Childhood Thievery – Part 8

Some actual thievery today.  Also, a slightly longer chapter.

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In contrast with its name, the Dark Market is actually quite well lit. As the more astute will have guessed, however, the name is more to do with the nature of the merchandise than its visibility. Black markets exist the world over, but dark markets are much rarer. They survive by selling things that are only nominally illegal, things that would require a team of lawyers and many months to prove their illegality, and therefore are largely ignored by the Watch.

That’s not to say that the Dark Market isn’t secretive. Just because the Watch don’t arrest people for buying or selling the goods does not mean that they don’t try to keep track of who owns what questionable merchandise, for future enquiries. The parties that organise the market do their best to distract the Watch, but it always pays to be vigilant yourself.

The Dark Market itself was arranged into a number of rings, from the first of which I had never graduated. The deeper into the market you go, the darker the merchandise. The first ring was fine for people like me, the gentleman criminal. I had no desire to meet the sort of person who would frequent the stalls at the epicentre, not if any of the stories I had heard were even half true. The smallest granule of truth would be more than enough in fact.

I scoured the stalls in the first ring for my intended purchase and found it quickly, paid for it with the hostess’s cash, and blended back into the crowd. I’m usually well prepared and I only ever buy one object per trip. The more you buy, the more likely the Watch will notice you, so they say. I’m not entirely convinced, but hearsay can be right on occasion and I don’t want to be the one up a tree when it is.

My new purchase had been bordering on necessity for months, but it had been the introduction of the Lendians that had finally pushed me over the edge. As well as the world’s premier psychologists, the people of Lend had been famous barbarians in the past. They had always been interested in the human brain, but it was only recently that they had decided to observe it in its natural habitat. While they were considerably more civilised now, I wasn’t about to take any chances.

What I bought, then, was a tool to aid me should a fight break out. I had my various daggers of course, but they were more suited to stealth, and the problem with a sword is that it makes stealth a little trickier. Therefore, after much deliberation, I invested in a state-of-the-art collapsible sword, Fifteen miniature blades, held together by a thick metal cable and attached to a rather bland hilt. There was a small button on the bottom of the hilt that I was assured would snap the blades into one solid weapon, more or less the same size and weight of my old sword but easier to store. I had a brief test of the thing before I left the stall, and it seemed to work fine.

It came with a small booklet of instructions. There were a lot of new things pushing their way into the world since science had become popular, but instruction booklets were one of the worst. I hate a great many of the new things, but these irritating little booklets are the only things to which I cannot place even a single atom of merit. Written by condescending little trolls and translated, badly, into our language by sheep, the things couldn’t even be classed as a hindrance as the word just didn’t have the scope for what the books were.

I risked a glance at the first page:

For making the bald going much stiffly, sadden the badger with not ungrievous strength.

Following that, I pulled a match from my backpack and set fire to the booklet. As the welcome flame devoured the unwelcome booklet, I let the blade go slack once more. It occurred to me that it might even be possible to use the thing as a sort of whip, but I didn’t dare try it. Whips are (quite rightly) reserved for adventurers and women a little too fond of cow skin, not gentlemen. Besides, I’d be more likely to cut my own arm off than anything else, and I was fond of my arms.

New weapon carefully secured in it’s special holster-thing (a ‘limited time only’ offer that seemed to have been in effect for nearly three weeks) I made for the museum. By the time I got there it was almost midnight, my tryst with Kitty and the subsequent shopping trip had been perfect for my timing it seemed. I made a note of it for the future, then checked on my cart. Still there.

My careful planning in regards to the diamond heist had been re-evaluated rather quickly after my meeting with Mr Wolf. The original plan was to go in from the roof, where guards were scarce, working my way down floor by floor until I reached my target, then retracing my steps to escape. Now, for the ease of the second job, I didn’t really have the time to climb to the roof of the museum, which meant a ground floor entrance.

I wasn’t entirely sure about how many guards there would be inside, but the front door had two rather bulky men standing sentinel. There were a few other doors I could take, but in my haste I had only learned the route from the roof to the target, not from any other entrance. I only knew the way from the main door as that was the entrance I had used on my various planning trips. It would have to be that door or I would have to abort that theft, which was not something I was willing to allow.

The guards looked to be of the sort that would easily forget any standing orders when presented with the opportunity to pummel something. With that in mind I drove my head into the alley wall and opened a rather large cut.

I know it may seem odd, but I was a little surprised to find my head cloudy. As the warm blood dripped into my eyes, however, my thoughts started to clear. Why the hell had I just smashed my head into a wall? I couldn’t remember at first, then I peered around the corner and it all came back.

Putting on my best ‘spineless toff’ voice, I charged out of the alley like a particularly nervous rat and made straight for the guards. They tensed as they saw me approach, apparently preparing to bounce me away from the door. Then one saw the blood and a sinister gleam passed across his eyes.

‘Ere, you alright, pal?’ he asked slowly, as if speech was something new to him.

I nodded quickly, splattering blood across the men’s uniforms. ‘Help! There’s a man in that alley and he’s beating my wife! Help!’

The two men frowned and stared at each other for a second. The little cogs in their heads were probably spinning quite fast now, doing their best to work out whether it was worth leaving their post to go and pound one man’s face in, even if there was a woman involved. I had hoped that the mention of a damsel in distress would appeal to the inner heroes that these men possessed, or at least the inner opportunists. Apparently that wouldn’t be enough.

‘I think he’s foreign!’ I blurted out, interrupting their mental conflab.

That did the trick. The pair nodded at each other with great difficulty, their necks being too thick to function any more, and they stormed off into the alley. The meaty racists dealt with, I slunk through the door.

