New York, Thursday April 5th, 2007
It was after hours and the art gallery was closed to the public, so I felt a certain amusement as I walked around freely inside. I was even more amused by the fact that the owner had actually invited me, though he didn't understand the irony of that.
I looked over the painting that hung on the wall in front of me, admiring the smooth lines and beauty. It had an elegance that appealed to me, as well as subtle sense of whimsy. Then I looked over to the sign that had just been hung on the wall, the one that read, 'Local Artist: Candice Kade.' All of the paintings in this section were from the same artist. Me.
"Candice," a voice called for me.
"David," I greeted the gallery director.
David Herman was a dark skinned mulatto man in his early fifties, with graying hair and a dignified manner. He was also pretty good looking, and I might have taken him to bed if it wasn't for the fact that he was married.
"The last couple paintings are almost in place," David told me pleasantly, gesturing to where one of his employees was hanging one of my paintings, a cityscape piece showing a sunrise through Manhattan. If you looked carefully, you could several silhouettes hidden in the work, tickling your imagination as you tried to make them out.
"Then we're almost done setting up," I responded with a smile of my own. I looked over my paintings, feeling rather proud to see them displayed like this.
"Your last show did quite well," David commented. "I'm certain this one will do even better."
"I hope so," I joked. "If none of my pieces sell, I might have to rob a jewelry store in order to pay my rent."
David chuckled at that and shook his head. "There's no chance of that happening. I already have several collectors asking about your latest pieces."
We talked for a few more minutes, and once the last of my paintings had been hung in place, I excused myself to go home. It was getting rather late, and after a long day, I was looking forward to kicking off my high heels and relaxing.
"Then I'll see you tomorrow at the opening," David told me right as I left.
I started walking down the street, knowing that it would have been quicker and more convenient to just take a taxi home. However, if I'd been interested in speed and convenience, I would have simply driven to the gallery instead.
The truth was, I wasn't particularly fond of cars and always felt just a tiny bit claustrophobic whenever I was inside one, especially when I wasn't the one driving. Being inside a car often gave me a vague sense of being trapped, and I knew that if something happened, my options were more limited. That was why I usually preferred to travel by less confining methods when the weather and situation permitted.
I had nearly reached the subway entrance when two men appeared, one of them demanding, "Give me your purse, bitch." The one who spoke had a gun pointed at me while his accomplice, who appeared unarmed, stood back and acted as if he was giving moral support.
For a moment, I just glared at the muggers in disgust and annoyance. Muggers were among the lowest rung of criminals, the kind of people who were too stupid and lazy to do anything else. They actually offended my sensibilities.
"Oh no," I cried out, trying to look terrified as I backed up towards a darkened alley. Like the idiots they were, they grinned at the realization that they were about to get me trapped in a dark alley without any witnesses.
"Get back there bitch," the one with the gun ordered me.
Once we were back in the alley, he turned to his friend and grinned. And since he wasn't looking at me, he failed to notice that I was grinning as well. I dropped my mask to reveal my real appearance, so when he turned back to me a moment later, his eyes went wide in shock and horror.
I lunged at my mugger, knocking the gun from his hand and snarling, "I'm gonna eat your souls..."
The mugger screamed like a little girl and I could immediately smell the scent of piss. Both of them turned to run away, but I wasn't done quite yet. Since I still had one of them close at hand, I shoved him face first into the concrete and gave him the mother of all wedgies. Only after he squealed in a high pitch did I back off, letting him scramble to his feet and race after his friend while I remained where I was, giggling like a mad woman.
With the muggers gone, I took a moment to fix my appearance, then I continued on my way home, still grinning as I did so. One subway ride and half-an-hour later, I arrived at the building where I had a condo on seventeenth floor.
As soon as I was safe in my condo with the door locked behind me, I let out a sigh of relief. Now that I was back home, I could let down my hair and relax. This was one of the few places where I was free to really be myself.
The first thing I did was remove my jacket, followed a moment later by the magic medallion I wore around my neck. I didn't feel any different, but anyone watching would have seen a moderately attractive brunette who appeared to be about thirty, suddenly transform into a monster. Without the illusion created by the medallion, my real features were once again visible.
I had a long black devil's tail with a matching pair of black horns that stuck out from my forehead by about two inches. My fingernails were black and a little clawlike, my ears were pointed like an elf, and my eyes were yellow with a black slit down the center. And of course, I had patches of small black scales on my forehead and cheeks, as well as my shoulders and less visible places on my body.
My appearance was somewhat demonic, which probably explained why my parents had summoned a priest after I'd first manifested. They were actually disappointed to find out that instead of being possessed, I was just a mutant. After all, an exorcism could have fixed a possession while nothing could be done for my GSD, except to try hiding it...and me.
Candice Christine Kade was the name I'd been born with, though I hadn't really used it in over thirty years, not since I'd run away from home at the age of fifteen. And though I'd recently begun using it to sign my paintings, it was no longer the name I truly thought of as my own. That name was the Imp. As Candice Kade, I was merely known as a rising artist, but as the Imp, I was a notorious thief, trickster, and super villain.
