Veto Lark: Scavenger of the Stars
by Magz Wiseman
The magnificent foyer of the British Museum hummed with the current cream of society. ‘A’ list celebrities feigned knowledge of the finer points of Ancient Egyptian civilisation as they cast critical eyes over each other’s attire, hair, and shoes. Several leading politicians made lucrative deals over champagne and canapés, while esteemed professors of history and archaeology debated theories and discoveries within their respected disciplines.
Amongst all this, a vaguely handsome man casually wove his way through the gathered assemblage. Charming both guests and catering staff alike, Veto Lark almost drew a large number of glances. Most of those admiring looks quickly slid away however, his features instantly forgotten. This could have been due to the fact that his smart, yet ill-fitting tuxedo was a tad scruffier when scrutinised further, or it may have been because his eyes revealed a hidden oddness when looked directly into. It was, however, more likely caused by the disruptance wave emitted from a small transmitter attached to the lapel of his jacket. Cleverly disguised as a popular flower, the device caused anyone paying undue attention to him to feel rather queasy, and develop the sudden urge to avert their gaze to anywhere else.
Veto spotted an imposing, portly man in his mid-fifties chatting animatedly to an elegant tweed encrusted woman who appeared to be about the same age. He immediately directed his amble toward the couple and burst into their conversation.
“Professor Herbert Schneider! Head of the Department of Egyptology, if I’m not mistaken.” Veto grabbed the scholar’s hand and shook it vigorously. The Professor seemed alarmed, finding himself not quite able to look the newcomer in the eye, yet obviously unwilling to be impolite. “Sorry… One moment.” Veto fiddled with the petals of the flower on his lapel. “Better?”
“Well, yes…” the Professor muttered, feeling considerably better. Finally able to look at the man, Herbert wondered why the chap standing before him was wearing a large sunflower on his jacket; particularly to such a prestigious black tie event.
“It is an absolute pleasure to meet you, sir. What a coup for the museum!” Veto enthused.
The Professor immediately warmed to his subject. “Indeed it is. It was most gratifying to be successful in the bid to be the first to exhibit these stunning new pieces.” He glanced smugly at the woman standing beside him. “May I introduce Professor Clarissa Johnson, my counterpart at the Smithsonian.”
Veto ignored Clarissa, his attention firmly on Herbert. “You know, I would just love a sneaky preview, Professor.” His eyes bored into Schneider’s.
Herbert felt a little perturbed at the stranger’s gaze. “I’m afraid you will just have to be patient…”
“I would really like to see it now…” Veto’s eyes held Herbert’s. The Professor felt a little lightheaded and began to wonder why it wasn’t such a bad idea to do as the man asked. He did seem jolly interested, after all. There was surely no harm in allowing him to do so…
An attractive young woman in a dangerously short black dress joined the group, carefully balancing three flutes of champagne. Seeing her hand one of the glasses to Professor Schneider, and the other to Professor Johnson, Veto took the third for himself. Admiring the waitress’s considerable endowments, he flashed her one of his ‘special’ smiles. She raised an amused eyebrow as Veto gulped his champagne down in one, following it with a reverberating burp.
“Venusian Clicquot ‘78, if I’m not mistaken,” Veto stated, always ready to impress. All three looked blankly at him. Swiftly changing the subject, he addressed the waitress once more. “How about you and I have a little fumble in the Antiquities section later?” He winked meaningfully, confident his dazzling smile had already melted her defences. He suspected this night would be profitable in more ways than one.
A polite cough from the Professor dragged his attention back to the task in hand. “So, then Herbert, May I call you Herbert? Now, about this little guided tour you were about to take me on? Won’t take long. Just one teeny little item I’d love to see before the rest of the Riff-Raff get a chance.”
“As I stated before, no.” The Professor’s expression had grown rather stony. “May I also introduce you to Abi Schneider. My wife.” He gestured to the woman in the black dress.
Veto looked from Abi to the Professor, then back again, and burst out laughing. “Oh, you nearly had me going there, you old coot!”
There was no doubt about it; the Professor was most definitely not amused. “I think perhaps you should circulate, sir… don’t you?”
Veto’s grin faded. “What? Seriously?” He cast another glance at the ‘waitress’. “Ah… right. My little joke, of course.” He shuffled a little, but soon grasped the situation back under control. “So. Statue, about this big…” He gestured randomly with his hands.
“Go away, or I shall call security,” Herbert growled.
“Don’t you get yourself all upset now, love,” Abi put her hand on the Professor’s arm, not noticing the jealous glare Clarissa failed to hide. “Some more champagne, dear?” Moving away from Herbert, she grabbed Veto’s arm, propelling him away.
“Seriously, go away,” Abi hissed.
“Oh, go on. Let me have just a little peak?” Veto pleaded with his best puppy dog eyes. “Then you can show me the statue.” Abi glared at him, secretly amused at his audacity. As she stared at him, she felt a moment of dizziness.
“What’s so special about this statue anyway?” Her curiosity was piqued.
“Oh, nothing much. Nothing at all, in fact. I’ve just always wanted to see it. Ever since I was knee high to a Doltron.”
“It was only uncovered last year,” Abi pointed out. “And what exactly is a ‘Doltron’?’”
“Rather short, nasty creatures. Tend to disguise themselves as small, excitable dogs. You know, the little yappy types.”
“Who are you?”
“Veto Lark.” Again the charming smile.
“If I do take you to see the statue, will you promise to go away?”
“Of course, ma petite garde-robe,” Veto gave a delicate bow, spoilt only by his hair flopping over his face.
“You are strange. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“All the time!”
