James Nexis - Deception: Part One
Author’s Note: I’m not going to call this story a sequel, because that particular word seems to scare a lot of people, including myself. So, this is not a sequel. It is a story, complete in its own right, which uses characters from my previous story, Masquerades. Please feel free to read only this and consider Masquerades as backstory, should you want to catch up on the characters’ history. ;)
James Nexis was tired.
Stacks of paper stood on his desk; old newspaper clippings, statistics, notes, and several versions of the report he was currently working on. The report in question was taking much longer than anticipated, and had the double bonus of being extremely complicated and extremely boring. The brown Hissi gave up with a sigh, and let his head drop onto the stack of notes directly in front of him.
A blue Xweetok, looking just as tired as James felt, stuck her head through the door. “Yes, sir?”
Sarcasm laced the secretary’s voice. “Really?”
“Yes, really. What time is it?”
Deirdre checked her watch and grimaced. “The wrong side of midnight.”
“Oh, joy. Is anyone left in the office?”
“Just us and the night shift workers.”
“What about the coffee pot?”
Deirdre smiled wanly. “Yes, it’s still here. Let me guess, more coffee?”
“Great minds think alike.” James shoved his mug towards her without moving his head. “Please?”
Deirdre smiled gently as she took the cup. “You should go to bed, sir.”
James finally raised his head and squinted at her. “I can’t. I’ve got to finish this dratted report before tomorrow.”
“But it’s already tomorrow, sir.”
James paused for a second while his brain tried to process the statement, and came up with a blank. “That’s just not physically possible, Deirdre. Now, coffee?”
“Yes, sir,” the secretary sighed and stalked out of the office, armed with the coffee mug. To her credit, she’d volunteered to stay overtime with James until he finished his article. She’d been invaluable as a coffee making service, and as an unwilling volunteer to venture into the cursed realms of the Past Records room.
The Mystic Times, a newspaper that catered primarily to Shenkuu and where James worked as a reporter, had many awe-worthy attractions, but the most dreaded was unquestionably the Past Records room. The Past Records room was a massive basement under the Mystic Times’ foundations, where every source, statistic, report and past edition of the newspaper was stored. Some said that the massive filing-cabinet-lined vault was built on an old Geraptikan burial ground and had claimed the lives of many young researchers who had negligently forgotten to bring a ball of string and a white flag on their journey into the labyrinth.
James insisted that the stories were just rumours that had been created to frighten new employees, but the fact remained that he always seemed to be inconveniently busy when there was an old record to find.
James turned back to face his report, and sighed. The story was of a legal suit filed by some snooty Acara against a seemingly random supermarket that had sold her Screlons that weren’t actually sour. It was quite possibly the dullest thing he’d ever seen, and the length of the report that had been demanded wasn’t improving his mood.
James was just on the verge of falling asleep when the door was thrown open by a massive Grarrl sporting an expensive suit and a disturbing number of white teeth. “Nexis! Ah, good, I was hoping you were still in.”
“Mr Marcus?” James jumped to his feet and stared up at the newspaper’s manager blankly. “What’re you doing here... at this time of night?”
“I’m the manager,” the Grarrl said pointedly as he pulled up a chair and sat down, causing the wood to creak painfully. “I have to be on call for new stories around the clock, so I had my apartment joined to the back of the main office.”
“Oh.” Whether it was the time of night, the lack of sleep, or the lack of coffee, James couldn’t quite get past that statement. “Did you just say you lived here? In the office?”
Mr Marcus gave him an odd look. “In an apartment attached to it, yes.”
“Not busy, I hope, Mr Nexis?”
“I... well...” the Hissi glanced at his assignment and suddenly smiled. “Actually, yes. This report...” he sighed melodramatically, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with it.”
Mr Marcus frowned, looking put-out. “Well, how long will it take you to finish it?”
“Oh, days,” James said tragically, flopping back into his chair. “I won’t be able to even think about anything else until it’s done, unless...”
