A continuation of Just Plain Bob's 'Rob's Saga'...
You may not know a thing about me ... My wife thought she knew everything that was important. But then I obviously did not know everything about her ... I did not know she was a cheating, lying whore who thought she could ride into the sunset with a scruffy biker and our life savings not so long ago. To her, I guess I was a plain, dull, meal-ticket. I had never considered she might want the 'excitement' of the biker lifestyle. I guess neither of us really knew the other.
We met at a party held by mutual friends. I had not been in town for a year at the time ... I was done with school, and my prior ... employer had convinced me to take a position at a little start-up company. Mostly I wanted to forget about what I had been doing, not that I was ashamed, mind you. But when people ask what you have been up to and your honest answer is 'killing people who were wasting oxygen, ' it tends to end the conversation.
You've heard of the Rangers? The group of soldiers who climbed the cliff at the edge of the beaches during the Normandy invasion to keep the guns from cutting everyone else to ribbons? You don't get to be Delta without being a Ranger. I followed a family tradition, and became a Ranger. And then a scout sniper. Our country has been at war for awhile ... you might have heard. I had spent most of two years in one shit hole or another. My skills saved a lot of lives; enough lives I had medals and ribbons and offers for all manner of 'executive protection' positions in private defense contractors when I decided I had had enough and did not want to make the Green Machine my life partner.
That little war? You might have noticed no one wants to talk about it. I certainly did not want to carry a gun anymore. I was not interested in delivering mail. But there are lots of things going on, thanks to Homeland Security. My 'scout' expertise was finally going to be a benefit. I received an ownership share for my continuing contributions to surveillance software and equipment in use by Uncle Sugar and various private corporations across the nation. Sorry, but if I tell you any more I'd have to kill you.
Suffice to say that I keep a low profile about what I did 'before.' My folks are gone. My brother rebelled against my 'conservative' parents and ran off when I was away in the service; I have no idea where he went. I do have family here, like Lou, my cousin. Most served in the Armed Forces, those who are out are mostly in Law Enforcement. I think they were surprised when I did not follow suit, but I have always been pretty independent.
I was happy to be the quiet computer geek loner so far as my friends outside of work and family knew, though. Apparently a wimpy quiet computer geek. But I never thought macho displays were what Audrey wanted. I earn a comfortable living, and there had been no sign of problems. If anything, I had thought we had it better than most of our friends, since the twin blows of the economy and real estate crunch had not affected us; hell, even the new administration did not rock the career boat, for me.
Like I said, Audrey and I met at a party. She was stunning, and I was amazed when she chose to talk to me. She admitted later she was really trying to avoid a guy who had been pursuing her at the last couple parties. I never met the guy, considering myself lucky that he'd been a creep. I wonder now, but not that much. We talked, found out we had some common interests. I invited her to dinner and she agreed. We went out for a few weeks, slept together ... kept going out (and sleeping together). Like me, her parents were gone. And like me, she had a sister who was estranged. When Aud started commenting idly about other men sniffing around, I bought the ring, asked the question, and embarked on what I thought would be a life of happiness together. It was a simple ceremony at the courthouse; the friends whose party had brought us together were the only guests and served as best man/ matron of honor and witnesses.
I didn't expect perfection ... I know I am not perfect, why expect it in others? But we had been good together before, no real fights or differences; my job meant she would not have to work. We did not discuss kids, but there was time, right? Sex was still good, if not as often as I would have liked, but no one I know thinks they get enough. And my dad was like the father in 'Outside Providence:' I made sure when Aud was willing to put out she got off.
So I was blindsided when she decided she wanted out. And my sense of honor and justice were bruised that she was willing to cheat on me with a slug like DJ and steal all of our money in the process. In 4 years I had never raised my voice, much less a hand when we did have the occasional argument; I guess I was supposed to rant and rave and throw things or beat my chest to impress upon her my manliness.
I still have no idea what she saw in her biker that I did not offer, but again, I have not really given it any thought ... It stopped being an issue the moment it was obvious to me she was not who I thought, and had zero interest in being a couple. What became an issue was whether she had left me with any 'lasting memories, ' considering her new 'friends.' Fortunately, my annual physical had followed her departure and my doc assured me after some less than inexpensive (and slightly invasive) tests that I would not have to begin Valtrex therapy.
You might think I'm heartless, to so easily kick her to the curb, but what could I ever see in her after that afternoon? And would a heartless SOB take in the obviously troubled women who I was sharing my home with?
