09 Aug Chapter 20: Shady
I’m lying in bed staring at the hotel ceiling. Usually it’s easy for me to fall asleep but tonight it’s just not happening. I keep thinking about the detective and Lissie. I hope nothing bad has happened to either of them.
I force myself to think about something else, and my brain wanders to memories of what I consider my first ‘project.’ Marcs was actually the trigger that started it all, despite it not being his intention. I had only been working at Mizem for a few months at that point.
Arriving one morning I found Marcs standing by my office door holding a stack of papers. “Sir, I thought you might want to look at this.”
“What is it? Could you summarize for me, it looks like a long read.”
He eyes the stack and blushes. “Sorry, sir, it’s just this top sheet I was referring to.”
I pull the first sheet off the pile and skim it. It appears to list Mizem real estate holdings. One of the addresses has been circled. “What’s the called out one?”
“It’s a building near here in the warehouse district. It popped up while I was doing a property tax audit.”
“What’s special about it?”
“I’ve never been aware of any building we own over there.”
I hand back the paper. “Good work. I want to head over and sniff around a bit. You’re coming with—get your coat.”
We take a cab there, and I tell the cabbie to pull over across the street from the building in question and wait for us. I give him a wad of bills to make sure he does.
The building is a three-story windowless warehouse that fills half the block. Marcs walks to the corner, to I assume look for strategic egress points or something. I just head towards what looks like the main entrance. Marcs runs over as I’m reaching it.
“Wait, should we do some recon first? Stake out the place for a day or two, see who comes and goes?”
“Nah, too much work. I’m going in.” I try the door—it’s unlocked.
As I enter my eyes adjust to the dim light. The warehouse is completely empty except for something very curious. So curious that I can’t help going further into the space to take a closer look.
There is a Bavul planetary shuttle sitting in the middle of the room. And this is one of the cargo carrier models so it’s as big as a house. I glance up—the roof of the warehouse doesn’t look retractible, so how did it get in the building, and more importantly, why is it here? Marcs gets closer and touches a landing strut. We walk around to the other side but I still see no clues that would explain any of this.
I hear footsteps by the main entrance and the sound of people talking. They’re coming this way. I spin around looking for places to hide or other exits, but none become apparent. Marcs is staring at me, paralyzed with anxiety.
I look back at the shuttle and notice a small hatch that’s open near the rear landing strut. I point at it, and Marcs follows me there. I try to walk as soundlessly as possible. We reach it and duck down to squeeze through.
Everything about the inside of the shuttle is wrong. There’s scaffolding everywhere holding up the shuttle roof, and the walls are made of rough wooden units with arrows and numbers stamped on them. Paint splatters cover the wooden shuttle floor. Marcs looks utterly baffled.
The people who have entered the warehouse are close now, I can just make out what they’re saying.
“Are we going to truck it to them, boss?”
“No you idiot, they’re off-worlders. You can’t truck something to another planet.”
“Stop screwing around you two. Fahasto expects the inventory to be done by tonight so get going.”
They move past and their footsteps fade out. I hear one of them scrape something along the floor. Then the warehouse is silent again.
I whisper to Marcs, “Do you think this was made for a film?”
He points out the complex system of metal latches holding together each of the wood units that make up the shuttle. “No one would go to this much trouble just for a film set. This was meant to be disassembled and packed into as small a container as possible.”
I poke my head out the hatch—no sign of them. We exit the shuttle and move in the direction I think I heard the scraping sound come from. I find a wooden shipping pallet that has been pushed away to reveal a steep concrete staircase that drops through the floor. I look to Marcs and he shrugs, so we both start down the stairs.
At the bottom we encounter row after row of wooden crates that fill the low-ceilinged room. A few of the crates are open—inside are carefully packed military rifles. I hear noises coming from deeper within the space.
“Hey boss, you know these two?” A young man to our left comes out from between two of the rows pointing one of the rifles at us. Marcs and I freeze, as two other men and a kid walk towards us from out of the shadows. The kid grabs a rifle from an open crate and forces an ammo clip into it. He aims it in our direction.
“What do you both think you’re doing here?”
“We wandered into the wrong building?” I doubt I sound convincing.
“Don’t think so. This poses a problem.”
The man to our left says, “They saw the guns, boss.”
The kid nods. “That’s the problem. I’m afraid there’s only one solution to this.” He lifts up the rifle and points it right at my head. “Turn around, both of you.”
Marcs and I reluctantly turn to face the stairway. I’ve always heard that in situations like this my life would flash before my eyes, but nothing happens. Then again I haven’t had much of a life so far.
Marcs nudges me with his elbow. I don’t respond, so he does it again. I whisper out of the corner of my mouth, “What?!”
He whispers back, “It’s safe to run.”
He annunciates every whispered word. “It’s… safe… to… run.”
The kid says from behind us, “Hey, what’s going on here? I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the—”
We don’t hear the rest because I grab Marcs’ arm and yank him towards the stairway. We both skip every other step as we dash upwards. I don’t think the guys with the guns were expecting this; it takes them a second to start pursuing. Marcs is faster than me, so after he runs around the shuttle and gets to the front door he holds it open and I fly though. We dart across the street and jump in the back of the cab. Before I can even get the door closed I yell, “Drive!”
The cabbie looks around wildly wondering what’s going on. I think it’s when he sees in his side mirror men with rifles running towards us that he gets the message. He floors it and the cab takes off down the street.
I sink into the plastic-covered seat, out of breath. Marcs falls over onto me, his head resting on my shoulder. My breathing slowly returns to normal. Marcs says, “I’m sorry about back there. I wanted to explain, but I knew if I had to decide how to tell you I wouldn’t be able to so… instead I just thought I’d give you the facts as simply as I could.”
I smirk. “I did think it was strange how you wanted us to run away from men with guns, but I trust you.”
“The QS-10 assault rifle ships with its firing pin removed, for safety reasons. The small orange indicator tab was still there on both guns.”
I let out a long breath. “You’re magnificent, Marcs.”
He turns his head towards me and I can see he has a big grin on his face.
I ask, “What name did that guy say? Fataso?”
“Fahasto. He’s the head of the Tujayeb organized crime family.”
“Where did you find that address list you showed me earlier?
“It was at our offsite records storage facility. I couldn’t find any other mention of that building in our files.”
I ponder this. “You think someone tried to cover their tracks and delete any record of us owning that building?”
“Yes, but they missed one because it wasn’t stored at the office.”
This is troubling. If Mizem Holdings owns a property that organized crime is using to store guns and who knows what else, what other questionable activities are going on?
After alerting police to the warehouse (and the press, since as you know the police are sometimes in bed with crime families), I immediately rope in Laik. He and I work out a plan to dig around in the company records. We need to find out if there are other shady dealings going on—if I’m the CEO, then I’m the one ultimately responsible, and I don’t want this shit going down on my watch.