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.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 3

     Out of the many valuable life lessons Liam had learned over his long and oft’ tarnished career, several stuck out in his mind. Never bet on horses, grey hounds or loose women, because you will always lose your money. Never mix cheap whiskey with expensive vodka. Most importantly, never attempt to rig sporting events that are nationally televised. They were such valuable life lessons that Liam indulged in all these pursuits as often and vigorously as possible to make sure he thoroughly learned the lessons and could pass them on to others. While waiting for Jenny, he learned that even if the woman happens to be an assassin, you can’t rush perfection. Fortunately, Liam had company while he waited for his partner in espionage. Unfortunately, that company happened to be gigantic teacup Yorkies, who surrounded him and shivered threateningly.

     As soon as she returned, all the dogs scurried to her side. Jenny’s transformation stunned Liam and left him speechless for a long moment. In place of her errant curls, her auburn hair now surrounded her face in elegant flowing locks. Her shocking pink mask had been swapped out for a pair of dark, reflective sunglasses and she wore a dark red shade of lipstick to accentuate the paleness of her skin. Her outfit, while subdued, was classy and would fit in perfectly while wandering crowds accustomed to good taste. She wore a white blouse with a navy blue blazer and a matching short navy blue skirt. What struck Liam most was her change in demeanor. Her normal, frantic energy had vanished and in its place he saw cool, confidence and calm.

    Standing up, Liam offered his arm to Jenny, who took it with a slight giggle that sounded more like that Jenny he had come to know so well over the week he had been casing her cousin’s house to rob him. For the first few steps, Liam felt like he was leading, until he tried to pull her away from the front gate. Resolutely, she walked right up to the gate controls and keyed in her code to open it. From there, it would be a long trip to the beating heart of the financial world; Wall Street.

     When Liam first thought about the current job, he wanted to hire Charlotte and her limo company to ferry them around. Careful consideration left Liam with an increasing desire to work out transportation on his own, at least at first. The man Liam was tracking, himself, was not dangerous. The same couldn’t be said for the people he worked for. Using a limo service as a short-hand visual for wealth and power would work for a neighborhood where nobody asked questions, ever. If he used Charlotte to ferry him to and from this job, people would start to ask questions. Dangerous people who would look up license plate numbers, locate addresses and send other burly, unpleasant people with metal bats to ask inconvenient questions. Liam knew from experience that when that happened, Charlotte would fold like a bad poker hand in a high stakes game, and it wouldn’t even be anything personal. It’s hard to drive a car if you’re missing a hand.

     Liam wanted to start, therefore, by dipping their toes in the water and getting a feel for what sort of crowd they had stumbled into. Matthew Bergson, their mark, worked with a financial group that did things with money. Liam’s view on money was remarkably narrow, as one would expect of a thief. Either you had your money or Liam did. The miracle of Wall Street, and other such financial institutions, was that your money vanished, but you still felt like it was safe. That left people like Matthew ample time to invest your invisible money in whatever way they wanted, and yet somehow you still had all your money. It was like a magic trick Liam wished he could learn.

     Having looked at the packet of papers Simon handed over to him when he took the job, Matthew Bergson liked to invest in quasi-governmental bodies solely dedicated to murdering anything not human. The real question was whether or not the rest of the group he worked with knew that’s what he was supporting, or if they would even believe Liam if he told them. His picture gave the impression of someone more at home dealing with money than people. He had stringy brown hair and thin lips. His face drooped slightly, as though the weight of the world were slowly pushing him to the ground. His dull eyes hardly had any color at all in the picture, a strange grey which revealed nothing of the man in the image. Matthew Bergson was also a creature of habit. He went to his office in the morning. In the afternoon, he went out for lunch at a different place every day, in the same cycle every week.

