Shay Peters and the Frivolous Fashionista: Part Five
Also by chocolateisamust
V. Halfway Between Cobblestones and Sand
My mind raced as I sped away, and cold sweat trickled down my face. I didn’t know where I was at first, but as I flew, familiar landmarks came into view. I was somewhere in Neopia Central, a few kilometres away from the main bazaar. The house was located in a fairly deserted neighbourhood, but soon I arrived at a more populated place. I briefly considered going to my apartment, but then I decided against it. The Defenders of Neopia weren't stupid. Julia or the nervous Lutari, Henry, would probably send a note over to headquarters telling of my escape. If I went home, a defender would be waiting to take me into custody.
“Stupid light faerie,” I spat, keeping a keen eye out for anyone who might have been chasing me.
I wished I’d never found Julia on that winding pathway, or at least I’d just grabbed some stuff the first time I went to her home. There was a reason I never pulled off intricate cons: I was no good at them. I liked to think of myself as a skilled thief, but thoughts aren’t always the truth. Sure, I could rake in some good dough pulling off petty little schemes, but I was not a criminal mastermind. I was just a foolish faerie Krawk who liked to holiday on Mystery Island.
I eventually landed in the center of Neopia Central and walked with the flow people around me. I needed to get somewhere safe, somewhere I could plan how I was going to get myself out of this. I walked for a few minutes, leading myself to the bazaar, and I passed by the Bakery. Simple times, I thought to myself as I went by.
Ignoring the past, I walked into the Smoothie Shop a little ways up the street. It was crowded enough that I wouldn't be seen but not so much that I couldn't concentrate. I took a seat away from the window at a bright yellow, red, and white table.
A perky purple Kacheek came up to me with a smile. “Can I get you something? I recommend our fantastic Shepherd’s Pie Smoothie.”
I looked up, not registering exactly what she said. “Sure, whatever.”
“Turn that frown upside down, miss!”
I glared at her, and I could only imagine how horrible I must look – I’d been flying a lot, and my hair must have been a mess.
“Okay, then. I’ll bring your smoothie out in a minute.”
I rubbed my temples as I tried to brainstorm. How could I get out of this? How could I get out of this? They were doing something wrong. I knew that. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be keeping it under wraps. What would happen if I told people about them? Would they be able to keep it a secret still, write me off as a lunatic who should be locked up? I wouldn’t put it past them – they hadn't exactly been understanding throughout the whole ordeal. How could I make them pay – personally?
An idea hit me in that moment, and I smiled. I knew exactly what to do. I would take back what was rightfully Neopia’s. I was sure those pets were kept under tight security, but I got in once, and if I obtained the right materials, I was sure I would get in again.
That was it then. I was breaking back in and exposing the “Department of General Population Control” for what it really was. But, first, I needed supplies. My hands went over to a small pocket in my dress – knowing that I could easily lose my purse, I had kept the money I had made from my last successful con in there. I took the Neopoints from my pocket and quickly counted them on my table. I needed enough money to get sufficient materials to disguise myself.
I finished counting -- I had enough to get supplies.
I stuffed them back into my hidden pocket and started to walk out of the Smoothie Shop. Behind me, I heard the Kacheek yelling, “Ma’am, I have your Shepherd’s Pie smoothie!”
But I had other things on my mind.
Fake ID badge? Check. New haircut? Check. Thick glasses to cover my face? Check. Business suit and tie? Check and check.
My disguise was nothing intricate, but it certainly made me look different, especially as everyone from the Defenders of Neopia knew me as a girl. It had been two days since my escape from the house, and I'd been busy. First thing I did after fleeing from the Smoothie Shop was kindly donate my dress and accessories to the Money Tree; then I hunted around Neopia Central in search of a perfect costume. I got my hair sliced off first, and then I swiped a pair of glasses from a tiny Ogrin who never knew what hit him. Next came the suit and tie, and finally, the fake ID badge. All the while, I’d carefully managed to avoid recapture, although that came at quite a cost - I’d been sleeping in the dumpsters of bazaar shops, cardboard boxes as blankets, terrified that someone would come to take me any minute.
So, on a cloudy morning that one would be hard-pressed to be called warm, I fluttered over Neopia Central, searching closely for the grey building Julia worked in. I didn't have much of a plan, but then again, that was not necessarily a bad thing. All my careful plans went horribly wrong, so maybe if I winged it, everything would go terribly right. Optimistic thinking, Shay, I said to myself as I swooped down closer to the ground.
I landed right in front of the entrance this time – a different Grarrl was on duty. His green nose looked down at me as I landed, but he had the same stern eyes of the last one. “Identification?”
I flashed the ID badge – I had pasted a Defender’s logo beneath the laminated card.
While he searched me, I couldn't help but smile to myself. I was getting in with no strings attached. I knew where to go from here, and everything seemed to be falling into place for me. The Grarrl finished searching me and opened the door, letting me inside the empty building.
