James Nexis - Deception: Part Five
James and Deirdre sat on two of the crates and, after a second’s hesitation, Lucas resumed his place next to his uncle.
“So,” James said, pulling his notebook out, “you faked your death?”
“I had to,” Angus Treywhite said guiltily, his wrinkly face frowning. “I signed what appeared to be a simple and innocent contract with that cursed Toni Roscoe. Next thing I know he’s demanding exorbitant amounts of interest, and we get into an argument.”
James rolled his eyes. “I heard about that. Let me guess- it ended with him threatening you?”
“Yes. Roscoe’s been accused of lots of crimes, but never charged. He just plans everything too well; people are never murdered, they just argue with him and then have tragic accidents a few days later. I knew it was just a matter of time before he dealt with me, so I bought a ticket to Brightvale and faked my death.”
James looked through his notes enthusiastically. “It makes sense. Everyone would think that you’d been intending to flee the country from Toni, but had been too slow. Toni, on the other hand, would think that someone else had had a grudge with you and had beat him to it.”
“Exactly. Lucas here,” Angus nodded to the Gelert, “was in on the whole thing. He was the one who would ‘discover’ me, and organize for my non-existent body to be moved to the morgue, the proprietor of which is a good family friend, and though reluctant, agreed to do us the favour of not saying anything.”
“I see.” James stashed his notebook away again. “So... what now?”
Angus Treywhite swallowed nervously. “I was sort of hoping to appeal to your better nature...”
“Don’t have one, mate.” James smirked. “I’m a reporter, lacking in any form of mercy or kindness.”
There was a flat silence for a few seconds before James broke out in a massive grin. “Don’t be stupid. Of course I’m not going to turn you in after you put so much effort into your great escape. But, no, seriously; don’t you think there might be an easier way of solving this?”
“How?” Lucas asked gloomily. “It’s not like we can go to the police about this. We have no proof whatsoever, just threats. You can’t prosecute someone because they threatened you.”
James began pacing. “There’s got to be a way. Surely...”
Angus Treywhite placed a hand on James’s arm to stop him. “I know you want to help, but you can’t, lad. What’s done is done. The ship for Brightvale is leaving in two hours. I’m packed, I’m prepared, and I’m going.”
James looked miserable. “It just doesn’t feel right. You’ve lived here all of your life, for goodness sake! One fright and you’re leaving?”
Angus smiled wanly. “You’re still young enough to believe you’re invincible- I’m not. I lost my romantic outlook on life years ago. As long as I’m allowed to live in peace, I’m prepared to make some sacrifices.”
James looked like he wanted to argue, but Deirdre shook her head at him. “He’s made his choice, sir; there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Fine.” James sighed and shook Angus’s hand with a faint smile. “I don’t agree with all of this running and hiding, but I suppose I don’t get a say in it. Good luck with your future life. We’d better go, Deirdre.”
“Thank you for understanding, Mr Nexis. We’ll see you to the doorway.”
As they began walking towards the stairs, James’s curiosity got the better of him. “What is this place, anyway? It must be pretty old.”
Angus smiled good-humouredly. “It is. It was built in to the original structure of the house as a basement below the wine cellar, and for whatever reason my grandfather got the bright idea of turning it into a secret chamber.”
“There’s something that bothers me,” Deirdre said suddenly. “Your fake death certainly fooled the police and us at first, but what about Toni Roscoe? Surely he must have suspected something. I mean, he’s lived his whole life in crime, and must be used to people trying these stunts. We managed to work it out and find the door eventually, and we don’t even have experience in that sort of stuff. Wouldn’t Toni have seen right through it?”
Angus paused, looking bewildered. “When you put it that way... but I think we should be all right. The boat will be leaving soon, and once I’m in Brightvale I’ll be to some degree anonymous. I doubt he’ll figure it out that quickly and even if he came here, it’s unlikely that he’ll find the door. You did close it, didn’t you?”
James stared at him. “Close it...?”
Angus went slightly pale. “The door you came through. Did you pull the lever to the side to make sure it closed?”
“I didn’t know I had to,” James replied, his face painfully confused.
Slowly, as one, they turned to face the top of the staircase. The door was indeed still open, and silhouetted there was the stocky form of a very amused, very rich, very powerful-looking Yurble chewing on a wad of gum. “Well, well, well, look what I’ve found here.”
James shuffled his feet. “Eh, technically, I found them first.”
“Shut your trap, Hissi.” Toni’s grin disappeared instantly, and it was with no small amount of difficulty that he squeezed it back on. His frown, however, was irreplaceable, and the result was a painful sort of grimace.
Lucas tried to grab his uncle's arm and pull him back, but the Gnorbu stood firm, anger flickering over his face. “Get out of here, Toni.”
“I don’t think so, old friend.” Toni took a step towards them. “I don’t know why you even bothered to try. As soon as I heard about your ‘death’, I knew you’d tried to do a runner on me. Did you really think I’d be fooled? And even if you did make it to Brightvale in one piece, I would have hunted you down there, anyway.” He took another step, and two other large, muscly shapes appeared behind him, holding clubs.
“You’re not going to get away with this, Toni,” James said carefully, his eye flicking down at the steps below Toni.
“I make a point of getting away with things, actually,” Toni said, gold fillings glinting in his teeth as he took two more steps. “Really, this will be as easy as child’s play. Everyone already believes the old man is dead, and it isn’t that much of a stretch of the imagination to think that his nephew, senseless with grief from his uncle’s demise, could trip down the house’s stairs and break his neck.”
Lucas went pale, but didn’t say anything.
