Heat Wave: The Wood Pile

Helix

As it turned out, Circuit had actually left is a lot, but not much of it was meaningful.

Perhaps because he didn’t want to draw attention by bringing in a fleet moving vans, Circuit had chosen to leave behind most or all of what passed for furniture inside his little environmentally sealed bunker. Most of it was piles of pallets and crates with boards laid across the top to serve as makeshift tables. There was an empty server rack over in one corner and a serviceable desk nearby. A hand crafted walnut chair sat by the desk. Beyond that there was a map of the city with a bunch of papers tacked around the edges. Here and there a discarded piece of electronic equipment sat, either forgotten or unneeded.

SWAT had declared the room free of danger before letting us in, but I still felt a twinge of caution as I poked through the piles of junk. The whole place was kind of depressing, and not just because there weren’t likely to be any signs of where Circuit was in it. It reminded me of an empty factory, a place that used to have purpose but didn’t any longer.

I shook off the melancholy and walked over to the desk, pulling on a pair of white gloves as I did. Contaminating the crime scene is still a blunder, even if asteroid impacts are more likely than Circuit leaving fingerprints for us. Mosburger trailed along a few steps behind me and Herrera went part of the way with us, but went to look at the map instead. Mosburger started poking through the drawers on the desk, musing to himself, “You have to wonder if it was even Open Circuit who was here. There could be any number of reasons for someone to use this kind of elaborate vacuum set up.”

“Yeah,” I said, turning the chair over and looking at the bottom side of the seat. “But this almost guarantees it.”

“What?” Mosburger asked, looking back at the chair with a confused expression.

I tapped the maker’s mark stamped on the bottom of the chair. “This. Circuit has left at least one piece of furniture of this make at every place of his we’ve raided in the last four years.”

“How many is that total?”

“Counting this, six,” I said, setting the chair back on its legs.

“Is it always his chair?” Mosburger asked, looking at the furniture a little more closely.

I shrugged. “It’s not like he labels them, and not every place we find is his personal laboratory, but yeah, we think so. It would certainly fit what he seems to be doing.”

“What? Is it some kind of message?” He was studying it more closely now, as if a simple wooden chair that consisted of four legs, a seat and a back could tell him something. And he was a getman, maybe it could.

“Personally, I think he’s just making fun of me.”

“You?” That got a raised eyebrow. “What makes you think this is personal?”

I waved my hand at the chair. “This came from the same online store as all the other pieces. It’s a-”

“Hey, Mossman!” Jack waved from over by the server rack. “We got something here that requires your particular talents.”

“Right!” He got up and started away, glancing back long enough to say, “Fill me in later.”

A nod was all he got for confirmation, but I was sure that he’d here about the chairs sooner or later. I went back to the desk, but didn’t really find much there. It was mostly piles of old electronics and computer trade magazines, most with dogeared pages. I left them be.

“You folks think you’ll need anything else before we go?”

I jumped and turned to find the SWAT Lieutenant had snuck up on me. Tunnel vision strikes again. “No Lieutenant, uh… I never got your name.” And suddenly, I felt bad about it. We’d dragged him and his team off their normal beats to help out here and they had found a big fat nothing.

“Don’t feel bad, Agent Helix, I didn’t give it. Harold Duncan.” He stuck out his hand and I shook it. He glanced around and sighed. “I gotta say it doesn’t feel right to just up and walk off with the scene unprocessed like this.”

“What department do you usually work, Lieutenant Duncan?”

“Vice.”

That made sense. He probably went along on a lot of raids like this before he even got anywhere near joining SWAT. Or not, the Project doesn’t really get involved in the drug trade all that often so I wouldn’t know. “Well, when you look at a scene like this what are you thinking about?”

Duncan looked around and shrugged. “Chain of evidence, how many convictions we can get at this level and how far up the food chain we can go.”

“See that’s just it.” I spread my hands. “The only part of that which really concerns us is going up the food chain. The classic motive, means and opportunity trifecta makes our job very easy- there’s only so many people with a given talent in the country, and there’s usually only one per state. It just boils down to proving opportunity, since you can manufacture a motive for just about anything. ”

“That must be nice,” he murmured. “Keeps the suspect pool down.”

“And with Circuit it’s even easier. We’ve got a list of crimes a mile long we can pin on him if we ever find him. But what it means in this case is that we have our own way of dealing with these scenes. Yeah, it’s similar to yours, but we like do have our own guys do it for reasons I’m sure you understand.” The look on his face said he did. We were muscling him out for reasons of secrecy and jurisdiction and expertise and he knew it. I could also tell he didn’t really hold it against us. He was just uncomfortable because of it. Hopefully he’d get over that if we needed to do this again.

“Well, good luck to you, then,” he said finally. “We need to get back to our precincts.”

“Good working with you, Lieutenant Duncan.” I shook his hand and he went on his way, stopping to look over the warehouse one more time before he left. I mused for a moment, wondering if we’d see his name on an application to join anytime soon.

“Helix.” Herrera motioned me over to the map. She was browsing over the various papers stuck up there. Most of them were just notes about road construction or, on occasion, buildings being renovated. There were a few photos mixed in and there didn’t really seem to be any theme to them. Houses, restaurants and office buildings were all there.

I couldn’t tell what she found so fascinating about all that, so I said, “Any idea what this is?”

“None. You know the talents in the Midwest pretty well, right?”

So this wasn’t about the map, apparently. “I’ve probably met half of them personally. Don’t know as I could remember all their names or talents, much less where they were at the time.”

“Is there one called Enchanter?”

“Not that I know of.” I folded my arms and gave her an appraising look. Her attention was still on the map. “Should I heard of him?”

Herrera pointed out a note on the map. “What do you make of that?”

