Clearing House

Story day is here again! Another non-Sci-Fi (I’m sure that’s the wrong way of describing it) story this week. I seem to be on a bit of a roll in that regard. Anyway, I’m not going to say much about this one other than it’s working title, which was Heist. Think that says enough on its own. Though, it is unusual for me to change the name of a story a number of times before I’m done. Well, I think I’ve rabbited on enough now. Hope you like Clearing House.

A light grey seven seat SUV pulls up alongside the curb of a quiet street. It’s still early and there are few cars or pedestrians out at this time.

The mainly clear early morning sky looms high above, in preparation for the new day that will soon go into full swing. That includes the four men inside the SUV who are all dressed in black from head to toe. Their faces are still uncovered, though on top of each of their heads rest hockey masks of varying colours.

The blond haired man with a jarhead buzz cut and blue eyes who is sitting in the front passenger seat turns to get a view of his three accomplices. His face is serious as he casts his gaze across each of the three other men’s faces. They have a similar expression to the blond haired man and that comforts him. He expects nothing less after the jobs they’ve done together, but it still eases what little nerves he has to know they are as prepared as he is. Then he speaks. “Everyone good with the plan?”

“Yeah.” Is the unanimous reply he gets in response from each of them, including the voice in his ear piece, which belongs to the only member of their little crew who isn’t physically present in the vehicle with them. That person is instead posted on a nearby rooftop with a suppressed high-powered rifle in his hands. His name is Marcus and he will be providing overwatch for them once they are inside the building that is directly across the street from where they are currently.

It isn’t an impressive or even interesting building. Instead, it is simply a non-descript box, which the blond haired man, named Rudolph, has no opinion on.

Rudolph rarely comes to this part of the city. That isn’t surprising as there is little here expect boxy buildings, most of which are used as warehouses. But that is not what the building they are parked on the opposite side of the street from holds within. No, what lies inside this particular building is far more valuable. Many might believe that impossible because of the prospective goods that could be stored within the warehouses. But who cares about goods when the building they are pulled up opposite is a clearing house, filled with money. This will be their last score, not that they need it. They could have quite a couple scores ago, but the crew enjoy the thrill of the chase and the added security that more money brings. Still, this will have to be the last one. If they do any more after this they will be just getting too greedy and that level of greed always ends poorly.

Plus, Rudolph has no intention of dying, at least not anytime soon. He plans on living a long and happy life with all the money he and the other four have made doing these jobs. Then Rudolph looks to the driver of the SUV, Carl, and briefly studies the man’s face.

Carl has black hair, which as always has been fashioned into a burr buzz cut, which perfectly suits the man’s face, dark brown eyes and tanned skin. In fact, Rudolph can’t imagine the Carl looking any other way. Though, Rudolph has to admit that he doesn’t know if Carl is the man’s real name. In fact, none of them know if the names they refer to each other by are their real names. Rudolph can only speak for himself here as it really is his name and not some pseudonym. Not that he is going to admit that to any of the men, or inform any of them what his surname is.

That particular decision, the omission of their family names, was taken right at the outset of their little group forming. And it was done to limit the possibility of, if any of the others got caught and apprehended, them being able to rat them out for whatever reason. Still, Rudolph isn’t sure that Carl, as a name, suits the man in the driver’s seat next to him.

You see, Carl is the crews’ getaway driver and he’s very good at his job. The evidence of that is the fact that they are all still free. That’s not to say that Rudolph and the others have played no part in having kept themselves out of the reach of the long arms of the law, as they have. But still, Carl is more than a decent driver.

A hockey mask sits atop Carl’s head, just like everyone else. Rudolph insisted on Carl having a mask too, even though he is the getaway driver.

Carl had protested and pointed out that if he sits in a car at the side of street while they are inside securing their ill-gotten gains it looks very suspicious. Rudolph had conceded that, but assured Carl that wearing would help conceal his identity during their inevitable getaways, especially as Carl has some unique tattoos around his neck and face that would be easily identifiable if during their getaway he didn’t wear a mask. For his credit, Carl had taken the point on board and thus far complied with it ever since. That had pleased Rudolph as there was no way of knowing during that first job if Carl would follow through, but he had.

“Go time.” Rudolph then announces in the moments before he and the two men in the back of the SUV open their respective doors and climb out.

