Dusk's Enterprise: Research Inc. - Part Six
Our customers ranged all over the personality spectrum; sometimes we could laugh and talk with our customers and other times we would just grin and bear it until the door closed behind the customer with a bad tempered slam. There were customers who laughed and joked with us. There were customers who seemed to think it was their greatest duty to take out their worst days on us. There were snobby pets who thought us on the bottom rung of the ladder and ordered us about like servants. There were pets who treated us with the same respect you would give a wise and beloved grandparent.
And through it all, we did our best to satisfy them as much as we could. Our business was beginning to pick up as word spread around, customers came and went, and the Neopoints began to flow in. We quickly paid off our “loan” to the school, and soon got a Neopian Bank account set up to hold the surplus. Our next task was to change our business to “By Appointment Only”, which quickly booked all the way out to months in advance. This presented a small problem that I found myself chewing over during our free time. Our business was so popular that the appointments were nearing the end of the school year.
What would we do when the time came? Technically this business we made was only a school project and we didn’t have to keep it running once we turned in our Final Project. I was pretty sure the other students would shut down their projects as soon as they had the chance.
I watched as Migga laughed along with our last customer before the lunch break and felt another pang. Our group loved Migga; she was a warm and friendly presence that made the place homey while at the same time acting as a manager to keep the place in working order. Migga’s Transfer Student session would expire at the end of the year, and she would go back to Tyrannia.
My musings, and my BBQ Pork, were interrupted by the knocking of a Mail Lupe on our store door. A very official looking Neomail was handed over to me.
“From: Neopian Office of Business Investigation” the outside read.
I swallowed hard, feeling my heart sink into my paws. What had we done?
“Whoa,” Shade exclaimed, and bounded over to fan me with his wings, “Easy there kitty whiskers, let’s see what it has to say before we panic.”
We all sort clustered close together as I ripped open the envelope and began to read.
“To whom it may concern,
Due to the unusual circumstances of your business, several concerned Neopians requested an investigation of your work to feel assured that no scamming and/or inappropriate behavior was being conducted within the walls of your shop. After a thorough investigation, involving a secret shopper and an interview with King Hagan himself, we have come to the conclusion that though your business is unusual and perhaps entirely unique in the Neopian world, Research Inc. is officially a legitimate business!”
Everyone let out a ragged cheer.
“We further conclude that while no one specific product is being marketed; product-by-request is obtained though appropriate means. In all manners from the shop cleanliness to the product availability, Research Inc. meets all the standards set by the NOBI constitution. All Petpets acquired are in good health and properly tended to. All items included are in excellent shape with no tampering or falsifying. Though concern was expressed in regard to the shopkeepers’ origins...”
Migga snorted and pawed irritably.
“...all students were in proper health and quite professional despite their young age. We at NOBI would like to offer congratulations to Dusk, Shade, Twilight, and Depth of the Darigan Citadel as well as Migga of Tyrannia. Research Inc gets our Stamp of Approval!”
I turned and hugged Migga happily. “You see, Migga? We’re teaching them!”
“Wow,” Shade commented, I think we need to... er... change our tactics and quick.”
We all glanced at him.
“NOBI approved us as an official business; our store will be officially announced in the News. That means word is going to spread like crazy. THAT means we’re gonna have to filter our customers big time. Absolutely no one from straight off the street; all appointments.”
“What about our school project?” I asked, voicing my fears for the first time. I told them everything that had run through my mind.
Migga smiled. “I can ask for another year in my studies to be in your home. And once I graduate, it won’t be a problem.”
“And we all don’t have to work at one time,” Depth advised. “We all have customers, and we can make appointments to let us have days off and vacations. If this turns out to be as successful as I think it is, we almost can’t afford to close down.”
Things were quite a flurry after that. Work shot through the roof and we were soon booked far through the summer months.
Our front of store display went through several changes. Our Island theme stayed up for an extra week; *ahem* someone anonymously donated several brightly colored tropical flowers to add to the decorations we had already collected and we felt we owed our donor the extra time to show off the beauty. Then we rolled through Faerieland, Maraqua, Terror Mountain, the Haunted Woods and the Lost Desert themes.
Today, I was making a trip to Neopia Central for the latest display. The place was a bustle of activity, more so than any other world I’d visited and filled to the brim with all manner of Neopets and humans. Here and there, speckled amidst the crowd, I even got a quick flash of dark Darigan purple amongst much more brightly colored paint jobs.
I took a deep, relieved breath and darted my way through the crowd, testing my skills to the maximum and trying not to knock anyone over. Some Neopians cleared away from me with the usual uneasy suspicion, others ignored me the same way they ignored the rest of the populace. Heh. I was almost tolerated here. Thing were looking up.
I ranged here and there, gathering items that depicted places of note; a Soup Faerie Book, Water from the Rainbow Pool, a Money Tree Window, Orange Flavoured Tea (to summarize the Art Center), a Golden Symol Statue for Neovision and I even managed to borrow a NeoAuction gavel. The gavel was the hardest part; I had to show him my student ID, give him my name and list the name and address of my school. A little tired but satisfied, I settled my backpack firmly between my wings and took a leisurely stroll along the streets.
It felt wonderful to be able to walk in the open without stares and dark muttering. I mean, I’m used to it, but I certainly don’t like it.
The crowds were noisy enough that I nearly missed the scuffle happening down an alley. In fact, it took the loud clatter of a falling garbage can that made me turn my head, my sharp eyes catching sight of a Buzz and an Aisha leering at a Xweetok. Even as I watched, the Acara shoved the Xweetok against a wall roughly while the Buzz rummaged through the Xweetok’s pockets. The Xweetok struggled, but didn’t make a sound.
