As an Easter gift, here is a full chapter as you would find it in the final book. Enjoy!
The ancient lock whined loudly, protesting its slumber’s disturbance. Rusted hinges moved hesitantly. Long accumulated debris fell onto the floor. The massive door lurching outward resounded through the small space.
Light and air poured into the vault, forcing out stifled and foul-smelling fumes. A silhouetted hand appeared in the light, penetrating into the stone enclave. It tried to pull the uncooperative door.
Struggling comically with every tug, the man cursed his lack of strength, the maker of the door, and the door’s mother. Forcing the door with all his might, he accomplished opening it so enough of the minuscule light could enter.
Large lumps of fat characterized his body, protruding underneath his brown robe. The cloth could not cover the jiggle of his body as he moved.
He wore the garb of a religious friar, stained with sweat from exertion. He wiped his brow, leaving a long streak down the sleeve. With no ventilation and the oppressive smell of a thousand years of musk, the man’s pug nose wrinkled.
The Friar took one last look around, ensuring his solitude. The vault had lain untouched for centuries as the modern world passed it by.
Hidden deep beneath the vaulted halls of the Vatican, this small cellar had last seen light when the Romans built it across from their great circus.
The secret vault remained off limits. No one ever came down here anyway, mostly because nothing of interest remained. Once great secrets were locked away in this dank place. Anything of interest had long been moved.
Running his hands down the cold, solid metal doorframe, the Friar searched for any traps placed by some long-dead warden to keep out unwanted.
Finding none, he placed his hands across the door. Readying his shoulders, he gave a mighty push.
The vault spurred open, it’s contents laid bare. The Friar produced a flashlight from inside his robe. He clicked it into the on position. Nothing.
He struck the flashlight against his arm. After several blows, the beam finally flicked on, shining directly into his eyes.
Blinded, he resumed his fruitless tirades, this time against the manufacturer, the batteries, and the creator of the first flashlight. When the spots in his eyes disappeared, he got a good look at the vault.
The subterranean room hemmed into a small cell that even a prisoner would find cramped. Layers of dust obscured the floor. Stepping inside, the Friar kicked up clods. Dust stung his eyes and clogged his lungs.
Hacking, the Friar placed his robe over his mouth to muffle the sound. He stepped back, waving his sleeve to dissipate the dust cloud.
The uncovered stone floor littered with remains of old cloth and other detritus. As his light reached the rear, a glint of metal flickered under a piece of eroded wood.
The Friar reached underneath, his hands quivering. Fingers touched cold metal. Grasping the hilt of the object, he lifted it into the light.
In his hand sat a key of pure gold. Its subtle color absorbed the light. A necklace threaded through the key turned to dust upon being lifted.
The Friar held the key high, turning it slowly in his hand. Beautifully molded, the key’s circular bow could fit around a finger. The bit had been molded into the shape of a hand snatching a coin.
Satisfied, the Friar clasped the key tightly in his palm.
“What are you doing?”
The sound of another man’s voice came from behind him. The Friar‘s body seized up. He gave off a small shriek. Turning slowly, he found not one but two men.
In front, a lanky man, wearing a trench coat and fedora, twirled his pencil mustache. Following close behind him came a man of extended age, wearing a white suit and red bowtie. The Friar swore he appeared just about ready to buy real estate in this crypt.
“I asked you a question,” said the trench-coated man.
When he spoke, his words competed with an incredibly thick French accent, a Clouseau drawl that bordered on the ridiculous.
The Friar attempted to brush away his embarrassment at being spooked. He smoothly moved the key behind his back.
“Gentlemen, this part of the Vatican is off-limits to tourists.”
He gestured to the nearby staircase. Then he performed a condescending scooting gesture, as if directing a young child to return to bed.
“I am not a gentleman!”
The Frenchman interrupted, his face particularly irate at the humoring gesture. The Friar jumped backed at the outburst. The man continued.
“I am not a tourist. I am an officer of the law.”
Reaching into his coat pocket, he produced an ink black wallet. He flipped it open, revealing a golden badge.
“Mine name is Inspector Jean Jacques Gousseau, International Criminal Police Organization.”
The Inspector thrust the badge into the friar’s face, pressing it hard against his nose. At this minuscule distance, the Friar noted the badge’s finish, worn away due to over-polishing.
As quickly as he returned the badge to his pocket, the Inspector turned his attention away from the Friar.
“And I have received reports of une robbery!”
