Rose arrived in the conference room breathless. Elena, Amber, and Allison were already in disguise, with Elena making last minute checks on the younger girls' coveralls. The blonde looked over at the newcomer. "Something wrong, Rose?"
"Ever have the feeling that you're being followed?" Rose asked.
"Always," Elena answered. "Not especially so today, though."
Allison looked up from adjusting her tools. "Did you see who was following you?"
"No. Just cars that managed to keep pace just enough to be noticeable."
Allison walked over to a chair. "Are we still going to the warehouse?"
"Mr. Sexton's money arrived at fifteen hundred," Elena reported. "We're on the clock."
Rose picked up the remaining set of coveralls. "We're still going. We're just the cutouts in this."
"This is just like a shadowrun. All we're missing is--"
"Amber, not now," Allison admonished. "No geeking out on the job."
"Just for that, no Pocky for you."
"Girls, no squabbling," Rose said. She started putting on the coveralls over her dark shirt and jeans. "You're almost as bad as my kids."
Elena picked up the duffel bag sitting on the table. "All the gear is ready?"
"Fully checked out," Allison said. "Batteries at full charge. Radios too. The van is ready with the usual electronics package."
Rose zipped up the coveralls. "We're ready to go, then. Let's go."
The four women walked to the elevator to take the trip into the parking level. Only a handful of cars remained, most belonging to the night staff. The women arrived at a unmarked van. "The logos are inside," Allison explained. "Standard procedure, right? Find someplace lonely, then put them on."
"There's a strip mall two miles from the warehouse that should be good," Amber said. "It's near the stadium, but the Cards are in Chicago right now."
"Good work," Rose said. She opened the side door, revealing a console with ports for radios and a laptop. Allison slipped into the chair and fastened her seat belt. Amber jumped into the driver's seat. Elena joined her up front. Rose followed Allison into the back. "Allie, let's get everything working now before we leave."
"For a job that's supposed to be by the numbers, we're going off track a lot," Allison pointed out. "I don't like this."
"We've been through worse, Allie," Rose said. "I'm just playing a hunch. Besides, you'll be in with me. Elena has to use the system this time."
"Just saying, Rose."
"I understand." Rose watched Allison set up the console. After a test run, Allison gave the okay sign. "Amber, go."
The van pulled out of the parking garage and on to the deserted streets of St. Louis. The night sky was cloudy, threatening to rain. The first stop was the strip mall Amber described. Two cars sat in the mall's parking lot, unattended. The windows to the stores were dark, reflecting the light from street lamps and of the van as Allison and Rose affixes the hydro company's logos on it. Elena got out to check the handiwork, making minor adjustments to the signs. The women returned into the van.
St. Louis, Missouri
The van coasted to a stop a block away from the women's destination. Elena and Amber stepped out, adjusting their coveralls. They opened the back doors and took out a crowbar. Amber walked over to the manhole cover and pried it open with the crowbar. The sound of metal against asphalt echoed back from the surrounding buildings. Under the cover of the sound, Rose and Allison slipped out the side of the van, their coveralls shed before they left.
The lights along the street were far enough apart that the two women could move without being seen even by their partners at the van. They skulked up to the fence surrounding the target warehouse. Allison set down her canvas satchel on the ground, then knelt beside it. She pulled out a amperage meter. "I doubt the fence is wired, but it doesn't hurt to confirm it."
Rose nodded. "Be careful."
Allison attached two banana clips to the fence, then plugged them into the meter. She pressed a button on the side of her instrument. The needle on it flickered, but didn't register. "Nothing, like I expected. No alarms, either."
"Too risky out here. The wind might trigger it."
"Assume the worst when someone else is the designer. Always." Allison removed the clips from the fence and shoved the meter back into her satchel.
Rose took out a pair of goggles from her bag and placed them on her head. "Just in case," she said.
"Good idea." Allison took her pair out from her satchel. "Ready."
The women snuck around the perimeter of the warehouse's fence, looking for a way inside. The only way, though, was the main gate, locked with a simple chain and padlock. Rose took out a set of lockpicks and set to work on the lock. With a few deft wrist movements, the lock clicked open. Rose tested the gate, making sure it wouldn't squeak when opened. She ushered Allison in first, then followed.
