Sunday, July 24, 2016

Crime and Gravity Part 2

I cleared the LA docks and hit the freeway with a few hours to burn before there would be anything worth seeing downtown. Being in no rush for once I took the slow way to the office so I could think, stopping the car in an old parking lot and making my way on foot through a small doorway decorated in red and orange lanterns. Inside was one of the smallest restaurants you have ever seen, including a bar with a pair of balding Asian men drinking their sorrows away. I grabbed the first open chair and yelled into the back. “Chula! Have a special back there for me?”

Chula walked out from the back dressed in a stained apron and hat. He started waving his fists erratically as he limped in my direction. “Sloan, you go now. You eat too much, drive poor old man out of business. Look you getting so fat the chair bends!”

I set my hat on the bar, rolling my eyes at the old man as he gesticulated about.“No one is here to watch Chula, save the act for the tourists. You are about as decrepit as I am. Also I am still waiting for my noodles.”

Chula stopped, his eyes flicked left to right, then he slipped into a perfect English accent and lost two thirds of his limp. “The customers expect a certain, ethnicity. You can’t blame an old man for trying to drum a few more people in.”

“Yeah, and I normally don’t mind playing the fool for you, but there is no one to watch.” I hung my jacket on the back of the chair before folding my hands in front of me on the bar.

“You’re a good sport Sam. Let me throw together a bowl for you.” Chula stepped in back while he sent his daughter out to give me a small bowl of soup. After a few minutes Chula came back with a giant bowl of Thai noodles and unceremoniously dropped them off in front of me. “There I gave you a little extra, just don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to maintain.”

“Your secret is safe with me.” I dove into the noodles as Chula wandered back into his kitchen. I had helped the man with a few outstanding legal problems a few years back. The old man came up short on his expense account and offered me a few free meals at his restaurant as recompense. Normally I would have said no but I was feeling sympathetic. That was before I found out he made the best Thai noodles in LA. I may owe him a refund truth be told. There was not enough information yet to make heads or tails of the case as of yet, so I employed the old Zen technique of ‘Clear your mind and eat noodles’. After the meal I left a nice tip for the waitress and made my way back to the office.

Sarah was already waiting for me when I entered the office. I held up a single finger. “Unless someone is going to die, not yet. I coaxed the ancient coffee maker to life, getting a fresh cup out of it before returning my revolver to my desk and sitting down. Sarah tilted her head at me, tapping her foot soundlessly on the tile floor.I took a long slow slip of my coffee then spun in my chair towards Sarah. “I am ready now, what is it?”

“I have been monitoring your communications on the case thus far and prepared information for on on the Midnighters Cycle Gang. They seem to occupy an area slightly north of downtown.”

“And make a living with extortion rackets, smuggling, and the occasional public beating if someone pays their fee. They usually stop short of outright murder though. Also police surveillance equipment has a tendency to either go missing or turn up broken very shortly after being placed. The only upside is with the dark blue on black bikes they cruise around on, they can be spotted a mile away.

“You have dealt with them before.”

“An old case before your time ended in a fight. Couple of the bikers tried to rough up a client of mine. The brawl ended with a few broken bones, one cracked skull, and far too close to me being on the receiving end of several bullets. They were looking to even the score for a while, but after the guy with the cracked skull ended up getting dead in a shootout with the police they calmed down.”

“I am sometimes amazed you survived as long as you have.” Sarah sat on the side of my desk glancing at the files. “I prioritized their recent activity and the information the police have chosen to make public.”

“That will make a good place to start. Get a tracking device ready as well. I want eyes on this Burke, preferably sooner than later.” I opened up the files to see what the Midnighters had been up to since last I crossed their path. Aggravated assaults, extortion, plus whatever the law didn’t care to share with John Public. Just as charming as I recalled.

After picking up a simple tracking device, I went for a slow afternoon drive bringing me to the firm of Pratt and Hawlire. Even at a glance I could see the lawyers were doing well for themselves. The skyscraper gleamed casting a bright reflection from on high to us lower beings at ground level. I flipped on the cameras and began scanning the building while I stopped for coffee and a hot dog from a street vendor with the wild hair of some crazed scientist out of a bad movie. He has clearly been in the sun too long, but who am I to judge a man with food and coffee. I left crazy to his work and slid back into the Fairlane, yelling at the dash between bites of hot dog. “What do you see Sarah?”