He almost screamed the last two words. They reverberated off the vault walls, running away together down into dark corridors. He shook his index finger, every muscle in his arm taut.
The Friar pulled at his collar, trying to ventilate his robe. His nervous body produced so much heat he felt as if steam would escape. Realizing how guilty it made him look, he returned his hands to his sides.
“Why, this is the first I have heard of such a thing,” the Friar said.
The Inspector crossed his arms and rubbed his chin
“That’s the thing…the robbery hasn’t happened yet.”
The Friar felt as if he was trapped with a madman. He looked hastily for the exits.
“But that doesn’t make any sense. How can you have a robbery that hasn’t taken place?”
“Intention,” said the old man.
The man barely puffed out the word, but it was enough to reassure the Friar he was alive and not a part of the scenery. So thin was he that the Friar believed a slight breeze could send him flying.
“Indeed,” stated the Inspector, slipping a small envelope from his coat sleeve.
“We have received a letter from none other than the King of Thieves!”
Gousseau paused for a moment to allow the impact of his revelation to set in. To his dismay, the Friar’s confused face showed he had no idea who they were talking about.
“In this letter” said Gousseau, “he states his intention to steal an ancient artifact from the Vatican, one of great importance to the history of the world.”
“What exactly is he after?” asked the Friar.
What indeed?” said Gousseau.
“The Vatican has more than enough artifacts, trinkets, and ancient prizes on hand to wet the appetite of any thief with the moral indifference to rob the bastion of an entire faith. Stealing something of importance from Rome? You might as well pick the best gold bar from Fort Knox.”
Gousseau droned on. It was obvious he enjoyed the sound of his own voice.
“The King of Thieves is not some mere treasure hunter. Whatever he’s going after, it must be world-changing. Anything else is below his interest. I should know.”
Gousseau pressed his hand to his chest, holding his chin high.
“I‘ve chased after him for the longest time, over seven years to be exact.”
He stared straight ahead, head aloft in some far off world. The Friar looked in the same direction, seeing nothing but a dark corridor. He waved his hand in front of the Inspector’s face, trying to bring him back. After a long pause, the lawman started waxing poetic again.
“The greatest thief the world has ever known, capable of entering any place on earth and walking out unscathed. No matter what we send up against him, no matter how tight his poor targets thought their security, a mere inconvenience. Rogue, trickster, scoundrel, and devil, he’s my greatest challenge and, once I catch him, my legacy.”
The Inspector paused. The Friar half expected him to take a bow.
“Finally, he is a master of disguise. He could be anyone. Even you!”
The Inspector thrust his finger into the Friar’s bulbous nose, making an indent. Too shocked by the accusation, the Friar did not protest the strike.
“Impossible! Look!” he stammered.
He pulled at his face. The fat skin on his cheeks stretched like rubber. When he let go, they jostled for space, eventually settling to their original position.
“I’m just a lowly friar cleaning the vaults. It gets so very dusty down here, yes, cough, cough.”
The Inspector tapped his fingers to his temple.
“I already knew you that when I watched you fumble around. A thief you may be, but only an amateur.”
The Inspector held out his hand, revealing the golden key. The Friar’s mouth dropped. At no point had the Inspector been close to him. In disbelief, he whipped his hand out from behind his back. When he unfurled his fingers, he realized his mistake.
In the center of his pudgy, outstretched palm, sat the key. The Inspector’s mouth nudged into a grin.
“The game had been over long before I announced my presence. Whatever it is you were sent down here to find, place it into my hand posthaste.”
Defeated, the Friar handed over the real key.
“H-how did you?”
Gousseau twirled his prize in his hand, studying the texture.
“Mess with the best, as they say.”
Though he spoke under his breath, the Friar couldn’t help but notice the Inspector’s accent momentarily drop.
The old man let out a loud grunt. Glancing over at his companion, the Inspector saw him motioning to his watch. Placing the key in his pocket, Gousseau turned his attention back to the holy phony.
“I must return to the security center and report this. We have no time to lose. Capturing this thief king will be a royal pain.”
The old man rolled his eyes as he turned towards the exit. Gousseau followed.
“Don’t think this means you’re not in trouble,” he said, not bothering to stop walking. “I expect to see you in security for a full report.”
The inspector gave a mock salute, then disappeared down an alcove.
The Friar stood with a stunned look on his face. Then, fear swept over him. His body began to shake, the sound of his knees knocking echoing through the room.
