Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 19

     Liam knew he wasn’t exactly leader material. He lacked some of the most basic, and yet most important requirements to become one. He didn’t have a white cat to stroke, or a fancy chair to sit in while doing it. He lacked the ability to safely incorporate people who couldn’t die into his plans. Most glaringly, he wasn’t exactly able to stop his team from killing each other, which is a pretty sound leadership skill which doesn’t appear on most people’s resumes. It’s not a skill you think about, though, until every person you’re working with is crowded into one room, glaring at each other.

    Scanning the rogues gallery assembled in his dingy apartment, Liam mentally recalculated for the glaring smiling exception to the ill feelings in the air. Jenny just looked happy to be spending time with him, completely oblivious to the murderous face Robert Rever was shooting her. If looks could kill, he would have already done so and been on the road back home. Christopher Goodbody and JJ were also picking up on the dangerous mood in the room, though of the two, Christopher seemed the more concerned. He looked ready to step between Jenny and Robert in an instant, should the need arise. Liam was, quite honestly, surprised it hadn’t arisen already.

     “Is there a reason why you didn’t tell us Jenny Rever was coming to this meeting too?” Christopher spared a sympathetic glance at Robert, which went entirely unnoticed though his haze of anger.

     “Because I knew you wouldn’t show up if I told you she was coming,” Liam responded matter of factly, as though he had just stated the obvious.

     “Sounds legit,” JJ flipped through her phone as she spoke, “Why are the Dirt Gremlins here?”

     “They live here.”

     “And why are you still here?”

     “Because this apartment is dirt cheap.”

     Christopher ran a finger along a wall. It came away black, and when he tried to rub the material off on something, it stubbornly refused to come off, “It’s certainly dirty, I’ll give you that.”

     “Everyone just shut up,” Jenny’s voice had an edge to it that Liam was unused to hearing, “I want to know what the job is so I can help Liam.”

     Liam was slowly gaining an understanding of why Simon lost his temper with Liam so often, “I agree with Jenny. Let’s please focus on the job. You can kill each other and complain about the state of my personal life later. This job was too big for me to focus on alone, so I asked for some help. A week from today, the Society for the Protection of Humankind is holding a blackmail banquet gala.”

     JJ raised a hand, “What exactly is a blackmail banquet?”

     “It’s pretty much the same as a normal banquet, except nobody wants to be there. It’s supposed to be a fundraiser, but really it’s just a bunch of poor suckers the Society has dirt on. They show up, cough up money, and presumably take home some saucy pictures of themselves.”

     Jenny swayed back and forth happily from where she was seated on the floor. A Dirt Gremlin was curled up her lap, snoring peacefully, “And we kill’em all!”

     Liam stuttered to halt, “No! Well, not all of them. Some of these people are good, wholesome folks with families and also people who care about them. They get to go free, once we’ve torched whatever info they have on these people.”

     Christopher ran a strand of his hair through his fingers, “That sounds like two jobs, Liam.”

     “It’s three. Get rid of the info, save the good eggs and smash the bad ones. Oh yeah, and don’t get caught or killed. Simon was strangely specific on that point.” It occurred to Liam that the last instructions were more for anyone who helped Liam, rather than himself.

     With the details and complexity of the job out in the open, the mood in the room changed drastically. JJ got on her laptop and started looking up plans for the location of the blackmail gala. She also worked on getting her hands on a finalized guest list. Christopher was in charge of saving those people worth getting out. He worked on putting together a route to take them out with minimal interference. Liam, despite his protests, was relegated to the position of errand boy. Once JJ knew where the information was being held, Liam would break in and steal it, or render it unusable via Dirt Gremlin.  He couldn’t be seen at the main party, because too many people knew his face. Robert and Jenny were in charge of killing the bad eggs, and Robert worked hard to make sure he knew exactly who his targets were, their habits, their nonverbal tics, anything which would help him kill faster. Jenny helped by putting on plays with unwilling Dirt Gremlins as puppets, which kept her from distracting anyone else. Work went on like this for days. They met at Liam’s apartment, ignoring the Dirt Gremlins who worked on a full sized mural of them all working together.

     With only two days before the gala, they began to rehearse their plans until it felt like a well-oiled machine. The day before, they rested and got all their gear together. Liam sat on the lone couch in his living room and looked around at the maps and the notes, the hours of work they had put into making sure the operation went smoothly.

