Gut Instinct: A Taskforce Story
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She went straight to the sauna, now cold in the night. Using her headlamp, she spent thirty minutes installing the camera. It was battery operated and controlled via a wireless remote. The problem was that she needed the receiver near the door. It would do no good to have the thing fail to function when it was needed.
She positioned the pinhole camera in the corner near the ceiling, then checked the feed on the receiver. It would capture almost everything in the sauna, unless the women sat underneath the camera itself. Since it was near the steam-producing stove, she didn’t think that would happen.
She fed the line through the redwood planks and affixed the receiver under the bench as close to the door as she could, the device itself encased in a Ziploc bag to protect it from the steam.
Satisfied, she left the sauna, telling Pike, “Coming out.”
He acknowledged, and she went slowly back down the hallway. She reached the end, then scuttled through the lit area to the men’s side. She was about to retrace her steps to the stairs when Pike came on. “Guard’s up. Moving to the rear. Probably using the bathroom. Stay in the women’s locker room.”
“I’m already across. I can’t cross back without him seeing.”
“Hold what you got, then. Let him get in the bathroom. It works out perfectly.”
“Pike, I’m in front of the men’s room.”
She heard intensity in his voice for the first time. “Get out of sight. Now.”
“I’ve got nowhere to go.”
She whipped her head left and right, backing up and hitting a cork bulletin board with various announcements tacked to it. One was a schedule for American boxing classes, complete with a miniature set of gloves hanging from it. She jerked them off the board and returned to the entrance of the hallway. When she saw a shadow, she tossed them lightly into the free-weight area.
The guard reacted, pausing, then pulling out his flashlight. When he moved forward, bathing the area in light, she turned the corner and ran, tucking into the acrobatics room.
She knelt down and began breathing with an open mouth, straining her ears. She saw the light bounce her way.
Shit. He heard me.
She backed up into the acrobatics room, and the light got steadily brighter, herding her like cattle. She entered the room, knowing there was nothing in here to hide her. A plain square area with mats, bars, and rings. She frantically searched for something. Anything. And saw the ropes. One-inch hemp, they went up into the darkness of the room, two stories high.
She saw the light enter the hallway and leaped up, grabbing the rope. She climbed as fast as she could, the rope dangling and whipping below her. She reached the ceiling just as he entered the area, shining the flashlight left and right. She froze, seeing the rope twitching below her.
The light splayed across it but didn’t stop. By the time it came back, the rope had ceased moving. She didn’t have time to anchor herself with her legs and didn’t dare reseat them now, knowing it would make the rope flick like a horse’s tail swatting a fly. She began to slide.
She clamped her hands into the hemp, the sweat causing her grip to fail. All it would take was one wrap of her leg, and she could stay up all night long. But that movement might bring the light up into the rafters, highlighting her. She waited, the sweat rolling down her face and her hands losing inches down the rope. Losing the ability to hold on.
The man swept the room one more time and turned to leave. She felt her grip peel in slow motion, and electricity fired through her body as she began to fall backward. She wrapped her arm around the rope, feeling the hemp tear her skin as she slid down. She locked in her legs, seeing the open line twitching like a cat’s tail five feet behind the man’s back. She held her breath.
The guard exited the room.
She waited, feeling the sweat build on her face and drip down into the light. Her earpiece came to life, Pike asking for a status. She said nothing. When she was sure the guard was gone, she slid down the rope, reaching the mats. She exited the room and duckwalked to the hallway, seeing the light bouncing in the free-weight area. In between her and the stairs.
She saw the main doorway and considered. Get him back in this section and just exit. Right out the front door. She knew it automatically locked, with the patrons having to push a button to the left to release it, but it wouldn’t be alarmed because the guard himself had to use it to come and go. Why pay a guard to sit in front of the door if you were going to place an alarm on it? And she’d seen no alarm leads on the roof door, a much better place to put them if you had hired a guard for the front.
The idea was risky, and she began to second-guess her ability to execute it, fearing what would happen if she committed. She was going to be caught inside. Arrested for breaking and entering and made a fool for all to see.
You don’t have any other choice.
