Hard Stripes: Episode Two (Chapter 7 Part Two)

Here’s the second half of chapter 7.  You can find the first half, as well as a link to the first six chapters, at the link below.



Martin Schultz puffed gently on the top of his favorite mug, and sipped carefully at the blackberry tea within. He set it down on his desk, picked up his ledger, and settled back into his high-backed leather chair. The office in the back of his jewelry store was cramped, but it was usually just himself using it. He had been there for several hours, and was unaware of the coolness of the evening air, so his ancient air conditioner dutifully spat out a stream of mostly cold air and condensation. If his wife was still alive, she might complain about him balancing the books so late into the night. The clock rolled over to 2am as he resumed his arithmetic, occasionally checking his math with a blue Texas Instruments calculator.

He became aware of a presence in his doorway. A man was standing there, pointing a Walther P88 pistol at him from the hip. He wore a black jacket and had a cropped, military style haircut. Martin barely acknowledged the man, though he was careful to keep his hands above the desk.

“You’re the spitting image of an East German policeman, did you know that?” he asked.

“I never actually visited Berlin before the fall of the wall,” the man replied, betraying a hint of an eastern European accent. “I take it you have?”

“Yes, and you and your pistol won’t intimidate me. Take what you want, but if you don’t mind, please don’t break any display cases.” Martin looked over his spectacles and spoke dryly. “You wouldn’t believe how expensive they are.”

“I’m only here for one thing,” said the man. “I need several D, E, or F diamonds, two hundred milligrams each, any cut as long as its crown is flat and at least two millimeters wide.”

“Oh, is that all? For a moment there I thought you were trying to rob me.”

Martin rose from his chair slowly, and the man backed up into the showroom. The older man shuffled to a display case, pulled out a loupe, and began to examine some stones.

“I’m afraid I can’t pay you, and I apologize for the time of day,” the intruder said.

“You could give me your P88,” Martin replied without looking up. “I might be able to recoup one of these stones with it.”

“You know your pistols.”

“I once had a professional interest in them. I have a PPK of my own in my desk drawer, but I figured you’d probably seen them before.”

The man smiled slightly. “Indeed.”

As the air conditioner hummed, Martin chose six gems that met the description from his visitor. He scooped them into a black velvet bag.

“I have six,” he said. “Anything else and you’ll have to go to Zales in seven hours.”

“I need the loupe as well, please.”

Martin dropped the tool into the bag and tightened the yellow drawstrings. The man took the bag and walked to the front door. Martin wondered how he hadn’t heard him pick the lock.

“I apologize again,” he said. “I hope I didn’t drag up any bad memories.”

The intruder left without waiting for a reply. Martin shrugged and locked the door. He returned to his desk and made a note of the gems that were taken. He sipped from his mug and sat down, grumbling softly to himself as he picked up the ledger.

“Now I have to start all over.”


Three minutes later, Hausler climbed into the back of a black Ford E-350 parked around the corner from the jewelry store. His three companions turned to look at him, and he smiled.

“Too easy,” he said.

The driver, a portly Swede by the name of Ricky, went back to reading the book in his lap. The bearded man in the passenger seat, Ricky’s brother Anders, shifted his VSS Vintorez rifle to his right side and resumed his gaze on the street. Stefan, the lithe German scientist in the back, adjusted his glasses and took the velvet bag from Hausler. He removed the loupe and poured the diamonds into his palm.

“Hopefully at least one of these will suit your needs,” Hausler said, sitting on the floor.

“Got your torch?” asked Stefan.

Hausler removed a small flashlight from his belt and hit the switch for the 20-lumen mode. Stefan poked the gems with the clean end of a used chopstick until he found one he liked. He put the other five and the loupe back in the bag and passed it to Ricky.

“What am I going to do with these?” Ricky asked.

“Make an honest girl out of Helena, maybe?”

Stefan reached into a small green rucksack and removed an electronic device. As far as Ricky and Anders were concerned, it was a cell phone attached to a PEQ-2A infrared laser emitter. Stefan and Hausler had told them otherwise. Stefan took out a tiny screwdriver and began to work.

