2.2. Just-World Hypothesis
A crash rings out, echoing in the small basement. Lark Bee--the cause of the commotion--looks suitably horrified. That was a twenty simoleon bottle of juice she just shattered, all because she was trying to show off while mixing drinks.
“Shit,” she mutters under her breath.
Kyra Wrede, Lark’s closest friend, cackles. “That’s what you get for being a spaz.”
“I’m practicing my flair, okay?” Lark sticks out her tongue as she grabs another glass. Mixing drinks has become a hobby of hers--the house she shares with Nikolas boasts a small bar in the basement, an amenity she’s more than happy to utilize.
After she successfully mixes a drink--this time with no collateral damage--she hands it to Kyra. “This is good,” Kyra says after she takes a sip, “like, really good.”
“Thanks,” Lark replies, “I used to make drinks for my dad whenever he was working on a new song.” It’s a minor but fond memory from her teen years: Quentin would come up with a new idea for a composition, and she would make virgin cocktails for him while he played around on the piano, melodies slowly forming in the chaos. He would take regular breaks and politely sip the drinks she made, never once pointing out that perhaps randomly mixing liquid together isn’t actual mixology. Lark now realizes her errors, and with some studying on her part she is able to mix some of the most popular cocktails.
“So how’s the job search coming?”
“Not good,” Lark frowns as she mixes another drink, “most of the jobs I qualify for are retail. Could you imagine me working retail? It’d be hell. I’m way too mouthy.”
“Then why not do this?”
“Bartend! I know the guy who owns the HORR Bar--I had a performance there last week and he’s super nice. He mentioned needing some help. You’d be perfect for it.” Kyra recently started her own band, and her friendliness has come in handy with landing gigs.
“I guess bartending wouldn’t be too bad. Some mouthiness is expected right?”
“Of course! And you’re cute so I bet you’d make pretty good tips,” Kyra adds.
“Aww, shucks,” Lark hands another drink to Kyra, her designated cocktail guinea pig, “Um, could you call him tonight? I’m kind of going crazy here--I’m not meant to be a stay-at-home-girlfriend. I’m basically willing to take anything at this point, as long as it isn’t retail.” She gives her friend a pleading look as she sits on the barstool next to her.
“I’ll call him as soon as the bar opens,” Kyra promises.
“Thanks! So, how’s the wedding planning coming along?” Lark eyes the engagement ring on Kyra’s finger--her friend’s life is moving quickly. Shortly after high school, Lowell--who has a promising internship at the local hospital--proposed to her.
“Oh, that,” Kyra rolls her eyes, “don’t ever get married. Or at least don’t have a wedding. It’s such a hassle.”
“Well, I want to get married when the full moon is illuminating the seventh house, but Lo doesn’t want to do that because it’s a weekday and he doesn’t think people would be willing to take time off of work.”
“What a dick,” Lark provides the requisite best friend response.
“I know! He says he’d rather elope, but then his mom found out about that and she got pissed. And so I suggested that she try meditation, you know? But that just made her even angrier…” Kyra continues, but Lark has a hard time paying attention. She’s happy--her best friend and her cousin are getting married, so soon she and Kyra will be family--but there’s only so much superstition-laced wedding talk she can handle. Ugly bridesmaids dresses? That’s bordering on acceptable. But the best unity candle recipe? Boring as fuck.
After a couple of hours of wedding chatter, Kyra leaves, promising to text Lark the details of her new job soon.
And she delivers on her promise, scheduling Lark to bartend at the HORR Bar the following night. Lark feels her stomach flutter with excitement as she drives to the bar. She knows that being a mixologist isn’t glamorous or in the least bit respected, but it’s the kind of offbeat job she can see herself enjoying.
Kyra refers Lark to someone named “Locke,” no last name given. Lark is relieved when it turns out that Locke is the same friendly bartender whom she had met when she was a teenager. He doesn’t remember her, but he apologizes, explaining he meets so many people that it’s hard to remember someone who isn’t a regular.
Locke gladly gives Lark reign of the bar, though he isn’t comfortable enough with her to leave the bar completely. He lingers nearby, playing a solitary game of foosball.
It’s a slow night, and the bar is fairly empty. Lark wipes down the counter, then busies herself cleaning glasses. She’s getting paid just for being her, but it won’t amount to much unless she makes tips.
Outside, a waxing moon rises above the island. Nikolas is completely oblivious to it, though, too focused on his plans for the night--he came to the bar partially to support his girlfriend, and partially to meet his his literal partner in crime, Karl Leifsson, for some shoptalk.
“Thanks for meeting me,” Karl’s eyes gleam in the dimming light as he approaches Nikolas, “I know it’s short notice, but I wanted to get this done, and I have plans tomorrow night.”
"No problem," Nikolas shrugs nonchalantly and leads the way into the bar.