It wasn't easy being a costumed criminal in New York, not when you had to deal with heroes like the Amazing Three, the Empire City Guard, or even those dimwitted Cadet Crusaders. Fortunately, I was good at avoiding direct confrontations with heroes, something that was helped by the fact that most of my victims never even realized what I'd done until after I was gone.
Of course, the truth was that I'd been semi-retired for the last year, or at least on hiatus. This wasn't something that I'd done intentionally, merely the way things had worked out.
A few years ago, I'd done a job for a magic user, stealing a painting from the office of his rival. In exchange, he'd given me this magic medallion which hid my odd features and let me walk around in public without fear of scaring everyone. Thanks to that medallion, I'd actually been able to start my second career.
I've always had a passion for art, something that had been instilled in me from a young age since my parents had owned a high end art gallery and auction house. I spent decades as an art thief and forger, creating duplicate replacements for many of the works I stole, but only during the last couple years did I discover that there was actually an interest in my original paintings. It seemed ironic that after spending three decades as thief and forger, I was now considered a legitimate artist.
I smiled as I thought about the art gallery that was actually hosting a show with my paintings. The funny thing was, I'd removed a few pieces from that same gallery a few years ago, which made it hard to keep a straight face when David had been bragging about how good their security was. In fact, I'd been tempted to break in again just to see the look on his face.
With that, I stretched, letting my tail swish back and forth as it tended to do when I was in a good mood. And why shouldn't I be in a good mood? I had a Monet hanging from my living room wall, an art show opening tomorrow, and those idiot muggers had provided me with a little free entertainment.
After pouring myself a glass of wine, I lit a cigarette and slowly walked over to my stereo. Seconds later, my condo was filled with the sweet sounds of N'Sync and I began dancing a little to the music. I liked pop music and boy bands, though I'd never admit my musical tastes to any of my criminal associates, so this was definitely something of a guilty pleasure.
I continued dancing a little, swaying my tail back and forth as I went to my purse and pulled out the wallet that I'd swiped while giving that mugger a wedgie. There wasn't much cash, but I did find a driver's license and a credit card in the same name.
"Well James Davis," I said with a smirk as I went over to my computer. "You tried to mug the wrong woman."
A few minutes later, I used the mugger's credit card to order a thousand dollars of really kinky sex toys, all to be delivered to the address on the driver's license. I really hoped that Jimmy still lived with his mother, because that would be hilarious. And then just to amuse myself further, I bought him several monthly subscriptions to really embarrassing porn sites, and I topped it off by donating a hundred bucks to the Jehovah's Witnesses in his name. Once those guys thought you might be interested, they'd hound you to the ends of the earth with their publications.
When I was done, I leaned back and grinned, wishing I could be there to see the look on his face when the toys arrived...or when he got the credit card bill. Then it suddenly dawned on me that if I was so bored that messing with a mugger was this entertaining, maybe it was time to add a little excitement back to my life.
"Okay, Imp," I told myself with a sigh. "It looks like you've been on vacation long enough."
New York, Friday April 6th, 2007
It was my big night, the opening of my new art show. The gallery was hosting a party and had invited some of their best clients, many of whom were socialites, art collectors, or wealthy patrons. I didn't think that anyone present had bank accounts at the Goodkind level, but this was fairly large for the local art scene...at least for this month. And to my amusement, I was the guest of honor.
At the moment, I was dressed to the nines...or at least as much as I ever was. I was wearing a slinky black dress with a pair of black stiletto heels. And of course, I was also wearing the magic medallion that hid my tail and horns, as well as my other odd features, allowing me to walk around without freaking out everyone there. I barely bit back a smirk as I walked around with a glass of champagne in my hand, looking at these potential buyers for my work and wondering what they'd think if they knew who I really was.
My tail was invisible, hidden by magic, but I was careful to keep it close to my body rather than letting it sway back and forth as it normally would. I didn't want to risk hitting someone with my tail and making them question what it was. Fortunately, I had a lot of practice with keeping my tail close and under control. After all, there was very little that was as painful, awkward, or embarrassing as getting your tail caught in a door.
I smiled faintly as I looked around, recognizing a number of the people present. After all, not only were these the usual suspects for this kind of function, but many of them were also past victims and clients of mine.
"Ms. Kade," a stocky and friendly looking man greeted me.
"Mister Swingwell," I responded with a smile, immediately recognizing the wealthy philanthropist. He was well known for his benefits and the large donations he frequently made to several charities.
What most people didn't know about Albert Swingwell was that he also had an extensive private collection of art, much of which he had acquired through less than legal means. However, I was quite aware of that collection since I was one of the sources he used to get new pieces. Over the years, I've collected half a dozen nice pieces for him, and though he wasn't aware of it, I'd also taken a piece from him as well.
Though Swingwell and I had done business before, there was no flash of recognition as he looked at me. He gave me a charming smile, then took my hand and kissed the back of it. I wasn't really used to that kind of treatment, though I was definitely enjoying the attention, and the knowledge that he had no idea of who I was or what I'd done.
