High Society: Part Two
Lady Cambridge stared at the fireplace as the flames burnt away the logs. It was a grand affair with an exquisitely carved Altador-style mantle, one unsurprisingly like pretty much all of the fireplaces in the Hills. She sat with a drink in her hand, absentmindedly sloshing the liquid about in the glass.
“Who is he...?” she murmured.
“My lady?” a butler Xweetok asked from the corner.
Cambridge jumped slightly, having forgotten her servant was even in the room.
“Nothing. I was talking to myself,” she snapped.
She returned to staring at the fire for a few moments, before turning back to the Xweetok with slightly softened features.
“Perhaps you can help me, Worthington,” she considered. “Who is Mr. Jennings? I’m sure that’s the key. If I could unlock the mysteries about what goes on in his head, everything would be so much easier. Sometimes, those of us with station look at things from a different perspective to the common man; perhaps you know things that I do not.”
“Jennings... the Krawk businessman?” the Xweetok asked. “I only know what I’m told, my Lady, but I have heard rumours that he is a criminal. He’s a Shenkuu exile, isn’t he?”
Cambridge nodded. “General Qin. Everyone knows that. In fact, I’d say Mr. Jennings goes out of his way to make sure that everyone knows that. I mean, what do you know of the way he does business, or his employees?”
“I can safely say I know nothing of the matter, my Lady,” the butler replied. “You and I do not move in the same circles.”
“Ever insightful, Worthington,” she sighed. “I may as well be talking to myself.”
She returned to the fire, but gasped a moment later.
“A confidante!” she said, once more ignoring the butler. “Everyone needs someone to talk to, even if it’s a brainless oaf! Worthington!”
“Yes, my Lady?” the butler asked.
“Make sure my carriage is prepared,” Cambridge instructed. “Tomorrow I shall require it.”
Jennings picked the morning paper off his desk, and read the headline to himself for at least the tenth time.
‘WOMEN’S INSTITUTE OPENS HOMELESS SHELTER IN SLUMS’
“Say what you like about Lady Cambridge’s less favourable interests, she does seem to actually do some charity work,” Jennings remarked.
“I’m sure there’ll be an ulterior motive, sir,” Mr. Black replied.
Jennings glanced for only a moment at a nearby story about a break in at the National Neopian, causing their gold reserves to be further depleted.
Jennings set the paper down. “Indeed. We must discover with haste what that motive is. This is the purpose of our first stop this morning, Mr. Black.”
“Sir?” Black asked, as Jennings stood up.
“Know your enemy, Mr. Black,” Jennings remarked simply as he made his way to the door. “Now, I calculate that Judge Hog will be on his way to speak to me, most likely on the subject of Mr. Kanrik’s daring raid on the National Neopian Bank last night. If we are to avoid him, I suggest we leave now.”
Black nodded, grinning ever so slightly.
Of course, Judge Hog couldn’t prove the involvement of Mr. Jennings, so the Krawk had nothing to fear. For some reason, though, he seemed to enjoy leaving places just as the Judge arrived, forcing the caped Moehog to follow him across the city.
The two entered the lift and Black pressed the button for the lobby. Just as one set of lift doors closed, the one next door opened. Judge Hog marched out of it with purpose, and slammed open the doors to Jennings’s office in an overly dramatic style.
He deflated slightly as he realised no one was inside.
Mr. Jennings tapped his cane on the edge of the desk with just enough force to wake the sleeping green Bruce behind it.
She jumped with a start as she noticed the Krawk and Grarrl that were stood in front of her, and hastily located a pair of glasses hidden in the depths of her grey hair.
“Can I help you?” she asked as she squinted through them.
Jennings smiled politely back. “We would like to look at the Meridell records, if that’s possible.”
The Bruce squinted a little harder. “You’re sure?”
“Yes, quite sure,” Jennings replied. “Is there a problem with that? They are open for public viewing, are they not?”
The Bruce moved her chair back and stood up. “Yes, it’s just not that many people can be bothered to go through them. This way, sirs.”
She led them at what could only be described as an elderly pace through the corridors of the National Neopian Museum.
Of course, in actual fact, the wing they were in was the Public Records Office. Such was the efficiency for space in Neopia Central, and the size of the National Neopian Museum, that it contained not only the Museum proper, but the Public Records Office, the National Library, and nearly a hundred rooms inhabited by researchers and archaeologists that hadn’t seen the light of day in many months.