Inside, the night progresses with little excitement. Lark mixes a drink for her first customer of the night, Astrid Ingberg. The elderly woman looks out of place in the dim, smoky bar, but she doesn’t bat an eye at the loud, aggressive music or the foul-mouthed patrons.
“Thanks, honey,” Astrid smiles after taking a swig of her cocktail, “this is the best drink I’ve had in years. Tell Locke you’re a keeper, not like all those dim bitches who couldn’t mix a martini to save their lives.”
“I’ll make sure to let him know,” Lark laughs.
Meanwhile, Nikolas and Karl play a game of darts as they talk conspiratorially, punctuating the conversation with laughter. Lark looks up occasionally, trying to figure out what they’re talking about.
Lark has met Karl once before. He seems nice, if a little odd. He has some weird mannerisms, like sniffing at the air when there’s a breeze, or scratching himself too vigorously. She wouldn’t necessarily peg him for being Nikolas’ friend--though Nikolas seems like the lone wolf type, so she can’t imagine him having any friends at all.
After a couple hours of tending the bar, Locke relieves Lark, obviously anxious to regain control of his precious business despite her help. “Good job,” he tells her gruffly, “you’re welcome back anytime.”
Nikolas doesn’t seem ready to leave yet and shoos Lark away when she tries to join them, so Lark decides to stay awhile at the bar, sampling some of the house specialties.
The two young men, meanwhile, decided to move to the foosball table, though they’re obviously more engaged in their conversation than they are on the game.
“So why do you need me to talk to him?” Nikolas’ voice carries--that, or Lark has a preternatural sense of hearing. Maybe it’s the ears. “Is there a particular reason he doesn’t want to do business with you directly?”
“We just have our differences,” Karl shrugs, “It’s hard to explain.”
“Right,” Nikolas says slowly, “fine. Give me his info, and I’ll call him tomorrow.”
“Oh, about that--he prefers face-to-face, and he keeps weird hours--”
There’s a loud crash, causing the bar patrons to turn to the noise like deer in headlights. Locke sheepishly grins at everyone. “Sorry,” he mumbles.
Nikolas and Karl quickly wrap up their conversation after that, obviously jarred by the disruption. Lark heads home with her boyfriend, satisfied with her tentative job but annoyed by Nikolas’ secrecy.
Nikolas’ voice lilts up the stairs, long pauses indicating he’s having a conversation with someone. He sounds serious, more serious than she’s used to hearing him.
Lark creeps across the bedroom and downstairs, walking slowly so as to not make any noise.
“I’ve been researching the pieces,” Nikolas’ voice is low but still it echoes in the cavernous loft, “it shouldn’t be too hard for Karl and I to get them.”
“The museum’s security,” an unfamiliar voice speaks, “will it pose a challenge?”
“Probably not. Aurora Skies isn’t really the pinnacle of security technology.,” Nikolas says, “I’ll case it first, but chances are the security is minimal.” As Lark creeps down the stairs, she catches a glimpse of who Nikolas is speaking to: a man, via webcam, though the glare from a nearby lamp makes it impossible to make out his features.
“I don’t work well with people who make assumptions, Oskarsson,” the man’s voice is icy, “and I don’t want to be linked to you and Liefson should you fuck this up.”
“This kind of work is in my blood,” Nikolas sounds irate, “believe me, you’re dealing with a professional.”
“I’ll be the one to decide that,” the man retorts, “and as long as we’re on the topic of professionalism, did Liefson inform you of your fee?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think 80k isn’t going to cut it, not if you’re paying for both of us.”
“The price is non-negotiable, and I’m certain it’s a more than generous offer.” Lark creeps closer, making sure to stay out of Nikolas’ periphery and out of view of the laptop’s camera. She can see the man’s face now: he's pale, his skin sallow and sickly looking. His eyes glow in the low light, reminding her a little of Karl’s oddly luminescent eyes.
“Okay, well then go and make that offer to one of the other accomplished thieves in Aurora Skies--oh, wait, that’s right. Karl and I are you best bets,” Nikolas pauses “I guess you could fly in someone else, but flights out here are damn expensive.”
The man puts his hand up, “you’ve made your point. What’s your counteroffer?”
The man snorts, “For that much more, I might as well fly in someone else.”
“Okay,” Nikolas smiles deviously, “I’ll throw in something extra, an item I think will go well with your order. My research tells me it’s well worth the extra cash.”
“I’ll email the details to you, but it’s a scroll I happened to come across. A few thousand years old, and apparently part of the same class of artifacts you’re interested in. I can’t translate it, but I can assure you it’s rare.”
“Interesting,” the man tilts his head, “Send me the details. If it’s as promising as you say it is, I’ll gladly increase your fee.”
“It’s a deal then,” Nikolas smiles, “And make sure to correspond with only me about this. Karl doesn’t need to know about the pay bump I just earned. But he mentioned you have a rocky relationship, so I’m assuming that’s okay?”
