Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 16

     Though your average passerby might doubt it, due to his rugged, rat-like exterior, Liam occasionally dabbled in friendships. Friends were a rare currency in the big city, and good friends were even rarer. A good friend who also happened to be your boss, who took you out drinking and then took you for a cup of coffee the next morning, was the best friend in all creation. He had even bought Liam a muffin, which his stomach eyed with the suspicious disdain of a career drunkard. Liam mulled these thoughts over as he downed his cup of scalding hot coffee, wondering how Simon had managed to talk him into a drinking contest with two half goblins and a rather inebriated talking rabbit. Simon was speaking to him, but Liam wasn’t catching most of the words.

     Liam adjusted a pair of dark sunglasses his friend had given him to combat his skull splitting headache. Simon sat across the table from him, also wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and looking much worse for wear than he normally did.

     “I’m being followed. I can see something, someone, out of the corner of my eye. It starts when I leave the house and it follows me wherever I go. I need you to watch my back today, Liam.”

     “Are you sure you’re not being paranoid?”

     Reaching across the table, Simon snatched the glasses from Liam’s face, exposing his red streaked eyes to the vengeful gaze of Mr. Sun, “Because I’m kind of a big deal. I’m honestly surprised that nobody’s tried this before and also that you still haven’t picked up on that yet.”

     Following the sound of his voice, Liam knocked his employer’s sunglasses to the floor. He was rewarded by a sharp intake of breath, “I know you’re a big deal, that’s not what I’m getting at. Why don’t people just spy on you in your study? It’s kinda stupid to follow you around when even I know roughly where you’re going to be about half the time.”
“Do you want the job or not?”

     Liam hesitated for an instant, “Sure. I’ve wasted days doing dumber things.”
Resting a hand on Liam’s shoulder for an instant, Simon rose to his feet, “Thank you, Liam. I can’t trust anyone else to figure out what’s going on. It might take a couple of tries, even with your help. “

     Turning towards the front door, Simon suddenly turned on his heels and headed behind the counter. Grabbing his sunglasses and slipping them over his tortured eyes, Liam called out to Simon, “Wait, we’re starting now?”

     Simon stopped at the door into the kitchen, “What? Of course we’re starting now. I’ve got work to do, and we don’t have time to waste.”

     Darting through the kitchen door, he was gone. Quickly cramming his uneaten muffin into a pocket, Liam desperately followed. This was hardly the Simon which Liam had been working for over the last few years. Something had changed, either in their relationship or in Simon himself. He was careful, crafty and he planned several steps ahead whenever he took action. This spontaneous Simon was something new and that scared Liam a little. Spontaneous got people killed, usually the spontaneous ones and sometimes, the people around them.

     Striding from the coffee shop’s back door, he took a left immediately. Liam waited a discrete amount of time before following. If Simon was being followed, Liam couldn’t stay too close. When you’re tailing someone to find out if they’re being followed, you need to remain unseen, but keep your target in your sights at all times. As the morning wore on, Liam started to feel uneasy. Simon never overreacted to anything, the privilege of the truly strong, and if he thought he was being followed, he was. From that moment on, to Liam’s eye, every man in a dark suit eyed them carefully. Every random bump and encounter seemed forced, as though Liam was being tracked or warned off following his employer. Sometimes, he thought he could make out a creature following Liam, but it always darted out of his own vision so quickly that Liam dismissed it as his own imagination playing tricks on him.

     Whenever possible, Simon stuck to alleys and stayed off the main roads entirely. The path he took was more erratic than the one Liam vaguely remembered taking the night before, and he had been six sheets to the wind, with one sheet not on duty on account of drunkenness. As they travelled, Liam wondered if this was what Simon’s life was like when he wasn’t around. He always seemed so at ease, but Liam and Simon rarely met outside the Nair mansion. If this tension, this unbearable tension, was true power than Liam wanted no part of it.

     As the sun rose high above them and the shadows in the alleys ceased to provide any relief from the heat or the piercing light, Simon came to a stop in the middle of a small alleyway. Liam paused at the end alley’s entrance to watch him carefully. Whether someone had been following them or not, Liam could hardly say. If someone was following him, they were invisible, or they were doing it from a distance. Focusing on Simon again, Liam realized he was gone. Reaching the end of the alley should have been impossible, but he was gone. Walking cautiously to the center of the alley, Liam turned to look at what Simon had been examining.

