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Friday, April 19, 2024

F³ Handling The Situation 61

As heists went, ours was not on the complicated side. Despite my protests to Nikki, it really was just one step above walking in, picking the lock, and then walking out. The most complicated part of the scheme was me picking the locks.

I patted the jacket pocket of my suit to verify I had my locpicks. In fact, I had three sets because I was paranoid I might accidentally break a tool. They were quite robust, but very thin metal.

“Echo Base is online,” Ira said into the conference call. “We have eyes on the side entrance.”

“Roger,” I said.

“Okay, I’m heading over,” Jen said. Sure hope your keycard works, Matt.”

The second most had been me carefully adding Jen’s picture to a keycard she would use to get inside the Club. Even the picture was an extra precaution. I had never seen any of the hostesses wearing an ID badge on their person. Wherever they stashed it, club members never saw it.

“I’m in,” Jen said. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Visual Confirmation,” Ira said. “French Maid is in the Chateau.”

Nikki quirked an eyebrow at me.

“French Maid?!” Jen hissed. “I am not a French Maid!”

“Since he’s in charge of communications, Ira insisted on choosing the codenames,” I said. “Sorry, I mean Echo Base.”

“Copy that,” Ira said.

“I like my handle,” Jessie said. “Daphne.”

Nikki’s eyebrow quirked again.

“Scooby Doo,” I whispered. “Driving the Mystery Machine.”

“Dare I ask about myself?” she said.

It was going to come out sooner or later. “Morticia.”

She smiled. “I approve.

A series of feminine grunts and disgusted sounds came over the call. “Ugh, Nikki, I can’t believe you talked me into this push-up bra,” Jen complained.

I mouthed push-up bra at her.

“It is part of the uniform. I would not be surprised if they run small in order to promote the decolletage.”

“Decolletage was not part of this job, Marlowe,” Jen accused, using my handle. “How come I’m the only one that got an inappropriate handle?”

“Ira, she has a point,” I said.

“How about Yvette?” Ira offered.

Silence as everyone digested that. “The French maid in Clue?” Jen hissed again.

“Ira, you’re fired from handles,” I said.


“I want to be Laura Holt,” Jen said.

“That works,” I said.

Nikki quirked that eyebrow again.

“Remington Steele,” I said.


Friday, April 12, 2024

F³ The Clothing Unheist 60

             Nikki deposited a reusable shopping bag on my desk.

I arched an eyebrow at her in a question.

“The fruits of my labors. A complete hostess outfit for the Fairhaven Club.”

“Really? Wow. That was fast.” It had only been a day since we had planned the heist. “Jen,” I yelled to the outer office. “Wardrobe’s here.”

She came in, look at the bag on my desk, and sighed. “Can’t believe I have to do this. I’m getting overtime for this,” she said.

“And hazard pay,” I nodded.


“Absolutely. Nikki’s paying. I’ve been giving myself hazard pay since the first trip to the Club.”

Jen nodded, and took the bag into the bathroom. We needed to make sure everything fit properly in case we had to send Nikki back in for a swap.

Nikki sat down in the chair across from my desk and glared at me. “Really, Matthew.”

“Uh, yeah. I should create a whole new pay scale just for Fairhaven Club stuff. A step below dealing with storm riders, but there’s almost always a chance of losing life, limb, or soul in that joint.”

“Storm Riders?” Nikki quirked an eyebrow.

Whoops. Not supposed to mention them, so much.

“So how did you get the goods? Please tell me it was a heist. You did your own little heist, right?”

Nikki smiled. It was a layered smile. No doubt she would ask me later about the Storm Riders, but underneath that was the amusement of the story.

“Would you really like to know?” she teased. “It is somewhat salacious.”

“In that place, I would be shocked if it wasn’t.”

“Very well. As with any heist, a great deal of preparation went into the operation. Though I did not need an independent crew, I felt it necessary to make sure that all steps of the plan were laid out before I went into action. I was prepared for a great deal of misdirection to cover my tracks.”

I grinned, getting into the vibe. I was ready for this.

“So, are you ready?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Very well. Just inside the Club, I requested a private room to conduct business and for space to set up all of my special equipment.”

I nodded.

“Then I called for some red wine.”

Not the direction I had expected, but this was the early stages of her caper.

“When the girl arrived, I requested the clothing in Jennifer’s size. The girl brought it to me and charged my account.”


“The end.”

“What? That was awful. And what gives, Nikki? You just jeopardized our entire heist. After it’s over, they’ll look and see you bought an outfit and—”

“Do nothing,” she interrupted. “Hundreds of outfits are sold each year.”

I felt my brain screw into a knot. “What?”