The man laughs, but it sounds forced, “I see the old adage rings true--there is no honor among thieves. Agreed. You’ll be my only point of contact from here on out.”
“Perfect. Glad we could come to an agreement, Mr. Gallus.”
“I’m pleased to be working with you, Oskarsson. This has truly been illuminating.”
Nikolas ends the video call without a farewell, and immediately pulls up another window on his laptop. Lark stands behind him uncertainly, wondering whether she should sneak back up to the bedroom or confront her boyfriend.
But he makes the choice for her.
“Next time you eavesdrop, don’t make it so obvious,” Nikolas says over his shoulder, startling Lark.
“How’d you know I was here?”
“You’re a heavy walker. I could hear you as soon as you got out of bed.”
“You callin’ me fat?”
Nikolas stares at her for a moment, then bursts into laughter, “no, not at all. Actually, it’s really surprising that a woman as slender as you can make so much noise.”
“Don’t laugh,” Lark frowns, “This is serious.”
“You don’t seriously think you’re fat, do you?”
“You’re a criminal,” Lark says flatly, “a professional criminal, even.”
“Yeah,” Nikolas says, nonplussed, “though you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“I suspected it, but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure,” Lark puts her hands on his face and forces him to look at her. His eyes are bright, and the corners of his mouth are upturned slightly.
“I didn’t try to hide it as hard as I should have,” Nikolas admits.
Lark scowls, “I seem to remember a certain incident after which you promised you wouldn’t lie to me anymore. Even lies of omission, which seem to be your modus operandi.”
“Two instances hardly determines modus operandi, Lark. Besides, that was different--that was a lie that hurt you. This is a lie to protect you.”
“Protect me?” Lark snorts, “don’t try to make it sound chivalrous.”
Nikolas looks hurt, “if I’m ever caught--if I ever get picked up and charged, and if the sector has a good case against me, you’ll be brought in for questioning. And if they realize you know any details of my crimes, you’ll be charged, too. You could go to jail without ever actually helping me.”
Lark is silent for a moment. “Then don’t get caught,” she says.
“I’m not planning on it,” he grins at her. Against her better judgement--she knows she should be livid--she sits on his lap, pulling his arms around her.
“So tell me what you do. In veiled language if you want, since you’re being so gentlemanly about my innocence.”
“I locate items of interest for clients, researching their locations and current ownership as necessary,” Nikolas repeats a line he’s given before.
“And what happens after you locate the item in question?”
“I acquire it through illicit means.”
“Oh, ‘illicit means’! That’s new. Before you just said you acquired them.”
“Well, I’m trying to be more honest and all that,” Nikolas smiles. He leans forward and examines the computer screen, scrolling through several pictures, “this is what I’m supposed to acquire next.” The quarry is disappointing: a collection of wands, part of a traveling exhibit on the occult that’s currently residing at the Aurora Skies Museum of Art & Cultural History.
“Wands?” Lark wrinkles her nose, “Why would that guy want wands?”
“I never ask why my clients want what they want,” Nikolas shrugs.
“What are you clients like?”
“Rich, mostly. And usually they want things that other rich people have. Sometimes I steal--”
“Acquire,” she corrects.
“Right, sometimes I also acquire cars and electronics if I need to make some cash. But usually I try to deal directly with buyers because fencing is a pain in the ass.”
“Rich on rich crime,” Lark says, “so you don’t steal from people under a certain tax bracket.”
“Pretty much. If it helps, you can imagine me as Robin Hood. I mean, I’m not exactly that ethical--because come one, why would I be?--but the jobs that make money aren’t the kind that affect poor people.”
“That helps, actually,” Lark admits, “I mean, I guess I should be morally outraged or something, but it doesn’t exactly seem like a crime with a lot of victims.”
“I was kind of hoping you’d go for moral outrage,” Nikolas pretends to pout, “arguing with you is so much fun.”
“Nah, I’ve decided I’m part of the dark side now.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah! I’ve tasted the forbidden fruit that is crime, and I want more. Oh, could I help you and Karl with the heist? It sounds fun.”
“It’s not fun, Lark,” Nikolas frowns, “well, it’s a little fun. But it’s also dangerous.”
“Fine,” Lark sulks, “don’t let me help. I don’t want to go on your dumb heist anyway.”
Nikolas sighs, “do you want to help me case the museum?”
“I guess,” the corners of Lark’s mouth twitch, “if that’s the best you can offer.”
Holding her tightly around the waist, Nikolas pulls her in for a kiss. It’s an odd mix of aggressive and affectionate, an action that seems to have the dual purpose of shutting her up and expressing how charmed he is by her behavior.
But to Lark, it just feels like love.
Author's Note: And the award to laziest photo manipulation goes to....ME! Thank you, thank you. Your praise means the world to me.