Rudolph gazes around at the street, drinking in the sights and limited sounds. A smile creeps across his face to find that the street is near deserted. He’d known this when they arrived, but still it never quite felt the same to see it and only really dawned on him once he could taste, smell and hear the streets around him.

Then Rudolph turns and looks toward the rooftop Marcus is posted up on and gives a curt nod. Marcus, the one hundred eighty six centimetre tall man with black taper buzz cut hair and dark brown eyes, stares back. He makes no attempt to return the gesture. He knows doing so would be futile and that there is no way Rudolph would see it from this distance. So instead Marcus simply grunts affirmation into his mic.

The whole crew are radioed up for this job, like they have been for every other before it. It’s how they make sure that they can keep in constant contact, if necessary. It rarely is, but still it’s a nice safety net to have available at all times.

Marcus watches through the scope of his rifle as Rudolph strides confidently toward the entrance of the boxy building that is covered in smooth matte grey metal cladding, except for the roof which is a massive square of concrete dotted with white cubes. The white cubes are air conditioning units which are vital during the summer months in this city. Thankfully, Marcus thinks, they haven’t reached summer just yet. However, they are getting close, perhaps just a few more weeks. And that’s another reason he’s pleased that this will be the crews last job. After all, he doesn’t fancy pulling another one and having to lie out on the roof of a building without cover while the hot summer sun bakes him half to death. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done it, but he’d much rather not repeat that particular mistake again, unless it is completely unavoidable, as it had been the most uncomfortable period of time in his entire life. Even if it only lasted a few hours and that is with Marcus understating just how exhausting it truly was for him to endure. A point he’d made to the rest of the crew so that they were in doubt that after this job he would be gone, no matter what.

On one side of Rudolph is Shen, the round faced, one hundred ninety two centimetre tall, brown eyed member of the crew, who serves as the cracker who will get them where they need to be once they are inside. On the other side of Rudolph is Lister, the muscle. It’s a role Lister is perfectly suited for seeing as he is two metres tall, muscular, has a shaved head, brown eyes and a short, often violent, temper.

Marcus, would be lying if he didn’t admit that at first he considered Lister a liability, as he had. He even said as much, without mincing his words, straight to Rudolph’s face. And though that feeling has since greatly diminished, mainly due to the abilities of Rudolph in managing to keep Lister in line, Marcus still believes Lister to be the one who might get them into deeper shit than they want or need.

Still, this is their last job. So as long as Rudolph can keep a lid on Lister one last time it won’t matter, because after this job is done they will never see each other again. A pang of remorse hits Marcus as he briefly considers that, but he quickly dismisses it, as the sound of Rudolph’s voice announcing that they are going in, sees him return his focus to the scope of his rifle.

“Masks and guns at the ready. We’re going in.” Rudolph says as he pulls his mask down. Shen and Lister do the same in unison and then all three of them pull their suppressed weapons.

Rudolph is armed with a nine millimetre pistol that in addition to the suppressor has an extended magazine, while Shen is armed with a suppressed submachine gun and Lister has a full on assault rifle with a suppressor tacked on the end of the already long barrel.

Then the trio begin their assault. Shen and Lister, having pulled the bland metal and glass paned doors open, toss smoke grenades inside.

Lister even yanked the door open with such force that it groaned in response to his pull that both Shen and Rudolph are sure could have seen the door wrenched off its hinges, if it were not so well maintained.

Rudolph even take a mental note of the strain the door suffered, but pushes the thought to a vacant corner as he hears the smoke grenades detonate and then confused shouts and screams of surprise follow. The shouts and screams are from the employees of the clearing house who can’t fathom as to why they have suddenly lost their senses and what is going on.

But as the massive grey cloud begins to rise and thin Shen and Lister enter the building proper. They already have their weapons raised and ready to fire. Not that any of the employees can see properly and are aware of the danger they are in, as they aren’t. But that doesn’t bothers Shen and Lister who make sure to keep themselves far enough back from the smoke that it doesn’t affect their own vision or cause them to begin coughing, painfully. Unlike most of the employees who are currently doing exactly that because they managed to inhale and swallow some of the smoke cloud that has enveloped them.

Then Rudolph enters and just as the cloud reaches a point where the choking and wheezing employees are able to see the trio of men who have just burst into their buildings, assaulting them in the process.

At the sight of the armed masked men the employees begin to scream and call for help. Many of those cries devolve into coughing fits, while Rudolph screams, “Everyone on the floor, NOW!”

