Warning: Nudity and Language.
“She’s the one. I’m gonna get a private show and fuck her little brains out!” Asshole and Co. started to laugh.
One of them said quietly, “I don’t think you’re allowed to do that here Mike.”
“Shut the fuck up, Harrison.” Mike, the Asshole, then said, “Now how much money do you have? This place is fucking expensive.”
Kieran sat and watched the idiots start pooling their money together. This was why he didn’t go to places like this. Everyone in here was a rung below human on the DNA ladder. He glanced over at his best friend Eden, who was nursing a beer at the bar. What did that make the two of them, then?
He was walking over to the proprietor of the establishment before he realized he’d made the conscious decision to do so. He stood waiting to be noticed while the guy talked to one of the bartenders. She leaned over the bar, flipping her dark hair and he inwardly sighed. Was she seriously flirting with her boss? He sat at the bar and watched the exchange. Just as he was getting ready to interrupt the two, she said, “No thanks, Jimmy,” and turned away. He caught a glimpse of her face and the flash of anger before she schooled her features into a blank look. She couldn’t hide the sadness though, it rushed over him like a heatwave. He instinctively shifted closer to her. To do what, he didn’t know, but he wanted to make sure she was okay.
“Can I do something for you, buddy?” Her boss’s loud, gravelly voice snapped him out of his thoughts and he gave the bartender one last look before turning to the guy. He wasn’t what Kieran expected. He had short-cropped hair, a beard and laugh lines that wrinkled around green eyes. He looked like a nice enough guy. Kieran had expected the man to be a dirty, foul-smelling creep. Jimmy. His name is Jimmy.
Pointing to the woman the group of assholes had been talking about he said, “How much for her?”
Jimmy looked at the girl on stage and grinned, “Yeah, baby’s real popular. She costs a little more than most. $200 an hour. How long you want her for?”
“The whole evening.” Kieran counted and placed a small stack of hundreds on the bar top. “Best room you have, please.”
Jimmy gave him another grin that Kieran supposed was meant to be likeable and nodded. “Sure thing boss. But you know, for another couple hundred, I can throw in Stardust too.” He nodded toward the bartender. He must have seen Kieran studying her. Kieran would say one thing about Jimmy; he was good at his job.
“No. Just her. Thanks.”
Thirty minutes later, just as he was enjoying the frustrated cursing of Asshole Mike, the object of that frustration came walking towards him. Brown hair with blue and red streaks and tan skin. She was thin but toned, average sized breasts caught in a tiny, uncomfortable-looking bra, small schoolgirl plaid skirt and hooker heels. No tattoos and no piercings that he could see – and he could see a hell of a lot. She didn’t stop until she was sitting on the arm of his chair.
“I hear I’m yours for the night.” She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and lifted his chin up so he was looking into her soft brown eyes.
He didn’t say anything. He’d been wondering what it was about her that had him acting like he cared. The moment she’d touched him, he’d remembered. He knew her. Granted it had been a while ago, but he never forgot. He’d met her before and she’d made an impression then too.
She stood up, shaking him from his thoughts and held her hand out. “Follow me.”
He looked down at the hand she offered and shook his head, wincing a little at the look she gave him. Her smile, already not reaching her eyes, dimmed a little and she turned and started to lead him towards the back of the club, to where the private rooms were. As they passed the bar, he signaled to Eden to let him know what was happening. His friend seemed surprised but then just nodded and went back to his beer.
Once inside what constituted as the best room, she gently pushed him down onto the couch. “A few house rules: no touching, no kissing, and no jerking off. Not unless you’re willing to pay extra. Any questions?”
Wow, real classy place. He watched her scroll through an iPod and finally said, “Do you have a name?”
She turned to look at him, incredulous. “Yes but you can call me Baby.”
Baby. So it wasn’t a term of endearment. He also didn’t miss the slight insult. As he continued to watch her, she finally picked a song she seemed to like, turned to face him, and began to dance.