The dash answered back. “Unhealthy food and bad table manners.”

I finished the hot dog and made a perfect toss of the wrapper into a nearby garbage can. “First, there is no table so it does not count. Secondly, you perfectly well know I was asking about the building security.”

“Are you after entry to the building itself, or just trying to get to Mister Burke’s car?”

“Let’s start with the car for now. Do an analysis of building security and save it for later use though. Hopefully this won’t turn into petty larceny of the rich and famous, but I like to keep my options open.” I started the car and circled the rest of the building to get an infrared scan of the back side of the skyscraper. Interesting thing about security, unless they go back to using absurd mechanical booby traps everything uses power that can be detected by the right equipment. It isn’t as good as say, bribing a employee for the building plans. Is a lot cheaper however and will give you a fair idea how tightly locked down a building is.

“Confirmed Detective. I have security information on the building stored. Breaking in would be a significant undertaking. The parking garage is much less secure. Only a keypad controlling entry and and cameras at the entrances.”

“Any chance you got the code during my drive-by?” I pulled the car over to the side of the street a safe distance away from the firm.

“One person used the keypad during your drive by. Attempting to reconstruct code from images…Seven…Seven…Five…Three…Six. Ninety two percent chance of accuracy.”

“It’ll have to do.” I slid out of the car, pulling my hat low. “Send the car for me if anything goes wrong.”

“Beginning monitoring of communications in the area.”

I made kept my head sightly low as I made my way quickly down the side of the road. People trying to be polite and unobtrusive often try to place their surveillance out of the way on the ceiling. This makes it fairly easy to slip underneath without leaving enough of you to identify. A proper camera should be right in someone’s face. AS soon as I made it to the door, I punched in the numbers Sarah gave me hearing a satisfying ‘click’. My footsteps echoed as I made my way up the empty stairwell. I was afraid electronic scanning might be picked up so I was left with searching the old fashioned way. Luckily for me the lot was almost abandoned as I made my way through like an idiot who had forgotten where he parked. Eventually I found the black BMW belonging to one James Burke and after a quick check to insure I was not being observed, I affixed a tracker right next to his gas tank. I made it out of the building without a hitch and the car caught up with me a couple blocks away.

“One job down.” I turned the car back towards the office. “Let’s give this one some time and see where he goes tonight.”

“I’ll keep track of his location and let you know if he goes anywhere interesting.”

This left me a couple dull hours of paperwork while I waited for my mark to get out of work. Dusk finally came and I slipped into the fairlane taking a long circle around the Midnighter’s territory. I only made out a couple of their bikes from a distance, must be a slow night. On the second pass around the outskirts I heard Sarah’s voice break up the monotony of watching a few bikes do nothing.

“Detective, I am picking up Mister Burke’s tracking device in your area.”

“Give me his location.” Sarah lit up a small dot on my local GPS map and I spun the car around, following Burke into gang territory at a reasonably safe distance. He certainly was not worried about being followed as he pulled up right next to a pair of Midnighters idling at a street corner and passed a small package out the window. I pulled a fast right as my only other option was to stop the car right behind the idiot. As I rolled up to a stop sign a pair of blue on black bikes pulled up on either side of my car. They didn’t look primed for a fight, so I rolled down my window and turned to face a tall, gaunt girl staring down at me. Not hard on the eyes even if gang tattoos and bleach blond mohawks aren’t quite my thing. I will say this for the Midnighters, they do not discriminate. All violent antisocial criminals are welcome.

“You don’t look like you belong here mister.” The blond spoke as I caught the rider of the other bike out of the corner of my eye. A well muscled guy sat testing the swing on a heavy chain. I can generally spot a follower and was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to make a move without his partner’s say so.

I lifted my hands up off the wheel and waved them around. “Hey I am not looking for any trouble. I was supposed to met a guy name Jose at his bar and I think I am in the wrong neighborhood.”