     Liam generally worked alone, because when one person makes a plan, it’s hard to blame  anyone else if it screwed up. The more moving parts you have, the harder it is to figure out who screwed up. People don’t make multi-billion dollar movies about a row boat crashing, they write them about the Titanic. It’s not that Liam wanted to involve this many people, but there was no way he could get it done alone.

     JJ left first, with her laptop tucked under her arm. She wore a pair of jeans and a hoodie for Long Island University. Nobody ever paid attention to college students. She would monitor their progress, contacting them if something changed. She had access to the security cameras and the building layout for the gala, and she was their eyes on everything. Christopher left shortly after that and headed for the gala. His job was the most complicated out of all of them. He needed to get his list out, in the proper order and not until Liam had erased any information the Society had on them. A few minutes after that, Jenny left, with a disgruntled looking Robert Rever in tow. They merely had to find a small handful of targets and kill them, without anyone seeing it happen, and make it look like the Society did it.

     His apartment felt so empty without people in it. For the first time in his life, Liam felt lonely. Grabbing a backpack from his storage apartment, he opened it up and whistled. Several Dirt Gremlins excitedly hopped over, looking up at Liam expectantly.

     “This is not going to be a regular thing. I just need your help with this one job, then…”

     “Dirty,” one of the Dirt Gremlins said candidly.

     “Yeah, that was an exception too.”

     “Dirty.”

     “Just shut up and get in the damned bag.” Liam zipped his bag up and started for his own job.

     The convention center the gala was being held at looked like a high society fortress. The building was small and squat, with floor to ceiling windows taunting passing pedestrians with a window into opulence. Liam circled around the building and found his way to the back of the building. Unsurprisingly, it was guarded by two Society thugs holding machine guns.

     Slipping a hand into his backpack, Liam snagged a Dirt Gremlin and tugged it out, “I need you to distract those two guards, buddy.”

     The Dirt Gremlin nodded and gripped it’s paint brush, already dripping some unidentifiable black liquid. Liam decided after this job, he was throwing this backpack out. The Dirt Gremlin raced under a car, a small blur in the darkness. Poking its head out from under the car, it flung its paint brush at one of the guards head. That, apparently, was all it took to turn on the murder switch. The guards ran off into the night, chasing after their illusive graffiti artist.

     Liam slipped up to the backdoor. It was locked, but it didn’t take long for him to pick the door and get in. The computers he needed access to were on the third floor. The convention center kept a small room for valuables, and that was where Adrian would stash his things. It would make more sense to keep it somewhere else, but Adrian Denavi was a sadist. He would keep all his knives as close as possible. Liam kept away from the sound of people talking and glasses clinking.

     As he tried to picture the layout of the building in his head, his phone buzzed in his pocket. Slipping his phone out, he answered, “Liam, what’s up?”

     “Liam, we’ve got some complications. Well, potential complications.” JJ’s voice sounded different on the phone, though maybe she was changing the pitch of her voice on purpose.

     “What’s the problem?” Liam eyed a set of stairs as he waited for her to respond.

     There was a long silence before she responded, “Liam, one of the fourteen kings is on the guest list. It was a late addition, they just put it on right now. Gorge Doomsayer. The only information I can find is that he’s the Dwarven king. He must be working for the Society, or with them somehow. “

     “Shit, I thought you said those kings were legendary. You didn’t even know who they were until you found out about this one. We can’t add any more changes to this job. Tell everyone else to get out. We’re bailing, right here and right now.”

     “I never expected to find out them. I wasn’t even sure they existed. Once I got the name, I double checked with my contacts in the Neelan family, and he’s the real deal. I told Christopher, and he just told me he was earning an extra five dollars tonight. What do I do now?”

     Standing outside a stairwell which would have led him up to his own job, he stopped short. This job had just gotten too dangerous. His instincts kicked into high gear. A good thief knows when to give up, but a great thief knows when plans have changed dramatically. It wasn’t anything Liam could put into words. Unzipping his bag, Liam unceremoniously dumped all four Dirt Gremlins on the sidewalk, with their gear.

    “I’ve got another job to do. I need you little hellions to go up to their safety room. It’s on the third floor, it’ll have a red door. Get in there and just destroy everything.”

     The Dirt Gremlins raced for the door. It wouldn’t be long until they were in and doing the work he should have done. At that exact moment, Liam’s phone buzzed again.

     One of the fourteen kings meant all kinds of bad news, and he wasn’t going to let his first real co-workers get killed because they were idiots. The fourteen kings could come later on, once Liam was no longer involved. He just hoped the Dirt Gremlins had enough common sense to destroy all the computers.

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