     It was a door, but unlike any door Liam had ever seen in New York. It was made of wood, and was miraculously free of any dents or graffiti of any kind. On the door was an engraving of a tree. It reached upwards with branches full of leaves towards the top of the door, and towards the bottom of the door with its roots. If Simon went anywhere, he went into this door. Opening it, Liam discovered a set of stairs which went on endlessly into the darkness. Before taking the first step, Liam briefly wondered where Simon was leading him.

     The moment he placed both his feet on the steps, the door slammed shut behind him. No matter how hard he tried, Liam couldn’t get it open again. Quickly giving up, Liam started down the steps. It wouldn’t be like Simon to get them both killed so easily. Ahead of him, torches hanging along the walls lit the way ahead of him. For what felt like hours, Liam walked the steps. The torches ahead of him lit up, chasing away the darkness and revealing more steps. Behind him, torches would extinguish themselves, hiding all traces of the path back upward from his sight. Once, in an act of desperate frustration, Liam threw his muffin into the darkness behind him. He never heard it land, and there was a loud chewing sound for a few minutes after that.

     Just as he was beginning to wonder if he was going mad, another door appeared in front of him. It also had a tree engraved on it, but this tree’s branches bore no leaves. Instead of leaves, all the branches were filled with birds. What concerned Liam were the roots, which each bore a skull at its base, deep below the earth. Pushing the door open, Liam’s eyes were again assaulted by the brilliant light of the noon day sun. It took his poor eyes a minute to adjust, after the long darkness, but he could hardly believe what he saw once he opened them.

     Most Mythic peoples lived in plain sight. The old ways were dead, magic was dead, and those who lived on the Earth did so in fear of their human counterparts. This underground paradise bore no resemblance to the Mythic world Liam knew. This was the old ways, the manner in which Mythic People lived before humans became so dominant. High above Liam was the closest approximation of the sky Liam could imagine. Mist covered the impossibly bright blue earthen ceiling, approximating clouds. Beneath his feet, grass swayed in the breeze. What took his breath away was the city laid out in front of him. The grass at his feet quickly gave way to stone pathways, which led away between buildings and off into the distance. Rising up above the city, looking down over the city, was a massive tree which reached into the artificial sky. Far ahead of him, Liam could make out Simon. His suit was an instant giveaway in a city filled with point eared elves wearing tunics.

     The city was surrounded by an enormous market, filled with wooden stalls. They swayed in the light breeze which ran through the streets. The smell of cooked food wafted through the winding pathways the stalls created, and while Liam couldn’t understand Elvish, he got the gist of what the vendors were saying. “Buy from me, it’s better and cheaper here.” As he followed Simon, with his eyes only on him, he bumped into a child and knocked him over. Leaning over, Liam was surprised to find fear in his eyes. Liam had never been feared before, but he had never knocked an elven child over before either. Giving him his hand, Liam helped the boy to his feet. Smiling, the boy offered Liam a candy, which he took and put into his pocket.

     Many of the elves ignored Liam as he followed Simon through their streets. Those who paid him any mind, viewed him through suspicious, narrowed eyes. He decided against trying to steal from anyone. It’s best not to steal when you have no idea how you’re going to get out of a bad situation. Instead of working, Liam took the time to observe his surroundings as he followed his boss instead. Every city had a story to tell. If cities are living things, the streets and people are it’s lifeblood and veins. The city told Liam a story, and he didn’t fancy it.

     The majority of the buildings had stone first floors, but the floors above them were wooden. Every building was ornately carved with the faces of previous occupants, or famous family members from bygone ages. Some houses were completely covered in such faces, their regal features looking down on the streets. Some of them only bore a few, and their houses looked newer as well. Planted between the houses were tall Elm trees. Some of the trees were being used for housing or shops. Some of the shops bore carvings, ornate works of the sun or the stars, which Liam couldn’t understand the meaning of.

