Wishing everyone a happy year of the fire monkey! I think you'll like this chapter - more discovery for Lex's secret assignment, and what should be done about it...
In case you missed it before, I wanted to mention that Book 2, also known as Super: Underground, is now available in the following locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Copia, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster, and Ciando. If you've been reading and liking this series and want to give the e-book a review where it's available (or on Goodreads), that would be awesome (e-book corresponds to chapters 21-36 posted here).
A big cheer for my lovely editor-in-chief, gwoman for all of her help in making this story better.
Back to Chapter 40
After she'd studied the materials about the burglaries for a couple weeks, Lex had some theories but didn't feel she'd gotten as far along as she hoped she would. Sighing, she gathered her notes together about the patterns she'd noticed so far and went to Captain Shapiro's office.
Knocking on the open door, she went in as he looked up from his computer at her.
“All right,” she said as she closed the door behind her, “I think I'm ready to choose a team. Do I have any restrictions?”
He shook his head. “I was surprised you hadn't already chosen some people, but then I realized you'd probably want to look everything over yourself first.”
Lex nodded in response, then continued speaking. “Did you have any suggestions as to who would be good for this job?”
“Not really,” the captain responded, one shoulder rising in a shrug. “Talk to people to see if you can find anyone who's had experience with this sort of thing.”
She looked at him with narrowed eyes. So this is a test, is it? “All right,” Lex responded. “Can I ask if anyone's had experience with working on this sort of burglary, or is that giving the mission away?”
“I think saying that much would be fine,” Captain Shapiro replied. “Just not any more detail than that.”
“OK, agreed. A couple more things, though,” Lex said, studying the captain closely. “Can we take over one of the upstairs offices or one of the empty rooms so that we can stretch out? I have a feeling that we're going to need some space to look at what we have as far as our notes and theories and stuff.”
The captain appeared to be thinking about it for the next couple of seconds causing Lex to wait (and hold her breath), until finally he typed something into his computer and nodded. “I've assigned you the room that's to the far back on the right on the third floor. It's a guest room now, so you can change the furniture around however you like once you figure out how you want it; just pull stuff out of the storage rooms nearby. Let me know who your team is once you pick them and I'll change their key card access to let them in.”
“Thanks,” Lex said, trying not to smile too crazily in her excitement. “I also wanted to ask you...is there any way you can arrange for us to be allowed to see the original crime scene when these guys make their next move? According to the spacing from their last few hits, they should probably be about due.”
Captain Shapiro paused then, finally sighing out a deep breath. “I'll try,” he answered, fixing Lex with a dark look. “It may be difficult, since I got the feeling when they called that Interpol is trying very hard to keep it quiet that they've called us in at all.”
“I understand,” Lex replied, nodding. “If it is approved for us to go there, would it be possible to borrow a psychic to take with us when we go, someone used to picking up information from a scene?”
“You don't ask for much, do you?” he said, fixing her with a hard look and a laugh.
“I'm going to keep asking, if there's something I see that could make our job easier. If the answer is no, I'll just figure out another way.”
The captain nodded. “I think that should be fine, assuming I can get you permission to go. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything.”
Smiling as she rose, Lex thanked him and made her way out the door, trying not to run up the stairs to investigate the new room for the bank burglary team. She looked the place over when she got up there, then glanced out the window at the street below. Examining the space in the room, Lex thought they could probably fit two long tables in there, and people could bring laptops in to work on things as needed. She looked at the walls and figured that they could get some flipcharts and put up a whiteboard so that they could capture what they knew so far and spread it out so everyone could see it. Finally, she found herself nodding as she closed the window blinds. Now, to find a team, Lex thought, smiling wryly to herself.
She and Rolf had planned earlier to go out to lunch that day, but Lex found herself so distracted by the case that she finally realized that she had to talk to someone else about it, if only indirectly to get another person's viewpoint.
“If I ask you some things, Rolf, could you keep what we talk about a secret?” she asked, relieved to see him smile in response.
“Yes, definitely. You've been preoccupied ever since the captain gave you that new case to work on, so if there's anything I can do to help you think it through, I'd be glad to,” he replied.
Lex cleared her throat to begin, her eyes darting all around them, and spoke only after she confirmed that no one had been seated near the corner table they occupied. “Do you know if anyone on the team has any experience in working cases with bank robberies or burglaries, or anything like that?”
“I do,” Rolf replied, looking Lex in the eye. She couldn’t help but start in surprise, which he smiled at and explained. “When they first found out I belonged on the Special Forces, I chose a posting in England, since that’s where I’d gone to college. While I was there, I helped out on a case to solve a string of bank robberies. The method they used didn't seem sophisticated; a group of a few people like Casey and Lou had banded together. When they got to the bank, they forced someone to show them the vault and then they tore it apart and took what they could find. It worked a few times due to the surprise and the fact that it probably got them in and out more quickly than having someone else get the money instead, but eventually we helped to catch them.”
“What did you do?” Lex wondered aloud.
He shrugged. “I don't know if you've ever talked to Casey about it, but they've developed some different types of medicine to treat people like her, in case they need surgery or anything. We figured out their pattern enough to predict the next place they'd hit and threw some knockout gas into the bank. It only made them all groggy, but it gave us enough of an edge that we got in and took the robbers the rest of the way down and arrested them.”
