Might not be another update till next week. Got a family visit slowing down the creative juices, but we’ll see. In this chapter, Leander goes for his briefing.
As I may have said before, I don’t work for other people very often, so I’m a little rusty when it comes to people skills. Normal conversations I can do, but the nuances of being an employee, which seems to have it’s own little sub-language, are a bit beyond my reach. That said, there is always the default criminal method of saying hello.
People in my game are built to be sneaky, to slink, and we do it very well. As a result, a trip to meet the boss is not as simple as a polite knock on the door and a brief chat, it becomes something much more elaborate. For instance, it was my intention to break into his office without him noticing, leave an empty box of confectionery on his desk, and hide in the shadows until the right moment to reveal myself. It’s good practice, and it gives the employer a taste of your skill.
Wolf had a difficult office to enter unnoticed. The front was well lit by modern lamps, and bedraggled gas lamps lit any alleyways nearby. There was a steady stream of civilians swanning in and out the main doors too, most of them engrossed in whichever paper they had decided to purchase that day. Too many eyes.
Eventually, after much deliberation, I risked climbing the fire escape. It was a rickety and noisy thing, wrought iron held together with rust. On the fourth floor, my foot punched a hole straight through the metal floor, accompanied by a loud crash. I stalled for a moment, squatted over the hole like a dapper goblin, waiting to see if I had alerted anyone. I hadn’t and I kept climbing.
Fire escapes were a strange invention. They were left to decay for prolonged periods of time, some sort of artificial moral having been imposed upon the residents that using a fire escape without there actually being a fire would create some form of paradox. With that in place, fire escapes had become a sort of tradesman’s entrance for thieves. I didn’t often use them, for relying on something easy for too long can cause atrophy of the skills, but a number of lesser thieves carved out a pretty successful business using them alone.
The metal staircase led all the way to the top floor, and Wolf’s office. The room was dark, lit only by what light that could reach the window I was currently spying through. Through the gloom only a desk was visible, and it seemed unoccupied. I tried the window, but it was securely fastened. More of the craft was required.
Unless you are trying to avoid sophisticated pressure-activated security devices, or are trying to be a little pompous (of which we have all been guilty), there really is no reason not to merely break an unwelcome window. The worry for most, I understand, is that this action will create undue noise, and then someone will come running and you’ll have to waste precious seconds by introducing their throat to your knife. Simply put, however, they’re wrong. There is a technique to breaching a window quickly and with minimal sound. A swift blow, only enough to crack the glass, followed by slowly pushing your fist through. It requires strength, but is also faster than trying to pick the lock or whatever.
Using that method, I was inside the dark office within thirty seconds. It was then that the lights snapped on, and I was greeted by an applauding Mr Wolf. He was sat behind his desk, his chair rolled back a couple of inches outside the reach of the exterior light, that had been why I hadn’t seen him before. He was nearly smiling.
‘Ah, welcome, Leander,’ he said. ‘A nice entrance. Had I not been watching that window I would almost certainly have had no idea you had entered.’ He was lying, but did a fine job of hiding the fact.
I put on my best roguish grin, the same one I use in any similar event where I am caught in flagrante, as it were. ‘We’re showmen at heart, Mr Wolf. It’s a shame that we had to choose a life where being identified for your deeds is less than welcome.’
Wolf nodded. ‘It’s the only art form in the world that is appreciated only by its practitioners,’ I made my way to a nearby chair as he spoke. ‘But perhaps we can wax poetic about how under appreciated your kind is once we’ve gone through the details of your contract. First, your payment.’ He reached into his desk and pulled out a folded square of paper. He slid it across the desk to me. ‘I hope this will suffice. It is in conjunction with what I previously promised.’
I picked up the paper and unfolded it. On the inside, in curly and decidedly rich handwriting, was the largest number I have ever seen. My eyes must have widened a bit, for Wolf let out a small chuckle. ‘That will be adequate,’ I said in reply, doing my best to keep from jumping up and actually kissing the man.
I’m not interested in money for its own sake, and I’m certainly no hoarder, but some things can change when presented with enough digits.
Wolf made a steeple with his fingers, typical behaviour of a man used to sitting in a high-back chair all day. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘that you remind me of a man I fought with in the war. It’s hard to recall the events too clearly, as you’ll understand, but there’s something about you that seems to reawaken old sensations.’
And understand I did. I wasn’t sure which war he meant, but choose any of them and you essentially get the same effect. Young men conscripted into service against a foreign power, usually under supplied (unless they chose to go professional), and subject to warlock attacks in some of the more temporally distant wars. Wolf looked old enough to have been in one of those wars. In any case, it didn’t matter. My life of crime had started with draft dodging, choosing to fight battles of my own making instead. Battles I knew I could win.
‘He was a fine man,’ Wolf continued. ‘Then I believe I shot him in the face. Desertion maybe? It’s all a bit of a blur,’ he had pulled a small collapsible crossbow out from under the desk. It was unloaded, but he was eyeing it with nostalgia. I coughed politely.
‘About this package you require,’ I said. ‘Could you go into more detail? I need to know everything I can if I am to plan for every eventuality.’
The crossbow vanished behind the desk once more. ‘Of course, of course. I believe I’ve already told you where the package is, so that should be easy enough for you, so I suppose it’s just dimensions and guards you need.
‘First of all, the package in question is rather big, and liable to be somewhat noisy. We’re talking a couple of meters cubed, more or less. The contents of the package are liable to draw attention, so it would be in your best interests to neutralise them, and the guards too. There will be more than enough to be a hindrance, and they are decidedly violent.’
I thought it through for a moment. Though Wolf talked around the subject, it was clear that what I was being asked to steal was alive, sentient enough to be a problem. Not a moral problem, they were few and far between nowadays, but a logistical one. Something that size would be hard to smuggle past the guards. I’d need a cart of some kind, perhaps an accomplice, and would need to disable all the underworld thugs (for that’s who it would be) tasked with guarding it.
‘And where, should I actually manage to acquire the package, should I deliver it?’
‘Oh, here will be fine,’ Wolf mused. ‘The local guards turn a blind eye when it comes to my business. They find it pays better than interfering.’
I bet they do, I thought. Wolf was aptly named, the man was clearly going to waste in the merchant profession. I wondered just how deadly he had been in whichever war it was he had been embroiled in. Perhaps not in a direct manner, otherwise he’d be doing this job himself, but indirectly he must have caused quite a few deaths.
‘From what I understand,’ Wolf continued. ‘The people who currently possess the package are nasty sorts indeed. A new breed of criminal. I believe a confederate of yours may have mentioned them to you at that bar,’ I didn’t interrupt, it stood to reason that Wolf had had me followed, and he kept on talking. ‘They are worse than any stories you may have heard, however. I won’t bore you with the details, but it hardly needs saying that the package will be better off in anyone’s hands than theirs.’
I nodded. ‘So they’re dangerous, I’ll just have to be careful. And as for the package, you’ll have it by this time tomorrow night.’ I flicked a knife from my bandoleer and ran a finger across the blade. Still sharp. Then I tucked it away.
‘Good,’ Wolf said. ‘I shall be here. I’m always here. If you wouldn’t mind leaving by the door, it’s a little more civilised.’
Clearly the man didn’t know too much about me, then. I’m about as civilised as you can get, bar the theft and murder.