Tales from Neopia Central: Part Three
The Dockfather – the Gangster's Tale
Neopia Central had changed a lot – and far too quickly for Johnny Twobit.
The red Kougra was a thug, paid to intimidate the weak for the purposes of the rich. He'd earned his nickname – they called him Twobit because they said if you crossed him, they would only find two bits of you. He'd worked for Seth Vargo at first, the local Docklands boss – but then Mr. Jennings had staged a coup and Johnny had been put in charge of his Docklands operations.
But now Jennings was dead. Everything was different. The rumbles of discontent that the entire city felt were strongest in the Docklands. Where the poor of the city were packed in tight, it was hardly surprising that the riots started there.
There was looting at first, and with the sudden absence of Mr. Jennings, Johnny found himself in charge – he had no orders, he had to think for himself to protect the people he lived with, and thinking was something that came hard to someone like Johnny Twobit.
The Old Shambles, that's where Johnny staged his first fight back. He'd brought in old hands like Harry Bags, and new talent like the crazed mutant only known as 32.
They descended on the street, launching themselves at the Neopets who were looting and showing no mercy. It wasn't long before the invaders were forced back.
After it was all over, Johnny approached two of the local residents. One he recognised, the rainbow Ogrin was Wayne Hardtack, star player for the Neopia Central Yooyuball team and local boy. He was supporting an elderly Cybunny that Johnny didn't recognise.
"What are you doing here?" Johnny asked Wayne. "You live three streets over."
"My mum sent me over to look after Mrs. Jenkins," Wayne explained.
"We're old friends," the Cybunny added as if what they'd just witnessed had been some sort of show.
"Stay indoors in future," Johnny instructed. "We might not be able to get here so fast the next time the looters attack."
"They weren't looters," Wayne told him.
"They said they were working for someone," Wayne added. "They said they came from Little Shenkuu."
Little Shenkuu... a little slice of the Empire for the immigrants who were so far from home. Jennings had created it, built it for the immigrants he himself had brought into the city. Some of the people in the wider Docklands mistrusted those in Little Shenkuu, but both were working hard to put the problems of the past behind them.
But now someone was threatening them.
Johnny went to the only people he could think of – people Jennings himself had once mentioned.
The bell rang as he entered the little tailor's shop, and a red Scorchio emerged from behind the beaded curtain that led to the back room.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"You are Master Shin?" Johnny asked.
"I've got some questions for you," Johnny explained. "I need to know what's going on in Little Shenkuu."
"I have nothing to say," was Shin's blunt response.
"I won't take no for an answer," Johnny supplied with the hint of a threat.
"I said no!" Shin replied with a little more force.
The noise attracted a second figure from behind the curtain – a white Xweetok.
"Father?" she asked. "What's going on?"
"I need to ask you some questions about who is attacking the Docklands," Johnny explained. "We know they were sent from Little Shenkuu. Please, I'm trying to keep the peace."
"I will tell you nothing," Shin maintained.
"Father..." the girl said. "Tell him."
"Hoshi?" Shin asked, turning to her. "This man works for the General, your Mr. Jennings... or did. I thought you hated him? Why would you ask me to help him?"
"There are things I hate more," Hoshi answered. "Tell him."
"Tell me what?" Johnny asked. "What's going on?"
Shin turned back to Johnny – there was doubt in his eyes, but he cast it off.
"I did not tell you this," he said. "Please, for the sake of my daughter, I did not tell you this. Those sent to loot in the Docklands are taking orders for a man known as the Smuggler."
"The Smuggler?" Johnny questioned.
Shin gave a weak smile, "It is strange to see someone say the name without recognition... or fear. But you will come to know him – and fear him, in time. He is an old criminal, very old, operating in Shenkuu decades ago. He arrived in Little Shenkuu shortly after the General's death."
"He wants to take over the city?" Johnny asked.
"No," Shin replied bitterly. "He intends to destroy it."
"And you are just going to stand by and let him?" Johnny asked.
"You do not understand," Shin replied. "He is... not a pleasant man, not taken to kindness or mercy. If you stand against him, he will find a way to destroy you. There are very few people in the Empire who hold no fear for him. Even Ambassador Subhuti can do nothing... The Emperor, the General... very few hold no fear."
