A law enforcement agency runs on three things – shoe leather, information and caffeine. There’s no particular hierarchy to those, by the way, you need all three in equal amounts. So I knew that, if I wanted to talk to Sanders, all I had to do was loiter around the coffee pot long enough and he’d show up. I wasn’t sure if I’d see Herrera or Mosburger first, and wasn’t quite sure how I’d explain what I was doing if I did, but fortunately that proved to be a moot point.
In fact, I’d only been waiting around for ten minutes or so when Sanders came out of his office and headed my way. There was a spring in his step in spite of the fact that, if they’d stayed on program, he was about to give the run down on one of the more frustrating cases we’d tackled in the last two or three years. It probably had something to do with having an excuse to test the waters with Herrera.
Normally I’d have no problem bursting Sanders’ bubble. The man can hardly keep his feet on the ground as it is, I figure anything I can do to help him keep his wits about him counts as a favor. But the correct way to bust someone’s bubble is to deflate their ego a little, not to drag up serial killers eight years dead. Just thinking about it had me scowling.
Scowling is enough of a typical expression for me that Sanders didn’t comment on it when I slid in next to him while he was filling a trio of disposable coffee cups. He just shot me a big grin and said, “I like her, Helix. She’s pretty, smart and charming. You don’t find all three that much, around here especially.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to strike a casual tone. “For instance, you’re just charming, and only on your good days.”
“Me?” He gestured to himself with the coffee pot, almost sloshing it all over the front of his shirt. Acting careless is one of his tricks to keep people off guard but he’s had way to much practice to actually drop, spill or otherwise loose control of something so easily and I didn’t rise to the bait. “I’m all charm, all the time. And you know there’s no one better looking in this building.”
“The night shift’s come in by now, Sanders, the building’s practically empty.”
He handed me a pair of full coffee cups and scooped up enough creamer and artificial sweetener to qualify most foods as a health hazard. “Speaking of charm,” he said, pouring additives into his own coffee until it was just a pale imitation of its former self, “Voorman’s not going to be happy with what you said on the phone tonight.”
“Which part?” I asked, flipping back through my conversation with Circuit in an attempt to identify something that might qualify as a problem.
The smirk on Sanders’ face hinted that I shouldn’t have bothered. “The way you answered the phone. That kind of language is extremely unprofessional and reflects badly on the Project. You know he’s touchy about those kinds of things.”
“Right,” I said, letting all the sarcasm out for the first time since I’d been reassigned. “I’ll certainly try to keep common courtesy in mind while I’m trying to distract megalomaniacs over the telephone. We certainly wouldn’t want those kinds of people to get the idea that we’re some kind of cut rate private security group instead of a well trained government agency.”
“That’s the idea, Helix. Keep it professional.” Sanders finished with his own coffee and started back towards his office, forcing me to tag along. I kept an eye out for other people as we went but, like I’d said, the place was mostly deserted at night. “What were you doing before the call, anyway? You weren’t at your desk.”
I dropped my voice and tone just a tad, not enough to sound like I was whispering conspiratorially, because that just attracts attention, but enough that it wouldn’t carry as well. “I was asking Cheryl to pull some files related to what you were asking me about at Mona’s party.”
Sanders paused and glanced at his office door. It was about twenty feet away and we could clearly see Herrera and Mosburger in there chatting with each other. There were both facing Sanders’ desk, and so they didn’t have a clear view of the door. Satisfied, Sanders looked back at me and said, “Was it any use?”
“Well, in a manner of speaking.” I fidgeted, suddenly wishing that I didn’t have my hands full. “There wasn’t anything conclusive there, but there is a possibility that Agent Herrera is the relative of a crime victim. One of the one’s we’ve investigated.”
“Well that’s interesting,” Sanders said, absently sipping from his coffee. “But I don’t know if it’s relevant. It’s true that we could just get her removed from the Project if your lead pans out, but it doesn’t really tell us what Senator Dawson’s motive for sending her here was. He’s still got another five or six years in office, assuming he doesn’t get reelected again, so we’re going to have to deal with him for a while yet. Better the devil you know, and all that.”
“All true,” I said. He did have a point there, and one we hadn’t thought of while hacking over the possibilities earlier. “But I thought you should know…” I glanced down at the coffee, then around at the room again. There still wasn’t anyone in sight beyond the two in Sanders’ office. Best get it over with. “We think she might be the daughter of one of Lethal Injection’s victims.”
For a moment Sanders didn’t show any reaction. Then I realized he’d gone pale, not an easy tell to pick up on a guy like him, and his coffee was sloshing in his cup. I started to say something, but Sanders rallied enough to beat me to the punch. “How sure are you?”
