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Keeping secrets

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    [Incomplete] Keeping secrets

    OK, I know I've been lazy, so hopefully posting in smaller parts like this will force me to actually keep writing. Bear in mind that I might make changes to already posted stuff based on comments, critiques and if I simply need to change things to make the rest of the story work.

    Keeping Secrets

    I look out the window at the rain pouring down. The clouds are as grey as lead over a city where life is equally bleak. The only light in my office is from the desk lamp. The bottle of whiskey next to it makes reflections that I'd probably find interesting if I was the artistic type. But I'm not. I study the bottle. It's almost empty; two, maybe three shots left. It's a good thing I have six more in my gun. And if I'm really lucky, I won't have to use them all tonight.

    There's barely a hint of movement outside the frosted window on the door before it opens and she walks in. I lean back to take in the whole package. The long, blonde hair, short dress and legs that go on for miles scream out 'trophy wife' but the sunglasses big enough to hide a serious shiner and the long-sleeved coat despite the weather hints at something darker.

    "Ms. Bullit?"

    "That's my name, doll."

    "Excuse me?" she says, indignation obvious in her voice.

    "Oh shit, you're real. One moment." Tracy quickly focused on the top right of her field of view to switch off the AR. Colour flooded back into the world, washing away the image of a 1940s office with a significantly more modern one. Tracy reached back behind her right ear to eject the small chip.

    "I'm sorry about that. I wasn't expecting anybody to actually be here." Tracy put the chip in the open desk drawer and rose. "Can I get you a drink? Coffee? Tea?" This was the first client for more than a week and she couldn't afford to lose her. Not with the rent being due in only a few days.

    "Um, no thanks," the woman said, seeming a little off balance at Tracy's sudden change in demeanour. She sat down in the chair in front of the desk. Tracy sat back down again and placed her phone on the desk between them.

    "Do you mind if I record this, Ms…?" Tracy looked expectantly at the woman.

    "Uh, Smith," she said, obviously lying.

    Tracy sighed. "Look, Ms. 'Smith'," she said calmly. "I track down information or people for a living, and I happen to be pretty good at it. So unless whatever you want me to find out isn't related to you at all and you're planning on paying me with cash, asking your name is more of a formality than anything else." Tracy didn't add 'or if you didn't turn your phone completely off before entering my office, or took a taxi here and didn't pay with cash, or got caught on the surveillance cameras in the shop next door', or any of the five other ways she could find Ms. Smith's name out in less than ten minutes. After all, there was no point in scaring her off.

    The woman seemed to deflate a little as she sank back in her chair. "Devereux. Camille Devereux."

    Tracy restarted the recording on her phone, erasing the last twenty seconds. "So, Ms Devereux, do you mind if I record this? It'll make it easier for me to write up my reports for you later and you have my word that whatever you say will be one hundred percent confidential." That last bit wasn't entirely true, but 'one hundred percent' sounded more reassuring than 'mostly'.

    Ms Devereux sat down opposite Tracy, resting her handbag on her lap. If it wasn't for her clothes, she could have been ripped straight from Tracy's 1940's AR. "It's my husband," she said after a couple of seconds.

    Of course it is. Tracy leaned forward, trying to seem interested although she wasn't expecting to hear anything she hadn't heard a hundred times before.

    "I think he's having an affair," Ms. Devereux blurted out. She seemed almost relieved after getting that off her chest.

    God, what I wouldn't do for an interesting case. It wouldn't even have to be anything serious.

    "What makes you think that?" Tracy pulled a notepad and pencil out of her desk drawer. Audio recordings were all well and good, but sometimes you wanted notes that you could set fire to and be sure that they were irrevocably destroyed.

    "I'm not sure exactly when it started. Dennis has always been a little secretive about his work."

    "So what is his job?"

    "He works for an investment firm. Smith & Smythe. The second one is with a 'y' and an 'e'," Ms. Devereux said, anticipating Tracy's question. "Nothing big or important. He always says he's just moving papers and making sure all the t's are dotted and all the i's are crossed." Tracy looked up from the doodles in the margin of her notepad and raised an eyebrow.

    "I know," Ms. Devereux said, "but that's how he says it."

