Marshall slid the sleeve of his suit back, the ornate silver watch on his wrist glinting in the dull yellow glow of artificial light.
Two minutes, eighteen seconds.
He was on the second floor of the building, a hotel from the early twenties. The decadence of that era remained apparent in the dusty chandeliers, swinging slowly overhead as a train roared past outside. This room had been a ballroom at one time, and the dusty wood floor still bore the scuff marks of the thousands of boots that had come to this room before his own.
One minute, fifty six seconds.
He broke from his standing position by the door, lengthening his strides to make up for time lost contemplating the decor. The man in the middle of the room smiled at his customer, glad that somebody appreciated his collection, and he waved Marshall towards himself.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Marshall. Right this way, please."
One minute, forty three seconds. Twenty three more seconds until he was supposed to leave the room.
"One moment please, sir." Marshall indicated a beautiful eighteenth century chair backed against a wall, drawing his words out. "How did you manage to get ahold of that? I have been looking for one to complete my dining room."
"A most interesting piece, Mr. Marshall, you have quite the eye for quality. Smashed to pieces during the French Revolution and restored by a carpenter several years later…"
One minute, twenty six seconds.
Marshall walked several paces closer to the man, still detailing the restoration of his glorious chair, and they walked together into the next room.
"… Rather pricey, but worth it I think. Now, about those items you wanted to purchase." The man threw open a heavy wooden door, and the amazement on Marshalls face was only partly feigned.
"My God man, is that an original?" Marshall indicated a tapestry in the corner, and was just as quickly drawn away by a painting sitting atop a nightstand older than the building he stood in. "Good Lord, is that-"
The smile on the man's face was broad as Marshall stared around the room in awe.
"Indeed it is. Penance. That one is not for sale, sadly. It holds a special place in my heart. I acquired it in Germany after…"
Marshall pulled himself together and checked his watch as inconspicuously as possible, hoping the man was too engaged by his collection to notice. He was not meant to lose track of time.
Forty three seconds.
"But my dear Mr. Marshall, what I have really called you here for today is a rather special item. A remarkable antique, but it also has some… Other features."
Marshall couldn't imagine something more interesting than a supposedly destroyed piece of 1600's art, but he followed the man through the corridor. After several seconds, they stood before a safe.
"Now there are some things on this Earth that defy understanding, Mr. Marshall. This is one of these items. I must ask you to stand back, and be very careful with this particular piece…" The man bent down to tap the keypad, and Marshall strained to see over his shoulder. 1-8-
Marshall cursed under his breath as a train roared past, the floor shuddering as a ballroom wall was blown inwards, debris spraying across the floor. A cry echoed through the thick wooden door, somebody apparently having been hit by the blast.
Marshall seized the man from behind, wrapping one arm around his chest as he pulled a small plastic bag from his pocket. He whispered a quick apology to the struggling man as he one-handedly shook out a rag and slapped it over the face of his captive, feeling him fall limp after only a few seconds. Marshall lowered him gently to the floor, the sound of gunfire beginning to echo from the ballroom. He approached the safe, praying that the combination was what he thought it was. He reached for the keypad, tapping in the last few digits,
And held in a yell as nothing happened.
"Damn," He whispered quietly and emphatically. "What could be…"
The heavy door crashed against the wall with a crack, and Marshall whirled around.
"Taking your time in here, aren't you now?"
"Shut it Carter. You've got the cart?"
"Of course, of course."
Carter wheeled a metal platform into the room, and Marshall resisted wincing as it rolled over several priceless pieces of art. The sound of gunfire was constant outside the door now, the clatter of an assault rifle drowning out the popping of pistols.
"Could you watch where you're wheeling that, you vandal?"
"Ah can it you pansy, we're on the clock. Now, what's worth selling in here?"
"Well he's got the Penance in here, that's an old piece from-"
"Right, right. Just point and tell me what to grab."
"Right, er, that one." Marshall indicated the mural, and Carter heaved it aboard the cart, the sound of gunfire dying down outside.
Marshall and Carter hauled a few more ancient paintings and statuettes onto the cart, and were panting from the strain when a voice floated in from just outside the door.
"Gentlemen, time for us to be going."
A dark figure walked into the room and stood against the wall behind the door, assault rifle slung across his chest. Marshall took a moment to appreciate his choice of hire, then returned his attention to the safe.
