Lupe Pack Detectives-Counterfeit: Part Two
It had been a couple of days since we returned home from Brightvale, seeing as the main portion of the investigation was complete. Since that time, true to his word, Solar Flare sent a counterfeit degree up to the Virtupets lab while we reviewed the two reports to our siblings as we needed to keep them in the loop.
It was on the third day when a letter from Virtupets arrived with our daily mail from Cirrus. Knowing how important it was to the investigation, I quickly opened the envelope and took the letter out.
"Dear Lupe Pack Detectives,
I am writing this letter to you with the results of the fake Brightvale University degree that you sent to us. Our analysis indicate that the paper used is one typically found in Neopia Central books, however, the ink used is inconsistent with Neopia Central standards as the fake degree was printed in Neovia. We hope that this will aid you in your investigation and on behalf of the entire Virtupets Space Station lab team; we wish you the best of luck.
Nero the Spotted Grundo, lead VSS lab technician."
"Hmm, something's not right. The numerous spelling errors indicate that the Neopian is probably illiterate, but not necessary book dumb. That alone is a clear contradiction to the analysis given to us by the Virtupets team, not that I doubt the team's spectacular analytic ability or anything. If he or she is unable to spell properly, then that Neopian shouldn't know about using different paper and inks to throw investigators such as ourselves off the trail," Opren replied after I finished reading the letter, leaning slightly back on his chair.
"That's certainly true, Opren, but something tells me that someone with that sort of knowledge is pulling the strings on these. Based on the reports from Professor Lambert and the Brightvale DoN, we're definitely looking for a Neopian that doesn't live or work in Brightvale, but I could be wrong on that point," Solar Flare replied with his way of thinking, his chin on top of his hands.
"Well, it's progress at least, even if it's minor. With the information gathered so far, Neovia is a good place to start, seeing as that's where the fake degrees are being produced. We might as well try to cut off the supply as shutting the production will be a major blow to the person behind this," I said. Everyone nodded in agreement.
We were packing items for our trip to Neovia when our cousin, Nimbus, came into the living room, a piece of paper rolled up in his hand. I had completely forgotten that I had asked Aura and Opren to ask him about his investigation, but I was relieved that he was able to reach us before we left for Neovia.
"Whoops, it looks like I nearly caught you at a bad time. Anyways, I've been busy trying to get that article written up, hence why I wasn't able to answer as quickly, but it's now completed and submitted to the Times. Since your investigation and mine are relatively the same and my article has not been published yet, you'll get an advance copy," he told us as he handed the piece of paper over to Aura, who was the closest. She acknowledged the copy as she folded it and tucked it inside one of her pockets. Then we left.
Following the path from the gypsy camp, located in the main portion of the Haunted Woods, to Neovia was a bit tough even though the path was clearly marked with cobblestones as there were times we did not realize that there was a stray branch hanging over or near the path until one of us walked right into it. By the time we reached Neovia, all of us had been slightly roughed up, but it was nothing, considering that it was mainly cuts, scratches and bruises that we had sustained.
Before we headed to the Neovian Printing Press, we decided to briefly stop at one of the inns just so that we could clean ourselves up and make us a bit more professional looking. I also made a mental note to myself to talk to the Neovian Administrative Team later about the path needing to be cleaned up, seeing as the town was still without a mayor, even after all those years since Thumburt, a Bruce, had been turned into a Moquot by the Swamp Witch.
When we were finished, we went straight to the Printing Press. After showing our DoN badges and explaining why we were here to Paige, the Pteri owner, she nodded and led us to the door leading to the printing workshop, although I could tell that she was somewhat confused just by looking at her face.
"You know, now that you mention it, the workshop has been fairly busy over the past several months despite the fact that the shop already has a large supply of books and other reading materials in our storage. I just assumed whoever was using it had their own personal reasons for starting the workshop up," she told us as she opened the door.
As expected, it was loud when we entered the room due to the machinery running, so we grabbed some earplugs off of the nearby table to at least drown out some of the noise and not make ourselves deaf from the prolonged exposure. Just as we placed them in our ears, one of the workers, a Brown Techo, came around the corner, bearing a box full of something. Upon seeing us, he panicked and dropped the box before fleeing the scene. Immediately, both Solar Flare and Opren went after him. I could see Aura instinctively reach for her Scarab Stone Slingshot before stopping and deciding not to use it. She must have stopped as she did not want potentially hit Paige by accident if the stone ricocheted off of the machinery.
While both of my brothers were chasing the Techo, I went over to the box to see what the contents were. Fortunately, some of the papers were scattered over the floor after the box was dropped, so I grabbed some and saw that they were indeed fake Brightvale University degrees. As soon as I showed it to her, she sighed in disbelief before heading over to a large lever, which I assumed was the manual override. When she pulled it down, all the machinery eventually slowed down before silence filled the air, allowing us to remove the earplugs and confirming what I had initially thought.
