Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 6

     A long time ago, Liam had considered giving up thieving and becoming an honest man. He had been younger, and stupid, and in love. He failed to consider that several lifetimes of thievery doesn’t translate very well to other jobs. Before long he was back on the streets engaging in his profession until his wife found out where he went off to every day because she eventually had to bail him out of the pokey. The long and short of that trip down memory lane was that you could take the thief out of thievery, but thievery remains a part of the thief. He found these thoughts running through his mind unbidden as he stood in front of the door that led into John Neelan’s dreaded Cheeto infested “inner sanctum”. Much like thieves, you could take the spy out of his industry and he would still be a spy.

     Liam distrusted the Neelan family as a whole, because they worked in cloak and dagger secrecy. Spies stole lives wholesale with mere words, whereas Liam just lifted wallets to keep his stomach full and his booze flowing. John Neelan especially gave him the willies, because he looked at him as though Liam were just a prized turkey full of money. Still, if he was going to rob Matthew Bergson, he needed someone who could do it quickly and quietly. This technological theft was outside of Liam’s experience by a wide margin. No doubt this would turn into an ordeal, but the scent of money made his ears twitch and before he knew it, his feet had walked him all the way to this door until his common sense had kicked in to give one last protest.

     Standing at the door, with his hand on the knob, the debate was already over. He knew what he wanted more than the money, and that was freedom. Working for Simon hadn’t been a bad experience overall. Sure, he had died a few times more than normal, but that was the price of admission to a fantastic world Liam hardly belonged in. Turning the knob, Liam opened the door and stepped willingly into the worst decision he had made in ages.

     Meeting John Neelan taught Liam many things about spies. They worked impossibly full schedules that didn’t allow for things like sleep, basic hygiene, or fresh air. Even amongst a family of spies, John was considered a work-a-holic. Liam was under the impression that John might have been a prisoner of his own success. It’s hard to turn down work when you’re someone’s ace in the hole, not that Liam would have known anything about that from personal experience.

     Light from computer monitors spilled out into the hallway as soon as Liam cracked the door open to step inside. John had hardly moved from where he had been sitting the last time Liam had visited him with Samantha Goodbody in tow. John’s room barely had enough space left for him to stand in, and Liam nearly pushed a stack of files over as soon as he entered. Instead of the usual pizza boxes and endless cans of soda, littered liberally around the room, there were stacks of paper and files. They stood as tall as he did, and many of them showed clear signs of having been hastily rifled through. Liam realized with a start that John was working on the assignment the head of his family had given him. Recently, his black-mailing employer, Simon Nair, had asked Liam to spy on the heads of the Five Families while they met at his own house. While working this job, he overheard John and Isaac, the head of the Neelan family, reveal they knew they had a mole, but still had to locate who it was. That job had been left to John; to sift through a torrential storm of information in order to find out who was giving their bad name an even worse streak.

    “John, I’m sorry to bother you again so soon…”

     Charm is a tool that never works on thieves or spies, because they use it when they want something you’ve got that they want. John cut him off quickly, “You’re too polite, Liam. You literally never come to see me because we’re such good friends. It’s about money, isn’t it?”

     “I can be polite when money is involved. I was given a job spying on the guy in charge of funding for the Society for the Protection of Humankind.”

    John’s chair wheeled around slowly, and Liam noticed a series of small things that tipped him off to the seriousness of the situation. Normally, when working, John wore a dark bathrobe with a deep hood which he seemed to think made him look intimidating. Today, he wore a suit that fitted loosely around his thin frame. Even back-lit by the multiple computer moniters, Liam could see the bags under his eyes. He had a massive coffee cup in his hands and the vile smell wafting from it could only come from a concoction made from espresso, Red Bull and Five Hour energy drinks, “What’s in it for me? I’m up to my eyeballs in work already. Slow me up and you’re liable to get killed.”

     “Oh yes, that would be horrible if I got killed. I’m sure it would be horrible if I got killed, because that’s never happened before, has it?”

    “Ok, you made your point, but I still need to know what’s in it for me.”

     “Simon asked me to gather information to make a pitch to his dad. He thinks defunding them is a good step towards slowing them down.”

     John spun his chair around in slow circles, “He’s not wrong. Their operations are money intensive, and require huge amounts of upkeep. It’s not like we can just take the money unless we have bank account numbers, routing numbers, code confirmations, dummy account names and a host of other information I’ll never get my hands on.”

     “What if I told you I stole all that information and came right here with it?”

     John slowly spun to a stop, “Are you for real?”

     Reaching into his pocket, Liam pulled out his phone which John instantly snatched away, “It’s in the pictures. I took screen shots of it all.”

    There was a long pause as John flipped through the images, “Liam, this is brilliant. I had thought about trying to get this information, but I sorely lacked the time I needed to track down who had the accounts. I mean, look at this place,” John gestured to his room full of stack upon stacks of files, “this is going to save me a lot of time.”

     “So you can get me the money?”