    Tracy nodded.

    "Usually he's as regular as clockwork. Leaving for work at eight and back every day just after six."

    "Mm-hmm." There still wasn't anything that told Tracy that this case would be anything out of the ordinary.

    Ms Devereux continued. "Every other Saturday is date night and... and..." She sighed. "I know it sounds boring, but I love him."

    "And what changed?" Tracy asked. "What makes you think he's cheating on you?"

    "He started coming home late, or not at all. Forgetting things. And then there are weird charges on the credit card. It just isn't like him."

    "What kind of charges?"

    "I don't know. They were all to those anonymised online services. You know, like I tried to find out where the money was going, but I couldn't even get access to their login page."

    "I'm not surprised. You usually have to use a single, specific device connected to your account there."

    "So I'd need his phone or computer?"

    "Yeah." Tracy sucked her teeth and stroked her chin. "You do realise that all of this doesn't necessarily mean he's having an affair, right?"

    "I know, but we've even stopped..." Ms. Devereux hesitated awkwardly. "You know..."


    "I just need to know." Ms. Devereux sniffed She looked like she was about to cry.

    Tracy decided that a distraction was called for, so she put down her notepad. "So, just out of curiosity, what made you come here. My ad says pretty clearly that I specialise in online stuff." Tracy briefly touched the plastic port behind her right ear for emphasis, trying to make it look like an absent-minded gesture.

    Ms. Devereux smiled sheepishly. "Dennis isn't really what you'd call charming if you meet him in person so I figured that whatever he's doing, it's going to be online. That's how we met. He's so different online. Caring and funny and…" Her voice trailed off.

    "OK," Tracy said, "I'll see what I can find out. But you might not like what I find. You have to be prepared for that."

    "Oh, whatever it is, I'm sure we can work it out."

    Riiiiiiight. Like I haven't heard that one before. I'm going to find him fucking your sister or something, and you're going to 'work it out'. Oh well, at least it'll pay the bills.

    Tracy spent the next half hour getting all the details she felt she needed about Dennis Devereux from his wife. Then, after transferring the initial fee and Tracy promising to let her know as soon as she had something, Ms. Devereux left.

    Tracy transferred the audio file on her phone to a speech-to-text program and read through the transcript before saving it. Next she double-checked the information Ms. Devereux had given her. It wasn't that she didn't trust her, but Tracy didn't want any surprises. It all checked out though.

    Luckily, Smith & Smythe wasn't the only company in their building, so Tracy didn't have any trouble finding someone who had time to see her the same day.

    It was still three hours until Mr. Devereux would be done at work, so Tracy went over her equipment, making sure all the batteries were fully charged and all the memory chips were empty. The only thing she needed to do was to fill the tank of the car and she could do that on the way.

    As she lugged the two heavy suitcases down the stairs, she cursed the landlord for not fixing the elevator and she cursed herself for picking an office on the fourth floor, even if the view was nice. Once she was on the ground floor, the suitcases became more manageable although the little wheels would find every little crack and bump as they rolled along the floor. Tracy managed to block the closing door with her butt and backed out onto the sidewalk. It was like walking into a wall of heat. The heat had already dried most of the rain, leaving just a rank smell and air that felt almost sticky. Beads of sweat immediately began to form on Tracy's forehead. She looked quickly up and down the street before walking briskly across it, eager to reach the shadow of the parking garage on the other side.

    The old security guard at the entrance looked up from his newspaper when she came closer. "Hi Jamal", Tracy said cheerfully. "What's new?"

    Jamal ran his hand over his grey hair. "Not much," he said. "The world is still going to hell, politicians are still lying and athletes are still cheating." He smacked his paper for emphasis.

    Tracy wasn't sure exactly how old Jamal was, but it had to be at least eighty. He had been working the security booth in the garage when she moved in to her office four years earlier and he always seemed to be there. Tracy suspected he lived in one of the cars. He was also the only person she knew that still only read newspapers on paper instead of just using a tablet.

    "Maybe you should switch to books instead. At least the plot makes sense in them."

    Jamal snorted softly. "Work?" he asked and nodded to the suitcases.

    "Well, a girl's got to eat, you know." Tracy smiled and ducked around the barrier blocking the exit.

