Palladian (palladian23) wrote in superwebnovel,

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Chapter 44: Intimations

Author's Notes/Warnings: Innuendo, romantic plotting, planning an ambush

Greetings to all! Things are starting to move with the burglary case this time...have a look as to what the group decides to do about it...

Also, I wanted to remind everyone that Book 2 (Chapters 21-36) of this series is now available for purchase on Amazon and a lot of other places. If you've liked reading this series and would like to leave a review, I'd appreciate it, especially on Amazon and Goodreads.

Many thanks to my awesome editor-in-chief, gwoman for helping me make this chapter better.

Back to Chapter 43

“Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?” Kate hissed.

Lex couldn't help but roll her eyes and try not to laugh. “Sorry, but I was focused on other things last night.”

“I bet you were,” Kate replied, giving Lex a sideways glance. “Oh, stop blushing.”

“I wish I could,” Lex murmured, looking up and down the hall to make sure no one else was coming who'd notice. She'd been heading down to the kitchen to get some more tea and had run into Kate in the hallway, and since it had been the first opportunity she'd had to tell her about Victor and Derek, she'd mentioned it to her friend.

“So, tell me more about it! How did Victor look? Could you tell if he's interested?” Kate seemed happy and excited, which made Lex feel more uncomfortable about her lack of basic information.

“I couldn't see his face, Kate, so I don't know what to tell you. I'm not sure I'd have been able to tell what he thought if I could see him, anyway. He doesn't seem to give a lot away.”

“Well, that's true. Maybe I should stay late today to see if I can catch the two of them together,” Kate mused in response. “I should be able to figure out what he thinks if I see them. I've got to have a word with Riss, too. I can't believe she kept this from me.”

“Good luck with all that,” Lex said, rolling her eyes as Kate went by her in the hallway, seeming lost in thought. She shook her head and grinned to herself as she continued her journey, imagining that Kate would get the same sort of flat stare that she had when she'd asked why Riss hadn't mentioned anything.

When she got back upstairs, she opened the door to the team room with an expression she knew must look hopeful, her eyes meeting Rolf and Tamara's as they both glanced in her direction. The disappointment that rose up in her chest when Tamara shook her head surprised Lex because she thought she'd prepared herself for a lot of waiting. She sighed as she sat back down in front of her computer, steeling herself to be more patient.

Two days later, she realized the team had the opposite problem. Over the course of the previous evening and a few hours that morning, they'd received over fifty film clips from all over the EU. Lex met with her teammates as soon as everyone had arrived that morning to decide on the best course of action.

“I think we should split them three ways and all view as many as we can. If you get finished and no one else is, check with the others to pick up some of the slack,” Tamara suggested, looking at both of her colleagues in turn.

“I may be able to get through more since I've become pretty used to looking through security footage over the past few weeks,” Rolf added. “If anyone runs into anything that looks strange, let me know and I'll try to help.”

“We should probably throw out any clips right off the bat if the footage doesn't have them going anywhere near the vaults, unless it says in an accompanying note that the suspects made it there.” Lex frowned, thinking about anything else they could use to shorten the work they had to do, but couldn't think of anything further.

“All right,” Tamara said after a few moments of silence, “let's get to it.”

The three of them took a lunch break late that day, and as they sat around the kitchen table as a team, Lex sympathized with the weary expressions of her teammates, since she knew she must look the same.

“Anything yet?” Rolf asked the other two, raising an eyebrow.

Tamara sighed. “Well, I've got a few possibilities. Some of the videos I could eliminate pretty fast; one of them had a woman that they pointed out in it who looked decades older than either of the two suspects.”

Lex shrugged as she met Rolf's eye. “Maybe a couple. I think some of the banks are so worried that they're sending us footage of anyone who may have a similar hairstyle and build. Have you found anything so far?”

Rolf nodded. “I have one or two that look like good possibilities.”

“Good. Do you want to plan on jointly reviewing all of the ones we didn't throw out after we've finished looking at every film once?” Lex asked, looking at Tamara, then Rolf.

Her teammates had agreed to that, so she and Tamara gathered around Rolf's laptop around three that afternoon and began to watch the thirteen possible films that had been identified. They remained there until six, at which point they'd managed to eliminate five of the possibilities.

“At least we got rid of a few more,” Lex said, but she could hear that her own tone sounded less than convincing. Tamara sat rubbing her eyes and groaning, and even Rolf looked wilted after their long day.

“All right, I'm out of here,” Tamara said as she stretched in her chair. “Do you think you can get Annette to come by tomorrow?”

“I think so,” Lex replied. “I'll take it up with Captain Shapiro; he said that if we needed her, we should try to keep it to a minimum, so I think it's good that we've cut out all the films that we could.”

“What should we do about the new ones coming in?” Rolf asked, his eyebrow quirked.

Lex sighed in return. “We'll just review them as they arrive, and try to make decisions about them then. Have we gotten any new ones today?”

Rolf shrugged. “A couple came in and I looked at them along with the other ones I viewed, so we're covered for now.”

