Lupe Pack Detectives-Counterfeit: Part One
I woke up to the smell of something sizzling in the air, although I did wonder why my alarm did not go off as expected. As I looked at the clock, I saw that it was a couple of minutes before it was set to ring. Still, I was fully awake, so after brushing down the tufts of blue fur sticking out, I went downstairs to check on who it was. After reaching the kitchen, I saw that it was one of my siblings, Solar Flare the Fire Lupe, preparing to flip the frying pan full of eggs on the Faerie Kitchen Stove. I thought it would be better for me to wait until after he was finished cooking as I did not want to distract him from his work.
I commented that he was up unusually early, seeing as he typically was the last one to wake up, after he neatly slid the omelette onto a nearby plate and set it down on the nearby dining table before heading back to the stove to cook another batch, but he did acknowledge the comment.
As he was finishing up, I heard someone tapping on our kitchen window, so I went over and opened it in order to allow Cirrus the Faerie Pteri in. As soon as she handed the letters over to me, she left, but not before I gave her a couple of Brioches to serve as her breakfast or snacks while she continued her delivery run.
It did not look like there was going to be anything interesting until a letter from Brightvale caught my attention. Initially, I thought it was an advertisement of some sort, seeing as it mentioned Brightvale University, but once I saw the name, it left me wondering why Professor Lambert of the Seekers was writing to us. However, instead of opening it up even though it sounded like it was going to be a high profile case for us, I decided to wait until my younger siblings, Opren the Striped Lupe and Aura the Starry Lupe, were up. Once the team was assembled, I opened the letter up as we were having our breakfast.
"To the esteemed Lupe Pack Detectives,
I am asking for your assistance today for a conundrum currently plaguing the university. Over the past few months, our reputation as an outstanding institution have taken a direct hit due to the mass proliferation of falsely created degrees bearing our credentials. We need swift justice served immediately to whoever's behind this nefarious deed. It is without a doubt that your team will be able to solve this, thanks to your renowned reputation as brilliant investigators.
Professor J. Lambert, Brightvale University dean."
"Hmm, I do recall that at one point, our cousin, Nimbus the Cloud Shoyru, was writing up an article for the Neopian Times on the black market for illegally produced degrees from one university, but I can't remember if it was from Brightvale University or a different one. If those counterfeits are for Brightvale University, could that be connected to Professor Lambert's current dilemma?" Opren inquired as he folded his arms back and slightly leaned back in his chair. It was his way of thinking.
"That's probably a question that only Nimbus could answer, seeing as he knows about it, but it certainly sounds like his investigation is connected in some way. Of course, this doesn't help that this is the first time that we've heard of counterfeit degrees from Brightvale University. Obviously, Professor Lambert must have his reasons for not telling us or any other detective agencies sooner, but from the letter alone, it sounds like it has gone completely out of hand," Aura replied without looking up as she was focused on slicing up the omelette into smaller pieces. I smiled at my younger sister's assessment as she was right.
"Well, given the circumstances surrounding this, it's a high profile investigation that we're solving, so let's do our best as always. Solar Flare, you're coming with me to Brightvale for more details. Aura and Opren, see if you can track down that article or talk to Nimbus about it as that should give us some insight." All three of them saluted me in unison, letting me know that the understood the orders.
It was late in the afternoon when both Solar Flare and I arrived in Brightvale, ready to get to work. As we were leaving the docks, we spotted Katie the Yellow Kacheek, who was also known as the Genius Inventor, nearby, looking as if she was waiting for someone. We decided to go up to her as I had suspected that she was waiting for us. I asked her who she was waiting for.
"Well, I've been told by Uncle Lambert that a group of four Lupes, each a different colour, in black trenchcoats and fedoras were coming here. They call themselves the Lupe Pack Detectives. Have you seen them?" she replied, confirming what I had suspected. I quickly glanced at Solar Flare out of the corner of my eye before responding. He silently nodded.
"That would be us. And before you ask, there are supposed to be four members, but it was my decision not to bring the entire team here. It would be overkill, for a lack of a better word." Initially she was confused, but then understood the situation and led us to Professor Lambert.
When we arrived at his office and took a seat, Professor Lambert quickly apologized to us for calling us on a short notice, but we quickly waved it off as it was part of our duty as private investigators. Then we went straight to business with Solar Flare asking the question that probably the entire family was wondering, which was why he had called us now instead of sooner.
