I know I said that Keeping Secrets was most likely going to be a one-shot story, but happily, I had more ideas. If you haven’t read the first story, I’d recommend reading that first, but it’s not absolutely necessary to understand what’s going on in this story. Also, the title is still just a temporary one. If I get a better idea later, I might change it.
“Shit!” Tracy looked out of the window of her van. Big, fat raindrops splattered against the windscreen.
“What’s the matter Häschen?” Kat’s voice on the other end of the phone line asked.
"Rain. “That’s going to make flying harder.” A single one of those big drops could upset the balance of Tracy’s little drone. It would also make audio surveillance next to impossible.
Lightning flashed somewhere behind the car, illuminating the trees in front of the car briefly. The thunder that followed only moments later drowned out whatever Kat said.
“What was that?” Tracy put Kat on speaker while she climbed around the seats to the back of the van.
“I said ‘just be careful’. I wouldn’t want to take care of a zapped, little bunny. You’re fussy enough when you’re just wet.”
Tracy felt a blush creep up her neck.
“Kat,” Tracy pleaded, the whining tone painfully clear even to herself.
God, I sound like a four-year-old.
“Oh come on,” Kat said. “It’s not like there’s anyone else in your car with you.”
“How do you know.?”
“Well, is there?”
“No,” Tracy admitted. She was struggling to find the neck hole inside her dark grey rain poncho. The stiff plastic of the poncho crackled slightly with static electricity as she pulled it down. The mesh of hair-thin metal wires inside the plastic would hide and distort Tracy’s heat signature, making her much harder to see with infra-red cameras. She wasn’t expecting anybody to be using that, but if she had to be somewhere in person, she was not going to take any chances.
Tracy picked the phone up from the suitcase holding most of her surveillance gear. “Anyway, are you doing anything tonight?” Tracy didn’t actually hold her breath; at least not physically. She always felt awkward asking if Kat was free. Asking a dominatrix if she’s working felt to Tracy like asking ‘are you fucking someone’. It wasn’t like she was jealous when Kat was seeing clients. Well, maybe a little. She knew what she was getting into when she and Kat started… dating?
No, that wasn’t the word she’d use. Maybe ‘seeing each other’? No, that didn’t seem right either. They weren’t two high-schoolers making out between classes. ‘Sleeping together’ didn’t feel right either, although it was true in the most literal sense.
Tracy was so lost in her search for the right term that she missed Kat’s answer. She shook her head to dismiss the thoughts.
“What was that? You dropped out there for a second,” Tracy bluffed.
“I said I have a client all night. Sorry.”
Tracy sighed. “Okay.” She had hoped that she could snuggle up to Kat after having had to be out in the rain. Even if it was only for a few hours. Sleeping like that was so much more restful than sleeping alone.
“Aww. Were you hoping for some snuggles after you were done?”
Tracy suddenly realised something. “All night, you said? Are they there now?”
“Relax Häschen. It’s not like they can hear you.”
“Still, you know I hate it when we talk like this when you have other people there.”
“You didn’t seem to mind last week when Jessie and Uncle Dieter had us over for dinner.”
Tracy sighed again, almost rolling her eyes at Kat. “That’s different and you know it. They think we’re… you know, dating.” Tracy cringed at the word. It wasn’t like they hadn’t gone on dates. But there was a big difference between ‘going on dates’ and ‘dating’. At least in Tracy’s mind.
“We can have breakfast,” Kat suggested. “Or maybe lunch. I don’t know how late it’ll be before I get some sleep.”
“Mmm-yeah. Breakfast sounds nice. Surprise me.” Tracy knew that Kat could hear her smile. “Do you want me to wear my…” Tracy hesitated, “you know…”
Kat laughed. “You can say ‘diaper’ Häschen. It iss not a naughty verd.” She said the last sentence with an exaggerated German accent that made Tracy smile.
“I know. It just feels weird to say it.”
“You know, it’s funny. You have more trouble saying the word than you have actually wearing them.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s hilarious,” Tracy said dismissively.
“Scheiße, I have to go,” Kat said as there was some noise in the background that Tracy couldn’t identify. “Tomorrow, wear your diapers if you want to. Or not. We’ll figure something out. Bye.”
“Uh, bye,” Tracy said, but Kat had already hung up. “…I guess.” She put away the phone and opened the car door, looking out into the downpour. Even before before stepping outside, she imagined she could feel a greasy trickle down the back of her neck. Tracy grabbed her camera and checked the batteries.
