How to Save the World of Insurance in Six Easy Parts: Part Five
V. Don't Eat the Soup
Oscar knocked politely on the great oak doors, and smiled pleasantly at the Ogrin butler that opened them.
“I’ve been invited to dinner,” Oscar ventured.
The Ogrin sighed slightly, and stepped aside.
“Quite so, sir,” he agreed. “Though why the master needs to throw a party when he has a death threat hanging over his head is quite beyond me.”
Oscar stepped inside, handing his invitation over as he did so.
“Please follow me, the master is gathering everyone in the drawing room,” the Ogrin explained.
He led Oscar once more through the labyrinth of corridors that seemed to fill Mr. Munroe’s home. He stopped outside one, the noise of conversation could be heard within.
“May I present Mr... Oscar,” he announced as he opened the door.
The drawing room was filled with people. There were some Oscar recognised, like Mr. Jones, Mr. Monroe, and Mr. Jennings, but there were other new faces as well.
“Oscar! We were beginning to think you wouldn’t come!” Munroe bellowed with joy from near the fire.
The haggard look he had adopted over the past two days seemed to have evaporated, as if this was nothing more than a normal dinner party.
“Come, my boy, let me introduce you to everyone,” Munroe continued, putting his arm on Oscar’s shoulder. “You know Mr. Jones, of course.”
The green Skeith winked knowingly at Oscar.
“This is one of our major shareholders, Mr. Jennings,” Munroe explained as he presented the green Krawk.
“We have met,” Jennings replied pleasantly.
“Capital!” Munroe roared. “This is Miss Tobik, another of our major shareholders. Her late husband was a dear friend of mine.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” a blue Bruce wrapped in a peacock coloured fur coat replied. “I think I recall you from the Altador Cup, do I not?”
Oscar nodded. He’d only been in Altador for a few days, and he’d met so many people, but he did remember a rather theatrical old Bruce.
“This is Lady Cambridge,” Munroe continued, gesturing to a brown Ixi in a startling scarlet dress. “She runs the Women’s Institute in Neopia Central.”
The Ixi held out her hand for Oscar to kiss.
“Next, we have my two oldest friends, and my two oldest competitors,” Munroe said as he whisked Oscar off to a pair of Neopets that were stood by the fire. “This is Henry Gilt,” a Tyrannian Draik in a mustard waistcoat nodded, “and Walter Lavender,” a purple Lenny smiled at the sound of his name.
“A pleasure to finally meet you both,” Oscar said, shaking both their hands.
“You’re not going to introduce me, uncle?” a voice asked from a nearby armchair.
There was a yellow Chomby there; one that looked startlingly like a younger version of Mr. Munroe. He wore a black suit, with a grey flower in his lapel, almost as if he was attending a funeral.
“Yes, of course, how could I forget?” Mr. Munroe laughed. “Oscar, this is my nephew, Gerald Munroe. He’s my last surviving family.”
Something about that phrase struck a chord in Oscar’s mind. He knew something, but he couldn’t remember what.
“Always nice to meet the workers,” Gerald said in a voice that almost sounded like a sneer.
“Oscar, we need to talk about your plans,” Mr. Munroe whispered, and led the Kacheek away into a side room.
Mr. Jones was already there, smiling pleasantly.
“Well, Oscar?” Munroe asked as he sat down behind a desk.
“Erm...” Oscar hesitated, taking the papers out of his briefcase that he’d stuffed in there earlier. “I was thinking, sir, that we might try and poach some of the competition.”
He carefully handed over the papers that described the employees of Ultra-Quick and Insuromatic Insurance.
“Imelda Briars and Jack Storm are intensely driven people,” Oscar continued as he found his stride. “If we were to offer them a competitive salary, I believe we could get them, sir.”
Mr. Jones cleared his throat.
“We have already approached them, sir,” he said quietly.
“That’s not all we’re going to offer them, though!” Oscar quickly added. “Both Jack and Imelda want to be the best salesperson ever – we’re going to give them a chance to prove it.”
“How so?” Munroe asked.
“We’ll give them each their own department, and then let them run wild,” Oscar explained. “The department that makes the most profit gets a fancy title, Employee of the Year or something. They’ll pull out all the stops to beat each other, and you’ll rake in the profit.”
“Yes...” Munroe considered. “I like it. But that’s not the entire problem.”
“Oh yes, there is a second part to my plan, sir,” Oscar continued, his confidence growing.
He glanced down at his notes for part 2 of his plan... and his face fell.
He hadn’t finished; he’d fallen asleep.
“Well?” Munroe inquired.
Images of the nightmare Oscar had dreamt wheeled through his mind madly. He hadn’t finished!
There was the Kyrii, standing over him, saying he wanted insurance...
Saying he wanted insurance...
Saying he wanted insurance!
The spark of inspiration shot through Oscar’s mind, racing to great new conclusions.
“We are going to get new customers,” Oscar said simply.
“Pardon?” Munroe questioned.
