Stealing Stones: Part Two
Fredrick could hardly have refused Mr. Jennings's offer of a lift. Mr. Black was stood behind him in the kind of way that made it clear that escape would be an unwise career choice.
Instead, he sat down opposite the Krawk as the carriage resumed its progress.
"I must say how enjoyable it is to see that you are well, Mr. Boggins." Jennings smiled.
"I'm not doing it," Fredrick stated bluntly. "I'm not into that sort of thing anymore."
"You don't even know what it is yet, or for that matter if there even is an it," Jennings pointed out.
"I've gone straight," Fredrick insisted.
"Going well for you?" Jennings smirked. "I heard about what happened in Meridell. Dreadful mess, accidentally helping destroy a force that could have stopped a war."
"That was different," Fredrick told him.
"Then please go ahead and consider this little job 'different' as well," Jennings replied, as if the matter of Fredrick's refusal was a minor point. "You will of course be paid."
"I don't want your money. You're a crook," Fredrick said.
"Perhaps. Aren't we all?" Jennings smiled. "But I wasn't going to offer you my money. I have something much more valuable."
The Krawk placed a small paper folder on his lap. A photograph of the shadow Ruki that was Fredrick was paper clipped to the front.
"I've seen that before," Fredrick pointed out.
Jennings had intimidated him once before with a file on his activities. It didn't hold the same menace the second time around.
"No, you've seen my file on you before," Jennings corrected him, gesturing to the stamp on the cover that read 'Area 26'.
Jennings took small delight in the twinge of fear that now entered Fredrick's eyes.
"You may or may not know, but recently I acquired Area 26," Jennings added. "A secret organisation buried deep below Neopia Central, dedicated to finding things out. The vast archives that Area 26 have gathered are now slowly being added to the Neopedia archives over at the National Neopian Museum, but there is a lot of information, and some things... well, they are slipping through the net."
"Into your greedy hands," Fredrick guessed.
Jennings said nothing, only opening the file and beginning to read.
"Known aliases include Lord Price Northolt, John White, Rodney Clacks, Colin Lopside, Alfie Cartwright..."
"Alfie Cartwright?" Fredrick questioned. "I've only ever used that name once."
"Yes, conning a young broker outside the stock exchange when you were only ten years old, according to this file," Jennings confirmed. "As you can see, this file is very complete."
Fredrick was interested, that much was true. But a list of aliases wasn't enough to risk breaking his new moral code.
Jennings seemed to pick up on this. "You might be interested to learn that Fredrick Boggins is on this list of aliases."
"It's not your given name," Jennings told him. "There's details here of Myra Boggins, the woman who took you in when you were found seemingly orphaned as a baby in the Docklands, details of how she gave you the name you now use before falling to illness. But there are details before that. This file contains your real name, Mr. Boggins, and the names of your parents."
Instinctively Fredrick's hand reached for the file, but Jennings drew it back.
"You're a monster!" Fredrick spat. "You can't blackmail me like this!"
"Come now, Mr. Boggins, we both know that I can and that I just have," Jennings said. "So, now that the terms of your employment are set, would you like to hear what the job is?"
Fredrick felt sick, the knowledge of who he really was, the identity he'd been missing all these years, was only a few feet away. But in order to get it, he needed to make a deal with this old crook.
"Yes," he said bitterly.
"Good," Jennings said, setting the folder aside. "There is a Moltaran diamond of considerable size and worth being exhibited in the National Neopian Museum. It is known as the Obsidian Heart. I want you to steal it."
"You couldn't get a thief to do that?" Fredrick asked.
"I could, but your company is just so illuminating that I decided to pick you instead," Jennings said with heavy sarcasm. "No, Mr. Boggins. I want it stolen, not so I can have the thing, but so I can find out who it is that wants the thing."
"I don't follow," Fredrick admitted.
"I believe that the diamond on display is a fake," Jennings explained. "Something is afoot in the Museum, and I must know what."
"You're a diamond expert now, as well?" Fredrick laughed.