I had tired of the constant legal wrangling, and in the wake of throwing Aud a curveball by halting the divorce proceedings, I knew it was time to examine what was going on in my home. Kari seemed to be who she claimed, but her daughters ... There was no way they were 16. I had realized that after watching the high schoolers pouring out of a building near my physician's office. And if they were not 16, it meant that whatever Kari had told me, I could not trust that, either.
It left me sad, but I was not surprised; after all, she had come from the same 'club' that my wife had apparently decided to run in. I kicked myself for letting them into my home for a bit, but mercy and doing the right thing still mean something. Maybe after beating the shit out of DJ I needed to remind myself I was not really evil. I wondered if any of the trio I was living with might grab the chance at a better life. While I hoped they would, I was preparing for more disappointment.
I like being at work; the people know me, we get along, there is mutual respect and trust ... the sort of relationship I expect in marriage, but without the horizontal boogie. When there is a problem I pitch in, whether my little area of expertise is involved or not, and that is appreciated, but they do the same for me. The problem we had faced, thanks to the city's overtaxed grid had been overcome, so I was mercifully free of duties until the next dog and pony show was needed. Usually I would stay, seeing what else was going on and helping out ... like I said, I like work.
On Tuesday, after my epiphanies in dealing with my whore of a wife and her likely partners in screwing me under my own roof, I ducked out of the house on Kari's heels and hit the gym. It had been too long since I had exercised regularly, and I found I enjoyed the aches and the sweat, even if I had only started it to keep from sweating my tenants' advances. I showered, grabbed a granola bar as I waved at Chelsea, the eye candy working the front desk, and drove to work. I arranged to take some of the time off I had not used, planning to surprise Audrey with an anniversary trip to Hawaii, then took the stairs down to our R and D wing. After sketching out what I wanted to do, with permission of the geniuses in the firm's basement (it's not the basement, but it sounds good, right?), I left with a trunk full of gadgets, and their offer of help in 'testing' some things.
I drove to Patty Ann's. I hadn't been yet, and found it was a relief that Kari's beat up Honda was in the parking lot. I ran my hand along the side on my way in, then waved to get her attention while waiting to be seated. She hurried over, speaking to the young woman who looked like she should be in school instead of greeting customers. The little brunette offered a winning smile as she told me she'd find me a place in Kari's section.
I checked my six ... The habit had not been hard to resume in the weeks after Audrey's little surprise. None of the patrons looked like Diablos. The cook might have been, but the swarthy Hispanic working the griddle beside him would not have fit in with Aud's biker crowd, and I relaxed a bit. Kari asked what I wanted to eat, and pouted playfully when I insisted I had already eaten, and just wanted to say hello. Not twenty minutes after resolving to eat a more healthy diet, I was enjoying pancakes and a chicken omelett ... at least I'd gotten the short stack. After leaving money to cover the bill with a healthy tip, I paused in the doorway to the man trap, turning to wink and ask if she always served such a great breakfast. Kari cocked her hip in that naturally sexy way some women have and eyed me for a moment before she told me if I played my cards right I might find out 'some day.'
Safely alone at home, I carried in the first bag from the trunk. Unzipping, I took out a plastic box and headed upstairs. I selected one of the pin sized devices, pushing it into the drywall immediately above the outlet in the hallway. I repeated the process in the kitchen, putting two separate pins covering the entire room, as well as in the downstairs hall, my den, my bedroom, and the living room. It didn't take ten minutes. I opened the netbook that was included in the bag, entered the password, and waited. When the operating system was up, I ran one of the programs not listed on the desktop. An antenna symbol flashed, and then seven lights popped onto the screen, each in its own row. I quickly entered brief descriptions beside each, then waited. The lights blinked red ... and kept blinking red. Puzzled, I took my cell and dialed the office. Patsy, the receptionist, rang me through to R and D.
"You've got a problem, Rob," I heard instead of 'hello.'
"What does that mean, Dan," I tried not to sound angry ... he was letting me play with his toys, after all. "I did what you said."
"Oh, that's not the problem. You did good on that man ... How do you like it?" I rolled my eyes, but hey, I can be accommodating.
"They're really slick. No power needed?"
"I told you," he sighed theatrically, "It's like that pad you charge your phone and iPod on ... If it's within a few inches of an outlet it'll pick up juice ... and then the copper is the antenna for amplifying the..."
"Yeah, yeah, I got it ... So what's the problem?"
"Have you tried to do this already?"
"Have you already tried to ... surveil your place?"