“Not entirely,” I admitted. “Injection’s second victim had a daughter named Teresa and there was an EMT, last name Herrera, at the scene.”
“Flimsy,” Sanders said. But it sounded hopeful, rather than dismissive.
“When you’re right, you’re right,” I said. “But I’m not a big believer in coincidence. There’s more going on here than we know yet, and somehow Lethal Injection plays into it. And I’m not just talking about the way Circuit’s connected to both cases.”
“Then find out what it is and bring it to me. Or Voorman,” Sanders said, jabbing at me with his coffee cup. “If it’s not important, I don’t see why you bring it up.”
“No? You’ve clearly never carried a grudge before.” Sanders adjusted his tie impatiently, clearly ready to have this conversation over with. But I didn’t think letting him out of it just yet was a good idea, and I took the opportunity to shove one of the coffee cups I was holding into his free hand. He stared at it as if he’d never seen it before. “Here’s something to think about. If she stays here, sooner or later Herrera is going to start poking around to see what really happened to her father and the man who killed him. That’s going to lead her to Operation East/West and Lethal Injection.”
He looked up from juggling coffee cups and said, “What are you going to tell her?”
“Me? Nothing.” Like most people would, Sanders was holding both cups in front of his chest, not quite touching but close. I stuck the third between them and he fumbled get them arranged into a pyramid that he could hold with only two hands. “I wasn’t on the scene with Lethal Injection was brought down. I’m certainly not the person who shot him.”
Sanders flinched and I folded my arms and looked away, already regretting shooting my mouth off. A classic example of why I tried to let Sanders do the talking most of the time. If only that was always an option this time around.
Still, it was a good thing I did look away just then, because I saw one of the other field agents, probably from Al Massif’s team, threading his way to his desk. I lowered my voice a bit more and said, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.” I looked back in time to see Sanders nod, a perfectly normal expression tacked onto his face. “I’m out tomorrow, I’ll be at my workshop. Let me know if you need anything before I come in again.”
I tried to beat a hasty retreat but before I could get more than a few steps away Sanders said, “Oh, Helix?” I paused to glance back at him, but didn’t turn around. “Herrera said something about a meeting with you tomorrow. Does she know where you’ll be?”
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” I said. “She’s a trained investigator. If she needs me, she can find me.” Sanders just shrugged and we went out separate ways. After debating about it the whole way out of the building I finally decided I was too wound up to sleep. The workshop was closer anyways…
I checked the clip on my SIG, then loaded it and racked the slide. “Check.”
I held up my hands to display the gloves I’d built my upgraded joy buzzer into after the last one proved to be poorly insulated. “We’ll be trying the static charge rig again.”
“Are you sure? You haven’t had a chance to test it out since the last time…”
“I’ll take my chances, Heavy,” I said, connecting the electrodes to the battery lined vest. As I’d hoped, it had proven fairly simple to keep the charge up by syphoning loose static charge, along with other forms of stray current, into the batteries. It wouldn’t last forever, but it did slow down the rate I burned through the reserve.
But Heavy didn’t seem very impressed with it’s performance so far. He just sighed and said, “It’s your funeral.”
“Trust me on this,” I said, checking the connections a second time. The vest supplied power to both the electrodes and the pair of electromagnets coiled around my arms. It was important to make sure they were connected to the right ports. There was a trigger for each one built into my new gloves, and it would be unfortunate if they wound up switched and I accidentally shock Heavy Water when what I really wanted was to extend my talent’s reach with a magnetic field.
Heavy didn’t question my faith in my handiwork, just turned around so his back faced me, not so much a snub as a request that I check his body armor. As I made sure he was firmly enmeshed in his gear Grappler leaned around the side of the driver’s seat and said, “Are you boys sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
“Yes,” I said, cinching Heavy into his armor a bit tighter. “Breaking and entering is a two person job, the better to avoid detection. We need my talent to bypass security and Heavy has more experience than you. And someone has to stay and drive the getaway car.”
Grappler sighed, doing her best to look both fetching and disappointed, the better to convince us to take her along. As usual, she succeeded admirably. But, while she’s probably the most striking African American woman I’ve ever met, I’ve also built an entire career, on both sides of the law, by ignoring distractions. I wasn’t about to start being swayed by one pretty face. “We’ll be back in an hour, two at most. If you don’t see us by then…”
“I know, go get Simeon and tell him the score.” She turned back towards the front of the van and settled into her seat again. “Get moving, then. I’ll meet you at the pick up point.”