"When we caught wind of them via a tip from the Brightvale division of the Defenders of Neopia, I immediately ordered an internal investigation to see if it was anyone within was responsible, which is the proper procedure for circumstances like this. I only got the results back just a couple of days ago, only to find the results inconclusive. Hold on, you're not suspecting me of any wrongdoing?"
"While I understand your reaction to the question, please don't jump to swift conclusions, professor. The only reason why I ask was that I needed to fill in the blanks that were not answered by the letter alone. I'm sure that when you ordered that internal investigation, you had to ask some clarifying questions, correct?" He nodded in agreement.
"Besides, we've only arrived, and it really doesn't make any sense to us to accuse someone willy-nilly without the supporting evidence. There's a reason why you chose us for this investigation, in case you've forgotten the letter that you wrote," I added.
At that point, Professor Lambert got up from his seat, apologizing for the abrupt departure as he had a class to address, which meant cutting our interview short. Before he left, we wanted him to send a copy of the report that he had received to us as soon as possible, to which he agreed to. After he left, I definitely felt sorry for the professor as I could sense that he was completely stressed out, with his duties as a professor here at the university and a fighter for the Seekers in the Obelisk Skirmishes, in addition to the counterfeit degree investigation.
As soon as we exited the university, we were stopped by someone in an alleyway asking us if he could sell us some degrees from the university. It was apparent that the Jetsam seller was not aware of whom we were, but we decided to play along and followed him into the alleyway. He then opened up his sack and began showing various degrees and diplomas, all looking legitimate. I took a degree of chemistry, misspelled in various places, out and pretended to study it carefully with Solar Flare. When we were finished 'looking' over it, I rolled it back up and handed it back to him, shaking my head in the process to tell him that we were not interested. That was when we made our move and arrested him.
"Oh, real smart attempting to sell counterfeit Brightvale University degrees to a couple of Defenders personnel," Solar Flare said with a hint of dry wit as he hauled him down to the Brightvale Defenders of Neopia. I followed him with the sack.
No eyebrows were raised upon our arrival, but we still told them what had happened just so that they understood what was going on. It seemed like they were already used to this type of scenario, but considering that they were the ones who warned Professor Lambert about the degrees, it made sense. After the Jetsam was handed over and sent down to the dungeons, we talked to a couple of members who were familiar with the case.
"It's frustrating, knowing that these sort of low life scum are out there, but there's nothing that we can do to cut off the supply despite our efforts to contain it as we have no idea where they're getting their supply from. The criminals that we've captured are refusing to talk, and I'm certain that none of us will be able to crack the latest one caught," said one, an Electric Acara. "And to hear from you that Professor Lambert's investigation came up with nothing conclusive, that's now depressing."
"Seeing as you're now handling the case, we might as well hand our report over to you. You're more than welcome to keep those fake degrees, as we have no use for them," the other, a Brown Ruki, sadly said. I held up one of my hands to stop them.
"You guys are still in charge as we're not taking over; we're just continuing what the professor started in the first place. However, we still would like to have a copy of the report, if you don't mind."
They were more than happy to help us out, so they handed over a copy for us to review. We still had a lot of work left in Brightvale, so we decided to stay overnight, although I expected to stay at least a couple of days, depending on how much work was completed. As soon as we arrived at one of the inns, I began reviewing the report, looking for anything that would help us in some way and to see what the team did before we arrived.
"Hey, Blizzard, does the report from the DoN mention where the fake degrees came from, or at least produced?" Solar Flare asked. I quickly scanned it before replying.
"From what I could gather, all it states that the degrees were not produced in Brightvale after they interviewed King Hagen's niece and the owner of the Scrollery, Roberta, for some insight," I said without looking up.
"And she would probably recognize paper and/or ink that was produced locally, but that also means that if it's being produced at another location, it's going to be harder to track down the culprit as they're essentially covering up their tracks. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm completely stumped. It appears that I have no choice but to send a counterfeit degree up to the Virtupets Space Station to get them to do a detailed analysis on it." I looked up at that point, slightly surprised.
"So, even a fake degree is unwilling to share its secrets with you, despite all the experience that you've gathered over the years as a Shop Wizard/Faerie Quest runner. It's extremely rare that you get stumped." He sighed in resignation and/or disappointment, but I understood that it was not something he could have foreseen, so I went over to him and gave him a pat on the back just to reassure him.
"Hey, you did the best that you can. We've still got a long way to go before we can make that arrest. This is only the beginning of a long investigation."
To be continued...