Of all the skills Liam had acquired over a long career of picking pockets and failing to make friends, he considered knowing when to give up to be at the top of the list. It was an important survival skill, knowing when something had gone tits up and legging it out of there. He rated it, alongside never using public restrooms and not eating food handfed to you by insistent, suspicious strangers, as one of those skills non-thieves can use as well. What he needed to learn now was how to say no to his new friend, Simon. Turning friends down wasn’t a skill he’s needed very frequently, and so it was an often unused skill. The job Simon gave him was too big, something that quickly became apparent as they discussed the details. Liam immediately utilized his skill of giving up and admitted he needed help on this one. That was how he found himself standing in front of the Rever family house, atop the wall, and waving his arms frantically in order to gain Jenny Rever’s attention.
He could see her through the window to her room. She was assassinating her stuffed animal collection. As he jumped up and down on the wall, eyed suspiciously by the massive terriers on the ground, he could almost make out what she was saying.
“Tell me where the pink unicorn is and I’ll let you live, Mr. Frog.” She held a knife to the throat of a giant stuffed frog wearing a fancy waistcoat and shirt, but Liam found himself fixated on the fact that it wore no pants. As he waved his arms, it occurred to Liam that trying to get her attention while jumping around on a high wall was hardly the safest idea.
Jenny stopped her attack and suddenly peered out the window, her bright pink mask sticking out like a glitter covered thumb in her pink nightmare of a room. Suddenly, she flung her stuffed prisoner aside and leapt towards the window. In a single bound, she was crouched on the window sill, her legs tensing for another jump. Liam opened his mouth to protest and braced himself for impact. Before he could say a word, she launched herself across the open space and crashed into Liam, sending him tumbling from the wall with her on top. He hit the pavement head first with a grunt of pain. Everything went black. When he came to, Jenny was still cuddling him, an enormous grin on her face, as she hugged him tightly enough that he could hear his ribs cracking slightly.
“I missed you, Liam!” She pulled back and sat next to him, waiting for him to recover.
Quickly checking to make sure all his bits were still in working order, Liam could feel his ribs slowly recovering from their hug attack, “Jenny, I missed you too. I came because I need your help. I was asked to…”
“Yeah, sure. When do we go? Do I get to kill someone?”
Liam blinked in surprise a few times. Her breathless enthusiasm shouldn’t have caught him off guard anymore, but it still managed to somehow, “Don’t you want to know what the job is before you take me up on the offer?”
“Do I get to spend time with Liam?”
“Well, yeah. Several weeks of planning and then one hectic night of execution.”
“Then I’m in. Just tell me what you need me to do.”
That she said yes so readily was inspiring to Liam, though the moment was ruined slightly when she grabbed his cheeks and squished them around in a circle, “I could never say no to cute ratty Liam.”
Reaching into a pocket, Liam handed her a piece of paper, “We’re meeting up tonight at my place. Show up and be ready for a long night. We’re only going to get one shot at this, so I want everything to be perfect.”
Rising to his feet on entirely unsteady legs, Liam headed off to his next destination. The first stop was easy, but the next one was going to be much more difficult. This job would require more than killing, it required smarts. Thankfully, Liam knew three ne’er do wells who had recently been hired by Simon Nair, and they worked on the cheap. Out of respect for the three killers he himself had been tracking recently, he wove a trail around New York and took care to make sure he wasn’t being followed before he headed to their home under the bridge. Walking past the invisible wall and into their home, he couldn’t help but feel nervous. He might have shared a meal with them, but he did it while they discussed killing him.
To his surprise, they were all up and they were all working. Christopher Goodbody wore the same, threadbare clothes he had been wearing when they had met. He was working in their garden, tilling the earth and planting new seeds. JJ, as her friends called her, sat in front of their home, leaning a chair against a wall. She was wearing a black sleeveless skirt with a hood, which she had pulled over her head. She had a laptop balanced on her knees and she was busily typing away at it. Robert Rever sat close by her, fiddling with some netting. A large wooden bucket lay on the ground right next to him, filled with dead pigeons.
“I hope I’m not intruding,” Liam said as he walked closer to them.”
Christopher stopped what he was doing, his hoe held high over his head, “Oh, Liam! What brings you back to our neck of the woods so soon?” Robert eyed him suspiciously through his sunglasses, but JJ ignored him entirely.
“Somehow, I thought you would be madder at me after what happened last time we met.”
Stabbing the shaft of his hoe into the ground, Christopher laughed, “Yeah, me too. It turns out working for Simon saved our lives.”
Now Liam was even more confused, “You mean after he beat you to a bloody pulp?”
