Shay Peters and the Clockwork Caper: Part Five
Also by chocolateisamust
V. I Was Not the Conman
Oak Hollow Lane looked different in the daylight. The gnarled trees I had seen the night before were nothing more than large, ordinary oaks that littered the front lawns of the residences. House 1139 was less ominous than it had been when I'd had no idea of what I was getting myself into; this fact was clear to me as I walked up the dilapidated front pathway. A sense of deja vu then came over me as I knocked on the bright red door and waited for an answer.
While I stood outside in the frigid air, I reviewed the plan that Henry and I (well, mostly Henry) had devised after we'd finally sat down for that cup of tea. It was simple and to the point: I would give Griswold the key, the one that Henry or another Defender had stolen off someone. The Lutari had told me that each key had a unique, identifying number on the side, and sure enough, when I checked the one I had received, I saw a series of miniscule numbers etched into the metal. Once I had given Griswold the unique key, Henry said the Acara would most definitely set up a meeting time for my official induction into the Society, and that's when the Lutari would work his magic. Using his status as a Defender, he would call in his comrades, who would then set up a take-down of the Swindlers' meeting. They'd apprehend the members of the High Board of the Society - and then I'd go back to Henry's house, and he would give me the letter...
"Can I help you?" came a familiar voice, cutting me off from my musings.
I looked up and saw the purple Acara in a satin robe, a cup of coffee clutched in his hands. I looked down at my watch and realized then that it was only 10am. So much had happened in the past hour or two that I didn't even realize how early it still was.
Still, the time of day didn't matter, so I simply said to the Acara called Griswold, "I... I have the key."
"Already?" he asked, placing his coffee with a clunk on a table somewhere out of my line of vision. "Let me see it."
I fished around in my pocket, pulled out the key, and shoved it into his paw. I found myself holding my breath as he put it up to the light to examine it, no doubt looking for the numbers.
After Griswold was done examining the tiny piece of metal, he nodded his head sagely. "Congratulations, Shay..."
Trying to appear as natural as possible, I cracked a smile. "Thank you."
"You didn't run into the homeowner, did you?" the Acara ventured. I knew why he was asking, but I tried to look as if I didn't - it would ruin everything if Griswold knew that I'd run into Henry.
So, my voice so firm that I half-convinced myself I'd never seen the green Lutari, I said, "No, I didn't."
"Okay then. Very nice, Shay," Griswold said. He ran his finger back over the key, tracing the tiny numbers. "You don't even know how much you've helped the Society."
If only, I thought wistfully, and then I said, "So... what should I do next?"
"Since you've completed your task, the next step is the initiation ceremony." As he spoke, Griswold gently set the key down on the same table where he'd put his coffee a few moments before. "As you've done such a wonderful job getting the key - although, I suppose that's only to be expected for someone of your caliber - I feel it's not fair to make you wait very long for the induction. We're having another meeting tomorrow night. Come then - use the key that arrived in the original envelope to gain entry - and you'll be properly give membership to the Society."
I nodded. "What time?"
"Same as the last," Griswold replied, which meant 9pm.
"Okay. I'll... see you then," I said unsurely.
"And again, Shay, congratulations," said Griswold, and with that, he closed the door.
Once he did, I took a deep breath and headed back towards Henry's house to give the Lutari the meeting time.
That night, I had a crisis of morality. In reality, turning in the Swindlers' was doing the right thing, but to me, it was all wrong. I had admired them from the moment I'd entered the world of thievery - turning them into omniscient forces, almost. I'd thought that they saw all and knew all about every conman in the business, even amongst the lowliest ranks. Sometimes when I'd pull off my silly cons, I'd imagine a Swindler watching me, reporting on me... putting my name in as a possible new inductee. Then, it had happened.
And what had I done?
Yeah, I'd turned them all in.
"You're the worst conman ever, Shay," I muttered to myself, tossing and turning in bed. The fancy Virtupets-imported heater in my apartment had stopped working earlier that night - as if it was some sort of bad omen - and I was absolutely freezing. This just added another degree to my qualm and misery.
