The following Friday morning, Mitch had his hands full dealing the patrons at the Brown Sugar Café. After spending a good fifteen minutes serving everyone in the coffee queue, whipping up the mix for a sponge cake and shoving it in the oven, he stopped to catch his breath and make himself an espresso.
As he was about to take his first sip, he froze as his eyes fell on two ladies chatting at a table near the window.
One of them looked very familiar.
"Oh, crumbs!" Mitch thought to himself, instinctively trying to hide his face. "If she recognises me, I'm done for!"
He could already feel his heart beating rapidly... but when the lady broke off from her chat to look up at him, it started dancing a fandango. Strangely, Mitch had a feeling that it wasn't just out of fear.
"Excuse me!" the lady said to him. "Could you come here for a minute?"
Mitch hurriedly fixed a warm smile onto his face and made his way over. In his head, he was walking to his own funeral.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
Thankfully, his real voice was nothing like the noble, rich tones he donned as Midas. The lady simply smiled at him.
"I was just wondering if I could get a refill of this coffee?" she asked politely.
"Thank you, Lord!" Mitch thought... but he said, "Sure thing," and picked up her cup. As he did so, the lady leaned towards him, taking a closer look at his name badge.
"Many thanks... Mitch," she told him.
"You're welcome, Miss."
"My name is Nimue."
"Oh... that's a pretty name."
"Thanks. It's from Arthurian legend."
As Mitch went to refill Nimue's cup, she turned back towards her friend.
"I'm just so glad you're all right," her companion said to her. "You must have been so terrified during that robbery."
"I'll admit, it was scary," Nimue replied, "but still... it was nice to see Rockwell get his just desserts. He's always treated me like crap. And apparently, the thief gave most of the money he stole to the children's hospital. They need it more than Rockwell ever did."
"Ah, yes... the gentleman thief. What was he like?"
"Actually, he was sort of charming. He spoke to me like a human being: treated me politely. I mean, he had a gun and everything, but after a while, I felt safe - as if I knew he wasn't going to hurt anyone, and he didn't. And I'll admit it: he was handsome."
"Maybe even... sexy."
Both of their heads bolted upwards as they heard the sound of smashing china. Mitch, who was back at the coffee machine, looked at them as he giggled nervously, and reached for another cup.
"Sorry!" he called. "Butterfingers! I'll make you a fresh one."
As hastily as he could, Mitch made the coffee, took it over to Nimue, then scurried back to the bar, grabbed his own espresso, and went to sit in the corner, embarrassed. His heart was still beating like a jackhammer. As he climbed onto a stool, he drew a deep breath, desperate to calm himself down.
He needed some sort of distraction. A patron had left the morning paper on the stool beside his. He seized it, and threw it open on a random page... spotting an article in the bottom-left corner as he did so.
Mitch was puzzled. This has nothing to do with him... or rather, with Midas. He'd been at home last night watching a football game with Marius. His twin had recently started working for the Secret Service - a job he couldn't discuss much, but one that kept him very busy - and as such, they seldom spent any quality time together, and made the most of it when they could.
What the hell was this "Magpie League"? Well, whoever they were, they were clearly trying to move in on Midas' turf... and he had no intention of dealing with rivals.
Scowling, Mitch tossed the paper aside, drained the dregs of his coffee, and headed back to the counter to check on his baking cake. Nimue, he noticed, was now gone - a fact that made him feel relieved... and yet, rather disappointed.
After meeting Theo at the alien support group, Minerva and Gabriel made sure that they talked with him and visited him regularly - just to make sure he was all right. Sadly, the majority of the time, he wasn't. It was clear that he was still somewhat in denial about being pregnant with an alien child. (Then again, it wasn't the easiest thing in the world for a man to deal with.)
When the tiniest hint of a baby bump began to show, fear and realisation flooded through Theo's veins. All at once, he found himself unable to cope with what was happening.
Although a plan was now in place, Theo couldn't help but feel depressed about the situation he'd found himself in. He would call in work sick, and spent most of his time lounging about the house or hiding away in his room - lacking the energy or will to do anything.
Fearing for his safety, Minerva and Gabriel basically moved into Theo's house as the weeks went by. For both his sake and the baby's, they made sure he ate well, slept well, and kept him company - having cheery conversations to try and keep his spirits up. It soon became apparent that discussing the pregnancy or the abduction was strictly off-limits: it simply sent Theo spiralling back into anguish.
One evening, after Theo had turned in for the night, the pair found themselves sat on the living room sofa together - worn out after a day of chores and care-giving. After several days spent working alongside each other, and depending on one another for moral support, the two aliens had grown quite close, and were fast becoming good friends.
They worked well together. Minerva was best at dealing with the emotional issues, and helped Theo open up about how he was feeling, whilst Gabriel focused on more practical tasks like shopping and cooking. He made meals for all three of them - and whilst he was no Mitch, Minerva had to admit that he could rustle up some good grub. The couple also shared intellectual interests, and each of them appreciated having a kindred spirit who understood what it was like to be alienated - quite literally - from those around you.
