The Way You Move

by Hinotori (火鳥)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/55786.html)

Prologue

In the end it was blind luck, not skill, that let him track down the Magpie.

The Magpie had been flapping about town for almost three years when they put Nathaniel Temperton on the case – much to the horror of the art theft department.

“He’s unpredictable”; “He’s a loose cannon”; “He’s unconventional”; “He’s a perfect match for the Magpie, then.”

The last comment had made Nathaniel smile.

Whether his colleagues liked it or not, his arrest rate was stellar. He figured bringing down a cat thief so over-confident that he pre-announced the location of his targets would be no trouble at all.

He wouldn’t let the fact that the Magpie had outwitted the police forces of five other cities over a period of fifteen years get him down.

He spent the first week of the job studying blurry surveillance tapes of the Magpie’s heists. There was no way he’d be able to pick the thief out of a line-up from them, even if the Magpie’s costume didn’t cover his entire body from head to toe (with a narrow slit for eyes, not that he could see that in the tapes).

However, they were more than enough for Nathaniel to get a feel for how the thief moved.

The Magpie reminded Nathaniel of a gymnast – all twists and turns and fearless leaps into empty air.

He made a mental note to compile a list of local gymnastics teams and returned to studying the tapes and case notes.

In his second week, they got their first announcement from the Magpie.

MacPherson Gallery, 26 May.

~Magpie

After the time the police forces had arrived at the Magpie’s nominated target’s house only to find he’d arrived at midday and already made off with a valuable piece of jewellery, they knew they had to stake out the building from 12:01 a.m. on that date.

Nathaniel studied the floor plans and security of the building with reference to other buildings the thief had taken, and rostered himself on for the time he thought the Magpie most likely to strike.

One
Target: Macpherson Gallery

The first half of the heist went off perfectly.

Davan created three false-alarms by ‘attempting’ to enter in sections he knew were alarmed. While the police were swarming into the room with the famous 16th century painting, he dropped into the room that contained his target – an intricately-carved 20th century wooden goblet.

He had it safely stowed and was heading back towards his line out when the shout came.

“FREEZE.”

Davan stopped.

“My name is Detective Nathaniel Temperton of the Allesburgh police force and you are under arrest for breaking and entering,” said the detective, his tone making a gentle mockery of the words.

Magpie’s voiced was pitched lower than Davan’s own, with an Irish lilt. “Pleased to meet you, detective,” Davan replied, because Magpie was a cheeky fellow.

Davan was constantly in contact with the Magpie Project via his headset, and there was an amplified microphone built in so that they could occasionally even inform him of things he hadn’t heard himself.

‘Don’t move,’ said Mrs Rochester, his current Magpie contact.

‘Roger.’ He used a Morse-code-like protocol to send the Project messages by lightly moving his fingers against his gloves.

“You know, the Japanese have word for people like you,” continued the detective, conversationally.

“Is that so?”

“Kaitou,” said Temperton. Davan saw the detective’s lips move into an amused smile. “It means ‘mysterious thief’.” He winked.

“The Japanese have a word for everything,” said Davan. ‘How does Magpie react to being flirted with by a cop?’ he asked, at the same time. (How does Magpie react to… was a predefined code, and the rest was in shorthand, but that was the gist of the question.)

A pause on the other end. Then, ‘Flirted with?’

‘Confirm.’

Another silence. ‘It hasn’t come up. Just wing it.’

Wing it. Hilarious. ‘Roger,’ he acknowledged, then returned to surveying the room.

If he could just… there.

‘Starting X14285,’ he sent.

‘Roger.’

Using the cloak to disguise his movements (that’s what it was for, after all), he swung a second line to the hook he’d noticed and used it as a bridge to reach his first line, swarming up it and onto the landing before the police had fired more than a couple of warning shots.

There was a pair of glass doors a few metres away that led to the balcony, which he somersaulted to, keeping his body below the level of the handrails on the landing. He took a few seconds to catch his breath.

From the balcony, it was easy – that’s why his backpack contained the power-glider.

‘Nicely done,’ said Mrs Rochester.

‘Thanks’.

The reason nobody ever caught Magpie was that Magpie wasn’t a person, it was a role. Davan was the current favourite, and he pulled off a good 80% of Magpie’s heists, but there were at least two more in the city who could step in for him whenever necessary.

Even Davan wasn’t sure who pulled Magpie’s strings, but he had the vague impression it was a rich art-lover who didn’t like being told ‘no’.

He’d learnt from a very young age that you didn’t ask questions about the Magpie Project.

“Don’t you think it’s a little inappropriate to flirt with suspected criminals?” demanded Detective Ackermann, as they started their debriefing.

“It puts them off their guard,” said Nathaniel. He raised an eyebrow at the other detective’s expression. “What – you didn’t really think I was flirting, did you?”

“He still got away,” Detective Rosario pointed out, snidely.

“The videos really don’t do him justice,” mused Nathaniel, ignoring the jab. “The man moves like a… a monkey.”

“Very poetic,” said Ackermann. “You’re clearly in the wrong line of work here.”

“I never claimed to be good with words,” said Nathaniel, defensively.

Nathaniel’s passion was body language.

He was slowly mastering the art of using it offensively – convincing people that he really was doing things for the best; that if they came quietly nobody would get hurt; that they should put the gun down when he asked.