Almost fully charged.
Before she slipped the strap over her head, Tracy made sure the waterproof casing was properly closed.
Wouldn’t want foggy lenses that I can’t reach.
Tracy stepped out of the van and found herself ankle-deep in a puddle that hadn’t been there when she parked.
“Damn.” Tracy stepped out of the puddle and shook her feet to get some of the water out of her shoes.
“Not exactly the greatest start,” she said to no-one in particular. Grabbing a black, plastic briefcase and a small tripod, Tracy closed the door and locked it. The alarm activated with a quiet chirp. Then she trudged off into the bushes.
Half an hour later, Tracy was in place. She was crouching in a bush halfway up a small hill. Below her was a footpath with a metal bench and a trash can with a couple of impressive dents. Tracy absent-mindedly wondered what could have made the dents. They looked too big to be from bikes, but the footpath was too narrow and twisting for cars. ATVs maybe?
Tracy checked her watch: A quarter to one. In fifteen minutes, that trash can was going to be one of the richest trash cans in the city. Tracy shifted her weight, moving her knee out of the small brook that had appeared only minutes after she had settled down in her bush. Her mind drifted back to earlier that day.
Tracy had been in her office, working on the final report to a client when there was a quiet knock on the door. Tracy checked the camera outside the door. Kat had insisted she install the camera and reinforce the office door after a case had gone badly, in a death-threat kind of way a couple of months earlier.
Outside the door was a woman and man. They didn’t look like a threat, so Tracy pressed the button to unlock the door. The lock buzzed and clicked and after a few moments, the couple entered. Tracy pushed her keyboard aside and motioned to the chairs in front of the desk.
“Please, have a seat.”
Tracy found her trusty notepad and pencil. Then she pushed the phone to the middle of the desk.
“You don’t mind if I record this…” Tracy paused and studied the couple of a few moments. The man was sitting with his eyes lowered, turned slightly towards the woman, who in turn was sitting back in the chair with her legs crossed, looking relaxed and confident. Tracy figured that she was the one in charge. "… Ms?
“Wilford,” the woman said. “Nalah Wilford. And I’d rather you didn’t. I don’t want any of this coming out.”
“It’s only to help my note-taking, but if you’re uncomfortable with it…” Tracy picked up her phone and put it away.
“OK Ms Wilford, what’s the problem?” Tracy tried to sound professional.
“Marc here fucked up,” She answered matter-of-factly.
Tracy looked from one to the other and back and again. “I’m going to need a little more details than that.”
Ms Wilford looked coolly at Marc. “Well? Tell her what you did.”
“There was this email, and I thought it was from Miss Nalah and I clicked on the link in it and-”
“And the idiot opened a back-door into the system. Look, I couldn’t care less that they hijacked his webcam and caught him undressing and getting into position for me under the desk in my office.”
“I-” Tracy began, a little taken aback.
“I do, however, care that they caught me on camera as well. And as if that wasn’t enough, they encrypted the entire system, locking us out.”
“And let me guess, they want money to unlock the system and not release the video.”
“Yeah, fifteen thousand.” Ms Wilford said it like it was more an annoyance than a serious sum of money.
“Not to point out the obvious, but isn’t this a police matter? Or at the very least, your IT department? Why hire someone like me?”
“If we use yesterday’s backups we lose all the logs from a crucial deposition, plus we’d look incompetent.” Ms Wilford glared at Marc. “And going to the police wouldn’t get the files back in time for the trial either. I figured the simplest solution is to just pay them.”
“Okay? But then why hire me?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not OK with what happened. I want you to find out who did this so I can make them regret it. And as for why you specifically? You came highly recommended from a business associate of mine. A Mrs Devereux?”
“I see,” Tracy said, trying to sound neutral since she didn’t know how much Ms Wilford knew about the case in question. “So, fifteen thousand. I’m assuming they didn’t want to meet in some back alley with a suitcase full of cash.”
“Unfortunately not. They wanted the money in some stupid cryptocurrency, Ding-Dough, on a thumb drive, and they wanted Marc to drop it off at a specific location at 1 am. tonight.”
“So, in…” Tracy checked her watch, “…eleven hours or so. I’m assuming they gave the whole ‘don’t contact the police’ warning or something like that. Will getting raising the money be a problem?”
