"This is the kind of job that could, quite possibly, change the worlds of darkness and daylight as we know it. Forever."
They were the first words that came to mind when Joey finished his sleep cycle for the day. Why would Soren say something so...'epic' about something as simple as the heist of a single item? Exactly what kind of massive damage is he expecting this 'Limelight' weapon of his to do that's going to have such a major impact?
As much as Joey thought about it, he didn't seem to come up with any answers. Only more questions. But if they were going to take this job and put their lives on the line to get it done...then he was going to have to contact Soren and let him know tonight.
Caleb was already awake, with Nathan beginning to stir and stretch as he caught up with the rest. Looking at the solar clock that they installed on the wall, with a UV ray collector on the window but covered with heavy cloth...it looked like they had about an hour and a half before Twilight hour. Not a whole lot of time, but it should be enough. If they were going to pull off some effective surveillance, it was best to do it as early as possible without risking sunburn.
As soon as everyone was awake and dressed, Nathan walked over to Joey's desk and handed him back his half of the intel. "I looked it over, top to bottom. As far as I can tell, the map is legit. But I'll have to see it up close to know for sure. Structurally, it makes sense though." Joey nodded, giving the map another look. He couldn't put his finger on it, but this still didn't feel right.
Joey signed, "Did you check to see if there had been any recent flare ups in activity surrounding this area?"
"Of course, I did." Nathan smirked. "I'm good at my job." He moved in closer to look over Joey's shoulder and point something out to him. "There hasn't been a single problem in this place. Not one. And I'm not talking just recently...I'm talking about, like...ever. Nothing. And that's...weird. All of the vampire raiders in this city alone, and nobody took a shot at this place. It's too big to be some kind of secret." With an older iPad, Nathan turned on the screen and swung it around to show Joey something else he got a hold of. "Not much to look at. But I did find a way in to grab some of the direct security camera footage from a few days back. Looks like Soren's 'Sector V' frequency is good for a lot more than we thought it would be. What do you make of this?"
Joey looked closer. He pointed to one of the human guards watching the shipments coming in and going out. Then to another standing right next to him. Then three more in three separate locations. As Joey's finger led Nathan's eyes around the warehouse containers, he was able to pick up on what he was telling him.
"Safeguard marks." Nathan said, with Joey giving him a nod. "So most of the guards watching the place are human? The Elders trust them with something like that?"
"Not all." Joey said. Then he was able to pinpoint one or two vampires thrown into the mix for good measure. But it didn't look like they actually 'worked' there. Probably just sent in for a single shipment and carry back home.
At this point, Caleb came to join them by standing at Joey's other side, putting down his paperwork with the notes he took. "Nathan's right about there being no signs of a ruckus being attached to this place, but it looks like Hunters are deployed to this area on a regular basis. Any vampire that does know about this shipping station knows to stay the hell away from there if they know what's good for 'em."
Joey asked, "Did you find anything else?"
"Here's something that I found pretty interesting. While the shipping containers seem to be off limits to everybody else in darkness...there have been a hell of a lot of incidents going on throughout the city in the past six months or so. The police reports are treating them as though they're not connected, but I don't think these are random." Caleb went through his notebook pages to show the team. "Right here...a club called 'Bernie's'? Completely destroyed. This blood shack on the South West side? Destroyed. Nifty Archives at the underground IceZone Club, a North side gym full of well trained fighters, the entire 6th floor of this hospital...obliterated. Just like Soren's fighting club and casin0. The wreckage is popping up everywhere. I'm sure that it'll be knocking on this shipping warehouse's door eventually."
"Let's hope we can get in and out before it does." Nathan said.
Caleb asked, "You think this has any connection to our little blond friend from the footage we watched last night?"
Joey was trying to work it out in his head, but still couldn't find the missing puzzle piece in all this. Instead, he decided to get on with the evening's game plan so that they could see everything up close. "I'm not sure, boys." Joey signed. "But I think something is happening out there. Something big. I say we pull off the job and stay as far away from any high profile places as we possibly can to avoid getting in the middle of it all. Anything that gets the Elders involved to this degree can't be any good for the rest of us."
