Gentlemen Demons

The thieves hit the Neptune Playhouse during the third act of a particularly affecting rendition of Doctor Faustus.  As the doctor bargained with his demonic muse on stage, three guests left their seats to find their way deep into the labyrinthian bowels of the building.

Once below, the downed lights and scuttle of unseen stagehands covered their steps. In the narrow corridors, the dark swaddled men were shadows amidst other, more innocent, shadows.  No stagehand, costumer, or actor felt an undeserved bite of blade that evening. Wanton violence was the mark of brutes and amateurs, the thieves who slipped smoothly from open dressing room to waiting wings did so with long-collected practice.

Tension grew on stage and lapped over the audience as the fate of Doctor Faustus drew ever nearer. The damned doctor, still arrogant, and now frightened, stared upwards at Lucifer’s puppeted mouthpiece. Faustus realized his stalemate with the infernal forces was broken.

The thieves, now clothed in flashing crimson and twisted masks, waited for the diabolical crow of the lead devil on stage. Crackling laughter rose from the carved mouthpieces, working in tandem with the puppeteer’s cackling voice. At the cue, the thieves sprang onto the stage, cavorting and snarling like the demons whose faces they wore.

They descended on the ruined Faustus, one on each arm, and the last to clear the way to hell, red and black strips of cloth fluttering like wings from their shoulders. The audience leaned back as the thieves dragged the pleading doctor towards the edge of the stage.

The actors behind the mouthpiece missed their counts as their hellish minions began to carry the doctor up the aisle and through their enraptured audience, the maniacal devil at a loss for words. The doctor in comparison writhed and screamed in the most convincing manner as he was hauled up the velvet path by seemingly his fellow cast members. The audience loved the turn and the engaging conflict inches away from their seats. A critic in attendance would write a glowing review of the lead’s performance in tomorrow’s paper.

The third thief, the one with his hands free of the struggling lead, flourished a deep bow to the rows of seats and the distant stage. Faced with the attention of the grinning demon the audience shrank back and more than a few giggled nervously, entirely caught up in the drama. The effect successful, the third thief kicked open the lobby doors for his fellows.

The kidnappers’ impish masks grinned at each other as they dragged their victim past the shocked concessions attendants and into the street outside. No one at the theater managed to form much response, torn between the desire to maintain the audiences apparent glee, the time worn tradition of show perseverance, and the now glaring absence of their lead and titular character. They performed the final bow without him, which confused the crowd as all would have liked to see Doctor Faustus and the cavorting yet gentlemanly demons from only moments before.

It took too many precious moments before anyone realized how truly wrong the situation was, but by that time, the people thieves were long gone.

The above it a result of this Wordle Prompt by Mindlovesmisery Menagerie.

Thievery Abhors

The island’s docks were not entirely as I’d left them. Gulls cried, sailors swore, rope and canvas snapped in the wind as they always had. But the warriors coming down the dockside market street were new. I held up a hand to keep my crew steady. There had been rumors.

Black ink twined around the newcomer’s arms in stylized serpent’s coils. The fresh tattoos were dark and bright in the morning sun. I stepped down to meet them.

“So the old snake managed to take the castle?” This was the archipelago’s largest island and possessed the only fortress among them. Competing families fought for control of the stone castle. The bloody clashes crowned a king for a decade or two before they were ousted in the next spectacle. My own kindred lost the place a century ago. We’d largely given up on it since then,  Apparently, management changed again. I recognized the snake symbol, Rais had made a move.

The leader of the small band sneered, the corner of his nose twisting. “Not so old Fortunatta.”

I shrugged. My eldest brother ran the family now, I’d leave it to him to assure the snake we weren’t interested in his nest. My brothers and I still hunted merchants to bring wealth back to the isles, we had better things to do than fight over a meaningless crumble of stone and mortar. “Take any political matters up with Adan. It’s been a profitable season, I’ve got cargo to unload.”

It would be foolish to turn my back to him, especially with blood running hot from a recent victory. Instead, I waited for them to back down. The leader only smiled. “That’s good as we’re here to collect the tariff.”

