Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 15

     Liam considered himself to be reasonably accomplished and worldly. He’d lived in, and stolen from citizens of multiple large cities over the course of his life. Somehow, he’d even managed to take in some culture. Usually, it was whatever he could fit into his pocket while a crowd of wealthy socialites waited for an intermission to end. There were, however, times when Liam clearly saw the flaws of his upbringing. This occasion was certainly one of them. Nobody had ever taught Liam how to politely refuse an invitation from a new acquaintance. It suddenly became an especially pressing issue when confronted with the food he had been invited to eat.

     Liam stared mournfully at the bowl in front of him. A pack of scraggly, funny shaped carrots poked out of the stew to stare at him. When he dipped his spoon in, he found a small bounty of meat, but it looked grey and smelled diseased and gamey.

     “It’s pigeon. The other dark-white meat. They fly down under here all the time, so we put out nets on occasion. It took some getting used to, but it really hits the spot.” Christopher had already finished two helpings of mutant carrot and flying squirrel. He had a third in front of him.

     Liam ignored him and slowly took in his surroundings. They weren’t at all what he expected. The hidden base of these rejects turned out to be incredibly cozy. With a little help from an Aliway, who remained nameless, they had managed to hollow out the hills under each side of the bridge. That meant each floor was a little cramped, but there were a lot of them. A spiral staircase lead to the higher floors. The main floor had a table, a roaring fireplace with a large tea pot hanging over it, and something which passed for a kitchen.

     His three captors turned hosts watched him avoid eating his soup. Christopher seemed the most carefree of the group, as Liam expected of a Goodbody. He’d taken his hair down, but other than that his attire remained unchanged. He leaned back in his chair, his attention mostly focused on the meal in front of him. Robert Rever had spent the meal thus far staring at the table. He had changed out his disguise into a white t-shirt and shorts. The one Liam was having a hard time reading was JJ, as her friends called her. She still wore her coveralls, though she had unzipped the top and tied it around her waist. She seemed petite for a Neelan, not that Liam was complaining.

     Finally, he returned his gaze to his three hosts and asked the most pressing question, which had been burning away in his mind since he first took the job, “What could possibly be worth this lifestyle? You’re a bunch of rejects with no social prospects, who smell bad, and…”

      “We could still decide to kill you, mister.”

     “Point made. It just seems like you’re making a lot of enemies, and I don’t see what you’re getting out of it.”

     JJ chewed her soup thoughtfully before she responded, “Hopefully, we get a better world. Even a petty thief like you should be able to see this world is going mad.”

     “So you’re telling me you’re all rejects from your families and suddenly, you grew a conscience? You want me to believe you’re making the world a better place? Ok, fine. You’re killing some real bastards, and doing it for nothing.I’m sure Christopher killed his brother with the same noble intentions.”

     Robert Rever rose from his seat, but in that same instant Christopher tugged his arm hard enough to slam him back into his seat, “I refuse to let you kill anyone in our home. It may not be a Goodbody home, but we’re still family. Let’s call calm down and act like it.”

Crossing his hands across his chest, Robert leaned back away from Liam, “If he makes another remark like that, I’ll kill him for sure.”

     Christopher reached across the table towards Liam, who flinched away, but he only grabbed his bowl and pulled it over to dig in. Between bites, he responded to Liam, “My brother was a mad dog who deserved to be put down. Killing him quickly was more a grace than he deserved and the world is a better place without him.”

     “Why Simon wants to meet you, I have no idea. I’m just a messenger, but I’m not convinced at all. You’re just cut-rate vigilantes with delusions of grandeur.”

     Shaking her head, JJ poked at her bowl, “We’re not interested, either way. The Five Families grow corrupt and bloated with every passing generation. It’s pointless to…”

     JJ trailed off as a small paper butterfly floated past her face and perched on Liam’s shoulder. Grabbing it, he pulled the paper open and read the note. It only had one word. “Duck.”

     Liam didn’t have time to duck. Nobody would have been able to react to such a ridiculous note on time. The door blew open, pushed inward by thousands of tiny paper wings. More butterflies than Liam could count flew into the room and circled around him, landing on him and all around his chair.

     “Well, it was a nice run while it lasted,” Christopher Goodbody intoned as he rose to his feet.

     “That’s remarkably fatalistic of you, Christopher,” Robert Rever joined him, stretching his arms in preparation for a fight.”

     “I thought that was your thing, Rever.”

     “I’m a realist, not a fatalist, Goodbody.”

     A voice called from outside their home, “I want everyone in there to come out with your hands up, Liam included!”

     Liam perked up at the sound of Simon’s voice, “Wait, why am I being treated like a criminal?”

     There was a long pause before Simon answered, “Really? I need to answer that question?”

     Without any more arguing, to Liam’s surprise, all three killers exited the building. They didn’t put their hands above their heads. They left without grabbing any weapons, which said a lot for their confidence levels. Walking over after them, Liam could hardly believe what he saw. Simon stood under the bridge, and he was all alone. Liam had just witnessed the idiot killer trio taking out a high profile target all on their own. Any one of them could have done it on their own, if they hadn’t cared about working clever.

