Friday, April 21, 2017

III - Schrodinger's Robber

“And you say it’s perfectly legitimate?” Quincy asked.

“Look,” said Sal Wentworth, courier for one of Quincy’s fence contacts, “I like you, so let’s dispense with the cloak and dagger for a minute.”

Quincy nodded and motioned for Sal to continue.

“You call a guy to order something… unusual, right? Then, a couple days later, somebody slips a note with a location under a seat on a downtown bus, yeah? Then, you pick up that note, and you meet me in an alley—just like this one—and you give me an envelope full of cash, but not before asking me—every time—if the goods are perfectly legit. Can we assume, from this point on, anything you order through a company, cash on delivery, that sends you tracking confirmation via downtown bus seat note will be perfectly legitimate?”

“Point taken,” Quincy said and passed Sal a envelope full of cash. Sal motioned to two men standing at the back of an open box truck. The men struggled to carry a box the size of a mini-fridge to the back of Quincy’s waiting cargo-van. When they sat the box down, the rear of the van dropped two inches.

As Quincy got in the van, his phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Hello, Detective Warner,” Quincy answered. This was how Quincy always answered his phone, partly because no one ever called him, but mostly because he knew the day it was Detective Warner, it would seem clever. He was right.

“How did you know it was me?” Warner asked.

“You found the chop shop I left you in section E-5,” Quincy stated.

“No.”

“Ah, maybe later," Quincy paused, "You caught Chaz Jordan with the money under the pork tenderloins in his deep-freezer?”

“No… Wait, what?”

“Why are you calling me?”

“First, you have to be absolutely discreet about this, Rathbone. I need you to come down to Everless Credit Union, and don’t talk to anyone on the way in—I don’t even know how the vultures found out about a closed crime scene, but I’ll fire some… It doesn’t matter, just come down here and don’t talk to anyone.”

Quincy paused in confusion. A crime he didn’t know about? A crime he didn’t know may even happen? He felt a pang of embarrassment. He’d have to wing it this time, which was alright—he knew he’d have to eventually—but he was hoping to know when that was going to be first.

“I’ll be there shortly.” Quincy hung up the phone and departed for the bank.

At the bank, Quincy parked next to five police cars and a mobile laboratory—the laboratory was not marked as such, but it was a giant white van with city plates parked in a lot of only police and the bank was closed. Discreet, Quincy thought to himself.

Detective Hubbard opened the door for Quincy and introduced himself. Quincy followed Hubbard into the vault where Warner was carefully looking at every part of the vault, from the steel floor with the bank’s logo etched into it to the empty slots in the walls where the safe deposit boxes normally go. He eyed the pyramid of boxes for a moment, then shifted his gaze to the steel ceiling that had been designed with one foot brushed steel tiles with alternating pattern that gave the appearance of a food-safe chess board. He even played with the inner door for a moment before spotting Hubbard with Quincy in tow.

“Mr. Rathbone,” Warner began, “it’s good to finally meet you in person.”

“Don’t lie, it doesn’t accomplish anything productive on your side of the badge,” Quincy said as he glanced around the vault quickly. “If you were that eager to meet me, you would’ve called me a year ago.”

“Well, it’s not an easy process getting an outside consultant approved—there’s background checks and paperwork to be done,” Warner had a sudden, brilliant notion, “In fact, we’re not really finished, but we could use your insight and my superiors think this may be a good trial run.”

Quincy, of course, knew none of this was true—it only required minimal approval to work with a consultant—but he wasn’t sure of the detective’s motives for not wanting to work with him directly. Mr. Bradford joined them and Warner asked him to fill Quincy in on the details of the vault. Bradford ran down the thicknesses of the walls and door, he explained that the door was held tight by pressure stanchions capable of exerting several tons of force on the door, and he explained the timed lock.

“How big is the inside of the vault?” Quincy asked.

“Four thousand, eight hundred cubic feet, not counting the deposit boxes themselves.”

“So, twenty feet wide, twenty four deep?”

“Err… yes. That’s right,” Bradford was impressed at Quincy’s quick calculating ability. Bradford appreciated a head for math—he was after all a bank manager.

“And when will you open the vault to the public again?”

Hubbard glanced at Warner just as Warner glanced at a piece of dust floating through a sunbeam from the glass front of the building. Mr. Bradford cleared his throat.

“Well, there are several processes involving the insurance companies once the police report is filed. It will probably be a week before we can allow anyone back into the vault, and some of the existing customers will undoubtedly leave.”