The old Bruce led the pair through the rows of shelves, passing smaller rooms dedicated to island nations with small populations or badly kept records. Eventually, she stopped outside a particularly dusty looking door marked for Meridell.
“Good luck,” she said simply, before she turned and waddled off back in the direction she had come from.
Mr. Black opened the door, and allowed Mr. Jennings inside.
It was, by any standards, a great hall. The large space had been completely filled with shelves and stacks of paper.
Mr. Jennings sighed almost inaudibly before saying, “It is at times like these that I wished Meridell did not have quite as much a complicated history of family ties as it does.”
He set off down one of the rows. “Cambridge should hopefully be relatively close.”
For once, Mr. Jennings could not have been more wrong.
It was five hours later when Jennings triumphantly held aloft a dusty file labelled ‘Cambridge’.
Mr. Black wasted no time in clearing a reading table, and his master sat down to begin leafing through the family history.
“Hmm...” Jennings said, more to himself than Black. “The Cambridge family, one of the oldest of the Meridell-Cogham land owners.”
He leafed through a few more pages and noted the dates. “Very old.”
He skipped a few dozen more pages, and smiled thinly.
“Here we are, Lord Hemlock Cambridge, died five years ago, no children, no siblings,” he said.
“That’s around when Lady Cambridge came to the city, sir,” Black added.
“Yes, undoubtedly to get away from painful memories in Meridell,” Jennings agreed. “At least, I’m sure that’s what she told everyone.”
He turned the parchment around so that Black could see it.
“You will note, however, that this document says that Lord Cambridge, the last of the Cambridge line, died alone,” Jennings told him.
“She’s lying then?” Black asked.
“Indeed,” Jennings agreed, taking back the paper. “There is no Lady Cambridge, which makes this woman all the more interesting, and all the more deadly. Not the most ingenious of lies, but a convenient one for Neopia Central. Everyone here knows that there are more Lords in Meridell than actual people; just because no one’s ever heard of a Lady Cambridge doesn’t mean a thing to them. More importantly, she will have considered the state of this place.”
He gestured to the room, which was largely covered in cobwebs.
“She will have assumed no one would bother to come here, because no one does,” Jennings added.
He stood up abruptly.
“What now, sir?” Black asked.
“Reputation is everything with the rich, Mr. Black,” Jennings answered as he made his way to the door. “Her duplicity must be revealed to her peers. But not yet, we can prove who she isn’t, but we can’t yet prove who she is.”
It had been a long day.
Whilst Mr. Black had many talents, and was by all accounts an intelligent man, reading through boring family histories was not something he particularly enjoyed.
As a consequence, when Mr. Jennings finally let the Grarrl go for the night, he was more than happy to head home.
Home for Mr. Black was not an overly expensive place. Jennings paid him more than enough to earn a comfortable living, but Black had never really felt at home in the more upmarket areas of the city.
And the city was his home. Unlike Jennings who had come in from a foreign land, Black had lived there his entire life.
He had been raised in the Docklands, the slums of the city. If you didn’t learn to think with your fists, you ended up in the gutter. Had it not been for Black’s relative intelligence, he might have ended up working for Seth Vargo. Thankfully, fate had sent him down another route.
He’d never been able to leave the Docklands behind, not completely. It ran through your veins, and once you were there, you never truly left.
Now, he had a small house on the outskirts of the area. Just far enough away from the really rough areas, but still close enough to be considered unsafe.
Black’s shoulders tightened as he rounded the corner onto his street. There was a carriage parked outside his house.
A carriage of any sort was an oddity in the Docklands, but this one practically bled money.
As Black neared his home, he carefully took his trusty set of knuckle dusters out of his pocket and hugged the wall. His front door was open, and light was pouring out into the street.
He paused on the threshold. There was no sound coming from within. He chanced a quick glance to discover that his front hall was empty. Carefully, he sneaked inside.
The door to his front room had been left ajar slightly, with a light inside. Black tensed his hand, ready to strike, as he carefully pushed open the door with his other.
The sight inside took a moment to process.
There were no burglars. No assassins.
A brown Ixi sat in an armchair, carefully reading the newspaper, while a blue Xweetok stood behind in silence.
Lady Cambridge smiled when she saw Black enter.
“Mr. Black!” she said in what could almost pass as a happy voice. “We have been waiting for you. You have an appointment.”
To be continued...