Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 30

     The trip back home was in silence. Jack had received a simple job by Varnes Goodbody, his father, and not only had they failed it, they had failed it in spectacular fashion. The worst part was that Jack had offered to help his father and he had failed. He failed in the same city in which his father had worked so hard before Jack had been born. That Jack failed did mean that someone had gotten the information out to that mysterious punk first. This meant someone either knew about the set being collected or knew that Jack was going to grab it and poached it before he could. Either way, it would be best to find a job out of the state as soon as was possible. Jack hardly liked the idea of leaving his normal customers in a lurch so soon after he had taken his last trip, but under the circumstances it was safer to lay low.

      They ended up stopping for the night at the safe house on the outskirts of town that Jack had set up for occasions when he didn’t want to deal with family members. Only one family member knew about it and that was his sister, Sam. Early the next morning, he regretted his decision to  disclose the location to her when the AC/DC approaching down the road was loud enough to cause a glass coffee mug to bounce off the table and shatter on the floor. Oddly, despite her normally boisterous manner, a minute or so after the music had stopped, she actually knocked on the door. Sam knocking on the door was never a good thing. Polite Sam was confused Sam and confused Sam was scared.

     Jack opened the door a crack and peeked out at his sister, “To what do we owe the honor?”

     Sam pushed past Jack and skipped into the room. She had forsaken her usual work outfit, keeping her jacket but wearing looser fitting jeans and a white t-shirt, “So I guess the last job father sent you got messed up.”

     Jack seethed for a moment before calming down and closing the door, “We got poached. Whatever it was Father wanted, it got taken before we could get there.”

     Sam patted his shoulder gently, with a flat hand very slowly three times, “I figured, it’s not like you to screw the pooch this bad without help.”

     Jack brushed her hand aside and ignored her slight smirk. Despite the circumstances, some siblings just can’t help themselves, “We had help from someone else who found out about the silverware before us. It seems like I have a secret admirer. This summer has been very strange. Has father found out?”

     “An admirer, Jack? Seems like you’ve been busier than you know. Father hasn’t found out yet, but I figured you would want to be gone when he does. I know that I will.”

      Jack let out a deep sigh that came from the depths of his frustration, “Pretty much, but we can’t just head out without a job. We’ll be stuck here for weeks at this rate.”

     Sam waved a piece of paper in front of his face, “Thank me later, brother.”

     Jack snatched the piece of paper from his sister and scanned it. There was a sports resort looking for cleaners to prep their cabins for the incoming tourists and also to kill the pack of feral goblins that had taken over the resort grounds sometime in the off season, the note was vague about the specifics, but the situation seemed pretty dire. The very end of the note, which trailed off into a scrawl of almost unreadable letters, promised a chance to really unwind. Jack crammed the note in his pocket and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The resort was in Maryland, a job that would take them out of state for around a week at least. “Thank you,” was all Jack could manage.

     “Don’t worry, Jack. I’ll come and collect on this favor later, you know I always do.”

     “I was hoping you had forgotten, but no such luck it seems.” Closing his eyes, Jack mentally scanned the things they would need. Their most important tools were already in the van and everything else they would need was readily available on the road.

     “Stanley, we’re leaving for Maryland! Pack up everything we can from here and we’ll restock later!”

     Stan shambled into the room and started gathering up supplies, “We gonna leave before that family a’ yours finds out we goofed?”

     Sam covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a sudden burst of laughter, “Something like that, buddy. You two better leave town fast, though. Father is scary quick at finding out when we’ve screwed up. It’s uncanny, really.”

     Jack looked out the front door at the town they lived in off in the distance. Leaving it really was no problem because Jack hardly considered it home. His office was a place where he rested his head. The road and his job were the places where he rested his heart. In times of doubt and confusion, Jack found he could drown out the pain in the cleaning and the simple acts that comprised each job. Even kicking a rogue tribe of feral goblins out of the area, killing them or getting them to leave, was simple enough when you got down to it.

     Stan sat down in the driver’s seat, leaning the van towards his side with a slight squeak when he got in. Jack stayed in their safe house for a few moments longer before locking up and getting into the passenger seat. The open road no longer held the thrill that it did at the opening of the summer, but nothing held him back and recent events pushed him forward so on he went. The trip to Maryland would take a couple of days from where they were, and while the recent trips had been rested from or uneventful, Jack found himself worn thin by the stress. Perhaps this trip could ease the tension and restore a little faith in himself.

 

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 1

    The greatest single attribute you can possibly possess is to know yourself. That’s why Liam felt that most people were just hopeless dreamers with their heads stuck in the clouds. That might seem incredibly harsh, but if you know you’re a rabbit, pretending to be a hawk will only get you hurt. Liam Boggan believed himself to be something akin to a mouthy toadstool, one of those ones with purple spots that give you gas. Firmly rooting himself into the dirty underside of society, Liam had long ago resolved to stay there, robbing small time investment clerks to save up for his eventual retirement to either a non-extraditable country or a state penitentiary. The problem with being effectively immortal is that retirement could potentially last for a very long time.

     Recently, another flaw in Liam’s master plan had taken form around a man named Simon Nair, who Liam had failed spectacularly to pickpocket. Since that day, Liam carried a choice with him all the time. Work off the debt for Simon or go to jail. Since Liam preferred to be working, even if he wasn’t working on his own account, Liam chose to work for Simon. Until recently, that work consisted almost entirely of thieving for him. The only difference in Liam’s life to this point, lay in an increased difficulty of work and the items no longer went towards lining Liam’s pockets with “insurance” money. That had changed when Liam took a job from Simon Nair to spy on guests in his own home. Liam had certainly followed people around for nefarious purposes before, but that usually began and ended with the contents of their pants pockets and not their mouth pockets. Stealing information was the scummiest thing a thief could do. Liam would never have done so on his own account.

