Stealing Stones: Part Seven
"Somewhere else?" Basal questioned, looking around the room. "Not still on them I hope?"
"No," Funk grunted. "Stolen."
"Again!?" Basal shrieked.
Funk was right, Fredrick knew. It had to have been in the trinket box, it was too out of place to be anywhere else. And that meant it had to have been stolen between the time the thieves left the house and Funk entered.
That meant the thief was still nearby.
Fredrick scrambled up the drainpipe, creating a lot of noise. He heard the Ambassador question it inside, and Funk say something about the Ambassador putting his hands on the table, but Fredrick didn't care – time was of the essence.
He reached the roof, his vantage point. He scanned the horizon.
There! A streak of black and white against the blue sky. Whoever it was, they were already dropping back to street level.
Fredrick madly scrambled across the rooftops in pursuit, dropping down at the same place. The figure was already rounding the corner onto the next street.
Bad mistake, Fredrick thought as he gave chase.
Whoever they were, they had just turned onto Trawler's Parade, a long street that ran towards the port. There were no side alleys to dart off into until you reached the Old Shambles. This was Fredrick's home turf. He'd grown up with these streets, knew them like the back of his hand. There wouldn't be an escape.
Fredrick emerged onto the street and immediately caught sight of his target. A skunk Xweetok, looking back over her shoulder.
She was fast, but Fredrick could predict her movements. She turned into the Old Shambles just as he predicted, and rather than catch him off guard it gave him a boost. He tackled her from behind, forcing her to the ground and pinning her down.
"The diamond!" he demanded.
"I don't know what you are talking about," she replied.
That accent... she was from Shenkuu.
"I work for General Qin, I won't warn you again," Fredrick threatened.
They were hollow words, but dropping Jennings's old name appeared to have the desired effect. The thief offered her small coin purse, which Fredrick opened to reveal the glinting diamond.
"Who do you work for?" Fredrick questioned.
"I won't tell you," the thief replied.
"The Shenkuu government?" Fredrick asked.
The thief said nothing, confirming Fredrick's question.
"What will you do, kill me?" she asked.
Fredrick released her, "I have what I want. Go back home, the Thieves Guild won't be looking kindly on you here."
She didn't need telling twice.
"I should have known," Jennings mused, watching the city below through his window. "One of the attempts on the museum was a tunnel dug all the way underneath. Such an attempt is well-thought out and prepared... so very Shenkuu."
He turned back to face Fredrick at his desk. The diamond sat atop the desk.
"A thief from Shenkuu named Kaitou was spotted in Neopia Central only a few days ago – I did not make the connection until now."
"We're finished then?" Fredrick asked.
"I think so," Jennings replied, picking up the diamond. "Your reward is well deserved."
He took a small file out of his desk drawer and handed it to Fredrick.
"I thought this burned?" Fredrick gasped.
"You really think an organisation as sophisticated as Area 26 did not possess some sort of photocopier?" Jennings asked. "A deception I am not proud of, but a necessary one. Your real name is Mr. Harrison Forthright. I regret to inform you that your mother is dead, set about by thieves in the Docklands. Myra Boggins rescued you from the same fate and raised you. Your father believes you both died, but he is still alive, you will find him at the listed address."
Fredrick almost found himself saying thanks for the information, but he stopped the words before they could form. Jennings was a monster that deserved no thanks.
Regardless, the Krawk seemed to pick up on the unspoken words, "You're welcome, Mr. Forthright."
The darkness of the sewers was punctured by the lantern the Lutari held. Ambassador Basal was thrown to the floor, his hands bound.
"What is the meaning of this!?" the Usul demanded. "I am paying you good money!"
"Not as good as me, unfortunately," a voice from the darkness answered.
Judge Hog stepped into the circle of light. "Viridian is an undercover operative for the Defenders, Ambassador. Welcome to your own little sting operation."
"What?" Basal asked, his eyes wide with horror. "You have no proof!"
The Ambassador's attendant, the relic Nimmo, stepped into the light.
"We were tipped off by Quart before you even arrived in the city," the Judge explained. "Viridian's testimony will give the case weight, and then there's your other employee."
Rhyo, the Acara thief stepped into the light.
"She's agreed to turn state's evidence," the Judge added. "You're looking at a long stretch inside, Ambassador, we've got a cell waiting just for you. Fraud, theft, attempted murder... a long list."
"This is madness!" Basal shouted. "The entire Moltaran government will be toppled if this goes public! Is that what you want?"
"I want to catch criminals, Ambassador," the Judge replied. "You're coming with me."
The Moehog picked up the Usul and led him away into the darkness, followed by Quart and Rhyo.
Viridian Funk lingered a few moments before extinguishing the lantern and returning to the surface to continue his work.
