The Bennett Files: Neggs Over Easy
At this time of year in Altador, the pets working at Gardener's Rest were busy putting together the finishing touches on the annual Negg hunt, the main event of the Negg Festival. Pets were milling about on the streets, anticipating the announcement signaling the start of the hunt. One Woodland Uni decided to stay inside, however, choosing instead to focus on a few odd experiments. His name was Bennett, and as a detective, he reasoned that he had better things to do than to search for brightly-colored Neggs like a hyperactive child.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. It opened without waiting for a response, and found a ghost Zafara standing on the threshold. "Are you the private investigator, Bennett?" she asked, her voice having the slight whistling quality that most ghost pets had.
She seemed out of breath, her luminescent chest heaving as she stood there. Bennett raised an eyebrow.
"That's correct," Bennet said. "What can I do for you, Miss -"
"Dresellia, and I've come about an urgent situation at the annual Negg hunt," she said, stepping further into the office and plunking herself down on a seat. "There's been some rapscallion who sent the Negg Faerie the most disturbing letter this morning."
She put a hand into her pocket and rummaged around for a while, before finally pulling free a crumpled bit of paper. She leaned across to the Uni. "Here, you better read it for yourself."
Bennett took the paper and unfolded it, scanning its contents.
To whom it may concern--
Under the direction of our overlord, we will be confiscating all of the Neggs at the annual Neopian Negg Hunt this year. It seems that this event does not correctly represent the spirit of the holiday, and I have deemed it unfit to continue. Any attempt to pursue me will be futile.
With all due respect,
The Easter Negg Cybunny
"We have no idea who sent it," Dresellia said, "but I swear, when Kari gets her hands on the culprit she'll-"
"It's an inside job."
Dresellia paused. "What?"
Bennett peered at her from over the top of the letter. "It's an inside job," he repeated simply.
"Yes, I understand, but how did you come to that conclusion?"
Bennett placed the paper down on the desk and slid it towards Dresellia. "Looking at this letter, you'll see that there's a jarring discrepancy between the writer's use of 'we' and 'I' in the body of the message. This leads me to believe that the culprit is trying to mislead us into thinking that there was someone else working with him or her, when in reality, there's only one mastermind behind this. In addition, the Negg hunt has not actually started yet--otherwise I'd see pets trying to get their paws under the shrubbery by the window—and, assuming that Kari the Negg Faerie has not leaked the secret locations of all the Neggs, the only pet who would know enough information to pull off a heist of this scale would be someone who's already working behind the scenes at the Negg Festival. Ergo, it's an inside job."
Dresellia looked down at the letter with a frown. Surely he was just making that up to sound clever! But true enough, when she read through it again, all of those inconsistencies popped out like little red flags.
"Now, would you take me to the organizers of this Negg hunt so I might interview them?" Bennett asked.
"Certainly," the Zafara said, getting up from her seat. "Follow me."
She led the way out the room, Bennett following behind, and took him two streets over. From there, it was a short jaunt down a little pathway that led to the lush and leafy Gardener's Rest. Apart from the small hut to one side which the Negg Hunt organizers used as headquarters, the place was mostly untouched greenery, an oasis in that built-up neighborhood of Altador. Trees overburdened by springtime fruit bowed to meet them, and from somewhere in the distance, the chatter of a stream could be heard. It even smelt different here, a strong earthy smell that made it difficult to remember that they were only a short walk away from the bustle of the city.
In the center of all this, the Negg Faerie flitted to and fro, seemingly unable to rest in any one spot. When Kari noticed Dresellia coming towards her with Bennett in tow, she flew over and landed in front of them.
"Oh, Dres! Thank Fyora you're back, the pets are getting so anxious for the Negg Hunt to start, and you know how they get when there's a hold up," Kari said. "Is this the detective?"
"Indeed. Besides the letter, have you encountered anything else today?" Bennett asked without missing a beat.
Kari paused a moment to acclimate to Bennett's train of thought. "No, nothing," she finally said, "We just got the letter this morning, but it all seems normal. Everyone seems to be here, which is expected, since it's the big day of the Negg hunt."