"Big payday for the 'Falcon 3'. I can get down with that." Nathan smiled. "I'll go out beyond the city limits, find myself a cold zone away from the Elder's sight...and unoad whatever other goodies we happen to stumble across along the way."
"Not such a good idea." Joey told him. "No matter what you steal from this shipment, it's going to be of great value to somebody. And these aren't the kind of people you want to be in debt to. Unlike the rich and the powerful in daylight...our crimes have actual consequences. BAD ones. They'll make examples out of all of us to send a message that this won't be tolerated. So you keep your hands clean. Got it?"
"Well, that's no fun." Caleb pouted.
Joey laid out the map of the area and signed, "Nathan, I need you to be our inside man."
"Hehehe, Joey said 'inside...man'." Nathan grinned.
"Focus." Joey saw the best available entrance for him to slip through and pointed it out. "Check the layout, see if you can find anything that isn't on this map. Don't engage. We're going in all smoke and mirrors on this one. Make a threat assessment of the guards on the inside, and keep track of who's doing what with each arriving shipment."
Nathan pointed to a few circles on the roof of the main building. "Roaming searchlights might be a problem. They drive my extra bonkers. Blending in with the environment is easy, but even I can't help casting a shadow if one of those lights comes rolling across me."
"All I can say is try to keep your back to the wall and make your way through as best as you can. Most importantly, I want you to find out where the trucks are parked during loading or unloading, how they get in and out of the complex, and who's carrying the keys. I'd love to be optimistic enough to think that they'd leave them in the ignition, unload, and keep it moving. But 'luck' isn't really our specialty, is it?"
"You're the boss." Nathan responded.
"Caleb, I'm going to need you to cause a distraction..."
"YAY!!!" Caleb squealed with an excited jump.
"A QUIET distraction!" Joey insisted, before his partner got himself all riled up.
"Don't worry. I'm sure you'll get a chance to use those fancy moves of yours later. Right now we're just doing recon, nothing else." Joey signed. "Any place like this is going to be operating under a mask. The security we see...and the security we don't. I'm going to take point on the roof here, and I just need you to make a slightly suspicious walk around the facility once or twice to see if we can bring some of their hidden agents out of the shadows. Make yourself noticeable. Not TOO noticeable, but I want them to easily detect you and try to figure out your intentions. It's enough to make them lose focus and get Nathan into their inner circle. I'll be keeping an eye on you the whole time. I want to get a good look at whoever might be looking at you. Anyone taking an extra interest in your movements. They're going to have people on the outside, I'm sure of it." Joey also pointed out a rather large gate near the back of the facility. "Start moving forward, take a left, and follow the outer perimeter until you get to this gate. It seems like one of the few that is wide enough for shipments to come in and out."
"Hehehe, 'in and out'!" Caleb smirked.
"Grow up, dude. This is serious." Nathan replied, and both boys giggled at one another while Joey just shook his head.
"Now, we have no idea what the cargo is for this job is." Joey said. "We don't know how heavy it is, how big it is, how fragile it might be. So we've got a lot of variables just up in the air at this point. We don't know how fast we're going to be able to drive this truck or what our defensive maneuverability is going to be like once we get our hands on the stash. So make sure that this is our quickest out of there and that it leads to an escape route that doesn't go through the downtown area. You can't just drive a truck of that size down North Avenue and not expect to draw a lot of attention. Got it?"
"Yeah. I got it." Caleb said.
"A QUIET distraction, Caleb! I mean it!" Joey reminded him.
"What? I said I got it. I'll behave, promise."
Satisfied, Joey closed up their playbook and told them to get ready. It was almost time to go.
Creeping through the city streets at night was easy for the three of them. They were well accustomed to every dark alley, every back way entrance, every rooftop, and every underground tunnel, in Chicago at this point. All for the sake of having an almost autopilot response when it came to having a getaway plan ready to go in case of trouble.
