True Deception, Chapter 18

“Pardon me, old chap!” I tapped the shoulder of a man in an industrial jumpsuit and spoke in a British accent. I felt proud of how fluid and natural it came out, but I supposed that I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised, we did a lot of practicing! I tried my best to maintain an indifferent face as this guy gazed at us in a peculiar way, but in my head, I had begun to panic! Violet and I definitely looked the part of a couple of well-off investors, but since we had spent several hours traversing across Anwynston, I feared that we bore the marks of more labor than people of the stature we pretended to belong in would ever engage in! We didn’t have much of a choice on that- we had no money for a taxi, and if we took the bus in these outfits, we definitely would have raised too much suspicion! Prior to the sun rising, the journey hadn’t been too bad, but after that point, our heavy clothes began to bother us! She had a long, elegant dress, I had a three-piece suit, and we both wore luxurious capes, so we had a lot of layers on during this unusually warm Autumn day! The walk took several hours since we were still sore from our foray with the Fallen on the previous evening, and we had to take a break to eat since our stomachs didn’t provide us with the energy needed to complete that trek, so we probably did a lot sweating on the way to our destination! We did our best to clean ourselves up and make our visages appear as though we had just stepped out of a town car, but I worried that perhaps we hadn’t done enough… I prayed that I had successfully hidden my nerves as I completed my request, “Can you please direct us to the person in charge of this facility?”

            “Uh…” He continued to gaze at us in a quizzical manner, and I was so sure he planned to throw us off of the property! Right as I wondered if we ought to bough out and make another attempt with a different worker, the man unexpectedly accommodated us, “Yeah, sure! Follow me!” Violet and I did our utmost to not show any surprise as he led us into the giant, brick factory.

            When I pictured the headquarters of one of Birsha’s biggest sponsors and most influential ally, I saw pristine floors and the most fashionable fixtures throughout the building, so it caught me off guard to see cracks in the concrete and outdated furniture in the lobby! A receptionist hose attire seemed far more casual than what I would have expected for someone who was supposed to be the first impression of the company to its guests filed her gaudy nails and hardly even glanced up as we entered, which made me think that perhaps we didn’t such a clever ruse after all! The worker assisting us directed Violet and me, “Wait right here.” He indicated to a couple of old and very worn chairs that were situated in front of a wall with some obvious water damage, and I thought that individuals who were actually in a high social class wouldn’t dare to park themselves on those ghastly things, but we were so weary from our long trip that we didn’t object to sitting there.

            The man knocked on the door labeled “Nathair Schumn- President and CEO,” and we peeked around the receptionist’s desk in order to watch this transaction take place. We heard a nasally but tough voice bark, “What?”

            “Hey, there’s some people here that-,” the worker started to fill Nathair in about our arrival.

            “Get in here!” he ordered to that man. When the door opened, Violet and I did everything we could to view what may have lurked in that room! The receptionist still hadn’t taken her eyes off of her activity, and I couldn’t tell if she assessed our behavior as a normal move from some curious investors or if she had a complete disregard for her usual job functions! Regardless of the case, I was glad that she hadn’t interfered with our efforts to hear their muffled discussion! Nathair quietly scolded the worker, “What did I say to do about any visitors who come here?”

            The man justified his decision, “Oh yeah, I understand your policy, Boss! But they’re not those kinds of visitors! These folks definitely got money!”

            At the mention of our potential opulence, that receptionist’s attitude completely reversed course! She perked up quite a bit and finally caught a glimpse of the strangers in front of her, and I was grateful for the opportunity to test our getups on somebody else! We managed to avoid contact with anyone on the route to this building, and I hadn’t espied any behavior that caused me to believe that any of our brief encounters would result in the police getting called on us, but this interaction was much more up close and personal, so I deemed it as a more accurate measure of our performance. Luckily, she beheld us with the great interest of someone who would benefit significantly by our presence, so it appeared we had achieved success with these disguises! As she zipped over to Nathair’s office, I knocked on wood that Nathair would become equally as enamored by our appearance!