“Oh no, oh no,“ said the Friar. “He won’t be happy. Not one bit. What do I do?”
His head shot up.
“The Inspector! Not only did he catch me, he beat this King of Thieves to the punch. Truly, if anyone can protect me, it’s him.”
Relief washed over him.
“Truly this was god’s work. A second chance!”
Voices came from the stairs above him. He looked up to the crypt entrance to see Gousseau descending, a young boy following close behind him. A Cardinal walked next to them. Snippets of their dialogue reached him.
“Establish a perimeter around the vault and station guards at any access points. No one goes in or out.”
Gousseas looked right at the Friar.
“Who is that?” he said.
“Inspector Gousseau!” replied the Friar.
He waved to his newfound rescuer, walking briskly to meet him.
“I was just about to head to security to talk to you.”
Gousseau’s eyebrows furrowed tightly, a look of confusion spread across his face.
“Did you just come from the vaults?”
“Yes I did,” the Friar nodded.
“And why were you down there?”
The Friar couldn’t understand why the Inspector acted this way.
“Don’t you remember? You confronted me. About the golden key?”
A bewildered look came over the Cardinal‘s face.
“Inspector? You were already down here?”
The Inspector looked at the Cardinal. His mouth hung open but not a single word emerged. He looked back to the Friar.
“And what happened to this key?”
“What are you saying, Inspector?” the Friar cried, completely at a loss for the Inspector’s behavior. “You took it.”
The Cardinal gasped.
“I did no such thing!” shouted Gousseau. His face turned bright red at the accusation.
“But you did!” said the Friar. He and Gousseau began bickering with one another.
The cardinal ended the comedy of errors. He turned to Gousseau.
“Inspector, what do you have to say to this accusation?”
The inspector thrust his finger into the Friar‘s face. For the second time that day the man had digits poking him in his portly nose.
“I have never seen this man before in my life!”
Incredulous, the Friar couldn’t help but stammer out his words.
“But…but, I just saw you two minutes ago. You and the old man took the piece to protect it from the King of Thieves.”
Gousseau’s young assistant spoke for the first time. He was just short of nine. Dark, curled hair sprouted from his head. He spoke with an American accent.
The Inspector did not take his attention off the Friar.
“What is it, Julies? Can you not see we are busy?”
“You were with us the whole time,” said the boy, “yet you were also here. I can think of only one reason you’d be in two places at once.”
The Inspector’s eyes lit up. Gousseau grabbed the Friar by the shoulders and shook him.
“Of course I don’t remember, because I wasn’t there! That was him! The King of Thieves!”
The fake Gousseau and his old accomplice raced down the hallways of the Vatican. Reaching up to his face, the Inspector grasped the area around his nose. His skin stretched like rubber, distorting his features.
With a hard yank, the mask came off, revealing a chiseled face, dark-skin and brown eyes. He showed a few signs of middle age. Overall his body remained in spry form.
“Too easy!” he said.
He pulled the key from his pocket as he removed his disguise. Underneath, he wore a red coat jacket, with a blue collared shirt and loose yellow tie.
To his side, the old man grasped his face and did the same. Removing the old man mask revealed a face a third of the façade’s age, a light skinned man with well-kept brown hair meeting at a point.
“You’re such a bloody braggart!” he said, revealing a deep Cockney accent.
The leader of the two looked over his shoulder at his compatriot.
“A rogue, trickster, and scoundrel. Did I lie, Jack?”
The two of them broke out in smiles. The ribbings between them, all in good fun, never meant as more than a few jabs between brothers.
At the end of the hallway, a familiar face sped directly into their way, one hand holding onto his hat. With his hand, Inspector Gousseau pointed straight at them.
“Timbre Tango, Jack O’Altriedes,” he said. “You’re under arrest!”
Timbre looked behind him. At the end of the hallway he could see a wave of Swiss Guards headed straight for them. He reached into his coat, grasping a ripcord.
Whipping the trench coat off his back, he threw it at the Inspector. Pulling hard on the cord, the coat suddenly expanded, tripling in size.
“What in the-“ started Gousseau.
He couldn’t get anymore out before the fabric collapsed on him, covering him entirely.
Using Gousseau like a vaulting horse, Timbre sprung over his covered shoulders. Jack did the same, adding a flip at the dismount.
They landed in front of Gousseau’s assistant. The young boy did not try to impede them. Instead he held up a camera.
“Get my good side,” said Timbre.
