Chapter 6: Scavenger Hunt
She answered on the third ring. I tried my best to sound super-polite, considering what had happened. “Lee? Sorry to bother you at home. It’s Heidi. You know, from the bank. Warren’s group...”
“Yeah?” She sounded tired, defeated. Getting fired could do that to a person. “What are you looking for?”
“I’ve gotten a few calls from people asking me where I put stuff. I was kicked out so fast, I didn’t have the time to tell anyone anything.”
Not too surprising. But that wasn’t why I was calling. I needed to know what her damning mistake had been. They might try to hang me with the same rope. “No, I just wanted to know how you’re doing.”
“Good as can be. Not exactly the best economy to be looking for work.”
I thought of Peter and his endless parade of temporary contracts. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m sure something will turn up.”
“Thanks. I’m still just in shock from all of this.”
“I bet.” I softened my voice as I got to the meat of the call. “No one here knows why you left. Just rumors and—-”
“Ah, is that why you’re calling?”
I felt my cheeks getting hot.
“You aren’t the first.” She laughed a little but it sounded fake, like short chuckles of bravado to cover the shame. “The official reason was that they found MP-3s on my hard drive.”
“You mean like pirated music?”
“Can you believe it? They cited computer misuse. Called it a breach of the employment agreement. No warning, just: get out. Heck, I only had a half a dozen songs on there anyway.”
“Yeah, I think everyone does.” It was true. Many people stashed music on their computers. It was something to listen to when you worked the insanely long hours the job demanded.
“I got singled out.” Her voice sagged. “But I’m not sure why. It’s not like I’ve ticked anyone off or anything.”
Did she see something on Alicia’s computer that she shouldn’t? “Lee? The last time I saw you, you were swapping out a computer down in Collections. Did you find anything strange while doing that?”
“Other than the fact that the previous user killed herself?” My breath caught as she said it, but I remained quiet. Lee continued, “When they told me to recycle her machine, I was just told that she left the bank. I was pretty freaked out when I heard the truth later on.”
I guess she was less connected to the gossip tree than I thought. Recycling the computer meant she erased the drive and reloaded the software. She probably didn’t even bother to examine the contents. Of course, the real drive wasn’t in there anyway. “Did anyone from security talk to you about her computer? You know, like Rubin Jimenez?”
“That yummy ex-cop? No, not a word.”
As I thought about it, Lee added, “Last time I saw him was in a big blow-up on the eighth floor a few weeks ago.”
The executive floor. “What were you doing up there?”
“What else? Fixing a veep’s laptop. I was wheeling my cart down the hall when I passed by Rusty’s office. I could hear raised voices, quite ugly.”
“Rubin was yelling at Rusty?!”
“Other way around. Not that it was anything unusual. Rusty’s got a nasty temper.”
That figured. A lot of VPs had calm demeanors until you crossed them. Then they showed no restraint as they tore you into long thin strips. “Did you hear what they were saying?”
“All I could hear Rusty say was that he didn’t give a damn about any essay report. He just wanted her gone. I dunno who the ‘her’ was or what the essay was about.”
Essay report? SA Report? Was he talking about the Suspicious Activity Report? Rubin filled those out whenever our intrusion detection system found something really heinous. If the bank uncovered criminal activity, we were obligated to fill out an SA report. And the her, that could have been Alicia. So Rusty wanted to just fire her. Rubin probably wanted to throw the book at her. Rubin showed defiance to Rusty? No wonder he was getting yelled at.
Lee filled the uncomfortable void of my silent thinking. “Rubin burst out of the office and bumped right into me. The cart tipped over. Rusty must have heard the crash and came out to see me sprawled on the floor amongst the fallen equipment. He looked pretty heated too.”
Poor thing. She literally stumbled into it. “I didn’t hear about this.”
“Unlike a lot of people, I’m not a big gossip. Rusty looked at me like I was some kind of insect.”
“Really? Did he think you were eavesdropping?”
“Maybe. Do you think that’s why I got fired?”
