Thursday, June 2, 2016

K & T & the Sixteen Boxes

This story was my entry in the 2016 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Contestants were given 3 bits of info to build a story from over a set number of days. There were three rounds. I didn't make it past round 1 but I got a story out of it in a genre outside my wheelhouse. My assignment included: Genre - caper; Subject - password breach; Character - ski instructor; Length less than 2500 words; Duration - seven days. The result is the following underappreciated classic caper.

“K? K! Get up! What the hell happened? You’ve been out for three minutes!”
The woman in the lodge’s security center stopped pacing, slammed herself into her chair and leaned close to the monitor, shouting into her headset microphone. The women on the black-and-white security feed slowly pulled herself into a sitting position in a corner of the vault.
“Ow. Ow. Ow,” she groaned.
“K! Answer me! What happened? You fell and you were out for three minutes! You were convulsing or something, but I couldn't really see you since you fell with your back to the camera! I thought I'd have to get you to a hospital, and was freaking out since I don't even know your name! I thought I was going to have to abort!”
Oh thank God she’s not dead. I am way too deep into this to abort now, T thought.
K turned to the security camera at the ceiling to her right. “Just a minute, T,” she whispered. T could make out K’s eyes beneath the gas mask. She watched K wince and twist her slender frame slightly as she reached for something under her hip against the vault door. With a grunt, she pulled out a blocky device and let it fall to the floor in view of the camera.
T leaned even closer to the monitor and gasped. “Is that a taser? That’s your taser! You tased yourself with your own taser? How the hell does that even happen?”
I’ve partnered with a moron and I’m so, so dead.
“Ug,” K groaned as she pulled the barb-tipped wires from her black equipment vest. She pulled foot upon foot of the wires from under her hip. “Unbelievable. I just bought this vest and now it’s torn.”
“K! Focus!” T yelled, her blonde ponytail quivering with rage against her gray parka. Her extra makeup was starting to streak from the sweat.
“Yeah. Focus.” K looked around the room. “There are a couple of canisters by the door. My guess is I didn’t see them and I fell.”
“You fell and tased yourself?”
“I fell. There’s stuff on the floor and I tripped or something. I’m sorry I didn’t fall as correctly as I should have and oh by the way go fuck yourself.”
T relaxed a little. “Ok. That's the K I'm used to. It’s a good thing you didn’t knock your mask off when you hit. You’re breathing okay? Where’d it hit you?”
You can’t die yet. Just finish the job.
“Right at my hip. The barbs just got my vest, but got close enough, I guess. I’m breathing fine but I’m a little dizzy. How long was I out?”
“I just told you. Three minutes.”
“Jesus. And you didn’t abort?”
“I just spent an entire year of my life teaching these criminal assholes and their little brats to ski. I am not about to leave empty-handed.”
Not until the job’s done and I can pin it on you.
“You're right. Sorry. I'm getting it together. Thanks for the concern. Still not exchanging names. How are the guards doing?”
In the lodge’s security room directly above the vault, T checked each of the other monitors. “You’re fine at the moment. They’re down. The gas is still pretty thick, but with three minutes down you’ve got to work even faster, I don’t care how good a safe hacker you are.”
K got herself to her feet with some effort. She took in the room.
“Lots of safety deposit boxes. One-sixteen?”
“Again, a lot of safety deposit boxes. We’re sure we only want this one?”
Stop thinking.
“Yes, just the one. The rest of the stuff is traceable, but no one’s going to report a missing drive, full of personal data and passwords for a criminal clientele, stolen from a fake ski lodge.”
Jesus H. Christ just do what you’re fucking told!
“Hm,” K said as she moved toward the target box, just out of the camera frame.
“Hm? What hm?”
“T, your plan was great except for the fact that they’ve got a lock we didn’t know about on this one box.”
“What? You’re kidding.”
I’m way too panicky now, that didn’t sound very authentic.
“Uh, no. That’s a pretty important minor detail. Who was in charge of the intel oh by the way go fuck yourself some more?”
Do not lose my shit. Do not lose my shit. Do not lose my shit.
 “See? That’s what I've been saying all along. Hannigan is always neglecting some important detail. He’s great at design, but he sucks at implementation. That’s why he can’t keep a legit Head of Security job and has to keep working these underworld gigs. That’s why I like to hit his clients. He always leaves some key little chink in the armor open to exploit.”
“Yeah, right, but there’s still a device on this one box. Looks like a purposeful upgrade, not a chink.”
Shit. She’s not buying it.
T chewed a fingernail while K fiddled with something off-screen. “Wait, what kind of keypad is it?”
“Touchscreen. Looks pretty cheap.”
“Does it look new?”
“I guess.”
“I bet it still has the cling film on the screen.”
“Huh. Yeah, I can see the little bubbles trapped under it.”
“It has to be brand new. That would explain why it wasn’t in any of the specs I found. The owners here probably asked Hannigan for a backup recently.”
Ok, that’s all I’ve got. She either buys it or I’m fucked. T chewed her nail again.
“Is Hannigan the kind of guy that would even neglect to change factory presets when installing stuff like this?”
“He is. He’s certainly planning to get around to it, but for something like this it’s not surprising for him to take weeks. You beat the card swipe and retina scan modules outside. Those would’ve given him a false sense of security.”
“But he was smart enough to put this in and have the door shut automatically when someone gets in.”
That was my idea.
“Like I said. Great design, suckass follow-through.”
K got quiet. T glanced nervously at the monitors again.
“This smells very bad, T.”
“Believe me, I know this guy. It’s his classic m.o.”
“I dunno. First, the canisters on the floor, now this. And he just happens to be off-site?”
“I know it looks bad, K, but he’s never double-crossed anybody, and when we finished last night he absolutely swore to me he was going home to get his divorce moving.”
“You should get a little extra for sleeping with him. He's gross, dumb, and angry.”
“I showered.”
“You sound like you’re over it.”
“Yeah. This and your bad news boyfriend. So, one two three four?”
“That’s my bet.”
“Okay. Here goes.”
There was a pause. On the monitor, K’s shoulders moved slightly.
“That was it. Neon green thumb drive?”
“Neon green thumb drive. Thank God. Now, unlock that door and get out of there.”
“Lots of safety deposit boxes, T.”
“Move, K!”
T watched on the monitor as K turned, put something in a pocket in her vest, and headed out of the frame in the direction of the vault door.
“Standard keypad. One minute and I’m out.”
T scanned the entire bank of monitors again. The guards outside the vault were still on the floor. Same for the guards outside the hallway door leading up to the lodge. She pulled her phone out from her coat pocket.
Once the door’s open, I sound the alarm, Hannigan and his guys mop up, K eats it, I get stinking rich.
“K, you’re golden.”
“Good. Just got the lock. Opening up.”
The monitor screens for the vault and the hallway outside it lit up with the fireball that came next. The blast lifted T straight up out of her chair and threw her backwards against the wall.