"Hey, one more thing. You guys think we can make it with this?"
Carter shook his head, looking doubtful. "I don't know Marshall, looks a bit on the heavy side. If we can get it on the cart we can probably do it, but is it worth the weight?"
Marshall ignored the question.
"Well let's give it a shot then."
Marshall and Carter gripped the underside of the safe and heaved, struggling to inch it over the edge of the cart, past the unconscious form of its former owner.
A crack echoed through the room, and Marshall twisted as a bullet hammered into his thigh, instinctively dropping the safe and grabbing at his injured leg. As the man in the door blew the would-be security guard to hell, the safe tipped from Carters hands and smashed to the floor.
A sound like a swarm of hornets came from inside the safe, growing louder every second. Marshall hobbled away, alarmed, and Carter backed towards the door.
The safe burst open with an explosive bang, and a swarm of salt crystals flew into the air. The three stared in amazement at the tiny tornado, Marshall backing away as fast as he could move.
"What the hell is th-"
Another crack, and the man by the door jerked his head away from the new peephole in his cover. He brought his rifle to bear and fired a short burst, the guard spinning to the floor. The man grimaced and pressed his hand against his ribs, a kevlar vest visible through his torn suit.
"Gentlemen, I am leaving in two minutes. Get what you're getting and let's go."
"Hang on Dark, let's just see what we've got here."
Carter tentatively reached towards the whirling cloud of salt, which had totally engulfed their cart filled with antiques. He shrieked in pain, yanking his hand away from the cloud raw and red.
"God damn that burns!"
Marshall ripped a piece of cloth from his now-ruined pants leg and wrapped it around his hand, stretching towards the cloud. The particles parted as his hand entered, and he felt something solid. He gripped firmly and jerked, pulling an ornate silver salt shaker from the cloud. The whirling salt remained where it was, shredded pieces of paper now visible amidst the storm.
"I guess this is all we're getting today, you saw what it did to the safe."
Marshall sighed heavily for the priceless art that had just been lost to this mysterious shaker, refocusing as Carters voice echoed through the room.
"Fantastic Marshall, now can we go?" He was sucking on his fingers, staring curiously at the silver shaker in Marshalls hands.
Marshall lifted himself shakily, using a bookshelf as a support. He heard another bullet ping off a metal cabinet beside him, and felt the rythmic thumping as Dark blasted another man off his feet.
"Carter, help Marshall. I'll be back in a moment."
Dark glided out from behind the door and into the ballroom. He staggered back into the room seconds later, a guard scrambling after him. Dark held his bleeding nose with one hand and took a swing at his assailant, missing by several inches. He twisted backwards as the guard grabbed at his overextended arm, ready to-
A percussive whump filled the room, and the guard kicked over backwards, half of his head smeared across a nearby painting. Carter pocketed his hand-cannon.
Marshall protested the destruction from where he had been dropped on the floor.
"Damn you Carter, I had him."
"He had your elbow!"
Dark sulked as he helped Marshall up off the floor.
"He broke your nose!"
Dark handed Marshall off to Carter, swinging his rifle around into an easily accessible position against his hips.
"He hit you in the face with your own gun!"
Dark scowled on his way out the door, a guard immediately swinging at him from overhead. Dark jerked backwards out of range of the knife, kicked the man in the stomach, and fired a round through his chest as he hit the floor.
Carter stopped talking, and made himself very busy walking Marshall to the door. The two of them hobbled out into the ballroom, giving a wide berth to the man with the gun. Marshall enjoyed the sight of a sizeable hole in the wall, the leg of an antique chair still visible in the debris.
"You really did a number on that one, Carter."
He grunted in reply, and Marshall shifted his grip on the shaker as they stood by the hole. Dark arrived a few moments later, a smear of blood barely visible under his suit. He hopped the few feet to the roof of an adjacent building, and caught Marshall as Carter tossed him down.
"That was undignified."
"You're the one who got shot, pansy. Suck it up."
The three set off across the roof as an alarm began blaring from the building behind them. They would escape through an alley on the other side of the building, a van waiting for them, ready to carry stacks of forgotten art. They would disappear in the busy afternoon traffic, Marshall already plotting their next move. A whole new world had opened for them with this salt shaker, and Marshall planned to make full use of its appearance.
He was finally getting out of the antique business.