"I don't believe it," she cried, throwing her hands up in frustration. "Even though they're fakes, did these workers even hear of proofreading before printing these off? That's a complete waste of good paper and ink. And what were these Neopians thinking, printing something that we do not have authority to produce under my watch? Had I known this was going to happen earlier, I would have immediately shut them down."
"Wait, even though you're the owner, the workers didn't even let you look at what they were doing in the first place?" Aura inquired; slightly surprised at this development, once Paige had cooled off from her rant.
"I tried once, only to be denied access to my own workshop by the Gelert manager. I suppose an apology to Professor Lambert is in order, as well as informing the Defenders to come here as soon as possible." She left the printing workshop for her office.
While we were waiting for our brothers to return with their 'catch', both of us decided to keep a close eye on the manual override just in case someone decided to pull it back up and get the machinery running again. After all, we knew that the forgers were not likely to be deterred by the stoppage and would do anything to get the production back up, so we hid behind a large crate, occasionally peeking to see if there was anyone nearby.
As both of us had accurately predicted, another worker, this time a Shadow Gelert, possibly the manager, came to check what was going on. Before he could reach the manual override, we left our hiding place. The Gelert's shoulders slumped upon seeing us and willingly surrendered. A few minutes later, our brothers came back with the rest of the workers and the Brown Techo they had been pursuing.
When a Defender, an Eventide Grarrl, from Neopia Central arrived, I informed him of what had been going on in Brightvale and why we were here in Neovia, showing him our credentials. When I was finished, he told us that he would let the Brightvale Defenders know about the latest development as soon as he returned to the office. He walked away, but stopped at the doorway and asked us if we would be willing to conduct the interviews. We agreed, seeing as we knew more about the case than he did. I decided to focus my attention towards the manager as I had a feeling in my stomach that he would be more willing to disclose information.
Before I entered Paige's office to conduct my interview with the manager, with her permission, of course, Paige took me to one side and asked me if she could lecture the person after I was finished. I knew she was still upset over the revelation that her printing press had been used as a front for illegal activity, but I was not sure if I wanted her to talk to the manager or any of the workers. In the end, I accepted her offer, but only if I was unable to get the Gelert to talk.
"Look, I know that someone's pulling the strings, and since you're in a higher position than your hired workers, there should be information that only you know," I told the Gelert as we sat in Paige's office. He remained silent, but I was not deterred by it as I had other options.
"So, why did you quickly surrender to us? There has to be a reason because most Neopians would have either resisted by fighting back or fled when they saw us." At that point, he slammed his hands onto the desk.
"It would have been no use resisting or fleeing from you, knowing that you and your team are well armed to handle these sorts of situations. I'm the person responsible for this," he snarled. I raised one of my eyebrows over the last statement as it was something I had expected as it was the same story told to me by other criminals to cover for someone.
"I'm not convinced that you're behind this, but it sounds like that you're protecting the actual Neopian responsible. That may be the case, but it still doesn't justify you or your boss breaking the rules, which you just indirectly admitted to with your statement. Forgery is a serious crime, you know."
"Like my boss cares about getting caught for that or any other offences that you have yet to charge me, he's happy as long as he gets to destroy the university, one way or another. We'll see who has the last laugh, my boss or the university that destroyed his life. Other than that, my lips remain sealed." Although I was not satisfied with the answer he gave me, I still had enough to report to my siblings. On my way out, I made eye contact with Paige and motioned her to head in before going up to my siblings.
"The workers were giving us the old silent treatment, although some of them claim that they were just following orders from the manager, which makes sense. We're just reviewing the newspaper article Nimbus gave to us." Solar Flare told me. "How did it go with the manager?"
"Well, I just sent Paige in, so that should indicate how well the interview went. On the other hand, I do have more information on our suspect, based on what little information the manager gave me. More than likely, we're looking at someone who holds a personal grudge against the university."
"Could it be against Professor Lambert? Nimbus' article does states that Lambert's signature was near flawlessly replicated, if one doesn't have a keen eye for the details. He is the dean, after all, meaning he's the one that makes the tough decisions," Aura replied. I admitted that it was possible and it did made sense to me.
"Hmm, so it's either a former university professor or a student that's behind this. Both of our potential suspects does explain why Professor Lambert was unable to find anything conclusive during the internal review as that Neopian is no longer with the university." Opren said as he crossed his arms. "It's still a wide pool of suspects remaining and that's not helping us at all, even with the limited information given."
When Paige came out, she told us that she had imposed a lifetime ban on the manager and workers. Although we felt that it was excessive in terms of punishment, in addition to the time spent down in the dungeons the DoN had yet to impose for their roles in this crime ring and the associated fines, it was her decision and it was not something we could argue against.
As soon as we returned home, I went to my office and began writing the facts and information down on the chalkboard, trying to find something that would help us break the case wide open as Opren was right. As I studied my notes, I noted where I could potentially find more information, so I circled Professor Lambert's name, seeing as he was in the centre of a growing 'storm'. After all, we already knew that this person had a grudge against either the good professor or the university and that seemed like a good place to start.
To be continued...