Solitaire, Part 7

The Red Ace has escaped, but Eddie is hot on her trail.  Will he catch up to the thief?  Will he get the files he needs?  Let’s find out!  Make sure to check out Eddie’s next adventure, The Invisible Crown, available tomorrow! 

* * *

I pulled up a vid window and called Miss Typewell.  “Ellen, it’s Eddie,” I said, standing up and checking on the two guards.  They were both unconscious, probably had some broken bones, but they’d live.  “I just planted a tracer on our good friend the Red Ace.  I’m sending you the access code now.  Can you upload the signal to my GPS?”  Folks rarely notice the little details of a casual touch; when I’d patted her shoulder, I’d slipped a GPS tracer under the collar of her shirt.

“Sure thing, Eddie,” she replied.  “Things go wrong at the precinct?”

“Of course they did,” I said as I stepped into the hallway.  Another guard at the end of the hall was on the floor, also unconscious.  I was clearly on the right trail even without the GPS signal.  “Looks like Red Ace just dealt herself a losing hand,” I said.

“Eddie, are the bad puns really necessary?” Miss Typewell asked wearily.

“If it weren’t for bad puns, I’d have nothing to say,” I respond.

“And what a tragedy that would be,” Miss Typewell said as she closed her vid window.

* * *

By the time I left the 4th Precinct, the tracer had come online.  A small vid window over my left eye painted a bullseye on the Red Ace’s location.  She was on the move, and she was fast.

The tracer’s signal eventually led me back into Old Town, down around 43rd and Watterson Ave.  This was a slightly run-down neighborhood, one with security windows and bars on the doors.  According to the signal, Red Ace had slipped into an apartment building on the corner, and was about six floors up.

The front door of the building was open, so I slipped in as quickly and quietly as I could.  I took the elevator up to the sixth floor.  At apartment 604, the GPS was blinking at me like crazy, so I knew I’d found my target.  I jimmied the lock and stepped inside, the popgun drawn.

The front room was empty, and not just of people.  There was nothing in the room at all, and some rather concerning scrapes along the far wall that looked like an animal had dragged some claws across it.  I crept through as quietly as possible, cutting through the small kitchen/dining area which was, again, empty of anything.

The back hallway led to two bedrooms and a bathroom.  The bathroom contained nothing.  The first bedroom contained what I’d been looking for: a small filing cabinet full of files, and the black shirt Red Ace had been wearing, folded and sitting in the middle of the floor.  On top of the neatly-folded shirt was a note, addressed to me.  It read:

Detective Hazzard,

I have enjoyed our little game, though I feel as if I’ve been playing by myself while you sat on the sidelines, drooling on yourself.  You may not have been the cleverest of opponents, but you were rather determined and dogged, and I can admire that.  The filing cabinet contains the documents you were looking for.  My client, I’m sad to say, refuses to give up their identity, so you’ll have to be content with merely solving your case.

Oh, and do be careful.  There’s a guard bear in the apartment, and she hasn’t been fed in a few days.

Good luck!

Cordially,

The Red Ace

(Alice)

I read and re-read the note twice, trying to make sense of the whole thing.  This hadn’t been the hardest case in my career, but it certainly hadn’t been a game, either.  I reached into the filing cabinet and grabbed the documents, shoving them into a pocket inside my coat.

Then I really processed the whole note, and turned around to see nine feet of furry violence behind me.

It was a brown bear, I think.  Maybe a grizzly.  I’m not really sure, and honestly I didn’t want to take the time to find out.  It had a surveillance camera hard-wired to the vision centers of its brain, allowing someone to track what the bear saw.  The things had been all the rage a decade or two ago, but they’d fallen out of style because, even with the intelligence amplifiers and behavior controls, guard bears were still tremendously unpredictable.

This one growled at me, a deep rumble in the back of its throat, and stood as tall as the low ceiling would allow it.  “How did they even get you in here?” I asked in disbelieving astonishment as the thing wound up to take swing at me.  I ducked back, and the large paw took out the filing cabinet instead.  The metal cabinet flipped end over end across the room, slamming into a wall to my left with a loud clung, laying on its side with the filing drawers hanging out.  I glanced around, looking for an exit, and saw only the window behind me.  Mind you, I was six stories up; not exactly where you want to be if you’re jumping out a window.

On the other hand, when you’re staring up at an angry and, if the letter was accurate, hungry bear, pretty much anything else looks good by comparison.

The bear took another swipe at me, this time with more power behind it.  I barely managed to dodge out of the way.  The bear’s claws scored the wall on the right hand side of the room with deep gashes.  That window was looking pretty tempting at this point.

“What the hell do I have to lose?” I muttered, jamming my hat down on my head and running toward the window at top speed.

Security glass shattered around me, the fragments flashing angry red letters to let anyone who cared to check that a window in the building had been broken.  The alley between this building and the next was thankfully narrow, and I slammed into the metal railing of a fire escape, knocking the breath out of me.  I chanced a quick glance behind me and saw the bear reaching through the window, persistent and angry.  I couldn’t remember whether you were supposed to try to make yourself bigger and scare bears away, or curl up and make yourself smaller so they wouldn’t consider you a threat, but decided it didn’t matter and crawled over the railing of the fire escape to reach the ladder down to the next level.  Behind me, the bear roared its frustration, which only served to speed up my efforts.  The fire escape shook, metal groaned, and suddenly the safety scaffold was sagging towards the ground several stories below.  I held on for dear life until I saw a dumpster below, the lid open and something suitably soft-looking inside.  Again, figuring I had nothing left to lose, I let go of the fire escape and dropped into the dumpster.

