The following is a field report from Team One, the ones responsible for infiltrating the city’s underground market of precious artwork and artifacts. As part of our larger effort to crack the Tyrene Code, these members of our league were dispatched with a special purpose. First, they were tasked with finding Arthur Goehner and determining if anyone has tried to fence the Tyrene painting since the theft took place. Failing that, they were to extract whatever information Goehner knew about who might have stolen the painting in the first place.
Goehner is a man notorious for moving goods that do not belong to him or his associates. According to rumor, he comes from a long line of men who specialize in this profession, his father having been a Swiss national with strong ties to the Nazi movement before and during World War II. I was sure to our heroes know that they did not need to be gentle when handling Goehner. Men like him have a way of escaping justice and I had the feeling a little thumping was just what he needed!
Needless to say, what they found was something different than I think any of us anticipated. As point on the mission, Judgement was responsible for reigning the bastard in. He was backed by Bonfire and Freedom Fighter, and the three made quite a team this time around. Here’s how it happened:
* * *
The Craigflower Hill shipping district was quiet, on the outside anyway. Underneath it all, there was lot of ugly stuff, things that few could truly sense. In one corner, someone was considering killing his father for the insurance money. In another, a woman just saw her husband with another woman. She was getting ready to smash his car while he was still in the throws of adulterous passion.
Judgement sat still and took it all in on top of the area’s tallest warehouse, looking like a freaky gargoyle. He breathed in the night air as he breathed in its twisted energy, absorbing all the hate, anger despair. It was his power source, which he would soon send back at the people who made the city what it was. A disgusting hellhole, the place ripe for a little cleansing!
“Any sign of our target?” asked Bonfire.
“Not yet,” replied Judgement, trying to feel out their quarry. His energy was particular, the kind that only those used to thieving, conniving and lying for a living could generate. “But keep the home fires burning.”
Bonfire laughed and snapped his fingers, producing a small flames between them. The flicker momentarily lit up the smallest section of the roof, making Judgement a little worried they’d be seen. But he knew there was no sense in telling Bonfire off. The man was a live wire, an untamed flame. You couldn’t tell him anything!
Overhead, the faintest sound of air being cut by a fast moving object could be heard. For anyone below, they would not think twice. Just another passenger jet or trainer taking off the from the airport. But Judgement knew better. The sound of the subsonic object announced the arrival of the third and final member of their team.
“She’s here,” he said. “Be ready.”
“What’s the target’s name again?”
“Goehner,” Judgement said with just a touch of bitterness. “Arthur Goehner. People around here call him Art.” He tried not to chuckle at the irony in that. “You remember the plan from before?”
Bonfire hummed and affirmative and began reciting it. “I got the north end, lady Freedom takes the south. We start moving up stealthily, but if things go awry, we try to flush them up the middle towards you.”
“The others we let go. It’s Art we focus on.” Judgement nodded. Everything was set. It was time. “Let’s move.”
Bonfire left the roof first. Dropping down to the side alley, he began making the circuitous route that would take him to the storage facility at the north end. As he moved, Judgement could hear the streaks overhead that indicated Freedom was coming about and moving to the south end. That left only him, sliding down the roof to the muddy ground below.
Kneeling low, he stretched out with his sense again. There was plenty, to be sure. Greed, hostility, and a plethora of other assorted things that filled him with bile but gave him strength. He looked for the one he knew could only be Goehner. For him, greed was an especially powerful motivator, one unrestrained by dignity or other moral considerations.
He found the signature he was looking for before long. He could practically smell the trail it left, to the point of drowning out all those around him. He began moving slowly, keeping low and slow in case he came across a passerby. Until they found their target, there couldn’t risk anyone seeing them and making a racket.
Moving into a small alcove, Judgement looked onto the dock and spied the large cargo carrier that was moored alongside a series of tugs and . The ship had seen better days, its sides coated with rust and the upper hull turning a mottled shade of grey. He spied the number on the side, thirteen painted in large red letters. And the tail end, a Panamanian flag fluttered in the evening breeze.
“I’ve got him,” he said into the earpiece. “Warehouse, thirteen, big red letters on the front door.”
“I’m coming in,” said Freedom Fighter.
“On my way,” replied Bonfire.
Spotting the rail nearest him, Judgement jumped over the edge and grabbed hold of a lattice below. With careful ease, he swooped under the deck until he was directly beside the ship, able to sense the many people inside. He took a second to draw in more energy, and then made his move.
His feet struck the deck with a loud clang. Many faces turned to look at him and were tossed before they could utter a thing. First two, then three more; men in wool caps carrying small arms, Goehner’s hired thugs who protect his trading ship.
Someone else on the top deck looks down just in time and got a word off before he too was taken down.
“Freaks!” is the word he yells, followed by a loud bellow as he hits the rail stomach-first and falls over. Feet can be heard inside the ship as everywhere, Goehner’s men scramble and run. Their reputation is beginning to precede them.
