Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chapter 3 - The Circle

            On the outskirts of town there stood a dilapidated old building, the bricks crumbling and ivy threatening to engulf the structure. It had been a winery before the Fall. Cafall’s Vineyard boasted the best vintage and all of Eirre. The bottles lived up to the claim, gracing the tables of the elite in the Capital of Thrall. Yet, after the Fall, the family that owned the vineyard disappeared leaving the building to sink into disrepair. The vineyards that surrounded the building dried up into barren husks leaving nothing but an empty shell inhabited only by the ghosts of memories.
            Many in Cafall were happy to keep it that way. The family that had owned the vineyard had been Wizards and loyal to the Magistrate who had come to power during the Fall. It was rumored that dark magic had been used to create such an irresistible wine and the building was cursed with evil creatures. The building continued to crumble until a stranger from the North arrived and bought the building, converting it into a night club.
For many of the residents of Cafall, The Circle was worse than the haunted building. Rumors began to fill the sleepy town about the club and the man who had bought it. It was said to be the meeting house of The Old Boys, the local gang of criminals and thieves. They would meet in the basement where the floor was stained with the blood of those who crossed them. It was filled with non-humans and Wizards, hiding their faces as they indulged in wicked vice. It was not a place that the good citizens of Cafall treasured although it did little to cut through the crowds on a Saturday night.
Above the cellar where the night club was housed were two flats. The stranger who had purchased the winery had wanted a place to stay when he came to visit the club. It remained vacant most of the year until two twin boys had mentioned that they were in need of a place to stay.
The boys had been far too young to be in a place such as the Circle and even the Stranger seemed concerned when he saw their identical faces peek over the bar at him. The rumors in some respects were true and the Stranger could see the signs of the streets on the boys, reading in the way they spoke and acted. The Old Boys recruited the young ones from the orphanage, teaching them to be pickpockets before moving on to more elaborate heists. The Stranger didn’t say a word about the Old Boy’s habits, but something about the twins piqued his interest.
Gabe had been skeptical at first when the Stranger (“Call me Dante,” he had said. “I’m not all that strange.”) had offered them the flat above the club. It had seemed far too good to be true and Gabe knew never to trust an offer that didn’t have a visible hook attached to it. But, Dante had insisted, asking them only to look after the Club on the nights when Dante was out of town (“Don’t let the place burn and I’ll consider rent paid.”) It had been three years now that Finn and Gabe called the Circle home and it was where they felt the most comfortable, especially Gabe.
            It was early and the club was not yet open for the night which Gabe was thankful for. Tonight, he wanted a moment to think before losing himself in the chaos. Finnean had done his job well, just as he was sure he would and yet it was bittersweet to know that they could trick Toby as well as they had. No matter how much trouble Gabriel had landed both his brother and Toby in over the years, he had never outright lied to them when something important was at stake. Yet, he was convinced he acted in Toby’s best interests. For once he was looking out for him rather than the other way around and that was the one good thought in the midst of the worry.
            Something was going on. Something big, that much Gabriel was certain and based off of what he discovered tonight he hadn’t even scratched the surface. What Luna and Aidan were hiding was bound to shake their little world up and for the first time Gabe wasn’t sure if he ought to let that happen. They had it good, didn’t they? He and Finnean had a place to live that was safe and comfortable. They had friends here, ones who actually gave a damn if they lived or died. It hadn’t always been that way and now that Gabe had people he could trust he wasn’t willing to give it all away. Still, Toby was his friend, his best friend besides his brother, and something about the information that he found told him that Toby needed to know. If it was him, he hoped someone would do the same for him no matter how much he fought against it. Some knowledge was just that damned important.
            Gabe heard the thumping on the stairs outside long before the knock came at the door. He walked across the small apartment with a frown on his face, his mind lost in thought. “Come in,” he said, certain that the only two people who could be outside would be Toby and his brother, Finnean. He stood just besides the door, an apology ready on his lips when the door opened with a bang and three men entered - ones that he would never have invited in had he known they were out there.
