Stargirl

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Chapter 29: Mansion

By mid-evening, the trio stood before the gates of the Swede’s mansion, which much to Veggie’s irritation was easily within walking distance. They were fairly sure they had the right place, because the legend ‘RESIDENCE OF JOHAN KARLSSON’ was wrought into the gates in foot-high, solid iron lettering.

‘Ready?’ Veggie asked, pulling a balaclava over his face.

‘Ready,’ TM affirmed, suiting up.

‘Let’s go fuck up a Swede,’ Veggie declared.

‘Oh, hang on,’ TM said quickly, opening his securely-strapped shoulder satchel and passing out a few choice things. ‘I… may have been working on some inventions that might help.’

‘That’s suspicious,’ Veggie hummed, taking the proffered gadgets.

‘Eh,’ TM said, ‘I thought maybe we might need to pull off a slightly better heist some day. Also, this shit is cooool. If, legally speaking, technically unmarketable.’

‘Fair play,’ Veggie shrugged. ‘I feel kind of satisfied that our day of Hero’s Adventure and stealth games and parkour was not wasted. Not that it would have been a waste anyway doing that stuff for the fun of it, but you know. It’s just quite nice to be doing an actual heist at last.’

Dominika gave TM a questioning look.

‘We might have robbed the museum,’ he admitted under her gaze. ‘Amazed it didn’t end up on the news, actually.’

Dominika gave a low, heavily accented chuckle. Veggie almost jumped in surprise; TM tilted his head at her conspiratorially.

‘Aaaaanyway,’ said Veggie after a moment, staring at Dominika. ‘Let’s go be homewreckers.’

TM leapt up the Swede’s front wall, fingers gripping the top, and levered himself slowly up to peer over.

‘He’s got a guard and everything,’ he told his fellow would-be burglars happily.

‘When did you get so… ninja?’ Veggie demanded. ‘Also, you didn’t actually need to do that cos there’s an iron bar gate we can see through literally right here.’

TM dropped back to earth silently. ‘We’ve owned a gym for, like, three years,’ he explained. ‘It was almost inevitable that I’d get vaguely in shape at some point.’

Veggie wagged a finger at him. ‘I think you’ve just been preparing in the hope that we would eventually get to pull off another heist, sir.’

TM shrugged. Dominika scouted around a corner and beckoned them over; they scuttled along the wall, leaning out to peer around.

‘Clear,’ Veggie whispered; they left their cover and followed the wall around. ‘We need to find some sort of way in that isn’t the front door this time.’

‘Yeah, it won’t be that easy,’ TM said with a grin.

Dominika lifted herself up, staring over the wall into the garden. A tilt of the head told TM to check it out for himself, which he did, revealing a long row of white rose arches spanning from the wall across to the building itself. There was one person in view: a gardener, a young woman in thick gloves shearing rogue branches off a bushy hedge.

Dominika hummed, staring intently at the gardener.

‘What’s going on?’ Veggie hissed, bouncing up and down, the top of his head a few inches below the top of the wall at the zenith of his boing.

‘Think this might be our way in,’ TM whispered down at him. Veggie rubbed his fingers together with excitement.

‘I’ll need a leg up,’ he said sheepishly.

TM hopped down, crouching to offer his back to Veggie. His partner stepped up on top of him and levered himself over with some difficulty; TM followed him over, dropping down on the other side as Dominika alighted lithely.

‘We’re in,’ Veggie said excitedly in a quiet (albeit abnormally deep and spy-like) voice.

The trio quickly shuffled under the row of arches, Veggie crouching the whole time, moving with what TM could only think was intended to be a cool sneak. As they came under the tunnel of roses, Veggie’s languorously sneak-stepping foot caught on a thorny tendril, breaking it off with a loud snap.

‘Cock,’ Veggie said as the gardener turned towards them in alarm.

Before anyone else could react, Dominika dashed out of cover towards the gardener, who bared her teeth and brandished her shears threateningly. Dominika swatted them aside, flipped up and wrapped her legs around the gardener’s neck, swinging around and forcing her hapless opponent to tumble over onto the grass. The breath exploded from the gardener’s lungs, then the general manager of Muscles & Mussels fell on top of her and applied a sleeper hold, wrenching it in until the gardener went limp.

