"I'd stick with your day job, if I were you." Fingers shook his head and walked across the room to shut down the alarm.
"Jim, you were almost there. What happened?" Blair moved over to stand beside him.
"I don't know. I was using my tactile sense, to feel the tumbler, but it was hard, you know? Such a tight focus, and trying not to zone out with it, I just decided to ease up on the last one, and let the box do the work."
Fingers returned and pulled off the box, flipped a switch on the bottom, then re-attached it to the safe. "Again."
Jim sighed, wiping some of the sweat from his forehead. "Jim, go ahead and focus, ignore the box. I'll keep my eye on it." Blair whispered.
Jim just nodded, tried to stretch his back for a moment's relief, then once again took hold of the dial and started it turning to the right. This time, after only a few seconds, all thoughts and sights left him. The only thing in the world was the small silver box right in front of him, and the dial in his hand was the most important thing in his life. Jim felt himself becoming mesmerized by the feeling in his right hand, and the dial he was turning, ever so slowly. But once he was lost in the feeling, there was nothing left around him. Even time was gone. Suddenly, from somewhere far away, a hand touched his back, then another grabbed his arm. If it hadn't been for his focus on tactile responses, he might not have felt it at all.
"Jim, you did it." Blair was gently but firmly holding his left arm and shaking slightly, trying to bring him out.
Jim had to blink hard to shake the lingering fog and focus on Fingers as he walked around the desk to examine the black box. Jim looked down, and saw each display lit up, and the door to the safe open.
"Damn kids today, think everything is a game. In my day, it took years to learn this stuff. Nowadays they crank out these safes almost as fast as hamburgers. Then, before you know it, there's a gizmo or gadget built to crack 'em." He took out a handheld keypad with a tiny display, punched a few buttons, then pointed the end of the unit at the small square beside the safe handle. After a few seconds, the door was shut again. "There, try it again." Fingers put the keypad down and sat in his chair, shaking his head. "In my day, we relied on touch. Nothing more." He leaned back in the chair and cracked his knuckles loudly. "Ah, what these fingers could do back then." He sighed. "You kids today, wouldn't know the first thing about cracking a safe without your tricks and gadgets to help you. Wouldn't know the fine art of romancing the steel box, like caressing a fine woman. You have to be gentle, slow, and oh so caring." He shook his head in disgust and waved a hand at Jim. "Well go on, start turning."
Jim was already reaching for the dial, preparing to tune Fingers McCoy out altogether. He was aware of Blair standing right next to him, and he decided to focus completely, and ignore the box. If he could manage this buy using his Sentinel tactile sense, without zoning out, they wouldn't have any trouble convincing whoever was watching that they were pros. As long as he didn't zone out. Once again the dial became the most important thing in Jim's mind as he concentrated on what his fingers were feeling. And again, he felt Blair's light touch on his arm and stopped turning the dial immediately.
"Again." Fingers punched in another combination, shaking his head in disgust.
Jim practiced five more times, each one done without paying attention to the black box attached to the safe. By the end of the last run, Jim's back was aching and his neck was stiff. He tried not to zone out, but each time it was Blair's touch that brought him back. That might be a problem, if Blair was supposed to sit outside the room and keep lookout. They'd have to come up with something, but right now, he was too tired to worry about it.
"Sure, it's easy for you, you've got these toys." Fingers tossed the combination keypad back into a drawer and began to detach the little black box from the safe. "In my day, it was art. And the loot was a reward. Almost a sin to be thrown in jail for doing what we did."
"Tell that to people you stole from," Jim replied, accepting the black box he had removed. "You're sure this is the type of safe they use? What if there's a different style?"
Fingers waved a hand in dismissal. "Trust me, this is them. If they have slipped in a few new ones, the drill will be the same. There's a keypad entry for the room, with a security card access. For that, we have a different toy." He reached into another drawer and pulled out a similar shaped unit, with just one lead coming off the main box. Attached to the end of the lead was a card the same size and shape of a credit card. "You just swipe this through the slot, flip this switch, and wait five seconds. The code will be displayed here." He pointed to the small LED area at the bottom of the unit. "It's that simple."