"These are very lovely," Swingwell said, gesturing to some of my paintings which hung from the wall. "I just may have to purchase one before the night is through."
I just smirked at that since Swingwell already owned one of my paintings, even though he didn't realize it. In fact, he probably still thought that it was the Matisse I'd switched it out for. My forgery was pretty good and it would take a better eye than his to catch that it was a fake. I didn't always bother being quite that subtle about my thefts, especially since I got a kick out of showing off, but since Swingwell was one of my clients and I'd expected to do more business with him, I hadn't wanted him to realize that there even was a theft, and certainly not who was behind it.
After talking with Swingwell for another minute, I continued to mingle with several other people. Then David called out, "Candice, I have someone I'd like to introduce you to."
I went over and immediately recognized the person beside him, a tall and athletic man in his late forties. Marc Wellington was like Swingwell, a man with an exemplary reputation. Though from what I knew, Wellington, he wasn't a phony and told people exactly what he stood for right out in the open. However, what he stood for was protecting normal people from the 'mutant threat'.
Wellington was known as being a big supporter of the Knights of Purity, which was basically a militia group for hire. A militia group that existed for the sole purpose of fighting mutants. And in addition to that, he'd also donated a large amount of money to Humanity First, a hate group that targeted mutants.
Needless to say, I didn't exactly like Wellington, which was one of the reasons I'd broken into his house a few years ago and stole a beautiful painting right off the wall of his living room. I figured that painting deserved to be owned by someone a lot better than him...like me. Of course, I didn't just steal it...I left him a painting of dogs playing poker in exchange, which he hadn't really appreciated.
"This is Marc Wellington," David introduced me, so I put on a fake smile and pretended that I didn't want to tear out his eyes. Maybe another visit to his home was in order. I heard that he had a few other nice pieces in his collection that should probably be liberated.
"It's nice to meet you," I lied.
"And it's always nice to meet such a lovely lady," Wellington told me smoothly, making me wonder what he'd do if I dropped my disguise right in front of him. Unfortunately, that would have resulted in throwing away everything I'd worked for, and I wasn't going to do that...no matter how temping the thought. "And especially one this talented."
"Such a smooth talker," I said with a pleasant smile, talking with him for just another minute before I could make my escape.
Once I was away from Wellington, I casually tossed his wallet and Rolex into a trash can. Personally, I would have preferred to pawn the watch and have some fun with his credit cards, but I didn't want to get caught with those things on me.
"This is beautiful work," a new voice said, catching my attention. I looked at the handsome blonde man who stood beside me, admiring one of my better pieces.
"Thank you," I told him, since unlike some of the other people here, he actually sounded sincere.
"You're the artist?" he asked me with a pleasant smile.
"Either that or someone did a really nice forgery," I joked, which actually got a chuckle in response.
"I'm Ryan Chambers," he introduced himself.
"Candice," I responded, even though I'd never liked that name. Sure, the name Candice Kade had something of a nice ring to it, but I'd always thought my first name sounded a bit too pretentious. Of course, shortening it to Candy would have been even worse.
I looked at Ryan, trying to remember if I'd heard anything about him. I think I'd heard David mentioning his name before, though I was pretty sure he wasn't one of the big spenders. Still, he was friendly and seemed to actually appreciate my painting, which was much better than the rich stiffs, who were here mostly to be seen and socialize with each other.
"You're quite talented," Ryan said, giving me a pleasant smile before looking back at my painting. "On the surface, there's a certain elegance to your work, but if you look closer, you can see the whimsy."
"It's rather boring, if you ask me," a woman commented from the side. I didn't know who the woman was, though I already didn't like her.
"I suppose it's a matter of opinion," Ryan responded politely, though the tone in his voice indicated his disagreement.
The woman turned away and began talking to someone else, though I kept watching her from the corner of my eye as I made some small talk with Ryan. After a few minutes, I saw my opportunity and smacked her on the ass with the flat of my tail. She jumped and looked around with an angry expression, her glare settling on a young man who'd just walked past her. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing, and to just walk away instead.
The initial excitement of the party quickly wore off and I found myself getting bored and thinking of other ways I could amuse myself. However, other than the brief incidents with Wellington and the rude woman, I remained on my best behavior, knowing that this wasn't the time to cut loose. That would come later.
Eventually, I took the opportunity to slip away, knowing that anyone who noticed my absence would probably just assume I'd gone home with one of the guests. I had no problem with that as it saved me the trouble of having to make up my own excuses. Now that I was done with the party, it was time to turn my attention to the real fun. I hurried to my car, giving it a brief look of distaste before climbing in and driving away. Driving a car might leave me feeling a little claustrophobic, but I couldn't deny the practical uses, such as being able to store my gear and provide relatively privacy while I changed into my working outfit.