Quincy walked around the vault for a second trying not to smile. This is great, he thought, I wonder how long I should wait. He walked out of the vault and paced at the counter for dramatic effect. Warner, Hubbard, and Bradford followed.

“You’re looking for three people, although you’ll likely only catch two of them doing the heavy lifting—so to speak.”

“The heavy lifting has already been done,” Hubbard said. Quincy scowled at him and continued.

“The second one you’ll catch in a week when he comes to buy a new safe deposit box. He’ll have a large bag or case, likely a rolling case.”

“Okay,” Warner said with only slightly exaggerated disbelief, “What about the first one?”

“The first one you’ll catch in three minutes—give or take.”

“How’s that?” Hubbard asked.

“He’s in the vault,” Quincy stated plainly.

“Look, Rathbone, I don’t like…” Warner started to shout.

“I’ll get him for you, but I’ll probably need some help,” Quincy said as he motioned for them to follow him back into the vault.

“If this room is twenty feet wide, twenty four feet deep, and contains four thousand, eight hundred cubic feet, that means it is ten feet tall.”

They all nodded and instinctively looked up at the steel checkerboard. Nothing seemed out of place. Quincy noticed the three noticing nothing out of place and shook his head.

“This room is only nine and a half feet tall,” Quincy stated plainly. He walked to the pyramid and began explaining as he moved.

“The boxes aren’t here just to show you how much time the robber had to himself…”

“Robbers,” Hubbard corrected. Quincy turned to him patiently.

“Yes, but only one actually doing the robbing. That robber wasn’t just trying to show you how much free time he had in your vault,” Quincy started to walk up the pyramid of boxes, “he was trying to reach the ceiling, where…”

Quincy pulled a small pry bar from his jacket and tried sticking it between the tiles on the ceiling.

“You can’t pry that, it only looks like they’re individual…” Mr. Bradford’s mouth stopped moving a second before his voice stopped working and half a second after the steel tile fell to the floor revealing a six inch long piece of wire with strong magnets on either end—one was holding the tile, the other still attached to the ceiling.

“Ahhhhrrrrrrumphhhh!” exclaimed the man who burst through several of the tiles a few feet from where Quincy stood atop the pyramid. The large magnets strapped to his elbows and knees had foiled his attempt at running through the door by snapping him to the floor as he flopped awkwardly from the ceiling. Hubbard immediately drew his firearm on the man. Two uniformed officers removed the straps holding the man to the ground and put handcuffs on him.

After pulling all the tiles down, several dozen magnetic boxes holding the contents of the deposit boxes, and a bag of water bottles and potato chips, the officers started going through the contents with Mr. Bradford.

“That was impressive!” Hubbard said.

“Yes, very impressive,” Warner said, “I’ll be sure to let our superiors know what a great job you did. I’m sure they’ll want to review the reports.”

“Yeah… I’ll be at the Criminal Licensing Department tomorrow to pick up my Private Investigator’s Permit,” Quincy stated before walking out of the bank.

Monday, April 17, 2017

II - The Empty Vault

It is a well-known, culturally universal fact that Mondays are difficult. The generally accepted reason is because it is the day immediately following a weekend no one is really keen to end. This Monday meant not only the end of a particularly pleasant weekend for Detective Warner, but he would soon discover that it could potentially destroy several weekends to come.

“So, I see you have your coffee,” Detective Hubbard was looming over Warner’s desk. Warner and Hubbard were partnered three years prior. Hubbard was good at his job, pleasant to be in the car with—as a passenger or a driver—and he had little to no terribly offensive habits. If there was a rock Warner felt he could stand on, it was Hubbard—although, Hubbard being nearly six and a half feet tall, it would require a step ladder or at least a considerably tall stool to do so.

“Yes,” Warner replied.

“Everything’s alright at home, good weekend?”

“Yes, yes. Why?” Warner’s voice was getting more agitated with each syllable.

“Well, Everless Credit Union has been robbed.”

A robbery was not good, but it wasn’t the worst thing Warner might have expected on a Monday following such an astonishingly successful weekend. He motioned cautiously for Hubbard to continue.

“At 8:02 am, Mr. Bradford, the branch manager, began opening the bank. During the day, as you may have noticed, they keep the vault door open. Today, when Mr. Bradford opened the vault, he found all of the safe deposit boxes emptied and stacked in a neat pyramid in the center of the floor.”

“So…” Warner sped up his "keep going" gesture.

