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Plundering Griet



 
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Summer

There is a certain smell to most strip clubs. Fog machine, old fryer grease, cheap booze, even cheaper perfume, and the very faint scent of Windex lingering as an afterthought. Not all smelled that way, but certainly most. Especially the one's Summer frequented. Or used to, rather. It was one of those scents that made a person instantly reminiscent. Doubly so when the person was in the strip joint to simply clean out their locker and say some final goodbyes. That is what Summer was attempting to do. It was proving difficult just getting to the dressing rooms.

“Heya kiddo! You got a visitor in room three.” Elliot said. The ridiculously short, balding man gave her a wide grin, revealing several silver molars. He was a mainstay at this club, serving in a position Summer never could put her finger on. He wasn’t the owner, at least she didn’t think he was. He certainly didn’t tend bar, and god forbid someone with his dreadful fashion sense actually act as DJ.

Lifting a dark, meticulously groomed brow, she shoved a blazing hot tater tot into her mouth. “I already told you. I’m retired. Break it to him gently, Elliot. Or take my place.” Her eyes scanned his abbreviated form, lascivious and slow. “I’m sure you’re someone’s type.” Her tone was rife with sarcasm.

He laughed, pushing himself up onto a stool next to Summer. Putting a small fist to his chest, he gave her a pained expression. “You wound me so, blondie!” Snatching a tot -and a smack to the back of his hand by Summer- he continued. “Really though. Apparently, they aren’t here for a lap dance. Or whatever hell else you girls offer back there. Asked for you by name. Your full name.”

Frowning, she spun on her stool to face him. Her booted foot twisted his stool so he faced her as well. “Couple things, shorty. One. Don’t take food off my plate. Two. Nobody knows my full name, not even you. So nice try on that one. Three. How dare you imply anything unrighteous goes on in those rooms. I mean, the audacity!” Her expression was aghast, with a tiny tell of amusement in her lip twitching. Oh, how right he was. But she’d never confirm that. After all, what happened in the rooms, stayed in the rooms.

“I know your full name now that he gave it. Tell me, exactly how high were your parents to name you Summer Squash Summers anyway?” Elliot cackled at what he thought was clearly a joke. Foolish man.

Summer’s face became a mask with a pleasantly artificial Stepford wife smile plastered on. “Eat my tots, Elliot.” She hopped off the stool and strutted to the back rooms. “And that’s not a euphemism!” She yelled back to him over the music. Lords of Acid nearly bursting out of the speakers. She’d have to tip the DJ on her way out for such a classic choice.

Flinging Room Three’s door open without preamble, Summer squinted. She didn’t need time to adjust to the dimmer, more ambient lighting. She just wanted the extra time to see who exactly she was dealing with. Jimi F-cking Hendrix. God. Or rather, the opposite as the case may be. She slammed the door shut behind her and flopped onto a lip-shaped couch. “I’d actually have rathered some hung up customer who wanted just one last dance. You sure I can’t offer you one and we can part ways afterward? If not me, then perhaps a short, middle-aged man with sour breath? I hear he has a trick pelvis.”

Full lips widened into a grin. “Summer. Always good to see you. Even if the feeling is clearly not mutual. Though I don’t know why, after how well I’ve treated you over the years. A consideration I don’t give to just anybody, you know.”

Swallowing hard, she had the good sense to know when someone was right. A skittering shiver ran down her skin. She stifled the urge to rub her arms. A fruitless endeavor, to be sure. It’s not like one could hide discomfort or fear from The Old Serpent. Ba‘al Zebûb. Mephistopheles. Diabolus. He’d always come to her in the image of a musician, usually ones she could recognize but sometimes he came looking a bit more antiquated. Probably some old composer, but she’d never figured it out. He was also correct in that he’d treated her remarkably well. Sometimes she wondered if he wasn’t some lesser demon, not the actual Lord of the Flies. Why would he be nice to her? She knew the horror and terror he could inflict on others. Oh, she knew. She’d gotten a tiny peek from his office during her visit down in hell.

“Tsk, girl. There is no ‘down’.” He said with a derisive sniff.

Frowning both at the topic of conversation and his statement, she took the bait. She always did, following the rabbit down the hole. Except it wasn’t down. “What do you mean? Maybe not directionally. I admit I don’t know the exact latitude and longitude of Hell. Surely you got my meaning.” She stopped short of calling him a pedant. The thought was in her mind though, so she may as well have just said it out loud.

With a roll of his dark eyes, he poked at his immaculate afro. “There is no Hell. Rather, there is no differentiation. Surely you’ve gathered that? What with your visit to ‘heaven’ and all?”

Sitting up, she folded her legs under her and faced him. He sat in a swing. The image was like catching your parents have sex, it was that level of disturbing. Summer wrinkled her nose, almost distracted. Almost. “You mean to tell me...where the f-ck was I then?”

His nose flared, amused that she’d bitten so easily. Humans. Worse than cats with laser pointers. “They exist, I suppose. I’ll leave it at that for your feeble mind. Different locations in the same place. Like New York and Los Angeles. Different coasts in one country.” He nodded. “Yes, just like that. Up and down gives one the idea that one is lesser.”

