Mission Critical

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Chapter 19 - Information Incorporated

Back at our station. I called our writer-slash-bank robber Prentiss and asked him for his help. For whatever reason, he said he’d try. I’ll say this for him: for a guy as old as the Sarge, he’s pretty tech-savvy. He insisted that we talk over a Skype channel, face-to-face if you will. We’ve set up a laptop for it and we’re waiting for him to log in. I’m not sure why he wanted to talk this way. Who knows? Maybe he’s going to use visual aids? I just hope this isn’t going to turn into some weird plug for his book. The worst part? If it is, we can’t stop him from doing it. Hell, we’d have to admit that we reached out to him as an expert. It would suck, but I don’t really care as long as he can lead us to these assbags.

“Rane! He’s on!”

That’s him, all right. He’s not wearing his pajamas, so I guess we didn’t wake him up.

“Mister Prentiss? It’s Sergeant Rane and Sergeant Varanasi. This guy over here in the suit is our Lieutenant of Detectives: Lieutenant Jutras.”

“Nice to meet you, Lieutenant. Sergeant Rane, you said you needed more of my help with this crew you’ve got knocking over your banks. You also said they killed someone else? Is that true?”

“I’m afraid so. It looks like they’re not listening to that guy who brought them your book anymore. They’re doing it the old-fashioned way.”

That seems to have ticked him off for some reason.

“Sergeant Rane, going in with guns blazing isn’t the old-fashioned way. It’s the damned fool’s way! I told you: no self-respecting bank robber would even think of doing something like that! It’s not necessary! Every bank employee in the country is trained to hand over the money as soon as they know it’s a heist! Everyone knows that!”

I’d better choose my words more carefully. I don’t want to piss this guy off and have him storm out on us. He’s not under any obligation to help us.

“We agree with you, but these guys obviously had a change of plan.”

“More like a change of leaders. Sounds like you’ve got a little power struggle in your crew. It happens. You’re usually talking about a mix of dominant personality types. Things can get tense, especially if things aren’t going their way all of a sudden.”

I guess that’s true. I hadn’t thought about it; mainly because DeWitt seems like such a total dweeb and he seemed to be running the show. But after they hit a bank that wasn’t supposed to have an armed guard and the guard ended up shooting DeWitt, they may have gotten all frustrated and Maritza or his buddy decided they were going to be the ones calling the shots from now on.

“We just had an…incident. A bad one. We think we ID’d one of the crew and we were going to make an arrest when it all went to shit. The guy started shooting.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

I didn’t expect that to be the first question he’d ask. Maybe Prentiss isn’t such a total assbag after all? A total klepto, but not a total assbag.

“One of our cops. And I think I hit the guy, but I don’t know how bad. He was going to pick up a gun from some guy he conned into buying for him…”

“Why would he do that? Sounds like he’s already got one that works.”

“Well, yeah. This was some weirdo kind of rifle…”
“Rifle? Who the hell uses a rifle for a bank job? This ain’t a movie, sweetheart. What’s he going to do? Hide it under a trench coat like Dillinger?”

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

He looks absolutely disgusted. Join the club, pal.

“Is this some young punk? Mother of mercy! What the hell’s gotten into you youngsters? TV rotted your brains? You don’t need that kind of heat for a bank job! One gun, nothing fancy, and no bullets! Flash it and you’re halfway home! It sounds like your punk watches too many bad movies!”

No argument there. That film set in LA called Heat? I swear, half the assbags out there think that crap is real! A machinegun fight in the middle of a city like the one in that movie? You’d have fifty dead people and the whole damned world would be out to get you!

“Is there anything you can tell us? What they’re going to do next?”

“Sure. I can guess exactly what they’re up to.”

For real? How?

“You can?”

“Sergeant, you don’t go looking for some rapid-fire chopper all of a sudden unless you’re planning a really big job. If I had to put money on it? Your punks have a specific target in mind. A major haul with lots of people in the room. Something out of the ordinary. Something big.”

Now that he mentions it? That could be right. Their pistols were just fine up until now. Why the sudden need for heavy artillery?

“Why would they up the ante on firepower?”

“Probably because they’re going to hit a target that they expect will shoot back.”

“Like a bank with an armed security guard?”

