The Thief’s Gambit
Vibrations on the nightstand shattered the last few moments of my sleep. The dark night peered from the curtains. I cursed under my breath. There was little point in fighting to reunite with sleep’s warm embrace. London didn’t sleep, and neither did those who required my services.
I picked up my mobile phone and cleared my throat before answering, despite the fact it would do little to hide my grogginess from the caller. An unknown number popped up on the screen, but only a handful of people would ring me at this ungodly hour. A grimace spread across my lips as I answered the call.
“Good evening, Timothy. We have another assignment for you, one that requires your immediate attention. If you take this, we might be willing to overlook your lack of payment last week.” The man’s dry, lackluster voice had a crisp accent. He’d never given me his name, never shared many details about my assignments either. He merely brought them to my attention and made sure I paid my debt.
Hallmarks of the city’s darker elements were all too obvious, but what could I do? I owed the local mob boss more than I cared to admit. My old gambling habit had my back pressed tight against the wall, and I still paid for my wild and reckless youth.
“I’ll do it,” I replied, and the unnamed man on the other end of the line hung up.
Now I’d log into various websites and search for public postings in the adult and other less savory sections. Missed connections were very popular with my clients, but risky assignments were something my clientele didn’t want to be associated with. Probably had something to do with recent notices about various three-letter agencies cracking down on this type of communication, driving everyone back to using older, tried and true methods.
I grabbed a cup of coffee before firing up my laptop. When the computer finished loading, I opened the browser and set off to find details on my newest job. It didn’t take long to locate the assignment.
An old lady wanted the company of a young man who had previously helped her in a museum. Apparently, she had been quite taken by the gentleman’s knowledge of the exhibit, especially the old Italian necklace that had been on display.
I chuckled to myself, still shaking the last vestiges of sleep from my mind. So, this ‘old lady’ wanted ‘help’ with the necklace, huh? Not very subtle, but if it made my clients feel more at ease that I’d understand the job… However, I hoped the person who created the listing would be less cheesy next time.
I flagged the posting as fraud and logged out.
My client would get an email notice about being flagged, the sign I had taken the job. No one would be the wiser. No face-to-face meetings to discuss things beforehand, strict anonymity, and, most importantly, full deniability.
A generalized search on the museums in the area revealed only one matching entry based on the item’s description, the Royal Museum of Art. Good. At least there would be no confusion about what the client wanted. Nothing frustrated me more than stealing the wrong item. A mistake I tried my hardest not to make ever again.
On second thought, I rang my brother Sam. It nearly went to voicemail when he answered with his typical gruff tone. “What is it?”
A slight sting of jealousy tightened my chest. He’d been up enjoying his Saturday night, but I no longer had that luxury.
“Hey, Sam. I just wanted to let you know I got another job. My client wants an Italian artifact appraised as soon as possible. Seems he can’t wait until tomorrow. It looks like I won’t be making it to breakfast. Can I catch up with you another time?” I hoped he’d buy into my bullshit about the job. He respected what he thought I did. If he only knew…
Missing our weekly get-together bothered me. Our time to catch up on one another’s lives started when I’d moved out on my own. Meeting with him meant a lot to me.
“Seriously, mate? You’re always hunting for one piece of art or another. Some things are better left buried.” He sighed in my ear. “But you’ve got a job to do. Just be careful. That major explosion wasn’t long ago, and I’m afraid for our country. The MI6 agent still hasn’t been found. He’s most likely dead, or maybe terrorists abducted him. If it can happen to someone like that…” Sam cleared his throat. “Anyway, you can pick up the check next week.” His dry humor almost managed to hide his disappointment, but I knew him too well.
“Fair, I’ll pay for breakfast next time.” I ran a hand through my sleep-tousled hair. “Don’t worry about me. I might not be MI6, but I know how to take care of myself.” My skills had kept me alive while dealing with the mob, but my brother didn’t need to know that. “As for my job, I’ll slow down when I can. I promise.”
“Right. Text me if things change.” He let out a loud yawn.
Unfortunately, I doubted they would. “Get some sleep.” I ended the call and set my mobile on the desk.
Sam didn’t know about my nightly excursions. The less he knew about the darker side of the world, the better. Our parents had died when we were young. Night terrors and mental issues plagued Sam ever since. If he knew I was working on the other side of the law, he’d lose it.
The explosion that took place a few weeks ago returned to my mind.
While driving home after lunch, a building ahead of us had exploded into flames. I barely had a chance to slam on the brakes. Debris plastered the windshield, putting several cracks in it. Sam went white with shock, shaking uncontrollably and refusing to speak with anyone for the rest of the day. It had broken me to see him like that.
I couldn’t let him suffer again, but if I didn’t do my job, the mob might come after him. They knew he was my one weakness. I shelved the uncomfortable thoughts and packed a few supplies into my backpack.
My old, reliable Toyota sputtered as the engine came to life. Most of my neighbors were used to my odd hours, so this departure would be ignored as another student partying late into the night. Sometimes I was glad to live near a university.
The motorway was empty at this time of night, but a dense fog rolling through the area forced me to slow down. An annoyance maybe, but I embraced its presence. It reminded me just how much we didn’t see of the real world.
I pulled into an unlit corner of the museum’s parking lot. The street lamps did nothing to penetrate the fog, which would help me make a clean escape. The museum grounds had a few exhibits tied to the Italian Renaissance, including a collection of marble statues. They were obviously replicas, but their finely sculpted silhouettes managed to portray an air of authenticity.
Stalking through the mists was invigorating, and I relished the moment. The fog would help conceal my shape from any cameras and guards on the property, but it was better to be safe. I slid into my gear and donned a gray and white leather mask. It was old school, but at least I didn’t need to worry about it falling off if I had to sprint through the trees to my car.
Sweeping trails of light shone across the yard from me. Instead of illuminating anything, the cone of light likely made it impossible for the guards to see anything in the fog.
Typical. Guess that’s why I’m the thief.