Mr. Jennings Must Die: Part Five
Professor Moriarty Bungle was the Head of Magical Research at the Museum, making him the effective head of the entire wizard department in the basement of the building. He was Mr. Black's next port of call.
Unlike the Necromancers, Black wasn't visiting him for any magical aid. He just needed him to confirm Jennings's story. Although the Krawk had refused to reveal to anyone what he had done on the night the Defenders turned up on Tuckly Road, Black had at least one clue. Before he had set off from the dam unveiling party alone, Jennings had been planning to visit Professor Bungle in the Museum for reasons unknown.
Now, Black knocked once on the ancient door and waited for the croaky voice to respond before entering.
Professor Bungle was a small old man, who perhaps in his youth had been taller, but now the stoop he stood with made him look even smaller. He was a green Techo, with thick milk bottle glasses that magnified his eyes, and a white beard that nearly reached the floor.
"Professor Bungle?" Black asked.
"Can I help you, young man?" he asked. "Not often we get visitors down here..."
He squinted at Black through his glasses. "You look familiar."
"We've met before," Black explained. "I am the assistant to Mr. Jennings."
"Oh!" he said, sitting down at his desk and peering over his glasses at Black. "I was sad to hear about his arrest, of course. What can I help you with?"
"I just need to ask you a few questions," Black said, but then paused. "How did you hear about the arrest? I thought most wizards didn't leave the Museum."
"Oh..." Bungle answered, looking away from Black. "I just happened to talk to the receptionist on the ground floor this morning. You know the one? She stays informed about most things, you know? Yes, that's it, that's it exactly."
A clear lie, but Black ploughed on regardless.
"Alright then. Jennings came to visit you the night of the attack, didn't he?"
"Yes," Bungle answered. "Yes, I believe he did."
"What was he here to talk about?" Black asked.
"An interesting research proposal," Bungle answered, deliberately not giving any real information.
"About what?" Black asked.
Bungle sighed. "Espionage has never really been my specialty, Mr. Black."
"How do you know my name?"
"Mr. Jennings told me his assistant would likely come here," Bungle answered. "He told me your name. He also instructed me very specifically that I was not to share any details of our meeting with you."
"He told you that?" Black asked.
"Expressly," Bungle confirmed.
"I often find it the case that when people don't tell you something, it is because they do not want you to know," Bungle remarked.
"But..." Black hesitated, aware he was unlikely to get more answers on the subject. "Fine. Can you at least tell me when he left?"
"Certainly," Bungle replied, brightening slightly. "Our meeting was only around an hour long – he left quite quickly after we finished. Said he was heading back to his office."
"Did you happen to notice if he had his cane with him?" Black asked.
"Yes... yes, I think he did have it," Bungle answered. "Is that important?"
"It might be," Black answered. "Thank you for your time, Professor."
The Sheikh paused as he entered his new office, formerly belonging to Mr. Jennings. His entourage of bodyguards instinctively reached for their concealed weapons at the sight of the red Gelert sitting patiently in front of the Sheikh's desk, but the desert Acara held his hand up to stop them.
"I hope you don't mind, but I let myself in," Lady Celeriac said from her seat. "It is quite perishing cold outside and I'm sure you of all people appreciate the need for warmth."
"This door was locked," Al-Balim stated.
Celeriac gave an elegant little laugh, "The headmistress of my finishing school was exceptionally surprised by my lock picking skills. Not the most classical talent, as opposed to croqueting or opera, but I find it has its uses – an entertaining parlour trick if nothing else."
"You must be Lady Celeriac," Al-Balim smiled confidently. "I wondered if you would show up."
"You have a dear friend of mine arrested and you only wonder if I would show up?" Celeriac asked.
"I have had no one arrested," the Sheikh laughed, the waxy smile of someone who thought they were getting away with something returning to his face. "The Defenders do that around here, I am told. What, may I ask, are you doing here?"
"Wondering why I have not had you taken care of already," Celeriac told him bluntly.
"It would be amusing of you to try, certainly," Al-Balim laughed. "I have a great many bodyguards, both seen and unseen."
"I quite agree of course," Celeriac said. "It would be vastly amusing – for me, of course. I shouldn't think it would be for you, as you would be dead."
