Mr. Jennings Must Die: Part Three
Mr. Black's small home in the Docklands was not built as an office, but it would have to suffice. The Sheikh had seized the Jennings tower, so he had nowhere else to go. Now, papers from the Defender of Neopia files were spread across the table in his front room, and the pictures of the two hospitalised superheroes were now pinned to his wall.
One was an orange Grundo in a lurid pink outfit that included a cowl covering much of his face – he preferred to be known as Jumbleberryman, and listed his super powers as including Atomic Taste Buds and Super Fruit Strength. The second Defender was a Skunk Tuskaninny sporting a similarly dark cape that seemed quite impractical in length. He called himself The Unending Stench, and purportedly possessed super powers surrounding his uniquely powerful body odour. Black doubted the truth in both of their superpowers, and it seemed as if Judge Hog was in agreement, as they had been trapped in the position of JUnior Defenders for a number of years.
Junior Defenders were the tea boys of the organisation, given the meaningless or boring tasks like paperwork or traffic duty. It wasn't a position where you encountered many genuine criminals, and certainly wasn't a position in which you had much opportunity to get yourself attacked.
Of course, Sheikh Al-Balim had ordered it, that much was clear to Mr. Black, but to just happen across two Defenders on an otherwise deserted street in the middle of a downpour? It seemed unlikely, and if Black could prove there was something wrong with the location, it was one step closer to proving there was something wrong with the suspect.
And that was the thing, there really was something wrong with the location. According to the file Black had been given, the two Defenders had been assigned to investigate a reported fraud on Friars Road, something that had apparently been deemed unlikely and really low priority by Judge Hog. As a result, it had been assigned to a pair of Junior Defenders rather than anyone trained in stealth.
Black had his first port of call, the property they had been assigned to stake out.
The door to Jennings's cell opened once more.
"Visitors," Brexis barked as a figure pushed past him.
The red Gelert threw herself on Jennings, embracing him deeply for a moment before remembering her place and drawing back. A refined air blossomed effortlessly to life on her face as she straightened out her lavish gown.
"I came as soon as I heard," she explained. "This is simply dreadful."
"Lady Celeriac," Jennings greeted her, and then seeing her look. "Juliet."
"I cannot believe Sheikh Al-Balim has been so brazen, Horatio," she said. "I of course will put all my energies into securing your release."
Jennings held his hands up. "Please, that won't be necessary. I'm sure this will all be sorted out in due course."
"But still, he cannot be allowed to simply do this without consequence," she countered. "If he succeeds, why, Meridell may be his next target."
Jennings smiled. "And here I was thinking you came out of concern for me, rather than yourself."
Celeriac gave him a critical glare. She, much like Al-Balim and Jennings, was a criminal overlord, situated in Meridell. Unlike Al-Balim, Jennings enjoyed a somewhat more civil relationship with the Lady.
A cough from the doorway alerted Jennings to the second visitor, a green Lupe resting on a walking stick.
"The Marquis del Fuego?" Jennings questioned.
"Oh!" Celeriac declared. "How rude of me, of course! I was visiting Rodrigo in Brightvale when I heard the news. You remember him, do you not?"
"Of course," Jennings said, giving a polite nod. "I trust the leg is healing well?"
"As well as can be expected," the Marquis answered, gesturing to the walking stick.
Upon their previous encounter, a burglar had shot the Lupe with a crossbow. At the time Celeriac had stressed that the Marquis would make a full recovery, but it seemed as if it was taking longer than previously thought.
"I must say, I am not quite as dismayed as Juliet at seeing you staying at the Defender's pleasure," Rodrigo explained. "Knowing as I do your particular... occupation. But Juliet has stressed to me that this must somehow be a miscarriage of justice, and I am inclined to prefer you being arrested for a crime you did commit, rather than one you did not. As such, I immediately offered Juliet lodgings at my summer home in the Hills, and put my entire staff at her disposal."
"Staff?" Jennings's tone changed somewhat, becoming more focused. "You brought your staff to the city?"
"Yes," Rodrigo answered. "Is there some problem?"
"No," Jennings answered in an entirely unconvincing way. "Not at all. But you must leave the city, I quite insist upon it."