Lex nodded as she took the information in, then looked up at Rolf and smiled. “I want you to be part of my team, then. Is there anything else you're working on right now?”
Looking at the ceiling as he considered, Rolf eventually grimaced. “Actually, I am supposed to be planning what promotional event we should put on at that community fair next month, but I think the captain would probably assign that to someone else if you want me on your team.”
Smiling in response, Lex thought about her surprise when she and her friends arrived here and learned that the team actually participated in periodic events to promote awareness and acceptance of the Special Forces. Following her surprise, Lex decided that she much preferred it to how hidden they had been in America. Of course, that left the problem of what they should do at these types of events.
She replied with a laugh. “Tell him to talk to one of my bandmates if they need something and can't come up with any other ideas. We could perform if they're desperate, but I don't know if he wants us associated with the special forces like that.”
Rolf shrugged and smiled. “I'll mention it to him.”
They fell silent for a while as their lunch came and they began to eat, but Rolf finally picked their conversation back up by asking, “So, who else is on this team?”
“Well,” Lex replied, “so far it's just you, me, and Riss as an auxiliary member, in case we need computer expertise. I haven't talked to Riss about it because Captain Shapiro made it sound like she'd only be working on this part of the time, so I didn't want to bother her or anyone else until I'd reviewed all the information and had an idea of how I thought we should proceed. So, now I'm at that point and trying to figure out who the team should be. We are allowed to pick one more person; I know no one I came here with has ever said anything about being involved with investigating burglaries in banks before, so I'm hoping maybe another one of the original Brussels team members might be able to help us out with this. Do you know if we have anything like résumé information back at the office? Anything that talks about what experience all of us have?”
Looking thoughtful for a moment, Rolf finally shook his head. “I don't know, but we can find out once we get back. Riss might be able to help us out with that.”
Once they returned to headquarters, Lex and Rolf got together to search their desktops for a database with that type of information, and finally approached Riss to see if she knew of anything of the sort, but came up with nothing.
“Well, I guess we're going to have to resort to asking everyone if they have bank burglary investigation experience if we want to find out,” Lex said with some frustration.
Rolf shrugged. “Maybe we don't need someone else with that type of experience, considering I'm already on the team. What else are we going to need people to be able to do?”
Lex thought for a few moments before answering. “Well, we're going to need to get access to any new crime scenes. The captain might be able to help us with that, but he didn't seem sure he'd get permission. Also, if we're going to figure out who might be doing this, we need someone familiar with the criminal databases to find likely suspects.”
“It almost sounds like you're describing Tamara,” Rolf replied. “She has a number of police connections, and not just the ones in this town. Also, she's way better at actually finding what she's looking for when she uses those databases.”
They smiled at one another then, and Lex began to feel like she'd found a partner in crime. “Good. Is there anyone else you can think of on the team who'd be a better fit?”
Rolf shook his head. “I think she'd be the best choice. The more I think about it, she'd be a great help, since we're probably going to have to deal with a lot of local police forces before this is over.”
“All right,” Lex said, smiling more broadly. “Could you go and talk to Captain Shapiro to let him know that you and Tamara are on the team? I asked him for a room where we could set things up and leave them so that we could work together better, and he gave me one on the top floor on the back right corner.”
“No problem,” Rolf said with an answering smile.
“I'll go talk to Tamara to see if I can convince her to join us,” Lex continued. “I'll bring the files—and hopefully Tamara—upstairs. Feel free to bring your laptop or anything else; I figure we can sort of move in there for a while until all of this gets settled. The captain already told me that we can change the furniture around however we like.”
“That's pretty fancy. I don't think I've ever been on an assignment here with its own team room,” Rolf replied with a laugh.
“Stick with me, kid, and it'll be first class all the way,” Lex replied with a wink.
She went to the safe to pull the files before she made her way to the second floor to find Tamara. She waved at Kate and Meg as they looked up when she came into the room to stand by Tamara's desk.
“Can I talk to you for a few minutes?” Lex asked as soon as she had Tamara's attention. The other woman gave her a secretive smile before she nodded, following Lex out into the hallway.
“So, what's up?” Tamara asked, looking curiously at Lex.
“Well, the captain gave me an assignment not long ago, and he told me that I could pick a couple of people to help work on it. Unfortunately, it's secret, so I can't give you too many details–” Lex began, but stopped at Tamara's confident reply.
“Yeah, I'm interested. When would you like to talk it over?”
Smiling at Lex's look of confusion, Tamara continued, “I should let you know that Captain Shapiro already talked to me about this. He didn't tell me anything about the job, but he did say that if you came to me asking for help with the assignment he'd given you, that it would be my top priority. Oh, and he said that if you did choose me for your team, he wanted me to pass on his congratulations.”
Lex felt like her eyebrows would lift off her head, but Tamara just chuckled. “I think he tested all of us in different ways when we first got here. He isn't the type of man to take anyone else's word for anything, least of all the capabilities of his team. He must trust you, though, because this is the first time I've seen him give anyone a secret assignment as part of a test.”
Thinking that she'd been given way too much information to try to absorb at once, Lex sighed and smiled as she shook her head. “So I guess there's less to cover, then. Do you want to come up and see our secret headquarters?”