I made my way confidently over to the red door. No one else was up here except for me, and it made my footsteps echo throughout the room. I opened the red door and descended the stairs once again. This was going to work, I told myself. This was going to work.
I entered the now familiar lobby with many staircases branching off in different directions and took the General Population staircase. I eventually came to the wooden door and threw it open, and then I entered the long corridor.
A striped Tonu was waiting for me. “You the inspector?”
I nodded my head. This was too easy.
“How much do we have to pay you?” the Tonu inquired.
“Excuse me?” I asked. Was this my big payoff? How did they even know who I was?
“All the other inspectors leave if we give them enough,” the Tonu explained. “What’s your price?”
“I… I’d rather like to see the place, if you don’t mind.”
The Tonu glowered at me. “Gerry! Can you show this man to the Containment Area?”
An orange Grundo opened the door closest to me. “Where’s this inspector?”
The Tonu gestured towards me.
“Follow me,” Gerry said and took off down the hallway. I followed, walking at a brisk pace to stay right beside him. He stopped at a door and whipped out a key from his pants pocket. He pushed the door open, and we entered into a brightly colored kitchen. “Do I have to give my spiel about how we care for them?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
The Grundo sighed and told me to follow him out into the main hallway. It framed what appeared to be a front door, and I looked around curiously. I remembered this place.
In fact, I was here just two days ago; it was the house I was brought to after falling unconscious in the pool. I was feeling a bit nervous now. I’d always been under the impression that the house was far away from the grey building, but then again, I supposed I'd never looked around much. There was no reason the places couldn’t have been connected.
“We keep them under constant surveillance with workers inside the rooms at all times, monitoring and keeping track of them,” the Grundo started to explain, and he opened a door to a room near the staircase to a balcony. “They get a schedule of exactly what they can do each day and have assigned times for eating. Food is given in the kitchen you just passed through, and we have a strict diet we make them adhere to. Keep them in the best possible physical shape, ya know?”
As he talked, we peered into a room. The majority of the pets in it were pretty young, but there were some older ones mixed in. None of them appeared to be too angry with their captivity; in fact, most seemed downright jovial.
The Grundo closed door and led me through the kitchen again and to a back door. He opened it and revealed a pool and a number of lawn chairs scattered around the grass. It was the same backyard I had been in. “This is our outside area,” the Grundo continued. “We use state of the art technology from Virtupets to keep everything climate controlled. If we want it to be winter, it’s winter. If we want it to be night, it’s night. We can control exactly what they want to keep them happy no matter what.”
So that explained the instant sunrise.
The Grundo then closed that door and led me back into the main hallway. The door we were just looking into was now open, and pets were pouring out.
A blue Hissi ran by me, nearly bumping into the Grundo. The irritated worker scolded him, then turned back to me. “Satisfied, Mister uh...?”
I glanced down at my badge. “Willis,” I said. “Don Willis.”
The Grundo smiled. “Yes, Mister Willis. Are you satisfied?”
“Not yet,” I said; whatever petty pay-off the Defenders were willing to offer me at that point would not be enough. Unless someone upped the ante, I was still going to finish what I came here to do.
The Grundo sighed. “What else what you like to see, Mister Willis?”
“Well, I would--”
However, I never got to finish my next request, because at that moment, a tiny blue Cybunny with ribbons in her hair cried, “Hey! You’re the con man Julia knocked out!”
And before I could reply, alarms started wailing.
I looked around frantically. Pets were piling out of the room, crowding up the main entrance. Some of them were spilling into the kitchen, and others were making their way up the stairs.
The alarm continued to blare in the background. "Everybody! EVERYBODY!" I shouted, raising my hands high into the air. I got a few of the captive pets' attention, but not all of them. "This isn't right! You're being held against your will, and you should be able to roam free!"
I walked over to the front door and pried it open, sending a large burst of light into the room. Some of the pets shielded their eyes and complained, but I didn't listen to them -- I needed them to leave. They needed to leave so I could get my big break.
"Leave, everyone! Out the door!" I called loudly.
The alarms stopped suddenly, and Henry walked up, a briefcase in hand. Julia was beside him, looking unhappy despite her designer white blouse and pink sweater pulled over it.
"Shay Peters, stop what you're doing right now," Henry said. All of the Neopets who were once moving were now stationary and visibly nervous. Did Henry really have this much authority? "You know what will happen if you do this."
I teetered by the edge of the door. "What?"
He glared at me. "Shay, close the door. I'll put you on that island forever."
"And I'll break away again," I said smugly. "You're not one for fighting, Henry."
The Lutari looked flustered. "Don't, Shay."
I opened the door a little wider and let more sunlight in. "What are you going to do for me?"
Henry took a deep breath. "I can make you a deal."
At that, Julia stared daggers at Henry, but my mouth formed into a smile. "Tell me more."
