The Art of Theft: Part 5 by Phoebe Harris
I went in. I was on high alert, jumping at every little sound. The corridor was sparsely lined with doors, shut tight and scathed with claw marks, with threadbare carpet and low light. Even in the darkness, I could make out stains, dents and peeling bits of the ugly-patterned wallpaper. I followed Christopher Crumb and his ugly mutt (“Honey,” he had said of its name) into a back room. It was awash in the light of a cluster of hanging lightbulbs, a circular table packed with bodies, shutters on the singular tiny window shut against the outside world. The red carpet was leached of vibrancy, and patches of rough floorboards stuck through the holes. Smoke hung about the ceiling, the patrons at the table puffing cigars like their lives depended on it, peanut shells and shards of chips scattered around the chairs like confetti. I edged onto the only spare chair and reached into the middle of the table for a handful of peanuts. I cracked open one of the shells with a loud snap, and everyone turned to look at me. I glared at them and they turned back to the cards fanned out before them.
“Gentlemen, if you would put your game on hold for a moment-” Crumb began but was cut off by one of the card players.
“Shhh!” the pot-bellied men barked. “We’re almost done.”
A pasty-skinned chap with the back of his head shaved and a fringe down to his elbows slapped down his cards. Four ogres, three crossbreeds and six banshees were emblazoned on the white tops. “Full Lair,” he declared proudly, and the other men groaned and threw down their cards in disdain. Full Lair Guy held out his hand, and each person sitting at the table dug into their pockets and dropped an accumulated pile of coins into his palm.
“Okay, thank you, gentlemen. As you can see, we have a girly with us toda-”
“Don’t call me girly,” I interrupted through gritted teeth.
“Aw, c’mon, lighten up,” one of the guys said. He elbowed me in the ribs. “Have some fun.” He winked at me in an exaggerated manner.
I glared at him. “I swear to the Gods, one more of you make a remark and I’ll give you hell.”
“Ooh, I’m so scared, what’ll you do? You’ll hit us with your handbag?” One of the men batted his eyelashes in a petty attempt of impersonating me.
“No, or I’ll take you outside and punch peanut shell through your throat,” I replied, giving him a sweet look. He turned beet red and shifted away from me in his seat.
Crumb cleared his throat. “Okay, thank you, if everyone could settle down, please.” He dragged a crate from the hallway and stood up on it. “I call this meeting to order. Borris, are you taking the minutes?”
Borris, the man who just won the card game, scrambled to find a tattered notebook under the pile of cigar ash, peanut shells and cards. “Ready,” he said, a pen poised on the paper.
“Alright. So, as I was saying, we have a new member today. Everybody, this is…”
“None of your business,” I replied.
“Okay, everybody,” Crumb continued. “This is Nunya. Nunya, I’d introduce everybody, but some of these guys have trust issues. Right, everybody good?”
I was already bored. I turned a peanut shell over and over in my palm.
“For too long, the Order of Imperium has ruled the streets of the Below and Ahoy. I say they’ve ruled for long enough. They make the Robins look small, am I right?”
The people around the table booed.
“For those who are new here, the Robins is my humble street gang. Nunya, this modest gathering you see before you is made of just the highest-ranked members of the Robins, apart from me myself. Now, if we want control of the streets – is we want power and respect, men, we need to make sure the Order of Imperium is out of the equation. If people fear them, they won’t fear us and our tax systems and anything else will be absolutely pointless, because no one will abide. But if we have the most members, the most weapons, the most control, then we have the power!”
The men around the table roared, raising their cigars up high. Borris threw down his notebook for a second to retrieve a stack of glasses and a bottle of some thick, murky liquid, pouring everyone a glass of strong-smelling intoxication. I took a sip, and it burned my throat and left a lasting taste of cheap cinnamon on my tongue. From that small sip I felt a tad woozy. The other men gulped it down in one.
“My men!” Crumb roared, raising his glass. “I toast to new beginnings, power, and, most of all, our tax system!” The men thrust their glasses into the air. The thick liquid sloshed over the sides. “Long live the Robins!”
“Long live the Robins!” The others cried.
I rolled my eyes.
The ‘highest-ranking’ members of the Robins were crazily drunk for a period of five minutes. I retreated into a shady corner with a peanut shell in my hand. They sobered up quick smart and sat down at the table again, ready to properly start. They talked about ways to overthrow the Society (they obviously had no idea how), ways to improve their ‘almighty’ tax system (they obviously went with the first idea that popped into their head for a make-money quick scheme) and what drinks to have at the next meeting (this was conversed in deep detail). I stood up with everybody else and started for the door, Crumb holding Honey by the collar, and walked out onto the street. The Robins dispersed into different taverns, until it was just me and Crumb.
“Well, where’ll you be off to, Nunya?” Crumb asked, stroking Honey’s patched fur.
“Actually, I don’t know. Probably some room somewhere above a tavern.”
“Aw, that’s no good. They’ll do a number on you, girly.”
“Don’t call me girly,” I drawled. I stuffed my hand into his pocket, not even being discreet, and pulled him close. He smelled like alcohol. “It’ll be the last thing you do,” I whispered, pulling a fistful of coins out of his pocket and taking off down the street.
To be continued…
Read part 4 here: https://www.mywritersstudio.com.au/the-art-of-theft-part-4/