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Thompkens Jenkins


by dewdropzz

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Her name was Maude Clock, and she was a Krawk. Thom had liked her from the day he met her because she was a mystery. More bipolar than volatile, always spouting bits of gibberish Thom found enlightening, it was even unknown to Thom whether she was a woman or a child. She was shorter than he was, and with her odd, grating voice she could have been a man, a dog, or a ghost as easily as a woman or girl. To aid in the enigma, her face was always at least partially obscured by her unruly blonde hair, which was often strung with feathers, or leaves, or flowers, or bits of paper, depending on the aesthetic she was going for that day.

     She was quick-witted when her head was at home, razor-tongued at the best of times, and always dependable. She was mistress of a pawnshop, of which Thompkens Jenkins was one of the most loyal customers.

     “What do you think? Is it worth somethin’?”

     The green Krawk held the necklace under a magnifying glass. On the visible side of her face she squinted her eye and screwed up her mouth. Thom wondered if the other side was doing this as well. “It is worth something, but as to whether it’s valuable, that would depend on your perception of value.”

     “Can it fetch me Neopoints, Maude? That’s all I wish to know.”

     Maude held the glass closer, rubbed the stones between her fingers. She licked them, and then she bit them. “Oh yes, it can certainly fetch you Neopoints,” she said shortly. “How many Neopoints, that I cannot say.”

     “Oh for the love of—“ Thompkens Jenkins blew out through his mouth. “You’re playin’ games with me, Maude. You mean to tell me you can’t tell me anythin’ as to its worth?”

     Maude Clock clicked her tongue, turned on her heel, then slapped the necklace like a dead fish upon the table. “The stones are real, I can tell you that. But they’re far from pure.” Thom crowded beside her, and she handed him the magnifying glass. “Look at these deficiencies.”

     “Ahh, I see Maude.” The Ruki frowned. But soon his antennae perked up again. “Oh well, we all have our defic’encies, don’t we?” He twirled the magnifying glass insouciantly in a top hand, dropped it, and caught it in a bottom one just before it hit the ground, much to Maude’s chagrin. “I’m still gonna leave these rocks with you Maude, if you’ll take ‘em. It might not be good for Bub to have somethin’ like this in his shop.”

     “Where did you get it from?”

     “I stole it.”

     “Ah.”

     This offhand revelation did not dismay Maude as one would have hoped. Much of her own supply had, in fact, been acquired through similar means. Alas! ‘tis only to be expected of a pawnshop on the seedier side of Neovia. Maude didn’t hold it against her patrons, so long as they didn’t commit the evil solely for evil’s sake. The pawnbroker knew as well as anyone that times were hard, and a second career as a pickpocket sadly often paid more than an honest living.

     “How’s your Bubby doing?” Maude inquired, by way of subject change.

     “Oh, you know,” elucidated Thom, who had helped himself to a penknife he was examining. “Putterin’ on, in his way.”

     “You’re lucky you’ve got an independent living, TJ.” Maude’s eye suddenly flashed serous. “You’ll never have to work for anyone but Bub, and you stand to inherit the family business someday. That’s more than a lot of folks can say.”

     A transient flick of guilt fluttered in Thom’s own eyes. “I know I’m lucky, Maudey,” the boy said earnestly. “But you ever think how an independent livin’ is just another way of sayin’ you’ve gotta make your own way?”

     Maude said nothing.

     “As to the necklace,” the Krawk resumed after a moment’s pause, “I’ll give you—“

     “Never you mind, Maude. Keep it as a gift from ol’ TJ.” Thom used one hand to hold up his friend’s hair from behind, and two more to fasten the necklace about her throat. “It matches your eye!” Though intended as a compliment, Thom really did Maude’s blue eye(s) an injustice. The one that was showing was remarkably clear, with far fewer inconsistencies than the sapphire.

     “Oh, you little charmer. Give me a kiss and be off with you!”

     Thom complied. The air in Maude’s shop was growing stifling anyway. He had one last stop to make before returning home, and set his steps once more in the direction of the town square market, for he was getting hungry.

     

~~

     Market day, Thom reflected, was such a beautiful thing, it was a pity it occurred only once a month. So much chaos ensued from market day, so much confusion. So many people roving about with fat purses waiting to be spilled, so many merchants’ stalls with so comparatively few to mind them.

     Having earlier indulged in a morning repast of a crusty roll and two pomegranates, free of charge, Thom wended his way through the crowds once again, in search of something more substantial for lunch. It wasn’t long before the savoury scent of meat pie tickled his nose, still strongly discernible in the fragrant cocktail of market smells, the Great Unwashed on a Neovian summer day, commingled with the medicated whiff of their soap-scented “betters.”