The red Lenny in Shenkuu garb let herself into her office slowly. It had been an exhausting few days. The Shenkuu embassy was hardly a grand affair, but it did the job.
The desk lamp clicked on.
"Good day, Ambassador Subhuti," Mr. Jennings greeted her.
"I wondered how long it would be," she admitted. "You're quicker than I thought. I only just heard that Kaitou has fled for the mountains."
"Was it you?" Jennings asked. "Or did the order come from higher up? The Emperor perhaps?"
"I don't know what you are talking about," Subhuti said pleasantly. "But if I did, I might say that this goes all the way to the top. Does it matter? The diamond, as I'm sure you know, is a fake. A Shenkuu conflict diamond. Is it wrong for us to want it back? It was stolen from us in the first place by Sakhmetian invaders."
"Of course not, which is why I haven't informed the Judge," Jennings replied. "I was in charge of stopping the smuggling of the diamonds, Ambassador. I failed as a commander, I don't like seeing them away from their home any more than you."
He took the diamond out of his pocket and placed it on the desk.
"Which is why I'm just going to leave this here," Jennings said. "If interested parties happen to come along and pick it up... well, I shall be powerless to stop them."
He stood up and made his way to the door.
"Good day, Ambassador. Consider this the last act of a loyal General."
The Meridell squires were busy loading Lady Celeriac's luggage onto the regal carriage, watched like a hawk by the red Gelert.
She saw Mr. Jennings arrive, but did not do him the courtesy of acknowledging his presence until he was stood right next to her.
"You are leaving so soon?" Jennings enquired.
"As much as I would love to catch up on old times, I have business in Meridell I must attend to," she answered. "I have wasted entirely too much time with all this fun and games."
"Yes," Jennings said, once again puzzled to the reference of a past relationship that he did not recall. "About that. Ambassador Basal has been arrested. It appears he was trying to pass off a fake as the real thing, and extract insurance money from the theft he himself arranged."
"A despicable character," Celeriac agreed. "We wouldn't allow such sorts in Meridell. The diamond?"
"Mysteriously vanished," Jennings said. "It was a Shenkuu conflict diamond, you know? Worthless compared to the original, but still a sizable value by itself."
"Remarkable," Celeriac commented.
"It has made me wonder who stole the original," Jennings said. "It would need to be someone very wealthy to afford the replacement diamond. And I imagine they would be interested to learn what became of their efforts."
"What is it you are claiming, Mr. Jennings?" Celeriac asked.
"Mr. Boggins, whom I believe you are acquainted with, has revealed the identities of the would be thieves who attempted runs on the museum. One was Basal, another myself, the Sakhmet and Shenkuu governments, and of course the Moltaran extremists. That's five interested parties – I would allege there is a sixth. The original thief."
"Not for a trivial reason like enjoying diamonds," Jennings said. "I don't doubt that you, like myself, tend to play long games. The theft of the diamond has put in motion a chain of events that will lead to restructuring at the top of the Moltaran government. I've done a little digging and discovered a major trade route you were planning with Moltara has been blocked by the current government."
"And what do you intend to do with this information, Mr. Jennings?" Celeriac asked.
"Nothing," Jennings confessed. "I have no interest in Meridell affairs. I just wanted you to know that I know."
Celeriac smiled pleasantly, climbing into her carriage. There was something infectious about this lady, something Jennings couldn't help but like.
"It occurs to me that you have been spending time in my city," Jennings said to her before she closed the door. "Perhaps I should come and visit yours someday soon?"
Celeriac smiled to herself. "I could think of nothing better."
Number 67, Kensington Avenue.
It wasn't the most glamorous address in Neopia Central – it certainly wasn't in the Hills – but it was a decent home. It was well out of the Docklands, that's for sure.
Fredrick stood in front of the door now, afraid to knock. According to the Area 26 file, inside would be Archibald Forthright – widower, and soon to be father.
Fredrick was leaving his old life behind. He wasn't Fredrick Boggins anymore. He wasn't a con man, wasn't a swindler. He hadn't been imprisoned in more countries than he could count, and he certainly never changed his species.
He was Harrison Forthright now. It was time to start afresh.
Plucking up the courage, he finally knocked on the door. A moment later an old brown Ruki opened it. Immediately the family resemblance was clear.
"Can I help you, son?" the elder Ruki asked.
The younger smiled at the word, unintentional as it was.
"Yes," he replied, holding out the file from Area 26. "I think you can."
Author's Note: If you're reading this, then according to my calculations I should have just reached 200 NT trophies – the most ever. Yay for achievements! Thanks to anyone who has ever taken the time to read any of my little stories – and here's to 200 more!