‘Er,’ Veggie said.

Dominika stood, brushed herself down, then picked up the gardener’s arms. She tugged off the unconscious woman’s gloves, held her by the wrist and stood for a moment. Then she gave a happy thumbs up.

’I really hope that means she didn’t kill her,’ Veggie said with mild concern.

‘Hang on a sec,’ TM said as Dominika rejoined them. ‘We’re both wearing masks and plain clothes, but you -’ he gestured to Dominika ’- are not only barefaced but wearing a fucking Muscles & Mussels T-shirt.’

She moved her fingers, shoulders and eyebrows in precise wiggles, clearly communicating that she was saying ‘I’m just that good, bitches.’

‘At least turn the logo inside out or something,’ TM said exasperatedly.

She sighed and complied, stripping the T-shirt off to flip the logo to the inside; Veggie, TM noticed, averted his eyes as she stood there in her bra, which TM thought was rather sweet. Marty had been good for Veggie, he thought.

‘Happy now?’ said Dominika’s contorted eyebrows and unimpressed tongue-in-roof-of-mouth expression when she was done.

They proceeded down the white rose hallway towards the mansion, climbing on the walls of which were yet more roses.

‘This bitch got really into roses,’ Veggie mused disdainfully, spitting on the nearest flower.

Dominika pulled on the gardener’s thick gloves, leaving a few bare inches of bicep between her sleeve and the almost elbow-length leather, and took hold of one of the thick stems covering the wall. She pulled herself up cautiously; the tendril bent slightly under her weight, but did not break.

‘I don’t think either of us is light enough to do that,’ Veggie said quietly to TM, watching Dominika make her way up towards a window. In her thick gloves, black T-shirt and skinny jeans, topped off with fashionable but enormously impractical sneakers, she looked like some sort of hipster ninja.

‘This is really cool,’ TM had to admit. Dominika scampered up to the window and gave it a shove; it opened easily. She stared at the opening for a moment, then pulled it closed again.

‘What are you doing?’ Veggie hissed up at her; she dug about in a pocket (with some difficulty, owing to the gloves), pulled out one of TM’s devices - a tiny half-sphere, the flat side of which bore a plastic rubber sucker like the ones on Christmas window decorations - and affixed it firmly. There was a quiet hum as the gadget did its work, and then with barely a cracking sound the glass pane split into two, broken straight down the middle. Dominika caught the TM Window Splitter deftly as the two halves of the pane fell down, their landing muffled by the grass, and popped it into her pocket; then she hauled herself gracefully through the window.

‘That,’ said Veggie, looking up after her, ‘is really cool.’

‘Told ya,’ said TM.

‘So… what do we do now?’ Veggie asked after a second.

‘I guess… we wait for Dom to take out the magical security systems, if it’s anything like Hero’s Adventure,’ TM suggested.

‘I’m not so sure it is,’ Veggie mused. ‘More like… wait around and maybe eventually hopefully pull off some parkour or video game style nonsense.’

‘Hopefully,’ said TM. There was a pause. ‘Hey, Veg.’

‘Mm.’

‘Do you ever think maybe we have a slightly… exaggerated idea of how reality works?’

Veggie thought about it for a second. ‘Nah,’ he said reassuringly. Then he yelped as Dominika poked him on the shoulder from behind.

‘Oh, hey,’ said TM. ‘What’s up?’

Dominika beckoned them around and led them through a back door, unlocked from the inside. It led them to a small, albeit almost unnecessarily well-stocked, wine cellar; Veggie pulled out one of the bottles, smashed the neck on the corner of a shelf and poured a stream of dark red liquid into his mouth. Then he gagged in disgust, spat and hurled the bottle over his shoulder, where it shattered against the wall.

’I feel awesome,’ he said.

‘Yeah, good times,’ TM said, hurrying him along. ‘We need to find this evidence, whatever it might be.’