    Having Jenny with him gave Liam an amazing opportunity to vanish in plain sight. Nobody paid attention to a dopey looking guy like Liam when a stunner like Jenny walked by. She looked so calm and collected, though she did spoil the look a bit by bouncing around when Liam announced his plan. She would find Matthew Bergson and get to know him. Liam would stay in the background for now, watching and waiting for his opportunity to insert himself. That wouldn’t come today, nor the next day and likely not for the first four or five days, unless they were very lucky. She was going to play the part of his rich wife, looking for some cause to invest in, preferably against his wishes. Men never give information faster than when they give it to rich, naughty women.

    Following someone in a crowd takes a sharp pair of eyes, because it’s like dropping a pebble into a river and trying to watch the ripples while the stream carries them away. Thankfully, for an old hand like Liam, this had already become routine. When you’re robbing someone, it’s best to play a longer game. You could be quite successful at the smash and grab technique, but eventually that haste and impatience will always catch up to you.

     When it came time for lunch, their dance began. Jenny silently pursued Matthew. Liam followed Jenny. What he saw, he did not like. Matthew was being shadowed by at least two pairs of eyes. They belonged to men with hard faces wearing dark suits who failed to blend into the crowd entirely, at least to Liam’s trained eyes. That first day Liam and Jenny followed Matthew, he met nobody and only returned to his office before leaving work to go home at the end of the day. Liam split up from Jenny at that point, when she decided to leave as well. Waiting in the plaza where Jenny had walked, Liam watched as the crowds slowly dispersed, only to be replaced by a new one.

     He waited until he was sure they had lost any lingering mutual friends before meeting up with Jenny in the park near where she lived. He found her sitting on a park bench tapping her foot impatiently. He sat down next to her and leaned back into the bench, “This is going to take longer than a week.”

     “Yup,” Jenny confirmed with her characteristic bubbly nature returning to the surface, “I’m not sure we can get all the information we need just by following him around either.”

    Liam stared off into space, “I saw two pairs of sharp dressed men following our fella around. Before I attempt any kind of breaking and entering, I want to make sure I won’t be interrupted.”

    Jenny giggled, “And you missed a couple more that were staking out the path ahead of him. Whoever Simon sent you to follow around has a lot of friends. This might be easier if I just killed them.”

     There was something about the casual way she said that which chilled Liam to his core, “That won’t help. If you kill a few flunkies, they’ll just send more and then they’ll know we’re targeting the fella. On top of that, if he really is working for the Society, technically his bodyguards are government agents and that sounds like an excuse to start a war to me.”

     Jenny blew a raspberry at him, which he ignored. No, even though Jenny was willing to ply her trade to help, the best course of action would be to take the slow and steady approach. When they knew his schedule outside the office as best they could, it would be time to put the second and third phases of their plan into action.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 2

     Every good thief knows that for each job, you must always locate the ideal tool. When you’re spying on a banker, the most important tool is an ability to act natural around positively gargantuan amounts of money. It’s not as though Liam never handled enormous amounts of money in his work, quite the contrary. Normally when he held money, it was in the form of stolen objects and it only belonged to him until it belonged to the shady buyer he fenced it to. Then, he took his real hard earned money and went home to place it under a mattress. People who dealt in money for a living might as well spend their lives standing next to an industrial pipe pouring out money straight from the reservoir called the stock market. If Liam didn’t resemble a wet rat with stringy hair, he would have become a big shot banker as well. Because Liam resembled a wet rat with stringy hair, spying on a banker while he was surrounded by his high class banker friends would never hold up. Someone was bound to take one look at him and realize that he didn’t belong in a five star restaurant or a high powered business center and kick him out.

     In this case, he needed someone with him who would take all the attention from his less savory features and plant it squarely on her. Liam knew two women stunning enough to pull it off, but only one of them had the training to stand up to the snooty scrutiny. Sam Goodbody was stunning, without a doubt, but having spent the majority of her life on the road, she was more at home in dive bars than in fancy lounges. Jenny, on the other hand, had trained to blend in no matter where she was. The first time they met, he never would have guessed she was an assassin. Thanks to his job stealing from Charles Beaufort, he knew where she lived. That just left the problem of asking Jenny without getting caught by her father.