“Excellent, thanks,” Lex replied with a grin. “I'll try to reach the captain tonight and get approval. I'm hoping we can get a hold of Annette tomorrow morning and see if we have any real contenders in the videos that are left.”

Lex did talk to Captain Shapiro that evening but didn't manage to get on the phone to Annette until the following morning at nine, earlier than she felt was polite to call a college student. But when she explained what they needed, Annette replied, “No problem. I'll be over as soon as I can, probably within the hour.”

By ten that morning Lex, Tamara, and Rolf had gathered in the room next to their team room, which had been empty, but Rolf had carried in a bunch of cushions from some couches in storage several doors down. Tamara frowned, but Lex just grinned.

“It's the best I could do on short notice,” Rolf said with a shrug. “If you prefer, we can carry some chairs over.”

“Oh, come on, I think it'll be fun,” Lex added, her grin growing. “We should make some popcorn and pretend we're watching a film series.”

“You Americans have no taste,” Tamara replied, but when she turned in Lex's direction, she had an answering grin.

Once Annette arrived, all four of them reclined on the cushions and watched the remaining eight films numerous times, rewinding or stopping each of them as anyone requested and discussing any ideas they'd come up with. Annette remained quiet for the most part, making notes on a pad of paper as they viewed the videos and asking a clarifying question now and again about things that each of the rest of the group had said. Around three hours later, their viewing complete, Annette began to speak up.

“I think all of you did a great job narrowing the films down to the eight that you have,” she said, looking up with an uncertain smile. “All of the ones in the set we watched looked close, but I only saw two that I'm pretty sure are the two people we're looking for.”

She started a film rolling on the laptop in front of them and continued, “I'm glad you called me here, because I can see that all of the women in the films you identified have similar builds and appearances to the women in the portrait I drew. But, when I'm concentrating like I was when I saw those two, I get more than a first impression. I also got some sense of their personality, the way they move, and their outlook.”

Annette paused as she watched the video, until the two women they'd all been focusing on appeared. “Here,” she continued, pointing at the taller of the two, “they've done a good job of trying to disguise themselves. The blonde wig looks appropriate on her, and the expensive-looking suit and pearls are good, but there are a few things about her that I recognize, even with all of that. First, she's kind of aggressive to be most heiresses.”

She smiled and watched the woman lean forward to say something to the person who'd been leading her and her accomplice around, maybe the branch manager. The manager leaned back in surprise as a result, and Lex smiled as she noted Annette shooting the three of them an amused look. “But there's one more thing,” Annette continued, waiting for a moment and then freezing the picture. “It's there,” she said, pointing at the picture, and then looking at her companions. “Does anyone know how to zoom in on this picture?”

Rolf showed Annette how, and several seconds later, everyone fell silent as they stared at an enlarged version of the neck of the taller woman. “Of course, she's done a good job with makeup,” Annette continued, as she pointed at a darkened area on her neck. Lex put her hand up to her mouth as she realized it looked like it could be a star.

“Great job,” Lex responded, nodding. She glanced over to see Rolf grinning and Tamara still staring at the picture, along with Annette.

Annette smiled and blushed then, but opened another film and started it rolling. “This time looked different,” she said in a quiet voice. “They didn't do such a good job at disguising themselves here. They've kept their natural hair, but that's not the real problem. It seems like they didn't choose the best roles for themselves this time. You can see the blonde woman here,” Annette said, pointing at her figure in the film. “They did a nice job with her makeup and hairstyle, and her suit is well-chosen. However, it seems like they've cast the tall one as an assistant or something, and while she's wearing a turtleneck, which was a good move on their part, they made the blonde woman the lead this time, which doesn't seem like it worked out so well.”

She froze the frame as the blonde woman moved, then grabbed the portrait she'd drawn a while ago. The expression and body posture the woman had in the frozen film picture matched the look and the posture of the blonde woman in the portrait. Lex covered her mouth with her hand, surprised at the degree of match.

“Well, would you look at that.” Tamara said with a huge grin.

They all exchanged smiles for a moment before Lex asked, “Do you think that’s all, or did you want to take a look at any of the other videos that we rejected?”

Annette shook her head. “No, I’ve got a good feeling about these two. I’m as sure as I can be that this is them, and I doubt there are more.”

Lex noticed Annette sneaking a glance at her watch then, and said, “Well, in that case, we won't keep you any longer, because I know we rousted you out of bed early and I'm sure you've got lots of other things to do. Come on, let me walk you out.”

“I hope we didn't interfere with your class schedule,” Lex said to Annette as they descended the stairs.

Annette shook her head. “Not really. Well, I did have a psychology class this morning, but I'm getting top marks already, so missing one session shouldn't hurt me.”

“I'm glad to hear it,” Lex replied, smiling at the other woman.

“Listen,” Lex said as they reached the door outside, “if there's anything I can do for you once you graduate, let me know. I'd be glad to write you a letter of recommendation or act as a reference or anything like that.”

Ducking her head, Annette said, “Thanks, Lex. Why don't we wait until this case is over, though?”

“Definitely. We've got a lot to do now, thanks to your hard work.” Lex waved to Annette and hurried back upstairs.

