Good Foundations: Part Three
Seth Vargo was on the final slice of his fifth pizza. The collective dribbling of tomato sauce that had gathered on his napkin would have been enough to feed several poverty stricken Meridell villages for some time.
The look the brown Ixi gave him as she approached the table was one of pure contempt.
“Lunchtime finished over three hours ago,” she said, turning up her nose.
From her accent to the fine dress she wore, she practically radiated money.
“Which means dinner will be starting soon,” Vargo replied, stuffing the last of the pizza in his mouth. “What do you want?”
The Ixi made a slight disapproving noise, “Mr. Jennings visited you today.”
“I thought it was time we met,” Vargo explained, spraying a few lumps of food across the table. “Care for a seat?”
“No,” the Ixi said, without a hint of politeness. “I have a charity ball to attend tonight.”
“Of course you do, Lady Cambridge,” Vargo said in mocking tones.
“Do not take Jennings lightly,” the Ixi snapped. “He’s more cunning than he appears.”
Vargo waved his hands dismissively.
“It’s in hand. He won’t be a problem after tonight,” he reassured her.
The Ixi cocked an eyebrow, “He’s not like your average Neopia Central thug.”
“After tonight it won’t matter what he is; I’m sending my best boys,” Vargo answered, absent-mindedly checking the menu.
The Ixi shook her head. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She nodded curtly at the Skeith across the table before leaving him to the rest of his meals.
Mr. Jennings was good at waiting. During his time in the Shenkuu army he had waited in the falling mountain snow for days before he ambushed the enemies of the Empire. He’d waited an entire year for his plans to come to fruition while he was in the Emperor’s dungeons.
On this particular occasion, however, Mr. Jennings barely had to wait at all.
The carriage rattled along the streets, coming neatly to a stop outside the little office in the Marketplace. It had only been a brief trip to see Kanrik of the Thieves Guild and inform him of the status of his stolen gold.
There, nailed rather roughly to the door of the building, was a note. The ketchup stains on it left no doubt as to the author.
I thought about what you said, and I think we can make a deal. Meet me at my yard tonight.
Jennings smiled to himself, and handed the note to Mr. Black.
“I think we shall take a trip to Mr. Vargo’s construction yard,” he said happily, climbing back inside the carriage.
“Sir?” Black asked. “This is going to be a trap.”
“Almost certainly,” Jennings replied, sitting back. “Let’s see what Mr. Vargo sees fit to throw at us, shall we?”
Black closed the door and climbed into his perch at the front. The Whinnies lurched forward, carrying them through the streets once more.
Jennings watched the world pass by outside. The thick smog of the city was already setting in, obscuring most of the buildings. Not that it mattered; the Docklands were the slum of Neopia Central. The architecture wasn’t exactly impressive.
Once, Seth Vargo had owned this place. You couldn’t set foot in it without him knowing. But gradually, his hold had begun to slip. Everyone knew it, though no one ever said anything. After all, everyone knew about Vargo’s particular talents.
Mr. Jennings had moved in when he saw the chance. Most of the west side near to Kau Kau Farms had been bought up, and he used it to house the Shenkuu labour force he had brought in. Now he was staking a claim right in the heart of Vargo’s territory, and the old Skeith was worried enough to offer an outright truce.
Jennings already had him running scared.
The carriage gently came to a stop, and Mr. Black opened the door.
They were outside a construction yard. The name Vargo was printed along the wooden planks that barred the contents from public view.
The metal gate leading inside had been left ajar, invitingly.
Jennings took care to make an audible amount of noise as he entered, followed closely by Mr. Black.
A building was being constructed within, and the loose steel frame had already been erected. Cement mixers and tools lay abandoned on the floor.
“Jennings!” a voice called from the structure.
“I am here to speak with Mr. Vargo,” Jennings answered politely.
Behind him there was a metallic noise. He turned to see a large Jetsam closing the gate to the yard.
Out of the shadows, other pets emerged, carrying clubs and other weapons.
“Mr. Vargo won’t be joining us,” a Kougra sneered.
Jennings feigned a look of surprise and turned to his bodyguard. “It appears we have fallen victim to a cunning trap, Mr. Black.”
“Quite so, sir,” Mr. Black agreed, cracking his knuckles.
There were several ‘hur-hur’ noises from Vargo’s goons.
“Mr. Vargo says that you are done in the Docklands,” the Kougra added. “You agree to leave his turf alone; you leave here with your life.”
Jennings smiled. “I can’t remember ever seeing turf in the Docklands. Regardless, I cannot comply.”
The Kougra batted his club against his hand as the circle of stocky Neopets closed in. “Then you know what’s going to happen next.”
“Yes,” Jennings replied simply. “Eight against two isn’t a fair fight, though. Why don’t you sit this one out, Mr. Black?”
The Grarrl nodded. “As you say sir.”
There was a chorus of ‘hur-hurs’ from the goons.
“You’re going to fight us all by yourself?” a Moehog asked.
