Intrigue at the Altador Cup: Part Four
Fredrick rose early and slipped out of the hotel as dawn was breaking. The receptionist was snoozing behind the desk, and didn’t stir as the Ruki crossed the lobby.
As he approached the stadium, Fredrick dipped into an alley and sampled another of his potions.
In the new form of a red Skeith, Fredrick continued towards the stadium. He’d bought a clipboard with him, and he was confident it was all he’d need. He avoided the normal entrance, and sought out the back way. The entrance was used by deliverymen and the Cup officials. Instead of leading to the stands, it led to the locker rooms and the bowels of the stadium where the Yooyus were kept.
Fredrick made sure he was checking a notice board near one of the locker rooms, busily writing notes on his clipboard, as a janitor Nimmo came round the corner.
Fredrick checked the clock on the wall.
“It’s about time,” he said authoritatively. “Do you always come in late on a match day?”
The janitor glanced at the clipboard, and then the clock.
“I only start work at 7:30...” he mumbled.
“And it is 30 seconds past!” Fredrick snapped as he scribbled a note about lateness onto his paper. “This simply will not do. I’m Mr. Tone, by the way... Department of Internal Affairs. I’m to make a full report on the staff for the Inspector.”
“Is this about... the business with the bribes?” the janitor asked conspiratorially.
“I am not at liberty to comment,” Fredrick replied, sweeping past the Nimmo. “Now, show me to whoever is in charge here.”
“Oh, that’ll be Mr. Appletree, but he doesn’t get in till 8... there’s only me here,” the janitor told him.
“Then you’ll have to do, I suppose,” Fredrick replied, jotting down a note about absent management staff. “Tell me, how many sightings have there been since the games began?”
“You mean apart from the three before the Cup? You don’t already know?” the janitor asked.
Fredrick narrowed Mr. Tone’s eyes.
“I am seeking confirmation,” he hissed. “Everyone is a suspect.”
“Oh! Oh of course...” the janitor mumbled. “He was sighted in the Roo Island locker room, yesterday. It was just after the opening ceremony, and just before the first match.”
“Show me where,” Mr. Tone commanded.
The janitor nodded and led the Skeith down the corridor, unlocking a door with the flag of Roo Island painted on it.
“You are the only one with this key?” Mr. Tone asked as he walked inside.
“Yes...” the Nimmo replied, but he quickly supplied some less incriminating evidence. “Though once I unlock the locker rooms in the morning, they stay unlocked until after the day’s matches are done and the teams have gone home.”
Mr. Tone nodded approvingly, taking in the room. It was the standard affair, lockers for the team on either side, with a simple wooden bench down the middle. There were photos of the team’s victories on the wall at the far end, and no windows. Whoever came in to bribe someone came in through the door.
“Explain to me what happened,” Mr. Tone instructed.
“Well, I wasn’t here, of course; I was cleaning out the Yooyu cage before they put the new ones in for the match... but I can tell you what I heard happened, if that’ll help,” the janitor explained. “The teams were all coming in from the ceremony, and most of the Roo Island team had stayed out on the pitch... hogging the limelight if you ask me... anyhow, Gordo... that is to say, Gordo Gunnels, their goalkeeper, he came in early, and he said there was a Grundo waiting in here for him. He asked him to throw the first match, and gave him some jewels. They said they were from the Lost Desert later on, all fancy looking apparently. Anyway, Gordo has a bit of a temper on him, and he shouted at the Grundo, who high-tailed it out of here fast as his legs could carry him.”
“Gunnels did not try and stop him?” Mr. Tone asked, Fredrick recalling from the matches that he had been a large Grarrl.
“Oh yes, the Grundo slid out between his legs, though,” the janitor continued. “Before you ask, the guards posted on the side entrance didn’t see anyone, so he must have escaped up into the stands.”
Mr. Tone nodded.
“This seems to be in agreement with what the report said,” he informed the janitor. “Thank you for your time. If there are any more sightings or strange behaviour from any of the teams, don’t hesitate to contact the Inspector.”
Mr. Tone let himself out of the locker room, leaving the janitor alone to prepare for the incoming teams.
It was interesting... certainly. Fredrick had heard someone whisper in his ear just as the teams came out. He’d turned around, and no one was there... now he thought about it, he couldn’t remember seeing Mr. Stevenage in the seated crowd of VIPs. Had he threatened Fredrick, and then slipped out of the box to reach the locker room?
It meant that whoever Stevenage really was had access to the same line of morphing potions that Fredrick did, though. That probably meant he wasn’t really a Gnorbu, or a Grundo for that matter.
But why? Why does a conman need to fix the Altador Cup?
The janitor had mentioned jewels from the Lost Desert. Was someone there employing Stevenage? One of the teams perhaps?