A short time later, I climbed out of my car into a dark parking garage, which I'd chosen for the lack of visibility just as much as I had for the location. But in spite of the fact that there was little light to see with, I had no problem doing so. My eyes might be a bit freaky looking, but they gave me great night vision. I just smiled as I looked around, making sure that there weren't any witnesses. After all, I'd dropped my illusion and was wearing my professional costume, a tight red and black leather outfit that covered most of my body from the neck down. However, in addition to my usual costume, I was also wearing a black backpack, which contained a few things that I needed for this job.
As a professional criminal, there were numerous ways to apply my particular talents, my favorite being a good heist. However, a proper heist could take months to plan and might require a small team to pull it off. After I'd decided to get back into the game, I hadn't wanted to waste any time, so I looked for something a little more immediate. I talked to a couple of my contacts and that had given me this job, something that was quick, easy...and frankly...a little beneath my skills. Still, it would get the adrenaline flowing as well as get me warmed up for something bigger.
I slipped out of the garage, then carefully made my way another two blocks without being seen, until I reached my destination. As far as Manhattan skyscrapers went, it was pretty middle of the road, but since the office I needed to reach was pretty near the top, that meant quite a long climb. I looked over the outside of the building, immediately spotting the security guards that were doing their rounds, knowing that there would also be guards on the inside, not to mention cameras. Still, I wasn't the least bit concerned. There were several options available to me, so I decided to go with the one that was least likely to get me caught.
With that, I turned my attention to my primary mutant ability, a PK aura which surrounded my body. It wasn't nearly as focused or distinct as the kind of PK shell that some mutants possessed, and I certainly wasn't a brick because of it, but what my aura lacked in strength and power, it made up for in versatility. I could use my aura to perform a number of different tricks, most of which were extremely useful in the right situations.
For many mutants with a PK shell, their shell has a distinct appearance when active. It might glow with a specific color, make it look like they were covered with metal or some other material, and sometimes even make them look like someone else entirely. My PK aura could blend in with my environment, matching my surroundings so completely that I was like a chameleon. It took a second for my aura to adjust to changes, but as long as I was perfectly still or moving very slowly, I was effectively invisible.
"It's showtime," I said with a broad grin, thinking that this was going to be fun.
I carefully crept towards the side of the building, humming the theme from Mission Impossible, freezing entirely whenever a security guard looked in my direction. It was time consuming to move this way, but I'd long since learned the value of patience when it came to sneaking. Instead of going to the front door, I went to a side wall, then I looked up at the vast cliff of glass windows that stretched out above me. With a grin, I began climbing, moving up the smooth surface just as easily as if I'd been Spider Man.
This was another of my little tricks, being able to use my aura to cling to surfaces. Sticking to the glass was easy, though it still took a lot of time and effort to actually climb the entire tower. Fortunately, between my odd physiology and regeneration, I was in great physical shape. In fact, I was the physical equivalent of an exemplar 2, without technically being one.
When I was much younger, I'd only been able to focus my aura to perform one trick at a time, though fortunately, decades of practice had vastly extended my control. If it hadn't been for that, I would have had to drop my stealth effect in order to make the climb, which would have left me visible to the security guards or anyone else who happened to look up at me.
I was about halfway up when I saw someone flying through the air, coming in my direction and causing me to freeze in place. I didn't recognize the flyer, at least not from that distance, but I wasn't surprised to see someone using powers like that. One thing about New York, it was completely infested by people with powers. Once the flyer was gone and I was sure the coast was clear, I continued my climb.
After I finally reached my destination, I stopped to count windows from the top, making sure that I was at the right spot, then I looked through the window, trying to make out what I could of the office on the other side. The window was alarmed in case someone tried the very thing I was about to do, and it would go off the moment I broke in. However, I'd come prepared for that.
I reached into a pouch on my belt and pulled out a small devise that was about the size of a golf ball and stuck it to the window where it remained. This was a useful little tool that would jam the alarm and keep it from triggering, though unfortunately, it was a one shot devise that would burn out after a single use. That was why I had a deal with the devisor who made those things, and why I bought them from him in bulk.
The next part took a bit of concentration since I had to use not two, but three aspects of my aura at the same time. While keeping myself hidden and stuck to the wall, I had to divert what energy I could spare to my hands...and to one finger. I had to be extremely careful because I could accidentally become visible again, or even worse, lose my connection to the wall and fall to my death.
When I wasn't distracted by any other tasks, I was capable of concentrating all the energy from my PK aura to my hands, creating invisible PK claws which extended up to several inches from my fingernails, and which I could use to slice through steel...or in this case...glass. However, I was occupied with other tasks, so I only had enough spare aura to create a claw for a single finger, which I used to cut a hole through the window, one large enough for me to easily enter through.
A minute later, I was standing in the middle of a large and very nice looking office. An expensive wooden desk was placed in the middle, but there were several shelves and paintings on the walls, all of which combined to make the statement that this was the office of a wealthy executive. Someone who actually worked for a living would have had a much different office, one that was practical, with relevant books and awards rather than expensive art. This office was clearly meant for showing off and sending the message 'I am in charge'.
