The Thieves’ Guild lay lifeless except for a few rodents scurrying between cracks. The fireplace, its contents long burned away, gave no comfort.
A bright flash came through the wall, followed by a loud bang. Brick blasted inward, scattering debris throughout the hall. The concussive blast disrupted the museum of items, shattering glass display bases and knocking armor to the ground.
Dust and smoke spread. Light from the outside world pierced the darkness for the first time in centuries.
In through the new entrance stepped several men, all armed. They spread into the guildhall, weapons pointed at unseen targets.
A man stepped through the smoke, wearing polished black shoes and neatly tailored outfit, vainly polished revolvers vainly hanging at his sides. He spread his arms wide.
“Jackie, I’m home!” shouted the Gentleman. “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”
His words echoed through the empty guildhall. No response came.
“Oh, I needed that,” he said, brushing brick particles off his shoulder. “Never cared much for this place. Nothing like a little explosive remodeling to get your mind off your troubles.”
He waved his hand in front of his nose shooing away disturbed dust.
“I always thought this hall was too stuffy. And not just the decor.”
He picked up a piece of armor and began rattling it.
“You here Jack? You and that little tart I know you trained?”
He threw the armor across the room. It clattered about, the sound reverberating through the old spaces.
The leader of intruders turned to the Gentleman.
“Will you chill out? We’re here for the treasure, not so you can vent.”
The Gentleman paid no mind to his comment.
“Ladies, you need me. You don’t know what’s hiding in these walls.”
The men whispered amongst themselves.
“What’s got him so worked up?” they said.
The Gentleman spoke as if he heard every word.
“This new thief, Samba,” he lingered on the last syllable, “keeps messing up my perfect scheme. Makes me want to do something against my honor.”
He rubbed the hilt of his revolver.
The men looked at him in disbelief.
“You? Honorable?” one said.
The Gentleman got a strange look in his eyes. He seemed to stare a hole in the man. Slowly, a smile creased on his face.
“Listen,” said the gang leader, stepping between them, “we have a deal. Boss Parcheezio will agree to your alliance if you deliver the treasure. He’s got a bone to pick with this Samba too.”
Satisfied, the Gentleman made his way towards the downward staircase.
“Anything you say, Guido.”
“For the last time, my name is Michael…”
“As I was saying. I am nothing without my honor. It’s a matter of personal pride. I never miss. Every bullet in my guns deserves a target. “
He turned the revolver of his gun, lingering on the empty holes.
“She’s already denied them the satisfaction three times. My honor demands their vengeance. I refuse to reload until they are vindicated.”
The gangster from before spoke out.
“What happens if you run out?”
The Gentlemen thought for a second.
“You know, I’ve never had to think about it. I guess it would be the end of me.”
“Couldn’t you just use your other gun?” said the same man.
“Oh, no, no, no, my good man. There’s only one bullet left in it. I’m saving that for another particular person, who denied me the same satisfaction years ago.”
The goons whispered amongst themselves.
“Remind me not to cross him.” The goons whispered amongst themselves. Michael interjected himself.
“Just get to the treasure,” he whispered. “After that, boss says make sure we’ll never have to worry about him again.”
They nodded amongst themselves.
The Gentleman didn’t seem to hear them. Standing at the top of the descent into the vault, he reached towards the hidden panel with the switch for disarming the traps.
“So you missed?”
His hand stopped. He slowly turned his head towards the goon who couldn’t seem to keep his mouth shut.
“Because you can’t accept you’re a bad shot, you hold some crazy vendetta?” said the man.
A nervous silence unfolded as the men kept their distance from the dapper thief. A smile appeared on his face, that one which always made them sick to their stomachs.
“The point of a grudge,” he said slowly, “is to hold one far beyond any logical sense.”
His arm dropped. He waved them forward. As he descended, he began to speak.
“Listen to me now, and I’ll tell you a tale. I warn you though, it’s one in which justice doesn’t prevail.”
Pulling a light from his pocket, he lit a hanging torch. Removing it from the wall, he used the crackling flame to light a cigar. The flame’s light seemed to dance across his face.
“Don’t believe what you’ve heard. I’m not a bad man. Just a victim of circumstances. I was born under a bad moon. What newborn hasn’t bit the nurse?”
The rearguard of the men stopped. He stared upwards.
“What is it?” said the man in front of him.
“I thought the painting was staring at me.”
“You’re imagining things.”
The Gentleman’s voice seemed to echo off the walls. It filled the space as he descended.
“My parents had an old name and the trappings of luxury. That’s too much pressure for a lonely child. It’s not my fault I acted out. I didn’t mean to burn the mansion down.”
A bloodcurdling scream came from above them. They all turned to the rear of the party. The last member of their group was missing. The other goons fanned back up the stairs. They held their torches high, but there was no sign of him.
The gang leader looked to the Gentleman. The foppish man had not stopped, or even looked back to see the commotion.
“In boarding school they admonished me for making the other kids play William Tell. It’s not my fault they moved. I still hit the apple! Couldn’t they see I was a born leader?”
“Gentleman!” Michael called out to him. The thief continued his movement down the stairs. The leader pulled a gun.
“I said stop!”
The Gentleman turned, his face filled with fury. He pointed straight up at the gang member.
“I tell you, it wasn’t what it seemed!”
