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 Abstains

It was easy to miss the turnoff in the dark. Just a break in the gnarled trees, Cole winced each time the branches squealed against the sides of his father’s truck. Still, he leaned over the steering wheel and turned the clunker down the overgrown path.

Safely under tree cover he flicked his headlights back on and slowed to a crawl. From the passenger’s side of the front seat, Rhett groaned at the speed and called him a pussy. Cole jerked the wheel and truck’s right tire dropped into a ditch, cracking Rhett’s forehead against the passenger window.

Cole chuckled and righted the truck.

“Asshole. Watch the beer.” Rhett checked the unopened twenty-four-pack sitting between them, assuring that the cans were still secure and wrapped in the seatbelt.

“Should’ve used the belt for yourself,” Cole said, still fighting a smile.

The path eventually branched. He turned them left without hesitation, the cab rocking back and forth on the uneven road. They’d been coming here for a year now, ever since he and Rhett had made varsity. The seniors had driven them out that first time. Since then, they’d found their own way to the clearing, often with Rhett’s stolen beer and Cole’s borrowed truck. Tucked deep in the low trees on the edge of the Nelson property, the spot had been long claimed by the teenagers of Holt High school.

Cole locked the truck after Rhett grabbed the beer.  He checked the door handle while Rhett hefted the drinks triumphantly at their friends. The truck took enough abuse getting out here, Cole didn’t want to explain stained seats or the smell of spilled beer.

When he turned around Stephanie Davis was there. She hopped up on her toes and snaked a hand behind his neck, pulling herself up and his head down. The kiss was awkward due to the height difference between him and the cheerleader. Stephanie enjoyed complaining about the discrepancy to anyone who would listen, making sure to point out exactly how tall her quarterback boyfriend was.

She smoothed her long yellow hair after he stepped back.  “Took you long enough, c’mon we have a surprise for you and Rhett.”

He put an arm around her shoulders and let her lead. The rest of the group were clustered in one part of the clearing, a half ring hiding the middle from view. Cole knew all of them, it was a small town, though he was more used to seeing football and cheer uniforms than jeans and jackets. Rhett was already there. Cole moved up to him, curious to see what he was frowning at over his beer.

Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t a cage. The makeshift kennel was bent, but functional. It had to be, or the dog inside would have been gone. The large mutt had its belly to metal panned floor, pressing itself as far away from the teenagers as possible. Its lips vibrated in one long low growl as it stared up at them.

“What is that?” Rhett asked deadpan while Cole just stared.

“It’s the Tuscaloosa Wolf.” Stephanie answered Rhett, an unsaid duh oozing condescension. She sent an eager look up at Cole. When he didn’t react, or even look away from the terrified dog, Stephanie continued, “Thought you’d recognize it.”

“I do. Why is it here?” Rhett returned with a withering look, his disdain for Stephanie overtaking the shock of their hangout’s new addition. Cole recognized the dog too, from the games against Tuscaloosa High School. The opposing team would trot out this dog, some shepherd husky mix, as their mascot, the Tuscaloosa wolf. It’d looked slightly less miserable sitting on the sidelines by cheerleader pyramids than it did now.

Stephanie ignored Cole’s stunned silence. She leaned forward and the dog twisted away from her with a sharp warning bark. Cole grit his teeth and tugged her away from the shaking animal.

“I’m fine.” Stephanie put a hand on his arm and his skin crawled. She grinned at her audience, still awaiting an explanation. “It’s a present for the team, we stole Tuscaloosa’s mascot.” The other cheerleaders nodded and began filling in the details of the heist. Cole’s teammates were mostly enraptured.

Rhett rolled his eyes and drained the beer. He turned and knocked into Cole’s arm. “C’mon let’s play beer pong or something.”

Cole shook his head. The dog was still there, exhausted from its panic. He watched it pant between growls, its sides heaving up and down. Rhett grabbed his arm, “Come off it Cole, you just got back with Stephanie. Don’t piss her off. The dog’s fine, it’s not like Tuscaloosa treated the thing any better.”

Cole glared at him.

“Yah, yah.” Rhett let go of Cole’s arm. He grabbed a new beer and toasted his friend. “Stephanie’s gonna hate you forever. I’ll get Madison to give me a ride back.”

Half an hour later Cole turned his truck back onto the main road. He and Rhrett had managed to wedge the cage between the dash and the seat cushions. With the cab finally on even ground, the dog had finally stopped trembling. Curled into a ball, it watching Cole silently from across the seat.

His phone lit up again with Stephanie’s name. Cole turned it over on the seat and concentrated on driving.

He didn’t take the west road to Tuscaloosa. Instead Cole turned south, the direction that would take him towards his house. His dad would have a lot of questions, and Cole would do his best to answer them. But like Cole, the dog needed a break from school politics.

 

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.

Thievery Abounds

She clicked a pair of chopsticks between her fingers and used them to pluck a cheese puff from the bag.  It kept the orange powder from her illuminated keyboard and crumbs from her desk. She finished the last puff and crumpled the bag, tossing it over her shoulder with the chopsticks. They joined the terrain of discarded pizza boxes, sweatpants, and computer parts.

The digits in the corner of her screen rolled over into the six figures. She leaned her chair back with a deeply satisfied breath. The onion browser flashed, refreshing with every new order placed.

Most of the money would be invested back into the supply, the overhead, the logistics. She’d always had a head for numbers. The rest was hers, profit.

Tuition for the next two years, paid. Sorority dues, earned. And maybe she’d get a car. Something her brothers would have been jealous of, except in her color, red. She’d improved on her family’s business model. Unlike them she could afford, in more than one way, a brash display.

Her business was done online, there was no reason to worry about attention on real street corners.

Ill-gotten gains, and all from the comfort of her computer chair. She closed the browser and hovered her fingers over the power switch. These things took time. It’d be months before the online currency reached her bank account transformed.

She put the computer into rest, summoning the archaic visage of a crimson skeleton to the screens. The piratical symbol grinned happily at her on a field of black. She grinned back.

The car, perhaps a new machine, another screen, those perks could wait. Old fashioned thievery was its own reward.