            Two of the men were very large and very muscular. Gabe frowned, recognizing them for the shakers that they were. Men like that only showed up on your doorstep when they wanted something and unless you paid up front, they would have no trouble roughing you up. The man that followed them was much smaller in height as well as girth. He was a thin, tweedy looking fellow who was not much older that Gabe but it was clear that he took great pride in his appearance. His dirty blonde hair was slicked back with grease and a thin mustache graced his upper lip. He was dressed like one of the upper class Wizards and tried to pass himself off as such but Gabe knew better. Underneath the fine clothes lived a man who had spent his life on the streets of Cafall, scrambling after the next big payout. He would do anything for anyone as long as it meant he’d be paid and paid well.
            He wasn’t the type that Gabe would typically invite into his home even if they both did frequent the same circles. Gabe wasn’t afraid to admit that he was a criminal and a damned good one at that. He just didn’t brag about it, unlike Seth who used every opportunity he had to drop the jobs he had done or the items he had grabbed. Opening your mouth was a good way to land you behind bars and if that wasn’t the worst of it, Seth had a bad habit for being far too quick with a knife. He was the worst sort of cat burglar - he was sloppy and anyone who associated with him usually ended up worse than when they started.
            “Seth,” Gabe said, frowning deeply as he watched the three men begin to walk around the room. If Gabe knew any better he’d say that they were casing the apartment but no, there was honor among thieves and even Seth wouldn’t be idiot enough to cross that line. “What in the hell are you doing here?”
            “I was invited,” Seth said with a smirk sliding across his face. His arms spread out - always the dramatic performer even when in casual conversation. Gabe hated it.
            “You did say come in, didn’t you?” Seth continued. “I mean, I assumed that you knew who you were inviting in. It would take a real fool, a pea-brained sized imbecile to simply call out ‘Come In’ without checking to see if danger lurked outside. You’re not an imbecile, are you, Gabby my boy? Of course you’re not. Aye, I can tell by the look in your eye you knew exactly who was beyond your door step. None such as you would ever make such a grave mistake.”
            Gabe gritted his teeth, forcing himself not to hit Seth in his greasy little face. The two goons watched them closely as if they were just waiting for one of them to launch into a fight. He could take Seth easily. The other two would be much more difficult. “What do you want?” he asked between clenched teeth.
            “What, I need a reason to come visit one of my good friends?” Seth laughed before clearing his throat, shaking his head. “Oh of course, I kid. I would never drop by this dump unless I had a damn good reason. Listen, I’ll lay all the cards out on the table.”
            “That would be a first,” Gabe snorted under his breath.
            “I want to make you a proposition,” Seth said, ignoring Gabe’s words for the time being. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. Gabe looked at paper warily, uncertain he wanted to take anything Seth offered him.
            “Take it,” Seth said, shaking the paper a bit. “It won’t bite, you know.”
            “I wouldn’t be so sure of anything at the moment,” Gabe scowled but he snatched the paper away from Seth and opened it, a quizzical look on his face. It was a drawing but of what he couldn’t decide as the language was strange and unlike any he had seen before.
            “What is this?” he asked, looking up at Seth and for the moment he forgot that he was supposed to be irritated at the man who was interrupting his evening. There was something about the drawing that piqued his interest. It was something that would generally be right up his alley. Gabriel loved anything old and steeped with history. The expression on Seth’s face when Gabe met the other man’s eyes told him that was exactly the impression Seth wanted to make on Gabe.
            Bastard, Gabe thought viciously.
            “That’s the puzzle,” Seth said, a smile on his face that said he knew he had Gabe’s attention. “What is it? Luckily, we don’t get paid to know what something is, just location and the removal of said object without too much attention. Who gives a damn what the hell it is - what I care about is how much it’s worth.”
