Card House Secrets: The Prince - Part Three
At the very moment Mirelle and Black Jack had finished their discussion, Dr. Louise had entered The Card House and been held up by the bouncer. A large Yellow Acara, who blocked her way by holding up a huge paw and standing square in front of her. When all she did was stare at him, obviously scared, he seemed to realize she had no idea what he was waiting for.
“Newcomer,” he grunted, lowering his paw, but crossing his arms and looking down on her. “Members and guests only.”
“But I...” the Cybunny caught a glimpse of that club owner coming from the back of the large room. She leaned around the Acara and waved.
Those dazzling blue eyes immediately shot her way and he gave a resigned smile. She could’ve sworn she saw a hint of good humor in those eyes.
He approached, nodding goodbye to the beautiful Faerie Pteri that had been with him, and motioned the bouncer away. The Acara immediately turned and headed for the bar.
“Wow,” she murmured, impressed.
“I take care when I’m not personally on the floor to be sure of who gets in,” he explained easily. Thought she certainly hadn’t forgot that amazing, suave voice of his, hearing it again was practically music to her linguistic ears.
“Now, princess, to what do I owe this honor?”
Dr. Louise froze, suddenly realizing she’d never thought what to say when she actually got here. She blushed. “Actually, I’m a doctor of--”
“Linguistics, of course. Dr. Nadania Louise. You’re registered, so don’t look so surprised. My question is your friend...?”
Dr. Louise suddenly remember Mr. Westchance, cowering behind her, terrified at the idea of visiting The Card House, but too intrigued to refuse. To be perfectly honest with herself, she knew the only reason she’d asked him along was because she was too scared to go alone.
“Niles Westchance, a--”
“Historian, specializing in Brightvalian history. You had the library contact me about those books, despite the fact there are no due dates on such reference titles.” He smiled.
The Brown Lenny’s beak opened and closed, but no words came out.
“And I suppose the two of you are here to question me about matters I must warn you are better left never discussed at all, especially not in public?”
They both stared at him.
“Just kidding,” he said, smiling. But this time the smile didn’t reach his eyes. In fact, all good humor seemed to have evaporated off him, leaving only ice in its wake.
“Before you ask, one of my hobbies happens to be researching Neopian history. I’m quite adept.”
Niles Westchance seemed to have gotten a little braver. “Prince Shaiam’s rebellion?”
“The twelfth day of Hiding, Year 1263 before the reset, during the reign of his grandmother, Queen Vermanya. He was fifteen years old and had a following of approximately eighty five. However the pathetic excuse for a takeover of that tiny little Lost Desert Kingdom barely lasted nine hours, ending with his assassination by said grandmother.” The club owner smiled icily again.
The Lenny had no response to that.
Black Jack gestured to the door. “If that will be all?”
Dr. Louise realized he really didn’t want to ‘play’ with them at all. He was trying to dishearten and embarrass them so they’d leave. Well, fat chance of that! She grabbed Niles’ wing as she felt him start to back towards the door.
“You’re hiding something. Want to know what I think?”
The smile was gone. “Absolutely not,” he said coldly. He seemed to have sensed the change in her attitude.
She leaned right in his face and whispered, “I think you’re that prince the Secret Service hired me to search down!”
He grabbed her right paw with his, glaring at her. “You want to know what I think?” he said darkly, his voice low and dangerous.
She glared back, though part of her wanted to squirm from his alarmingly strong grip.
“I think linguists had best stay as far away from such matters as possible.” His icy blue eyes drilled into her and his grip tightened. “I assume you don’t want to spend the rest of your life watching your back. Lucky you, for not living in Neopia Central, but don’t think my influence is so limited.”
The Brown Wocky let go and she resisted the urge to rub her aching wrist.
His manner and voice suddenly returned to normal. “And you’re quite wrong about that, princess.”
“I don’t think so,” said Dr. Louise bravely, her eyes narrowed at him. “Your accent, your expressions, your voice...”
“You’d best leave,” he said.
“Not until I get some answers.”
Black Jack studied her face seriously for a moment, then raised his left paw.
All the Neopets in The Card House immediately dropped what they were doing and faced them. Half stood up. Several reached into hidden pockets, obviously for weapons. Dr. Louise, and behind her Mr. Westchance, were completely paralyzed with fear.
A huge Red Kougra in a bartender’s apron came over and stood at Black Jack’s left. The Wocky club owner slowly lowered his paw, but no one moved or said a word.
“Do you quite understand how incredibly easy it would be for me to get rid of you?”
