“Is that horse staring at us?” Leon asked, glancing over his shoulder at the horse seemingly watching them. In response to his question, the animal bent down and started mindlessly munching on the grass.
“Psshaw, that’s just The Law making you paranoid.” Bear said, using a pair of heavy duty shears to cut the fencing outside the government warehouse. “If you want to be in this business, you’re gonna have to grow a thicker skin.”
Leon wondered where he’d picked up The Law. He’d been extra careful not to go whoring, stay at an inn, do any banking, or write his name down anywhere, but their glorious fucking leader’s mildly annoying curse was like the magical equivalent of herpes. Almost everyone had it, and seemed it spread to everyone who didn’t with a mind of its own.
You could pay to have it removed, certain underground mages had already cracked the code and made a tidy profit taking the curse off, but what was the point? Just living in L.A. would have you pick it up again in a matter of days, if not hours. For normal people, it wasn’t so bad, but for people like Leon, it was suffocating.
Which is the point, Leon admitted to himself, looking up at the government warehouse. On the plus side, it was also why there was so little law enforcement. With a city rapidly approaching fifty thousand, there should have been at least a hundred police, but there was less than a quarter of that.
The reason? Everyone was too busy rebuilding to commit a crime. That and the goddamned magical herpes making people wracked with nerves every time they did something illegal. Most people didn’t even know they had it on them, and the rest didn’t care. The spell basically only triggered when you hurt someone or stole from someone. Now Leon was a nervous wreck as long as he had the curse on him, and he spent half of the money he made making regular trips to his local de-curser.
No, he couldn’t have the curse on him. He hadn’t done anything before this job that might have compromised his ability to think.
He was just the regular kind of nervous that came with such a big job.
They stood in front of the government warehouse, where all the inbound and outbound supplies rested for a night before moving out of state, and where the cash accumulated by the wagonload. Entire wagons full to the brim with ten thousand credit coins, guarded only by a handful of weak-ass kids.
Leon glanced down at the slaughtered boys, their rosy cheeks pale, faces frozen in expressions of horror. They all wore the slapdash uniform of the city’s military, wearing the purple and green crest stamped with Beladia’s symbol. Sucked to be them tonight.
They really should have found a better place to put all this money. It was like asking for it to be stolen.
The plan was simple, take two of the cash wagons, drape their pre-made coverings over them to change their appearance, and take the new portal to China, where the rest of the crew had secured a path offworld.
In another twelve hours, they wouldn’t even be on Earth, They’d be laying on an alien beach, drinking margaritas and wading through alien pussy.
“How much cash are we looking at?” Hugh whispered as Bear took care of the last link in the chain fence.
“Check it.” Bear said, and their skinny mage, Kyle Stern, stepped forward, putting his hand into his pocket and pulling out a handful of mana-sensitive dust, tossing it into the courtyard beyond the fence. The dust glittered in the air before settling to the ground, outlining the traps buried underneath the concrete.
“Assuming a standard wagon size, nine feet long, five feet wide internally, and coins with a diameter of one and a half inches, and eighth inch thick, packed to the five foot ceiling. Four eighty to the top… two point two five square inches per coin… two eight eighty…times ten grand…”
Kyle glanced back at Hugh with a grin. “About thirteen point eight billion credits per wagon.”
“Jesus, fuck!” Hugh exclaimed quietly.
“More than enough to go around.” Bear said, clapping a hand on their shoulders. “Stick to the plan, and remember the rules. Each of you has an earmarked share and not even death is gonna change that, so don’t get any bright ideas. I don’t want idiots blinded by an amount of money they couldn’t hope to spend in a lifetime, I want professionals.”
He looked down at the magical traps highlighted with the glittering dust.
“Hugh, widen the cut in the fence, Kyle, make a path that we can bring wagons back through. Leon, Miles, with me.”
Bear handed off the bolt-cutters and fearlessly stepped inside the trapped compound, gingerly tiptoeing around the magical traps designed to paralyze intruders and alert security. In a matter of seconds, Leon and Miles followed him through, creeping to the warehouse door.
Bear waited for them to line up behind him before sliding the stolen magical key across the door’s lock, silently opening the door and creeping in.
Behind them, Leon heard the sounds of Hugh widening the gap, and the soft cracking of stone as Kyle disable the security.
