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Harker's Story


by tanikagillam

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By the time Harker managed to escape from Jane Clementine’s clutches, hail a cab and return home, he found Aren in one of the guest bedrooms, wrapped up in a thick woollen blanket and deeply asleep. The Lutari hadn’t been exaggerating when he told Harker how tired he was earlier. He didn’t so much as twitch a muscle as the Krawk opened the door and peeked inside.

     Closing the door quietly behind him, Harker returned downstairs and headed for the kitchen. He found Aren’s bag hanging on the hook of the back door, as it always was. Rifling through it, his fingers enclosed around a set of keys, and he pulled them out quietly. He returned the backpack to the hook and exited through the back door, shoving the keys into the pocket of his thick coat.

     His housekeeper lived a short walk from his house in a small, comfortable cottage just off the main street. Harker had been there only once before but found that he easily recalled the way as he strode briskly down the road, wrapping his scarf more securely around his face. Only the point of his golden nose stuck out, slightly reddened by the sharp sting of the cold.

     Pausing briefly on the doormat, Harker gave a quick rap on the heavy wooden door and listened for the faint echoing inside. Nobody answered, and with a quick glance over his shoulder to ensure nobody was watching, the Krawk pulled the keys from his pocket with a gloved hand and let himself into Aren’s house.

     It was nicely decorated, and comfortably warm due to the plush carpeting and insulated roofing, and Harker shed his thick coat and let it fall inelegantly to the floor. Without wasting a moment to glance around, he headed down the hallway towards the master bedroom and opened the door.

     It was there that he started pulling open drawers and cupboards, sorting swiftly through his housekeeper’s possessions. He felt a momentary pang of guilt as he was rifling through, but this was quashed under the outrage that was burning through him as he worked. He suspected that Aren himself was guilty of no wrongdoing – the boy was simply too goodhearted. But his twin brother on the other hand . . .

     “Ah,” Harker mumbled aloud to himself as he unearthed a pile of handwritten letters stored in a small box. He opened the topmost letter and scanned the page. It was dated over five years ago, and the paper had yellowed slightly with age.

     Dear Aren,

     Thank you for your letter. I notice you write less and less of late. I don’t blame you – I guess I am a rather poor relation. Still, it is nice to hear from you. Father has stopped writing, but he’s an old bore anyhow.

     Congratulations on your new job. You must be very pleased, as I am sure Mother and Father are as well. Working for the richest man in Neovia – that must be rewarding. Or is he a miserable old oaf who cares only for himself? The rich tend to be like that.

     I don’t suppose you’d be coming to visit me any time soon. I’ve been moved cells again – yes, again. It’s hardly my fault my last cellmate was such a jerk, I only meant to teach him a small lesson. Still, this new cell isn’t too bad. A bit smaller though, and a new cellmate as well. He doesn’t say much. I haven’t even seen his face properly, he keeps in the corner and hardly moves. It’s fine by me – I’m getting tired of having to change cells because everyone wants to pick a fight with me. They say if I get into one more fight I’ll be put into solitary – I’m actually kind of considering it. Everyone here is the worst.

     Anyway, thanks again for writing. Send me some more of Mother’s fruit cake, will you? She hasn’t replied to my last letter, either.

     Bye, then.

     Your Brother,

     J

     Harker’s top lip curled up into a slight sneer as he tossed the letter aside and reached for another. This one was dated a little over two years ago and was a lot more brusque.

     Dear Aren,

     Thank you for your letter. It’s nice to know you haven’t forgotten me entirely, even if you do write only every six months or so. You talk a lot about your boss, I don’t see why you’re so fond of him. He’s just a rich Krawk who spends all his time reading a boring book and tinkering with things. I really couldn’t care less.

     Your Brother,

     J

     Well, that was quite rude. He withdrew another letter from the box and noticed that it was dated only a few days after the one he had just read, and had a very curious change of tone.

     Dear Aren,

     I’m sorry for my last letter. I am interested in your job, truly. Your employer sounds very nice, and he must treat you well for you to sing such high praises of him. Tell me – what kind of books does he enjoy reading? You mentioned one in particular, that he’s read over a dozen times by your count. He must really like that book. What is it? Perhaps I’ll order a copy to be delivered here – there isn’t much by way of entertainment down here.