Summer blinked a few times. “Well...that’s the point, right? Hell is lesser? Or, that is what we are led to believe.”

He smiled wanly and leaned forward, fingering a guitar pick. “It is a strategy in a war, dear girl. Just as you are an angel, so am I. The subjects are lead to believe there is a difference. Keeps them separate. Easier to manage.” His smile revealed a bit more of his true self. “Divide et impera.”

Sneering, she shook her head. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that theory was hatched by some college boy in his dorm after prepping for a political theory final.”

“How do you mean?” He asked, his voice plain and curious.

“Divide et impera cvm radix et vertex imperii in obedientium consensu rata sunt. That is to say, Divide and rule have been rejected since the root and the summit of authority are confirmed by the consent of the subjects.” Summer recited from memory. What seemed like a lifetime ago, Summer had been held captive. She’d lacked for nothing, save for autonomy and consent. She’d drowned herself in the vast library in the mansion, voraciously reading any and everything.

“Except the subjects do not confirm the authority. You are created by the authority and are pawns in the war designed for that purpose.” His voice was rich and melodic. Summer almost wanted to ask him to sing “Hey Joe”.

Sighing deeply, she dropped her head back into the dip of the top lip. In some folklore, it is said that cleft is created by an angel touching a baby in utero. How fitting for her to nestle there now. Slightly less so in that she is chatting with God’s favorite son while doing so. “Is this what you wanted to talk to me about? Tell me how I’m part of a pawn, there is no heaven or hell, see you later? You know my sister died? I see you sitting here and think you’re here to tell me about her. But no. We’re here to talk dumb sh-t like celestial wars. Cool story, dude.”

She pushed up from the sofa only to hit a barrier. Grunting, she pushed but was unable to rise. Shooting him a glare, she bit down on her lower lip to physically stop from talking. She didn’t want to utter the words in her mind or an apology. F-ck that.

Rubbing his forehead, he adjusted the scarf tied around his head, not acknowledging her glare. His voice was low and quiet, barely audible. Yet Summer could hear each word, the enunciation of each syllable. “Not many get my grace. Even fewer still get explanations of the inner workings of the High War. You’d do well to remember it next time you are choosing which tone you will use to speak to me.”

It felt as though nails were dragging down a chalkboard, and that chalkboard was her skin. Sh-t. This conversation was going spectacularly t-ts up. She could hardly negotiate for her sister when…

He gave a wave of his hand dismissively. “I’m not here about your sister. I have nothing to do with that, nor will I meddle. I’d recommend you make peace with her departure and move on. That is not why I am here.”

That knocked the wind out of her more than anything he could have said. Slumping back, she stared slackly at the ceiling. Make peace? But she needed her back! That was her baby sister! She wanted to thrash about in frustration. Instead, she merely kicked her feet out from the couch.

“No. That isn’t making peace with it. That’s throwing a tantrum. You’re acting as if this is the first time a sibling has died. You barely spoke to her. Did you even love her?” He asked.

Sitting up in a flash, she screamed out the words before she could think the better of it. “Shut up! Shut the f-ck up! You don’t f-cking know a god damned thing!”

Just like that, an icy grip had her by the throat, wrists, and legs. He remained seated, swinging idly. His expression was anything but. Sitting forward, he looked at her, meeting her frightened gaze. The warm chocolate brown of Jimi Hendrix melted away to something that defied color. Defied human understanding. “You are a slow learner, aren’t you? I picked you for that very reason. But it seems as though I may have chosen poorly. Overly daft becomes a liability and I can’t have that.”

He seemed to lean closer without moving an inch, getting right in her face. “I don’t own you, girl. You belong to them. My existence in your life protects you from their wrath. And if you think the damnation you saw before was the worst of it, you are more stupid than I thought. That is their doing, not mine. If you don’t show me some respect, I will release you to them without a moment’s hesitation.”

Despite squeezing her eyes shut, she couldn’t get his hideous eyes out of her mind. He seemed to peel through her eyelids like they were a sheer curtain. Whimpering, she tried to wiggle her head. The icy grip remained. “Why?” The question was far bigger than the word. It was all she could manage.

He stood up, pacing. Bell Bottoms swinging around his legs, hair bobbing. He barked out a laugh. “Still stupid, I see. Ah well. ‘Why’ isn’t of concern. What and when- now those questions are key. Perhaps ‘where’ as well. But why? Why is inconsequential.”

She’d roll her eyes if she could. As it was, her face was frozen. That and she actually was a little concerned about his ‘releasing her’ to...well, whoever. The light side, she presumed. The angels. She’d say heaven, but evidently, that didn’t exist. Paradigm shift, all while in the grasp of the devil. Isn’t this how everyone’s Tuesday afternoon goes?
October 19, 2018 12:15 am

Summer

“Hey, you finally done in there, kiddo? Took you long enough. Must’ve been quite the last hurrah, if you know what I mean!” Elliot chuckled ribaldly, his little tummy paunch quivering with the motions.

Slinging the gym bag over her shoulder, Summer curled her lip and did her level best to look nonchalant. Basically the opposite of how she felt- shaken to her core. “Do me a favor. If I’m ever in here again and someone doing a musician impersonation asks for me, say I’m out.”