Kari frowned, as if rethinking her words. She turned around and faced a yellow Acara in the distance. "Everyone's here, right, Flora?" she yelled.
The Acara gardener looked up from where she was pruning a few Negg shrubs. She hesitated before answering. "I think so," she called back, uncertain. "The Negg Gazer is here, and all of the bookkeepers and Negg distributors seemed to have signed in. Oh, but I think Rosie said something about going to put a down payment on a Jewelled Negg Uni Carriage today? She should be back soon, though."
"Right," Kari nodded, turning back to Bennett and Dresellia, "so as you can see, everything's going pretty well."
"Do you think anyone here has any reason to want to sabotage the Negg hunt?" Bennett asked.
"Why, no!" Kari gasped, placing her hand over her chest in shock. "I'm almost insulted that you would insinuate such a terrible thing! I mean, yes, perhaps the Neopians are slowly getting more and more greedy with each coming year--the number of times I've seen a fully-grown pet steal a Negg straight from a young child's paws!--but nothing that would make us ruin the event on purpose. We love putting this festival together every year!"
Bennett nodded. "Right. Well, I suppose that'll be all for now, Miss Kari. We will still need to interview others here, as I'm sure you can understand. Come, Dresellia--we must pay Flora a visit."
Dresellia nodded, and began to follow Bennett on his way to the gardener. “Flora,” Dres called as they came in closer. “Are you free for some questions?”
Flora stretched herself upright, setting her trowel down on the ground and taking her gloves off. With a quick wipe on her already mud-stained trousers, she held out one of her paws towards Bennett.
“I’ve got time, Dres. You must be Detective Bennett,” she said, turning to the Uni. “Dres said she knew someone who could help us out with this mess.”
“I’m sure I can,” Bennett said. “Can you tell me who received the letter this morning?”
“Well, that’d be me. But it wasn’t like it was specifically sent to me - it was left on my tool table in the shed.” She motioned with a floppy glove towards the shack behind them. “Do you want me to show you?”
“Yes, please, Flora,” Dresellia said.
The shack itself, once they were in it, was run-down and clearly not maintained when not in use. There were vines growing in through cracked pieces of glass in the window, and the floorboards were uneven, presumably from tree roots fighting to reclaim this area. Flora pointed to a small wooden table that was covered in a mess of gardening tools. “It was right over here when I found it.”
“Who has access to this room?” Bennett asked.
“It’s Kari, Rosie and myself,” Flora said, frowning as she thought. “We have all the records in here, including where the Neggs are being hidden this year, so we have to make sure no stray pet gets in.”
“Do you know of anyone who would have a reason to ruin the Hunt this year?”
Flora shook her head. “Sure, it’s getting more stressful year after year, with the pets getting more demanding, especially about the size our Neggs should be, but it’s one of the biggest events on the Neopian Calendar. Of course, it doesn’t punish the participants as much as it does us, given how much work we all put into doing this, and how much flack we’re going to get if we have to cancel the hunt altogether. We’ll be getting hate mail for weeks.”
Dresellia frowned, but said nothing on that particular point. Instead, she turned to the rusting file cabinet in the corner of the room. “Does that have the records in it for this year’s hunt? Can we take a look?"
“Yes, of course, if you think it will help.” Flora shuffled around in one of the drawers, and pulled out a folder. She handed it to Dresellia before seeming to have a second thought, and then pulled a few pages out of it. “Sorry, these are the locations of the Neggs this year - top secret even in these circumstances, you must understand.”
“We’ll take a look at these then. Thanks, Flora,” Dresellia replied, paging through.
“Right, well, I’ll have to leave you two to it. I need to get out there so it isn’t just poor Kari bearing the brunt of all those grumpy Neopets.”
After the Acara had hurried out, Bennett started flipping through the papers alongside Dresellia. The Zafara felt a familiar sense of exhilaration--strange for a ghost pet like herself--as the work reminded her of her past job as a Neopian Times journalist.
