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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 23rd day of Swimming, Yr 23
The Neopian Times Week 61 > Continuing Series > The Dark Suitor: Part Three

The Dark Suitor: Part Three

by karma_leafbarer

"The key to customer satisfaction is learning how to diffuse the bomb, so to speak," a lively red Usul preached to the group of half-awake employees who sat, looking incredibly bored, in the first workshop the following morning. "When a customer is upset, it is our job as the employees to ease their anger as much as possible and make sure they leave happy," she paused and pointed a paw at the food store manager. "You there...a customer approaches you saying that the apple she bought from you an hour ago is rotten and she wants her money back, what do you do?"

     "Offer to replace it?" the Chia muttered, stifling a yawn behind his hand.

     "All right, good...anyone else?" the Usul asked, casting her eyes around the room.

     "Give her her money back?" the Elephante pharmacist piped up.

     "Correct. Anybody else?" she asked, her eyes falling on Dr. Death who had fallen asleep, his head lulling backward over the top of his chair. She cleared her throat loudly, glaring in his direction. When that failed to work, someone sitting behind him gave his chair a kick, jostling him awake again.

     "Hunh?" he asked, sounding bewildered.

     "We're discussing customer refunds, Mr. Death," the Usul said coldly. "Or have you mistaken our meeting for naptime?"

     "Doctor," he said, narrowing his eyes.

     "Excuse me?" the Usul asked, cocking her head.

     "Doctor Death. Not Mister," he corrected her, feeling particularly sarcastic. "Or just Doc. Or even D. It all depends on how well you know me." His remark raised muffled snickers from a few people. He didn't care. The meeting was a waste of time and was boring people to tears. He'd zonked out five minutes into it, actually.

     "My aim is most certainly NOT to know you," the Usul huffed, shaking her head and regaining her cool. "Now then, since you missed my earlier question, I'd like to enact a short scenario with you to illustrate the same point," he shrugged in reply. "For a moment, pretend that you run candy shop. I'll be a difficult customer and will be asking for a product you do not carry. The way you handle my behaviour will illustrate your people skills and give us all an idea of how you deal with your customers on a daily basis." Those familiar with the Techo's sour disposition hid smirks behind cupped palms as they anticipated how this was going to turn out.

     "Eh," was all the yellow Techo had to say in reply, crossing his arms over his chest and readying himself to tell her that he hoped her role-playing didn't involve him getting out of his seat. He disliked being singled out enough as it was without having to stand up and make a further idiot of himself.

     "Sir, could I please buy some taffy?" the Usul asked, lapsing into the role of the customer she was playing.

     "We don't carry any, lady," the Techo muttered, playing along grumpily. The surprised disapproval in the Usul's eyes struck him as funny and he bit his tongue to keep his composure.

     "My little boy is out in the car and he really would like some taffy. I drove all the way from across town, sir."

     "I told you, we don't have any. Go somewhere else," she paused a bit more this time, clearly annoyed. Dr. Death was almost sure that this would earn him a demerit from the Employment Agency if she chose to inform them of it, but it didn't worry him. He knew full well that if they could find someone who honestly wanted to fill the job he had, they would have thrown him out on his tail as soon as the first complaints of his obnoxiousness started coming in. Besides, this was fun. Something he rarely had these days.

     "Can I have just a little? I just want one or two pieces," the Usul said at last.

     "Ma'am, can you spell the 'can' in candy cane?" he interrupted. The Usul quirked a brow at him, confused.

     "Of course I can," she said.

     "And can you spell the 'choc' in chocolate?"

     "Yes..." she replied, sounding a bit suspicious. A few employees who knew where he was going with this covered their mouths to muffle giggles.

     "How about the 'frig' in taffy?" the Techo asked, inwardly delighted she had taken the bait.

     "But there is no frig in taffy," she countered, annoyed.

     "That's what I've been trying to tell you, kiddo," Dr. Death told her as scattered chuckles rang up. The Usul paused, not getting the joke made at her expense for a moment, but growing clearly enraged once she did.