The Magpie, now… his movements might be reminiscent of the monkey, but his body language was all cat. Catch him unawares and he tensed, ready to spring away at the slightest provocation.

He returned to studying the tapes. Etch the thief’s movements into his brain enough, and if he ever saw somebody on the street who reminded him of Magpie for no visible reason, he would know why.

Two
Target: Eckering Museum

Davan set off as many alarms as he could before doubling back to the room that contained the 17th century woodblock print that was his target for the night. He slid down the line he’d left from the high windows.

By his calculations, he had roughly two minutes before the police would come back to this room. He’d better work fast.

He broke the print out of its frame and rolled it into the tube he had belted to his waist.

“FREEZE!”

Davan swore under his breath. Too slow.

He waited about half a minute – enough time to realise that there was only one police officer in the room with him – then leapt to his feet and launched himself onto the rope.

“Wait!” – and there was something barrelling into him.

Magpie and detective fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs. They were followed by the line, snaking down from the museum window.

Being straddled by Detective Temperton, their faces mere inches apart, Davan reflected that this was the closest he’d been to another person in years.

Davan blinked rapidly and licked his lips. “You could have just asked, detective,” he said, casually.

Temperton picked Davan’s line off his shoulder and dangled the split end in his face.

Davan tapped the alarm code on his gloves, while affecting a wide-eyed expression for Temperton’s benefit.

Temperton got as far as “I arrest you” before Davan had managed to locate the handcuffs and toss them towards the other side of the room. The detective stopped. “Not just an art thief, a pickpocket, too?” he said. “You are an accomplished young man.”

“I try,” said Davan.

‘Forget the job, just run,’ ordered Mrs Rochester. ‘Try X08941.’

Davan swung into action. With a swift kick, he flipped them both over, leaving the detective holding his cape as he sprinted for the fire escape.

Alarms clanged as he forced the door, their echoes ricocheting around the narrow passage as he ran.

There was a handy axe by the fire alarm on the top floor, which he used to break the window. Davan flung himself out into the night air without looking back.

There was a helicopter on his tail, but he had the advantage of landing speed and manoeuvrability here. He landed in a nearby park and collapsed the glider back into his backpack. After a moment’s rest, he whipped off his mask and headset and pulled street clothes over his costume.

Davan would be long gone from the park by the time the police arrived to search it.

He didn’t stop to contact the Magpie Project until he reached home. ‘All clear,’ he told them.

‘What happened?’

Davan thought back. ‘I think something snapped my line,’ he said. The detective had probably saved him from a nasty fall.

‘You should take better care of your gear,’ snapped Mrs Rochester.

‘My gear was fine when I checked it yesterday!’ Davan protested, incensed. ‘Anyway, I got the print out.’

‘Next time, be more careful,’ said Mrs Rochester. ‘The project is nothing if Magpie gets caught.’

It was useless to argue with them. ‘Roger.’

Nathaniel walked into the fabric store wielding a thin plastic bag. He found himself waiting to be served behind a group of girls who giggled and gossipped about “cosplay”, whatever that was.

Nathaniel wondered about the shadow he’d seen at the window before he realised that the thief’s line had broken and leapt to his rescue (for all the good it had done him). None of his men had orders to perform climbing feats to bring down the Magpie, and when he’d questioned them on it, nobody had owned up.

A mystery. Well, that’s why Nathaniel was a detective.

“Sir?” said the girl at the counter. “Can I help you?”

“Hi,” he said, with a warm smile. “I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the material this is made of.” He pulled the cloak out of the bag and pushed it across the counter.

“Oh,” she said. “Um, I can take a look.” She shook the cloak out and examined it closely. “Are you hoping to do match the fabric for a costume or something?”

“Something like that,” said Nathaniel.

“It’s a beautiful pattern,” she said, turning it inside out. “Lovely shape, nice workmanship on the lining and seams. What character are you aiming for?”

Nathaniel blinked.

“Oh, it’s fine, you don’t have to tell me if you’re embarrassed,” babbled the girl. She finished her examination and scribbled something on a piece of paper. “This is what it looks like to me,” she said. “We should have some in our fabric section, just over there.”

“I don’t suppose you can tell me whether anybody has bought an abnormally large amount recently?” asked Nathaniel. This wasn’t the first time the Magpie had left his cloak behind.

The girl blinked. “Um, I could check our stock records…”

By mid-afternoon, Nathaniel had had the cloak identified as three different types of material, but nobody had any information about excessive purchase of the said fabric.

There were an awful lot of fabric stores in the city, and he had no chance of visiting them all.

Oh well, he thought to himself, it was a nice idea.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t had lunch yet. Nathaniel left his car in the craft store car park and headed to a nearby deli.

He saw a familiar figure exiting the store as he approached, and took a closer look.

The young man seemed utterly unfamiliar in looks, and yet there was something…

Their eyes met.

The Magpie, thought Nathaniel.

The other man’s eyes passed over him without any sign of recognition.

Nathaniel relaxed, suddenly aware he’d been gearing up for a chase. He frowned. Had he been subconsciously responding to a flight reflex?

He walked into the store. “That young man who just left,” he said to the proprietor. “With the red hair. Do you know him?”