He reached out and grasped a nearby torch. He pulled it downward. The sounds of gears turning filled the empty space.
A rush of wind vented down the shaft from above. The moving air blew out the torches, plunging the pit into darkness.
As Michael’s eyes adjusted to the loss of light, he noticed the paintings began to glow. Invisible to the eye in the light, new pictures formed on their subjects. Bright neon colors depicted hideous creatures and deformed scenes.
The Gentleman’s voice boomed.
“It’s survival of the fittest!”
He could be anywhere, yet his voice was everywhere.
“I’m not a bad man. I just do what it takes to survive.”
The stairs under the Michael’s feet jolted. The column separated from the wall, rotating out into the maw of the shaft. Holding onto the stairs for dear life, he looked up to see the rest of the stairs doing the same.
From some unknown source, manic music accompanied the movement. He felt trapped on a warped carousel driven by a madman.
Two of his men pinned themselves to a wall. Michael watched as the wall spun in place, both men disappearing behind its stony exterior.
Only then he realized it was a trap. He and his men had been drawn into a giant mousetrap.
Looking up in hope of an exit, a sight above him dashed any promise of escape.
On a platform that jutted out into the center over open air, stood the Gentleman. He waved his arms to the music, the stairs moving with his motions. He gleefully danced, enjoyed his role as conductor of the madness.
Suddenly, the stairs dropped out from under Michael, becoming a smooth slide. He slid down towards the wall.
Just as he was about to slam into it, the wall opened. He was deposited into a small hallway. A blue light from an unknown source illuminated his surroundings.
From somewhere in front of him, the Gentleman spoke.
“I had a rival once. A good law man, not a corrupt bone in his body.”
With nowhere else to go, Michael went forward. He couldn’t shake the feeling something followed him, even though he knew the hallway had closed behind him.
The Gentleman’s voice continued.
“He assumed we had a gentleman’s agreement, that in our great game his loved ones were off-limits. But what’s the point of rivalry if you don’t do everything to win?”
Michael was sure something large skittered behind him. Sweat covered his brow. He felt his heartbeat on the verge of bursting. Breaking into a run, he barreled head first down the hallway.
“Some people say what I did was monstrous, but I didn’t hurt them. Physically. I just wanted to send a message.”
Behind the walls he thought he could hear a woman laughing madly. A man cried out for help. He swore he could hear children singing nursery rhymes.
“…ashes to ashes, we all fall down.”
He ran with abandon down winding hallways. Looking behind him, he couldn’t see anything, but he knew, was never more certain then ever before in his life, that the creature was on top of him.
He turned a corner. The Gentleman stood in front of him.
“It’s never what it seems,” he said.
Michael looked behind him. An empty hallway of quiet nothing greeted him. He looked into the Gentleman’s face.
“What are you?”
The floor dropped out from under him. He landed on another slide. It spiraled down, falling and falling.
It opened up at the bottom of the shaft, dropping him into a bog. He floated for a second. The murky bog water began to congeal around him.
Every time he moved, his body sank lower into the bog. A pair of neatly polished shoes walked past.
The Gentleman paid him no attention, muttering to himself as he passed.
He whipped around, angry on his face.
“Not before I finish my story!”
He changed to a smile.
“Now, we come back to the best part.”
He spoke with sarcasm in his voice.
“When it came time for the old king of thieves to choose a successor, he chose that Brazilian fool. I told the king I should have been the one. He told me I was insane.”
The Gentleman chuckled as he walked towards the vault door.
“I don’t think he was being sarcastic. But, I don’t care anymore. I got what I wanted.”
He pulled the door key from his pocket.
“All the stolen goods the world has ever know, all for my taking.”
He placed the key in the lock. He turned it.
The key caught in the lock. It refused to turn. He clicked it over and over.
“Why isn’t it working?”
He turned to Michael.
“Give me your phone.”
Michael couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Are you serious? Help me!”
“Give me the phone,” said the Gentleman, trying to sound as sincere as possible, “and I’ll help you.”
Reaching into his quicksand soaked pocket, Michael pulled out his phone and threw it to the Gentleman.
Instead of catching the device, the Gentleman let it fall to the ground. Once it came to a stop, he smashed the screen with his heel.
He removed the battery from the phone, pressing it against the key. It sat there, dull and lifeless.
If it wasn’t the real key, it had to be the fake. In the orphanage, who had picked up the fake key?
“The girl,” he whispered.
In the bank, he remembered her dropping the key.
“She wanted me to pick it up. So where did…”
A wave of realization hit him. She had slipped her hand into the detective’s pocket. He hadn’t thought anything of it at the time.
His hands curled, his arms shaking. He lowered his head close to this chest and held it there.
A new sound came from him. Quiet at first, a guttural chortle emanated from the man.
The Gentleman began to laugh. He threw his head back, laughing maniacally.
“Why didn’t I see it before?”
He reversed his course, retracing his path by the bog, chuckling to himself the whole time. He headed for the other door, from which the only sliver of light in the room emerged.
Michael barely remained afloat. He tilted his head back to keep it above water.
“Gentleman. Gentleman, wait! You can’t leave me here!”
The Gentleman stopped in the doorway, grasping the frame.
“Haven’t you been listening? I’m exactly what I seem!”
He slammed the door, leaving the man crying out into darkness.