Ensuring no one was watching, particularly her husband, Abi slipped through the door of the exhibition hall where the new artifacts were on display. Veto followed close behind. She’d been inside several times earlier with Herbert as the exhibition was being prepared. He had fussed around, ensuring everything was perfect for the opening, driving everyone insane with his insistence on absolute perfection. Then, it had been bustling with staff making last minute preparations. The silent room now emanated a creepiness which made her shiver.
“What exactly are you looking for?” Abi whispered. Veto pulled a phone from his pocket and flicked through a number of images until he found one of a small, very ugly statuette. Nodding, Abi pointed towards the left of the hall. “I think I remember something like that being over there. Didn’t like it much. It felt… wrong. ” Veto had already set off in the direction she had indicated. She hurried after him, suddenly questioning the reason why she was doing this.
After becoming a little lost around the section of Fourth Dynasty limestone reliefs, Abi stopped and listened. A curious buzzing sound seemed to be coming from the far corner. Stepping quietly, she followed the noise. Peeking around a rather plain looking sarcophagus, Abi’s eyes widened as she spotted Veto holding what looked to be a pencil torch over a glass case containing several small statues.
“What are you doing?” She walked over cautiously.
“Nothing.” Veto continued to hover the torch over the glass.
“You’re not trying to steal that, are you?” Abi halted a safe distance away.
“Nope. Just returning it to it’s rightful owners.” Veto glanced up with a charming grin.
Abi backed away. “Right…”
“I wouldn’t go calling security or anything silly like that. Would rather avoid any trouble. Two ticks and I’ll be gone.”
Abi turned and fled. Sighing, Veto straightened up, pulled what looked alarmingly like a small gun from his pocket, and fired it at Abi’s back. A dull orange beam engulfed her for a few seconds, dissipating as she slumped to the floor.
“Now, I really didn’t want to do that…” Veto shook his head sadly before returning to his task. There was a grinding crack and a piece of glass fell down upon the statue, shattering as it did so. The statue promptly fell over, a small piece of it breaking off. “Oops.” Veto pulled on a pair of latex gloves and reached into the case. Carefully, he lifted the statue, shaking bits of glass from its surface. He studied the broken piece remaining in the case and shrugged. “They’ll never know…” he told himself, and stuffed the almost complete statue in his pocket.
Kneeling beside Abi, Veto quickly checked that her pulse was strong. “You’ll have a bit of a sore head when you wake up, but you’ll be fine, ” he said softly. Taking a business card from his pocket, he slipped it into her bag.
Back in the foyer, Veto grabbed one last glass of champagne as he waved cheerily to Professors Schneider and Johnson. He flirted briefly with a minor, but glamorous young soap actress before making his way through the throng, and out of the main entrance.
In a quiet alley, not far from the rear of the museum, Veto was enveloped in a soft, lurid green glow. When the glow faded, the alley was once again empty, save for a small Yorkshire Terrier which began to growl, bark, and jump up and down with extreme irritation.
Veto waltzed into what appeared to be a cross between an office, a bedsit, and the bridge of a flashy spaceship; which is what it was; except the spaceship in question wasn’t flashy at all; more like a wreck held together with sticky tape and industrial strength glue; which it was. Literally.
“How many casualties this time?” Ember Mound, barely looked up from filing her fingernails.
“None at all!” Veto stated proudly. “Well, no fatalities anyway.”
“Did you get it?” Ember didn’t even bother feigning interest.
“I did.” Veto pulled the small statue out of his tuxedo pocket with a flourish. “Ta-daa!”
With a bored sigh, she heaved herself from her slumped position, and thumped a keyboard with her fist. A screen flickered into life as she began to type laboriously with one finger. “I’ll get the invoice sent. Usual expenses?”
“I think so, yes. Oh, but remember to include the cost of a new tuxedo.”
“It wasn’t new, you pulled it off the back of a dead man,” Ember pointed out.
“Exactly, which is why I need a new one.”
Veto threw himself into an overstuffed armchair and admired the little statue. “A celebratory drink is in order, I think!” He grinned expectantly.
“Get it yourself.”
With a sigh, Veto slid out of his chair. As he did so, the statue slipped out of his hand. Making an heroic, yet desperate attempt to catch it, he merely succeeded in batting it faster and higher through the air. With a slow-motion effect, Veto watched as the statue hit the parquet floored deck and shattered into a thousand pieces.
The woman sighed deeply, and deleted the invoice.
As Veto settled back into his chair, an irritated beep sounded from beneath a pile of glossy magazines on the console. The woman swept them out of the way, and studied an incoming transmission.
“A Home Star has gone missing. Apparently the company who created it, ‘Home Star Industries’, want you to find it before their clients who commissioned it, find out…” She sounded mildly surprised.
Veto leapt up and rubbed his hands together. “Splendid! Start billing them from this very moment!”
Abi held her pounding head in her hands. Professor Schneider was in a state of shock as the theft of one of his prize exhibits finally sank in. Security mingled with the guests, trying to establish whether anyone or anything suspicious had been noticed that night. Unsurprisingly, no one could recall anything untoward.
In an attempt to safeguard both her husband’s blood pressure and her marriage, Abi had wisely decided to deny all knowledge of inadvertently aiding and abetting the strange man responsible for the outrage.
She rummaged in her bag in search of painkillers. Failing to find any, she did come across a business card that she swore had not been there before. The lurid orange business card was printed with blue calligraphic lettering which hurt the eyes if looked at for too long;
Veto Lark - Scavenger of the Stars
If you’ve lost it, I’ll find it!
Success Not Guaranteed
On the back, was a single, hand written word in wild, loopy handwriting. It simply said, ‘Sorry!’