“And I doubt anyone, Officer Wilson especially, is going to miss a nosey, impertinent and obscure reporter if he washes up in a river somewhere.”
James couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “I’m not obscure! Take that back!”
Toni laughed and took yet another step forward. “So, who’s first? The old man, maybe? Or perhaps...”
His sentence morphed into a muffled scream as he stepped heavily on the trick slab of stone. Without so much as a squeak it dropped away and Toni, with no helpful-but-exasperated assistant to save him, fell forward and tumbled out of sight. There was silence for one or two seconds before they heard a splash.
“Serves you right for calling me obscure,” James grinned.
The two thugs who had been standing behind their boss were still and silent for what felt like an eternity before their minds absorbed what had happened. Then, as one, they leaned forward and peered into the dark abyss.
“Toni?” the shorter one called. “Are you down there?”
A strangled curse came out of the darkness. “Of course I’m in here, idiot! Get me out!”
As the two thugs exchanged confused and helpless looks, a third shadow appeared behind them. Without hesitation it reached forward and planted a hand on each of their backs, and shoved hard. They toppled forward, and two loud splashes and profuse cursing from Toni signalled their descent had stopped.
“Well, that was fun,” the shadow said. James raised his candle and his eyebrows went up in shock.
“The one and only.” The Nimmo sighed resignedly. “After all of your night-time escapades I couldn’t sleep, and came here to see if you’d sealed the case yet.”
“I’m jolly glad you did,” James said sincerely. “Do the police know you’re here?”
“Yes, but, unlike you, I haven’t alienated myself completely from all of the authorities, and they let me through without a fuss.”
The fake step rumbled back into place, and James gingerly stepped around it. “What’s down there anyway, Mr Treywhite?”
Angus scratched his head as he tried to remember. “Water, mainly. I think there might be leeches as well.”
James grimaced. “I suppose we’ll have to get the police to get them out. Though the good news is that you won’t have to move any more.”
“Well, we have Toni Roscoe trapped in your watery-leechy-basement thing. There’s no escaping the fact that he entered your house without your permission and, if I’m correct, trespassing counts as a criminal offence. What with the fact that he probably had weapons and was accompanied by two hired killers, we’ll be able to lock him up for quite a while.”
Trix nodded as he led them back up to the library. “Sounds good to me. We have files and files of suspected crimes for him, too, so the judge isn’t likely to take the case lightly. Let’s go and see those police, shall we? Oh, and Nexis?”
“Save us all a headache- let me do the talking, okay?”
A rather large Grarrl with rather large teeth sat behind a rather large desk and stared at James grimly. “I don’t know why I even bother, Nexis.”
“I send you on a simple job- review a murder- and after a night of dashing around and getting on the wrong side of the police, you make the murder story completely redundant.”
“We now no longer have a front-page story.”
Mr Marcus leaned back in his seat and snorted. “I sometimes wonder if things would turn out better if I sent one of our other reporters to do the job.”
“Well, sir,” James spoke carefully, trying to sound apologetic and enthusiastic at the same time, “we did convict Toni Roscoe of breaking and entering.”
“And neglected to mention it was actually us that broke the window,” Deirdre hissed so that Marcus wouldn’t hear.
Ignoring her, James continued. “The judge says he’s going to review not just this offence, but also all previous crimes that Toni’s been accused of.”
Mr Marcus didn’t look happy. “It’s still not as exciting as a murder.”
Mr Marcus was silent as he tapped his claws on the laminated top of the desk. “Really, Nexis, sometimes I wonder why I even bother with you.”
“...because I’m good?” James asked hopefully.
“Too good, actually. This is the second case this month that you’ve completely botched up. Anyone else would have simply gone in, gotten the story, and gone out, but as soon as you smell a herring, you just can’t seem to stay away until you’ve solved it. It’s awfully inconvenient for me, you know.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
Deirdre took a small step forward. “With all due respect, Mr Nexis’s actions saved lives.”
The large Grarrl started slightly and stared at Deirdre. “Where’d you come from? I didn’t notice you there.”
Deirdre sighed loudly and glared at James, who shrugged good-humouredly.
“And anyway,” Marcus continued, “People who could have been dead but aren’t never sell as many newspapers as people who are dead. If you want to help people, Nexis, become a private detective.”
James grimaced. “And be woken up at two in the morning by reporters? No thanks.”
Mr Marcus frowned. “What do you mean, woken at two in the morning...?”
“Uh, never mind.”
“Whatever.” The large Grarrl shrugged. “I guess the case is closed, and even if you deprived me of a front-page story, I suppose it could have been worse. Well done. You can have the day off, Nexis, but get to work extra early tomorrow, alright? Good day.”
James grinned and shook his employer’s clawed hand. “Thank you, sir.”
As they exited the office James turned to Deirdre. “Well, that went better than expected. He didn’t even yell much.”
“I might as well be invisible, though,” Deirdre said resignedly. “No one ever notices me.”
“That’s not true,” James said fondly. “I notice you. Especially when you’re making coffee, which is what I intend to spend the next few hours drinking.”
Deirdre’s face wrinkled into a smile. “You’ll have to make it yourself this time, sir. I’ve got something else to do.”
“Oh, and what would that be?”
“I,” the Xweetok said, smiling smugly, “am going to do what I should have been doing all of last night. I am going to go home and go to sleep.”
James laughed as Deirdre picked up her coat and made for the door. “You deserve it, Deirdre. Really. I’ll see you tomorrow... maybe we’ll be able to save the entire universe, or something.”
Deirdre smiled warmly. “Sure thing. Good day, sir.”