They moved quietly over to the corner of the room, where a sterile white light shone down from up the stairs, and headed up cautiously. Dominika led the way, her stolen gloves sticking out of her back pocket. In the first corridor lay a uniformed guard; Dominika kicked him in the head, almost affectionately.

‘Uniformed guards?’ Veggie spluttered. ‘Who does this mothertrucker think he is?!’

‘Nice job, though,’ TM said, scurrying past. ‘Don’t suppose anyone has a floor plan or anything?’

‘Unfortunately not,’ Veggie muttered, stepping over (which was to say on) the guard’s prone body. ‘We didn’t have a secretly evil head of the local thieves’ guild helping out on this one.’

‘Why did he give us legitimately helpful items, anyway?’ TM asked, stopping in the middle of the hall. ‘If he was evil?’

Veggie’s mouth opened and closed for a few moments, then he shrugged uselessly. ‘Needed the plot to move forward,’ he said eventually.

They took a few more steps, then TM stopped again. ‘Shit!’ he said suddenly, smacking himself in the forehead with his palm.

‘What, what what?’ Veggie hissed, casting wild stares around the corridor.

‘We never even saved the nice cousins,’ TM lamented.

‘Ah, fuck them, they were probably evil anyway.’

They slipped down the next hall, stopping at the corner. Dominika pointed up with a finger, picking out a security camera set into the corner between ceiling and wall. It hummed gently as it swivelled from side to side, casting its black lens eye around the length of the corridor.

‘Didn’t know there were cameras that actually did that,’ Veggie mused.

’Think Sliver Nucleus,’ TM suggested. ‘You are Mikkels Stormson, man.’

Veggie looked prouder than TM had ever seen him, nodding firmly; then he darted out as the camera faced away from them, scooting in under its blind spot. He practically leapt into the air with excitement, then put a finger to his chin.

‘What do I do now?’ he mouthed at them. TM shrugged; Dominika rolled her eyes, then cartwheeled along the wall to join Veggie, which TM thought was extraordinarily acrobatic but not entirely necessary. She slipped one of the gloves over a hand, then reached up and pulled out the cables, sending sparks flying.

‘Won’t that… let them know we’re here?’ Veggie said with concern.

Dominika shrugged.

‘Eh,’ said TM. ‘We got this. Besides, I didn’t think you would mind if the Swede started realising his precious mansion was under attack.’

‘You make a good point,’ Veggie said, eyes lighting up.

They made their way towards what they hoped was the centre of the building, hiding in doorways to avoid guards. The Swede’s mansion was superlatively, superfluously large. When they came to a wide, open room, stairs at either side and a guard positioned at the top, facing away from them, TM couldn’t resist: he leapt onto the banister of the stairs, flew up and around, jumped up to grab the railing behind the guard and pulled himself over, retrieving a home-fashioned Taser of sorts from a pocket in midair and jamming it into the man’s neck before he even landed.

‘Wooooo,’ Veggie chirped from below, applauding as the guard dropped. ‘Seriously, TM, I’m impressed.’

Dominika, as if not to be outdone, clambered up the wall and scampered cat-like over the railing, culminating in a handspring flip with a twist and an almost obnoxiously well-stuck landing.

‘Yeah, well,’ TM said, flashing his tongue at her as she strutted past, ’you’ve always been a ridiculous ninja. I learned it.’

She gave him a slow clap. Veggie jogged up the stairs the old-fashioned way, scooting up to them merrily. ‘We must be near the hub,’ he said, rubbing his hands together with excitement. ‘There’ll probably be traps and shit.’

‘Fun,’ TM said, gently pushing open the door to the next corridor.

The two guards inside turned towards them in surprise.

‘Ah,’ TM said.

Dominika sprinted down the corridor between the two guards; one turned to follow her, the other sticking with TM and Veggie. He fumbled at his hip for a second, then they were on him. Veggie tackled him to the ground, knocking the wind out of him, and rolled away, leaving the guard sitting dazed on his arse. TM took the opportunity to run at him and kick him as hard as he possibly could in the chest.

