Jim glanced at Blair, then moved around behind the safe and took
gentle hold of the dial. He knew this was a practice run, and his first, at that.
But he was already tensing up. With his tactile sense turned on full, the dial's
tiny ridges felt almost sharp against his Sentinel sensitive fingers. He turned
the dial slowly, to the right, feeling each and every click of the tumbler's teeth
as they searched for the proper combination against the lock. With such a tight
focus, the safe became almost larger than life. The tumbler felt like the only
thing in the room, and feather light. Suddenly, he felt a change in the pressure
against the lock and he glanced up, seeing the red display and the number there.
He was beginning to sweat with the focus, and the knowledge that he couldn't zone
out completely on touch, or else he would lose the display altogether. He changed
direction and turned the dial to the left, feeling each inaudible click of the
teeth. Another number was displayed, this time a two digit one. Nine more to go.
He turned the dial again to the right, feeling the sweat build on his forehead.
If he zoned out here, he'd zone out in the field as well. Simon was right, he'd
need Blair with him. The effort of such a tight focus, without losing the rest
of his senses entirely, was exhausting. Two more digits. Again to the left. The
muscles in his neck were beginning to feel the strain. One more digit. To the
right. This time the dial was nearly all the way around before two more digits
were displayed. Jim was ready to stop, but there were four more to go. He was
vaguely aware of Blair's presence in the room, but he had lost all thought of
Fingers McCoy as he concentrated again on turning the dial to the left. Two more
digits came up almost immediately, startling Jim. His back was aching, and the
cords in his neck were standing out. Why was he so tightly focused if the black
box was doing all the work? He tried to lighten up, pull back on the tactile senses
in his fingers and let the box find the last numbers. Just as the display began
to form the image of the final two numbers, the tumbler fell one more click and
an alarm went off somewhere in the little office.
"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."
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
"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
"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.
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?"
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."
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,
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.
Detective Ellison, Mr. Sandburg. You've been to see Duggan McCoy?"
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."
who works for the hotel, maybe?" Blair asked, fingering the small communication
"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."
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."
Blair a quick look and laughed. "When's it set up for?"
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
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.
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
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?