Ms Wilford shook her head.
Tracy put down her pencil. “Well, since they’ve been smart about the money, our best bet is probably to follow the actual thumb drive once your husband makes the drop and hopefully identify the blackmailers that way.”
“Oh please! Like I’d marry him.” Ms Wilford rolled her eyes. “I deal with enough fucked-up marriages at work. Marc’s my personal assistant.”
And your executive stress relief toy, it sounds like.
Tracy opened her desk drawer and rooted around in it for a couple of seconds before bringing out a bright yellow thumb drive. “Use this for the money,” she said and handed it to Ms Wilford. “Now, this is a rush job so I’m going to have to charge extra.”
“I expected as much. Camille told me the rates you charged her; I’ll double it.”
That was more than Tracy had been planning on charging, so she simply nodded. "I also have a couple more conditions. First of all: My job is to follow the thumb drive, or the information on it, to the blackmailers without them realising it. That is, until they’ve given you the password to unlock your system. So until that happens, you’re going to follow the blackmailer’s instructions to the letter. Agreed?
“Also, whatever you’re planning for whoever did this, I’m not involved. Once I’ve identified the blackmailers, my job is over.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Ms Wilford’s smile sent a chill down Tracy’s spine. It was like a cat watching a canary with a broken wing. Tracy decided she didn’t want to get on Ms Wilford’s bad side.
They spent the next twenty minutes getting all the details Tracy felt she needed. After Ms Wilford and Marc had left, Tracy started planning. She would park a drone by the drop and follow whoever came to pick it up.
Tracy opened the box of drones and checked the battery levels of the one with best range. It only had a basic camera and microphone, but it was small enough to escape notice. After checking the map of the park where the drop-off was, she found that the drone should be able to follow the thumb drive to any of the parking lots in the immediate area. After that, it was just a matter of recording the licence plate and the traffic cameras would do the rest of the job for her.
The thumb drive even had a tracker that she could activate remotely in case she lost track of it. If whoever picked it up scanned the drive for bugs, they wouldn’t find it until it was too late. Tracy had to admit that she had a similar tracker on her car keys and that she had had to use it more than once.
Content that all the technical preparations were done, Tracy went to bed. If she was going to pull an all-nighter, she should start out well rested.
Movement on the path below brought Tracy back to the present. Somebody halfway hidden by a big, green and white golf umbrella, approached the bench. It was Marc. He looked around nervously.
“Come on,” Tracy mouthed silently. “Don’t get creative. Just make the delivery and walk away.” Marc fumbled in his pocket and brought out Tracy’s yellow thumb drive. Tracy zoomed in on Marc with her camera as he kept fiddling with the thumb drive. He was turned halfway away from her so she couldn’t see exactly what he was doing.
“Come on,” Tracy kept whispering inaudibly. “Be a good, little executive fuck toy and do what you’re supposed to.” As though he had heard her, Marc turned and looked in Tracy’s direction. She froze, trusting her poncho, the darkness and the distance to hide her. That, and the fact that she had told Marc and Ms Wilford she would be using her drones to track the drive. Eventually Marc looked away. Tracy slowly brought her hand back to her camera and zoomed out a little, letting it catch the area surrounding the bench.
Eventually Marc stopped looking around. He looked down to his hand where the thumb drive was before tossing it into the trash can. Then he hurried off down the path where he had come from. Then there was just the almost sizzling, white noise of the rain pouring down. Tracy imagined she could hear a plink, plink whenever the faint, yellow street light flickered, but other than that, nothing happened.
Suddenly, there was a flash and an almost immediate, deafening crash of thunder as the lightning struck somewhere nearby. Tracy thought she could see something in the bushes by the footpath. She switched the camera to thermographic, turning everything dark grey and black; everything except the bright heat bloom of somebody hiding in one of the bushes.
“Now what do we have here?” She zoomed in, trying to get a good picture. Unfortunately, thermographics was never made for identification purposes, so the face remained an unrecognisable white blur.
Tracy was so focused on the person in the bushes that she almost missed the movement by the trash can. Tracy turned the camera back and switched off the thermographics when she saw no heat signatures. Something reminiscent of a bug the size of a small plate was scuttling out of the trash, holding Tracy’s thumb drive in its pincers. It fell from the opening, but instead of hitting the ground, it rose with the unmistakable whine of high-speed rotors.