     Hope to hear from you soon.

     Your Brother,

     J

     Harker read the letter through again and wondered what had changed in so little time that Aren’s brother might suddenly be interested in him – and the book. How could he have possibly made any sort of connection to what the book actually was, from what Harker could only assume was a brief description from Aren himself in his own letter? He wished desperately to know what the Lutari had written in his replies, and what Jorge actually knew of the book.

     Harker was so absorbed in reading the letters that he didn’t hear the bedroom door open behind him, and soft footsteps pad into the room.

     “Breaking and entering, Mister? I hear that’s a real crime in these parts of Neovia.”

     Harker narrowed his eyes into beady slits as he cast a contemptuous glance over his shoulder. Behind him stood a Lutari, wearing a dark hooded cloak and a mean smirk on his face.

     Jane Clementine had been right – he did look an awful lot like Aren, right down to the freckles across his nose. It was uncanny.

     Harker stood slowly, the letters still in his hand. He looked Jorge up and down, and the Lutari did the same to him.

     “Jorge,” Harker said, and the other gave a nod of his head with a sly smile. It wasn’t really a smile, Harker saw, but more a show of teeth.

     “Mister Harker, I presume. I’ve heard so much about you.”

     “I’m sure,” the Krawk pursed his lips and gestured at the backpack slung over the Lutari’s shoulder. “You have something of mine, I believe.”

     “Not yours anymore, mate.” Jorge frowned as he noticed the letters clutched in Harker’s hand for the first time. “Been snooping, have we? I’m sure the Defenders will have plenty to say about that when they get here.”

     “The Defenders?”

     “When I saw that my brother’s house had been broken into, naturally I called for reinforcements. They should be here any minute.”

     “Except that I didn’t.” Harker stared at his housekeeper’s brother coldly. “It’ll be a bit difficult to convince the Defenders that I broke in if I have a key to the house.”

     “If you had a key, indeed.” Jorge pulled a bunch of keys on a ring from his pocket and jangled them mockingly. Harker recognised the set as Aren’s, and remembered with dismay that he had shoved them back into his coat pocket – before shedding it to the floor in the hallway. “Without it – why, you’re just a common thief, Mister Harker.”

     “Where’s the book, Jorge?” The Krawk demanded without preamble, sick of playing. “I’ll chase you to the ends of Neopia if I have to. You don’t want to play this game with me.”

     “I should think I wouldn’t,” the Lutari mused, almost as if to himself. He was peering at Harker as if he were something he hadn’t seen before. “Everyone talks about you as if you’re some kind of deity. ‘The richest man in Neovia. The most important man in Neovia’. I don’t understand it, myself. You’re just a wealthy old hermit, living in his mansion and watching the world go by around him. Even he knows who you are, although he wouldn’t say how. What’s so special about you?”

     “Old? I’m not – hang on a minute. Who did you say knew me?”

     Jorge flashed him another grin and Harker saw for the first time that he and Aren weren’t so identical – not really. Aren’s face was kind.

     “That sounds like the Defenders. Gosh, they do take a while to respond to crimes, don’t they?”

     Harker was angry. He was angry that his house and privacy had been violated. He was angry that his book had been stolen – the most important book in the world. He was angry that Jane Clementine had bought so many muffins when he’d said he wasn’t even hungry, so he’d naturally eaten too many and gotten a stomachache. He was annoyed that Aren had such a wayward nuisance of a brother. He was annoyed that the Neovian branch of the Defenders of Neopia was generally useless. And he was particularly annoyed at himself for leaving the keys in his coat pocket in the hallway.

     It was with these thoughts swimming through his head that Harker decided if he was going to be arrested, he might as well make it worth their while. He launched himself at Jorge, taking the Lutari entirely by surprise, and it was in a tangle on the floor that the Defenders found them a minute later, wrestling with all the fury of two equally angry men, and it took several of the squad to pull them apart.

     

To be continued…

 
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