Henry glanced apprehensively at the rare pets, who remained standing still. “Let’s talk about this in private, yes?”
I shook my head and said, “Nope. Not gonna happen.”
“... let the pets go back to their room at least?”
“No. This happens right here, right now.”
Henry wrung his paws together. I'd never seen anyone sweat so much in my entire life. The Lutari’s eyes darted between the pets and me, and he occasionally stole a glance at Julia, who continued to scowl.
Eventually, he said, “Fifteen million Neopoints if you never tell anyone of our business.”
My heart skipped a beat at the large sum, but I kept playing it cool. I could get better than this. “No deal.”
“Mister Peters, you’re not in a position to negotiate,” said Henry. He was obviously out of his element, and his voice cracked. I had the edge over him; while I might have been breaking on the inside, at least I wasn't showing it.
“Oh?” I asked and glanced at the pets. “Leave, guys! Out of here!”
A few closest to the door and me began to stir, but Henry put a stop to this with a sharp, “No! No! We can wiggle a bit more on this offer.”
“Wiggle a lot, you mean,” I said, my voice never faltering.
“I...” Henry glanced down at the ground, then over to Julia. She didn't help him and simply shot the Lutari an even more menacing glare.
“You what?” I inquired.
“Hmm... that’s very nice, but I’m still not convinced.”
“Mister Peters, you’re being ridiculous.”
"I don't believe I am."
The Lutari seemed to be seconds away from fainting. Nevertheless, he said, “Thirty million and a pardon for all your... infractions... past and future.”
“Fifty million on the same terms, or I’m having your product leave.”
Henry glanced once more at Julia, but again, she didn't offer him any assistance. This had to be the biggest deal of Henry’s life, and he had no clue what he was doing, nor did he have any support. I would have felt bad for the guy if he wasn’t such a pain.
“Are you considering my deal, Henry, or are you just deaf?” I snapped after a while.
“Fine,” Henry whispered following one final silence. “You win, Mister Peters. Fifty million and a pardon, and you never speak of our... business. However, Mister Peters, if you were to slip up...”
“I’m an honest businessman.”
Julia laughed sharply at this but didn't say anything. Henry, meanwhile, rocked back and forth on his feet and closed his eyes, as if he was considering the deal he had just agreed to.
"So, is that it?" I said smugly.
Henry nodded. "We can send your payment through the--"
"No, I'm not leaving until I get it. You think I can really trust you?" I snorted in disgust.
The Lutari wiped his brow again and looked at Julia. "Can you go to the safe and get the -- ahem -- appropriate amount of money?"
Julia chuckled and looked at Henry. "Are you kidding me? I'm not getting anything for him!"
"Julia." Henry's tone sent the whole room into silence.
The light faerie stared at Henry for a moment before sullenly shuffling off to the kitchen. After she left, the pets that were standing around started filtering to other parts of the house, and eventually, Henry and I were left alone.
"You got away good, didn't you?" the Lutari asked.
I smiled. "Yeah, I did."
Julia returned carrying a briefcase then and placed it next to the one that Henry had brought in originally.
"There's fifteen million in one briefcase and thirty-five in the other," Henry said as he picked up the briefcases and handed them over to me.
I almost dropped them under the weight, and I nodded at no one in particular. I then looked at Julia for a moment before turning around.
"Shayna...?" Julia said just before I left, sounding more vulnerable than ever.
"There is no Shayna," I said quietly and walked out. The last view of Julia James I ever got was her sinking to the floor, betrayed and alone.
There was an inn on Mystery Island, halfway between the beach and jungle. It’s where I normally unloaded after cons; I spent a week or two tanning in the golden sun, lying out with not a care in the world. This scheme was no different, and after storing most of my earnings in a safe place, I packed up some clothes and headed that way. I spent the next ten days at the inn, and through that time, not once did my mind wander to Julia or Henry or the secrets I held.
I arrived home relaxed, if not a bit sunburned, and when I opened the door to my apartment, I found mail piled up on the floor, pushed hastily through the slot by a worker. Most of it was junk, but at the bottom of the pile was a plain brown package with no return address. The writing on the front was curvy and lilac, and when I tore off the packing tape, two little plushies fell out of the package and onto the ground. They seemed vaguely familiar, but I could not place them in my mind.
With a shrug, I reached into the package and pulled out a short note that was scrawled onto light pink stationery.
I saw you looking at them in my house that day. You can say that Shayna doesn't exist, and maybe that’s true. But the time we spent together - it couldn’t have been all lies. There was a little part of you in her, wasn’t there? No one can be all bad. That includes you, Shay.
Enjoy the plushies,
I shook my head and knelt down, picking up the plushies. They weren't even worth much.
“There is no Shayna,” I whispered out loud, dropping the toys back onto the ground. I told you that, Julia. Shayna isn't real...
I threw the note away.