The Disappearance of the Heiress: Part One
The air was hot, even on the shade of her balcony. Below, crowds of young Neopets shrieked and giggled as they jumped and splashed in the swimming pool. Helene watched them enviously.
She could have gone into the pool any time she wanted. There was nothing stopping her. But if she went into that pool, and swam near that group of teenage Kyrii who were bobbing up and down in the shallow end, they would have stared at her and whispered, and slowly moved away.
It was a novelty for them. They didn’t have the luxury of swimming in a pool on a sunny afternoon every day. She didn’t want to spoil their vacation by invading their fun. And besides – if she really wanted to swim in the pool, the hotel staff could easily arrange for her to have a private bathing session.
She had been here for two weeks. And that meant, thought Helene miserably, that there were still two more to go.
The Faerie Draik had been to the AstroVilla many times over the course of her life. She had full access to the spa and sauna, she could eat in the wonderful restaurant – the chefs there were very kind and always removed the broccoli, her least favourite food, from any dish that usually contained it – she could have regular grooming or play tennis if she wished. In the past two weeks, however, she had done nothing.
The AstroVilla was luxurious. It was lavish. There was plenty to do and plenty of facilities to make her vacation enjoyable. The trouble was that even in the most luxurious of places the luxury wore off – especially if one was confined there.
Helene was the daughter of an extremely successful business Draik. Her father had made his fortune in the stock market when she was just three years old. A recent business magazine had placed him in the top ten Neo-Millionaires. She knew because the hotel staff had kindly given her a free copy of the magazine.
That was the trouble, the Draik thought. They were all so kind. They genuinely wanted her to enjoy herself, but there was so little left to amuse her now. In the past ten years of her life she was allowed to have anything she asked for, and there were only so many games to play and books to read. What she really wanted was a companion – not Myra, the Zafara her father had employed to take care of her – but someone her own age, someone like that purple Kyrii down below in the swimming pool, who was now having a competition with her friends to see who could remain in the water for the longest time.
At that moment Myra bustled in with a bundle of clothes.
“Still napping?” she asked as she placed them in a plastic bag. “Why don’t we go for a little walk this afternoon? We could go to the Neopian Bookstore.”
Helene turned her face away from Myra, even though her face was now directly in the sun. “Can’t I go by myself?”
She heard Myra’s sharp intake of breath. “Hon, you know you can’t. Your papa said so. It’s my responsibility to look after you. You don’t want to play tennis this afternoon?”
Helene sighed. “I guess so. I’m just a little tired right now.”
“You haven’t done anything all week,” Myra said, coming out onto the balcony where Helene lay. “I know! Why don’t we go out for lunch?”
“You mean in the hotel restaurant?” Helene said skeptically. She rarely used the hotel restaurant now, preferring to order room service and eat in the privacy of her own apartment.
“No, in Neopia Central,” said Myra. “We could go to Pizzaroo. You’ve never had a proper pizza before.”
Helene didn’t move from the banana lounge. “Maybe tomorrow. Right now I want to rest.”
She felt guilty after she said it. She couldn’t see Myra’s face, but she knew well enough that Myra was trying to be kind and bring some sort of excitement into Helene’s vacation.
It wasn’t particularly true, either, about her wanting to rest. She did feel tired, but it was the sort of tiredness one experienced when one had simply lain in the sun all morning. She had rested all vacation, but resting only made her wearier.
Helene pictured Myra’s kind, eager-to-please face and sighed.
She sat up. “Actually, I’ve changed my mind,” she called out after Myra. “Do you think we could go to Hubert’s Hot Dogs?”
“Sure!” Helene could sense the relief in Myra’s voice. The Draik knew that her governess often felt guilty about being paid so much by Helene’s father when she rarely did anything except sit with Helene in an apartment all day. “Let me just get your shoes.”
By lunchtime the sun had grown ever hotter and Myra winced every time the sun got in her eyes. “I should have made you wear a hat,” she said reproachfully. “You’re going to suffer bad sunburns.”
The Neopian Bazaar was crowded on the sunny day. “I would have thought most sensible people would be having their nap right now,” Myra joked as they entered Hubert’s Hot Dogs, “but it seems everyone wants hot dogs instead.”