“So, where and when did the banks make those films?” Lex asked as soon as she got back into the team room.

She saw Rolf sitting at his table again, eyes on his laptop until she walked in. “They made the first one about three days ago in Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris. The second film, less than two days ago in Bruges.”

Lex considered for a moment, then glanced at her teammates. Rolf just looked back at her, as if ready for anything, and Tamara's gaze seemed determined. “I wish there had only been one,” Lex murmured, looking at Rolf's laptop screen at the frozen film footage.

“It's all right,” she heard Tamara saying, and lifted her head to look at her teammate. “I'll take the one in France, you two take the one here in Belgium.”

Lex bit her lip, not quite sure what to say. “Are you sure? I've kind of got a feeling about the one in Bruges–”

“They did look more desperate in the film, didn't they? As if they needed to find something.” Tamara shot another look at Lex, this one filled with knowing. “I've got the same feeling, and so I think you two need to be here. I'm not going to have as much to offer since we've already figured that someone on that team can command enough heat to vaporize walls. But, I would like to lead a team of a couple of people, even if we end up going out there for nothing. Besides, I've got a second cousin on the Paris police force I can call on for help, if we need it.”

“It might not be a false call to send you out there,” Lex warned, looking Tamara in the eye. “You could be running into the real thing.”

“Then I figure if I have some other good people with me, that we can come away with a few of them,” Tamara concluded, nodding with an air of certainty.

“If you're sure,” Lex said with a sigh, then turned to Rolf. “What do you think?”

He grinned, the predator showing through for a moment, she thought. “I have that same feeling about Bruges. I can be ready to go in about an hour, and I'm sure Tamara can take care of whatever happens in Paris.”

“All right, then,” Lex replied, smiling at her teammates, “let's go talk to the captain.”

She preceded her teammates into Captain Shapiro's office, knocking on the door frame before coming inside as he looked up. He raised his eyebrows at them as Rolf set his laptop on the captain's desk and backed the first film up to run it through the sections of interest, and Tamara closed the office door.

“We have two positive identifications, Captain,” Lex began, pointing to the first film as it began to roll. “One from a bank in a suburb of Paris, and one from a bank in Bruges. They made both films a few days ago at this point, so we think time is critical. We'd like to create two teams and go out to both of these banks to lie in wait for the burglars.”

“Are you sure this is them?” he responded, watching the second film now.

“As sure as we can be. We had several candidates, but narrowed it down to these two with Annette's help. She said she's almost certain that this is them in these two films.” Lex watched the captain as his eyes followed the figures on the screen, willing him to let them go forward with their plan.

After a few seconds, he stopped the film and looked back up at the three of them. “So, what did you have in mind?”

“I'd like to suggest we have two teams of three. Tamara will lead the Paris team, and I'd recommend Casey as one of the people to fill out her team. I'll lead the Bruges team along with Rolf, and I'd like Lou to come with us as well.”

“Only three people against five?” Captain Shapiro asked, his eyebrows quirked again.

“If we could have more, it would be nice, but we'd be harder to conceal. I think we could get the majority of the gang with three.” Lex smiled at him with a challenge in her eye, and he returned her gaze with an expression of interest, she thought, but Tamara broke the silence next.

“What's your battle plan?” she asked, looking puzzled.

“We know there are five of them,” Lex began, looking straight at Tamara. “I figure we can attack once everyone arrives. Once they're there, the only way out for them is with the blonde or with the person who can vaporize walls. So, my first move is going to be to get the blonde. If she's inexperienced, she'll have the same problem that Serena used to—she won't be able to get away from me if I handcuff us together. If you take Kate along with you, you can use her for that since she's even faster than me.”

She raised an eyebrow at Tamara, who nodded, looking to be taking mental notes. “Once that's done, I figure everyone's going to be up for a fight. To be honest, I haven't come up with a good way to take care of the person with all of the heat. I kind of thought that if they just tried to escape, we'd let them, and if they wanted to attack, I'd try to fight them, hoping they wouldn't want to use the heat on me since their co-conspirator would be attached. For everyone else, we'll need to focus most on the big person, which is why I wanted each team to have someone of similar size to match against them. I don't know what damage the computer person could cause, but keep an eye on them.”

“What about the psychic?” the captain asked, and Lex grinned at his interested expression.

“Assuming you agree on this plan, there's something I want to have done for us before we leave. Victor mentioned a while ago that he'd created this film that blocks psychic attacks or detection, so I want to have him make us something we can wear before we leave. If we have that, we shouldn't have to worry about the fifth person.”

“Very clever,” he responded with a nod. “I hope it works out. All right, I think you should do it. I'll call the other three in here after we finish talking to brief them about what's going on and then send them to pack. What's your plan for dealing with the banks?”

Lex looked straight at the captain then. “I hoped you could help clear the way for us there. We're going to need after-hours access to the vaults if we're planning to protect what's there, and since we have no real idea how the burglars prepare for their jobs, we should assume that they may be watching the facilities at any time.”