I didn’t like his smug reaction to my sudden confusion. “There are no tariffs on Skye,” I said.

“Now there are. Things are going to be civilized from now on.” The leader said through yellow teeth. Behind him, others leaned forward ready. I wondered how many Captains had bought this amateur shake-down. “Twenty percent of the take.”

“Get off my dock. Pirates don’t pay taxes.”  Now I did turn my back on him.

He laughed as I walked back to my ship. “You’re going to have to take that up with the king. He’s quite serious about it,” The leader called.

I stopped, wishing the bruisers would have attacked me. It would have been a proper fight instead of shouted absurdities. I turned back around, conscious of my crew waiting still and ready to see what I would do. “Then the king can take it up with me.”

Their departure did nothing to quiet the brewing unease in my gut. Something had changed, and it wasn’t just the flags flying distant on those castle walls.

A brief continuation of the Thievery Series I started back in December.

 

Thievery Absconds

Two weeks watching the police lot. Three days practicing on padlocks. One night spent sleepless on the park bench two blocks away.

They had the RV and a station full of caffeine-riddled men with guns. He had his clothes, his own lock picks, and a bag full of practice padlocks. The odds weren’t good. But that was alright, he thought, because the odds didn’t matter.

Four weeks ago his father had been pulled over on the edges of Wichita. On that clear skyed Sunday the police finally managed to track something to the RV and the man within. The news reported on the arrest and the money, fake documents, and odd trophies stacked inside their makeshift home. The press called him something different with each new discovery. The bottle of rare aged bourbon tucked between the kitchenet seat? His father was suddenly a gentleman thief. The plastic stacks of driver licenses hidden in the microwave, an enigma. The checks from the retirement home in the glove compartment, a monster.

Miles away in someone else’s downtown apartment, he’d been blissfully sleeping off the weekend. That morning he’d awoken to a voicemail from his estranged sister. His father’s single phone call had gone to her, not him. She’d called to say their father and her childhood home were in police custody.

Her childhood home, his current one. That fact, and several weeks of preparation, had led him to the park bench a block away from the lot. He stared up at dark sky and waited for the night shift to turn into the morning one.

The horizon began to lighten and he started moving. The police impound lot was not too different from any other, higher fences, more cameras. Once you snuck into one, you’d broke into them all. Four in the morning, everyone was tired. Less likely to notice a skinny kid hovering on the sidewalk.

Fifteen minutes to watch the guard blearily stare at a phone screen. Two minutes to pick the padlock behind his back, fingers deft with practice. Another second to close the lock after he’d slipped in.

The RV waited in the corner of the lot up against the wall of the station. The door was open, the dash hanging, its cabinets pulled out, the mattress in the back turned over. He didn’t bother with the ransacked. Instead, he worked open the hollow beneath the kitchen table, the hole in the wood below the bottom bunk, the space under the passenger’s seat.

He was after smaller treasures. The library book he’d never got to finish, dog-eared only a quarter through the pages. His sister’s old journal which she’d left in her hurry to vanish two years ago. Another set of picks, shining against leather worn by his father’s fingers. He stuffed them into his backpack and checked the color of the sky.

Half an hour to get through it, running his fingers over the old vinyl counters and pitted steering wheel. Five minutes to get back out, another to wait until the guard gave into boredom and returned to his phone. A minute to get over the fence. A final scramble and sprint back to the park and then far away.

Thievery Abides

The elevator doors closed her in. Genevieve looked down at the full drink in her hand, bubbles rising cheerily in the curved glass. She’d forgotten to hand it off to a waiter before leaving the event below.

Genevieve gulped the champagne and winced when the carbonation hit her nose. Leaving her new boss’s birthday party, drinking alone in an elevator, following the niggling feeling in the back of skull up into the dark offices…. Genevieve pursed her lips disapprovingly at her reflection in the elevator doors.

The elevator reached the top level with a gentle chime. Genevieve stepped out onto the lavish mosaic pattern set into the floor outside the doors. Her heels clicked against the stone and she paused. Deciding she’d already given into paranoia coming up, Genevieve slipped off her heavily arched stilettos. She left the shoes by the elevator with the empty glass.

