High Society: Part Three
“Harvey Black...” Lady Cambridge continued, rising out of her chair.
“This is breaking and entering,” Black snapped.
“Indeed,” Cambridge replied, running her hand along the fireplace, “but we both know you’d never harm a Lady, so why don’t you sit down?”
Black considered this for a moment, before lowering his fists and closing the door to the front room.
“As I was saying, Harvey Black,” Cambridge continued. “One of the best hired hands in the business. Born and raised in the Docklands, not too far from this very building. Famous, or rather infamous, for being too smart for Seth Vargo.”
“What do you want?” Black asked impatiently.
“That’s no way to talk to a Lady,” Cambridge smirked. “I’m merely here to ask you why.”
“Why what?” Black asked.
“Why you are working for Mr. Jennings,” Cambridge answered. “You live and breathe this city, Harvey, and Jennings wants to change the fundamental values it represents. His aim is to change this place beyond all recognition. Why are you helping him?”
“Just because I was born here doesn’t mean I love the place,” Black replied. “Neopia Central is broke, and Mr. Jennings is going to fix it. Say what you like about his methods, but he gets results. I’ve never seen the city working like this. Crimes up, but the Defenders of Neopia are catching more criminals so people feel safer. Jennings has managed to work Judge Hog into a position where he only takes in the bad crooks, the ones that are bad for business. The sewers haven’t blocked up in three weeks thanks to the Zombies, and the price of food coming out of Kau Kau Farms is at an all time low. Even the Docklands are safer than they used to be, with the help of Johnny Twobit, and the Docklands have never been safe.”
Black sat down in a chair opposite Cambridge and added, “Besides, everyone knows Jennings can’t be stopped. The full might of the Shenkuu Empire wasn’t enough to hold him. Better to be on his side than against him. Now, there’s your answer. Now what do you really want?”
Cambridge smiled. “Jennings out of the way, of course. He didn’t escape Shenkuu by himself, Harvey. I understand you helped him, and all of the changes he’s brought about are because he manipulates people. Other people. They are the real basis of his business. Jennings is one man, and without help he is nothing.”
“So what do you want?” Black repeated.
“To offer you employment,” Cambridge told him.
Black laughed. “You’ll be lucky.”
“I can offer you much more than he pays, and a permanent position on my staff,” Cambridge added.
“What do you mean, permanent?” Black asked.
Cambridge took her turn to laugh. “You don’t honestly think Mr. Jennings is going to keep you around, do you? Look how he has disposed of everyone who is a liability to him. That poor, unfortunate Colin Lopside who infiltrated the Resistance for him, for example. As soon as he is at the top, he won’t need a fixer like you any more. You’ll be dealt with, just like Vargo and Might.”
“And you wouldn’t?”
“I don’t like bodies,” Cambridge answered. “They have a tendency to turn up again when you least expect them. When I find a use for someone, I make sure they stick around for as long as possible.”
Black licked his lips. “He’d be angry if I just left him. He’d send someone after me.”
“I don’t want you to leave him,” Cambridge assured Black. “I want you to be my double agent.”
Black silently considered this.
“Do we have a deal?” Cambridge asked.
Black nodded, not daring to voice his betrayal.
“Mr. Jennings!” Tobik called shrilly as she entered the office. “I do hope I haven’t caught you at an inopportune time?”
Jennings looked up from the paper to the elderly Bruce.
“Not at all, Miss Tobik,” he answered. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Well, you recall Arthur’s party the other night?” she asked. “You expressed a desire to invest in a charity, and I’m just about to head down to one of our newest homeless shelters in the Docklands. I thought, what with your office being on the way that you might like to tag along, and see the good work being done?”
Jennings smiled. “I should like nothing better, Miss Tobik.”
“Excellent! Excellent!” The Bruce clapped with joy. “Are you bringing your butler, that Grarrl?”
“No,” Jennings said, glancing to his side, “he’s... not in this morning... curious. Still, no time like the present, shall we?”
“You know, in my youth I would have turned my nose up at work like this, Mr. Jennings,” Tobik explained as she ladled some soup into a bowl for one of the homeless people. “But now, at my age, it feels good to really get stuck in to the raw work of charity.”
“Indeed,” Jennings replied, carefully noting the pristine set of marigold gloves and near biohazard resistant apron she had donned in order to be in touch with the poor.
Of course, she wanted to be here and help out, but there were limits. No one actually wanted to be touched by a poor person. It might be contagious.