The thing about being a vampire raider...is you pretty much remain at war with those in both daylight and darkness at all times. People with leverage. People with deadly connections. And they all hold severe grudges on both sides of the table...often for as long as they're breathing. So getting to their target was easy, but something that brought an air of danger along with it as well.
It was then that Joey noticed a gentle trembling happening with Caleb on his right side, and put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. With a few silent gestures he asked him, straight out, "Caleb? Are you hungry?"
"I'm fine. Honest." He said.
"Fine isn't good enough. I asked if you were hungry." Joey demanded. "When was the last time you found yourself a donor?"
"I dunno...two, maybe three, weeks ago. But I'm still on point." Nathan and Joey both gave him an accusing stare. "Look...I had a couple of slices taken out of me at Soren's little set up raid for his fake diamonds. But I shouldn't have lost enough blood to actually be hungry again this soon. I'll feed when the job is done."
"You'll feed tomorrow." Joey told him. "The job is two days away, and I'm going to need you both to be at one hundred percent if any of us plan to get out of here alive. No exceptions. We've got one chance at this, and one chance only. This is no time for amateur night. We have no idea how graceful our pseudo employer is going to be about any of this. And you know what that means."
Both Nathan and Caleb sighed and rolled their eyes, groaning in unison, "Expect an ambush. Yes 'Dad', we know..."
"Good. Because we've never done business with the likes of this 'Soren' character before, and he's not tossing me the right kind of vibes. This isn't what we normally do. And for good reason." Then, as they got a few blocks away from the warehouse facility, Joey said, "Keep up with my telepathic link. When I ask, you answer. I'm going to find my way up to the roof and keep an eye on as much as I can from there. I counting on you two." He said. Then he balled up his fist and held his arm out, extending his thumb and pinky out on both sides. "Beak and two talons."
Caleb and Nathan both reached their fists out as well, holding his thumb and pinky between their middle and ring fingers, bringing the knuckles together in a bond. "Beak and two talons." They replied. And then broke the connection to carry out their individual jobs for that evening.
Given a few minutes to make his way to the roof and then leap from one building to another high above the street, Joey got into position first. Binoculars ready, and ducked down low enough to maintain his cover while still being able to see as much of the facility from his position as possible. Everything seemed to be running as smoothly as it did in the video surveillance footage that he had seen before. Cool, calm, and collected. But he still wasn't satisfied. He really was going against his instincts on this one...but what other choice did he have at this point? They took the job. Not providing the appropriate results would be a bad idea, this far in.
Caleb came next.
He was walking out of one of the nearby alleys, holding his handheld video game in his hand and keeping his head down, even if it was turned up to full volume. He did exactly as was instructed, and got just close enough to the front gate to get the human guards to look up and stop talking. One of the guards nudged the other to get his attention, and they pretty much stared Caleb down with an intimidating glare, tensing up as if they were preparing to shoot on sight if he got any closer. They have no idea how big a mistake that would have been if they so much as spit in his direction. Especially when his thirst for blood had already been activated, if only in minor fashion.
Joey knew that Caleb could take them down if needed, but he kept it quiet and didn't even look in their direction to let them know that he had been alerted to their presence. He pretended to be too involved in his game to pay them any mind. I didn't worry about it though. Caleb's situational awareness was impeccable to say the least. So he took the appropriate left, and kept walking towards the end of the block.
And just as the guards both turned their heads to make sure that he wasn't up to no good...Joey vaguely caught sight of a gentle ripple effect as Nathan walked in through the gate right behind them without detection. Not even Joey would have noticed it if he hadn't gotten so used to the skill and style that Nathan used to appear completely invisible to the human, or even vampire, eye. He was silent. Patient. The kind of creature that could easily steal a baby animal on its mother's watch. Nathan blended from background to background, his extra picking up every fine detail of the walls and fences immediately without much effort at all. And whenever other guards came walking his way, he could easily slide closer to the wall and avoid them without them knowing he was ever there. Nathan's eyes scanned the area around him, trying to pull in as much information as he could about how the place operates, and even studying the guard's walking patterns in the dirt and grit beneath their feet. Which places had footprints...and which places didn't. Small areas between their back and forth patrols that he could easily navigate his way through without being touched. Something he could use to his advantage. And it would be a lot easier at thee o'clock in the morning when the workers had already began to tire themselves or started getting bored just standing around.
