Card House Secrets: The Prince - Part Four
Dr. Louise and Niles Westchance stared as they entered Black Jack’s office. It was gorgeous! Lush, attractive, comfortable, yet highly professional and functional. Naturally, both of their eyes fell on a long shelf of history books. Thick, heavy types usually only referenced by doctors, professors, and university students.
“You really thought I was lying, didn’t you?” Black Jack laughed easily, settling himself in a large executive chair behind his wide desk.
“I apologize for there only being one seat, but I must offer it to the lady.” He nodded slightly. “Feel free to examine my collection, Mr. Westchance.” The Lenny eagerly took up the invitation.
“You’ll also find some rather fascinating pieces on psychology,” the club owner added, grinning.
“Criminal psychology?” asked Dr. Louise sarcastically.
“Actually, yes. Amongst more normal studies, of course.”
“A... rock collection?” said Niles Westchance, having noticed the shelf below the books. “And mementos?” He leaned over to look at the rocks, gems, Neopian Times clippings, and assorted odds and ends.
“Aren’t we getting a bit off the subject? Doctor, if you would please?” He took a blank notebook and pen from a drawer and slid them both over. “If I recall, you selected the Queen of Diamonds, the 10 of Clubs, and the Queen of Spades.”
Dr. Louise got started. Black Jack calmly watched her. He didn’t make a single comment through her whole analysis, nor did he show any expression.
She finally came to a triumphant finish and slid it back to him across the desk. He glanced over the page and sighed. The Cybunny felt herself close to bursting with excitement.
“What a shame--”
Dr. Louise leaned forward, eager to make him fill his part of the deal.
“--only one out of three. Still, better than I supposed.”
Dr. Louise’s mouth dropped open, then she got angry. “You’re lying! I absolutely--”
Niles set a wing on her shoulder and she jumped in surprise, but he was looking at Black Jack, a cold expression in his eyes.
“She was right about that Wocky.”
“Ah, Queenie. Yes, I’m afraid she showed a bit too much of her true self to you. I’ll take this opportunity to warn you not to talk about her or anything else you might have learned to anyone. However, I’m afraid our dear Dr. Louise was dead wrong about both my good man 10C and my dear Queen of Diamonds.”
Dr. Louise was stunned.
Black Jack shrugged. “I apologize, but I knew from the moment you picked the Queen of Diamonds for your first target, you would fail. You are incredibly talented, I have no doubt. But you are extremely overconfident, princess. I would’ve warned you, but I doubt you’d have listened. You underestimated both me and my Card Housers.”
“Who--who are you to speak of overconfidence?! You who smirked and insulted the whole way?!”
He spread his paws. “Was I wrong? Give me one statement I’ve made to you that hasn’t turned out just so. If you weren’t so overconfident, you could’ve waited until more guests arrived; picking ten easy targets out of them would be simple even for one without your training. Instead, you deliberately picked targets that were obviously hiding something.”
Dr. Louise’s expression was changing. She actually seemed to be accepting Black Jack’s counsel. She stared at him for a second, before saying the strangest thing. “They... they all trust you.”
Black Jack blinked in surprise. “Of course.”
“That Faerie Pteri called you the boss... but I think it’s more something else. They’d follow you to the ends of Neopia, willing and even eager to place their lives in your paw. You’re... you’re a captain.”
That threw him. He jolted before catching himself and forcing himself to sit properly again.
“Sea pirates,” mumbled Dr. Louise, caught up in her own thoughts. “You insisting you weren’t the prince, and later offering to tell me about him, even if only to get rid of me. Your strange, over-educated, over-traveled, over-cultured voice...”
Black Jack was staring at her in surprise.
“You were the captain’s heir to a famous pirate ship, weren’t you? And that’s how you met this prince?! And even now you’re protecting him!!” With every sentence her voice got stronger and she focused more and more on the club owner in front of her, finally really seeing him.