‘Niiiiiiiice,’ Veggie burbled. The guard sat up slowly, groaning in pain; TM and Veggie looked at each other, then at the guard, then back at each other.

‘Buck up,’ TM told his partner, who giggled with glee.

As the guard wobbled to his feet, Veggie strode over and punched him in the jaw, sending him reeling. Then he picked him up, flipped him over so that the man’s dazed, bruised face hung between his legs, and wrapped his arms around him in a tight grip. TM hopped up onto a waist-high chest of drawers set against the wall, crouched, tensed and grinned madly, then burst forwards, flipping over and slamming down on the guard in Veggie’s arms as his partner dropped him right on his head.

‘I think he’s going to live,’ was Veggie’s reaction.

Meanwhile, Dominika had the other guard hanging upside down, his legs draped over her shoulders. She stepped over, wrapping his dangling arms under her legs, then fell forwards on top of him. Then she stood up and kicked him in the head for good measure.

‘Bit of a clash of styles,’ TM said mischievously. She gave him the most wilting look he had ever been on the receiving end of.

Around the final corner was the Swede’s office. The door actually had his name on it, which seems odd given that they were in his house in the first place, and opened onto an enormous library, complete with sliding ladder. In the centre of it all sat an unnecessarily large desk, topped with no fewer than six unnecessarily large monitors.

‘It’s got to be on here,’ Veggie said, plonking in the unnecessarily large office chair and firing up the computer.

‘Can you hack a computer?’ TM asked curiously.

‘Nah,’ said Veggie, ‘but he has written his password on a Post-It, so I think I got this.’

‘Aww,’ said TM disappointedly. ‘I had a thing for this that let you see infrared traces of thermal contact on the keyboard to work out what keys were pressed most often, thought that might come in handy.’

‘Sounds awesome,’ Veggie said, tapping in the password. ‘Don’t ever use that on my laptop.’

He opened a few files, clicking aimlessly; Dominika wound her way around the walls, checking out the Swede’s vast library of antique-looking books. TM followed her, leaving Veggie to it. She pulled out one of the thickest, heaviest, oldest-looking books on the shelves, and opened it. Then she snorted and passed it to TM. He checked the hard, faded cover: some Russian-sounding classic he’d never heard of, except possibly vaguely in passing. Then he flipped to a page somewhere in the middle, took a look, and laughed.

‘Pretentious bastard,’ he said in Veggie’s direction. ‘He’s just put fancy covers on a fucking Beano magazine.’

‘Least it’s not porn,’ Veggie said, clicking through the Swede’s folders.

‘I dunno,’ said TM, looking around the room, ‘there’s a lot of books in here.’

‘Aha!’ Veggie said, pointing triumphantly at one of the screens before him.

TM scurried over to look, leaving Dominika to peruse the shelves. At the end of Veggie’s pointing finger was a single file, titled ‘EVIDENCE AGAINST JV + TM (SEAFOOD GYM)’. Veggie clicked it.

A notepad file filled the screen. It was blank.

‘That arse,’ Veggie said, tongue roaming angrily about. ‘He doesn’t have anything. And if he did it would be a fucking dot-TXT file.’

‘Oh, but I do,’ said a smooth voice.

‘Aw, for fuck’s sake,’ Veggie moaned.

The Swede stood above them, leaning over a rail mounted in the top of one of the many high shelves for no apparent good reason. He was a tall man in a cream suit, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and was in all outward appearances almost ridiculously Swedish-looking.

‘You see,’ proclaimed the Swede in grandiose tone, ‘I may not have any real evidence with which to assault your legal and financial sensibilities, but what I now have as a result of causing you to believe that such evidence was in my possession is…’ He paused, took a deep breath and smiled widely. ‘You.’

‘You’re saying it was a trap?’ TM asked, just to make sure he’d fully understood the Swede’s typically lengthy proclamation; the Swede nodded regally. ‘Pff.’

‘You find this amusing?’ demanded the Swede. TM pulled something out of his pocket. ‘What is that?’ said the Swede, craning over the rail to look.