The owner of this office was indeed a high ranking executive, one who was in charge of East Coast operations for his company. However, my client was his wife...ex-wife, whom he'd screwed over in the recent divorce...at least according to her. From what I'd been told, he stole all her best and most expensive jewelry in order to spite her, and kept it locked up in his office where she couldn't get to it. Not only had she hired me to get it back, but to also take something that he valued in retaliation.
I looked around the office with a grin and half sang, "Where oh where can that little safe be? Where oh where can it be?" But even as I was doing this, I was going to the painting that hid the safe, rolling my eyes at just how cliche and obvious this one was. It took me only a minute to crack the safe, then I changed my song to, "I'm in the money..."
I quickly removed the jewelry and dumped it into my backpack, then I grabbed the stack of 'spending cash' that had been left in the safe. It was only ten grand, but ten grand is still ten grand and would make for a nice little bonus. That went into the backpack as well. There was a handgun in the safe, which I left where it was, though I did take a small pile of papers and dumped them into the outgoing mail bin.
Next, it was time to turn my attention to the retaliation part of my job. I went to a display case and stared at the contents, a stone figurine of an overly endowed woman. According to my client, this represented some kind of fertility goddess and was a prized possession of her ex-husband, who'd taken it home as a souvenir from some kind of archeological dig vacation about a decade earlier.
I quickly popped open the display case, then stared at the figurine for a moment, suddenly thinking that it looked like something which might actually be magical. I frowned at that since the last thing I wanted from this job was to accidentally end up with some kind of curse. I didn't mess with magic, preferring to leave that kind of thing to other specialists, but I did like to be prepared. I reached into a pouch on my belt and pulled out a green marble, which was a trinket that I'd bought from a magic user. It glowed a little in the presence of magic, and since it wasn't glowing now, that indicated that this figurine was just what it appeared to be...a very old piece of art...and porno art at that.
I reached into my backpack for the little item that I'd brought along just for this purpose, then I stood in front of the figurine, humming the theme from Indiana Jones as I prepared to switch the figurine out with my replacement. There was no pressure plate or booby trap like there was in the movie, but that wasn't the point. As soon as I was done, I put the figurine into my backpack and made sure it was firmly strapped to my back.
Just as I began to leave the same way I'd entered, I took one more look back at the display case that used to hold the figurine, grinning as I did so. Instead of the figurine, it now held the Mr. Potatohead that I'd brought as a replacement. I gave the toy a brief wave goodbye, thanked him for his noble sacrifice, then made my exit.
Once I was safely back at the parking garage, I climbed back into my car and hit play on my Spice Girls CD. "If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends," I sang along, tapping my fingers along the steering wheel in time with the music. Now, I just had to meet up with my client, then I could go home and celebrate my successful night.
New York, Saturday April 7th, 2007
The art museum was one of my favorite places in New York, something that I considered to be on the same level of importance as the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and that little dive bar that served those great mojitos. The museum was like my home away from home...or as I liked to think of it...my personal lending library.
Though the museum had a lot of paintings from famous artists like Picasso, Warhol, and Rockwell, it also had a great collection from equally talented artists that the average person had never even heard of. Those were the paintings that I tended to be drawn to the most, the ones that were beautiful works but were often underappreciated. In fact, I'd even done my part to give a couple of my favorite pieces a little more attention, stealing them in a flashy robbery, then letting some hero recover them while I made my escape.
I paused in front of one piece, smiling as I looked it over. It was a beautiful example of impressionism, though it had been a real pain in the ass to get the brush strokes right. I'd spent a lot of time making this forgery and it had been well worth it. The original was hanging in my living room where I could admire it every time I walked through. However, I've had it long enough so it was about time to return it to the museum and borrow another piece instead. I've done this half a dozen times over the years, borrowing a painting from the museum for a few months or a year, then returning it without them ever even knowing.
I might be a thief, but I had a great deal of respect for museums and the value of making art available for everyone to see. And though I had stolen a couple pieces with no intention of returning them, I'd also made a few anonymous donations of my own. Most of my donations of that sort had been taken from private collectors, who often had them illegally in the first place so couldn't report them as stolen. After enjoying the paintings myself for a time, I'd donate them to a museum for others to appreciate. It was ironic to consider the fact that I'd actually donated more pieces to this museum than I'd stolen.
When I was younger, I'd started my career as a thief simply as a way to make money, stealing cash, jewelry, or anything else I could sell for a nice profit. At the time, it had been a way for me to make a living when most legitimate careers just weren't an option, and admittedly, it had even been a bit of a 'screw you' to the world that treated me like a freak and a monster. It was only after I'd become financially stable that I'd been able to focus less on the money and more on my hobbies and interests, stealing paintings simply because I wanted them for my own collection, and even donating some of those to museums. And then recently, I'd somehow stumbled into a second career as a legitimate artist as well, something that I'd dreamed of as a kid, before I'd manifested as a mutant.
Just then, my thoughts were interrupted by some loud talking, which came from a group on the other side of the room. I watched them for a moment, annoyed at the way most of them were chatting and distracting everyone who was actually there to look at the art. Then I noticed the tour guide, who had a fake smile plastered to his face while his eyes held a clear look of exasperation. A tour group.