Clearing his throat, Gabriel decided to strike up a conversation.
"Theo seemed a bit better today," he said.
"Hmm. Maybe. A little, at least," Minerva replied. "He actually left his bedroom today, and he even laughed at a joke I made. I guess that's progress."
"Still... I worry about him."
Slowly and cautiously, Gabriel placed his arm around Minerva's shoulder in a comforting gesture. He feared that his companion might be offended and push him away - but instead was delighted when she shuffled closer towards him.
"You're a good person, Minerva," he told her.
"Thanks. So are you."
Suddenly, she pulled away, and began scratching fiercely at her arms. Concerned by her hasty movement, Gabriel leaned towards her, instinctively reaching out a helping hand.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Oh, it's nothing," Minerva answered. "Sorry - I didn't mean to push you away. It's just... this disguise. It really irritates me after I've been wearing it all day."
Gabriel nodded understandingly.
"I know exactly what you mean," he muttered, pulling at his shirt collar. "Mine can be stifling at times."
As he spoke, he had a brainwave, and turned to Minerva with a mischievous smirk.
"You know," he whispered alluringly, "I don't think Theo's going to get up again now. We're in here alone... just the two of us. Maybe we could both slip into something more... comfortable?"
Minerva turned towards him, stunned at first... but then grinned eagerly.
"Let's do it."
Thus, both aliens breathed a massive sigh of relief as they allowed their disguises to melt away - revealing their true selves to one another.
"That's so much better," Minerva called out.
"I second that," Gabriel chuckled back.
Then, he stopped and sat bolt upright, looking Minerva up and down carefully with a stunned look. Minerva noticed this, and stared at him quizzically.
"What is it?" she asked, alarmed.
"I... I just don't believe it..." Gabriel breathed.
Gabriel smiled softly, once again wrapping his arm around her.
"You're even more beautiful without the disguise."
Minerva turned away, blushing - but Gabriel gently cupped her cheek and pulled her back to face him. Moving ever closer, the couple found themselves looking deeply into one another's ebony eyes, until finally... their lips met.
After a few moments of sheer bliss, Minerva pulled away sharply as she heard the sound of sobbing coming from the nearby bedroom. Sighing, she re-disguised herself.
"Theo's awake," she whispered. "A nightmare, no doubt. I'd best go and talk to him."
"That would be best," Gabriel replied.
As Minerva rose from the sofa, she felt Gabriel gently pulling her back, squeezing her hand tightly.
"Don't stay away too long," he told her.
He raised her hand to his lips, kissing it chivalrously. Minerva reached down to tenderly stroke his hair, smiling.
"I'll be back in a minute," she told Gabriel lovingly... before leaving the man who loved her in order to be with the man who needed her.
Three weeks after the Rockwell's robbery, Midas broke into a downtown luxury apartment, scouting the place for valuables. Normally, he allowed himself more of a cooldown time between crimes, but with that birdbrained Magpie League hot on his heels, he was determined to stay ahead of the competition.
The apartment was owned by a famous fashion model - known for her selfish, prima donna behaviour - and as one might expect, there were treasures tucked away everywhere. Midas carefully inspected every nook, cranny and hidey-hole he could think of... keen to swipe anything and everything he could. The model had recently been on the front cover of several magazines, and he was concerned that seeing her so prominently might give the Magpies ideas.
(After all, that's where he'd got it from.)
Whilst helping himself to some vintage cognac from a globe-shaped minibar, Midas suddenly heard the door being opened. Whirling himself round in a panic, he reached for his gun and aimed for the unseen intruder.
"Shoot and you're a dead man!"
Someone flicked a switch, filling the room with light - causing Mitch to be greeted by the sight of three people: a skinny fellow in a flat cap, a mountain of flesh in an ill-fitting suit... and the indisputable star of the show, a very glamorous looking-lady in a sun hat and white mink coat, dripping with jewels.
A lady with a very familiar face.
The lady smirked deviously.
"Call me "Nicolette"," she said.
As Midas lowered his gun, she outstretched her arms in a gesture of greeting.
"You have the rare pleasure, sir," she continued, "of meeting the Magpie League."
Midas glared at her, shocked... and angry.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he growled.
"I have a proposition for you, Midas," Nicolette replied. "But before we get to that... perhaps we could help you lighten your load?"
An hour or so later, after he and the Magpies had cleaned out the celebrity's apartment - agreeing, after much debate, to split the spoils 50/50 - Midas found himself sitting at Nicolette's desk. They were in a small but well-decorated office in an old warehouse in the middle of the city. This, he was told, was the Magpie League's base of operations... the hideout of a criminal gang run by the woman before him, Ms. Nicolette Duboir.
Before getting down to business, Nicolette introduced Midas to her two associates.
Unlike the Miskin twins, who were divided in their moral destinies, both of the Thacker brothers had found themselves on the wrong side of the law by the time they had entered their adult years.