"Where do you get this stuff?" Blair asked, examining the new box Jim was holding.
"Hey, I'm legit now. Just ask my parole officer." Fingers replied hotly. "Get these from a friend of mine in the gadget business. Spend my time now teaching kids like you how to bust artists like me."
Blair laughed a little and shook his head, glancing at Jim.
"I'll be sure and let your parole officer know how helpful you've been." Jim said, nodding to Blair. "We've got work to do, Chief." He thanked Fingers again and followed Blair out through the heavily padded door, then the more flimsy garage door, and back to the truck. The sounds from the airport were almost a shock after the soundproof room they had just spent several hours in. Jim made sure to turned down his hearing until they were in the truck and driving away from the noise of the jets.
Blair examined the boxes Fingers had sent with them and shook his head. "I think you'll be better off just using your sense of touch."
"But what about zoning out? According to the plan, you're supposed to be out in the hallway. If I zone out completely on the safe, I won't even know when it's open."
"I know, I know. And I've been thinking about that."
"So what's your solution?"
"I'll let you know when I have one," Blair replied, raising his eyebrows for a second. "You kids today, so impatient."
Jim laughed and shook his head. They were pulling into the parking lot behind Detective Bryce's small building one block from the airport. They were parallel to the runway now and the noise was more tolerable as they made their way inside and found Detective Bryce in his small office.
"Ah, Detective Ellison, Mr. Sandburg. You've been to see Duggan McCoy?"
Jim smiled, "You mean, Fingers?"
Bryce laughed and motioned for them both to take a seat in front of his desk. "Yes, he is a character, isn't he? Busted back in '68 for a five million diamond heist. He just got paroled about 2 years ago." He took some equipment and files from his bottom drawer and placed them on top of the desk. "So, it went okay? You can get into the safes with no trouble?"
"Yeah, it went fine." Jim replied. "The new sensors they use these days must keep the safe companies on their toes."
"And us." Bryce agreed. "Now, our two ladies here have a nice little system. Somehow, probably by hacking into the hotel's computer, they know who's coming in from where, and whether or not they've requested the use of an in-suite safe. The hotel's I've stayed in offer the kind you pay for if you access, but these high-priced suites charge a flat fee for the guest, and change the combination with each check-out." He pushed the files to Jim. "There's a copy of everything we have on Meese and Stralin. They use these," Bryce lifted two small headsets from his desk and handed one to Jim and one to Blair. "To communicate during the job. Diana keeps an eye out while Jennifer does the work. They hit maybe three or four rooms in one night. Somehow, they've managed to stash the loot before we can get to them. And we've decided it's the boss that we want now. These small time busts for breaking and entering aren't getting us anywhere. They have to be stashing it, or passing it on somewhere in the hotel."
"Someone who works for the hotel, maybe?" Blair asked, fingering the small communication device.
"Possibly. We just haven't caught him or her yet." He sighed, scratching his head for a moment. "We have a room set up, with the hotel computer showing the arrival of a business man from Eastern Europe who has requested a safe for the weekend, and a translator who can escort him to the gold exchange downtown. Inside, you'll find two gold bars, worth a total of $50,000."
"Real?" Blair asked, glancing at Jim.
"Yes, in case they check. These nuggets are confiscated goods, from an import/export bust last year. We use them now and again for set ups like this. And, we'd rather not lose them."
Jim shot Blair a quick look and laughed. "When's it set up for?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, one o'clock. Our girls will have it scoped out, so we'll send a man in for check in, then at two sharp he'll leave. You'll have to make your move then, before Diana gets set up. These headsets give crystal clear pick up for a radius of one square mile. I suspect they use a similar set up. I really appreciate this, Detective. Portland had their hands full trying to nail these two and missed. Now, if we can stop the source of the trouble, maybe the next airport will be spared."