Dr. Louise gulped but tried desperately to hold her ground. “I... I...”
He smiled suddenly, completely confident in his own position. “You’re not going to let this go, are you? Despite my warning?”
She clenched her paws to stop the trembling. “I will find out,” she insisted.
“Well, then how about a bet? You win, I’ll tell you my origins. I win, you get back to your own life and completely forget the matter.”
Dr. Louise was stunned. “How--how can I trust you?”
“Ask anyone. I never back out of my word.”
“What’s the bet?”
“A test of your skill,” he said, smiling in a completely confident manner. Positive she would lose. “I know the backgrounds and origins of every guest and member of this club.” He gestured widely, his smile growing. “Forty three members, as of yesterday. A hundred seven guests.”
Dr. Louise’s face dropped in despair. How many?!
“I’ll make this fair. You must correctly identify ten.”
“When you say identify--”
“You’re a linguist, yes? I want land of birth, manner of raising, family life, education, social status, career, et cetera. A very general biography. Of course I don’t expect names or criminal history or anything of that sort.”
He pulled a gold pocket watch from his coat and checked it. “The time is 6:30. I’ll give you until 12:30, half past midnight. I’m expecting around sixty to visit tonight, so selecting ten should be a piece of cake, yes?”
That glimmer in his eyes was seriously getting on Dr. Louise’s nerves. He really thought she’d fail. Over six hours to analyze ten Neopets? Child’s play.
She grinned and held out a paw. “Deal. I win, you tell me who you really are.”
“So anxious to take the mystery out of me, are you?” he said, chuckling and shaking her paw. “Don’t forget, though. I win--you forget the matter entirely. I’ll be frank. I never expect to see you again.”
He nodded slightly to her, then turned his back to speak with the huge Red Kougra that had continued at his side.
Just you wait, thought Dr. Louise. I’ll be done by 7:00!
“Are--are you serious?!” gasped Niles, setting a wing on her shoulder, his face full of concern.
“You can leave if you want to. But you’ll never solve the mystery on your own, while I’m positive I’ll have that Black Jack confess everything tonight.”
Niles Westchance took a deep breath, then nodded. “I’ll stay. I need to know the truth too.”
The first Neopet Dr. Louise approached was the gorgeous Faerie Pteri Black Jack had been with when he’d come from the back. She was sitting at the bar, drinking something sweet and cold.
“H-hello,” the linguist started, unsure of herself.
The Pteri ignored her.
“Excuse me?” asked the Cybunny.
The Red Kougra bartender knocked on the bar and the Pteri flashed him an annoyed look.
“Fine, fine, princess. Hello to you to. And let me make things clear from the start. Black Jack has ordered everyone to cooperate with you, though he never said we had to tell you the truth--thank Fyora. Unfortunately, those orders are synonymous with ‘paws off’.”
“You really think we,” she gestured around the room with a slight movement of her wing, “were gonna let you off after speaking so disrespectfully to our boss?”
Dr. Louise gulped, but tried to ignore the glares she suddenly felt from around the room, other Neopets obviously echoing the Pteri’s sentiments.
“Boss? So you’re employed here?”
“Stupid. Ugh. Now how should I put this?” She drummed her wingtips on her glass, then smiled over at the nervous Cybunny. “In this building, probably the whole of Neopia Central, Black Jack is ‘the boss’. THE pet in charge. He gets the last say, and all matters go through him. You obviously haven’t done your homework.”
“Who are you?”
“Like I’d tell you that. Think I want you to win your lame bet? I’ll tell you my card though. The Queen of Diamonds.” She smirked, quite proud of herself. “And I’m quite done ‘cooperating’ with you.” She gulped the rest of her drink, handed a few NP bills to the bartender, and left without a backwards glance.
Born and raised in Faerieland. Rebel, probably moved to Neopia Central first chance she could. Only child or youngest. Wealthy, and it’s in the family. Definitely smart. Standard Neoschool education, probably a couple years of college. Businesswoman, some sort of manager she’d bet.
Dr. Louise frowned and sat down at the bar, watching the barman. She’d pretty much forgotten about Mr. Westchance, still standing anxiously behind her.
The Red Kougra rolled his eyes. “Your not gonna get much better than that, but still she coulda been nicer, eh? My name’s 10C. The 10 o’ Clubs, numero uno bartender and head bouncer. Glad I didn’t hafta kick you out though. Hate having ta be rough with girls. Would ya like somethin’?”