The documents themselves were of no interest to a normal Neopian--mostly numerical records of the stock of Neggs and finances for the Negg Festival committee. "They grow close to a million Neggs every year just for the Negg hunt," Dresellia mused. "I wonder if Flora does it all herself? It seems unlikely that one pet can grow all of that."
"Right you are," Bennett affirmed, "since there are records here showing that they pay a few dozen farmhands to help her out. However, that's not what's most interesting. You see these papers?"
Bennett handed Dresellia a few sheets, which she glanced over. "These are the records of the number of Neggs harvested and the number of Neggs distributed in the hunt in the past couple of years," she said.
"Right. You see anything off-putting about them?"
Dresellia frowned. "Not right off the bat. Although, now that you mention it, the number of Neggs distributed does seem fewer than the number of Neggs harvested."
Bennett nodded. "Not just fewer--hundreds of thousands of Neggs fewer. Normally you would allow for a little bit of loss in case some Neggs go bad in the time between the harvest and the hunt, but this is almost a consistent twenty percent loss every year. Flora wouldn't allow for that sort of thing to occur, as it would tarnish her pride as the head gardener of the Negg festival."
"So, are you saying that perhaps by some weird circumstance, the entire Negg harvest was wiped out, and Flora is trying to cover up for her mistake by making it seem as if someone had stolen them all?" Dresellia hypothesized excitedly.
"Now, now, Dresellia, apply yourself a bit," Bennett murmured, furiously rifling through the file. "You know they employ several bookkeepers to keep track of the Neggs, and I'm sure they would have found out earlier on if there were, in fact, no Neggs in stock. "
Bennett pulled a single sheet of paper out of the stack and gave it a quick glance-over. Then, for the first time that day, he smiled. "Instead, you should look for your answer here," he said, handing her the paper.
Dresellia took it, and was even more confused when she found that it was a record of the salaries that the staff were paid in the past few years: accountants were paid 90,000 NP, secretaries took home 70,000 NP, the Negg-Gazer received 100,000 NP, Rosie was paid 60,000 NP, the Negg distributors received a generous 100,000 NP, Flora took 500,000 NP while her helpers were paid 200,000 NP, and Kari was paid 2,000,000 NP for being the head of the entire event.
"Does this mean that one of the staff members is taking home too much for the amount of effort they put in?" Dresellia asked.
"It means," Bennett said, reshuffling all of the papers and tucking them neatly under his arm, "that I've solved the case. Tell the others to gather at the Altador Defenders headquarters. I'll meet you all there."
And with that, he turned on his heel and walked out of the shed. Dresellia stared after him, and wondered vaguely if he might be a little mad.
* * *
“Now that we’re all here,” Bennett was saying as Dresellia shut the door on the group. “Take a seat anywhere.”
Dresellia was surprised at the obedience his presence commanded, since all the pets did as they were told, including Kari. There was also Flora, a rather daintily dressed Grarrl recognizable as Rosie, and a couple of Flora’s assistants. The room didn't feel crowded, though, big as it was, with high ceilings and a large window behind them. Overall, it looked to be some kind of lecture theatre.
The ghost Zafara remained standing, a little off to the side. In her chest was a little flutter of excitement. All the way over, she had been trying to puzzle it together, and while something niggled her at the back of her mind, she couldn’t quite catch what it was trying to tell her. She had missed something, she was sure of it.
Bennett shot her a look, and said quietly enough so only she could hear it, “Have you figured it out yet?”
“There’s an element I’m not factoring in, something you’ve caught that I haven’t,” she said, shaking her head at him.
The woodland Uni called the rest of the room’s occupants back to attention. "I'm sure all of you have read--or wrote--the threatening letter the Negg Festival received this morning," Bennett began, holding up the slightly-wrinkled paper. "At Gardener's Rest, I was informed that all of the workers were present, aside from Rosie, who had been purchasing a Jewelled Negg Uni carriage."
That must be the missing piece, Dresellia reasoned. But how did it fit into the puzzle?