Captain Shapiro nodded in return. “I see what you're saying. Good thinking; I'll connect with the banks in question to arrange for your passage into the buildings with the cleaning crews in the evening. Pack as if you're going to be camping out, because you're going to be there until the burglars show up again.”

With a sigh, Lex watched as Tamara sank into her chair. “You can't be serious!” Tamara exclaimed. “We're going to have to live in the bank? How long will we give them to show up?”

“Why don't we figure that out later? Hopefully you won't be there any more than a few days,” Captain Shapiro responded, looking amused.

Snorting as she looked away, Tamara crossed her arms across her chest and muttered something about “the worst stakeout ever” but didn't add ask any further questions.

Lex continued to watch Tamara with an expression of worry. “Tamara, if you think it's a bad idea,” she began, but got cut off by the other woman's reply.

“No, I think it's the right thing to do, I'm just not looking forward to having to sleep in a storeroom for the next week or two,” she grumbled, then sighed as she looked over at Lex with a frown.

“Sorry,” Lex replied, biting her lip.

Tamara gave her a glance, then laughed as she smacked Lex's shoulder. “Stop apologizing; it's not your fault.” She looked over at the captain then. “Is there anything else, or should we get going?”

“Yes,” Captain Shapiro said as he pushed his phone to the center of his desk and began to dial, “there is one more thing. Let's call Victor to make sure he can set the team up with this film of his before you go. If you show up without it, it's going to be a lot harder for you.”

He put the call on speakerphone and everyone waited while the phone rang, the room in complete silence. After two rings Lex heard a click and recognized Victor's voice. “Hello,” he said, annoyance shining through in his voice.

“Victor, this is Captain Shapiro and I'm here with Lex, Rolf, and Tamara. We had a question for you.”

“OK,” Victor responded, and Lex smiled as she recognized the meaning in his tone. If he liked to talk, Lex thought it would have come out more like, “All right, so what's the question?”

“Victor,” Lex broke in, “it's me, Lex. Do you remember that some time ago you mentioned that you'd developed a film that prevented psychic detection and attacks? I hoped that you might have some of it on hand, maybe enough to protect six heads?”

Lex could see everyone waiting, impatient for Victor's response during the ensuing pause, but Lex knew even though she couldn't see her friend that he must be considering her question the way he often would, taking his time to turn the question over in his mind. After a pause of several seconds, he replied, “Yes, I think it should work for that, just barely.”

Sighing her relief, Lex looked over at the captain to signify that he could take it from there, to which he nodded. It had only occurred to her today, when thinking about what they'd be up against, that Lex recalled Victor's invention, so she felt glad he had some ready.

“All right, Victor, could you please get ready to outfit a team that's about to go into the field as soon as possible? They're going to be lying in wait for a team with a psychic, which is why they need the equipment. If you need reimbursement for this, just fill out an expense report.”

The captain continued to look at the phone along with everyone else until Victor's voice returned. “Sure. Do we have any sort of helmets there at work? Riot helmets or anything like that?”

“Not that I know of,” Captain Shapiro replied with a sigh. “We don't have any weapons or armor budget to speak of. We're supposed to tough it out, I guess, if there's a big emergency.”

“In that case, have the six people who need outfitting buy some helmets on the way over here so that I can get them ready for the job. I'm guessing that the special forces can spring for that?” Victor asked, and Lex tried not to laugh at his skeptical tone.

“What kind of helmets should we get?” Tamara asked in response. “Like bike helmets, or something else?”

“No, it has to be something that at least goes partially over your face,” Victor responded. After a few seconds of silence, he continued, “Motorcycle helmets, the kind with a face shield. Make sure whoever needs to be outfitted gets one of those on the way over.”

“Thanks, Victor,” Lex replied. “We'll be over as soon as we can.”

“All right, ladies and gentleman,” the captain said as he hung up the phone, “you heard the man. Get moving. I'll follow up with the other half of your teams and send them along their way, and then I'll call the banks and look into when the quickest trains are leaving for Paris and Bruges. Use Lex's house as the rendezvous point for both teams; I'll call you there and give you what information I'm able to get. And be sure to check in at least once a day when you're out there. We’ll be short-staffed here during the day, although Lily is supposed to be back tomorrow, so don’t be too surprised if you call over here and get someone you don’t know, since I’ll be requesting some auxiliary help. Got it?”

Everyone nodded and rushed out of the office. Lex turned to Tamara out in the hallway. “Do you have the address?” she asked the other woman.

When Tamara replied in the negative, Lex found a scrap of paper and a pen in the kitchen and wrote it down. “Come on by as soon as you can,” she said as she handed her teammate the paper. “Someone should be home if you knock, but if no one answers, call me.”

She turned to Rolf afterwards. “I guess you'll need to go pack a few things?”

He nodded. “Just that, though. I'm not going to need a helmet; Victor's going to need to figure out something for me that I can wear on my head.”

Lex looked at him with confusion until she thought for a moment. “Oh, of course. I guess we can't find a wolf helmet at such short notice. All right, I'll get what I need here, buy a helmet, and then head home.”