“I don’t know. I don’t see how it could be a big deal.” My voice wavered a little. I’m just not a good fibber. I wondered how high this Alicia cover-up thing went. Still, it wasn’t too shocking. A news story that a PRB employee was involved in some kind of Russian mob scam would be disastrous for the bank.
“I guess not. I don’t know. Hey, Heidi, could I use you as a reference? I’m trying to write my resume.”
I was a good girl. I only hesitated in answering for a second. “Sure.”
“Thanks. You’re one of the few people there that I trust.”
How many other people felt that way about me? How long before I joined her in the unemployment line? “No problem. Listen, I gotta run. Good chatting with you.”
Lee thanked me again and hung up. I sat there for a moment and pondered. What did Rubin suppress? If Rusty told him not to file an SA, then why were the Feds investigating PRB? Maybe these are two separate cases? Feds. That reminded me, I was going to be late.
Despite being a member of America’s crime-fighting elite, Tracy still had to deal with our lobby security procedures. In order to be bestowed with PRB’s sacred no-escort-required visitor badge, she was bounced from reception desk to the lobby security station. There she would need to present her credentials. The guard would cross-reference her name on the guest list. Then the magnetic stripe on the badge had to be programmed to unlock only the visitor-approved areas. I always thought the whole rigmarole was invented to keep our guards occupied so they wouldn’t spend all their time oogling the female customers.
Today, the process gave me enough time to scramble and find us a conference room. As the Apollo project heated up, it got harder and harder to find space for anything. And it wasn’t just from the extra meetings, but from sheer overflow of bodies. With more contractors but no extra cubicles to house them, Facilities had been converting conference rooms into temporary offices. Now the remaining open rooms were fought over in an insipid game of musical chairs.
Tracy was in the lobby, laden down with an assortment of folders and yellow legal pads in her arms. Her dark blazer and medium-length skirt matched her, like a kind of uniform. Did she even own a pair of jeans?
As we boarded the elevator, she readjusted her load and tugged on the left side of her blouse. I smiled at her and she responded with, “Shoulder holster keeps pinching my boob.”
I suppose it’s a real occupational attire issue for the women of the Bureau. I smiled at Tracy and said, “I’ve reserved a conference room near Collections, third floor.”
“Yes, I know that area.” She said in a little knowing voice.
Right. Last week, Tracy had seemed to be everywhere at PRB. Was it for her current fraud case? Or was she investigating Alicia’s murder as well? Maybe she asked to work with me so she could discreetly pump me for information. She’d seen me around Alicia’s desk before. If she had Alicia’s apartment under surveillance. Oh crap. Alexy. Did she think I was working with Alexy? Wait. Maybe this was all just in my head. God, paranoia was becoming my lifestyle. I should fish around and find out what she wanted. “Uh huh, I saw you there last week. Same case?”
The elevator doors opened as she mumbled, “Kind of. These things overlap sometimes.”
“Is Alicia Lyon’s murder part of that overlap?”
As we stepped out, Tracy lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. Or was it more adjustment? “The locals are handling it. I didn’t think it was classified as a murder anyway. I spoke to the investigating officer, but it didn’t seem relevant to my squad.”
“Your squad? The identity theft squad?”
“The white-collar squad. We handle identity theft, money laundering, embezzlement and fraud.”
“Fraud? Like con men and things like that?”
“Yes. Bad guys passing bad paper, er, bad checks.”
We reached the conference room door and peered through the glass. Two middle-aged guys in polo shirts worked at a leisurely pace on their laptops. The tabletop was a jumbled mess of papers and binders. I cracked the door, “Sorry guys, I have this room reserved for a meeting. Are you almost done?”
The slightly fatter one flashed me a condescending smile. “Room’s ours for the duration of the project.” He went back to his screen, lips twitching as he read the words. The other one hadn’t even looked up from his laptop the entire time. He just continued to slowly peck at it, one tedious keystroke at a time. They must be billing by the hour. I was in the wrong business.
I snapped the door shut and offered Tracy a look of embarrassed apology. There was another room around the corner. I motioned for Tracy to follow. “The FBI hunts down people who write bad checks?”
“You bet. I’ve been chasing a guy who’s written nearly a million dollars worth of ’em. He impersonates an Indian Chief and does this elaborate tribal affairs scam. It’s a much more profitable way to rob a bank. And a lot less risky.”