The grounds around the warehouse were covered with gravel. The only pavement was from the main doors to the gate. Crouching down, Rose and Allison ran across the open area on the gravel. Reaching the side of the building, the two women stopped to catch their breath. Rose looked around for an entrance. When she found one, she tapped Allison on the shoulder, then walked towards the door. Allison shouldered her satchel, then followed. Rose brushed the doorknob with the back of her hand. "It's safe," she announced. She knelt down and examined the lock. With a smirk, she picked the lock and opened the door. Once Allison was inside, Rose followed, closing the door behind her.
The room was completely dark; no light seeped in from the outside at all. Rose lowered her goggles and turned them on. The area turned green except for Allison, who stood out in yellows and reds. She heard Allison turn on her goggles. "Stay close," Rose said. She started down the hallway. The sea of green turned blue along a section of wall. She stopped in front of it. "What do you think?"
Allison stepped closer to the blue area for a closer examination. "As good a place to check as any." She reached out and started feeling the wall. Through her thin glove, she felt an indentation. "Concealed door."
"Stand back." Rose took Allison's spot and started feeling around along the side. She found a small crack that took a square shape. "Found the panel. I think you can bypass it."
Allison brought out a penlight. "Careful," she warned before turning it on. She felt around the panel, finding the cover latch. With the cover off, the electronic keypad's blinking red light could be easily seen. Allison put the penlight between her teeth and brought out a screwdriver set.
"Make it fast, Allie."
Allison nodded, then set to work removing the cover to the keypad. Underneath lay a number of wires left loose. Allison examined them, tracing each one to a single chip. "I think I can bypass the code."
"Five minutes, Allie. Then we either have to be past the door or on our way out."
"Shouldn't take me that long." Allison probed the chip with a thin flathead screwdriver. The one centimetre by one centimetre square moved slightly as Allison tried to pull it up. "Okay, I got it. They'll suspect something if we don't take the time to fix it on our way out."
"That's fine, Allie. Three minutes."
Allison put away her screwdriver and brought out a small razor. She sliced the connections to the chip, then pulled it out completely. A click came from the door. Allison glanced at Rose. "I hope that was the lock."
Rose tried opening the door. It swung away without effort. "I think it was. No dawdling, though."
Allison turned off her penlight, then pulled her goggles down again. She followed Rose through the door. The thermographic lenses only picked up the ambient heat, slightly warmer than the previous hall. However, at the end of the passage, a slight orange glow came from a crack low on the wall near the floor. Rose took raised her goggles. "Light," she whispered. She turned off her lenses and crept ahead. She listened at the door, then motioned for Allison to catch up. "No sound," Rose said when the younger brunette caught up.
"Does this strike you as being too easy to you?" Allison asked.
"Don't jinx this." Rose tested the door. "Locked."
Allison took out her flashlight and shone it around the doorway. "I don't see a lock."
Rose felt around. "Nothing."
Allison flashed her penlight around along the floor. "Here. Some sort of junction box." She set down her satchel and rummaged through it. After a moment, she pulled out a false-leather toolkit. She picked a screwdriver, then laid down on the ground. The cover to the junction box fell victim to Allison's skill and was set aside. "Okay, this is unexpected. Rose, don't touch the door."
Rose looked down at the computer expert and backed away from the door. "What is it?"
"It must have sensed your first touch. There's a current running through it."
"Can you turn it off?"
Allison smirked. "What do you think? I'll tell you, though, this is an odd way to protect a door. It's set to arm after being touched. Now, if we went through when you first felt it, we would have been fine. But, on the way back? Zap! A cross between a mosquito trap and a roach motel. Hand me my pliers."
Rose retrieved the requested tool from the satchel. "Here. And from here out, don't touch anything."
"Anything you say." Two snips echoed in the quiet corridor. "Alright, disarmed. Go ahead and open it."
Rose touched the door with the back of her hand. Feeling no current passing through her, she started trying to move the door, resulting in it sliding to the side. Rose stepped through the doorway and into a corridor lit with red light. "Clear."
Static crackled over Rose's headset. Elena's voice, almost obscured by electronic noise, said, "Sparrow, this is Nest, respond."
"Something in the structure is interfering," Allison explained. "Probably a retrofit."
"Nest, this is Sparrow."