     Even though the city looked prosperous, the lifeblood, the people were a little thin on the ground. Many of the houses were empty or boarded up. Having worked around Simon and his life for a while, Liam had assumed the elvish population in New York was steady. All the empty houses made Liam wonder where they had gone. It didn’t take long to reach the center of the city. Towering above him, four massive trees grew together into one, having been gradually coerced through generations of careful tending. The intertwined trunks shot up towards the ceiling, where they had long ago pushed through the earth and upwards towards the city.

     Underneath the trees, two thrones sat surrounded by elves. Their occupants made no motion to rise as Liam’s friend approached. Simon strode confidently up the two thrones and bowed. Liam would have gotten close enough to hear what they had to say, but the glares he was shot dissuaded him somewhat. He waited until Simon was done talking.

     Returning the way he came, Simon stopped to check on Liam, “You, my friend, are one of the few individuals who have seen the one of the World Trees and lived to tell about it.”

     Arching his head back to look at the ceiling, Liam cupped his hands over his eyes, “Where does the tree go from here?”

     Simon looked up with him, “Some of the branches go to Central Park. I don’t know about the rest. Now, I know I was being followed by someone since before I got to the coffee shop with you. Are you absolutely certain that nobody followed me?”

     Liam rubbed at his eyes, “Maybe? I couldn’t tell. You’ve got me a little freaked out right now.”

     Nodding thoughtfully, Simon resumed his walk, “I trust you, Liam. Let’s give it another shot. I’m not sure you’re going to like where we’re going next, though.”

     Liam perked up at that, “And where is that?”

     Simon’s next response sent a shiver down Liam’s spine, “The gnome village in Grenwich Village. This is your world, now Liam, and these are your people, even if they aren’t. You’re going to have to see them at some point.”

     Liam waited for a good few moments before following Simon. He wanted to help his friend, but nobody likes walking back into their mistakes. Maybe, after all this time, Liam had to grow up a little and stop running away.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “I thought that was your thing, Rever.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Dangerous? I unvolunteer.”

     “That’s what I thought.”

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

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

     “What if we say no?”

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

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

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

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

     “I told you I was sorry.”

     “Buy me booze.”

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

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

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 14

     Liam was about to witness a murder, and that’s why he wanted to stay out of the way. It’s not that he was frightened. Death was an old passing acquaintance and Liam had been confronted with deaths other than his own before, a fact his mother could’ve attested to were she still alive. Liam hadn’t been hired to stop this murder, and he couldn’t have stopped it either way. When Mark Noble woke up this morning, though he didn’t know it, the sunrise was the last he would ever see. Liam kept his head down because the messiest part of public murder is the aftermath. The atmosphere is like the logical opposite of Black Friday, where everyone stampedes away from the violence, regardless of obstacles or personal injury.

     As the immovable objects lined up against the unstoppable forces, Liam resorted to his one tried and true tactic. Snacks. A handy corner store allowed him to avoid the brewing warzone across the street. He bought a pack of gum with money and a bag of chips with his master five-finger discount card and watched from just outside the store as the waves of opposing sides began to crash against each other.

     It never paid to make a deal with someone like Adrian Denavi. Good business sense says that both parties come to a deal with something to offer. Goods or services are exchanged and both parties leave happy. Adrian hardly seemed to understand basic polite social interactions that didn’t involve murder, much less the art of the deal. He was like a shark, always moving and always the aggressor. Even though Liam hated to admit it, this real estate steal was the right move to make after being forcibly defunded by himself and John Neelan. That aggressive nature was why the deal was taking so long, because a consummate shakedown artist like Mark Noble would be really horrible at admitting when he was being taken for a ride.

     While the two men talked over their differences, with Adrian becoming increasingly agitated and aggressive, Liam realized he had lost sight of the Rever. Robert had vanished into the crowd of shifting cronies and bodyguards. It was only when the killing started that Liam could pick him out. Violence always starts suddenly. Even Liam, who was watching for it, got caught off guard. With everyone in the small crowd of bodyguards so focused on their respective employers, not one of them noticed when an extra body guard slowly pushed his way to the front. Nobody noticed, until he’d already killed three of them. Liam popped a chip into his mouth. It was a clever move, gunning for the bodyguards first. Good on his targets for their meticulous planning and lack of discernable morals. If there were no bodyguards, then there would be nobody left to protect their target, his RoyalAssness.