“Davan?” said the man. “Nice lad. Ballet dancer.”

“Do you know his surname?” said Nathaniel, putting on his most comforting smile. “I, uh.” He rubbed the back of his neck and put on an embarrassed flush.

“I’m afraid not,” said the man.

“Does he live around here?” asked Nathaniel, trying to seem casual.

“Maybe, maybe not,” said the man. “I see him once, sometimes twice a week.”

“I see,” said Nathaniel, not really needing to fake his disappointment. “Well, thank you anyway.” He purchased a ham and salad roll and walked outside again.

He got in his car and headed back to the station. There couldn’t be that many ballet dancers called ‘Davan’ in the city, and he mentally ran through possible spellings of the name as he drove.

The hardest part would be explaining to his co-workers how he found his suspect.

Three
Target: QEII Building

There were no windows in this room, which made getting in and out trickier. Listening for the sound of footsteps under the clamour of alarms, Davan dropped down from air-conditioning duct.

A loud clatter from just outside the door made him jump. He froze, hoping by some miracle nobody else in the building had heard it.

No such luck: he heard running footsteps and alerts being yelled over police radios.

‘I heard it,’ said Mrs Rochester. ‘Abort.’

‘Roger. Y89245.’ There was no time to head back up the duct, and it would be nigh on impossible to escape through it anyway, owing to the unfortunate reality of gravity.

If he remembered the floor plan correctly, from the next room he should be able to head up a fire escape to the top floor.

Davan liked fire escapes. Unfortunately, this one appeared to be occupied.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a flash bomb. He hit the trigger and threw it to the ground, shielding his eyes against… nothing.

He swore, and ran back into the room. He could hear the police calling in more reinforcements as they followed him.

The original room was obviously out, but there was a door into the hallway from here.

Davan unwrapped a cable and threw it behind him in a move designed to trip up his followers. Swearing from behind him told him that that, at least, had been successful.

So the stairs were out. He needed another way to get to the top floor – or at least high enough that he could glide away, since a ground-floor getaway was definitely out.

The red box of a fire alarm on the wall gave him the cue he needed. According to the floor plan, the nearest lift entrance was further along the hallway, around the corner. Davan wracked his brain, trying to remember if he could get there through the offices. There were more places to hide in offices than hallways.

‘Z46462,’ he sent to the Project, before smashing the glass and ran for the nearest office door.

He rolled into the room and clung under a desk until a group of three police trotted by, his muscles aching with the strain of standing still.

Davan repeated the manoeuvre in the next room before stumbling out into the hallway again.

Forcing the lift doors, he slipped into the shaft, managing to squeeze the doors closed again from the inside. The lifts would have returned to the bottom floor when the fire alarm went off and wouldn’t move again without an override key (which he desperately hoped the police didn’t have).

Davan started to climb the ladder up the shaft. Even through his gloves, he could feel the hard metal biting into his hands. Not the kind of thing a person would do recreationally, he reflected.

Every time he reached a set of doors, he stopped to listen.

By the time he reached the fourth floor, he knew he had to stop soon or he would be too exhausted to pull off any kind of escape.

He pushed the doors open and burst into the room.

“Ah. I see I haven’t lost my touch.”

Davan dropped to a defensive crouch.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said the man leaning against the wall. “I’m not with the police.”

Davan desperately signalled the alarm code to the Project, to no response.

“Don’t bother trying to contact your masters, it won’t get through.”

“What do you want?” asked Davan.

“Now that’s an interesting question, young Magpie,” said the man. “What do I want? Sometimes I think I want Magpie behind bars. Sometimes I think I want him dead. Sometimes I think I just want him to be me – yes, that’s right, young Magpie, I used to be you.”

Davan was only paying half attention to the words, searching for a way out of the situation.

“I wonder,” mused the man. “Do they still teach Magpie to dodge bullets?”

Their initial investigation of the location for Magpie’s heist had revealed that it was full of art. It was a nightmare. Every floor had at least one painting, some of them had sculptures, and a few even had murals painted on the walls.

Those, at least, he had been able to discard from the list of potential targets.

With no way of knowing where Magpie would strike and without the kind of task-force that would be necessary to stake out every single room in a multi-storey office building, they’d had to improvise.

Nathaniel stationed men in every fire escape and a few to patrol carefully-planned routes through the cubicles.

His radio crackled to life as his men informed him they’d heard a noise and were going to investigate. It continued to crackle their progress over the next few minutes, as they found and lost the Magpie.

When the fire alarm went off, Nathaniel tried to put himself into the mind of the thief.

He’ll be using the lift shafts to get to the top floor, he thought, and headed for the fire escape.

He was two floors from the top when it occurred to him that if he was having trouble breathing through the pain in his chest just from running up stairs, the Magpie was probably doing just as badly climbing the lift shafts.

He started to head down again, carefully opening the door on each floor.

Three floors down, he hit jackpot.

Nathaniel didn’t immediately recognise the silhouette of the man in front of the Magpie, although it seemed vaguely familiar.

“I wonder… do they still teach Magpie to dodge bullets?”

Nathaniel saw the glint of a gun in the emergency lighting. He didn’t need to recognise a specific person to recognise when a person intended violence towards another human being.