His look was of abject confusion. “Huh? I mean, alright. But what about that meek, schoolmarm looking lady who was in there with you?”

Stopping short, Summer glanced back at the rooms. Meek schoolmarm? Ahhhh. She'd always wondered how he presented himself to other people. Can't very well go waltzing about town looking like Elvis or Jimi without causing a scene. She’d have to ask him about that next time she saw him. There was always the next time, no matter how much she wished otherwise. “Oh. Yea, her too. No more visits from her please.”

“Fair enough. Hey, before you go, I wanted to chat with you about an interesting job that I think you’d be perfect for.” He kept his voice low, conspiratorially. It was early afternoon and the bar was pretty dead. That lull between lunch and happy hour that was the worst time to dance at any bar. It allowed for lots of posing on stage for Instagram at least. The lighting could not be beat.

“Dude. I’m retiring. That means no more jobs.” Summer was pleased to see her tots remained on the plate. Popping one in her mouth, she narrowed her eyes at the short man. Perhaps he really thought she’d meant ‘eat my tots’ as a euphemism for something untoward? Gross.

Pushing his chin into his neck, his beady eyes widened. “Did you win the lottery or something? Not gonna work at all anymore?” His expression turned to that of keen interest as if his mark suddenly grew even more enticing.

Heaving a sigh, she grabbed her glass and polished off her drink. Waste not, want not, after all. “No. I’m retired from dancing. I’ll still earn my keep, don’t worry your pretty little head about that one, El.” The whiskey sour was watery on account of the ice melting. That coupled with cheap, rotgut whiskey left much to be desired. “So, no, I’m not interested in whatever you’ve got lined up. Hit up Cinnamon. That girl always says yes.”

Leaning his chin on his hand, he leaned over the bar and gave her an enticing look, wiggling his brows. “Not interested in anything at all?”

Putting the glass down with more force than she meant, she glowered. “F-ck off, Elliot. Seriously. F-ck right on off.”

Looking nonplussed, he asked mildly, “What’s gotten into you, Summer Sunshine? You used to be so cheerful. Always smiling.”

Using both middle fingers, she lifted the corners of her lips into a smiling mask. “Better?” Adjusting the bag on her hip, she snipped, “I’ve had some things on my mind. I’m allowed to do that, you know. Be in a less than cheerful mood. Not everything is sunshine and roses!” Her voice rose a few octaves with each word.

Hopping off his barstool, he canted his head to the back. “Step into my office. I do have an honest proposition for you that does not require dancing. Or smiles, sunshine or roses. In fact, you will be far more successful at this job with none of those things present.” Beaming a toothy grin, he held his arms out toward the door leading to the kitchen.

Knowing it was a terrible, stupid, no good idea, she huffed and followed. “You don’t have an office, Elliot. If this is a ploy to get me in the back room for a quickie, I’m going to shank you. Like, without hesitation.”

He laughed and opened the door to the walk-in refrigerator. “Settle down, Summer. This isn’t a job interview, you have it if you want it. No need to sell me on your um, ‘positive attributes’.”

The fridge? Cold didn’t bother her, although she did thrive in the heat. The sunshine, to be exact. But Elliot wasn’t asking for thriving. He just wanted to bend her ear about some scheme he hatched up. She’d be in there long enough to eat a few slices of cheddar out of the package, maybe sneak a pickle or two, laugh and roll her eyes at his hair-brained ideas, then leave. Sitting on top of an unopened bucket of mayonnaise, she dug into the behemoth jar of pickles and plucked one out. Crunching down on it, she waved with her other hand. “Out with it. Let’s hear it so I can be on my way.”

Leaning an elbow on the middle shelf, he nudged some bags of shredded lettuce out of the way. Grinning, he said, “I hear you have a quick hand.” Seeing her lips part and her brows furrow, he held up a hand. “I mean, as far as, you know, relieving people of things that belong to them. Sticky fingers." Clearing his throat, he said in a contrite tone, “Everything comes out as an innuendo. It is a born trait, I can’t stop it from happening.” The short man laughed heartily.

Her lips twinged, unable to resist chuckling along with him. Lifting one shoulder, she admitted, “I’m getting better at it. I’m rarely caught. I don’t always succeed, but nobody ever calls me on it.” Summer gave an innocent smile, looking every bit the angel.

Pointing a stubby finger at her, he let out another laugh. “See! This is what I’m talkin’ about. You are perfect for this gig. I know a guy. He’s got a bit of a problem and he needs someone to lift something from someplace secure. Up for it?”

Scrunching up her face, Summer quipped, “Sure, Elliot. That is so very specific, I can’t say no. Lift ‘something’ from ‘someplace’. Ohkayyy.” Despite her wry statement, she leaned forward on her makeshift seat, clearly interested. “What is this ‘something’? And what is the problem?”

Leaning forward, his eyes nearly twinkled with intrigue. “A painting. The Dulle Griet to be exact. It is presently on display at the Museum Mayer Van den Bergh in Belgium. Now, I don’t know the exact specifics of the problem. Some liability issue or some such, I’m sure. It is about to travel to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna for some celebration of the artist. It needs to be removed from the Van den Bergh before then. Obviously, that means timing is of the essence.”