“How does this thing work, exactly?” asked Anders.

“They told us already, skitstövel.”

“What it does, yes, not how.”

Stefan sighed. “Do you want to take a gander at this, boss?”

“Sure,” replied Hausler. “The scanner works by sending out a wide infrared beam. The emitter has been modified based on the quantum entanglement technology Stefan here stole from his employer. The diamond is used because it acts as a perfect resonance chamber for the electrons in the beam. The neutrino pairs stay with the device, and are interpreted as electromagnetic emissions by the cell phone. Based on the software that Stefan wrote, we can identify an already scanned object again from a distance of up to fifteen hundred meters. Not only that, but we can trace that signature for a few hours. That’s why I had you scan the girl when you had her. So when get to where my old phone cut off, we can track her from there.”

“That sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me,” said Anders.

“Don’t ask questions if you don’t like the answers.”

Stefan closed the case on the device and screwed it back into place. “That ought to do it. Let me run the diagnostics and we can get on with it.”

The thin man brought a laptop out of sleep mode and plugged the device into a USB port. He booted up a GIS application and waited. A moment later the GPS on the device was synced, and the location of their van appeared in the center of the screen. Stefan looked up at his boss and nodded.

“Scan me,” said Hausler, “and let’s see if it works.”

Stefan pointed the device at him and it beeped. A few seconds later, a path was traced on the map from the van, to the jewelry store, to the van again, then showed the route they’d taken from the motel. Stefan turned the computer around so Hausler could see.

Hausler beamed. “Excellent. Between this and the girl’s prototype, our bidders are going to be falling over each other. Ricky, let’s go.”


It only took about ten minutes for them to get to the last known location of Hausler’s phone. Ricky drove a block past the apartment complex indicated on the map and pulled over. Anders watched the deserted street as Stefan worked with the device.

“She’s at the FBI building,” he said. “Shocking, I’m sure.”

“Should we wait until they try to move her again?” asked Anders.

Hausler frowned. “Maybe. Ricky, get us within sight of the building.”

The team continued north for another block, then turned right. The FBI building was right across from the airport. The parking lot was sparsely filled and the location seemed quiet. There were only a few lights on inside the building, including the lobby, but they were too far away to see if there was anyone at the front desk. Stefan pointed the device at the building for a few seconds, then showed Hausler the results.

“She’s in there,” he said. “As you can see there are also eleven other people inside.”

“We should assume they’re all armed,” said Anders.

“They’re no match for us,” began Hausler, “the problem is that the police can be here in five minutes. If we assault the building we’re going to find a hundred cops waiting for us when we come out. We’ll need a diversion.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Use your pre-paid and call in a bomb threat to the convention center. I’ll call O’Connor and Davis and have them shoot up the Mission Valley Mall. That should get their attention.”

“We don’t know if there are still any F-15s up there,” said Ricky.

“I doubt the Air Guard is going to engage a Huey over a crowded neighborhood with a 20mm Vulcan. Besides, our guys aren’t being paid to play it safe. I also doubt they’ll have a problem shooting into an empty mall on our behalf.”

Hausler and Anders pulled out their disposable pre-paid phones and made their calls. When they were done, Ricky turned on their police scanner and waited for the dispatchers to send units. The call went out for the convention center almost immediately, and fifteen minutes went by before calls began to come in about the mall. It seemed like every cop in San Diego was responding to the two incidents. Hausler nodded, and he and his men donned their body armor and rifles.

“Remember,” he began, “move fast and hit hard. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. But don’t take chances; it’s imperative that we take the girl alive and unharmed. Ricky, pull around back. We’ll loop around and assault the lobby first. The rally point is the van. Everybody ready?”


About David Kantrowitz

I am the author of Reckless Faith, The Tarantula Nebula, and Bitter Arrow, a science fiction adventure trilogy, as well as The Fox and the Eagle and Dun Ringill, stand-alone sci-fi adventures. This blog will feature new fiction as I create it.
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