Intrigue at the Altador Cup: Part Six
“Rodney!” Tobik dripped with glee. “How wonderful to see you again!”
“A pleasure as always, Miss Tobik,” Rodney replied, bowing low.
The old Bruce giggled like a schoolgirl.
“I’m afraid we are still under close scrutiny,” she whispered, glancing meaningfully to the large bulk of Inspector Softpaw waiting near the doors. “But come, Arthur is just dying to talk with you more!”
Rodney was swept across Tobik’s lavish ballroom once more, and reintroduced to the high fliers of the party.
All the while, Fredrick glanced back towards Softpaw. Greenbolt was nowhere in sight, but soldiers kept coming in to whisper to the Eyrie. Had Greenbolt found Shome? Had he followed Fredrick to the Industrial District? Fredrick’s mind began to panic.
He had to do something; he had to protect Shome somehow, without giving himself up.
“So you see, the Captain’s hat was actually in the cupboard the entire time!” Arthur Munroe the Chomby laughed.
It must have been a particularly hilarious anecdote as laughter broke out immediately, and Fredrick could have sworn some of it was genuine.
“Has anyone seen Mr. Stevenage, by the way?” Miss Tobik asked in the ensuing conversation vacuum. “He was going to give my some advice on my stock portfolio.”
“He had to rush back to Neopia Central,” Fredrick lied quickly. “Something about a Stock Market meltdown, I think.”
“Oh what a pity,” Tobik sighed.
Fredrick relaxed slightly. He chanced a glance at Softpaw again, and quickly tensed up again. A new soldier had entered the room and was whispering to the Eyrie. Fredrick couldn’t be sure, but he thought the Inspector glanced at him.
Was Softpaw expecting Fredrick to make a move, to point out Shome in the room?
The Eyrie nodded at the guard, and began to make his way over to the group. He coughed politely as he reached them.
“I am sorry to interrupt you all, but I have just received some very important information,” he told them all.
Had Greenbolt found Shome? Fredrick’s heart raced.
“As you know, due to the activity at the matches today, we have begun investigations into the backgrounds of you all for any suspicious information,” Softpaw continued. “I regret to inform you we have discovered that one of your number is not who they say they are.”
They’ve found Shome then; it’s over... Fredrick thought to himself.
Then he heard the footsteps of more soldiers, and felt the hand of Softpaw on his shoulder. Something was wrong.
“There is no person named Rodney Clacks,” Softpaw said gravely. “There is no band, and there are no sell out shows. He has been lying to you since he arrived.”
Fredrick looked up in horror.
“What are you doing?” he asked as the other guests gasped.
“As I’m sure you remember, he is an avid Meridell fan,” Softpaw said as the soldiers surrounded Fredrick. “We believe he has been manipulating events to force the former Captain of Meridell, Sir Friedl, back into the game and propel the team to victory.”
“Greenbolt said I had more time!” Fredrick yelled.
“Take him away,” Softpaw muttered to the soldiers before turning to Tobik. “I am sorry for the inconvenience, Miss Tobik.”
He followed the guards and the screaming and shouting Fredrick out of the room.
“Where’s Inspector Greenbolt? I have a deal with him! I’m finding the real criminal for him!”
Softpaw smiled at Fredrick as he was led across the grass away from Tobik’s house.
“Nice try, but I don’t know anyone by that name,” he grunted.
“He’s your superior! He’s investigating the Cup for the council! A Yurble!” Fredrick insisted.
“I answer only to the Council members themselves. There is no Inspector Greenbolt in the Department of Internal Affairs,” Softpaw told him.
“There is no Greenbolt...?” Fredrick questioned.
But he’d seen the identification... hadn’t he? The Inspector had flashed it quickly, but Fredrick was observant. It had looked genuine. But if he wasn’t an Inspector, who was he?
Anger flashed through Fredrick’s mind as he made the connection. Shome had created Stevenage as his way into the party, but he’d created Greenbolt as a way of keeping Fredrick occupied. The more Fredrick investigated on behalf of Greenbolt, the more suspicious he’d become. The feeble old man presented to Fredrick in the warehouse was most likely a trick as well. Shome had manipulated him expertly.
“Wait, I can tell you who the real culprit is!” Fredrick shouted as all notions of loyalty to Shome evaporated. “It’s Mr. Stevenage, the Gnorbu from the party!”
“Mr. Stevenage’s story checks out. We’ve contacted the Stock Exchange in Neopia Central,” Softpaw said dismissively. “There is a broker by that name matching his description, who has recently taken some time off for a holiday.”
“No... that’s not right... Stevenage is Shome! Joseph Shome! The real Stevenage must be on holiday somewhere else!” Fredrick protested.
“Who is that?” Softpaw asked.
“He’s the greatest conman ever to live!” Fredrick shouted.