His expression said it all. Then he suddenly laughed, though it was a little strained. “I had to go lecturing you on overconfidence, didn’t I?”
She smiled, delighted with herself. “Once I took a step back, leaving behind all my assumptions, it was easy!”
“Ah, but you still have so much to learn,” said Black Jack, smiling slightly. “A common flaw of the highly educated is failing to acknowledge that. Wouldn’t you say so, Mr. Westchance? Though I’d best tell you now I have a strict no-NSS rule at The Card House.”
Niles Westchance’s whole manner seemed to change. It was as if an entire different person stood next to her! “No problem, Mr. Black Jack. I’m with a secret organization under Fyora herself, dealing specifically with locating and protecting Neopets in dangerous situations.”
Dr. Louise stared in shock. The voice that had been a perfect example of a highly educated Brightvalian was now something so dull and common it was harder to place than Black Jack’s!
And, for the first time in her life, she felt completely outmatched.
“Doctor, if you would take your leave?” asked the stranger she’d so recently known as Niles. “I require a few minutes to speak with Black Jack privately.”
She shakily got up from the seat, all her triumph gone. Not only was this stranger obviously more skilled with language and voice than her, Black Jack had been able to see straight through him--while she had taken ‘Niles’ at face value! What a fool she was! She was nowhere near either of their levels.
“One moment,” said Black Jack, gesturing for her to come around his desk while he fished for something in one of his drawers.
To her surprise, he handed her a strange card, the size and shape of a normal playing card. On one side it was jet black with a red cursive J in the center and a silver outline. The other side was blank except for the word “Guest” in black cursive.
“That will get you past the bouncers if I’m not on the floor. And,” he leaned closer and whispered so ‘Niles’ couldn’t hear, “give you one more shot at finding your prince.”
“B-but the bet! I lost!”
He leaned back and shrugged. “You impressed me, which doesn’t happen very often. And you did solve the puzzle of my identity, so congratulations are in order. Besides, I may actually find reason to request your services in the future. Just remember not to speak of myself or any of the Card Housers to anyone.”
The Cybunny smiled brilliantly, her emotions and thoughts spinning. “Is that an order, captain?” she giggled, too happy to even tell him she couldn’t care less about that prince now.
“And none of that. You go show 10C that card and have a free drink, on the house.”
He ushered her out, closed the door behind her, and turned to face the secret agent, who was rudely searching through his desk.
“This is one reason I hate you spies,” the Wocky said coldly, folding his forepaws but making no moves to stop the Lenny.
“Though surely you were one?” asked ‘Niles’ casually, pulling out drawer after drawer, rifling neatly through the very well organized contents. It was rare someone’s organization fit up to his standards. He placed everything back exactly where it was.
Black Jack didn’t even blink. He tilted his head. “Didn’t hear the lady, did you? I was a pirate.”
“So you’ve never met 00Hog?”
“But of course I have. Surely you’ve heard of that creep and his Oysteritas? Just try keeping that slime out of anywhere with a bar. I just barely manage to keep him away myself.”
“You’re awfully negative about the Neopet, though from what I’ve witnessed, you’re not all that different.”
Black Jack’s eyes flashed and both paws flicked, but he caught himself and didn’t respond.
‘Niles’ finished with the desk and moved on to the shelves, somewhat curious why Black Jack made no attempt to stop him. Not that he wasn’t slightly relieved. From his hunch, and his hunches were usually dead-on, it would be a pretty even match between the two of them. Things would get messy if Black Jack really got angry.
“I’ll buy that you were a pirate--at least for a time. But you were certainly no ordinary pirate.”
The first few shelves he’d already searched—books, old Neopian Times articles, the out-of-place rock collection, some other stuff. But that couldn’t really be all...
“Of course not. I was heir to a captaincy, just as Dr. Louise guessed.” He was watching the Lenny extremely cautiously. “Are you quite done?”
The Lenny found a secret switch and discovered with a certain direction of pressure, a small flap opened up to the hollow beneath the set of shelves.