“Doubtful. They wouldn’t need it. Your crew has three guys, right? And a bank has exactly one armed guard at most. Three against one? What would you need a chopper for? No, I’m thinking more like an armored car. Those things have two guards minimum and you can’t just shoot through the sides. Only a real gambler or a gold-plated idiot goes for an armored car. They’ve got the big money, but too many things can go wrong. The chances of having to start slinging lead are too high. That’s why I never messed with them.”

If there’s one thing I learned from this guy’s book, it’s that he likes things safe and smooth. He’s right: hitting an armored car is likely to result in shots fired. We’ve had more than our share of armored car robberies over the years. Lots of shootings when they happen.

“Are they just looking for any old armored car to hit?”

That gave him a chuckle. I’m glad I amuse you, pal! I don’t find anything amusing about this crap!

“Honey, you need to read my book again! You don’t hit an armored car unless you know exactly what kind of load they’re carrying. Think about it: you see one driving down the road. Do you know what’s in it?”

“Uh…money?”

“How would you know? Maybe it’s empty?”

All right, I should’ve figured that out right away.

“So how do you know which ones are full of money?”

“You ask.”

Huh?

“Ask who? The guys driving the truck?”

“You could give it a whirl, but it probably wouldn’t work. No, you want to ask someone at the armored car company. More likely, you’d want to break into their computer and see where the big money is. But it wouldn’t be easy. Even if you get in, most companies don’t schedule major cash transports more than forty-eight hours in advance. It’s too risky. People find out about them a couple of weeks in advance? They’ve got a couple of weeks to wrestle with their temptation. Big cash shipments? Better to keep them off the books until it’s absolutely necessary. Even the drivers don’t usually know about a major shipment until they get assigned to it. It’s safer that way.”

That actually makes a lot of sense. Would you really want to tell some guy who’s making twenty bucks an hour that he’s going to be hauling fifty million in cash in two weeks? The temptation would be overwhelming for some people. Maybe a lot of people?

“Who would know about that stuff?”

“Only select people at the armored car company and wherever the money’s going. Most companies tend to keep that kind of information under wraps. That’s why I said you’d be better off breaking into their computer. The information’s going to be in there somewhere. I know it sounds like a stretch, but I’m betting your punks got hold of it somehow. They’re getting ready for a big payday.”

After the piddly take they got at their last job, I’m not surprised they’re going for a major haul. This one sounds totally crazy, though.

“I’ve got to tell you, Mister Prentiss: it just doesn’t seem likely to me. All these robberies have the banks on edge, and they’re not the only ones. The armored car company doubled up on their guards and those guys are pretty trigger-happy to begin with.”

“Armored car guards aren’t trigger-happy, sweetheart. They don’t pay them enough.”

“You’ve obviously never seen RSS.”

That got a rise out of him!

“RSS? You guys have Randall Schoen Security?”

“That’s them. They run the biggest armored car company around here. Most of the banks use them. Those guys are totally trigger-happy.”

“So I’ve heard. Sergeant, no one in their right mind would provoke a shootout with those cowboys. They’re not going to hit the car. They’re going to hit wherever they’re delivering the money to. Do you guys have any casinos in your town?”

“No, those are about forty miles away on tribal lands. I don’t even know what company they use.”

“Then it’s going to be a bank. Find out which one is expecting a big cash delivery and you’ll know where they’re going to hit next. I don’t suppose you could tell me why they’re hitting these banks? They’re not dope fiends, right?”

I can imagine what he’s going to think when I tell him our theory of this case. Why not? Maybe he’ll have some insight we can use?

“I know it sounds crazy, but we think they want to raise a big stake so they can buy a load of something called crypto-currency and wait for it to skyrocket in value.”

He’s not laughing. He’s not even chuckling. He’s got a look on his face like “Yeah, that makes sense.” It does? Seriously?

“You don’t think it’s a crazy idea?”

“Not really. It’s happened before. Back in the eighties, some guys hit a bunch of banks so they could buy a big stake in gold. Everybody thought the price was going to go through the roof. I’ve read about that Bitcoin thing. Who’d have thought it would ever be worth that much? Your punks could be onto something.”

I hope that doesn’t mean we can expect copycats in the near future.

“So what’s my next move?”

“I wish I could tell you, honey. Normally, I’d say since you’re the cops, you just ask the armored car company. But Randall Schoen? I’ve heard enough stories about him to make me think he won’t help you. He’s into all kinds of shady business, but I’m guessing you know that already. He’s not going to want you going through his records.”