I peeked in the other conference room window and it was also occupied, this time by an older woman and a younger one. The younger one was dressed somewhat formally, so I suspected she was from customer service. The older one had that constipated manager look. She seemed to be delivering a traditional PRB scolding. Youngie had the restrained-but-irritated expression of a teenager just caught smoking. The turnover rate for customer service was pretty high. It was a nasty job and the managers rode their staff pretty hard.
“I can find us another conference room, let’s go back to my cubicle.” Tracy smiled and said, “Maybe Rubin will let us use his office.”
He’d never done that for me before, but I wasn’t a G-man. Or a G-woman rather. I nodded. “Worth a shot.” Picking up our conversation thread, I added, “So you don’t specialize in computer crime?”
“Some cops think that computer crime means hitting someone over the head with a laptop.” She paused to chuckle at her own joke and then continued, “but no, the Bureau has a whole other squad for cyber-crime.”
Cyber-crime? I hated it when people used the cyber adjective to describe info tech. It’s not like we work on robots. Saying things like that just marked you as a lamer. And I didn’t want to think of the FBI as lamers.
We reached the elevator and the door slid open to reveal its lone occupant: Rusty. I lowered my head out of reflex as we boarded. He recognized me immediately and boomed a hearty “How are you doing Hoffer?”
At least it was close to my name.
I muttered “Good.” A self-satisfied smile materialized onto his face.
Might as well score a little cred while I had her with me. I turned to Tracy and said, “Rusty, this is Special Agent Tracy...uh...” Crap, what was her last name?
Tracy took his manicured hand and pumped it vigorously. He nodded with Executive Respect. “Rusty Hartford. Pleased to meet you.”
“Tracy Martins, pleased to meet you as well.” Martins, I needed to remember that. Regaining my composure, I niggled in some flattery. “Rusty is responsible for our high-tech operation here. He’s vice president of Finance.”
Tracy smiled and nodded appropriately, “You’ve got some really sharp people working for you. Congratulations.”
Rusty looked down at me, smiling his management-is-proud-of-you smile. I felt accomplished.
The elevator dinged and we exited at our floor, leaving Rusty behind, beaming with pride. I guess sometimes, he was easy to please.
We found Rubin in his office and he seemed quite happy to receive a visit by two hotties like Tracy and myself. He offered his company along with the use of his office. Tracy opened one of the folders she’d been carrying around and handed me a sheet of paper. From his seat next to me, Rubin glanced over and said, “Yes, the accounts from the identity theft.”
Shoulder surfing made my skin crawl, so I gave Rubin a slightly haughty look. He leaned back.
Ignoring our micro-drama, Tracy explained, “All of these people on this list had accounts at PRB. I need to know every individual who accessed these accounts.”
Tracy’s list included about forty names, complete with addresses and social security numbers. As the ideas percolated in my head, Rubin spoke up. “Ma’am that is going to be one long list. Are you really going to investigate every single person who’s touched these records?”
He was right. Tracy had an ungodly amount of work ahead of her. That list could include half of the bank. She gave a half-hearted shrug. “Don’t know what else to do. The account statements and account holders turned out to be dead-ends.” She looked at Rubin and continued, “All I can do is comb through the access records and look for patterns. Hopefully something will turn up.”
“I can help you with that,” I interjected. “I can use PERL to do some of the comparisons. Should make it easier.”
I could have my script yank the relevant access information right from the audit access logs. The nice part about doing the query with a script is that I’d get complete information on the accesses, including the account-views, which wouldn’t show up thanks to the viewing bug. This would give me information that no one had seen yet.
Tracy interrupted my technical daydream with a ridiculous question. “Who is Pearl?” She turned to Rubin. “Is she trustworthy?”
I barely stifled a giggle, “No, it’s not a person. P-E-R-L. It’s an acronym for a programming language we use to do simple tasks.”
Tracy snorted, “Never heard of it, but I barely know how to copy a disk. Now you know why we like to work with sharp people like you.”
