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Day One Hundred and Twenty-seven: Last-ditch

September 25, 2011 3 comments

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

This time around we have an interesting pairing – Peter Wach from Day 46, The Big Day, and Taylor Patraglia from Day 43, Investigations. Just for fun, let’s add a third: the unseen Speyeder from Day 80, One More Door. Plus a special surprise guest who kinda walked into the story on his own.

And here… we… go.

———————————-

“Mister Wach, why don’t you just calm down.” Taylor Patraglia quietly locked the door to his office and turned back to the man pacing back and forth in front of the desk. The man was thin and looked like he hadn’t slept in days. His hollow eyes were shining and darting around the room, from the door to the window to Taylor and back again. He hadn’t stopped moving since he came, and he’d barely stopped talking either. His fingers twitched like he was flicking a cigarette.

“I can’t calm down, mister Patraglia, I just can’t. I’m telling you what happened, I’m telling you the truth, and if you won’t help me then I’ll try to find someone who will!”

“Hold on, mister Wach.” Taylor held up his hands and glanced at his watch. It was three-fifteen. All he had to do was wait another seven minutes and this problem might be out of his hands. “You do understand why I find all this a little difficult to believe.”

Wach laughed, and it was harsh and loud. “You find it difficult to believe, huh? Imagine how I must feel about it.”

Taylor circled back around to his desk and picked up the file folder he’d put there. “I can try,” he said. He flipped open the file and scanned his scratchy handwriting. The notes he had taken on the phone the day before were disorganized, but disorganized in a very specific way. “You were drugged and… tortured? By none other than Ulysses Grodin himself.” He glanced up. “You do realize what you’re alleging here, right? That one of the most powerful men in this city – hell, the country – held you in some secret prison and shoved bamboo under your fingernails?”

“Not bamboo,” Wach muttered. “They used tasers. Not bamboo.”

“My mistake.” Taylor took a pen from his pocket and pretended to write something. “Tasers. And then after that they let you go, but not before… ‘Pulling your life out by the roots.’ In your words.” He snapped the file closed and looked up again.

For a moment, he was worried that Wach would do something violent. The man had finally stopped moving and was gripping the back of the chair with his knuckles white. “They took my home,” he said. “My bank account is locked. My driver’s license.” He barked out a laugh again. “Hell, they sent my wife doctored-up pictures of me and some teenager.” He wiped his eyes. “A boy, even.” He took a deep breath and stood up straight, not letting his eyes meet Taylor’s. “I have nothing left to me now. I’m staying with a friend. All I have is some cash I’d socked away.” He shook his head. “No one will hire me or even give me an interview.” He walked around and slumped down into the chair. “All because of that damned chip.” He dropped his head into his hands and took deep breaths.

Taylor glanced back at the file. “Yeah, the chip. Tell me about it again?”

“It’s memory.” Wach’s voice was muffled by his hands. “It can store a ridiculous amount of data.” He looked up, his eyes shining. “When it gets into production, it’ll be a bigger advance in computing than the integrated circuit.” He sat back, and his body seemed to have deflated. All the nervous energy was gone, replaced with resignation. “I designed it, figured out how to make it work, and then they said I stole it. After that… That’s when they took my life from me.”

“Okay,” Taylor said. He sat on the edge of his desk and tried to look casually friendly, something he’d never been very good at. The man sitting in front of him was either embroiled in a massive conspiracy or completely insane. Either way, Taylor figured that the chances of getting paid were slim. “I’ve got your side of the story. My question to you is this: what do you think I can do for you?”

Peter Wach looked genuinely puzzled by the question. “Do?” he asked. “Isn’t this what you do?” He gestured around the office, and Taylor followed his glance. He had been told, over and over again, about the need to make the office more comfortable, both for himself and his customers, but that took money. Like so many other private investigators, money wasn’t something he had in abundance. But for now it was good enough. It had a desk, it had chairs and a view of a part of the city that was just a good twenty minute subway ride away from downtown. He’d even bought a plastic plant to put in the corner.

Taylor shrugged and checked his watch again. “Yeah, but most of my work is tracking down husbands and runaways, mister Wach. Not digging into the internal workings of one of the biggest companies on the planet.”

There was a moment of leaden silence. “Then I guess I’ve wasted my time,” Wach said. He stood up, and at that moment the telephone rang.

“Just a moment,” Taylor said. He picked up the handset. “Yeah?” he said.

The voice on the other end sounded distorted and strange. It would be hard to say whether it was male or female. Taylor wouldn’t have been comfortable betting that it was actually human. “I’ve found it,” the voice said.

“Good,” Taylor said.

“You’re not going to like where it is, though,” the voice said, and even through all the electronic distortion Taylor thought he could hear amusement.

“Speyeder, I really don’t have a lot of time here.” He glanced up. Wach was watching him closely. “So why don’t you play nice and share.”

“Fine,” Speyeder said. “Be that way. The prototype is stored in a secure locker at Munin Scientific headquarters, and if that thing is even half as amazing as the files look, then it’s worth its weight in gold that’s been dipped in diamonds and wrapped in the skin of baby dinosaurs.” The voice chuckled. “The emails I picked up suggest it’s in the basement vaults, which are protected by the best security Cerbecorp could provide.” It paused, and Taylor could hear the hissing of static in the background. “Unless you have a commando team in your back pocket, you’re not getting in there.”

Taylor nodded. “Thought so.” He sighed. “Well, thanks. I owe you one.”