It is clear from the tone of his voice, that Rudolph, isn’t playing a game and that he is deadly serious. He needs the people to know that, realise that they are under the crews control now and that they will get hurt if they don’t comply.

Some of the employees drop to the floor. There is perhaps a little more than a dozen in total. Rudolph doesn’t know their exact number, as he hasn’t counted them yet. That will come once he they are all secured. But the front space of this boxy building is fairly small and comprises only of a reception area and then several desks. All of the desks are, unsurprisingly, behind the main reception counter and there are more seats in this area than anything else. Each of the desks has a seat, the reception counter doesn’t, but eight more chairs sit in twin parallel lines facing one another off to the side, near to where the Rudolph, Shen and Lister entered.

Rudolph notes that its layout, at least thus far, is a lot different from the other places they have hit. It isn’t the first time such a notion has struck him, but it hits him again now that he is here in the flesh.

The first time that thought had struck him had been when they’d been going over the planning of this job. And due to the complete departure in the layout of the space the crew had constructed an exact replica of the interior layout of the space that they used for training until they were as perfect as imperfect beings can be.

After all, there is no doubt in any of their minds that the authorities will descend upon them and that mistakes will be made. Usually the authorities arrive sooner rather than later. Not that Rudolph and the others have any intention of still being here when they arrive. In part, that’s how they’ve managed to stay free men thus far. Though, that is not to say that they haven’t come close to having police and feds crashing into them during their extractions, as they have.

On one such occasion, near the beginning of this run together, it had even resulted in a car chase. During which, Carl had more than proven himself invaluable to their little operation as he evaded what seemed like an entire divisions worth of police cars, roadblocks and stingers deployed to thwart them.

Rudolph, unhappy with the progress of the surrender of the employees thus far, decides to make a point. That’s why he fully extends his arm high above his head and then fires two suppressed shots into the concrete roof somewhere high above him. He knows there is a lower ceiling, a false one constructed from foam tiles, but his bullet would have torn right through them without an ounce of resistance given.

The sounds of the shots, even though his weapon is suppressed, are still very audible. That’s because suppressors, contrary to popular fiction, do not make weapons silent. Instead, they simply significantly reduce the echo and reverb of shots when they are fired. Belief to the contrary is due to misconceptions born out of Hollywood productions. Productions that have implanted the idea that suppressed weapons are silent, and so as a result go unheard. But Rudolph has never been one for Hollywood’s bullshit.

The shots have the desired effect however, as the vast majority of the employees who had still been on their feet, throw themselves to the floor. Rudolph finds the acts a little extreme and reckless on the part of the employees. Though he can’t help but smile beneath his mask as Shen and Lister take the chance to move in on the literal trio that have thus far refused to conform and so will now be forced to comply.

At the sight of the barrel of the weapon in Shen’s hands being pointed at their faces, one after the other, two of the defiant employees drop to the floor in fear and offer no further sign of resistance. The punishment for continuing their defiance was clear, death, and neither of them wanted to pay that price.

Meanwhile, Lister takes a different approach, as he uses his size to intimidate the final resistor while informing him that if he doesn’t get down then he will be snapped in half. The threat and size of Lister has the desired effect as the quaking young man begins to lower himself to the floor. But Lister decides his descent isn’t fast enough for his liking so shoves him violently. The man slams to the ground, eliciting screams of terror from many of the employees as they beg and whimper, hoping they aren’t about to lose their lives for one man’s stupidity.

With the employees face down on the floor, whimpering, begging and snivelling in fear, which is to be expect, Rudolph announces, “This is, if you somehow hadn’t guessed, a stick up. So as long as no one grows a spine and as long as you all comply, no one will get hurt.”

Rudolph makes sure to keep his tone even and measured as he delivers his words. The employees, who are now hostages, need to believe every word he is saying. If they don’t this could easily spiral out of control. That is why Rudolph then adds, “Is that understood?” It’s a simple question but speaks worlds once uttered.

Without prompt the employees blurt and cry their confirmations to his simple query, just as he had hoped. So, the blond haired man again smiles from beneath his mask. He feels in control and that is exactly how it needs to be, right until he and the others leave this building. What happens after that is none of their concern.

“Four, restrain them.” Rudolph then orders referring to Lister. They don’t use names, whether they’re real or not, during jobs. Doing so could end up making it easier to trace them. That’s also why they are dressed in identical black outfits with the only differences being their weapons and the colours of their otherwise identical hockey masks.