We could get a subpoena. Yes, if we can find a judge drunk enough or stupid enough to buy into our theory! Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way? Maybe we have to go at it from the opposite direction?

“Where would these assbags get that information? Assuming they don’t have some computer whiz to break into the RSS computer system?”

“If you can’t do it yourself, you can always buy it. There’s such things as information brokers: guys know things and sell the information to a middleman who sells it to anyone willing to pay for it. The middleman’s your information broker. Do you know any of them in your area?”

No, and thanks to that fucking biker war, our only computer genius who might know anything about them is in the Witness Protection Program! We don’t even know how to contact him!

“I’m afraid not. We’ll have to get a subpoena for RSS’ records.”

“Honey, that’s going to take weeks. Old Randall Schoen’s got himself an army of lawyers to make your lives miserable. I don’t think you’ve got that much time.”

We don’t. That part’s not in dispute.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any brilliant ideas?”

He’s got a strange look on his face, like he’s got an idea but he doesn’t want to share it with me. He’s probably afraid it’ll get him in trouble. After his last stint in prison, they probably slapped some lifetime restrictions on him. Violate any of them and it’s right back to the pen for him. If that’s the case, then he’s not going to tell us. Would you?

“There’s a place not far from you. It’s got a kind of…eclectic clientele. Some really strange birds hang out there; people who know a lot of things they shouldn’t. They’re not exactly the trusting types, if you catch my drift. You’ll find one of them there if you can get a proper introduction, and that’s not going to be easy. This place is pretty well-known in a certain circle. Not the sort of people you meet every day, you know? Some of the people over there can be pretty dangerous.”

I don’t know what he’s talking about. It sounds like some seedy dive where a bunch of hardcore crooks congregate. Not the sort of place I want to go without the whole SRT unit.

“Sarge?”

“I don’t think he’s talking about Rick’s Café from Casablanca. Prentiss, what the hell is this place you’re talking about?”

“It’s this out of the way place a few miles outside of your city. It’s a survival supply and gun shop called Cydonia.”

Oh, you have got to be yanking my fucking chain! Not again! Good Lord, not again!


Early morning at Cydonia Survival. That’s it! I’m dumping my apartment and Beefy and I are moving in here permanently! I’ll even have my mail sent here! Why not? I seem to be spending all of my quality time in this place! Hell, I ought to save up some money and buy a stake in it! This is my life from now on, isn’t it? And before you know it, I’ll be a babbling conspiracy girl total nut job! I’m telling you, this place has sucked me into its psycho vortex of total lunacy! There’s no other explanation for it! I’m doomed! I’m totally fucking doomed! You head it here first, folks! This is my life from now on! I’m henceforth officially Cydonia Girl! The disease got me and there’s no antidote! It’s all over for yours truly! You might as well shoot me in the ass with a Taser and wrap me in a straitjacket! I’m one of them! I’m totally one of them! Kill me now! One shot! Right through the old brain case! Please!

If you think I’m being ridiculous, it’s partially because I didn’t get much sleep last night. I got out of the station at midnight and had to be back for a six o’clock roll call, so I’m really dragging. The Sarge? He’s as perky as ever. It’s that damned Marine Corps “We get up at the crack of dawn every day” bullshit! It’s totally annoying, isn’t it? Don’t you hate people who are all fired up and ready to go at some insane hour of the morning? I do. I want to claw their eyes out and feed them to them on a hot dog bun! Remember what I said about morning people? Serial killers! Serial killers and Marines! And gardeners in the summer, I guess.

So someone who’s a regular around here is a so-called “information broker” of stolen secrets that nobody is supposed to know? I’m not a bit surprised. Gamblers have their underground gambling places, dope addicts have their dope spots where they buy their drugs, so people in the illegal information business must have their spot too, right? I mean, LC knew all about Anthony before I did. He knew he was a major hacker with Silent Echo before I ever did. I think I understand now why this place is Conspiracy Central: this place is the conspiracy! This place is ground zero for all the total weirdness in the world! And now I’m one of them! There’s no denying it anymore: I’m one of them! Get the net! Scoop me up and dump me in the rubber room! Quick, before it’s too late!