Gousseau pulled the cloth off his head. Seeing his quarry getting away, he attempted to run after them. His refused to move, tangled in the tarp.
“King of Thieves! Timbre Tango!”
The cry caught the escaping thief’s attention. He slid to a stop across the marble floor.
Timbre watched with great amusement as his pursuer bobbled around in the unwieldy cloth. The Inspector’s attempts to free himself only entangled him further.
“Sorry I can’t talk Pops,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid the rush.”
“Rush?” said Gousseau.
He looked behind him to find a scrum of Swiss Guards bearing down on him. The vanguard’s feet became entangled in the large cloth. The first man went down hard, taking all his comrades with him.
The guards attempt to free themselves only served to pull the coat tighter around them. Gousseau fought his way on top of the rabble just in time to see his prey disappear around a corner.
Timbre looked back one more time to his eternal pursuer.
“I thought you were retired, old man?”
Gousseau thrust out a pair of handcuffs.
“I could say the same to you! I couldn’t let anybody else have the pleasure of putting you behind bars. King of Thieves, you’re under arrest!”
The second the good inspector finished his poignant declaration, he lost his balance and fell back into the scramble.
By the time Gousseau climbed out of the dog pile and got another good glance of the end of the hallway, the two thieves were gone.
Entering the first hiding place they could find, Timbre slammed the door behind them. Sliding down the to the floor, he sat upright, back against the door.
“Okay,” he said, “that buys us a few minutes.”
He breathed heavily, taking deep breathes to calm himself. Had heists always been this exhausting?
“Hey Jack, why is it you have a few kids and everything just goes?”
Jack busied himself taking stock of their surroundings. He rifled through closets and dressers, looking for anything to assist their escape. He talked while he worked.
“Count your blessings. People in our line of work don’t normally retire. Be glad you’re getting out while you’re ahead.
Looking around the room, Timbre found they were in a very nice apartment. An armoire next to the couch sat across from a large television stand. A closed door to his right probably led to the bedroom. He could hear the sound of water running coming from the next room.
Across from where he was sitting, balcony doors exited to a landing overlooking the city of Rome. Timbre‘s gaze returned to his friend. He wore a worried look on his face.
“Uh, T? Our situation has not improved.”
Jack lifted white robes out of the dresser, the seal of the Vatican embroidered on each garment. He opened a closet, revealing a hat stand containing a very conspicuous accessory.
“It’s the camauro of the pontificate.”
“The what?” said Timbre.
Jack gave him an annoyed look.
“The pope’s hat.”
Timbre stood and walked around the apartment, running his hands over the furniture to get a feel for the texture.
“So this is the Pope’s digs,” he muttered.
A plan formed in his head.
“I have an idea.”
Lined up six men deep outside the closed door of the papal apartments, the Swiss Guard stood at the ready by the time Gousseau arrived. Reaching the front, he struggled to breath, wheezing as he gave orders.
“I want checkpoints set up at all the main entrances. All other doors should be shut and guarded.”
The Inspector stood in the center, a gaggle of Swiss guards around him. Their bright multi-colored uniforms, a product of a past age, clashed with the addition of the very modern weapons they carried.
“Check every tourist. They’ve probably adopted disguises, so search anyone trying to leave. That means staff and clergy as well.”
“Sir, we’re ready to go.”
At that moment, the door lock clicked open, causing all the men in the hallway to jump. The door opened slowly. A figure appeared in the doorway. All the guards raised their guns at once.
Out walked none other than the Pope himself. He stepped outside into the hallway, a look of confusion on his face. All the guards immediately went to attention.
“Is there a problem, officers?” His Holiness asked. A fatherly smile adorned his face.
The only one who showed no reverence was Gousseau. Instead he laughed.
“You think such a second-rate mask would fool me?”
The Pope was flabbergasted, even more so when the Inspector grabbed his cheeks, pinching them tightly.
Gousseau pulled with all his might, stretching the bubbly cheeks like a baker pulling dough.
“Take your hands off me!” said the Pope.
Aghast, the guards tried to pull the Inspector off. His hands were vice grips, refusing to let go.
“Why won’t this come off?”
The guards managed to separate the Inspector. They threw him to the ground. Holding him down, arms behind his back, he tried to stand up.
“What are you doing? He’s going to get away!”
One of the guards returned from inspecting the room.
“Sir, there’s a rope made out of clothes off the balcony.”
Gousseau began to pound his fists on the floor. He kicked his feet in the air like an impudent child. He fought the guards’ attempts to restrain him.