“FREEZE!” he yelled, pulling his own gun.

The man froze. the Magpie, on the other hand, leapt to his feet and headed through the nearest door.

Nathaniel swore.

Unfortunately, in the greater scheme of things, dealing the man with the gun was more important than following the cat thief, who was probably already out the window. “Put your hands in the air and turn around slowly,” he said, feeling the usual thrill of ‘movie star cop’ run through him.

The next few seconds were rather hard to deconstruct. The gunman turned, but not slowly, and shot in Nathaniel’s direction, causing him to dive for cover. The next thing he knew was a sharp crack, and he screamed as bright light burned into his retinas.

It wasn’t long before the other cops on the floor found him.

“What happened?”

“He had a gun,” said Nathaniel, rubbing at his eyes. “And some kind of flash bomb.”

“Did you see where he went?”

“No,” said Nathaniel, dripping irony. “I’m blind.”

The resulting debriefing was not a fun experience. His vision had mostly sorted itself out by the time they reached the station, but he was still seeing some black spots, had a splitting headache and was about ready to fall over from exhaustion.

Nathaniel really wasn’t in the mood for the blame-laying and name-calling.

“We don’t think he stole anything,” he pointed out, for the third time. It was the only good thing to come out of the evening, although given that nobody was entirely sure what had been in the building to begin with, even that wasn’t a certainty.

“You don’t think. And we still have no idea who he is, and he still got away,” said the chief, folding his arms.

“Actually, I have an idea on who it might be. Just a sec.” Nathaniel somehow managed to lever himself out of the chair and walk to his desk. “Davan Breckenridge, he’s a dancer in a local ballet company,” he finished, passing over a sheaf of papers.

“What makes you draw this conclusion?”

“He fits the bill,” said Nathaniel. “Right height, right build and ballet dancers are very athletic. With permission, I’m going to ask him a few questions tomorrow.”

“It’s better than nothing,” said the chief. “Go ahead.”

Nathaniel lay awake for half the night, thinking. He was almost certain the man with the gun was the same as the shadow he had seen breaking the Magpie’s rope. His men had mentioned the Magpie having a flash bomb of his own, and he wondered if it was coincidence that only the other man’s had worked.

“‘I wonder if they still teach Magpie to dodge bullets’,” Nathaniel mused. “What an odd thing to say.”

He was still thinking about it when he fell asleep.

There were always strangers watching rehearsals. Davan didn’t think anything of it until one of them took him aside as he exited the change room.

“Hi, Davan Breckenridge? I’m Detective Nathaniel Temperton, I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Davan started.

“Is there somewhere private we can talk?” Temperton raised an eyebrow.

“Oh… yes, of course…” Under the light of day, Nathaniel Temperton was a very attractive man. Davan found himself hard-pressed not to remember that his last-heist-but-one had involved being straddled by this man.

It was a rather distracting thought.

“Where were you last night?” Temperton began, as soon as they had found an office.

Davan blinked. “I was at home,” he said.

“Do you have anybody who can vouch for that?”

“No…” said Davan, patiently. “I live on my own.” After the initial shock had worn off, Davan found he was starting to enjoy the game of words.

“Did you make any phone calls?”

Davan shook his head.

The detective made some notes. “Where were you on the 26th of May?”

Davan briefly ran through a list of possible attitudes to take towards this, before settling on his own natural reaction. Pretending in front of Nathaniel Temperton as Magpie was quite enough. “Do people really fall for that?” he asked, raising a cynical eyebrow. “That was months ago, how am I supposed to know that?”

Nathaniel’s mouth twitched. “Sometimes,” he said. “Okay, I’ll help you out – it was a day you missed rehearsal.”

“I must have been sick, then,” said Davan, with a shrug.

“Hrm,” said the detective. “That was pretty intense last night. Why did that man have a gun on you?”

Davan blinked. “Pardon, detective?”

“I’m just saying,” said Temperton. “If there’s anything you wanted to talk about, we might be able to cut you a deal.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Davan.

“Think about it,” said Temperton. He bowed, then left the room.

“There was a cop looking for you,” said Ms Henderson, as Davan walked by reception.

“He found me,” said Davan.

“He wanted to know what rehearsals you missed,” she said. “This is the list of dates he was interested in.” She handed it to him. “I told ‘im I’d look it up.”

Davan looked it over. “Did he say what it was all about?”

She sniffed. “I didn’t tell him nothing. He’s no business coming here without a warrant.”

“Thank you,” said Davan.

“Them cops like to seem big and threatening to validate their manhood,” she said viciously. “I ain’t doing them no favours. Nor you, if you’re mixed up in something nasty.”

Davan laughed. “No, I’m not mixed up in anything nasty. I don’t know what the cops are after me for.” Nasty was such a relative term, after all…

He had a horrible suspicion he did know what the cops were after him for, though. It couldn’t be coincidence that he’d seen Nathaniel Temperton near his flat.

When he got home, he put in a call to the Magpie Project.

‘If they had proof, you’d already be under arrest,’ was Mrs Rochester’s opinion. ‘We’ll put a sub on for the next job,’ she continued. ‘They’ll probably have you under watch.’

‘Roger.’
He suspected his standing with the Project had reduced somewhat with the last couple of jobs, and this latest news really wouldn’t help.