     The red sea parted, guns blazing, leaving Robert Rever tangling with a handful of bodyguards from both sides. It quickly became apparent that guns were useless against their assailant. His rapid movements made it hard for Liam to follow his path. Up close, it would be nearly impossible to hit him. The smarter guards holstered their guns to be effective and the crazy ones holstered them for fun. Adrian was whisked away towards the opposite end of the street, while Mark’s bodyguards rocketed him along towards Liam. With a Rever making short work of his opponents, Liam wondered how far he would get. He got so distracted by Robert Rever that he failed to notice Christoper Goodbody until he plowed into the remaining bodyguards around Mark Noble like a freight train. Goodbody’s were built tough, and Christopher was clearly no exception to the rule. Most of the remaining bodyguards pushed back against him, while one lone bodyguard whisked Mark away to safety. Christopher toyed with them, tossing them around and giving gentle knockout love taps. Watching him made Liam realize what they were gunning for the whole time.

     In two quick moves, they had separated their target from the one person who could have saved him, gotten rid of all his bodyguards, and slowed his movements. The one remaining bodyguard moved Mark along slowly, as though he expected an attack from any direction. A single gun-shot rang out over the chaos and Mark slumped over, dead. It occurred to Liam that they might try and kill Adrian while he was right in their sights for good measure, and that sounded like a good idea to them too, because another gunshot rang out. Impossibly, Adrian reacted by pivoting and grabbing one of his guards, pulling him into his place and ducking away at the same time. The bullet intended for him killed his bodyguard instead. The remaining Society thugs closed ranks and whisked their leader into a car, which drove off with a screech of tires. Ah well, live and learn.

     Sirens sounded in the distance, and the crowd truly began to disperse. Even if you clearly didn’t kill the victim, the cops ask all sorts of questions that nobody on that street wanted to answer. The trick was leaving in an inconspicuous way, because cops are like cats with badges. They chase after things that run away from them. It’s a trained hunting instinct that’s hard to get rid of. All Liam needed to do was pick out one of the three and follow them, wherever they went and no matter how long it took. Christoper’s long hair swayed, and Liam had already lost sight of the Rever, so Liam followed him. He turned down the street Liam was on, before taking an abrupt left into an alley.

     Cutting through side paths, he left the crime scene in remarkable time, and did it calmly. After that, Christopher Goodbody spent the rest of the day panhandling. It was unreal, watching a member of the Goodbody family beg for change on a subway platform. He even got warned off by a cop once, and even that was genius. He was taking the long way home, and why would a hobo kill a man? Even if someone could place him at the scene of the crime, nobody would believe he was involved.

     Liam followed him no matter where he went. He was Christopher Goodbody’s shadow, always present and never noticed. As the sun went down, Christopher finally started heading somewhere with purpose. They reached a small bridge, and rather than crossing it, he went down below it. At first glance, it all seemed so ordinary. It was just an underpass, with giant concrete pillars. It was the sort of place graffiti artists went when the cops were chasing them. As Liam watched, Christopher Goodbody vanished. It wasn’t as though there was any warning, he just vanished into thin air. Clearly, Liam was missing something. Carefully stepping forward, he slowly caught up to where Christopher had vanished. Poking his head forward, a hand reached out from the aether and dragged him forward.

     The scene that lay before him was completely different than the one had just seen. The concrete walls beneath the bridge had been hollowed to create a small living space. Tiny red doors led into their homes on either side of the bridge. From where Christopher held Liam, he could make out a cozy living room with a roaring fire. A tea kettle hung above it, keeping the water piping hot for tea. Some of the cement under the bridge had been pulled up and replaced with earth for a small garden. It seemed to be flourishing in the summer heat.

     A slap to the face snapped Liam out of his reverie, “What were you following me around all day for, you little creep? Who are you working for?”

     “My name is Liam. I don’t work for anyone, and I wanted to pick your pocket.”

