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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.”

Friday, March 8, 2024

F³ Uncertainty 55

             Nikki and I sat in the private dining area of Curry Palace, waiting on our food. I had never been to this particular restaurant. My experience with Indian food was limited to lunch buffets. Curry Palace also had a lunch buffet, but Nikki insisted on dinner, and on the private area.

            “What did you discover?” she asked.

            “Lamb is better than chicken,” I said.

            She rolled her eyes. “Not about the menu. Besides, you haven’t even sampled the fare here.”

            “Yeah, but I was basing it on past experience. Lamb is always more tender and tasty. Chicken can be a mixed bag.”

            “Our dilemma, Matthew,” she prompted.

            I shrugged. “I’ve got a hunch.”

            She glared at me. “You spent two days researching and then another day talking to your expert, and the best you have is a hunch.”

            “A hunch is better than a suspicion, not as good as a fact.”

            The server came out, dropping off our curries and naan.

            She closed her eyes, then sighed, not that she needed to breathe. “Very well. What is needed to turn your hunch into a fact?”

            “We need to search the Club for some of this joss paper money.” I dipped a corner of nann into the tikka masala gravy and took a bite.

            “And what, pray tell, exactly is that?” Nikki moved with meticulous efficiency, spooning rice to her place, making a well in the center, and then ladling the curry and meat to its home. Her gravy was blood red, a fact I wouldn’t have latched onto had it not been for her presence.

            It’s tomato, not blood. You know that. Focus.

            I pulled up the article with the photos I had cued up on my phone, showing her the different varieties.

            She took the phone from me, and rapidly read.

            I attacked my curry. My gravy was more orange-ish, the red moderated by the addition of cream. Long dormant memories of curry were suddenly awakened, and I began to devour the dish.

            “Interesting. This paper is commonly available, so have you not tested it?”

            I had to finish chewing and swallow. “The hunch is that whatever turned them into jade is specific, and we need the money made specifically to get them out.”

            “And the currency we will need to search out? It will look exactly like what’s pictured.” She passed the phone back to me.

            I shook my head. “No, there would have to be differences. . . . Wait, what do you mean exactly? Have you seen something like this before?”

            She ate a delicate forkful of curry, and smiled at me. “I believe I have.”

            “You’re certain?”

            “No, but I have a hunch.”

Friday, March 1, 2024

F³ Greenbacks 54

             Mei moved the cookie sheet, joss money, and figurine gently to a wide place on the floor. I smiled at that. This wouldn’t have been possible except that she had cleaned up her grandfather’s shop. The lighter sparked a flame and the thin sheet of incense paper quickly caught. We both stood back, watching the flame slowly consume the paper underneath the jade figure.

Neither of us knew what to expect. Magic, despite Hollywood’s insistence, didn’t come with crazy special effects, musical accompaniment, or usually anything spectacular. In this case, nothing happened. The last bit of flame died out, leaving gray and black ash smudging the figure.

            “It didn’t work,” Mei said softly.


            “We were wrong.”

            “Maybe,” I said. I quickly scrolled back up the page of funeral rites.

            “What do you mean?”

            “Different money,” I said. “The different spirits get different kinds of money.”

            “Yes,” she said, holding up different kinds of paper. “That’s why I burned one of each.”

            “Right, but this is a special case. I’m willing to bet that there’s a specific paper just for these.”

            She looked down at the paper she held. “With different printing on them, made from different materials. . . . jade. Jade!”


            “Jade Girl and Golden Boy. It’s in the name of the story!”

            I looked at the figure, the paper, and then the web page. “Oh, you’re good. That may be it.”

            “Really? You think so?”

            “I think we’re looking for joss paper made from powdered jade and gold leaf.” I thought about it a second, then chuckled. “Greenbacks.”

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