Magic Vs. Money: Part Four
Part 4: A Visit to the Mayor
Sophie walked slowly away from NeoCorp Headquarters, thinking to herself. She’d made a few mistakes in confronting Mr. Mogul, the biggest being going directly to him in the first place. Now he knew she was aware of what he’d done and that she was trying to get the Winters family out of his building. That would make things difficult. Then again, she’d learned about his magical defenses and it would have been bad to find out about it the hard way. She doubted he would have treated her so kindly if she’d been caught trying to break into his headquarters just as much as she doubted he was treating Talya’s parents very well.
But what to do now? They wouldn’t let her in a second time and she had little chance of getting in if the security was told to expect her. There had to be another way. She was sure there was; she just needed to figure out what.
She paused, chin cupped in her hand, thinking. Glancing up, she saw she had wandered her way to the mayor’s mansion. It had been vacant for years after she’d been forced to deal with the power-mad Thumburt, but it was once again in use. She’d heard from her parents about the new mayor – Johannes, she thought his name was – but she’d never bothered to find out more. Perhaps it was time to change that.
Stepping up the porch, she rapped on the front door and waited. A few moments later, the door was answered by a member of the staff, a blue Quiggle in a garish polka-dotted bow tie. He looked her up and down, smiling broadly.
“Can I help you?”
“I’d like to see the mayor,” she said. “Is he available?”
“Well, he’s always busy,” he said. “But I think he’d be willing to make an exception to you, Ms. Sophie, considering how much this town owes you.”
“Good. Take me to him, please.”
The butler bent at the waist in a deep bow and motioned for her to follow. He led her through the old mansion, up the winding staircase to the mayor’s office on the second floor. At the door, he motioned for her to wait and then went in alone. Sophie tried to get a peak in the office, but the door closed too quickly. Down the hall, a Cybunny maid looked up from dusting the furniture and recognized the swamp witch. Sophie clasped her hands behind her back and did her best to look serious. After a moment, the door opened again and the butler came out and gestured for her to go in, bowing once again.
“Thank you,” Sophie said as she went in, closing the door behind her.
Mayor Johannes was an orange Kyrii. A golden chain for a pocket watch hung from the pocket on his black vest and a top hat rested over his dark yellow hair. He looked at her across his cluttered desk, his left eye seeming huge beneath the monocle he wore over it. He smiled without showing his teeth and beckoned her forward before looking back to one of the papers on his desk, signing it with his quill pen. Sophie took a seat on the cushioned chair in front of the desk and laid her wand on her lap. Mayor Johannes set the paper aside and shuffled through the mess until he found a little brass bell and rang it. The butler came back into the room and bowed.
“Please, bring some tea for my guest.”
The butler bowed again and left.
“That’s really not necessary,” said Sophie. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I can see you’re busy.”
“Nonsense.” The mayor dismissed the mountains of paperwork heaped on his desk with a wave of his hand. “This is all just formality. Kind like my job, actually. The town really runs itself, but the king of the land wanted the office filled, so here I am. You honestly won’t put me too far behind on anything. I mean, if this town really needed a mayor, someone would have taken the job right after Thumburt.”
Sophie gave Mayor Johannes a sideways glance, a little concerned with his blasé attitude about his work. Somehow, she felt that the mayor should take his job a little more seriously, even if the work didn’t seem all that important to him. It was an official leadership position, if nothing else.
“Well,” she said, “I still don’t want to be too much of a bother.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m the mayor; it’s my job to help in whatever way I can. So, what can I do for you?”
“Well, I have a problem with NeoCorp.”
Mayor Johannes buried his face in his hands, groaning unhappily. “Oh, no, not again. Look,” he said, the words coming out in a torrent, “I know it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town and I did bring that up with them when they asked for a permit to build here, but they ignored me. Really, what do you expect me to do about it now that it’s already built? If more people had paid attention at the town meeting . . .”
“It’s not that,” Sophie interrupted. “As much as it does stand out, I wouldn’t be bothering you with something so trivial as that. Members of Mr. Mogul’s security team were trespassing in my swamp yesterday.”
The mayor leaned back, squinting a bit. The sudden defensiveness of his expression gave Sophie pause. Hesitantly, she continued.
“They were apparently looking for a little girl. Mr. Mogul had ordered her family abducted and she ran into my swamp. They also injured her in the process.”
Mayor Johannes nervously cleared his throat. “You don’t say.”
“I do say,” she replied. “You need to have Mr. Mogul release the girl’s family. They’re being illegally held against their will.”
The mayor fiddled nervously with the quill pen, his eyes darting left and right. If he was making any attempt to mask his discomfort over the situation, he wasn’t doing a very good job. After a long, awkward pause, he cleared his throat again, focusing his gaze somewhere over Sophie’s face that was slightly below her eyes.
“I, uh . . . don’t suppose you have any proof?”
“I have the girl at my home waiting to hear word of her parents’ release. She misses her parents very much,” she added, wondering if begging for sympathy would work.
The mayor wetted his lips with his tongue and scratched one ear. “Well, I don’t think that’s good enough.”
“Not good enough?” Sophie demanded, rising from her chair. “How can that not be good enough.”
The mayor shrank back in his chair, melting into the cushions like a scoop of ice cream on a hot day. “Well . . . you see . . . well . . .” His voice raised an octave. “Ummm . . .”
