As the months rolled on, the Magpie League - with Midas' skills and planning abilities working beautifully alongside Nicolette's - pulled off bigger and bigger heists... taking on greater targets, and stealing more and more swag.
Willow Creek, Oasis Valley and Magnolia Promenade all experienced the greatest crime wave they had known in their collective histories - and yet, the police remained completely baffled. These criminals were far too clever to be caught.
As for the public... as wrong as they knew it was, they couldn't help but root for the Magpies. It was somewhat thrilling to see how they continued to outsmart the authorities after each daring escapade. They were admirable in other ways, too. Shortly after each robbery, large, untraceable donations would be given to good causes - often simply through vast bags of money just dumped on their doorstep. Schools had been built. Hospitals had new wards. The homeless and hungry were clothed and fed.
Besides, they knew all too well that the people the Magpies targeted were no angels. They had no concern for the common man. They were those who mistreated their workers, who were driven by greed - the corrupt and the detestable. All the Magpies were doing were redistributing their ill-gotten gains to those who truly needed them... just like Robin Hood.
Yes, they were thieves - but they had honour.
Of course, running a criminal operation carried a hefty price tag... so the Magpies had to skim a little of the cream of the top of their income in order to continue their "good" work. After much discussion with Midas, a figure of 15% was agreed upon. This may not have seemed like much, but within weeks of Midas joining them, the Magpies were reeling in some very big fishes indeed. Even after giving away the majority of the money, they weren't short of cash themselves. In fact, in a turn of events that was almost ironic, they themselves became some of the richest people in the city... the indisputable royalty of crime.
As the police found themselves powerless to stop these "benevolent" burglars, they decided to bring in the big guns. A few phone calls and private meetings later, the incredible case of the Magpie League was passed on to the Secret Service. It would undoubtedly be a career-changing assignment for any agent able to crack it, and some of the Service's best operatives were soon vying for the opportunity.
In the end, it was given to a relative newcomer who had shown great promise... someone who had the skills and intellect to match wits with the Magpies.
Agent Marius Miskin.
In his office at Intelligence Services HQ, Marius sat reviewing his notes about the Magpie League, browsing the digital archives for any updates. The only evidence that the police and Secret Service had in connection with the League so far were witness statements and general rumour and hearsay. The group had continued to elude their best surveillance efforts. They had nothing conclusive or concrete: no CCTV footage, no fingerprints, and no forensic evidence.
In short – no leads.
Groaning, Marius sank back in his chair, rolling his eyes in frustration.
He felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see his secretary hovering at his side. She had brought him a cup of coffee and a biscuit.
"Thought you could use these, Agent Miskin," she said warmly.
Marius took them from her, smiling gratefully.
"Thank you, Miss Malone."
Marius’ smile became a grin.
Jenny Malone was a lovely woman. The fluffy jumpers she wore reminded Marius of a bunny rabbit, and at first glance, she seemed very sweet and innocent. She had supposedly worked in libraries before joining the Service, which came of little surprise to Agent Miskin. However, he’d learnt from experience that her cuddly exterior hid a clever, quick-thinking mind.
Marius had no doubt that, with the right training, Jenny would have been a fantastic agent. Her angelic demeanour and appearance would have falsely made her seem like an easy target – something she’d be able to use to her advantage. Instead, the higher-ups in Administration had decided she was too valuable to spare. Her knowledge of the filing and record systems – which still left Marius in a muddle to this day – would have turned Dewey himself green with envy.
Marius felt bad that Jenny had been denied such a great opportunity, but at the same time, he was secretly grateful that she was here. Her advice had proved invaluable to him during his early cases. She made great coffee. And there was something about her smile that just warmed his heart…
“How’s the investigation going?” Jenny said suddenly, derailing Marius’ train of thought.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Marius muttered in reply. “These criminals are just running rings around us, leaving no trace. It’s so frustrating. My first major case, and it looks like a dead end.”
He paused as he bit into the biscuit thoughtfully, giving a little hum of satisfaction.
"This is really good," he told Jenny. "Did you make this?"
"I wish!" Jenny giggled. "I get them from this little café near my house. Its name is... something "Sugar"".
"Yes! You know it?"
"My brother owns it. You should have said something sooner - I could have gotten you a discount!"
He took another bite as he pondered his situation.
"I must have read the case files at least 50 times," he grumbled, "but there's nothing I can see that I could use to catch these fiends. All the same - I can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something. Like there's a clue here somewhere, right under my nose..."
As he finished off the biscuit, he brushed the crumbs off his jacket, and took a sip of his coffee.
"I just don't know what to do," he confided to Jenny. "I mean, without any evidence, how will I ever crack this case?"
"Well," Jenny began, "if you want my advice…"
"It's always welcome."
"It seems to me that, sooner or later, these bird-brains are going to get a bit too big for their boots. You know… cocky. Arrogant. They’ll overestimate their abilities. They’ll make mistakes. It’s just a matter of time."
"You really think so?"
"Absolutely. Besides… can you really hope for anything else right now?"
"It… it doesn’t look like it."
"All you need to do is wait it out. Sooner or later, they’ll slip up. And when they do, you’ll nail them."