    In any other circumstance, Liam would have tried to visit at night, but that was just a recipe for disaster. It’s not like the Rever family used their eyes anyways, since they almost always covered them with their ritualistic scarves. Their sense of hearing and smell were downright unnerving, so in order to sneak in, Liam chose the middle of the day when the most people would be out and about, in a vain effort to drown out his distinctive musk.

     Liam had first come across the Rever family home without even knowing who lived there. It piqued his curiosity because even amongst their paranoid, drug baron, blood diamond selling neighbors, they still came across as paranoid. Taller walls surrounded their house, with more aggressively uses security cameras mounted on the gates, which looked as though it could withstand a small siege. The good fortune in being a thief is that thieves never siege anything.

     After having arrived in the neighborhood, and carefully giving Charles Beaufort’s house a wide berth, he watched the Rever home for around an hour. Once he felt he had the turning security cameras and their unintentional patterns down, he scaled the wall and sat atop one of the stone pillars. Easy as taking candy from a baby. Or so Liam thought, until he surveyed the front yard. Patrolling the yard, with frantic movements, were a small pack of Yorkshire terriers. Liam could tell they were Yorkshire terriers because he had so recently been stealing diamond necklaces from around the neck of a miniature version. These beasts were around the size of Saint Bernards. They shivered nervously as they wandered around the yard, clearly on the prowl for fresh meat.

     “YIP,” one of them rumbled.

     “I don’t know,” Liam declared to himself, “if this is the best security system or the worst.”

     It quickly became apparent that the best course towards staying alive and un-chomped was playing a rousing game of the-yard-is-lava-and-filled-with-giant-Yorkshire-Terrors. Sadly, Liam’s plan to stay out of chewing distance was somewhat foiled by two disconcertingly clever designs of the Rever family yard. The wall, although taller than the surrounding walls, never touched the house or came close to it in any way. There were no trees in the yard either, no safe havens of any sort from the cute, enormous maws of angry teeth roaming the yard beneath him.

     After weighing his options for a long time, Liam left to gather supplies. No amount of potential money he could make on the side was worth the countless rabies shots his future contained if he got bitten by those guard dogs. Big dog teeth with tiny dog chips on their shoulders meant Liam wasn’t going in there without a plan, and he had already thought of two surprisingly simple ones. The first involved some raw meat and the second involved something far more simple than that, even if it was a long shot.

     Returning to the Rever home, Liam scaled the wall once more and surveyed the yard. The dogs awaited his return, sitting in a loose group with tongues hanging out and ponderously large eyes regarding his every movement with shivering suspicion. Liam tossed the meat in first and the dogs went bananas. Unfortunately for Liam, even if he had bought out the entire deli worth of meat, it wouldn’t have provided enough time for him to reach the house. As it stood, it only provided enough time for him to reach the ground and that’s when he became dead meat.

     Grasping into the back of his pants, Liam retrieved his other weapon of choice, a rolled up newspaper. He had gone with the New York Times for the extra thwacking sensation one received from bopping with such a weighty paper. He had often employed the very same publication on the Dirt Gremlins in his apartment, with limited success. He had a theory that he wanted to test on these enormous tiny dogs. You might be able to take the dog out of the tiny, but Liam doubted you could take the tiny out of the dog? Raising his newspaper high, he brought it crashing down on the nose of the nearest guard terrier and the result was instant.

     “YIP! YIP! YIP!,” with that one whack, all the dogs ran for cover, looking over their shoulders as though they were being chased by an enormous monster. Their running triggered something in Liam which he had never felt before. He needed to run after them. It was stupid, he knew, to stick around with all this commotion going on because if he waited much longer, someone would come out to find out what the dogs were all worked up about.

    After having chased the dogs around the yard three times, the door burst open and Liam’s cover was blown. It would be far more difficult to get Jenny to come with him if he had to drag her away from her father.