The sound of more clanks against the deck signal the arrival of Freedom Fighter and Bonfire. Judgement turns to see them, as they currently drawing a great deal of attention to themselves. She had her sword drawn, burning brightly in the night. And Bonfire’s hands were ablaze with angry intent.
“Making friends?” Freedom asked.
Judgement shrugged. “Sounds like they know me. Called us freaks.”
“Here come more…” said Bonfire.
Judgement looked back in time to see the new arrivals, the ones with the heavier firepower. He smiled and looked to his comrades.
“Bonfire? Distraction play, please?”
“With pleasure,” he replied, spotting the rain barrels that lined the deck. Too bad they weren’t filled with fuel, he thought. But no one was that stupid. In a flash, he sent two streams of fire past the gunmen. They turned to cover their eyes, and were rewarded when plumes of superheated vapor went up in all directions, scalding whatever flesh they had exposed.
“Freedom! Ass-kick play!”
Together, they moved swiftly, smacking down every one who remained standing. Freedom’s blade flew, cutting down any arm that was raised against her, while Judgement relied on his fists or a simple kinetic shove to send him targets over the rail.
When it was all over, just a few shocked and awed bodies remained on deck, the rest either in the water or out to sea.
“We clear?” asked Freedom.
“Think so,” Bonfire reported, his hands still holding a small burning ball of light between them.
Judgement looked around for someone who still seemed cognizant enough to talk. With a simple kinetic lift, he raised the man up and waited for him to notice. His fear was intoxicating, forcing a smile on Judgement’s face.
“So friend… how do you want to leave here tonight? Alive and well, or in the back of an ambulance?”
“Wha-what do you want?” he cried.
“Goehner. Where is he?”
The man’s eyes look involuntarily behind him, to the door at the base of the ship’s superstructure. With all the bodies coming to greet them, they hadn’t noticed it was hanging open.
“Below decks?” The man emitted something that sounded between a squeak and whine. “Don’t show us, we’ll show ourselves.”
The man screamed as he was hurled across the deck and over the rail, splashing in the water below.
On their way down, they passed several groups of huddled, wailing people. All exuded fear, their faces contorted in dark looks illuminated by the lower decks faint lighting. Most kept low, afraid to look up as the “Freaks” crossed their paths. Some thought to run the second Judgement and his comrades cleared a doorway. Perhaps they had heard stories. He was just happy that they were making themselves scarce, lowering the chance of an unfortunate accident.
They found him in the rear, huddling in a room filled with all kinds of objets d’arts, sculptures and artifacts. He seemed to be trying to hide under them, and had made an impressive cover using some counterfeit silk blankets and a large framed painting. He looked like a homeless man taking shelter under a lean-to, or a kid in an improvised fort. In any case, he began to struggle when he saw them entering, his back to the wall and feet pushing futilely against the deck.
“Hello Goehner,” said Judgement, eating his fear and growing stronger for it. “We need to talk.”
“I-I- swear… I didn’t know she was…”
“Stow it, you coward! I have no interest in your other various crimes. I want to know if you know anything about a stolen painting.”
Judgement felt a tapping on his shoulder. He turned left to see Freedom standing by his shoulder, her face twisted in a sarcastic grin.
“I’ll think you’ll have to be more specific than that dear. He deals in those.”
“In this alone…” Bonfire added, shaking his head. They weren’t wrong, and Judgement did notice the many framed pieces and canvases that were crowded in this room alone. He sighed and raised his hands.
“Alright, Mr. Goehner. We need to know if you heard anything about a specific painting. One that was created by the late Mike Tyrene. Ring a bell?”
Goehner struggled for breath and wiped the sweat from his face. He nodded frantically.
“Good. Let’s talk.”
What follows is a bit ugly and a bit brutal. Clearly, Judgement doesn’t have a soft spot for men who’s father’s participated in grand theft and genocide. Luckily, from the after-action reports issued by him and his colleagues painted a pretty clear picture of what they learned. It seems Goehner did hear about the stolen painting, but was confused when no one approached him to make a deal. As the lone fence capable of moving precious artwork in the city, he would be the one to approach if they were looking to sell.
After a few days, he decided to put out feelers and find out who might have been involved. What he learned was inconsistent, but several of his inquiries came back saying that a team of men had pulled off the heist, real professionals who penetrated the museum’s security without leaving any forensic evidence. One inquiry turned up a name. The Alchemist. Apparently, the thieves left a calling card after lifting the painting. Some criminals just can’t resist!
From this, we can deduce two things. One, whoever we are dealing with is serious and committed, and has a certain predilection for children’s stories. And two, since they haven’t tried to sell the painting, they must know about the code it contains and are interested in cracking it. Good thing we have one of the three painting, and I expect we’ll have the other very soon. Now all we have to do is secure the other and find out exactly what it is this code is all about!
Oh, and I should report that Arthur Goehner is alive and recovering in Mount Sinai hospital. Authorities report he suffered multiple injuries when they found him, and that he faces multiple charges for grand theft, facilitation and trafficking in precious stolen items. I think it’s safe to say ol’ “Art” has retired!