     Christopher tossed him towards their home, “What you think, JJ? He’s lying, but he volunteered that information awfully quickly. There’s something strange about him.”

     JJ emerged from the left house, pausing in the door and leaning against it. Her hair was tied up in a tight bun, and there were grease stains on her face. She wore goggles that covered her eyes and coveralls, which contained multiple burn marks, “Oh, that’s Liam Boggan. He works for Simon Nair. That’s why he followed you.”

     Christopher walked over to Liam and helped him up, “Simon has you working for him? That sounds like a dangerous job. Are you just crazy or bored with life?”

     “I think the operative word is blackmail.”

     “That sounds like the Nair family. We should just kill him and be done with it. We don’t want anything to do with the Five Families,” Robert entered their little home space, none the worse for wear than when Liam had last seen him. He hadn’t even broken into a sweat.

     “Whoa, there Rob. Just because he’s working for a Nair doesn’t mean we have to kill him. We could just maim him,” Christopher suggested helpfully.

     “I prefer an option where I don’t get killed or maimed.”

     “Also,” JJ interrupted her two friends, “He’s good friends with Jenny Rever. If she finds out we killed him, and she would, there wouldn’t be anything that could stop her from finding us and killing us.”

     Robert shuddered, “Anything but Jenny Rever!”

     “So how about we invite him to dinner then?” Christopher peered at Liam curiously.

     Liam knew he wasn’t going to get a better deal than this, “I could eat.” When three killers with an agenda ask you over for dinner, you just sit where they tell you to and compliment their cooking. It hadn’t exactly gone the way he wanted to, but it had worked out in the end. Mission accomplished felt a little too optimistic, but Liam hadn’t been killed yet. That was a good start.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 13

     Living with Dirt Gremlins forced Liam to give up on many common appliances most households take for granted. Most of them, he could conceivably live without. Early on in their cohabitation, he had learned the hard way that Dirt Gremlins viewed microwaves as high powered kilns for their artistic silt. It took a few funny tasting burritos for him to realize why everything tasted like old shoes and cigarettes, culminating in an explosive attempt to make popcorn which had led to black goo shooting from the vents and all over the walls. The one Liam missed on occasion was a television, which worked until Liam found a Dirt Gremlin lodged in the screen. It’s easier to indulge your taste for mindless drama when you don’t have to worry about getting punched by the participants for gawking. That all changed with the discovery of the secret passages laced throughout the Nair mansion.

     The Nair’s employed a veritable army of butlers, maids, guards and a load of other people whose jobs were mainly to stand around looking important. That led to a lot of drama and since Liam was looking for something horrible happening to common people in the Mythic community, this was a good place to camp out and listen. At night, he would return home to assure the Dirt Gremlins he was still alive. During the day, he indulged in what he now thought of as live daytime television. He understood what he had spent the last week doing. What he failed to understand was why Simon now accompanied him, crashing on the couch Liam had requisitioned from an unused guest room.

     Munching noisily on Liam’s popcorn, Simon pointed out through a hole in the wall, “You’re missing your favorite show, Liam.”

     Liam jerked his head up in alarm. Two maids were gossiping about neighborhood boys. “My favorite show is “Angry Chef”. He usually comes on in the evening on your kitchen network hole. Don’t you have better things to do?”

     Simon shook his head, “Nope. This is priority number one with an exclamation point on it.”

     Giving up on getting rid of his employer for now, Liam focused on the matter at hand, “Why do you need these killers specifically? They sound like a huge pain in the ass.”

     “I may be the heir to this family, but I’m not allowed to use any resources that belong to it or my father. I need to find my own people, just like my father before me.”

     “That sounds like a waste of time.”

     “It’s about building relationships with your comrades, Liam,” Simon placed a hand on his shoulder. It felt strangely heavy. Without another word, he left Liam sitting alone with his daily drama. Liam thought long and hard about what Simon told him, before giving up on understanding such a strange man. He was getting ready to go home, when he finally hit pay dirt. Unsurprisingly, the information came from one of his favorite shows, “Two Gossipy Maids”. The plot, from what Liam could tell, was just two angry maids complaining about everything under the sun. For the most part, their complaints were trivial, or domestic in nature. Today’s plot was certainly a twist on that tired gimmick.

