03-07 Crafty People

by Ernest Bywater

Tags: Teenagers, Fiction, Military, Vignettes, Workplace, Extra Sensory Perception,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: January 2005, an international group of crafty criminals prove very hard to catch, but can they deal with a young genius in his early teens. Which of them is the craftiest?

For a few years high quality imitations of ancient jewels and famous paintings have been cropping up around the world. They’re so good many of the experts have trouble telling them from the real thing. All investigations by law enforcement organisations around the world lead to blank walls of false identities, or dead investigators.

In mid 2004 the Royal Intelligence Service (RIS) learns about a group of artists in Berana who’re making high quality forged documents. They can’t get any more information because the group has very strong security, and the person who approached them about turning them in for immunity is found dead, but not until after hinting they do much more than just documents. The first agent sent to check them out goes missing without a trace. RIS are concerned, because their people are good investigators, but not that good in fighting or combat skills. They need someone with both, or someone who can look after themselves while they get close to the small group of targets who’ve already been located.

The group operates from a large warehouse beside a vacant factory site near the Berana International Airport. Near the old factory another has been torn down, and is now a big vacant lot. The kids from a nearby housing estate for the poor use it as a playground. The criminal group doesn’t mind, as it makes it easier for them to tell when police spies are around. The kids react to unknown adults, and the criminals take that as a hint to check them out. Most are minor criminals who are strongly encouraged to go to another area when they get out of the hospital.

In late 2004 the Berana RIS Commander learns of a very smart Guards officer who’s only thirteen years old. After reading the officer’s short file, and noting he’s a Sensei Cho in the Way of the Hand, he requests the loan of Junior Lieutenant Gordon Mannheim to help with this case. He figures Gerry can protect himself, and being so young should put him below the criminal group’s security radar.

Target in Sight

In the first week of January, 2005 Gerry is in Berana temporarily living with a family from the Amiri tribe that isn’t doing well. The father is too ashamed to move back to the tribal lands as a failure. The business he set up went well for a few years then failed. After being approached by his Clan Father to provide Gerry with housing the man agrees to help out without being given any information about why Gerry is there. He introduces Gerry to his children as a distant cousin from View Port who needs to be away from home for a few weeks because of some family trouble being sorted out.

Since the man is helping with the operation he’s paid board for Gerry living with them, the payment is the per diem accommodation and meal rates of a Guards Officer staying at a mid-level hotel in the city. Being a payment from the Guards this doesn’t affect his family’s welfare payment, and is more per week than the welfare. He explains to his family Gerry’s people are paying them board to look after him, and this will help improve their situation. They’re paid four weeks in advance, so belated Christmas presents are now possible for the children. The daily food is also improved, and appreciated by all.

The children are aged eight to eleven, so they easily slot Gerry into the local groups of children. He’s introduced as a visiting relative staying for a few weeks, and is soon assimilated into the local kids’ culture. His introductions are noticed by the criminal gang’s security, but they note it’s the same as any other new kid in the area. After seeing him around for a week they place him in the category of ‘new kid, nothing to worry about.’

During the day Gerry is able to take note of the activities in the warehouse, and send a report off each night. On the fourth day he’s able to place a listening device against the sheet steel wall of the warehouse. This doesn’t give out a general radio signal, but uses a directional signal on a microwave beam to a receiver on the other side of the vacant block. The receiver records, and reports each hour via a phone call to RIS. The criminals aren’t even aware of its existence. Their listening device detectors search for broadcast radio signals on the frequencies usually used by such devices. This is right outside their detection equipment’s range. Also, both parts of the device are arranged to look like normal parts of the buildings, and fit in. All they listen in on is useful and helps to identify some of the group’s contacts, but doesn’t help with evidence for court or key contacts. Gerry has to get inside the gang, somehow.

The building operates as a small white goods warehouse as a front. Gerry tries for an unconventional approach. He prepares an entry kit of a battery operated screwdriver, some screws the same colour as the door’s sheet metal, two narrow step ladders, and drill attachments.

One night he sneaks up to the building’s main vehicle entrance. Placing a step ladder in front of the building he stands on the ladder, and uses the drill to remove the pop rivets from the hatch they use to see who’s at the door. The hole this creates is just big enough to let him in. Placing the hatch on the ground he puts the second step ladder inside, and climbs in. He checks out the front storeroom, but doesn’t try to enter the more secure back rooms, because he can see the higher security systems on it. Selecting a few items from the stored stock he carries them to the door. He lowers them out the hatch to the ground with care. When finished he climbs out, and removes the inside ladder. He screws the hatch back into place. After packing everything up he heads back to the house for the rest of the night.

The next morning he surprises his hosts with a gift of a new kettle, the old one is faulty and gives a slight charge. He damages the old one beyond use, and throws it away. During the day he visits local pawn brokers, selling brand new kettles and toasters very cheap. He uses the money to treat his host’s children, and some friends, to a nice lunch.

