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?

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