     “He told us we needed to be out of our apartment by the month’s end. Not just us, everyone in the entire building,” the first maid cleaned as she spoke. It was a talent the two maids possessed. They talked all the time, no matter what they were doing.

     “Why is he kicking you all out? Is he renovating?”

     “My neighbors said he sold a ton of buildings to the Society. They’re paying him big time for the buildings. Who knows what they want them for, but we’re all out. I guess we have to say goodbye to Styx Street.”

     Liam wandered off before they noticed him. The street name sounded familiar, and Liam had a feeling it showed up in his papers. Leafing through his papers, Liam found the name quickly. Mark Noble, age 45, made a living extorting the people who lived in his building. He was something of a high class slum lord, taking great pleasure in illicit monetary gain from those poor folks unfortunate enough to live in his buildings. As the maid stated, Mark had accepted an offer on many of his apartment complexes. Those buildings would be razed, and the property sold to the Society who would use it for their own gain. That alone was business as usual, but it bore several features which made it unique to Liam. The buildings being demolished were overwhelmingly populated by various Mythic people, mostly half-elves and other mixed bloods which can blend in easily to normal human society. Mark Noble had offered to halt the purchase if the current residents forked over twice as much money as the current offer on the table, with no guarantee he would never enact that evil scheme again.

     Living a long life means getting to experience the same thing repeatedly. Liam believed that all luck was bad luck on a long enough scale. The only question was how long that scale would be, and sometimes it was immediate. If Liam were a hunter, he would have called himself lucky. Once he reached Styx Street, he stopped before he got onto the road proper. Looking at the flow of the crowds, it only took an instant for him to tell that violence was about to erupt. You would be forgiven for failing to notice it, because most people in the street were oblivious to it as well. Under the circumstances, he would have to keep his head down for a bit until the dust settled.

     The building in question was a cute, smaller brownstone which had seen better days. Somehow, it looked even seedier than the one Liam occupied. The apartments were probably too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but for the residents it was home. What set the building apart, was all the people gazing down at the streets from the windows. Every window had someone looking down, open contempt written all over their faces. Like most neighborhoods in the Bronx, Liam could tell at a glance it was beyond tightly knit. This wasn’t just a community, it was a big family and that meant trouble for Mark. Liam could easily pick out the cause of the commotion from the end of the street. Mark Noble, surrounded by a crowd of bodyguards and sycophants, stood gesturing to the one man Liam kept running into, Adrian Denavi.

     It made sense for him to be there. After all, the Society needed capital after the stunt Liam pulled recently, and real estate was as good a scheme as any. With a start, Liam realized that the Society no longer had the money to pay Mark Noble. That meant they were blackmailing him, so he was getting screwed just as much as his residents. Liam didn’t feel sorry for him. What gave Liam pause wasn’t just the sight of a man who had nearly killed him, there were too many who had succeeded for that to scare Liam. It was the three people he was looking for, who were also in the street.

     Across the street, with a plastic bag tucked under his arm, Christopher Goodbody leaned against a wall and watched the proceedings while eating a donut. He wore a white button down shirt, untucked with a pair of ratty jeans and sandals. His hair was tied up high, to keep it out of the way. When he noticed Liam watching him, he waved. In the middle of the crowd, he could make out Robert. His dull black hair wasn’t what Liam expected from a Rever, but there were small things that gave him away. He swayed with the crowd, seeming hyper aware of his surroundings. Liam also found his ultra-dark sunglasses extremely suspicious. While Liam couldn’t see the Neelan girl, he realized that her handiwork was all over the street. People were giving each other secret, subtle glances before turning to watch the action taking place. If Liam had to guess, there were people from the Society all over the street. Mark Noble also had his own bodyguards, for what little it would do him. With an assassination attempt about to go down, and Liam’s only working goal being to get into contact with the killers, there was only one thing to he could do under the circumstances. Find some popcorn and watch the chaos play out, because he was not going out into that mess. As Mark Noble handed a piece of paper for Adrian Denavi to sign, Christopher popped the last bit of donut into his mouth and crumpled up his plastic bag. Time to duck and cover.

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.