Blondie nodded at her friend as he brought the chain over the hood of my car with a loud metallic bang. “Idiot ,get out of here before I have Hugo drag you out of the car.”

“Yes ma’am. I stepped on the gas speeding out into the night. I find that people always like to think that others are either stupid or cowards and am not above playing to expectations when it gets me out of a fight I do not want. I wonder if I can charge a paint touch up to Fellow’s expense account.

I picked up Burke on his way out of gangland and got back on his tail. He was driving slow and casually making me certain I had not been made. I turned out of his path as he pulled into the valet parking area of the Century Club.

As I considered my next move, Sarah’s voice lit up. “Detective, I have a message for you from Miss Cherry Azure. I think you will want to hear this.”

“Go ahead.”

“Miss Azure would like you to come around back and explain to her why you are tailing her clients.”

This was the last thing I needed. “Tell her I am on my way.” I was stuck by the feeling I was about to get scolded as I spun the car around. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Crime and Gravity Part 1

Crime and Gravity

December 28th, 2107 10:08 AM

Just a few days before the new year and I was reduced to staring blankly out the window of the Regency Bright office building to avoid one of my least favorite tasks, the yearly budget. Thanks to Sarah it was mostly automated at this point but everything still needed to be signed and approved. Generally thanks to little legal problems like Sarah not being technically a person. For the first time in several years the numbers were looking good. The Lockwell case had made me into a fifteen minute hero, lining up a series of cases that had the small benefit of me not being shot at and getting paid for the same. Sarah has noted several times that this would be a good habit to continue. I sent off the last invoice I intended to today, then spun in my chair while lighting up a cigar. After a long slow drag I turned my gaze to the empty air. “Do we have any actual casework this week, or should I just close down, yell happy new year, and go on a three day bender?”

“I am certain you would do better without the bender.” Sarah’s translucent form appeared, slowly examining the computer screen over my shoulder. “And as far as case work we have been contacted by one Alexander Fellows, a mid range lawyer from the Pratt and Hawlire firm.” Sarah turned my computer screen to the details on the firm.

I took a moment to consider while reading. “Fancy, Why doesn’t a firm this high end have their own investigators on retainer?”

“They do, I asked while setting up his appointment why he was going out of house and he refuse to answer except in person. It is possible your potential client suffers from a touch of paranoia?”

“Just what I need. When is his appointment?”

“Mr. Fellows will be here at noon. Also if you intend to spend the last few days of the year on case, it would be a good idea to finish up those last few budget items first.”

I reopened the agencies files and went back to work while I finished off my cigar. Sometimes I wonder which of us is charge here. The door opening two hours later was a welcome relief as I made out Sarah’s voice. “Welcome to Samuel Sloan Investigations Mr. Fellows. Can we get you anything?”

A croaky voice came from the entrance. “No thank you.” The voice was quickly followed by the appearance of a short man in with a dark grey trench-coat covering his suit and deep black sunglasses with silver edges. Mr. Fellows looked like a spy from an old movie, a bad one anyways. Man might as well wear a neon sign saying “I am up to something.” He entered the office and even through the sunglasses I could tell he was searching for threats that were not there.

“Would you like a seat Mr. Fellows?” I indicated the chair I reserved for clients. Sarah glanced at Fellows, nonchalantly shrugged at me, then quietly took a seat on the other side of the room. Fellows stared at the chair with a blank look on his face for a few seconds before finally consenting to take a seat. Fellows then proceeded to scan the room as if someone was going to jump out of the plastic plant in the corner. “Perhaps if you told me why you need my services?”

“I am an accountant at the Pratt and Hawlire firm. Are you sure this location is secure?” Fellow’s eyes shifted from side to side before staring out the window with a look of fear in his eyes.

“Completely, all communications in and out of the office are monitored. I would know if someone tried to slip in, however if it will make you feel better.” I turned to Sarah. “Suspend all communications while I am talking to Mister Fellows.”

“Confirmed Detective. No Signals are going in or out.” Sarah tilted her head, giving a look that told me this precaution was a waste of time.