‘I call it the TM Super Bomb,’ said TM, tossing the object up and down in his hand.

‘Super… Bomb?’ the Swede repeated.

‘Oh, yeah,’ said TM, moving the TM Fingerprint Detector around as much as possible, lest the Swede get a good look at it. ‘See, I figured this might be a trap, so I thought if we’re going to walk into it I may as well come prepared to blow the whole damn thing up, you know?’

As he spoke, Dominika, who had been against the wall under the Swede’s railing and thus gone undetected, cautiously and quietly began climbing up the shelves of books. The Swede looked down at them, apparent shock on his freckled face, then cast about wildly.

‘I wouldn’t make any sudden moves,’ TM said. The Swede stood still.

‘By the way,’ said Veggie, ‘your computer is shit.’ Then he stood up, knocked the chair over, swept the monitors off the desk and set to punching them to pieces.

‘Oh, I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ said the Swede haplessly.

‘You really didn’t think this through, did you?’ TM asked. The Swede could only shrug. Then Dominika reached the top of the shelving, grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him over the railing. He hit the ground hard, wheezing as he sat up.

‘Why do you even bother?’ TM asked, pocketing the TM Fingerprint Detector. ‘Do you really hate Veg that much?’

‘Not at all,’ the Swede said, spitting out a tooth. ‘I just really like money.’

‘You serious?’

‘What?’

‘That’s just an absolutely terrible justification for being such an enormous anus.’ The Swede chuckled, then wheezed. ’What, you cheated on Veggie because the other guy had more money?’

‘No, I did that because I was bored,’ the Swede told him, climbing to his knees. Veggie growled and picked up one of the less-destroyed monitors, striding towards him, but TM got there first.

‘Oh, fuck off, Johan,’ he said, and kneed the Swede in the face as hard as he could, sending a mist of spit and blood and teeth flying. He collapsed on his front, arms splayed out. Veggie let the monitor drop, looking impressed.

‘That’ll do,’ he said with satisfaction.

‘Pafffff,’ the Swede choked, rolling onto his back. ‘I still win in this situation, I hope you realise.’

‘How do you figure that?’ TM asked contemptuously.

‘Because I still have more money and greater success than you,’ the Swede said, grinning toothlessly, ‘and I haven’t lost the most successful part of my business.’

Veggie picked up the monitor again.

‘I’m sure the two of you can find ways to make up for what she brought to your little partnership, though,’ said the Swede. ‘I imagine you can be just as persuasive as she, when you put your minds to it. It doesn’t exactly take a special person to suck -’

Veggie whacked him in the face with the monitor, which smashed everywhere. The Swede collapsed.

‘She was special,’ Veggie said angrily. ‘Is.’ He turned away, then quickly back. ’Also, she didn’t do that anyway, and furthermore fuck you.’

‘Er,’ said TM. Dominika scooted in and pressed two fingers against the Swede’s neck, then slapped him in the face contemptuously; he coughed weakly. ‘See ya, Johan,’ TM said to their fallen foe. The Swede moaned quietly.

‘He’ll be fine, probably,’ Veggie said. ‘He’s had what he deserves.’

Dominika nodded, then gestured up at the railing behind which the Swede had stood. There was, TM noticed now, a door set into the wall behind, which Dominika was staring at curiously.

‘Well, we’ve come this far,’ TM mused. ‘May as well find out what he had in his most hubby of hubs.’ Dominika flashed her teeth, then set to climbing back up the shelves; Veggie elected to slide the ladder over, which TM scooted up behind him.

Veggie hoisted himself over the railing and collapsed in a heap on the other side; Dominika held out a hand to him, which he accepted with mild embarrassment. Then she waved at the door, inviting him to be the one to open it. He took the handle and slowly turned it. The door creaked open, and Veggie led the trio inside.

Behind the door was a medium-sized, verging on small, room: a simple lounge containing a TV, a square table upon which sat a checkers board, pieces left in the middle of a developing game, and a single armchair, upon which sat Al Tyer.

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