I found it disconcerting that the FBI was so clueless about technology. I hoped she was the exception to the rule. I was about to explain my analysis strategy when Rubin’s phone rang. He excused himself and snatched the receiver. “Jimenez. What’s up?”
His eyebrows climbed his forehead as he listened. “Tell her to keep him waiting. Get the locals here. I’m on my way.”
He slammed the receiver down and retrieved his sport coat from the hook by the door. He was so consumed with urgency that we were invisible. Tracy stood up and faced him. “You need my help on this?”
That caught his attention. He paused and thought a second. Then he smiled at her. “Yes, in fact you could. There’s a guy down at the teller line that matches the description of the Chief.”
Tracy came to a taunt attention. “Is he passing more bad paper?”
Rubin smiled a wicked grin. Tracy mimicked it back. I knew that look—the thrill of pursuit—the expectant joy of running your prey to the ground and bagging a trophy. Although I had felt it back in my younger days when I finally cracked through the security of a tough system and made it my own. Hacking and catching crooks. I guess the adrenaline rush was the same. Tracy and Rubin where so caught up in it, they completely forgot I was there. Without a look back, they bolted out of the room.
I adjusted my glasses. “Well, that’s that,” I said to no one in particular.
I shoved the list in my pocket and stood to leave when I looked over at Rubin’s cabinet. Me and Mr. Cabinet had unfinished business. I leaned over it to check. Yes, the cabinet was a few inches open. Rubin must have been working in it when Tracy and I came in. I glanced back to the door and saw no one through the glass. It was safe, but I had no time to lose.
Carefully, I eased out of the chair and bent down in front of the cabinet. I swung it open and studied the contents. Three shelves were piled high with folders and overstuffed manila envelopes. I felt through them. One was heavy, like there was a metal brick the size of a paperback novel inside—a hard drive. Unlike everything else in there, this envelope was not labeled. I slipped it out and held it between my knees.
I made one more check of the window. Still clear. I tucked the envelope under my arm, covering it with my fleece jacket. I grabbed the cabinet door—wait—should I leave it open and unlocked? If Rubin came back early and saw it unlocked, he might get worried and double-check the contents. I figured it would take me about ten minutes to dupe the drive. Rubin shouldn’t be back by then, especially if he was busting someone. If I locked it, I’d hate to have him catch me in the act of picking it back open. Crap, I was wasting time debating this.
I left the cabinet door just a hair open. If he came back, he wouldn’t notice it. As I stood up and turned to make my exit, a dark shadow appeared in the window. Reflexively, I backed up into the cabinet. A lump of nausea dropped into my stomach as I heard the lock click shut.
A bald man with a goatee appeared at the window. It was Harry, one of Rubin’s people. He scanned through the office like a searchlight. He spotted me and opened the door. “Where’s Rubin?”
“I think he went to the teller line. Said something about catching the Chief. I was just finishing up a meeting.”
Harry lit up with the same hunter’s joy that I saw on Rubin’s and Tracy’s faces. “I better get down there and help him.” I wasn’t sure he wanted to lend a hand as much as he wanted to be in on the action.
I moved toward him to exit the office. As I passed by him, Harry reached in and snapped the door lock on. I tried to cradle the envelope so he couldn’t get a good view of it.
Harry turned to follow me to the elevators. I realized how much trouble I was in. Rubin’s door was locked. Electronically locked. Picking cabinet locks was easy, but our office doors were computerized and required the proper magnetic badge to open. And Rubin had his badge with him.
Harry waited for the elevator while I headed to the stairs. My mind was racing so fast that I couldn’t form an idea on how to get back into the office. Maybe something would come to me while I duped the drive. Right now, every second counted, so I just ran.
Sprinting down the six flights of stairs was my fastest way down to the computer operations floor. After the first flight, my knee tightened and throbbed, starting at the edges and piercing inward up under my knee-cap. Normally, it didn’t bother me too much, as long as I didn’t over exert myself. Today, I was exerting myself. I slowed my sprint to a partial hop on my good leg, balancing myself with a hand on the railing. The dry cement smell of the stairwell burned my throat as I gulped for air. Crap, maybe I should have just waited for the elevator. This was taking too long.
