The art of the steal is one of wakefulness. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but if you’re not awake it hardly matters what else you know. Liam should have known better than to go back and see John the day after working the most consecutive hours of honest labor he had ever done. If he had been more awake, he would have seen the runaround he got coming. At least he could have put the screws to John on the way out the door, but that was life. You catch a break and then it breaks you. That’s the way of the world and nothing could be done about it.
Liam arrived back at John’s lair around noon, the earliest he had risen in weeks, with the jump drive Ronaldo had given him. Without even acknowledging his presence, John reached a slender arm over his shoulder and Liam handed him the jump drive. Placing it next to himself and patting it a few times, John spun his chair around to look at Liam, “That’s a good job, little doggie. Now I have another task for you, hopefully not as taxing as the last one”
He could feel the exhaustion setting in as he nodded, “Alright, the amount of money we’re talking about is completely worth it. Tell me what I’m doing.”
“I’ve been working on this job Isaac Neelan gave me. It’s taken me sometime, and though I’m not done, I can at least show some results. I need you to take the files to him and make sure he gets them today. I’ll give you an address, and just think, once you come back here and I get confirmation you actually did the job, you’ll never have to play errand boy again. I should warn you, the files are a little on the heavy side.”
John handed Liam a thick, but entirely manageable piece of paper. Turning it over in his hands, Liam regarded his erstwhile employer with a skeptical and worried glance, “This is heavy, but it’s not that heavy.”
“Oh, that’s the order for lunch you’re going to put in for everyone at the head office. It’s organized by fast food joints, and orders per place. The files are sitting next to the door.”
Turning his head slightly to the left, Liam blanched at the three stacked milk crates full of files. Lifting them took all of his strength. As he walked out the door, Liam knew in his very soul that honest labor was no way to make a living. Stopping quickly at his apartment Liam then made the rounds, gathering food and drinks and learning new ways to balance things while he walked. Large shopping bags became his best friends, and a cooler he bought with wheels managed to fit most of the drinks. By the time he arrived at the address, he was more tired than he had ever been in his life, but luck finally shone on Liam in a way that rarely happened.
Maybe it was his thieve’s intuition, but something told him he was getting screwed. The building in front of him stood amidst a small cluster of fraternity houses for a nearby college. Its noble white columns were missing the beer stains the other houses possessed, and their lawn was only notable by the distinct lack of a beer pong table. Walking inside made Liam feel like he had just walked into CIA headquarters, something he had only done once. The hushed chattering all around was deafening. At the front desk sat a woman with raven black hair and two mismatched eyes, one a light green and one a hazel color.
Hauling his burden up to the front desk, Liam tapped it a few times to get her attention. She looked up and gestured to her head, Liam noticed that she had a pair of headphones on, but there wasn’t a mic. He could barely hear the conversation she was listening in on, and it sounded pretty cloak and dagger. Liam could hardly believe it. The Neelan family had their receptionist spying on the building.
“I’m here to deliver food, and some papers to Isaac Neelan.”
Without missing a beat, the receptionist pulled out a map of the building and scribbled out a plan of action, giving directions for how to hand the food out and where Isaac’s office was when he finished. Liam struggled to get everything together, walking from office to office, delivering big macs and bacon cheeseburgers to everyone who ordered them, but that’s not all he did. Spying is hard work, Liam could attest to this. At the very least, spying is hungry work, so when Liam left food in each office he could hardly blame the workers for not noticing when something went missing. An expensive gold lighter here, a small, but decedent, crystal vase in another room, he gave them drinks from his rolling cooler and replaced the space with small trinkets from the office. He had to be careful, because cameras were just about everywhere in the hallways, but for some reason, not a single office had any visible cameras. Liam was willing to put good money down that there were cameras, but nobody seemed to care, or notice, so Liam kept going until he reached the end of his food run and reached Isaac’s office. It stood in the third floor, towards the rear of the building, overlooking the backyard.
A younger Liam would have waited nervously before entering, but that was before his constant brushes with greatness. Tapping the door three times, Liam entered and put the stacks of milk crates on the floor directly in front of Isaac’s desk. The man himself stood in front of a large set of windows overlooking the backyard. Liam waited for a few long moments to see if there was anything else, but when Isaac remained unmoving, as though he hadn’t even noticed Liam’s presence, he left the way he had come, cooler in tow. To his surprise, the secretary just let him walk right out, without even checking his cooler of goodies. If anything, his cooler was leaking water and she only looked grateful that he was going to be gone.
After dropping the cooler off at his apartment, once again, Liam returned to John’s room. For the first time since he had ever been into the room, he found it cleaned out from top to bottom. All the files and all the trash were gone, leaving Liam to realize just how much was crammed into John’s tiny room and how tiny his room truly was. Without all the clutter, the bare walls and tiny bed became all the more apparent. Liam knocked on his door as he stepped in to get his attention.
“I finished the work you gave me, now give me my cut of the money.”
