Working out how a magic trick is done always lead Tam to the same place.
“We need to figure out an even better trick,” she said as she pulled up a few dozen new reports.
“Is that professional pride speaking?” Val asked as she poured a three cups of tea, Earl Grey for Anna, Peppermint for Tam, and Chamomile for herself.
“Partially,” Tam said. “More importantly though, we need to get back the drugs that were stolen.”
“Agreed,” Anna said. “The missing shipments represent six months worth of medication for the regions they were being delivered to. Even with the replacement stock that Prima is offering, there will be a serious gap in availability.”
“We’ll need to be subtle about this one,” Tam said. “Prima is in a secure position so far. If they catch wind of us poking around this issue, they can destroy the drugs without taking a loss at all.”
“They are most likely storing the stolen shipment in a location that cannot be tracked back to them and where the drugs can be disposed of easily in case unwanted attention arises,” Anna said.
“So they have no exposure, and all the time in the world to work with, while we can’t let them catch a glimpse of what we’re doing and we’re under a hard time limit or people will start dying?” Val said as she passed Anna and Tam their cups of tea.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Tam said, “Except for the part where they have all the time in the world. The contract they’re bidding on has an expedited delivery schedule as one of the critical line items. They can afford to lose this bid, since they’re not out any actual production costs, but if they win it they’ll be required to provide the antiretrovirals by the deadline or face some huge penalties.”
“They may have put their bid in on the contract to shake up the competition,” Anna said. “The bids are kept secret until the final decision is made though, so they can only destabilize the market for these drugs by winning.”
“I don’t quite follow how they’re going to take down the market by selling at a loss here?” Val said. “Won’t everyone else see that’s what they’re doing at just wait them out?”
“Prima’s supply is limited, so this can’t be a long term strategy on their part,” Anna said. “But it doesn’t have to be either. If they can chase their competitors out of manufacturing the antiretrovirals for long enough, the competition will repurpose their labs for manufacturing other drugs which they can turn a profit on.”
“Converting a production line isn’t cheap or quick,” Tam said. “Prima may have another prong in its strategy as well however. Kleinwell derives a big percentage of their income from the sale and subsidies of antiretrovirals. Prima doesn’t need to drive everyone out of the market right away. All they need to do is make things hard enough on Kleinwell that they can move in a scoop up Kleinwell’s resources for a pennies on the dollar and they’ll have both the personnel and the equipment to resume production under their own banner.”
“Next question then; how do we stop them?” Val asked.
“The first step is going to be figuring out where they took the drugs after they substituted the painted rocks for them,” Anna said.
“I have a guess on that one,” Tam said. “Or at least a place where we can start looking.”
Val coasted her bike to a stop, and killed the engine, pulling up behind Anna, but arriving a full ten seconds before Tam made it to their target.
“Why was there traffic on I-95 at 2:00am?” Tam put her helmet on her handlebars with a scowl.
“It’s the East Coast, so therefor the road was under construction,” Val said.
“I thought that’s why traffic was bad during the day,” Tam said.
“It is, and when it’s raining, and when it’s clear, and when the sun is low, and when the sun is high,” Val said. “Construction in the North East is very consistent, it only stops when no one needs to use the road.”
“We are fortunate that people are not diverting onto the surface roads,” Anna said, eyeing the empty street that passed by their destination.
The “Drawing a Bead” crafts store stood empty and dark due to it being the dead of the night. The decorations in the windows were typical of a New England bead shop, but the security cameras and the steel reinforced door spoke of the shop having a somewhat unusual purpose.
“Interesting building,” Val said, looking for an unguarded access point.
“It used to be an army supply depot,” Tam said. “It was sold back to the city in the 1980s and the ground level spaces were converted for commercial use, while the upper floors remained as climate controlled warehouse space.”
“That explains the pizza place and the shoe store our shop has as neighbors,” Val said. “The question is why would a place like this be connected to the drug heist?”
“We still have to verify that it is,” Tam said. “Anna asked me how I’d steal the drugs though and keeping the people involved to the smallest possible number would be priority one.”
“The bead store was already involved then?” Val asked.
“The stones in the fake shipment were too regular to have been collected from a quarry. They were manufactured to those dimensions,” Tam said. “There’s not a lot of bead makers in the US, most of that work is done in Asia, but there are importers and distributors, and this is the closest one who sourced beads like the ones found in the pills.”
“Also, it would appear that they have substantial storage space to work with,” Anna said, gesturing to the buildings third and fourth floors which boasted tall glass block windows.
“Yeah, they’ve got access to the materials, and the space required to store pallets of drugs without attracting notice,” Tam said. “Most importantly though, they’ve also got the talent and expertise required to forge the pills.”
“You were saying they probably painted the beads with something that would flake away in transit?” Val said.
“Yeah,” Tam said. “The reports that were in Darya’s email mentioned an unknown substance pooled at the bottom of the pill bottles. The chemical analysis on it hasn’t come back yet. If I’m right, it’ll turn out to be the remains of the white coating that disguised the beads during their first inspection.”
