Intrigue at the Altador Cup: Part Five
To Fredrick, the action on the pitch was just as dreary as it had been the day before. As soon as he dared, he chanced a glance along the VIP box. Everyone was seated, and either watching the games intently, or deep in gossip-rich conversation. Fredrick noticed that Stevenage was absent, though everyone else was accounted for.
Fredrick guessed why the Gnorbu was missing... he just had to wait for confirmation. It came during the Meridell-Virtupets game. Soon after the first Meridell goal was scored, a Clockwork Yooyu emerged from the bowels of the pitch, and began spinning. Windelle, the Techo forward and Captain of the Meridell team, scooped up the Yooyu and began his run against the Virtupets goal. He’d barely made it a few metres before the Yooyu exploded in his arms. It was a bigger blast than the normal explosion, and Windelle was thrown backwards, badly burned. A gasp ran through the stadium from the fans, which Fredrick allowed Rodney to join as he was of course an avid Meridell fan. A soldier ran into the back of the box and whispered to Inspector Softpaw. The Eyrie’s face set gravely, and he rushed out of the box.
As Windelle was lifted off the pitch on a stretcher, Fredrick watched the entrance to the lockers. Soldiers, led by Softpaw, were converging upon it. They all disappeared into the bowels of the stadium.
Whispers erupted in the VIP box. Something big was clearly happening; as a substitute had not come on to replace Windelle.
“I wonder if they’ve apprehended the villain?” Tobik whispered in Fredrick’s ear.
The centre of the pitch opened again and the Yooyu platform appeared out of the darkness below. It wasn’t a Petpet sat upon it, though; it was a Nimmo that Fredrick recognised as the janitor he had been talking to earlier that day. He looked dazed and bewildered, as if he’d just woken up.
“Who is that?” Arthur Monroe said loudly beside Fredrick.
“He looks unsavoury,” a purple Lenny volunteered.
At once, fireworks erupted all around the stands. They would normally have been saved for the awards ceremony at the end of the Cup, but someone had set them off early.
As the crowd looked upwards in amazement at the pyrotechnic display, Fredrick glared down into the stands. He recognised a distraction when he saw one, and he wouldn’t be suckered in.
Down in the stands, a flustered looking purple Acara emerged from the locker room entrance. As he disappeared into the crowd, Fredrick saw his appearance begin to blur and change, the unmistakable sign of a morphing potion at work. A few moments later, Softpaw and the rest of the soldiers that had gone below came out of the exit, scouring the stands for the criminal. Greenbolt didn’t seem to be with them; perhaps he was still attending to whatever had happened backstage?
As the fireworks came to a close, Fredrick glimpsed Mr. Stevenage returning to the VIP box. He sat down and cooed at the final fireworks as if he’d been there the entire time. The soldiers fanned out through the crowds, but they’d never find who they were looking for. They were seeking an Acara, and it was a Gnorbu that would get away.
The crowd was fast becoming restless, and boos were erupting on all sides. The two teams had left the pitch, and the bewildered janitor had been led off. Softpaw emerged, and took centre stage. He held a Virtupets microphone in one hand, which he used to speak with the crowd.
“It is with deep regret that I must tell you that today’s games have been cancelled,” he said as the booing increased around him. “Tomorrow will begin again as scheduled. I apologise for the inconvenience.”
He left the pitch to a chorus of even louder boos and insults. The crowd were not in a good mood.
“Well, this simply will not do!” Tobik declared to the world at large. “Everyone, I’ll be throwing another soiree at my place to make up for this let down. I trust I will see you all there!”
Slowly, the fans filed out. Fredrick noticed that Stevenage was one of the first out of the door. He’d obviously be rushing back to the industrial district. Fredrick lingered near the back of the crowd.
“Rodney Clacks,” a voice addressed him.
Fredrick turned to see the Yurble, Inspector Greenbolt, leaning against the wall again.
“Quite the show, wasn’t it?” Greenbolt said, almost smirking.
“It wasn’t me, before you start,” Fredrick told him.
“I know that; Softpaw told me you were in the box when it happened,” Greenbolt chuckled.
“What happened then?” Fredrick asked.
“Someone knocked out the janitor who sets up the Yooyus and tampered with a Clockwork one; you saw the result,” Greenbolt explained. “We had the character cornered in the Yooyu pen, but he gave us the slip. He must have triggered the automated fireworks system as he made his escape.”
“It’s Mr. Stevenage, the Gnorbu,” Fredrick explained. “He’s using morphing potions, like me. I think he’s a purple Acara in reality.”
“It was a Faerie Buzz we cornered in the pen,” Greenbolt told him.
“He probably changed on the way to give you the slip. It’s what I’d do,” Fredrick informed him. “He’s hiding out in the Industrial District, in the old paper warehouse.”
“You’ve been busy,” Greenbolt laughed.
“You can arrest him now, and I can go,” Fredrick said meaningfully.
“Not just yet... I still need proof,” Greenbolt corrected him.
“But you know it isn’t me!” Fredrick shouted.
“Maybe I do... but this Stevenage could be working for you,” Greenbolt explained. “You are a Meridell fan, remember? This happened during the Meridell game. Maybe you’ve been angry at Windelle this entire time and want to see Friedl return as the Captain of the team instead?”
