Castles, Kidnappings, and Really Bad Gourmet Food: Part Four
“Nnnggghh.” I slowly opened my eyes. Oh, man, my head hurt. I tried to raise my hoof to feel for a bump, but I couldn’t lift it. Then it occurred to me that I was tied up.
My eyes snapped open all at once. I was in a dimly lit room, in a part of the castle I hadn’t seen before. There were a couple of candles here and there, just enough to illuminate several furnishings. I suddenly knew where I was: the dungeon. Every castle has one.
Only question was, how did you get to it? I hadn’t found any stairs or anything outside the dining room.
I could see two shadowy forms on the other side of the room. One was talking so quietly I couldn’t make out any words. One of them was moving around, but the other was just sitting there, which made me realize that they, too, must be tied up.
“Please, just let me go! He’ll be wondering where I am. If you don’t let me go he’ll find you, and everything you’ve worked for will be ruined!” An all-too-familiar voice rang out. I gasped in both horror and immense relief.
“Mom! You’re okay!”
“Hithaeglir? You’re here?” Her voice became harsh and angry. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt him!”
The person Mom was talking to spoke up, loud enough for me to hear them clearly. “No, I didn’t. I promised he would stay alive.”
They seemed so familiar... not the voice exactly, but something about it... the figure walked forwards, and one of the candles lit up the face.
The thin face twisted into a sardonic grin. “So, the baby detective wanted to find his mommy. How sweet.”
I refused to show any fear. “There’s just one thing that doesn’t make sense to me. What do you have against the restaurant?”
“Please. It was never about the Cuisine Castle.”
“Well, aren’t you going to reveal your whole diabolical plan?” I asked, hoping to buy some time. “It’s kind of a tradition in the villain business, you know.”
“Oh, I don’t see any need to do that. After all, you’ve figured it all out, haven’t you?”
“Most of it. First off, your name isn’t actually Lizzie. It’s Maurecia Lintenzo, isn’t it?”
The Eyrie smiled again. “Very good. It seems you can be taught after all. Keep going, won’t you?”
“I think I figured it out when Jeremy told me who you were, and that you could make a great chocolate torte. See, that dessert wasn’t on the menu. I remember, because I had been looking at it while waiting for Mom to come back. This meant you had probably brought one in for everyone – from the bakery, I’m guessing – to butter them up, and cover up the fact that you really didn’t know what you were doing. Chefs don’t generally bother to make things that won’t get ordered. That would be a waste of time. Why not just perfect what was on the menu? That would be the logical thing to do.
“So I had figured out who you were, but not why you were here. Now, I’m guessing that the restaurant is just a cover for some other operation. Who would investigate the newest, hottest place in Neopia? Especially when there were so many people around. No one would ever suspect.
“I also remember the invitation you sent me. Business owners don’t go for the long and flowery speeches; they usually write just the facts, without any excess flattery or anything. The notes are always very brief, but yours stretched on for quite some time. Three-quarters of it was spent flattering both yourself and me, to ensure I would show up. Unfortunately, I can’t understand why.”
“Silly,” Maurecia laughed. “I wanted you out of the way as soon as possible. You are renowned throughout Neopia for your work, and I had to ensure you would simply vanish, with no one seeing anything.”
“Right, fine. What happened to Mom, I’m guessing, is that she went to the bathroom, and when she came out, peeked into the kitchen. She has an insatiable sense of curiosity, and she loves to see how things work. I’m betting the kitchen crew was working then, and she saw you doing nothing. She would have wondered why, but you could have covered by saying you were just a dessert chef, even though you probably can’t cook worth beans. However, you didn’t. You had to cover somehow, because you’re so new to the business you’re still learning the art of deception. So you hid her in a place no one would go: the dungeon. But I don’t understand about her purse. Why did you hide it?”
“I knew you would find it somehow, so I stole an item out of it – you’re so observant, I know you would have noticed something was amiss – and hid it beneath a floorboard. I figured you would have thought something had happened to her, then find the secret passage upstairs, where I could dispose of you properly,” Maurecia answered, filing her claws lazily.
“But you didn’t expect that the kitchen crew would go on break. You were furious, but you couldn’t say anything. That would blow your cover.”
“Indeed it would. I had to settle for supervising.”