The moment she started to move, he was transfixed. Yes, he’d seen her dancing out on stage but it was different now, she was different. Out there, she was putting on a show but in here – here she was dancing for herself. She seemed to forget that he was in the room and just swayed to the music. It was breathtaking.
When she – he refused to think of her as Baby – crawled onto his lap, he found his hand automatically rising to frame her waist. She slapped his wrist down gently. “No touching.”
As she continued to dance, he started to wonder just what in the hell he was doing here. He wasn’t the type of person who paid for lap dances. “Can you tell me your real name? I’d like to call you something other than Baby.”
She looked up at him and smiled softly. “I don’t do real names.” She turned around, reaching behind her to unsnap her bra and pull the straps free from her arms. She dropped it on the floor and wrapped her arms around his neck. He had to clench his hands into fists so he wouldn’t slide them up the sides of her naked torso. “If you don’t like Baby, call me something else.”
Kieran watched her, he tried not to, tried to be respectful but he couldn’t not watch her. He could understand why she was more expensive than the other women in the club. She was beautiful.
She stood up and hooked her hands into the waistband of her skirt.
He needed to stop this before it went too far. “Can we stop for a second and talk?”
She stopped moving and blinked at him. “I didn’t peg you as a talker.”
He wasn’t, not usually. He tended to say the wrong things, things he should not know. Things people didn’t want to hear repeated by a stranger. He’d had one girlfriend call him the devil once. If the shoe fit…
She walked to the iPod and lowered the volume. Hesitating for a moment, she then walked over and sat on his lap, placing an arm around his neck for support. She’d remained topless. He made sure to keep his hands by his side, not daring to touch her. She had rules and so did he. She arched a brow and said, “What would you like to talk about?”
He sighed and asked, “Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable with your bra on?”
“That bra?” She pointed to the thing and laughed. She had a point. It looked extremely uncomfortable. “Would you feel more comfortable if I put it on?”
“Just trying to be polite.”
“I appreciate you.” When he said nothing, she sighed. “What’s your name?”
“Kieran,” he said, trying not to look at her breasts. “I thought you didn’t do names?”
“Yeah well, most guys don’t bother using my name to talk to me, you know?”
All he could say was, “Oh.”
“It’s Lorde. My name is Lorde. As in the singer, not the Bible.”
Kieran smiled, “It’s very nice to meet you, Lorde.”
She smiled back. The very first one that reached her eyes. “You too, Kieran.”
He headed straight for Eden after his time was up with Lorde. He needed to get out of there and think.
Seeing his friend at the bar, Kieran hauled him to his feet. “Time to go.”
Smirking, Eden asked, “That good huh?”
“Don’t be a smartass. Let’s go.”
Throwing some money on the bar top, Eden followed him out the door. Once in the car, he turned and asked, “What happened? You do something illegal?”
Laughing at his own joke, Eden put the car in drive and headed towards Kieran’s home.
“Not funny man.” Kieran closed his eyes for a minute, thinking about the woman he’d just met at a strip club. A damn strip club!
Eden sobered up quickly. “Whoa, seriously, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just – I think I met someone.” Opening his eyes, he turned to look out the window. He’d met someone.
“At a strip club? Come on, you know that they’re paid to make you feel good, right? Don’t get turned out.”
“Shut up. It’s not even like that.” It wasn’t, was it?
“Yeah, okay.” Eden drove in silence all the way back to the house.
Stepping out into the cool spring air, Kieran asked, “Are you staying tonight?”
“No, I have some business to take care of. See you tomorrow though. We have that thing, right?”
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.” Kieran stepped back and frowned as he watched his friend pull away from the curb.
Eden was in trouble again.
Kieran sat on a bench in a small art gallery in Hidden Springs. He watched as people walked by, barely glancing at the paintings before moving on. He sat and waited until the guard grew suspicious of the lone guy sitting and doing nothing.
“Excuse me sir, are you alright?” The guard asked him.
He smiled up at the man and nodded. “Oh I’m fine. Thank you.”
The guard shifted, “Uh sir, I’ve noticed that you’ve been sitting there for a few hours. Are you waiting for someone?”