Celeriac narrowed her eyes at Jennings, glancing between him and the Marquis.
"Just what is going on here?" she asked.
"Nothing," Jennings brushed her off. "But you must leave the city."
Celeriac was clearly unsatisfied by the answer, and straightened up to her full height.
"The last time I checked, you were in no position to give me orders," she said bluntly, sweeping out of the cell.
Rodrigo provided a theatrical bow and followed. Before locking the door, Brexis noted with some interest that Jennings was no longer smiling.
He looked worried.
Friars Road was a nice little street in the city's Art District in the east. It was hardly the most privileged area of the city, but it wasn't the Docklands, which was something. In recent years, the road had become the focus of many new businesses focusing around culture, and several Neovision studios now called the place home.
Black wasn't heading to them. Instead, he located the rickety looking building that the two Defenders had been assigned to watch. A dated sign hung above the door – Greenfern's Gallery.
It was an art gallery, of course, and inside the walls were covered with all manner of canvases, from classic masterpieces to strange modern designs. The Defenders had been tipped off that the owner of the gallery, one Jackson Greenfern, was filling his gallery with forgeries of his own making.
A speckled Elephante emerged from the shop's back room, a sharp tweed suit covering much of his body and a businesslike moustache decorating his face.
"Can I help you?" he enquired in a snooty tone that told Black that the Elephante already considered himself to be far superior.
"I'm looking for Jackson Greenfern," Black answered.
"Then you have found him!" the Elephante announced, clicking his heels together and delivering a brief bow. "Who might you be?"
"My name isn't important," Black answered. "I've come to ask you a few questions."
"You heard about the two Defenders that were attacked?" Black asked, admiring one of the paintings.
"Of course," Jackson answered. "You aren't suggesting I had anything to do with it, are you?"
"I don't know," Black told him. "What do you think I'm suggesting, Mr. Greenfern?"
"I am an honest art dealer, what possible reason would I have to involve myself with the business of law enforcement officials?" Jackson asked.
"Perhaps you aren't so honest," Black pointed out. "The two Defenders in question were assigned to watch your shop."
"Watch my... am I under investigation?" Jackson asked. "Just who are you working for?"
"No one," Black answered honestly.
"Well, if you're not with the Defenders, I don't have to answer your questions!" Jackson said firmly, pointing to the shop door.
Black stared at him, and cracked his knuckles.
"You don't have to answer my questions, Mr. Greenfern, but you want to."
"I told you, I know nothing about them!" Jackson protested. "Why, they told me they were watching the tailor's next door when I approached them!"
"You saw them?" Black asked.
"Of course I saw them," Jackson replied. "Not exactly the most covert fellows around. Why one of them even wore fluorescent pink – hard to miss, you know? They've been outside every day for the past two weeks, aside from the night of the storm, now you come to mention it."
"They were assigned to investigate a tip off that you are an art forger," Black explained.
"Me!?" Jackson exclaimed, clutching both his heart and a nearby table to steady himself. "Even the idea... simply preposterous! Why, I can even prove it, documentation coming out my ears in the store room – I never sell anything that I'm not confident is one hundred percent genuine."
Jackson set his face after a moment's thought, "Thomas Flaherty, the cad!"
"He runs a tailors, a few doors down," Jackson explained. "He's always had it in for me, I imagine he's the one who tipped off the Defenders. Well, I've heard of some low down dirty tricks in my time, but that takes the proverbial biscuit!"
"I don't care about that," Black told him. "Just the Defenders. You say they weren't here on the night they were attacked?"
"I didn't see them when I locked up for the night..." Jackson explained. "Come to think of it, I didn't see them all day. They were definitely there the previous night though, I remember waving to them."
"Anyone else around that night?" Black asked.
"Not that I saw," Jackson answered. "I tend to leave quite late – a lot of paperwork, you see?"
"Thank you," Black said in a rather insincere way.
It was clear that something had happened to the Defenders that night if that was when they disappeared, but what? The only people who could provide the answer were the Defenders themselves, and they were in hospital, unable to speak.
Thankfully, in some parts of Neopia Central, that didn't matter in the slightest.
To be continued...