Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 10

      If Liam lamented any one aspect of his chosen profession, it would be the solitude. Co-workers never stuck around long after they found out Liam was a thief. That, and the benefits of having a thief on the payroll are notoriously short. Unless there was a dire need for industrial espionage, Liam’s bag of skills weren’t in high demand. In fact, if asked what thieves were good for, most would respond that thieves are good at taking things from others. Liam wholeheartedly disagreed with this limited view. Thieves certainly were good at taking things, but they were also good at putting things back. The need to employ this vital secondary skill had arisen just recently. While stealing from an auction house for Simon, Liam waylaid a lot of other expensive, small items into the pockets of the greedy and gullible. It was the ensuing pandemonium when everyone made a break for it that had almost allowed him to get away without getting killed. Almost.

     Having spent the majority of his life working solo, Liam’s experience of office life was very limited. Thankfully, he had spent enough time in cities to know what to look for. Every office is like a river. There’s a flow to things that you can see once you look hard enough. Some workers are fish, who swim around the stream and make themselves useful wherever they’re needed. Some are the very river itself, who drift along in a line, passing work and rumors along like flowing waters. Most importantly, are the workers who function as the riverbanks. Those workers are the ones who keep the office drama contained and help everyone to move forward. Those are the corporate rocks which allow a business to function, thrive, and succeed.

     Normally, Liam would be looking for those workers; the stable ones who could weather the storm which Liam was about to rain down on their heads. Perhaps it made sense, given their genocidal business, that stability wasn’t a strong suit at the Society. As Liam stopped at the first few desks and asked some questions their office current rapidly became clear. The atmosphere here resembled a poisonous, stagnant swamp. Asking further workers only confirmed Liam’s suspicions. These were all ex-military, picked for their temperament and willingness to kill for money. They had been hired with Operation Nightingale in mind. That very same Operation had been so recently defunded by Liam himself, with a little help from John Neelan. That left a majority of the workers in a long term holding pattern, being paid lower wages for warming their desk chairs and reading endless reports.

     With that much pent up hostility in one building, all Liam needed to do was set the stage. Working his way from desk to desk, Liam stopped and mingled. He asked questions about what needed repairing. Every person told him something, and gave him far more information than they realized. As he talked, he made a list of these complaints. Lists look official and stop people from asking too many questions. The list would also allow Liam to categorically break everything on his way out of the building. The most notable complaint, which made Liam perk up the most, was about the heat. He had noticed it when he entered the offices. Someone needed to talk to the dragon about toning down the heat because it was summer. Nobody wanted to be the one go to talk to a dragon, so they left that bit to Liam. While he listened, he stole things. Small things, valuable things, inexpensive things, it hardly mattered so long as it fit somewhere on his person. He took them onwards to someone else’s desk and put them down. Some of the objects in question made their way to a common area. One especially expensive looking pen vanished into a potted plant, sticking about halfway out.

     Once Liam made his rounds, the first floor was a powder keg waiting for someone to notice where his heirloom golden pen had gotten to. He also possessed a list of complaints about mechanical problems as long as his arm. Liam felt safe in saying step two of his brilliant plan was done. Leaving the office and taking the elevator, Liam waved at the guards by the front door. One of them actually smiled and waved back, his suit creaking with strained threads as he did so. Apparently, the friendly repairman gets a little attention. The second floor contained far fewer offices. It did have a common room, a break room and a few other rooms Liam didn’t recognize. One of them bore the word “Interrogation” which caused Liam to reconsider exploring too far.

     Before leaving the floor, Liam went over the list of grievances and gave them what his father had called “the spit-polish” fix. It worked thusly. Find a broken thing and fix it just well enough to function until you were gone. His father had worked as a repairman who knew that in order to get more work, you needed things to be broken. What he hadn’t considered was that if you pulled this trick too many times, someone would definitely catch on. Liam still found it a valuable skill to have. His sizable list mentioned quite a few broken things on this floor. Liam worked hard to repair them just enough to work for a few days before they would fall apart again, and catastrophically so. His favorite was the enormous coffee machine. It had garnered a reputation for leaking. Liam stopped the leak and loosened every joint just enough so that using it would cause stress and eventually, the coffee maker would fall apart in a wave of hot water.

    Quickly making an exit to the elevator, Liam braced himself for what was left. The top two floors were where the important people resided. That’s how buildings worked. The elevator dinged once it reached the first of the two Society occupied floors at the top of the building. Liam wasn’t willing to risk running into someone who might recognize him on the top floor. Adrian Denavi, the maniacal red-eyed liaison to the Five Families, was a particular risk. It’s hard to forget someone you’ve tried to kill. It’s not as though Liam was worried about getting caught. It’s hard to get caught in a skyscraper when you can’t die. It might be a long ways down, but so long as Liam could smash himself through a window, he would get out alright. What scared him was his affiliation with the Nair family, though it was tenuous and involved black mail. If Adrian found out Liam had been messing with the Society again, he would blame Simon. It wouldn’t matter if he sent Liam, or if he even knew what Liam was up to, he would still get blamed. Liam was done having people’s blood on his hands. Well, the wrong people’s blood.

     The floor opened out from the elevator into a wide open space. Directly ahead of Liam, a large fountain occupied the center of the floor. Large benches were placed around it at regular intervals, with seats facing inward towards the fountain and outwards towards the windows. Light streamed in through the windows all around the floor, illuminating everything. Suddenly, the fanaticism the Society displayed seemed a lot more appropriate. The floors were marble, the walls were marble, and the ceilings shone in a way that only polished marble can. This floor looked more like a palace than an office. Perhaps once the Five Families were gone, the Society intended to pick up the reigns over whatever was left?