Actually, Dr. Louise had already heard more than enough. What a strangely talkative and good natured person.
Born and raised on Krawk Island. Came over to Neopia Central in his teens. Bottom of the barrel, dirt poor street kid. Big family. No or little education. Obviously exactly what he said, bartender and bouncer.
A Green Wocky entered The Card House and a whispering went up around the room. Black Jack had been standing near the entrance and he immediately approached her and the two began talking softly.
She started laughing. Then she came to Dr. Louise!
“Queen o’ Spades,” she said cheerfully, tipping her kauboy hat and grinning. “Got ol’ BJ all riled up. Ain’t seen ‘im like that fer ages. So you’re the linguist?”
She sat next to Dr. Louise at the bar and waved her paw. In less than five seconds, the Kougra slid a glass of something that looked an awful lot like Neocola towards her, which she caught and sipped at.
“Thanks, 10C!” she called. He smiled back, but someone was calling him at the other end of the bar, so he walked off.
“You can drop the fake accent,” whispered Dr. Louise, smirking.
“Aw, but I’ve been working so hard on it!” teased the Wocky, in a decidedly more normal and intelligent-sounding voice. “So, what’s this bet with BJ all about? I’m willing to let you get one analysis right in exchange for a bit of fun.” She smirked.
She’d done it again! “Sorry, but I’ve just been lectured on disrespecting Black Jack, then here you’re calling him BJ?”
The Wocky waved a paw dismissively. “He owes me one. Or two, or three. Besides, I’m no shoe-licker. So?”
Dr. Louise found this Wocky strangely easy to talk to.
“I think he’s a long-lost prince of Brightvale,” she whispered secretively.
The Wocky started laughing again, this time long and hard. Neopian Central, pure. Born and raised, definitely a city girl all the way.
“Oh, puh-lease. He hates royals. Besides--”
Dr. Louise interrupted. “But his voice! That slight accent, the delicate phrasing...! All my knowledge--”
“Sometimes, girl, guts tell ya more than knowledge. And I’ll tell you one thing. No prince fights like BJ.” She smiled, proud for some reason.
“Fights?!” exclaimed the Cybunny, then suddenly remembered him catching the knife. Well, having seen those reflexes firsthand...
“You think he could control this lot if he couldn’t? Actually--”
Before she could finish whatever it was she’d been saying, her jacket pocket began buzzing and she pulled out some sort of timepiece. It glowed green.
“Oh, Neoflakes. Gotta go. See ya around, Louise!” She slapped two NP bills and a handful of coins on the bar while she chugged the rest of her neocola, then dashed off.
Neopia Central, born and raised. University education, probably on scholarship. Upper-middle class. Investigative reporter?
Black Jack caught Dr. Louise’s eye and grinned as she glared back at him. He came over and sat at the bar next to her. 10C slid him a fancy looking drink.
“Picked a troublesome first three, haven’t you?”
“Seven more to go, just you wait. By the time you’re done spilling, I think I’ll write your biography.”
“So sure of yourself, are you?”
“Are you trying to make me angry?”
“No, but if I were I’d be quite successful at it.”
She continued glaring at him.
“To be perfectly frank, I’m getting annoyed with you and my Card Housers just may sense that--which would not bode well for you or your little assistant.” He gestured at poor, shaky Mr. Westchance. “And I so hate dirtying my paws...”
“Trust me, I’ve noticed.”
“... and since you’re so confident and all, I’ll be easy. You get the three you just ‘interviewed’ one hundred percent correct and we’ll get this over with. Unless you really need the extra time? You would think getting three right would be so much easier than ten anyways...”
“You talk too much. And you’re up to something.”
“I don’t make a habit of lying. I’m so confident you got them wrong, I’ll even up our ante if it gets you out of my fur.” He leaned over and whispered, just barely audible.
“I’ll tell you about that prince you’re so interested in.”
“You’re so sure of yourself, are you,” said Dr. Louise, and it wasn’t a question. She glared at him. Those cool, calm blue eyes. That slight smirk. The phrase ‘oozing confidence’ came to mind.
“I’ll take it.”
“Come along to my office. On the off change you may actually be right about anything.” He left the half-finished drink on the table for a bartender to clear and headed towards the hall at the back. “The historian is free to tag along if he wishes.”
Dr. Louise and Niles Westchance followed.
End Part Three of Four
I’m curious. Who thinks Dr. Louise’s analyses are correct? What is Black Jack thinking? And where does this prince come in? Let me know what you think! It’s always interesting to compare where people think a story is going.