For the next three nights he makes regular trips to the warehouse to steal small items, and then sell them locally. Finally one of the group members notices they’re short some stock, and some new stocks of the same items are being sold locally very cheap. They soon work out one of the locals is ripping them off, somehow, but they can’t work out how. They check all their security systems, but no breaches are detected.

Gerry is aware of all this due to the listening device. That night he sneaks in with faked invoices and address labels. He spends his time preparing two pallets to be shipped to a store a bit further away by placing the faked invoices and labels on them. They’re based on real ones he stole earlier in the week. The store the goods are going to is a regular fencing operation, and RIS has a man inside it. Gerry has an agreement to get 50% of the value of the goods shipped there from this warehouse. The next day the pallets are shipped out as organised. That afternoon they’re missed. Now the thief is stealing whole pallets, and this is really blowing their minds. They’re at a total loss on how it’s being done. They’re not reporting any of the thefts to the police, because they don’t want them checking the place over. Each night Gerry is upping the number of pallets being shipped. Over the next three days ten more pallets go missing when they’re shipped out for him.

Finally Gerry ups the outgoing load to the point where the total of the shipments won’t fit on the truck, and the driver is asking which load to leave behind. Knowing they always tailor the loads to be less than a truck load they check all the shipments, and find the fake shipment. Now they know how the pallets are being shipped out. The truck leaves without that load. They marvel at the quality of the work done on the labels etc., because it’s very good.

They visit the fence the shipment is addressed to, and learn about the arrangement with Gerry, but have no idea how it’s organised or who he is. That night they’ve extra guards in place inside and outside. Gerry notices them, and doesn’t attempt an entry. The same for two more night.

The next day they receive a letter in the mail saying, “If you want to know how you were ripped off bring ten thousand dollars to the fountain in the Banashee Mall tomorrow at noon.” Some of the leaders are angry, others are amused, and the big boss is intrigued. It’s clear their thief knows they’re watching for him, and he’s still interested in getting more money out of them. It’s also clear he knows they haven’t gone to the police, and suspects they won’t.

Mall Manoeuvres

The mall is a large one, five floors with a central open area for the full height. However, each higher level hangs out over the lower levels for half a metre per level; not much, but enough to allow unobstructed views down from each one. The fountain is at one end of the open area.

At noon the next day two of the group’s people are at the fountain with a bag, and with several more people spread about the fountain set to catch the collector of the bag. A man in a general courier company uniform approaches them with a clipboard and a small parcel, they get set to take him. He says, “One of you two from Walking Wares.” One nods, and he hands them the small parcel from under his arm with the clipboard, saying, “Please sign.”

Amazed, they sign for the parcel, he takes his clipboard, turns and walks away. The parcel is addressed to ‘Walking Wares,’ it’s from ‘Fly by Night Operations.’ They open it to find a mobile phone, it rings. They answer it.

A voice says, “Open the bag and show me the money.” They look around, hundreds of people are looking down, but none have a phone in their hands.

Grimacing, one replies, “OK, just a moment.” He signals to another man who brings a second bag over, and they change bags. He opens it up to show the money in the bottom of the bag.

The voice says, “Good. Now place the phone in the bag, I’ll be there shortly.” They do as told.

A moment later they hear people on the levels above them gasp, looking up they see a small man falling down the open area. He’s almost on top of them. He stops in the air in front of them, and grabs the bag of money. He hands them an envelope, and vanishes upward. He’s wearing a flesh covered mask and a bungee jumping bracing frame of webbing material. The bungee cord pulls him back up two levels. A hand reaches out, and grabs him to pull him in. Seconds later the empty frame falls over the edge. A few seconds more for the frame and cord to be pulled in at the top level and vanish over the rail.

The waiting catchers scramble to get up to the higher levels. More men flood the mall from the car-park. They activate the tracer in the bag. Only to find the empty bag in a rubbish bin on the second level. Asking questions finds no one who saw anyone with either a bungee jumping outfit or the orange jump suit the man wore. And no one spoken to admits to being on the second level when the jumper got off the cord. Many people think the fellow did it as stunt to thumb their nose at the excessive mall security, so they won’t tell anyone a thing.

The gang examines the contents of the envelope. It tells them about the screws in the hatch, how he’d entered, and how he beat their basic security system. But nothing about how he forged the documents. Most of the gang leadership are angry they missed him, but the big boss is glad, because it proves this person is smart and just the sort to recruit. He wants him in the gang. The next day he places an ad in the Personal section of the newspapers - ‘Banashee Bouncer, please contact Walking Wares re job offer.‘ Banashee Bouncer is what the media have labelled the bungee jumper.

Going In

Gerry sends them a letter offering to talk to their leader. It gives them another meeting spot in the local area with a time that day. The leader arrives at the spot, no one with him - as per the instructions. A nearby public phone rings. He’s beginning to like this guy, because he knows about security and keeping cover. They talk at length, and he offers Gerry a job as a courier and planner. He likes the way he thinks, and is prepared to write off the current losses as a recruitment bonus. Gerry agrees to think about it, and will contact him. He’s given a name to ask for.