Black Jack looked tense, but still made no moves. He only watched as the Lenny drew out the long tube, followed by a handsome collection of weapons: a foil, a cutlass, two throwing knives, and two pistols.
Watching the Wocky out of the corner of his eye, the secret agent carefully examined each weapon, though they held little interest to him above giving him a bit more insight into Black Jack’s character. Each weapon was jet black, with traces of gold veins and a scarlet cursive J hidden on them somewhere. He set them aside and withdrew the rolled sheet of paper from the tube.
After he’d laid it out flat on the desk, he groaned in disgust. What a bizarre, sickening array of mismatched colors, lines, random shapes and symbols! It hurt his eyes just to look at it. Yet, there was something...
“What is it?” he asked.
“If you can’t tell, why should I say?” asked Black Jack calmly.
The secret agent stared at it a little longer. Something nagged at him. “There’s some sort of code here, isn’t there?”
“A treasure map?”
“I have no interest in those.”
“But of course you don’t.”
“As for these weapons...” The Lenny went back to where he’d neatly lined them up on the floor. “Your father was no ordinary pirate. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the infamous and extremely mysterious Pirate King. Like father, like son.”
“Le Baron de Corsair.”
“Pardon? Was that a confession I heard?”
“What do you think?”
“Who was your mother, then?”
“Now, isn’t that a bit random?”
“I have no intention of admitting anything else.”
The secret agent glared at the infuriating club owner. “Want me to tell you what I’ve figured out?”
“Can I stop you? Rather, I don’t care what you know. If you were a threat to me, I’d have sensed it by now.”
“I believe you are the son of that pirate king, who I believe to be none other than the secretive and very intelligent Captain Kiote con Triste, all files regarding which mysteriously disappeared some ten years ago. Further, I believe your mother was at least a lady in the Brightvalian royal court, which accounts for Dr. Louise’s suspicions regarding your accent, though your father certainly held the reins regarding your upbringing.” He gestured at the weapons. “Gorgeous, by the way. I had no idea the color black was possible without enamel, and I can tell at a glance that those delicate veins are pure gold. As for the scarlet J at the bottom of each hilt and on the back of each gun, I deduce your true name is Jacque. Jacque con Triste, the prince of pirates.”
He folded his wings in annoyance. “However, I do believe your assertion that you yourself are not of royal blood, so you cannot be the rightful heir to the Meridellian throne by any means. I actually place some stock in Dr. Louise’s hypothesis, namely that you met the true crown prince while you were a pirate and that you continue protecting him to this day.”
No reply, but a slight smile.
“He’s a Card Houser.”
Nothing, but the smile grew.
“You abandoned being a pirate for what must have been a very good reason, considering what status you must have had. Something to do with both your father, who you must have idolized--you're so very much like him, and this prince, who you were somehow friends with.”
“I’d hypothesize your father tried to kill him.”
“Very close, very close. Tried to ‘have him killed’ would be the appropriate wording.” He leaned down and lifted the foil, running one paw down the length.
The Lenny realized he was missing a vital part of the puzzle, something that would explain the entire mystery.
It suddenly struck him what it might be, but the very idea...!
Black Jack saw his expression and smiled. “Ah, very smart you are. Yes, it was my mission to murder the crown prince of Meridell. I had this very blade at his throat before I realized who it was.” He expertly swished the foil through the air.
The agent blinked, then rubbed his eyes. “That... doesn’t follow. It’s too cruel. No father would order their son...”
“You obviously have not met mine. Equally obviously, the NSS never gathered nearly enough information on him.” Strangely, he smiled as he made that statement. And odd glow of pride shone from his brilliant blue eyes.
“You did work for the NSS.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” The strange look disappeared and he carefully replaced the weapons in their secret compartment.
“Then, how...?” His eyes narrowed. “00Hog has been strangely uncooperative with this mission.”
“That has nothing to do with your mission, I’m sure. You’re looking for a prince.”