            “Oh, Natie boy! It finally happened for us!” she rejoiced. “We finally got some moneybags here! I can-!”

            “Shh! Don’t spoil this for us, Mom!” Nathair warned her. I smiled as I mused that if I had been a real investor, I would have raised an eyebrow to hear that he had to resort to putting his elderly mother on his payroll! With the job I saw her doing so far, I doubted that she had been his first or even his second choice for that role! Our anxiety over this operation began to ebb, but soon we realized that gathering pertinent information from these dupes wasn’t going to be such a cinch after all…

            The worker asked Nathair, “So, what happens now?”

            I presumed that Nathair would recommend them to get out of his office so we could discuss finances, but instead, his answer to his question was, “Put them on the tour with those second graders. If they’re still interested after they’ve seen the show, I’ll go close the deal!” It disappointed me slightly that we wouldn’t be gaining access to his office, which I felt certain had a treasure trove of evidence to help our cause, but it pleased me that we would get to explore his command post a little! I was skeptical that he would let us witness any clues to the Arch Deity’s whereabouts, but if we happened to spot something hinky that could lead us to the right path, then Violet and I could create some sort of diversion from anyone supervising us so we could check it out! I felt great about the events about the events about unfold until I heard Nathair say, “Have the guides find out as much as they can about these two, see if we can gain any kind of leverage over them…”

            I cringed at that notion. Not only would we have multiple adversarial escorts alongside us as we strove to unearth Nathair’s secrets, but we now had the obstacle of having to respond to very probing inquiries! I inwardly grumbled that maybe Nathair wasn’t as inept as I initially judged him to be, but as soon as that worker and Nathair’s mother reemerged, I made sure not to radiate any of that and I put on an extensively chipper façade! That man informed us, “There’s gonna be a group from a school coming by soon. You can all go through the factory together.”

            “Splendid!” Violet and I both gushed in unison without either of us actually meaning it.

            “Welcome to Nerium Night Ware!” an enthusiastic tour guide greeted a crowd of small children who did not seem particularly excited to visit a pillow factory. Their teacher smiled and clapped while Violet and I had huge grins on our faces. The employees of this establishment probably assumed that we outwardly displayed our enthusiasm for this occasion, but in reality, the scene was too ridiculous to not gain an ounce of amusement from it! At least, it was amusing until a half dozen men in high end security showed up! Clearly, whatever scant amount this business incurred after it paid off Birsha went to these guys! I felt confident that Nathair spent more on their outfits than he did on his own infrastructure! The tour guide went on, “Get ready for excitement- we’re gonna have some fun, fun, fun learning how all the magic works!” No one but the teacher expressed any conviction in his assertion coming to light, especially not with those guard’s grim demeanors casting out into the audience, but I did grow more curious about this walkthrough right then- was his use of the word magic just a coincidence?

            As we entered through a set of double doors, the guards spread out amongst us, and while we went down a runway surrounded by pipes and cement, one security person packed himself in tightly next to my side and queried, “What did you two say your names were?”

            We prepared ourselves for this to come up, so I told him without hesitation, “I’m John Smith, and she is Ann Robertson. We represent Lady Hallewell’s estate.” Violet and I guessed that they would do a background check on us, and since Lady Hallewell ran a large and very famous investment firm, we knew that at least one person with each of those monikers had to have an association with that organization. He covertly gave our identities to someone on his watch, and we assumed that they found no issues since the tour was allowed to move on from there.

            “Here we have the textile area!” the guide avidly pointed to all of the various machines busy whirring away on the factory ground. They were so old that it astonished me to see them running as efficiently as they were! On the surface, the laborers seemed hard at work keeping all of the devices operating, but the more I watched them, the less I esteemed that their actions actually had a real impact on any of the mechanical maneuvers! As the tour guide spoke about the various fabrics used in their products, I noticed one employee forgot to push a button, and yet his contrivance maintained its usual flow! It made me wonder how many poor souls depleted their life forces to keep this joint open!