"This one kinda looks like the bayou back in Loosiana," a teenage girl exclaimed with a thick Southern accent that I thought might be Cajun. She was pointing to one of the paintings while the tour guide let out a visible sigh.
I shook my head, then turned my attention to another painting, my favorite painting in the entire museum. It was a beautiful piece called Waking at Dawn, which had been painted by an artist that most people had never heard of. Still, I loved the way he played with light and shadows, which was why I'd stolen this painting from Wellington in the first place. After keeping it in my collection for two years, I'd donated it to the museum, though I made a point of coming to look at it at least once a month.
"Much better than my forgery," I mused to myself. I'd tried copying this painting back when I had it at home, but I just couldn't catch the elements that made it so special.
I stood there for several minutes, silently admiring the masterpiece while being fully aware that the still chattering tour group was getting closer. They were getting on my nerves, though I tried to ignore them.
"This one looks like a kindergartener painted it," one woman exclaimed. I looked over to the painting that she was staring at and nodded faintly. I wasn't a big fan of the abstract style myself, or at least not most of it.
As far as I was concerned, there were too many talentless hacks who simply threw paint on a canvas and called it abstract, then exclaimed that anyone who didn't like it just wasn't sophisticated enough to understand it. Those kind of 'artists' always made me think of The Emperor's New Clothes, where they'd intimidate everyone into going along with their stated delusion for fear of looking foolish.
I continued eavesdropping as the tour guide told the group a little about that painting, but then his cell phone started ringing. The tour guild answered it, and a few seconds later, he exclaimed, "I have a small emergency. I'll be back in just a few minutes..." With that, he rushed off, leaving the group without a guide.
While I looked at the next painting, I was fully aware of the way the tour group was scattering and making noise. I was still vaguely annoyed at them, especially as several of them began to heckle the paintings. When one man started to make a rude joke about Waking at Dawn, I began to wonder how he'd react if I dropped my disguise and yelled 'boo' at him.
Then an old woman commented, "This one is kind of dark...and not very good."
I looked to the painting that she was staring at and nodded. "That's because he wasn't a very good artist," I commented, being quite familiar with that particular painting. I'd once stolen another piece by the same artist, though hadn't cared enough to keep it for myself. "That painting is here more because of who painted it than because he had any skill."
"What do you mean?" the old woman asked, giving me a curious look.
"Arnold Dexler," I said, naming the artist. "Back in the early sixties, he was a superhero called the Atomic Fist."
That suddenly caught the attention of most of the tour group, and they began to gather up to listen to me. "Well ah'll be, the Cajun girl said with a definite look of interest. "Was he a mutant?"
I took another look at the girl, who was slender and cute, with long brown hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. I guessed her age at around fourteen or fifteen. She was staring at the picture with an odd look in her eyes that really caught my attention.
I shrugged at that, then answered, "As far as anyone knows, he got his powers from an origin event. What we do know was that after he died in sixty-four, his identity was revealed, and it came out that he'd been painting as a way of dealing with the stress in his life. These paintings don't show a lot of skill, but they are filled with his emotions. If you look, you can see hints of the things he was going through in his life at the time. In this one, you can see his worry about atomic weapons. Remember, he painted this during the cold war, at a time when there was a lot of fear about what atomic weapons could do."
After talking about the painting for another minute and answering a couple questions, I found myself telling the group about the painting next to it. That one didn't have quite as exciting an origin, but I told them what I knew, pointing out some of the things the artist had done to make the painting stand out. Then, I found myself doing the same thing to a third painting, effectively having taken over for the tour guide.
When the real tour guide returned, the group went back to rejoin him, though the Cajun girl actually came closer to me. "Y'all sure know a lot about that art stuff," she said.
"A little," I responded with a chuckle.
"Ah'm Alicia," she introduced herself, holding her hand out, much to my amusement since I didn't know a lot of people who did the hand-shake thing anymore, and especially not girls.
"Christine," I responded wryly, shaking her hand as I gave her my middle name. It wasn't quite as pretentious sounding as my first name.
"Ah don't know much about this art stuff," the girl...Alicia admitted with a sigh. "That's why mah mama signed me up for this tour. Mah folks brought me ta New York for spring break so ah'd get some culture..." She put emphasis on the last word, rolling her eyes to show what she thought of that idea. "Like we ain't got plenty of art and culture in N'awlins."
I nodded at that, then looked to the tour group, but Alicia didn't get the hint. "You know," I said, deciding that I might as well teach her something. "Art might seem boring at first, but a lot of artists live interesting lives." I gestured to a nearby painting and told her, "This one had manic depression, married a model, spent a year in jail for beating the crap out of the guy he caught his wife sleeping with...and eventually committed suicide." Alicia stared at the painting in surprise while I continued. "Every piece tells a story, even if the artist is the only one to know the whole thing. But if you look closely enough, you can usually make out some of that that story is."
"Wow," Alicia exclaimed, giving me a look of surprise. "How do ya know so much about this stuff?"