"Of course not. Why would I?"
"Well ... I guess I could ask why are you, ya know?" I gritted my teeth.
"We've been through that."
"I know, I know," he backed off quickly ... the folks at work know who I was, "I just meant there's a piggyback."
"It's not a problem ... Hell, I hadn't ever thought about it, but Emily already almost has a patch so we can exploit it."
"Uhm, I'm not sure I want to tell you like this. Tell you what," he paused to talk to someone else in the lab, "We're going black for awhile. Use the blue bag I gave you ... walk to the center and around the perimeter of each room, then get back over here." He hung up before I could ask anything else.
I felt like a fool walking around my home holding the fancy looking iPhone that was tucked into the little blue bag Dan had sent along. I was also impatient ... I had other things to do, and limited time to do it. But Dan and his techs were the best. I left the other bags in the trunk and headed back to work, going straight down to meet the braniacs.
"OK, Rob, it's like this," he sat me in one of the ergonomic chairs that reminded me of something out of Aliens, pointing at the 52" LED high def screen at the end of the table. "When we started to capture from your ticks, we got this..." the screen showed several squiggly lines.
"Shit," I said.
"You recognize that?" Emily seemed surprised. I gave her a half-smile.
"I know, I'm just a dumb snake eater," she had the decency to blush, "But you should have one audio and one video signal ... It looks like a bowl of spaghetti."
"Exactly," Dan nodded, "If you didn't put them in, someone else did." I considered that. It didn't seem like something Audrey would do. Kari and the girls? Maybe they weren't who I thought they were, after all. "It's not very sophisticated, so I doubt it's the competition. Em, make sure we send the new detectors out to all the at risk staff and remind them to check every day." The perky redhead nodded, making a note in her palmtop. I was glad neither of them asked when I had last swept my place ... It had never seemed important.
"So why were you happy about this? It's screwing up everything." Emily shook her head.
"No, it WAS screwing it up." She tapped the screen of her little computer with the stylus, then nodded at the monitor, "Now look."
Instead of squiggly lines, the screen resolved into remarkably sharp images of my halls, kitchen, living room, bedroom, and den. Additional window popped up, showing my bedroom from another angle, as well as varied angles of the den, the basement, and my bathroom.
"Ta-da!" Emily giggled, "We just use their own cameras." I shook my head, trying to fix where the cameras had to be.
"I didn't see these."
"You weren't looking. Now we could go pin point them, but then they would know you are on to them."
"They'll know anyway, when they see me putting ours in place." Emily shook her head and smiled broadly.
"Nope ... I can send a signal that will scramble the memory if it's magnetic. All you have to do is locate the receiver." Dan held out a pen.
"It's not a pen," he deadpanned, "Point the tip away from you and quickly depress the button." I did, and another window popped up on the overhead display, showing an array of range circles, with a blue dot in the middle. "You're too far away now, but with your Bluetooth headset we can walk you to it."
After thanking my friends, I hurried back home, relieved that there was no electronic evidence they had been eavesdropping on my cell phone, landline, or computer. I suspected it was my houseguests, but admitted they could still be innocent ... of this, at least. No sense going off half cocked.
I was nearly out of time and ran through the house, feeling no less silly than I had pacing about earlier. Dan let Emily talk me to the 'hot spot, ' which was a box the size of a toaster plugged in by the inside phone box in the basement. At Emily's direction I slipped a slightly thicker pin into the back of the box, just under the power cord. The light at the front flickered, and then Emily said, 'I'm in.' I hurried back upstairs, worried that Kari was not home yet, and that the twins would be getting home any minute.
I threw on some running shorts and headed out, waving as they pulled into the drive, Barb behind the wheel of the primer colored Eclipse the girls drove. Another potential landmine avoided. I couldn't imagine how their parading around naked would help whoever's cause the cameras served ... It could be fairly easily proved they were instigating the activity, and I was increasingly confident they weren't close to 16. But that fact check would have to wait.
I zigged away from my street house, just in case one or both of the twins decided to take their teasing out to the city streets. My cell vibrated in the right hideout pocket of my 5.1 holster shirt. The Beretta was remarkably comfortable in the other side, as well as remaining completely hidden.
"If you're doing what I'm watching on television I understand why you're out of breath," Emily whispered into the Bluetooth headpiece. I felt myself blush.
"Is it that bad?"
"Oh no, honey, it isn't bad at all," she giggled, "I'm impressed ... and Audrey was a bigger fool than I thought."
"A man's shower is supposed to be his castle."
