Two Weeks, Five Days Before the Michigan Avenue Proclamation
“No, of course I don’t think I’m Nicholas Cage,” I said in annoyance. “I wish you people would stop suggesting that I do.”
“You do a pretty good impression, that’s all I’m saying, boss,” Heavy replied, slouching along behind me. “You’re a bit shorter, sure, and he’s got a different nose, but otherwise…”
“Enough.” I stepped up onto the sidewalk and onto the fair sized plaza just outside the target building. “For once let’s try to do this without any witty banter, hm?”
“Yeah, right!” The response came in stereo, from both Heavy to my left and Hangman in my earpiece.
“We’re going into a public building this time, boss,” Heavy added. “This is the time for witty banter. I lived out of a library for a month and a half, it’s what they expect from people like me.”
There wasn’t much to say to that, Heavy was dressed like someone who’d spent the last month or two living rough and we’d gone with that since it was a very typical kind of person you can expect to find around a public library. Heavy assured me that building security wouldn’t look twice so long as he didn’t cause trouble and I was willing to take his word on it. I was less sure how much witty banter they’d be expecting from him but you can’t win everything so it’s important to pick your battles.
Speaking of building security, it was waiting for me as I came into the building, a slightly overweight man in his thirties with a scruffy blonde beard and a pleasant greeting. He nodded at me as I came through the doors off the plaza and returned his attention to the outside. I gave him a polite nod in return and glanced around. To my right was a wall with various large alcoves full of book displays, to my left a short hallway that split to give access to a coffee shop in one direction and some meeting rooms and the local public access television station in the other. Going straight took me into a large, cavernous hallway that ran up through both above ground floors of the building. According to the plans we’d studied I could use either the main hall or the side hall to reach my destination but the side hall would make getting there easier, so I took a right and headed that way.
Once I was in the hallway and made sure there was no one near by I touched my earpiece and said, “One guard accounted for at the east entrance.”
“Got it,” Hangman said. “Grappler’s now patched into the building’s wifi phone system.”
“Any sign that they’re aware of our presence?” I didn’t think there would be but it never hurts to check.
“None.” An immediate reply. “Their security is really shoddy. Are you sure you don’t want to do something about that guard?”
“No. This is a public library, Hangman, not City Hall, or even a bank. That guard wasn’t even armed. Think about it – most of the things people could want in this building is already available for free and don’t have much resale value.” I glanced at a room full of computers as I passed by it. “And what might be worth taking isn’t exactly easy to make off with. Even for a top rate library system, security exists less to keep people from taking things as keeping out minor troublemakers. They leave any really big problems to the police.”
“But what if he tries to make problems when you head back out?”
“Ah.” I smiled, even though Hangman couldn’t see it. “Leave that to Heavy.”
The elevator doors opened with a cheerful “ding” as soon as I pressed the call button. According to the blueprints, this elevator led to staff-only parts of the building. It wouldn’t take me anywhere without a staff ID badge to swipe over the scanner, at least in theory. In practice, those kind of electronic security measures are even less effective against me than normal locks.
It was a short ride down to the subbasement, which in the vernacular is the basement below the basement. When I got there I stepped out into a room full of brightly lit shelves of books. They ran off a good forty or fifty feet to my right, another ten or fifteen to my left. I headed to the left, asking, “What’s Grappler’s position now?”
“She’s entered the west side of the building-”
“Excuse me, sir?” I turned to find a stocky kid in his early twenties poking his head out of one of the aisles. A waist high wooden cart with a couple of shelves half full of books sitting next to him led me to suspect he was an employee. “Are you looking for the Lincoln Foundation event?”
“Yes.” As a general rule of thumb, the professional criminal can get away with a lot more if they allow other people to supply excuses for them. I gave the kid my best slightly confused look. “This isn’t the place?”
“Well, their office is down that way,” he said, pointing in the direction I’d been headed. On the blueprints the room there hadn’t been labeled and we’d assumed it was storage, but I could see that there were a number of plaques and pictures of Lincoln on the walls so perhaps it had been repurposed since the building was built. “But it’s closed right now. I think the Lincoln Library people are up one floor, schmoozing with the guests in the rare book room.”
I let myself smile slightly. Another reason to design my equipment with an eye for refinement – in awkward situations people are more likely to think well of a well dressed man. With my gear hidden under a tailored vest and suit jacket I no doubt looked like I would fit right in with the other schmoozers. “I guess I got pointed in the wrong direction.”