One of the guards turned to Gousseau’s ward.
“Does he do this often?”
“Oh, every time,” said the boy. Gousseau reached the height of his fit.
“You haven’t heard the last of me! I don’t care how long it takes, I’ll get you someday King of Thieves. You hear me?”
Outside in St. Peter’s Square, floodlights switched on as the sun set over Rome. They illuminated a vast crowd gathered in the courtyard. Excitement buzzed as rumors passed amongst them of the events taking place inside.
A television crew stood on top of their van trying to get a clear picture over the packed square. A female reporter stood in front of the camera.
“We’re now showing viewers pictures of the two men wanted by the police. Their current whereabouts are unknown.”
Behind the reporter, the camera caught the movement of the crowd herding forward. Its unblinking eye caught the strange sight of two men moving against the tide.
Jack and Timbre stopped in front of the camera. Noticing it, Timbre began blowing kisses to the audience. Jack pulled him out of view, into the anonymity of the crowd.
. . . .
Away from the commotion, another man attempted to avoid capture. He moved down old stone stairways and out a rear gate Nodding to the guard that noted his departure, the Friar turned down an empty boulevard.
Night fell fast over the ancient statues, casting long shadows over him. Every few steps he looked over his shoulder.
Leaving the main streets, hee entered a dark alcove. In the dark, he felt safe enough to talk to himself.
“What a mess, a real disaster. Got to get away before he finds me,” he muttered to himself.
“It hurts you think so little of me.”
The voice came from a figure reclining against the wall. His deep voice reverberated in the Friar’s spine. The surprise caused him to fall, landing hard on the cobbled road. Fear numbed his pain, keeping his attention focused on the dark.
The man flicked on a lighter, holding the flame close to his face. It illuminated a fat cigar pressed between his lips. Only his face and hands were visible, as the light seemed to refuse to shine upon his dark red clothes. The glow of the flame caused his skin to appear a deep red.
His facial hair started with two pencil-tipped points on each side above his lips, following an impeccably manicured line of hair around his mouth ending at a point. A black bowler hat tipped low on his head, nearly covering his eyes.
A closing snap of the lighter plunged them back into darkness, save the burn of his cigar.
“Gentleman, I can explain.” The Friar croaked. He rolled back and forth, trying to right himself.
The man did not respond. Smoke seeped from his nostrils.
“The key was there,” the Friar continued. “I did everything you said. You didn’t say the King of Thieves would get involved. No one can beat him.”
The Gentleman snorted at the Friar’s words. He blew a large ring of smoke. It hung in the air, refusing to dissipate. The Friar raised his voice.
“It’s your fault then!”
Garnering what little courage he had, the Friar made a stand.
“If I had known we’d be up against the King, I would have never signed on to this-“
Without warning, the Gentleman’s hand shot out, grabbing the Friar by the collar. With enormous strength, he pulled the man towards him. He lifted up the Friar, pulling the fat man close.
“I guess it’s true what they say, if you want something done right.”
The Friar got a good look at his face. Black eyes pierced through him.
“But I say, if you’re no good to me alive.”
A wicked grin stretched almost from ear to ear. The smell of smoke enveloped them, nearly choking the Friar.
“You’re better off dead.”
The Gentleman pulled the man into the shadows. Seconds later, a blood-curdling scream reverberated against the stonewalls, then silence.
. . . .
On the banks of the Tibre River, down at the bottom of the Vatican hill in Trastevere, the commotion from the crowds above could still be heard. The patios of the numerous posh apartments lining the waters filled with the curious. Their attention captured, no one noticed two men moving across the rooftops.
“Rappelling out the Pope’s balcony like an amorous teenager,” said Jack, “that was your brilliant plan?”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
Reaching a particularly opulent apartment, they dropped to a jutting balcony below.
Reaching their destination, Timbre and Jack took a moment to catch their breath. Timbre moved towards the railing, looking off towards Vatican hill.
“We should have used a blimp,” said Timbre.
Jack looked at him incredulously.
“A blimp? Over Rome? Are you daft?” said Jack.
Timbre shrugged his shoulders.
“Blimps are classy, they have style. Nobody expects a blimp.”
“That’s because there’s this miraculous new invention called the airplane.”
From behind them, a man wearing a simple black suit with bow tie opened the glass doors leading inside. He crossed his right arm and gave a little bow. He did not present his left arm, as his hand was missing.