"Oh, there's a battering ram all right." Another giggle, "I won't have to surf the net for weeks."
"Tell me you've wiped it."
"Oh, from their unit? Did you want me to do that?" she paused, "Aren't you worried you'll tip them off?"
"I'm worried I'll see myself on Youtube."
"It'd be a hit, that's for sure," Dan's assistant chortled.
"I can go back seven days ... There's sound and video." I shook my head, hating that someone had gotten the idea ahead of me. "There's good news ... No evidence they're in your computer ... probably thought that was too obvious. And the view from the den won't show them your keystrokes."
"But what do they want?"
"Maybe they've decided they want you instead of whatever they're supposed to get after watching your little matinee ... Do you do that every morning?"
"You're asking for a spanking," I commented without thinking.
"Mmm, promises, promises, big boy," she teased, "We'll look through this and get you transcript of anything that's said while you're not around." I was surprised but then realized the bugs had meant the in house security team would be interested. It couldn't be as simple as drugs, could it?
"Are you going to paint their car?" At least Emily knew when to drop it.
"You know it." I was not sure I could wait to gather all the information I would need before I let the other shoe drop on my houseguests. I hated being taken advantage of.
"Dan says to remind you to act natural," Emily said, before signing off, adding with a chuckle, "I know I'm gonna volunteer to sit in on the morning shift. Later, Tiger." I tried to ignore the nagging sensation that every woman I knew was intent on giving me a hard time as I pushed my pace, checking my watch and wondering why Kari had not gotten home before the girls. Instead of getting answers I was piling up more questions.
Going for a run left me dripping sweat when I eventually circled home, and my luck was holding ... Kari's car was still missing. Damn. I slipped inside quietly and got into my room. I threw the lock, then climbed into the shower. I should not have been surprised when Barb was sitting on my bed when I came out of the bathroom. I paused toweling my hair dry, resisting the temptation to cover up.
"You've forgotten the rules?" Barb shrugged, making no effort to get up or look away. She bit her lower lip suggestively before answering.
"Mmm, I'm glad you're not gay." She tossed her hair, "The door was open, and I heard the water running ... I worried you had left it on." I just shrugged, cataloguing the pretty young woman's offenses. I was also acutely aware of the camera I knew was in the room. I had seen the camera in the bathroom during my shower ... they were not hidden very well, after all. If you aren't looking for one, though...
I turned and walked across to my closet, selecting sweat pants and a T shirt. When I turned back, Barb was still sitting on the bed watching me.
"Is this where you want me?" I pursed my lips.
"Not happening, Barb," I said patiently. She bit her lip again, reaching up to work the top button of her blouse. I shook my head,
"Your mom will be home any minute."
"Bev can keep her occupied."
"Unh-uh," I shook my head, trying not to stare at the expanse of skin being exposed. Damn, there was no way she was 16. But I had no proof ... and when I had proof, there would be less reason to consider enjoying the playground she offered. "My rules stand. This is my room. I don't want you in here. You weren't invited."
"You sure you don't want me to stay?" I blinked, trying unsuccessfully not to stare at the pert firm breast and the dark pink nipple capping it that was on display. I realized this was not going to end well; time for a feint. I licked my lips as if nervous, let my gaze linger, and raised a hand as if I was going to cup that tempting prize as I took a step closer. She smiled, pleased to be having her way, arching her back to bring her breast up for my touch.
I side-stepped and was past her at the door to the hallway. I caught the free end of my 5.1 Tactical butt pack and scooped the wallet along with is as I stepped into the hallway, glad I had nothing I was really worried Barb would damage. The plaintive whine she had allowed at being tricked was music to my ears. Of course, Bev was in the hallway, lingering expectantly, but my departure was enough of a surprise she did not have a chance to get her hooks into me. I paused at the door to the garage.
"Be sure and close the door to my room when you leave, girls. We'll talk about this with your mom, later." I let the door slam. I was a little aroused—like I said, no way were they 16, and Barb had a fine right breast, at least ... They had been teasing me for a couple weeks, but I had not gotten the up close and personal exhibition. I was a little angry. I kicked myself for getting into such a mess as I backed out of the garage and pulled the Jawbone headset out of the side pouch of the butt pack.
I considered it a blessing that Dan was back on the other end.
"That was a close one," he offered by way of greeting when I called.
"Tell me about it," I paused, "Have you got adequate video?"
"We're already on it. Em is running the photos through DMV and the local PD and Sherriff databases. We figured those were the highest yield." I could not argue with that.
