“S o that’s how we ended up here, Defender.” Harker leaned back in his chair and stretched his sore neck. It popped audibly, and the Wocky across the table made a face at the sound.
“That’s all very well and good, Mister Harker – but you did break into your housekeeper’s home. Now we have contacted Aren and he is on his way here right now. Regardless of this issue with his brother – and you’re alleging he stole what, exactly?”
“Right. You see my dilemma here, Mister Harker. You claim this Jorge character stole something from you and you won’t even tell me what it is. And there was nothing in that backpack you asked us to look at – I checked through it myself.”
That’s not saying that much though, is it. Harker’s patience was very nearly at the end of its tether. He forced himself to speak politely.
“Blackwing – sir. I can assure you most thoroughly that I am the victim here. Jorge stole something from me – alright! Stop looking at me like that. He stole a book. A very valuable, precious book. I don’t know what he’s done with it, or where he’s hidden it. But he stole it – and I want it back.”
Blackwing frowned as he stroked his chin thoughtfully. Harker thought he looked entirely comical but resisted the urge to say so.
“And this Jorge – your housekeeper’s brother – was recently released the Meridell Dungeons, yes? I’ve sent them an official request to fax over his file. We will take steps to try and recover your stolen item – but Mister Harker, you’re ignoring my point. You broke into Aren’s house – regardless of whether you had a set of keys or not. You still let yourself into somebody else’s property without permission. That’s breaking and entering – even if you didn’t technically break anything. And snooping through his mail – well, that’s just rude.”
“I was trying to find out where Jorge might have gone, or what he might have done with my book.” The Krawk rolled his eyes. He felt like he had been over the details at least five times with the Defender at this point. He was getting nowhere. “And I’ll apologise to Aren – but really, this whole thing is his brother’s fault. He had no right to steal that book.”
“And the fight?”
Harker had the good grace to blush slightly. It hadn’t been very gentlemanly of him, punching the Lutari in the nose or pulling his fur.
He gave a noncommittal shrug and the Wocky sighed.
“We have to hold you here until we receive word from Meridell. Might be that you were only defending yourself – but we won’t know until we speak to them, and until young Aren gets here. For now just – sit here and don’t cause any more trouble. I’ll get one of the lads to bring you some lunch.”
Was it only lunchtime? It felt to Harker as if it had been four whole days since that midnight alleyway dash. He was tired, cranky and sore.
A short time later a harried-looking Ruki came in with a tray of food for him, and Harker faced the difficult task of attempting to eat a burger with handcuffs on. Blackwing had loosened them a little, at least.
Harker was enjoying his lunch – it was surprisingly good for something made by the Defenders of Neopia – when Blackwing returned a while later with Aren, his housekeeper.
“Mister Harker!” The Lutari looked so pale and horror-struck that Harker wondered if something else had happened. “Defender Blackwing told me everything – he said Jorge broke into your house and stole a book! Is it true, Mister Harker? I am so sorry, I cannot believe he has done this. I’m so ashamed.”
“Well it’s hardly your fault, dear boy.” Harker refrained from telling him that it actually was partly his fault, having written to his brother about his book in the first place. He didn’t think the Lutari needed to hear that right now, though. He looked so aghast that the Krawk felt another stab of guilt at having snooped through his personal letters. “I really am sorry for borrowing your keys and letting myself into your house. I didn’t want to wake you – and I was in such a tizzy to find Jorge. It was terribly improper of me.”
“Oh, never mind that!” Aren waved a paw airily. “I’m only sorry that you had to go to such lengths in the first place. Oh, Jorge. What am I going to do with him?”
“Well, thankfully that’s not our problem.” Harker and Aren both looked enquiringly at Blackwing, who waved a folded piece of paper in the air at them. “Fax from Meridell Dungeons. It turns out your brother wasn’t released, Aren. He escaped, a few nights ago. Curious really, since I heard they’d tightened up security since the incident.”
“He escaped?” Aren repeated doubtfully, grabbing the piece of paper from the Wocky and unfolding it. “It says here his normal cell is maximum security – impenetrable. But that he had been moved to solitary the previous night due to fighting with his cellmate – and it was from there that he escaped. They have no idea how.”
