Magic Vs. Money: Part Five
Part 5: It Takes a Thief
“Do you think he’ll come?” Talya asked.
Sophie shrugged, dropping the sliced onion into her bubbling cauldron. “Well, I can’t say for sure, but I think he will. I saved his life a few years ago, so he owes me a favor.”
It had been two days since Sophie had visited with Mr. Mogul and the mayor. In that time, she’d sent a neomail to an old acquaintance of hers, asking him to come help her, and had been preparing a few potions. Talya had proved unusually helpful with that. With her arm still in the cast, Sophie had made for it, the girl couldn’t do much, but she could still read the recipes for her and that really sped up her work.
Sophie would probably never have admitted it to anyone, but she was beginning to like the young Xweetok. Talya was very shy, but she was also very friendly and more than willing to help when she could. She entertained herself by reading and playing with the meowclops, but kept out from under Sophie’s feet while doing it and it was nice to have someone to talk to for a change. Well, someone who didn’t want to prove themself to be Sophie’s biggest fan. Talya treated Sophie with the kind of respect you’d hope parents normally taught their children, but otherwise, Sophie was just another person to the girl. She couldn’t recall the last time she hadn’t been treated as either a great hero or some kind of monster. Being feared could get you a lot of peace and quiet, but until now, Sophie had never quite realized how lonely she had been. As much as she wanted to help Talya, she felt almost saddened at the thought of giving her back to her parents.
A knock came and Sophie looked up from her stew.
“It’s not locked.”
The door opened and Sophie’s guest entered. The electric blue Mynci wore a tan trench coat and trilby. As he came in, he removed the hat and hung it on the rack, pulled down the collar of his coat and closed the door behind him. He sauntered up to Sophie, took her hand and pecked it with a kiss.
“My dear Sophie,” he said. “You’re just as lovely as I remember.”
“As suave as ever, Danil,” Sophie replied with a hint of sarcasm.
“I do my best,” Danil said with a charming smile. “It helps in my line of work.”
Sophie took her hand back. “Especially if you run into any lady guards, right?”
“Oh, no,” the Mynci replied. “I’m a detective now.”
Sophie’s eyes went wide. “You? The greatest thief in the world?”
Danil shrugged. “Well, I kind of got myself caught trying to steal a few . . . trinkets from the Hall of Heroes in Altador about two years ago. They weren’t exactly the biggest fans of my profession there, so they said I could either get a legitimate job, or I could go to prison. Since I’m not the biggest fan of prison food, I opted for finding another kind of work.”
“But a detective?”
“Well,” laughed Danil, “you know what they say: it takes a thief to catch a thief.”
Danil noticed Talya trying to hide behind Sophie’s skirts and peeked around the witch for a better look. Talya shifted further away. Sophie took Talya’s hand and led her back around, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“It’s alright,” she said. “This is my friend Danil. He’s here to help.”
Talya raised her hand a little and gave him a shy wave, but said nothing.
“And who is this sweet little lady?” Danil asked.
“This is Talya Winters,” Sophie said. “I called you because of her.”
Danil looked her up and down and smiled. He looked back to Sophie. “Can I sit?”
Sophie gestured to a chair and Danil took it, leaning back, laying his face in one hand and his tail over the edge.
“So, what do you need help with?” he asked.
Sophie thought a moment. She’d intended to just ask him for help getting Talya’s parents out of NeoCorp Headquarters, but if he’d become a detective, perhaps there was more he could do.
“How good are you with courts?” she asked.
Danil smiled. “Well, I provide evidence for any cases I get involved in, so I guess you could say I’m at least on decent standing.”
“Perfect,” said Sophie. “Because I need your help to bring someone to justice.”
Danil’s eyebrow raised slightly and he gave Sophie a long meaningful look, then threw back his head and laughed. Sophie’s face tightened. Danil paused to look at her expression, then started laughing again, but his laughter was a little nervous. When her expression didn’t change, he stopped laughing.
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
Danil gaped at her like a fish struggling for breath on land. “But . . . what’s he done?”
“For starters, he kidnapped Talya’s parents.”
Danil eyed her sideways. “Maybe it’s just been a long time, but I don’t remember you being the bleeding heart type.”
