Shay Peters and the Clockwork Caper: Part Four
Also by chocolateisamust
IV. A Cup of Tea
Every night, before I went to sleep, my owner Rachael used to read to me from a book of faerie tales. One night in particular, I remember her huddled over the dim candlelight, looking into my eyes with a care-filled glimmer. This was long before I found out that everybody in the world isn't perfect, and even longer before I ran away from home and started thieving. This was when times were simpler, and being faerie-colored didn't faze me. After she had finished her story, Rachael had leaned over my bed and kissed me on the forehead. Usually, she would get up and leave after this, but that night, she stayed in her rocking chair for a few moments extra, looking at me with eyes full of thought and wonder.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
Rachael sighed and leaned over onto my bed. "There are only so many people in this world, and even if you may not want to, you'll always run into someone you know. It's a big world, but in all honesty, it's smaller than you could ever imagine. I just want you to know that... that you don't need to worry about losing me in the crowd, okay?" she said.
Back then, I didn't know what Rachael was talking about. Back then, I was naive and unaware of how things can pop up at you unexpectedly. Back then, I didn't know of the hardships that my owner had gone through, that when she was speaking to me, she was really just giving herself a pep talk. And back then, I didn't think that I'd ever be recalling those exact words while standing in the middle of a pile of toys, looking at someone who I certainly wished would get lost in the crowd.
"W-what in Fyora's name are you doing here!?" Henry shouted now, bewildered. He stepped back, almost tripping over one of the action figures.
Everything started to click together in that moment. Griswold's words came back to haunt me: "We realize that you have certain -- ahem -- affiliations -- and we want to take advantage of that." The Swindlers knew exactly what was going to happen and knew exactly whose house this was. My mind and heart were racing, yet at the same time, everything made sense. Now the only question was: where could I go from here? Could I use this to my advantage?
I tried to take a breath, to calm down and collect my thoughts, but the air got caught in my lungs. This was too much for me to handle. Still... I... I knew exactly what to do. It was an even stranger feeling than knowing what was going on. I knew exactly how to play this. Henry was old news. I had already dealt with this buffoon of a Lutari. I knew his weaknesses, how to push his buttons.
"I'm here to take back the key that you stole," I said.
Henry looked at me for a moment, a shocking realization flooding into his eyes. "You're with the Society." It was partially a question and partially a statement.
I nodded, trying to make my eyes look menacing and intimidating, when really I was just as scared and flustered as he was. "I've heard about what you did, and they've sent me to get their key back."
Then, the Lutari had something else in his eyes, something other than the knowledge of the situation at hand. And then I realized something else. Henry knew my weaknesses just as I knew his; he knew how to push my buttons. We were equals, and it was back to square one.
"You aren't a Swindler yet, are you?" Henry asked, a small smirk of satisfaction on his face.
"What? Of course I am!" I shot back. He couldn't know that this was my initiation. He had to think that I was powerful, that I had the upper hand.
He shook his head. "No, Shay Peters. You're not."
I looked at him, unsure of exactly what to say. "I don't know what you're talking about. When I conned you, my status only grew. I... I..." I grasped for straws, needing to regain control. Stepping forward a bit, I said, "I never knew you were a father, Henry."
Henry gave a short chuckle. "And I never knew you were an idiot, Mister Peters. Do you really expect me to believe that the Swindlers would accept you? Sure, they would be interested, but after they found out what a fool you are, they'd kick you to the curb."
"That's not true!" I said. But Henry knew exactly who I was, so who was I kidding? I hadn't changed at all. Sure, I had gained fifty million Neopoints, but that was the exception, not the rule.
"Oh, Mister Peters. Six months, and you haven't changed a bit. But you're in for a treat, because I have a proposition for you. And I'm sure, considering your past cons -- oh, excuse me, con -- you'll be very interested in what I have to offer," Henry said, smiling. He knew he had won this battle. But he hadn't won the war. "Interested in a cup of tea?"
The only thing I could do was laugh. "What?"
"Tea," Henry said. "You know, herbal drink, generally served hot -"
"I know what tea is," I growled, my cheeks burning. In the past, I'd always had the edge over Henry, and this drastic change of position had me feeling terribly uncomfortable. I was seeing a new side of the nervous guy, a cockier side. We were in his turf, and he was in control.
"Then it's a fairly simple question." Henry crossed his arms and gave me a smug look.
I rubbed my temples and tried to regain my composure, not wanting to falter any more under the Lutari's condescending eye. Finally, I gathered up my thoughts, and with a shake of my head, I said to him, "No tea, Henry. I don't need the niceties. Just tell me what the proposition is, here and now, and I'll see if I'm interested."
Henry let the ghost of a smile creep onto his face. "Very well then, Mister Peters," he said, his voice almost mocking. "But if you don't mind, I'd like you to get out of my son's room." That was an order, not a suggestion.
I didn't particularly like listening to Henry, but I figured trying to stay in little Lucas' room would be more trouble than it was worth, so without another word, I stepped out into the hallway. The Lutari promptly followed, shutting the white wooden door firmly as he left the airy space.
"Why did you go in there anyway, Henry?" I asked. The question was a mask to the real thought nagging at my mind: What was he doing home?
"Lucas forgot a school project in his closet. I came home to get it." He cleared his throat. "Now, Mister Peters, you were the one who said no niceties, so let's get down to it."
