Second-Hand Goods~ chapter 1

     Given enough time, all luck was bad luck. Fortune never smiles on an individual for long before the wheel turns again, returning things to the status quo. Some blessedly fortunate ones learn this early on in life. This made them unfortunate people in the opinion of others, but Liam saw them as enlightened. Liam Boggan had been born under a bad sign. Long ago, he had given up on catching a break and these days he actively avoided them, with limited success. Liam knew that no opportunity came along that didn’t include an immediate pitfall for the unwary. He worked as a thief, and if he were inclined to boast, he would say that he was a very good one. At least, he wasn’t a bad thief. Most people would argue that being a thief isn’t hard work. You do one job and you’re set for a year of vacation in a tropical country, preferably one with lenient views in extradition. That might be true if you rob museums or high rise apartments but Liam had more sense than ambition. The best thieves never get caught because the best thieves only steal enough to get by. They aren’t greedy, they just have empty bellies and a skill set that can get them through the next day without their hunger tearing a hole through them. Of course, that was Liam’s working theory while he was self-employed.

    Most of the time, he got away with his thieving without coming close to getting caught. That was until the day he tried to pick-pocket the man with a yellow left eye and that little fiasco had netted him a job he couldn’t be fired from, no matter how hard he tried. What an odd world. He had been caught and given a choice; work for the man named Simon Nair or go to prison. It seemed an easy decision at the time. He should have given it a second’s thought, or any thought at all. It turned out Simon ran with a dangerous crowd. Liam rolled over in bed and pulled the covers closer around him. No, Simon WAS the dangerous crowd. All those stories he’d been told when he was younger, fairy tales, fables, creatures from his nightmares turned out to be real. Strange to think so many of them lived in New York just like him. And he had been hired by a man more dangerous than any of them to steal from these creatures. The worst part was, he wasn’t just stealing knick-knacks or curious, but honest to God world destroying heirlooms and the like. If their caretakers didn’t kill him, the things he stole would.

    Liam had spent the better part of his life bouncing from job to job, struggling to fit in. Now that he had a job solely his own, all he could think about was getting out of it as fast as humanly possible. No, faster than that, because as fast as humanly possible would still get him killed a few more times. This crazy job would have been out of the realm of his meagre abilities even if he were trying, which he wasn’t. The job was liable to get you killed on your first day. In point of fact, it had already gotten him killed. That didn’t stop the jobs from coming, despite his abysmal success rate.

    Brushing at his spiky black hair to knock the loose pieces of dirt out, he sat up and stretched  his arms. Liam was short and wiry, with hard features. He had a small nose that twitched when people talked about money, a less than useful trait in his line of work. He had sharp brown eyes that took in a little too much for his own good, slightly pointed ears and a weak chin. His features often gave the impression that he was up to no good, which wasn’t nearly as true as it was convenient to believe.

    Swinging his legs out of bed and testing the floor for damp spots with the tips of his toes, Liam hopped to his feet and stretched again. It was only upon taking his first step that his foot touched something wet and springy, “God damned Dirt Gremlins!”

    When Liam had scored a sweet apartment with borderline free rent, utilities included for good measure, and in a good neighborhood to boot he had felt the fates smiling on him. It was in an old brownstone building in the Bronx that looked like it had sprung directly out of a gangster movie. In the summer, the windows were often open with laundry hanging out over the street to dry. No matter how he had worked it over in his head, he couldn’t see a downside to taking the offer. For once, lady luck had glanced his way. That feeling lasted for fifteen minutes.

  Then he learned the reason why the rent was so low. His newfound apartment sat right on top of a nest of dirt gremlins. Dirt Gremlins are nasty, thin limbed creatures obsessed with creating a mess wherever they went. They wore ragged, thread bare smocks and often carried small painter’s pallettes to tote around a sampling of the filth they worked with. In short order, Liam gave up his feeble attempts to keep his apartment in any state of cleanliness.

   Scanning his room, Liam could see his bad luck everyplace his gaze rested. The sun streamed in through his windows and lit up the wreck his apartment had become. From where he stood, Liam could see everything in his room. The walls presented a patchwork of grime and filth, impossibly seeping into the wall itself, causing the walls to slowly begin to close in, growing from layer upon layer of muck. Liam did not envy whoever had the task of cleaning his apartment when he moved out, because no deposit was worth the amount of cleaning required to get it returned. Liam had become glad he had so few pieces of furniture because none of the pieces he came in with were going wherever he went next. They all had a date with the incinerator, and that might not even get the stains out.