“Someone broke into the bank before opening, casually cleaned out all twelve-hundred safe deposit boxes—stacked them tidily in the middle of the vault—then left with anywhere between a hundred and fifty to three hundred pounds of safe deposit box contents without tripping any alarms, tampering with any wiring, or being seen on any camera.”

“No damage at all?” Warner asked as if it was the most important question in the world. Hubbard just shook his head and continued leaning over Warner’s desk like a maple tree—a maple tree that makes you call your insurance company just to shore some things up.

“No damage, no prints, no evidence that anything happened at allsave for the fact that everything in the vault is gone and everything in it has been wiped clean, top to bottom.”

On the way to the bank, Hubbard explained that he was instructed to keep this as quiet as possible to avoid departmental embarrassment—which suited Warner just fine. Ever since Quincy Rathbone started bringing him pre-solved cases from the newspaper, his floor had gained a reputation for outstanding efficiency and productivity. 

Mr. Bradford was very collected, but the concern on his face was clear. The bank was closed, of course, and there were only a handful of employees allowed in the bank, including security. Bradford led Warner and Hubbard into the vault.

“The vault was built in 1916originally. It’s undergone nearly a dozen upgrades and updates since then. The outer walls are three-foot thick, steel reinforced concrete. The inner walls are lined with half-inch thick, drill resistant steel. The inner door is only for the privacy of our clients, but the outer door is a foot and a half thick steel with sixteen locking pins and pressure stanchions that hold the door shut with over five tons of force. This vault can withstand nearly anything. The door opens on a timing mechanism that can only be accessed with the door open.”

Warner and Hubbard looked around very carefully as they entered the vault, hoping to catch a glimpse of some piece of evidence that had somehow been overlooked. There was none. Big, heavily reinforced, and particularly shiny and clean.

“Night shift guards?” Warner asked.

“Two. Leo Felix and Thomas Nichols. Made all their scheduled rounds and didn’t leave the security cameras’ field of view all night.” Hubbard replied.

“They did an awful lot of work in here,” Hubbard began, “how long could two or three people breath in there with the door closed?”

Mr. Bradford was irritated by the question but tried his best to keep his composure.

“The idea that a person would suffocate in a locked vault is erroneous. You would die of dehydration long before you ran out of airand that would take at least three days. They would’ve had as much as they needed once they got passed the motion sensors and cameras in the bank, in addition to the two armed security guards. Oh, and the impenetrable, four-foot thick steel box with the seventeen-ton door.”

“Right, so we’ll just go round up everyone with the ability to slip through very, very tight crevices—they ought to be pretty easy to spot from the side,” Warner said.

Hubbard nudged Warner and jerked his head slightly to indicate he wanted to speak privately. They excused themselves and returned to the main area of the bank. They saw a few people staring in through the large glass front of the building. Warner ordered an officer to clear them off. Hubbard spoke in a low voice, looking around to make even the uniformed officers couldn’t hear him.

“We have nothing,” Hubbard said.

“Yes, but we can’t let that get around. Do you have any ideas?”

“Well,” Hubbard hesitated for a moment, “what about Rathbone?”

“No!” Warner shouted, then caught himself and brought his voice back to a reasonably quiet tone. “We can’t let this run in the paper, remember?”

“I know that. I just mean... You know. Call him.”

Warner balanced the idea of giving up nearly a quarter of his workforce to handle petty crimes again or having to explain why he was requesting money for outside consulting after being so self-sufficient and productive for a year. Suddenly someone tapped on the glass out front. The man was smiling immensely and excitedly retrieved a press badge from his jacket pocket and pressed it against the glass.

"I'll call him from the manager's office," Warner said.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I - Meet Quincy Rathbone

People were a complete mystery to Quincy (Quin or just simply Q to those too lazy to put forth the additional coordinated jaw and tongue effort to pronounce his name). A complete mystery he had no desire to solve at any stage of his life thus far. 

The people that occupied the offices of the second district courthouse in Everless were among the most mysterious, and least entertaining people Quincy had ever met. He watched them scurrying here and there, rushing against meaningless deadlines and steadfast bureaucracy. He sat on a long, wooden bench in the main hallway of the third floor--Criminal Licensing Department. 

Quincy glanced at the sign for the nine-hundred and forty-fifth time in his life and shook his head. Criminal licensing would be the distribution of a license to be a criminal, he thought to himself for the nine-hundred and forty-fourth time--he'd been interrupted once by someone asking him the time. Thinking about this, Quincy glanced up at the wall-mounted clock opposite the bench. 8:29 am.