"The proposition?" I stated the obvious, trying to fluster the straight-to-the-point, all-business Defender.
"Yes." Henry's voice didn't change, so my attempt to rile him appeared to have failed. "I know you're not a Society member yet, Mister Peters. Even if I hadn't stumbled in on your little break-and-entry, you never would have made it. So really, for you, it's quite fortunate that my son forgot his poster board on the natural habitat of Snarhooks. Otherwise, you'd get nothing out of your brush with the Swindlers. But with my proposition, you'll get something grand."
"Really, Henry," I said, unconvinced.
"Really," Henry said, his voice teeming with sarcasm. He then glanced briefly down the stairs before adding, "Are you sure you don't want a cup of tea?"
Obviously, this was his attempt to bother me, but I wasn't going to get annoyed. "Yes, Henry," I said sweetly. "I'm sure. Now stop stonewalling and tell me about your proposition."
"Of course, Mister Peters." He flashed a tiny smirk before he then began to speak: "As you know, I'm currently in the process of investigating the Swindlers' Society. For years, they've managed to avoid capture, and at the Defenders of Neopia, we've barely been able to gather even the tiniest bits of information on them. But then, a break in the case came. I don't need to bore you with the details, Mister Peters, but we're very close now. We have the charges, the evidence, everything we need. We even have a key to their headquarters. But there's just one little problem."
"Let me guess," I said flatly.
"We don't know where the headquarters is. But you, Mister Peters..." He leaned in to me and said in a voice barely above a whisper, "I think we both know very well that you do."
"And you want me to give it to you?" I asked, stepping back from the Lutari, whose invasion of my personal space was a bit disconcerting.
Henry nodded. "Yes."
"You're out of your mind."
"I know you idolize them, Mister Peters, but you'll never be one of them. You won't get the key - you'll never get the key. So what else is there? If you walk away now, nothing."
"I have all the money I could ever need, Henry," I said. "You personally made sure of that."
Henry just laughed. "It's not money I can give you."
"Oh?" I asked, a bit taken aback. Still, not missing a beat, I said, "Then what is it, Henry? A pardon for all infractions, past and future? Wait, you already gave me that, too."
"You think too much in terms of money and crime," Henry said coolly. "Don't you have any emotions, Mister Peters? Anything of... sentimental value?"
A chill went through my spine then, and my heart stopped cold. He couldn't know anything. No. There was no way he had gotten a hold of anything from my past. Everything was so well hidden. Even when I thought about my early days, I thought in whispers. There was no way Henry could know...
Trying to push the look of blank fear and shock out of my eyes, I began to speak, but the Lutari didn't let me - he spoke instead, his voice crisp as he said, "Oh, don't deny it, Shay." He dropped the formalities, the use of my last name in place of my first. "You see, the Defenders recently came in possession of something of yours. Something that I would consider rather... close to your heart." He paused, then added, "Isn't there something, Shay? Something from the old days that you've tried so hard to keep secret?"
I managed to shake my head. "No," I said in as strong a voice as I could muster. "No, Henry, there's really not. I'm an open book."
But he chuckled. "What point is there in lying to me, Shay? You know what I'm talking about. Not even a hardened conman can forget something so personal... something so near and dear to you."
"What are you talking about?" I asked, my hands clammy and my mind stuck on only one thought: What does he know?
"I have a letter, Shay. Something personal and passionate, something you wouldn't want anyone to know about. I mean, it even plucked my heart strings, Shay, and I couldn't care less about you." A smile ticked at the corners of his mouth, and his voice low and somehow menacing, he continued on, "No one else has looked at it, Shay. Not yet, anyway. Soon, of course, they will, but if you help me... I can make sure they don't."
"What makes you think I care?" I said, my voice cracking.
"Because I know you, Shay Peters. I know what this letter has to mean to you..." He stopped then, his voice trailing off. Then, a look came into his eyes, a unique look I'd never seen before. In a way, he now appeared happy, but more than that, he just seemed... sly. Cunning. In a voice that was nearly bubbling with craftiness, Henry said, "You haven't seen it before, Shay, have you?" When I didn't reply, he crooned on, "No, you haven't. And you're dying to know what it says now. What it says about you..."
"I don't believe you have anything of mine, Henry," I said, although deep down, I did. While I hated to admit it, the Lutari had always stayed true to his word in the past. Not to mention, if he was going to lie to me, he wouldn't have chosen such a seemingly random lie. No, if this whole proposition was a facade, merely a ploy to feed into his investigation of the Swindlers, then he would have used something more material and intriguing to lure me. Not an item so plain as a letter.
"You do believe me, Shay," Henry said after a short silence. "I know you do. So, what do you say?"
"How do I know you'll stay true to your word?" I asked. "If I give you the location... how do I know you'll give me this... this letter?"
"Because I'm not a conman." Henry's voice was stark and accusing. "And because I don't blindside my sources."
"Source? That's what I am to you now?"
"What else could you be, Shay?" Henry asked incredulously.
"I conned you. I conned the Defenders."
"And what does that make you, Shay? A criminal mastermind?" Henry laughed hollowly. "No, Shay. You're just a bumbling thief who caught one stroke of good luck, and I'm a powerful man with something very dear to you. Now, will you do this for me or not?"
I told him that I would.
To be continued...