    "Just be careful then."

    "Stop worrying Jamal, You know I don't go anywhere near trouble. That's what I have my little friends for." She patted the suitcases.

    Tracy made her way down the ramp, trying to ignore the smell rising from the lower levels. She stopped at her van: a greyish-beige, medium-sized one that was about as non-descript as possible. After deactivating both alarms, she opened the side door and loaded in both the suitcases and the small backpack she was wearing. Then she got in and started the engine.

    OK, first the petrol station and then Smith & Smythe.
    Last edited by Gummybear; 12-31-2018, 05:08:10 PM. Reason: Made some clarifications
    Whenever you're holding all the cards, why does everyone else turn out to be playing chess?

    I like the premise. I wish there were more classic detective stories here. So much potential.
    Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn


      Forty-five minutes later, Tracy pulled up to the security booth of the underground parking garage of the building where Smith & Smythe had their offices. It wasn't in the most expensive part of the downtown area, but an office here would still cost twenty times what she currently paid, so she immediately felt that her van stuck out like a sore thumb among the shiny, non-dented, new cars.

      "It must be nice to have this kind of money," she murmured while ogling a red sportscar that could probably jump-start a ten year old boy into puberty.

      Unlike Jamal, the security guard in the booth had a crisp, grey uniform and looked like he was barely out of school. When he rose, Tracy saw that he had a utility belt that would have put Batman to shame. In addition to a gun and extra ammunition, he had a flashlight that was big enough to double as a baton hanging right next to a telescoping baton and maybe half a dozen zip-tie handcuffs.

      Compensating much? Looks like somebody didn't get in to the police academy.

      Tracy rolled down her window. The blast of heat ruined all the hard work the air-conditioning had done.

      "Good afternoon," Tracy said cheerfully. "I have a 3:30 appointment with Event Horizon."

      "Name?" the security guard said brusquely, obviously trying to sound tough and businesslike, but not quite pulling it off.

      "Alexandra Pavlova. Just like the cake." Tracy pulled a big, multicoloured handbag from between the seats and started rummaging through it. "I have my driver's licence in here, somewhere." She knew exactly where it was, but wanted to give the guard the impression of a ditzy blonde. Out of the corner of her eye, Tracy saw the guard shift his weight from one foot to the other.

      Already? You need to learn some patience, little boy.

      Just as the guard was about to speak, she triumphantly pulled the fake driver's licence from her bag. "There it is," she said and handed it over. "Now don't mind the hair on the picture. I just dyed it so people wouldn't think I was some kind of dumb blonde."

      Good god. All I'm missing is the chewing gum and the hair twirling.

      The guard made a show of checking the licence, but Tracy wasn't worried. She paid good money for her fake IDs so there was no way he'd be able to tell it wasn't real. He then checked his tablet, no doubt checking if Alexandra Pavlova actually had an appointment, which she did.

      "Okay, it's on the seventh floor." He returned Tracy's fake licence and she stuffed it back in the bag.

      "Thanks…" Tracy made a show of reading the guard's name tag, "…Daryl." She gave him a wink as he returned to his air-conditioned booth to raise the barrier.

      Tracy slowly drove down the ramp and into the garage itself. It took her almost five minutes to find Devereux's car. When she did, she parked as close as she could; only four cars away.

      For the next ten seconds Tracy just listened. No engine sounds and no footsteps; only the hum from the fluorescent lights and the barely audible traffic outside. Tracy grabbed the handbag and slipped out of the van. She quietly pushed the door closed and looked around. The only camera she could see was above the elevator doors. Making sure she kept cars between herself and the camera, Tracy made her way to Devereux's car. Being rather tall and gangly didn't exactly help when you tried to avoid detection, nor did carrying a handbag big enough to smuggle a small baby in. Just before she reached the car, Tracy stopped and looked around one more time, just to make sure there weren't any ninjas in wool socks sneaking around, but she was still alone.

      Tracy knelt next to the driver's side door of the car, peering through the window. She couldn't see any signs of extra alarm systems. If I parked my car right next to all these other ones, I guess I wouldn't be too worried about it being stolen either.