Lister had proposed that the crew members spray their related numbers onto the masks. Marcus however, had pointed out that such a customisation might give the authorities a lead, as they would always be the possibility that they might be able to trace whatever paint they used. And that trace could lead back to them, and there would be no way of knowing if paint flakes might be found as a result. Rudolph had agreed, as had Shen, which in their democratic group voting had ruled it out.

Still, Rudolph had made sure to dispel any belief that Lister might have convinced himself exists as a result of the decision going against him. The last thing the blond haired man, serving as the leader of the crew, wanted was for any of them to feel ostracised or singled out for offering suggestions. Doing so only ever ended badly and all five of them had wanted to live to spend the money they have since secured from all these jobs.

“Sure one.” Lister fires back making it clear that he understands and accepts the order.

The muscle of the crew quickly goes to work, while Shen and Rudolph keep watch. Their weapons are loosely trained on the hostages as Lister begins restraining the terrified men and women’s hands behind their backs with zip ties.

Most of the employees wince in response to the bite of the ties being applied, but a couple do let out screeches in pain. Rudolph isn’t surprised, especially as Lister only has the ability to be heavy-handed. It isn’t the large man’s fault, he simply isn’t aware of it and that is why he doesn’t pass comment. Instead, he decides to check-in with Marcus.

“How’s it looking two?” Rudolph queries calmly. He has no reason to be anything other than calm. Everything is going as planned so far.

“All clear so far.” Marcus says before pausing for a brief moment and then adding, “No sign of cops, feds, or anything else.”

“Good. Keep me posted if that changes two.” Rudolph then orders, again calmly. In fact, if anything he feels even calmer than he already did. That surprises Rudolph, but he sees no reason to dwell on it.

It’s good to have someone like Marcus on the job, Rudolph thinks as Marcus replies, “Affirmative.”

With the check-in with Marcus done and Lister about to finish restraining the last of the hostages, Rudolph then turns to Shen. “Seeing as everything out here is all done three, time for you to work your magic out back.”

Shen is about to reply when the last hostage, one of the many security guards here, tries to attack Lister. Such a thing was never going to go well, but it’s not surprising that at least one of the buildings security detail would try and resist. In fact, Rudolph is surprised this man has been the only one. Not that it matters as Lister slams the man forcefully to the floor and then delivers a couple kicks to his ribs, just to make a point. The savage volley does the trick as the man relents and provides no other resistance to Lister restraining him. But the other hostages do cower and cry as a result, which isn’t ideal, though it will pass before long.

“We have got it under control, haven’t we four?” Rudolph then asks, while masking his surprise that Lister didn’t simply result to jabbing the suppressor of his assault rifle into the base of the man’s skull. It makes Rudolph wonders if this is some kind of breakthrough in Lister’s violent tendencies, but he seriously doubts it. A leopard never changes its spots, as his mom used to say.

“Yeah, we have one.” Lister assures prior to delivering one final kick to the now restrained man who had tried to resist. The man replies to the kick with a grunt of pain and then mutters unintelligibly. Rudolph rolls his eyes but can guess what the man might be saying under his breath.

“Four you really are one dumb brute, you know that?” Shen mocks as he heads for the door that links the front office space, and its four long cheap wooden desks that are light in colour, to the backroom part of the building where the crews’ prize resides.

“Get fucked three.” Lister spits. He also snarls at Shen, not that he can see it because of the mask covering the big man’s face. But Shen can imagine the face Lister is pulling and it makes him chuckle as he disappears from view.

Rudolph resists interjecting in their playful spat. Doing so might seem as though he is taking sides, which in turn could cause alienation among the group, and that is the last thing he wants. So instead he decides to check-in with Carl.

“How’s it looking street side out there five?” Rudolph asks pushing the earpiece which had started to work its way loose back into place. Everything happening just like it always does, the blond haired man thinks as he awaits the reply, which doesn’t take long.

“All clear. There’s barely a soul out here. But the ride purrs like a dream.” Carl answers, with what Rudolph can only describe as a clear note of bliss in his tone.

The blond haired man has no clue how Carl is so calm. That is why if he didn’t know better he’d think their driver was high. He isn’t. Carl can’t stand drugs. He’d made that clear right from the outset. Looking at him however, you might be fooled into believing otherwise, seeing as he is adorned with what many would wrongly consider gang tats. Then again, that shows how little people actually know and probably why Carl had decided to stick around. Especially as Rudolph, Marcus and the others have at no point treated Carl like some gangbanging street rat who should be looked down upon.

