The Viridian Gloves: Part Two
Shalina gave an exasperated sigh. "Harlath, we have been here for hours. I have to go. Now!"
"Just a couple more minutes! I know that one of them must –"
At that very moment, the headquarters doors opened and Judge Hog himself walked out. Harlath gasped. "See, see! I knew that he'd be here!"
Shalina couldn't help but be caught up in a bit of wonder herself. "Wow! Okay, let's see if we can help then!"
Both teenagers leapt up the bench and stepped into Judge Hog's path. "Excuse me, Judge Hog, sir. My name is Harlath and I heard about what happened in Meridell and I—"
Hog offered his most confident smile. "Don't worry, young citizen. The Defenders of Neopia are on the case‼ You don't have to worry about the safety of Neopia. Just leave it to us!"
Shalina broke in. "Judge Hog, I know that you have the investigation well in hand. But is there anything at all that we could help with? It doesn't have to be help in solving the crime—"
"Yes it does!" Harlath interjected. "Sir, I've studied all your cases and I really think I could help you in solving this mystery and protecting Neopia‼ See, all you have to do is—"
Judge Hog held up a hand. "Harlath, I'm glad you are so excited about protecting Neopia. But if you've studied all the cases handled by Defenders of Neopia, I'm sure you're aware just how dangerous our job can be. Someday, when you're older, you can receive the proper training for the job. Work hard in school and you'll get there someday. But right now, you'll have to leave the detective work to the Defenders."
"But isn't there anything we can do?"
"Your friend here had a very good idea. The Defenders of Neopia have the investigation taken care of, and rest assured this culprit will be found and dealt with! But at the last several sites, there have been fires set..."
Harlath's eyes went wide. "You want us to search for evidence?"
Hog looked at the young Krawk in surprise. "What? Don't be ridiculous, son. We have already thoroughly examined those sites." Harlath recoiled in disappointment. "What I am saying is that those communities have been seriously hurt by those fires. The homes in Terror Mountain and Meridell were not insured, so the owners lost everything. No one was hurt – it seems both were out on vacation when the fires were set – but they need help rebuilding their homes. If you talk to Andris on Terror Mountain or Jamison in Meridell, they probably need help with the construction. See, crimefighting isn't the only way to make Neopia a better place. Sometimes, being a good neighbor is enough."
Judge Hog seemed to realize what he had just asked them to do. "Of course, don't go trekking off to foreign lands without checking with your parents. Meridell is not that far though, if you get permission you may be able to make a difference there."
"But... the investigation!" Harlath groaned.
"...is in good, professional hands. And there it should remain. Have a good day, citizens. Please head home." Hog turned away, indicating the end of the conversation. Harlath looked like he wanted to continue pressing the point, but Shalina gently took him by the arm and led him away.
Hog stood for a minute after they left, then with a frown turned and went back into the Defenders of Neopia headquarters, where he found a high-level assistant. "Wherever Orig just left for, please send a dispatch to him. There are some kids poking around the investigation. Would you please warn him that they might become a nuisance? And at the same time, please make sure that he keeps them safe and out of harm's way."
Moments later, Judge Hog departed for Meridell.
"We really should do what he said, Harlath."
Harlath shook his head emphatically. "Of course he'd say that, it's his job to protect people. And yeah, maybe it's a little more dangerous than I realized. But what if by NOT helping, we're missing the chance to protect more people?"
"Is helping people really what you want, Harlath?"
Harlath looked puzzled. "What else would I want, Shalina?"
Shalina shrugged fractionally. "Judge Hog presented you a perfectly good option for helping people. Ask your parents if you can go to Meridell every day. Help them rebuild there."
"That's something anyone can do, though!"
For the first time, Shalina looked a little angry. "So is stumbling into the middle of an investigation without knowing what you're doing, and putting us in danger, Harlath! Do you really think you have some special talent at investigation that no one else in the world has?"
Harlath pondered this in silence for a few minutes. They crossed the remainder of the Neopian Plaza and saw the shop where Shalina's mother worked. As they were about to step through the door Harlath finally perked up and said, "I'll be careful, Shalina. I promise. But I do have the chance to help more than just pounding some nails."
Shalina acquiesced to this for now with a small nod.
Marjolaine gave a heavy sigh as the pair entered the tools shop. "There you are Shalina!" she exclaimed. "This has been the worst day, everything is running way behind. I'm afraid we're going to have to work very late tonight catching up on it all! Where have you been?"
"Sorry mother, we were in the Plaza! I'll work however long I need to, let's catch up."
"It's mostly my fault we're late," Harlath put in. "I can help if you need."
"Thank you Harlath," Marjolaine said. "Most of the work is accounting the day's sales. Not much you can do. You can stick around as long as you want, but when you leave, please take this bag of trash out back."
"Where is Algenein?" Shalina asked. The Kiko owner of the store , Marjolaine's boss, was indeed noticeably absent.
"He had some big sales pitch to make in Faerieland. He'll be back soon and we'd better have this place cleaned and put in order before then. I can't afford to lose this job, Shalina."
Harlath went ahead and took the bag outside, but rather than head home he stepped back inside. A moment later Algenein entered the shop. Casting a critical eye over the shop, he greeted Marjolaine, "Long day?"
"A very long one," Marjolaine responded tiredly. "But don't worry; I'll work as long as I need to. I'll have it ready by morning."
"Okay then," the owner responded. "I have excellent news, though. My trip was a huge success. I've secured an arrangement that will keep our business afloat and then some! When the profits from this arrangement start to flow in, I absolutely insist on giving you a raise. For now though, I also demand that you take a day off next week. I'll have more specifics on which day soon."
"Wow! I can't believe the market for tools was so strong in Faerieland!" Shalina said, looking slightly confused.
"Never look a gift horse in the mouth, Shalina," her mother admonished with a smile as Harlath waved at them all and headed for home.
Shalina settled into bed with a contented smile. The work to settle the shop's affairs had been long, but the wonderful dinner her mother cooked afterwards more than made up for it. She began to drift towards dreams very quickly, but suddenly a sharp rap sounded at her window. She made nothing of it, but a moment later a second sound came.
Padding to the window, she looked out and saw Harlath on the ground below. "Psst, Shalina! I figured it out!"
Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she groaned. "Harlath? What... why?"
Harlath gathered himself. "I figured out the pattern! I know where the next robbery will be! And it'll be tonight!"
"Harlath, it's one thing to run around playing detective during the day, but I'm losing sleep for this. How can you be so sure this is where the next crime is happening?"
Harlath turned back to face his friend as they neared the outskirts of Tyrannia. "Well, define so sure..."
"You're kidding! We're out here on just a hunch?"
Harlath held up a hand. "Not a hunch! I found the pattern that the strikes are occurring in! The only problem is, I found a second pattern, and I'm not sure which one is right. The next two are either Haunted Woods, then Tyrannia, or Tyrannia, then Faerieland. But I really think Tyrannia is the right place to be tonight. I just feel it!"
"And if we DO catch them in the act, exactly what do you plan to do, Harlath?" Shalina said with genuine concern.
"Don't worry! I know it's not safe to confront them. We'll just follow them, and find out who they are‼!"
"Easier said than done-"
"Wait... did you hear something, Shalina?" the Electric Krawk cut her off.
Suddenly, a shadow fell across them, and a large dark figure appeared from behind a cliff, looking right at them. A muffled, involuntary squeal escaped Shalina.
"Uh-oh," Harlath gulped.
To be continued...