     He’d considered moving, but he’d been a little down on his luck for the last fifteen years. Being gifted in an art, a profession that wasn’t strictly speaking legal made it hard to keep any kind of regular legal job. Liam had worked as a waiter, a bar tender, a night stocker at a grocery store and one particularly unpleasant stint working for a hospital as the official bearer of bad news. Every time, he would fall back into his old habits and his old work. It kept body and soul together, but that meant he was stuck in this awful apartment until the whole building fell down or he died, whichever came first. Liam’s money was on the building.

    Stumbling into the hallway, knocking over a pile of empty bottles on the way and scattering a few dirt gremlins, Liam headed for the kitchen. Rubbing the sleep and hangover out of his eyes, Liam stumbled into the kitchen. Maybe an empty stomach was for the best. Given the state of his hangover, any food in his stomach was likely to attempt an escape. The cabinet drawers hung loosely back and forth, most of them barely hanging on by one screw. The floor of the kitchen lay strewn with a minefield of clumps of dirt and fur, even though Liam had never owned a cat or any other animal. He stumbled into the kitchen and flicked on the switch to see spindly limbed creatures scatter into various cupboards and drawers, leaving only the evidence of their work; fresh stains on the counters and floor.

    Liam rose no earlier than noon daily. That left him with a powerful hunger for breakfast when most people had already eaten lunch. It was a rare day that left Liam desperate enough to paw through his own cupboards, bringing food into the house was a futile effort, but nonetheless he tried. Opening the only cupboard not occupied by Dirt Gremlins, the first thing he found was a bag of rice. Liam investigated it and was surprised when he found rice. And then he found lint. And dirt. And fur. And a human ear. Liam put the bag down and closed the cupboard. In his haste to get food, he had forgotten to give the Dirt Gremlins time to get out of the kitchen. Breakfast on the road today, then.

    Sunlight and warmth streamed into the kitchen through an open window that led out to the street in front of the apartment complex. Roger shielded his eyes and stumbled over to the curtains, desperately pulling them shut. Brilliant golden rays still lit the whole room up, allowing Liam a good look at the Dirt Gremlins handiwork on his kitchen. The white counters were entirely covered with brown streaks. The cupboard doors hung loosely without fail, barely hanging on by one screw each. The refrigerator door was shut tight, glued to the rest of the frame by caked on and gummed up filth. Most of the mess was surprisingly new, since Dirt Gremlins are nothing if not industrious.

    Liam’s stomach growled as he steadied himself, the eyes of a small horde of Dirt Gremlins peered out at him from the shadows of his kitchen. While he contemplated food, his next job came in, literally. The letter fluttered in before Liam could close the window. It looked like a butterfly made from paper, the lettering creating a distinct pattern as it fluttered gaily around his kitchen.  Liam groaned out loud, sending a ripple of giggles through the gathered dirt gremlins in the room.

    It landed on the table in front of Liam, who squashed it flat before remembering it’s sender would find out if he touched it. In for a penny, in for a pound, there was no way out. Picking up the letter, Liam looked it over and held it up to the light, unfolding it as it struggled weakly between his fingers. It simply read, “Come at once. I have work.” Work meant one thing and one thing only. Stealing from somebody who would rather reach for his piece than call the cops. Magic was inconvenient for those who wanted to remain unfound.

    Liam knew he had to go, though, or his new employer would find him, and given the choice Liam would rather take his chances meeting his employer without the Dirt Gremlins tittering at them both from the shadows. Going in for work meant being presentable and being presentable meant clothes that hadn’t been in his place. It took significant effort to keep clean when your apartment was infested with tiny Picassos of filth. Liam dressed quickly and pulled on a thin jacket before heading for his door. On the way out, he caught a dirt gremlin, with paint brush in hand, smearing some black paste all over his walls. It smelled terrible, and Liam could’ve sworn he saw an eye ball in the mix somewhere.

    They stared at each other for a good long while before Liam managed to speak, “I’m going out for a few days. Don’t touch my stuff.”

    The gremlin stared at Liam for what felt like a small eternity before finally blinking. “Dirty.” It said simply before going back to painting the wall with filth.

    Liam left his apartment, not even bothering to lock it. Nobody would get far enough inside to steal anything before they turned around and left. Whoever broke into his place would be lucky if they got out before they threw up. Liam kept his clothes and most his valuables several floors down. When he got to that apartment, he showered and changed before heading out to the street. Without the manager being nice enough to lend him use of an empty apartment for his good clothes, there was no way he could have lived there, good rent or not. Time to get to work. It could be worse, but Liam honestly couldn’t figure out how.

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