     Somehow, despite his distaste, he performed so well that Liam was given a very long break, and he had used it to its fullest. Some of it was spent moving his storage apartment to a higher floor, since his current one had been let out and Liam didn’t want people going through his belongings any more than the owners of the apartment building wanted people knowing that Liam existed in the first place. Once that was done, he engaged in his normal past time, attempting to drill past rock bottom. He went on the bender to end all benders. Once that was done, he stagnated in his apartment surrounded by the Dirt Gremlins which infested the place, who appeared to have entered an artistic slump of their own.

    While in this daze, watching a Dirt Gremlin half-heartedly splatter a strange mixture of mud and dried insects onto the wall, he realized his life was due to change. That change began the way it always did these days, with a note from Simon Nair. They never arrived by post, always fluttering into his room in the form of paper butterflies which would endlessly hunt him down until he read the message. This one must have found its way in via the kitchen window, looking around with it’s little paper antennae until it found him slumped in his chair. Landing on his nose, it fluttered it’s dainty wings in his face until Liam slapped it.

    With the net result of a slap to his own face, he opened the note and found a message he needed more than he wanted to admit, “Time to stop drinking. Get over here at once, I have work.”

     Crumpling the paper butterfly into a ball and tossing it at the Dirt Gremlin struggling with his art, Liam rose, slowly shaking the stupor out of his brain.

     The piece of paper hit the Dirt Gremlin square in the back of his head. Turning to glare at him, it picked up the note and unfolded it, looking critically at the writing Liam knew it couldn’t possibly comprehend. It closed one eye and then the other, looking at the writing and gazing upward with suspicion at Liam before returning to the piece of paper. Evidently, this was the inspiration the Dirt Gremlin had sought.

     “Dirty!” It cried, before returning it’s attention to the wall with renewed gusto and vigor. Soon, it had attracted a small crowd of Dirt Gremlins, which clapped politely with each new brush stroke.

     Liam watched in rapt fascination for a long time before finally leaving. Any thief worth his stolen road salt never wanted to have his stash on a higher floor than the one he lived on. If Liam had to bolt suddenly, he wanted to grab his things on the way out. Now he would have to run up three flights before trying to get out.

    In spite of himself, Liam did feel a sense of excitement. Smart thieves steal smart, which means less excitement and more time spent out of jail. In his secret moments when he lay in bed, however, even Liam dreamt of robbing rich oil barons of all their wealth. The closest he would ever get to doing that in this lifetime would be doing it for Simon, but that was closer than most people got.

    What exactly this next job would be kept running through his mind as he showered and changed. His apartment had a peculiar odor, thanks to the resident Dirt Gremlins. It was an acquired taste, in the same way that one acquired the smell of dumpsters when one lives next to one for too long. Having changed, he made his way downstairs to the front of the apartment complex he lived in. Surprisingly, for once, the mysterious yellow taxi that doubled as Simon’s personal car was nowhere to be found. Mysterious indeed, because normally Liam could expect a ride to work, at least for the first go.

    When he arrived at the Nair mansion, something felt off. Even though he had been invited by Simon, Liam spent a long time on the first floor, watching the various creatures come and go. The Nair family stood amongst the Five Families that led all the Mythic people in North America. If you could imagine a creature of fantasy or myth, they were real and they all had to come to the Nair mansion in order to function. The first floor served as a city hall of sorts. If you had something official to file, this is where you went. A small pack of fairies chittered by him, fluttering around gently, and they gave Liam some much needed perspective. It was the time of the great migration, but more than cold was chasing these creatures south. The middle of the summer had come, but the tone of their conversation was chillier than the weather gradually incoming.

     Deciding he needed more information before taking on the next job, Liam crossed the main floor, careful to keep his ears open on the way, and ask about the current climate from the man himself. When he reached Simon’s office, he found him buried in paperwork, almost invisible behind stacks of reports. Coughing slightly, Liam shuffled and waited for Simon to notice he had arrived. It was the privilege of great men to ignore their lesser friends until they were ready. It was Liam’s misfortune to have to put up with that sort of attitude.

    This time, however, it didn’t take long for Simon to acknowledge his presence. He rose to his feet and peered over the stack of paperwork with both eyes to get a good look at Liam. His face lit up with a genuine smile when he saw him, “Liam! I’m so glad you made it unharmed. It’s a madhouse out there today. Do you need anything to drink.”

    “I could use a stiff one, if you join me. I spent some time downstairs listening to the scuttlebutt. Word going around seems to be that getting out of town is in fashion right now.”

    Simon crossed the room and pulled out an expensive bottle of liquor from a cabinet that looked older than Liam. When he pulled the cork, the smell filled the room instantly. It smelled more expensive than Liam as well, “Well, we’re encouraging our people to get their paperwork for the migration done early this year. Dad is a bit paranoid about a repeat of last year, I doubt we need to worry about it since we’ve hired more staff.”

    “I get the impression they were worried about more than the cold weather.”

    Simon paused before pouring a glass for himself and for Liam, “When a quasi-governmental body called the Society for the Protection of Humankind declares a holy purge on all non-humans, that’s the sort of effect it has on folks.”

    Handing Liam his glass, Simon waited for Liam to join him. Raising his glass in a toast, Liam downed his first sip in quick gulp. The heat was intense and Liam vowed not to make that mistake again. Simon chuckled as Liam coughed a few times, “Elvish sipping whiskey. I wouldn’t drink it too fast, it’s smooth in small doses, but too much can overwhelm the system.”