“Sirs,, with regards to your retirement, do you think you could start using the door like a normal person?”
Timbre innocently shrugged.
“Can’t get to be the King of Thieves by using doors, right Lorenzo?”
Timbre removed his coat, handing it to his butler. Lorenzo rolled his eyes.
“If you say so, sir.” Lorenzo produced a PDA from his pocket. “You’ll be interested to know the good Inspector was arrested for assaulting his holiness. I’m sure you had nothing to do with that.”
“Of course,” said Timbre. “Haven’t you heard? I’m retired.”
Leaving the balcony, Timbre stepped gingerly through a layer of stuffed animals strewn across the floor. In the center of the room, twin beds sat side-by-side.
Twin toddler girls slept soundly in them. Physically, they were identical. But their personalities were vastly different.
Timbre leaned down, kissing each one in turn. His first daughter had the sheets pulled up tight around her.
He pecked her on the cheek. She barely moved. Then he turned to his little hellion.
She lay completely sprawled out, her covers kicked every which way. She clutched at her side a single toy picked from the masses.
When he kissed her on the cheek, she reached up to wipe it.
“I almost can’t tell you two apart,” said Timbre, “at least when you’re asleep. But I’ll have plenty of time now to figure it out.”
Timbre pulled the strewn blankets back over his daughter. His pulse raced when Melody squirmed a little bit, but she remained asleep, merely pulled the covers a little tighter. Nothing could wake them out of their deep sleep, not even their nanny’s saw blade snoring.
Maria sat in a rocking chair next to the beds, fast asleep. She slept with her head hung back, her mouth open wide. A large drop of drool hung for dear life.
Timbre tapped her on the shoulder. Her body straightened up, a loud snort heralding her awakening.
“You can go to bed now, Maria.”
The girl made a gurgling noise that sounded like an acknowledgement. Climbing out of the seat, she stumbled towards her own room.
Timbre turned his attention to the other members of his extended family. Lorenzo closed the balcony doors, snapping the lock in place. Jack picked up toys off the floor. Only one person remained missing.
He walked through the doorframe that led to the hallway. From above, a person dropped from the ceiling, landing directly behind him. A hand shot out of the dark, stopping in Timbre’s back. He didn’t flinch.
“Hello my queen.”
Behind him stood a Japanese woman, her long black hair tied up in a knot. Two thin brown eyes and pursed lips stared intently at Timbre.
“Hi Kaya,” Jack slipped around the two of them, keeping his distance. “I think I’ll make myself something to eat.”
He darted off towards the kitchen.
“I believe I will join you,” said Lorenzo, knowing well not to anger his true employer.
The two of them remained still, Kaya’s hand not lowering.
“I didn’t wake the girls,” Timbre finally spoke.
With that, Kaya dropped her hand. She turned her back to him. Reaching back, he closed the door quietly, taking one last look inside. Without a word, they walked down the hallway.
The passage led from the bedrooms to the main living area. A row of windows stretched from floor to the ceiling, showcasing a magnificent view of the old city. The moon in the sky illuminated the hallway.
Kaya kept her arms crossed, drumming her fingers down her arm. She stared off down the hallway intently, her gaze so focused it could burn a hole in the draperies.
From the angle she stood at and the moonlight flowing into the hallway, Timbre couldn’t help but marvel over how she could be so beautiful even when she was angry. The moon made her skin look snow white, in severe contrast to her jet-black hair, falling straight down over her shoulders without a single curve or curl.
“You’re upset, I know.”
“Oh how can you tell?” she snapped. “On our wedding day, WE agreed that if WE had children, WE would both get out of the game. No more jobs, no wondering if you might end up in jail, or worse.”
Timbre tried to wrap his arms around her.
“But the treasure…”
She pulled away, turning to face him.
“Is none of your concern anymore. There are two little girls sleeping in there while their father goes on one last hurrah.”
Timbre held his hand behind him. His voice began to rise.
“What if I told you that I did it for them?”
Now it was her turn to raise her voice.
“No Timbre. Even being a father, you’ve only ever lived for one person, and that person is…”
A cherubic voice interrupted them. Standing at the corner of the hallway, one of the girls had slipped out of bed. The toy animal dragged behind her gave Melody away.
Timbre looked at Kaya, who turned away from him. She took deep breaths, trying to compose herself. Timbre turned his attention to his little girl.
“Hi sweetheart. What are you doing up so late?”
“I heard you and mommy talking,” she said.