When she awoke, a man was sitting next to her. He was reading a magazine, though the light was just a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling.
“Wha…” she mumbled. The man looked at her, set his magazine down, and looked more closely at her. He got up and left the room.
“Where am I?” she asked, blinking.
The man returned with another man. She recognized him.
“Hannigan, I don’t feel right,” she said weakly.
He scoffed. “No, shit. You’ve got some broken bones. Other stuff too, probably.”
“I think I need a doctor.”
“Yeah. You do, Tracy. And you’ll need one even more after you’re done doing some explaining.”
He laughed. “Hell yeah, explaining. Like how I thought we were supposed to catch whoever’s been hitting my jobs all these years, and how somehow all my boys here got gassed to death, and how my vault got blown the fuck up, and how I thought we had a thing, and what the hell these emails and videos I got mean!”
T coughed and spat some blood. “I-I don’t understand.”
The other man took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeve.
“Oh, yeah,” Hannigan said darkly. “You’ve kinda been out of the loop. While you were unconscious, you and some of my clients got these emails with videos of you and me talking about how things have gone wrong with my security in the past and I needed to catch whoever was causing me problems. Even caught the conversation about the thumb drive. That was very expensive for me. Whoever did it hacked the security system here. The emails sent to you came via your account here at the lodge. We got into them after some of my clients started cancelling. Some of them mentioned the girl in the videos—you—a few times.”
T froze.
Hannigan unfolded a paper he pulled from his pocket. “Yeah, here’s a printout of the only message besides the videos in these emails.”
 “Tracy, when you see H., don't use a taser. Tricky if you don't know how to use one. Some boxes weren't traceable. Thanks for fucking him for the intel. It was a good start, but I had to fill in a few blanks myself. Go fuck yourself some more. K.”
She knew my name! She faked the taser! She played me!
“H-Hannigan,” T stammered.
“Whoever sent these emails was really good, Tracy. Can’t trace any of it past a set of dead ends. Very clean. Weirdest thing is that sixteen of the deposit boxes, with untraceable contents I never told you about, had been opened before the blast. Of course, you and my security office were pretty much wrecked. There's no footage from the vault before the explosion.”
It would’ve saved my ass!
“Shit,” T hissed.
“There wasn’t a body, Tracy. I believe you and your friend set me up, and things didn't work out as you planned.”
She wasn’t my…
She didn't see it coming when the other man slammed his fist into the side of her head, knocking her over in the chair she was tied to.
“Why wasn’t there a body, Tracy?”
The other man picked her up, still in the chair, and set her upright.
“Why wasn’t there a body?”
The man punched her in the mouth. She fell backward. Her ponytail settled onto her bloody face. He didn’t stop for a long, long time.

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