Good Foundations: Part Four
The Kougra stood before Seth Vargo, not daring to make eye contact.
“He dares to disrespect me!?” the Skeith roared, stray food being blown to all corners of the restaurant.
“He took us by surprise, sir!” the Kougra blurted out.
“Surprise? Surprise!?” Vargo bellowed. “You were lying in wait for him! You’ve failed me!”
The Skeith threw an empty plate at the Kougra, which knocked him backwards.
“You’ve all failed me...” Vargo added, snarling at the various bodyguards around him.
“What do you want us to do, boss?” the Kougra asked.
Vargo slammed his fist on the table, “Isn’t it obvious!? Make him pay! Make him suffer! No one messes with Seth Vargo! I built this city! It’s mine!”
The Kougra nodded.
“Now!” Vargo yelled. “Do it now, you idiot!”
“Yes, boss!” the Kougra said quickly, before rushing out, closely followed by another few of Vargo’s men.
The Skeith massaged his temples. He’d lost most of his good men in that fight... it had been stupid to send the best. Now all he had were the dregs, the brainless grunts.
He glared at the nearest one out of the corner of his eye.
“Get me Lady Cambridge,” he ordered.
Jennings stood in the Marketplace, his hands clenched into fists.
His face, to anyone passing by, would have looked completely normal. Mr. Black however knew Jennings well. He could tell that beneath the surface he was boiling with rage.
The office of Mr. Jennings was on fire, the flames billowing high into the morning air.
Jennings stood there, watching the flames consume his workplace.
But it was more than that, Black knew.
Jennings had been exiled from Shenkuu, his home taken from him by the very person he had pledged to serve. He had found a new home, Neopia Central. That office had been the very embodiment of it, of the second chance Jennings was so convinced the city had given him.
Now it was gone.
The Defenders arrived not long after and managed to extinguish the flames before they spread to the other buildings.
“You’ve made an enemy, Mr. Jennings,” the Judge told him as he ambled up.
The Moehog passed over a small lump of parchment, badly burned.
Jennings tore it in half without saying a word and threw it over his shoulder.
“Did anything survive?” he asked.
“There was one thing,” the Judge told him.
The Moehog led Jennings and Black to the smoking remains of the building. There, at the back of the former office, an ancient map of Neopia lay burned and soaked on the blackened floor.
The Judge held it up for Jennings to see. Only the very core of the map had been saved from the fire; the outer reaches of Shenkuu and Altador had completely disintegrated.
There, in the centre of the map, there was a city.
Neopia Central had survived.
“How appropriate,” Jennings said joylessly, taking the charred map from the Judge.
“I don’t want a turf war over this,” the Judge said warily.
“You won’t have a war, I can guarantee that much,” Jennings replied plainly.
The brown Ixi smirked ruthlessly at Vargo.
“I told you,” Lady Cambridge mocked him. “I said not to underestimate him.”
“I got him back,” Vargo sneered.
“Yes, I heard about that,” the Ixi considered. “That may have been a tad foolish.”
“How so?” Vargo grunted.
“You didn’t kill him,” Lady Cambridge stated. “As they say, such things only make people stronger.”
“He can’t touch me,” Vargo said dismissively. “I still have my boys.”
Lady Cambridge glanced for the merest of seconds at the handful of bodyguards that flanked Vargo at the table. In that second, she saw how they looked at him with an air of uncertainty, and how they seemed to be sitting ever so slightly further away from him than would be expected.
She could tell what was going to happen already.
“Don’t be so sure of yourself,” she told the Skeith. “You have underestimated Jennings twice now.”
“I asked you here to tell me a way of finishing him,” Vargo growled. “I didn’t ask you to just tell me what not to do.”
“You don’t want my advice?” the Ixi asked. “Fine, you’re on your own.”
She got up from the table and left Vargo to his thoughts.
The carriage rattled on through the streets of Neopia Central as night set in once more. Jennings was lost in his own thoughts as he stared out of the window at the passing buildings.
Vargo was dangerous, even in his weakened position. Everyone knew this.
Jennings himself had nothing to fear; after all, standard Shenkuu Imperial Army training was more than sufficient to deal with the physical strength of a street thug. However, Vargo’s men could still cause damage to Jennings.