Tamara laughed out loud in response. “Now there's something I thought I'd never hear. Show me the way!”
Lex asked Tamara to try her card out on the door once they got there, and smiled when it opened as a result. She glanced at the few spare pieces of furniture in the room, coated in dust, and noticed Rolf sitting on the edge of the uncovered mattress that sat on top of the bed frame in the corner. Lex grinned as she saw him and pulled a chair over to the bed, gesturing at Tamara to sit on the mattress as well.
“All right, everyone,” Lex said as she faced her two new team members, “first of all, thanks for agreeing to help with this. I'm going to start by summarizing what I've read about this case so far.” She patted the large file folder in her lap before continuing. “As I mentioned to Rolf earlier, Riss will also be sort of an auxiliary member of the team, if we need computer expertise. I’ll meet with her later to explain what I’m going to tell you, and I’ll keep her up-to-date as we find out information on the case, but I think she’ll mostly be functioning as a resource to help us, and won’t be working with the team day-to-day.”
She then went through the basic information about the burglaries: how many, how long they'd been happening, the patterns in how they'd been committed, and some of the telling features she'd noticed as she’d read the files. Then she paused and looked Rolf and Tamara both in the eye for a moment.
“Next,” Lex continued, “I'm going to share the theories I came up with after reviewing the data. That doesn't mean I'm right, so please feel free to speak up, now or later, if I'm proposing anything that doesn't seem to fit the facts.
“From what I can tell of how this group committed the burglaries, it seems they have at least the following types of people on the burglary team: someone strong who can carry a whole lot, someone who can dig amazing circular tunnels quickly, a hacker, and a psychic. From my conversation with Captain Shapiro about it, the hacker might just be a person with good skills, or it might be someone like Riss or the captain, so some of these roles could double up, I suppose,” Lex said, looking at both of her audience members to see if she could tell what they thought so far.
“What makes you think all of that?” Tamara asked, interested curiosity in her expression.
Lex smiled and responded, “Well, as far as having someone that's extra strong in their group, some of their hauls have contained, as far as we can tell, large amounts of gold. Gauging weight from the amount of gold stolen, it seems to be well more than even several of the strongest average people could carry away. Also, since some of their exits have tunneled out to rain sewers, it's unlikely that they could have transported their haul straight to a vehicle or anything like that, which would pretty much point to someone with great strength.”
She looked up at Tamara then, who met her gaze with an intense look. The other woman nodded then, as if she'd followed and agreed with Lex's reasoning. “Also, about the tunnels,” Lex continued, “none of them have been the same shape or diameter, which is the sort of thing that you'd expect to see if they used a machine. After looking into the types of machines that would be required to dig a hole like that as well, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get those machines into all of the areas the group would have needed to in order to dig all the holes they did. Most digging machines are loud, too, and the police reported receiving no noise complaints in the areas around the time the burglaries occurred, so it seems the most logical conclusion is that it's a person who's doing it.”
Lex continued through the list she'd prepared, explaining her reasoning behind her ideas. When she finished, Rolf and Tamara both looked thoughtful but nodded. “If either of you come up with any further ideas about any of that, please share them,” Lex requested. “You've both been involved in this sort of thing before to some degree, but they usually tried to keep the teams in America out of any sort of official investigation, so I don't have much experience with this at all.”
“No problem,” Tamara responded, a confident look on her face. “So, what's the plan for moving forward with this?”
“Over the next few days, I'd like the two of you to read the files to see if you pick up on things that I've missed. I'm going to start by summarizing what we know so far and writing it up on flipchart paper so that we can post it all over the wall and add things as we learn more. We should probably also get some better furniture in here,” Lex said, looking around at the scuffed-up desk and single bed that Tamara and Rolf sat on.
“And at this point,” Lex said, looking directly at Tamara, “I'm figuring we're probably due, or maybe overdue, for the next burglary. I want us to be able to go and look at the scene the next time it happens, but obviously I don't know the first thing about how we'd get that done. The captain said he'd try, but he didn't sound confident about his success. Tamara, can we rely on you for that? If at all possible, I'd like to see if we could borrow a psychic to take with us, someone who could assess what's left at the scene and maybe pick up on what happened there.”
She nodded. “I'll do my best. I don't have pull with all of the police in the EU, but I have contacts in a number of different places.”
“If you can't arrange it, just let me know and I'll see if Captain Shapiro can do it,” Lex said, but as she looked over at Tamara then, she noted a competitive gleam in the other woman's eye and figured that it might not be a problem after all.
Lex and Rolf worked together that afternoon to move the old furniture out of the room and to bring in some comfortable chairs and a long table so that the whole team would have plenty of room to work, while Tamara kept busy reading the file and helping the two of them carry big items. The few days after that, Rolf and Tamara studied the reports while Lex tried to summarize anything known and paste the information in lists all over the walls, adding things as her two companions came up with new ideas.
Rolf and Lex both sat researching different things on their laptops when the door opened on a Monday several days since they'd begun working together on the new assignment. Tamara burst in looking radiant, her face plastered with a big grin.
“Come on, you two,” she said quickly, “they've struck again. This time, it's in Germany. I had the good luck to have a friend on the force in the area where it happened who should be able to get us onto the scene. I'd already looked into getting a psychic to accompany us, and she's meeting us at the station in an hour. If we can get tickets for the 10:00 a.m. express train, we should be able to be there by this afternoon.”
