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.

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