     "Leave," she snapped, pointing at the door. He hesitated a minute to make sure she was serious before shaking his head with a thin smile and getting up, sauntering toward the door and walking out. As the door to the room thudded closed again Zhani rolled his eyes and looked over at Rose from where they were sitting in the back row.

     "Is your friend always so juvenile?" he asked, sounding disgusted.

     "Hmm?" Rose asked, looking up from the small notebook she had been idly scribbling notes in. "Oh...actually that was kind of rare for him." She smiled, patting Zhani's shoulder. The shadow Uni didn't smile back and looked to be quite flustered.

     "Honestly...a man his age should know how to behave in public," he huffed. "Did he think that was funny?"

     "It's just how he is," she replied. "Getting worked up over it won't do any good."

     "You're too good of a person to have to be exposed to that, Rose," the shadow Uni assured her. "Why don't you get a real job away from that kind of behaviour?"

     "Oh..." Rose muttered, sounding stunned. "Well, I guess...I guess I don't know where I'd go, is the thing," she managed at last. "I've worked at the pound for a long time, you see, and it would be a lot of work to try and learn a new trade....and I like helping pair up people and pets."

     "But still...wouldn't you be more comfortable around people more of your own status?" the Uni pried. "Maybe even around more of your own kind?" Rose fidgeted, but said nothing. "I was placed in my job through an agency, Rose....an agency that specialises in talented Unis. Maybe they could help place you somewhere better."

     "Really?" Rose asked, sounding flattered.

     "Of course. If you'd like to come with me up to my room after lunch when we have a break, I'll see if I can get you on the phone with them and they can put your name into their computer." Zhani secretly congratulated himself on how natural all of this sounded...the way he talked, one would think there really WAS such an organisation.

     "Sure!" Rose readily agreed. "That's very sweet of you, Zha--"

     "Are we paying attention back there??" the Usul's voice asked sternly, rattling both Unis out of their conversation. "If you don't want to take this seriously, people, you're welcome to leave as well." Zhani and Rose exchanged a look and both silenced themselves as the speaker returned to her lecture.

***

"You shouldn't have done that," Hubert told Dr. Death later as the yellow Techo looked up from the magazine he was thumbing through at a corner table of the library. "What? Cheese off the instructor?" he muttered. The Mynci nodded. "What's she going to do? Mousse me to death?"

     "No but she's probably going to get the employment agency on your tail."

     "You're talking to someone who really couldn't care less," Dr. Death told him curtly, closing the magazine again.

     "What were you doing napping in there anyway? I know you went to bed early last night...I stopped by right before curfew and knocked. Nobody answered."

     "Eh....didn't sleep very well, I guess." The pound director shrugged.

     "Penny for your thoughts?"

     "You'd have change coming," he snorted. And then, after a pause "I REALLY don't like that Uni."

     "Who, Rose?" Hubert asked, quirking a brow.

     "No, the other one."

     "Ohh, Zhani..." the monkey Neopet nodded. "Yeah, he hits a wrong button on me too, but Rose seems pretty happy around him." The Techo's eyes narrowed slightly. "....or is that what's bugging you?" he asked.

     "No." Dr. Death grumbled, shifting his weight in his chair unconsciously.

     "I see..." Hubert nodded, a look of knowing coming into his eyes.

     "I don't think you do," the Techo replied coldly. For a long moment neither said anything. At length, Hubert rose from where he'd been sitting and stretched.

     "Maybe I don't, doc, but I think it might do you some good to start admitting a few things to yourself."

     "Admit what?" Dr. Death asked vehemently. "I don't have anything TO admit."

     "Oh please..." Hubert sighed. "Most guys don't get this up-in-arms just because they don't like their co-worker's choice in boyfriend. It's gotta run deeper than that."

     "It's gotta, huh?" the Techo replied sceptically. "And what if it doesn't?"

     "I'm telling you it does," the Mynci said matter-of-factly.

     "And I'm telling you that you're full of it," Dr. Death said, shaking his head.

     "Am I?" Hubert pressed.

     "I'm not talking about this with you anymore," the reptile snarled. "You're not going to rest until I break down and say what you want to hear whether I agree with it or not."