I barreled out of the stairwell and nearly ran right over Mitch. His dumbfounded expression morphed into a questioning look. Before he could mouth something, I snapped, “No time, late.” I continued down the hall at warp speed. He’d probably chock it up to the usual Heidi rudeness. Whatever.
Luckily, the computer build lab was deserted. The big plastic cart was gone, so the techs must be out delivering PCs to users. I stepped over to the lab’s drive duplicator, which was normally used to make disk images of systems under repair. I opened the envelope from Rubin’s cabinet and removed the drive. A forty gigger—just like Alicia’s. I wondered what was so special about this drive that Rubin had it hidden in his cabinet. Suicide, my ass. Something was being covered up.
I snapped it into the cradle of the duplicator. The drive light came on and a soft whir emitted from the spinning disk. I inserted a blank DVD and began the copy process.
Elapsed time: 0 minutes.
Estimated time: 27 minutes.
That’s kind of long. Oh, stupid. I had left the verify process turned on, doubling the copy time. Twice as long was time that I didn’t have. I stabbed the abort button and the DVD ejected from the system, partially copied and ruined. I tossed it and started over with a fresh disc.
Elapsed time: 0 minutes.
Estimated time: 16 minutes.
Elite hackers wipe all traces from any system they invade. As far as I knew, Alicia was just a normal user, not a techie. That means she probably didn’t take steps to cover her tracks. Browsers automatically store copies of recently visited websites so the same data doesn’t have to be retrieved again if you go back there. This speeds up the Internet experience. And it also leaves a nice trail to follow on the hard drive.
Leaving trails. I leaned over and picked the tossed DVD out of the trash. I thought about pocketing it but it’d just be one more piece of incriminating evidence I’d have to carry around. With a few quick bends, it shattered apart. The trashcan was now littered with golden shards of hard plastic. I dare anyone to try to decipher that. I checked the duplicator.
Elapsed time: 3 minutes.
Estimated time: 16 minutes.
I stared at the screen and watched the animated hourglass fill and flip over. I wondered how Rubin and Tracy were doing. Figure detaining the guy is going to take five to ten minutes, plus add another twenty minutes or so to—
From behind me, soft footsteps echoed. I turned to see Warren walk into the lab. What was he doing here? He immediately began yapping. “Mitch said he saw you heading down here. I need you to help out Gayle with an issue with the test server.”
I pulled the phone off my belt and made a bit of a show as I checked it for messages.
“No, we didn’t page you. What’s wrong with just asking you? She’s in the NOC.” He pronounced it knock. Network Operations Center. We techies love our acronyms. Even technical management boobs like Warren.
The NOC was nearby, but I really didn’t want to leave Alicia’s stolen drive unattended. I pointed at the duplicator and opened my mouth but Warren cut me off, “That doesn’t require your immediate attention. Gayle does. Go and help her now. Please.”
I exhaled a loud puff of concession and hopped off the stool. I hoped Gayle would only need me for a second.
As I jogged over, I wondered why Gayle would be there. Usually only the data-center technicians work in the NOC. Since Gayle was a system admin like me, she was probably only there to fix or install something.
I trotted up the short ramp to the entrance. Through the glass door, I saw a woman with dark hair and wire-framed glasses sitting at one of the terminals. It was Casey, not Gayle.
I placed my badge on the door lock and its red light flicked to green. The door unlocked and I swung it open into the bright white room. On the inside, the NOC looked like a mini version of NASA’s control center, complete with the birdcalls and beeps of machines at work. Casey rolled in her chair down the twenty-foot long row of command consoles and faced me, smiling.
Despite my terseness, she still answered in her chirpy voice, “Sorry, you just missed her. She was just here a minute ago.”
Casey’s soft-spoken politeness temporarily disarmed the ticking clock running in the back of my head. Casey was one of the friendliest and most dedicated people here. In fact, she was one of the few who actually cared about the systems she managed and the users who depended on them. So naturally, she’d been in this job for over a year with no chance of promotion. I felt the need to show her at least a smidgen of respect.
“Sorry, busy day. Do you know what she needed me for?”