“Now what can I do for you sir?”

Fellows rung his hands before finally speaking again. “My current position at Pratt and Hewlett is accounting for one of their junior partners, James Burke. Last week I found a few discrepancies in his expenses. When I brought the errors to Mr. Burke’s attention, he rather firmly told me to go back to adding numbers and not bother him with this sort of nonsense again. Digging backwards into the department financial records I found unusual payouts going back several months.”

“Doesn’t your firm have investigators on retainer?”

“They do but all the changes are in my name, with my sign in code. If I spoke up I am sure they would just fire me to be on the safe side, then turn the case over to the police.”

I closed my eyes for a moment. “Let’s start there. What do you need to sign in.”

“A keycard and fingerprint. I can’t see how anyone could fake that.”

I leaned forward. “I doubt that. Cloning a a key card and getting a scan of a fingerprint is child’s play for a professional. For the moment let’s use that as a working theory. Do you have electronic copies of the files?”

“No, company records are not allowed off the premises.”

I tapped my fingers on the desk, thinking it over. “My personal recommendation is to come clean to your employer. It always looks better to speak up than be found out. An investigation by an agency with full access to your firm’s records would more likely than not find some evidence to exonerate you. That being said, if you want me to look into it, I am going to need three days in advance. After that time we can determine a way forward.”

“I don’t trust the people at my firm. I’ll have the money transferred immediately and expect to hear from you soon.” Fellows rose to leave.

I moved around my desk to walk him to the door. “Anything else I should know about this case?”

“Well I did follow Burke to just north of downtown. I could have sworn I saw him drop off a package to a woman on a motorcycle, but then he turned a corner and I lost him.”

“Do me a favor, sit tight and let me handle the investigation for the next few days. Also lose the sunglasses.” I guided him towards the door.

Fellows stared at me for moment then nodded as he put the glasses in his pocket before tottering out the door. I waited until the door was firmly closed behind him before returning my attention to Sarah. “What did you get out of that?”

“As predicted your client is paranoid and easily terrified Detective.” Sarah leaned over my desk. “That being said I do believe someone is trying to set him up. The mention of motorcycles north of downtown did concern me.”

“Me as well. I think it is time for a trip to Redgrave. Trouble with the Riders I do not need.” I checked myself in the mirror as I got my coat on, sliding my revolver into the side holster as a precaution. “Send the car around front.”

“On it’s way Detective. I am also monitoring public feeds for mention of Alexander Fellows, in case he ignores your warning and decides to run his own investigation.”

“Good idea.” I started to make my way towards the door. “Keep me informed.”

“Of course.” Sarah hopped onto my desk then slowly faded from view.

After taking the elevator down, I slid into the Fairlane, clicked the auto drive off, then slammed on the gas. I was in the mood to drive fast and I let the tires squeal I made my way to the docks.

Arriving at the coast I made my way past security and to the makeshift office of petty criminal and information broker Julian Redgrave. As I entered unannounced he was curled over a jeweled necklace with a magnifying lens, looking every bit the rat he was. I chose not to ask where he got the necklace.

“Am I interrupting?” I took a position at the other side of his table. Taking in the shine of sapphires as I tried to guess how much cash I was looking at. “Nice piece.”

“You always, what do you want this time?” Redgrave stood up from his work “Make it quick, I have a buyer lined up for this and they won’t like company when they show to pick it up.”

“You know if the Rider’s have been getting any extra influx of cash lately?”

Redgrave cocked a single eyebrow. “You messing with them again? You’re even dumber than I thought.”

I slid my hat off taking a slow walk around the room. “I was hoping to eliminate them as a suspect here so I would not have to.”

“Well for once I can’t help you. Their outfit has been moving up in the world. Running their cash through some big law firm and leaving the little guys like me out in the cold. Now shoo before you cost me a good client.”

“It was worth a shot.” I replaced my hat and made for the door. Nice of Redgrave to give me what I needed for free this time. Even if it meant dealing with a violent bunch I would prefer to avoid. I decided to wait for dark before venturing out.