It was the first time Helene had ever had a hot dog, and as soon as she bit into an enormous one with mustard and relish, she knew she much preferred it to the gourmet meals she ate at the AstroVilla and at her father’s mansion.
Myra did not seem to like it as much. “It looks very greasy,” she said critically, watching a shiny patch of oil form around Helene’s mouth. “I don’t know if your father would want you to be eating that.”
“Come on, Myra,” Helene coaxed. “Try one. It’s good.”
Myra finally gave in and bought a spinach hot dog for herself, despite Helene’s protests that a spinach hot dog was not a real hot dog.
“Says the girl after she’s eaten her first one just now,” Myra said, laughing.
“Can we come back here for dinner?” Helene pleaded. “I want to try an ultra-cheesy.”
“You’re not going to become a hot dog connoisseur, are you?” Myra said. “All right, but if you start getting into a habit of eating hot dogs for every meal, your father’s going to raise his eyebrows at me. Before we head back I need to buy you some more sunscreen – I can see your neck turning red already.”
“Can I look in the bookstore while you’re doing that?”
Before Myra could give her the customary no, Helene began to plead her case: “I won’t go anywhere until you come back, I promise. It’s broad daylight and it’s crowded – no one’s going to kidnap me. I hate the beauty parlour – it stinks of nail polish and perfume.”
Myra looked weakened by Helene’s pleading. “Not today,” she said. “I will write to your father tomorrow and ask him if it’s all right for you to be in the bookstore by yourself.”
“No!” Helene knew that would be the end of it. Her father barely let her go down the corridor without someone accompanying her. “He won’t let me.”
The Zafara sighed. “I’m sorry, hon. I know it must be very difficult for you.”
They were sitting in the shade underneath a tree. Myra reached out to pat her on the shoulder. “I think,” she said tentatively, “that you’re growing up to be a very independent young Draik, which is difficult for someone in your position.”
Helene said nothing.
Myra seemed hesitant. “I’ll write to your papa this afternoon,” she said gently, “and ask him if you can’t spend some time on your own in the hotel. I’m sure he won’t allow you to be alone in Neopia Central, but would it be almost as good if you could swim in the pool by yourself?”
Helene nodded sullenly. She was sure her father would refuse, but there was no harm in trying. “It’s not you, Myra. You know that. It’s just” – she could feel a tear running down her cheek and was furious at herself for it – “it’s hard, is all.”
The fun they had had in the hot dog shop now seemed long gone. “I just want to be able to walk out of the hotel and know that I never have to go back in there if I don’t want to. I want” – she was really beginning to cry now – “I want to have friends who will still be there tomorrow. I want my own life, Myra.”
Myra shook her head. “You can’t have everything, Helene. Some things are just too impossible to get.”
The irony was that she could have almost anything she wanted. She only had to mention it and it could be there in less than half an hour. What she wanted most were the one thing that everyone else had and took for granted: freedom.
It had been ten years, ten long years, since she last had had it. Now her father, a brown Draik, was away on business trips, meeting with other important millionaires and discussing the stock market. He was currently in Terror Mountain, at one of the most important business meetings of the year. There had been frequent articles about it in the Neopian Times.
It was just one out of many. Helene had spent so much time in the AstroVilla that the hotel staff knew her by name.
She was lying in her usual spot on the balcony. Myra seemed to have forgotten all about the conversation after their hot dog lunch. “So, what do you want to do today, Helene?” she would say in a singsong voice each morning, while Helene mumbled something incomprehensibly.
Now Myra was snoozing on the plush sofa inside. She looked dead to the world, but Helene knew better than to try and sneak past her. Myra had an uncanny knack of knowing exactly when Helene was trying to escape.
The Draik had spent the last two days waiting for her father’s reply. In the meantime she compiled a list of the top five things she wanted to do most in the world.
1. Eat an ultra-cheesy hot dog and let the cheese dribble all over her face. (Myra hadn’t followed up on her promise of a hot dog dinner.)
2. Make so much noise and splashing in the pool with her friends that the pool staff would ask them to leave.
3. Go to the Art Gallery without anyone at her side, where she could look at all the paintings for as long as she wanted.
4. Go to the Art Gallery with her friends and do silly things like turning the abstract art upside down and see if anyone noticed something odd.
5. Learn to play the harmonica.
She stared at the words until her vision blurred. It made her miserable to think about so she tore it into little pieces and ate it.