Heavy turned around again and slipped a plain windbreaker over most of his gear. I was doing the same with a sport coat. “First problem is a security camera on the corner of the building,” Heavy said, leaning over one of our computer consoles. “It takes six seconds to sweep from it’s first position to the second, where it remains for four, then sweeps back and watches the other way for the same period of time. Cycle begins… now.”
We stepped out of the van and made our way across the street. I flicked my electromagnets on as I did so, keeping a careful count in my head. Twenty seconds later, as the camera settled into a position facing away from us, I locked the circuit powering its motor open, immobilizing it. Much less obvious than simply disabling it for a number of reasons. Any person in the security center watching it was much less likely to notice a stationary than one taken out by, say, an EMP. It’s also much more likely to be treated as a simple malfunction. And if it does go unnoticed at the time, the camera goes back to normal performance once we’re gone and no one is the wiser.
“Problem two,” Heavy said quietly, once I gave him the all clear signal and started across the street. “Exterior door. Plans show a simple mechanical lock.”
“Unlikely,” I mumured. And as I expected, the lock proved to be a complex mechanical-electronic hybrid. It looked like I’d need to swipe a key card while unlocking it if I wanted to enter the normal way. I’m sure, one of these days, people will realize this really isn’t any more secure than an old fashioned padlock and start throwing bars across the inside of their doors again, but until that happens places like these are my oyster. The building plans didn’t show any other security beyond this point and, aside from cameras, it should be a breeze.
The card scanner was right there in the open so I didn’t even need to use a magnetic field to manipulate it with my talent. I just rested one hand on it and motioned for Heavy to pick the lock. Once he was finished I disabled the sensor that monitored the door. While it blissfully thought the door was closed we slipped through, then I shut down the magnets and everything outside returned to normal. I tapped one thumb into the other palm, letting me check the charge left in my vest. Barely a tenth drained.
Heavy and I produced flashlights and switched them on to augment the dim lighting in the parking garage we found ourselves in. It was hard to see much of anything clearly, but I could tell that there was a row of cars stretching into the dark on our left, giving way to larger vehicles about forty feet away. To the right I could see the basic vehicle care facilities that go with any kind of serious motor pool.
I waved Heavy off to check on the vehicles while I moved into the maintenance bay. Beyond that I found what I really wanted, a door into the rest of the facility. It was closed and locked, but a quick check didn’t reveal anything beyond that. I nodded to myself and doubled back into the work area and started rummaging around. I finally found what I wanted a few minutes later. The motor pool’s collection of spare keys was kept in a lockbox on one wall. It was clearly labeled, which made things easier, but also locked. I could have just forced the lock, or perhaps cut it, with some of the tools on hand but finesse is a virtue in its own right, and so is staying in practice. I pulled out my own lock picks and got into the box in tolerable time.
The keys were all labeled by make and model, and came with remote operated locks, so I just took the first set of sedan keys I came across and hit the unlock and lock buttons. Then I closed up the lockbox and relocked it. A few minutes after I finished Heavy came back and joined me at the door. I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Finished already?”
“If you ever did this for a living you’d know how stupid that question makes you sound,” Heavy said, sliding past me to the hall door and cracking it open in a staggeringly short period of time. I had to admit, when it comes to this kind of thing Heavy Water’s in a league of his own.
You could tell just by the way he moved us from the motor pool down one floor to the basement of the building. Even though he had identified all the places cameras were likely to be installed, and even though it was after midnight and the building was, for the most part, as silent as a tomb, he still moved around ever corner with caution and approached every door with care. In under twenty minutes he had us from the motor pool down to the objective with nothing but a handful of security cameras, handled as easy as those outside, as obstacles.
The door itself was more of a problem. It looked like it was locked physically, with a camera fixed on it and probably someone at a desk with a panic button on the other side. The first thing I did was knock out the camera. Since it didn’t move, it had to be fried. Hopefully the fact that only one camera had gone dead would be enough to keep us from being noticed until after we were out.
On the bright side, it did give me a chance to test out a function of my new gear that I hadn’t had a need for yet. The magnetic coils around my arms were just as capable of creating a weak EMP as they were a more sedate magnetic field, and a brief burst from them left the camera inert. It also drained another twenty percent of my vest’s charge, which was less than satisfactory efficiency. I made a mental note to work on that as I used a more normal magnetic field to check that the camera was indeed out of service. The door would be more of a challenge, but now that we were free to move down the hallway I was confident that Heavy could get through it.
I strode up to the door and waved Heavy back for a moment, so I could check the door for electronic alarms of some sort. I had just leaned forward to touch the frame when the door swung in and revealed a tall, blond man in the process of coming out.
The door would prove to be much more difficult than I had anticipated…