Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 11

     Having outlived most of his peers, and several generations of their progeny, Liam had gained some of the perspective usually reserved for wise men and immortals. One such lesson is that it’s never too late to learn something new. The desire to grow was what kept Liam in the thieving business, not his greed, crippling laziness, or inability to function while doing hard labor. Thieves live the freest lives of anyone, until they get caught and thrown into jail. Freedom from structure allowed Liam to make his own hours. He could work as much or as little as he could get away with and, most importantly, he never had to worry about getting chewed out by a boss. At least, that’s how it used to be, until he started working for Simon Nair.

     When Simon Nair calls for your presence, you ignore it at your own peril. Sitting on the couch in his study, ignoring Simon for the time being, Liam felt a rare sense of rightness. Normally, thieving was just a living. Liam had rarely, if ever, stuck his neck out for someone else, because it usually ended up getting lopped off. It sounded like this time was no different. Luck is a cruel, lying mistress. Never believe a word she says, because she never stays true for long.

     “Between your expert sabotage and already high tensions, fifteen people died before Adrian Denavi descended from on high and took care of business. He told me he wanted to kill fifteen of my people in retaliation. I told him he could kill you fifteen times if it would make him feel any better.”|

     That last bit snapped Liam out of his reverie, “I’m not worth fifteen of his hired goons.”

“Thankfully for you, Adrian concurs with that opinion. It’s just fortunate that little scam of yours worked so beautifully, otherwise I would be nailing you to my office walls by your femurs.”

     Chuckling weakly, Liam attempted to brush off that comment, “You don’t mean that.”

     Simon looked up with his left eye to glare at Liam, “You know I do. If there was any way the Society could retaliate, you know they would. Your plan was reckless and immature coming from someone over two-hundred years old.”

     In times of doubt and threats of death, Liam found it best to just move the conversation along, “How did they find out it was me, anyways?”

     “There’s been this miraculous invention called security cameras. Your face got caught multiple times on your way in and out. But enough about your latest fuck up, I have work for you. I can’t go to the Neelan family yet.”

     Perking up at this, Liam sat a little straighter in his seat, “Why not? I assumed they caught whoever the spy was.”

    Simon threw up his hands in frustration, “They know who it is, and they won’t tell anyone, outside of a select few. They’re letting him run free for now, in the hopes that this will lead them to whoever is leaking information in the first place. That means I need you to help me find someone.”

     “I’m guessing this will be an unpleasant task.”

     Simon tossed Liam a large manilla envelope, tightly bound with twine, “Working with me, you’ve gotten to experience the high life. Now I’m going to send you so far into the gutters they’ll never find your body. Some members of the Five Families started a murder for hire business, and I need to find out who they are, where they are, and how I can stop them.”

     “Or hire them on, because you seem to do well with the suspicious types.”

     Liam felt the air change before his brain even knew he was in danger. It was one of those animalistic abilities which had kept Liam alive, thus far, “Get out of my study and get to work. Come back when you’ve found something, and Liam? Don’t cross paths with the Society for a while. It was a misguided, but surprisingly noble thing you did, but I don’t want to lay your laurel wreath on another pile of bodies you built.”

     With that, Simon returned both his eyes to his work, leaving Liam to vacate the office with the folder tucked under his arm. Once Liam reached the lobby, he found himself letting go of a breath he hadn’t even been aware he was holding. Pressing a hand to his forehead, it came away slick with cold sweat.

     Normal is hardly a static word. One man’s normal is another man’s radioactive fever dream, but for what it was worth, the Nair mansion felt more normal today. It lacked the subtle, intangible feeling of terror which had permeated the lobby last time. In one of the lines to see a clerk, a brownie and a dwarf had started a fist fight over who got into line first. Simon’s warning on his way out had stuck in his mind. Liam was self-centered by nature, it’s part of what made him a tolerable thief. You have to be reasonably self-centered in order to think you’re entitled to other’s belongings. In this case, Liam decided he liked normality, or what passed for it here. No more death, no more killings. Certainly, no more that could be laid at his feet. He’d gotten his own personal revenge, time to leave well enough alone.

     Once outside the mansion, he sat down on the steps and opened the twine surrounding the files. The Five Families were considered high nobility, but Liam had learned that was a double edged sword. That was all fine and dandy if you were the heir to the family, or the head of a family. That was two people out of dozens. Most members of the Five Families lived in relative obscurity and poverty, the notable exception being the Goodbody family. Their branch families just had to deal with being treated like second class citizens. If you weren’t in one of the main three Goodbody families, you were a grunt soldier on the front lines. Your fate was set from the moment you could hold a weapon. Running with Samantha Goodbody had been a small taste of that. She was older than her younger brother, and thus she should have been heir. She wanted to live life on the open road, and Jack becoming heir had been a more or less mutual decision between Sam and her father.

     The file Simon gave him contained three packets, each dedicated to its own name. Christopher Goodbody, J. Neelan and Robert Rever. He’d never heard of them, as was to be expected, but each of their packets felt heavy in his hand when he lifted it up. Scanning through each one gave Liam all the information he wanted. They were bad news. Worse than bad news, each one was what you would call a taboo in their own family.

     Liam was what you would call a tourist in the Mythic world. His association with the Nair family, via Simon, was what tied him to it, and kept him safe. He would hardly call himself an expert on the Five Families, but he knew enough to know that a Goodbody who had killed his own brother was bad news. Christopher had brown hair which reached his shoulders and sky blue eyes, meaning his dominant personality traits would be from the Goodbody side of his family. He had a thin, dull red scar across his chin and a larger one above his left eye. According to the packet, he had been expelled from the Goodbody family home after murdering his older brother.

     J. Neelan was a young woman, kicked out of the family for selling secrets which got other Neelan family members killed. She had brilliant long black hair, but what caught Liam’s attention were her eyes. One green and one light brown. He would have to ask her about that when he found her.

     Lastly, was a member of the Rever family named Robert. He had been kicked out of the family for enjoying his work a little too much. Since the Rever family was in the business of killing, Liam figured that had been the right call.