Rolf and Lex began shutting down their laptops, but as Lex went to pack hers into its case, she looked up as Tamara spoke again. “Hey, Lex, make sure you change into your jumpsuit before we leave, and bring your ID. The jumpsuit isn't required, but it'll make us look more official, which gives us less of a chance of trouble once we get there.”
After scrambling to pack anything she thought she might need, then getting the team out to the train station, Lex watched as Tamara greeted their temporary new team member near a snack bar at street level. The woman gave the group a solemn nod, and Lex had to glance up to meet her eyes as they shook hands. Backing off on her usual firm handshake due to the delicate hand she held in her own, Lex let go of the woman's hand and finished studying her, her own eyes lingering on straight brown hair and short bangs, serious blue eyes, pronounced cheekbones, and clothes that accented the woman's thin frame.
“I'm Annette Winthrop,” she said as she shook Rolf's hand, then nodded and smiled at Tamara, as if the two of them had already met.
Some minutes later, the four of them had gotten seats on the train, but since no compartment had been available, Lex took advantage of the noise of the passengers still arriving to lean towards the rest of her team members and speak softly.
“Do you have any information about what happened?” Lex asked Tamara, giving her a curious glance.
“Some,” Tamara replied, pulling papers from her own bag and distributing them to the other three. “I took copies of a few early news stories, and I asked my friend to send her notes. They're not in English, so I did a quick translation on my way to work. Have a look to prepare.”
Lex turned the paper over in her lap and asked another question. “Where in Germany did the burglary take place?”
Tamara gave a small snort of laughter in reply. “They got bold this time. It's actually in Berlin, in the east of town, in some of the development they did around the time the Wall came down.”
With a raised eyebrow, Lex looked at Rolf to gauge his reaction, only to see that he had a similar expression. “Where did they dig out to?” he asked.
“It went to some subway access tunnels,” Tamara explained. “Anyway, read it and see what you think, because people are starting to show up now.” She looked over her shoulder at the couple climbing into the seats behind her and then back at everyone else.
As Lex watched, Rolf and Annette nodded and leaned back into their seats. She immediately scanned the papers she'd been handed by Tamara, and then went back through to read them thoroughly. The first article, written in English, gave a general account of the incident and included a picture of the bank itself. Raising an eyebrow, Lex noted the burglars had picked a branch of one of the most famous banks in Germany in what looked like the bottom corner of a high-rise building. The article seemed sketchy on details but described an operation that she and her team had become pretty familiar with by now, including the hole into the vault and the stolen money. The estimated haul from the theft surprised her, however, since the burglars had probably netted several million euro this time.
She silently whistled to herself as she turned to the translation of the police notebook pages relevant to the burglary. They'd measured the hole that had been dug out to the subway access tunnel, something well within the averages of the other holes that had been dug. The camera had gone to a loop around 2:13 a.m. local time on Saturday morning. As always, no fingerprints or DNA traces had been left.
Lex dug her laptop out of her bag and opened a file. She knew that the captain wanted anything about this case locked up, so Lex had created a document where she could write down random thoughts and questions about the case cryptically so that there would be little way for anyone not familiar with the case to link the comments to the ideas under Lex's consideration.
She added one line to the file this time and then stared out the window for a moment, watching fields rushing by. “How do they know where to dig?” the screen asked her when she turned back to it. Lex closed her eyes as she thought about the pictures she'd seen of the previous crime scenes. The holes all seemed well situated, not one cutting through part of the vault cage or ending up in the wrong place entirely. Could someone even link up the plans for the utility or train tunnels directly to the plans for a bank vault? Frowning then, Lex wondered how hard it would actually be to get the plans for a bank vault. Surely they wouldn't be publicly available, she thought, but probably someone needs to approve them. Maybe something a talented hacker could obtain, but then how would they be able to make those plans match up with others?
Lex realized she'd been staring out the window for a while when she looked back down at her laptop to read the time, now near 11 a.m.. That gave her a thought, and she turned back to her companions, finding Tamara looking out the window and others engaged in working on their laptops.
“Tamara,” Lex asked, leaning forward, “do you know if this train has a dining car?”
Tamara shrugged, but Rolf responded, “Likely it does, since it's an express,” Rolf finally answered.
“Good,” Lex responded with a smile. “Do you mind going to check it out? If there is one, I'd like to go there and see if we could get a quiet table so that we could talk before everyone starts to show up for lunch. With any luck, maybe it'll be quieter here during lunchtime, too.”
Rolf nodded in response, then Lex watched him head down the aisle towards the front of the train. When he came back with a smile of victory a few minutes later, Lex and the rest of the team followed him to the dining car, where they got seated at a table somewhat removed from the others in a corner. Once the four of them had ordered lunch, Lex leaned in towards her teammates in order to converse as freely as possible.
“Annette,” Lex started quietly, “I should have welcomed you to this team earlier, so I apologize that we were in a hurry. I know you're only going to be with us temporarily, so let me please remind you of what I'm sure you probably talked with Tamara about earlier—please keep everything we discuss and find out of the utmost secrecy.”
Nodding in return, Annette replied, “I understand, and I will. Thanks to all of you for your confidence in me.”