     John sent the photos to his own phone before handing the phone back to Liam, “This is blood money, Liam. You don’t want it as much as you think you do.”

     Cramming the phone back into his pocket, Liam growled, “Oh, and I suppose you do?”

     “Of course I do, but I’m willing to cut you in on your own take, if you do me a little favor first. I have some information I need to collect from the De Luca family on the outskirts of the city. They have restaurants all over the city, and some big stakes in the Mythic people. They promised me something I needed to do my work and now they’re ignoring me. It’s not like I’m the most intimidating person in the world, and for personal reasons I can’t ask for help from the rest of the family at this time.”

     Sagging a little, Liam did the mental calculation, “So you’re asking me to go talk to the mafia about that thing they were supposed to send you, get killed a few times, get the thing and bring it back to you.”

     “Pretty much.”

    “I hate you so much.”

     “Yeah, but you’ll have enough money to buy yourself sympathy cards with. I hope you do, because I’ll be using my share to buy the world’s smallest violin. Now get to work, lackey.” Suddenly, for no reason that Liam was willing to put his finger on, Liam felt like working for Simon might not be that bad after all.

     The De Luca family was one which Liam knew more by reputation than having actually dealt with them. Even when you couldn’t die, there are excessively violent ways to die that Liam didn’t want to think about. Just because he wouldn’t stay dead, didn’t mean he was clamoring to try new ways to go about doing it. The De Luca family, in particular, could write a book on that particular chilling subject, with a companion guide that would make the Encyclopedia Britannica feel insecure in the locker room. Having to go and ask them for a favor they could totally refuse is something Liam would only do for money. As it turned out, Liam was doing it for a lot of money. While Liam knew the De Luca family mostly from their more nefarious endeavors, he had a sinking feeling that he had run into them more recently in a more pedestrian environment.

     Sure enough, when Liam checked the address John unceremoniously shoved into his hand,  he recognized one of the restaurants run by the family. It was even called, “The Olde “Family” Restaraunte” as though the owners were trying to quash all doubt as to who really owned the business. Liam had met the current owner when he was first getting into his respective business, and Liam had offered to help his grandmother get home, for a small fee of course. Then he robbed her, because it’s not like her mafia boss grandson couldn’t afford to get her nicer things. In Liam’s mind, he had done her a favor by taking all crappy older stuff, because that clearly meant a shopping spree was in order. He doubted her grandson would see it that way. Along with all the other people in that neighborhood who wanted to kill him, this guy was the biggest reason Liam had moved away to his current apartment building.

     That’s why, when he was greeted at the kitchen door by two burly men who introduced themselves as bus boys, he wasn’t surprised that his personal introduction led to being put in a choke hold and marched through the door to the head of the De Luca family. Ronaldo, the head of the De Luca family, was everything Liam was not. He had swarthy Sicilian charm and fine black hair swept back from a face which could have come from the portrait of a Renaissance nobleman. He stood out, surrounded by his heavier thugs, by his calm demeanor and his lean build. It was clear he was in charge and in command, but what was worse, it was clear that he recognized Liam.

    “Liam, my friend,” he spoke with a thick accent, in sure tones. The hustle and bustle surrounding him instantly vanished as though it were sleeping with the fishes, “I never thought you would have the balls to come back here.”

    “Trust me, if I had any other choice, I would have never come back. I had no idea you went legit in any way.”

    Ronaldo scowled, “With this current climate, the Feds have been cracking down on legitimate businessmen in a big way. To survive, I needed to go mostly legit, or I would have drowned with the rest of them. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

     “John Neelan said you owed him information. He sent me to pick it up, because he hates you.” Liam lied about that last part, hoping the enemy of his enemy wouldn’t kill him, at least.

     “I also hate you.”

     “And I hate both of you, and that’s why he sent me, because he hates me as well. So do you have it or not?”

     “I do have what he desires. He’s interested in information on the other families, wondering if they’re part of this great purge he’s so worried about.”

    Liam plugged his fingers in his ears, “La la la, I don’t want to know anything that someone could torture me for later on.”

    Ronaldo smiled a cruel smile, “That’s why I told you enough to be ignorant. Before I give you what you want, you must do something for me.”

    “Oh God, you want me to go grab something for you from someone else who hates me, don’t you? This is punishment for that time when I did the thing.”

    Ronaldo gestured over his shoulder to a large industrial sink overflowing with pots and pans and dishes of all shapes and sizes, “Finish those dishes, and then we’ll talk.”

    Liam paled. He would never say he was against hard work, but this wasn’t hard work, it was slave labor, “This is because I stole from your grandmother isn’t it?”

     “Yes, it is. Now hurry up, the late lunch rush will arrive soon and you’re going to be even busier when that happens.”

     Liam’s arms were unaccustomed to hard work. He spent the rest of the day wishing they would just fall off so he would have an excuse to go home. Long after the restaurant was closed, the dishes were finally done and Liam was let off the hook with a warning and a jump drive containing all the information John wanted. If he had been less tired, he would have been more wary.

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