     A few pardon me’s and pushes right on through, and there was the source of the delicious aroma, a grocer’s stall with an entire luncheon menu of items — bacon, mutton, trotters, bread with jam, eggs, potatoes, sausage, scones — all freshly prepared, and stacked on plates on a table a stone’s throw away. Thom was just trying to decide between a meat pie and a very enticing sausage that seemed to be calling his name, when a new figure came into his peripheral vision, and captured his attention.

     A child. A Gnorbu, red, male, about six or seven years old. He wore a small, round cap, a ratty vest, and a pair of short knickers that were much too small for him. He wore no shoes; though in all truth Thom wouldn’t have worn shoes either if he hadn’t just come from Maude’s place.

     “What’s your story then, stripling?”

     The Gnorbu looked at first as if he was going to retreat, but seeing the Ruki made no move to badger or harm him, he remained where he was.

     “I’m hungry,” was his story, told in the plain words of a desolate child.

     “Why should anyone be hungry in a world so full of food as this?” Thom laughed, and he stretched out his arms as if to embrace the grocer’s stall.

     “I gots no money.”

     “Nobody’s askin’ for it.”

     Registering the older boy’s meaning, the little Gnorbu recoiled. “Mama says I must never steal.”

     “And it’s very wise of you to listen to Mama. I’d listen to ‘er too, if I had one of me own, and a deal wiser I would be.”

     The child’s gaze was fixed on bread roll — a trifling thing to long for on a table of such luxuries. “Your mama didn’t give you a proud heart, did she?” catechized Thom. “A little proudness is fine, but she didn’t tell you never to ‘ccept gifts from friends, did she?”

     The boy shook his head in nonplussed wonder, which increased twentyfold when Thom snatched the bread roll and gave it to him. “Here,” the Ruki tipped his hat as he turned to go. “A gift from a friend.”

     No sooner had he finished his sentence than the grip of urgency arrested him. The grocer was coming!

     “Oh no...”

     They were hewn in by the throng. There was nowhere for a clumsy tyke to hide himself. The little boy began to shake.

     “Tuck that bread away, do me a favour and send up the cry,” Thompkens Jenkins hissed.

     “What’s the cry?”

     “Oh, you know it! Stop, thief!

     “But why would I—?”

     “Just do it!

     The little Gnorbu stashed the bitten bread in his vest, stood back, and with a reluctant but steady little voice, shrilly shouted, “Stop, thief! Stop, thief!”

     Thompkens Jenkins took off. The crowd was immediately alerted. Others joined in the cry, and soon it seemed the whole marketplace moved as one body in the direction of the Gnorbu’s outstretched finger — the direction of Thom’s escape!

     “Thanks kid,” muttered Thom as he dashed within an inch of his life. It was his own fault for not clarifying the plan. Of course a greenhorn seven-year-old wouldn’t have the sense to point them in the other direction.

     “Stop, thief! Stop, thief!”

     Poor Thom darted and dodged, his feet pounding the cobblestone streets. He thanked his lucky stars he had worn shoes today — you just never know when they might come in handy! His heart beat to the rhythm of the race, leapt to his mouth, throbbed in his ears. In all his twelve years of existence, Thom had only been chased by angry mobs a handful of times. It was exhilarating, unquestionably good exercise, but nothing he wished to make a habit of.

     “Stooop, thieeef!”

     At last the crowd began losing steam. Many of its members dispersed after running three quarters of a mile without seeing hide nor hair of the criminal. Thom managed to lose the very last of them in a back alleyway on Dowderby Street. In a hidden little nook, between two industrial office buildings, were a fisherman’s tackle shop and dwelling house. Thom ducked inside the shop just in time to watch the end of his train of pursuers go by.

     “Is that Thompkens Jenkins what stepped into me shop?”

     Thom heaved a sign of relief from his very bosom, and collapsed in a heap on the fisherman’s floor. “Hallo, Mr. Weatherall! If an angry mob should come in lookin’ for me, do have the kindness to tell ‘em I’m dead.”

     

~~

     But Thompkens Jenkins was not dead; fear not, dear Reader. He had a lot of life and gumption left in him yet! In fact, if I were to write down everything that happened to our friend Thom — all the adventures he had, all the mischief he caused, all the tight fixes he escaped by the skin of his teeth — I suppose I would have to write a story twenty times the length of this one.

     I’ll add one more account to my short little narrative. After all, it does tie in as the significant close to Thom’s eventful day.

     After running like mad the better part of an hour, Thompkens Jenkins was given a much-appreciated sanctuary at Mr. Weatherall’s shop. He spent the rest of that afternoon visiting with his old friend. During conversation’s easy course, Thom found his eyes frequently wandering to a large, rectangular glass tank atop a high counter. Thom did not know what this tank contained, and therein lie the intrigue. Anything mysterious to Thompkens Jenkins was a burning and unyielding source of fascination.

