Kestrel slid through the familiar, dark hallways, moving particularly stealthy for a man his size. It helped that he knew the turns and doors; none of it had changed since the days he’d walked them, back in another life. When his captain had brought this most recent plan to him he’d been surprised. Silkfoot had been delighted that the very building he wanted to rob was one where his first mate had once worked. That provided insider information on the layout that would be much harder to gain otherwise.
He passed down a long corridor, shining his light in through an office window. He knew it instantly.
“You come highly recommended Mr. Valladon, but I can’t help but notice you haven’t stayed in your past few jobs for long.”
The man across from him was fussy, in a suit that was a bit too tight for him.
“Yes. The truth was they were very nice places to work, but they didn’t challenge me. I’m the sort of man who enjoys the challenge of a job, and in solving the problems that come with it. I can guarantee you that I will give my very best, no matter how hard the work might be. I will not leave you disappointed.”
The man considered that but after a few moments he nodded, seeming pleased enough by his answer.
Thomas was careful not to let his thoughts show. That was always the most bothersome question of the interview process. He’d used the exact same line at least three or four times now, and knew he wouldn’t be able to get away with it for much longer. Resumes were useful, up until the point when they weren’t.
“Well, we certainly have more than enough challenge around here. It’s a big building with lots of needs. As you know we store many priceless pieces, and our clients expect top notch security. That’s why we only hire the best. With your qualifications and some drive I could see you making supervisor. Wouldn’t that be wonderful, Mr Valladon? Think of all the opportunity.”
“It’s certainly a lot to keep in mind.”
“Wonderful, I look forward to working with you.”
“Likewise,” he offered out his hand to shake, along with a smile, even while knowing that he’d be gone from this job well before he had a chance to advance. Unless it had something different about it, something that really challenged him, his boredom with it all would eat away at him until he left to find another empty job to fill his time.
-ow’s the work coming, Kestrel?” The voice in his mind faded, morphing to a different one whispering in his ear.
His captain’s voice was familiar, and reassuring, and he let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. The office where he’d had his interview faded into darkness, and he chided himself for getting distracted.
This job and this building, had never meant anything to him, but he’d never been back to one of his former places of work. He’d never had reason to, since he’d never bothered to make any connections. Moving through these hallways was like walking through the grey fog of his former life all over again. He’d labored for years in jobs where he’d only ever done enough to garner good references, but not enough to excel.
Why bother, when none of it had meant anything? What was the point of a life that lacked all challenge?
“Sorry, Captain. It’s going well. I should reach the rendezvous in less than ten minutes.”
He shook the cobwebs from his mind and hurried on.
Most anyone with a mind at cracking this building would have tried to take a route that would have had them in the building for far too long, climbing through ducts, hiding under desks, anything to avoid running into security.
That was the problem with this building, unless you were somehow blessed by fate, or possibly suicidal, there was no way to take out every patrolling guard without alerting someone. The only option was to move as stealthily as possible. That had certainly piqued Silkfoot’s interest, and even he felt the familiar electricity running through his veins as he moved toward his target, just narrowly missing being seen.
This was living. Siding from shadow to shadow, living in the moments between the sweep of camera and guard. The way your heart beat in anticipation, knowing every moment an alarm could shatter the air. Whether it was this, or feeling the wind on his face, and the sea spray, he’d never felt alive until Silkfoot Lightvolt had found him.
He passed through the cafeteria. There was an employee evacuation stairwell though there that not even the clients were made aware of. The custodial staff could have made a killing selling the secrets to this place to the highest bidder.
He pressed himself up against the underside of a cash station as a flashlight swung by over his head. He counted the moments as each footstep echoed on the tile floor.
Three… Four… Five…
“Oh come on Thomas, there’ll only be five of us! I’ll even cover you. Not even you could say no to free beer.”
Lana had been leaning down across the table where he’d been eating his lunch, her shirt quite noticeably not quite fully buttoned up. He couldn’t deny that the view was nice, but he wasn’t swayed by displays like that.