The employee sighed and put the book he was holding back on his cart. “Well come on. I’ll take you to the right elevator.”
I made a motion as if signaling for him to lead on. As soon as he started to move past me I grabbed him with both hands and triggered my taser. I felt a little bad for him, since he wasn’t even a security officer and he couldn’t possibly have signed up with this kind of thing in mind. But I’d have felt even worse if he’d reported me and I didn’t actually want join whatever kind of even the Lincoln Foundation was sponsoring, either. So I took his cart, quickly stacked the books there onto a mostly empty shelf, then slung the unconscious employee over the cart and wheeled him along with me.
Just around the corner and down the hall from the Lincoln Library office was the main security station. I brought the cart to a stop outside and poked my head through the door. A guard was sitting at a large desk in the center of the room; sitting on the desk were at least a dozen computer monitors switching between views of the building’s security cameras. There was some miscellaneous equipment strewn around the desk, I suspected at least some of it had to do with making the badges the staff used to get around. In short, it was pretty typical.
The guard at the desk looked up, a moment of confusion crossing her face. She was a middle aged African-American woman and I got the immediate impression that she’d see right through a merely average excuse. Fortunately I’d brought a prop along. “Excuse me.” I jerked a thumb at the man I’d just tased. “I found this guy collapsed outside the elevator down the hall.”
“Who are you?” The guard replied, getting to her feet and coming cautiously around the side of the desk.
“I’m a guest at the Lincoln Foundation event,” I said, figuring if it worked once it might work again. “I was on my way down when I found him.”
The guard sighed. “Somebody sent you to the wrong place,” she said, stepping towards the door and the cart beyond it, clearly intending to have a look at the man there. “They’re on the next-”
I slung her onto the cart, too, then found a roll of tape in the guard’s desk and made sure neither one of my new friends would be causing problems then I closed the door to the security room and took the seat behind the desk. “I’m in the security room. They won’t be able to call for help this way.”
“Good.” There was a hint of amusement in Hangman’s voice. “Do you want that update on Grappler? Or is there more trouble to take care of, first?”
“Like taking candy from a baby.” I leaned back in the chair and studied the monitors. “What’s Grappler up to?”
“Why didn’t Helix just fly in with us?” Amp asked as we hustled down the library’s main hallway, the security guard just in front of us.
“His tactical team needs too much specialized equipment that wasn’t on hand. Driving it over is easier and faster than trying to bring it along on the flight.” Harriet glanced at her watch. “With all the time we spent getting to and from airports and other nonsense he’s probably no more than a half an hour to an hour behind us.”
I shot a glance to my left, where Agent Samson was keeping pace while studying the building with open curiosity. “What I don’t understand is why you’re here.”
Samson turned to me, a nauseating display of shifting movement, and I wondered, not for the first time, how other people couldn’t notice what a freak he was. Surely that much contained energy was noticeable. “I’m not sure what you and Helix have against me, Agent Massif, but I do have my own case to follow up on. And I didn’t get to do much when we raided that arms dealer’s warehouse.”
“We could use an extra set of eyes,” Dominic said in a placating tone as he ran his hands over his gear for the umpteenth time, checking on it’s placement. “I’ve never bumped into Circuit before but from what I’ve read he’s a master at giving us the slip. More people with tricks to keep him guessing, happier I’ll be.”
I just grunted and waved to get the guard’s attention. “Any word from the party, yet?”
The man just patted his walkie talkie. “You’d have heard it at the same time I would, sir. Even with event security there’s not a whole lot of us here this time of night and it’s a big building. It may take a few minutes for the other guard to get there from wherever they were.”
“Right.” I sighed. The desk guard had let the switchboard and the roaming guard in the building know we thought someone might be coming to disrupt the Lincoln Financial Foundation’s event. Even with a small financial group backing them the Foundation needed cash to keep going and relied on private backers to help maintain it’s operating budget. Helix thought that Circuit had picked the locations for his recent activities because they pointed to the people he thought were most important in his private vendetta against Project Sumter. Charleston and Atlanta because of their connection to his family, Phoenix because it was the place where he first made a name for himself.