Lex couldn't help but smile in return along with Tamara, and she saw Rolf nod at Annette as well. “Just to make it clear, unless we hadn't talked about it enough earlier,” Lex continued, “we're hoping that you'll be able to pick up on some of the faces of the people who stole from the bank in the article. As you may have read in the papers, they've stolen from a number of banks in the past few months, and no one knows who they are yet or exactly how they do it. Any information you can pick up about them or their methods once we arrive on scene would be invaluable.”
“You can count on me. I'll do whatever I can.”
“Thanks, Annette,” Lex said with a nod. “Now, Rolf and Tamara, did you notice anything about the new information you found significant or that you think we should look into while we're there?”
Rolf studied the table for a few moments before replying, “I want to see what everything looks like once we get there, and I'm interested to see what it smells like.”
Everyone looked at him then, and Lex noticed Annette’s surprise and Tamara’s raised eyebrows, to which he smiled. “I don't intend to change, but I've found that my normal sense of smell is greater than that of the average person. I may be able to pick up on something others have missed, not that I think I'll be able to track these people by smell or anything like that. One more thing, though: I've been wondering how many exits there are from the subway access tunnel they left through. It may be that they came out somewhere near a security camera that hadn't been knocked out.”
Lex and Tamara exchanged grins. “That's great thinking, Rolf!” Lex answered. “Please focus on that when we get there; I'm hoping Tamara can make the right introductions.”
As Lex turned to the other woman, Tamara nodded. “That should be no problem. I'm going to have a look at the whole scene and talk to my friend. She'll probably have heard if there are any theories the people working there are talking about, and might have heard if the Interpol people have been talking about anything. I'm interested to hear their ideas about who might be involved; sometimes strings of crimes like this are fronts for one particular objective, and judging by the amount they got this time, they may have had this bank as their target all along.”
After a pause while their food arrived, Tamara turned back to look at Lex once they'd been left alone again. “So, what did you want to look at?”
Lex frowned, not sure how much she wanted to tell everyone while still thinking about her earlier idea. She finally ventured, “I want to look at the hole they dug, in particular. I want to see what it looks like, how big it is, whether it's rough or smooth, that sort of thing. I'm dying to hear what everyone finds out, though, so let's make sure to keep in touch while we're there.”
They continued speaking in low tones, answering some of Annette’s questions, but Lex knew that discussing their plans in more detail had to wait, since the dining car had begun to fill up. When the group left to get back to their seats, they found the train car more than half full, so they decided to wait until they reached their destination before discussing the case any further. Lex tried to think more about it and opened the file with her notes, but her mind kept wandering and she found herself staring out the window, nodding as she watched the scenery change. After a while, she felt Rolf nudge her at the same time her head snapped back up from where her chin had almost hit her chest.
“Why don’t you rest until we get there?” he said softly. “It’s at least another hour, and I’ll wake you up before we arrive.”
She smiled back at him and put her laptop away, then tried to settle back more comfortably in her chair, but leaned over a moment later as Rolf tugged her his way, encouraging her to rest her head on his shoulder. The next thing she became aware of was Rolf’s voice in her ear.
“Lex, we’re here,” he said in a subtle, low murmur.
Opening her eyes, she smiled into his and straightened up, blinking as she looked across at Annette and Tamara, then through the window at the outskirts of Berlin. After they exited the train, Lex followed Rolf and Tamara into the underground. They rode for a few stops and then began walking the several blocks remaining. Lex breathed in deeply, smelling clean air and the slight sense of many different perfumes as she tried to get a sense of the city, since she'd never been there before. She turned to dodge a man in a suit as he walked past at a fast pace, and as Lex glanced around she noted that the sidewalks seemed filled with people who looked like they had places to be, and many of the buildings appeared to be new. Tamara explained as they walked that once the Berlin Wall came down, the area that had constituted the two sides— now running right through the center of Berlin—had become hot property and had been quickly built up with all sorts of things, including the building with the bank their group had traveled to see.
Tamara led them across one final street and Lex spotted the bank branch, complete with police tape and a number of officials outside the doors, some talking and a couple who appeared as if they'd been stationed there to question anyone who wanted to come in. As Lex watched, Tamara stayed in the lead as they approached the building and then spoke at length to the two officers standing on either side of the door. Lex's two years of German class in high school suddenly seemed distant, but she thought that she understood that the officers seemed to have identified them (after examining their ID cards to verify) and their purpose, but one went inside while the other kept them at the door nonetheless.
Minutes later the door burst open as a tall blonde woman in a tailored navy suit came out, giving the group a wide smile. She laughed as she approached Tamara and the two of them hugged, which made Lex smile to herself in response. The blonde said something in rapid German to the door guards as she turned to re-enter the building and gestured to the Brussels team to follow her.
In the lobby, Tamara and the blonde talked fast, and Lex could get a sense that the two of them seemed to be catching up, but Tamara paused after a minute and then changed languages.
“Monika, I think I remember that your English is good?” she asked.
“It's not so good, I think, but maybe you can understand,” Monika replied, her smile holding a hint of embarrassment.
“I think it's better than mine,” Tamara said with a sidelong glance at her friend. “Anyway, I wanted to introduce my team, but I don't know if everyone speaks German well.”