     Having scanned the files, Liam mulled over the job in his head. Heading out and randomly searching for them would be pointless. When you’re hunting for someone, you need to think like them. Silently, Liam expressed a little gratitude for being forced to listen to Sam rant about hunting so often. When you know what someone wants, you can figure out where they’re going. Once you know that, it’s just a matter of checking up on each place until you find them. What exactly brought this group of exiles together and why were they killing people? More than that, why did they interest Simon so much? There’s criminals, and then there’s assholes that even Liam would find unforgivable. Giving up for the moment, Liam rose shakily to his feet and started home. Better to take the rest of the day off and start fresh tomorrow. Liam had a few leads he could follow up on to find these unforgivables.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 9

     When people asked Liam about what made a disguise great, which nobody ever did, he only had one answer. Perception is what truly erased you from the memory of those you encountered. Liam waited across the street from Society headquarters until just before noon, when frustrations with broken things would likely reach their peak before lunch could deflate them. It also took a long time before he finally gathered enough courage to walk across the street to the doors. Repairman functioned as perfect disguise, because everyone wants to complain about all the broken equipment in their office, but most people don’t pay much attention to who they’re complaining at. Thus complaining at him was like complaining at some monolithic, unfeeling being and not a very real and emotional person right in front of them. When the dust settled, long after Liam had left the scene, some people might remember a strange repairman who had come through the building. It would be an even rarer individual who could remember any feature of his, because people focus more on emotions than facts and anger is the great memory eraser.

     The other advantage to the repairman outfit is that Liam wanted everything he did to seem like an accident, or the hand of God reaching down and handing out a giant slap to the face. What better way to find out which things could be easily sabotaged than by asking people to tell you what already needs fixing?

    Though Liam possessed serious misgivings about the plan, gaining entry to the building was remarkably easy. Past the front double doors, just inside against the walls on either side where it would be more difficult to see them, were two guards. Their muscles bulged the suit sleeves outwards in ways that would require urgent attention from a tailor if they moved at anything other than glacial speed. Not only did they not stop Liam, they hardly noticed him at all. Apparently, the idea that someone who looked like Liam might have it in for the Society had never occurred to them. How hopelessly naïve the poor dears were.

    While Liam planned this little caper, he had wondered how exactly the Society offices would be labeled. Apparently, nothing says soluble business like plain old gibbering insanity. “Society for the Protection of Humankind” was written on a large wooden plaque above the glass double doors leading into the offices on the first floor. Through the glass, Liam could see the beating heart of the financial beast he had targeted. Patting his bag a few times to calm the Dirt Gremlins down, Liam took one more deep breath and walked through the doors.

     In Liam’s limited experience with offices, the more serious an office is, the faster you get ambushed by the secretary. They act as roadblocks to those pesky clients who might slow productivity, though who would qualify as a client here left Liam pulling a complete blank. In this case, Liam had only taken two steps into the office before he got stopped. Whereas in most offices, a woman with an attractive voice and pleasant smile would be hired to disarm visitors before they were tied down and robbed blind with financial advice, this secretary looked like he would be more at home on a battlefield killing monsters with his bare hands. He was enormous, though perhaps less muscular than the security guards by the front door.

     “Can I help you, sir?

     Listening to him talk was like having a conversation with a guard dog, all growls and guttural barks. His short hair and mannerisms made Liam think he was former military, and he had been alive long enough to know that treading lightly was the path to take here. Taking a quick moment before he responded, Liam scanned the room as quickly as he could. The entire office lacked overhead lights of any sort. It made up for that by being incredibly open, with stone pillars stood at every three or so odd desks. At every single desk, a slender lamp with a globe of light atop it stood to provide additional lighting for the myriad of workers. The whole office buzzed with typing and light conversation. What unnerved Liam was how many of the supposed office workers looked like ex-military of some sort.

     “The bigwigs that own this building sent me here to do some maintenance work around the place. I’m takin’ any complaints you got, and workin’ on them today.”

     As Liam had expected, it was as though a switch went off in the guard’s head, “The man upstairs finally listened to the little guys, huh?”

     Liam nodded the long-suffering nod of the blue collar worker, “Bout time too, from the sounds of things. You got any problems need lookin’ at?

     “Well, I can tell you we’ve been having some trouble with the fairies. Check around the office and I’m sure other people will have various things that need fixing.”

    “And uh…what seems to be the problem with the fairies?”

   “Well, they’re supposed to last for at least a couple of weeks, but the last few months we’ve been getting a day or two’s use out of them before they burn out.”

    As the guard secretary spoke, the light next to his desk slowly flickered and went dark. Reaching up and touching it gingerly to make sure it was safe to touch, the guard removed the glass bulb and dumped out a tiny fairy. It seemed unharmed, but terribly tired. As Liam watched, its breathing slowed and it passed away while he watched.

    “Hey, could you do me a solid and go down to the basement and grab me another one? I can’t get any work done with my light out. I’ll give you my pass card, I can’t afford to leave the desk again. I’ll get canned for sure.”

    “Yeah, no problem. I should take a look at the equipment down on the bottom floor anyways.”

    Nodding in ascent, the guard tossed him his key card and left Liam to his own devices. That left Liam to explore the offices in peace. Thanks to his map, Liam knew the entrance to the lower levels lay in the rear of the office. Liam could take his time and ask questions later, the first step was to make sure he had at least one friend in the office who would vouch for his being there for a reason.

     Before he left, Liam turned back and snapped his fingers, “Hey, my man. What’s your name? I like to remember the good ones.”

    The guard smiled, which came across as more of a grimace, “It’s Matt. What’s yours?”

    “Name’s Jones.” With that, Liam turned with a friendly wave and returned to the task at hand.

     There were only two floors underneath the building, or at least two floors that his totem had been tracked around. There might have been more below those, but Liam was unwilling to go any further below the surface than his mail had traveled. The package he sent had been addressed to some random name. If it never went lower than two floors down, either everyone knew who worked down there, or there were no more floors. Either way, Liam wasn’t messing with them.

    The door which led to the lower floors was a metal utility door. It opened directly into an oppressively small staircase which took Liam directly to an open floor. Support beams were littered throughout the room, but other than that, it was just one giant empty cavern. Rather than being lit by ceiling lights, much like the office above, the whole room was lit by glowing orbs hung from chains which dangled down from the ceiling. Many of the glowing orbs bore steel braces around the middle with heavy padlocks on them. These were much larger, however, and the light which emanated from them danced on the walls as he watched. Liam never much considered himself to be a sentimentalist. It’s hard to pull for the little guy when you’re on the bottom end of the food chain. It’s hard to get lower on the food chain than an entire room of fairies trapped against their will to work as unwilling lightbulbs for maniacal government agents already hell bent on wiping you out.