"Alas, I am no diamantaire," Jennings admitted. "However, there is a specific type of diamond that I am skilled at recognising. You see, during my tenure as a General in Shenkuu, the Empire had a brief but bloody conflict with certain powers in the Lost Desert. Back then, official diplomatic relations between the two powers hadn't opened, so the Sakhmetians thought they could just claim the Empire's diamond mines. There was a sizable black market trade in the diamonds from those mines during the struggle, and they became known as Shenkuu Conflict Diamonds. I was tasked with disrupting the smuggling, meaning I had to become familiar with the diamonds in question. The Obsidian Heart that now sits in the museum is strikingly similar to such diamonds. This, coupled with the fact that the Lost Desert ambassador gave me an exceptionally rare gift at the opening gala for no particular reason makes me deeply suspicious. You know what they say, Mr. Boggins, never trust Sakhmetians baring gifts."
"There are three options, as I see it," Jennings added. "The Obsidian Heart may have been a fake from the offset. I find this unlikely, as it has been examined by experts before. Alternatively, it has been stolen at some point between discovery and exhibition, and replaced with a fake. The question then is only if the Moltaran government is aware of the theft or not."
"And you think stealing it will give you the answers?" Fredrick asked.
"Certainly," Jennings replied. "If they aren't aware of the original theft, they'll try and get it back come the second."
Catching a look in Fredrick's eyes, he added, "Rest assured, you won't be in any danger, Mr. Boggins. Mr. Black will be keeping an eye on you."
"How reassuring," Fredrick supplied weakly.
The carriage was coming to a gentle stop, and Mr. Black opened the door. Outside, it had stopped raining.
"Quick results please, Mr. Boggins," Jennings requested.
The Ruki left the pair as their carriage continued on down the city streets. They had left him right in the middle of the art district. The large marble construct that was the museum loomed nearby.
It wouldn't be a particularly pleasant job, helping Jennings, but the thought of the potential prize was more than enough to keep Fredrick's mind on the task at hand.
Due to the large amount of researchers hidden in the seemingly endless depths of the Museum's back rooms, the place was never really locked up at night. In fact, if he had wanted to, Fredrick could have walked in the front door, right past the room the diamond was being exhibited in. Though the public rooms containing the diamond, giant Petpet skeletons, and Tyrannian cave paintings were locked, of course. For this reason, Fredrick thought it was still best to wait until night fall before attempting a theft.
It wasn't a particularly classy attempt – Fredrick's skills were in impersonation and manipulation, not breaking and entering – but he wagered that Jennings would not have selected him for the job if he didn't know already that the Museum's security systems were less than impressive.
The Museum's roof had been easy enough to gain access to during the daylight hours. A remarkably gullible old Bruce on the reception of the building had believed Fredrick's lie that he was here to assess the roof for repairs and structural weaknesses, and he had been let in. Of course, he'd been using a different face at the time.
Because that was the thing with Fredrick Boggins. It wasn't enough to just pretend to have a different name, at the end of the day people would still remember a shadow Ruki.
So long ago he'd concocted his own brand of morphing potions that he used to great effect. The receptionist had let a blue Gnorbu past; as far as she was concerned there wasn't even a shadow Ruki involved.
As night fell on the roof, Fredrick changed back to his normal form. The dark hues of shadow were always helpful for blending in at night, and the extra limbs of his Ruki form wouldn't go amiss.
When he was sure he had waited long enough, he edged over to one of the sky lights that shone down onto the diamonds exhibition room. Carefully, he began to etch out a circle in the glass. Once it was complete, he took a small suction cup from his bag and used it to pry the circle of glass away from the whole.
Carefully he tethered a length of rope to the air conditioning outlet on the roof, and began to lower himself down into the room.
The room itself didn't have any motion sensors, Fredrick was confident of that much. Before the diamond's arrival, it had housed a model of a giant Walein that was spectacular but not all that valuable. Fredrick doubted there would have been time to install any extra security.
Of course, the security that came direct from Moltara would be present on the display itself. A pressure sensor at the very least, probably some movement sensors and maybe even some sort of sound or heat sensor as well. They were obstacles Fredrick was prepared to deal with. The prize was too valuable to allow failure to enter his mind.
He spun as he lowered himself, checking the outer doors to the room to make sure that no one was approaching. At last, he came to a stop and span himself back round to reach the display.
His heart skipped a beat.
The diamond was gone.
To be continued...