Myra grunted and sat up. “Helene?”
“Yeah?” Helene didn’t move from her banana lounge.
“It’s three o’clock” – Myra yawned – “so the mail must have arrived by now. You want to go get it?”
Helene was a little shocked by this. “I – I guess so,” she said. “You mean alone?”
“If you don’t come back within five minutes, I’ll act like you’ve been kidnapped and alert the hotel staff,” Myra warned. “If it turns out you were just loitering about, I will ban hot dogs from your life.”
So she hadn’t forgotten about the hot dog. “Can I have an ultra-cheesy for dinner tonight?” Helene asked.
“As long as you’re back within five minutes, then certainly,” said Myra. “Just be warned: I won’t be eating one.”
“Even the good ol’ spinach was too unhealthy for you?” Helene teased. “Okay, Myra.”
“Five minutes,” the Zafara warned. “And don’t you talk to strangers.”
Helene couldn’t help rolling her eyes. Did Myra think she was going to be kidnapped while traveling down seven floors and back up again?
Helene walked down the corridor to the elevators. It occurred to the Faerie Draik that she had five minutes of absolute freedom. She could run away if she wanted. She could spend five minutes riding up and down in the elevators. She could go out to Hubert’s Hot Dogs and order a lifetime’s supply of the ultra-cheesy variety. Helene couldn’t help smiling when she pictured the look on Myra’s face.
She didn’t do any of those things. It wouldn’t have been fair on Myra. Even though Helene often felt that she was in a prison cell and Myra was the gaol-keeper, Helene was fond of her. She had spent almost as much of her life with Myra as she had with her father.
Instead, she went down to the reception area to collect the mail.
The receptionist looked surprised to see her. “Good afternoon, Miss Helene,” she said politely. “Is your governess not with you?”
“I’m just here to collect the mail,” Helene explained. She knew that the receptionist knew that she knew she was not allowed to be on her own. “Myra knows I’m here.”
The receptionist, a pretty yellow Acara, unlocked the safe kept especially for visitors’ mail. She handed Helene two letters and smiled. “Enjoying your stay?”
More than anything else in the world, Helene longed to tell her the truth. Instead she beamed at the receptionist sweetly and said, “Of course.”
The receptionist nodded and turned back to the files she was going through.
Helene was heading back to the elevators when a tall blue Lenny rushed into the waiting area. With him was a red Lupe. “Miss Helene?” the Lenny called out, panting slightly. “Is that you? Where is your governess?”
“Upstairs,” said Helene in confusion. “I just came to collect the –”
“This is no time to concern yourself with that,” the Lenny said sharply, taking the mail from her and gesturing towards the elevators. He had a thick, slightly nasal accent. “Your father wishes to see you immediately – he is in the Hospital. Zoltan, go and fetch Miss Helene’s governess. Miss Helene, I have instructions to bring you to the Hospital right now, but we must move quickly.”
“Is it my father? Is something wrong?”
“At the business meeting in Terror Mountain,” the Lenny said, “there was an accident on one of the cliffs and your father has been badly injured. He instructed me to transport you from your quarters to the Hospital where he is being cared for.”
“Is he in any danger?” Helene asked anxiously as they exited the hotel grounds. A ripple of fear was welling up inside her. Yesterday I was desperately hoping for some kind of excitement, she thought miserably. This wasn’t what I intended.
“He is in excellent health, and it is expected that he has a good chance of recovering,” the Lenny replied. His long strides made it difficult for Helene to keep up. “The Hospital staff thought it best that you should be notified immediately, and your father agreed. I apologise for breaking the news to you so suddenly, but–”
“I understand,” Helene said. “I’m glad you told me.”
“My name is Ymer,” the Lenny explained. “You won’t have met me before – I am one of your father’s business associates.”
Helene nodded. Her father rarely introduced her to his workmates. “Did that Lupe – Zoltan – fetch Myra?”
“Myra?” Ymer asked. “Oh! I’m sorry – you are referring to your governess?”
“Yes,” said Helene, wondering who else he thought Myra could be. “Are you sure you’ve –”
“There,” Ymer said, pointing across Neopia Central. “Do you see?”
“See what?” Helene asked, puzzled.
Something hard and cold knocked her sharply on the back of the head. The brightness of Neopia Central dissolved into nothingness.
To be continued...