    As he walked down the rows of fairies, Liam noticed many of them had stunted wings. It occurred to him that, even having worked with Simon for years, Liam had never seen more than a handful of fairies in one place. They were breeding the fairies in captivity for the sole purpose of lighting their workspaces. The spaces further to the back were reserved for those fairies whose lives had been lived in the sun to that point. Putting those fairies further away from the door would make it slightly harder to escape. Their wings functioned well enough that they could fly, but they were packed in too tightly for much movement.

     Realizing that, at this moment, there might be nothing he could do for them, he walked all the way around the room until he found his way to the next floor down. As soon as he opened the door, a blast of hot air came rushing up the steps.

    Walking down the stairs, the air kept getting warmer until Liam could see the humidity on the walls and his hands grew clammy with sweat. It had been a long time since he had been surprised. Liam had just met a Lich this last summer, and that was far from the only strange thing he had seen in his life, but this was the strangest thing he had ever seen. The whole of the bottom floor was only occupied by three things. The first was a giant tank of water, with a pump attached to it and pipes that led up towards the higher floors. The second was a furnace, which clearly functioned to heat the whole building. Aside from those two technical pieces was the engine which heated them. It was a dragon. To be fair, it was a relatively tiny dragon. He barely fit in the room, and his wings were also atrophied from being unable to fly for so long. Liam scratched his head as he looked the dragon over. In a pinch, he could get the fairies out today. The utter havoc they would create would fit in very well with his plan. The dragon, however, he had no means of freeing without pulling the building and the first level of the basement out from over its head.

    “Is the water not to your liking, master? Is the building not heated? I have kept my side of the bargain. Why are you here to see me?” The dragons voice was deep, though not perhaps as deep as he had expected. It sounded sad, and perhaps a little bit frightened as well.

    Liam waved a hand idly, “I’m not with those assholes upstairs. I just came to sock one to them. What’s your story, big guy?”

    The dragon blinked in surprise, its ponderous eyes moving over Liam as though it were eying a tasty morsel, “Big guy…,” the dragon paused as though it were turning those words over in its head, “Then you are not here to complain?”

    “Not unless you’ve got something to do with the bad weather we’ve had recently.”

    “I can not affect the weather down here, stupid human.”

    “God, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been called stupid human this last year. Alright, I don’t have time for this, if I’m down here too long, they’ll start to ask questions. See you around, asshole dragon.”

    “Farewell, stupid human.”

    As Liam walked up the stairs, he felt a strange kinship with that nameless dragon. Someday, he was going to come back and get him out of that basement, if it was the last thing he ever did. Liam had spent his entire life flying from one place to another. Flying is another word for running from the authorities, right? That just left Liam with his first objective. Free the fairies and make it easy for them to escape. Chances are, not all of them would make it out, but for the first time in his life, Liam understood how death could be a preferable alternative to the current situation one might find themselves in.

    Returning to the first basement floor, Liam unzipped his bag and dumped out three very started looking Dirt Gremlins on the floor. Picking one up, he held it in front of his face, “This room is a completely clean canvas,” the Dirt Gremlins roused themselves at the thought, bright eyes gleaming on dull, murky faces, “I’m requesting some art on any locks and those globes hanging from the ceiling. Use this paint. Hide if you see anyone other than me”    Having said that, he placed his can of highly oily, acidic paint next to them. Step one completed, the Dirt Gremlins gathered as much of their beloved material as they could carry and marched off to begin their mission. He would have to come back down later and free them, and when he did he would set those globes afire so they couldn’t be used anymore. In the meantime, he grabbed one fairy from the nearest giant bulb and held it gingerly as he walked up the stairs. It struggled at first, but as Liam walked up the steps, he explained what he had planned. By the time he reached the first floor, the fairy sat complacently in his hand. When he placed it in the front desk guard’s lamp, it shone brighter than any other lamp in the room.

    “Wow, you must have found the only one willing to work in that whole damn room. No wonder you took so long. Thanks a lot pal. Go ahead and check if anyone else needs help. You know where you’re going from here?”

     Liam resisted the urge to smirk, “Yep. I know exactly where I’m going.”

    There was no going back now. Win or lose, he was going to make sure that the investors thought this government organization was run so poorly that they wouldn’t just lose their money, they might lose everything they owned if they stuck around.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 8

      The best villains would have you believe that revenge is a dish best served cold. Liam disagreed, but only slightly. Revenge is a dish best served at room temperature. Rushing off with fire in your pants and brimstone on your breath would only get you killed, but wait too long and nobody will even remember what you’re getting revenge for in the first place. Liam stole to pay off his debts, and he stole to keep his belly full. He robbed people who looked like they could afford to support his crippling fear of honest, hard labor for a few more days. His thievery had never gotten anyone, barring himself, killed before that day. Greed may have lured him into making a mistake, but Liam wasn’t so foolish as to think he literally pulled the triggers that killed those gnomes. That strike lay with the Society for the Protection of Humankind. Liam knew full well they would never do anything to make up for their actions, so he volunteered himself in their place.

     In order to exact what would ultimately amount to petty retribution against a government agency with disturbingly little oversight, Liam turned to the Nair mansion. Nobody batted any eye when he went into the records room on the third floor; he had been there so often to take the back route to his secret booze stash. Research is the lifeblood of any thief. He spent days reading up on their operations, and for the first time he got a brief view of the broad scope the Society actually possessed. The working logic seemed to be that, because the creatures the Society killed weren’t, strictly speaking, human, it didn’t count as murder. That, and healthy doses of fear and xenophobia, were the guiding principles which kept them humming along.

     That’s not to say they were entirely based in ideology, they walked through the halls of business as well. If Matthew Bergson had taught Liam anything, it’s that genocide is a profitable business. The worst part was that everyone wanted a piece of the pie. Judging from the list of investors, there was a lot of pie to go around as well. If Liam was going to stick it to them, he had one of a few options to play with. He could rob them, though he had already done that. He could destroy their stuff, but that would just slow them down. After having researched them for days, Liam came to the conclusion that only one method of revenge would suit these bastards. He was going to scare away their investors. The best method for that was to convince them the rotted brains behind the operation were so astonishingly and profoundly stupid, it was a wonder they didn’t drown while drinking their morning lattes.

     With his plans in mind, Liam left the Nair mansion without telling Simon where he was going or what he was doing. It wasn’t exactly a great idea. Simon could have come looking for him at any moment. On top of that, if Liam needed help, nobody would know where he was. Liam already knew what Simon would have done, had he told him. He would have complained, told Liam it was a horrible idea and maybe even put him under penthouse arrest, which is like house arrest but with maid service. Liam had one more reason for not telling Simon where he was going. Whatever temperature you like your revenge served, most people don’t like to share that particular dish with anyone else.