They stepped into the quiet warehouse, and Bear twisted on a magical torch, flooding the entire building with brilliant magical light. There were crates and boxes stored and stacked here and there, and row after row of wagons packed into the building, making the entire place look like nothing less than a medieval parking garage.
Leon spotted a stack of paper bags of coke as they crept through the warehouse, and his feet turned in that direction unconsciously, separating from the group.
“What have we here?” He whispered to himself, fishing into his pocket for his switchblade. If the Herpes Curse was one thing he hated about L.A., then the coke was the one thing he couldn’t get enough of. The effect made pre-magic coke look like amateur work. It was better in every way, as Leon could attest.
He had sliced open a bag and was lifting the powder filled tip of his knife up to his nose when Bear seized his hand, knife handle and all.
“What are you-“ Leon started to say, grunting as he tried to pull his hand out of the more powerful man’s grip.
“Listen here.” Bear said, the knife trembling under Leon’s nose as he turned it sideways, letting the cocaine slide off the blade, and turning the business end toward his nostril.
“You stick to the plan, you do only what we set out to do.” The shivering blade started to rise, pressing against Leon’s nostril. Leon tried to pull his head away when Miles grabbed the back of his head to keep it steady. “It’s distractions like this that get people caught or killed. You’re on the clock, and your ass is mine.”
“I catch you pulling shit like this one more time, and you’re losing a body part, understood?”
“Yes.” Leon gritted out, watching his own shining blade under his nose.
“Good, now let’s move, we’re on a deadline, and it doesn’t account for dealing with this shit.
Bear pulled the blade away from Leon’s grip and pocketed it.
“Move.” He pointed down the row of empty wagons.
Thirty seconds later, Leon heard Mile’s soft whistle, and the three of them converged on a row of wagons filled to the brim with ten thousand credit coins, used for government payrolls and supply acquisition from the Inner spheres.
All told, there were six wagons full to the brim with gold.
“God in heaven, it’s beautiful,” Miles whispered. In the torchlight, Leon could see a tear sparkling down his cheek. Almost fourteen billion from each wagon? Even if it was half that much, this score was going to set them up for life, and beyond. If an afterlife could be bought, this might cover it.
“I didn’t think there would be six,” Bear muttered, rubbing his chin in thought.
“Are we taking more than two?” Leon asked.
“No.” Bear decided quickly. “We have two wrappings, and only enough manpower to pull two. There’s no need to put ourselves at risk for an extra unimaginable sum. You couldn’t spend all of your original share of two in a lifetime, what are you gonna do with the extra?”
“We could get Hugh-“
“Shut up and get under the tongue,” Bear said, fixing him with a deadly stare. The beast of a man’s hand crept toward the sword on his belt.
Leon decided it was time to stop arguing.
He and Miles got under the wagon’s tongue and lifted, getting the wagon ready to move with their supernatural strength.
Bear did the same with another wagon, nodded to them, and began rolling the wagon out, panting with effort as he hauled the wagon along with the strength of eight average men.
Leon put his head down, and started pulling with Miles, making their wagon pull out into the aisle, turning to follow Bear toward the garage gate.
Leon knew in his head that Bear was right, but in his heart, he mourned having to leave behind such an unimaginable amount of cash. They followed close behind Bear until he made it to the gate, taking an opportunity to rest while the big man hauled on the chains that would open the garage.
Once they got out with Hugh and Kyle, they could take turns resting while the others pulled the wagons. Once they got the wagons turned west, it would just be a matter of riding the breaks downhill until they got to the new China Gate, a massive tree that supported a portal to the other side of the world.
After that, they’d skip Earth entirely.
This was going to go down in history as the biggest heist on Earth. Leon was thinking about the stories that would be told and retold as he leaned against the tongue, waiting for the garage door to open the rest of the way. The garage door clunked the rest of the way open, letting the starlight from outside spill into the warehouse as Bear’s shadow moved back to the front of his wagon.
Then things started to go strange.
“Hugh, what are you doing he-“ Bear’s words were cut off by a grunt, a bit of scuffle and the sound of breaking bones.
Leon and Miles shared a glance and dropped the wagon tongue as one, sprinting for the entrance.
Leon was hoping the bastard had gotten stabbed. Well, maybe not stabbed, they needed his contacts to get off-planet. maybe just roughed up a little.