    Once Liam had gotten his coughing under control, he managed to ask the question that had been on his mind since he left his apartment, “What did you need me for?”

     “Well, with all this talk of a holy war going on, I thought it would be a good idea to send someone out into the world and find out what the hell is going on.”

     “If you need a spy, why don’t you ask one of the Neelan family to do it? They’re one of the Five Families and that’s literally why they exist.”

    Simon put his glass down and stared at his feet for a long time before responding, “When you came to me and told me that someone in the Neelan family was working for the Society for the Preservation of Humankind, I was terrified. It’s even scarier that the Neelan family has no idea who it is. With that in mind, I can’t trust any of them until this mess is sorted out. That means I need you.”

    Now it was Liam’s turn to pause for a long time, “Ok, I’ll bite. Why me? I’m not important, I’m not special and I have no idea what the hell is going on.”

    Simon threw up his hands in frustration, “That’s why, Liam. Your only tie to this mess is me and Samantha Goodbody. You’re also blessed with a body that can’t die. I have someone that I want you to follow. Become his shadow, go where he goes and come back in two weeks and tell me everything about what he does.”

     “What kind of man am I going to be spending time with?”

    Putting his glass down, Simon rose and paced back to his desk, rummaging around until he found a file. Returning with it, he gave it to Liam to inspect, “His name is Matthew Bergson, he’s a banker with heavy ties to the Society. He’s got a hand in almost all their finances. I want to hit the Society hard, but dad won’t give me permission to do anything. If I come to him with some good info then maybe we can at least cut their cash flow.”

     “And you think they’re just going to let you do this?”

    Chuckling, Simon leaned back into his seat and shook his head, “I doubt they would, if they knew we were going to do this. That’s why I’m sending you. That packet has his address, some notes on his daily habits, restaurants he frequents, the works. Don’t worry about a deadline, take as long as you need. I’ll have my hands full getting everyone prepped to leave if they need to get out of the area quickly.”

    Without another word, Liam got up. His ears twitched slightly. Simon told him to get information, and that was all well and good. He would get the information and then he would steal every single thing that wasn’t bolted to the floor and would fit into a big sack. Robbing from bad people made him a sort of hero, right? He wasn’t exactly a Robin Hood, because he was keeping all the stuff for himself, but then, who was? This was going to be a very long and expensive task. It would work off some serious time on his debt, earn some brownie points and end with a net profit for him, if everything went according to plan. He even knew who to ask for help, to make sure that everything went the way Liam wanted it to. All he had to do was ask her.

Anniversary Note~

     Hello, dear friends. I’m sorry it’s been a few days since the last time we spoke. My two year anniversary with my wife was this Wednesday and then we both got sick. So exciting! Two years married to my best friend! So I have some bits of news to share, so exciting. First bit of news, I decided to do a little maintenance of the blog. The front page will be edited eventually as well, but the page which updates with each new chapter now has a new title. The Second-Hand Goods page is now the collected story as it is. This way, when you send newcomers to read my story a la fight club, they’ll have a place where they can read the whole story, in order, all at once. Now you’ll just have to worry about Second-Hand Rumors.

     Getting it to look pretty was a relatively consuming time process, though, so I will attempt to get to Paranormal Cleaners Part I today, but I make no promises. Given that the first two parts are now officially done, what’s to stop you from just reading it here and not supporting me via me Patreon or buying the books when they come out on Amazon? Well, for one, you’ll make my wife cry. Don’t make me upload a pic of my wife making a sad face. It’s my nuclear option, like adding a picture of a crying panda to all recyclables. There is another reason. Each book will have extra bits at the end. A short story, one family history and maybe a few other goodies. I really don’t like the idea of putting the book out without giving you a reason to read it. I’m not exactly certain what that story will be, though. I still need to pull the stuff from my previous hard drive.

     Anyways, as always dear friends, thank you for stopping by and spending some time with me. I look forward to your next visit, you are always welcome here.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 29

     After their visit to the family oracle, time stopped. They arrived home and the next two days passed so slowly, they seemed like one long, empty fragment of time. On the third day, Jack received a letter in the mail. In all the years that Jack had been working in that office, he had never received a letter. Much like the rest of modern man, he possessed an office phone for a reason, to keep people out of his office as often as possible. When clients visited the office, it tended not to go well. What was more confusing, until Jack noticed his father’s overly elegant handwriting, was the fact that it had no postage on it. Since Jack didn’t have a headache, he knew his sister hadn’t delivered it to the ever present rock that blared from her chopper.

    Inside the envelope was a check for an amount of money so absurd that Jack had to do a double take and then clean his glasses off before he even believed it and a note from his father. It was a request, of course, and a request done in the normal way his father made requests. When you ordered someone to achieve a goal, you must choose a task that aligns with their heart. This is the path to making sure all your orders are followed. Jack had even watched this logic in action recently, when his sister had come and got him to go and hunt down a notorious serial killer that they had longed to take down when they were children.

     The letter read simply, asking Jack to go to the house of another childhood target. This target also possessed a few items Jack now knew of, namely two silverware settings from the Denavi set. One spoon had taken months for Smiling Jimmy to acquire but whoever had managed to gather two forks, two knives and two spoons was clearly in need of a quick and sudden ending. The job itself was one that Jack would never normally take under the current circumstances. The house he lived at was in a suburb of New York City in a relatively well to do neighborhood, so apparently the target had done alright for himself.