     “Who the hell is messing with my dogs!?” Liam caught a flash of pink mask before he went flying into the wall. It certainly was Jenny Rever, but Liam couldn’t even be sure if she had kicked him or punched him. Everything went black.

     When he came to, Jenny had him cradled in her arms. She was waiting for him to stir with a patient little smile crinkling the corners of her lips. When she felt him move, she hugged him so tightly he could hardly breath, “Oh, Liam! Why are you bullying my cute doggies? They’re not mean!”

    Liam tapped her back until she finally let him go and he took a few deep breaths to dispel the spots in his vision, “They’re enormous and they have giant teeth, I think I’m more scared of them then they are of me.”

     “Liam, they’re not just scared of you. They’re also terrified of thunder and the mail man.”

     “I think they’re pretty shitty guard dogs.”

     “But they make really cute house pets.”

     “They look like they poop a lot.”

     Jenny hung her head, “They really, really do. Anyways, what do you want Liam? You’re here to see me, right?”

     “Well, I have to do some work for Simon and I was wondering if you could help. You see…”

     Liam got no further before Jenny leapt to her feet, letting Liam’s head hit the ground hard, “Ok! I’ll be right back!” And suddenly, she was gone, leaving Liam alone in the yard with the small herd of enormous pocket dogs. They surrounded him in a circle, yipping and shivering valiantly against him. It only took a minute for her to return, any longer and Liam would have been forced to hit them with his rolled up newspaper again.

     When she returned, she was wearing a pair of dark pants tucked into boots and a grey shirt that would have helped her vanish into nothingness in almost any light. That was all for naught, because her hot pink bandanna, which she still had wrapped around her eyes, could be clearly seen from space, “So who are we killing?”

    “Oh right, you’re an assassin. We’re not killing anyone. I need to follow someone around and learn everything there is to know about him.”

    “And then we kill him?”

    “Then I take you home and I report everything I learned to Simon. So no killing and that means you’re going to need to change into something classy. You do still get to spend a week with me, though.’

     Bounding back up, Jenny skipped back to the front door and back inside. This might take longer. Liam began to calculate how much time it would take him to get back up the wall if the newspaper didn’t work this time. Watching how quickly Jenny reacted to him, Liam realized that if he was going to turn a profit this trip, it would probably be best if Liam kept Jenny in the dark about his ulterior motives for taking on this trip. Simon didn’t send him to steal, he sent him to spy. If Jenny caught him stealing, she would tell anyone and everyone she met because she had no filter. Leaning back against the wall, he waited patiently for Jenny to come back out so they could get to work.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 1

    The greatest single attribute you can possibly possess is to know yourself. That’s why Liam felt that most people were just hopeless dreamers with their heads stuck in the clouds. That might seem incredibly harsh, but if you know you’re a rabbit, pretending to be a hawk will only get you hurt. Liam Boggan believed himself to be something akin to a mouthy toadstool, one of those ones with purple spots that give you gas. Firmly rooting himself into the dirty underside of society, Liam had long ago resolved to stay there, robbing small time investment clerks to save up for his eventual retirement to either a non-extraditable country or a state penitentiary. The problem with being effectively immortal is that retirement could potentially last for a very long time.

     Recently, another flaw in Liam’s master plan had taken form around a man named Simon Nair, who Liam had failed spectacularly to pickpocket. Since that day, Liam carried a choice with him all the time. Work off the debt for Simon or go to jail. Since Liam preferred to be working, even if he wasn’t working on his own account, Liam chose to work for Simon. Until recently, that work consisted almost entirely of thieving for him. The only difference in Liam’s life to this point, lay in an increased difficulty of work and the items no longer went towards lining Liam’s pockets with “insurance” money. That had changed when Liam took a job from Simon Nair to spy on guests in his own home. Liam had certainly followed people around for nefarious purposes before, but that usually began and ended with the contents of their pants pockets and not their mouth pockets. Stealing information was the scummiest thing a thief could do. Liam would never have done so on his own account.