Rudolph imagines Carl has gotten a lot of that during his life, but the blond haired leader of this crew knows better than to judge a book by its cover. In fact, from his experience the clean cut types often have more shady pasts and potential criminal activities under their belts than anyone else.

“Thanks five. Keep me posted.” Rudolph says bringing their brief exchange to a close. Rudolph knows Carl won’t respond like Marcus does, with a confirmation, and it seems Shen does as well as he immediately delivers a piece of bad news. “The vaults had a new level of security installed.”

“What does that mean?” Lister asks, taking the words right out of Rudolph’s mouth before he had a chance to say them.

“It means we need a passcode, genius.” Shen retorts mocking Lister.

It’s something Shen has taken up as a past time, and thankfully Lister takes it as the gentle ribbing that it’s meant to be. Still, Lister asked the exact question Rudolph had been planning too, but Rudolph knows he wouldn’t have been met with the sarcastic response Lister was. Shen knows the line and never crosses it. Doing so with Rudolph would undermine his authority and he’s thankful Shen has enough forethought to realise that doing such a thing could be catastrophic, for all of them.

“Who’d have it three?” Rudolph asks getting straight to the point. Now they are not on plan. Rudolph expected this to happen at some point, especially as they had been lucky on every other job they’d pulled. But he should have known their luck would run out some time, and seeing as this is their last job it made sense that it would be now.

“Shift manager, probably.” Shen replies sounding unsure and a little nervous. Rudolph understands why. This was not part of the plan, and that worries both of them, at the very least. More likely however, it worries all five of them.

“Who’s in charge here?” Lister suddenly blurts loudly. It’s a question directed at the hostages and he makes that clear by casting his mask covered face in their direction. But he gets no answer. It isn’t a surprise, at least not to Rudolph anyway.

Very few of the hostages even attempt to crane their necks to look at Lister. Instead, they simply keep their gazes ahead or down at the floor they are lying upon. Rudolph knows pain will have well and truly set in by this point for all of them, but it’s better than the alternative of being dead. If they were a more reckless crew they might not have restrained the hostages. Doing so and believing you can keep control without first enforcing control is how jobs easily veer into complete pandemonium, and failure.

“Really? No answer!” Lister roars angrily. Rudolph could step in, but decides to see how this plays out. There is no arguing that Lister being the size he is is imposing and that imposition is seen as an ever present silent threat to most. That’s why the big man quickly adds encouragement to his outrage by saying, “Either someone talks or I start breaking fingers. Hostage after hostage until I get the answer we’re after.”

Unfortunately, the only response that comes from the hostages are cries for mercy, snivels, moans and prayers to be saved. None of which are answers to Lister’s question. It isn’t surprising and Rudolph knew that it was a fifty-fifty chance Lister’s approach would work. Not that the continued lack of a response does an ounce of good for Lister, who is now so frustrated he grabs hold of one the hostages, a woman. He wrenches her off the floor and then wraps his free arm around her waist so she is pressed up against his body. Her feet, wrapped in heels, slide over the polished floors surface attempting in vain to find purchase.

Shen curses having heard the roar of frustration erupt from between Lister’s lips just as Rudolph urges, “Four, stay your hand. For the moment, at least.”

Rudolph makes sure to add the second line as it makes it clear in the hostages’ minds that at any time their lives could become forfeit. They aren’t and won’t be, but they don’t need to know that at no point will they become expendable. Instead, they have to believe that their lives are in constant danger of being snuffed out. That is what makes them the most compliant and controllable. If that, at any point, is lost then so is the crews’ advantage over them. Rudolph and others can’t afford that. That’s why Rudolph fires another shot, from his suppressed pistol, into the air.

The shot has the desired effect as the hostages all turn their eyes his way. It’s amazing what a simple wordless action can achieve, he thinks in the moments before he speaks to the hostages and says, “I will remind you all that it is in your best interests to cooperate. But seeing as you have all appear to have forgotten that, I will make this promise to you. If you don’t comply then I will be forced to unleash four upon you.”

Rudolph pauses to let the enormity of his words sink in to each and every one of the hostages, including the poor woman who Lister currently has his wide arm wrapped around.

Almost immediately it becomes clear that the hostages understand the threat. He can see the realisation in their eyes, and that is why Rudolph then adds, “And I’m sure none of you want that, do you?”