“Dulle Griet...that the Bruegel piece?” She’d heard of it, read something about it. Couldn’t pick it out of a lineup, but she knew it was about Hell and a woman. Hmm. Her spidey sense tingled. Regarding Elliot carefully, she sat up straight. “Okay. Say I am interested. What are the actual specifics? Pay. Delivery timeline. Other expectations. You know the drill.” Or you damned well better, otherwise this is going down as a total amateur hour and she’d have nothing to do with it.

Leaning back, he grinned like a cat who got the canary. Exhibiting the air of an actual professional and actually surprising the sh-t out of Summer, Elliot told her everything. Within fifteen minutes, he’d pulled out his phone and booked her flight to Antwerp, departing the next afternoon.
October 21, 2018 10:27 pm

Summer

Truth be told, the born and bred Brit had never flown out of Southend before. Gatwick, yes. Heathrow, obviously. Southend? Never. It was far less hectic than the other two, which was nice. However, it meant she was going to fly to Antwerp in one of those little Buddy Holly commuter planes. Summer wrinkled her nose as she turned sideways, walking down the narrow aisle of the aircraft. Maybe not the best time to think of ill-fated flights, eh? That was a bit macabre even for the likes of her. Giving the obligatory tight smile to other passengers, Summer was relieved to see nobody had yet occupied the seat next to hers in row 5. Shoving her laptop bag under the seat, she sat back and internally murmured a supplication that was internationally known- that of the traveler not having a seat partner. Please, Pantheon of Gods, let no passenger sit next to me!

And for once, they smiled upon her. Stretching her legs out sideways under the seat across from her, Summer smiled with pleasure. As she shifted down into the seat to get comfortable, she felt a jab against her rib. Furrowing her brow, she sucked in a breath upon remembering. The stiletto. Reaching her hand into the interior pocket of her jacket, her palm slid along the cool blade. The very act of touching it had her think of how she’d been given it. Just yesterday, while at the club, a gift from none other than Jimi Hendrix.

Eighteen hours prior

“The most important question is ‘how’, not that you had the foresight to ask. That is what I am here for. Not to give you pointers on how to determine what is important. That seems to be a lost cause on you, more’s the pity. No, I am here to ensure you are properly outfitted for anything that comes your way. Can’t leave you simply to your wits, now can we?” His tone and inflection couldn’t be further from the dulcet tones of Jimi Hendrix. While still using the musician’s likeness, the voice was all his. It was incongruous in ways that made her feel wobbly inside.

Even her brain seemed frozen, churning like soft serve in her skull. If she were operating on all cylinders, she’d have gritted her teeth at the windbaggery of his diatribe. Perhaps being frozen in all manners was a gift from him, keeping her out of trouble if only for a few moments. Stalking toward her, she felt her stomach drop. Oh good, not everything was frozen. She could still feel sinking despair. Fantastic. Standing what seemed like a hair’s breadth away from her, he released his wings. Dark, matte wings spread at least 12 feet in either direction, hitting the ceiling and dragging on the floor. The color wasn’t black. It was darker than that. The complete and total lack of luster made them seem like pits rather than dimensional wings. Summer’s eyes narrowed, inspecting them as best as she could. Did they lack dimension? How was that even possible? Now her brain was going wobbly, not understanding what her eyeballs took in.

Bringing the left wing in a little, he reached to it, seemingly riffling around the feathers. With the closer proximity, Summer felt the center of gravity shift. It felt like her insides and his wings were repelling magnets, pushing and pulling at the same time. Biology taking over, she groaned, green around the gills. He eyed her curiously as he plucked a feather out. Eyes void of color trained on hers as he stuck the feather into his mouth like some twisted circus trick. Fascinated yet nauseous, it was absolutely like seeing a horrible car accident and not being able to look away. As he pulled the feather back out from between his lips, the matte black was gone, leaving only the ivory quill and shaft. It looked like some sort of primitive blade.

“Ah yes. Perhaps there is hope for you after all, simple one. It is indeed a blade. Fashioned from my wing. As you can imagine, it can do much damage, especially in the hands of an anointed one such as yourself.” He blinked, eyes returning back to the normal human eyes of Jimi. Summer was never so happy to see the warm brown hues. Her body slacked, letting her know she’d been released from whatever hold he’d had on her. Regardless, she remained still.

Holding his hand out to her, she took it. Pulling her to standing, he brushed an errant lock of platinum hair from her forehead. His expression was soft and sweet, making it hard to believe who he really was. Placing the blade in her hand, he folded her fingers overtop. Glancing down, she saw that the blade now had a distinct handle on one end. The business end was incredibly sharp. A stiletto then, not just any blade. He chuckled. “It seemed an appropriate weapon for you. Use it wisely, keep it close, and don’t lose it.”