     Somehow, despite his distaste, he performed so well that Liam was given a very long break, and he had used it to its fullest. Some of it was spent moving his storage apartment to a higher floor, since his current one had been let out and Liam didn’t want people going through his belongings any more than the owners of the apartment building wanted people knowing that Liam existed in the first place. Once that was done, he engaged in his normal past time, attempting to drill past rock bottom. He went on the bender to end all benders. Once that was done, he stagnated in his apartment surrounded by the Dirt Gremlins which infested the place, who appeared to have entered an artistic slump of their own.

    While in this daze, watching a Dirt Gremlin half-heartedly splatter a strange mixture of mud and dried insects onto the wall, he realized his life was due to change. That change began the way it always did these days, with a note from Simon Nair. They never arrived by post, always fluttering into his room in the form of paper butterflies which would endlessly hunt him down until he read the message. This one must have found its way in via the kitchen window, looking around with it’s little paper antennae until it found him slumped in his chair. Landing on his nose, it fluttered it’s dainty wings in his face until Liam slapped it.

    With the net result of a slap to his own face, he opened the note and found a message he needed more than he wanted to admit, “Time to stop drinking. Get over here at once, I have work.”

     Crumpling the paper butterfly into a ball and tossing it at the Dirt Gremlin struggling with his art, Liam rose, slowly shaking the stupor out of his brain.

     The piece of paper hit the Dirt Gremlin square in the back of his head. Turning to glare at him, it picked up the note and unfolded it, looking critically at the writing Liam knew it couldn’t possibly comprehend. It closed one eye and then the other, looking at the writing and gazing upward with suspicion at Liam before returning to the piece of paper. Evidently, this was the inspiration the Dirt Gremlin had sought.

     “Dirty!” It cried, before returning it’s attention to the wall with renewed gusto and vigor. Soon, it had attracted a small crowd of Dirt Gremlins, which clapped politely with each new brush stroke.

     Liam watched in rapt fascination for a long time before finally leaving. Any thief worth his stolen road salt never wanted to have his stash on a higher floor than the one he lived on. If Liam had to bolt suddenly, he wanted to grab his things on the way out. Now he would have to run up three flights before trying to get out.

    In spite of himself, Liam did feel a sense of excitement. Smart thieves steal smart, which means less excitement and more time spent out of jail. In his secret moments when he lay in bed, however, even Liam dreamt of robbing rich oil barons of all their wealth. The closest he would ever get to doing that in this lifetime would be doing it for Simon, but that was closer than most people got.

    What exactly this next job would be kept running through his mind as he showered and changed. His apartment had a peculiar odor, thanks to the resident Dirt Gremlins. It was an acquired taste, in the same way that one acquired the smell of dumpsters when one lives next to one for too long. Having changed, he made his way downstairs to the front of the apartment complex he lived in. Surprisingly, for once, the mysterious yellow taxi that doubled as Simon’s personal car was nowhere to be found. Mysterious indeed, because normally Liam could expect a ride to work, at least for the first go.

    When he arrived at the Nair mansion, something felt off. Even though he had been invited by Simon, Liam spent a long time on the first floor, watching the various creatures come and go. The Nair family stood amongst the Five Families that led all the Mythic people in North America. If you could imagine a creature of fantasy or myth, they were real and they all had to come to the Nair mansion in order to function. The first floor served as a city hall of sorts. If you had something official to file, this is where you went. A small pack of fairies chittered by him, fluttering around gently, and they gave Liam some much needed perspective. It was the time of the great migration, but more than cold was chasing these creatures south. The middle of the summer had come, but the tone of their conversation was chillier than the weather gradually incoming.

     Deciding he needed more information before taking on the next job, Liam crossed the main floor, careful to keep his ears open on the way, and ask about the current climate from the man himself. When he reached Simon’s office, he found him buried in paperwork, almost invisible behind stacks of reports. Coughing slightly, Liam shuffled and waited for Simon to notice he had arrived. It was the privilege of great men to ignore their lesser friends until they were ready. It was Liam’s misfortune to have to put up with that sort of attitude.