“You said that thieves, pirates, armies and monsters are rampaging across the planet picking on victims, our normal clients – there’s no way we can make money off them anymore,” Oscar explained, half to himself as he came up with his new plan on the spot. “So we’ll go where the money is, with the thieves.”
A curious smile spread across the face of Mr. Jones as he began to follow Oscar’s logic.
“It’s simple, really; if a thief comes across a particularly aggressive victim that fights back, they’ll lose out. They’ll need insurance against that. Pirates need insuring against ports that they can’t sack, armies need insurance against their battles being rained off, and monsters against heroes discovering their magically enchanted weak shin bone!”
Munroe stared in amazement at Oscar.
“Some might say that’s highly unethical and theoretically illegal,” he considered.
“Not if there’s the proper official paperwork, sir.” Oscar smiled. “A thief is nothing more than a tradesman; they have unions and everything now.”
Munroe slowly allowed himself to grin broadly.
“Yes, yes, it might just work!” he laughed. “We’ll set to work on it in the morning; good work, my boy!”
There was a knock on the door that interrupted their conversation. The Ogrin butler let himself in quietly.
“Dinner is served, sirs,” he announced.
The kitchen: that was the weak point of any building, any fortress, any empire. It was the perfect entry point.
The red Kyrii let himself in through the back door quietly. By the looks of the kitchen, the starters had already come back and the soup course was about to be served.
The Kyrii silently stalked over to the large soup pan that was bubbling furiously. In front of the pan, soup plates were spread out, each with a name tag for the individual person the soup was destined for along with notes about allergies and preferences.
The Kyrii smiled, revealing his trademark gold teeth, and silently uncorked a bottle of clear liquid. He silently poured the mixture into the dish marked ‘Arthur Munroe’.
His smile glazed over as a rolling pin came flatly down on his head. The Kyrii slid backwards onto the floor, revealing a spotted Kau behind him.
“That’ll teach you to sneak about in my kitchen!” Mrs. White the cook snapped in triumph. “Is this the one you were looking for?”
A green Grarrl stepped out of the shadows.
“Yes, he’s the one,” he said happily. “Thank you very much for your help, Mr. Munroe will be most pleased.”
The Grarrl picked up the Kyrii by his arms and began to drag him out of the back door.
“He was messing about with the soup before I hit him,” the Kau said suspiciously.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” the Grarrl answered.
The cook shrugged, and began ladling the soup into the dishes. The Grarrl lifted the Kyrii’s face to his as he left the kitchen.
“You got away from me once,” he whispered. “You won’t get away twice. Consider your contract terminated.”
Dinner was indeed served.
A lot of it.
Oscar was already beginning to feel full after the rather large plateful of pate that he had been given as a starter, and he was reliably told they had at very least five more courses to get through. For once, Oscar perfectly understood why Mr. Munroe was the size that he was.
The soup course was delivered next, and set down in front of each person. As the guests began to tuck in, Oscar noticed that Mr. Munroe’s nephew, Gerald, kept glancing nervously towards his uncle.
There was something Oscar knew about Gerald, he was sure of it.
Oscar glanced up the table at Mr. Jones, who sat there pleasantly eating his soup – though it occurred to Oscar that it must have been for the show of things, as a zombie would have no real need for food.
Jones hadn’t said anything about his plan to reveal the would-be murderer, but apparently it was one of the people in the room.
He turned his attention to the guests, trying to think what their motives might be.
Walter Lavender and Henry Gilt were fairly obvious. With Munroe out of the way, their companies would see their sales boosted.
Similarly, Mr. Jennings and Miss Tobik had motives, being shareholders in the company. Perhaps they were trying to get Munroe out of the way and claim more shares for themselves. But hadn’t Mr. Jennings himself dispatched Oscar on a quest to find and stop the murderer? Surely that made him innocent?
Then there was Lady Cambridge. She was a complete mystery, head of the Women’s Institute? Wasn’t that an organisation of old women that held bake sales and bingo games? She certainly didn’t look old. What was her tie to Munroe?
Oscar’s eyes drifted to the butler, Wadsworth. He chuckled to himself internally. Perhaps the butler had done it? Then there was the cook, Mrs. White. She’d been drafted in on guard duty with a crossbow, and what kind of kitchen worker could handle a weapon like that? Did she have a dark secret?
Finally, there was Gerald Munroe... but surely he couldn’t be to blame, could he? To kill his own uncle, and why? For his inheritance?
Mr. Munroe had only mentioned it in passing, but Gerald inherited everything. There were no other relatives. He’d get the mansion, the grounds – and the company.
A sudden noise from the head of the table interrupted Oscar’s train of thought. Mr. Munroe had dropped his spoon and was clawing as his throat.
“Sir? Are you alright?” Wadsworth asked, darting forward.
“The...” Munroe tried to gasp, his eyes turning red. “...Soup!”
He emitted a faint gurgling noise, and then fell face first into his soup dish.
Wadsworth was with him a moment later. After a brief pause, the butler stepped back with a grim look on his face.
“He’s dead!” the Ogrin whispered.
To be continued...