Mr. Jennings Must Die: Part One
Solomon Moody breathed in the sandy air of Sakhmet.
It was a dusty and foreign market city, and on the face of it an alien world to a man who had lived in Neopia Central all of his long life – but to Moody, it seemed almost familiar.
It worked the same, you see. Hard to notice at first, but it soon became clear to the grey Lenny that the principles he'd learnt in one city applied to the other.
He clutched the note tightly in his hand. Someone had made a request of him after he had fled the city, and it seemed such an entertaining proposal that he just couldn't help but accept.
And Moody had always said – always do a favour, never take an order.
Behind him, a vicious sandstorm was beginning to gather, and desert natives were beginning to file past him into the safety of the city.
Moody glanced down to the map that had been enclosed with the letter.
"Right then, my dears," he said to himself. "Let's get to work."
"I must congratulate you again on another fine piece of architecture, Mr. Oldnose," the green Krawk said in his 'attending a public function' voice. "This dam looks remarkably dam-like."
"Thank you, sir!" the zombie Meerca said nervously, before making his excuses.
"Mr. Jennings!" the shrill voice of the elderly Bruce that could only be Miss Tobik echoed across the room. "Mr. Jennings!"
Jennings turned to greet the old socialite, "A pleasure as always, Miss Tobik. Are you enjoying the function?"
"Why of course!" Tobik answered. "Personally, I don't see why this city needs a dam at all, but you know me – any excuse for a party!"
She gave a shrill little laugh that almost deafened Jennings. He elected to smile pleasantly while staring out the plate glass window at the reason for the gathering.
It was Neopia Central's first working dam – a mass of concrete that had been erected on the Batrin River to the south of the city, and was currently diverting water into the Lightwater River in Meridell. The crème de la crème of Neopia Central society had been invited to a grand unveiling ceremony.
"It's only temporary," Jennings explained to the old Bruce. "Some of the city's sewers run under the river further into the city, and they are in bad need of repair. Sadly the only way to access them properly is from above, and that, so I am told, required the river to be drained. Once the work is done, all this will be demolished and the water will run back into the Docklands once more. As for why the city's original builders decided to build part of the sewer system under the river in the first place – well, that is anyone's guess."
"It is rather eerie, I must say," Tobik confessed. "Like an enormous trench has suddenly appeared in the middle of the city."
Jennings gazed out at the now drained river bed. The receding waters had uncovered all manner of hidden gems, and purposely hidden secrets. Centuries of junk that the residents of the city had discarded had suddenly been shown the light of day.
"Disconcerting," he agreed.
Tobik seemed to have become distracted by something.
"Oh look!" he whispered to Jennings. "It's him! I heard a rumour he was in the city, but I didn't know for sure!"
Tobik made what she thought to be a covert gesture towards the far side of the room. There, a rather overweight desert Acara was entertaining some other residents of the Hills.
"Sheikh Al-Balim, you know?" Tobik carried on. "He's from the Lost Desert – supposed to own a lot of property down that way."
"Yes," Jennings answered darkly. "I do know."
He knew plenty more as well. The Sheikh had for a number of years been in charge of organised crime in the Lost Desert, much like Jennings himself was in Neopia Central – but Jennings considered himself to be far more superior. They had clashed briefly before, with the Sheikh being opposed to Jennings's interest in the Royal Qasalan Expellibox, but certain quick payments by Jennings had ensured the situation hadn't escalated.
"I had heard he was here as well," Jennings added, because he made it his business to hear such things about everyone.
"I should go and introduce myself," Tobik decided, waddling off through the crowds.
Jennings stared at Al-Balim for some time. Only once did the Acara catch the Krawk's eyes – and when they did, Jennings almost thought there was a knowing look greeting him.
"He's up to something," a voice from behind Jennings announced.
The Krawk turned to see Judge Hog, leader of the Defenders of Neopia. He was due to officially open the dam later.
"How can you be so sure?" Jennings asked.
"He's like you," the Judge answered. "People like you are always up to something."
