Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 4

     Liam grew up on the mean streets of several nasty cities before settling in New York. His natural talent as a thief allowed him to survive turbulent years that saw many people stronger than him fall on the job. Well, his skills and his unnatural ability to survive fatal injuries. When he had first met a spy, he looked down on the profession as a whole because it all seemed so seedy. Liam stole things to survive. In his opinion, spies had no such basic need to fall back on. The only reason you would ever steal information would be to ruin someone’s reputation, and even Liam had his limits on what he would steal. This last couple of days had given Liam pause, and made him rethink his positon. In fact, spies and thieves had many things in common, but the most prominent of these was boredom.

     Talented thieves spend days, minimally, watching high-risk targets before attempting a move. Even the most basic jobs required time making sure you understood your target’s movements before you picked their pockets. Spies had all of that routine, with none of the tangible pay off of booty in your hands at the end of the day. Of course, Liam still planned to rob Matthew blind before he was done spying on him. Liam was nothing, if not a consummate professional.

     The last three days had gone by without a noticeable hitch. Liam trailed Jenny as she stalked their target. It became increasingly clear that Matthew’s tails had noticed her and informed their client of her presence. That, in and of itself, would have been alarming had Matthew not been stealing subtle glances at the beautiful woman following him around during his lunch hour. Men with large bank accounts and important jobs tend to have equally large egos. That Matthew paid so much attention to Jenny meant Liam was ready to move onto stage two of his devious, multi-part and very intelligent plan.

     The problem with routine is that it’s very easy to exploit and alter without ever changing it. On the fifth day, Liam didn’t follow Jenny. He knew everything he could learn from following her while she tailed Matthew. Even though Matthew hadn’t outwardly changed his routine by one iota, his internal routine had changed significantly. When he came to work, he spent his time thinking of his brief encounter with Jenny and wishing she would come forward to say hello to him. He might even manage to introduce himself to her at some point, which would work out better for Liam. It wasn’t entirely clear whether or not Matthew knew Jenny was specifically following him, or if he thought she just happened to take the same route as him every afternoon. Liam assumed that Matthew thought it would be the former, because clearly he was so very important.

     That Matthew spent all his day thinking about Jenny meant that he would be paying less attention to things that might have caught his attention. For example, when Matthew left his office at lunch, he never even noticed an oily, ratty looking janitor slip in the doors past him, barely even acknowledging his existence. With his hat pulled low, Liam walked with the distinctive walk of someone who belonged in the building and had a place to go. The place Liam was headed was the janitorial closet. From there, he would pilfer some cleaning supplies and head up towards Matthew’s office to clean it out of both dirt, and information. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. Apparently, someone meant Liam.

     Of course, Liam didn’t know where Matthew’s office was, and that was why he had to take his time, but not too much time. Stealing from one office in an office building was like playing minesweeper on a timer while someone points a gun at your head. It’s true that nobody pays attention to the cleaners, but that wouldn’t last for ever. Eventually, some sharp eyed security guard would notice the seedy individual dressed as a cleaner who came in and cleaned offices, but wasn’t actually employed by the company. Given that Matthew Bergson was being watched from on high by all sorts of dangerous folks, Liam figured that in reality he had about half the time he would normally have before the cameras would get a good look at his face and his whole plan would be ruined. He couldn’t simply ask around either, because what cleaner wants to find a specific person’s office and if he really worked in the building, then wouldn’t he know where that room was already?

   Thankfully, Liam had a few things going his way. The first being the name of the firm that Matthew worked in, some group called “Finance Power Planning” which sounded like a company which offered sound financial planning to weight lifters and third world dictators. Much like malls, office buildings need to know where to funnel the products and it only took a little inspection for him to find the offices. When he reached the correct floor, Liam realized to his dismay that finding Matthew Bergson’s business was going to be shockingly easy. He had assumed that the hunt would be the difficult part, but alas, his personal cubicle presented a greater problem. “Finance Power Planning” took up the entire floor right from the elevator. Without missing a beat, Liam pushed his cart full of cleaning supplies and found the nearest empty cubicle and began cleaning. He had a very short time frame to work with, and he knew that he couldn’t just make a beeline for the office he wanted, because he would have been wandering the floor for hours just to locate and clean one office, and then immediately leave.

     While Liam cleaned, he paid attention to the name plaques in the cubicles that were occupied by someone else. The entire lunch went by far too fast and forced Liam to retreat in disgrace, having gotten no closer to his goal than when he began. The next day was more of the same frustrations, wandering through FPP with his cart of supplies and stopping to clean empty offices. In Liam’s estimation, he could only get away with one more day of cleaning and if he failed to find anything, then he would be shit out luck and it would all come down to Jenny and her ability to charm the information out of Matthew.