“It shouldn’t surprise you, Matthew, that many of the club members are men with outrageous tastes. Some of those tastes extending to dressing people as club hostesses. Perhaps more common are that club members will accidentally stain or otherwise mar the clothing, requiring them to be charged for replacements.”

“So there’s going to be too many to check at any given time,” I concluded. “But won’t they suspect you because you’re a woman?”

“This is not the first time I’ve purchased the garments, either, Matthew.”

I opened my mouth, but instead of asking the questions I wanted to, the bathroom door flew open, revealing Jen.

“What the hell? This skirt barely covers my butt, but every time I take a step in these death-trap heels, the skirt rides up. How do they even engineer that? Matt, I want at least double for this. This is way beyond what you two described.”

I shrugged, then nodded.

“I think you look rather fetching, Jennifer. Perhaps you should wear it for Halloween?”

I’d never seen Jen glare at Nikki before. They usually got along great, but this time daggers flew from Jen’s eyes. Nikki, though, appeared unperturbed.

Friday, April 5, 2024

F³ Planning The Heist 59

            Nikki, Ira, Jen, Jessie, and I crammed into the office. Okay, cram is overstating it, with the couches, desk, and chairs, it was mildly packed, but that was because we didn’t have a full crew.

            “Right,” I said, pointing to the white board on the easel. “So, we’re going to need some supplies.”

            Ira elbowed Jen lightly on the couch. “Love these movies.”

            Jen nodded, and Jessie grinned.

            Nikki didn’t seem amused.

            “Right, so, Ira, you’re going to keep us wired up for comms. Now, we don’t have a big budget or a lot of time, so what can you suggest?”

            “Wireless earbuds with built-in mics. They won’t be invisible, but I can tweak settings so they’re always on, even in a pocket. It’ll be one big conference call.”

            “Excellent,” I said.

            “Matthew,” Nikki began.

            “Hold questions,” I said. “Next up, we’ll need a van. Jessie, get some prices, and you might want to drive it around a bit. You’re our wheel- er, woman.”

            “On it, chief.”

            Ira gave her a high five. “Van buddies!”

            “We need someone on the inside. Nikki and I are going to be attracting a lot of attention. Jen, you okay wearing one of those hostess outfits?”

            Jen quirked her mouth in a frown, then shrugged. “It’s not like I’ll be doing anything with those old men. It’s fun to dress up, at times. But I want a wig.”

            “I don’t have a problem with that. The budget can probably take it. The big thing is getting one of those dresses. That’s a mini heist for you, Nikki. Can you get us one?”

            “Matthew, what is wrong with you and I walking in, simply picking the lock, and walking out with our take?”

            I let my hand fall. “You just . . . do you have to take the joy out of everything? It’s a heist? How many times in my life am I going to get to plan a heist?”

            She rolled her eyes. “Very well. I can get the dress. Jennifer, to complete the look, you will also need their underwear, stockings, and shoes. Please give me your sizes.”

            All eyes whipped to Jen. “Wait, what, now? They have their own underwear and shoes?”

            “It is an exclusive club with a strict dress code.”

Friday, March 29, 2024

F³ Practice 58

             A bank job, even when it’s the private deposit boxes of the Fairhaven Club, require a lot of preparation. In this case, specifically, it required me to up my game. As it turned out, Nikki had a box at the Club, and showed me the key.

            From that, I was able to tell quite a bit about the lock. Thanks to Youtube, I had been able to actually practice the interesting and useful skill of lockpicking. It was a small side gig to open people’s homes and car doors when they locked themselves out. But I had never attempted anything on the security level of a safe deposit box.

            The key showed it was an eight-pin tumbler. At least I wouldn’t need to use a specialty tool to deal with disc detainer locks. Immediately, I ruled out being able to use a comb, rake, or a bump key to quickly get into the box. This was going to take a lot of tool-work. Fortunately, the internet provided me with the names of deposit box manufacturers, and the basics of the security measures they employed.

            Obviously, there were the security pins: mushrooms, spools, serrated, and combinations thereof. Some even had a second set of pins, which would require picking the lock a second time to unlock it.

            I ordered a vintage box lock off ebay, but while it was being shipped, I practiced on regular locks with those pins. Jen watched me and timed me as I worked on it in the office.

            “Three minutes, Matt.”

            It wasn’t a lot of time, at least on this attempt, but the previous attempt had taken me half an hour, and I was getting frustrated. I kept going back through the pins with my pick, feeling the fourth pin sticking. As I pushed, the tension I applied to rotate lock wanted to go back. I let it, slightly. This was likely a serrated pin, and I needed to get it out of the “false set.” Unfortunately, I eased too much on the counterrotation. The pin moved into place, but it was too easy a movement. I certainly had lost the rest of the pins I had picked, and would virtually have to start over.”