“Almost as if he fought with his cellmate deliberately, to be moved to a less secure cell.” Harker mused aloud, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. A vague memory tugged at him, and he turned to Aren. “Your brother said that he knew somebody that knew me. There can’t be too many people in the Dungeons, other than the inmates and guards. Who was Jorge’s cellmate?”
“I don’t know,” Aren said, handing the paper back to the Defender. “I know he got moved around a lot, usually for starting fights. But he’s been with that same cellmate for a couple of years now. I assumed they got on well, until reading about this fight just now. Unless it’s like you said – he might have just been trying to get to a less secure cell.”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
Harker didn’t like the guilty look that flashed across the Wocky’s face.
“He’s a wanted prisoner from Meridell. They have jurisdiction – they’ve already organised a transfer. He’ll be on his way back there as we speak.”
“You let him go? And I’m still sitting here in handcuffs?” Harker’s face had turned an alarming shade of purple in his anger, and Blackwing hastened forward with the key to his chains.
“I am so sorry, Mister Harker. I got so distracted by – well, never mind.” He took a hasty step backwards as the Krawk glowered darkly at him.
“I told them I had no intention of pressing charges, Mister Harker.” Aren reached out to hand him his coat, which he had asked the Defenders to pick up from his house. Harker accepted it gratefully and gave the Lutari’s shoulder a brief squeeze. He really did regret that his housekeeper had been swept up in this mess. “Let’s get you home.”
The house smelt of cinnamon and cloves as they entered, and Aren told Harker that he had been baking fruit rolls before the Defenders had come by. A few minutes in the oven, he said, and they’d be crisp and warm and ready to eat.
The Krawk told him to put enough in the oven for the both of them, and then to join him upstairs in the library, if he’d be so good.
A short while later they sat together on the comfortable leather couch, the tray of fresh fruit rolls sitting atop the table and the afternoon sunlight glinting coloured streaks through the stained glass ceiling.
Harker held in his lap a small wooden box and was drumming his fingertips along the sides, almost as if he were nervous. He had invited Aren to sit with him, and had withdrawn the wooden box from a secret safe behind a large painting on the wall – a safe Aren himself had never seen before. Harker counted that as the small piece of good fortune in the horrible mess that had been created – losing the book had been unfortunate enough.
“Mister Harker –” Aren began, with the distinct look of someone who was about to apologise for possibly the hundredth time. The Krawk cut him off with a curt wave of his hand and tapped the box more rapidly as if attempting to decide something. He gave a soft sigh and withdrew a small key from a thin golden chain around his neck. It had laid underneath his clothing, invisible to the curious eye. Aren himself had noticed the keychain many times before, but had thought it prudent not to pry.
With deft fingers, Harker slid the key into the lock on the wooden box, and lifted the lid.
Inside was a small gadget, some sort of tiny computer screen attached to a wristwatch-looking device. Aren had seen his master tinkering with the gadget many times before but had never known it was kept in a secret safe behind a painting. He also had no idea whatsoever as to what the device actually was. He wondered why he was being shown it now, of all times.
He waited patiently while the Krawk carefully extracted the gadget from the box, and turned his queer dark eyes on the Lutari.
“I know you’ve seen me working on this,” his master began, pausing to reach for a fruit roll. He was mostly full from lunch, but they smelt so good. It would be a crime not to. “Just a little hobby of mine. I can’t say I particularly enjoy metalwork, electronics or gadgets. I prefer a nice, clean book – crisp pages and a cracked spine. But I’ve been working on this for about four years now – and it’s almost complete. Here – take it.”
Aren accepted the device the Krawk held out to him and turned it over in his hands. There was nothing too remarkable about it. It was indeed some kind of wristwatch, with a strange screen where the clock face would have been. Several buttons were jutting out haphazardly, and a couple of minuscule levers. It was altogether a curious machine, but nothing particularly stood out as to what it actually was, other than a rather ugly wristwatch.
“I don’t understand, sir. What is it?”
“It’s a time machine. And your brother stole the only surviving blueprint of how to make it work.”
To be continued…