Rolf met her eyes with humor, then looked back and forth down the hall. As Lex followed his movements to see what he’d been searching for, she soon found her face directed back towards his as he took hold of her chin. He kissed her then, and it seemed to be over way too fast in Lex’s opinion. “See you soon,” Rolf said, his hand lingering on her for a moment as she curled her face into his palm.

She went upstairs after that and made three copies of the portrait, knowing that their new teammates would need to study the picture, stopped by the storeroom to pick out a few things, and then left the office. As she stopped at a sporting goods store on the way home to purchase a helmet, Lex found her mind overwhelmed with the possibilities as she started to consider what might happen on their upcoming excursions.

By the time she came home, Lex had started to worry in earnest, wondering if her idea of sending teams of three out would be enough. They all stood a chance of getting injured, if not killed, if something went wrong, and she found herself reconsidering everything she'd originally thought. She made her way upstairs to the workshop first, to find Tamara and Victor there, Tamara watching as Victor worked on her helmet.

“Hey, there,” Tamara said, turning to face Lex as she walked through the door. “You look freaked out. What's up?”

Lex shook her head. “I don't know, just thinking about the upcoming assignments and wondering if I planned well enough.”

Tamara smiled in reply. “Everyone feels like that just before they go out into the field, wondering what's going to happening and worrying about not being ready. We've just got to trust in ourselves and our teammates now. With the group we have, I think that'll be the easy part.”

Lex nodded as she bit her lip, still wondering. She looked over at Victor, who sported a smile himself. “What are you grinning about?” Lex asked him, feeling irritable.

“Only that you're getting your usual jitters,” he replied. “Here, give me that.” Victor held out one hand for Lex's new motorcycle helmet, which she gave to him with a grin of her own. She looked to the side for a moment and noted that the form that held Art's new glittering skeleton had been covered up with a sheet. Looking over at Victor, who'd noticed the direction of her gaze, she got a tiny nod in return, and she took that to mean that he'd moved to conceal all the pieces of Art's future body. Lex nodded once in return, then turned back around to face both Tamara and Victor.

“All right. I'm going to go get packed and then I'll be back up.” She went down from the attic to her room and threw some clothes into a big backpack: clean uniforms and sweatpants and t-shirts, along with a single pair of jeans. She reflected as she threw socks and underwear into the bag that she didn't think there'd be much call for anything else in the time they spent staking out the bank. Once she'd packed, Lex ran down the remaining flights of stairs to leave her bag by the front door, and waited as she heard someone climbing the front steps. When Rolf came through the door, she smiled at him. “That was quick.”

He smiled at her in return. “I took a cab from my place. Should I leave this here?” he asked lifting up a travel bag. Lex gestured for him to put it beside hers and took his hand to bring him upstairs to the workshop.

“Have you been up to the attic yet?” she asked Rolf, not able to remember if she'd given him the full tour before.

“No, just the basement, the main floor, and the floors up to your room,” he replied, giving her a curious look.

She shook her head at herself for forgetting to show him everything. “Well, I'll fix that right now.”

They waved to Tamara and Victor as they went past the laboratory/workshop and Lex showed Rolf the studio, and then the two of them came back to the workshop. “How did it go?” she asked Victor.

“Try it on,” he replied, handing back the plain black helmet that Lex had bought. When she examined it, however, she found that it had now been lined with flexible plastic sheeting that appeared to have some sort of fluid inside it. “Be careful,” Victor warned. “Ease it on and off. I think it should hold up all right, but you don't want to pop the sheets or it won't work.”

Lex pushed her head into the helmet with a slow motion, noting once she had that the view through the helmet seemed somewhat obscured, since she had to look through the strange sheet with the fluid in it. “How does this stuff work, anyway?” she asked, now wondering about how odd it appeared.

Victor shrugged. “I developed it sometime before you met me. My teammate Paula, the nosy psychic, had no problem revealing anyone's secrets to everyone else.” He glowered at that, and Lex felt her heart sink as she considered what George would have had to say if he'd found out Victor's sexual preferences. Letting that thought go, she heard her friend continue. “Anyway, I got pretty tired of it, so I started to consider what it is that psychics are doing when they lock onto others' minds, and I came up with the theory that they're probably reaching out and identifying patterns. The neurons in people's brains likely fire in recognizable patterns, so psychics can identify a brain and tap into those patterns to 'read' people's minds. So, I came up with this in defense,” he concluded, holding up a sheet of the stuff he'd put into their helmets.

“The fluid is lightly charged and has a tendency to continue moving. I figured that would prevent a psychic from being able to identify your brain as one, if placed on the areas on your head where your brain is closest to the outside world, separated by just a bone, and would prevent them from reading your mind, as well. You should have seen the look on Paula's face the first day I walked up behind her without her knowing.” He smiled in a way that made Lex happy that she hadn't pissed him off.