They had proven that at the office when they burned it down. Vargo still had enough brainless thugs working for him to make business very difficult for Mr. Jennings.
He had to remove them from the picture somehow before he could target Vargo himself. He couldn’t find them all, though, that would be far too tedious.
How to remove them?
Jennings found his eyes drifting down to the small bag of gold by his side. He smiled.
Lost Desert gold... Jennings had no use for it. It could never be sold, not really. That’s why Kanrik had melted it all down into Neopoints. It wasn’t even worth that much, not compared to the amount Jennings was making out of the city.
But to the common man, it would seem like riches. They would leap at the chance to have it.
Jennings smirked to himself. After all, he often said it was better to remove a problem blocking your way rather than work around it...
Jennings leaned forwards and banged on the wall of the carriage.
“We need to find the Kougra that we let go!” he called to Mr. Black outside.
“Yes, sir,” the voice of his assistant came back.
The carriage slowed, and then set off down another street.
Johnny Twobit, that’s what they called him, largely because they said if you crossed him, two bits was all they’d find.
Like most things in Neopia Central, that was of course a lie. It was an exaggeration told to build up his reputation. Which isn’t to say that Johnny wasn’t mean, and hadn’t hit people over the head before, but he wasn’t that mean.
He was from the Docklands, like most of Seth Vargo’s men. He’d been brought up in a world where Vargo was in control, and you paid him respect, or at very least protection money.
Yet in recent years, the red Kougra had found his trust in Vargo faltering. He mostly just sat in Pizzaroo all day anyway, and it was down to his underlings to keep the Docklands ticking.
Vargo’s Boys had become known about the place because of that. Everyone knew who they were, and everyone considered Johnny to be one of the brightest.
That wasn’t saying much, though, as the typical entrance exam for Vargo’s outfit was being able to tell the difference between a tree and a cloud.
Nevertheless, Johnny’s position, and the respect given to him, allowed him to pretty much go wherever he pleased in the Docklands. He was let straight in to the seedy backstreet tavern and seated right in the heart of an illegal Cheat game.
Johnny got out a handful of Neopoints and prepared to make a bet as a hand very firmly clamped his shoulder.
“You have an appointment with Mr. Jennings,” a voice said in his ear.
Johnny was forced very quickly into the alleyway behind the tavern. Mr. Jennings was waiting there, leaning against the wall.
“I see you have a nasty bruise, Mr. Twobit,” Jennings observed, pointing to the Kougra’s eye.
Johnny looked away from the Krawk. “Mr. Vargo wasn’t happy you weren’t in the office.”
Jennings smiled. “So it was you that did it. I must confess I am beginning to regret letting you leave the construction site.”
Jennings moved his cane ever so slightly. Johnny flinched.
“As I told you, Mr. Twobit, I am a very generous man,” Jennings added.
“So you’re going to get it over with quick, is that it?” Johnny asked.
“No! Whatever would give you that idea?” Jennings laughed. “Neopia Central is a city of second chances, Mr. Twobit. You chose to work for Mr. Vargo. This is a perhaps foolish choice, as many people would suspect that Mr. Vargo will no longer be in charge very soon. I am offering you a second chance, to make a more reasoned choice.”
“Eh?” Johnny asked.
Mr. Black cleared his throat. “He’s offering you a job.”
“Mr. Vargo won’t be very happy about that,” Johnny pointed out, instinctively scratching near his eye.
“I should hope not,” Jennings replied. “You have a reputation as a smart man, Mr. Twobit. I imagine you can see just as plainly as I that Mr. Vargo’s hold on the Docklands is slipping. If it isn’t me, sooner or later someone else will come along and remove him. I am offering you the chance to switch to the winning side.”
Johnny bit his lip.
“I am of course offering to increase your pay,” Jennings added. “There will also be an introductory bonus... I believe they call it a golden handshake.”
Jennings held out his hand. A gold ring gleamed in his palm. Johnny was no expert in jewellery, but he knew it had to be worth a lot.
Slowly, and with caution, Johnny took the ring.
“Excellent.” Jennings smiled. “Now, I am prepared to offer the same deal to anyone else currently working for Mr. Vargo, do you understand?”
Johnny nodded eagerly.
“A pleasure doing business with you,” Jennings told him.
To be continued...