     The target in question had always given Jack a Mr. Roger’s kind of vibe. He had soft brown hair and light brown eyes and when he smiled he did look like the host of a children’s show. He also had a penchant for collecting unusual and often dangerous things, which led him to the slight problem of being eternally short of money. As Jack well knew, when you’re short of money the best thing to do is find something that you’re very good at that nobody else can do. Unfortunately for everyone else, what he happened to be good at was murder. Normally, there would have been a packet of information with the letter but apparently Varnes expected Jack to remember Charles Beaufort quite well.

     Charles Beaufort was the worst type of serial killer, far worse than Creepy Bug Guy. Creepy Bug Guy killed as a hobby. Charles killed because he needed to make a living. That trait meant he had no traditional patterns, no plausible motivations and made him almost impossible to track. He had apparently ended his career around five years ago and while he had been on the Goodbody family’s radar, he was kept of the target list for reasons Jack had never understood. Now it made far more sense. You don’t kill a man with valuable information. If somebody else collects something you’re looking for, then you let the man collect the damned things and you sit back and watch the body count rise. There was a certain cold logic to it and Jack could easily detect the hand of his father behind the decision making process.

     “So this is the first choice I get to make.” Jack tossed the letter onto his desk and leaned against it, taking his glasses off and letting them hit the table.

     “Where are we goin’ boss?”

     “Fetch and carry, basically. We’ll need your bag, my bag and The Bag. Hopefully this will be plenty messy because after the last job, I really need to unwind.”

     Stan got up and started to pack up both of the bags and carry them to the van. Jack stood over his desk while Stan worked, looking at his glasses and gently pushing them from side to side. “Am I making the right choice? This path I take is my choice, but is it right?”

     Replacing his glasses, he headed down when he heard the door slam and he hopped into the van next to him. “Onward, Stanley. We have some dinnerware to collect.”

     The road stretched on ahead of him and at the end of that road lay the result of his choices. New York City wasn’t all so far from where he lived, they had already made a longer road trip, but Jack never liked going back to New York City because New York City was where the war had taken place. As the road trip went on, Jack found himself shifting more and more, gazing out the window and longing to undo the choice that he had made.

    “You sure you wanna do this boss? We ain’t never taken a job in the city before.”

     “I just don’t like going back to where the war took place.” Jack sighed heavily and examined the dark blue suit he had chosen.

     “I don’t remember no war in the papers, must not a’ been important.”

     Jack chuckled in spite of himself, “It was before our time and the newspapers never would have heard of it. I just don’t like going back to places where my father covered himself in glory. Those days make him smile a little too much and I like taking even just a little of that away from him.”

     The traffic started getting heavier as they got closer and closer to New York City. The house they were looking for was somewhere in a nice neighborhood in Queens and getting to it would take some patience and liberal application of the horn. When they finally arrived, Jack had a pulsing headache and was entirely ready to collect the items with interest and go home to deliver it. Jack froze in his seat when he realized that he had mentally associated the Goodbody family with home and safety. This was not going to be Mr. Beaufort’s night.

     The neighborhood their target lived in could be considered a gated community, but only if it was a series of gated communities. Every single one of the positively opulent houses was surrounded on the edge of its property with a prohibitively high gate. Some of the properties had two gates right next to each other since space was at a premium in New York City. The property of their target seemed to be in the middle of a “who can built the highest fence contest with the next door neighbors. Stan parked the van on the side of the street and hopped out. Jack got out on the other side and tossed his suit coat back onto the passenger seat.

     It seemed unlikely anyone would question an unmarked white van sitting outside an opulent mansion on a night like this. The neighborhood was notorious for being an upscale pond onto which exorbitantly rich pond scum had settled, like a film of human disease. Most residents in the neighborhood would never consider calling into the police, it would create too many problems for them and their neighbors. On this block alone around three or four houses in the neighborhood were owned by mob bosses, so unmarked white vans, owned by various caterers mainly staffed by the FBI and the CIA, were already likely a common sight. Stan opened the back of the van and tossed Jack his bag of cleaning tools. Jack slung it over his shoulder and waited for Stan to haul his enormous bag of tools over his shoulder as well.

     The real question was how to go about this. As Jack stood in front of the gate contemplating this, an alarm system went off in the house and Jack could hear dogs barking from the other side of the house. Smash and grab it was. “Stanley, a door please.”

     “Sure thing, boss.” Stan grabbed two bars of the front gate and yanked them off with ease. Sparks flew through the air at the contact but that didn’t stop Stan from pulling off a few more bars on either side to make a solid entrance for Jack. Jack ducked through the front gate and started off at a brisk walk for the front door. In smash and grabs, the important thing is confidence. When the neighbor looked out the window and saw Jack, followed closely his enormous partner Stan, he wouldn’t assume that he belonged there. He might very well assume, especially given Stan’s large size, that this was something better left for the police and by the time they arrived Jack and Stan would be long gone.

     The front door opened at the touch, which worried Jack and made him wonder all over again exactly what his choice had led him to. The house wasn’t just wonderfully appointed, it was tastelessly opulent with items purchased from a lifetime of murder for profit. Some of them, Jack recognized. Directly ahead of him was a set of stairs that looked fit for royalty to process down, complete with enough space for trumpeters and pages, and on the right of that was an enormous elephant tusk ringed with ornate gold. The tusk of Uganda, or some such nonsense. Jack had heard that owning that tusk gave the owner the ability to grant wishes. It was all bunkum, of course, but people like Charles Beaufort often spent huge amounts of money on insane stories just like that.

     Every single piece of furniture in the opening room likely cost someone’s fortune and had been collected painstakingly. Jack picked up a solid gold apple and tossed it up slowly. The piece of fruit weighed a ton and looked exactly like a piece of fruit from a certain myth, “For real?” Gold really held no worth for a family that could easily produce gold, but the apple itself had a certain charm to it. Jack was tempted to toss it in the bag, but he had the realization that he would likely never get it back. He tossed it over his shoulder to Stan, who accepted it without question and shoved it into his coverall pocket.