"Kari and Flora seemed rather disgruntled at the behavior of the pets at the Negg hunt each year, so one might infer that they had some motive to try to cancel the event. However, with the assistance of Dresellia," Bennett paused to nod to the ghost Zafara, "I gained access to records of the past Negg festivals, and found that there was an unnaturally large number of Neggs that disappeared between each year's harvest and the actual hunt. So, I deducted that someone must have been stealing some of the Neggs from the stock."
Bennett ambled around the room, looking pointedly at each person present. "I didn't know for sure who the culprit was yet," he continued, "but I had my suspicions, and I confirmed it when I saw the salary sheet for all of the Negg Festival employees."
Bennett then approached the table and placed his hooves on it, staring straight at one pet in particular. "How can Rosie afford a Jewelled Negg Uni Carriage when her salary is a paltry sixty thousand neopoints?"
Dresellia looked over at the green Grarrl, whose mouth was agape, though Dresellia noticed that her eyes seemed to be darting about the place.
“Well, I of course borrowed some money,” she said. Then, after a beat: “I mean, I took out a loan with the bank! Of course, yes.”
Her green skin seemed to be turning pink.
“If I could say something,” Flora said, standing up suddenly. “Did I not hear you say yesterday that the Carriage was worth two million neopoints?”
“It was a very big loan,” Rosie said. The blush had deepened to the color of her dress.
“Come now, Rosie,” Bennett began.
He was interrupted by the clattering of Rosie’s chair overturning as the Grarrl vaulted across the room, faster than Dresellia had ever seen that species move. Dresellia lunged for Rosie, but due to her ghostly nature, she didn’t end up stopping her. Fortunately, the two Defenders standing guard outside brought Rosie's escape to a screeching halt.
“Get off of me!” she roared, squirming this way and that.
Eventually, Rosie seemed to calm, and slouched back onto the floor in defeat. Her eyes were welling with tears.
“Look, those nasty pets are never grateful for the Negg Hunt,” she said. “Every year, all they want is more Neggs, and bigger ones at that. They want the Neggs to be harder to find, but then they throw a fit when they can’t find them!”
“Rosie!” Kari gasped. “It’s our duty to provide them with a Negg Hunt no matter the circumstances!”
“It’s alright for you, you get paid so much for it,” Rosie said with a pout, “whereas I have to put on a happy face while taking home a pittance! And then I have to watch those horrible pets walk home with huge, valuable Neggs. So a few years ago, I began to sell a few of the more expensive ones. Just to bolster my income, you know…”
Dresellia shook her head. “And then you got greedy.”
“Yes, I suppose I did. I sold more and more. I always planned to stop, I really did! But I couldn’t give up all the lovely new hats I could buy with that money.”
Dresellia said nothing and just eyed the rather garish Cybunny-eared hat, wondering if that was what Rosie considered “lovely."
“Then, this year, you decided to take them all just to spite the pets, and also to buy yourself a new carriage,” Bennett finished for the Grarrl.
Rosie nodded sadly. “Yes, you understand, don’t you? I just couldn’t stop myself.”
Bennett simply shook his head. He called for the Defenders to take Rosie away, and then packed up his things in preparation for his own leave. He was stopped, however, by the presence of Dresellia and the rest of Gardener's Rest, who stared at him curiously.
"Where are you going?" Dresellia asked.
"Back to the office," Bennett answered. "I've got a few experiments I need to finish."
Kari frowned. "On this beautiful day? Why, we're having the Negg hunt in about an hour! You wouldn't want to miss it, would you?"
"I'm not exactly a pet who delights in social events," Bennett sighed.
And if he were being perfectly honest, he would also mention how the departure of his old Maraquan Gelert detective partner, Strai, had left a hole in his heart. Frankly, he wasn't in the mood to engage in festivities.
Dresellia was determined to make him think otherwise. "You just cracked a case, Bennett!" she exclaimed. "You deserve to be out there. It'll be fun, I promise! If anything, I'm sure you'll love trying to deduce the secret locations of all those rare Neggs."
Bennett paused and considered her words. She had a point there. Perhaps it was finally time to leave the confines of his office and mesh with the rest of the world. He removed his hoof from the doorknob and turned towards the Negg Festival committee.
"You're right," he grinned. "Let us go find some Jewelled Neggs!"