I continued. “But why would you cover the passage? And how come your staff has to live in the castle?”
“I originally planned to use it as a base of operations, but I discovered the dungeon while remodeling. Now, though, it covers the fact that this is actually a residence. They live here so I can keep an eye on them. I can’t risk one of them finding out what I’m up to and telling someone. Everything they need is here in this restaurant, and they have no reason to leave.”
“So they’re prisoners in their own home.”
“More or less. It’s just how I roll, darling,” Maurecia said.
“So how do you get into the dungeon?” I asked.
“Did you wonder why there was one sink in the ladies’ washroom, but such a long counter underneath? Half of it pulls out and slides to the side, along with a section of the wall. It’s quite spacious, actually.”
I could have kicked myself. I had been so close to Mom and hadn’t even known it!
“What happened to the waiter? Did he get too close to your secrets?”
“Actually, no. Clark has been ill for some time. He left to go home, in the middle of his shift, so he’ll have to be fired, of course. In the meantime, we’re short a waiter, but the kitchen staff will improvise and one of them will go out and wait tables. It’s what they do.”
“One more thing. What exactly is your operation here?”
“Why, darling, haven’t you gotten it yet? When the rich and famous show up by themselves, I wait in the bathroom and take them to the dungeon, where they wait for someone to pay their ransom.”
“So you’re a kidnapper? And that’s what happened to Mom? You could have said so before I launched my big theory.”
“But you were having so much fun talking,” Maurecia laughed. “Obviously, I didn’t know she was wealthy in a simply ordinary sense. I found out when she got down here and I raided her purse. I’m only after the disgustingly rich. I would have liked to let her go, but obviously I couldn’t do that.”
“You have access to everything – all the lists, the files, the reservations. You could find out who would be here, what they had ordered, and it would only take a little research to figure out exactly how wealthy they were. So when you worked in the kitchen... ”
“... I could put things into their food that would make them sick, and force them to rush to the bathroom.”
“Where you overtook them, and since they were alone, no one would even notice they were gone,” I finished. “Pretty smart, actually.”
“Oh, I don’t believe so,” a voice rang out.
Maurecia, Mom and I all turned to face the intruder. It was Claire, the Ixi from the kitchen!
She pulled a badge out of her uniform and held it out. “I’m with the Neopian Secret Service, and you’re under arrest.”
Maurecia ran up a flight of stairs and vanished from sight. Seconds later, we heard a shriek and several voices.
Claire pulled a paring knife out of her pocket and cut my ropes. As I rubbed the feeling back into my hooves, she set Mom loose.
“You’re not with the Service,” I laughed.
“How’d you know?”
“If you were, you wouldn’t have said so. Your cover would be blown. Plus, you didn’t tell her what she was under arrest for. That’s a key priority, y’know.”
“Guilty,” Claire giggled. “I just picked that up at the gift shop in Neopia Central. A toy police badge.”
“So how’d you know we were here?”
“The sink in the kitchen stopped working. I had to wash some sauce off my hooves, so I went to the bathroom. But I slipped on a puddle of water and grabbed onto the counter for support, and I kinda slid funny. The counter pulled out, and I heard voices. I snuck down, saw you were tied up, and told everyone else. They’ve got Maurecia right now, and I don’t expect she’ll be going anywhere soon.”
“Good job, Claire,” I said. “How’d you know she was Maurecia, though?”
“Puh-lease. I knew she was a fake from the start. Didn’t even know what parboiling was, and she practically burned all her fur off when she used the open flame.”
A sudden growl cut through the air. Mom waved her hand around. “Excuse me? I still haven’t had anything to eat, and I’m starved.”
* * * *
Maurecia was arrested, but got a fairly short sentence. Technically, since Mom had never left the restaurant, it wasn’t really a kidnapping. However, intent was almost as bad, and there was definitely some of that involved.
The restaurant was sold to new management, which meant we had to pay for our meals still. You think they’d be more grateful and give us free food for life!
But it wouldn’t matter much. We don’t eat there very much anyways... I’m still afraid of castles.
Author's note: Thanks SO MUCH to _aragornluver_, aka Alaya, for being SO AWESOMELY NICE and letting me use _Hithaeglir_ again!