Pale stone floors and glass revealed empty boardrooms and stark orderly admin desks. This floor’s offices were reserved for top leadership, only Genevieve’s boss and a few others.

Genevieve slipped up to the thick double doors of her boss’s office. Twenty stories below they’d be toasting him by now. The lock clicked when the biometrics picked up her signature.

It was dark inside the office. Genevieve’s winced when she caught the sudden scent of sandalwood. “Isra.”

Her dress was stormcloud grey, a tight matte fabric that melded into the shadows just as it had probably blended perfectly into the crowd below. Thick midnight hair up in an elegant twist, sling-back heels, little make-up. Those were familiar, the wide eyed surprise on Isra’s dark features was not and Genevieve enjoyed it for a heartbeat.

“So you didn’t know I worked here. That’s a relief.” Genevieve shut the door behind her and flicked on a soft light. Isra relaxed a little, the thin file in her hand going to her grey-swathed side. Genevieve stopped when she saw it. “But that. That’s a problem.”

“I– it’s good to see you Gen.” Isra smile was more grimace. She gently kicked a lower desk drawer closed before she stepped forward.

Genevieve looked around the office. Seemingly, nothing was out of place. It was exactly as she’d left it before the party, the closed portfolios stacked and waiting for monday, fresh supplies, the decanter full in the glass cabinet behind the desk.”So how bad is it?”

“We don’t know yet.” Isra’s perfectly french manicured fingers tightened a little around the file. “Henderson doesn’t keep digital.”

“Too easily stolen. I know.” Genevieve kept her tone even. She’d wanted her sudden panic in the ballroom below to be new job jitters, or wistful nostalgia, or even a mental excuse to get out of the crowd. She hated being right. “You can’t take those.”

A small shift straightened Isra’s spine. Genevieve swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. She dropped her eyes with a sigh. “He’ll notice. I can make copies but I want my cooperation noted if things go down.”

Isra followed her out of the office to the empty admin desk at the end of the hallway. The copier was off, and the damn thing always took a minute to warm up. The soft click of plastic machinery filled the silence between them. Isra watched the copier, Genevieve watched the floor.

“Did you see me?” Isra asked.

Genevieve held out her hand for the file. Isra passed it over and Genevieve shook her head. One by one the financial reports she’d never seen before passed into the copier. Maybe it was time to start the job search again. “I smelled sandalwood in the lobby, and then again in the hallway. Kind of surprised you kept the perfume.”

Isra took the warm duplicates. “I liked it. I did tell you that.”

She shrugged in response. The darkened offices were suddenly the last place she wanted to be. To her nose, they all reeked of sandalwood. Finished, she turned off the copier. “I’m going downstairs, there’s an open bar and I need a drink.”

Isra nodded and folded the copies into her clutch. Of course it was dark grey like her dress, perfectly matched. “I’ll keep you out of things.”

Genevieve tightened her jaw until her teeth ached. “I know you will.” She left Isra on the top floor, picked up her shoes, and welcomed the sterile metallic smell of the elevator.

Thievery Absolves

Someone had left the window open, allowing all manner of things in. Wind, a bit of warm rain speckling the sill. Then an arched foot, followed shortly by the rest of the assassin.

From his hospital bed, he watched her silently twist under the dingy window pane. The nurses were off until morning, the doctors til noon. The camera in the corner had probably never worked. It, like the cheap door locks, were installed as an excuse to charge the room’s occupant for security without delivering.

Not that better locks, or a working camera, would have mattered. She was a professional and he was helpless. A disgusting contraption of pins and plaster set his bones and wired him to the musty bed. She’d timed this beautifully, approval curled cold in his stomach.

“So what will it be?” He rasped at the assassin standing before his bed. An air bubble injected syringe would have been his choice, a quick silent death into his veins or IV. More likely, a silenced pistol. It was a classic. Or perhaps, as they went back, she’d favor the intimate and smother him.

He frowned when she didn’t move. Theatrics were an embarrassing affectation in their industry. Having taught her better, he almost sighed in relief when the knife clicked open. If he was to die, he wanted to be killed properly.

