Guiltless Chapter 18: The Break In

We worked late into the night. Pam called to ask if I’d be joining her for dinner. I declined; Mr. Fischer had ordered us burgers in a show of hospitality before leaving.

It was my chance to watch Claire prep Ryan. She had a tremendous ability to focus on the details. Little things, like making Ryan give slow and measured responses to questions. Pauline explained the rationale: prosecutors ‘opened’ witnesses with soft questions, before pouncing on any perceived hesitation in response to curveballs. Claire was essentially coaching Ryan to think on his feet.

Pauline and I worked on the discovery file. I was curious to learn more about the girl Ryan ended up with.

We read the Arrest Report and witness statements. We watched video footage of Ryan leaving the alley, and his showdown with the detectives at the station. I gasped as Devino’s partner charged at Ryan to disarm him. I’d never seen anyone move that fast. Neither, it seemed, had Pauline.

It was a surreal experience to watch Ryan in the videos. He looked, acted like a different person. I was sure he hadn’t been himself at the alley.

The Void’s interior footage was less helpful; there were no cameras in the VIP room. I guessed the fat cats didn’t want anyone looking in on their private antics.

Finally I yawned, and Claire looked down at her watch.

‘It’s past 11,’ she said. ‘Ryan, I’ll take you home and pick you up at nine. Get a good night’s rest.’

Pauline offered to drop me off. I gave Ryan a quick hug and waved at Claire before leaving. Pauline and I rode the elevator in silence. She didn’t speak till we exited the building and approached her Crown Vic.

‘No barman,’ said Pauline, her voice heavy with disappointment. ‘I’ll have to go into The Void blind.’

‘I’ll do it,’ I said, surprising myself. ‘I’ll go in first; get you the information you need.’

‘Absolutely not,’ said Pauline.

I stepped in front of her to cut her off.

‘Why not?’ I demanded. ‘Henry and I play at clubs and bars all the time. I could turn up asking for a gig; with some good references. I’ll have a look around; talk to a few people-’

‘Jean, it’s too dangerous. These people could be pros, if your theory is right. Jazmin ended up with three holes in her chest.’

I knew I wouldn’t back down. My mind raced; piecing my argument together even as I spoke; grabbing logic out of the chilly autumn air.

‘It’s a good cover story and you know it. Look, you would be outside the whole time. If these guys are really pros they’d peg you as a cop from a mile away. I’m the unknown quantity here…I could get you intel on the club staff…who does what…the name of the barman…’

My voice, and thoughts, trailed off. My mind recoiled in horror as I realised I’d said too much. I tried to play it cool; meeting Pauline’s searching gaze in defiance.

She looked amused, and impressed. Again I wondered if feebs could sniff out CIA spooks.

‘Fine,’ she said, at last. ‘But I’m gonna prep you before you go in, not that you need it. Right, Jean?’

With that she stepped around me and walked over to her car.

‘Come on,’ she called. ‘It’s freezing.’

I exhaled heavily, watching my breath blossom in the biting cold before turning round to walk towards her.

***

Avery Ames took the stairs up to Jean Wellings’ apartment, safe in the knowledge she was under surveillance by Sciratio across town. Pam Rogers, her flatmate, was spending the night at her boyfriend’s.

Monitoring Jean in crowded areas had been relatively easy so far. Her tradecraft was good, not perfect. Even so, it was time to take their efforts up a notch. Information could be gleaned from phone conversations through highly sensitive microphones and audio enhancement software. Email would be monitored as well, just in case.

He pulled on a pair of latex gloves as he approached apartment D12. He made short work of the door lock and pulled out a small black fob from his bag before slipping into the dark apartment.

Most home alarms relay radio signals between sensors and a control panel to detect breaches. The fob intercepted the ‘distress’ pulse and played back inaudible static, resetting the alarm.

Avery let the door click softly behind him while his eyes adjusted to the pitch black. He then pulled out a penlight from his bag and flicked it on. The intense pinhead of light, pointed at the floor, was bright enough to alert him to any potential obstacles.

The identical floor plan gave him a head start; the coat rack was to his left, as anticipated. Even without lifting the penlight he knew the kitchen door was just ahead, along the same wall. The living and dining area was a straight walk down the narrow corridor.

The coat rack took two minutes to unload and dismantle. Avery applied Blu-tack to a peanut sized microphone and fastened it to the rack bar’s interior wall. The rack was reassembled and loaded in three minutes.

The kitchen was trickier. He decided to install the bugs in the light fittings; forgoing the fridge, oven, and dishwasher as alternative options.

He made short work of the living room; furniture presented ample opportunities for hiding microphones. Its entrance was flanked by doors to either bedroom. Avery doubled back and worked the door to his right; gaining access to Jean’s sanctuary.

He shone his light around; over her bed, closet, desk, and the door to her en suite bathroom. He frowned as his gaze lingered on her cabinet drawer. The idea of rummaging through her underwear was distasteful. The closet would have to do.

He worked quickly; bugs went into several coat collars. He unscrewed the laptop on her desk and inserted a SIM sized magnetic strip to the motherboard. As he finished up his eye caught her picture which rested on the periphery of his illumination.

A photo of a young Jean stared into the camera, a dreamy look in her eyes. She looked no older than eight but he’d recognised her instantly because of her prominent eyes. Her pupils dilated as she took a scoop of ice cream. The photographer subtly blurred the background while keeping her in focus.

To her left- Avery’s right, stood a scrawny black boy in horn rimmed glasses. He grinned sheepishly at the camera; wide eyed; shoulders hunched as his spoon hovered in front of his mouth. To her right stood another black boy. He was more relaxed; looking off to the side past Jean as he took a scoop of his ice cream. A black woman towered over the three children. She was beautiful; with a sad yet regal gaze, long hair, and dark eyes.

Dr Holburn; Jean’s mother. There was a slight resemblance.

Avery pinched the picture frame to test its integrity. Skilled hands took apart the picture, and then planted a microphone in the bottom left corner of the frame.

Avery straightened, tall and satisfied. Only the bathroom remained.

He walked up to the door and opened it. His phone buzzed; it was a text message from Sciratio.

‘She’s on the move. You’ve got 10 minutes.’

He looked around the bathroom, unperturbed by this news. His gaze settled on the cupboard beneath the sink.

The nook behind the p-trap seemed as good a place as any. He knelt on one knee; opened the cupboard and shone his penlight at it.

He froze, and for the first time in years he was unsure of how to proceed. In that moment everything made sense then didn’t. He supposed he should have expected it, even looked out for it, given the nature of his target.

Avery reached with trembling fingers for the familiar black object nestled behind the drain pipe. It was wrapped in plastic film to stave off water from potential leakages, but its form and shape were unmistakable.

The perfect replica of his Sig Sauer; a Colt 1911 handgun.

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