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Friday, November 24, 2023

F³ Faulty Calculation 40

             Inside the container, we used flashlights to look around. Instead of an open container with crates shoved in, they were all stored very neatly on racks with cargo nets preventing them from slipping off. What surprised me was that the crates were all very small. I expected a smuggling operation to be for a wide range of things, but these were no bigger than a large milk crate.

            I undid the net and slid one of the crates out. It was heavy. I used a prying tool on my Leatherman to inch the nails and boards up. Nikki, out of patience, simply ripped the board away. Inside was shredded packing material. It took a little rummaging, and I came up with a small, carved figurine. In the light, it looked like jade. A woman carved in jade, maybe six inches tall. I passed it over to Nikki.

            “Mean something to you?”

            She inspected it, turning it over slowly in her hands. “No, nothing in my recollection.”

            I kept rummaging, and pulled out another figurine. Another woman, but not a copy. They were clearly different. The pose, hair length, and clothing were unique. I set it aside, and rummaged down in the bottom.

Nikki set her figure down with the one I had placed, and then walked deeper into the container. “The crates are identical. Are they all jade figures?”

“Beats me. That’s an awful lot of jade. Be worth a lot, especially if they are antiques.” I felt around for something different, but instead my fingers brushed up against more smooth, polished stone.

Nikki ripped open another crate, and began rummaging herself. “Figures in this one as well. This doesn’t make sense, Matthew. Money is not the object, here. Power.”

“Money can get a lot of power, these days,” I said. I went ahead and pulled out each figure and set it aside.

“To a limit,” she said, and ripped open another crate. “Still more figures. This is most puzzling.”

After ten figures, my crate was nothing but the shredded material. “There’s no false bottom, nothing else stashed in them besides the packing material. Unless they’re hiding one crate in particular with something special, this is what they’re bringing in.”

“It is possible, but to tear open all of the crates to find the one important one, and what if it was already delivered, previously? Yet this seems to be a lot of effort to smuggle in something alongside other contraband.”

She had a point. The cost to bring all of this over, the bribes to keep it all hidden, couldn’t be more than the value of what was smuggled.

It’s not adding up. Which means we’re missing something.

Friday, November 17, 2023

F³ Subtle Touch 39

             “Really, Matthew. I could have persuaded Parker to open this for us, or I could easily break the lock.”

            The locksmithing videos always made the job look so easily, especially that one guy who could open just about anything in under three minutes. I didn’t have nearly his skill, especially at holding the padlock and turning tool with the same hand. I also hadn’t developed the feel with the pick that he had. I would have preferred the easy way of using padlock shims, but they had sprun for high quality padlocks.

            “The point—” I said tightly, my concentration still on the lock. “The point is to not leave a trail. We don’t want anyone knowing we were in here.”

            “Parker showed us everything.”

            “Yeah, but that’s just information. We don’t want any proof that we were in here. You snapping the padlock is clear proof of tampering, as is his opening it for us.”

            I felt a click from the pick. It felt set. I moved back to the beginning.

            “I could easily have made him forget.”

            I paused.

            “How do you do that?”

            “Merely by asking, Matthew. Really, it shouldn’t surprise you. Hypnotists have long done it as a parlor trick. A relaxed state, suggestibility. It’s far easier to get people to forget than to remember.”


            “Is that concern in your voice? Perhaps I have made you forget some things?”

            I didn’t want to answer her. She’d almost certainly here it in my voice. I knew she could make people do what she wanted, but making people forget hadn’t crossed my mind. In fact, it opened up a whole new set of possibilities that I needed to look into.

            But not right now.

            I picked the next pin, and the tension bar moved.

            “I got it. Just needed a subtle touch.”

            “Quite so,” Nikki smirked.

Yeah, I could hear the smirk. It sent a shiver down my spine.