            Again, the skepticism was back and Gabe glanced down at the paper, trying to decide what sort of game Seth was up to playing. He should hand the paper back and walk away. He was being set up, he knew it, he could feel it but, damn it if he wasn’t genuinely interested in what this drawing was. He felt he had seen it before, knew the object but from where he wasn’t certain. Still, he was playing right into Seth’s hands and he couldn’t let the smug bastard have the satisfaction of knowing he was that easy to goad.
            “Why should I care?” Gabe asked, shrugging his shoulders and folding the paper once more. “I can get plenty of jobs on my own, thanks. I’m not desperate for a hand out so if you’re worried about me you can take your newfound charity and shove it up your ass.”
            “Tut, tut, Gabby boy,” Seth said, shaking his head. “You just don’t get it do you? I’m not asking you to do this job for me - I’m telling you.”
            “Like hell you are!” Gabe barked back, almost laughing at Seth’s audacity. “See, the benefit of not working for anyone is that I only take orders from one person - me. And, really, if I wanted to listen to a stuck up prig telling me what to do I would just head down into the Circle and find someone into that sort of thing. I doubt it would take me long to find someone willing to hold my leash.”
            “As enlightening as it is to hear of your deviances, you seem to be missing the point. I knew you wouldn’t be interested in a job from me or anyone I associate with. I enjoy that, actually. It keeps things separate and ensures me that I never have to see your ugly face around.”
            “The feeling is mutual,” Gabe interrupted and was happy to see the red flush of anger spread across Seth’s neck.
            “But this isn’t about me,” Seth snapped angrily. “This is about my employer. And he wants you, you specifically. So you will do this job or you will have him to deal with.”
            “I’m not afraid of Gunny,” Gabe snorted. “Nor am I afraid of Frik and Frak that you brought with you. Seth, I’ll try to make this as plain as I can manage it so that even you can understand. I do not do jobs for Gunny. I will not do jobs for Gunny and I sure as hell won’t do anything you tell me to do.”
            Seth was quiet for a moment and Gabe could see the veins in his skinny neck begin to pulse. He was angry, that was clear, but Gabe really wasn’t sure why. Seth couldn’t have been stupid enough to think that Gabe would have simply accepted his job offer. In fact, Gabe was still unsure why Seth had come to him in the first place. He wouldn’t have put it past the other man to take the job himself no matter what Gunny had demanded. Sure, Gunny was a powerful boss - he had his fingers in a lot of pies so to speak and was intimidating to Seth and others just like him but that still didn’t explain why Seth was here in his living room demand that Gabe take a job from a boss that he didn’t do business with.
            As Seth gathered his thoughts, Gabe saw the sweat on the other man’s brow and it was then that he realized there was more to it than just anger. He’s afraid, Gabe realized and that could mean that things were much more serious than he previously thought.
            “I think you ought to rethink your stance,” Seth said after taking a long breath and running his fingers through his hair, messing up his perfectly oiled hair. “You might not care what happens to you or what Gunny could have done to you, but maybe you’ll have something to say if your brother were to meet with a little accident.”
            “Finnean?” Gabe said, laughing. “Go ahead. If you think that Finn is a weakling who doesn’t know how to defend himself you’re in for a big surprise, especially if you-”
            “Call the police and identify a man working at the local bakery as the same man who stole evidence from the safe right from under their noses?” Seth offered with that same smug smile on his face. Gabe’s laughter died and he couldn’t help but feel that cold shiver race up his spine.
            “What in the hell are you talking about?” he said, his tone terse. “I never stole evidence. It’s nearly impossible, especially with all the Wolves they started promoting to the local police department. Damn things can sniff you out. It’s too risky.”