“Pretty much immediately afterwards. You weren’t the only ones getting close to finding us. When the DeLuca’s sent their goons in to grab us, Simon showed up and told them to keep their grubby mitts out of his business. Now we’re safe, and it’s all thanks to him.”
“And to you, Liam,” JJ spoke without looking up from her laptop, “after all, if you hadn’t found us, we never would have this kind of protection to do our work.”
“Speaking of work, I got a job from Simon recently and I was wondering if I could get your help.”
Robert turned his eyes back to his work, “We don’t work for free, you know.”
Liam rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a note wrapped up in a five dollar bill, “For your time.”
Christopher snatched them from his hands and walked over to JJ, reading the note as he went, “He picks up on things quick, JJ. Let’s give this a whirl.”
JJ read the note before returning to her laptop, “I’m still against this. We’ve all left the Five Families for our own reasons. Even if I accept that Simon isn’t the same as the rest of them, I don’t like it.”
“We can’t expect him to protect us if we’re not willing to do some work. I get the impression he would do it anyways, but I don’t like ignoring the hand that feeds you.”
“If it makes you feel any better,” Robert finally spoke, “Liam is the one actually paying us. Technically, the job is coming from him.”
“Fine,” JJ snapped her laptop shut and rose to her feet in one motion, “We’ll take the job.”
“Oh, thank God. That was far more painless than I thought it would be. That’s my address I gave you, and some instructions. Don’t wear anything white.”
With that, Liam left that and went to get help from one more person. Gramps and his work board. The job Simon gave him was simple, but it wasn’t one which Liam could do on his own. The Society for the Preservation of Humankind was holding a gala to raise funds. Liam was sure there were other funds being gathered, but this was a big pay day. It was what he called “high society smash and grab” and the way it went down was pretty simple. Someone like the Society gets all thier supporters in a room and reminds them that you have the majority of their balls over a fire. Donation to the cause was optional, but so was staying out of jail, not to mention every gossip rag in the country. Liam’s job was surprisingly complex. Find out who was being coerced, and also wasn’t a homicidal, xenophobic maniac, and get them out of a bad situation.
That alone would have been complicated enough, but the second part of the instructions was why Liam definitely needed help. In the case of the aforementioned homicidal, xenophobic maniacs, kill them. Kill them and make it look like an accident, or like the Society actually followed through with their threats. Liam had never been a fighter, though he had lost his fair share of scraps. He certainly had never killed anyone, though recently some deaths could be laid at his feet. That experience, being responsible for someone’s death, had taught him something. Just because you caused someone’s death doesn’t mean you’re always going to feel bad about it.
Liam had a guest list to the gala, and he doubted very highly that all of them were squeaky clean. In fact, he was certain of it, because otherwise there wouldn’t be anything of note for the Society to blackmail them with. Liam wasn’t interested in the small fries, though, he wanted to find out which ones were truly villainous and which ones were just idiots who got caught in the wrong time or place.
This sort of dilemma was where the Job Board shone the brightest, and Liam had been there recently so making another stop was hardly a big deal. The shop smelled exactly the same as it had last time. It felt strange, going back to Gramp’s place after his life had changed so much. Making his way to the Board, Liam was relieved to see smoke curling up from behind the massive piles on the desk in front of the board.
“Hey Gramps, I need to look at the Board.”
There was a loud coughing from the other side of the board, “Are you looking for the big one, Liam? Finally moving up in the world? I said it to all my friends, Liam is the best. You shouldn’t be swimming around in the little ponds. Get out there are strike it rich!”
“Sorry to disappoint, Gramps, I just need some information for a job I’m working with some friends. I’m not sure I’ll be getting much out of it, though.”
Crossing around the desk and standing next to Gramps, Liam scanned the board quickly, looking for names which matched up with the guest list Simon had given him. He found a smattering of names which sounded right and unpinned their information one at a time.”
“Hey, Liam,” Gramps kicked his leg gently, “Since when did you become so altruistic?”
“Since I learned that I can steal more than cash or credit. I can steal myself a home, too.”
“Guess I won’t be seeing you around anymore, Liam. If you’re on the straight and narrow, don’t let me see you around here anymore.” The smoke in Gramp’s eyes was clearly causing him to tear up.
“Don’t worry, Gramps. Just because I’m working on the side of the angels doesn’t mean I’m just yanking off my horns. I’ll be back around more often for information. Catch you later.”
With that, Liam left him to deal with his sensitive eyes and headed in the direction of home. He wanted his help to meet at his apartment, because he would have known if it had been bugged. He also wanted them to meet there in case there were any fireworks when Jenny met Robert. He really had no idea why two of the three had left their respective families, and he had no idea how Jenny would react to seeing Robert again in person. With that last stop, however, the wheels were in motion and the planning phase could officially begin.