Then...he reached the area with the roaming searchlights...and had to take a moment to figure things out.
Moving his binoculars back over to Caleb, he noticed a young lady on the corner who seemed to be waiting on a bus. But when Caleb walked by on the other side of the street, her head raised up slowly...and she lit a cigarette. Not human. A good disguise, but the light of the flame sparkled against her Optrix, revealing a subtle golden glow behind her eyes. And even though the cigarette was lit...she held the lighter up for a few seconds longer before putting it back into her coat pocket.
A hidden radio, possibly?
This is why doing this kind of research is necessary in this line of work. And why other vampire raider teams would have failed the second that they ran in blind without knowing what they were getting themselves into.
At that moment, Joey watched a young kid, years younger than even Caleb when he crossed over, came riding down the street on a bicycle. A boy that young on a bike at this time of night. Not suspicious at all, eh? As he rode past the corner, the woman nodded in Caleb's direction, and the bike followed him around the corner.
Joey was just hoping that he remembers to keep it quiet like he said he would.
Nathan's mind sent Joey a message. "Dude...there's a whole lot of shady shit going on in this place. Old treasures, new treasures, ancient treasures...the works. And then there are some things here that basically look like the kind of random junk you would find on your average Raider's Market table."
Joey told him, "What can I say? Some vampires develop a sentimental attachment to the things that they miss from life in daylight. Friends and family members pass away? They move in to take back what's there's before it all ends up going to the state. There are some high prices for objects like that."
"I suppose." Nathan replied. "But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. We've got Hunters on the premises. Like...right here. Right now."
"I'm counting three. The thing is, I don't think they just stepped into this place for one night. They look like a permanent fixture in this place. I'm seeing sunproofed living quarters on the second level. Big ones. This isn't something you put together for a few vampires that you hired to watch a few shipments. They're obvioulsy being treated like royalty in this place."
Another detail that Soren conveniently left out of his intel folder. "What else do you see, Nathan?"
"Those roaming headlights that I told you about? They're not mechanical. They've got actual humans on the roof, switching them back and forth, pretty much at random. Which means I'm not going to be able to find a solid pattern to get around them without blowing my cover."
Joey didn't like this at all. "Alright...just lay low for a few minutes. Ok? Let me work this out."
"Alright. But I'd make it quick if I were you." Nathan said. "Hiding from actual Hunters is going to drain my mojo something awful if I overdo it."
Joey kept focusing on Caleb and his follower. "Caleb, you've got a tail."
"Fully aware, thanks." He said with a hint of sarcasm. "Did you get the lady at the bus stop?"
"Yeah. Spotted her too. Like I said...they had to have more security than they were willing to let anybody else know about."
"You think Soren was hoping to double cross us?" Caleb asked.
"I'm sure he still is. But for right now, it's up to us to get this right. That's why we're here."
The boy on the bike was keeping a somewhat safe distance from Caleb, slowly and casually zig zagging back and forth across the street...began to decrease the distance between them. Caleb asked, "What do you want me to do, boss man?"
"Just keep your distance and pretend like he's not even there."
"He's a vampire like us, Joey. He's gonna know that I know he's there."
"Keep it in your pants, kiddo. Wait for further instructions." Joey said, but things were starting to get a bit riskier tonight than anything that he had planned for.
He wasn't sure how long Nathan was going to be able to hold his position. And if this other vampire kid makes a move on Caleb he's going to instantly go into defensive mode and that is going to bring us more attention than either of them wanted to deal with on a stakeout.
What to do? What to do?
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