Stepping back from her, he gave her an easy smile, flicking a guitar pick at her. “See you soon, Summer Squash.”
October 25, 2018 10:12 pm

Summer

Freshening up was clearly not in the cards, nor was getting settled in wherever the client had set her up for the duration of her stay. A duration she’d yet to determine; Eliot had been vague. Or maybe he just didn’t know, the diminutive man had an enigmatic side. There’d been no mention in the dossier she’d read on the flight over, robust as it was. Either way, it was a bit unsettling to have landed in Antwerp on a one-way ticket, not knowing when she was supposed to leave. The town car took her directly from Antwerp International Airport to Museum Mayer van den Bergh. The drive was a scant 15 minutes, but Summer still used the time to glance at the dossier on her tablet one more time. She was nervous. It’s what happened. Read, analyze, overthink. Rise. Repeat.

The dossier did say she was to meet the Director of Patrons and Partnerships upon arrival. It was easy to spot him, despite his being remarkably unremarkable looking. He was the only man looking like his hanger was still in his jacket, he was that stiff. Was uptight his resting neutral or was he nervous, she wondered. The driver opened her door, telling her he’d deliver her luggage to her hotel. Giving a nod, she smiled warmly at the man on the sidewalk. Her smile was not returned. “Summer? Follow me, please.” His tone was clipped and formal as he led her into the museum, bypassing the ticket desk and into a short corridor of offices. He didn’t say a word until the door was shut in his sparsely furnished office. “Please, take a seat.”

As he fidgeted with papers on his desk, Summer studied him and the small room. He was an ordinary man. Handsome, sure. But in a very subdued way. Slightly crooked teeth, tousled light brown hair. Eyes that were darkish, that shade one had to move in close to really see the color. The room was furnished in a very modern, sleek style. It surprised Summer. She always pictured the inner offices of museums to be a continuation of the exhibits. The office seemed stark by comparison.

Turning her attention to the man who seemed reluctant to begin, she said in a mild, cheerful tone. “I’ve read everything provided and was briefed by our mutual acquaintance Elliot. He’s an odd little man.”

He looked at her curiously. “Yes...I suppose that is one way to describe him.” His English was perfect and only slightly accented. “The curator is in Vienna presently. Everyone else is off since we are closed on Mondays. That is why I asked you to come today. This arrangement must stay between us. A large portion of your payment is for your discretion. Is that understood.” He said abruptly. It wasn’t a question.

Licking her lips, she willed herself not to bristle. “Yes, that was made clear in the dossier and by Elliot. The information I need has less to do with my silence and more to do with the actual logistics of what you are asking me to do.” Her tone was clipped and to the point. He may be the boss, but sh-t wouldn’t get done without her. He could steal his own damned painting.

Posture visibly relaxing, he gave a terse nod, twisting a pen in his fingers. “Of course. You have to understand, this isn’t something I’ve ever been a part of, never condoned such an act. But desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Summer’s expression relaxed. “I understand completely. I will do my best to remove the image with as little disruption as possible.” She said in a placating tone, hoping she came across as someone experienced in..what? Art theft? Sure. Stealing is stealing, right? Doesn’t matter the location or item. She could fill in the blanks. They needed a specific painting removed for whatever reason- likely for insurance or to avoid some pretentious political rubbish between museums. She did all but wrinkle her nose at the thought. “The timing wasn’t mentioned in the dossier. When would you like me to…”

Cutting her off, Thomas said, “Tonight, well, two in the morning precisely. I have taken the necessary steps to disable security around the piece. I will remote in at 2 to turn off the alarm to the building. You will simply need to avoid the cameras. Those are outsourced, I have no control over them.”

Leaning back in her seat, Summer’s eyes narrowed. Straightening her legs out in front of her, she crossed one foot over the other. Holding up one hand, she shook her head. “The less I know the better, Thomas. But since you’ve divulged- what you’ve described sounds remarkably traceable. Won’t it be obvious who disarmed the security?”

He rolled his neck and sucked in a breath. There was a pregnant pause as he worked his jaw. “This situation is less about the act of stealing. In the mildest of terms, this is about saving face for the museum and the artist. In the most extreme terms, it is about saving souls. It won’t matter if they know who is responsible. What is important is that the piece is removed, unscathed, and held safely until I ask for it to be returned.” Each word was tight and measured. His gaze from hers unwavering.

His words were heavy, perhaps even a bit hyperbolic. Saving souls? This guy thought a lot about art. His tone lacked pretension though, and his entire demeanor was that of barely contained intensity. The art community was so damned weird. Giving a single shoulder shrug, she sat up “So. Two AM, I’ll be here. Care to introduce me to Mad Meg or shall I meet her tonight by moonlight?” Her smirk deepened as he paled. Was it something she said?
December 16, 2018 12:32 pm

Summer

Summer had gotten in a quick disco nap at her hotel, pleased to see the driver had indeed delivered her luggage. There wasn’t much, just a single suitcase and a messenger bag with her laptop. She’d taken a hit off a vape pen to sleep, otherwise, she’d not have been able to quiet her mind, thus likely resulting in burning the bed in which she slept. Her mind was swimming with information and that sticky, anxious excitement for the evening ahead. When Thomas had shown her the painting, she’d been most surprised at how he’d shied away, taking care to avoid being in the direct line of view. She’d walked right in front of it and examined it, not unlike any other patron viewing any other piece of art. Her feet had remained planted on the ground, successfully avoiding being zapped into the painting as he’d claimed had happened to others. But there was something about the image, something that had her feeling a buzz from head to toe. Summer suspected it was because she hadn’t gotten a chance to really view it. When her aura was restrained, all senses were restrained as well.