Mad sniper? Cydonia! Psycho prison gang bomb maker? Cydonia! Wanna-be bank robber with a how-to-rob-banks book? Cydonia! I went my whole career without knowing this place even existed, but now? I ought to put this place down as an unofficial police substation and set up a desk for me! And have my dry-cleaned uniforms sent here, too! Maybe I could get a good deal on a cot in their underground nuke-proof bunker? Do they allow pets?

There’s LC. I see he’s back to wearing his Cydonia shirt. You know what? I’m going to buy one before I leave here tonight! Hell, maybe I’ll buy a few? I need a new shirt to sleep in. My ASU t-shirt has definitely seen better days, as the Sarge so kindly mentioned.

“LC! Cubans! Major Cubans!”

See? I already use the Cydonia secret code without even thinking about it! I’m fluent in the language of the Conspiracy Boys! Totally doomed!

That second level in the storage are over there? I could put my bed there if the bunker’s not available. And my TV over there and put the couch against the wall. They’ve already got a big refrigerator. I’ll bet there’s a bathroom with a shower in here somewhere. See? Home sweet home!

“What’s up, babe?”

“Do you mean besides the fact that I’ve become a regular around here?”

“And we’re all glad to have you around. You really improve the scenery around the place, if you know what I mean. So what brings you in so early? You two are the first ones through the door today.”

“Information. Specifically, an ‘Information Broker.’ I take it you’re familiar with the term?”

“Sure. Isn’t everyone?”

Did you hear how he said that? Without a hint of sarcasm or anything? I’ll bet you could go to the ends of the earth and never hear anyone respond to that question like that except for in this place! It’s like the whole space-time continuum went straight up an elephant’s butt once you set foot in the parking lot! All the normal rules don’t apply here! How did this become my life?

“Do you happen to know any we could talk to? We need the services of one.”

And he’s looking at me like I’ve lost my mind! You have no idea what it feels like to have a Conspiracy Boy like LC give me a look like that! It’s like…beyond humiliating!

“Babe, you’re a cop! You’re talking about Information Incorporated! The kind of information those guys deal in? They don’t talk to cops. Cops like you put guys like that in jail. You should know that.”

“I’m not looking to arrest anyone. I just need some information and we don’t have the time to let a bunch of lawyers fight over a subpoena. What can you tell me about these ‘information brokers?’ What do you know about them? Give me the straight scoop. I don’t have time for anything else.”

“Basically, there’s three types: the first type are the usual weens. They’re kids who crack passwords so you can take your free trial version of some software app and use it forever without having to pay for it – which is illegal, I know. Then there are the guys who gather the information the damned government doesn’t want the people to know. They’re the ones on the front lines against America’s shadow government; fighting for the truth no matter what the covert powers behind the façade of everyday life try to….”

Oh, Lord! What have I started? He’s going to go on and on about this crap! He won’t shut up! I’ll be here all day! Time to cut him off – if that’s even possible!

“OK, what about the third kind? It sounds like those are the ones I’m talking about.”

“Those are the ones who deal in the kind of information that gets you locked up for a couple of decades, babe. They’re not in it for the truth. They’re only in it for the money. They sell the kind of info you’d have to be crazy to act on. And let me tell you, babe: those guys are the last people in the world who’d talk to a couple of cops. Most of them are probably on an FBI watch list. They get caught? Look out! It’s a six-by-nine for twenty to life!”

I was afraid of that. Those are the dickheads who break into major companies and steal five million credit card numbers and sell them on the Dark Web. He’s right: they’ll never talk to us. Not unless they want to end up doing twenty to life.

“All right, cards on the table? We think this bank robbery crew got hold of some juicy information about a major cash shipment that’s going to happen in the next day or two and we need to know what it is. We talked to the guy who wrote that book and he told us information like that would come from one of these ‘information broker’ guys. LC, we’re running out of time. These guys have already killed a couple of people and you and I both know they’re gearing up for a real shit storm. We need that information and we need it today.”

“I can’t help you, babe. Those guys won’t talk to the cops. It’s that simple.”

“Can you give us a name? A name and an introduction; that’s all I’m asking. Can you do that for me?”