Davan had leftover Japanese for dinner, which made him think of Detective Nathaniel Temperton and “kaitou”. He wasn’t very proud of his comeback to that comment and chewed it over in his head for a while.

Chances were, after this, the Project would retire him. Maybe he could look into seeking Detective Temperton out under more amicable circumstances.

Four
Target: Burke Museum of Anthropology

“Bad luck with that Breckenridge chap,” said Detective Ackermann. “Acted perfectly natural all night, didn’t go near the museum.”

“Yeah, I heard,” said Nathaniel.

“What made you pin the blame on the guy, anyway?”

“I had a hunch,” said Nathaniel. He was staring at the security footage of the heist. “Do you think it’s possible that there are two Magpies?” From his study of the tapes, he was even willing to lay bets of there being three, maybe more.

“You know, you could just admit that you made a mistake. It happens to the best of us.”

Nathaniel shrugged. He was compiling a list of things that were common across all the ‘different’ Magpies he had identified. The accent, the basic patterns of speech and the basic build all matched. However, there was a certain amount of variation in the execution of his movements, and the dialogue varied in quality (it ranged from snappy and witty to a kind of bored indifference).

The chief, despite all this, agreed with Ackermann. He was a little less polite about it, however.

“I refuse to spend any more time and money on this Breckenridge person when it’s perfectly obvious that you just refuse to admit that you were wrong!” said the chief, slamming his hands down on the table. “Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, go out there and do some actual police work!”

Nathaniel was a bundle of conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be greeted with cheers and a round of applause, maybe a commendation for having caught the Magpie with so little to work on.

On the other, this supported his theory that while Davan Breckenridge was a Magpie, he wasn’t the only Magpie. Davan Breckenridge’s demeanour was near-perfect, but his body language spoke of iron control. He was very, very careful about what he revealed.

On another, more worrying hand, he was relieved that he didn’t have to arrest Davan Breckenridge.

He purposely didn’t analyse that feeling too closely.

Davan nodded to one of his neighbours in the hall as he walked to the door of his flat.

As they brushed past each other, Davan, suddenly realised that something about his attacker had been nagging at him – a feeling of familiarity.

Only force of habit kept him walking.

Magpies weren’t supposed to be able to recognise other Magpies out of costume, but Davan had still been in training when he remembered seeing this man, the second Magpie.

He locked the door behind him and headed to the safe where he stored Magpie’s gear.

Close examination of the various items revealed some fine cuts in two of his lines. He studied the rest of the gear in minute detail, but was unable to find any other flaws, aside from the emptiness of the glider’s fuel tank.

Davan was about to put a call into the Project when it occurred to him to wonder about his saboteur’s communication-blocking device. He imagined it was also possible that he had a device that could intercept their calls.

It would explain why his saboteur hadn’t shown up at the last job. The project didn’t inform any of the other players of the dates of Magpie’s heists.

He switched on his computer and opened an encrypted instant-messaging session.

Navada: You there?

There was no reply, so he turned the volume up and started work fixing his lines.

Rochester: Yes?
Navada: Suspect headset comms are compromised.
Rochester: Police?
Navada: Don’t think so. Think one of my neighbours is ex-Project. #2.
Rochester: Hm.
Navada: Someone has broken into the safe and sabotaged MP gear. Think this is what caused rope to break.
Rochester: …
Navada: Give me the next job. I’ll see if I can flush him out. It’s me he’s following.
Rochester: You’ll take care of him?
Navada: Roger.
Rochester: You’ll get details in the next few days. Rochester out.

‘Take care of him’ meant that they wanted Davan to capture or kill the impostor.

Magpie didn’t carry a gun. Davan knew many ways to kill a man with the gear Magpie carried, as well as several involving his bare hands, but he found he didn’t have a great desire to put them to practical use.

Given that his saboteur had a gun of his own, though, the likelihood of Davan managing to subdue him without getting shot himself was very low.

Davan thought for a moment, then went to his computer.

Nathaniel Temperton lived on the tenth floor of a twenty-storey block of flats. Convenient for gliding away from, not so convenient for getting to in the first place.

There was a fire escape running outside the building, and he thought he could get a good angle to throw a line from it around the bars of the balcony.

Davan spent an hour or so studying the building, then headed home to get into costume. Temperton should be home by eight o’clock, and it would be dark by then.

He slithered up the rope onto the balcony, took a moment to catch his breath, then knocked on the balcony door.

He heard the telltale click of a gun as Temperton opened the door.

“I want you to help me catch a Magpie,” said Davan.

Nathaniel was in a lather of indecision. He wanted to reach for his phone and call the police, but on the other hand he was dying to know what brought the infamous thief to his balcony door.

“Can I come in?” said the Magpie, plaintively. “It’s cold out here.”

“What makes you think I won’t have you arrested?” said Nathaniel, cutting straight to the chase.

The Magpie linked his fingers together and cracked them casually. “Well, you hired me to dress up as Magpie, didn’t you?” he said, innocently. “I had no idea you were trying to frame me.”

Nathaniel folded his arms and raised an eyebrow.

“You want to bring Magpie down, right?” said the thief, changing tactics. “I think I can help you do it.”

Nathaniel closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said. “You’ve got my attention. Come in.”