She stood up abruptly, "You have twenty professional assassins guarding you. You have a further three who claim to be professional assassins but are in reality anything but. They are all seen, regardless of what you may believe about their skill, and I could cut each and every one of them down before reaching you without so much as breaking a sweat."
The Sheikh's smile faltered for only a moment.
"Then why have you not already killed me, dear lady?" he asked.
"Because I am not sure what he is up to," she answered. "Mr. Jennings, that is."
"He is under arrest," Al-Balim pointed out. "He isn't 'up' to anything."
It was Celeriac's turn to smile – she was far better at it.
"That's the trap many have fallen into," she pointed out. "Thinking they've won when in fact they've just walked straight into his hands."
"I don't see any trap," Al-Balim said.
"Neither do I," Celeriac admitted. "Which means it must be an exceptionally good one."
"Or perhaps one that doesn't exist," Al-Balim countered.
"A possibility, certainly," she admitted. "Which brings me neatly to the real answer to your question – why I am here."
"Just to explain, to warn you," she told him. "I'm watching things play out at the moment just in case Jennings has some sort of trick up his sleeve, but if it turns out he doesn't... oh, how do people put it these days? 'I'll be gunning for you', and I can assure you, I always get my man."
With that, she swept out of the office to leave the Sheikh to his thoughts.
Flaherty Fashions was the name of the shop next to Greenfern's Antiques, and the shop that the spirits of the Defenders had seen the Sheikh emerging from the day before they were attacked. It was Mr. Black's next port of call.
A striped Chia ran forwards from behind the counter as soon as the door opened. A tape measure was unfurled and Black was already being measured up before the conversation had begun.
"A customer, are you?" the Chia asked, not waiting for a reply as he busied himself with measurements. "Thomas Flaherty, proprietor. You're here for something new, something in season, aren't you? I can tell. Well, you're in the right place! We sell only the finest haute couture, don't you know? Perhaps a new suit? Or a hat? Oh, a hat! I simply can't get enough of a good hat! To match your suit, perhaps? Something in black? Something dashing, something debonair, why it will look simply fabulous against your jaw line! Fantastic!"
"That's not why I'm here," Black told him firmly.
"Not a hat?" Flaherty asked, somewhat disheartened. "Then perhaps a jacket? I have some fine fabrics just in from Shenkuu, simply astonishing what their weaves can produce!"
"Not for any clothes," Black explained.
"Then perhaps a tailor is not what you were aiming for," Flaherty remarked.
"I'm here to ask you a few questions," Black replied, moving the tape measure away with his hand. "About the Defenders posted outside this shop."
"There have been no Defenders posted outside this shop," Flaherty said proudly.
"Fine," Black sighed. "The shop next door."
"Horrible business," Flaherty sniped. "I hear he's an art forger."
"I hear different," Black said bluntly. "I know it was you who tipped off the Defenders in the first place and I know you in all likelihood made it up because you do not like the man. Now, I want to talk about the attack on the Defenders."
"I don't know anything about any attacks!" Flaherty panicked.
"The two Defenders that are in hospital were the ones watching the shop next door," Black stated.
"It wasn't him," Black told him. "You noticed they disappeared, right?"
"The last day they were here, you had a customer here," Black added. "He would have been distinctive, you'd remember him. A desert Acara."
"You mean the Sheikh?" Flaherty asked excitedly. "He introduced himself as soon as he walked in, purchased several specially made outfits for a function he was attending that night, something about the opening of the new dam."
"Yes, that's him," Black answered. "Did he mention the Defenders?"
"Yes, of course," Flaherty told him. "They were hard to miss, you know? I was telling him about Greenfern next door, and his dodgy dealings, and how they were investigating him. He seemed appalled at the idea that they had only sent low level Defenders, the ones no one cared about."
"He was interested in that?" Black asked.
"Oh yes, we talked for ages about that, how out of place they were on a deserted street like this, how they weren't very good at defending and could probably be overpowered by any old street thug that came along... why, do you think it could be related?"
Black sighed. The man had spilled out a perfect set up for the victims Al-Balim needed. Of course it was related.
"It could be," Black supplied. "Thank you for your time."
Black had spent enough time messing about with wizards and shopkeepers. It was time for him to delve into the criminal underbelly of the city.
He needed to find the Quiggle.
To be continued...