Mr. Pufferton and the Last Magazine: Part Three
Chapter 3 – In Which Mr. Pufferton Is Mistaken for the CEO of a Major Corporation
The guests had gone home with nothing on their lips but tales of the previous night's burglary. It was said by at least two gentlemen that Mr. Pufferton had engaged in fisticuffs with the rapscallion and come away with a black eye. And everybody was under the impression that Argyle St. James had slipped slightly back into his old ways and had, while in the shadier parts of the city, hinted that the Pufferton estate was ripe for the picking. Both claims were utter foolishness; Mr. Pufferton had not engaged in fisticuffs of any sort since a boyhood brawl gone bad, and Argyle had not once spoken to any of his friends from his days before entering Mr. Pufferton's service.
Lady Colchester, of all people, was the most suspicious of Argyle despite having showered him with affection every time she visited. As she was being escorted out the next morning by Mr. Pufferton himself, she leaned up and began to whisper in his ear, "I say, Mr. Pufferton, is it wise of you to trust that Argyle? He's seemed a perfect gentleman, but last night... for someone to steal my magazine after he himself went to go buy it? It sounds like something out of one of your mystery books! And I think we may have red-handed the culprit."
Mr. Pufferton sighed at Lady Colchester's innocence. "No, my dear, I trust Argyle implicitly. And the phrase is "catching one red-handed," not "red-handing one." It means to catch a criminal in the act of committing the crime."
"Yes yes yes, it's all the same, isn't it?" Lady Colchester read nothing but her magazines. "But promise me, Mr. Pufferton, promise me you won't let him out of your sight? I would hate for you to wake up one morning with a knife to your throat!"
Mr. Pufferton assured her that Argyle would sooner strangle him than kill him with a knife and sent her out the door with even more worries than before. "That blasted woman," he mumbled even as he waved goodbye to her. "Makes me want to give up money some days."
The last of the guests gone, Mr. Pufferton sat down to a small breakfast of bacon, sausage, toast, and three different varieties of omelette. Argyle stood at attention, interested to know what his master had thought of the burglary during the night.
"So, Puffs... how about that fuss last night?"
The sound of chewing was all the answer he got. Breakfast was not a thing to be interrupted.
Near on an hour later, Mr. Pufferton sipped borovan out of a china mug and pondered Argyle with his beady black eyes. Breakfast was now over, and conversation might now be initiated. "Argyle." The name was spoken as if by a god of old, calling a prophet to his side. "There are some things which needs be accomplished today."
"All good, Puffs. Monday after all. Standard shopping trip?"
"No. Do you have an idea who the burglar of last night might be?"
This struck Argyle as a passing odd question to pose during the creation of the day's itinerary, but he responded as truthfully as he was able. "Might be this Grarrl fellow was poking around the bookshop yesterday. He offered me a hundred grand for the mag! Should've taken him up on it, I figure."
"Quite. You're to find him today and follow him wherever his path might lead. Do what he does. Talk to whom he talks. You still remember how to tail somebody?"
Argyle's emotions rushed together and tangled themselves inside his heart. He had not planned on getting involved in a muddle such as this, and tailing the Grarrl would likely be an all day affair. On the other hand, it had been quite some time since his more unsavory skills had been put to use, and it would be good to stretch his legs. "I've still got it in me somewhere, I think. What about the weekly shopping?"
Mr. Pufferton waved a flipper dismissively. "I can send Chef for food, and the rest will keep until tomorrow."
Argyle nodded his approval. "And what'll you be up to? Lady Colchester won't show her old mug around here for a week after what happened."
Mr. Pufferton seemed to seriously consider the question of his daily business before saying solemnly, "I believe I'll go into the city as well, Argyle. There may well be a matter there that needs my direct attention."
It took most of the morning to get to Neopia Central. Mr. Pufferton, who did not walk if he could help it, often called upon the service of the sons of one Lord Marshbanks, a local Usul who owned a large share of the National Neopian Bank. They were strapping young lads and, when given the proper monetary incentive, were more than willing to pull a sturdy cart laden with four hundred pounds of red Bruce. Techos, however, were not part of the scheduled load.