My tail gave a little twitch and I turned down the alley, my silent paws picking their way through the garbage and empty Neocola cans that littered the ground. Let’s see... I’m not really a fighter, so I can’t just clobber the two of them.
My gaze flicked to my own dark coloring and slowly I smiled. Hmm... Maybe our reputation would come in handy after all.
Silently I slipped into the shadows and crept as close as I could without being seen. Standing just behind them, I gave a low, eerie chuckle. The scene before me froze and I slid slowly forward into the light, letting the dim light enhance my already creepy appearance.
“My, my.” I spoke slowly and deliberately. I thought I was being overdramatic, but by the way the Aisha’s fur frizzed out in all directions I seemed to be doing something right. “It would seem that you’ve come off the beaten path... just a little bit.”
I sidled closer to give the impression that I was looming over them.
The Buzz turned around, looking annoyed, and then paused, his eyes darting over my powerful build and creepy looking paint job.
“Mmm... Fear...” I purred, now smiling to show every tooth in my mouth, “Such a rich bouquet.” Actually the smell of their fear made my nose itch, and I tried not to sneeze.
The two bullies blanched, their victim forgotten.
“Come boys, join me for... dinner...” If possible, I grinned wider.
That clinched it. Bullies are cowards at heart, and these two were no exception. At the mention of dinner, and the implied note about them possibly being that dinner, the two turned and bolted away as fast as their legs could carry them.
I snorted scornfully and glanced down at the battered Xweetok I’d saved; this scrawny little blue thing with too much tail.
She was slowly picking herself up, checking for injuries. Occasionally she peeked up at me through her hanging bangs, then quickly looked away.
“Hey,” I said softly, offering a paw, “Are you okay?”
She took it without a word, giving a hesitant nod as I gently pulled her completely to her feet.
“Why didn’t you scream?” I asked, gently dusting off the slightly battered coat. “Call for help. Anything?”
She hunched her shoulders and refused to meet my eyes, but raised a paw to her throat.
A moment of confusion swept through me. Something wrong with her throat? What was in the throat that would make it hard to talk? Uh oh. The vocal cords. She didn’t call for help because she couldn’t.
“Oh. I guess that would make it hard, huh?” I walked by her side, shooting a warning glare at a passing Pant Devil. It blanched and went somewhere else.
Heh. Looking creepy has its perks.
I felt a tug at my arm and turned to see the mute Xweetok pointing to the candy store. I followed her lead and found myself surrounded by shelves and shelves of every hyperactive kid’s dreams.
She scampered forward and rang the bell on the counter, two short and fast, and then a pause and one.
“Oh Mela, you’re back early; is something wrong...” A motherly looking Xweetok bustled out of the back room, marked with smudges of flour and a smear or two of chocolate. She took one look at me and froze, her eyes wide.
Mela, I guess that was her name, scampered over and tugged me forward; I would have rather just bowed my way out.
“Uhhh, hello,” I greeted the mother shyly. “Sorry for any trouble, but Mela had some problems in an alleyway. And, well, I gave her a paw.”
“Ohhh dear.” Mela’s mother let out a long sigh and her demeanor changed from suspicious to sad and a little tired. “Poor dear, that’s the third time this week. Bullies think she’s a good victim because she can’t call for help.”
“Mm, yeah, being different isn’t as cool as they try to tell us.” I looked away, trying not to melt at the Baby Gelert eyes that Mela had turned full-force on me.
“Listen, thank you,” Mela’s mom said quietly, surprising me with a hug. “It means a lot that you’d step in and help.”
“Heh, s’awright.” I turned the hug awkwardly and slipped out into the streets again as soon as I politely could.
My steps were a little lighter now as I walked through the streets. Man but it felt good to help someone.
As I got back to the store with my load of items, the Mail Lupe ambled up the path, “Here you are,” he said cheerfully. “Some bills for Research Inc.” I winced but accepted them. “And one envelope for a Miss Dusk of Darigan Citadel.”
Bewildered now, I accepted the envelope.
“Cheers!” he announced, and was on his way again.
I emptied my arms onto the counter and my classmates began sorting through the stuff I brought back. Almost hesitantly, I ripped open the envelope addressed to me and pulled out the folded piece of paper.
Hey girlie! Well, a new tour has begun and a new Single is out for our fans. Our offer still stands if you’re interested in becoming a dancer at our concerts. We’d like to invite you to attend our premier release of our latest song, “Paint Me Black (With Flames)” and get some stage time and a little more experience. In any case, you challenged me last year; don’t think I forgot! So now I challenge you Dusk! Show me your skills on that stage! Anyways, hope this finds you well,
Rock on, Rock hard,
Candon of Moehawk.”
A stiff piece of paper slid into my paws and I stared down at the official invitation to the special concert, dated the fifteenth day of the month of Storing. The concert was going to coincide with the celebrations of Neopia’s birthday.
I frowned thoughtfully. Last year, Moehawk’s dancer had sent word that I would make a great dancer if that was what I wanted when I graduated. The problem was... I was still in school right now. That and... Research Inc took up all my time. I mean, dancing was cool, but I was pretty sure I would have to practice a lot. School in the morning and our business in the afternoon... By the end of the day I just wanted to collapse into my bed, not spend the rest of my time moving around.
I swallowed heavily and sighed, then wrote a Neomail back to Candon, expressing my regret at not being able to dance, but saying I’d love to attend.
That started a number of neomails back and forth, ultimately netting tickets for the rest of us, including Migga for a holiday home. There was no school that day of course; no student would ever sit still on that one day and no teacher wanted to be cooped up writing on chalkboards anyway.
To be continued...