At that moment, Kate, Casey, and Lou all arrived, carrying helmets. After instructing them to hand them over to Victor to have the film added, Lex called the other five into the studio next door and sat in the far corner with them. “All right,” she said to the assembled group, “I understand the captain briefed you, but I wanted to make sure you didn't have any remaining question, and to give this to the three of you who haven't seen it yet.” She handed the photocopies of the portrait to Lou, Kate, and Casey, and watched them take a look at it. “This picture is pretty much top secret. These are the two we'll be looking for to begin with, but we want to wait to make a move on them until the full group of five gets there. Tamara and I talked about a general strategy of how to handle these folks, but the three of you will have to work out your actual strategy, and so will the three of us. I know this is a lot to absorb in a short time, and I apologize, but if you have any questions you'd like to ask, fire away.”

“Why are we just being brought into this now?” Kate asked, holding the photocopy in both hands and looking put out.

Lex sighed. “When the captain assigned this to me, I think he wanted it to be some sort of test to see if we could make any headway on the case. I don't know how far he expected us to get with this, but he only gave me the possibility of choosing two teammates, so I chose Tamara and Rolf due to their connections and experience. Since we actually seem to have a trail to follow now, he allowed us to bring on more people to hopefully catch the burglars.”

Pausing as her cell phone began to vibrate, Lex turned to Tamara as she saw the captain's name displayed. “Can you take over for me?”

“Sure, boss,” she replied, grinning.

Heading for the door of the studio, Lex answered the phone. “Lex,” Captain Shapiro said the moment he heard her voice, “I've cleared the way for your teams to go to the banks we discussed. I started with some of the upper management of the banks and threw our weight around a little, so the branch managers should be cooperative. Call me and let me know if not.”

“What's the plan for sneaking us inside?” Lex asked, continuing downstairs for some reason she couldn't quite fathom.

“It's going to work to slide you in with the cleaning crews. I've asked the people at the individual banks to have a few people stay late and keep out of sight so that you can switch places with them. There should be someone there to show you the ropes once you get to the bank branch.”

“How will they know who we are?” Lex asked, now down to the second floor.

“I've given the branch managers your general descriptions. I'll send the addresses that your team and Tamara's team are supposed to meet up with the cleaning crews at and the time you're expected. It will be all arranged by the time you get there. Call me and let me know if you run into any problems.” Captain Shapiro sounded tense, which seemed a rare thing for him, and Lex felt a stronger version of the pressure she'd felt all along on this job because of its importance to him.

“We will. There's one thing I wanted to ask you about before I sign off for the moment, though,” Lex said, pausing in front of Art's computer in the front hall as she realized why she'd come that far downstairs.

“Go ahead.”

“I want Tamara and I to be able to contact Riss to run interference for us with the bank cameras. There may be some back where we'll be living that might need to be disabled, and we'll need her help to get down to the vaults in the evenings.” Lex held her breath for a moment, feeling she could hear the captain deliberating.

“I wish you could work something out with the people there on site, but I guess I see your point. Do you want me to take care of it?”

“Well,” Lex said, walking down the hall towards the living room, “I thought it would make more sense for Riss to do it, since she's a night owl. I also figured we might need your help in taking care of things during the day, in case anything goes wrong.”

“I guess you're right,” he agreed with a sigh. “All right, that's fine, just let her know tonight what you plan. Is there anything else?”

Lex considered for a moment. “Assuming the burglars show up and we manage to catch any of them, who do we call to pick them up?”

“Just use the number here for emergencies. Whoever's in communications will handle it; I'll leave a sealed envelope with instructions.” The captain sounded certain and confident, which made Lex feel better about all of the uncertainty surrounding the assignment.

“All right, thanks. We'll be sure to call you every day to let you know how we're doing,” Lex replied.

“Good. Check your email for the address and other information I'm sending, and let Tamara know, too. Good luck, Lex,” the captain said, and ended the call.

Lex had continued to wander into the living room as she'd talked to Captain Shapiro, so she walked back out into the hall and stopped in front of the laptop on the hall table. “Hi, Art,” she said in a quiet voice. “Can you hear me?”

The laptop screen had been dark, but now it appeared to come back to life. Circular and triangular patterns started scrawling across the screen in a deep blue color. “Yes, Lex, I'm here,” he replied.

“Good, because there's something I wanted to talk to you about,” she said, unplugging the laptop and carrying it into the living room. She set it on the coffee table and made sure the camera lens seemed to have a good view of her before she continued. “A few of us are going to go out in the field soon and we need your help, and Riss' help, to hide from some security cameras. Can you let her know what we talked about once she gets up today, and please ask her to call me so that I can go over it with her?”

The designs on the screen began drawing themselves tighter, and some green leaked into the color scheme. “Sure, I'll let her know. What are you going to need us to do?”

Lex sighed, unsure of how to explain what she wanted to Art, but finally just launched into it. “We may need you to disable some cameras for a short time, but make it look as if they broke down, or the signal got lost. We'll need your help in getting from one place to another in the buildings we'll be staying in, because we need to conceal ourselves from other people who might be looking in on the cameras. So, we'd be asking you to loop the cameras for a certain amount of time while we go from one place to another and get settled.”

Art fell silent for a moment, and then the designs became larger and loopier on the screen as the drawing speed slowed down. “That shouldn't be a problem at all, Lex.”