“I’m afraid I’m busy that night. You should go out and enjoy yourself.”
“You’re always busy. Five months on the job and he never goes out. I’m starting to think you cease to exist when you go off the clock.”
Thomas took another bite, ignoring the annoyed noise she made before she straighted up. Her friend laid a hand on her arm, drawing her away.
“Just leave it Lana, he never goes out. Let him stew. We don’t need him to have fun.”
“He probably doesn’t even know how to.” The two women tittered as they made their way out.
Thomas hadn’t bothered to tell them that he’d already given his two weeks notice. It wasn’t really their business anyway.
He made his way up the hidden stairwell, Spencer’s words echoing in his mind with each step he took.
“I hate to see you go, but of course I’ll provide a reference, Thomas.”
He paused on a landing, checking his watch to orient himself before continuing on.
“Just, a bit of advice. Take it as you will. I’ve met men like you before. You’re never going to find the perfect job. Someday you’re going to have to settle for something. If you keep on this way no one is going to be willing to hire you. Just remember that, in case you want to come back. We’d gladly take you again.”
Kestrel pressed his ear to the door leading out of the stairwell, imagining Spencer’s face in his mind. The man had looked so crestfallen, and he hadn’t understood why he cared so much about a place like this. He’d thanked him for his advice. They were probably good words to live by, though he had no intention of doing so. He’d asked Spencer not to tell anyone else, and went back to work
Guarding buildings had worn thin after that. That was when he’d gone into event security, and changed his fate.
Kestrel had arrived in the remote security room. By his estimation he had another seven minutes and thirteen seconds before the guard returned and he would have to vacate. This part had to be done perfectly, and he whispered into his earpiece, guiding Silkfoot along through the last of the barriers.
The man was almost there when the quiet hum from the monitors was broken by a metallic click. He turned, wide eyed, to see the door-handle starting to turn. Without even thinking he dove for the wall, out of sight of whoever was coming through the door. Unfortunately he’d left his watch on the dashboard.
A short, round man walked in, seeming oblivious to his hidden company. He must have noticed the watch across the room, as he headed right for it, though halfway there he tensed and started to turn.
Kestrel silently cursed. He hadn’t wanted to engage anyone, but if the man tripped the alarm now they’d be hard pressed to get out of here. He shot out of his hiding place just as the man was turning, his hand closing around the short man’s neck to cut off any sound he might make. His momentum carried them across the small space and up against the wall.
He squeezed, even as the face looked up at him with wide eyes. The moment he met those eyes he froze, his grip loosening just a hair.
“Thomas?” The short man managed to squeak out around his grip, hands clinging to his arm.
“Kestrel?” Silkfoot’s voice echoed in his ear, moments after.
He grunted, to let the man know he was still there, but that he couldn’t talk at the moment..
“Thomas Valladon it is you. I never forget a face.” Spencer Beltain had hardly changed, aside from a bit of balding at his temples.
It was likely only years of work in this field that kept Spencer from panicking, though he’d never had the strength that Kestrel did. The more you could learn, the more you had for the police later. The man was already taking in his black-clad form, and he’d been in the business long enough he’d have no doubt what they meant.
Kestrel chose not to answer, even as Silkfoot’s voice sounded in his ear again, more terse this time.
“Kestrel where are you? What happened?”
“Sit tight.” He murmured, not quietly enough.
Spencer’s eyes narrowed.
“Is this what you decided to do with yourself, Thomas?” The man nearly growled at him, and his sharp tone caught him off guard. “You were so talented, and now this?”
Kestrel stared at him, his eyes dark. Had he been any other thief he likely would have smashed the man’s head against the wall and been done with it. That wasn’t really his style.
“Talent? In that nothing job, and nothing life? I have nothing against you, but none of it meant anything to me.” He looked back and saw so much waste, whole years he could have cut out of his life without a loss.
He fixed Spencer with a look, as if daring him to contradict him.