"Sparrow, you are not clear. Repeat, you are not clear."
"Copy that, Nest. Belgrade, 1986. Repeat, Belgrade, 1986."
"Message received, Sparrow. Next check-in as scheduled. Nest out."
Rose heard Elena click off. "Okay, let's move."
"No time to explain. The sooner we get the photos, the sooner we get out of here." Rose ran to the end of the corridor to yet another door. "Look for traps."
Allison scanned the walls for panels. "Change of plans?"
"Like you wouldn't believe. Don't worry about subtlety. If you have to break through a wall to avoid a trap, do it."
"Right . . .." Allison continued her search.
Rose stepped closer to the wall. "Hmm." With a light touch, she ran a finger down the wall. When she felt a slight bump, she pressed. A section of the wall raised revealing a room with several desks. On each desk sat a powered off monitor. The back wall was hidden by filing cabinets. "This has to be it."
Allison shrugged. "If you say so."
Rose dug out a camera from her bag. "I do. Start looking. Hopefully, there's only one set of floor plans. Start on the left. I'll take the right. Shout if you find anything." Rose walked over to the right side of the room and tried opening the first filing cabinet's drawer. "Locked. Allie, how's your end."
"The same. This is going to be a long chore if what we want is in the middle."
"Agreed. It's too obvious, too. Check the desks."
"What if the plans are in the cabinets?"
"Allie, if you were to hide plans you didn't want outsiders to see, where would you put them?"
"That's easy, on the network, then modify the privileges so only the people I want could see them."
"And if the plans are originally on paper?"
"Me, I'd scan them and then shred them, but I believe in the paperless office. Someone like Elena or Tyler, I can't see them doing that."
Rose nodded. "Right. So, they'd place it someplace they have access to but few other people do."
"I'll assume that it's too risky to take the plans out of the building. Otherwise, we'd have to track down every employee who works here. Desk drawers aren't secure, though. The locks are easily broken."
Rose went over to the desk closest to her. "Come here." As Allison made her way over, Rose picked the lock on the desk drawers. She stood up. "Open the drawer."
With a quizzical look on her face, Allison did as she was asked. "Okay, it's open."
Allison smiled. "I get it." She pulled the drawer completely out of the desk. "It's not in the drawer, but behind it."
Rose nodded. "I'll unlock the rest. If we don't find anything after this, we leave."
Rose went from desk to desk, picking the locks on each one. Once the drawers were unlocked, she started pulling drawers out. At the third desk she tried, she found some papers taped to the bottom of the removed drawer. "Allie, over here."
"You found something?"
"Clear a place so we can lay it out."
Allison ran to the next desk and pushed papers aside. "Here."
Rose unfolded the paper and started taking photos with Sexton's camera. After a few quick shots, she slowed down. "Allie, these aren't floor plans."
"What do you mean?" Allison took a closer look. "They look like plans to me."
"Deck plans. Do you have your cell phone?"
"Yeah. It's off, though."
"It's one of those camera phones, right?"
"I want some photos for myself."
Allison raised an eyebrow. "Rose--"
"I know, Allie, but something's not right here. Just take the photos, I'll fill Sexton's roll of film, then we're gone."
Both women hurried their photography, taking shot after shot of each page of the deck plans. Once Rose finished the roll, she nodded to Allison, then folded the pages back up. She returned the find back where they belonged, then did a quick sweep. "Time to go, back the way we came."
"Should we radio Elena?"
Rose shook her head. "No. Elena's aware of what's going on. She'll wait for us."
"What agency did you work at before you started your own?"
"Long story, not enough time, let's go."
The trip out of the building took a painstakingly long amount of time as the women tried to cover their tracks the best they could. Once outside, they quickened their pace to get back into the shadows. Once secure in the darkness, they put their coveralls back on and returned to where they left the van. Elena opened the side door. Rose scrambled inside first, making room for Allison to take over the console. Elena closed the door, then jumped into the front seat. Amber started the engine and drove the van away without hurrying. Elena twisted in her seat to face the returnees. "I got your message. How bad?"
"Remember the IBM building in Berlin?"
"The one riddled with Stasi electronics?"
Rose nodded. "That's the one. Nasty version of it too. Amber, get us back to the office, but don't attract attention. Make the usual stop so we can unmark the van again."