The clock, like every other wall-mounted clock in every government building in every country in the known universe, emitted a perfectly unnerving buzz as the gearing system resisted the AC motor's best effort to spin the dials, giving in just enough to allow the accurate measurement of time. Quincy hated the clock. He hated the wall to which it was attached, the building to which that was attached, and --generally speaking--the species that built it all.

A blond woman in a suit-skirt walked passed Quincy and he noticed one of those plastic things used to keep price tags on was protruding from the pleat in the lower back of her jacket. If someone had observed the situation, and where it appeared Quincy was looking when the woman happened to glance back at him, they may not have been surprised by the woman's coy smile--some people are just, well, some people--but they would probably wonder when they saw Quincy glare at her with furrowed brow and shake his head disapprovingly.

"Criminal licensing would be the distribution of a license to be a criminal." Nine hundred and forty-five. 8:30 am.

Quincy stood up and walked a few feet down the hall just in time to see Jesse, an intern for the clerk, unlocking the door to the office. Jesse smiled uncomfortably and nodded to Quincy as he approached.

"Good morning, Mr. Rathbone," Jesse said nervously. Quincy noticed there were small flakes of plant material on Jesse's upper-left thigh. Quincy stopped and stared dead into Jesse's eyes for a moment.

"I suppose it is allergy season, but you should be more careful," Quincy stated. Jesse's eyes widened slightly and his eyebrows lifted minutely. Quincy slid through the doorway and continued, "don't worry, I'm not going to say anything to anyone. Hell, you'll probably never get caught if you keep wearing that god-awful cologne."

There were few people that irritated Quincy more than the front clerk of the Criminal Licensing Department. Lindsey was her name, and she felt about most of the people that stood on the other side of the counter much the same as Quincy did about her.

"Ah, good morning, Mr. Rathbone. I suppose you've managed to serve the mandatory six months security service required for your permit since last Wednesday?"

Lindsey was clearly accustomed to skipping formalities--Quincy almost appreciated that about her. He shook his head as if it were necessary to confirm the physically impossible had not actually happened.

"No. I don't see the point in wasting my time keeping drunks out of parking lots, or walking around the mall at night when there are more important things to do." Quincy reached into his coat for the nine-hundred and forty-fifth time to retrieve the previous day's newspaper. 

Inside the newspaper were sheets of notes Quincy had written solving crimes that had been reported within. Occasionally, he would also do the crossword. Lindsey sighed and took the newspaper.

"Please," Quincy started, but Lindsey cut him off.

"See that a detective gets this. Yes, I know. You do realize that I throw these away, right?" 

Quincy nodded.

"You've come in here every week for, what? How long?" Lindsey asked.

"One year, two months, three weeks," Quincy said.

"You could've finished the six months service by now. Why don't you just do that? What could you possibly be doing in that time that you couldn't do walking around the mall at night anyway?" Lindsey asked. 

It wasn't as if Quincy hadn't considered it, but he needed to go places and talk to people to figure out all the things going on in the city. Quincy had a secret he wouldn't disclose until he could work with the police directly. He didn't just solve the crimes in the paper, he tracked all of the crimes in the city--and sometimes the people most likely to commit them beforehand--and matched them up to the paper later. 

"It's a waste of time, and an insult to my intelligence."

"This is the real world, you have to follow the rules," Lindsey said as she plopped the newspaper in the trash can. Bold, Quincy thought. For the first few months, Lindsey would smile and say, "I'll see that someone looks at them." For another few months, she'd roll her eyes and say, "Sure I will." She was obviously implying that it wasn't happening but was still trying to be professional. Since then, she says, "You do realize I throw these away, right?" This was the first time she actually did it in front of him. He was beginning to suspect she was close to her last nerve. Maybe he'd back off a bit for a while. Maybe not.

"Tell every criminal in that paper to follow the rules," Quincy said as he turned and walked out. Lindsey shook her head and pulled the newspaper out of the trash can. 

"He's stubborn, you gotta give him that," Detective Warner said coming in from the rear door of the clerk's office. Lindsey nodded and handed him the newspaper. The courthouse had a secret, too. They'd been reading Quincy's notes since the first paper--he had accurately solved every single case. 

Since the papers didn't publish the more important ongoing investigations, most of the cases were petty crimes ranging from robberies to minor drug trafficking or car theft. Still, Quincy single-handedly cut the department's resource shortage in half by taking care of the work of five or more detectives whose time was better spent working on harder cases. The fact that Quincy refused to work as a security guard--and was too old to seriously consider going through the academy and ranks--only served to keep him working for Warner without actually having to pay him.