Chapter 5

"You know what I like about you?" Flynn asks the squirrely man sitting across from him. "Aside from your very nice waistcoat, that is."

The man's eyes narrow and his frown deepens. His gaze darts to Flynn's boots, which are propped up lazily on the table, then back to the thief.

"It's your sense of humor! Really. You, my friend, are hilarious. You should perform in town square. People would go crazy."

"Show us the crown."

"See, this is what I'm talking about. Your sense of humor."

The man rolls his eyes. "Where is it?"

"I've hidden it." The smugness in Flynn's voice is only matched by the smug look on his face. "You didn't think I'd bring it in here with me, did you? I left it with a friend for safe keeping."

"You don't have any friends."

"Aww, you can't fool me," Flynn grins. "You and me are best buddies. I know it. You know it. Just admit it. You'll feel better."

"Then maybe you should leave the crown with me for safe keeping."

"Touché." Flynn kicks his feet off the table and leans forward, drawing his face into something more serious, a face he's practiced and honed to perfection to show he means business and he's not going to take any of this "I'm a sketchy, cheating middle man" runaround shit.

"Show me the money."

"Show me the crown."

Flynn says it again, a bit more slowly, with a bit more bite to his words. "Show me the money."

Behind him, the middle man's hired muscle shifts, probably flexing their biceps or patting their sword hilts. They're there to be intimidating, to throw him off, to make him flinch. Also to murder him if he gets to be too much of a problem or break his legs if he tries to pull a fast one.

Flynn ignores them, devoting all his piercing focus on the little man in front of him. For a moment they have a stare down, which the middle man tries desperately to win. He's trying so hard that Flynn's easy raise of an eyebrow throws him completely. He blinks several times in confusion, then leans back again and frowns.

The thief tries not to look too smug. There's a fine line he has to walk between being so cocky they murder him outright just to be rid of him, and so compliant that they just take what they want from him, beat him to a pulp, and throw him in a ditch.

With a simple hand gesture from the middle man, one of the brutes steps forward and drops an overly large burlap sack onto the table, making a noise that's somehow both a clunk and a flutter.

That's the noise money makes.

The brainless mountain of muscle growls before stomping back to his post, and Flynn lets him get a fair distance away before reaching for the bag.

"Hey! Slowly!" the middle man snaps, eyeing the thief's fingers as though expecting him to do some sort of sleight of hand and make the whole stash disappear. Flynn holds up his hands in a show of indulgent passivity. He then makes a show of pushing his sleeves further up his arms so he can't slip anything inside. Using your sleeves to hide things is amateur hour anyway. He then pulls the bag towards himself with clear, exaggerated movements.

It's so tightly packed with bank notes that he has to tug a bit to pull out one of the many bundles. He does some hasty math to be sure the amount's about right as he flips through the stack quickly with a thumb, making an annoying shuffling noise. On further consideration as he replaces it securely with its fellows, it would be pretty easy to snatch one or two bundles without anyone noticing and be on his way. But he's got his eye on more than that.

He deserves more than that. He deserves everything in that bag, and if he just keeps cool and plays his cards right, he'll have it in a matter of moments. That castle's so close he can taste it.

"Alright, now show us the crown."

"I told you-"

"-And I say you're full of shit. Hand it over."

This is not a good development. It's never good when the guy buying off you gets twitchy, gets angry. It's never good to give in to demands like this too easily. It makes you look weak. And if he looks weak, they'll take the crown, then (best case scenario) they'll take back the payment and tell him to get lost. They could do it too. Flynn's one guy against four and he's not really built for brawling.

He's built for stealth and planning and being unreasonably handsome.

The mental reminder that he has so many things going for him makes him more confident despite the situation. These losers can't screw him over like that. They need him for repeat business.

Of course there might not be any repeat business because they can all retire tomorrow. Plus this is the most valuable object in the entire kingdom so any further dealings would be a step down in prestige, danger, and pay out.

But Flynn's not going to let these minor details get in his way. He's going to waltz out of here a very rich man, and to do that he's going to reclaim the upper hand in this dealing. He's going to get back his advantage.

He smirks and sing songs, "You didn't say the magic wor-ord."

"Rider!" the man snaps.

"Ooo. Touchy. You need to calm down, buddy. Smell the roses. Paint a portrait. Drink some tea."

"Give. It."

The man holds out his hand, his fingers twitching in irritation, his face pinched into an ugly glare.

Flynn shakes his head and makes a tutting noise, then reaches into his vest to pull out the crown snuggled against his ribs. He sighs as he holds it out, dangling it carelessly from a finger. It only swings twice before it's snatched away and inspected. The middle man secures a jeweler's lens against his eye and inspects the crown with greedy fascination, and Flynn takes the opportunity to look around as if he doesn't give a shit.

Given the creaking floorboards and the smell of mildew and the poor light and poorer furnishings, it's hard to tell that they're really in the back room of one of the more reputable shops in the village. He accidentally meets the eye of one of the thugs standing against the wall, and quickly offers up a cheerful grin before turning his attention to his fingernails.

"What happened to your partners?" the little man asks without looking away from one of the larger crystals.

"Poor bastards. They were just too slow. Not really cut out for this kind of work, I suspect."

"They gonna rat on you?"

"Probably. Won't make much difference. I'm uncatchable."

"I'm sure. They gonna rat on me?"

"Can't talk about what they don't know. You see, I treat you like a dirty, little secret." He sighs for dramatic effect. "I'm not proud of it, but you're just too pretty to share. And where did you get that waistcoat? The more I look at it, the more it grows on me."

The middle man shoots him an irritated look then turns back to the flowering sapphires. "Were you followed?"

"Nope. They chased me for a while, but I lost them in the woods about ten miles back. Got the best of four guards on horseback."

"How'd you manage that?"

"With integrity."

The lens drops from the man's eye straight into his hand, to be deposited back in his chest pocket as he looks up to glare again. "Damn it, Rider. This is serious. If you're not absolutely sure you weren't followed-"

"Absolutely sure. What kind of moron turncoat would I be to lead the guards straight here? Trust me. My hand to God, no one knows I'm here."

The man gives him a skeptical once over, and Flynn arranged his face to look like the most honest, loyal, and upstanding thief on Earth.

"Well, I guess I'll have to-"

But they don't find out what it was that the man would have to do (but Flynn sincerely hopes that it was going to be "give you all this money") because the hidden door to the front workshop creaks open to let in a clear beam of sunlight and the small, musical voice of a girl.

It's a voice that very clearly asks, "Flynn?"