Jim stood and shook Bryce's hand. "Glad to help. Come on, Chief, let's get cracking."
Blair was walking towards the office door and shot Jim a look of surprise.
Jim just smiled and pushed him out the door.
It was late afternoon now, so they drove back to the loft to go over the files
and make their plans. Jim was feeling much more confident now at having Blair
along. If they could stay in constant communication, then maybe his partner could
keep him from zoning out during the break-in. It would be a breeze convincing
Jennifer and Diana that they were pros, and if Bryce was right, and they were
willing to take on partners instead of simply moving on, then the only real work
would be to meet the boss. And to get this knot out from between his shoulder
Blair put the dirty plates in the sink and wiped the counter dry as Jim returned to the couch. They had been studying the files for the past three hours, and he was beginning to feel like he already knew Diana Meese and Jennifer Stralin intimately. It took him some concentrated effort not to stare at the photo of Diana that was in the front jacket of the file. She apparently preferred her skirts as short as possible, but how she got away with that in those higher class hotels, without being thought of as a working girl, he didn't know. Maybe she worked in jeans, and only dressed up when she cased the area? Either way, he sincerely hoped she'd be a little more discreet when they met, otherwise he'd be hard pressed to keep his mind on business. Most importantly, he'd have to keep Jim from zoning out on his tactile sense while in the room alone. For that, Blair decided the headsets would help. If he could keep Jim talking while he worked, he wouldn't lose himself completely in the task. But, if he didn't concentrate, he wouldn't get the safe open. Blair finished in the kitchen and walked back out to the living room. Jim was stretching again, trying to pop his back while reading a file at the same time. He'd been working his neck all through dinner and rubbing his shoulders. Blair hesitated for a moment. He new what Jim needed, and he knew if his partner really wanted help, he'd ask. But why should he have to? Why was he so hesitant to just help out when he was needed, instead of waiting to be asked? Come on, Sandburg, it's just simple male bonding, you can do that. He could see how tensed up Jim was.
"Hey, Jim, slide over." Blair approached the couch from the side and motioned for Jim to move to the middle cushion. Jim absentmindedly moved, still studying the file, and Blair sat on the arm of the couch. From that angle, he could reach Jim's shoulders and be above him. "Come on, man, lean back. You're all bunched up." Blair reached, put both hands on Jim's shoulders, and began to massage the muscles, trying not to seem hesitant. He half-expected to be told to lay off.
"Oh God, that's it right there." Jim put the file down and backed up just a little. "I was concentrating so much on that safe, I didn't realize I was tensed up."
Blair found a knot between Jim's shoulders and began to work it. "I know, I could see it. I think that motion sensor was throwing you off. You were trying to beat IT, instead of the safe." Blair continued to work the knot and Jim began to lean into the massage. "I think that Fingers guy might have a Sentinel sense. That's probably what the really good thieves have, come to think of it."
"You know, there are hundreds of documented cases of people with one, or maybe two extra sensitive senses. Like the people who work as tasters, and perfume testers. I never thought about it before, but I bet a good sense of touch is what the old time burglars used. Now maybe it's not so important." He sighed, thinking for a moment and moved his hands from the knot that had now gone to Jim's neck. "I guess it stands to reason that not everyone with a Sentinel sense would use it for a normal, legal profession." He kept thinking of that as he worked the tension from his partner's neck muscles. Jim was the only real, honest-to-God Sentinel he had ever found. But there were documented cases, and certainly must be even more undocumented ones of people with just one sense that was heightened. A good sense of smell and taste would benefit many people in legitimate jobs. A sense of sight would benefit almost anyone. He had just assumed touch could get you a good job in the textile field, or micro-electronics, or even as a masseuse. But it could just as easily benefit a safe cracker or pickpocket. He was once again grateful that the one man who turned out to be his long awaited Sentinel, was Detective James Ellison, and not someone like Duggan 'Fingers' McCoy. Would he have wanted to guide a man who was breaking the law for a living, for the sake of his research?
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