"I steal paintings for a living," I answered with a grin, knowing that she wouldn't believe me. As I expected, she gave me a skeptical look. "No, really. I'm actually a dangerous super villain." I just stood there with a smirk, absently waving my tail back and forth.
"Well, it was nice meetin ya, Miss Christine," Alicia told me, looking to the tour group that was starting to leave the room and then chasing after them.
I finished looking around the room and started into the next room as well, noting that the tour guide still had that fake smile plastered to his face. This time, Alicia actually seemed to be paying attention to him, or at least to the paintings he was pointing out. I chuckled at that, glad that that I'd been able to spark some interest.
I was just starting to look over a new painting, a recent addition to the museum, when I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of a gunshot from the next room. I snapped around to look in the direction of the source, only to see a group of armed men burst into the room I was in. Three of them came in, waving their guns and yelling for everyone to hit the floor.
"Nobody move," one of the gunmen yelled, making me wonder if they'd coordinated because the other guys were telling us to drop to the floor.
I glared at these men, angry at the very sight of them. People who committed robbery by bursting in with guns blazing were the worst sort of criminals. They were stupid, lazy, and reckless...no different from common muggers, except for more heavily armed. As a professional, I was offended by this kind of amateurish behavior.
"On the floor," the gunman yelled, gesturing for everyone to drop. There were cries of fear from the tour group, though I was more annoyed than afraid. As everyone started getting on the floor, he pointed his rifle at a painting and fired, blowing a large hold through the middle of it. "No one move..."
I stared at the ruined painting in horror, feeling a surge of anger bubbling up at the sight. I glared at the man who'd just destroyed it, silently promising that he was going to pay for that. When they burst in like this, they'd offended me as a professional. But to actively destroy a beautiful work of art...that really pissed me off.
As soon as they moved past and I saw my opportunity, I burst into motion, jumping at the nearest gunman and tearing the gun out of his hand. In the process, the illusion that was hiding my real features dropped, letting everyone present see who and what I really was. The gunmen all jumped in surprise and even a little fear.
"Boo," I exclaimed, punching the gunman in front of me and breaking his nose in the process.
I jumped at the next man, coming in low and using my tail to wrap around the third man's ankle. I yanked the third man's feet out from underneath him while I focused on the one in front of me. My nails were hard, sharp, and much like claws, so even when I wasn't using any PK tricks, they could do some damage. I proved this by slashing across his face, tearing the gun from his hand and then grabbing hold of his fingers.
"You destroyed a MASTERPIECE," I snarled furiously, pulling all his fingers back until they all popped and he screamed in pain.
I'd tripped the third man, but even from the floor he managed to get a shot off, catching me in the side. My working outfit had a bulletproof liner, but at the moment, I was just wearing normal civilian clothes. I yelped in pain, then kicked the gun out of his hands before kicking him several times in the face. Only then did I allow myself to drop to my knees and hold my wound.
All of the tour group hostages took advantage of the opportunity to run out of the room, all except one. The girl Alicia hurried to my side, staring at me with a look of surprise, but also looking worried. "Miss Christine," she gasped.
"Call me Imp," I responded with a grimace, giving her a curious look and wondering what was wrong with her. Why hadn't she run away like everyone else? "I told you I was a super villain..."
My side really hurt where I'd been shot, but I knew it wouldn't kill me. I had regeneration, which meant that unless these guys shot me some more, I'd be good as new within an hour. However, being able to heal quickly didn't make it hurt any less.
"Y'all stopped those assholes," Alicia said, looking to the gunmen who were on the ground bleeding. "Ah think you're a hero..."
"Hardly," I responded with a snort before standing up and letting out a sigh. "They just got in my way." Then I paused to ask, "And why the hell aren't you running away like everyone else? I'll have you know, I'm a very scary person."
Alicia just snorted at that. "Ah go to school with kids who are a hell of a lot scarier lookin than you."
"That must be some school," I responded wryly while she just nodded agreement.
Just then, a couple more armed men charged into the room, followed a moment later by a man in costume. The costumed man seemed tall and thin, though it was difficult to be sure of his build because he was wearing a bright red cloak, with the hood up so it covered much of his head. The cloak had a gold metal broach in the shape of a hexagon, and from what I could see of the rest of his costume, it was black and included a medallion that was the same hexagon shape as the broach. And then, as if to keep with the motif, the man held a gold metal staff, with the head of the staff being shaped like a hexagon.
"I am Hexagon," the newcomer announced in an arrogant tone.
I had a bad feeling about this so reached into my pocket for the little green marble, which was glowing. I groaned at that, having just confirmed that there was magic nearby, or at least, magic other than my own medallion. I hated dealing with magic since you never knew what it could do.
"Were all the good magician names taken?" I taunted him, gesturing for Alicia to get away while she could. "And who are these goons? Dodecahedron, polygon, and the square?"
Hexagon stared at me, his expression looking vaguely surprised. "You don't look like a hero..."
"I'm not," I responded, annoyed that I'd been mistaken for a hero twice in the last few minutes. "My reputation must be slipping. I'm called the Imp."