The response the blond haired man gets is a mass of vigorously shaking heads. Lister grumbles with disappointment in response. He had been looking forward to the prospect of beating an answer out of one, or several, of the hostages. That’s because his tendencies have gotten the best of him again. When this happens he has little self control and just wants to indulge.

“Now let’s start again. Who is in charge here?” Rudolph speaks slowly and purposefully to make sure no one misunderstands the words coming out of his mouth. Not that the hostages, of which there are sixteen, have any problems understanding the demand when it was Lister that had issued it, as they hadn’t.

Again however, the response is not what any of the crew, or anyone else, would describe as forthcoming. Instead, a number of the hostages exchange looks and nervous glances amongst themselves.

In response to their actions, Rudolph rolls his eyes. It is abundantly clear that this little subsection of the hostages seem to be utterly unaware that they have already shown their hand. That means that they are not yet in full comprehension of the gravitas of the situation. So it is clear to Rudolph that they need a little encouragement in how to give an honest answer. And not what will be an obvious lie, which is what they are currently trying to silently concoct amongst themselves.

“Four, headlock her.” Rudolph orders without an ounce of remorse in his voice.

Lister complies without a word, and quickly shifts the panicked stricken woman into position, so that her neck is ringed by one of Lister’s massive muscular arms. Because of his action the woman’s legs begin to kick. She is trying, desperately, to break free. But she hasn’t got the use of her arms and so instead she hopelessly flails about whimpering and sobbing, while Lister begins to tighten his arm around her neck.

“I ask again, who is in charge?” Rudolph queries while casting his gaze up and down the row of restrained hostages.

Because no response is forthcoming, Rudolph nods. He doesn’t need to give the order verbally. The blond haired leader of the crew is sure Lister will understand, and he is proven right as seconds later Lister lifts the flailing woman off her feet entirely. Her shoes in response hang off the heels of her feet, dangling much like she herself is.

The result of her now being airbourne however, is that gravity pulls her painfully back toward Earth. The only problem is that her feet cannot make contact with it and so the strain on her neck becomes an ever increasing issue, the severity of which intensifies with every passing moment.

Still, she tries pointlessly to struggle, wriggle, writhe and fight against the suffocation she is being put through. She thinks about how she doesn’t want to die. How this job isn’t worth her life. And about all the things she still wants to do. She wishes she could vocalise her pleas, but she can’t as she instead begins to choke and gurgle.

Surprisingly, Rudolph says nothing. He makes no attempt to repeat his question and simply watches as the woman’s face turns a deep bright deep, while the other hostages cast glances between the masked figure of Rudolph and the woman being strangled to death by the masked mountain of Lister. The hostages are shocked and can scarcely believe what they are witnessing, but it quickly becomes apparent that the woman isn’t going to last much longer seeing as her face is beginning to shift through ever darkening shades of purple. Her feet, which had been kicking wildly, are now doing little more than twitch and spasm, while her shoes lie at odd angles on the polished speckled floor.

It is at this point that a balding overweight middle-aged man proclaims, “Me. It’s me you want. I’m in charge.” His voice is desperate and fearful as he speaks and it is obvious that he doesn’t want this woman to die because of his refusal to speak.

Rudolph smiles knowing that he has won this battle. He takes no pleasure in the pain the woman has been caused, but it was necessary to move things along. That is why he nods to Lister again, who in response loosens his previously constricting grip on the woman’s neck. She gasps, air able to fill her lungs again as he lowers her to the floor, so she is kneeling. She coughs and splutters as she fights to pull fresh, new air down into her oxygen starved lungs. Lungs that are burning with such intensity that she was sure her death had been signed and sealed. Nevertheless, she is relieved that death is not her fate today, while her head spins due to the lack of oxygenation in her brain.

Rudolph however, ignores the spluttering woman and wanders over to the overweight man. He stops only a quarter of a metre from the man’s face, which forces the balding man with brown hair and hazel eyes to crane his neck to look up at Rudolph’s masked face. It’s painful and helps to further reinforce who is in control here and that the man should not forget it.

“You’ll be accompanying me.” Rudolph states bluntly.

The balding overweight man dressed in a loose fitting dark blue suit gulps loudly before Rudolph turns his attention to Lister and asks, “You OK covering the hostages for a few minutes, four?”

“No doubt one.” Lister mutters back as he watches the kneeling woman like a hawk.

