Solitaire, Part 2

Eddie has taken a case to track down some important documents.  Is he sober enough to get the job done?  Check back tomorrow for part 3!

* * *

I waited until early evening to go out to investigate.  Not because I was hungover – though the mild headache I’d been fighting all day had proven effective at killing any desire I had to go out while the sun was still up – but because the sort of skulking and law bending I’d have to do to investigate was much easier to accomplish if everyone else had gone home for the day.  I filled the afternoon with a bit of research on Mr. Pennington, half a bottle of whiskey – hair of the dog and all that – and three more lost games of solitaire.  I decided to try Pennington’s lawyer’s office first, figuring any important business or financial documents – the sort his ex-wife hinted were taken – would likely be kept in a safe there.  Pennington’s lawyer was Caius Vellum, well-known in the fancier circles of Arcadian Society as the guy who could help you get away with just about anything.  In my research that afternoon, I’d turned up some news articles from several months ago about Pennington’s, as his ex-wife called them, “nocturnal habits,” and it sounded pretty weird, even by Arcadia standards.   I’d thought I’d seen it all, but this guy had gotten up to some strange business, rolling around naked on the street in Eakin Plaza, climbing up on the fountain in the center of the square to…well, it was gross, let’s just leave it at that.  But Vellum had managed to avoid getting any charges pressed against his client, and the whole episode had eventually been passed off as just an eccentricity on Pennington’s part.

Vellum left the office at half-past six, and I sat across the street in a coffee shop for another half hour after that before deciding the place was empty and I could try to get in.  I slipped out of my booth and trotted across the street, my jacket collar turned up against the encroaching October wind and my hat brim pulled low over my eyes.  I reached the office building and inspected the lock.  The security system was an electronic pad with several security measures, including retina scan, DNA scan, and fingerprint pad.  You had to pass all three for the door to unlock for you automatically.  The actual lock itself, though, was a traditional deadbolt, and one it was quite easy to jimmy open with a few seconds’ work with a lock pick.  I heard the lock’s tumblers click into place, but I waited to open the door until after I’d placed a flat, matte-black square over the security panel next to the door.  I pressed a button on the box, which hummed quietly for a few seconds, then beeped.  A small green LED lit up, indicating the alarm system linked to the door had been deactivated.  Pocketing my lock pick and the security bypass, I turned the doorknob and pushed open the door, which swung silently into the office.  I glanced around to see if anyone was watching me, then ducked into the building and shut the door behind me with a muffled click.

I let my eyes adjust to the darkness as I dug through my pocket for my safe cracking kit.  The kit was another small box, about two inches on a side, and about as thick as a pack of cigarettes.  It would use magnets and some other science-y mumbo-jumbo to rotate the tumblers in the safe’s lock and open the thing up quickly and quietly.  While I could pick the lock on a safe manually, as I’d done with the door, it would take a lot longer.  The safe cracking box was fast and reliable.  I found it and made my way to Vellum’s inner sanctum, sidling around expensive lobby furnishings and deeper into the dark recesses of the office.

I reached Vellum’s private office and crept over to his desk, feeling for a light panel.  I found the panel and tapped it lightly, creating a dim ambient light in the room and temporarily blinding me a bit.  When I regained my vision, I saw I was not alone.

Crouched in front of the safe was someone clad in burglar black from head to toe.  They already had the safe open and several piles of important-looking documents strewn about the floor.  They were frozen in place, staring right at me as I stared back at them.

“I’m just here for some documents from the safe,” I said casually, trying to remember if I’d packed my sidearm or not.  A certain absence of weight under my left arm told me I had not remembered, much to my frustration.  I generally preferred to talk my way out of situations like this anyway, but not having options was a tad frustrating.  “I don’t want to get involved in any violence here, pal.  Let me get what I came for, and you can rob this legal leech blind for all I care.”

The burglar stood up, revealing an individual of indeterminate sex and slender dancer’s build.  They reached into a pouch strapped to their belt and came out with what looked like a short baton.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” I said truthfully, backing away and raising my hands placatingly.  “I really don’t give a damn what you’re doing here or who you are, I just want to get what I came for and get out.”

As the burglar advanced on me, I reached out and slapped the light panel.  The panel was set to bring up the light based on intensity of touch; my heavier touch caused the light to flash to full brightness in an instant, temporarily blinding my opponent and giving me the chance to grope around for a weapon.  I found a large, heavy paperweight with my left hand, grabbed it, and quickly twisted away to the right to avoid the already-recovered burglar’s slashing swing with that baton.  The baton extended in flight, slapping down across the desk and cracking the smooth, glassy surface.  I turned my twist into a full 360, bringing the paperweight up to slam it into the burglar’s head.  They ducked my attack, throwing me off-balance a bit.  As I recovered my footing, the baton slammed into my midsection, and the burglar touched a button on the end of the baton that sent a few thousand volts coursing through my body.  I twitched uncontrollably, dropping my improvised weapon and collapsing on the floor.  With no input from me, my body decided to twitch a bit more once I landed.

Meanwhile, the burglar turned back to the safe, gathered up all of the documents and folders they had taken out of it, and started for the door.  I had just enough self-control to reach out and grab them by the ankle, but nowhere near enough energy to actually hold on.  The burglar shook off my enfeebled hand, striding out the door and the office.

“Nothing personal,” they said in a harsh, robotic tone, their real voice masked, “but you weren’t even playing the same game I was, here.”  With that, they vanished, leaving me alone and twitching on the office floor.

It took me a few minutes to regain control of my limbs, and even then it was a pretty shaky proposition.  I struggled into a sitting position, clutching my bruised gut and wondering just what the hell had happened.  I scooted over to the safe to see if there were any documents left inside, knowing there wouldn’t be.  I looked anyway.  There weren’t.  Being right all the time can be a bit of a burden in situations like these.

“Okay,” I muttered to myself, staggering to my feet, “I know there’s someone out there with the files I need.  It can’t be a coincidence someone burglarized this place the same night I came to do my investigation.  So, who else would want these papers?”

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