"Hero or not," Hexagon exclaimed, looking to the men I'd taken out. "You've interfered in my business and will pay the price."
"Do you take debit?" I joked. Then I looked towards the destroyed painting before giving Hexagon and his men a flat look. "Just a warning... If any of you so much as scratches one of those paintings...I'm going to tear off your balls and dance the mamushka on them."
"Get the demon," Hexagon commanded.
"Imp," I corrected as I dove to the side, wondering how I could get out of this.
The armed men must have taken my warning seriously because they didn't open fire on me. Instead, two of them charged at me, obviously intending to take me on hand to hand, or at least at closer range.
Suddenly, Alicia called out, "Hey bioque," which caught me by surprise since I thought the girl was smart enough to run when she had the chance. When one of the gunmen turned to look at her, she gulped, "Merde..."
"Get out of here, kid," I snapped at her, jumping back away from one of the gunmen. I hated having to fight like this, preferring to run away when I could.
The gunman who was closest to me suddenly staggered and bumped into the one beside him, much to my surprise. Then I saw Alicia standing back with a look of concentration on her face. Somehow, she was responsible for that. Obviously, there was more to that girl than I'd thought.
"Do you really think you can beat me?" I taunted Hexagon. "I once fought Lady Astarte." Of course, it would have been more accurate to say I'd run away from Lady Astarte, but they didn't need to know that.
One of the gunmen was about to open fire, but Hexagon warned him, "Careful. We don't want to damage what we came here for."
I kicked the nearest gunman, then slashed at him with my nails, leaving a nice set of scratches across his face. As I spun around, I used my tail to grab the gun from the next guy.
I looked at Hexagon, who was standing back while his men came at me. I grinned and called out, "Hexahere, hexago, hexacome, hex is slow..."
Hexagon grimaced and began calling something out in a strange language, then a burst of red light shot out of his hand. I dodged to the side, easily avoiding it, though I did wonder how in the world I'd gotten myself in this situation. This was NOT what I did. I robbed places like this, not protect them from burglars. I had to haul my ass out of here as soon as possible.
Alicia was still standing back, watching with a nervous but defiant look on her face. One of the gunmen was getting back up and she stared at him, only to have him start staggering again. Then she turned her attention to another gunman who had the same reaction.
"Neat little trick you're doing there kid," I commented, dodging another blast from Hexagon.
"Ah'm a mutant," Alicia admitted, giving me a look as though daring me to make something of it. "Ah'm called Headrush..."
"Yeah," I responded with a roll of my eyes. "Like I said...nice trick. But you should probably run..."
Alicia hesitated a moment, then started to run for the door. Hexagon gestured at her with his staff and suddenly the ground beneath her began to glow in the shape of a hexagon. She hit the edge of the glow and came to a sudden stop, as though she'd hit a wall.
"A hostage may be useful," Hexagon stated, staring at Alicia with a grim look. "One with powers may have other uses as well."
"Oh no ya don't," Alicia protested, hitting and kicking at an invisible wall. "Ah'm not gonna be anyone's hostage... I'll feed ya'll to the gators if ya even think about it..."
"Don't you dare," I said, glaring at Hexagon. "Don't you dare put me in a position where I have to rescue a hostage..."
Hexagon gestured at me with his staff, and suddenly there was a glowing hexagon beneath me as well. I tried to step out of it, only to find that I couldn't. Just like with Alicia, I seemed to be trapped.
"I've had enough of your interference," Hexagon stated, giving me a cold look.
"You know," I told him, "this whole thing is just a misunderstanding..."
Hexagon raised his hand to fire another blast of energy at me, and this time, I was stuck in place and couldn't dodge out of the way. I felt a little worried, but I refused to let this prick see that. Instead, I called up all the energy from my PK aura and gathered it in one spot as I gave him the finger.
"Foolish demon," Hexagon exclaimed, firing a blast of energy at me.
The blast hit me in the center of my chest, right in the spot where I had all my PK energy focused into an area the size of a dinner plate. My small focused shield protected me from the blast, knocking me back a little but doing no damage. Of course, if Hexagon had hit me anywhere other than that spot, I would have been toast, but I sure wasn't about to tell him that.
"Imp...not demon," I reminded him with a smirk.
Hexagon scowled, then gestured to his men. "Complete your task."
With that, his men all began to scramble, grabbing paintings off the wall at random. I was trapped in place, helpless to do anything but watch as they worked. And when they'd taken a third of the paintings in the room, they grabbed Alicia and hurried off, leaving me behind.
Five minutes after Hexagon and his men left, the glowing hexagon on the floor vanished, releasing me from my prison. I looked at the empty spaces on the walls, feeling a surge of anger at the sight. All those beautiful paintings, taken by those amateurish assholes. They didn't even have any style. And then I thought of that poor kid they'd taken and shook my head in disgust.
With that, I held my injured side, muttered a few choice profanities, then hurried out of the museum, easily slipping past the gathering police. After that, I just wanted to go home, get drunk, and forget this day had ever happened.