     Thom moved about as he talked, tilting his head, craning his neck and standing on tiptoe, trying to view the tank from different angles, hoping thereby to gain insight into its goods. At last when he grew tired of this (and the fisherman began to look at him suspiciously), he resorted to asking point blank, “What the deuce is inside that tank?”

     The fisherman laughed. He procured himself a stepladder (for he was a chubby striped Meerca with limited capacity for reaching things), and brought the tank down to eye-level. What Thom saw then was enough to make him stagger backwards in alarm. He gasped. He gaped, he gawked. He repeated his question — “What the deuce...? What the bloomin’ blazes is it?”

     Mr. Weatherall’s face radiated pride. “This here is a Maraquan Grackle Bug, a rare delicacy in these parts. An’t she a beauty?”

     A beauty, ha! There was a pretty word for it! The creature was unlike anything Thom had ever seen before. It had two monstrous claws that looked like they could lop a bloke’s nose off, six more legs behind them like the legs of a caterpillar, and a stubby, two-pronged fishy tail. It had two long antennas that spanned almost the entire length of its body. And it was pink to boot! Or, more precisely, a sort of light rust colour.

     “Yes sir, this little darlin’ will be dee-lightful with some butter and garlic.” Mr. Weatherall smacked his lips, in transports of culinary ecstasy.

     “Butter and garlic? You mean to tell me you plan to eat this thing?”

     “Not me, chum,” said the fisherman with a touch of sadness in his voice. “But whatever Larry comes ‘long and offers the right price.”

     The tank that had been such an imposing mystery seemed much smaller up close. The creature filled it entirely, without even enough room to move forwards or backwards. The odd bubble arose intermittently above its head, indicating that it was still alive and breathing. And yet, what a life! Thompkens Jenkins had never been in jail (well, at this point), but he knew many who had (whose names, Reader, I may not disclose). He knew from their accounts that the only thing that kept most prisoners going was the anticipation of release, the knowledge that they would one day see the light of day again.

     But for this poor captive there was no prospect of release. All that was on the horizon for the Grackle Bug was capital punishment by boiling water. And, like many poor prisoners in these times, he would not deserve it.

     Thom looked at the creature’s eyes — it did have eyes, though they were vacant and unmoving. Something washed over Thom, a wave of thought and feeling he could conjure up no word for, other than honest-to-goodness, heartfelt empathy. Suddenly the Ruki realized he had seen a creature like it before.

     “It looks like me!” Thom exclaimed. “By golly, we’re like two peas in a pea pod, we are! Just look at the ‘andsome devil, Mr. Weatherall, look at ‘im! What do you typic’lly charge for a speck-imen like this?”

     “That depends on the weight,” said the fisherman. “This one’s a solid five-pounder...” The striped Meerca ruminated with his hand in his beard. “I’d say about fourteen Neopoints.”

     Now, something you should know about Thom, Reader, is that he was not in the habit of carrying money. Though he did like to hoard it, he had no use carrying it, as there were much easier ways to obtain his heart’s desires. But Mr. Weatherall was a friend, and though Thom was deft at what he did, a five pound lobster in a bowl of water would be no easy heist.

     It was then Thom remembered, he still had the ten Neopoint note in his pocket!

     “Ten’s all I got on me. Will you take ten for ‘im?”

     Mr. Weatherall pondered this offer a moment. “For you Thom, as you’re an old friend,” the fisherman hesitated, “Twelve.”

     “I’ll have to put the other two on credit.” With that, Thompkens Jenkins laid down the note, took hold of the tank with all four hands and began to leave.

     “I’ll take ‘im outta the tank for ya, chum. You bring him ‘ome to Old Bob and he’ll know how to cook ‘im up for you.”

     “There’ll be no cookin’ this creature, Mr. Weatherall.” The Ruki looked the Meerca full in the face a whole ten seconds, as if to signify there was no room for debate. “And I’ll be needin’ to borrow this tank, if you don’t mind.”

     Some further negotiations were made concerning Thom’s credit, as well as the rental of the tank, at five percent interest (as the people of Dowderby Street are all shrewd with their Neopoints). But soon Thom was strolling leisurely home, content as a king, with his new friend in his arms.

     “Your powers of deception are growin’, lad.” Bob greeted him with this extolment as he walked in the front door. “You said you’d be back in a trice and you were gone the whole afternoon! Ah, but what have you got there? Have you brought us some supper?”

     “This an’t supper, Bub. This is Bartholomew,” Thom said briskly as he carried the Maraquan Grackle Bug upstairs to his room.

     Here I draw my story to a close, and end this first chapter, this introduction to Thompkens Jenkins and company. Whether we meet these characters again to delve deeper into their individual lives, shall be determined by Readers’ response. Until then, dear Reader, I leave you with the following advice: always keep your pockets buttoned, always keep your purse in hand, always keep your wits about you, for you never know when Thom will strike again.

     The End.

 
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