Excerpt

Jennifer was halfway up the drainpipe to the third floor when she heard movement below her. She saw three men milling around the corner of the building, half in and half out of the shadows. Her foot slid against the pipe, making a soft clanking noise. She held her breath. Please don’t look up.

When Pike had made the monkey comment, she knew they were talking about her. At first, she had violently disagreed, saying that Johnny was right. There was just too much risk. Pike had worn her down until she eventually agreed to at least see if she could climb the building before she made a decision. She knew it was a simple four-story square from her earlier visit, but she hadn’t really looked for a way up on the outside.

It turned out to have a solid drainpipe on the back corner, which was hidden in the shadows from the street. Each floor had what looked like a six-inch ledge circling the building, with a six-foot alley separating the target from the buildings next door. The cameras in question were on the third floor.

She knew she could climb the building with ease. Pike knew it too and had worked on her until she agreed. In truth, she had secretly been a little thrilled by the challenge. Now, twenty-four hours later, her hands becoming slippery in the cloying humid air, she wondered what the hell she’d been thinking.

Her earpiece crackled, and Pike’s voice came through like a megaphone. “Koko, you set yet?”

Jesus Christ, that was loud. She looked down and saw that there were only two men now. Neither glanced up. She clicked twice for no, then clicked rapidly four times. She heard the crackle again while still fumbling with her volume control.

“I understand you have a situation.”

She clicked once for yes.

“Roger. I copy. Do you need assistance?”

She thought about it, knowing assistance would cause the mission to be scratched. She didn’t want to be the reason for that. If they didn’t hear the first transmission, they won’t hear me move. As long as I’m careful. She clicked twice, and slowly began to climb.

Five minutes and two near-slips later, she was on the third-floor ledge, looking at the cameras seventy feet away.

“Pike, this is Koko. I’m on the third floor.”

Stupid call sign. While at Solo, Jennifer had explained to Knuckles the importance of the Java man hominid and his possible link between apes and humans. She had made the mistake of talking about Koko, a lowland gorilla that could communicate in sign language. Knuckles had then given her the name as her call sign for the mission. It had done no good to explain that lowland gorillas weren’t monkeys.

“Roger,” Pike said. “Standing by.”

Movement inside the building caught her attention. She could see the glass cases of the jewelry wholesaler in the security lighting, full of samples for retailers to peruse. Just outside the door, behind the bars, stood a man.

“Pike, there’s someone inside the building. At the jewelry store.”

There was a pause, then, “Roger. Security guard?”

“No. Stand by.”

The man had bent down and opened a duffel bag. He pulled out a hammer and a canvas sack, setting them carefully on the ground next to the door. Then he pulled out a cordless drill.

“He’s a thief. He’s got a drill. He’s breaking in.” Her voice came out rushed and panicky, embarrassing her.

Pike’s came back like he was ordering doughnuts. “Roger all. Break-break, Johnny, we’re aborting. I say again, we’re aborting.”

“Roger. I copy.”

Jennifer cut in. “Pike, I can’t get down. There’s two men at the bottom of my drainpipe. I can’t jump from this height.”

Pike’s voice reflected urgency for the first time. “I copy. What’s the guy inside doing?”

The man had placed his duffel bag by the stairwell and was kneeling in front of the door, working a drill bit into the drill. The canvas sack and hammer were by his side. Clearly, he intended to defeat the lock, set off the alarm, then use the hammer to smash the glass cases in the jewelry store, stealing whatever he could before the police arrived.

“He’s preparing to drill the lock. When he gets through that, the alarm’s going to go off.”

“Roger. Johnny, how’d he get in? Has he already set off an alarm?”

“I won’t know for sure without the SCADA, but I don’t think so. My bet is that alarm is pretty damn loud. I doubt they’d have just a silent one.”

The man had finished with the bit and began working the lock.

“Pike, he’s drilling.”

Pike came back immediately. “Go to the camera. Initiate the slave unit. Johnny, shut off the alarm. Don’t let it go off.”

Jennifer had begun moving before he was done, reaching the camera in seconds. She heard Johnny say, “Then what?” followed by Pike’s “How the fuck should I know? One step at a time.”

She found the wire with the red stripe leading out of the camera. Should be the data line. She pulled out the slave unit, a device the size of an average pager with a small antenna on the side. On the bottom were two claws designed to cut through the insulation to the metal beneath. She clamped the unit onto the wire, seeing a blinking red light. This is great. The alarm’s going to go off and I’m going to have a spotlight on my ass like a bad King Kong movie.

She watched the man drill, her stomach knotting up. She saw the slave unit begin blinking alternately green and red, meaning it had the data line and was doing an encrypted handshake with Johnny’s receiver. She knew once it went pure green, it would take a few seconds for the hacking team in Washington, D.C., to gain control. Come on, come on. The man pulled back, shaking his hands and resting for a couple of seconds. Then he returned to the lock.

* * * * * * *

Knuckles, Bull, and I were just outside the front door, where I could see the leads to an alarm system.How the fuck did that guy get in?

Knuckles was grinning a little. “I told you this was a bad idea.”