By the morning, I was exhausted both emotionally and physically. Henry had told me specifically not to show up at the Swindlers' meeting that night when it all would go down (he appeared not to trust that I wouldn't have a sudden change of heart and warn all of the Society members of the impending raid), so I had not a single thing in Neopia to do that day. Tomorrow I would go to the Lutari's house to pick up my letter - he hadn't mentioned the blackmail to his fellow Defenders, and rightly so, I figured - but for now... there was nothing.
So I just sat there in the icebox that was my apartment, doing nothing, feeling nothing, and wanting nothing. How had Henry done this to me? When I had faced him last summer- conned him out of fifty-million - he had been like butter. I'd outwitted him in mere moments and had gotten away with a fortune. How had he changed so much in such a short time? How had he gotten that much smarter than me, that much craftier? How?
But the answer to that question - it didn't come.
I fell asleep in the late afternoon and then snoozed solidly through the night, waking up a little before dawn the next morning. When I looked at my clock, a lump formed in my throat as I realised it had all happened already. The Defenders had done their duty and taken in the high-ranked members of the Society.
All because of me.
As I got dressed, I wondered vaguely how it had all gone down. Then, I stopped. I didn't want to know. All knowing would do was bother me, haunt me - and I was already haunted enough by my own actions, by the way I had betrayed myself and my ideals. Sure, my ideals weren't good ones in the eyes of most people, but they were still something stable in my life, something sound. I was the unsavoury creature, the denizen of the dark.
I was the conman.
And now... I was nothing.
But at least I would have my letter.
The letter's contents had plagued my dreams the entire night. What was in there? Who was writing to me? These questions continued to race through my head as I slowly began the bike ride from my apartment to Henry's dwelling.
As I pulled up in front of the house, it seemed different, just like Griswold's home on Oak Hollow Lane had the second time around: Henry's place appeared strangely less threatening. Sure, it was still a sprawling monster, but now that I knew what lay within, the mystery was gone. It was no longer an intriguing mansion that contained the key - literally - to my future. It was just the house of a powerful man with something very dear to me.
I abandoned my bike on the front walk and then rang the doorbell twice before Henry answered it. The green Lutari was wearing a starched button-up shirt, but he hadn't put his tie or blazer on yet, so he looked strangely approachable and personable. There was a smile on his face when he first flung open the door, but when he saw me, that smile instantly faded away.
"Hello, Mister Peters," he said, his voice all business.
"I want the letter," I replied, my own voice all but drained of emotion.
"Oh, right. Well, Mister Peters, I'm in a bit of a rush right now, but if you come by later, I'll be more than happy to -"
"No," I interrupted, a sudden jump of anger in my voice. "You get it for me now."
Henry sighed, as if I was annoying him. "Alright, Mister Peters, calm down. If you want it that much, I'll go and get it. But-"
"Dad?" a tinny voice interrupted Henry suddenly, and both the Lutari and I focused in on the source of the words.
It was just Henry's son, Lucas. The younger Lutari was wearing a school uniform and high socks, and his red fur was combed neatly back. As he spotted me - a strange faerie Krawk with sunken eyes and a face splashed with rage - a peculiar look came over his face. Before the child could inquire as to my identity, however, Henry set a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"What do you want, Lukey?" the elder Lutari asked in a voice I'd never heard him use before - it was soft, loving.
"You never got me my poster yesterday... so I just wanted to make sure you'll remind me to get it after I'm done with breakfast," Lucas said unsurely.
"Sure thing, Lukey. Now go finish your cereal while Daddy finishes talking with his uh - friend... okay?" Henry ruffled his son's short hair and gently nudged him back towards the kitchen.
Lucas sighed. "Alright," he said, and with that, he walked away.
After his son was gone, Henry turned his attention back towards me, and once again, his tone was all business. "The letter's upstairs, Mister Peters. If you're that desperate, I'll go and get it now." With that, he quickly disappeared up the staircase and returned a few moments later, a simple piece of stationary between his fingers, folded over four times into a thin, stick-like shape. A slight look of apprehension on his face, the Lutari pressed it into my hands. "There you go, Mister Peters."
Breathing slowly, I glanced at Henry for a short moment before looking down and unfolding the letter with fervor, eager to see what was inside.