“Good,” she replied, then bit her lip as she thought of something. “Art, what I'm telling you now is a secret, so please don't talk about it with anyone other than Riss and I, or Casey, Lou, and Kate. When we call in to ask for your help, it should be someone from that group, but it might also be Rolf, who I think you've seen coming in and out of the house a lot, and Tamara, who's the woman who came into the house earlier today.”

“The one Victor let in?” he asked, and Lex nodded in response.

“I think he would have. At any rate, since you haven't met Rolf and Tamara yet, and since we might need to call at late hours when Riss would be asleep, if Rolf of Tamara are the ones who call, can you answer them sounding like Riss?”

“Of course, Lex,” Riss answered, and Lex shook her head in surprise.

“Art, is that you?” Lex asked, feeling foolish.

“Yes,” he replied, still in Riss' voice, the hint of a laugh not far away.

“How did you do that?” she asked, still confused about what had happened.

“Riss' voice is one of the first things I remember hearing,” Art said, his voice back to the one Lex had become used to hearing from him. “It's something I will always remember. It makes it easy for me to reproduce.”

Lex bit her lip then, the genuine emotion and yearning she'd heard in Art's words surprising her. After a moment, she smiled at herself, thinking that she shouldn't have been surprised at all. “I see. Thanks for being willing to help us out like this, Art. I'm glad to have you on our team.”

“I'm glad I can help,” he replied, and Lex again felt something in her resonate at the emotion she sensed there.

Her phone buzzed as she headed back upstairs, and she quickly checked her e-mail and found the captain's note. It included the time for the train he'd booked tickets to Bruges on, the address and time where they should meet up with the cleaning crew, and a closing note where the captain said he'd be sending them some supplies the following day. She entered the studio and saw her teammates sitting there, still discussing particulars of the upcoming job.

“Tamara,” she said when her teammate paused for breath, “check your phone. The captain sent an e-mail with details about when we're leaving and where to go once we arrive.”

The rest of the crew stopped talking for a moment while Tamara read her e-mail, and then she gasped. “Our train is leaving in about an hour and fifteen minutes!”

“Well, get your helmets, and then Kate and Casey should get packed,” Lex replied. “Would you like me to call a cab?”

Her teammate nodded, then hurried out of the studio to the laboratory to check on the helmets. Lex hugged Kate while Casey gave Lou a farewell kiss, and then she hugged her big friend. Lex waved as the two women left, wishing them the best of luck, and handed Tamara something that the other woman slipped into her pocket with a nod. After that, she turned back to face Lou and Rolf. “Our train leaves in about two and a half hours, so I think we have time to take the metro over, but we'd better go and get Rolf fitted. Lou, do you want to get packed? I can check on your helmet.”

He nodded in response, then headed out of the studio. Lex turned to Rolf, who'd begun removing his clothes and then folded them, leaving them in a neat pile on the floor. She couldn't help but watch as he continued, smiling as he ended up standing in front her naked. “Do you see something you like?” he asked, giving her a sly grin as he knelt on the floor and then moved to all fours, facing her, the gleam in his eye causing a shiver to run down Lex's back.

“You know I do,” she replied, unable to look away as he began to change before her eyes.

Once she'd gotten the courage to ask him, Lex had tried for months to convince Rolf before he'd been willing to let her watch him change, which made it all the more fascinating and precious a sight, in her opinion. The first time she'd requested it, Rolf had looked at her as if she'd lost her mind and said after a few silent moments that she probably wouldn't want to see. She hadn’t bugged him about it after that but did tell him a few times she still would like to see, until one day he had just sighed and looked at her, then gone to unlock the door of his apartment. When Lex had looked at him with an eyebrow raised he’d just said, “In case you feel like you need to go.”

She had remained rooted to the spot, fascinated, that day, and now it had gotten to the point that Lex could tell that Rolf liked her to watch as well. The first sign seemed almost imperceptible, a shiver that ran the length of his body, but the whole process moved so fast that Lex found herself staring at him the whole time in order to miss nothing. His skin began to darken as thick, dark fur sprouted everywhere at the same time that his muscles and bones shifted under his skin. Rolf's hands filled out into paws, he sprouted a tail, and his legs and joints all seemed to move at once, ending up in a new configuration. She could tell his transformation had finished when he stepped forwards and shook once, as if stepping into his new body.

Lex leaned down to hug his neck, burying her face into soft, black fur that smelled just like Rolf always did. She turned her face to look into a wise amber eye. “Come on,” she said, picking up his pile of folded clothes and leaving them right beside the door, “let's get you fitted for the stakeout.”

Victor stood at the bench finishing up Lou's helmet as the two of them came into the lab, and he lifted an eyebrow in greeting. “Rolf, Lex. Give me a minute here and then let's see what I can do for you.”

He finished covering the inside of what must have been Lou's helmet, red with lightning striped around the sides. When Victor caught Lex's raised eyebrow, he grinned. “Don't mention it,” he advised. “From what I hear, he and Casey got lucky the shop had anything their size at all.”

Lex nodded, then shook her head as she considered the trouble her friends sometimes had with things that the majority of people took for granted. “So, what do you think you can set up for Rolf?” she asked as the two of them approached Victor.