As Lex watched her teammates shake the woman's hand and she commented on how good she found Monika's English, the tall blonde waved her free hand in front of her face. “Tamara, your friends here are too kind. But, before we go down to the vault, a word about what we're walking into. I don't have any problem with cooperating to solve cases—the more people working on it, the better, I think—but I don't believe the Interpol people here share my thoughts. You may want to keep to the background as much as possible so that they don't pay you attention you don't want.”
“Sound advice,” Tamara replied quietly, shooting glances at the rest of the team. “One more thing before we go down, Monika. Rolf is interested in examining the exits that the thieves could have taken. Do you already have someone looking into that?”
Monika nodded in reply. “Yes, we do. I'll introduce you, Rolf, when we get there.”
Lex and the rest of the team followed as Monika took them though a doorway in the back of the lobby and then downstairs to the vaults. Compared to the empty floor above, Lex noted that this one seemed alive with activity. She saw a number of police officers taking pictures or dusting for prints while various knots of people in suits stood about. Some appeared to be police detectives, but the ones who seemed more standoffish Lex suspected to be Interpol agents.
Monika, Tamara, and Rolf went to speak to a man who'd been examining the edges of the hole through the wall. After the introductions, Lex watched Rolf and the man talk for a few moments, and then they went through the tunnel in the wall. As he did so, Rolf turned to give Lex a final look and a smile, which Lex returned.
Looking over at Annette, Lex asked, “Do you need to be left alone while you work, or can you do what you need to with people here?”
Annette shook her head. “It's no problem at all. I do like to have someone watching my back when I do this, however, if at all possible.”
Lex smiled in return. “I can, if you like.”
Ducking her head, Annette's expression seemed shy. “If it's all right. I don't want to hold you up or anything.”
“No problem at all. I'll be right here.”
Lex stayed at Annette's side as the woman began to walk the length of the vault, taking her time and looking around at the small cubbyholes, the table in the center of the room, and the metal door they'd come through. After several minutes of this, Lex felt she had to speak up, since she'd been getting curious. “Annette, do you mind if I ask...what does it feel like, when you're able to pick up some information from a place like this?”
Annette smiled but didn't turn to face Lex as she continued walking in a measured pace and glancing around. “I start by kind of trying to get the feel of a place. I think everyone knows what I mean by that, to some degree: some places seem cheerful, or scary, or maybe just sort of depressing. Once I get that feeling, I just keep looking and then I usually find something. It's almost like a loose thread that someone left there, or like a bookmark where someone stopped reading. I can pull on that thread and then–”
She broke off at that point, and Lex watched carefully as Annette's eyelids fluttered and slid mostly shut as she stopped in place. After a few moments, however, Annette's eyes popped back open with a horrified look and she gasped. Instinctively, Lex found herself at the woman's side as her eyes fell shut again and she slumped forwards. She might have hit the floor if Lex hadn't slid her arm around her and under one shoulder.
“Annette,” Lex whispered urgently, her eyes rolling to look at the tight knot of people in suits. None seemed to be paying her and Annette any attention, but Tamara had noticed. Lex shrugged with her free shoulder and moved with all the speed and silence she could manage out of the vault, heading for a small bench she'd seen in the hallway outside.
She had no idea what to do then, but supported Annette by sitting her on the bench and staying close to her side to keep her in position, continuing to murmur the woman's name anxiously as she watched the vault door to see if anyone followed them out into the hall. Lex felt glad that it looked as if everyone else had been occupied by other concerns, so she resolved to just be patient after observing Annette still breathed and her heart still beat. Finally, Lex thought, sighing in relief as her teammate's eyes blinked a few times before fully opening several minutes later.
“Are you all right?” Lex asked her in a low insistent tone, her gaze sweeping the psychic's face.
Annette looked Lex in the eye for a moment before bowing her head. “I'm fine, really. I'm so sorry about that.”
“Are you sure? What happened?” Lex scanned the young woman's face again, trying to read her expression as she rubbed her forehead with trembling fingers.
Finally, Annette returned her gaze again. “I'm not sure exactly. I can only tell you what I think it probably was based on some conversations I've had with other psychics.” She paused to give Lex a worried look, then continued. “If you're a psychic, you know that other people like you exist. You kind of have to get used to the idea of others maybe coming along behind you and finding out all about you. But that's not the only option you have, if you're powerful. The way I understand it, if you're a strong psychic and you want to cover your tracks, you can create, well, it's sort of like a bomb in the psychic space. You flood it with your power, and if you are strong, you can make sort of a black hole in the psychic record of a place. Depending on how strong you are, you may be able to cover more time, or potentially injure other psychics who come after you, trying to read the place you covered.”
She winced again and rubbed her temple as Lex gasped. “That's what you ran into? Are you sure you're all right? We can leave right away if you need to get looked at.”
Annette shook her head, but then slowed down the motion, smiling in chagrin. “No, really, I'm fine. I think I'll have a headache for the rest of the day, but I don't want to interrupt our work here. I'll just rest and wait for everyone to finish, and we can go back together.”
“You're sure?” Lex asked, studying Annette's face closely. “There's no reason one of us couldn't take you somewhere if we need to. Making sure you're all right is more important.”
“I'm fine, Lex,” Annette insisted, smiling but still looking pained. “The whole incident just surprised me, is all. Besides, the person who tried this trick isn't as strong a psychic as they think they are.”