After I finished opening it up, I traced over the words, trying to piece together exactly what it meant. A wave of emotion suddenly flooded over me, and it took all my effort to keep from crying. But then... I knew. I knew that it was worth it. The night before, I had brooded so heavily and so long over what I had done to receive this letter. But now I realised that what I had given up was far less than what I had gained. Forever now, I had been convincing myself that being a conman was my identity, my being. But it wasn't. There was more to me than a thief.
I was not the conman.
"... Mister Peters?"
Henry's voice snapped me from my reverie, and I looked up at him with a start.
"What?" I asked.
"I've given you the letter," he said. "I'd appreciate it if you would leave now."
"Okay." I took a deep breath, folded the letter back up again, and placed it carefully into my jacket pocket. As Henry then stepped forward and pulled the front door open, I suddenly asked, "It's the only one, right?"
"Excuse me?" Henry said.
"The letter." I made my voice a bit louder. "This is the only copy of the letter, right? You didn't make another one for safe-keeping... to use as leverage in the future?"
"No, Mister Peters," Henry replied. "In all honesty, I have no desire to ever see you again."
I nodded and stepped outside. However, before the Lutari could close the door on me, I said, "Just one last thing."
"What, Mister Peters?"
"How..." I paused, trying to string the words together right. Finally, I got my head around what I wanted to say. Slowly, I began, "H-how were you so good against me this time around? How did you... how were you... so much smarter... so much better?" The words sounded ridiculous coming out of my mouth, yet is was the only thing that seemed to be on my mind.
Unexpectedly, Henry let out a short, hollow laugh. "Do you seriously want an answer to that question, Shay?"
"Yes," I said, pausing before reaffirming myself. "Yes, I do."
"Six months is a long time to think about just how, exactly, a man managed to con you out of fifty million, Shay. A very long time."
I couldn't help but smile to myself. "Yeah, I guess it is." I traced my finger over the letter in my pocket, and then for some reason that even I couldn't understand, I said, "Thank you for giving me the letter, Henry. Part of me thought you wouldn't."
"I'm not a conman, Shay," Henry replied.
"Neither am I," I said, but the Lutari had already closed the door.
Later that day, after I'd had a chance to read the letter another two or twenty times, I found myself standing in front of a quaint lilac cottage somewhere in the middle of Neopia Central. It was nearly identical to all of the other homes surrounding it, but I could pick it out amongst them, anyway - even though I didn't remember the exact address.
I stood staring at the little house for a good twenty minutes before finally bucking up the nerve to go and knock on the door. Even then, I almost backed down a few times before finally bringing my knuckles against the slab of thin wood.
And then, there was no going back. I could hardly breathe as I knocked, and as I waited for the person inside the home to respond to the noise, I reassuringly ran my fingers over the letter, which sat crumpled in my coat pocket. Do not chicken out, Shay, I told myself. Do not chicken out.
Finally, someone opened the door... someone I hadn't seen in a long, long time. At first, they didn't recognise me - I could see it in their eyes. But then, my identity clicked...
"Shay?" gasped the person in a soft, feminine voice. "Oh Fyora, Shay, is that really you?"
I nodded my head and took a deep breath. "Yes," I said. "It's me, Rachael. It's me."
Come back to me, Shay; please, come back. If you're reading this letter, it is some kind of a miracle... I sent it out with no address, with but a simple instruction to deliver to Shay Peters. My friends told me it was ridiculous, that it would never find you. But Shay, I did not listen, because somehow, deep down, I know this note will eventually find you.
Shay, my heart aches for you. I know you think I'm silly, that I'm vain, and perhaps that is true. But my life, Shay, has been so bare since you've been gone. I realise my mistakes now, how many times I have put myself and my wants before you and your needs. But now I promise, Shay, that I will not do that anymore. Just come back to me, and everything will be different.
But, Shay, perhaps it is selfish of me to assume that you'll come running back the moment you receive this letter. So if you don't - if you need more time to think, to understand - then at least keep true, Shay. Don't abandon your morals, your beliefs. Remember, while the world is big, it is still smaller than you would imagine. Don't do anything that will come back to hurt you in the end, Shay. Just promise me that - if not in words, then in actions, in thoughts.