Based on the flash fiction challenge at Terrible Minds. 984 words. Enjoy.
It was a stunning gala event I must say. These rich guys really know how to throw a party, I had to admit. Everywhere I looked industrialists, blue bloods and the nouveau riche rubbed elbows. Most of them had a lovely woman (or man) on one elbow. Bought and payed for I'm sure. I felt a little out of place in an ill fitted rented tux and apparently on my own but for the most part the assembled crowd didn't notice me. They were busy either talking business with friends and rivals, bragging to the assembled gold diggers or admiring the centerpiece of this event.
The banner, a thick silk thing, hanging over the archway of the ballroom proudly proclaimed this to be the Tenth Annual Antiquities Banquet, hosted by the ever magnanimous Jonathan Freed. The nominal theme tonight was intoxication and chemical alterations. On one end of the ballroom was the display for the auction tonight. Strange hand crafted hookahs and pipes lifted from the old Limehouse opium dens were crowded next to Carrie Nation's original hatchet, wines dating back hundreds of years were on display and brand new designer drugs just waiting for the right millionaire to prove his worthiness in filthy lucre. I sidled over to the table and gazed over the assembled artifacts, trying to decide on what to lift.
A voice on my left “Lovely spread isn't it?” I looked up and some kid who couldn't have reached drinking age was failing at disguising the lust in his eyes as he stared at the drinks, drugs and paraphernalia. He smelled like inherited money. I kept my head down as I examined a gem encrusted cigaret case “Yeah it's not bad. I've seen better years but at least this theme is daring.” He tried to keep talking but I stepped away before he could talk. In reality a lot of this sickened me. Gross excess alone is disquieting but this collection was just flaunting how much these rich bastards could get away with.
The evening was starting to look like a bust. What wasn't inherently illegal was pointlessly gaudy. The only thing I could have wanted to steal was the wine but those weren't of any value to my buyers. I grabbed a flute of champagne from one of the cocktail waitresses floating around and sipped at it, taking in the room. My partner was near the entrance chatting up a wealthy television personality. William always did have a way with people. He looked better in the tux than I did too. I caught his eye and he excused himself, earning a quick and uncharacteristic hug from the woman. We stepped out of the flow of people “Yeah Jacob what's up?” “Nothing here man. It's all either expensive junk, legally obtained or totally illegal to posses. The hatchet is kind of nice as an artifact but I think it's a fake.” he glanced over the table of goods. “Don't worry my friend. Your bosses at the archive will have a score tonight. And if they don't enjoy the night. Oh and confidentially I can tell you that the best is yet to come. Now loosen up, drink your champagne.” He flashed me one of his dazzling smiles and I had to shake my head as he moved away to greet an ambassador. If I didn't know better I would swear he really did belong here with the movers and shakers of the world. I took another sip of the bubbly and tried to relax. The department of relics expected results from it's field agents.
Just as I was going to give up and head home Mr. Freed made his grand entrance. Fanfare erupted from hidden speakers as he came down a stairway decked out in a fine tuxedo, his wife on his arm and his personal valet behind him holding a small wooden box. He made his way to the head of the room and was handed a microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to my little shindig.” general polite laughter “And now the moment you have all been waiting for. The capstone of tonight's auction: Shackleton's Scotch. A recipe that the world hasn't seen in over a century, buried in Antarctic ice, retrieved last month, and now the one and surviving crate up for auction.” Now I knew what William had been talking about.
The auction moved at a crawl, each item going for at least a few hundred thousand. Until finally the Scotch itself was up for bid. I nodded to William but it wasn't necessary really. He hit a hidden button in his coat and the lights blew out. I slipped on my night goggles and shed the stupid tux in favor of the lighter t-shirt and tight pants underneath. The crowd would only be immobilized for a few seconds so I made the most of it, using that young prick from earlier as a platform to vault over. I tumbled forward and snagged the bottle out of poor old Freed's hand and ran like hell, praying none of the guards could get a clear shot in the crowd. A few silenced shots came close to me, but they pinged off of the stone wall as I ducked through the door. William and he hit the door at the same time I did, pushing it open. The noise gave away our position and guards came out yelling. A shot slammed into my leg and I fell onto a parked car. I clutched the booze in my hand and managed to claw the door open. Will got in the other side and we sped off into the night. My leg was killing me but it was worth it. Now this artifact could be properly preserved and who knows, maybe we could replicate the recipe. My bosses would be happy.