“Me? Oh no. I’m just enjoying the artwork.” He put a little steel in his voice. “Is there a problem?”
Blinking, the guard stuttered. “N-no.” Then seeming to remember his job, he continued. “There is no loitering allowed in the gallery sir. I’m going to have to ask you to move along.”
That was what Kieran had been waiting for. “I paid the admission fee, just like everyone else. Maybe you should go do your actual job! Do you know who I am?”
This of course, caused the guard to get defensive. “I don’t care who you are, we have rules here! I’m going to have to ask you to please leave.”
Jumping up, Kieran shouted, “I demand to speak to your supervisor!”
For the next hour, Kieran made the life of the guard a living hell. First, he spoke to the head of security, then he spoke to the Visitor Services Manager, demanding a refund for the way he’d been mistreated. Finally, he demanded to speak to the Director of the gallery.
“Mr. King?” Mr. Julian, the gallery’s director said, walking up to Kieran.
“Mr. Julian. I have to say, I never thought I’d be treated in such a manner here of all places. Makes me reconsider my patronage.” He gave an enormous amount of money to the art gallery each year. He’d even been approached to join their Board of Trustees but had declined.
“I assure you, Mr. King, that guard will be appropriately reprimanded. I can’t apologize enough for the mistreatment.”
“Hmmm…” Kieran murmured. “And the guard, how long has he been working here?”
“Just a couple of months.” Mr. Julian grabbed on to that excuse. “He’s new and didn’t know who you were. He just finished training.”
“I see. Well, in that case, where is he? I’d like to talk to him.”
“Oh, well. He’s – uh, he’s with HR now. I don’t think…” the director stuttered.
Kieran cut him off. “Where is the HR department?”
Flustered, the director mumbled, “Uh, right this way, Mr. King.”
Kieran followed Dana Julian through the gallery and upstairs to the staff offices. He noted the side door, that you needed a swipe card to enter those offices and the distance between the door and the elevator.
“Right this way Mr. King.”
Kieran nodded down the hallway. “What’s over there?”
“Oh, that’s just storage space, for our new acquisitions.”
“Do you get many?”
“No, not very many. Although we do have a brand new collection. It should be up in six months. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
Kieran nodded and feigned boredom. “I’m sure.”
Stepping into the Human Resources office, he nodded at the receptionist but otherwise kept his gaze away from the people staring as he and the director walked by. Once in front of Mr. Ruiz, the guard that he’d provoked, Kieran held out a hand for the man to shake.
The guard, both worried and surprised at the gesture, took his hand gingerly. It only took a moment and then Kieran let go.
“Mr. Ruiz, is it?”
“Uh, yes. Yes sir.”
Waving away the formality, Kieran said, “It’s Alistair, please. May I call you Ben?”
“Of – of course sir, I mean, Alistair.” The guard shifted, waiting uncomfortably.
“I hope that our little misunderstanding didn’t cause you too much undue stress.” He peered at the man.
“Oh, no sir. Not at all. I’m so sorry about earlier. I had no idea…”
“It’s quite alright. I could have been anyone, some crazed lunatic scoping out the place, waiting to steal some precious art. You were just doing your job.” Kieran uttered the words and heard the nervous laughter but his mind was already processing the information he’d gathered from Ben.
Ten minutes later, he was walking out of the building and heading to his car. He had to call Eden and work out their strategy for tonight.
“How do you do it?” Eden lounged on the bed, watching as he pulled on a black beanie.
“Magic,” Kieran said, turning around. Eden laughed and Kieran once again wondered what his friend would do if he ever found out that Kieran was serious when he said things like that. They’d known each other for years and never once had Eden discovered what he really was.
Today’s little melodrama had happened for two reasons. One, he needed to see the layout of the office space; and two, he needed to get the security code and guard shift schedule. The only way to do that was to have an excuse to go up to the restricted area and to shake Benito Ruiz’s hand. Ben, a good and kind man, was now an unwitting accomplice to robbery.