Shit, they’re using a drone for the pickup.
Tracy fumbled in her pocket for the remote control for the tracker. She pressed the button and the little light on the remote switched from red to a blinking yellow.
“What the…” Tracy pressed the button again, but the light stubbornly refused to change to green.
“Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshit.” Tracy reached for the briefcase on the ground next to her. She opened it and lifted the largest of her camera drones out from its foam housing. Unlike its smaller cousins, this one was capable of operating without Tracy having to steer it manually. In one fluid motion, Tracy switched it on and threw it up in the air.
The rotors started up almost immediately and it rose up with a buzzing sound like the world’s biggest wasp. Tracy hap programmed it to follow the signal from the thumb drive, and failing that, it would try to track movement below. The amount of rain, however, made the latter option a long shot. She pressed the button on the remote one more time, but the light still didn’t turn green.
“So much for plan B,” Tracy grumbled. She rose, leaving the briefcase and tripod with the camera, and ran down the hill towards the person hiding in the bushes. Whoever they were, they were her last chance of finding out what was going on.
Tracy half ran, half slid down the hill, branches and twigs scratching noisily against her poncho. The figure in the bushes looked in her direction, obviously having heard her. There was a flash and a sharp crack of thunder.
No, not thunder. A gunshot. The fucker’s shooting at me?
Tracy wanted to turn around, or hide behind something, anything. But her legs, apparently having made a deal with her momentum, just kept going. There was another shot, the bullet hitting the trash can with a metallic clunk.
The figure turned and tried to run, but slipped on the mud and fell. The gun landed in a puddle, out of reach of both of them. Tracy dove forward, landing with her elbow in the man’s stomach in a move that would have made a pro wrestler proud. The man folded up, coughing and moaning. Tracy picked herself up and was about to give him kick when she recognised him.
Marc was too busy gasping for breath to answer.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Help-helping Mistress Nalah,” he wheezed.
Tracy had a sinking feeling. “What did you do?”
Marc rolled over on his side and tried to sit up. “Tracking bug,” he coughed, “on… on the drive.”
“Wha…?” Marc asked with a bewildered look.
“The bug tracker. Now!” Tracy demanded, trying to sound extra bossy in the hopes it would speed things up.
Marc fumbled in his pockets and held out a small, cracked, plastic rectangle. Tracy grabbed it, noting silver company logo above the small screen.
TeraTech Electronics: Fantastic range, but shitty transmitter shielding. That could explain my tracking problems.
Tracy left Marc in the mud and ran back towards her equipment.
“Call ‘client one’,” Tracy told her phone as she struggled up the slippery slope.
Ms Wilford answered almost immediately. “Yes?”
“Bullit here. Is the money still there?”
“Yes, it still all here,” Ms Wilford started. “No, wait. They just moved it.”
“Password?” Tracy suppressed a curse as she slipped and almost fell.
“Not yet. Do you have them?”
“No. Still working on it,” Tracy said between gasps of breath as she reached the briefcase and knelt down next to it. “There was a complication. I’ll call you back.”
Tracy hung up and pulled out her pocket knife. She used the screwdriver to pry open the casing of Marc’s tracker, cutting a small gash in her hand when it slipped. Ignoring the stinging, Tracy examined the circuitry inside, quickly finding the receiver and reading its frequency from the little sticker on it. She dropped the tracker and grabbed the drone remote. The screen showed a map of the park and the drone’s search pattern. Tracy input the new tracking frequency and the drone immediately picked it up, abandoning its previous pattern and homing in on its new signal.
Tracy’s phone rang.
“What do you mean ‘There was a complication’?” Ms Wilford asked sharply when Tracy picked up.
“I thought we agreed that you were to follow the drop-off instructions, or did I misunderstand something?” Tracy glanced back down to where she had left Marc, but he was gone.
“Yeah, that’s the deal.”
“So what’s the deal with Marc sabotaging my plans by putting a cheap and obvious bug on my thumb drive?”
“He did WHAT?!? Where is that little fucker? Is he still there? Marc! If you can hear this, don’t bother coming to work tomorrow!”
There was a beep from Tracy’s remote control indicating that the drone was approaching it’s target. Tracy switched from the map to the camera view and the small screen showed a parking lot. There were maybe a dozen cars; no lights or movement.