The thief followed him inside, and sat down on the armchair Nathaniel pointed him at. the Magpie tried to act casual, but his entire body radiated tension.

“Does this have anything to do with how there are two Magpies?” demanded Nathaniel, as soon as he was comfortable.

Nathaniel thought he’d managed to surprise him.

“I studied the tapes,” Nathaniel explained, with a shrug. “Usually the Magpie looks like you do, the way he moves and stands and so on, but sometimes… it’s different. So I figured, there must be more than one.”

“You’re very observant,” said the Magpie. “To answer your question, sort of.”

“So what do you want me to do?” said Nathaniel.

“The man you kindly distracted for me,” said the Magpie. “He’s trying to kill me. I want him arrested.”

“And he’s the the Magpie you were talking about?”

“He was. Once.”

“No honour among thieves, huh?”

“There’s a code – it doesn’t include trying to kill your successors. And I don’t forgive betrayal easily.”

“Tell me why I shouldn’t just arrest you, the current Magpie?”

“Look. If you do it like this, you’ll stop Magpie. Besides, if you arrested me here I think I can make a pretty good case for harassment or entrapment.”

“And if I arrested you there?”

“For heaven’s sake, detective, I’m a petty art thief! This man is an attempted murderer. I know which one I would rather arrest.”

Nathaniel was silent for a moment. “Can’t I just arrest both of you?” he said, plaintively. But he found didn’t really want to arrest the man in front of him. It was so hard to find good conversationalists, and if this was the same Magpie, he seemed to have a wonderfully playful sense of humour.

Really, if he weren’t a ‘petty art thief’, Nathaniel might actually have been serious with his flirting.

The Magpie sighed heavily. “There is… an organisation. They want me to bring him in. Kill him, if possible. I’d rather avoid that responsibility by letting you bring him in.”

Nathaniel raised an eyebrow at the thief’s sudden change of tone.

“Look, Magpie just delivers. He doesn’t keep anything he steals for more than an hour after the job. You’re not going to get anything back even if you arrest both of us, so…” the Magpie shrugged.

“In summary, my way, you catch a Magpie in the act.”

“What if he doesn’t fall for for your trap?”

The Magpie shrugged. “I’ll fumble the job. Nobody will ever know.”

“And what about when he tells the police who you really are? Assuming he knows.”

The Magpie shrugged. “If it happens, I’ll come up with something.”

“And what happens to you afterwards?” said Nathaniel, hoping to trick the thief into revealing something about his ‘real life’.

“I’ll just go back to my day job,” said the Magpie, his tone full of amusement.

Nathaniel made a face. “So I take it I don’t get to see you out of costume?”

“Maybe one day, if you’re very good.” The thief mimed blowing him a kiss. “I’ll be in contact with more details later.”

“Let me take you out to dinner sometime!” called Nathaniel, as the thief opened his balcony doors.

“It’s a date!”

Five
Target: Hayashi Ballroom

When the notification of the next job came through, Davan started to lay his trap.

The first step was learning his target’s movements. In between rehearsals and memorising the layout of the ballroom/function centre that was his target, he was spying on his saboteur.

Two days before the job, he slipped a standard Magpie equipment set into the other man’s flat.

He attached a note.

Next target: Snow Drop, Hayashi Ballroom. 8 p.m.

If you get there first, MPP takes you back.

The next day, Davan had an urgent conversation over instant messaging.

Navada: The guy I told you about? I think he stole my gear.
Rochester: …
Navada: I’m going to need another set before the job.
Rochester: We’ll arrange it. See that you take care of this guy. Permanently.
Navada: Roger.

Davan wasn’t really surprised when he found himself standing next to another Magpie at 7:55 p.m. on the night of the heist.

The impostor greeted him with an ironic salute. “May the best man win.”

Davan nodded sombrely.

As the clock tower struck eight, they both leapt into action.

In the beginning, it was like a race. The same moves, but the other Magpie was a little faster, a little more desperate.

Davan hung back a little as they entered the building.

This would be more difficult, convincing the impostor that he was playing the game, while not being seen by the police.

Losing the other Magpie around a corner, Davan took an alternate route to the ballroom, thankful for the modern air-conditioning ducts among the classic opulence of the rest of the decorations. Lying flat on his stomach, he settled down to watch the show through the grate.

Davan’s bets were on a dramatic swing from the chandelier to the balcony, then out the stained glass windows. Wrapping the cloak around his hands would take care of the window, and the glider was built to by opened mid-air if he had to leap out in a hurry.

Assuming all went according to plan, the other Magpie would grab Snow Drop, the diamond hanging from the centre of the chandelier, on the way.

From his vantage point, he saw the other Magpie setting up his lines.

The other Magpie would be totally focussed on the job now. Now, assuming Nathaniel had followed through on the plan…

“FREEZE!”

Davan smiled.

The other Magpie didn’t stop – this kind of momentum was too important to waste. In one, long, graceful arc, he dropped to the chandelier – Davan clearly saw him unhook the Snow Drop on the way – and landed on the balcony.

“I said, freeze! We have the building surrounded. Come quietly and you won’t be harmed.”

The other Magpie responded to these demands by pulling out his gun and shooting down into the ballroom.

It occurred to Davan that his impostor was perhaps a little unbalanced.