Instead the smaller man just laughed, not particularly cruelly or mocking. In fact, he seemed more amused than anything.
“You know, that’s the most impassioned I’ve ever seen you.” His laughter slowly subsided, and his look became stony.
“Shame you only came alive as a thief. So, what are you going to do to me? Slit my throat?”
“If I had wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead.”
“Then do whatever you’re going to and be done with it. At least I know who to report to the police.”
It was almost a dare, trying to see if he was a murderer. He wouldn’t take that bait.
He pressed the man further back against the wall, and depressed the syringe he’d slipped out of a pouch. This stuff was expensive, but he always insisted on carrying at least one, just in case. He didn’t like needless deaths.
Spencer began to slump, but the fought as the drug drew him under. Once more his eyes narrowed accusingly.
“I don’t think you are.”
The other man slumped to the floor, his breathing slow and even.
Kestrel watched him impassively for a few moments. He hadn’t been wrong: he wasn’t sorry. One last lie. One last nail in the coffin of his old life.
That done he turned back to the panel.
“Sorry about that Captain.”
“Everything all right?”
“Just a small issue. I took care of it. Let’s reset and get this done.”
On the other end Silkfoot gave an affirmative, not delving into the rest now. There would be time after the work was finished. Once Silkfoot had what they’d come for, he slipped away, without looking back.
Someone was touching his arm.
He blinked and shifted, having to look down to see Silkfoot standing there, looking up at him with one eyebrow arched. Instantly his heart filled with warmth, and his world with color. Blue sky stretched away in front of him, and blue-green ocean rolled along far below.
“Apologies, Captain, I didn’t see you there.”
“I thought you’d been turned to stone there for a few minutes, my friend.” Silkfoot patted his arm, a playful grin curling his lips.
“Well, I wouldn’t be much use to you then, except maybe as an anchor.”
Silkfoot laughed, and he relaxed, though the other man didn’t go anywhere. Instead he moved to lean his arms against the railing, the gentle breeze playing through his hair.
“You’ve been spacier than usual since the last job.”
“My apologies, Captain. I will redouble my efforts.”
“Oh, don’t give me any of that, Kestrel. I heard what happened. You didn’t silence your radio.” The man lightly poked him in the arm to punctuate his point.
For a moment Kestrel froze, trapped in the other man’s emerald gaze.
“Captain, I’m sorry. I willfully put the job in jeopardy. I would understand if you-”
“Kestrel, I understand.” Silkfoot looked over at him, and the man’s smile was far gentler than he was used to seeing. “Do I look mad?”
“No,” he returned, feeling for all intents like a schoolboy being disciplined. “But I could have botched the job. Gotten us captured.”
Silkfoot shrugged. “Yeah, you could have, but you didn’t. If I hadn’t trusted you to handle the situation I would have aborted. Sometimes the wind shifts unexpectedly, and we have to deal with it. The past can be a dangerous thing, but you’re here now. That isn’t going to change.”
“I walked through a fog to be here. I might as well not have a past, for all any of those years mattered.”
“Careful my friend,” Silkfoot said, flashing him a grin, “some of the more uptight priests would say you’re a sloth, not appreciating the life you had.”
Kestrel had never considered that. He’d never cared to.
“Do you think I’m a sloth, captain?”
“Me? No. People like you and I wither when we’re tied down. We chase the sun, the wind, and glory. Why bother with a life where there’s no fun or challenge?”
Kestrel smiled. Silkfoot understood. He’d always understood, and that was part of why he’d follow the other man to the ends of the earth. He couldn’t go back to the shadow and the fog. Not anymore.
“If it helps, Captain, I appreciate where we are, and being here with you.”
Silkfoot’s lips curled into a broad grin. “As it should be, Kestrel. Just be careful, I might think you’re trying to flatter me.”
The man broke out into a laugh, and Kestrel joined him, feeling the last of the tension ease away.
“Never. And that I can promise you.”
Check out what my writing partner did with this prompt: Minimum Safety Threshold; A Tale of Sloth.