"He's telling the truth," Hoshi spoke up. "I didn't grow up in Shenkuu... I didn't know who this Smuggler was until my father told me, and I didn't believe him. But I've seen first hand what happens to people who don't fall into line."
She lifted the hem of her dress a little, so Johnny could see the blackened fur of her legs.
"I hate Jennings," Hoshi added. "I wish him no peace even in his death, but there are worse evils out there."
"You want me to stop him?" Johnny asked.
Shin laughed. "We want you to run."
"I know good assassins," Johnny pointed out. "Maximilian, you heard of him?"
"You do not know any assassins who are good enough," Shin answered flatly. "As they do not exist."
The bell to the door rang again as someone new entered the shop. The large shadow Bruce, Harry Bags, was gasping from the run he had just had.
"Crooked Tony!" he wheezed. "He's being attacked!"
The way the tailor had described the Smuggler, Johnny thought it might have been over by the time he got there – but he was wrong, dead wrong. Whoever had been sent by the Smuggler was long gone, but the madness had snowballed.
There had been a mass breakout at the Defenders of Neopia according to Harry Bags, and the caped heroes were now so busy trying to round up the criminals with super powers that anyone without them could more or less do as they please. An enraged mob was moving through the city, aiming for the zombies in the Old District, and anyone left behind had turned to criminality.
Crooked Tony was a black market trader who operated outside of the Thieves Guild books. Of course, normally he'd have been killed off years ago, but provided Jennings got a cut of the profits, he had been ensured a certain level of protection by Johnny and his gang.
But as the brown Tuskaninny came into view, he looked as if that protection had evaporated. He was slouching against the lamppost by his old pawn shop, the front window of which had been smashed and the contents stolen. Tony himself was holding his hand to an open wound on his head.
"You want us to get you to a doctor?" Johnny asked.
"You think any doctors are going to be working tonight?" Tony laughed despite the pain. "My life's work is gone, boys – it's going to take me decades to come back from this. A little cut is a minor problem in comparison."
"I'm sorry we couldn't get here sooner," Johnny told him. "They came from Little Shenkuu."
"Oh sure, the ones who roughed me up did," Tony said, a little bit meaner than he meant to. "But the ones who cleaned out my shop were local. I could tell – I even knew a few of them. This is madness, chaos on the streets. It's got to stop."
At that moment a great explosion rocked the ground and deafened them, and for a second Johnny thought the world was ending. But then it subsided, and it was as if the world was back to normal.
"What was that!?" Harry Bags shouted, clearly having been deafened by the sound.
"Help me to the end of the street," Tony instructed.
Carrying Tony between them, Johnny and Harry emerged onto the next street. From there, it was clear what the sound had been.
In the distance, at the very heart of the Docklands, there was Mr. Jennings's tower block – his offices, containing all of his businesses and making for an imposing symbol to the population.
It was on fire.
A terrible explosion had ripped through it's core – it now stood only half as tall, and the flaming remains were hastily crumbling back to ground level.
"The tower!" Johnny gasped.
"That's where they went after they left me, clearly," Tony observed. "They're making a statement, Johnny – one meant for you."
"They are saying that Jennings is dead," Tony explained. "That whatever hold he had over this city is gone – and anyone involved with him has their days numbered."
Johnny let his fist tighten. "It's war."
The pair of island Neopets pushed open the door to the small island hut, disturbing the grey Krawk inside. The shaman wore a headdress of white and blue feathers, while his features were etched with chalk to give him a skeletal appearance, and a bone had been forced through his nostrils.
"Why do you disturb me?" the shaman demanded.
The Bori spoke first. "We bring a sick man to you – he was delivered to us by the island spirits! You must save him!"
"Bring him to me," the shaman commanded.
The two Neopets disappeared outside for a moment before returning with the green Krawk on a stretcher.
The shaman leaned forwards and inspected the body.
"You did well to bring him to me," he told them. "He is weak – his soul hovers between this life and the next."
"Can you save him?" the Bori asked.
"If the spirits are willing," the shaman replied. "I must begin the ceremony at once; he does not have much time left."
To be continued...