“One story of the prince disappearing is based about ten years ago, I figure. Your business has been in operation for going on eight years.”
“It doesn’t take two years from Meridell to Neopia Central.”
“Three, actually, but you were close.” He smiled pleasantly.
“If you are who you say you are, and taking into account that moronic map and the knife that came at you the first time you met Dr. Louise--”
“I believe I already know what you’re going to say. The answer is no. I am not in the slightest bit interested in your protection.”
“You’re in terrible danger, not that I care a whit about your neck, but I do know if you’re in danger that prince is in danger. You admitted yourself that your father already tried to kill him. If your father really is the pirate king, you don’t stand a chance.”
“Why am I getting the feeling that I’m being outrageously underestimated? Ah well.”
The secret agent slammed his wings down on Black Jack’s desk. “You want to die?! Fine! Be my guest. But I have specific orders from Fyora herself to locate that prince, positively identify him, and protect him! I’m not letting some club owner stand in my way, regardless of his background.”
“He’s perfectly safe.”
“Stop lying to yourself!”
“I’ll make you a bet, much like the one I had with Dr. Louise.”
The Lenny calmed down and glared at him. Black Jack coolly went around his desk and took his seat.
“Like Dr. Louise, your chances of winning this bet are entirely dependent on your skill. You win, I’ll admit you are capable of protecting the prince. You fail, you’re just another blowhard with a fat head.”
“You want me to solve the rest of the puzzle surrounding the prince.”
“Exactly. With the new knowledge you have come across, this should be a simple task, no? I know I could do it.”
The agent considered it silently, glaring at the smug club owner.
“What part of the story am I missing?”
Black Jack laughed. “The beginning, the middle, and the end. All you’ve solved is the climax. Quite killed the story, I’m sure.”
“I’ve discovered four stories in my research. One fits you, your mother and father anyhow. Two probably refer to the prince when he escaped with you. The last I’ve yet to place positively, but I have a hunch.”
“I’ll warn you now, even if you solve the puzzle, your so-called prince has no desire of your protection. Nor does he wish to return to Meridell.”
The Lenny glared at him.
“I’ll give you one hint, and one only. I despise royalty to this day. There is nothing more disgusting or more of a lie than being born superior to others. Why would I ally myself with one of their ilk? Solve that, and you’ve solved the puzzle.”
The secret agent continued glaring at him.
Black Jack leaned back in his chair. “By the way, what’s your real name?”
“Expea. The top agent in the Faerie Protection Program, an agency separated from all others and directly under Fyora herself.”
“Thank you.” Black Jack sat up, pulled something from an inside pocket of his coat, and spun it across the office towards the agent.
XP caught it. A card exactly like the one he’d give Dr. Louise. Or, rather, the back of the card was identical, but the front was a playing card.
Black Jack smiled mysteriously, his blue eyes distant. What he was thinking, XP couldn’t even guess. He leaned back in his chair and stared up at the stars through the skylight.
XP tucked the card in Niles’ blue vest and turned to leave. As his wing turned the doorknob, Black Jack, still staring up at the stars, spoke.
“I’ll be seeing you soon, XP. Rather regularly, I suspect. And do try to resolve our bet in a timely manner.”
XP made a noncommittal noise in his throat and left.
After a few minutes of silence, Black Jack lowered his eyes from the stars and brought his head down to rest on his desk.
“Of course, once you solve the puzzle, you won’t need me at all. Thank goodness...” he closed his eyes wearily. “Since chances are I’ll be gone by then.”
Sorry this last part was rather long, but I didn’t have the heart to split it in two. I really hope everyone enjoyed the series. And, since obviously there is more to this ‘prince’ story, I also plan to submit shorts, maybe even another series, from some of the more interesting parts of Black Jack’s life as a pirate prince. Please let me know what you think, any ideas you have about the solution to the ‘puzzle’ Black Jack laid before XP, the real identity of the prince, etc. I’m sure half of you have figured it out already anyway. I left quite a few clues.