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An unusual figure stands in the supervillain's minion recruitment line.

A thin man of middling height in a well-tailored business suit clutches his briefcase and adjusts his spectacles, trying to hide how nervous he is. He's very out of place in a line of hardened criminals.
A hulking brute of a man with orange eyes and horns sprouting from his forehead walks past, looking very dejected. The man in the suit is about three places away from the front of the line, rehearsing his pitch in his head.

This is crazy. He could very easily die here.
From up ahead: "I'm sorry. No, no, it's definitely a cool trick. I just don't think it has a place in my organisation. Thank you for your time."

A woman with a sidecut that starts pink at the roots and fades into cyan at the tips storms past, looking furious.
Now there's only one person in front of him. He takes a deep breath, and looks around. Atropine definitely knows how to make an impression: for an abandoned warehouse in the middle of rural Kentucky, they sure have managed to make this place look and feel like a palace.
From up ahead, a sneer. "Really? You call that telekinesis? I already have a girl who does that, sweetheart. She can pick a lock from the other side of a room, blindfolded. Take your card tricks to Vegas."

There's a roar of derisive laughter from Atropine's entourage.
A young man with dark hair walks past quickly, trying to hide his tears.


Before the businessman has time to prepare, the crimson-skinned guy in the cowboy hat behind him shoves him forward. "Hey, c'mon, pencilneck. Hurry up and flunk this so I can get my shot."
And there they are: Atropine. Currently slouched on a high-backed chair like a throne, cupping their chin with one hand; tall, thin, androgynous, with stark night-black veins running underneath ghostly pale skin that would look horrifying on anyone else. But they make it work.
They look at the unassuming man in the business suit and raise an eyebrow.

"Huh," one of the gun-toting watchmen grunts, loud enough for everyone to hear. "This should be good." There are some chuckles from the assembled crowd of minions, associates and hangers-on.
"Alright, sir," Atropine drawls. They seem to be going for something like David Bowie's Goblin King, but they're a little too American to pull it off. "What should I call you?"

Do not stammer, he thinks to himself. He takes a deep breath. "Finlay King. My friends call me Finn."
Atropine smirks. "You have some?"

There's a roar of laughter, from the partners, from the minions, from the people in the line. Finn keeps his expression neutral, despite everything. It feels way too much like high school.
"I'm sorry," Atropine remarks, unapologetically. "That was, uh, unprofessional of me? Yeah. So, Finlay, what's your superpower?"

There's two ways Finn can play this. Both are cocky, but one way more cocky than the other. He errs on the side of caution. "I don't have any."
Nobody seems surprised by this, although Atropine feigns it for comedic effect. They seem to be about to say something, but Finn cuts them off. Risky move.

"I can't crush cars with my mind or pick locks from across the room. That's not what I'm here to offer," he says,
Atropine's eyes roll so hard they seem like they'll fall out of their skull. "So, My-Friends-Call-Me-Finn, if you can't do any of the cool shit, what CAN you offer me?"

Here it was. The hardest sell in the world. "I'm a certified forensic accountant."
Atropine snorts loudly. There's another ripple of derisive jeers from the assembled crowd.

"Jesus Christ," Atropine groans. "Hey, Hayley, take that down, put three lines under it with a note, 'world's most boring job-'"

Finn cuts them off again. "Do you know what it means?"
Atropine raises their eyebrows. "Why would I give a fuck? This is some bean-counter nonsense-"

Finn cuts them off, third time in a row. "Do you know how to launder money? I bet not."

There's suddenly dead silence throughout the warehouse. NOBODY talks to Atropine like that.
Finn realises that he has maybe seconds to drive his point home before a superpowered death by lethal injection, so he picks up the pace. "The last job you pulled, the First National Bank of Chicago. News said the take on that was fifty million? How'd you deal with that?"
Atropine already had their hand up, ready to do something dreadful to the insolent little man, but the question catches them somehow. "Whaddya mean, how'd I deal with it? I stole the money. Took it. It's mine now."

"Nice job," Finn replies. "How are you going to spend it?"
The supervillain is getting more and more irritated with these needling, irrelevant questions. "None of your business. I don't give a shit. I'll spend it on whatever-"

Finn shakes his head. "No, I didn't ask 'what are you going to buy?' I asked 'how are you going to spend it?'"
They don't seem to understand the question, so Finn continues. "Are you going to walk up to a store, looking like you do right now, pull out a clip of hundred-dollar bills and throw it on the counter? You think they're not going to ask questions about where it came from?"
Atropine cocks their head. "Well, sure, I mean-"

Finn actively ignores the supervillain, and turns to one of their minions. "You, with the shades. How'd they pay you? Let me guess. Big briefcase, looking like this?" He holds up his own, as if they don't know what one looks like.
The minion answers the question out of routine, since it was asked in an authoritative tone. "I mean, yeah?"

Finn shakes his head patronisingly. "What are you going to do with it? Walk up to a bank, say 'hey, put all this in my account?' You think they won't ask how you got it?"
The minion pauses, suddenly realising how ridiculous that sounds.

Finn tries to capitalise, turning back to Atropine. "You know what that fifty million you stole is right now? A fire code violation. A big, fat stack of paper that you can only spend one or two bills at a time."
Atropine is beginning to look uncomfortable. "So what, you think you know better?"

Finn blinks, as if he doesn't understand the question. "They literally paid me to pull apart money laundering schemes for eight years. Yes, Atropine, I literally do know better than you."
This sort of brazen disrespect for them is making the supervillain visibly enraged, but they also seem interested. "Alright, Finlay King, Certified Forensic Accountant. Say I've got fifty million. How do I move it?"