Whatever she did, the man was going to hear her, and trying to race down the outside climbing wall with a guard chasing her was asking to get caught. He could simply run down the stairs and wait until she reached the bottom.
She keyed her Bluetooth, “Pike, I’m coming out the front. I’m playing cat and mouse right now.”
“What do you want me to do? You want a diversion?”
“No, no. I’m going to do that in here. I just need you out front, because I’m going to be running.”
She heard nothing for a moment, then, “Roger all.” Cool as ice, as if he were ordering pizza. Asshole.
In truth, the words brought her off the ledge and gave her confidence precisely because he was so calm. As if he expected her to succeed.
She reentered the acrobatics room and picked up the chalk block that gymnasts used on their hands. She crept back to the end of the hall and waited until she saw the flashlight. It had moved closer, coming back her way. She heaved the block over the light, hearing it smash into a piece of equipment. The light whipped in the direction of the noise and illuminated the plume of shattered chalk like a column of smoke. The guard swore and began running to investigate.
She sprinted behind him, running around the front desk to the door. She hit the exit button and the door buzzed. She heard the guard shout and broke into the parking lot. She began running full out, looking over her shoulder and seeing the light bouncing up and down in chase. She reached the front road just as Pike pulled up. She ripped open the door, jumping inside with Pike pulling away while it was still open.
She slammed it shut, panting from the run and adrenaline itself.
Pike said, “It might have been easier just to hire a couple of hookers for the sex tape.”
Jennifer felt her face turn red, both from watching the video and from the fact that she’d hidden the camera. In effect, violating the privacy of two women doing the most intimate things.
She’d gone back to the gym earlier in the day, and the woman with the cross was already there. She’d stepped onto a treadmill and waited, doing a slow jog until the wife entered. She saw the woman with the cross go to the locker room, then the wife. At the time she’d felt apprehension that the camera wouldn’t activate. Now she felt shame at what she’d done.
She watched the wife arch her back and could take no more. She reached forward to turn off the monitor and Pike slapped her hand away.
“No, no. We need to make sure. They could be faking it. Maybe they know the camera’s inside and they’re just really dedicated terrorists.”
She glared at him and turned it off.
He said, “Well, looks like ‘I told you so’ time.”
She said, “I don’t want them to see the tape. Just tell them. It’s not fair to the women.”
“Fine by me. That way it’s still virgin for posting on the Internet. You know how much money we could get for pay-per-view?”
“Pike, that’s not funny. At all. I feel like I need a shower after watching it.”
He saw he’d pushed past her limit and raised his hands. “Okay, okay. Just kidding. You have to admit this whole mission is full of jokes ripe for the picking. MILFs, lesbians. What the hell is next?”
“I don’t see a joke. I just see a tragedy if this tape gets out, and I know you guys would have it copied and in every team room in minutes. I feel like a sleazy Peeping Tom for rigging that sauna.”
“Hey,” Pike said. “You were following your instinct and it had to be done. Better to watch a tape than watch them take down the woman, dragging the wife into it. By the time Johnny had figured out it was the wrong lead, it wouldn’t matter. They’d both probably be exposed. Look at it that way.”
She didn’t reply. He said, “You want to call or you want me to do it?”
“You. That asshole won’t listen to me.”
He nodded and said, “I’ll put it on speaker.”
He dialed and set the phone on the table next to the monitor. Johnny’s voice came on, the encryption making it sound tinny, as if it was coming through a tube.
“What’s up, Pike? I thought you were headed home.”
“We were, but we investigated a little further. Jennifer’s instinct was correct. Those two aren’t terrorists. They’re adulterers. Of the same-sex type.”
“What’s that mean? What did you do?”
She held her breath, wondering if Johnny was going to lose his cool. Pike downplayed the mission, making it seem like the easiest thing in the world, stretching the truth to the breaking point. He ended by saying, “I’ve seen the tape, and it’s real. They spent a little time just talking in the beginning, but it was in Tagalog. The Taskforce is translating the audio, but we won’t have the transcript until later today or tomorrow. Either way, you can save your energy on the MILF with the cross.”
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