     The dull roar of people milling around waiting for something to occupy themselves with was absent. In fact, as Liam quickly scanned the room, he realized that nobody was on the floor but him. As he searched his memory, he vaguely remembered there being an important meeting for the Society coming up. All the more reason to stay off the top floor.

     All four corners of the massive floor were occupied by corner offices, set apart by glass walls. Each one possessed two desks, a smaller one for a secretary guard, and a massive desk in a smaller interior office. Above the door into each room, the name of a continent was written.

     Each district office for most of the world was represented in these rooms. At the moment, they were empty. It turns out that lady luck smiled on Liam for the time being. That meant he had to hurry and wrap up, before lady misfortune glowered. Rushing into the African office, Liam raced to the bigger desk in the corner and poked his nose into every drawer. Nothing of note, a few small things worth stealing, but nothing else. What really caused Liam’s eyes to light up was the computer on the executive’s desk. Their meeting must have started recently, because the desktop was still on and hummed softly in the background. An e-mail had been pulled up on the desktop. It must have been important, because it repeatedly stressed that this was an internal e-mail meant only for executives. Liam scanned it, hardly understanding what he read. What he did understand were the words “Reply All”. Adding every single e-mail in the poor executives entire notebook, he pressed send.

     If he hadn’t been working on the clock before, he really was on crunch time now. There was no way the Society wouldn’t notice an e-mail intended for upper management had been sent from one of their own to everyone on his e-mail list, from the lowest janitor to his old college friends. Quickly, Liam dashed from office to office. None of them offered quite the opportunity that an open and unlocked desktop had managed to give him, but the office for Australia had quite the juicy memo about potential downsizing. Liam snatched it up and headed for the elevator. Back down he went, to fix a few last things.

     The guards standing next to the doors waved, although one of them seemed confused as to why he had returned so early from his adventures to the top floor. Liam waved as he went back into the offices on the first floor, walking with the determined gait of a man who needed to be somewhere in a hurry or he would get his ass chewed out something fierce. That walk clicked with the second guard and he turned to mention it to his more suspicious compatriot, who seemed satisfied with the explanation given.

     From there, Liam went all the way down to the second level of the basement, stopping in front of the dragon. Taking a quick breath, he wiped his brow.

     “It is not often a human returns to me a second time. You do not even belong here, tiny human. Please, leave me in peace to work.”

     “About that. I was wondering if you could crank the heat up in the entire building?”
“Would that not cause great discomfort?”

     “With everything that’s about to happen, extreme discomfort is the least of their worries.”

     Even though Liam hadn’t given any details on his plan to the dragon, it hardly seemed inclined to argue. Stuck in a basement when you were meant to fly, that would give anyone a powerful chip on their shoulder. Sucking in it’s breath, the dragons chest expanded outward like a balloon, scales pushing outward from the growing bulge. Liam watched with fascination as a dragon brought flame to life. Out from its mouth in a stream that was smaller than Liam would have expected, it went into the funnel and up the pipes. He couldn’t tell if the temperature in the building had gone up yet, but it certainly had gone up in the basement. It felt like standing next to an open vat of molten steel.

     Walking back up the stairs, Liam inspected the work his Dirt Gremlins had done. Their paint of dirt & grease covered almost every globe. As he walked through the room, inspecting the locks and the globes of light hanging from the ceiling, he found himself trailed by three Dirt Gremlins. Once he was satisfied that it was time to get to work, he got to picking the locks of every single globe in the whole room. Now, more than ever, time was incredibly short. It took far too long to get the fairies to listen, and even once they had started nodding, Liam wasn’t entirely sure they had understood him.

     Liam was going to leave the basement, but that heavy door at the top was going to remain just slightly ajar. Liam managed to pack the Dirt Gremlins into the bag and get it over his shoulder. He would go upstairs first. The fairies would wait about two minutes and then fly out after him. The glass doors would hardly stop them. Those orbs they had been locked into only gave them trouble due to their thickness and inability to work up some speed before they hit the glass. With as many fairies as would be flying through all at once, there was no doubt in Liam’s mind they would make their way out. He left them some matches. Liam wanted to set fire to the globes himself, but nobody would be able to overlook a major fire and fairy escape just as he left the basement. With that, Liam fled upstairs and made his way towards the front door. On the way out, he gave a cheery thumbs up to some workers, but already the added heat was fueling tensions that would likely blow out of proportion by the end of the day.

     Crossing the street, Liam walked to the corner and waited, just out of sight, for the fireworks to begin. He didn’t have to wait long. Not even five minutes after he’d left, a shower of fairies blew through the large window at the front of the Society Headquarters, like a tornado made of a million tiny lights. It spiraled upwards before splitting off into multiple directions. Men with guns ran out and began shooting at them, managing to take down a handful as the rest flew out of range, over buildings, into the distance and their freedom. Shuffling his bag a few times to calm the Dirt Gremlins down, Liam turned around the corner and left. With nobody to blame, if Liam had done his job well enough, the pent up aggression would be turned inwards to disastrous results.

     Liam hardly wished ill on them, though he did think anyone willing to work for the Society for the Protection of Humankind was an asshole too large for this world. What they had brought down, they had brought down on themselves. As he trudged back to his apartment, a small paper butterfly landed on his shoulder. Plucking it down, Liam opened it and read the note. “It makes me nervous when I don’t know where you are. Come and see me at once, I have work.” Ah, shit. Liam felt almost a hundred percent certain he had been busted. Well, he knew how to play this game. If Simon wanted to know what he had been up to, he would have to work for it like everyone else.

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