But the person who instituted all the rules that Circuit found so onerous was Abraham Lincoln. He decided to keep talented people secret and out of positions of authority, a stance the government still adhered to. Which meant Circuit still needed to make a play for something related to the 16th president. Why Helix thought he’d do that here instead of somewhere more high profile, like the Lincoln Memorial in DC, was less clear to me.
I mean, when I think Abraham Lincoln, the library in Fort Wayne, Indiana is not what pops to mind first. I’d look into that memorial, or maybe Ford’s Theater or something.
Still, he’d managed to convince Voorman the idea had merit so here we were. I drifted back to Amp and quietly said, “Can you hear anything coming from downstairs?”
“If you’re going to whisper like that you need to work on your diction.” I didn’t actually see her lips move when she said that. The words just sort of drifted into my ears, barely above a murmur, and I was pretty sure I was the only one hearing them. Creepy. “There’s too much noise in this stupid big hallway. Acoustics are bad, sorting things is tough. If there’s any sound leaking up from the basement it’s being drowned out.” She cocked her head to the side in a thoughtful pose. “Not that I’m not listening. So some quite please?”
I shrugged, since that seemed fair enough. It was only a few more steps to the stairs down anyway.
“Hold up.” Dom had his hand on the security guard’s arm, keeping him from starting down the stairs. My tac team lead looked back at me and asked, “Do we want to go in live?”
“No,” Harriet said. “There’s no signs he’s actually here yet. We’re already going down there with body armor and weapons. No need to alarm the guests further.”
“We appreciate that, ma’am,” the guard said. Dom moved his hand and he led us down the stairs.
The so-called rare book room was a floor down from the main hall. The stairs let out on a small landing that overlooked some kind of lobby. To the right was a short hallway line with glass cabinets. Locked security doors on either end presumably let into the stacks in the rest of the building while the other side of the hallway looked into the room we were after.
The doors into the rare book room were open and a number of people were milling about inside and in the hallway. There were a bunch of displays set up, which I’m sure were very interesting, but that’s not what we were there for. The guard wandered into the crowd and returned in less than a minute leading an impossibly thin man who was even taller than me.
“This is Vern Applewood,” the guard said. “He’s in charge of the Lincoln Library.”
“Hello.” Harriet pulled out her ID and displayed it, I think we were posing as FBI agents this time around but the librarian didn’t seem that impressed. “Mr. Applewood, do you have a guest list for this event?”
“No.” His answer was quick and blunt. “This is an open charity event, we’re hoping to attract as many prospective donors as possible. Even if we had one I don’t think I could share it with you.”
“Then let’s look at it from a different angle…”
Harriet sounded like she was getting ready for unproductive conversation with an unpleasant man. Thinking I might get a head start on actual productive work I glanced around for Amplifier.
She wasn’t there.
I mentally cursed myself for not paying attention – by definition she was the most noticeable person in the room, at least for me. How could she have wandered off?
A second, slower look around confirmed that she wasn’t there. If she had been the weird effect her sound manipulation had on the movement in the air would have stood out like a beacon. Muttering under my breath I pulled out my cell phone to call her. I had no bars.
“You can’t get signal down here,” the guard said helpfully. “We have to use wifi phones or landlines to keep the people who work down here in touch.”
“Great.” I shoved the phone back into my pocket. I glanced at Lance Baudin, the other man on my tactical support team. “Go upstairs and find Amplifier or get her on the phone, tell her to get down here.”
He gave me a surly nod, which is typical for him, and headed back up the stairs.
Screaming in someone’s ear while they’re in a dangerous situation is not helpful so I waited until the brief sounds of a scuffle ended before asking, “What’s happening, Hangman?”
There was no answer. I started toggling through the security cameras in an attempt to figure out what part of the building she was in. I’d gotten through about half of them when her voice finally came back. “I’m okay.”
“What happened?” I asked again.
“Some girl snuck up on me.” Hangman’s voice was shaking a little bit but she managed to keep going. “Wanted to know who I was talking to.”
“Who did you have on the line?” The security monitors continued to flick through cameras one after the other.
“Heavy.” Now it sounded like she was walking somewhere. “Circuit, she was wearing a bulletproof vest. I don’t like the looks of this.”
The screen showed a view of the room where the Lincoln Financial reception was and I paused it. I’d spotted familiar faces. “Switch me over to Grappler’s line.”
“Circuit, I don’t think the phones work like that. They’re-”