I carefully poked a photo of a narrow, three story row house out of the way to get a better look. It was a printed note on white paper, the kind of thing you might find on photocopiers in any office anywhere in America. It said, “There is no king in America. Death to pretenders.”

It was signed, “Enchanter.”

“How about that,” I said. “Never seen anything like it before. It’s definitely not written by Circuit. He doesn’t strike me as the type to enjoy fanciful names.”

“I agree with you there,” she said. “The message sounds familiar, but I can’t think of where I’ve seen it before.”

I frowned. “Doesn’t sound like song lyrics or something you’d put in advertisements. On TV maybe?”

“No.” She frowned and closed her eyes, then opened them again. “I feel more like seeing them is familiar. I’m more a visual person, anyway.” She closed her eyes, this time covering them with one hand.  “I’m sure I’ve read this before, but I’m not sure where.”

“You giving the new boss headaches already, Helix?” Jack shouldered his way into the conversation, Mosburger by his side.

“Trying to relieve them, actually,” I said. “You remember any talents under the code name Enchanter?”

Jack shook his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell, sorry.”

“Never mind,” Herrera said, looking up again. “I’ll look into it when we get back to the offices.”

“Then Mossman has something for you to see.” Jack nudged Mosburger in the shoulder and he held up a small gray box in his hands.

It looked like a simple metal case, just big enough to cover both his hands, with one of those little black antenna things and a bunch of wires sticking out of the side. It looked just like a bunch of other, similar boxes scattered about the room. It could be a hard drive, a modem, or any one of those other parts you cram into a computer to make it work. As far as I could see, there was nothing special about it.

Herrera apparently agreed with me, because after staring at it for a minute she said, “So what?”

“This is the only piece of gear in the room that was still hooked up,” Mosburger said. “Agent Howell found it over by the rack. It looks like it was designed to go straight into the wall.”

“What’s it do?” I asked.

“I was kind of hoping to find out, but it doesn’t look like it was intended to open,” he said. “My guess is that it’s some sort of cell phone repeater, so that Circuit could still talk to people while he was in here. Second guess would be that it’s a wireless internet signal repeater, same concept except it gives you the Internet. Jack told me to bring it with me.”

“Right.” I glanced at Herrera. “Do you want me to crack it open?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Do you want me to melt the case?” I rapped my knuckles once on the thingie for emphasis. “I need your okay before I can fire up the ol’ heat sink. That’s what the oversight agent’s for.”

“Can you do that without damaging the contents?” She asked.

“It’s possible,” I said. “The case is metal, which conducts heat better than air, so any heat that leaks from the sink should flow back in faster than it would in open air. Less likely to cause damage.”

“But still possible?”

“Anything’s possible, ma’am. I can’t say how likely it is.”

“Right.” She glanced back at Mosburger. “Is there anything opening this tells us that can’t wait until we can get it back to the offices?”

“We might be able to access a call log from it,” he said dubiously. “But this looks like a custom built model that probably has all kinds of safeguards on it. It might tell us something about how Circuit encrypts or disguises his communications. But no, nothing that would matter right this moment.”

She nodded. “All right then. When the forensics people get to it we’ll have them mark it priority and they’ll rip it apart first thing when we get back. You’re job is to outthink Circuit, not pick apart his gadgets.”

“With all due respect, ma’am,” Jack said, “with Circuit it can be one and the same.”

 “Duly noted.” She sighed. “Hopefully it tells us something, or this whole thing was a waste of time. See if forensics wants any help. If not, we’ve got people to debrief back at the office. Let’s get moving.”

Circuit

“No, I do not want you to look into optimizing the design, Davis,” I said with as much patience as I could muster. “Mr. Nayar has already done most of that work for you. What I want you to do is duplicate it, stress test it and then start building more.”

“Look, I’m sure it’s good work. But this,” my supervising engineer gestured at the hydroelectric generator with expression of tolerant disdain, “was built by a grad studen. I’m sure with a few days work we could make it even more efficient.”

“I’ve no doubt you could. But what I want is not a new prototype that requires a new round of testing. I want this prototype functional and mass produced, and I want it yesterday.” Davis opened his mouth to protest but I held up a hand to stop him. “Once you have a proposal for producing more of these, you can look into improving the design.”

I’d hoped that would be enough to mollify him but apparently he was still upset, because he started to say something again. This time he was cut off by Heavy Water, who slid into the room at a half run and grabbed me by the arm. “They just showed up, Circuit!”

“Who?” I wasn’t expecting anyone at this location. At least, no one other than Davis and his perfectionist work crew, who’s enthusiasm I normally appreciate more. Then it clicked. “The Project raided Warehouse Three?”

“We just got the word,” he said. “Delacroix called it in a few minutes ago, said it looks like they bypassed the outside alarms somehow.”

I frowned. The outer alarms consisted of basic temperature and barometric pressure measuring devices attached to equally basic transmitters, the idea being to detect the weather changes created by an active heat sink. If they hadn’t been tripped then the Project had gained entry using conventional means rather than Helix’s talent, or some other talent that I hadn’t anticipated. That was odd.

Usually, the FBI doesn’t give any kind of major ordinance to Helix’s team. They know that if he needs to go through something he can do it himself, so why waste their precious budgetary allotment on joint ops involving him?

It seemed his new oversight agent had more pull or different contacts than Robert Sanders. That could be a problem.

Aloud I said, “Well, nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. That’s what the back ups are for. Still, we need to get moving.”

“The van’s ready to go, boss,” Heavy replied. “Say the word.”

“I want that production plan by Tuesday, Davis,” I said, giving the engineer one last stern look. Then I turned and headed out the door with Heavy. “Let’s go say hello to the Feds.”

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