“Look, I still have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. With a little luck, whoever they are didn’t notice Marc’s bug, or if they did, they’re going to be greedy and ask for more since you tried to track the drive. Either way, we still have a shot at finding them. it’s just going to be a little trickier and take a little longer.”
“Just. Find. Them.” Ms Wilford hung up.
Tracy left the drone in a holding pattern above the lot and picked up her equipment. Marc had already scurried off to wherever he stayed when he wasn’t under Ms Wilford’s desk, leaving the gun in the puddle where he had dropped it. Tracy picked it up before heading for the car. She didn’t like guns, but leaving it for someone else to find wasn’t an option.
Too many irresponsible idiots running around; and not just Marc.
By the time Tracy reached the car, she was panting and sweating, cursing the poncho for trapping so much of her body heat. She put the camera and the drone remote on the passenger seat. Then she pulled off the poncho and threw it in the back along with the empty briefcase. For a little while, she just stood there, letting the rain cool her down. Then, before she got too wet, she got in and started the engine.
The drive to the parking lot didn’t take long; maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Tracy’s attention was divided between the road, which was wet and slippery, but thankfully empty, and the screen showing her drone’s bird’s eye view of the parking lot. Only one car had left the lot since she started driving, and she had a good picture of the car and its licence plates. Hopefully the cameras in the area would help her get a picture of the driver. The thumb drive still hadn’t moved, but Tracy hadn’t had time to check if the car, or its driver, had been anywhere near it.
Tracy picked up her camera and used it to quickly scan the lot. No heat sources; human or engines. As the drone slowly descended, Tracy saw the thumb drive in a puddle. She got out and carefully picked it up. To Marc’s credit, the tracker dot that he’d put on on the drive at least matched its colour, but it was still obvious if you knew what to look for. And Tracy had no reason to think the blackmailers didn’t. They had been smart about avoiding identification; cryptocurrency payment, drone pickup and quick transfer of of the money. So Tracy doubted there would be fingerprints on the drive, but maybe she was lucky and they had screwed up. She put it in a paper bag and put the paper bag in a plastic box of rice she kept in the car precisely to dry out wet electronics. Even if there weren’t physical fingerprints, there would be electronic ones.
Tracy picked up the drone and put it in the back of her van before climbing in herself. She started the computer and began scanning for available wifi networks. Again, Tracy doubted that the blackmailers would have used an open network when they transferred the money, but at the moment, long shots was pretty much all she had.
Thanks a lot, Marc.
At least there weren’t too many networks in the area. Tracy shuddered to think what the list would have looked like if this had happened downtown. Since pretty much everything in the area was closed for the night, there shouldn’t be too much computer traffic to sort through.
Tracy loaded a sniffer program to copy the details about the last twenty minute’s traffic on the open networks. She noted down the names and details of the protected networks so she could come back the next day to check them out.
She debated whether she should have the last can of energy drinks while driving home. On the one hand, it was late and drinking it might keep her up even later, but on the other hand, she was thirsty and really tired. The adrenaline rush of tackling Marc had been a great pick-me-up, but the problem was that as soon as it wore off, it seemed to take with it all the caffeine stored in her system. Concern for her fellow drivers won, and at the next red light, Tracy opened the can and emptied it before the light turned green. She grimaced at the taste. She would have preferred the original what-our-chemical-engineers-think-strawberries-taste-like flavour, but the store had been sold out and all they had had left were the we’ll-pretend-this-tastes-like-kiwi-but-all-you-get-is-a-furry-tongue flavoured ones. But caffeine was caffeine, and hopefully, drinking it on an empty stomach would mean that it’d kick in quickly.
By the time Tracy reached home, she had gone gone through most of what she called the energy drink caffeine cycle. She had seen individual air molecules vibrating, had tingly fingers and a pounding pulse. Now she was crashing; her stomach was grumbling and her brain itched. She parked in the parking garage across the street and made her way back to the office, being eternally thankful for her landlord having fixed the elevator.
Tracy stumbled through the door. It was a struggle to even open the boxes with her equipment so it would dry while she slept. There was only one thing she wanted to do before getting out of her damp clothes and falling into bed. Tracy opened her fridge and grabbed a bottle of water. She knew better than going to bed thirsty. She peeled off her clothes, lay back on the bed and put on a diaper before wrapping herself in her blanket. After all, she also knew better than going to sleep with a rapidly filling bladder without taking some precautions.