It is clear the muscular man thinks she might try something, but Rudolph severely doubts it. Not that he’ll dissuade Lister in any way from his belief. It is his own and Rudolph knows better than to try and change the man. That would be impossible. The best he can hope, and so far has succeeded in doing, is direct and guide him. Though, reprimanding also works if used sparingly and at the correct moments.

But that’s not important now and is why Rudolph nods his approval of Lister’s confidence reply and then hauls the overweight man up off his stomach and onto his feet, before shoving him forward.

As the pair move, Rudolph makes sure the end of his suppressor is pressed into the balding man’s back. Because of that, they quickly leave the front office area of the building and cross into the backroom area where Shen is stood leaning against a plain white wall. The walls in this area are the same colour as those in the front office/reception section, except these walls are devoid of decorations in all forms.

Instead, this back area is just an open space with a large circular vault door set into the middle of the wall at the far end. In front of it are a series of red laser beams that criss-cross to form a tightly laced grid. At the sight of it Rudolph surmises that they are the new addition, but just back from them toward Rudolph is Shen’s equipment. It’s already setup and Rudolph is pleased to see that the round faced man has taken the time to get ready for once this problem has been navigated. Not that he expects any less.

Now they are here though, Rudolph pulls on the overweight man’s arms to silently signify that he needs to stop his forward march. The man complies as Shen stares at him blankly.

“What’s your name?” Rudolph questions. They need to build up a rapport, positive or negative, with the balding guy if there is any hope of getting what the crew need to continue with their job.

“D-D-Donald.” The overweight man manages to stutter out after a number of failed attempts.

At this point Rudolph steps back. His part, the introduction, is done. Now it’s up to Shen, who he is sure can build up a relationship with the man and get the answers they need. That’s why Rudolph takes a position off to the side and just as Shen pushes himself off against the wall he had been leaning on.

“Donald, this laser grid behind me, I know you know what it is and how it works. So I also know that we need a passcode to disable it. I need you to give me that passcode.” Shen explains calmly. As the round face man talks he gesticulates with his hands, while Rudolph simply has his arms across his chest. However, he’s made sure to still be in Donald’s visual cone, even if it is at the periphery of it.

Shen’s weapon, unlike Rudolph’s, isn’t in his hands. Instead it has been set down on the floor next to the equipment Shen has setup.

“I don’t have the code, I swear.” Donald claims. Rudolph rolls his eyes in irritation, but Shen doesn’t. Instead, the round faced man asks, “Then who does Donald. Can you tell me that?”

“Um…well…that’s err…” Donald says without any confidence. He is trying to invent an answer to give to the two men who are stood before him. He just has to think of something that they’ll believe. The problem is that his brain isn’t able to dream up anything for him to offer up as an answer.

“Ok Donald, I’m going to come clean here. I know you know. I also know that you’re trying to invent an answer. But I promise you that whatever you think you can invent will not satisfy either of us. And do you know how I know these things?” Shen asks only to get a swift shake of a head from Donald before he continues. “I know because the purpose of this place is payments. You hold money, cash money, behind that vault door over there. So if you are trying to tell me that no one on-site has the passcode, then how would it be possible for payments to be made and funds stored?”

Shen, having finished speaking and gesticulating, lets the question hang in the air for awhile. But the next person to speak is neither Donald nor Shen, instead it is Rudolph.

“Come on Donald. Either you spill and give us the code or the last thing you’ll ever see are these four walls.” As soon as the blond haired man says those words Donald’s eyes go wide with fear. It’s the exact response Rudolph had been hoping for and why he even took the time to utter them.

“OK, OK, the truth is that the code is changed hourly and that we have to contact central processing every time we need to get through that vault door.” Donald blurts not sounding as believable as he would like to think.

Shen curses before turning and covering the short distance between where he had been stood and where Donald is. Now that he’s covered the distance he grabs hold of the lapels of Donald’s blazer. His brown eyes are blazing angrily as he spits, “Another lie. I’m sick and tired of the lies Donald. So just tell us the truth! NOW!”

“I am. I swear. That is the truth. We have no passcode. Honestly.” Donald says pleading desperately as he cowers and tries to keep his head lowered and gaze averted from Shen’s own scrutinising eyes.

Shen knows the man is lying and so in response raises his fist and pulls his arm back ready to punch Donald full force in the face. But it never happens as Rudolph intervenes, grabs Shen’s arm and shakes his head. Shen relents, begrudgingly, and then backs away.