The lobby was dark but I could tell it was teeming with guards. Cheap leather squeaked as fat feet clumped about on the veneered floor. From the sound I would have guessed about forty men were between myself and my prize on the first floor, but the acoustics may have been deceiving me. Either way, it meant I would have to be careful.

Treacherous light from the street lamps was shining in through various windows, creating odd patches of light in the darkness. I moved around these oases like a snake, slithering from shadow to shadow. The guards, however many there were, plodded around me aimlessly, and I began to wonder whether they could actually see in the dark at all and, if not, why they had not been gifted a lantern.

I made it to the stairs without incident and allowed myself a brief moment of professional glee before ascending. Of course, when I reached the top I punished for my glee as I practically ran straight into a guard.

It was considerably lighter up here, the diamond being so big that some said it could actually reflect a light source that had been extinguished hours before, and so I got a good look at this guard. If the men outside were the muscle, this man was the nerve fibres that told them when to move. He was a thin man, but by no means weedy, instead he had the toned physique of a boxer rather than the undisciplined bulk of his contemporaries. This meant that what he lacked in strength he could almost certainly make up for in speed and cunning. Fortunately, I had caught him unaware.

Contrary to popular belief, when a guard spots someone who looks like a thief he does not immediately spring into action. Guards are designed to watch out for wandering civilians, the stupid and careless people that might blunder into something and break it, so when presented with someone who actually looks like a legitimate threat it may take a moment for his brain to switch tracks. The downside, however, is that once that switching has occurred the guard will stop at nothing until you’re lying unconscious in a cell.

Having been in this situation a few times, I knew just what to do.

I punched him in the throat.

Punching someone in the head will often knock them out, which is always handy, but there are times when it fails. A knock out requires strength, speed and accuracy in equal measure, but a throat punch requires much less from the strength pool. For all its rings of cartilage, the throat is remarkably weak, and even a glancing blow can have the desired effect. The desired effect in this case being a sudden and debilitating coughing fit.

The man’s eyes bulged and his face reddened as he keeled over, spluttered like a rusted engine. I took the opportunity to render him unconscious with a swift elbow to the back of the head and he went crashing to the floor as I approached the diamond. I made it halfway before an ear bleeding sound halted my progress.

I glanced back at the downed guard and swore. How had I failed to notice? Attached to his belt were a number of small, metal eggs. When the guard had fallen, the eggs on the front of his belt had shattered. Inside were what appeared to be lizards or some description, adorned with various clockwork accoutrements which I assumed were to increase the volume of their cries.

A rat bastarding alarm belt! I hadn’t seen one for years, people having flocked to the more expensive (and therefore ‘better’) things that science had cooked up since then, and I hadn’t realised until that moment quite how much I had changed with the times. The time was that something as simple as an alarm belt would never have caught me unaware, perhaps I was going soft.

I heard footsteps echo from every direction, and I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t stand a chance if I tried to stand and fight, my only chance was to head for the roof and make my escape. I wrenched the giant diamond from its plinth, setting off yet more alarms (now was not the time for subtlety), and bolted up another set of stairs.

With each floor I could hear the guards in hot pursuit, the stomping of feet on steps behind me getting curiously loudly with each floor. They were gaining on me, the diamond must have been slowing me down. As I finally reached the roof, however, I risked a glance backwards and saw the tip of a guard’s hat as I slammed the thick iron door that was designed to keep fire contained inside the building, leaving the roof as a safe haven.

As a haven it would do, but I doubted the door would hold for long. The guards were already trying to smash their way through, and whilst the door was strong, the hinges were rusted and weak. I needed a way out, and fast.

Truth be told, this was more or less according to plan. I had intended to steal the diamond and make my way to the roof of the museum anyway, just without the pursuing guards. The only thing that this new complication had managed was to add a bit of urgency to my escape, which was actually rather helpful. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop is hard enough at the best of times, but jumping onto the rooftop of a condemned building that is a few stories below your current position may benefit from the proverbial boot up the arse.

I peered over the edge and spied my cart in the alley below. Taking careful aim, I dropped the diamond into the back. No-one would bother to search the alley, of that I was certain, and the diamond was so strong that a fall from that height was more likely to damage the cart than the diamond itself, which it did. The diamond punched a hole clean through the cart and embedded itself in the cobbles beneath, but I could worry about that later.

I took a few steps back and prepared a run up. I backed up to the nearest wall, which happened to be behind the door, and braced myself. The door creaked and flew open, but I was ready and kicked it back as hard as I could. I heard it strike someone square in the face, then I ran.

It is an odd sensation, falling. Everyone has fallen a little bit in their life, whether out of bed or off a ladder or the like, but so few people have fallen properly. There comes a point when the mind begins to accept that, yes, you are falling, and it starts working overtime so that it can compute some way out of this predicament. In normal falls, this manifests as a brief sensation of slow down, so brief that you barely notice it as it ends when you hit the ground. In longer falls, like the one I experienced as I leapt from the roof of the museum, that slow down hangs about for a bit.

With everything moving so slowly, I glanced behind me at the museum roof. As it dipped out of view I saw a tide of security guards spill out from the door, a very angry man with a bloody nose leading the pack. They ran to the edge of the roof, swearing loudly, and watched me as I tumbled.

I looked forwards again. The other roof was coming up pretty quickly now, and my brain had failed to come up with any way of stopping it. The only solution it could provide was to close my eyes and pretend that it wouldn’t hurt, which I decided was probably worth a try.

My knees buckled as I hit the roof and rolled, unceremoniously across it a few times, before slamming into what was left of a small chimney. A number of small bones popped and cracked, but nothing appeared to break, for which I was eternally grateful.

I opened my eyes in time to dodge a falling brick, dislodged from the collision, that would have clonked me in the head. That was a bad omen, but I was a bad man so it balanced out in the end.

It was time for the second heist of the evening.

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