“Not unless I want my reputation to be dog shit. I didn’t work this hard to become a first-strike weapon against the shadow government’s plans just to watch it all go down the shitter. I’ve got to protect my sources. That’s the only way I can keep up the fight against the powers that are trying to enslave this country and make it so people like me…”

Here we go again! That’s the problem with these guys: they don’t have an “off” switch! This fucking sucks! And we’re fucking desperate! We don’t have time to do this the hard way! I’m at the point where I’d get down on my knees and start blowing him right here if it would get him to help us! Unfortunately, I don’t think that would get him to compromise his…integrity, if that’s what you call it. He takes that stuff too seriously. So what would? What would get him to go out on a limb like that? Not another IOU. Not for this. I’ve got to get him something tangible and something up-front or it’s no-go. What does he really want? Something he can’t get anywhere else? Something that would appeal to his Conspiracy Boy brain? A look at his FBI file? No, he’s probably already seen it. The Federal Privacy Act says they have to show it to him unless it’s got classified information or an ongoing case against him. That won’t work. But maybe…

“All right, how about a trade? What if I get you a classified document from the government saying they think you’re a total threat to the secret world order or whatever you call it? I mean the real thing! I’m talking about the kind of stuff they never show anyone! Real black vault kind of stuff. Would you do it for that?”

“Babe, how are you going to get something like that? Do you even know what you’re talking about? A Tier One Threat Assessment document from the shadow government? You’re a local cop. You don’t have that kind of access.”

No, but I have access to an FBI agent who owes us a big favor for dropping the ball on that biker gang war. I might be able to convince him to do it. And what the hell is a Tier One Threat Assessment document? Is that something real, or just something he thinks is real?

“Come on, you know they think you’re a major threat to their plans. I told you what Agent Nunez said about you. They’ve got to have some secret shit like that in an FBI file somewhere. What if I get it for you? Would you hook me up with someone with the kind of information we need?”

He’s thinking about it. From the way he described that document thing, he’s probably drooling over it. An official document from the FBI saying he’s a major threat to their secret Bilderberg Freemason world domination plans? It’s probably a dream come true for him. It would certainly boost his credentials in the Conspiracy Boy club, right? He’d probably get the golden cloak and dagger award, or whatever these nut jobs hand out for that kind of thing.

“If you can get a legit document from my shadow file? The real thing; no bullshit? You got a deal, babe. You get me that and I’ll hook you up with the right guy.”

Which tells me he’s got a pretty good idea of where that cash drop information came from in the first place. He’s got a name. A solid name. We may have gotten ahead of these dorks for the first time since this crap started. Now all I have to do is convince Agent Nunez to play ball with us. Yeah, and hope I don’t wind up in some secret black prison for even asking him!

“Come on, Sarge. We’ve got work to do.”

I have no idea what the hell I was thinking when I made that offer, so don’t ask me why I did it. I’m working without a net here. If he were a regular guy, I could probably just pull off my top and bury his face in my boobs and he’d agree to help. But he’s a Conspiracy Boy. Their minds don’t work like a normal guy’s. It’s pretty sick when you think about it, isn’t it?

The Sarge clearly thinks I’ve lost my mind. I’m not saying he’s wrong, mind you.

“Rane, how the hell are you going to get something like that? Assuming it even exists. If you try to draw up some kind of fake document on a computer, he’s going to spot it a mile away. He does paranoia for a living, you know.”

“What was I supposed to do? Bang him right there on the table?”

“At least you could’ve pulled that one off!”

True, but I didn’t think it would work.

“I’ll call Agent Nunez and…”

“And what? Ask him for something that doesn’t exist? And even if it did, he wouldn’t let you see it. He wouldn’t even admit its existence! You’ve got a lot to learn about handling classified information, princess! You don’t fuck around with that stuff!”

“Well, I didn’t see you offering any brilliant suggestions, old man! You know, every time we get into one of these situations? All you do is sit back and let me do all of the heavy lifting while you stand there and grin! What’s up with that?”

“I just like watching you squirm, princess. It brings some unbridled joy to my simple yet noble life.”

How about I bring some unbridled pain to your dick, old man! I’m about ready to yank it out of his pants and bite it! And I’ve got some sharp teeth!

“You really suck, you know that? Move it! We’ve got a phone call to make!”

“You mean you’ve got a phone call to make. I’m not about to try to weasel some Top Secret-SCI level information out of a federal law enforcement officer. Leave me the hell out of this.”

Uh-huh! Good luck explaining why you’ve only got half a dick the next time you take a piss, old man! Do you believe him? He’s enjoying watching me suffer! How sick is that?