Lex tilted her head now as she looked at Annette's knowing smile, wondering about the expression. “I think the point of creating this sort of bomb is to wipe out all traces of what you didn't want people to see,” Annette continued. “But they didn't. I got a clear image of a couple of people just before the energy of the bomb kicked in.”
After a moment of surprise, Lex found herself grinning broadly. “Can you draw?”
“It's one of the first things young psychics are usually taught,” Annette said, returning Lex's grin. “I'm not too bad at it; I should be able to have a decent sketch for you in not too long.”
Shaking her head as Annette withdrew a sketch pad from her bag, Lex responded, “Look, you gave me a real scare in there. Could you take some rest first? Just take a few minutes to just sit and maybe lean back and close your eyes for a while. How about some headache medicine? I have some with me.”
After settling Annette with some medicine and an admonition to rest for a while if only to humor her, Lex headed back into the vault. Tamara caught her eye the moment she re-entered the room, and she and Monika headed in Lex's direction.
“Is everything all right?” Tamara murmured, snatching a glance over at the knot of investigators in the far corner of the room. To Lex's relief, they still seemed to be paying attention only to themselves.
Lex caught Tamara's eye as she looked back. “Annette is fine, just shaken. We can talk in more detail when we get out of the bank, but it looks like we might have a breakthrough, thanks to her.”
Tamara grinned in return. “I had a good feeling about her. All right, let's finish our work here and let Monika get back to her job, too.”
Nodding in agreement, Lex separated from the other two and made her way to the tunnel that she'd been wanting to have a closer look at. As she walked slowly in that direction, she stopped a couple of feet away to have a good look at the wall surrounding the hole, noting that it seemed blackened around the edges of the opening. Lex chanced another look at the rest of the people in the room, wanting to take a picture because it seemed peculiar that no one had mentioned this aspect of the tunnels before, and after seeing no one paying her much attention, she pulled her cell phone from her bag and snapped off a couple of shots.
As she entered the tunnel, she reached out to touch the sides and found them smooth to the point of oddness. She ran her hands along the different layers she identified as the concrete walls of the vault and various types of other materials until she made it into the subway access tunnel. Everything felt as smooth as a polished rock, which just seemed wrong somehow, so Lex walked back, her hand on the opposite tunnel wall, but it felt the same.
She stood puzzled for a moment as she walked back into the vault and brought a hand to her lips, considering what could have caused that, but she got distracted by the burnt smell as she did. Raising an eyebrow, Lex looked around to make sure she didn't see anyone staring at her as she smelled her hand closely, getting even more of the burnt scent. Quickly turning around, Lex went back into the tunnel and got as near to one of the walls as she could, closing her eyes as she took in a deep breath through her nostrils. The charred smell seemed even more pronounced, and she just stood there a moment, breathing in and considering. After a few seconds, she walked back through the tunnel to look at the other end to see if it looked charred, but with the low-light conditions, she couldn't tell.
As she stood, thoughtfully studying the end of the tunnel, Lex turned to see two people coming in her direction. She recognized Rolf and the man he'd been speaking to earlier returning, and gave them a smile. Rolf introduced her to the policeman who'd been helping him and the three of them headed back into the vault together.
Lex and Rolf broke off to approach Tamara when they got back inside. She and Monika appeared to have made a circuit of the room and then found a quiet spot to get caught up. They stopped speaking as Lex and Rolf arrived, and Tamara smiled at them.
“Did you get what you came for?” she asked.
“I think so,” Lex responded, “but I'm not exactly sure what to make of it. How did it go, Rolf?”
“Very well,” he replied. “I've given Riss and Art something to work on.”
Lex and Tamara looked at one another and she noted Tamara's eyebrows quirking with interest. “All right then, we should probably head out. I think I've gotten all I can get, and Monika has to get back to work sometime,” Tamara pronounced, looking over at her blonde friend.
Monika laughed. “I probably should, but it's been such a pleasure to see you! Why don't we start trying to get together more? I could come to see you next time.”
“You've got yourself a deal. Why don't you figure you when your next long weekend is and you can come visit Brussels then.”
The group worked their way out of the vault and Monika and Tamara hugged again before Lex and her team left the bank. She looked over at Annette as they made it out to the street again. Annette smiled at her, but Lex thought the woman seemed tired.
“Hey, everyone,” Lex said as the group paused in front of the bank, “it's going to be about another hour before our train leaves. How about we try to find someplace to have coffee at the station and go over what we found?”
Everyone seemed to agree on that course of action, so Lex followed Tamara as they retraced their steps, and after about twenty minutes, the group sat at a small table in a quiet corner of an out-of-the-way cafe.
“Well,” Tamara began, “Monika and I talked to some of the other officers there, and it seems like the methods the thieves used here are the same ones that have been used in the other crimes, so I think we can be pretty certain that the same people did this.”
“Did you hear any new theories about the burglaries?” Lex asked.
Tamara shook her head in return. “No, they sound like they're struggling with it. No one seemed to have any theories other than those in the documents we already have. We tried to get closer to the Interpol people to see what they were talking about, but they stopped as we approached and didn't continue until we walked on.”
Lex watched as Tamara looked at each of them, then paused and sighed before she continued speaking. “Unfortunately, I heard some hard words about people like us. The police seem well aware that at least some people who can do unusual things are involved.”