Friday, November 10, 2023

F³ Nods 38


Nikki made short work of talking to the respective dock masters. While I was confident a fake ID, clipboard, and tablet with a spreadsheet might do the trick, it always took some fast talking to keep them from calling a boss. With Nikki using her will on them, it was instant cooperation.

Now that I thought of it, the idea should have been making my skin crawl. When did I reach the point that I was okay with a vampire clamping down on the will of others in order to get answers?

I wanted to believe it was for a good cause, but that was the kind of "ends justifies the means" thinking that almost always led down a certain path of good intentions.

"Here's the info you're looking for, ma'am," Parker, the fourth dock master we had come to pointed to a line on the screen, indicating the truck number we had given. I followed the line across to the container number, and the ship it had come from, The Heaven's Barge, which was the translation of the Chinese name which preceded it.

China made sense; it would be rife with artifacts that could be smuggled. Though the government was communist, many of its citizens had thoroughly embraced corrupt capitalism. Hong Kong and Macau made for two of the biggest smuggling ports in the world. Singapore probably beat them out, and. . . . Well, what do you know, the row of the spreadsheet listed Singapore and Hong Kong as ports.

"Is the ship still here?" I asked.

Parker clicked the mouse a few times, then nodded.

"What about the container that the truck was loaded from?

More clicks. A nod.

"Is that container alone or part of a group?"

Click, click. “Hmm, yes. Looks like 4 containers.”

“Any more deliveries to this address?”

I supplied him the address of the Fairhaven Club’s loading docks.

He opened another window in the software and searched. A list of scheduled deliveries popped up over the course of a few weeks.

            I looked over to Nikki standing in the doorway. I nodded.

            She nodded.

Friday, November 3, 2023

F³ Nerd Nobility 37

             Nikki dressed in all black and ditched her heels for more practical boots. I didn’t expect we would have a situation that went out of control. After all, she was just going to make everyone nice and docile using her vampire mojo while I sat in the background. I didn’t normally like when she did that, but there was a certain expediency to it, namely in getting info without causing any kind of big brouhaha. I certainly had ways of getting the info using normal surveillance and discrete questioning, but that would take time, and Nikki was already testy. 

This way, we could allow the people who were just doing their jobs like the guys at the hangar and didn’t know of anything illegal could just get out of the way. Okay, so the guys at the hangar were technically sidestepping customs and FDA regulations regarding foods, but I didn’t care about that. Fancy people want to blow all their cash on potentially tainted food, fine by me.

“What is the plan?” Nikki asked.

“I have a plan?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the road.

“Matthew, do not be tiresome. I’m sure that even before my arrival you had worked out a method to track down our objective.”

“Yeah, but if I just do it, I look cool and knowledgeable,” I grinned. “If I explain it, I sound geeky and nerdy.”

“Let me assure you, your encyclopedic knowledge of hard-boiled detective books and film, coupled with mythology and folklore secure you a permanent position of geek and nerd nobility, if not part of the royal court.”

I snuck a glance her way. Completely stone-faced. Not even a hint of mirth or irony.

“You really know how to hurt a guy. Okay. Just remember, you asked for it.”

I steered us onto the westbound loop, headed straight for Shoreward.

“So, I downloaded the harbor schedule going back a few days. It’s a matter of public record which ships arrive in port and at what times. Also, some of these ships, as big and loaded as they are, can take days to offload all their containers, even going 24/7. So, our job is to go and contact the dockmasters of each dock that had a ship during that time. The delivery yesterday was at four, so we know any ship that arrived after that time is off the list. We talk to the dockmasters, giving them the truck and trailer numbers, and they look up the info for us. The one that has the info is the dock and ship we need. Then we can proceed to ask drivers and ship’s crew for more information. There’s every chance they’re innocent as well, but there’s also a good possibility of more shipments to be taken over.”

“I would expect as such if they took the trouble to bring ships across the Pacific. Perhaps different people ordering from the same vendor?” Nikki suggested.

“You’re pretty nerdy about this, too,” I smirked.

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