A little while after the man leaves the phone Gerry and a couple of local girls enter the phone booth. While one of the girls appears to talk on the phone by using a handset Gerry brought he wraps the other in a plastic bag, and removes it to replace it with a third after he places the original in his bag. The girl hands the phone to Gerry, in the process the fake is slipped into his bag, and he speaks into the new one.

That night Gerry passes the phone over to his RIS contact. He’d wiped the phone just before the appointed time, so the only prints on it are the target’s prints. During the night they run the prints, and get a match with a known local and international criminal.

Mid-morning the next day a boy walks into the warehouse, looking around when he enters the office, and asks for the name given him, it’s not the man’s real name. The man comes out from the inner office.

Gerry says, “Yesterday you forgot to mention a monthly pay rate.” The man’s jaw drops, this kid’s the one running them around in circles. No way.

“Funny, kid, now you go tell who sent you I want to speak to them.”

Gerry smiles, “You want me to work for you, or not.” He points at a man against the wall, “That’s the guy I gave the envelope to. Oh, by the way, there was only nine thousand five hundred dollars in the bag, someone stiffed us both.”

The leader replies, “No, I left it short as a later check method.”

Gerry nods, “Must remember that one myself. Did you change the hatch to a double sided one yet?”

The man nods yes, because he’s now convinced this is his antagonist. He says, “Come into my office, and we can talk. I must admit I’m a bit surprised by your age.”

Smiling, Gerry follows him into the office. One of the heavies starts to follow, only to watch Gerry whip to the side and make sure he has plenty of room between them. In the process the two men notice the small handgun under Gerry’s coat. He says, “Yes, I’m carrying, and I know how to use it, too. So don’t try anything we may both regret. I came in here trusting you to keep your word. I suggest you do.”

They all sit down, and have a lengthy talk. As a test the boss lays out the plans for a coming job, and asks Gerry’s advice. After looking it over, and asking several pertinent questions, he asks if certain skills and resources are available. On being assured they are he lays out a plan that’ll work, based on the information given. They like it because it’s close to what they had planned already. Gerry says, “Are you sure you know everything about their security arrangements? If you’ve missed anything you’ll lose people. These people seem the type to have something much heavier than what you’ve mentioned.” In truth, he knows there’s a lot not mentioned, probably because they don’t know about it all. Gerry helped plan the security and defences for this house when his sister said she was building one in the city.

The boss says, “Yeah, I’d have expected a lot more, but they’ve a lot of people on guard. My contact only visits a lot, but she doesn’t live there. However, she assures me that’s all they have!” Gerry slowly nods his understanding of the situation.

They ask Gerry to make a payment to a senior bureaucrat that afternoon, he’ll be in a park and it’s worth twenty-five thousand dollars. He agrees. The payment is a small bag of diamonds.

Gerry makes the payment. Posing as a boy playing in the park the man is having a late lunch in Gerry crashes his toy plane near to him. Passing in front of the man he casually drops the bag in his lap when he says the code word of the day. The bag soon vanishes. He also gets a few photos of the man on his concealed camera while he approaches him. RIS will have no trouble picking him up later.

After that Gerry is asked to stay with them until after the other operation. He agrees, but wants more clothes. He calls his hosts, saying he’ll be sleeping over for a few days, and goes shopping for some new clothes. The group is beginning to accept he can be useful, but they’re still wary of him. They don’t want him going to his regular residence or out of their sight until after the coming raid.

While shopping he visits a few stores where he can pick up special accessories supplied by RIS, because the shops are RIS fronts. He says nothing, since two heavies are with him all the time. But in the process of selecting clothes he palms useful items from concealed storage places in the stores, because they’re set up for just this type of situation.

Back at the warehouse he places some of the special items around the back rooms of the warehouse, special listening devices that only work when remotely activated, and are on a commercial radio frequency not usually used for listening devices. He’d placed a collector for them on top of the building opposite before he entered the warehouse.

Over the next two days he finds out the group has many strings to its bow. Document forgery, fake artworks, stolen artworks (usually stolen by them), reworking stolen jewellery, and more. Without them knowing it he learns a lot about their operations and other facilities. He even manages to slip a Trojan program into the boss’ portable computer via a USB thumb drive in his watch. Surreptitiously plugging it in, the drive auto runs on connection.

Ruptured Raid

On the night of the raid he goes with them. He accurately performs the actions assigned to him, because he’s under watch the whole time. They’re after several very valuable artworks kept in the house. The raiders are only halfway across the expansive grounds when he notices and points out a sensor that isn’t in the plans they have. He suggests an immediate withdrawal. The raid leader orders them to go ahead, and claims it’s only part of the irrigation system. Gerry counters, “It looks like an irrigation item, but the location is wrong for that, and just right for an intruder sensor.” They continue. They’re almost at the house when flood lights come on, and someone shoots out a light.

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