            “I need a break,” I declared, my fingers aching.

            “Yeah, you’re not as good as the guy on Youtube.”

            “Give me a break, Jen. That guy can pick anything in under five minutes. I’m still learning.”

            “What about brute force?”

            “A hammer or screwdriver or something?”

            “Yeah, why not?”

            “Too easy to notice the damage, afterward. I don’t of a way to destructively get in without it being obvious it happened.”

            “Well, you better get back to practicing, then.”

            I sighed.

            It’s a bank job. There’s no shortcuts to doing it right.

Friday, March 22, 2024

F³ Where The Money Is 57

             Nikki passed over the finished sketch. Unlike the examples of joss paper with just plain geometric shapes, the face of a prominent figure, or the stamping of household items, this featured what looked like a shrine structure with a female and male figure flanking the sides of the altar.

            “This should be pretty easy to identify,” I said.

            “Perhaps. The trick will be locating it. We’re relatively certain about who is engaging in transactions with this currency, but it is another matter to locate where they are holding it.”

            Where would they be holding the paper. It could be anywhere. I mean, it’s just paper.

            My brain latched onto something Nikki had said. A transaction.

            “Some thought has occurred to you,” Nikki smiled.

            “Transaction. Currency. Money. Where do you store money? In a bank.”

            “Hmm. Normally true. However, remember that this is not actual legal tender. It would not be accepted, even as foreign currency, and added to a ledger.”

            “What about a safe deposit box?” I smiled. “No one knows what’s in them, just the owners. Perfectly secure and guaranteed protection by the bank’s security.” I frowned. “That’s bad. There are a ton of banks all over the city, and even with your mojo, we’d still have to know which bank to look at. We’re looking at weeks of investigating people to find out their banks.”

            Nikki wore a Cheshire-Cat-smile.


            “The Fairhaven Club has a vault with safety deposit boxes.”

            “Well, that narrows it down, but we’d still have to find out which box or boxes have what we want.”

            She tapped the side of her nose.


            She tapped her nose again.

            Then I got it. “Incense,” I said.

Friday, March 15, 2024

F³ Investigative Security 56

             While we finished up lunch, Nikki sketched out what she had seen.

            “It was only for a few moments, you understand, and a considerable time ago. At the time, I believed it to be a simple foreign currency transaction between members.”

            “They do that in the club?” I sipped on my iced tea.

            “Nearly every kind of transaction you can and cannot imagine takes place at that club, Matthew.”

            “One of the reasons I’m not a member,” I muttered. I knew she could hear me, but I wanted my disgust for the place on the record.

            “Except that you are, dumpling.”

            “What are you talking about? Max Auron bought me a membership for a year, but I let it lapse.”

            “I’m aware.”

            “You’re paying for my membership?”

            “It’s not an full membership, merely one associated with me, but yes.”


            She looked up from her drawing, and gave me a wry smile, then returned to the drawing.

            “Right,” I said. “I shouldn’t have to ask. Just for occasions like this or that proxy vote you had me give. You’ve been wanting to investigate this club for a long time, haven’t you?”

            “Of course. Although I confess, I never expected to employ you with your special investigative focus. I had suspected more typical political and financial corruption.”

            “Lucky me.”

            “Would it surprise you to learn that a number of the Club’s upper echelon also employs investigators.”

            Oh no.

            “You playing straight with me? You’re not playing around?”

            She flicked eyes at me, checking my expression. “This is no jest. What’s the matter?”

            “They could have people on us, right now.”

            “It is a possibility, I suppose, but you are the only supernatural investigator in town, these days.”

            “That doesn’t mean we’re not being tailed.”

            “I have upgraded my own personal security a great deal since initially hiring you. My vehicles are frequently inspected and have countermeasures. My club security is an invisible fortress, and even places where I enjoy recreation are fortified. Perhaps you noticed the curtain at this fine establishment?”

            I looked at it. It had colorful depictions of Indian artwork, featuring elephants, mythological figures, and people against a backdrop of a coppery geometric pattern.

            “What—wait.” I reached out and touched the fabric, thumbing the pattern. It wasn’t ink or paint. Instead, it was metal, either a wide wire or metal tape.

            I had done enough regular detective work to know some of the toys like wireless bugs, laser microphones, and just regular shotgun mics. I pulled out my phone. No bars. “Is this a faraday cage?” I asked.

            Nikki smiled. “I have invested a significant amount of money safeguarding my activities since that stalking case.”

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