"He is nothing like me," Jennings said firmly. "I have a better taste in suits, for one thing."
The Sheikh was wearing white desert robes and enough gold bangles to keep most of Meridell living like Kings – he went out of his way to flaunt his position and wealth.
But the Judge was right; the Sheikh was up to something. Not once had he visited Neopia Central since Jennings had arrived. A sudden trip away from the desert was not in his nature.
Outside, it had begun to rain. Small puddles in the riverbed were now forming, mere echoes of the mighty torrent that once ran above them.
"Well, that puts rest to ideas of doing this entire thing outside," the Judge said with a hint of satisfaction. "I think I shall have a talk to them about moving the ribbon indoors so I can cut it."
With that, the Judge disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived. Jennings enjoyed a few moments of solitude before being joined by Arthur Munroe, the zombie Chomby who owned a large chunk of the city's insurance sector, and effective head of the zombie rights movement.
He was an easy man to talk to, in that you didn't have to pay much attention to what he was actually saying provided you agreed and laughed in the correct places – as a result, Jennings would have been quite content to stay there all night.
But at once he was aware of a presence drifting across to them, the looming mass of the Sheikh had his target clearly in his sights.
"And you must be Mr. Jennings," he stated bluntly, intending there to be mock friendliness in the tone but somewhat failing in the delivery.
"Invariably I must," Jennings replied, managing the false cheeriness with considerably less effort. "And you must be Sheikh Al-Balim. I'm sure it's a pleasure for us to finally meet. I must confess to be surprised that you are in the city, I understood you do not often leave the desert."
"And rightly so, old boy," Arthur Munroe spoke up. "All that sun... why, if I were still capable of tanning, I would holiday there every year."
"Indeed," Jennings agreed. "Nevertheless, do we owe any particular reason for your visit, Sheikh?"
The Acara smiled a wide and greasy smile.
"Oh, I have my reasons," he answered. "Mostly business, though. Mostly business."
There was a lingering look towards Jennings, as if the smile was especially for him.
"Nice night for a walk," Al-Balim added.
"It's pouring down, man!" Munroe boomed, evidently missing the threatening undertones of the conversation.
"You know, we rarely get rain in the Lost Desert," Al-Balim explained. "It's somehow... quaint. But alas, I am engaged here, I could not possibly take a stroll."
"What a pity," Jennings commented.
"Indeed," the Sheikh said, the smile returning. "Given time, I should like to get very acquainted with you, Mr. Jennings."
"I'm sure you would," Jennings replied in a very purposely cold way.
It was the reaction the Sheikh was hoping for, as he gave another wide grin and left the pair of them alone. Jennings did not mind conceding the conversational victory to the man, as it meant he spent less time in their company – a small victory in itself.
"Unlike the Sheikh, I do have business to attend to," Jennings said to Munroe. "I do hope you can excuse me."
Jennings left the party, finding his carriage waiting outside. His assistant, Mr. Black, was sat atop it. The green Grarrl was wearing a long raincoat to shield him from the elements.
"The National Neopian Museum, sir?" he asked.
"Indeed," Jennings replied, but paused before entering the carriage.
Something about the Sheikh's words... it bothered him.
"Actually, I believe I may walk," Jennings decided.
"Sir?" Black questioned, looking up at the rain.
"Do you have an umbrella?" Jennings asked.
Black obliged, passing down a black umbrella from beside him.
"Take the rest of the night off," Jennings instructed as he unfurled the thing.
"Thank you, sir," Black answered, cracking the reins and disappearing into the night.
With umbrella in one hand and diamond tipped cane in the other, Jennings set off down the street.
The rain pelted down on the street, bouncing off the cobbles in a strange melody that was completely missed by the only occupants.
Two bodies were roughly thrown to the floor. The cowl on one was roughly torn, while the cape on the other settled over much of their still body.
The figure that had thrown them to the ground stood there for a moment, admiring the handiwork.
Then, carefully, purposefully, they dropped an object beside the bodies and walked off into the night.
The diamond at the top of the black cane shimmered between the bouncing raindrops.
To be continued...