     The Society headquarters were in Manhattan, which made sense. If you’re planning on killing off entire species worth of creatures, you could do worse than to set up shop in the one city they all have to come to. Since the Nair mansion served as a government hub, it was a solid bet that if you were getting married, buried or sued, you would either have to come here yourself or send a letter with your address on it at some point in your life. That also made it the logical place for Liam to begin his campaign of stupefying the Society, because all their head honchos would be in one place.

     Once Liam located the building, he set up shop outside of it and just watched. There was an almost constant stream of people coming and going. Most of them were just workers, going to those floors between the top and bottom two. It only took Liam a day two to recognize who really worked for the Society and who merely invested in them. Those people working with the Society almost universally had sharp eyes, which missed almost nothing in their path. A large portion of Society people carried themselves like professional soldiers and looked as though they owned time-shares in a local gym. At any rate, one thing was for certain. Liam could only take so long on each phase of his plan before he was spotted, and after a couple of days he knew it was time to move on to the next phase.

     Ruining someone’s day, the plan Liam slowly brewed as he went, made him a thief of time. How much time could he waste? The more time the Society spent fixing their sprinkler system, the less time they could spend killing. Before Liam even considered entering the building, he wanted to see who came and left at night. For three days, he stayed cooped up at home, making preparations. It had been a very long time since he had put this much effort into anything, and he knew he was only going to get one shot at it. All the materials he would need the day of, costume, lock picks, flammables and wires, would have to be prepared ahead of time. The easiest and most fun part were the flammables.

     The Dirt Gremlins who stubbornly remained entrenched, infesting Liam’s apartment, constantly used his walls in search of their grotesque muse. Most of the rooms bore the evidence of their constant search for art, and beside the fact that they kept the cost of his apartment abnormally low, their art turned out to be highly flammable. Scraping it off the wall always turned into an ordeal, because nobody likes seeing their brilliant creations removed and put into an empty paint can, one scrape at a time. The mass of “paint” in the kitchen proved to be especially good, because it contained a lot of grease which would light up quite nicely under the right circumstances.

    After a few days had gone by, Liam returned to the Society headquarters and watched from an alcove across the street. As he had suspected, gaining entrance to the building at night was out of the question. He stood in the shadows the whole night, crouched low so that it would be harder to see him. There were two guards just inside the building, which Liam could only see when they moved. Even if Liam hadn’t noticed them, there were a couple of very fit men jogging around with their German Shepherds at suspiciously late hours. Staying another night would only confirm what he already knew. Whether or not he could bring a little pain to the Society depended on how easy it was to get a package into their offices.

     The next day, Liam sent a box to the offices, and packed inside of it was a little gift Simon had given him. It was a little bone totem which made a map of everywhere it went. That was likely the best that Liam was going to get. He addressed it to some random person, knowing full well it would make the rounds and then be sent back to whence it came, allowing him to use it again. He avoided using it whenever possible, because a thief who relies on crutches will never have a very long career. Two days after that, the box circulated around every Society office and cubicle they had. While the box travelled around, the pen attached to the totem scribbled out that map with Liam watching the whole time. Two floors, fully mapped out and a basement as well, which went down several floors.

    In a few days, the totem would return to the PO Box that Liam used when he wasn’t sure if he would be able to pick up his tools all that soon. Time to get to work. Grabbing a duffle bag, he put on his fake repairman’s uniform and slung the bag over his shoulder. It moved around for a bit before finally calming down when Liam patted it a few times reassuringly. The only thing better than Dirt Gremlin “paint” were actual Dirt Gremlins. It had taken a long time to coax them into getting into the bag, but Liam suddenly felt like it was worth all the effort. The only thing left to do was walk into the building, pay attention to the people around him and then ruin their day.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 7

     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.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 6

     A long time ago, Liam had considered giving up thieving and becoming an honest man. He had been younger, and stupid, and in love. He failed to consider that several lifetimes of thievery doesn’t translate very well to other jobs. Before long he was back on the streets engaging in his profession until his wife found out where he went off to every day because she eventually had to bail him out of the pokey. The long and short of that trip down memory lane was that you could take the thief out of thievery, but thievery remains a part of the thief. He found these thoughts running through his mind unbidden as he stood in front of the door that led into John Neelan’s dreaded Cheeto infested “inner sanctum”. Much like thieves, you could take the spy out of his industry and he would still be a spy.

     Liam distrusted the Neelan family as a whole, because they worked in cloak and dagger secrecy. Spies stole lives wholesale with mere words, whereas Liam just lifted wallets to keep his stomach full and his booze flowing. John Neelan especially gave him the willies, because he looked at him as though Liam were just a prized turkey full of money. Still, if he was going to rob Matthew Bergson, he needed someone who could do it quickly and quietly. This technological theft was outside of Liam’s experience by a wide margin. No doubt this would turn into an ordeal, but the scent of money made his ears twitch and before he knew it, his feet had walked him all the way to this door until his common sense had kicked in to give one last protest.

     Standing at the door, with his hand on the knob, the debate was already over. He knew what he wanted more than the money, and that was freedom. Working for Simon hadn’t been a bad experience overall. Sure, he had died a few times more than normal, but that was the price of admission to a fantastic world Liam hardly belonged in. Turning the knob, Liam opened the door and stepped willingly into the worst decision he had made in ages.

     Meeting John Neelan taught Liam many things about spies. They worked impossibly full schedules that didn’t allow for things like sleep, basic hygiene, or fresh air. Even amongst a family of spies, John was considered a work-a-holic. Liam was under the impression that John might have been a prisoner of his own success. It’s hard to turn down work when you’re someone’s ace in the hole, not that Liam would have known anything about that from personal experience.

     Light from computer monitors spilled out into the hallway as soon as Liam cracked the door open to step inside. John had hardly moved from where he had been sitting the last time Liam had visited him with Samantha Goodbody in tow. John’s room barely had enough space left for him to stand in, and Liam nearly pushed a stack of files over as soon as he entered. Instead of the usual pizza boxes and endless cans of soda, littered liberally around the room, there were stacks of paper and files. They stood as tall as he did, and many of them showed clear signs of having been hastily rifled through. Liam realized with a start that John was working on the assignment the head of his family had given him. Recently, his black-mailing employer, Simon Nair, had asked Liam to spy on the heads of the Five Families while they met at his own house. While working this job, he overheard John and Isaac, the head of the Neelan family, reveal they knew they had a mole, but still had to locate who it was. That job had been left to John; to sift through a torrential storm of information in order to find out who was giving their bad name an even worse streak.

