Chapter 1

UnderTaken

The UnderTaken was an underground club in every sense of the word. The club, which catered to an exclusive clientele of relic hunters, professional thieves, and confidence artists was so difficult to gain access to that the hottest metropolitan nightspot was a cover-free roadside dive by comparison. It operated on a strict referral basis, with members drawn from an equally secretive internet forum that was accessible only through a TOR-encrypted virtual network, and never operated in a single location for more than a week. It was, in essence, a pop-up restaurant that catered only to a self-policing cartel of gentlemen criminals, rather than wealthy hipsters. In its current incarnation, the UnderTaken club was actually located underground in the basement of a defunct brewery several blocks south of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Oliver Lucas leaned against the bar of the UnderTaken and sipped his beer, a dark lambic heavy with the flavor of coffee and cherries, and listened patiently as his companion continued to mount a defense of his own personal career path.

“…is hurt, who cares? They’re all insured, and half the time the bastards have slipped some insurance adjuster a few Benjamins to overvalue the art anyway, so they’re making more from the insurance claim than they would from a sale.”

Oliver put his glass down and tapped the bar beside his companion’s elbow, shaking his head. “That’s only half the story, Gregory. If the art is legal they are insured, but you must have stolen art that was already of,” he raised a bushy red eyebrow and lowered his voice a fraction, “questionable origin. Maybe even something that I found for them. No way that was insured, and now your victim is out a lovely piece of art that they can’t even report to the police.”

Gregory laughed and waved for the bartender. “Right you are, buddy. Does that get to you? Knowing that some of your ill-gotten artifacts might get stolen again?”

Oliver shrugged and took another sip of his beer. “Just making an observation.” He enjoyed visiting the UnderTaken whenever he could manage to be in the same town as the club, but even here he refused to let his guard down entirely. That lack of trust wasn’t just because he was surrounded by other confidence artists, thieves, and smugglers. Oliver knew that at any given moment, in any moderately populated city around the world, he was likely to be within spitting distance of a thief of some variety, even if many of those thieves technically operated within the confines of federal financial regulations. Here, at least, he could be certain that everyone had something to hide. And everyone else knew the same of him. That mutual distrust kindled a sort of ironic, yet appropriate, mutual respect.

And it didn’t hurt that the entire establishment was funded with password-locked cryptocurrency, so there was no point in stealing someone’s phone or wallet unless you also intended to kidnap them and torture a passphrase out of them. In that respect, the UnderTaken club was actually safer than an average nightclub run on cash.