John smiled, “I can’t give it to you Liam. I’ve got my half and yours already went out to a myriad of locations.”
“What locations? I can just go ahead and steal it back.”
“I donated it to cancer research, Toys for Tots and around three dozen other charities that will be sending you thank you notes soon. I’d imagine they’ll be sending you envelopes requesting money for the rest of your natural life, which could be a very long time.”
For the first time, Liam was entirely lost for words. He’d been played, and played so good there would be no getting those losses back. Staying any longer would result in violence, and Liam could hardly afford to fight John. He wasn’t even sure he would win, despite the pale complexion of his pasty opponent. This was hardly over, not by a long shot, but Liam would have to satisfy himself by fencing the priceless works of art he had managed to steal from the main Neelan office.
Before that, he needed to report to Simon on the progress. Even if the Society and Operation Nightingale were officially defunded and Simon no longer needed to sell their theft to his father, he would still want to know some of the things Liam had learned. The account information itself was useless, because once someone knew their illegal dummy accounts had been exposed they would hardly be using them again, but the names of those who were supporting the Society for the Protection of Humankind were hardly going to change.
By the time Liam arrived at the Nair mansion, it had started to grow dark. The New York City summer heat had begun to fade at least into a balmy evening, and yet the mansion had as much hustle and bustle as ever. It wasn’t often that Liam came to the mansion this late in the evening, so he was unsure if this was normal late night activity, or if it was something out of the ordinary. As soon as he stepped in through the massive front doors, he knew something was wrong.
The lines of creatures leading up to the clerks wrapped around the room, and the benches where creatures normally waited their turns were entirely empty. Crowds are just as capable of emotions as individuals are, and Liam caught a distinct whiff of fear in the air as he surveyed the ordered panic in front of him. Dotted around the edges of the room, armed and ready, were members of the Nair family Liam hardly knew and black suited security guards. What surprised Liam more than anything was that he found Simon on the ground floor for the first time since he had been visiting the mansion.
Liam found him easily because he was only one of two people sitting down in the entire room. As he got closer and rounded the bench, he could see the creature Simon was conversing with. It was a small gnome wearing a black outfit. His Payot moved under his wide brimmed hat as he shook his head at what Simon said to him, which Liam missed as he got closer.
“No, there was no warning at all. We had no time to get out, they were everywhere. So many of us didn’t get out at all.”
Simon placed a hand on the gnome’s shoulder, “I’m sorry for your losses, Abram. I’ve sent out some of my people and a few Revers as an escort, with any luck we’ll locate some survivors. I hope you’ll accept our hospitality while your people recover. My house is open to you, as long as you need it.”
“Thank you, Simon. I must see that all the families that came with me are settled.”
Simon sat back, a dark expression crossing his face, until his left eye scanned over and caught sight of Liam, “Oh, you’re alive.”
Liam was hardly sure of what to make of that statement, “I usually am, unless I’m not, but that hardly sticks.”
“So how did the work go?”
“We managed to get a list of people funding the Society for the Protection of Humankind. They were working to fund something called “Operation Nightingale”.
“And what the hell is that?”
“They want to kill you all. Not just the Five Families, but literally every non-human creature in existence.”
“That sounds like something Adrian would plan. He’s never been one to do anything by half measures.”
“I took the information to John Neelan and we cleaned them out. I’ve still got a list of people who were funding it, in case you want to know. It reads like a list of “Whose Who” amongst the scum of this city.”
To his surprise, Simon hung his head and buried his face in his hands, “I suppose I should be grateful that I don’t have to explain to Abram why my plan of robbing the crazed genocidal maniacs got his people killed. That one is on you, Liam. You should have known better than to rob people like that.”
“Are you telling me this is my fault?”
Sparing a glance at Liam with his left eye, Simon slowly straightened out, “We’ve had a massive attack by admittedly unknown attackers on the gnome settlement in Greenwich Village mere days, if not hours, after you rob them blind. I think it’s a safe bet that this is retaliation. ‘Don’t mess with us or we’ll just go ahead and kill you’ is what they were trying to say. If there’s any consolation here, it’s that this sudden outburst of violence won’t be so easily hidden from the public. They’re going to be forced to give us some breathing room now. Go home, Liam. I’ll send for you when I need you.”
Turning on his heel and heading for the door, Liam realized that he had broken the cardinal rule of thieving. A good thief steals from those who can afford it. A good thief makes no ripples, and doesn’t hurt anyone unless it’s to save his own skin. Liam’s greed had blinded him, and a lot of people had died because it was his brilliant idea to steal from some very dangerous people. He was hardly aware of his trip home, his feet found their way to his apartment and he made his way to bed. He would spend the next few days there, not really sleeping, but not really awake either. A thief should never be so greedy that he’s prepared to let people die for his own benefit. Nobody should be willing to put other’s lives at risk for their own personal gain. Liam certainly wasn’t. He knew exactly how he was going to make it right, though.