Victor knelt down so that he could examine Rolf's wolf head up close. “The trick will be how to cover the areas of his wolf brain that have the thinnest layer of flesh and bone.”

He stood back up to get a tape measure and a small notebook. “I hope you don't mind if I measure you,” he asked Rolf, who responded by shaking his head once.

“Anyway,” Victor continued as he measured Rolf's head, “it looks like we should cover the top, and maybe some of the sides. It would be good if we could cover your ears, but I don't think that'll be practical.”

Going back to the lab table, Victor rolled out a piece of film and sketched a shape in magic marker over it based on his measurements, then took a tool out of the pencil holder nearby. “What's that?” Lex asked as she watched him press a button on it, hold it for a few moments, then trace the shape he'd sketched on the film.

“It's like a small iron, I guess. It melts the two sides of the plastic in the film together, and then I can cut along the line and take what I need,” he replied, grabbing a scissors and cutting out the shape.

What they ended up with looked something like an old-fashioned plastic rain bonnet. Lex tied it onto Rolf's head as he looked up at Victor. “Sorry, I know it's not that dignified looking, but it should protect you.”

Rolf sighed as Lex untied the device, but nodded once he got free again. “I left your clothes by the door in the gym if you want to change back now,” Lex said, unable to stop herself from stroking the fur between his ears and down his back. Rolf smiled at her, in the way wolves do, and left the room.

“Victor,” Lex said as she turned back to the workbench, “I'm sorry we interrupted your sleep today, but thanks so much for outfitting us. I don't think we'd be able to do this job otherwise.”

He scratched the back of his head, but Lex smiled as she saw the grin on Victor's face. “I'm glad to do it. I'm guessing you can't talk about the job, though?”

“I would if I could,” Lex sighed as she folded Rolf's protective headgear into a loose rectangle. “With any luck, though, you may be reading about it in the paper in the next few days.”

Victor's eyes widened. “It's that big a deal?”

Lex nodded, smiling at him. “In that case,” Victor continued, cleaning up the lab table, “good luck to you.”

Rolf returned in his regular form a couple of minutes later and Lex grabbed Lou's helmet, waving at Victor as she and Rolf headed downstairs.

After some discussion the three on Lex’s team decided that they'd take the metro to the train station, and while on their walk there Lex asked Lou, “So, do you feel like you have a good sense of what's going on and what the plan is?”

Lou cocked his head to one side. “I understand that we're trying to catch five burglars, but I don't know much about any of them except for the ones that you brought the picture of.”

Lex nodded. “As I think you already know, those two are the psychic and the blonde one who can travel like Serena. We think they arrive with just those two first, scope the place out, and then bring the other three. The way I see it, there are two sets of potential risks in this job: the risk that the people we're going after will get away, and the risk that we'll get hurt or killed.”

After looking at both Rolf and Lou, Lex continued. “Because of that, I'd like to move in the following way. Since the blonde represents the largest risk of the burglars escaping, I want to move in first. I'm planning to fasten her to myself; I brought some zip ties from work, along with some that are supposed to be able to work on big people like you,” she said, looking over at Lou. He gave her an interested glance as she continued.

“Once I've moved out, Lou, I'd like you to take on the biggest person there. We need you to do that because if they're fast or have had martial arts training, they could kill Rolf or me. Even if that's not likely, both of us would have a lot of trouble fighting a person with your strength, especially in a confined space.”

Lou nodded and smiled. “Leave it to me.”

Lex smiled back at her friend before continuing. “After that, there would be one big risk left, and it's contained in one person. Whoever it is that can vaporize walls could do some serious harm to us or kill us, and could break the vault open so that everyone can escape. Rolf, as you know, we're not sure who of the other two people this is, but I was hoping you could take them on. One of them will be the computer person, who shouldn't be a threat to us physically, but we won't be able to tell right away which is which. I'll help as soon as I can, but I'm going to be half pinned down, so I won't be able to do what I normally could. If the person tries to escape, maybe we should just let them and try to hold on to a few of the other burglars.”

Rolf gave a feral grin. “Don't you worry about it. I'll be fine, and I'm going to try not to let any of them go.”

“I'll finish up as soon as I can and come over to give you a hand,” Lou added, looking sideways at Rolf with a challenging expression.

“Who knows, maybe I'll be finished before you are,” he replied, looking up at Lou.

Lex just watched the exchange and sighed, wondering how they could be so calm. After a few moments, however, her teammates' confidence seemed to buoy her up as well, and she began to feel more optimistic about their chances for success.

When she looked up at Lou a few seconds later, she saw him watching her, and then saw Rolf doing the same as she turned.

“Why don't you try to relax for a while,” Rolf said, bumping against Lex as he reached out to take her hand. “We have a whole train ride in front of us before we have to start thinking about this again, so let's get something nice to eat on the way there so we're ready to hit the ground running.”

She nodded and then looked down and smiled at the pavement passing under their feet, thinking about how fortune must have smiled on her in order to be part of a team with people like this.

Forward to Chapter 45
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