The dumpster’s contents weren’t as soft as I’d assumed, but they weren’t as hard as the pavement.  The wind was knocked out of me by the impact, but I coughed and gasped and sputtered, lying there among the trash.  When I’d caught my breath, I dared another peek up at the room I’d jumped out of.  The guard bear was nowhere to be seen, which was good.  I’d escaped with my life and the documents.

“Guess we’ll call that a win,” I wheezed to myself, clawing for the rim of the dumpster.

* * *

I took the bundle of documents and stuffed them into a large manila envelope, slapped a few stamps on the front, and dropped the parcel in Miss Typewell’s outgoing mail tray in the office.  She didn’t ask any questions or even make any snarky comments about the fact I was covered in garbage.  I made my way back into the inner office, slumping into my desk chair and reopening a minimized vid window hovering low over the scarred surface of my desk.  It displayed solitaire game #2,146, all of which had been loses.  Some of those games had been close – on more than one occasion, a single missing card was all that stood between me and total victory.

I looked over the cards blearily, scanning for a move, any move, that I could make.

All I needed to start the cascade of cards that would signal a victory was a red ace, but none were available.

With a wry chuckle, I pinched the vid window shut and reached for a bottle of cheap whiskey.

Solitaire, Part 6

Eddie has captured Red Ace, and now it’s time to interrogate the mysterious burglar.  What could possibly go wrong?  Come back tomorrow for the story’s exciting conclusion! 

* * *

The interrogation room at Precinct 4 was a stark, utilitarian affair.  It was not a room that the 21st century had touched, let alone the 22nd.  The walls were bare, the table was made of a single piece of machined aluminum bolted to the floor, and the chairs were uncomfortably Puritanical in design and form.  One wall was the traditional one-way mirror, and the door was set in the opposite wall.  The one token nod to modernity was the small video camera that floated in the air above the table, maneuvering on small air jets to take in the whole room.

Red Ace was already there when I arrived, unmasked and handcuffed to the chair across from the one-way mirror.  Turns out the burglar was a woman with a close-cropped shock of bright red hair and a dark complexion.  Her eyes were a pale green, but burned with a fierce anger borne of (1) being stuck in an interrogation room and (2) having been caught by me.

“Red Ace, how nice to finally meet the real you,” I said as I walked in.  I patted her on the shoulder as I skirted the table and took a seat across from her, my back to the one-way mirror.  The door clicked shut behind her, locking again and only openable from the outside.  She sat in her chair, resolutely saying nothing.

“So, what’s your name,” I asked, pressing on against the tidal wave of annoyed silence emanating from her.

The silence continued, unabated.

“You might as well say something,” I opined, hoping she’d open up after such a clever bon mot.

She didn’t.

“You’re only making things worse for yourself, y’know,” I said.  “Even now, Captain O’Mally’s getting a search warrant to toss your place.  We’ll find the files, and we’ll find all the other stuff you’ve been stealing lately, too.  It’s just a matter of time.”

This time, she snorted a laugh, and a smile that had nothing to do with humor flickered across her face.

“They won’t find anything in my place,” she finally said, a sneer on her lips.  “And your client will just have to live with the fact that she’ll never have those files she wants.”  Her voice had a slight accent, a melodic lilt that was difficult to place but made her seem exotic.  It was the sort of voice you could fall in love with, if it weren’t for the fact she was a notorious thief.

“You know, you’ve got a nice voice.  It was a shame to hide it behind the vocal modulator like you did.”

“It’s chauvinists like you who are the reason I did it,” she replied defiantly.  “I hate being judged by what I look like, or what I sound like.  Never for my abilities, always for my physical characteristics!”

I raised my hands defensively.  “Easy, tiger, I was just trying to make conversation.  Don’t get so defensive.”

Red Ace sat there casually, a defiant and confident sneer playing across her face.  “Your kind is always the same.  You think you know everything, but you’re just as ignorant and self-serving as anyone else.  You’re just less honest with yourself.”

I was starting to get annoyed.  “Look, lady, I’m sure your degree in gender studies or whatever makes you imminently qualified to lecture me on this,” I said, “but all I really want to know is who you’re working for.”

This time, she gave me another smile, one that not only still had nothing to do with humor but that promised someone wasn’t going to find what happened next funny at all.  “Detective, that’s not really an issue right now.  What is at issue is that I will be out of here in the next few minutes, and the only thing I’m not yet sure of is whether you’ll be able to walk out under your own power or not.”

I shifted uneasily in my chair.  “You do realize you’re handcuffed to a chair, right?” I asked.

Red Ace barked a short, sharp laugh, shoved her chair back away from the table, and flipped over the back of it, bringing her handcuffed hands in front of her in the process.  “A little help!” I called out to the floating camera, hoping the guards who had been posted right outside the door would be able to do something about this new turn of events.

The guards burst in, stun batons raised and ready.  But Red Ace was ready, too, and swung her chair in a wide arc, catching both guards across the face and knocking them down.  She knelt down and grabbed the handcuff neutralizer, touching it to the band on first her right and then her left wrist, deactivating the cuffs.  Rubbing her wrists, she then grabbed the two guards’ stun batons, twirled them like she’d spent her life leading a marching band, then turned to me.  The whole display had taken all of maybe ten seconds, and I hadn’t even had time to think about getting out of my chair.

“Well, detective, what will it be?” she asked, twirling the baton in her left hand.

Call me a coward, but I know when I’m beat.  “I like walking,” I said, hands in the air with resignation.

“I thought you might,” she replied.  She turned and walked out the door, balanced and poised as a dancer.