three cards on the table. "Three aces."

"Cheat!" exclaimed the Mynci sitting across from him. She smiled as the Lenny sulkily picked up his cards.

"You just have all the luck, Kindra," said the Lenny.

"Not when it comes to finding talents," chuckled the Mynci. "You ought to be able to see that from the condition of my home, Klugh!" She put down two cards. "Two fives." No one protested. "Your turn, Vandril," she said to the Techo sitting next to her.

The Techo's thin lips curled into a grin. He adjusted the clip on his suspenders and tossed down a card. "One six."

"Cheat!" shouted Klugh, the Lenny.

The Techo shook his head and flipped over the card, revealing the six of diamonds. Klugh ruefully picked up the pile.

"Now, what about this new prospect I heard about?" asked the Lenny, slapping down some cards. "Two tens. He's a singer of some kind?"

"That's right," said Kindra. "His name's Ivor. I just met him a few days ago, but he's going to take Neopia by storm!"

The Techo snorted. "Not likely. The kid's a scammer. A swindler. A no-good grifter. He's going to rob you blind, mark my words."

Klugh and Kindra rushed to Ivor's defence. The Techo just smiled, letting the words rush over him.

It's almost too easy, he thought. So predictable. There will always be those gullible enough to take the chance, always be those foolish enough to think they have what it takes to make it big. But no one can out-think me. Vilmo, Reed, Vandril; it's all the same. Nothing changes. Kita, Ivor; Loolah, Kindra; Pardus, Klugh; they're all the same. And I'm able to manipulate them all.

A few more weeks here, and then I move on to the next mark. I'll never get bored, I'll never stop -- not as long as there's money to be made, at least. And I'll always win. I'll always win.

The End

Author: rosabellk
Date: Jul 24th



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