The door opened and the butler returned with a silver tea tray. Sophie sat back down as he laid it on the end table, pouring her a cup and filling the air with the scent of peppermint. She noticed that while the butler was pouring another for the mayor, Johannes was scrambling for something to say. She fixed her gaze on him while the butler handed the teacup over.
“Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes,” said the mayor with a cough. “Thank you.”
The butler bowed again and left. Sophie kept her glare trained on the squirming mayor. He raised the glass to his lips in trembling hands and took a long, slow sip, his eyes fixed on something behind her that wasn’t really there. He put the cup back down and cleared his throat again.
“Well,” he said. “You understand that a little girl’s word isn’t exactly very dependable, right? I mean, young children sometimes don’t understand the situation.”
“There’s also one of his bodyguards,” she said as patiently as she could manage. “He’ll tell you that his orders were to find the girl and her mother and take them back to NeoCorp Headquarters.”
“Can he say why?”
“Well, no, not exactly. He told me he wasn’t important enough to know why he was being given orders, but he was told to get the girl’s family.”
The mayor sat leaning as far back as he could without tipping his chair, drumming his fingers, his mouth a tight, tiny line.
“But he didn’t know why?”
“No,” Sophie admitted. “But how does that matter?”
“Well,” said the mayor carefully. “If he doesn’t know what it was about, then it could be for other reasons; perhaps even for their safety.”
“They broke the girl’s arm.”
“That very well could have been an accident.”
Sophie’s glare could have melted rocks. She let the mayor squirm under it for a few more moments before speaking again.
“Why are you defending NeoCorp?” she asked in a menacingly soft voice.
The mayor loosened the collar of his shirt with one finger, smiling nervously. “Well, I’m just telling you how it is. Legally speaking.”
Sophie continued to glare. The mayor took another quick sip of his tea. Sophie still hadn’t taken her first drink.
“Please, understand,” said the mayor, stuttering a bit. “You can’t really build a case against Mr. Mogul with what you’ve told me. You don’t have any evidence beyond hearsay.”
“Hearsay?” Sophie said, her anger rising. “Mr. Mogul himself told me he was holding them in custody.”
“Ah, but even if that’s true, I very much doubt that he would admit to that if I asked him myself, so it’s your word against his.”
The mayor gritted his teeth. “And . . . and, well . . . look, I know Mr. Mogul. I can’t believe that he’d do such a thing. He’s a respectable businessman, not a kidnapper. I can vouch for his character in that much and you . . . Well, no offense, but you don’t have the best reputation.”
Sophie drew a deep breath, feeling her rage boil over, but she forced herself to keep her voice calm. “What exactly is wrong with my reputation?”
“Well, they say that you . . .” Mayor Johannes paused, running the sentence through his mind a second time. “Well, you’ve always . . .” but by how wide his eyes went, that must have sounded worse to him. “Um . . .”
“I’m waiting,” Sophie said, letting a hint of her anger show in her voice.
“Please don’t hurt me,” the mayor begged. “Or . . . do anything else . . . unpleasant. I’m just the middleman here. There’s not a lot I can do with what you’ve given me. I mean, I could put in an inquiry with NeoCorp, but I really don’t think there’s enough evidence to justify a search of his company and unless he’s willing to admit to what you just told me, there’s not much I can do.”
Sophie clenched her fists. “I don’t believe this.”
“Well, it’s rather difficult to believe what you’re telling me,” said the mayor. “Mr. Mogul’s been very generous with the townsfolk since he set up here – you can ask any of them, if you like – and he’s always been very amiable with me personally. From where I sit, he seems like an upstanding citizen and I can’t see why he’d do something like this. At the very least, it’s bad publicity. At the worst . . . well, it’s not good, I can tell you that much.”
“So, let me see if I understand this,” Sophie said slowly. “You’ll believe Mr. Mogul if he says he didn’t do it, but you won’t believe me when I say he did?”
“What I believe has nothing to do with it,” answered the mayor. “I can’t see any reason why you’d lie about this, but I don’t know you very well. My word isn’t going to count for much and the evidence you’ve given me doesn’t help either. It’s not that I don’t want to help, there’s simply nothing I can do. Not without more solid evidence than what you’ve got.”
Sophie stared long and hard at the trembling Kyrii. She took a sip of her tea and set the cup aside.
She rose from the chair, her wand clasped in her hand. Mayor Johannes eyed it nervously.
“I’m sorry for wasting your time,” she said, turning her back to the mayor. “I’ll be going now.”
The mayor hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until it came out in a relieved sigh. “Think nothing of it,” he said. “If you can get any other evidence, I’ll help you in what way I can. I’m sorry I can’t do more.”
“But feel free to drop by if you need anything else,” said the mayor helpfully. “I’ll be glad to help.”
Sophie paused at the door, glancing back at the mayor over her shoulder. “I appreciate the offer,” she said coldly, “but from where I sit, you don’t seem to be able to do all that much.”
She slammed the door behind her. Sitting alone in his office, Mayor Johannes took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow and let out another heavy sigh, relieved beyond words that his hide was still attached to his body and that his body was still the same shape it had always been.
Outside the office, Sophie let herself be led out of the mayor’s mansion, then made her way out of town back to her shack. So, she needed more evidence, did she? Well, she wasn’t out of options just yet. There was still at least one person left she knew who might be able to help her.
If she could talk him into it.
To be continued...