Jennings smiled lightly, and clutched his cane. “Yes.”
There was the quietest of clicks, and the diamond atop the cane loosened. The black cover fell to the ground, revealing a thin polished blade within. The gathered Neopets barely had time to digest the new information before Jennings launched himself into the air, leaping towards the Jetsam that had closed the gate.
The stocky Neopet was on the floor before he knew what hit him, but Jennings was already on the move, jumping and leaping like an acrobat, making his movements difficult to track.
One Neopet fell, then another, and another. In barely ten seconds, the eight Neopets were reduced to one.
The Kougra stood alone, his comrades fallen around him. He swung his club wildly, but Jennings dodged it with an ease that seemed impossible for a man of his size and age.
With one swift blow, the club clattered to the ground. Jennings brought the blade to the Kougra’s neck.
“Understand this,” Jennings said, hardly even breaking a sweat. “I am a very generous man, far more so than Mr. Vargo. If you had done this to him, he most certainly would not spare your life. You are being let go so you can tell Mr. Vargo exactly what happened here tonight.”
The blade moved away, and the Kougra hesitated for only a moment before running for the gate and bolting away into the darkness.
Jennings meanwhile reclaimed his cane, and slotted the sword back inside. It settled with a satisfying click.
“Well, that went as well as could be expected. We certainly know what type of man Mr. Vargo is now... a very stupid one,” he mused as he and Mr. Black made their way back to the carriage outside. “What’s next, Mr. Black?”
“We have an appointment with the Thieves Guild, sir,” Black answered.
“Ah yes, the gold.” Jennings nodded. “We’d better get to the Catacombs then.”
Judge Hog stared impassively at Kanrik of the Thieves Guild. The hooded Gelert wore a smug grin. He knew he could get away with anything as long as Mr. Jennings was on his side.
“Ah, Judge Hog, a pleasure,” Jennings called as he entered the large cavern.
Aside from a few burning torches, the place was mostly dark. They were far away from the hustle and bustle of the main Catacombs. No one ever came this deep... unless they were up to no good.
“Mr. Jennings,” the Judge grunted in response.
Two Defenders behind the Judge seemed to sigh with dissatisfaction.
“I believe you have some property to return to Mr. Kanrik,” Jennings told him, smiling pleasantly.
The Moehog sighed, and nodded to the Defenders behind him. They opened two crates they had been standing next to and moved aside.
“All present and accounted for, sir,” the Judge told him.
“Mr. Kanrik?” Jennings asked, gesturing towards the crates.
Kanrik and two of his thieves moved closer, still wary of the Judge. The Gelert dipped his hand into one of the crates, and let the gold within run through his fingers.
“Thank you very much.” Kanrik smirked, adding a wink especially for Judge Hog.
As the other two thieves carried the crates out, Kanrik dipped a bag into them and filled it. He passed it to Jennings.
“A good will gesture,” Kanrik explained, before giving a mock bow and exiting the cavern.
“Very generous of him,” Jennings observed, handing the bag to Mr. Black. “Thank you for your time, Judge Hog.”
Jennings turned to go.
“Just out of interest,” the Judge called after him. “They’ll be smuggling that gold back through the Lost Desert, won’t they? Perhaps they’ll use the old Sankara Canyon they think no one knows about? Try and get it to Altador to be melted down, maybe?”
“What of it?” Jennings asked.
“I took the liberty of sending a messenger to Sakhmet, suggesting Princess Amira place a few extra guards on the Canyon,” the Judge replied, a sudden grin spreading across his face.
Jennings merely stared at him. “Did you really?”
“Like you said, sooner or later that gold will end up back in the hands of the Princess,” the Judge said smugly. “I’m just speeding up the process. You have your profit, now it’s my turn to have my law.”
Jennings said nothing for a moment, before merely smiling. “Quite so, and very resourceful of you if I may say so.”
Jennings turned and left, Mr. Black trailing behind him. The Judge turned to his Defenders and grinned broadly. He had managed a victory over Jennings, minor though it was.
Jennings and Black continued on their way back to the surface.
“You could always tell Kanrik to change his route,” Black suggested.
“Mr. Kanrik is not an easy man to find twice in one day,” Jennings answered, still walking ahead. “Besides, why should we want him to change his route?”
“He’ll be arrested,” Black pointed out. “He’ll think you set him up.”
“I doubt that very much,” Jennings replied. “You see, by the time Mr. Kanrik reaches the Lost Desert, the contents of those crates will be two very large banners that read ‘Must Try Harder’.”
“Mr. Kanrik is selling the gold to an inside man in the National Neopian later tonight to help alleviate a gold shortage the bank is experiencing,” Jennings added. “Judge Hog is a man that believes most of this city is incorruptible, and so assumes that in order to melt down large amounts of stolen gold you would have to go somewhere as far flung as Altador. He is sadly very wrong. Still, he likes to think he has little victories, and who are we to deprive him of them?”
Jennings emerged back into the early morning air of the city and allowed himself a brief devious smile.
To be continued...