The assassin moved forward, graceful and androgynous in a mask, hood, and gloves of the darkest grey. A smile twitched his mouth, he’d been the one to teach her that black always cut too harsh a silhouette.

His smile died again when she bent at his side and used the knife to pry open the locked drawer of the nightstand.

“What are you doing?” He demanded as she pocketed his phone and passports. The assassin ignored him, flipping through his wallet before pulling a leather bound ledger from the drawer. She stood, flicking through the documents within. He gaped as she took the bank notes, a few signed agreements, and the address of his lock box like a common thief.

“Get on with it.” He snapped at her, old frustrations blooming again.  The flat obstinate glance she turned to him was almost nostalgic. The assassin didn’t answer, but withdrew a plastic identification card from her pocket and placed it flat on the nightstand. He craned his neck. A birthdate, a name, and a picture.

He quieted, stomach churning. The picture was dated, taken decades ago. The information was also old, unused for a lifetime. “How did you find that?” He murmured gazing at the damning piece of thin plastic.

She cocked her head, considering his broken form and lined face.

The assassin-turned-thief left him staring helplessly at the nightstand.  From the window, under the patter of rain on leaves, a synthetic wailing began. The high-pitched sirens approached, tires screeching on the old roads leading to the dilapidated little hospital.

Flash Fiction: Hunter and Thief

The girl hopped the turnstile without a second thought, hands on the metal, feet up and over the narrow bars. Her ballet flats hit the gum stained concrete and she was dashing towards the open train.

The silver doors closed. She skidded to a halt on the platform, nearly losing a shoe.

The woman paused behind the dirty chrome of the turnstile. A roused guard does not move, but his eyes swept across her tailored white suit and gold linked sandals. The woman shone against the dirty underground. When she vaulted the bars, he lunged, and then lurched ambisinister.  She was gone in the crowd when he picked himself from the floor.

The tracks were empty, the platform busy. She picked her way through the benign throng, edging around commuter, vagrant, and squalling child with equal disdain.  A man with long unkempt hair catches her eye from the corner.  He reaches up from his blanket and she passes a bribe into his ruddy hand. He points a grime covered finger towards the tunnel and the tracks leading into the dark.

The girl doesn’t stop running. Trash litters the tunnel, grease stained paper and the ripped plush toys. Behind her, the sound of someone else’s feet echo through the dark. Somewhere, she loses her shoe. The girl leaves it behind.

The woman pursues the sound of uneven footfalls. Her own pace is rhythmic; her sandals slap the ground as she follows the thief’s trail.

The girl sees the hunter first. Swathed in white, shining with gold at her ears, on her fingers, on her feet. The sound of her steps rang with past chases, hundreds of them. The girl is the hunter’s itch, to be scratched. She stares into the dark, waiting.

The woman only pauses when the tunnel shivers. This was an inevitability, but the thief is ahead, so she does not stop. The refuse around them trembles with promised destruction. She swings around a bend in the tunnel, and stops.

The girl is on the track waiting. The tunnel fills with the shriek of motion.

It has been a while since I’ve completed a Wordle. This one is from the talented Mindlovesmisery’s Menagerie.

Dawn Bringer

Raksha slipped into the city before the humid day could cool into night. She paused only to assure the gate sentinels that she was no one to take note of. Raksha pressed a small purse into the guard’s hand. Confident in the power of gold, she turned towards the sagging roofs and narrow alleys of the Burrows.

The Burrows, named proudly by its inhabitants and with derision by everyone else, was a a district set on the riverside of the large city. Its mess of stacked shops, tenements, and doxie dens leaned over the narrow, half-cobbled streets so severely the buildings touched in places. Where the walls didn’t, the residents strung ropes and creaking foot bridges for ease of travel. The swinging overpasses, while perilous, kept one’s feet from the mud and worse.

Raksha slipped under a particularly low bridge and down a staircase, careful of the dirty water pooling at its corners. The doorknob turned under her fingers.