He was an empath. He could find out a person’s entire life story, including feelings, memories, and a bit of their future from touching their hands. If a person was very emotionally distressed, he sometimes didn’t need to touch them at all. He couldn’t stand hospitals or funeral homes. Anywhere or anything that caused great emotional pain needed to be avoided at all costs.
He hated it. It made him a freak. It made him incapable of having meaningful relationships with anyone. He’d learned what he and Eden needed for the robbery they were about to commit just by shaking Ben’s hand. It was why he didn’t touch people he didn’t know. He could just see Eden’s face if he told him that though.
“You ready to go?” He looked over at his friend.
“Yeah, just waiting on you, man.”
In the car, Kieran thought about how he’d ended up stealing art. He’d been eighteen and Eden had asked him to appraise some artwork. It was, after all, what he was going to school for. His mother was a well-known artist and Kieran already had a job lined up, he’d just needed his degree.
The moment he’d touched one of the paintings, a barrage of images had hit him. The emotional onslaught caused him to waver on his feet and he’d immediately stepped away from the piece, breathing heavily.
“What the fuck was that?” Eden had demanded. “You okay?”
Kieran shook his head, trying to dislodge the images from his brain. “I’m fine. I’m good.”
Secretly, he was asking himself the same question. What had just happened? He looked at the painting, scared of getting close to it again. Eden was watching him, worry written all over his face. Kieran had seen that look before. Although Eden didn’t know what Kieran was, he’d been witness to the effects of Kieran touching someone unprepared. But it had never happened with an object before. He was sure Eden thought he was batshit crazy.
“Where did you get that painting?” Kieran asked, sucking in huge breaths while trying to get his heart rate back to normal.
“I – I stole it. All of them.” Eden couldn’t look him in the eye as he admitted that.
“You what?” Kieran stared in disbelief at his friend.
Eden crossed his arm, getting defensive. “I stole it. So what?”
“And you brought it here? Are you crazy?” Kieran wasn’t so surprised that the art was stolen, he’d recognized the Kokoschka the moment he’d seen it, reportedly destroyed years ago. What he wanted to know was where Eden found it and who else knew he’d come here with it. “You just walked in with these?”
“Well, yeah. It’s not like anyone on this campus would know what this is except you. Come on, you gonna help me or what?”
“Kieran! You still in there?”
“Sorry, I was just thinking.” Kieran sat up in the car. He’d helped Eden that day and now, three years later, he’d graduated from appraisals to flat-out burglary. He could touch objects and if the piece had a particularly violent past, he could read that history as if it were a picture book. Matt, his stepfather, explained that it wasn’t the object but the owner’s feelings that Kieran was picking up. Sometimes, things could capture an emotion or a memory and transmit it to people who were sensitive, like Kieran was.
Kieran may be a thief, but he had standards and rules. He only took art that was already stolen, making it less likely that the museum or gallery would report the theft. And he only sold to the original owners. It was pointless to steal something but not give it to those it belonged to. Eden didn’t get it but those were Kieran’s terms and he was the one doing the stealing.
Because he was such a well-known figure – thanks to his mother – he never met with any of the buyers. Eden was the front man and Kieran did everything else. He was also a big contributor in the art world. Stealing for profit didn’t sit well with him, he didn’t need the money, not really. He gave what he earned from stealing away to museums and art galleries. Another reason Alistair King could never be connected to Kieran, the art thief.
It was a bit amusing though because he didn’t really have to try that hard to hide. He’d learned quickly that money gave you a great deal of access and freedom. Especially when you were willing to spread it around.
“We’re here,” Eden said, parking the car. “If there is anything else you want to pick up while you’re in there, please feel free.” He sat looking out the window, chewing on a thumbnail.
Kieran glanced at his friend suspiciously, “Are you still involved with those people, Eden? I thought we talked about this?”
“No, you talked. What, you think I can just tell a guy like McDubh that I want out?” Eden gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Must be nice to feel so secure.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing man.” Eden shrugged and looked away. “You ready?”
Kieran wanted to continue the conversation but they were running on a tight schedule. Plus, he knew when to stop pushing. “Yeah, I’m ready.”