"Have you got an address on the other one?"
"Sending it to you now. The car is registered to one Kari Roberts ... ring a bell?" I shook my head.
"Nope. Should it?" Dan paused before he answered.
"I have a theory, but first I want to be sure." I was not going to talk him into saying more.
"So now what?"
"I can't very well go back home. I still have zero idea what the game is; I think it is time to change the rules."
"We'll keep someone on site. How are the toys working?"
"If this address pans out, great. The ticks already paid off by showing what was going on at home. Oh, and I found at least one of the units that was already in place ... They are commercial grade. Nothing too fancy. I'm guessing they use the house wiring, right?
"That's what Emily guessed. Was it in the outlet or the screw head?"
"Screw head ... at least in the bathroom. I may have plugged the hairdryer in and never noticed," I scolded myself for being lax, "It's obvious when I look, but who expects a bug in the bathroom, you know?"
"I'll tell you if we see your ... activities on the net." I was glad he felt like joking. I did not.
The address Dan had given me was on the outskirts of town, and was not an area of town where I would recommend visiting. That was no surprise, though. I got some granola bars and bottles of soda as well as some other supplies at a nearby Walmart, then killed the time before dark by driving the run down neighborhood surrounding the address in quadrants. In from one direction, out at the next main street, looking around. There were drug runners and street walkers. The former obviously marked me, but when I did not slow or come back, I was no threat, and if I did not stop the others paid no mind. There were bars and pawn shops and fast food joints. I saw a handful of bikes, some raked choppers with barely legal mirrors. There was no group of cycles or overly watchful sentry, though.
As the sun set I made my first pass of the address, from the back. There was little to see; rows of cookie cutter post war housing showed their age. Some had a unique touch, but most seemed to have accepted that squalor and despair were the colors of the day. There was a chain link fence and a laundry line in the back yard, but nothing else. No dog house. No swing set.
Driving past the front of the house was a risk, but my truck does not stand out. And yes, that was a conscious choice. I did not slow, and did not look to the side as I passed. The front porch sagged dangerously and was packed with mismatched pieces of furniture. There was a light on above three steps leading to the side door. The lawn had not been mowed for a long time, but was so patchy and barren it did not matter. The gate in the fence at the back of the drive along the side of the house was open.
Kari's car was parked near the door. A familiar motorcycle was on its stand in front of it. I smiled, as some answers clicked into place. There was an empty lot beyond the next house on the same side of the street. I had passed on the far side of the street. When I was five blocks away, I hung a U turn and returned, coasting to a stop—lights out—at the curb between the house and the lot. The suspension protested a bit when I used the curb to get stopped, but it saved my brake lights going on. I had already killed the engine, crossing the last intersection. I waited, listening, looking around casually as the last of dusk surrendered to full dark.
The interior light did not go on when I got out. I paused in the trunk at the front of the bed, selecting a handful of tools I might need, then rummaged through the plastic sack from Walmart before moving into the empty lot.
Fortunately the house between Kari's home and the lot seemed empty. And was not yet a crack house. I went across the back, coming between the fence and the parked motorcycle. My investigation of the bike was interrupted by the rhythmic click of nails on concrete, barely audible over the rush of moving air. A Rottie careened around the back of the house, no chain, no bark, and no hesitation.
I like dogs. I hated that someone had taken this dog's larynx out, but I also hate being bitten. The canister of pepper spray would have worked wonders on a human opponent, but put the dog down just as well. And without vocal cords, there was no tell-tale whimper, either. I dropped a steak beside the thrashing, distracted beast, and satisfied myself by the porch light that it was JD's bike I was seeing.
Slipping the Emerson Mini-Commander I always carry out of my pocket, I let the notch on the blade hang on the lip of my jeans, snapping the blade open. I slid the blade along, cutting wiring and hose with disturbing ease. My eyes stayed on the house, on the lit window behind the porch. There was movement inside.
Closing the blade, I made sure I was comfortable with the position before I moved closer to pitted siding. The window was at shoulder height. I paused, looking in from the edge, not because of a threat, but because I suddenly had more questions again. Two small, frightened looking children clung to Kari, who was losing an internal battle not to show them she was terrified. She hugged each child fiercely, cupped their faces, and assured them loudly enough for me to hear through the single pane window that she was almost finished and they could all go home soon. A male voice I had heard before made her sit up, and after warning the children—a young girl and a younger boy—not to make any problems, she closed the door, shoulders slumped in anticipation of whatever came next.