“You owe me more than one, Patraglia,” Speyeder said. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” The static cut off and Taylor hung up the phone. He stared at it for a moment and then looked back at Wach. “You want the good news or the bad news first?”

The man’s eyes narrowed, but a wave of hope crossed his expression. “Good news.”

“All right.” Taylor nodded. “The prototype you were talking about? It seems that it’s real, and it’s still at Munin.”

Wach stood up. “See? I told you! I told you I was telling the truth!” He took a few steps, running his hands through thinning hair. “Oh, thank god,” he said. “Thank god I’m not crazy…”

“There is still bad news, mister Wach,” Taylor said. Wach stopped and turned around. Taylor looked at the notes he’d written. “Do you know of a vault in the basement level of the building?” Wach sagged where he stood and nodded. “Then you know how hard it’ll be to get at it.”

Wach pulled the chair to him and sat down with a thud. “Then there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “God himself couldn’t get into those vaults.”

Taylor walked over and patted the man on the shoulder. “There now,” he said. “That’s what they said about sinking the Titanic.” He took his cell phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. “It may not be easy,” he said. “But I think I know who can do it.”

He selected a phone number and listened to it ring. When a tone sounded, he entered ten digits, waited, and then entered five more. A voice – definitely electronic this time – told him to enter his passphrase. Slowly and carefully, he recited, “Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.” He looked over at Wach, whose eyebrows went up. Taylor shrugged and returned his concentration to the phone. There was a series of beeps. Then a voice, real and human.

“Drake McBane. Talk to me.”

Taylor smiled and gave a thumbs-up to Peter Wach. “Hello, mister McBane,” he said. “This is Taylor Patraglia. I have an adventure for you.”

Day Eighty: One More Door

August 18, 2011 1 comment

Killing Alfie Vandersen would be easy. Getting to him, on the other hand, was proving to be a pain in the ass.

Vanessa repositioned the mirrors against the lasers to redirect them to other sensors, a trick that wouldn’t have worked if Vanderson had bothered to upgrade his security in the last ten years. She managed to create a hole just big enough for her to slide through and, for a moment, regretted not joining the weight-loss group that her sister went to every week. She tightened the belt on the housekeeper’s uniform she had swiped and slid under the gap she had created.

The lasers were easier than the motion sensors, which were only slightly more challenging than the pressure-sensitive floors. During the day, Vanderson’s offices were the epitome of modern office deisgn – clean, sleek, yet welcoming. Nice wood floors that were made from renewable forests, walls that were covered in a recycled ceramic tiling, energy-efficient lights that illuminated the wide and welcoming halls with light that closely matched that of the sun. Hundreds of people worked in these offices every day, and to hear them talk about it, many liked the place More than their own homes.

At night, it was one of the most fiercely guarded buildings on the planet. Merely getting in had involved months of planning, several fake identities, and spending at least two nights hiding in cubicles and supply closets. Vanessa wouldn’t be able to make or receive any calls from her contacts, and if she was caught, she would most likely disappear. The fact that she had even gotten this far was why her clients paid her exorbitant fees. Although, getting this far was no guarantee that she would be able to get to her target, who kept apartments on the top three floors of his building. She had gotten up there without much trouble, but the closer she got, the harder it became to move forward.

According to the information she had, there was another crucial step to pass through – a biometric exam. And this one, unlike the lasers, was new. In the old days, she could have made a latex fingerprint or – if circumstances were dire – cut the finger off of someone with clearance. The new biometric systems, however, were able to distinguish between living flesh and non-living, so gaining entry that way required a little more finesse. In this case, her finesse was a teenage hacker she’d only ever known as Speyeder. Not an original name, but the kid knew what he – or she – was doing, and earned the hefty sum that she – or he – got for jobs like this. In this case, Vanessa needed her biometrics on file, and with the proper clearance. Speyeder said it would be easy, but then Speyeder also claimed to have put the President on the no-fly list and set up an untraceable monthly deposit from the bank account of the nation’s biggest Christian megachurch into the bank account of the nation’s biggest gay rights activist group. In short, Speyeder claimed to do a lot of things, and had not let Vanessa down yet.

“Yet” being the operative word.

She got to the second-most outer door and flipped the cover up on the security pad. A gently glowing panel lit up, asking her to please put her palm on the scanner. Vanessa took a deep breath and gave up her palm print. The scanner faded for a moment, and then a second panel asked her to please position her eye in front of the camera above. She stretched her neck a bit and submitted her iris for examination. A faint laser went up and down, back and forth, and then the door clicked open. Vanessa slid through and made a mental note to transfer a little extra to Speyeder’s account when she got home.

The inner offices were more like a home – a narrower hallway with a deep carpet runner, flowers on tales, and portraits of Vandersen’s family on the walls. It smelled like potpourri and some kind of cologne, a smell that made her think of an uncle she’d liked when she was young.

The main office would be through one more door, and for that door she needed a very special key. This lock required a blood sample, albeit a very small one. It was keyed to Vandersen’s blood, and try as he – or she – might, Speyeder was unable to put Vanessa’s blood signature into the database. That file was locked tightly, read-only, and not to be tampered with. Unless Vandersen let her in, there was no way she was getting through that door.

The trick, then, was to get Vandersen out.

She cracked her knuckles as she thought, only moments before the outer door slid open and a large security guard came in, hand on his gun. He looked at her, then around the office, and raised an eyebrow as he loosened the gun in its holster.

“Shit,” Vanessa muttered.