     The next room ticked. Clocks lined the walls from top to bottom. Some of them were old German clocks with ornate figures that chased each other around when the bells tolled and some of them just seemed to be cheap kitsch picked up at a garage sale. No doubt, he had still paid an arm and a leg for it. Still, something about the whole mansion was off. The alarm was still sounding in the distance and though Jack could hear the dogs barking in the distance, they hadn’t gotten any closer which means nobody had unleashed the hounds. That meant the alarm was tripped by whoever was here. It seemed Jack’s father wasn’t the only one who had gotten word of the set.

     “We’ve been played, Stan. Get the van ready.”

     Stan hefted his bag and started for the door, “What about you boss?”

     “I’ll be out as soon as I check on the set, won’t be long.” Jack sprinted back to the front entrance and raced up the stairs. Normally, he would have checked the kitchen first but this was a man who collected rare items and loved nice things. A set of silverware that multiple, very dangerous people were willing to counter-murder you for were not kept with the rest of the cutlery, they were kept in an office or a safe. As Jack reached the top of the stairs, the smell of blood reached his nose. It seems they really had been beaten out.

     The hallway split up into two different directions and the only light in the house seemed to be coming from down the left hall, streaming out from around an open door. Jack crept down the hallway and peered around the corner to see what he had suspected he would find from the moment he realized the place had been burgled already. Charles Beaufort, dead or dying on the ground. Jack felt no sadness. The man couldn’t be called a cancer on society because cancer took time and Charles Beaufort worked quicker. Better check his pulse to see if he was alive. If he was alive maybe he could be woken up so Jack could ask him a few quick questions before he had to hit the road. An open window on the far side of the room waved its curtains at Jack enticingly, telling a story of another intruder who had already come and gone.

     Charles coughed loudly, a streak of blood trickling out his mouth. Jack raced over and cradled him in his arms. A quick examination showed no obvious wounds, but despite that Jack could already feel his pulse getting weaker and weaker. “Who took the Denavi silverware!? Who took it!?’ He shook Charles in his arms, the man was clearly going to die so no need to be gentle.

     Charles coughed again, his eyes focusing on Jack above him, “I had…no idea that silverware was so valuable. I paid a hefty price for it.”

     Jack shook him again, being a little gentler this time, “Tell me who took it.”

     “He came in through the window, a young man with a knife…had no idea who he was. He had such lovely green eyes. He killed me proper though. I’d never fought someone who overwhelmed me so single-handedly.”

     Jack let him fall to the ground and started for the door before he got cut short by a whispered voice from the floor, “Don’t go. I don’t want to die alone.”

     Turning back to him, one hand on the door and distant sirens wailing out over the city, “I’m sure a lot of people you killed wanted one last meal with their family, or better yet to live till they died of natural causes. I’d say it’s pretty fitting that you die alone in your office surrounded by your wealth.” Turning back to the hallway, Jack raced down the stairs and out the door to the van. Hopping in, Stan floored it immediately and soon they were past the radius where a police barricade would be set up. Jack actually wondered whether or not the police would set up a statue in their honor given the things they would find in that house. A lot of long unsolved murders were about to get suddenly solved and a lot of families who had been left waiting and wondering were going to get some sudden, blissful and horrible resolution.

Charles Beaufort~

     Hello, dear friends. I’m so excited because the post today introduces one of the mysteries that will likely hang over the story for quite a while. Longtime readers may remember Charles Beaufort, the serial killer with expensive tastes. He viewed murder as business and that’s how he supported himself and his collection. What I didn’t realize is that Charles Beaufort has now appeared in two separate stories, or will have by the end of today. Jack and Liam have very similar opinions of Charles, looking down on him for their own reasons. What was lost in me is the order that most of you, or some of you, will read his stuff out of order.

     I wrote his Jack and Stan chapter first, when I knew far less about him. I didn’t know that he was once attached to the Rever family, renowned as assassins. I only knew he had collected something Jack was tasked with taking by his father. I refuse to spoil anything, but I hope the Jack and Stan chapter leaves you with lingering doubts and questions. I’m having some real trouble with Second-Hand Rumors, whilst we’re on the subject of Liam. he tends to be no fun to write on many days, because he and I are very different. Liam is very mercenary and I tend to be more paragon. His interests are, thus far, entirely self-motivated, if you take my meaning.

     As always, thank you for stopping by. I cherish your visits, dear friend, whether you’re a long-time visitor or a first time guest. Thank you for spending some time with me.

Second-Hand Goods~ chapter 24

     Liam considered himself to be a wise thief in large part because he knew when it was time to throw in the towel. Usually, it was around the time you hit pay dirt. On the bad days, it should be preferably before you die. The best thieves are the ones who grow to a ripe old age and retire on someone else’s money and the worst ones die young. That latter part didn’t quite apply to Liam, because he couldn’t die, but that didn’t make the experience any more pleasant. Despite his self-declared wisdom, Liam found himself breaking the one rule no thief should ever break. Never follow a monster unless you’re trying to steal from him. Adrian Denavi wouldn’t even have anything worth stealing in the first place. Fanatics rarely do these days.

