The trap was simplicity itself.
And as usual, with simple, it worked perfectly.
In the long-abandoned fourth-floor workshop of Welbourne & Sons Fabricators, Colter Shaw moved silently through dusty wooden racks on which were haphazardly stacked rusty tanks and drums. Ahead of him, twenty feet or so, the stacks ended and beyond was a large open area, filled with ancient mahogany work tables, scuffed and stained and gone largely to rot and mold.
Here stood three men, wearing somber business suits, engaged in conversation, offering the animated gestures and the untroubled voices of those who have no idea they’re being watched.
Shaw paused and, out of sight behind a row of shelves, withdrew a video camera, similar in appearance to any you’d pick up on Amazon or at Best Buy, except for one difference: there was no lens in front. Instead the glass eyes was a tiny thing mounted on an eighteen-inch flexible stalk. This he bent at a 90-degree angle and aimed around the side of the storage shelves and hit record.
After a few minutes, when the men’s backs were to him, he stepped out of his hiding place and moved closer, slipping behind the last row of shelves.
Which is when the trap sprung.
His shoe caught the trip wire, which in turn pulled a pin from the supporting leg of the shelf nearest him, releasing an avalanche of tanks and cans and drums. He rolled froward onto the floor, avoiding the bigger ones, but several slammed onto his shoulders.
The three men, all wearing dress suits, spun about. Two were of Middle-Eastern appearance–Saudi, Shaw knew. The other was Anglo. He was as pale as the others were dark. The taller of the Saudis—who went by Rass–held a gun, which he’d drawn quickly as Shaw made his ungainly appearance. They joined the intruder, who was rising from the dusty floor, and studied their catch: an athletic, blond man, in his thirties, wearing blue jeans, a black T, and the leather jacket. Shaw’s right hand was gripping his left shoulder. He winced as fingers kneaded the joint.
Rass picked up the spy camera, looked it over and shut it off. He pocketed the device and Shaw said goodbye to $1200. This was not a priority at the moment.
Ahmad, the other Saudi, sighed. “Well.”
The third man, whose name was Paul LeClaire, looked momentarily horrified and then settled into miserable.
Shaw glanced at the collapsed shelf with disgust and stepped away from the drums, some of which were leaking sour-smelling chemicals.
“Wait!” LeClaire frowned. “I know him! He’s working for Mr. Harmon. He’s in human resources. I mean, that’s what he said. But he was undercover! Shit!” His voice cracked. Was he going to cry?
“Police?” Ahmad asked LeClaire.
“I don’t know. How would I know?”
“I’m not law. Private.” He turned a stern face to LeClaire. “Hired to find Harmon’s Judas.”
Ahmad walked to a window and looked out, scanned the alley. “Anyone else?” Directed at Shaw.
The man then stepped to the front of the workshop, his body language suggesting taut muscles beneath the fine gray suit. He slowly opened the door, looked out, then closed it. He returned to the others. “You,” he said to LeClaire. “Check him. Weapons. And whatever’s in his pockets.
Ahmad: “We weren’t followed. You were careless.”
“No, I wasn’t. Really. I’m sure.”
Ahmad lifted a palm. The meaning: We’re not paying your for whining.
LeClaire, more dismal by the moment, walked forward. He patted down Shaw cautiously. He was doing a sloppy job and if Shaw hand been carrying, which he was not, would have missed the single-stack semiauto he often wore on his hip.
But his uneasy fingers managed to locate and retrieve the contents of Shaw’s pockets. He stepped away, clutching the cell phone, cash, a folding knife, a wallet. Deposited them on a dust-covered table.
Shaw continued to knead his shoulder, and Rass tilted his head toward him, silently warning: Cautious now. His finger was outside the trigger guard of the pistol. In this, he knew what he was doing. On the other hand, the gun, with its mirrored sheen of chrome plating, was showy. Not the sort a true pro would carry.
Never draw attention to your weapon….
LeClaire was looking toward an open attaché case. Inside was a gray metal box measuring fourteen inches by ten by two. From it sprouted a half dozen wires, each a different color. To Shaw he said, “He knows? About me? Mr. Harmon knows?”
Colter Shaw rarely responded to questions whose answers were as obvious as the sky.
And sometimes you didn’t answer questions just to keep the inquirer on edge. The businessman rubbed thumb and index finger together. Both hands. Curiously simultaneous. The misery factor expanded considerably.
Ahmed looked at the phone. “Passcode.”
Rass lifted the gun.
One wouldn’t be much of a survivalist to get killed over a PIN. Shaw recited the digits.
Ahmad scrolled. “Just says he’s coming to the factory to check out a lead. It’s sent to a local area code. Others to the same number. He has our names.” A look to LeClaire. “All of ours.”
“He’s been on to you for a while, Paul.” Ahman scrolled some more then tossed the phone to a desk. “No immediate risk. The plans still hold. But let’s get this over with.” He removed a thick envelope from his pocket and handed it to LeClaire, who, not bothering to count his pieces of silver, stuffed it away.
“And him?” LeClaire’s strident voice asked. “He knows me!”
Ahmad thought for a moment then gestured Shaw back, against a wall.
He waked to where the man indicated and continued to massage his shoulder. Pain radiated downward, as if pulled by gravity.
Ahmad picked up the wallet and rifled through the contents, then put the billfold in his pocket. “All right. I know who you are, how to find you. But I don’t think that troubles you so much.” He scanned Shaw, face to feet. “You can take care of yourself. But I also have the names of everyone on your in-case-of-emergency list. What you’re going to do is tell Harmon you tracked the thief here but by the time you managed to get into the factory we were gone.”
LeClaire said, “But he knows it’s me!”
Ahmad and Rass seemed as tired of the whimpering as Shaw was.
“Are we clear on everything?”
“Couldn’t be clearer.” Shaw turned to Paul LeClaire. “But have to ask: Aren’t you feeling the least guilty? There are about two million people around the world whose lives you just ruined.”
He really couldn’t think up any better retort?
Silence filled the room…. No, near silence, moderated by white noise, unsettling, like the hum of blood in your skull.
Shaw then looked over the aera where they were standing and realized that the in-case-of-emergency threat was simply a trick—to get him to move to a certain spot in the room, away from the drums that had tumbled to the floor when the trap sprung. Ahmad had no intention of letting him go. He simply didn’t want to take a risk of his partner shooting toward canisters that might contain flammable chemicals.
Why not kill him and buy time? The Saudis would be out of the country long before Shaw’s body was discovered. And as for LeClaire, he’d done his part, and they couldn’t care less what happened to him. He might even be a good fall-guy for the murder.
Ahmad’s dark eyes turned toward Rass and his shiny pistol.
“Wait,” Shaw said harshly. “What’re you doing?”
Read more from Hunting Time when it is released in November 2022.