He motions to the guards. "Shoot him in thirty seconds."
There's a flurry of activity as guns are aimed in his face. Finn takes a deep breath, not bothering to wipe the sweat from his brow. He keeps his voice clear and level.

"It's called trade-based laundering. The easiest way to do it on short notice is with art auctions."
Atropine scowls. "Twenty five seconds."

"Art purchases don't have anywhere near as much paper trail as real estate or corporate transfers. Pretty often you don't even know the name of the person you're buying from or selling to."

"Twenty seconds."
"You put out feelers to wealthy collectors who want to sell, and arrange private viewings. You buy expensive paintings with no publicly-announced transfers."

"Fifteen seconds."

"You then take out very large loans from banks in tax havens, using the paintings as collateral."
"Ten seconds."

Finn's visibly sweating. "If you do it right, the government can only see the loans you've taken out. They can't see what you're using for collateral, or how you got it."

It's not working. Atropine's expression isn't changing. "Five seconds."
Finn closes his eyes, but keeps talking, counting down the seconds in his head until his death. "The result is that you have fifty million in legal cash with no paper trail that the government can tax but there's ways round that too, which if I had more time I could explain-"
By the time he stops talking, he realises that he's gone way over his five remaining seconds. He opens his eyes. The guards have lowered their guns, and Atropine is wearing a shit-eating grin.

They nod. "I'm impressed, Finn. You didn't beg for your life, not even once."
Finn exhales loudly, which brings a chuckle from the assembled villains.

"Relax, man," Atropine drawls. "You think I'm just gonna have a guy murdered on the spot, when I know nothing about you? What if you told someone you were coming here? How would I hide the body?"
"But I'm impressed. You had eight guns in your face, thirty seconds to live and you just kept talking shop about your job. I gotta say, that's professionalism you can't teach. So. I should get into art?"

"It's a natural fit," Finn remarks. "You seem liked a cultured person."
"Oh, so you know how to flatter people too. Good. But I gotta ask: if you're this good at your job, how come you're not working for some Fortune 500 company, working out how to never pay a cent to the IRS?"

Finn narrows his eyes. "Honestly? It's because my life is boring."
Atropine cocks their head.

Finn continues. "I'm thirty five. I'm an accountant, I've been an accountant for twelve years and the most exciting thing that ever happened to me was when my wife left me for a guy who sells medical pot. And I can't really blame her? I was boring."
"That's not exactly the most compelling personal statement I've ever heard, Finn," Atropine remarks dryly.

"Spinning you some bullshit isn't going to work. You're too smart for that. I can't make words lie," Finn retorts. "Making numbers lie, though? Different story."
"So, here's the deal. I like you. You got serious balls on you, walking straight into my recruitment night and selling me on accountancy of all fuckin' things. So: you're on contract. Fix my fifty million from the Chicago job, then we can talk about a permanent arrangement."
Finn nods. "Just to manage your expectations, that's going to take a couple of months. And I have an hourly fee."

"Hope you don't mind being paid in hundred-dollar bills. But hey, it'll be a good test of your money laundering chops, right?" Atropine replies, with a malign grin.
Finn narrows his eyes a little. He'll have to structure deposits carefully, put some of it into bearer instruments, find places that won't balk at giving him a lot of twenties, buy everything he possibly can with cash.

"I can make it work," he says, not missing a beat.
"'course you can," Atropine agrees. "How do I reach you?"

Finn reaches into his inner pocket and pulls out a business card. He walks up to the supervillian, and holds it out. They take it from his hand.

"Oh, he comes with his own card," they remark. "Classy."
Finn takes a step back. "I'll start looking into collectors who want to move big-name paintings. How's your Dutch?"

Atropine smirks. "Verschrikkelijk."

The accountant rolls his eyes. "Well, brush up, and get ready for a trip to Holland. We're gonna go touring auction houses."
"Got this all mapped out already, huh?" The supervillain nods approvingly. "I like a man with a plan. Now get outta my face. I've got a bunch more chumps to interview."

Finn turns and begins to walk away.


He stops.

"You, cowboy. Give him your hat."
The blood-red cattle-rustler looks confused. "What?"

"You heard me, dipshit. Give him your hat."


Atropine motions impatiently, and a bunch of gun barrels raise again. The cowboy grudgingly whips his hat off his head and hands it to Finn.
Finn, not needing any prompting, quickly places it on his head.

Atropine nods approvingly, chuckling to themself. "Yeah. Just like I thought. Looks way better on him anyway. Finn, consider that your welcome-aboard present. Now go find me some paintings."
Atropine laughs at their own obscure sense of humour, and the rest of the room - sans Finn and the cowboy - obediently laugh along with them. Finn takes the opportunity to walk briskly out of the room, exuding an ironclad confidence he absolutely does not feel inside.
As he clambers into his sedan, he considers what he's just done.

He got what he wanted: he now has the most exciting accountancy job anywhere in the world. But Atropine will most certainly take him at his word, which means he has only "a couple of months" to move fifty million.
The gears in his mind are already turning. Names like Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Picasso - they're all off the table. They'll attract too much publicity.

But there are a hell of a lot of paintings that go for millions by Dutch guys nobody outside the art world has ever heard of.
He turns on the engine, and begins to head back towards the I-75.

Despite everything, he laughs. He's unique. Nobody else in the world has ever been in this situation: Frans Hals, Hendrick Avercamp and Jan de Bray are either going to make him very, very rich, or very, very dead.
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