Not at all surprised but still concerned, Lex nodded and looked at Rolf, who said, “Well, the gentleman that you introduced me to helped a good bit. The police had identified a few possible locations where the thieves may have surfaced, and I scanned them thoroughly. I thought about it while I was out there and called Riss to see if she could help. I gave her the GPS locations and took some pictures and sent them to her, and she said that she and Art would work on figuring out if any of the security cameras in the area had been in operation from the time the cameras in the bank stopped up until several hours after that.” He paused for a moment and glanced at Lex. “One of the things that struck me, going in and out of the hole in the wall, though was the charred smell.”
Lex’s expression had changed from a sober one to a big smile as she'd listened. “Excellent job all around,” she replied. “I smelled it, too, and I noticed a few other strange things, but I’ll let Annette talk about what she found first.”
The young woman took a swallow of her coffee and smiled nervously. “Well, I scanned the room as we discussed, but I ran into a...well, I guess you could call it a psychic bomb.”
Rolf and Tamara both looked at her with concern while Lex tried not to frown, but Annette just smiled and continued. “I'm fine, I just have a headache is all. At any rate, it's something a powerful psychic can do in an area to try to flood it and erase all traces of them. Unfortunately for the thieves, their psychic isn't as powerful as she thinks she is.”
Annette's smile broadened as she explained what she'd seen. “Before the blast, I saw the room the way it looked that day, clearly. Then, two women...just showed up, really. One was shorter than you, Lex, with shoulder-length dark blonde hair and dark eyes. She seemed washed out and tired, as if she'd done something difficult. The woman with her I'm sure is the psychic. That one had long hair that looked like she'd dyed it black. She also had on what looked like white face paint and dark eyeliner that came out to a point and black lipstick. She had a tattoo of a star on her neck, on the left. Anyway, then she glared at me and growled and set the bomb off.”
Lex glanced at her companions with a grin as Annette took another pause to swallow some more coffee. She felt electrified at getting the first likely description of any of the people in the gang of burglars they'd been looking for.
“Anyway,” Annette continued, “I'll finish up my picture of them and get it over to you as soon as I can once we get home.”
Tamara smiled as she patted the young woman softly on the shoulder, and Lex could see her teammate seemed equal parts concerned about what had happened earlier and thrilled about the success. “Great job, Annette,” Lex said, beaming. “I'm so glad you came with us today.”
Lex realized everyone's eyes had turned to her, and shook her head as she smiled. “I feel like I ended up with more questions than answers today. One of the things I started to think about when I looked at the tunnel was rubble. I didn't see any here. Tamara, did Monika mention anything about rubble being cleared away, anything like that?”
She shook her head in response. “No. I think they treated it like other crime scenes and tried to keep everything in place until the police and everyone else investigating had a chance to look at it.”
Nodding, Lex continued. “That's what I figured. The reason I started to think about it is that when I went to look at the walls of the tunnel, I noticed that they were glassy and smooth. Then, I noticed that the tunnel walls smelled charred, like Rolf said earlier. It made me wonder more about how they made the tunnels. I'd originally thought maybe they did something like we did a while back when we had to clear out a burning building fast. The guy we worked with that time used lasers or something to cut through surfaces, and there was rubble to clear out of the way.”
Lex sighed with puzzlement, then looked back up at her companions. “Obviously I've got a lot more thinking to do about this.”
Later, on the train home, Lex looked over the top of her laptop at Annette sleeping in the opposite seat and smiled. When she glanced up a moment later, Tamara met her gaze.
“You know,” she said in low tones, still looking Lex in the eye, “I think I might have some ideas about what might have happened with your tunnel.”
“Really?” Lex asked, her eyes wide. “What do you think?”
Tamara shook her head. “I'm still getting them together, and I think I'm going to have to try some experiments to see if I'm on the right track. I should have more to tell you in a few days, I think.”
“All right, I'll leave it in your capable hands,” Lex replied with a nod. After a moment, she had a thought and turned back to Tamara. “You got interested in this when I said something about the burnt smell, didn't you?”
Smiling widely, Tamara said, “Well, I do have a lot of knowledge about heat and fire.”
Lex smiled in return and then went back to the work on her laptop. When they finally neared the station at Brussels sometime later, she had to call Annette several times in order to wake the young woman up. Annette continued to refuse medical help, saying that she felt fine after her nap on the way back, but Lex wouldn't let her go until she promised to call the next day to let them know how she felt and when she thought the picture would be ready so that she could come by work and they could all have lunch together.
Saying their goodbyes, Tamara and Annette headed off in separate directions while Lex and Rolf decided after some discussion that it made sense for the two of them to go to his place, since it had already gotten later than 8:00 p.m. Lex called Casey once they'd arrived at his apartment to let the rest of her friends know that she wouldn't be home that night.
They discussed their thoughts about what they'd learned as they cooked together, but at Rolf's insistence, that was as much work as they'd done that evening, turning their attention to questions and stories about one another instead. Much later that night, as Lex jolted awake after some passing dream, she relaxed back into the bed in seconds as she realized that she still felt Rolf's strong arms around her. She snuggled back into the covers as she felt him pull her closer, his nose buried in her hair, and somehow felt that their answers must be just around the corner.
Forward to Chapter 42
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