     Simon wore a suit, as he often did, but he had removed his jacket. It lay on the ground in front of him. As Liam exited, he was rolling his sleeves up, “I hope none of you hurt my friend. I would hate to have to hurt you anymore than I’m already going to have to.”
“What happens now?” Christopher cracked his knuckles and watched Simon’s every move.

     “I thought I would start by beating you all to a bloody pulp, and then I was going to offer you a job.”

     All three killers seemed thoroughly confused by this direct declaration, “Is this how he normally makes job offers?”

     Thinking back to his own hiring, Liam nodded, “Pretty much, but you better get started.”

     Thieves don’t often have to fight. In Liam’s mind, if you’ve been caught, you’ve already failed. Still, he had seen plenty of fights and his hosts certainly impressed him with their teamwork. They began by surrounding him. No point in taking on a heavy weight like Simon Nair head on. Christopher Goodbody, as the heavy hitter of the team, took up a position directly in front of him. Robert Rever circled around behind him. JJ vanished, or at least that’s what Liam thought, until he noticed Simon looking right at her. She seemed confused too, as though she hadn’t expected to be seen, even though she was standing in plain sight.

     Christopher made a sudden dash at Simon, “You shouldn’t take your eyes off your opponent like that!” Directing a punch at his head, Christopher looked the very picture of confidence.

     Without turning his head, or removing his left eye from JJ, he turned his right eye to look directly at Christopher, “I didn’t.” Brushing aside his punch, Simon guided him to the left and drew him directly into the path of Robert, who had been rushing up behind him. They collapsed in a heap. Raising his foot up, Simon brought it crashing downwards towards their heads. A shot rang out and he was forced to abandon that in order to dodge backwards.

     “I won’t let you hurt them,” JJ held a smoking pistol in her hand. Liam was fascinated, because he always thought members of the Five Families avoided firearms.

     Simon closed his right eye and gazed at her with his yellow left eye. It’s slitted pupil, which had always given Liam the heebie-jeebies, thinned to a small line, “You don’t have a choice.” JJ wobbled for a few seconds before collapsing forward.

     Seeing their comrade fall for no reason touched a nerve in the other two. They rushed at him with a clear intent to kill. It wasn’t much use. Two members of the Five Families facing off against one Nair, and they couldn’t even touch him. Whatever they threw at him, he dodged it as though he could see it coming. Their fighting grew more and more vicious, and for once Liam saw the temper Simon was infamous for come out. He was hitting them a little too hard, but not in places which would end the fight. He wanted them bruised and bloody, but still capable of fighting so he could hurt them more.

     “Any time you want in on this, let me know Liam,” Simon threw Christopher to his left, directly into Robert’s path, who was again attempting to sneak up on him.

     “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just enjoying the show,” Liam wasn’t getting involved in whatever Simon was trying to pull.

     Long after the sun had gone down, they were still fighting, but Simon was gradually gaining more and more of an upper hand. Finally, the fight came to an end, mostly because his opponents couldn’t move anymore.

     “Alright,” Christopher wheezed, “You win. Do whatever you want to. We have no right to complain.”

     Simon cocked his head, “I though Liam told you I wanted to offer you some work. I wasn’t using some fancy euphemism for murder.”

     Robert coughed up some blood, “We’re never working for the Five Families again.”

     “Not even if I asked you to kill the Fourteen Kings?”

     The two conscious members of the trio went silent. Liam coughed, “Fourteen what now? Why didn’t you just as me? I could at least find them for you.”

     “Oh, Liam. That’s so sweet of you to volunteer for something so terribly dangerous.”

     “Dangerous? I unvolunteer.”

     “That’s what I thought.”

     Christopher Goodbody raised a hand, “Hold up, you seriously want us to kill the Fourteen Kings? Are you mad? They’re the pillars of Mythic society! Hell, I’ve never even seen one so they might as well be myths to me!”

     “One king for each race,” Simon intoned, “Fourteen kings who meet once a decade to decide the fate of Mythic peoples, with the Five Families. They are pillars of Mythic society, but they’re rotten to the core. With all the tension going on between us and the Society right now, the last thing we need is war. That seems to be all the Fourteen Kings want. I need them dead.”

     “What if we say no?”

     Simon reached down and grabbed his suit coat, pulling an envelope from one of the pockets and handing it to Christopher, “Here’s payment up front. Five dollars for each king. You wanted to make the world a better place, but you’re snuffing out small time crooks? Get real, you haven’t made a difference. Pull on your adult undergarments and head up to the big leagues.”

     Liam slowly rose to his feet, “It’s over?”

     Simon nodded, “Yeah, it’s over. Did you die?”

     Brushing the dirt from his knees, Liam shook his head, “Almost, but mostly that was your fault.”

     “I told you I was sorry.”

     “Buy me booze.”

     Liam followed Simon as he headed home. It wasn’t loyalty, really it wasn’t. It was that Simon offered to buy him booze to water his wounded ego. He totally wasn’t becoming good friends with his employer. He hadn’t been worried about him at all during that fight. He wasn’t about to ask him how his day was going, “So, what have you been up to today?”

     “Not much. I spent most of it with my father, then I came to get you.”
Shit. Somewhere along the line, they’d become friends. The worst part was that Liam realized it.

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