His head reeling with thoughts, Fredrick emerged back out into the early morning light of Altador.
He made his way quickly back to the hotel and up to his room, where he changed back into Rodney Clacks. Once he was sure there were enough people milling about in the streets below, he returned to the lobby.
“Have a nice day, Mr. Clacks!” the receptionist called as he left.
She looked tired, clearly having only just woken up.
Fredrick made his way back to the stadium, and entered via the stands entrance. He took special care to march importantly past the Grarrl guarding the VIP box. This time he met with no resistance.
“Oh Rodney!” the voice of Miss Tobik greeted him almost immediately. “I got your message last night, how simply dreadful that you had to leave so early! I do hope it wasn’t a dire emergency.”
“One of my band members injured his hand... he’s the drummer; unfortunately that means we will be unable to perform for a while,” Rodney lied.
Miss Tobik looked aghast.
“I was so looking forward to hearing you perform at the Concert Hall once the Cup is over! Oh dear...” she sighed.
Rodney patted her flipper.
“I’ll be sure to arrange a special ticket for you, once we are back on form,” he said reassuringly.
This made her face brighten slightly. She leaned in and whispered to Rodney behind her flipper.
“The word is that yesterday the mystery man who has been trying to rig the Cup turned up in the Roo Island locker room,” he told him. “There’s been quite a fuss, lots of extra security, that sort of thing.”
She nodded meaningfully towards the door. Stood next to the Grarrl bodyguard was the stern Eyrie from the party.
“That’s Inspector Softpaw,” Tobik explained. “He’s here to investigate us all, so the rumour goes. Apparently after the party last night he received an anonymous tip off, suggesting that the criminal they are looking for may be one of us! To think, it might be someone in this room!”
She leaned back, her moment of gossip over.
“Now, you simply have to meet everyone!” she said loudly.
“You introduced me yesterday,” Rodney reminded her.
“Oh that was yesterday’s crowd!” she laughed. “Hardly anyone turns up for the first day!”
Now, as she mentioned it, Fredrick did notice that there were considerably more people in the box than the previous day. He caught sight of Mr. Stevenage in the corner talking to King Roo, but Miss Tobik quickly escorted Rodney in the opposite direction.
“Now, this is Arthur Munroe, chairman of Neopia Central Insurance,” Miss Tobik proclaimed, introducing an elderly looking yellow Chomby.
He took Rodney’s hand and shook it enthusiastically.
“Pleasure to meet you, my lad!” he boomed merrily.
“This is... erm...” Miss Tobik hesitated at the sight of a small yellow Kacheek at the Chomby’s side.
“This is Oscar,” Munroe informed her. “He’s a rising star at Neopia Central Insurance. He got Queen Fyora to sign on the dotted line; we’re all very proud of him!”
The yellow Kacheek shook both their hands.
Fredrick tried hard to keep his composure. He remembered Oscar, all too well. That little Kacheek had been the reason he was thrown in the cells in Faerieland. Still, he wasn’t too bright; he smiled pleasantly at Rodney, unsuspecting of what lay hidden beneath.
Before there was chance for small talk, Miss Tobik whisked Rodney away again.
“Everyone, this is Rodney Clacks, the rising pop star I told you all about!” Tobik announced. “Rodney, this is Harry Dorchester, newly appointed head of the Expellibox Office in Qasala. This here is Mr. Jennings, a... businessman from Neopia Central, oh and you know Mr. Stevenage, of course.”
The Gnorbu had moved on from King Roo while Rodney had been talking to the two insurance moguls. Now he stood next to the weedy looking Ogrin and the gentlemanly Krawk.
“Pleasure to meet you, and to see you again, Mr. Stevenage,” Rodney said, shaking their hands.
“A pleasure indeed,” Stevenage replied, providing the same false smile he had the previous day.
Fredrick smiled back pleasantly. Mr. Stevenage had clearly been looking for some kind of hesitation, but he found none. Fredrick wasn’t going to give him a victory, not today.
“Rodney Clacks, did you say?” the Krawk that Tobik had identified as Mr. Jennings asked. “How interesting... I will watch your career with progress.”
He flashed a brief smile. It was almost identical to the one Stevenage had used, the one that told Fredrick he had been discovered. Undoubtedly, the Krawk had seen through Rodney Clacks as well.
What was Fredrick doing wrong? Everyone seemed to be able to spot him a mile off! The only person he’d managed to fool successfully was Tobik... and in Fredrick’s professional opinion, she could be conned by her own reflection.
There was a difference with Jennings, though... there was a twinkle in his eyes that said something extra.
I know what you are... and I couldn’t care less.
Before Fredrick had chance to think about it more, Tobik rushed him off towards the best seats as the games began again. There was a slightly less elaborate opening ceremony, and then the teams began to face each other again.
To be continued..