He thought he could see what he was doing – creating a distraction, keeping the police busy moving so that he could make his escape, but it was a dangerous game he was playing.

Dimly, he was aware that one of the cops had been hit and was stumbling backwards, but all his attention was focussed on the other Magpie as gunfire filled the ballroom.

He saw the Magpie jump

Red blossomed in the air

The window shattered

He couldn’t see the impact as the Magpie hit the ground, but he felt it in his bones.

Nathaniel collapsed on the sofa and threw an arm over his eyes.

When they’d asked him why he thought the Magpie had suddenly become violent, he’d suggested that the recent close calls had sent him into a paranoid spiral.

He wondered what he was supposed to be feeling.

Emotions didn’t listen to reason. He felt guilty for having tricked a man into a nasty death, even if he’d had no way of predicting that would be the outcome.

He hated lying to his superiors.

He wanted to be angry at the Magpie – the ‘real’ one – but he couldn’t. The plan had been capture, not kill, and he felt, deep in his heart, that the thief had been sincere about that.

And then, on top of all that, a funeral…

The chief had given him a few days off, for which Nathaniel was grateful.

Maybe he would see if Davan…

Nathaniel woke with a start. Something was knocking at his door.

He paused in the process of getting up, as he realised the sound was coming from his balcony.

He slipped his gun into his back pocket and opened the door quickly.

The Magpie was sitting on his balcony, looking at something off to the side. When he saw Nathaniel, he leapt lightly to his feet.

“I’m here to thank you,” said the Magpie. “And to apologise.”

“I… what… oh hell.” Nathaniel stared at him dumbly.

The thief waited patiently for him, and Nathaniel would swear the bastard was laughing at him. “Can I come in?”

“Apologise?” repeated Nathaniel, not moving.

“Magpie never carries a gun,” said the Magpie, after a moment’s silence. “The last thing an art thief wants is for the authorities to think he’s a danger to people’s lives. I never thought he’d actually shoot…”

“We’re used to gunfire,” said Nathaniel. “It’s part of the job.”

“That doesn’t make it okay. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” said Nathaniel. “Come in.”

As he followed the detective into the flat, Davan couldn’t escape the feeling that he was doing something extremely stupid. Without the Project behind him, he had nowhere near as many ways to escape should this all go wrong.

But there was… something… he’d felt between Magpie and the detective, and he wanted to track it down, catch it, see if it applied to Davan Breckenridge too.

And what would Temperton arrest him for, anyway? As far as the police were concerned, Magpie was dead.

Davan felt a little guilty over that.

“I’ve done away with all my gear,” said Davan. “I thought I’d come see you one last time before I destroyed the costume.”

“Isn’t that a bit risky…?”

The last contact Davan had had with the Project was a short message saying that, under the circumstances, he was being retired, along with the Project. They weren’t pleased, but they didn’t seem like they were going to put out a hit on him. He considered that a success.

“It’s dark out there,” said Davan. “Nobody saw me.”

Nathaniel blinked. “I suppose it is.”

“You didn’t have any trouble with the police investigation, did you?” asked Davan.

“No,” said Nathaniel. “No, everything was fine.”

Something seemed different about the detective. It took Davan a moment to put his finger on it. “You’re not flirting. Have I done something wrong?”

“I was at a funeral,” said Temperton.

“Oh.” Davan stopped. “The cop the other Magpie shot?”

Temperton shook his head, looking over Davan’s shoulder at some unidentified point in the distance. “No. A homicide detective. He was caught in the crossfire in a gang shootout.”

“Oh,” repeated Davan. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey,” said Temperton. “Don’t be so apologetic, I’ll start thinking you’re another impostor.” He raised an eyebrow suggestively.

Davan decided to take the bait. “So you’re not dressed up like that just for me, then,” he said, feigning disappointment. He had to admit, he did rather like the look of the police dress uniform on the detective.

Temperton raised both eyebrows. “Rather inconsiderate of me, given you dressed up for me and all.”

“I wasn’t certain you’d recognise me, otherwise,” said Davan, innocently.

Temperton took a step closer, taking him well into the Davan’s personal space. “I’d recognise you just from the way you move,” he murmured against Davan’s ear.

Davan felt his mouth open in a soundless “oh”.

So much for not flirting.

It should have made him feel guilty. However, at that moment, it was the intimate contact of another human being that he craved, and he couldn’t care less about propriety.

He pulled back and lifted his hands to the side of the Magpie’s mask. “May I?” He didn’t wait for a reply before pulling it down to reveal the thief’s smile.

“It works better if you pull it up,” said Davan Breckenridge. “You can take it off completely, then.”

Nathaniel was happy to oblige, somehow managing to hook Davan’s hair tie around his thumb on the way down. “So it is you,” he breathed. “You sounded different, so I wasn’t quite sure…”

“Only when I’m Magpie,” said Davan. His voice was indeed different now, higher-pitched, and it had lost the Irish accent. He shook his head roughly, causing copper hair to fan out around his shoulders.

Nathaniel caught his fingers in it as he touched Davan’s bare cheek. “You know… my co-workers complimented me on how close I had been, picking you as the suspect when the real criminal lived in the same building. I gather they thought I figured it out based on some kind of complicated statistical analysis.”