     "I'm not trying to get you to say anything, actually," the Mynci pointed out, beginning to walk away. "Just saying it might be good for you to get one or two things off of your chest rather than pretending they don't exist."

     "Look, I don't know what you're talking about, you--" he broke off as he realised the Mynci had moved out of earshot and was already out the door of the library. Dr. Death stared after him a moment and then snorted, grabbing up his magazine and returning it to the shelf he had gotten it from. If he wasn't being hassled about one thing, apparently, he was being hassled about another.

     He would sooner have mopped Tyrannia clean with a Q-tip than he would have let Hubert bully him into saying something ridiculous. The ridiculous thing in question being, he was sure, that he had feelings for RoseMadder....which, most certainly, he did not. His thoughts turned to Zhani again as he sought something else to read and his insides clenched with rage. The smug way he spoke, the look of omnipotence on his stupid highbrowed face....

     As the Techo's vehement thoughts coursed through his head, his mind's eye conjured a perfect image of the shadow Uni's visage hovering in front of him, giving him a very false grin...the same one that had made his flesh crawl during dinner last night. Snarling in agitated anger, Dr. Death wheeled back on sheer reflex and swung his fist at Zhani's phantom head, being shaken back to reality by the searing pain of his knuckles striking the hard unforgiving wood of the bookcase.

     He drew in his breath in a hiss, rubbing at his hand irately. As the pain subsided, he remained resentful toward the stallion, still trying to place why he hated him so much...well, other than the fact that he thought Zhani was so full of dung that his eyes must have been brown. The charm he had laid on around Rose was painfully false...and the doctor didn't understand why it seemed Rose had been oblivious.

     "Because she likes him," he fumed, grabbing another magazine at random. "Because he makes her happy." He put special loathing on the last word, spitting it out as though it tasted bad as he roughly sat down with it and flung it open to the first page, oblivious to the fact he had grabbed a copy of "Housewives' Quarterly" as he blindly flipped through the pages, looking at them but not seeing them. His mind was elsewhere and in a turmoil.

     "He's not anything special..." the Techo continued to mutter, not even realising he was still speaking. "He's a jerk...he doesn't give two shakes about her, just wants her on his arm to show her off is all. Any moron could treat her better than that....Sloth, the Snowager, the pant devil....gosh, even I cou--" he cut himself off abruptly, realising what he was saying.

     He was thankful, at that moment, that he was the only one in the library as he silenced his anger, looking down for seemingly the first time and wincing in disgust at the open article in front of him about how one would go about putting a ruffled edge into a skirt hem. Now he was EXCEEDINGLY glad no one was in the library with him as he closed the magazine in humiliation and returned it to its shelf, not selecting another one this time as he seated himself again.

     "Get a grip on yourself..." he muttered aloud with a sigh, running a hand over his untamable pouf of hair and beginning to calmly sort out the facts in his head. All right, he didn't like Zhani because the guy was full of himself and full of it...that was a given. He also didn't like him because he had so easily won over RoseMadder and had, in a matter of hours, not only isolated her all to himself but had convinced her that everybody else was a bad influence on her. His fists clenched, claws digging into the pads of his palms, and he forced himself to relax again.

     "But what else?" a nagging voice in his head demanded. "What else is there, doc? What're you hiding?"

     "Nothing," he snorted, propping his head up on his hands.

     "You lie like a cheap rug," the mental presence taunted. The Techo growled, feeling his firm grip on things begin to grow uneasy and slip. Was he hiding something? Not to his knowledge...and he thought he'd ruddy well know if his reasons went beyond the ones he had already stated.

     "Not like I care about her or anything," the words escaped his jaws before they had even formed coherently in his mind and he listened to them die on the air with mingled disgust and uncertainty. Was that really it? Had he just not recognised it until the possibility of losing Rose to someone else came up? He shook his head, giving a drained groan and suddenly feeling ill as he got up from his table and quietly left the library without further ado to retire back to his room to better think things over.

To be continued...

Previous Episodes

The Dark Suitor: Part One

The Dark Suitor: Part Two

The Dark Suitor: Part Four

The Dark Suitor: Part Five

The Dark Suitor: Part Six

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