     Not that Adrian Denavi had done anything particularly monstrous to this point that Liam had seen with his own eyes. Liam had been killed by monsters too many times to ignore the hairs standing up on the back of neck when he stood too close to Adrian. Just because he had been passive thus far didn’t make him any less a monster. Once they reached the fourth floor, Adrian turned to the right and walked at a brisk pace, vanishing from Liam’s view. The fourth floor remained mostly a mystery to him. Besides being an unwilling participant in the Five Families conference and spying on the Aliway family, he hadn’t been around the floor enough to know what was up there. If he knew where Adrian stalked off towards in such a huff, he could have used the secret passages, but that left too much room for error. There wasn’t much point in spying on someone if you couldn’t hear or see what they said, and given the way everyone else reacted to him, it stood to reason that he wouldn’t be doing much talking.

     Reaching down and slapping his legs a few times to work the shakes out of them, Liam quickly got his bearings. The walls were well built, but plain. The Aliway rooms lay towards the left and directly ahead of the stairs, the hallway led towards the meeting room Liam wall flowered in so recently, feeling entirely out of his depth surrounded by important people. To the right, Liam had no idea what to expect. The hallway went straight on, turning left with no rooms worth noting. Taking a quick peek around the corner, Liam ducked back and pressed against the wall. Laid out on the ground, unmoving, in front of one of the rooms were two of the security guards Liam had been avoiding for days. There wasn’t been any blood that Liam could see, but the unnatural angles of their necks spoke volumes about their odds of getting back up again. Taking a deep breath and holding it, Liam turned the corner and skipped down the hallway, making as little contact with the floor as possible. The door the guards made their last stand in front of was made out of a dark iron, with enormous wrought-iron locks placed at the three separate places on the door.

     Examining the entrance to the room, it quickly became apparent how Adrian had entered. A portion of the wall to the right of the door had been ripped out, revealing the edge of the door. When he checked the door he could even see the indents where Adrian had simply gripped the door hard and yanked it open with brute force. Adrian, it turned out, was a thief as well as a monster. The contents of the room took Liam’s breath away. Many of the objects, he recognized because he himself had collected them. The dragon statuette he had retrieved for Simon graced a shelf, surrounded by other small statues that Simon no doubt referred to as “problem children” as well. The end of the shelf stood barren, however, and given that Adrian held a small figurine of a troll in his hands, Liam had little doubt as to who had taken the rest. Backing down the hallway, Liam took small breaths. The walls were covered with golden platters and swords made for kings with enormous jewels in their pommels, but all those treasures went ignored in favor of the small figurines on the shelves?

     As he watched Adrian, Liam knew the time to leave might have already come and gone. Many thieves would argue that bullets are their worst enemy, but Liam felt that sound was.  After all, how would the trigger happy guards know to shoot unless they heard noise? Since being quiet led to being killed less, Liam had taught himself how to breathe in small short breaths, which kept the sound to a minimum. This is a tactic that would work against rent-a-cops and most thugs, but Adrian didn’t fall into those categories. It took a special sort of psychopath to garner the sort of reaction Adrian got from the rest of the Five Families, and no amount of breathing techniques were going to stop him from noticing Liam for long. Slowly backing down the hallway, Liam did the one thing he least intended to. He took a deep breath. He must have been holding it longer than he had realized, and that breath caused a stir in the vault that sent Adrian out to investigate the slight sound.

     Rounding the corner into the hallway, Liam’s distant fear came roaring to the forefront of his mind. Twin streaks of red ran down from Adrian’s eyes, leaving small rivulets on his pale face. Despite being caught thieving from the Nair family, he seemed more curious about Liam than anything else, “Why exactly are you following me? This can’t be Varnes Nair’s doing, he knows better than to try and send spies to follow me.”

     It wasn’t loyalty that stopped Liam from mentioning Simon. Hell, Simon had told him to avoid this exact person, it had been his idea from the very start, “I…just wanted to see what exactly you were up to.”

    “And if I told you that what I was up to was stealing from the family vault for my own nefarious purposes, what would you do?”

    Liam’s tongue grew slightly numb, “I’m not sure that’s what I saw. Just saw a man taking his leisure as a guest in another man’s house.”

    Adrian cocked his head slightly, his eyes wide in what was either confusion or disappointment, “That was a better answer than the one those two gave. I’ll give you full marks for being smart enough to stand down. You just keep standing there and I’ll walk past you and leave this house and we’ll never mention this again.”

    Liam nodded, unable to move. Adrian walked forward, adjusting his dark red tie as he moved past Liam.

     “Still,” Adrian muttered softly, “I haven’t had enough to get rid of this feeling. I haven’t had enough to make it go away…can’t think clearly.”

     Liam felt the blow glance off the back of his neck, a hit intended to break and shatter, but his feet were suddenly swept out from under him at the same moment and he hit the ground unceremoniously, face first. Shifting his gaze up, there was a pair of familiar brown shoes directly in front of him. Looking up confirmed the identity of his savior. Simon Nair had saved his life. Liam’s gratitude was blunted by two things. Firstly, it’s not like he was going to die for real and secondly, Simon Nair never saved anyone for free.

     “Adrian, since when did I give you permission to kill my friends?” Simon reached down and grabbed Liam by the collar, lifting him to his feet and helping him stand to the side.

     Adrian tapped the side of his head, “That voice in my head needs no permission. It’s telling me I need to see some blood in order to make it quiet again. But why am I telling you that? You hear the same voice all the time.”

     Simon sagged back, “So it’s true what they told me. You just gave in to your bloodlust over and over and now look at you. You’re not some master villain, you’re an addict. I pity you.”

     Bowing mockingly, Adrian smiled, “I’ll be sure to take that pity with me, after I kill you.”