    “John, I’m sorry to bother you again so soon…”

     Charm is a tool that never works on thieves or spies, because they use it when they want something you’ve got that they want. John cut him off quickly, “You’re too polite, Liam. You literally never come to see me because we’re such good friends. It’s about money, isn’t it?”

     “I can be polite when money is involved. I was given a job spying on the guy in charge of funding for the Society for the Protection of Humankind.”

    John’s chair wheeled around slowly, and Liam noticed a series of small things that tipped him off to the seriousness of the situation. Normally, when working, John wore a dark bathrobe with a deep hood which he seemed to think made him look intimidating. Today, he wore a suit that fitted loosely around his thin frame. Even back-lit by the multiple computer moniters, Liam could see the bags under his eyes. He had a massive coffee cup in his hands and the vile smell wafting from it could only come from a concoction made from espresso, Red Bull and Five Hour energy drinks, “What’s in it for me? I’m up to my eyeballs in work already. Slow me up and you’re liable to get killed.”

     “Oh yes, that would be horrible if I got killed. I’m sure it would be horrible if I got killed, because that’s never happened before, has it?”

    “Ok, you made your point, but I still need to know what’s in it for me.”

     “Simon asked me to gather information to make a pitch to his dad. He thinks defunding them is a good step towards slowing them down.”

     John spun his chair around in slow circles, “He’s not wrong. Their operations are money intensive, and require huge amounts of upkeep. It’s not like we can just take the money unless we have bank account numbers, routing numbers, code confirmations, dummy account names and a host of other information I’ll never get my hands on.”

     “What if I told you I stole all that information and came right here with it?”

     John slowly spun to a stop, “Are you for real?”

     Reaching into his pocket, Liam pulled out his phone which John instantly snatched away, “It’s in the pictures. I took screen shots of it all.”

    There was a long pause as John flipped through the images, “Liam, this is brilliant. I had thought about trying to get this information, but I sorely lacked the time I needed to track down who had the accounts. I mean, look at this place,” John gestured to his room full of stack upon stacks of files, “this is going to save me a lot of time.”

     “So you can get me the money?”

     John sent the photos to his own phone before handing the phone back to Liam, “This is blood money, Liam. You don’t want it as much as you think you do.”

     Cramming the phone back into his pocket, Liam growled, “Oh, and I suppose you do?”

     “Of course I do, but I’m willing to cut you in on your own take, if you do me a little favor first. I have some information I need to collect from the De Luca family on the outskirts of the city. They have restaurants all over the city, and some big stakes in the Mythic people. They promised me something I needed to do my work and now they’re ignoring me. It’s not like I’m the most intimidating person in the world, and for personal reasons I can’t ask for help from the rest of the family at this time.”

     Sagging a little, Liam did the mental calculation, “So you’re asking me to go talk to the mafia about that thing they were supposed to send you, get killed a few times, get the thing and bring it back to you.”

     “Pretty much.”

    “I hate you so much.”

     “Yeah, but you’ll have enough money to buy yourself sympathy cards with. I hope you do, because I’ll be using my share to buy the world’s smallest violin. Now get to work, lackey.” Suddenly, for no reason that Liam was willing to put his finger on, Liam felt like working for Simon might not be that bad after all.

     The De Luca family was one which Liam knew more by reputation than having actually dealt with them. Even when you couldn’t die, there are excessively violent ways to die that Liam didn’t want to think about. Just because he wouldn’t stay dead, didn’t mean he was clamoring to try new ways to go about doing it. The De Luca family, in particular, could write a book on that particular chilling subject, with a companion guide that would make the Encyclopedia Britannica feel insecure in the locker room. Having to go and ask them for a favor they could totally refuse is something Liam would only do for money. As it turned out, Liam was doing it for a lot of money. While Liam knew the De Luca family mostly from their more nefarious endeavors, he had a sinking feeling that he had run into them more recently in a more pedestrian environment.

     Sure enough, when Liam checked the address John unceremoniously shoved into his hand,  he recognized one of the restaurants run by the family. It was even called, “The Olde “Family” Restaraunte” as though the owners were trying to quash all doubt as to who really owned the business. Liam had met the current owner when he was first getting into his respective business, and Liam had offered to help his grandmother get home, for a small fee of course. Then he robbed her, because it’s not like her mafia boss grandson couldn’t afford to get her nicer things. In Liam’s mind, he had done her a favor by taking all crappy older stuff, because that clearly meant a shopping spree was in order. He doubted her grandson would see it that way. Along with all the other people in that neighborhood who wanted to kill him, this guy was the biggest reason Liam had moved away to his current apartment building.

     That’s why, when he was greeted at the kitchen door by two burly men who introduced themselves as bus boys, he wasn’t surprised that his personal introduction led to being put in a choke hold and marched through the door to the head of the De Luca family. Ronaldo, the head of the De Luca family, was everything Liam was not. He had swarthy Sicilian charm and fine black hair swept back from a face which could have come from the portrait of a Renaissance nobleman. He stood out, surrounded by his heavier thugs, by his calm demeanor and his lean build. It was clear he was in charge and in command, but what was worse, it was clear that he recognized Liam.

    “Liam, my friend,” he spoke with a thick accent, in sure tones. The hustle and bustle surrounding him instantly vanished as though it were sleeping with the fishes, “I never thought you would have the balls to come back here.”

    “Trust me, if I had any other choice, I would have never come back. I had no idea you went legit in any way.”

    Ronaldo scowled, “With this current climate, the Feds have been cracking down on legitimate businessmen in a big way. To survive, I needed to go mostly legit, or I would have drowned with the rest of them. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

     “John Neelan said you owed him information. He sent me to pick it up, because he hates you.” Liam lied about that last part, hoping the enemy of his enemy wouldn’t kill him, at least.

     “I also hate you.”

     “And I hate both of you, and that’s why he sent me, because he hates me as well. So do you have it or not?”

     “I do have what he desires. He’s interested in information on the other families, wondering if they’re part of this great purge he’s so worried about.”

    Liam plugged his fingers in his ears, “La la la, I don’t want to know anything that someone could torture me for later on.”

    Ronaldo smiled a cruel smile, “That’s why I told you enough to be ignorant. Before I give you what you want, you must do something for me.”

    “Oh God, you want me to go grab something for you from someone else who hates me, don’t you? This is punishment for that time when I did the thing.”

