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Sting- and Doubly Stung
Here’s some advice for the next time you attempt something very risky and/or dangerous: don’t wait in a an underground parking garage beforehand if you can help it.
Cheap orange lighting highlights the pipes running along the ceiling, but creates deep black shadows in odd places for no apparent reason. You could hide pretty much anything. There’s a big basketball game tonight- or maybe football, I don’t know or care- and the garage is packed with people coming, going, parking, swearing at the guy who just took the one open spot. The engine sounds bounce off the walls, which is distracting. It smells like concrete, dust, and exhaust.
Maybe it’s that smell, or maybe the noise, or even the harsh lights, but everyone is on edge. “I don’t like it,” says Evan, shifting in the driver’s seat next to me. “There really couldn’t be a worse place for us.”
His voice jerks me out of my own thoughts. “Hm?”
“Look around,” he says, gesturing around. “We couldn’t possibly lock this down- there’s five buildings that connect directly to the garage, not to mention three or four street entrances. Even though we’re underground, there’s elevators, stairs, emergency exits, maintenance access, not to mention the ventilation and plumbing systems. And then you have thousands of people coming and going right now.”
I think for a minute. “You want to know what could be worse? Times Square. Anywhere in China. Dubai.”
He shrugs and tilts his head. He didn’t really want an answer. We sit in silence for another few seconds.
“Do you think he’s coming?”
I consider for the sixth time today what I know of Damon, and for the sixth time today I arrive at the same answer. “He has nothing to gain by staying away. And he said he’d be here- I believe him.”
“You’ll be careful, right?”
I roll my eyes. He presses. “This is important, you know. We’re in serious trouble if we can’t get him into custody. And Damon is dangerous.”
“Yeah,” I say carelessly. “Everyone ready?”
Evan checks his watch- unnecessarily, since the car’s clock is right in front of him. “They should all be in position.”
“See you later, then.” And I get out of the car.
He opens his door. “Wait.” I turn. “You forgot about your earpiece.”
“Oh. Yeah, that would have been bad.” I take it out and hand it to him.
“Good luck,” he says, and the door closes.
I move an appropriate distance away from his car, to where we’re supposed to meet, and start pacing. Hopefully I look convincing. I scan the crowd, but don’t see Damon yet. He should be here to meet me any minute- I think of his instructions. Number one: Meet in lot 3B at six PM.
The concrete dust smell is annoying. I rub my nose.
It’s a sting- simple enough. Damon shows up, I hand over the drive, he pays me, and at the last minute we arrest him. There’s at least a dozen others around me, undercover- I see Agent Garcia exiting an elevator about a hundred feet away.
Suddenly, coming from the other direction, I see a tall man with red-brown hair, black eyes, a backpack, and an unzipped jacket approaching. He looks ordinary, just another guy on his way to watch some football (or basketball)- but I recognize him.
He comes up to me. “Excuse me, but do you know where lot 4D is?” An apologetic smile. “I just can’t seem to find it, and they’re all starting to look the same.”
Number two on the instruction list: how we identify each other. His words match exactly, and I give the correct response. “Sorry, but I’m not really sure. I’m just waiting for a friend.”
He leans against the concrete wall and glances around. Just us. Number three: we both come alone. I’ve already broken that one, though he doesn’t know it- I spot Agent Whyte in a silver Honda.
“Do you have the files?” Damon asks.
“Do you have the money?” I ask right back. It’s breaking another rule (Six- don’t ask about payment, it annoys him), but I figure that it’ll sound more authentic.
While his face doesn’t change, his eyes harden. He shifts slightly, so his jacket falls open, and I see inside- he’s armed. I glance back at his face.
“Listen to me, and listen close,” he says evenly. “I’m going to explain this to you. I intend to let you walk out of here alive and unhurt. But you have to cooperate, and if you don’t, things will go very badly. You’ve read the instructions, and you have to follow them. Understand?”
I feign nervousness at the threat- swallow and nod. I’m not scared- a young couple strolls past, with a baby carrier covered with a pink blanket. There’s no baby in it. Agents Royce and Henderson…
Damon continues, still in that even voice. “Do you have the files?”
“Yeah.” I reach into my front pocket and pull out a flashdrive.
“Good.” He turns and pulls a laptop out of his backpack. “Give it to me, please.” Instruction number four: he’ll check the contents and authenticity of the drive before paying.
He holds the laptop with one arm and plugs in the drive with another. I wait for a moment while he works, watching the garage. Somebody walks past, and I notice the vague shape of a gun in his pocket. I don’t recognize him- must be a new guy. I make a mental note to find and talk with him later- even though most people wouldn’t even notice it, he still needs to be more careful about hiding his weapon.
Damon continues to scan the contents of the drive, and unplugs it after a minute or two. “Yep, it’s real all right,” he says, closing the laptop. Of course it is. We couldn’t fool him with a fake. But now we have to be doubly sure we get him- we can’t allow him to leave here with the contents of those files.
“Yes, they are real,” I agree tersely. “I said I’d bring them and I did.”
I notice a guy a few rows over, sitting in his car and watching. Doesn’t look familiar. I wonder who it is…
“And so here,” Damon says, digging in his pocket, “is your cash.”
Number five: a fifty-thousand dollar payoff.
I take the envelope and flip through it quickly- it’s all there.
Evan is five stalls down, still in the car, and I catch a glimpse of his face. Why is he looking so worried?
“Thank you,” I say quietly.
Number seven: he’ll leave. I’ll wait five minutes and then exit via the northwest elevator.
Except that we’re not going to get to that point, because Damon will be in handcuffs within the next two or three minutes. I glance around surreptitiously- maybe three dozen people who look like undercover agents in the immediate area. Wow. That’s twice as many as I’d expected…
Damon lingers for a moment, looking me in the eye. Odd. “You know,” he says quietly, “it’s very lucky for you that you didn’t try to double-cross me.” Unmistakable menace. “You didn’t, did you?” His tone conveys suspicion bordering on certainty.
Tension fills the air- the orange lights seem to be getting harsher. I glance around again and suddenly realize a lot of things in two seconds.
I only recognize about half of the ‘agents’ in the area. Adrenaline is leaking into my veins. Evan looks like he’s on the verge of panic. There probably was no ‘new guy’- and I’m probably not the only person to break rule three.
Things are going to get very interesting very fast.