Watching movies might give you the impression that spying on an assassin for information must be dangerous and thrilling. Liam’s profession as a thief meant his spying skills were limited to two things. Where do they keep the valuables and how do I take them? Spying on two assassins turned out to be the most stone cold boring job Liam had ever taken on. There were no thrilling cat and mouse games, no hushed whispers and furtive glances, and no exciting car chases. After they had eaten breakfast, they went to the records room on the second floor and remained there for the majority of the first day.
The first two floors of the Nair mansion functioned in an almost public capacity. The ground floor maintained the clerks and their customers; creatures coming and going to get licenses and file spurious lawsuits. The second floor was split between guest rooms, servant’s quarters and the records room, which took up the majority of the space. The massive room smelled like old, musty paper and contained file cabinet upon file cabinet of detailed records. Spending the whole day skulking in corners and watching Jacob Rever pore over old volumes of public records while Jenny chased flies, left Liam with the smell of yellowed dusty books embedded in his brain.
It was late in the day when Jacob Rever finally got up and gestured to Jenny, “We’re going to the third floor library. We have to meet with Isaac Neelan. He’s agreed to give us any information he has on printing presses for Old Bart’s Guide to the Black Market.”
Jacob heaved a long sigh, one that any long-suffering parent would feel in their soul, “Why not?”
Liam flinched. He had never been a father that he was aware of. He lacked the fortitude for it. Even he knew that reasoning with an eternal child, such as Jenny, was a time consuming fool’s errand. Jenny immediately proved him right.
“Because he smells like funny meat and he’s rude.”
“We’re going all the same,” Jacob grabbed a few books and headed for the door. Jenny followed glumly and Liam followed her at a safe distance. The Library on the third floor wasn’t technically off limits, but most people never made it up to the third floor. Liam had spent a sizable amount of time in the library, mostly because he kept an extensive hidden stash of alcohol behind a section of books for those days when he wanted to play hooky. The safest way to get into the library without being noticed would be to sneak through the special archives department and head to the back of the room, which had an entrance that led directly into the library for ease of access to researchers
The special archives department definitely was off limits to most people. The records on the second floor came up from the clerks. It contained deeds, filed documents, birth and death certificates and so on. The special archives on the third floor contained information on those weapons and people that the Nair family tracked, which never sat right with Liam. When he had asked Simon about it, he had been told that it’s better to archive those sorts of things to make sure you know what dangers are out there. If there’s a dog collar that turns your average mutt into the Hound of the Baskervilles, you want to know about it. That’s the sort of nasty surprise you don’t want to find out about in the morning.
The special archives department was therefore much smaller than the records room, and led into the back of the library in case the staff needed to do any research. Liam had cut through that room to reach his stash so often that the staff didn’t even blink an eye when he came waltzing through. Passing by his stash, Liam got as close to the front as he dared and lowered his eyes to peer through the books. Jackpot! At one of the tables towards the front of the room, Jacob Rever sat down in front of Isaac Neelan. Isaac’s expression had grown pretty sour, as though he had just sucked on a week old candy he’d found on the ground.
“I know you possess complete records for publications sites of Old Bart’s Guide to the Black Market. After hours of searching through the archives we found no records of such sites, which implies you had one of your people comb through and remove any such records.”
Isaac’s voice was steeped in the most insincere of apologetic tones as he responded, “I’m sorry, Jacob. We used to be friends and I can’t believe you would accuse me of such underhanded tactics.”
“I don’t recall ever being friends and this literally wouldn’t be the first time you had records you thought of as “inconvenient” lost or waylaid somehow.”
There was a long pause before Isaac responded, “Even if I did have the records removed, I think it was for the best. If Varnes Nair shuts that newspaper down, it’ll be bad news for everyone.”
“What consequences could you possibly care about, except your profit margin going down?” When Jacob spoke, it was hard to detect any emotion much of time. That was, except for this last sentence in which even Liam could pick up on some wry humor.
Isaac let out an exasperated sound that resembled a dying animal, “That newspaper functions as a centralized information hub for all the black market auction houses in the Tri-State area. They do my work for me. They tell me what’s up for sale, items soon to be on the market, locations, details and everything I could ever want to know. I don’t have to waste resources on it if they’re just going to conveniently tell me where and when to confiscate it. If that newspaper goes down, fifteen competitors will be up by the end of the week to fill the void. It won’t stop sales and I won’t be able to keep up with the really dangerous items.”
“I checked the records for items brought into the Nair family vault by the Neelan family in the last decade. There wasn’t a single entry. Did you have those records removed as well or are you just lining your pockets?”
Isaac’s smile remained plastered on his face while he spoke, “I’m sure I wouldn’t know what you mean.”
“And I’m certain that Varnes Nair would be very interested to know where exactly those items went and why they were never reported.”
Slumping forward in his chair, Isaac gave in, “Alright, Jacob, you win. We’ll do it the stupid way. I’ll have a complete list of publication sites to your house by the end of the day. It’ll take some time to get it compiled. It won’t change a thing either, might not even shut the paper down for good.”