    Ronaldo gestured over his shoulder to a large industrial sink overflowing with pots and pans and dishes of all shapes and sizes, “Finish those dishes, and then we’ll talk.”

    Liam paled. He would never say he was against hard work, but this wasn’t hard work, it was slave labor, “This is because I stole from your grandmother isn’t it?”

     “Yes, it is. Now hurry up, the late lunch rush will arrive soon and you’re going to be even busier when that happens.”

     Liam’s arms were unaccustomed to hard work. He spent the rest of the day wishing they would just fall off so he would have an excuse to go home. Long after the restaurant was closed, the dishes were finally done and Liam was let off the hook with a warning and a jump drive containing all the information John wanted. If he had been less tired, he would have been more wary.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 5

     Liam considered himself to be a professional, in spite of the consistent evidence to the contrary. When Simon Nair gave him the task of spying on banker and financier, Matthew Bergson, he knew the task required a more personable touch than he could give. Charm only works on people when they’re not fish lipped, money minded bankers willing to finance an extremist group advocating genocide. No, this required a more feminine touch, and so Liam got into touch with one of the only females who had ever touched him without cringing. Jenny was perfect for the role, able to present herself as a classy member of high society and also able to kill ten men with her nail file. That meant she would be convincing. Liam also didn’t have to worry about her and if the situation went south and Liam had to book it for some unforeseen reason. Realistically, between the two of them, Liam was more likely to get killed than Jenny.

     That didn’t mean that Liam exactly trusted Jenny to get the job done. Liam had a hard time trusting people whose attention spans were shorter than a Dirt Gremlin’s, and so they had spent the previous night preparing endlessly until the point where Liam felt sure Jenny was about to kill him, and then they stopped. He made sure she knew everything, what questions to ask, where to sit, when to leave him hanging, and for the love of God don’t be too obvious with your questions.

    The morning arrived too soon, but they were both ready by the time lunch rolled around. Liam hated being unprepared. Whenever possible, he liked to do practice runs first, or at least work with the knowledge that he could come back to the job at a later date. With a payday like this, he was willing to bend the rules. In order to keep Jenny on track, Liam chose a seat towards the back of the restaurant. It was near the kitchen door in case he needed to bolt quickly. It also sat near a row of more intimate seats that overlooked a view of a busy street which Matthew avoided when he sat for lunch. That was where Jenny would lead him. That meant Liam could keep an eye on the two without being noticed.

     They arrived early, and Matthew arrived late, which was a better sign than Liam would have hoped for. Punctual Matthew turning up late meant that he was flustered, and flustered meant that he would be more willing to spill the beans about Operation Nightingale. When he did arrive, he arrived being tugged along by a smirking Jenny, clearly in control of the situation. They sat, and Matthew struggled to get comfortable. Liam sympathized for the man. Jenny was beautiful, funny and highly capable. Watching Matthew attempt to flirt, however, was akin to watching the Incredible Mr. Limpett sink Nazi Submarines. He was watching it, and event though he knew their lunch date wasn’t real, he still couldn’t believe it.

     “You’ve been following me for days, but I still don’t know your name. Who are you?” Even smitten Matthew had his limits to where mystery would take him.

    ‘I’ll tell you someday. Don’t ruin the mystery,” Jenny responded with a wink. Between the two of them, they had agreed that names were all around dangerous. Even if they made a name up, it might ruin someone else’s day.

     “So, my husband told me that I wasn’t capable of handling my own finances, after I spent so much money on diamond chokers for my dogs,” Jenny’s voice sparkled when she talked to Matthew, like most people who didn’t have a real care in the world.

     “That’s a shame, because as I’m sure you know, diamonds never really depreciate in value. It’s not as though you need to keep them in the chokers, either, you can set them into other jewelry as well.” Somehow, Matthew even managed to flirt like a banker.

    Leaning across the table, Jenny rested her hand over his. Liam was sure he would blush, if Matthew had any blood in his body to rush to his face, “That’s what I told my husband, but he wouldn’t hear anything of it. Naturally, he locked all of our joint accounts and that can really limit a girl’s fun.”

     Liam robbed people for a living. He reflected on this while he listened to Jenny flirt shamelessly and Matthew shamefully attempt to respond in kind. The perks of thieving over spying were becoming abundantly clear. No matter how often Liam complained about his Dirt Gremlins, they kept the place quiet. Other people in the apartment complex tended to hurry past his door, which suited Liam just fine. Unless it was someone unique, Liam wanted to spend most of his time alone. Spies had their perks as well. They got to listen to everyone’s juicy secrets. It was like stealing a part of someone’s life and walking away with it in their pocket. They also had to listen to every little bit of inane gossip that could come out of a person’s mouth, made worse when you knew that half the inane gossip was fake.

     They took an interminably long time to start talking about anything interesting. By that point even Matthew was starting to get twitchy and look at his wrist to check the time. That was the sign they were both waiting on. It was time to reel the sucker in.

    “You see, unbeknownst to my husband, I managed to squirrel away some money. I wanted to spend that money on some cause he would never approve of, just to spite him.”

    That statement ground poor Matthew to a halt. Here he sat, having lunch with a beautiful woman who was practically throwing money at him in order to devote it to some cause. He even had a cause he was scrounging up money for. There wasn’t so much a conflict of interest so much as a sympathy of one.

    “I know of a cause that could yield high dividends down the road, if you’re interested.”

     Shifting closer, Jenny lowered her voice, “And what would that be?”

    “There’s a group I work with, the Society for the Protection of Humankind. I know this is going to sound shocking, and I could hardly blame you for not believing me when I say this, but there are real life monsters of myth and legend that walk among us. Not only that, but they’re rich beyond the dreams of avarice. This organization wants to wipe them out, to protect humans like you and me. Once they’re gone, I’ve been assured that myself, and those who work with me, will gain control of those substantial assets.”

    “So in other words,” Jenny paused, considering his plan carefully, “this group you work with is going to kill a lot of people and then let you take all their stuff. Is that right?”

    “And the best part is that this is a government agency, so there won’t be any legal consequences. I’m told there’s a lot of property and liquid currency involved. We’ve got a lot of investors chomping at the bit to be a part of this. Are you…interested?”

    Jenny smiled gently, “That sounds like a solid plan.”

    Liam sagged in his seat. This had been going so well. They had a definitive plan, they knew the name of the plan and how these bankers fit into the plan. All she needed to do was not be Jenny until the end of the meal and they would have everything they needed. If she could simply manage that, Liam could leave with his head held high.