      Tracy pulled what looked like a slightly oversized phone out of the handbag. When she turned it on, the screen showed a list of car manufacturers. She tapped 'Honda' and the screen changed to ask model and year. The latter one was a bit tricky, but Tracy figured the car couldn't be more than six or seven years old, so she entered 'Accord' and '2026'. The screen went blank except for a progress bar. Tracy checked her watch: One minute and five seconds. While the device continued working, she pulled a small metal box out of her bag and opened it. She had to struggle a little to get the magnetic coin-sized disk loose from the inside lid. It attached to the underside of the car with a quiet metallic click.

      OK, that should let me track the car.

      Tracy checked the watch again. Ninety seconds. The door unlocked with a thunk as her gadget found the right frequency. She gritted her teeth and opened the door, ready for a secondary alarm, but there was only silence. Quickly peeling a small, dark grey plastic bead off a strip of tape in the metal box, Tracy stuck it halfway up the seat back where it would easily transfer to the driver's back.

      …And that should bug him too.

      Tracy closed the door and locked it before putting everything back in her bag. She hurried back to her car and made sure the camera saw her as she came around the back of it, looking like she was searching for something in her bag. Pulling out a chapstick, she used the rear window of the van as a mirror before heading for the elevator. Tracy resisted the urge to smile and wave to the camera. That would be overdoing it.

      Just over half an hour later, Tracy returned to the parking garage. The visit to the party planner hadn't resulted in anything other than a few vague assurances about getting back to them about what, if anything, the bosses in her company decided on. Of course, there was no boss, so there wouldn't be any further contact. The whole thing had just been a pretext for her to gain access to the parking garage where Mr.Devereux parked his car. Although some of the party ideas had sounded like a lot of fun.

      Tracy drove out of the parking garage, giving Daryl the security guard a little wave before turning right and joining the traffic on the street. She didn't drive far however. She circled halfway around the block and pulled into an alley. Then she got out of the car and stood in the open side door to attach a couple of small antennas to the roof. Back inside the car, Tracy turned the air conditioning up, hoping the air filters would eliminate the stench of sun-cooked garbage coming from the outside, and turned on her GPS. The screen zoomed in to show a map with her car in the middle and a blinking purple dot to her south-west.

      "Okay Dennis. Your move," Tracy said. She dug out her tablet and sat back to read a book. She scrolled through the list of books she was in the middle of before settling on 'The Third Man'

      It was almost an hour later and the Soviets had just tried to abduct Anna when a soft beeping from the GPS made Tracy look up. Dennis was on the move. The purple dot moved onto the street and turned left. Tracy started the car and followed, staying so far back that there was no chance he'd spot her. She lost the signal when he entered a tunnel, but there weren't a lot of places he could go there so he showed up just where she expected when he came back out again.

      "Where are you going Dennis? That isn't the way home."

      Tracy looked at the map and suddenly realised where she was headed.

      "Nononononono. Keep going, keep going," she urged the little purple dot. But it turned left into a parking lot and stopped. The purple dot turned into a stationary blue dot and a moving red one as Dennis got out of the car and walked into the building next to the lot and vanished. Tracy swore. Of course he had to come here. She glared up at the five-storey building as she parked at the opposite end of the lot.

      Hotel Linwood was a the digital equivalent of a no-tell motel. If you wanted to do something shady online, that was the place. Each room electromagnetically shielded and the internet connection was run through so many proxy servers around the world that it was practically impossible to trace your location. And adding military-grade encryption on top of this made places like the Linwood a nightmare for people like Tracy. As long as he was in there, there was just no way she was going to be able to trace Dennis' computer.

      "Right. Time to get creative."
      Last edited by Gummybear; 01-08-2019, 03:40:53 PM.
      Whenever you're holding all the cards, why does everyone else turn out to be playing chess?


        Tracy got out of the van and looked up at Hotel Linwood. As she watched, the lights behind one of the frosted windows on the third floor came on. She kept watching and saw a shadow moving inside the room. None of the other rooms changed so she was pretty sure she had found Dennis' room. She opened the side door of the van and got in.