Sophie decided to ignore that comment. “It’s more than that. Mr. Mogul thinks that just because he has money, he can do whatever he wants and I think he needs to learn otherwise.”
“Well, aren’t you just the same with your magic?”
The moment Danil spoke, he knew it was the wrong thing to say and he quickly threw his hands over his mouth, but that couldn’t recall his words. Sophie’s back went rigid, her lips peeling back in an angry grimace and her wand glowing. Talya took a few frightened steps back from her.
“I didn’t mean . . .” Danil sputtered.
“I am nothing like Mr. Mogul,” Sophie said through her teeth. The exact reasons why escaped her at the moment, but she was sure they would occur to her later; if there was one thing Sophie was sure of, it was that she was most definitely not like Mr. Mogul.
“Alright, alright,” Danil said, holding up his hands defensively. “I get it. Forget I said anything.”
Sophie nodded, but she had the feeling that she would be remembering that statement for a long time to come. Not because it might be true, obviously, but because the thought was just so infuriating.
“Look,” Danil said. “Maybe you’ve got a good reason for what you’re doing and maybe Mr. Mogul really does deserve justice, but you have no idea what you’re asking. There’s never been a company like NeoCorp before. He owns hundreds of stores all around the world, he’s a majority shareholder in both the Neopian National Bank and the Neopia Central Mall, his estimated worth is over ten billion NP and he’s got friends in high places in every region of the world.”
“Like the new mayor,” said Sophie.
“Ha!” snorted Danil. “Mayor Johannes a friend? More like an associate; Mogul got him appointed to the position by funding his electoral campaign, probably to make sure he had someone sympathetic in the local government.”
The revelation staggered Sophie like someone throwing a rock right at her head. She swayed back a bit from the shock, her mouth falling partly open. Shock was quickly replaced by anger as she thought about how the mayor had pretended to be willing to help just to get her out of his office. She made a mental note to deal with him later.
“The point is,” continued Danil, “the laws aren’t really set up to handle someone like Mogul. You can’t treat him like just another businessman because his company is so huge. Try and charge him for anything, he’ll be fined, but he’s worth so much that no fine would even be a drop in the bucket. If he committed some serious crime, maybe we could get him a prison sentence, but his lawyers will negotiate that down to almost nothing.”
“Isn’t kidnapping a serious crime?” Sophie asked.
Danil shrugged. “I guess, but you’ll need evidence, witnesses, a judge that can’t be bribed and a jury that can’t be bought. Even then, we’re looking at three years at best.”
“Three years is good enough to make the point,” Sophie said, making her way over to her workbench. “The magistrates in Altador can’t be bribed, as I’m certain you know, and as to witnesses, we’ve got Talya here and I know of a member of Mogul’s security team who will be more than happy to testify that he was ordered to abduct Talya’s family.”
“Oh? Why would he do that?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do and because he feels very sorry for hurting Talya in the first place.” She picked up the jar with the cowering grub in it and showed it to her friend. “And because I’m sure he wants to be turned back to normal and that’s the only way it’s going to happen.”
Danil looked at the jar and the bug inside, then back to Sophie. “You’re really scary sometimes, you know that?”
“Thank you,” she replied. “We’ll also have Talya’s parents as witnesses and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of evidence we can use while your breaking them out of NeoCorp headquarters.”
Danil blinked. “While I’m what?”
“That’s what I called you here for,” Sophie answered. “We’re going to break Talya’s parents out of NeoCorp and then we’re going to make sure that Mr. Mogul understands that he can’t go around abducting people like that.”
“Breaking two people out of NeoCorp is impossible,” Danil said flatly. “It’s got magical defenses, security systems bought off the space station, his elite security team is like a private army – I understand that some of them are veterans from the war with Kass – and you think I can not just get into the building, but get two people out? No way.”
“May I remind you that I saved your life?” Sophie said curtly. “You promised that if there was anything I needed, you’d help me. Are you going to go back on that now?”
Talya, who had been sitting quietly in the corner and petting the meowclops, suddenly came forward with tears in her eyes.
“Please,” she said. “Sophie said you were the best thief in the world. You can do this, right? Please?”