    This time, however, it didn’t take long for Simon to acknowledge his presence. He rose to his feet and peered over the stack of paperwork with both eyes to get a good look at Liam. His face lit up with a genuine smile when he saw him, “Liam! I’m so glad you made it unharmed. It’s a madhouse out there today. Do you need anything to drink.”

    “I could use a stiff one, if you join me. I spent some time downstairs listening to the scuttlebutt. Word going around seems to be that getting out of town is in fashion right now.”

    Simon crossed the room and pulled out an expensive bottle of liquor from a cabinet that looked older than Liam. When he pulled the cork, the smell filled the room instantly. It smelled more expensive than Liam as well, “Well, we’re encouraging our people to get their paperwork for the migration done early this year. Dad is a bit paranoid about a repeat of last year, I doubt we need to worry about it since we’ve hired more staff.”

    “I get the impression they were worried about more than the cold weather.”

    Simon paused before pouring a glass for himself and for Liam, “When a quasi-governmental body called the Society for the Protection of Humankind declares a holy purge on all non-humans, that’s the sort of effect it has on folks.”

    Handing Liam his glass, Simon waited for Liam to join him. Raising his glass in a toast, Liam downed his first sip in quick gulp. The heat was intense and Liam vowed not to make that mistake again. Simon chuckled as Liam coughed a few times, “Elvish sipping whiskey. I wouldn’t drink it too fast, it’s smooth in small doses, but too much can overwhelm the system.”

    Once Liam had gotten his coughing under control, he managed to ask the question that had been on his mind since he left his apartment, “What did you need me for?”

     “Well, with all this talk of a holy war going on, I thought it would be a good idea to send someone out into the world and find out what the hell is going on.”

     “If you need a spy, why don’t you ask one of the Neelan family to do it? They’re one of the Five Families and that’s literally why they exist.”

    Simon put his glass down and stared at his feet for a long time before responding, “When you came to me and told me that someone in the Neelan family was working for the Society for the Preservation of Humankind, I was terrified. It’s even scarier that the Neelan family has no idea who it is. With that in mind, I can’t trust any of them until this mess is sorted out. That means I need you.”

    Now it was Liam’s turn to pause for a long time, “Ok, I’ll bite. Why me? I’m not important, I’m not special and I have no idea what the hell is going on.”

    Simon threw up his hands in frustration, “That’s why, Liam. Your only tie to this mess is me and Samantha Goodbody. You’re also blessed with a body that can’t die. I have someone that I want you to follow. Become his shadow, go where he goes and come back in two weeks and tell me everything about what he does.”

     “What kind of man am I going to be spending time with?”

    Putting his glass down, Simon rose and paced back to his desk, rummaging around until he found a file. Returning with it, he gave it to Liam to inspect, “His name is Matthew Bergson, he’s a banker with heavy ties to the Society. He’s got a hand in almost all their finances. I want to hit the Society hard, but dad won’t give me permission to do anything. If I come to him with some good info then maybe we can at least cut their cash flow.”

     “And you think they’re just going to let you do this?”

    Chuckling, Simon leaned back into his seat and shook his head, “I doubt they would, if they knew we were going to do this. That’s why I’m sending you. That packet has his address, some notes on his daily habits, restaurants he frequents, the works. Don’t worry about a deadline, take as long as you need. I’ll have my hands full getting everyone prepped to leave if they need to get out of the area quickly.”

    Without another word, Liam got up. His ears twitched slightly. Simon told him to get information, and that was all well and good. He would get the information and then he would steal every single thing that wasn’t bolted to the floor and would fit into a big sack. Robbing from bad people made him a sort of hero, right? He wasn’t exactly a Robin Hood, because he was keeping all the stuff for himself, but then, who was? This was going to be a very long and expensive task. It would work off some serious time on his debt, earn some brownie points and end with a net profit for him, if everything went according to plan. He even knew who to ask for help, to make sure that everything went the way Liam wanted it to. All he had to do was ask her.