For an explanation on the origins of this story, see this post: Flash Fiction Friday: Introduction
I didn’t think it was part of the plan to let Mercer hit me again. The first shot should have been enough to bring Detective Monroe and her uniforms running to my rescue, an assault and battery charge that could have been leveraged into the testimony they needed to finally break that little fencing operation. But I should’ve known better than to work with the police. Here I was at a midnight meeting in the largest municipal park east of the Mississippi and I couldn’t see the forest, or the phalanx of armed police officers I hoped were hiding there, for the trees. One thing was clear, they weren’t going to get involved until Mercer said something incriminating. Which meant that while he was busy trying to make me talk, I had to try and make him talk.
The good thing about Mercer is that he hits like a girl. The bad thing about Mercer is that he hits like an East German weight lifter girl on a late 1970’s Olympic team. He connects solidly enough with my jaw to knock me back against the tree. I spring back, spitting blood onto the thick carpet of dead leaves that covers the forest floor. The gorilla with the gun reminds me not to spring too far, that he’s got Mercer’s back. I don’t know his name, Mercer hasn’t introduced us, but given the way he’s built, I’m glad Mercer’s the one doing the hitting.
“I asked a question, Marty,” Mercer snarls. “Who are you working for?”
“The identity of my clients is confidential information, Mercer.” I wipe the blood off my mouth with the back of my hand. “Let’s just say I’m working for someone who wants his property back. That’s why I came out here, to recover my client’s property, not play 20 questions with your fists.”
“How do I know you're not working for the cops?”
“You already searched me for a wire. Why’s it so hard to believe that I’m just here to recover the laptop?”
“Because it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a $700 laptop. Your fees must cost at least half that.” Mercer has relaxed some, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to hit me again once he takes the time to light up a cigarette.
“It’s not the machine,” I confess. “It’s what’s on it.”
“Some guy want his kiddie porn collection back?”
“Nothing like that. Just some proprietary data of the company this guy works for.”
“What kind of data? Does this shit have value?”
“Limited value,” I argue, “only to my client and his company. It’s nothing you could sell, not without breaking federal corporate espionage laws. You don’t want to bring that kind of heat down on you.”
“Heat is heat, Marty. The feds, the local PD, it’s all pretty much the same to me. I’ll give you the laptop for $5,000.” Heat may be heat, but Mercer was smart enough to bargain it away if he could.
“I can give you $3,000,” I counter.
“In a briefcase in my trunk?” I point toward my silver Focus, parked a dozen yards away, halfway across the asphalt walking trail and halfway in the mud.
“Deal,” he sighs. “Go get the item,” he says to his backup, who puts away his 9 millimeter and stalks off toward the black sedan parked in the grass on the other side of the trail.
“I’ll get the cash.” Mercer doesn’t follow me to the car, which is good, since I’m not sure of the range of the microphone the cops have planted in the tree. Any other day I’d have my weapon in the trunk along with my camera and any petty cash I’d need. But the cops had asked me to keep most of that stuff at home tonight, and I’m nothing if not cooperative. So all I’ve got in the case is an envelope full of 1oo dollar bills and the tools and hard drive I’ll need later. I take the excess of hundreds out of the envelope, slam the trunk shut and walk back over to Mercer. His goon has brought up the laptop, which I trade the envelope for.
“We done?” Mercer asks. I check the serial number on the underside of the laptop to make sure I have the right machine.
“You are.” I step back as the flood lights kick on and two patrol cars suddenly materialize out of the darkness, their red and blue strobes losing the stand off with the bright halogen white of the floods. Danielle Monroe and a half dozen uniforms appear as quickly. Guns drawn. Dani has matched her patrol boys by wearing a navy blazer and dark slacks. The sensible ‘stake out in the woods’ shoes take little off her generally menacing tallness.
“On the ground, now,” Dani barks. Goon has already thrown away his weapon and hit the dirt, hands up in a position to be pulled back and cuffed behind his back. Mercer just stands there taking another drag off his cigarette.
“In this suit?” He asks.
“Down, now!” Dani shouts again as one of her policemen force Mercer to the ground. Both men are cuffed and searched before being dragged away to separate squad cars.
“That went well,” Dani says, the bright lights casting a halo around the edges of her auburn hair.
“If my getting punched twice in the face is your definition of ‘well’, sure.” I take the laptop and start walking toward my car.
“I wasn’t sure Mercer rearranging you face would be a bad thing,” she quips. “Don’t take my evidence too far.”
“You’ll get your evidence, detective.” I pop the trunk and open the case. “But we had a deal, and I’ll get what I came for first.” The small powered screwdriver is fully charged, and once I insert the right size bit the underside of the laptop comes off fairly quickly.
“What is on that drive? There is no kiddie porn is there?”
“Of course not. Just the testing protocols for Klassman Pharmaceuticals new Alzheimer’s drug. Some testing data. Stuff they want to keep out of the hands of their competition.” Balancing the half opened computer on the lip of my car trunk I remove the screws holding the hard drive in place, unclip the connector and place the drive into the briefcase. “Did you get everything you need on tape?”
“Yeah, the whole conversation. Together with the stolen property, that should make our case.”
“Good. So I didn’t get hit in the face for nothing.” I remove the replacement hard drive from the anti-static bag and clip it to the connector cable. “Planting that mic in the tree was a good idea.”
“A no brainer. Dumbass meets under the same tree for a few weeks in a row and it’s a good bet he’ll do it again. Damned parks department was the only problem.”
“Why?” I finished securing the new drive and closed up the computer.
“Apparently it’s one of the oldest trees in the state. A 600 year old live oak. We had to get an arborist with the Department of Forestry come out to install the mic.”
“Poor you,” I hand her the laptop.
“Are you about to complain about getting hit in the face again?”
“Would I get any sympathy if I did?”
“Not a bit.” She hands the laptop to one of the officers, who put it in an evidence bag. “But if you meet me at Dornan’s after I book these bozos and process the evidence, I may buy you a drink.”
“Eh,” I say, “beats getting punched in the face.”