The painting was more detailed than she remembered it. Surrealist on the verge of being absurd, Mad Meg appeared to be running with humans and other biped creatures around her. It was chaotic, with fiery tones. It was very easy to see how a viewer could get lost in the painting, metaphorically speaking anyway. Peering close, Summer didn’t see anything that looked like a recent addition to the painting. As in- no people in modern clothes frozen in her army headed to plunder hell.

Now, as she stood outside the main exhibit hall where the painting remained, she wondered if it would still be as innocuous. Having stopped at Frites Atelier for some chips and a single beer, she was ready to do this. The beer took the edge off the ever-present nerves. This was her first real job. The first time she was being paid to steal something that she wouldn't ultimately keep. What a strange world this was.

Waiting for the timer on her smartwatch to buzz against her wrist, Summer chewed her bottom lip. Thomas could truly fvck her if he wanted, and not in the good way. He had all the control right now. The alarm could trip and she'd be sitting pretty in a Belgian prison. It could be worse. It could be the Philipines. Or worse- America.

With a buzz at her wrist and a click of her tongue, she stepped into the room, letting her duster jacket fall to the floor. No time to think of the possible negative outcomes. It was go time. Her aura was dim around her, like a pilot light for a furnace. A calm, false sense of peace filled the space. Nothing but an angel and art. Truly divine, wasn't it? Except this angel used her aura to bend light and shadows, able to circumvent the security cameras with ease. They would see a light flare if anything. Mostly, it would just darken as a cloud passed overhead. In the middle of the night, with no sun. Here's to hoping the security guards were idiots or inattentive.

As she approached Dulle Griet, her aura started to hum around her body, growing outward. Twisting her lips and furrowing her brow, she found it curious. But, time was of the essence. She could figure that out later. For now, she had the minor task of lifting a piece of fine art from a museum wall and walking out with it. That was all, nothing too crazy or high pressure.

The soft golden hue of her aura glanced across the painting. Squinting, she took a step back, letting the aura hit the corner. The image was even more detailed than she remembered. And it looked as though the people and creatures were moving. Letting out a little sigh, she murmured, "Of course they are." Licking her lips with anxiety, she lifted her chin and strode purposefully up to the painting, trying not to look at the image as her aura lit it up perfectly. No distractions, just get it off the wall and get out.

It was a perfectly logical and reasonable plan. Except it allowed for a bit of a problem. Her averted gaze meant she didn't notice something had leaped out of the painting.
January 05, 2019 01:52 am

Summer

"Stand back, demon!" A heavily accented male voice called from behind her, causing Summer to jump. Letting out a hiss of frustration, Summer berated herself in being so easily distracted by the come-to-life painting.

Scowling, she spun on her booted heel. "Demon? Gurl, you don't even know." She said, voice full of sass that she didn't feel. Sh-t. Double sh-t on a stick. Who was this guy? And why was he calling her a demon? She might have thought 'They' were coming to drag her back to heaven. But they wouldn't call her a demon. They knew. "Who are you? Did Thomas send you?" She walked toward the voice, seeing the shadow of the man hunkered behind a tall pedestal display case.

"I do not know who Thomas is!" The man lept out, armed with a very rudimentary looking sword and a crazed look on his face. Okay, triple sh-t on a stick. "It is my sworn duty to send all hellions back from whence they came!" He lunged toward her, holding the sword as a child would. That is to say, he was only going to hurt himself.

Summer wasn't chancing it, however. Reaching behind, she tugged out the dagger tucked at the waistband of her pants. Hell, he said? She'd give him hell. Literally. "Calm down, mate. Why don't you be a chap and set that down? I'll buy you a pint at the bar down the road. We'll have a laugh about this whole thing."

"I'm not your mate, demon. I shall vanquish you! By the Lord's blessing upon Meg, I send you back to Hell!" He sputtered out, sounding more and more like a LARPer. Only far more annoying.

Swinging to the side out of his reach, the man stumbled past her. His clothing was modern, even if his speech was...odd. Brows furrowing, she turned to watch him stumble past. Clumsy, unskilled, and stupid. That made him dangerous simply by accident. "Look, whoever you are. Great Vanquisher of Demons." Her voice was droll, dripping with condescension. "You're gonna get yourself hurt. Just put that fancy sword down and you'll see I'm no demo..."

The man roared, holding the sword up and ran toward her at full speed. She took one leisurely step to the left. He breezed past her, face red and mottled with rage. Spittle nested at the corner of his lips, eyes bloodshot and glassy. He was running at such a clip, Summer's hair moved with the breeze picked up. Wholly distracted with his holy mission, the man had not realized Summer had moved in front of the pedestal display case.

Crashing into it with a sickening thud, the man slumped down just as quickly as he'd ran. The sword clattered to the ground. Blood smeared down the glass and white pedestal as he slid to the ground in a heap. Summer closed her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. "Are you f-cking kidding me." Still holding her stiletto in her dominant hand, she walked over to him.