“I still want to try,” Jacob rose swiftly and left the room without another word, Jenny skipping along behind him.
It was a safe bet to cross the Rever family off the list of potential spies. Jacob seemed driven and compelled to follow any Nair orders he received, so either he was a really good actor or he was just as loyal as he made himself out to be. That left him with the obvious decision to follow the head of the family dedicated to spying and see what he was up to. Really, the choice was so obvious that Liam was almost a little disappointed.
Isaac stayed in the library for a long time after that meeting, hardly moving from the spot he sat in. He remained sitting at that same table until someone else entered the room. Liam was hardly surprised to see that it was John Neelan.
John sat down across the table from the head of his family, still looking incredibly annoyed, “Alright, I’m here. What the hell are you interrupting my schedule for?”
In spite of everything he had seen, Liam was still shocked by what happened next. Putting his handkerchief down, Isaac Neelan suddenly lost weight. The effect was instantaneous. His suit actually fit him, whereas before he had been bursting out at the seams. His sweating stopped and that oily tone of voice vanished as well.
“We’re in a tight spot, John. I get the impression that someone in our family has been playing with fire.”
John raised a brow, “Which fire exactly are you talking about?”
“The Society, the reckless fools. Why is everyone so obsessed with killing when blackmail is so much more effective?”
“I doubt the rest of the world would agree with you, uncle Isaac.”
Isaac smiled ruefully, “I’ve made some tough choices, John. Some very tough choices. I’ve ruined people’s lives and reputations, but you know something? I’ve never killed a single person. When I fight, I use information and rumors and at the end of the day, everyone lives.”
John opened his mouth as though he had something to say, but he shut it again after a moment’s thought. Liam couldn’t decide if that was self-delusion or self-congratulation. In the context of the job, Liam didn’t care.
“What do you want me to do? This whole mess is really outside my work.”
“I’ll give you a team. Do an internal audit. Every piece of information, everybody who had access to it, where it went, the works. We may need to jump ship if this gets too ugly. The Five Families have had a good run, but every unsinkable ship springs a leak at some point.”
Their conversation went on for a short while after that, but it was really more of the same. The fact that someone in the Neelan family was leaking information was hardly a revelation. The fact that this was going on under the table and without consent was important information indeed.
After they had finished their conversation, John rose and left with the curt excuse that his workload had been added to considerably and staying any longer was a waste of his time. Isaac waited until he was gone a few moments and then gave Liam another show when he gradually expanded to his former weight. Dabbing at fresh sweat, he rose and headed for the door with Liam in tow, unbeknownst to him.
Isaac, as it turned out, was the consummate people person. He spent the rest of the evening wandering the building and chatting with whoever would sit down and speak with him. He talked with them about their personal troubles and their small triumphs and in return he got small pieces of information about the Nair household. No one piece of information was too damning, in and of itself, but taken as a whole even Liam could get a feel for how the household ran and when was the best time to sneak in and steal something.
Towards the end of the night, Isaac ran into Samantha Goodbody, something he clearly didn’t want to happen. Samantha had a peculiar way of stopping people from avoiding her, however, and she cornered him before he could vanish down another hallway.
“Isaac, I have a favor to ask you.” Samantha could always be counted on for getting to the point of a conversation.
Isaac tried and failed to smile sincerely, “You and everyone else in this house, but I am not an endless font of generosity.”
“I’ll make it worth your while, you old wind-bag. I’ll do one free hunt for you.”
As disinterested as his face appeared, his eyes gleamed when he responded, “And what if I told you to hunt your brother?”
Sam scoffed and turned away, “I thought the devil tempted people with things they wanted. That’s not how this deal works.”
“Alright, alright,” Isaac waved his chubby fingers offhandedly, “I was just testing you. What did you want to know?”
“I want to know everything you know about that cult out in California.”
“The one the Goodbody family supposedly didn’t have a run in with about a decade ago?”
Sam let out a deep sigh from the depths of her soul, “Yeah, that one. What do you know about it?”
Isaac stroked his chins thoughtfully, “I know they worship the Old Gods of the Field, great monstrosities that cause madness and good crops. I know they’ve been gaining members these last few years. The last time I sent someone out to learn more, they never came back and I never found out what happened to them. Other than that, not much.”
Liam had never heard Sam laugh so bitterly, “You don’t know much more than I do. That information will earn you one very small hunt…like an annoying house fly or something. Catch you later, scum.”
Liam decided this was the point where he would leave as well. He knew Samantha well enough to know she wasn’t involved with the Society for the Protection of Humankind. As disconnected as Sam was, even if she turned out to be a mole she wouldn’t have much useful information that they would want. That left one family left to check up on and that would be the Aliway family. Spying on them promised to be fantastically boring, but that would complete his work on the Five Families early and then he could spend some time just watching the house. There were enough secret passages honeycombed throughout the building that he could have hidden there forever, if he so desired.