Five mini-cams outfitted with magnetic peel and stick mounting plates neatly lined the counter by the time Kira rejoined me. I handed her one of two Smartphones loaded with the digital video camera application and pressed the power test button on each unit. Nine-volt lithium batteries supplied sixty hours of continuous operation while a built-in motion sensor negated the necessity of having to constantly view the screen. Software versatility allowed the user to choose between three settings: the automatic setting displayed individual camera images on a rotating basis with an adjustable timeframe between cameras; manual setting permitted the user to scroll through each camera by preference; and lastly, a motion-sensing choice transmitted the image of the last camera triggered by motion. A high capacity SD chip let us buffer and store still frames at the touch of a button, with an option to store full video capture on cloud servers. The application used standard DVR nanny camera technology accessible through a password-protected website.
“Powered up,” I told Kira. “Ready for visual test. Cycle images through each camera and verify our phones.”
“In progress,” she responded swiping the screen.
Despite the size of the Smartphone screen, details were easily discernable. Video feed rotated manually from camera to camera without a hitch. Kira dialled the phone in my pocket. It vibrated quietly. She hit a few buttons and streamed video to it. Camera feed receive.
“What did you learn from our sleeping guests?”
Pulling up the building layout on my phone, I described my altered plan point by point. Kira shook her head when I concluded we were better served splitting up to achieve mission objectives. I anticipated disagreement, but I felt my tactics maximized the desired outcome. By splitting our force we accomplished two objectives at once. One person had to plant the mini-cams, gather intelligence, and destroy data that proved our presence here. Gomez had created files on us. Standard procedure when dealing with unknowns. Security cameras in the loading bay were not the only cameras on the premises. Others were surely in place to monitor staff thievery and to track movement in and out of the plant.
And one of us had to venture upstairs to the office area. Two stairways accessed second-floor offices. One individual at each stairwell with minimum firepower could easily trap us upstairs until help arrived. As soon as we entered the second-floor office space, we could be confined between stairwells. It made tactical sense to avoid both of us becoming trapped. And the time was short.
“Our sleeping friend confirmed several locations. It’s up to you to verify the video storage computer. Destroy it. If the cops find it intact, mission objective compromised. Check for cloud storage as well.”
“I don’t like splitting up, Bruce.”
“Neither do I, but the logic is sound. Come up with something better and I’ll consider it. We can’t be in two places at once. I’ll go up to search for Odera and locate Gomez. You stay downstairs erasing information others in Gomez’s chain of command might use against us. We leave no data behind. Besides, we’ll have them surrounded if I go up and you stay down,” I told her grinning.
“Together we can perform each task quicker than individually.”
“Agreed, but time is running out and we did not foresee stored video images. We erred, and one of us has to correct our mistake. Kira, we cannot leave evidence behind. Both our families will be hunted and killed if Gomez lives. If not by him, then by his partners farther south if we reveal our identities. Plant the cams and keep me informed as to numbers and movement. Cheer up, Fireblossom. There’s nothing to say you can’t reduce the odds as the opportunity arises.”
Emotions bubbled beneath her expression, coalescing from nebulous to uncensored. She moved closer until we shared the same space, removed the cloth that kept her face concealed, clasped my forearms and looked candidly into my eyes.
“Walk the Way,” said Kira with dark-eyed intensity. “Father would hate to start over with new gai-jin. Our enemy grants our actions honour. May we each discover our true warrior within the reflection of our opponent.”
“Do not play nice, Kira,” I told her as she stepped back covering her face.
And then she slipped through the door leaving me to consider her words. Never previously had I reckoned that I needed an opponent to measure the strength of my beliefs, or to validate the morality of my actions. To endure utmost adversity while maintaining everything one holds to be good and true was to hold oneself up to a mirror and to confront its naked reflection. Only then may a person judge without reservation if one’s path is clear and just, I reflected. Part of me wondered if my enemy thought the same about me but I already knew that answer. Reaching beneath my coat sleeves, I released the wrist launcher safeties hoping I’d survive the night to explore the philosophical nature of this lesson with Miyamoto.
The stairwell waited quiet and lonely.
The moment I placed myself between two doors with no other exit I walked into a trap. Two fluorescent fixtures lighted the area with cool blue light. The pocket of storage space beneath the stairs where they angled upward lay mostly in darkness. The stairs were not fashioned out of cement but were grated steel steps and cement toe kicks. The staircase was welded to angle iron brackets set into the cement wall. Before I mounted the first step, the door at the top of the landing began to open. Voices reached me. There was no time for me to retreat the way I entered, so I ducked behind and beneath the stairs and pressed my back against the wall, discernable if one looked long and hard into the shadows through the grated steps.
Two men descended the staircase mid-discussion, voices held low and private. The landing door closed when they reached halfway to the bottom. As they stepped off the bottom step, the taller of the two men turned to the other, presenting me with their profiles. Each man appeared to be of middle-eastern descent. Carmel skin, short black hair, and strong after-five beard shadows, combined with prominent noses, completed their ethnic profiles. The man closest to my position put his hand on the other man’s arm to stop him from opening the door I had entered. He stood several inches taller than his companion did.
“I do not like being lied to,” said the taller man.
“Nor I. This operation is clearly under threat.”
“Yes. They rush to close doors and pretend it is nothing more than a precaution. They take us for fools. Absolute anonymity was one of our irrevocable conditions.”
“Then we are agreed? We advocate the termination of our distribution agreement?”
“Laboratory costs are substantial. The revenue loss would be fatal.”
“If we skip the final animal trials and move straight to genetic marker human trials, we reduce overhead. More if we consolidate. Better that we return to more conventional means of distribution than risk exposure here. Our Afghani and Pakistan fields have produced a bumper crop.”
“Then we are decided. Our report shall say the service these cocaine cartel dogs offer is no longer necessary,” answered the first man touching his chin, lips and forehead with his hand. Allah is most merciful to provide alternate funding.”
“Agreed. All knowledge will be erased. Corporate as well. All existing paths must dead-end.”
“Let our report reflect this caution. The Martinez and Gomez contract should be terminated upon satisfaction of the current order. Allah be praised and His will be done.”
“Allah Akbar, God is indeed great. One door closes and two open.”
When the two men departed, I warned Kira of their presence before coming out from beneath the steps. Distribution agreement? Laboratory costs? Animal and genetic marker human trials? It was conceivable that terrorists funded themselves with cocaine money. And heroine as well, apparently. Ace had said as much. Afghanistan poppy fields were public knowledge. If those Muslim men were actually terrorists, that is. Canada was relatively unknown as a haven for terrorists, yet the pair certainly fitted the popular archetype, and the words laboratory and human trials did not bode well. No time to think about it now. More pressing matters waited upstairs.I ran lightly up the steps.