The inside of the pawnshop was a mess of stacked books and old weapons. Yellowed glass cases displayed tarnished silver and scratched gemstones. She smiled when the stocky man behind the counter scowled up at her. The day’s take was spread over the already cluttered counter in dull stacks of coins. “Closed.” He said when recognized the face beneath her hood.

She held up the bag still hooked over her shoulder. “You sure? Got something for you Ourik.”

Despite his sour expression Ourik gestured her over with two fingers.”Lock the door first. You always bring trouble.”

Ourik shifted the counter’s stacked contents to make room for Raksha’s goods. He didn’t put the money away, they’d worked together before. The bag gave a muffled clink when she set it down.

“Found it below ruins at the north border. No heat and the thing is pristine. Not a scratch.” Raksha peeled the layers of course cloth from the parcel with reverent fingers. She pulled the final bit of sackcloth away and the pawnbroker’s shop filled with soft morning light.

Raksha enjoyed Ourik’s open-mouthed astonishment. The diamond was the size of plum, and far larger than anything in the store’s dingy cases. Its size was nothing compared to the effect in the air. The motes of dust around them lit up like stars.

The stone’s faceted surface didn’t shine, but everything in its presence seemed to.  Even Raksha’s fingers seemed to glow with warm dusky light as they hovered around the prize. She smiled, chest swelling as the store was transformed by the glimmering motes.

“Raksha.” The broker breathed her name like it was a curse. The dust still shimmered around them, sending bits of light across his face. “What have you done?”

“What?” Raksha was shaken from her pride. She pulled the small bits of cloth back around the stone, shielding it from his unexpected reaction. “You’ve dealt with special items before.”

The light dulled from the shop, the dust in the air invisible once more. Ourik drew his palm across his forehead. “Ruins in the north?”

Raksha nodded, the crease between her brows deepening as she frowned. “The place was abandoned. You saw what it did, its obviously valuable, you should be able to turn it around easily.” Meaning she should get a good sum, such was the relationship between thief and broker.

Ourik helped her wrap the stone away and slipped it back into the sack. “A dawnstone is priceless.”

Raksha’s eyes brightened as if the stone had been unfurled anew. She pushed the stowed gem across the counter towards him, upsetting a stack of coins. “How much then?”

“Priceless, Raksha. There is no amount that can be paid for something like that. Best to take that thing and put it back where you found it.” He stepped away from her and the stone.

Raksha shouldered the bag but did not move her feet. She watched him “What’s a dawnstone? And why wont you buy one?”

“Because I don’t. Get out, take that thing with you.” Ourik hastily gathered his own coin and began shuffling around the store, checking window latches and blowing out the dusty lanterns.

“Its worth at least few crowns I’m sure.” Raksha begged, disliking the sodden feel of turned luck. “Ourik, please, I spent everything else getting back here.”

“Its worth kingdoms.” He growled and unlocked the front door. “More than that. Lives. A dawnstone will bring all sorts, and everyone one of them will pay dearly for it. For all that it shines, that thing brings death.”

“I’d be content with gold.” Raksha said, feet still planted stubbornly next to the counter. He still hadn’t told her what the damn thing was. Though the stone still rested heavy against her side, Raksha’s prize was stolen.

“You’re a burrow’s graverobber. The only thing you’ll get for it is trouble.” He opened the door, and a bit of dirty water trickled onto the floorboards. “Go, take it back, and then forget where you found it.”

Raksha clenched her jaw, weighing her options. “I’ll go.” She said finally.

She didn’t look at Ourik as he left, or back when the door slammed behind her. Water trickled down from the ropes and lines of the makeshift bridges. She had no shelter, no food, and no prospects because she’d managed to find the only priceless diamond in existence.

“But I’m not taking it back.” She said to the empty street. Raksha took a breath and started walking. She’d heard what Ourik had said, someone had to want this thing.

Behind her, in the alley of the broker’s shop, a thin shadow slipped from the stone and began to follow the thief.

This post is in response to Mindlovesmiserys Menagerie’s Tale Weaver Prompt.  I was in a nostalgic mood for classic fantasy and Mindlovesmisery’s prompt was perfect.