When they got to the front, they saw Hugh lying on the ground, his neck wrenched into an awkward angle, and Bear was clutching a wound on his side.
He did get stabbed! Leon thought with a small amount of satisfaction.
“Change of plans,” Bear said to the two of them, staunching the bleeding with his hands and grimacing down at Hugh.
“Grab the front wagon, and make for the fence.” He shook his head. “Hugh seemed like a good kid, but you never know what greed will do to people until you get the scent of money.”
True. If Leon still had his knife, he might be tempted to finish the job, but instead he went back to the wagon tongue.
Miles didn’t follow him right away, staring out into the darkness of the yard, still filled with traps.
“Where’s Kyle?” he asked, scanning the concrete yard with furrowed brows.
“Fuck.” Bear said, looking around. “Something’s really wrong.”
“No shit,” The corpse of Hugh gurgled, standing up and realigning his head in front of the stunned onlookers. Out of the darkness Kyle approached them, his clothes covered in blood, bearing a wicked grin on his dimpled face.
“Leon, Miles, fill up your status bands with cash and run for the back of the warehouse. The job’s over.” Bear said, drawing his sword.
“Ooh, I like your style.” Hugh and Kyle said simultaneously, their attention focusing on Bear as their voices harmonized eerily.
“What are you, some kind of body snatcher?” Bear said, leveling his sword on the two men as Leon and Miles rushed to ditch. Bear began to exude an aura of fire, radiating searing heat in every direction, until the stone beneath him glowed a cherry red.
“Quick on the uptake, too…” Kyle’s eyes narrowed, and a mischievous grin dimpled his cheeks.
Leon wasn’t having any of that shit. He grabbed a handful of cash, ‘ported it to his Status band and booked it. There had been a slatted window up high in the back of the warehouse. He could-
Leon’s thoughts ended as a bladelike tentacle cleaved through his skull.
“Robbery gone wrong Al?” Jules asked. The young man had been one of a very few people who expressed an interest in law enforcement in the modern chaos. He had the heart for it, if not the brains or the experience.
Alice Gibbons studied the mutilated corpses, the brilliant light of the L.A. sun glaring down on the bloodied concrete shipping yard. When she had worked as a detective, she had often been referred to as Al, which had caused no end to the number of mixups regarding her gender.
But it was better than people calling her Alice.
“Fifth one’s out back in the alley. A big guy, maybe three hundred pounds of muscle. Linebacker material, and probably with a class to boot. He looks like he bled out.” Jules chattered on beside her as she looked over the scene, trying to fit the pieces together any way she could.
“You’re probably right,” Alice said. “When groups of scumbags like this get introduced to that much money, they tend to implode. Everything about this scene matches that idea…Except this guy’s facing the wrong direction, and his wound doesn’t match any of the dead men’s weapons. That one’s got way too few wounds for the amount of blood on his clothes, and there’s a bit of blood over by the fence, completely opposite where the main confrontation occurred.
“Sooo.. Sixth man?” Jules asked.
“Yeah…” Alice said, her attention wandering to the opposite street where a horse was munching on grass on the corner of the street, in a perfect location to surveil traffic from either direction.
“Maybe it wasn’t a man.”
“Pff..” Jules started laughing, then stopped when he saw her face. “What, you’re serious?”
“Jules, Aliens are all over the planet, and I can literally do magic.” She reached out to the mana in the surroundings and then touched the amulet of Unglaus, establishing a connection to the cold diety of death. She mentally requested permission to interrogate a subject, and was rewarded with a cold sensation that worked its way through her belly.
That meant yes.
Alice put her fingers on the corpse’s shoulder, and saw her tunnel of mana flicker as a soul descended back into the temporarily reactivated body.
“Who did this?”
The corpse with a third of its head shorn away opened its mouth, moaning into the bloodstained concrete.
It spoke, “Moonnsteer.”
“Hey,” Jules said, nudging her shoulder. “You think that horse is watching us?”
“No. It’s just a dumb horse.” Alice lied as prickles of panic settled on the back of her neck. No sense letting it know that she knew about it. Maybe she was being paranoid. But years of experience told her that horse was watching them. It was watching them carefully. Like a person.
“Oh, okay,” Jules said, turning his attention back to the surroundings. The sweet idiot.