It was a rather unglamorous shelter. It was just a normal house in the Docklands, which made it about the size of a cardboard box. This puzzled Jennings somewhat, as he knew without a doubt that the Women’s Institute could afford a whole street of houses. Why had they only bought this one?
“It’s... very quaint,” Jennings said diplomatically as he looked around the front room, which had been converted into a makeshift soup kitchen. “Why did you pick this one, may I ask?”
“Oh, Lady Cambridge picked it out personally,” Tobik explained as she served another Neopet. “She said it had character.”
“It certainly has something,” Jennings agreed.
Dry rot, he added in his mind.
His eyes rested on a faded painting, hung over the bricked up fireplace.
“You brought in artwork?” he asked.
“No, that was here when we bought it,” Tobik replied. “Lady Cambridge suggested we keep it, as a reminder of the people who lived here before. Apparently, the woman that lived here before had fifteen children. Single parent as well, and that was decades ago before it was common.”
“And what became of her?” he asked.
“Illness took her, and her children too,” Tobik said, almost welling up. “Such a sad tale, this house had been empty for years before we came across it.”
“Curious,” Jennings mused to himself.
It was of course curious for two very important and distinct reasons.
Firstly, space was at such a premium in the Docklands that no house stayed empty for more than five seconds before new occupants moved in.
And secondly, though the painting was very dirty, Jennings could clearly make out the main subject. It was a brown Ixi.
“Is everything alright, Mr. Jennings?” Tobik asked. “You looked half a mile away.”
Jennings smiled. “Quite fine, I assure you, and all the better for seeing this place. I am a stickler for details, though, Miss Tobik. I wonder if it would be possible to look over the accounts before I sign away my fortunes.”
“Ah,” Tobik hesitated. “Normally of course the secretary is in charge of the accounts, but I get ever so flustered, and Lady Cambridge really has a head for numbers. We both decided it would be better for her to deal with them.”
“Even so, would it be possible to obtain them?” Jennings asked. “Our little secret, of course, I wouldn’t want Lady Cambridge to think I doubted her capacity.”
“Because it’s you, Mr. Jennings, I shall make an exception,” Tobik giggled. “I’ll have someone drop them round to you, and then we can meet afterwards to discuss the finer arrangements of your donation. Have you seen enough?”
“I think so,” Jennings answered.
Miss Tobik’s gloves and apron were off in an instant, and she led him back outside.
“I say!” she said suddenly. “It’s Lady Cambridge’s birthday party the day after tomorrow! We can meet then and sign as a sort of present to her!”
“Alas, Miss Tobik, I have not been invited,” Jennings told her.
“Nonsense!” Tobik insisted. “Lost in the mail, I’m sure. Everyone who’s anyone will be there. I’ll see to it that someone double checks the guest list for your name.”
Out in the street, Miss Tobik’s carriage was waiting.
“A pleasure, Miss Tobik,” Jennings said, kissing her hand.
The old Bruce giggled as she climbed inside, and the driver whisked her off down the street.
Jennings’s own carriage was waiting nearby, with Mr. Black atop it.
“You were late for work, Mr. Black,” Jennings commented as he climbed inside.
“Sorry sir, won’t happen again,” the Grarrl answered. “I caught someone trying to break into my house, sir. I had to deal with them in the proper manner.”
Jennings smirked. “Yes, I’m sure you did.”
“Where to, sir?” Black asked.
“We have done quite enough lurking in the metaphorical shadows, Mr. Black,” Jennings instructed. “It is time for us to lurk in the more literal ones.”
Lady Cambridge waited peacefully at the window in her drawing room, staring out into space.
A knock at the door heralded the arrival of the butler.
“What is it, Wadsworth?” she snapped.
“Forgive my intrusion, my Lady, but this just arrived by Weewoo,” the Xweetok answered.
He handed over a letter, and then retreated to a safe distance as Cambridge ripped it open.
As she read, a ruthless smile spread across her face.
“Well, it seems Mr. Black is a man of his word, at least,” he commented. “Insure that all doors are locked tonight, Wadsworth... but all servants to be asleep by midnight, and no matter what noises they hear, they are not to leave their beds. Understood?”
“Yes, my Lady,” Wadsworth replied. “Might I ask why?”
“Mr. Jennings is going to break into the house tonight,” she replied.
“You don’t want to stop him?” he questioned.
“Why ever should I want that?” Cambridge smirked. “Really, I expected more of this Mr. Jennings... he’s playing right into my hands.”
To be continued...