“Were you able to find a connection between the bead shop and PrimaLux?” Anna asked.
“Unfortunately no,” Tam said. “But I did find something almost as good. “Drawing a Bead’ has been in business for the last twenty five years, and in that time it has been profitable and paid its taxes, but it’s never paid for rent or any employee salaries.”
“Who owns the business?” Anna asked, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“The same gentlemen who opened it originally,” Tam said. “As a note though, he died in 2004. And then again in 2009.”
“Who did his estate pass to then?” Anna asked.
“It didn’t,” Tam said. “In both cases the death certificates were withdrawn as being clerical errors.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t sound suspicious at all,” Val said.
“It’s a trap,” Anna said.
“Sort of a strange one isn’t it?” Tam asked. “The ownership records haven’t been touched in nine years, and it’s a minor enough error that most people would just pass it off.”
“It’s not a trap for most people,” Anna said. “It’s a trap for us. If you probe any deeper into the owner’s records, I am sure that some flags will be raised. In fact, if you’re correct, I’m sure flags have already been raised. Prima knows that there are people like us out there in the world, and that for most of their schemes only someone like us is going to pose any serious challenges to getting what they want.”
“If they know we’re on to them though, won’t they just destroy the medicines and pretend they were never a part of the whole heist?” Val asked.
“They may wait to see what we intend to do first,” Anna said. “For as wise as it would be to cut their losses, even the most dispassionate of people can become overly invested in large scale plans like this. Knowing about the bead seller doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve figured out the location of the missing drugs, and it will be very easy for whoever is in charge to convince themselves that there is no need to throw away the tremendous work they’ve done so far on the faint chance that we’ll successfully interfere in their business.”
“We’ll still need to deal with the drugs tonight though,” Tam said. “The longer we wait, the more likely they are to move them just to be safe.”
“That’s my cue to go find us a truck isn’t it?” Val asked.
“If you would be so kind,” Anna said.
Val offered a wry salute to her friends and started her bike back up.
“As for us,” Anna said. “We have a warehouse to infiltrate.”
“Drawing a Bead” wasn’t just well secured for a craft store, the security on it was tight by the standards of a federal bank. External cameras, motion sensors, ambient temperature monitors, hidden pressure plates in the floor, active laser scanning, and passive listening systems.
“I almost feel like I should leave them a report card of the spots they missed,” Tam signed to Anna.
“That would be spectacularly unwise,” Anna signed. “Start drafting a copy while I disable the sensors on the next storage room.”
“You seem to be serious?” Tam signed, raising an eyebrow in confusion.
“I am,” Anna signed after she finished disabling the monitoring with the room where they believed they would find the missing drugs.
“I thought we needed subtlety in this mission?” Tam signed.
“Honesty is sometimes the most subtle lie of all,” Anna signed.
Tam frowned, not following Anna’s line of thought until she saw the the little malicious curl in Anna’s smile.
“Ah, misdirection,” Tam signed. “I’m embarrassed I missed that. I’ll have to turn in my magicians license.”
“We’ll wait to send anything until we see whether we need to leave any traces of our work behind us,” Anna signed.
“Right, if there’s any chance that they can see what we’ve done, then I send out an email to tease the hell out of them,” Tam signed. “Just like an arrogant, invincible, hacker genius would do to show off. If you can’t escape someone’s notice, then make sure you control how they see you. Stage magic 101.”
“Usually, I imagine, you don’t try to enrage your audience however,” Anna signed.
“Depends on the night,” Tam signed.
Anna smiled and opened the door to the storage room. Inside, sitting covered only by a tarp lay the crates they’d been expecting to see.
“We’re in the right place,” Tam signed.
She glanced at Anna who was frowning.
“How many pallets were stolen in the three shipments?” Anna signed.
Tam looked around the room. It was a big area and its contents were uniformly the same. Rows of pallets, all covered in similar tarps, and all of the same general size and shape. She did some quick math.
“There’s more boxes here than there should be,” Tam signed. “About twice as many in fact.”
“We need to find out what’s in these pallets,” Anna signed.
“The exterior labeling says it’s the drugs we’re looking for,” Tam signed.
“That’s not going to be enough,” Anna signed. “We need to see what they really are.”
“I can look for a manifest on the craft store’s inventory system?” Tam signed.
“Do that,” Anna signed. “I’ll check the physical contents.”
In the distance, a door opened.
There was one part of the security system which no amount of clever electronic hacking could suppress.
Whistling an off key tunes, an underpaid and under trained, security guard began wandering in their direction on his nightly rounds. He couldn’t out fight either Anna or Tam, he couldn’t sneak up on them, or even override the security hacks they’d done, but the moment he saw them he could raise an alarm and then there would be no way for them to carry the drugs out of the warehouse before the police arrived and PrimaLux became aware of the entire situation.