Danil slouched a bit, shrinking away from the young Xweetok’s shimmering, tear-filled gaze. “Look, kid, I sympathize. It’s not that I don’t agree with what you’re trying to do, but it just can’t be done.”
Talya ran up to him and clasped his coat. “Please? There’s no one else to help me. I need you. Please help.”
Danil met that sad, innocent gaze and knew instantly he wouldn’t be able to say no, but the thought of how dangerous the task ahead was going to be was enough to make him try.
“Listen, I want to help,” he said hesitantly, trying to tear his eyes away from hers. “I really do, it’s just . . . I mean, think of the risks . . . if I got caught, the defenders would . . .”
But Talya continued to stare helplessly at him with damp eyes, sniffling. Danil let out a sigh of resignation.
“Alright, alright,” he said. “I’ll help.”
Talya’s eyes brightened and a smile spread across her face. She threw his arms around him and buried her face in his coat, thanking him. A small, sentimental smile tugged at the corners of Danil’s mouth, but he fought it off. He glanced up at Sophie, who looked decidedly smug.
“This is one persuasive kid,” he said.
“It’s why I asked you to come here instead of going out to find you,” Sophie replied.
Danil detached the girl from his coat and hopped out of the chair. While Talya went back to play with the meowclops, Danil began pacing back and forth, tapping his chin in thought.
“I can’t promise that I’ll actually be able to get them out,” he said.
“I have every confidence in you,” Sophie replied.
“Comforting, but it’ll take more than confidence.” Danil paused for a moment, staring blankly at the ceiling, then continued pacing. “This isn’t going to be easy. Easy? Shoot, calling it difficult would be an understatement.”
“What do you need?” Sophie asked.
“Well, for starters, I’ll have to go down to the town archives and pull up the floor plans of the building,” he said. “That’s assuming that the mayor required him to submit them to the town records. An assortment of color changing potions would be useful,” he gestured to himself, “since I’d kind of stand out like this.”
“I can make those,” Sophie replied. “Anything else?”
“Smoke motes are useful if you need to slip out of sight after being spotted.”
Sophie went to her shelves and looked through the assortment of bottles. “I have three here,” she said.
Danil continued to pace, still seeming lost in thought. Sophie could see how worried he was and for the risks she was asking him to take, she understood why, but the way the corner of his mouth kept trying to curve upward in a sly grin, he also seemed to be enjoying himself. She smiled.
“So, it’s been two years since you pulled a job like this?” she asked.
“Yep. Not since my bust at the Hall of Heroes.”
“What were you trying to steal?” Talya asked.
“Nothing much,” he said evasively.
Sophie gave him an incredulous look. He smiled back rather boyishly.
“Well,” he said, “I was trying to steal the statue of King Altador.”
Sophie’s eyes widened in shock.
“It would have worked if my partners hadn’t panicked halfway through the job and ran off with the getaway cart. Two months of planning and preparing wasted in a moment of cowardice.”
“Why did you want to steal a half ton statue?”
“Because nobody thought I could.”
There was a brief, shocked pause, then both Sophie and Talya laughed. After a moment, Danil laughed with them.
“It really has been a long time,” he said. “I’d forgotten the thrill.”
“What else do you need?” Sophie asked.
“Explosions can make for good distractions when your back’s against the wall.”
Sophie shook her head. “I don’t have anything for that.”
Danil started pacing again. “I’ll hit up the haunted marketplace tonight and see what I can find. There’ll probably be something. And I’ve got some tools with me back at my hotel room. I think I can get in with all that. But even so, one person getting in and out is only a challenge, even in a building with that much security, but it’s almost impossible to avoid being seen when you’ve got other people with you.”
Sophie reached into her pocket and pulled out a small powder box. “Invisibility powder,” she said. “Enough doses for three people.”
Danil stopped pacing and looked at the box. For a moment, he looked very serious, the a mischievous grin spread across his face.
“You know,” he said, “I think I might be able to pull this off.”
“I’m sure you will,” Sophie said.
“Of course, if something goes wrong, I might need you to save my life again.”
“Well, let’s not count on that.”
Danil smirked. “If I die, I’ll come back as a ghost and haunt you.”
Sophie shrugged. “That would be terribly inconvenient,” she admitted. “But it’s an imperfect world.”
To be continued...