Letting her wings unfurl, aura bright, she leaned down and tugged on his shoulder. The man flopped to the side, a deep gash on his forehead indicating he'd ran head-on into the corner of the case. With a cluck of her tongue, she put her fingers to his neck, feeling for a pulse she already knew was absent. "This is what you get when you arse about, mate."

He was dead. And now Summer had a problem. Grabbing her satchel by the door, she fished out her phone after tucking the stiletto away. Returning to the man, she took a picture of his face. Rubbing her forehead, she realized the blood streaming from his forehead was very likely going to obscure his identity. Pulling her sleeve down over her hand, she wiped the blood off as best she could. Some still leaked out, but at a lesser rate than a man with a functioning circulatory system. Snapping another photo, she returned the phone to her bag, but not before glancing at the clock. She needed to get cracking.

First things first. Get the painting off the wall and wrapped to transport. Then- deal with that damned body.
January 20, 2019 02:56 pm

Summer

This part would be easy. Thomas had stashed an Art-Guard package behind a door for her. It wasn't that out of place, should someone have seen it. Grabbing it, she put the bottom piece flat on the ground. Facing the piece, her aura hit the painting again. This time, the beings in the painting seemed to be having some sort of fit. Running around, little mouth's open in horror, Summer could only imagine what they were screaming. A brow arched up. Here she was, stone cold sober, wondering what the animated people in a painting were screaming about. Just another day at the office, right?

Running her hand through her hair in thought, she realized too late that she'd dragged the bloodied sleeve along her blond tresses. Rolling her head and giving her shoulders a shake, she was getting a headache. Summer pulled off the black sweater and tossed it at her satchel. She was wearing a camisole underneath, so she wasn't completely indecent. Not that the screaming people in the painting seemed to care either way. The important part was that she'd not smear blood on the priceless artwork. Score one for forethought, Summer.

Rubbing her palms together, she took a step forward to the painting. Damn, if it wasn't distracting. The people seemed to run around like ants when their hill is disturbed. Wait. Were they reacting to her? Well, sh-t on a biscuit. This was absolutely better than any hallucinogen she'd experimented with. Sadly, she couldn't play 'stare into the painting from hell' at the moment. "Soon, babies. Soon I will play." She murmured in a high voice as she lifted the image from its hook.

Wincing, she half expected alarms to blare. But...nothing. Thomas was good for something, it seemed. Turning around, she placed it gingerly down on the foam backing of the Art Guard. If the people looked like excited ants before, they looked like a swarm of angry wasps now. She furrowed her brows. "Calm down! You're just going for a ride." Shaking her head and averting her gaze to not be sucked in, she put the top on the piece. Folding the velcro straps over and securing it closed, she slid the secure piece into the thick plastic bag tucked in her satchel. It was a dark plastic, so it'd look like she was taking her rubbish out for a midnight walk. Nothing to see here, folks. Just a minimally dressed woman with a bag of trash and blood in her hair.

Dammit.

The guy. She turned around, lips twisting in frustration and thought. Of call complications, hers had to be a dead body. Fvckin' neat. Standing above him, she felt kind of bad for the dolt. What on earth had possessed him...

Grabbing her satchel, she fished out her phone again and tapped out a text to Thomas. Does this guy look familiar to you?

Thomas: Where did you find him? He is one of the patrons that have gone missing after viewing Dulle Griet.

Summer stared at her phone blankly. Looking back at the man, she stared coolly at him. What had happened?

Thomas: Is he dead? That is in the museum, I recognize the tile. What happened? Summer, I need this job finished in the hour.

Thomas: Summer- give me an update. I need to know what is going on.

Summer then felt the constant buzzing of her phone against her left buttcheek, phone tucked in the back pocket. Thomas was calling, likely frantic. She, however, was crouched in front of the man, elbows resting on her knees and thinking. This guy looks at the painting then goes missing. He appears right when she is about to steal the image, wielding a sword that looked like it had been hammered out in the 1500s. Running her tongue over her teeth, she unfurled her wings behind her.

Expanding just five feet in either direction, her wingspan wasn't all that impressive. The lush fullness of the feathers and the pink tips gave a soft plush appearance that made up it. Without taking her eyes off the corpse, her dominant hand reached to the side, plucking a feather from a wing. Twirling it between thumb and forefinger, she leaned forward, one knee on the ground. Putting the tip of the quill to the deceased man's forearm, she pressed in. The quill wasn't sharp enough, it required more force. Usually she was stabbing someone with one, not gently applying it to an already dead man.

Squeezing it tighter, the flesh gave way. The quill slid in and Summer leaned back on her heels, watching. It took just a few seconds before his body was consumed by a bright white light and disintegrated to nothing.

Standing up with a sigh, her gaze remained on the empty spot for a moment. Every trace of him vanished, even the traces that had separated from his physical body: the blood smeared down the pedestal, in her sleeve and on her hair all vanished with him, forced into the æther by Celestial order.