She creased her eyebrows and thought a second. Despite her niceness, I became annoyed at how long it took her to answer. “I think she was trying to load some new data structures into the MYZRE test system but had some problems. Roger came by and helped get her going.”
Humph, I didn’t know what bugged me more: this wild goose chase or the fact that Roger had access to our NOC. It did give me an idea though. “Thanks. I’ll be in the server room.”
I badged through the thick steel door and advanced into the dark rows of cages and blinking lights. The roar of the cooling fans and drive motors ground away in my ears. I felt adrift in a sea of white noise.
The door swung shut behind me with a pneumatic hiss. Despite the alien surroundings, I felt at home. I liked it in there. It was a good place to hide from the Warrens of the world. Not only was I left alone, but I preferred to have my hands directly on the systems. The work I needed to do today required that I have both. I snagged a laptop from the nearby shelf and stalked past the racks of equipment. A wind of dry cold air pushed against my face and made me blink and rewet my lips.
Because of the long rows of blinking boxes, the server room always seemed like a supermarket for robots. Although MYZRE took up half the room, there were still a hundred other computers in there: web-servers, document data-silos, printer controllers and the door-entry system. It was time for me to make a few changes to the entry system.
Heading down the east rack, I found the system I was looking for. I kneeled down to set up the laptop. How long had I dallied since leaving Rubin? I glanced down at the clock on my cell-phone to check the time. The panel simply displayed the message: no signal. I forgot that the room’s massive steel racks blocked cellular radio. I rarely wore a watch since it slowed down my typing. Coulda used one today.
A scary thought hit me. What if Rubin decided to question the Chief before taking him into custody? Would he bring him back to his office and do it there? Or would Tracy want him at the FBI immediately? Jeeze, I was tying myself up in mental knots when I should be working the problem at hand.
I ran a serial cable from the laptop and fired up a remote control program. My nervous haste caused me to pound my commands so hard that the screen quivered with the vibrations. I reached down to my belt and checked my badge’s number, 7349.
With a few more commands directly into the heart of the system, I bypassed its security and altered the inventory of doors that could be opened by card 7349. All true hacking involves crawling under an enemy’s defenses and coming at them in an unexpected way.
The cold dry air didn’t stop the streams of sweat that were running down my spine. Theoretically, my badge should now open any door on Rubin’s floor. If it worked, I’d have another story to share with Fruit Cup Boy. Someday we should replace this antiquated system with something that couldn’t be so easily jimmied. But for now, I was glad to have my little hacker loophole.
As I closed the terminal and disconnected the laptop, I made a mental note to come back later to revert my card back to normal access. I snapped the laptop shut and tossed it back onto the shelf as I exited.
I shot Casey a quick wave and hightailed down the ramp. The corner of my eye caught the clock in the wall above the command console. Nearly twenty minutes gone! The drive duplicator had to be done by now. And Rubin was probably already headed back to his office. I needed to move.
I quick-stepped down the hall back to the lab. Mercifully, I saw neither Gayle nor Roger. Better yet, no Warren. I checked and found that the damned duplicator was still running.
Elapsed time: 19 minutes.
Estimated time: 16 minutes.
There were days when I just hated computers. Hell if I knew how much longer this would take. I needed to find out where things were with Rubin. I grabbed a nearby phone and punched up lobby reception.
Bzz, Bzz, Bzz.
No answer. No answer? There was always supposed to be someone down there during business hours. With a whir, the DVD ejected. Finally! I grabbed it and yanked the drive out of the duplicator. I stabbed the power switch to clear the duplicator’s memory and then ran for the stairs. I’d been gone for nearly a half hour.
I still didn’t dare take the elevator for fear of bumping into Rubin, who must be on his way back by now. After a few painful flights up the stairs, I peeled off my fleece. That’s when I realized that my shirt was wet with sweat and stuck to my skin. Crap, I looked mega-suspicious. I slipped the jacket back on. Although it was uncomfortable as hell, the dark coloring covered up the telltale perspiration marks. I used my sleeves to wipe my drippy face as I powered up the remaining stairs.