            “Deny it all you like but we have evidence that places you at the scene,” Seth smirked. “How very unfortunate that due to the nature of the evidence it is almost impossible to tell the difference between your face and that of your identical twin. And, due to the sensitive nature of the evidence and you know how proud the Wolves are, do you really think the courts will be worried about giving him a fair trial? He’ll be tossed into jail faster than you can blink and as you pointed out before, I’m sure it won’t be very difficult until he finds someone to, how did you put it? Hold his leash?”
            The urge to punch Seth in his stupid looking face was stronger now than it had been before. He knew he should call Seth’s bluff. No one could have any information on him. He was careful and that was what made him so damn good and yet, there was that possibility that what Seth was saying was true. Gabe had never known Seth to resort to blackmail before. True, he wasn’t the best thief and he took risks that Gabe would never dream of but his pride would never have allowed it. Seth was too obsessed with being the best and by his own methods, no matter how underhanded. Blackmail on behalf of Gunny was just out of character for him. Still, whatever was prompting Seth to act so strangely managed to hit all of Gabe’s vulnerable spots, and Seth knew it. Damn it all for caring so much about Finn - sometimes it was far more risky than it seemed.
            “You’re a bastard,” Gabe spat, knowing that Seth had him by the balls.
            “So, does this mean you’re going to be a good boy and play along?” Seth asked, his voice once again sounding as though he was completely in control. You’re still afraid though, Gabe thought. Once I figure out why then the game changes again, this time in my favor.
            “The way you put it I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” Gabe scowled. He opened the paper again and stared at the drawing, taking a closer look. “So what the hell is this? Some sort of crystal ball?”
            “Does it matter what it is?” Seth chuckled. “All you need to know is that it’s a job and it needs to be done by tomorrow at first light.”
            “Why the rush?” Gabe asked. “Does the damn thing sprout legs and walk off or turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of six?”
            Seth wagged his finger at Gabe, the smarmy attitude making his skin crawl. He glanced at the two goons who had stood silently besides Seth the entire time and he wondered if he’d be able to take them. Almost as if they could hear him, the one on the left tilted his head to the left and a series of loud, audible pops filled the room. The one to the right mimicked the motion and Gabe realized that to get out of this without serious bodily harm, he was going to have to put up with the obnoxious tone and the stupid smirks.
            “You don’t get to ask questions, Gabby. You’re working for me now and what I say goes. I guess I’m the one holding your leash tonight.”
            On second thought, a punch in the face didn’t seem so bad.
            “Tell me where it is and I’ll get it for you,” Gabe said, wishing this night was over. The thought of working for slime like Seth was bad enough. He wanted to get this over with and forget that it had ever happened.
            “Here’s the address,” Seth said, passing over a scrap of paper. “The object should be on the second floor. Not sure if there’s a safe or not but, I don’t think you need me to do all of your work for you. Either come back with the ball or don’t come back at all. I don’t think I have to remind you of the consequences of failing.”
            “No, you don’t,” Gabe snapped, slipping the piece of paper in his pocket. “I said I’ll do it and I will. I’ll have the ball to you by midnight. It won’t take me longer than that.”
            “That’s good to hear,” Seth grinned. “As I’ll be making myself comfortable here until you return.”
            Seth walked over to Gabe’s couch and flopped down, resting his dirty boots on the coffee table. Gabe hadn’t realized he’d lunged forward, his hands balled into a fist until one of the goons grabbed him by the shoulder and squeezed tight. Seth ignored Gabe’s anger and instead continued to make himself at home.
            “Midnight,” Gabe said tersely, pulling himself away from the tall, muscular man as he walked to the door to put on his jacket. “Not a second later. And then I’m throwing you out on your ass.”
            It took every inch of self-control for Gabe to open the door and walk out without letting loose a string of curses. As it was, he waited until he was down the steps and halfway into the alley way before he shouted, angry at fate for forcing his hand and pissed that a slimy bastard was currently in his home. He would finish the job, alright, and shove the damn object down Seth’s throat when he was done. Let the son of a bitch choke on it for all he cared. At the moment, he was without mercy.

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