It is clear that this avenue of interrogation isn’t getting them anywhere, so Rudolph has another idea. That’s why he asks, “So what’s the number you call to get the passcode?”

Donald, too slow to come up with an answer, simply stares blankly at Rudolph. The blond haired man smiles beneath his mask. He’s caught the overweight man out, but Donald has to understand the magnitude of his lies. So Rudolph takes a step back before aiming the suppressor of his pistol right in Donald’s face.

Donald immediately begins to whimper and beg. The response from Rudolph however is simple; he presses the suppressor into the man’s forehead.

“What the fuck are you doing one?” Shen spits having only just turned round to see the gun pressed against Donald’s head. He thought it was bad enough that he was about to beat the man, but executing him! He really hopes that isn’t Rudolph’s plan. If it is then the blond haired man has gone insane.

“Don’t worry three, everything is under control. Isn’t it Donald?” Rudolph assures before the delivery of the question.

Donald simply nods in response. He’s lost his voice because he’s too overwhelmed by fear to speak.

“Good. Now, we’ll start again. Donald please tell me who, when and how this system was implemented. Can you do that?” Rudolph queries without a hint of emotion. He doesn’t want to kill the overweight man, but he really is pushing the leniency that Rudolph has shown so far and that can only be allowed to go so far before actions, or inactions, result in consequences.

However, Donald hesitates and seems incapable of forming words. The answer Rudolph delivers to combat this is to press the suppressor harder into Donald’s forehead. It has the desired effect as the balding man whimpers and then admits, “It was installed yesterday, by two men. The systems not connected yet. It’s just active locally.”

Rudolph smiles and feels more than a modicum of relief that he didn’t have to take his threats further.

Then he asks, “Is the passcode a default?”

It’s a simple succinct question and Donald replies with an equally succinct answer, “Y-yes.”

“What’s the passcode Donald?” Shen asks bluntly. He’s impressed that the threats have finally gotten through to the balding man, and relieved Rudolph hasn’t lost his mind. Shen had been convinced that they were never going to and that Rudolph would execute him as a result. But Shen will have to commend Rudolph for his determination and resolve when this is all over and they are in the clear with a mountain of money to their names.

“S-Six zeros.” Donald announces with a stutter. He is no longer able to hold out against the two men. He doesn’t want to die here and now. That is why he has finally caved. If he didn’t he is sure they would execute him and feel nothing for it.

“Can anyone verify that?” Rudolph then asks. He believes Donald is telling the truth now, but after the myriad of lies they have just navigated through, Rudolph wants confirmation, if there can be any. He really hopes there can be.

“M-Me-Melissa.” Donald stutters in response.

“Three, find Melissa. Ask her, politely.” Rudolph orders in the moments before Shen nods his confirmation and then departs leaving Rudolph and Donald alone in the backroom area of the boxy building’s interior.

Rudolph doesn’t drop the gun from Donald’s head however. Instead, he keeps it pressed against the now sweat soaked forehead of the balding man who, after a pause and some back and forth between Lister and Shen that only Rudolph can hear, asks, “Are you going to kill me?”

It’s an honest question for a hostage whose life is being threatened to ask one of his hostage takers. But Rudolph gives a dishonest answer in response. “That depends on whether you’re still lying to me or not, Donald.”

The balding overweight man gives no verbal response. Instead, he simply gulps loudly. Then Shen returns. He quickly crosses the room and sidles up to Rudolph and whispers, “Passcode confirmed.”

Rudolph smiles beneath his mask but decides to play on the side of caution and so orders, “Three, enter the code. I want to be present for this.”

It’s a little cruel to force Donald to watch and perhaps quake in fear further, wondering if he will somehow be revealed as a liar or not, but it’s another lesson for the balding man.

Shen quickly taps the code in before a second later the laser security grid covering the vault door deactivates with an audible pew. Donald breathes a sigh of relief in the seconds before Rudolph grabs a hold of Donald’s restrained arms and asks, “How long ‘til we’re in?”

“It shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes at most.” Shen replies matter-of-factly.

“Good. Get it done three.” Rudolph says as he begins to haul Donald out of the backroom, heading back toward the reception/office area at the front of the building.

Just before Rudolph and Donald leave, Rudolph remarks, “We’ll leave you to your vital work.” Shen however, has already returned to busily working on cracking of the vault door, so doesn’t hear the remark from the crews leader.

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