        The back of Tracy's van looked like a 1970s shag mobile decided to become a police surveillance van. While it still had an orange shag carpet and a huge, red beanbag, there were big screens hanging on one of the side walls and on the opposite wall were numerous panels with so many knobs and blinking lights that you'd think several radios had been sacrificed to some elder god. Propped up against the plastic wall separating the back of the van from the front were the suitcases and a low folding table. There was also a cooler which was empty at the moment.

        Tracy closed the door and turned on the screens before kneeling next to the suitcases to open them up. She carefully pried a tiny quadcopter from its foam housing. It was so small that it easily fit in the palm of her hand, but despite looking like a toy, it had cost almost as much as the van. Tracy turned the tiny drone on and put it on top of the suitcase. Next, she lay back in the beanbag and reached back to the panel behind her to grab a bright yellow spiral cord that she plugged into the socket behind her right ear. Tracy let her head fall back and closed her eyes. There was a tingling sensation as her body grew numb and heavy. Then, suddenly, everything changed.

        She found herself in the middle of what looked like the roof of a dark bluish grey high-rise building. Tracy wiggled her fingers, feeling her rotors adjust. Next she looked around until she saw herself lying in the beanbag. With a simple twitch of her buttocks, Tracy's rotors began spinning and she rose from the suitcase with a high-pitched buzz. Drifting a little from side to side and back and forth, Tracy adjusted the trim. Then she headed for the cracked window. A quick flick with her left rotors and she sailed through the gap with only millimetres to spare.

        The parking lot looked quite different to Tracy now that she was so small. A gust of wind almost made her hit the side mirror of the car next to the van and Tracy had to struggle to regain control. It was like walking on the deck of a boat in the middle of a storm. She had to constantly compensate to stay in control. Suddenly, a styrofoam cup appeared out of nowhere. Tracy dove to dodge it, and barely managed to pull back up before hitting the ground. She clenched her fists, sending all four rotors into overdrive and making her shoot straight up. Above the cars, the wind was a lot more predictable and there was a lot less debris so Tracy didn't have too much trouble locating the window she suspected hid her target and heading towards it.

        When she drew closer, Tracy unfurled a pair of tiny pincers and grabbed the narrow vent above the window. Moving hand-over-hand, or rather claw-over-claw, to the right edge of the vent, Tracy scrutinised the fine metal mesh, looking for a weakness. Not finding any, she moved back to the middle to examine the left side. At the left edge, Tracy found a tear in the mesh. It was only a couple of millimetres wide, but that was enough. She locked the claws, leaving the drone hanging in place, and activated what made it so expensive. Extending from the rear of the drone was a thin tentacle with a camera at the tip. The Penis-cam, as Tracy liked to refer to it. She wound the tentacle through the gap and was soon rewarded with a view of the room on the other side of the glass.

        Sitting in an armchair right under the window was someone who could be Dennis Devereux. It was just hard to tell when all you could see was the top of his head. There was a wire going from a plug behind his ear, just like Tracy had, to a laptop computer on the table next to the chair. If he was plugged in, he'd be more or less dead to the world, so it was safe to move in a little closer. Tracy focused on the computer. It was a sleek-looking thing with a familiar-looking logo.

        Oh please let it be…

        Tracy zoomed in as much as the camera allowed, which wasn't much.

        Yesssss! A Colonial/Nexus 500-series.

        Tracy had to catch herself to stop the tentacle from doing a little celebratory wave. The C/N 500-series computers were known for being powerful, pretty and notoriously hard to change the default security settings on.

        One of the downsides of being made in an authoritarian police state, I suppose.

        Using the tentacle as an antenna, Tracy began probing the security systems of the laptop. She was almost disappointed when it took her less than five tries to find the right code. A small terminal window opened in Tracy's lower right-hand field of vision. She opened her eyes, pausing the software controlling the drone and its tentacle and bringing sensation flooding back to her body. The big screen on the wall in front of her showed the slightly grainy feed from the penis-cam, minus a fist-sized spot of dead pixels halfway up on the left side.

        I really need to get that fixed. And get one of those coffee mugs with velcro on the bottom so it doesn't happen again.