"Don't see why you get to ride in the cart all the way here..." grumbled Argyle as he watched Mr. Pufferton descend regally from the back of the cart. "It's not like I like walking any more than you."
"My dear Argyle," retorted Mr. Pufferton, "They day you become as morbidly obese as me is the day you too will be able to ride in the cart. Now, how much would you boys like today?"
"Two thousand ought to cover us all just fine, Mr. Pufferton, sir." The eldest Marshbanks boy, Roger, had a quick mind and knew just how to get the most money out of a situation. It was a characteristic he had inherited from his father.
"What, to split between the three of you?" Mr. Pufferton pretended to look aghast.
"Aye, sir. It was only a few miles."
"Nonsense. I won't see you boys off with any less than two thousand each." He motioned to Argyle, and the Techo began handing out notes to the beaming trio.
"Thank you very kindly, sir! And will you be needing to be picked up as well?"
"I imagine so. I don't know the precise moment at which I shall want to return to the Downs, so you boys would do well to remain here in the city. Which means..."
"Yes, sir?" The Usul's eyes shone with anticipation.
"You'll all be needing some spending money to keep yourselves occupied. Argyle, I believe five hundred apiece ought to do nicely to cover the day's expenses."
The command was obeyed unquestioningly, and the Marshbanks brothers soon found themselves much richer than they had been that morning. At Mr. Pufferton's command, they ran, hooting and laughing, into the twisting streets of the city.
Argyle watched them go. "You know, that's precisely the reason why you need to keep bringing Lady Colchester over."
"It doesn't hurt to grease as many wheels as possible, Argyle. Or have you forgotten how I once greased yours?"
Mr. Pufferton's jab hit its mark. Argyle glowered darkly at his employer. "Don't you question my memory, Puffs. I know what's what."
"Good. Now, you had best be off to look for our Disco friend. I'm sure he'll be quite busy today after yesterday's events."
"Whatever you say, Puffs. Don't hurt yourself now." And with that, Argyle disappeared after the Usuls.
Alone at last, Mr. Pufferton turned his bulk in the direction of the towering skyscrapers that made up Neopia Central's financial district. Every major corporation in Neopia had a building there; if it wasn't their headquarters, it was at least their tallest office. Mr. Pufferton knew the district well, and he knew that a certain magazine publishing house would be more than happy to see his highly charitable face.
The lobby of the skyscraper headquarters of Bindinghouse Publishers was maroon. That was really the only word that could be used to describe it. The walls were maroon. The carpet was maroon. Even the plush armchairs that were scattered sporadically throughout the spacious room were maroon. The Christmas Uni receptionist fit in marvelously, and Mr. Pufferton couldn't help but wonder whether he had been only been hired for his color.
As he approached the receptionist's desk, the Uni looked up, and his eyes fairly leapt out of his head. "M-mr. Pemberly! You're back! Sir, we... we didn't expect you back until tomorrow!"
Mr. Pufferton began to deny his being Mr. Pemberly when a notion struck him. "Er... yes, quite. I had to cut things a bit short."
The Uni rubbed his hooves together nervously. "Did everything go alright, sir? I know you were worried that Kendlebrook wouldn't accept your offer."
Mr. Pemberly, then, was evidently someone in charge. "Kendlebrook has been taken care of, and now I am returned. Is there anything that needs my immediate attention?"
The Uni startled Mr. Pufferton with a sudden burst of laughter. "Oh, Mr. Pemberly, you never fail to amuse! Aren't you the one who always says 'Raph, my boy, a CEO's job is never done?' I shouldn't wonder if someone's waiting for you in your office right now!"
Had Mr. Pufferton been the sort of Bruce to look at the Who's Who of Neopia Central (or the sort to look at the portraits lining the lobby,) he would at once have noticed his acute resemblance to the Chief Executive Officer of Bindinghouse Publishers, Mr. Albart Pemberly. They were both fat red Bruces with a fondness for the finer clothes in life. The only difference was Mr. Pemberly's rather obnoxious handlebar mustache. Aside from that, they were almost perfect duplicates.