“Unless what, Nexis?” the Grarrl frowned.
“Unless you reassign the report to someone else,” James said quickly.
Mr Marcus glared at him for a few seconds as he considered his alternatives. “Fine.”
“Yes!” James threw his hands into the air and leaned back in his seat. “Best news I’ve heard all week.”
Marcus frowned. “Don’t get too excited, Nexis, you can’t have the night off. I just got a call about a murder, and I want you to investigate it.”
James sobered instantly. “A murder? How long ago?”
“Not sure of the time, but one of my contacts in the police station said the body has only just been discovered. A wealthy Gnorbu, in his own home. The police are still mobilising, so if you hurry you might get there first.”
James whistled as he pulled out a notebook. “Does... er, did... he have a name?”
“Yeah, Angus-something. Treewhite, I think. Angus Treewhite. He lives in the mansion his grandfather built, alone except for some servants and his nephew.”
“Any other family?”
Mr Marcus shrugged. “How should I know? That’s your job. There’s the address,” he slammed a piece of paper down onto the desk, and continued; “I’m cutting you a lot of slack, Nexis, by moving your other assignment; I expect you to do a thorough job of this, alright? Good day.”
The large Grarrl stood up and marched out of the office, scarcely noticing as he knocked a small coffee-carrying Xweetok onto the ground. James stuck his head out of the office and gasped. “Oh, no! Deirdre! You spilt my coffee.”
Deirdre glared at him. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
James looked over the smashed mug on the floor, and sighed. “Drat, just when I needed some coffee, too. Ah, well, I guess we really don’t have time anyway. Come on, Deirdre, we’d better go.”
“Go?” Deirdre pulled herself off the floor and grimaced at her stained blouse. “Go where? And since when have you not had time to drink coffee?”
“Since I have to go to this Angus Treewhite’s grandfather’s house. Now come on. We’re already late.”
Deirdre started scrambling after the Hissi, confusion etched on her face. “Wait! We’re going out? Why? Don’t you have to write that report?”
James flashed her a grin. “Nope. It’s been outsourced. I’ve got a new story now, and it’s definitely a lot more interesting than a legal case about screlons.”
Briefly he filled his bemused secretary in on the details as he buttoned up his coat. Throughout the epic story, Deirdre’s face slowly darkened into a frown. When he finished, she spoke up.
“I know!” James said enthusiastically. “Since when has Mr Marcus lived in the office?”
Deirdre looked at him flatly. “I offered to help you with your report. It’s now almost two in the morning. You get a new case which demands you travel to the outskirts of town immediately, and you automatically assume I’m going to come with you.”
“Of course.” James put his fedora on his head, and offered Deirdre her scarf. “I thought it’d be fun.”
Ignoring the scarf, Deirdre said, “Fun? You think looking at dead people in the middle of the night is fun?”
“Well, we get to travel.”
“There you go with the ‘we’ again.” Deirdre sighed. “Sir, I’m tired. I want to go home.”
James was silent for a moment while he chewed his lip. At last he looked up with a persuasive smile. “I’ll give you a raise.”
Deirdre frowned. “You promised me a raise weeks ago, and I’m still waiting for it.”
“Fine. I’ll promote you, then.”
Deirdre stared at him. “...to what? I’m your personal secretary, I don’t think there’s a higher job that you have the authority to promote me to.”
“Uh... I could promote you to a... uh... personal... secretary... manager... person. Yeah. Personal Secretary Manager Person.”
Deirdre didn’t look impressed, but she picked her scarf up anyway. “Fine, sir. I’ll come. Not because of the chance to become this... Personal Secretary Manager Person, but because you’d probably end up in jail without me. Let’s go.”
Thick fog was swirling across the ground as James and Deirdre left the Mystic Times’ office. Shenkuu’s landscape had been changed from the whimsical land of mountains and oriental buildings into a cloudy sea of darkness.