Summer glanced at her watch. She was still on time.
January 24, 2019 10:06 pm

Summer

Jacket and backpack on, the unwieldy yet purposeful straps on the Art Guard slung over her shoulder, Summer finally tugged her phone from her back pocket and dialed Thomas. He answered before the first ring finished.

"Summer?"

"Obviously. I'm headed out, image intact. I'll let you know when I reach my hotel."

"Summer, what happened earlier? What happened to the man. Is he dead? He cannot be left in the museum, far too many questions will be raised."

Pinching the phone between her shoulder and face, she used her butt to back out of the side exit. Thomas' reaction was curious indeed. Not one she'd expect from someone in his station in life. Fancy pants museum guy who likely never got a hangnail on account of weekly manicures. "Oh, that guy? Oh sh-t, Thomas! I just left him there. Now that I think about it, I realize I walked through his blood and am leaving footprints as I walk away."

"Summer, this isn't funny."

"Nah, it's a knee slapper, Thomas. You're just too uptight to get it, mate!"

"What happened to the man."

Summer let out an audible sigh right into the phone. The roads were quiet, as expected in the arts district in the dead of night. Thomas' tone had turned quiet and tense. Fine, she'd ease up on the bloke for now. "He's gone."

"What do you mean, 'gone'?"

"Gone, Thomas. As in, obliterated. Poof! No trace o'the mongrel. Don't worry your little head about it a second more, aye? You're payin' good money for me, Thomas. I don't disappoint."

The man cleared his throat. "I don't doubt that, Summer. It's just that..."

She interrupted. "Oi, Thomas. Go have a cold one and I'll text you when I get back to my unit. Keep eyes off me until then. You're still doing that, right?"

"Yes, of course. Text me when you arrive in your room."

Rolling her eyes at his feeble attempt to gain control of the conversation, she disconnected and tucked the phone back into her pocket.

The walk to Hotel Colvenier was five minutes from Museum Mayer van den Bergh. It would have taken less time, given Summer's purposeful stride. But the damned Art Guard kept slapping her leg with every step. The painting was not small. The packaging made it easy to transport, but it was still awkward as hell. Her eyes lit up when she was the corner with her Hotel, distracting her from the trio of young men loitering and smoking cigarettes outside a hostel.

One of them gave a little shrill whistle through his teeth, raking his eyes over her. The other two chuckled, one calling out, "Wil je een sigaret, mooie meid?" The taller, stockier of the three remarked to his friend in a tone meant for her to hear, "Ze ziet eruit als een tentsletje."

Gritting her teeth, she tightened her grip on the edge of the Art Guard, just wanting to be at the Hotel. No trouble. She didn't have time for more trouble, least of all the garden variety sexual harassers that were these dipsh-ts.

"Je hebt hele mooie borsten!" The whistling guy called out.

Sneering, she shoved through them, held up a middle finger and called out in her worst Flemish accent, "Rot op, kaaskop!" When in doubt, sling regional insults.

"Kutwijf!" Whistling Guy yelled.

B-tch? That certainly wasn't the first time she'd heard that, and she reckoned it wouldn't be the last. Still, she yelled back before turning the corner, "Kl00tzak!" Her heart was pounding harder than the encounter with the armed crusader in the museum. Can a woman not simply walk from a museum after stealing possessed fine art without getting harassed? Was it too much to ask?

Using her keycard, she let herself into Hotel Colvenier It was a boutique hotel, which meant there was no desk clerk up front at this hour on account of all rooms being booked and guests checked in. The proprietor was very 'hands on'. Which meant Summer had been able to use her feminine wiles...and a fair bit of greasing the palms to ensure her room would be left unattended for the duration of her stay.

Angling sideways as she entered the elevator up to the third and top floor, Summer finally let her shoulders relax. The top floor was hers entirely, a suite with a balcony and kitchenette. It was perfect for her needs. Except for the kitchenette. She supposed it would be nice to keep leftovers in the fridge or something.

Once in the suite, she put the large container near the widescreen TV. Kicking off her shoes and double checking the locks on the front door and the french door leading to the balcony, she finally took out her phone and texted Thomas.

The eagle has landed.

Thomas: What?

The horse is in the barn.

Thomas: Summer, I'm too Belgian for this.

The pigeon craps at midnight.

Thomas: Are you safe in your hotel?

The one-eyed snake has entered...f-ck it. Yea, I'm 'home'. You can turn the lights back on.

That means you can turn the cameras and security back on.

Thomas: Yes, thank you. I picked up on that.

Stripping down and washing her face, she hopped into the surprisingly comfortable bed. Letting out a long sigh, Summer was glad her first big gig was over for the most part. Grabbing her phone with the intent on mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, she stared at the text exchange between her and Thomas. The corner of her lips turned up in amusement.

What does "Je hebt hele mooie borsten" mean?

Thomas: You have very lovely breasts.

Thomas! Honestly, I had no idea you had even noticed. But really, what does it mean?

I'm just takin' the piss. Some klootzaks called that out to me on my way back tonight.

Thomas: If you are meaning multiple assh-les, then the word would be 'klootzakken'.

Good night, Thomas.

Thomas: Good night, Zomer.
February 10, 2019 02:04 am
1
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