Back at Cydonia. Good Lord almighty! How do I keep racking up these IOUs? And as soon as I get a good one for myself, I have to use it! It’s not fair! I really think I must’ve strangled a blind saint in a previous life! How else can you explain all the shitty luck I keep having? I sure as hell can’t!

I used up my one killer IOU: Agent Nunez really came through for me. He told me this evens things out with him, but honestly? I think I owe him something in return for this one. He gave me an official-looking memo on FBI letterhead, stamped with “Confidential – Eyes Only” “Do Not Duplicate” and there’s a bunch of stuff on it that he swears will make any Conspiracy Boy think this is some deep, dark, classified thing that the FBI would literally kill to keep secret. It basically says they have to pull out all the stops to shut down LC’s personal blog because he’s a threat to some things that “they” don’t want anyone to know about. It even references the NSA and a couple of agencies I never heard of, but I’ll bet every Conspiracy Boy on earth knows them by heart. I read the thing and I can’t understand half of it. The text? Sure. Pretty straightforward and very creepy. But all this other stuff? I’m telling you, the military has nothing on the FBI when it comes to weird acronyms, code words, and funky abbreviations. I’ll be honest: if I didn’t know how this paper came about? It would scare the hell out of me. A tiny part of me thinks there’s no way Agent Nunez could’ve come up with this on his own. You know, like maybe it’s based on something real? A real classified document that he’s not allowed to talk about? I’m not just saying that, either. This thing is creepy as hell! The fact that I can’t explain it any better than that should tell you exactly what I mean. At any rate, LC is going to blow his load when he sees it. It’ll put him at the top of the conspiracy heap – if there is such a thing.

We called him and told him we got what I promised and it was even freakier than I thought, which is exactly what he wanted to hear. He said he’d have “the guy” here when we arrived. On the one hand, it looks like I just asked Agent Nunez to write up some bullshit so I’m kind of screwing over LC, but on the other hand? Agent Nunez kind of suggested that there might be something eerily similar to this letter in a classified file at FBI headquarters, so who knows? I’m telling you, he seemed genuinely uncomfortable in a very weird kind of way. He obviously wasn’t crazy about providing any sort of validation for LC, but he knew he owed me big and he saw this as a chance to wipe the slate clean. The fact that he had to give LC something he desperately wanted? That didn’t sit too well with him, let me tell you! As I’m sure you’ll remember, LC isn’t the FBI’s favorite person. He manages to cause them some real headaches. Maybe that document isn’t as contrived as I thought? I really wonder.

LC gave me strict instructions for this meeting: under no circumstances am I to let this guy know I’m a cop. I also have to go in alone, so the Sarge is waiting outside in his truck. And finally, he told me to make absolutely certain that I don’t look like a cop. That last part? I know what he means. To that end, I’m wearing my skin-tight jeans, a blood red silk blouse with a very revealing neckline, and my come-fuck-me cowgirl boots. Trust me, no straight guy in the world is going to believe I’m a cop in this getup. If he asks, I’ll tell him I’m a freelance reporter working on a story about corruption in the armored car industry. The truth? I don’t think he’ll ask. I don’t think his eyes are going to move one inch from my cleavage. That’s kind of the idea, after all.

There’s LC, and he’s waving me over. Here we go!

“Damn, babe! You look as good with your clothes on as you do with them off!”

“It’s called ‘dressing for the occasion.’ What’s the story with this guy? Do you think he’ll have what we need?”

“He’s probably the guy who sold it to your bank crew. Just keep in mind: this guy may not look like much, but he’s into some seriously crooked shit and he’s got some heavy connections. You don’t want to make him your enemy. Got it?”

“I got it. He’s in the back?”

“He’s back there. You two have the room to yourselves. We switched off the AV surveillance. I already saw him checking for it. Good luck.”

I hope that by that, he doesn’t mean I’m going to have to bang this guy for the information. That ain’t happening, folks! There he is. He looks like a total computer nerd, right down to the Clark Kent glasses. He doesn’t seem to be armed. He’s got a vibe about him, though. He’s not some total punk. He’s definitely been into some crooked crap in his day. That’s the sense I get from him.

“What do I call you?”

“You can call me…Mister Colfax.”

No doubt because you just read that word off of that box over there behind me. Hey, I’m a trained sniper. I notice things.

“I’m Allison.”

“I know. The girl from the calendar. I recognized you right away. Damn! And I thought you looked good in your picture! You’re way hotter in person!”