Marius considered this, and nodded.
"You're right. Thanks, Jenny."
"Anytime, Agent Miskin."
As Jenny walked back to her desk, Marius drained the dregs of his coffee cup and reviewed his notes yet again - scanning every line and image carefully for anything of use. After reading for a minute or so, he had a thought, and turned towards Jenny, who was now busying herself with some typing.
"Since I’ll probably be waiting for a while…"
"… would you like to have lunch with me while I’m at it?"
Jenny’s eyes widened in surprise.
"Agent Miskin…" she stammered, stunned, but flattered. "I… I don’t know…"
"Just a quick bite to eat in the canteen,” Marius hastily added, getting up and approaching her. “My treat. Besides, it’s about time you took a break."
Jenny blushed, and smiled.
"I’d… I’d like that. Thank you, Agent Miskin."
"Call me "Marius"," the spy replied, leading her out into the corridor.
Theo Creswell stood in the centre of the freshly-painted room, looking around in awe at its new appearance as his hands rested on his large, round stomach. He found himself smiling at the scattered fluffy toys and the etched wall murals.. and as his eyes fell on the cot that was resting against one wall, he felt the baby - no, the thing - he was carrying give him a little kick.
It hadn't been his idea to convert the box room into a nursery. He had no intention of keeping the bab - thing after all. Minerva and Gabriel had done all the work, and had led him into the room as a surprise after he came home from his shift at the lab one day.
It soon transpired that Michael had performed a test run to Sixam in his father's rocket, and realised it needed a few upgrades to make the journey as swift and comfortable as possible. With a baby on board, he was eager to avoid a rough ride. However, the modifications would take time, and with Theo now in the ninth and final month of his pregnancy, he admitted that the rocket might not be ready before the birth. As such, the ba - thing - would need to stay with Theo for a little while longer, and his friends wanted to make sure, as always, that he had everything he required.
As Theo picked up a toy ladybird, passing it back and forth between his hands idly, he dropped it with a sharp gasp as he felt another stronger kick coming from inside him. He hands rushed to his stomach as he crumpled up in pain... and as he straightened himself up, he found himself chuckling and stroking his bump tenderly.
"Fidgety little thing, aren't you?" he whispered.
Wait. No. What was he doing?
Tears sprang to Theo's eyes... which he wiped away hastily with the back of his hand. As quickly as he could, given his condition, he made his way into the kitchen, and grabbed a large glass of milk from the fridge - chugging it down hurriedly in a vain effort to distract himself.
He was starting to bond with this bab... thing. He couldn't let that happen.
Minerva, who was reading a book as she sat on the sofa, looked up as she heard the fridge being pulled open. Gabriel was out getting groceries: after seeing Theo chugging down a full pint of milk, she made a mental note to text her new boyfriend and ask him to buy more. Concerned, she put the book down, and approached Theo.
"Are you OK?" she asked gently.
"What?" Theo replied in an innocent tone. "Oh, yes, I'm fine - I'm just - ow!"
He lost his footing as pain shot through him again. It was so strong this time, it left him winded. Minerva immediately leaned forward and grasped his shoulders, helping him steady himself.
"Sorry," Theo told her breathlessly, his hands once again returning to his bump. "It's the ba... the you-know-what. It's kicking really hard today."
"Maybe you should lie down for a bit?" Minerva suggested. "See if that helps?"
"Perhaps you're right," Theo replied. "If you need me, I'll be in my - "
Before he could even finish the sentence, his face fell as he felt a sudden flow of water gush out from between his legs. As both he and Minerva looked down at his soaked jeans and the puddle on the kitchen floor, his face grew chalk-white as he realised what this meant.
"Minerva..." he whispered hoarsely, terrified.
"Sshh!" Minerva said softly, taking hold of his hands. "It's OK, Theo. It's all going to be OK. I'll phone Gabriel. You call the hospital."
"Don't leave me," Theo begged, squeezing Minerva's hands tightly. "Promise you won't leave me."
"I won't leave you, Theo. I promise. And Gabriel will be with us too. But right now, you need to call the hospital."
Theo nodded. With a trembling hand, he reached into his pocket, took out his mobile phone, and dialled the emergency number.
"Hello? Please... please... I... I need an ambulance..."
He fell to his knees, screaming, as the first overwhelming contraction rippled through him. He would experience many more before the day was out.
Now that they were moving up in the world, the Magpie League decided to have a change of scenery. That old, miserable warehouse was no longer a suitable headquarters for a criminal gang of their calibre. Given that they had never yet performed a robbery in the neighbouring town of Windenburg, and had no plans to in the near future, it seemed like as good a place as any to set up shop away from the authorities' prying eyes.
A quick bit of location scouting came up with a clear winner: an old mansion on an isolated island in the middle of Windenberg Lake. A place that offered both privacy, and the chance for the Magpies to experience the life of luxury. Mitch snapped it up with some of their spare profits, and it became the group's favourite place to retire to after a crime spree. Occasionally, they headed there for extended breaks, too, and treated it as something of a holiday home - which Mitch hid from his brother by claiming he was going away to baked goods conventions.