The elder of the pair was a sly conman and cat burglar known as Sneaky Clyde. His thin and wiry frame enabled him to squeeze through small gaps, meaning there was very little beyond his reach. Strangely charismatic, he also had the gift of the gab, and a good excuse for any occasion - which he'd used to get the gang out of hot water more than once.
Clyde's younger brother, Moses, had been nicknamed "Big Mo"... and with good reason. He was a giant of a man - not only in height, but also in weight, strength and sheer bulk. He could easily hold his own in a fight, and only a true lunatic would dare to pick one with him in the first place. His role was to protect the gang during their heists, and deal with any troublemakers that reared their heads.
Deep down, Mo was a good-natured, friendly fellow with a loving heart, whose criminal acts didn't always rest easily on his conscience. However, he had learnt that crime could provide someone with a decent way of life, and he was fiercely loyal to his brother - following him wherever he led, and doing whatever he told him to do.
"Like I told you, 'guv," Clyde said to Midas, "Mo's a bit dumb, but 'e 'as 'is uses."
"I ain't dumb!" Mo protested.
"All right," Clyde said, "what's the square root of 36?"
A long silence followed. Mo's mouth could be seen moving as he attempted to perform the calculation in his mind, but soon enough, he hung his head, too embarrassed to say anything further.
"See?" Clyde continued. "Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, are you, Mo? Even a kid could tell you it's 4."
Over at the desk, Midas and Nicolette exchanged glances.
Nicolette had become a thief for one simple thing - the thrill. The constant dread of getting caught, living life on the edge, knowing you could hit it big or lose everything in an instant... it filled her with adrenaline, and she loved every minute of it. Then again, she was a tad materialistic, and did appreciate the finer things of life - which she could now acquire very easily, lawfully or otherwise.
The brains of the outfit, she had the logic and the know-how to plan efficient, rewarding heists. Combined with Clyde's skills and Mo's muscle, the trio had formed a winning team... the renowned Magpie League.
Born Nimue Davis, Nicolette had originally got the job at Rockwell's under her real name in order to scout the place out as a potential target... with the unfavourable attitude of her new employer only fuelling her desire further. However, before she could put any plans in place, someone had beaten her to it.
And she'd been impressed.
"That's why we want you in the Magpie League," she told her guest. "Trust me... pulling off a job like that single-handed was no mean feat, especially without attacking anyone. Bravo, Midas... or should I say, Mitch Miskin?"
Midas' eyes widened.
"Oh, please," Nicolette giggled, seeing his surprise. "If you think I didn't recognise you at the café, then you're a fool. I know full well who you are... but still, you know who I am, too, so we're square. I'm glad you bought my play-acting - my panic during the robbery, and so forth... "
"Absolutely," Midas thought to himself. "You should be in movies. You'd sweep the awards."
"... but the truth is, I think you've really got something. You're the ultimate gentleman thief: you use charm to get what you want, and you have bags of it. Women will just fall heads over heels for you."
"Damn right," Clyde piped up. "Hell - even Nicolette wants you."
Nicolette shot Clyde a cold glance that could kill at a thousand yards.
"What?" he cried. "You told me so yourself. One too many post-heist Margaritas last Friday."
Mo chuckled at the memory. Rolling her eyes, Nicolette returned to the matter at hand.
"I'd much rather have you with us than as our competition," she added. "Birds of a feather flock together, after all. So, what do you say? Care to join us?"
Midas considered the offer carefully.
"I have some demands," he told Nicolette flatly.
"First - we only rob people who deserve it. Rich snobs, corrupt businesspeople... those who haven't worked for their wealth, who don't appreciate it, or who've abused others to get it. No poor families or easy targets."
"Agreed. It's more fun if they're getting what's coming to them."
"Second - at least some of the money goes to help the less fortunate. Sure, we can keep some for expenses, and whatnot... but if we're doing this, then others should feel the benefits. Besides - it's good karma."
Nicolette had to smile.
"Fine," she replied. "If the greedy bastards won't help those in need, we'll make them help. Plus, having the public on your side never hurt anyone."
Rising from her seat, Nicolette turned towards all three gentlemen, oozing both control and confidence.
"Our meeting is concluded," she said brightly.
"Thank God for that," Clyde groaned, jumping to his feet. "Off down the pub now, are we, Boss? Mine's a pint if you're buyin'."
He swaggered towards the door, with Mo closely following like a loyal hound. As Midas got up, Nicolette sidled up to him.. and slipped her arm through his, like an old friend. As the gentleman thief looked at her, the glamorous lady flashed him her most winning smile.
"This," she whispered softly, "could be the beginning of a great partnership."
The chapter title is a reference to the nursery rhyme "One for Sorrow" - which relates to magpies.
Nicolette's general style was inspired by Stephanie St. Clair.
Lincoln Broadsheet is a reference to a console/handheld Sims 2/Urbz character.