I think that means I’ve got his attention. It’s a start.

“Thanks. I did a little modeling on the side when I was in college. It helped pay the bills. I just finished my degree in journalism and I’m working freelance until I get a steady gig. I’m doing a story on how some of the people working for armored car companies are skimming from the cash deliveries. I hear you have information about some of their big cash deliveries. I’m talking about information nobody’s supposed to have.”

I was right: he’s laser-fixed on my boobs and the skimpy black lace bra peeking out of my blouse. That was the idea, wasn’t it? Stare away, pal. As long as you give me the information we need, you can stare as much as you like.

“I know about a few things. You know some of the people at RSS are on the take, right? Even some pretty senior people?”

“Who doesn’t?”

I’m not tipping my hand by saying that. In this town, that’s not exactly news.

“Well, they got in trouble with an audit last year, so it’s not like the cash can just stick to their fingers. They had to find a different way of making a little on the side. Some of the dispatch schedulers like to sell information about the big deliveries. It’s easy money and they’re not likely to get caught. There’s no trail to follow. Besides, most people who buy the data don’t act on it. They don’t have the balls.”

“And that information gets to a guy like you how?”

“I’m not going to answer that. Let’s just say I’m in the information business. I find out about things.”

And you pass them on to anybody with cash. Nice guy. I wonder what he does with the money? He clearly doesn’t spend it on clothes or a gym membership.

“I got information about a big cash transport in the next day or so. I also heard that some people are interested in learning about it. Serious guys, if you know what I mean.”

“You’re talking about the pinheads out doing the bank jobs in this town? Yeah, I heard about that. One of my competitors handled that one. They put out the word they were looking for info on the armored car deliveries. I wasn’t interested. I only deal with people who come with the right references. You can’t be too careful, you know?”

Not when you’re facing twenty years of gang rapes followed by being shoved in an industrial-sized prison clothes dryer.

“But you had the information too, right?”

“I got it. I don’t usually deal with that kind of data. It attracts the wrong people and that’s how you end up in prison. I only deal with the right people.”

The way he said that kind of scares me. I wonder who he considers to be the “right” people?

“Did the information come from someone at RSS?”

I need to convince this guy that I’m doing a story and not looking for a bunch of homicidal bank robbers, so I’m asking about the source. We’ll probably never get a filing against the dispatcher. This guy isn’t going to show up to testify against anyone.

“Yeah. A guy named Cal Steadlow. He’s one of the dispatchers over there. They get the information about the transfers a week in advance, but they don’t put it on the books until the day of the delivery. Security purposes.”

“He sells the information?”

“How do you think he paid for that Corvette? Half the people over there only took the job so they could make money on the side. Old Randall Schoen doesn’t give a damn as long as it doesn’t come back on him. He’s the biggest crook of the bunch.”

I’ve heard that before. I just never thought about how they’d accomplish that. I may have grown up broke, but I’m what you’d call criminally unsophisticated. Everything I know about crime, I learned from being a cop.

“He’s in on it?”

“Are you kidding? Why would he be in on it? Cash shipments are nickel-and-dime stuff for him. He doesn’t give a shit about that. He’s into bigger scams. If I were you, I wouldn’t go investigating him. They’ll find your bones out in the desert in a couple of years.”

I’ve heard that one, too. So has everybody else in this town.

“I’m not looking to get killed. What can you tell me about this cash shipment that the bank robbers were asking about? Are they the only ones who know about it?”

A risky question, but seeing as he’s freakishly fixated on my boobs right now, I don’t think he’ll realize that.

“Who knows? The guy was asking five grand firm for the info, so I doubt many people were willing to pay that much for it. I just know he sold it and he’s pretty sure those are the guys who bought it. Hell, they’ve stolen a ton of money already. What’s five grand?”

A drop in the bucket if we’re talking about a big cash delivery.

“How much are we talking about?”

“Two million to Renaissance, one point eight million to Vanguard. Plus whatever else they’re carrying that day.”

Two shipments? There are two of them in the same truck? Son of a bitch!

“Why would two local banks need so much cash?”

“Monetary transfers for some major real estate deals. That new office park they’re building on Paseo Sonora? The company’s moving a load of cash into one of them to fund the building costs. I’m not sure what the other deal is, but I know it’s the same kind of thing.”