     Liam had watched Jenny fight with her cousin, Charles Beaufort. He had missed much of the action, he eyes were simply not trained for the speed of it. This fight was different. Simon didn’t seem to move very fast or with any real care at all, yet he countered every move with ease. It was like watching some graceful, delicate dance that could change form in an instant. Adrian was violence incarnate, every attack designed to rip and tear, yet every strike got brushed aside with ease. Somehow, in spite of the fear that Liam felt, it was beautiful to watch. The fight kept coming closer and closer, until a stray stabbing motion made it past Simon and ripped into Liam’s throat. Everything went black.

     When he came to, he was sitting against the wall with Simon sitting next to him, looking very embarrassed and apologetic, “Oh, you’re alive again,” he turned and shook Liam just to make sure.

     “I think I should have moved,” Liam felt his neck for the wound that would have already healed up.”

    “That certainly would have aided my cunning plan of saving your life. It’s been almost two years since you started working for me, I had no doubt in my mind that you were going to follow Adrian.”

     “So how did that saving my life thing work out?” Liam glanced at Simon pointedly.

     Simon laughed, “Ah, sorry about that. I still should have moved you out of the way. Thanks to your intervention, though, I was able to get him to give me back most of what he stole. I would imagine he managed to secret away a few pieces, but this is the best result I could have hoped for.”

    Liam staggered to his feet, “Wait, so you knew this was going to happen? Were you waiting just out of sight the whole time?”

   Simon remained sitting against the wall, a queer little smile playing around his lips, “I couldn’t possibly say. Go home, Liam. You’ve earned a break.

    Liam didn’t need any further encouragement. It had been days since he had gone home and he needed a good rest in a familiar place. By the time he left the Nair mansion, it was late at night and it took no time at all to get home. When he reached his apartment, he was greeted by the strangest sight he had ever laid eyes on. The Dirt Gremlins, unused to him leaving for such long periods of time, must have assumed that he had died. On the wall, out of crusted dirt and random pieces of trash, they had fashioned a likeness of Liam. He couldn’t tell if he should be horrified or flattered. Around this effigy, the entire tribe of Dirt Gremlins sat with lit candles made from misshapen and brown colored wax.

    At the front of the group, next to Liam’s image, sat one Dirt Gremlin who looked to be leading the memorial, “Dirty,” it declared in the closest approximation a Dirt Gremlin could come to solemnity, “Dirty! Dirty, dirty, dirty.”

    “Did I miss something?” Liam spoke softly, but the sound of his voice caused the Dirt Gremlins to scatter to all four corners of the room, vanishing into unseen crevices with one last chorus of “Dirty’s”.

    “Good…to see you too?” Liam made his way to his own bed and collapsed into it, falling asleep almost instantly. Within an hour, he was surrounded by a small pile of Dirt Gremlins, snoring away in one filthy, but mostly relieved heap. By the time Liam awoke, they would be gone. As Liam dreamt, part of him knew that his job had changed. He wouldn’t be stealing items for Simon anymore. It would be information that would pay for his freedom. It wouldn’t come cheap, either. What kind of thief worked for free?

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 28

     Job satisfaction is never guaranteed, no matter what job you perform. Jack Goodbody chose to work as a cleaner because he enjoyed the simplicity and purity of it. Work was supposed to be uncomplicated. You go in, clean, kill all the bad things, and then leave. You don’t have to deal with bizarre vomiting pink unicorns. Jack found himself jerked completely awake at the realization of how similar to his father he sounded. “We’re taking a few days off, Stanley.”

     Stan tossed the remnants of his cigar out the window, “I’ll unpack them supplies and get the van ready.” Jack nodded and headed up to the office to lay down. Going on a vacation, for Jack, only meant one thing. They were going to meet the family oracle. Technically speaking, seeing the future is impossible. Tomorrow alone is a thousand criss-crossing roads all with unique destinations and with drivers who have minds of their own. On top of that, the roads could suddenly change direction at any moment or intersect with another road unexpectedly. That didn’t mean there were no signposts, however, and the job of the family oracle was to read the signposts and point out a variety of ways forward.

     Jack didn’t really care about the specifics. The road of the future always led forward no matter what you did, but he did want an interesting road to travel. The oracle lived a half a day’s drive from the Goodbody house. Sam liked to frequent her house when she was looking for fun. Trudging up the office steps, Jack took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This summer was going nowhere fast. He and Stan needed something to really turn this next job around. Opening the door to their office, he staggered to his seat and sagged back into it, looking out the window into the small town they lived in. What really bothered him was the news about his family. Why on Earth had his father been sniffing around Sister Agnes’s orphanage of all places?  Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they won’t be exploited for their abilities or powers.

     Feeling the darkness of sleep closing in around him, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Normally, there would be a fight involved, but the sooner he got rested up the sooner he could go to see the oracle. Stan lumbered into the room and collapsed with a dull crash onto his couch, “Ain’t we gonna head for the oracle now?”

     “No, Stanley. We should leave for the oracle when the time is right. I’ll know when that is.” He stretched his arms over his head and pulled his suit jacket off to use as a makeshift blanket.

     They awoke the next morning to a day filled with promise. The rains of the previous few days gave way to an early dawn that rimmed the horizon with red. It promised a new heatwave, and hopefully a new adventure as well. It was time to visit the oracle. After getting cleaned up, they started their drive towards her house. When people pictured a person who served as an oracle, they had many different ideas about what she would look like. Jack had heard them all from various family members who had never seen her, possibly out of a desire Jack would never understand to live as boring a life as possible. They told him she was an old woman who lived in a modest, if run down, house with thirty seven cats and a mangy wolf named Hercules. Or maybe, the would further conjecture, she was a tiny woman with a penchant for kitsch and style from the seventies, which Jack always referred to as the linoleum decade. Truth be told, Jack had always found her to be sweetheart with a bit of an acidic tongue.