I nudged Bull. “Time to beat your record.”

He pulled out a lockpick kit and selected a couple of tools. We could have used something like an electric rake gun, but those types of things left marks, and we were supposed to be in and out without any evidence. Luckily, Bull was the fastest I had ever seen at cracking an unknown lock mechanically. He could go through five doors in the time it took me to do one.

While he inserted the tools into the bolt lock, Knuckles and I slid a piece of Kevlar fabric that looked like a deflated tube balloon between the joint of the door and wall, just underneath the knob. Once Bull opened the bolt lock, we’d inflate the balloon using a compressed CO2 cartridge, which would separate the joint far enough apart to spring the doorknob with a screwdriver.

We waited for the all-clear from Johnny, like a NASCAR pit crew. I heard Jennifer say, “I’ve got green. Shut it off. Shut it off. He’s leaning into the drill. He’s close.”

Johnny said, “We’re working it. Hold on.”

Not enough time. I whispered to Knuckles and Bull, “Get ready to run to the drainpipe. Looks like a hot exfil.”

Jennifer came back on. “Shit. He’s in.”

* * * * * * *

Jennifer watched the thief kick open the door. She tensed, waiting for the earsplitting sound of an alarm. She started when she heard Johnny through her earpiece instead.

“I have control. The alarm’s off. I can see both the two outside and the asshole inside.”

She sagged against the wall, watching the man run inside with his hammer and sack. After a few steps, he stopped, looking at the ceiling and wondering why the alarm hadn’t triggered. Then he sauntered over to the first glass case and smashed it with a hammer. Reaching inside, he began stuffing his sack.

Pike came on. “All elements, we’re going to take care of the burglar, then get Jennifer inside the building through a window. We’ll exfil together out the front.”

Seeing the bars on the windows of the jewelry wholesaler, Jennifer said, “Pike, the windows here are sealed for security. I can get down to the second floor without those guys seeing me. Then you wouldn’t have to mess with the burglar.”

“Sorry. I’m not helping these assholes clean out that jewelry store. We shut off the alarm for them. Find another window while we deal with him.”

Huh. Didn’t expect that. She looked up and saw a window above her cracked a few inches. “The fourth floor’s good. I see an open window.”

“Okay. We’re inside. Wait until I call again, then meet us in the jewelry store.”

Johnny cut in. “Koko, didn’t you say the travel agency was on the fourth floor?”

Jennifer clicked once, not stopping her climb.

“You still have the thumb drive?”

Now on the fourth-floor ledge, she stopped and said, “Yeah. I’ll see what I can do.”

She snaked through the window and retraced her steps from a few days ago. Within short order, she was inside Noordin’s office, waking up his computer. When it came to life, she saw a password screen. She shut down the computer, inserted the thumb drive, and rebooted. When the screen came back up, she was inside his system. She accessed the Internet and typed in the Web page Johnny had given her. The only thing on the screen was a button that said Enter. She clicked on it. Nothing appeared to happen.

“Johnny, I’m inside and clicked on the Web page, but it didn’t do anything.”

“It’s not supposed to. We got it. We’re good.”

She left the office exactly as she found it, rebooting the computer to bring up the password screen. She reached the stairwell and was about to head down when her radio crackled again.

“Pike, the other two assholes have entered the building. They’re in the stairwell headed up.”

* * * * * * *

We had just finished tying up the first thief when the call came in. Shit, Jennifer’s going to run into them. A second later, I was thinking that wasn’t a bad idea.

“Koko, this is Pike. Come down the stairs until you see them. Let them get a good look at you, then haul ass to the jewelry store. Come right through the door. You copy?”

After a pause, I heard, “Uhh . . . Okay. You’d better be right there.”

“We’ll be there. Hurry.”

Bull and Knuckles looked at me like I had started smoking crack.

“Bull, get over by the counter. Knuckles, grab that chain.”

Knuckles got the idea and laid it in front of the door, me on one end and him on the other.

Jennifer came on, out of breath. “I’m on the way! And they’re right behind me!”

Seconds later she came flying through the door. Once she passed, we raised the chain to ankle height. Both thieves hit it at a dead sprint, sending them sailing across the floor and crashing headfirst into the wall. Bull was on them immediately, but it was unnecessary. Like their partner, they were out cold.

Knuckles stood up, surveying the damage. “Man, what a clusterfuck. It’s great being back with you, Pike.”

Jennifer was sucking in oxygen as if she’d just run five miles, her hand on her knees, still pumped by the adrenaline, but the comment brought out a laugh. “Look at the bright side. At least we accomplished the mission.”

Bull stared at her for a second, apparently sizing her up for the first time. “Yeah, I guess you did.”

I winked at Jennifer. Another believer. She grinned.

“Well,” I said, “if you guys think I can get us out of here without a lightning strike, I say we take these assholes out and drop them off somewhere. When they wake up, they won’t come back here and certainly won’t be going to the police about a bunch of gringos.”

Bull said, “What about all the damage in here? This wasn’t too clandestine.”

“Let’em think Batman showed up.”