            “How much did you say you were giving the company?” the security guard probed.

            Violet pleasantly corrected him, “We’re not giving anything away! An investment provides its donor some sort of return! And it doesn’t make sense to talk numbers ‘til we see what’s needed in an establishment, does it?” Her response quelled the security guard for the moment, and it impressed me how much she was able to play the part without telling a real lie!

            The tour guide took everyone to see several rows of sewing machines, and it threw me off completely to witness all of the tailors moving simultaneously! They moved more mechanically than the actual machines, which was so unnerving that we found it difficult to hide our aghast! “Here’s where we lovingly fashion together our pillows, sheets, covers, and more!” The children looked confused and craned their necks as if they were searching for the love he described, but their teacher conveyed genuine fervor for this spectacle! Violet and I must have been giving her a judgmental stare because one of the security guards gestured towards us and whispered to his colleagues, so we did everything we could to ignore her odd behavior and carry on with more vivacity.

            We came to what resembled a giant laboratory, and the tour guide explained, “Here’s where our products go for their diet… Get it? Dye it!” He chortled at his pun, and the teacher roared at his quip. Violet and I attempted to feign mirth, but I got the sense that the security guards weren’t buying it! The tour guide prattled on, “We use all natural ingredients to create all of our unique colors and hues! Each mixture also includes essence of the oleander flower that Nerium-.”

            “But that’s toxic!” Violet accidentally blurted out. She obviously regretted that involuntary reaction the instant it came out of her mouth, and although she immediately followed that with, “Isn’t it?” and returned to her bubbly façade, the security guards undoubtedly became much more leery of our motives for this sojourn!

            “It’s a common misconception that the Nerium is poisonous,” the tour guide calmly addressed her. “It actually has a lot of health benefits and healing qualities to it, which is why we infuse it into all of the stuff we sell!”

            I spared Violet the pain of having to fake her change of heart by spouting out, “Marvelous! Simply ingenious!” I didn’t think that the security guards were completely sold, but they allowed us to move on with the rest of the crew, so I crossed my fingers that the rest of our excursion would go more smoothly!

            The group was taken into an area with large, metal brackets with Nerium Night Ware paraphernalia stacked up to the ceiling, and it disgusted me to see Nancy Nox’s mug plastered all over them! The teacher inquired to me, “You’re not gonna invest in this company, are you?”

            “Why would you say that?” I replied in what I hoped sounded like sincere shock.

            “You act like some of the other teachers at Monico Elementary!” she asserted. “You show just enough spirit to convince the others that you’re on board with the regime, but really, you can’t stand any of it! You’re nothing but a couple of dissidents, aren’t you?”

            I had already reckoned that the security guards were a part of Birsha’s Army, but it never occurred to me that she was a Fallen too! I did what I could to remain neutral in that instance, but it alarmed me to my core that Violet and I were even more outnumbered than we had previously thought! Luckily, I didn’t have to reply to her as the tour guide educated us, “Here’s where we package each item carefully so that it comes to all of our consumers in perfect form!”

            My feeling of trepidation increased when I observed that we were at a dead end! There was no way out except to go out the way we came in, and given the teacher’s mistrust in who we gave our allegiance to, I had serious doubts that she would permit her students to let us get by! I nearly panicked until the guide instructed us, “Now, the best part of the tour… Everyone head back this way to the gift shop!”

            It was a relief to see everyone going out of such a precarious location, and I was really glad to hear what sounded like the end of this venture! We hadn’t seen any sign of the Arch Deity, but it buoyed me up just to be able to leave these premises! Plus, the allure of sitting somewhere quiet with Violet, even if its purpose was to decipher out our next move in this dangerous mission, gave me something very pleasant to look forward to! Unfortunately, my optimism didn’t last long- a strong hand bolted me to the floor, and as the security guards closed off our exit, a threatening voice seethed, “You two aren’t going anywhere!”

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