That makes sense. There’s a lot of construction going on around town and that means regular expenses. Home Depot’s got to get paid, right?

“When are these transfers happening? I need facts for the story. Part of it is going to be a timeline to show exactly where the corruption takes place.”

“Tomorrow afternoon. They’re supposed to deliver it at about one o’clock. If I were you, I’d steer clear of both of those places. You don’t want to be there when it goes down.”

Fuck! How are we supposed to cover two banks at once? Unless they plan to hit the truck, and that would be virtual suicide! They’ve got to be running at least four guards with that much money on the line. RSS guards? They’ll have a belt-fed machinegun and a grenade launcher in that truck! They’re going for one of the banks. But which one? There’s no way this dork would know that. We’re totally screwed!

“And the guy who gave up the information? There’s no way to trace it back to him?”

“I doubt it. Security’s not exactly tight over there. They’re a lot looser with confidential info than you might think. RSS doesn’t ask a lot of questions of its employees, either. They’re almost as bad as the guys hitting the banks.”

No doubt about that. Time to cut this interview short.

“You’ve given me exactly what I need. Thanks, Mister Colfax. And don’t worry: I won’t use your name or anything else that could ID you.”

“Good. I don’t want any trouble. You know…yours was the best picture in that calendar. I mean…you’re way hotter than the rest of them.”

“Glad you liked it. It was fun for me. I’ll probably do next year’s calendar, too. Make sure you pick up a copy. Look, I’ve got to go. Thanks again.”

Something tells me he’s going to be bugging the crap out of LC for my phone number. If he doesn’t track it down himself, that is. Imagine how he’s going to feel when he finds out I’m a cop?

I need to get this information to the Sarge. God, I didn’t count on there being two banks getting a big cash delivery! What the hell are we going to do? We’ve got one SRT unit. They can’t cover them both. We could use detectives to cover one of them, but our detectives aren’t really trained for a tactical operation and that’s what this is going to be. We’re in big trouble!

There’s LC. Time to make good on my promise. I always keep my promises, remember?

“Here you go, pal. Remember: you didn’t get this from me. I never saw it. And it’s in the plastic sheath so my fingerprints don’t get on it. This is not to come back on me, understood?”

He’s looking it over. Probably looking to see if it’s the real deal.

“Holy shit! How did you get this?”

“Don’t ask. Let’s just say it cost me a very big favor. You know, you’d better take that thing seriously. It’s pretty clear they think you’re a real problem. It says you’re messing with their plans – whatever their plans are. That thing looks pretty major to me.”

“I knew they were watching me! They must have a NONDSC file on me!”

Again with the acronyms? Does anybody speak plain English anymore besides me?

“What’s NONDSC?”

“Non-Disclosure. It’s when they classify certain information as being not subject to public disclosure under any circumstances. The shit they want to bury deep, babe! Shit like this!”

Somehow, I think that exists only in his mind. But who cares? He’s happy and I didn’t have to drop my drawers this time. Win-win, right?

“Well…just watch your back. My contact told me we could all get in a lot of trouble if that information ever got out.”

“I’m sure of it! Fucking shadow government stooges! Do they have any idea who they’re really working for? See? I told you all the shit you believe is just a smokescreen for what’s really going on behind the scenes! This is why we don’t trust our own government! It’s not the government we think we have!”

He’s going to be yapping about this conspiracy shit until four in the morning! I don’t have the time to listen to him. I’ve got to get this information back to the station and get everyone working on a plan to stop those dorks before they kill someone else.

“Well, you were right all along. I’m sorry I ever doubted you. Look, I’ve got to get going. We need to move on this while we’ve got the chance. I’ll see you later, OK?”

Sure! As soon as I end up in the middle of another nut job case! Which will probably be next week!

There’s the Sarge, sitting in his truck. Wait until he hears this!

“What’s the word, Rane?”

“Trouble! Big trouble! There’s a wrinkle in the plan and I don’t know how we’re going to solve it. I’ll fill you in on the way back to the station.”

I hope somebody has a brilliant idea for what to do about this, because I sure don’t. And we don’t have a lot of time left. We’ve got exactly one day to recon the two locations, come up with a workable plan, gather everything and everyone we need, and then put it into action without tipping off the bad guys. I have a feeling I’m not going to be a very popular girl back at the station when I tell them this story. Well, that’s the least of my worries, isn’t it?

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