He knelt down in front of her, pushing lopsided curls out of her face.
“Oh I’m sorry. Did you wake your sister?”
She shook her head.
Timbre ruffled his daughter’s hair, earning him a giggle. Melody and her sister had darker hair like their mother, but like their father it curled every which way. Their skin mixed that of their parents, creating a naturally tan hue that almost glowed in the sun.
She looked up at him with the two most adorable chocolate brown eyes. He knew no doubt in his mind they would grow up to be gorgeous, attracting a number of problems all fathers dread. For now, they were his little munchkins.
Timbre picked Melody and cradled her. Kaya forced a smile on her face.
“I’ll take the night owl here for a little snack. Go check on Arya?” said Timbre. Kaya nodded.
Lorenzo appeared from the doorway to the kitchen.
“Sir, we have a visitor.”
Both of them looked at him with worry on their faces.
“At this hour?” said Timbre. “What kind of welcome are they?”
Lorenzo betrayed no hint of his emotions.
“The unwelcome, sir. Noah Taiko seeks an audience.”
Kaya appeared visibly distressed. She looked towards Melody. Timbre moved to her side.
“I can handle this. Jack’s in the kitchen. For everything Noah is, he’s still honorable.”
Timbre entered the kitchen and quickly took stock of the room. Lavish and well appointed, it contained nearly every appliance known to man, plus some out of the price range for all but a few.
Sitting at the main table in the center of the hardwood floor, Jack stuffed his face with food raided from the immense fridge. As Timbre walked in, Jack mimed him a warning.
Standing at the other side of the table, Noah Taiko waited in full trench coat. The Old Dragon kept his long grey hair tied up in the back. A neatly trimmed beard wrapped around his face and tapered out a few inches below his chin.
Heavy eyes betrayed his age. Nevertheless, the outline of powerful muscles could be seen even under his heavy coat, hinting at strength not to be taken lightly.
“King of Thieves,” the man bowed slightly. “Thank you for seeing me at this late hour. Bless the family.”
He spoke with a heavy accent, his voice deep and gravely. Despite the formality of his greeting, very little respect could be gleaned from it.
“Noah, t is late, isn’t it?” Timbre said. “Especially for my Lord of the East to be making house calls.”
He opened the fridge and retrieved a gallon of milk from the well-stocked fridge. Inside hung expensive artisan foodstuffs, and chilled bottles of wine with their sticker prices from auction proudly displayed.
“I don’t approve of you all living so openly,” said Noah.
Timbre filled a sipping cup while he spoke.
“Did you hear that Jack? Noah does not approve. Be still my heart.”
He placed Melody in a high chair, strapping her in tight. He handed her the drink.
“This apartment’s owners are well-connected,” Noah continued. “They will not take kindly to thieves.”
Timbre pulled a bottle of wine from the fridge prior to closing it.
“I don’t think they’ll notice. Considering their thousand dollar Le Pompeuse Ane is just box wine with a prettier bottle. Care for a toast?”
Noah looked at him incredulously. He raised his voice.
“Why can’t you take things seriously? Have you seen tonight’s news reports?”
“I prefer to make the news, not watch it. Too depressing.”
Timbre popped the bottle and poured himself a glass.
“Then you have your wish,” said Noah. “You’re wanted for murder.”
Timbre dropped the glass. It fell to the ground, smashing loudly against the stone floor.
Noah reached into his trench coat and pulled out a police bulletin. He slammed it on the table. Jack snatched it up.
“That friar?” Jack said. “Someone took him out while we made our escape. The police have pinned it on us.”
Noah focused his gaze on Timbre.
“This has the potential to expose us. The guild will demand an answer.”
Timbre’s face solidified. His tried to control his breathing.
“Tell the guild we had nothing to do with it. Convey to them I will discover who committed this crime personally.”
Noah leaned across the table.
“And what do I tell them about you being in the vault?”
Timbre thought for a moment.
Noah scoffed, his poised demeanor slipping into disgust. He turned for the main door, not bothering to give a farewell.
As he had reached the kitchen exit, he stopped, hesitating. He looked sideways at Melody, his face softening.
“I fear there is someone manipulating events. To what gain I don’t know. Let Kaya and the children come with me. I will make sure they are protected.”
Timbre spoke quietly.
“They are protected.”
Noah’s momentarily suppressed anger flared again.
“I have spent the last several years trying to guide you to properly be our leader. I have covered for your largesse for the last time.”
His words came fluidly, no filter holding back long suppressed truths.