     It was by sheer coincidence on the last day that Liam overheard someone using his target’s name and luck that he was able to zero in on it quickly. Matthew’s office, when he finally located it, was pretty much exactly what he expected it to look like. It lacked any decoration, focusing entirely on functionality. Perhaps because Matthew was such a boring person, he never expected someone to come in and rifle through his papers. It’s a true shame that he felt that way, because on his desk, directly in front of the computer monitor, sat a folder that looked as enticing as any fat wallet Liam had ever laid eyes on. Pulling his phone out, Liam flipped through the folder and took a picture of every single piece of paper in rapid order.

     Matthew Bergson wasn’t just a bad man. He was a horrible man, but apparently a very good business man. On top of doing business with the Society, he also managed extensive holdings for some crime families and some big time politicians, who probably would never want to be associated with their mutual customers. He kept their money in all sorts of places, ranging from the merely unethical to the outrageously illegal. Whenever he couldn’t avoid paying taxes, he cut corners. His slush funds could have opened their own slush funds. At this point, Liam had run out of jargon, but even he could tell that there was a lot of shady nonsense going on, all for the purpose of funding one project, called “Operation Nightingale”. With a name like that, it’s purpose was either to open the most elaborate orphanage Ponzi scheme the world had ever seen, or to initiate a holy war. Liam’s money was certainly on the latter, not that he was a betting man unless he could bet using someone else’s money.

      Simon would find the information to be very useful indeed. Far more useful to Liam was the bank account routing numbers. He had never been very good at digital theft, but thankfully he knew someone who was. He even knew that person had been tasked with finding out who the spy in the Neelan family was, and if this information wouldn’t help, nothing would. It never hurt to have a spy who owed you a favor, even if he hated the Neelan family in general. Cleaning the office from top to bottom, Liam took pictures of every document he could get a look at in his limited time. As soon as he was finished, he made his way out in a determined fashion. Luck stayed with him, because as he reached the elevator and walked inside, Matthew walked out through the other one to return to his desk.

     Liam would have been the first to point out that it never pays to rob extremely dangerous people of their hush money. But on the other hand, Liam would have all that hush money to pay people to look the other way with. The amount of money he was about to walk away with would provide a very nice retirement indeed. With the office investigated and Liam out safely, it was time to begin the last part of their operation. Jenny had wanted to call it “Operation Heartbreak” but Liam had objected on the grounds that people who have fish lips, like Matthew, don’t have hearts. He had wanted to call it something more awesome, like “Operation Smooth Criminal.” Sadly, at Jenny’s insistence, they had to compromise and it became “Operation Heart Criminal”. Liam drew a line when Jenny punctuated their written plan with an exclamation point that had a heart in it.

  At the end of their day, Jenny and Liam met at the park near her house. He arrived after she did, as he usually did, and found her sitting on a park bench, holding a miniscule rose in her hands, “Someone gave you a rose?’

    Jenny looked up at him with a slightly curious expression, “Our target gave me the rose. I guess he knew I was following him the whole time.”

    Liam tried not to laugh as he sat down next to her, “I figured they would. I never expected him to be the one to make contact with you. How did he ever work up the fishy courage?”

    “Well, I was following him like normal and then I rounded a corner and there he was, with a rose for me in his hands. He asked me out for lunch but I took rain check for tomorrow. I told him I had a very jealous and ugly husband…”

    “You told him…but I never told you to tell him I was ugly.”

    Jenny seemed genuinely confused, “But Liam, you are ugly. That’s what makes you so funny.”

    Deciding to brush past that, Liam noted a certain reluctance in her voice, “Are you sure you want to continue with this job? It sounds like you’re getting attached to him.”

    Hopping to her feet, Jenny started walking back home, “Nope! He looks like a silly fish and he’s a bad man. Tomorrow, we can begin Operation Rainbow Panda Kill House 5000.”

    “Jenny, you changed the name again. I noticed.”

    “Curses,” and with that, Jenny vanished in her haste to get home. Tomorrow would begin the end of their work together. Finding documents implicating Matthew Bergson was hardly some grand revelation. The numbers, the information, would bankrupt the Society, but that still left him with some burning questions. What was Operation Nightingale and why did it require so much money, shuffled around so much. Thus far, it had all gone according to plan. Nothing had gone wrong and everything could still go wrong, but Liam had a good feeling about how the day was going to go. He could not have been more wrong.

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