“I’ve never heard of him,” Softpaw commented.
“Of course you haven’t; that’s how good he is!” Fredrick explained.
“I think I’d have heard of someone as famous as that,” Softpaw scoffed.
“Well then, fine, I can show you where he is! I can show you him caught in the act! He’s trying to steal the Altador Cup tonight!” Fredrick told him.
Softpaw considered Fredrick’s story.
“You’d best not be lying, or it’ll be a whole lot worse for you,” he warned.
The Altador Cup was kept in a private room in the main stadium, just behind the royal box from which the Council observed the games. It was guarded around the clock, and that night was no exception. Stocky Neopets guarded all the doors, and more patrolled the rooftops and stands.
Softpaw and the soldiers, still tightly frogmarching Fredrick, walked up through the stands. The guards all nodded curtly to Softpaw and moved aside, and the Eyrie opened the doors as soon as he reached them.
There was the room, silent and dark.
There was the display case, polished to be crystal clear.
There was the Cup, sitting in pride of place just as it always had.
Softpaw turned to Fredrick, his nostrils flaring in anger.
“He must not have tried to steal it yet!” Fredrick suggested. “Send someone down to the paper warehouse in the Industrial District. You’ll find him there; he’s a purple Acara.”
“No, I’ve had enough of your games,” Softpaw said, taking Fredrick by the arm and forcibly leading him away. “The only purple Acara I know is Gerald Kent and he’s the smith who made the Altador Cup in the first place; I can’t see him wanting to steal it. You’re going to spend the night in the cells and in the morning you’d better start being cooperative.”
With one last glance back towards the Altador Cup, Fredrick was led away.
In Fredrick’s professional opinion, the cells in Altador were fairly decent. Dungeons in general were standard grotty affairs that Fredrick thought were perhaps all designed by the same wholesale company, but the ones in Altador had little touches like actual sheets on the bed that made them extra nice.
Despite this, Fredrick had not slept.
Softpaw had left him in the cells and was trying to use the ancient and well practiced method of interrogation known as Letting Him Sweat. Softpaw was undoubtedly the type of soldier who would attempt to play Good Cop Bad Cop with only the Bad Cop present.
The familiar jingle of the jailer’s keys greeted Fredrick just after dawn. A blue Draik who took far too much pride in his job appeared at the bars to Fredrick’s cell accompanied by a new soldier, a steely looking green Wocky.
“This is Private... Hopkins, was it?” the Draik jailer announced. “He’s going to take you to the Council so you can ‘explain yourself’, aha.”
It was a joke that clearly only the jailer understood.
The door was unlocked, and Fredrick was led out in chains. The jailer gave the key reverentially to Private Hopkins, and Fredrick was led out of the jail.
The streets were still empty in the early morning. Fredrick trudged on in the wake of the Wocky. The Council would decide his fate, and he doubted it would be a pleasant one.
He hardly noticed as the Wocky stopped dead, and walked into him. Fredrick looked around; they were in a back alley, nowhere near the Hall of Heroes.
“You’re very good at what you do, Fredrick Boggins,” the Wocky said, slowly turning around.
Fredrick didn’t think for a second, but then realised he was still a Quiggle. No one here knew that name.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“I do my research,” the Wocky answered. “I must say, no one but me would have suspected a thing about you if I hadn’t tipped off Softpaw.”
“Shome?” Fredrick gasped.
The Wocky smiled, and slowly unlocked the chains binding Fredrick.
“Why are you helping me?” Fredrick asked, rubbing his wrists.
“Because you helped me,” Shome laughed. “If you hadn’t distracted Softpaw for the entire night, I would never have gotten away with it.”
“You stole the Cup?” Fredrick asked.
“Of course not!” Shome told him. “The Cup’s a worthless trinket, mostly made out of tin. No, the Hall of Heroes has plenty of real treasure to steal. All this fuss about the Cup combined with your arrest made security at the Hall lax last night. I walked straight in.”
“And you are just letting me go? I know your face!” Fredrick considered, recalling the purple Acara in the warehouse.
“You know a face; it certainly isn’t mine. I haven’t used my real face in years... even I have difficulty remembering what I look like,” Shome explained. “It was a pleasure, Fredrick... goodbye.”
Swinging the key and whistling, he turned and left. At the mouth of the alley he turned back.
“I’d change form and get out of Altador quickly if I were you; they’ll be looking for Rodney Clacks soon enough,” he suggested, before disappearing round the corner.
Fredrick turned around. Where Shome had stopped, there was a small battered briefcase waiting. It was Fredrick’s; Shome must have rescued it from the hotel.
Fredrick opened it and selected a potion. He downed it in one slug, and a few seconds later, the familiar shadow Ruki emerged from the alleyway.
Fredrick Boggins melted into the growing crowd.
Rodney Clacks disappeared forever.