“Mark my words, anything that happens to yourself and your family from this point on will be your own fault.”
Noah stormed out. Lorenzo left the kitchen to show him out. The rest of the occupants didn’t move nor speak. The sound of a door slamming reverberated through the walls.
Timbre spoke to the dark hallway that led to the nursery.
“You heard all of that?”
Kaya emerged from the doorway.
Timbre came close to her. He placed his hands on her shoulders.
“What did you think?”
“It’s too much of a coincidence. The friar in the vault. Noah appearing as if summoned.”
Kaya looked Timbre in the eye.
“There’s another player. Someone more than just a guild member. “
“How do you figure,” said Jack. Kaya joined him around the table.
“Only the King is supposed to know the location of the key. We know there are only two other people privy to that information. Noah’s one of them.”
“Which leaves…” said Jack.
Kaya and Jack exchanged looks. Yet Timbre showed no signs of discomfort.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’ll pull out now and be long gone before anyone knows. That was the last time out.”
Kaya looked up at him with longing.
Timbre held out his hand. Kaya quickly took it. He pulled her close to him and placed his hand at her side. The two of them began to twirl in a slow dance. Neither one could take their eyes off the other.
“Tomorrow we’ll go underground. Just be an ordinary family. Noah can have the crown. He’s more interested in it anyway.”
“It’s really over?” said Kaya.
Timbre smiled. He leaned in close to her.
Suddenly, the lights cut out.
“A blackout?” said Kaya, deflecting her husband’s advance.
Jack looked through the windows.
“Lights are still on in the street.”
Timbre let go of Kaya. He turned towards the nursery, eyes wide.
“Lorenzo, wake Maria. Jack, grab Melody.”
He didn’t turn to see if they complied. Timbre took off down the moonlit hallway, his wife behind him. They ran at full speed to the bedroom door.
To his horror, the door lay wide open. The moment he stepped inside, he found himself looking down the barrel of a gun.
The gunman wore a well-pressed suit with a bowler on the top of his head. He stood bathed in the moonlight from the open doors to the balcony. Black facial hair started at the chin and curled around the lips, creating a secondary smile.
In his free arm, he clutched Arya.
“Please allow me to reintroduce myself, oh King of Thieves.” He took a small bow. “I’m a man of wealth and taste.”
“Gentleman,” Timbre said. “Let her go!”
The intruder shook his head.
“Let’s make a trade. Today, you stole something precious from me, something I’ve been searching for my whole life. Return it, or I’m going to take something precious from you, something you couldn’t live without. “
Timbre stole a quick glance out the side of his eye. He stood alone. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the golden key.
“I swear, you hurt her...”
“Oh, I would never hurt her. I am a gentleman.” He lifted open his jacket, revealing his revolver. “No funny business now.”
Timbre flicked his hand. He tossed the key in the air. Ducking low, he charged the Gentleman.
“I said no funny business!”
The Gentleman pulled his revolver.
Kaya came threw the doorway. Her hand whipped a knife through the air. It seemed to move in slow motion, coming straight at the Gentleman’s face.
He couldn’t react in time. He could only close his left eye as it focused on incoming steel.
The Gentleman grabbed his face, letting loose an inhuman shriek. In his pain, his arm loosened, dropping Arya. In one fluid motion, Timbre grabbed her and caught the key.
A gunshot rang out behind him. A bullet cracked to his right, striking the wall.
“You made me miss!” The gentleman tried to aim, his left hand clutched over his eye. He fired wildly.
As they moved into the hall, the sounds of their attacker’s cries echoed against the walls. Kaya and Timbre tore towards the kitchen, where the rest of their motley family had gathered.
“Outside, now!” said Timbre.
“Where are we going?” said Maria.
“We’ll head to your father’s house,” he said to Kaya. “It’s our only option.”
Maria grabbed the doorknob and opened the door wide. She started to move forward but stopped abruptly.
“What is it?“ said Kaya. That was all she could get out.
Sitting on the front doorstep was a large present, gift wrapped and tied up in a big bow.
Timbre felt the world move in slow motion. His mind said to react, but his body refused to move.
He watched in horror as Kaya dove forward, striking her shoulder against the heavy oak and pressing it shut with her full weight. She looked him in the eyes, those icy eyes, now pleading with him, wanting to be assured everything would be okay.
The door bent inward, then shattered. The room filled with a white flash. A concussion washed over him, sending his body into the air. Then, black.