    Her willingness to engage in murder for profit was what began the descent to madness. Through his cloud of infatuation and business minded desire, something about her gleeful assent to killing off entire species worth of creatures and taking their stuff struck Matthew as a bit odd.

    “I must insist, madam. I must know your name, before we go any further. For the purposes of making this business of ours legal.”

    “Of course, Matthew. My name is Jenny Rever.”

    And that did it. Any businessman worth his salt would check into the people who were going to be killed for his gain. Matthew had certainly checked in on the Rever family, given the shocked and vacant expression on his face, “Are you here to…k…kill me?”

    “No, silly. I’m here to have lunch with you,” Oh, Jenny. It was like it hadn’t even occurred to her that she wasn’t supposed to tell Matthew her real name. A long silence passed before Liam could almost see the lightbulb pop up above her head, “Oh, poop! Liam is going to be so mad at me for telling you my name!”

    That tore it. Not only had she used her own name and revealed that she knew who Matthew was, she had also named Liam, out loud and in front of their target no less. Getting up and walking out now was no longer an option. If he rose and made a break for it, then Matthew and his bodyguards would all draw the obvious conclusion.

    “So you want to invest in the death of your own kind? I never thought a member of the Rever family would give up their ideology for money.” couldn’t tell if Matthew was trying to sound hopeful, or just not terrified. He was failing at both, either way.

    “They’re all jerks.”

    “I’m told that they’re all rich jerks, which must be what attracted you to me,” Matthew continued on from there, without considering that he could have been referring to himself.

     At this point, the conversation was going as poorly as most conversations with Jenny seemed to go. She was so direct that for people who thought they were subtle, talking to her could be a bit daunting. Matthew found an excuse to pay the bill and leave, not that the restaurant would have chased him down had he not paid it.

     Once they were done eating, Jenny had enough common sense to leave the restaurant on her own, heading back the way she had come. Liam waited for a good fifteen minutes before he left as well, headed for the park by a different route than the one she usually took.

    When he arrived, he found Jenny moping on the bench, with her head hung low. She roused herself when Liam arrived and opened her mouth to apologize, but Liam cut her off with a wave of his hand, there were few things worse than a depressed assassin, and “The only bad thing about what happened is that now the Society knows we’re onto them. They couldn’t have not known that before, but maybe they didn’t know how close Simon was before this. As soon as Matthew reports in, they’re going to remove all the money from his accounts and shuffle them off to another company.”

     “So do we go spy on them?”

    Liam shook his head, “There’s no point. The money was my goal, the information was Simon’s main interest. Whoever was giving them money before won’t back out just because you showed up for lunch with a glorified bean counter. That means the next step for me is to hit them where it really hurts.”

     “The pancreas?”

     “God, no. Their wallets. All their funds are located in this one sucker’s portfolio. If we can empty their accounts out, we’ll stall Operation Nightingale for the foreseeable future.”

    “Oh!” Jenny hopped up to her feet, ready to go with Liam.”

    “Jenny. I would rather do this one alone. I have to go meet with a Neelan friend of mine.”

    Scowling, a rare expression for Jenny, she turned back towards her house, “I don’t like the Neelan family. They’re rude to my dad.” With that, she vanished, headed towards home at speeds which Liam’s eyes couldn’t follow.

     Bracing himself, Liam touched his phone to make sure it was still in his pocket and headed towards the one Neelan house he knew. It’s not that he wanted to ask for John Neelan’s help, it’s just that Liam wasn’t computer savvy enough to rip off a business of that size with electronics. In the good old days, there would have been valuables involved, which Liam was more familiar with. Digital theft was more the realm if spies and hackers, neither one of which Liam qualified as. John was the one genuine spy he knew that actually tolerated his presence. Taking the first step, towards his new worst friend, Liam didn’t even realize that he had already made two mistakes. The first was even trusting John Neelan a little. The second was in underestimating how angry some of those investigators would get about losing sizable portions of money.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 4

     Liam grew up on the mean streets of several nasty cities before settling in New York. His natural talent as a thief allowed him to survive turbulent years that saw many people stronger than him fall on the job. Well, his skills and his unnatural ability to survive fatal injuries. When he had first met a spy, he looked down on the profession as a whole because it all seemed so seedy. Liam stole things to survive. In his opinion, spies had no such basic need to fall back on. The only reason you would ever steal information would be to ruin someone’s reputation, and even Liam had his limits on what he would steal. This last couple of days had given Liam pause, and made him rethink his positon. In fact, spies and thieves had many things in common, but the most prominent of these was boredom.

     Talented thieves spend days, minimally, watching high-risk targets before attempting a move. Even the most basic jobs required time making sure you understood your target’s movements before you picked their pockets. Spies had all of that routine, with none of the tangible pay off of booty in your hands at the end of the day. Of course, Liam still planned to rob Matthew blind before he was done spying on him. Liam was nothing, if not a consummate professional.

     The last three days had gone by without a noticeable hitch. Liam trailed Jenny as she stalked their target. It became increasingly clear that Matthew’s tails had noticed her and informed their client of her presence. That, in and of itself, would have been alarming had Matthew not been stealing subtle glances at the beautiful woman following him around during his lunch hour. Men with large bank accounts and important jobs tend to have equally large egos. That Matthew paid so much attention to Jenny meant Liam was ready to move onto stage two of his devious, multi-part and very intelligent plan.

     The problem with routine is that it’s very easy to exploit and alter without ever changing it. On the fifth day, Liam didn’t follow Jenny. He knew everything he could learn from following her while she tailed Matthew. Even though Matthew hadn’t outwardly changed his routine by one iota, his internal routine had changed significantly. When he came to work, he spent his time thinking of his brief encounter with Jenny and wishing she would come forward to say hello to him. He might even manage to introduce himself to her at some point, which would work out better for Liam. It wasn’t entirely clear whether or not Matthew knew Jenny was specifically following him, or if he thought she just happened to take the same route as him every afternoon. Liam assumed that Matthew thought it would be the former, because clearly he was so very important.

     That Matthew spent all his day thinking about Jenny meant that he would be paying less attention to things that might have caught his attention. For example, when Matthew left his office at lunch, he never even noticed an oily, ratty looking janitor slip in the doors past him, barely even acknowledging his existence. With his hat pulled low, Liam walked with the distinctive walk of someone who belonged in the building and had a place to go. The place Liam was headed was the janitorial closet. From there, he would pilfer some cleaning supplies and head up towards Matthew’s office to clean it out of both dirt, and information. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. Apparently, someone meant Liam.