        Tracy reached for the keyboard and began typing. She had to be careful since Dennis was still plugged into the computer and might notice her. She managed to extract the address of the site that he was visiting fairly easily and started the painfully slow upload of a tracking program. It would alert her the next time he went to that particular site. She would have to talk to Ms.Devereux to see if she could get her to install some more sophisticated trackers on the computer when her husband wasn't using it. They'd be too noticeable to install right now.

        Tracy was looking for the key file that would let her take a look at the credit card charges when she noticed some movement on the screen. Dennis was stirring. She quickly closed the terminal, hoping he hadn't seen it, and tossed the keyboard aside. Closing her eyes reactivated the connection with the drone.

        "Come on, come on, comeoncomeoncomeon…" Tracy hissed through clenched teeth as her body grew numb and heavy again, albeit far too slowly. The system was designed to turn off quickly, in case of emergencies, but re-starting it took precious seconds; especially when done at a distance.

        Finally, the darkness behind her eyelids lifted and she was treated to a view of the top of Dennis' head. He was yawning and stretching, his hand headed straight for the camera. Tracy retracted the tentacle as quickly as she could, hearing the metal brush against the mesh in the vent. Dennis heard it too and looked up, maybe catching sight of the tentacle as it disappeared through the vent. Tracy didn't wait to find out. The moment the tentacle was fully retracted, she let go of the vent and shot away from the building. She fell almost an entire storey before regaining control and when she did, she had to fight a headwind going back to the car. Just as she was aiming for the cracked window, everything went black.

        "What the fuck?" Tracy swore as her body woke up again. The screen in front of her was off and so were all the blinking lights behind her. "Oh shit, they finally got one of those." Tracy rolled out of the beanbag, opened the door and peered out. All the hotel windows were dark. As were most of the neighbouring buildings and a couple of the street lights. She spotted the drone on the roof of the car next to hers and quickly snatched it up before getting in behind the wheel. Parking the drone in the unused ashtray, Tracy started the engine and peeled out the parking lot just as she saw a group of large, armed men exit the hotel

        "OK, note to self: The Linwood has a baby-EMP now. And they saw my car." Tracy wasn't too worried about the van being traced back to her, but it could still be tracked through traffic cameras since the surveillance cameras in the area around the Linwood had no doubt caught that. Tracy dug her phone out of her pocket and pressed the call button. She breathed a sigh of relief as the screen lit up.

        "Call Jessie." The phone beeped in acknowledgement. Jessie and Tracy had met in second grade and had been friends ever since. She had even played around with the idea of going into business with Tracy, but she just didn't have the patience required. She was also an incurable adrenaline junkie so her current job as a demolition derby racer was perfect. Especially since her husband was a mechanic.

        "Yeah?" Tracy couldn't hear cars in the background, so Jessie probably wasn't working, at least not yet.

        "Hey Jessie, I need a favour."

        "What did you do this time?" Tracy could almost hear the smirk on Jessie's face.

        "I'm in some serious trouble and I need to clean out my van. Do you guys still have that big truck?

        "Come on, you know D runs a full-service shop. We can get you a new van. Friends-and-family discount."

        "You're a lousy used car salesman and you know it."

        "What are you talking about?" Jessie said with mock indignation. "The previous owner was a little, old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays."

        "Meaning you won it in the last race and Diego's been fixing it up." Tracy sighed, knowing that she probably wouldn't get a better deal on an untraceable car. "I can't afford to pay you for another week or two though."

        "That's OK, you can pay me back by doing some camera work for me next Saturday."

        "You're making another one of those car crash pornos?" Tracy suppressed a cringe.

        "No nudity. I promise."

        Tracy weighed the pros and cons. She'd lose a day's work, but it was Saturday, so Mr.Devereux was less likely to sneak off for some online hanky panky.

        "OK," she finally said. "But I'm in the middle of a case and if things start moving on it, I'm going to have to get on that."

        "Fair enough. So, where are you?"

        Tracy thought for a moment. "The parking garage just down the street from St.Catherine's Church. How soon can you get there?"

        "Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour."

        "Great. And bring some tools."
        Last edited by Gummybear; 01-09-2019, 06:04:13 PM.
        Whenever you're holding all the cards, why does everyone else turn out to be playing chess?


          Just finished up the first entry. Detective stories are fun; I like the tone of this one.
          Grammar: the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you're shit.