The Thacker brothers - who had grown up in a poor household, and neither of whom had ever held conventional employment - quickly developed a taste for the good life, and spent most of their free time lounging around by the pool.
As for the workaholics Midas and Nicolette, they stayed focused, and spent several hours each day preparing and planning future heists, often discussing business in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
One evening, after a long day of looking over store floor plans and skimming gossip magazines to find potential targets, Nicolette stepped out onto the balcony for some fresh air. Midas, who was also in need of a break, swiftly joined her - and the pair stood side by side, admiring the view in the dying evening light.
"I'm glad we found this place," Nicolette said to Midas. "It really is beautiful here."
Grinning, Midas turned to his companion, taking hold of her hand.
"Not as beautiful as you," he whispered in response.
"Oh, come off it, Midas!"
"No," Midas replied, pulling her closer towards him. "I really mean it."
Tenderly, he placed two fingers under her chin, lifting her face up to look into his.
"Nicolette," he began, "Nimue. Every day, I thank God that I chose to steal from that idiot Rockwell. If I hadn't, then I never would have met you... and I never would have felt the happiness I feel right now."
"It is nice to be rich," Nicolette said hurriedly. "We'll never have to worry about money again, and we're still helping those who need it."
"I don't mean the money."
Nicolette stared at him, confused.
"Then... then what do you mean?"
Slowly, Midas wrapped his arms around her in an affectionate embrace.
"I mean you, my sweet," he continued. "Never in my life have I met someone so beautiful, so clever, so talented. I know we've stolen so many things over the last few months.. but I can name one important thing that you've definitely taken from me."
In one rapid movement, Midas shot forward, and expressed his love with a kiss.
Nicolette, shocked, pulled away from Midas, backing away towards the balcony. As Midas, concerned, moved towards her again, his hand outstretched in a worried gesture, she motioned for him to stop, forcing herself to look him in the eye.
"Wait," she cried.
Midas stopped instantly.
"Before we go any further," she pressed, "there's something I need to know. Who loves who? Does Midas love Nicolette, or does Mitch love Nimue?"
Midas, amused by this query, found himself chuckling.
"Does it really matter?" he asked lightheartedly.
"Yes," Nicolette replied, her tone far more severe. "It does matter. A lot."
Instantly, Midas pulled Nicolette into his arms - holding her tightly as he leaned forward to whisper in her ear.
"Both love both," he told her. "Ever so much."
Nicolette's heart overflowed with joy at this reply. As she returned Midas' embrace, she whispered back to him lovingly and lustfully.
"We both love you both too. And we want you."
Their mouths met again as they hungrily explored one another's bodies... Nicolette pulling Midas off of the balcony and back into the bedroom.
On the other side of the house, the Thackers were spending the evening sat on their own balcony - playing a friendly game of poker. As Clyde was about to claim the pot with a royal flush, their ears pricked up as unmistakable sounds began to travel from their companions' place of meeting and through the mansion halls.
Stifling a laugh, Clyde shook his head, and looked at his brother as he revealed his hand.
"See? I told you they'd get together. That's ten simoleons you owe me."
Mo simply chuckled in response as they played on. Mo won a hand, then Clyde won the next... but as Mo watched his brother pull the money on the table towards him, he couldn't help but notice a sadness in his eyes.
"You OK, bruv?" he asked.
Clyde, sighing, put down his cards.
"Mo," he began, "do you think Nicolette is beautiful?"
"Wouldn't know," Mo replied matter-of-factly. "I'm not into girls."
"Oh, yeah, I know that," Clyde replied. "I meant in, you know, a subjective way."
Mo just looked at him blankly. Clyde groaned.
"Look, put it another way," he muttered. "Midas. Do you think 'e's 'andsome?"
"Oh yeah, not 'alf," he laughed. "I wouldn't mind being in that room down the 'all with 'im - "
"All right, all right, point taken," Clyde said, cutting him off before he could say any more.
"That said," Mo added, picking up a new hand of cards, "I do like me a guy with smarts."
Half-heartedly, Clyde refilled his own hand.
"So..." he continued, "you think 'e's 'andsomer than me, then?"
Mo might not have been a genius, but he knew a loaded question when he heard one. He didn't like to lie... but, like crime, he had learnt that it was sometimes necessary.
"Course not, 'bro!" he told Clyde optimistically. "No-one's 'andsomer than you!"
"So, you... you think I'll find someone someday?"
"Course you will," Mo said. "'Ere's 'oping I do, too. I want the full package, I do. 'Ouse, 'usband and kids. What about you, 'bro?"
"I... I don't know what I want."
But he did. He just couldn't say it. He wanted the woman he had loved since the moment he first saw her. He wanted the woman who was currently in the arms of another man.. a man whom, he knew, despite his brother's well-meant lies, was smarter, better-looking and more talented than himself.
Clyde wanted Nicolette.
Sighing, he examined his fresh hand of cards. He had plenty of diamonds, but no hearts. How very fitting.
"I'll fold," he muttered, laying his cards down, and leaving the table.
Meanwhile, the King and Queen of Crime slept undisturbed in their palace chamber... their bodies entwined like their dreams and souls.