“What proof would you like then?” Fredrick asked glumly.
“Well, catching him in the act would be good enough... failing that, some sort of signed confession or something. I’m sure you’ll think of something... you’re resourceful like that,” Greenbolt said mockingly.
Fredrick narrowed his eyes at the Inspector, before turning to go.
He’d have to confront Stevenage; there was nothing else for it.
Night had set in by the time Fredrick reached the Industrial District. Tobik’s party would be starting soon... but hopefully it would all be over by the time Rodney Clacks was missed. Fredrick had changed back to his normal form. Shadows were best suited to a shadow Ruki, not the glitz of Rodney.
He found the abandoned paper warehouse, and carefully prized off one of the boards covering the door. He slipped inside, pinning himself to the inside wall.
The warehouse was dusty, and Spyders scuttled between the long abandoned stacks of cardboard boxes. The pale moonlight flooded in through broken skylights, but between the aisles of boxes it was still gloomy. As Fredrick edged along, he saw candlelight flickering in a corner.
There, propped up against the wall, was a small camp bed, a mirror balanced upon one of the boxes, and a purple Acara sat in front of it. A sizable collection of bottles surrounded him, and Mr. Stevenage’s clothes were laid out pristinely on the bed.
Fredrick moved slowly into the light. The Acara’s eyes darted towards the movement in the mirror. He spun round, backing away towards the wall.
“Who are you?” the Acara demanded.
“I might ask you the same question,” Fredrick replied, still walking slowly forwards. “You know me as Rodney Clacks.”
The Acara stopped backing away.
“The conman,” he muttered.
“Now it’s my turn, who are you? I know your name isn’t Mr. Stevenage,” Fredrick asked.
The Acara sat down on the camp bed, head in his hands. Fredrick considered that he looked tired, and very old.
“My name... is Shome, Joseph Shome,” he told Fredrick.
“Very funny,” Fredrick sneered, “Shome is a Faerie Tale, a bogeyman created to scare and impress thieving children. Who are you... really?”
The Acara smiled distantly at the memory of the most famous thief ever. The one that law enforcers didn’t even know existed.
“I just told you, I am Joseph Shome,” he said simply.
“I won’t ask again,” Fredrick threatened.
“Will this convince you?” the Acara asked.
He dipped into a pocket and produced an expensive looking locket which he tossed to Fredrick.
“You’ll find the royal seal of Sakhmet on the back,” the Acara added.
Fredrick examined the locket. Indeed, the royal seal was on the back of it, printed into the gold. Such a trinket could only have come from the royal court of the Lost Desert. The tales that had depicted Shome as the best thief in all of Neopia, they had said he had once stolen Princess Amira’s complete collection of jewels. The tales said that the fakes Shome had left in their place still fooled Amira to this day. The janitor had said that the mystery man had tried to bribe Gordo Gunnels with jewels from the Lost Desert as well...
Was this really Shome, the greatest and most ruthless conman ever to live?
He sat before Fredrick, looking broken, depressed... and on the brink of failure. A frail old man, not the master criminal Fredrick had dreamed of as a child.
“What are you doing here?” Fredrick asked, throwing the locket back.
“I’m losing my edge... I must be if some two-bit criminal like you can make me...” Shome explained. “So, I’m getting out while the getting’s good. One last con, and then I’m gone. I’ll disappear of the face of Neopia.”
“By fixing the result of the Cup?” Fredrick asked.
“Of course not!” Shome laughed, coughing slightly with age as he did so. “The match rigging is a distraction, always has been. The soldiers here are all so busy trying to unravel schemes and intrigue that they are leaving other areas unchecked.”
“Such as?” Fredrick asked.
“Ask yourself, what is the most valuable part of the Altador Cup?” Shome smirked.
There was a glint in the old Acara’s eyes.
“The Cup itself,” Fredrick answered eventually.
“Exactly! I’m going to steal it! Tonight, as a matter of fact,” Shome laughed.
“You can’t!” Fredrick hissed. “They’re on to you, Inspector Greenbolt suspects you! If I don’t hand you in, he’s going to arrest me instead!”
“Oh...” Shome sighed.
Fredrick couldn’t believe what he was seeing... here was the greatest conman ever to live, one that he’d idolised since he was a kid on the streets of Neopia Central... and he was just ready to give up?
Fredrick couldn’t let that happen.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something,” he said eventually. “Greenbolt will be at the party tonight; I’ll distract him somehow. You go ahead as you planned.”
“You’re sure?” Shome asked. “If it doesn’t work, they’ll take you in.”
“I’ve been in the clink before,” Fredrick said proudly. “I’ll get out. Besides, all they can prove is that I’m not who I said I was. Half the people in the VIP box were probably lying about something to each other.”
“Thank you,” Shome said hoarsely.
Fredrick left the warehouse with his head filled with new thoughts. He didn’t have any ideas... there didn’t seem to be anything he could do. The old man would walk straight into a trap, and Fredrick would be forever known as the man who sold out Shome, or he’d get away with it and Fredrick would rot in the Altador cells forever. Either way Fredrick knew one thing, Rodney Clacks would have to make an appearance at the party after all.
To be continued...