Davan smiled.

After a moment’s hesitation, Nathaniel pressed his mouth against Davan’s. Davan relaxed into the kiss after barely a second’s hesitation, which Nathaniel took as an invitation to wreak havoc on his lower lip.

“Do you always do this with confessed criminals?” asked Davan, with a wry smile.

“Only the cute ones,” Nathaniel murmured.

Davan rolled his eyes.

Nathaniel did have to admit that as pickup lines went, it was a little trite.

“How do I know you’re not just trying to seduce me in order to arrest me?” said Davan, as Nathaniel picked up his right hand and gently removed the glove from it.

“How do I know you’re not just seducing me for blackmail material?” Nathaniel shot back, removing the glove from Davan’s left hand. Without waiting for an answer, he pulled Davan closer, wrapping his arms around his waist and gently mouthing Davan’s neck.

“I’m… not the one… doing the seducing here…” Davan managed to gasp out.

“Mm,” Nathaniel agreed into Davan’s shoulder.

“Is this, like… the baby boomers? First human reaction to death is to have sex?” asked Davan, as they broke apart again.

Nathaniel scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Kind of,” he said, eventually, “but it’s mostly because you’re hot.”

Davan coughed.

Nathaniel grinned and ghosted his fingers down Davan’s chest and over his ribs, outlined by the catsuit. “I hope you’re all right with that.”

“There’s a zip at the back,” Davan murmured.

Nathaniel smiled, and then he let his fingers brush over Davan’s crotch as he reached around with the other hand to feel for the zip. “Is that a yes?”

The catsuit peeled off easily.

“Only,” said Davan, breathing hard, “if you promise we can have that date sometime.”

“I already broke the rules for casual sex by kissing you,” said Nathaniel, licking a circle around Davan’s nipple.

Davan stumbled backwards a step. He bent over to rest his hands against his knees for a few seconds before he stood straight again and gave Nathaniel a thoughtful look.

Nathaniel waited, tilting his head to the side expectantly.

Davan stepped forward again, kissing along the line of Nathaniel’s chin. His head moved downwards, and he pushed Nathaniel’s jacket off with his nose.

“You know that thing is dry-clean only and worth hundreds, right?” asked Nathaniel, as it landed behind him with a soft thump and clink of buttons.

Davan made a non-committal sound, studying the buttons of Nathaniel’s shirt with an intensity that made Nathaniel slightly nervous.

He found himself wondering if Davan was leaving fingerprints on Nathaniel’s buttons.

As his shirt joined his jacket at his ankles, Nathaniel decided it was time to take charge again.

He batted Davan’s fingers away from the waistband of Nathaniel’s trousers and finished the job on Davan by easing off Davan’s briefs.

Nathaniel fell to his knees, peppering the intervening skin with kisses and licks. He felt Davan’s shudders through his hands on Davan’s hips, and pressed a smile against the space between thigh and crotch.

He started low – a gentle touch with his tongue at the base, then swiping up along the lower side to the head.

Davan’s hands clenched in Nathaniel’s hair, and Nathaniel smiled again as he took the head into his mouth. He loved the feel of it against his tongue – soft, yet at the same time hard. He loved the intimacy of this connection. (If he were so inclined, he might be induced to admit that doing this was his favourite part of sex, short of orgasm.)

From the sounds of things, Davan was much of the same opinion.

Davan was, in fact, finding it rather difficult to breathe. He felt dizzy and hot and was dangerously close to forgetting how to remain upright. He had, for obvious reasons, been pretty much celibate since he took over as prime in the Magpie role, and was starting to suffer a little from sensory overload. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to fall over,” he wheezed.

Temperton – no, Nathaniel, surely it was ridiculous to call a man giving you a blow job by his surname only – pulled back with a wicked grin.

“Do they teach you that in cop school?” panted Davan.

“Would you give up the life of crime if I said yes?”

“Already done,” said Davan, faintly.

“Oh? So you’re just Davan Breckenridge, ballet dancer, now?”

“Mm,” said Davan, finding it a little difficult to follow the conversation.

“Bed?” said Nathaniel, with a long, final lick up Davan’s cock.

“I like the sound of that,” murmured Davan.

“Do you need me to carry you?” said Nathaniel, getting to his feet with a wink.

“I’m a ballet dancer, not a girl,” said Davan, tartly.

It took them a couple of minutes to reach the bedroom, as they kept stopping for kisses.

Davan sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, and Nathaniel leant over him to rub noses.

“Don’t you get tired of playing the dangerous, looming coc- cop?” muttered Davan. He flushed, and busied himself removing Nathaniel’s trousers.

“Is that how you see me?” asked Nathaniel, mercifully ignoring Davan’s slip of the tongue.

Davan gently levered Nathaniel’s briefs off and regarded him thoughtfully.

“What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking you should join me on the bed,” said Davan.

“You’re avoiding the question.”

“I see you as a man who is wasted on the police force,” said Davan. “Now get over here.”

Epilogue
Target: Nathaniel Temperton

“Wow… Remind me to go to bed with ballet dancers more often.”

“How about you just stick with me?”

“Hm… All right. I can deal with that.”

“Good,” said Davan. “Because I’m not Magpie now, which means I get to keep you.”

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