"I suppose I'd better go up to my office, then. Good to see you again, Raph." Mr. Pufferton waddled over to the stairs and looked about for a sign that might tell him where exactly Mr. Pemberly's office was. If the two of them looked anything alike, and assuming the CEO didn't have a death wish, the office couldn't be above the third floor.
He had just made up his mind to begin the long trek up to the second floor when a nasally voice wormed its way into the cramped stairwell. "Mr. Pemberly, sir, you're back." The sentence was a statement of fact rather than a question. Mr. Pufferton looked around to see a scrawny Moehog climbing the stairs up from the basement levels. He was dressed casually in a button-down shirt and khakis, but he had an insolent look in his eye. "Raph said you weren't coming back until tomorrow."
"There was a change of plans. Now... was there anything I could help you with?"
The Moehog reached the ground floor and leaned back against a corner of the stairwell. "Harlan's been looking for approval on the new Pizzaroo advertisement in Feasts and Fetes. I told him you were out, but he says that the pizza bosses have been coming down on him like a ton of bricks. Says that they'll have his skin if he doesn't get the ad put into the new issue. Ha. I told him that you'll have his skin if he does anything stupid-like."
"Yes, I've seen the ad. Tell Harlan it's good to be put into the issue."
"Yes sir, Mr. Pemberly. 'Course, I won't need to tell Harlan that."
"And why not?"
"He's already gone and put it in. I told him you wouldn't be happy, but the guy said Pizzaroo would wring his neck if the ad didn't get in on time."
Mr. Pufferton placed the tips of his flippers together. "Remind me... we do a lot of Pizzaroo advertisements, yes?"
The Moehog snorted. "One every issue, that was the deal. And different every time. Makes a Moehog wish for a company like Hubert's. Now there's a food joint with some integrity. Same advertisement week after week, and you don't see their business drying up."
"No... no, you don't. Now, if you don't mind, would walk me to my office? I've had a very tiring journey back from Kendlebrook's."
"You wouldn't believe the things I've seen today, Puffs! I thought it was bad enough when I found that Grarrl hanging around The Sodden Puppyblew, but he took me right into a neighborhood filled with Transparents! Can you believe it? I was right scared, Puffs, right scared indeed. Those pets give me the willies, and I won't lie."
Dinner time was rapidly approaching, and Mr. Pufferton found himself resting mildly uncomfortably in his wooden cart beside an equally uncomfortable Argyle. The Techo, upon returning from his escapades, had stalwartly refused to walk back to the estate, and no bribe or threat could change his mind. The Bruce had finally caved and allowed his manservant to squeeze into the back of the cart with him.
"That is dreadfully unfortunate, Argyle. In the future, I'll do my best to ensure that you won't have to be so frightened by a perfectly normal color."
"Ain't nothing normal about it, Puffs. We've got skin so we won't have to see what's on the inside! Any pet that's got a problem with that has got a whole bunch of other problems, if you ask me."
"And yet no one did. But this is beside the point. What have you managed to discover, Argyle? Has our bright friend given any indication as to why he was so interested in our dear Lady Colchester's magazine?"
Argyle shook his head. "Nothing. He's a right scoundrel, I can tell you that, but I didn't see a page of that rag all day. I saw any number of other shady things, and a few sinful things I won't dare mention, but nothing I wouldn't put past half the other thieves in the city."
Mr. Pufferton closed his eyes; to anyone else, he would appear to be sleeping, but Argyle knew better. He braced himself for the question, the one question that Mr. Pufferton had hoped to have answered by the day's adventure. "Did our friend purchase another copy of Feasts and Fetes, by any chance?"
Argyle smiled to himself. "That he did, Puffs. Watched him through the window of the bookshop. New issue only just came out this morning, and that Grarrl's already got himself a copy."
"And do we have a copy as well?"
A green hand reached into a shopping bag and threw a glossy stack of paper onto Mr. Pufferton's lap. "I figured you'd want one, so I took the liberty. I don't suppose I'll be getting reimbursed for that one, yeah?"
"I don't suppose you will."
"Figured as much. Ah well, I trust it was worth it?"
Mr. Pufferton opened the magazine and began to look through it. The vaguest hint of a smile began to curl across his beak. "I believe it was most worth it, Argyle. Most worth it indeed."
To be continued...