I was too scared to feel relieved as I pushed open the door onto the seventh floor. My knee throbbed harder than ever. I tried not to limp but it felt like someone had shoved a few pencils under my kneecap.
Then I noticed that the entire security section had been abandoned. Was everyone still arresting the Chief?
Now was the time to find out if my impromptu hacking was successful. I tried my badge on Rubin’s door and waddya know? The door light cooled from red to green as the lock disengaged. I slipped inside and closed the door behind me.
I checked the cabinet and yes, it was locked. I put the drive back in the envelope and placed it on the desk next to the cabinet. Worse came to worst, Rubin might assume he’d left it out by accident. I should be so lucky.
Alright, I needed to do this the hard way. I snagged a large paperclip off a bundle of reports on the desk and unbent it. Leaning over the cabinet, I stuck the piece inside the lock and gently raked it back and forth. After a quick look to double-check that the door was clear, I grabbed the handle and turned. Clank. It didn’t budge.
More raking, more nervous checking over my shoulder. The sweat made my hands slippery. As I turned and twisted across the lock tumblers, the hard metal wire of the clip bit down into my fingers. I took a breath and gave the handle another pull. Yes! It opened. I still had the magic.
As quickly as I could, I shoved the envelope back under a pile of papers inside and closed the cabinet. It locked again with a satisfying click.
I turned around, half-expecting to see the Special Agent Tracy, gun drawn, ready to arrest me. But I was still alone. I pocketed the bent clip and headed to the door.
As I closed Rubin’s door behind me, I spotted them. Rubin and Tracy were striding down the hall toward me. They both looked right at me.
I froze. Did they see me leave his office or not?
Oh God, I didn’t think they’d believe that I waited alone in the office for the past half hour. And Harry knew I had left. Plus he had locked the door behind me. What if…wait, Rubin’s face was all red. He looked like he’d been crying. And Tracy’s blazer was rumpled and askew. What was going on?
Rubin wiped his nose with his fist and chuckled. Tracy nudged him with her elbow and said, “Chief’s something else, huh?” I realized that Rubin’s clothes were totally messed up. His shirt was pulled out of his waistband and there were bruises on his neck! “Guys?”
Rubin clapped a hand on my shoulder as he badged open the door to his office. Tracy laughed and said, “You shoulda seen it. Well, maybe its better that you didn’t.” We all filed back into Rubin’s office.
Rubin plopped behind his desk and pulled a small towel out from a drawer. While he rubbed it against his face, Tracy explained, “When we tried to detain the Chief, he got violent. He tried to scramble away and began throwing wild punches. Rubin and one of his boys tackled him and—-”
“It was just like a rugby scrum,” Rubin interjected, “Next thing you know, all of us were rolling around on the floor of the lobby.” He offered the towel to Tracy, who declined.
Tracy picked up again, “So our guy’s wiggling around like a fish but Rubin gets a good grip on him. That’s when one of the local’s decides to mace him. Well, his aim was off—-”
“And the whole lobby got a big whiff of pepper gas. And because I was holding him, I got it full in the face.” Rubin trailed off laughing and choking.
I had always wondered if the tough guy thing was for real. Guess so.
Tracy shared my awe. “So Rubin still manages to hang on. I jumped in and the locals helped us get him cuffed. The gas ended up clearing the lobby though.”
I couldn’t help but come around the desk and check Rubin’s swollen face. He gave me that “aw, shucks” look. “Don’t worry, the EMTs flushed it out of my eyes. I’ll be okay. Hey, you look a little red yourself.”
I whirled and saw that Tracy was studying me as well.
I tried not to stammer my answer. “Uh yeah, I wanted to see you guys in action, so I snuck down to the lobby for a peek but as soon as I...”
Tracy scolded me gently, “And you got some of the gas.”
I nodded and looked at the floor, letting my guilty look work for me.
“Next time there’s something like this going down, you need to remain clear. Rubin’s the only guy here who can handle this kind of action.”
Rubin smiled unabashedly at the female adoration. I looked up at him, making sure he was totally buying my story. I really couldn’t read his face but he looked at Tracy for a second and then said, “I’m calling it a day.”
Tracy nodded and we all left his office together.