     That was slightly unfair, it would be more accurate to say that her understanding of human feelings varied greatly from moment to moment depending on a variety of circumstances that Jack had yet to have fully explained to him. She lived in a small green one story house in a neighborhood that seemed a little worn down, but it had a good school district according to her. She was married, though her husband was often gone for long periods of time. More than once, his sessions with her had been cut short by a phone call from said mystery hubby.

     Their drive to see her took an hour and a few wrong turns before they reached their destination. Jack stepped out of the van and took a quick look around. The normally neat front lawn was in clear need of a mowing. The bushes around the front bay windows were looking quite unruly and in just a few months someone was going to need to complete a paintjob or the house was in serious danger of going naked. It took Jack a few moments to realize that it had been a few years since the last time they have visited the oracle and things must have changed drastically in that time.

     Walking slowly to the steps leading up to the front door, Jack raised a hand to knock before the door suddenly opened. The oracle, Caroline, stood in front of him cradling a cat in one hand and a squirming baby in the other. She blew at a loose strand of dull brown hair that had wandered in front of her eye, “You’re late, get in and sit down.”

     Jack waved at his partner to stay with the van. That was the other thing about Caroline, she said exactly what she meant. If she didn’t invite you inside there was always a reason to find a sudden interest in her yard. Jack had refused to leave multiple times in the past till she had seen him. Stepping into her front room and gently tapped his shoes on a mat to get the dirt off the soles.

     The front door took Jack directly into the living room, and it certainly could have used a little tender loving care from a flame thrower. The wall to wall carpet, as well as the majority of the furniture, had once been a vibrant lime green color. Years of sun bleaching had left the entire room colored in varying shades of vomit, and the cats scattered around on various pieces of furniture gave the impression that the vomit was flecked with hairballs. A small table sat near the front windows between two large faded orange chairs. The table was made from a dark black wood. All along the top was a series of long metal pins that had been stuck deeply into the table. The row on the very edge of the table had a series of colored twine hanging from the pins that dangled on the ground. In a basket next to the table was a large pile of twines that looked like that had been put through the cat twine shredder.

     Choking back to urge to vomit himself, Jack attempted a more polite approach, “I see it’s been awhile, do you need any cleaning done?”

     “That’s a fine thing for you to be asking, I suppose I’ll have to pay for it will I?”

     “Consider it on the house, given that you’re about to provide a service for me.”

     Caroline trucked her loads into the living room and sat down in one of the two oversized chairs in the room. The cat escaped at this point, the baby quickly following suit crawling after the cat. Jack sat down in the chair across from her, “I know what you mean when you say “clean” Jack. You mean replace everything in my house with something more to your liking, but you don’t get to decide how to pay me for my service. I just haven’t decided how I want you to pay me back yet.”

     Caroline cracked her knuckles and got to work. Her fingers were a blur, moving over the board and wiring strings around pins until every string worked from one end of the board to the other. Then, impossibly quickly and surely she started to adjust them without removing even a single pin from the board. Jack looked up from her hands to realize that she was no longer even looking at the board. Her long hair had come undone and fallen in strands over her eyes which had rolled up, showing only whites. Her mouth was slightly open, making noiseless motions as though she was silently speaking to an occupant of the room that Jack couldn’t see. After fifteen minutes, she settled back in her chair and pushed her hair back out of her eyes.

     “Done. I need a drink of water. The cups are above the sink in the cupboard, we can look at the paths once I’ve had a sip.”

     Jack rose from his seat and went to grab the glass of water. The sink made a horrible squeaking noise when he used it, but the water was clear enough after the brown passed through the pipes. Returning, he handed her the water which she greedily gulped down.

    “So I take it you want the interesting route. The one that will lead you to something fun?”

     Jack nodded carefully, “Since I’m not really trying to achieve some goal like my father I’m more interested in the road than the destination.”

     Caroline slowly lowered her gaze to the tangle of wires and took a bright red string in her hand, “During the next job you receive you’ll have a choice to make. You can either help or hinder someone and while the choice may seem obvious, a less attractive option will yield more interesting results. The string frays past that point and I can’t tell you which way to take, but it will be messy no matter what you do.”

     Jack crossed his arms and examined the string carefully, “Essentially, if I want to have more fun I have to choose the option that makes no sense.”

     “Pretty much what the board seems to say. Given the string it will be a close choice too. There are other paths to take which have similar results so just move when you feel it’s right.”

     Jack scratched his head and raised a brow, looking up at Caroline with a puzzled expression, “So what’s the right answer?”

    “There isn’t a wrong answer. Whatever path you choose is fine so long as you’re fine with your choices.”

     Jack coughed and scratched his head again.

     She sighed, “Oh, get out and just pay attention. In the next few weeks you’re going to encounter some interesting choices and which way you decide to go to is all up to you.”

    Jack rose and turned to the door, “I’ll just take your word for it, then.”

    Caroline laughed and went to scoop up her baby, ignoring his struggles to free himself again, “You showed up, didn’t you? And when have I ever let you down?”

     Jack found himself heartened by this reminder and he opened the door to the front yard, “Well, we should get going…Stanley.” Jack trailed off as he took in the front yard. Stanley had taken the time to mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Jack smiled as he got into the passenger side of the van and tapped the side twice. Stan was waiting in the driver’s seat for his boss. He started the van. “Good news, boss?”

     Jack sighed and leaned out the window to look at the houses passing by, “Not really sure. We’ll be getting a good job offer soon, but that’s about all I know.” With that, they pulled out and headed home, both ready and unprepared for what the world had to offer them.