     Of course, Liam didn’t know where Matthew’s office was, and that was why he had to take his time, but not too much time. Stealing from one office in an office building was like playing minesweeper on a timer while someone points a gun at your head. It’s true that nobody pays attention to the cleaners, but that wouldn’t last for ever. Eventually, some sharp eyed security guard would notice the seedy individual dressed as a cleaner who came in and cleaned offices, but wasn’t actually employed by the company. Given that Matthew Bergson was being watched from on high by all sorts of dangerous folks, Liam figured that in reality he had about half the time he would normally have before the cameras would get a good look at his face and his whole plan would be ruined. He couldn’t simply ask around either, because what cleaner wants to find a specific person’s office and if he really worked in the building, then wouldn’t he know where that room was already?

   Thankfully, Liam had a few things going his way. The first being the name of the firm that Matthew worked in, some group called “Finance Power Planning” which sounded like a company which offered sound financial planning to weight lifters and third world dictators. Much like malls, office buildings need to know where to funnel the products and it only took a little inspection for him to find the offices. When he reached the correct floor, Liam realized to his dismay that finding Matthew Bergson’s business was going to be shockingly easy. He had assumed that the hunt would be the difficult part, but alas, his personal cubicle presented a greater problem. “Finance Power Planning” took up the entire floor right from the elevator. Without missing a beat, Liam pushed his cart full of cleaning supplies and found the nearest empty cubicle and began cleaning. He had a very short time frame to work with, and he knew that he couldn’t just make a beeline for the office he wanted, because he would have been wandering the floor for hours just to locate and clean one office, and then immediately leave.

     While Liam cleaned, he paid attention to the name plaques in the cubicles that were occupied by someone else. The entire lunch went by far too fast and forced Liam to retreat in disgrace, having gotten no closer to his goal than when he began. The next day was more of the same frustrations, wandering through FPP with his cart of supplies and stopping to clean empty offices. In Liam’s estimation, he could only get away with one more day of cleaning and if he failed to find anything, then he would be shit out luck and it would all come down to Jenny and her ability to charm the information out of Matthew.

     It was by sheer coincidence on the last day that Liam overheard someone using his target’s name and luck that he was able to zero in on it quickly. Matthew’s office, when he finally located it, was pretty much exactly what he expected it to look like. It lacked any decoration, focusing entirely on functionality. Perhaps because Matthew was such a boring person, he never expected someone to come in and rifle through his papers. It’s a true shame that he felt that way, because on his desk, directly in front of the computer monitor, sat a folder that looked as enticing as any fat wallet Liam had ever laid eyes on. Pulling his phone out, Liam flipped through the folder and took a picture of every single piece of paper in rapid order.

     Matthew Bergson wasn’t just a bad man. He was a horrible man, but apparently a very good business man. On top of doing business with the Society, he also managed extensive holdings for some crime families and some big time politicians, who probably would never want to be associated with their mutual customers. He kept their money in all sorts of places, ranging from the merely unethical to the outrageously illegal. Whenever he couldn’t avoid paying taxes, he cut corners. His slush funds could have opened their own slush funds. At this point, Liam had run out of jargon, but even he could tell that there was a lot of shady nonsense going on, all for the purpose of funding one project, called “Operation Nightingale”. With a name like that, it’s purpose was either to open the most elaborate orphanage Ponzi scheme the world had ever seen, or to initiate a holy war. Liam’s money was certainly on the latter, not that he was a betting man unless he could bet using someone else’s money.

      Simon would find the information to be very useful indeed. Far more useful to Liam was the bank account routing numbers. He had never been very good at digital theft, but thankfully he knew someone who was. He even knew that person had been tasked with finding out who the spy in the Neelan family was, and if this information wouldn’t help, nothing would. It never hurt to have a spy who owed you a favor, even if he hated the Neelan family in general. Cleaning the office from top to bottom, Liam took pictures of every document he could get a look at in his limited time. As soon as he was finished, he made his way out in a determined fashion. Luck stayed with him, because as he reached the elevator and walked inside, Matthew walked out through the other one to return to his desk.

     Liam would have been the first to point out that it never pays to rob extremely dangerous people of their hush money. But on the other hand, Liam would have all that hush money to pay people to look the other way with. The amount of money he was about to walk away with would provide a very nice retirement indeed. With the office investigated and Liam out safely, it was time to begin the last part of their operation. Jenny had wanted to call it “Operation Heartbreak” but Liam had objected on the grounds that people who have fish lips, like Matthew, don’t have hearts. He had wanted to call it something more awesome, like “Operation Smooth Criminal.” Sadly, at Jenny’s insistence, they had to compromise and it became “Operation Heart Criminal”. Liam drew a line when Jenny punctuated their written plan with an exclamation point that had a heart in it.

  At the end of their day, Jenny and Liam met at the park near her house. He arrived after she did, as he usually did, and found her sitting on a park bench, holding a miniscule rose in her hands, “Someone gave you a rose?’

    Jenny looked up at him with a slightly curious expression, “Our target gave me the rose. I guess he knew I was following him the whole time.”

    Liam tried not to laugh as he sat down next to her, “I figured they would. I never expected him to be the one to make contact with you. How did he ever work up the fishy courage?”

    “Well, I was following him like normal and then I rounded a corner and there he was, with a rose for me in his hands. He asked me out for lunch but I took rain check for tomorrow. I told him I had a very jealous and ugly husband…”

    “You told him…but I never told you to tell him I was ugly.”

    Jenny seemed genuinely confused, “But Liam, you are ugly. That’s what makes you so funny.”

    Deciding to brush past that, Liam noted a certain reluctance in her voice, “Are you sure you want to continue with this job? It sounds like you’re getting attached to him.”

    Hopping to her feet, Jenny started walking back home, “Nope! He looks like a silly fish and he’s a bad man. Tomorrow, we can begin Operation Rainbow Panda Kill House 5000.”

    “Jenny, you changed the name again. I noticed.”

    “Curses,” and with that, Jenny vanished in her haste to get home. Tomorrow would begin the end of their work together. Finding documents implicating Matthew Bergson was hardly some grand revelation. The numbers, the information, would bankrupt the Society, but that still left him with some burning questions. What was Operation Nightingale and why did it require so much money, shuffled around so much. Thus far, it had all gone according to plan. Nothing had gone wrong and everything could still go wrong, but Liam had a good feeling about how the day was going to go. He could not have been more wrong.