With no form of transport, they were forced to walk, Deirdre’s memory keeping them on the right path. Thankfully, the address James had been given didn’t take them long to find, and a little over fifteen minutes after leaving the office, the Hissi and Xweetok stood in front of a large, cobwebbed mansion on the edge of town.
James whistled as he looked at it. “Not exactly an example of modern living, is it?”
In stark contrast to the delicate landscape, the house was a massive, hulking, three-story-and-an-attic affair, set on what looked like several dozen acres of woodland. Its windows all had thick, dark curtains drawn to block out the light, and the front door appeared to be locked.
Ignoring Deirdre’s whispered objections, James strode up to the five steps and knocked loudly.
“Sir!” Deirdre hissed, dashing up to stand beside him. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to turn up here, unannounced, in the middle of the night, when there’s been a murder?”
James shrugged. “Why not? I’m sure they won’t mind.” Deirdre didn’t return his smile.
It took a few minutes, but eventually an exhausted-looking black Cybunny opened the door. James glanced at her quickly and noted that she was short, wore a maid’s uniform, and had red circles under her eyes. He grinned broadly. “Good... ah... morning, ma’am, is this the residence of a late Mr Angus Treewhite?”
The maid’s eyes went wide with awe. “Are you the police?”
James avoided the question tactfully by asking, “Can we come in?”
“Oh dear,” the maid muttered. “I’m so glad you’ve come, officer, we weren’t expecting you so soon, or I would have had the kettle boiling. Yes, yes, of course; follow me.” She turned and trotted through the doorway, James and Deirdre in tow.
“That was a lie,” Deirdre hissed, looking disgusted.
“It wasn’t so much a lie as an avoidance of the truth,” James whispered back. “They wouldn’t have let us in if they’d known we were reporters. We’ll just have a look around, take some notes and ask a few questions, and then we’ll be out. No harm done.”
“What if the real police show up?”
James grinned cheerfully. “I’ll deal with that problem when it arises.”
Deirdre just shook her head. “You really depress me sometimes.”
Any further conversation was cut off abruptly as the maid turned around again. “My name’s Sammy,” she said breathlessly, obviously in awe of the superior being standing in front of her. “I’m one of the maids here. I’m taking you to Master Lucas, who is in charge now that...” she faltered, and James helped her along.
“Now that your master is no longer with us.”
Sammy nodded tremulously, and quickly turned back to the door that was in front of them. She knocked, and then pushed it open. “Master Lucas? There’s a gentleman and a lady to see you, sir.”
Due to the Cybunny’s shortness, James was able to see over her head and into the room easily. It radiated a comfortable oldness, like the rest of the house, having been adorned liberally with mahogany and rich, thick fabrics. Roof-to-floor curtains hid what must have been a large window at one side of the room, and a warm fireplace illuminated several large chairs and a small table, which held stacks of old books.
Standing by the fireplace was a tan Gelert, leaning on the mantelpiece and looking exhausted. Dark rings circled under his eyes and his thick brown hair was messy. His wrinkled jacket and pants also suggested haste, but his thin face seemed intelligent and alert.
He pushed off the mantelpiece as they entered the room and frowned. “Who, Sammy?”
“Police, sir,” the Cybunny volunteered nervously and then paused before adding, “at least, I think they are.”
Before the Gelert could ask any inconvenient questions, James pushed forward and held out his hand. “My name’s Nexis. James Nexis. And this is my assistant, Deirdre.”
“Alfred Lucas,” the Gelert returned numbly. “Police, you said? I didn’t expect you to arrive so quickly.”
“You’ve got to be quick when you’re in my profession,” James said merrily, earning himself a subtle glare from Deirdre. “I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s alright.”
“Absolutely,” the Gelert said tiredly. “Thank you, Sammy, you may go now.”
The maid curtsied and left the room, and Lucas waved his hand at the chairs by the fireplace. “So, what would you like to know?”
To be continued...