"Let the Chips Fall Where They May" - short story from To Be Men
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
This story was originally published in To Be Men, an anthology from Superversive Press. Sadly, Superversive has shut their doors and TBM has disappeared from Amazon. I'll come back and update this post if it finds a new home, but for now the collection isn't available anywhere. Still, you can at least enjoy my contribution, partly inspired by my father.
Prefer audiobooks? Listen to this story as read by my wife in this Facebook video.
Let the Chips Fall Where They May
by J Trevor Robinson
In a bathroom stall at Freefall Casino and Arcade, Robert flicked the syringe that would help him get through the rest of the day. He eyeballed the liquid inside. How is it that I depend so much on this stuff? As always the answer was too much focus on work and not enough on taking care of himself. He huffed, lifted his shirt, and pushed the needle into his stomach. He had asked the doctor if his arm would be a better location, but it was important to deliver the insulin to the fat layer under the skin. If it went directly into the muscle or bloodstream, it may absorb too quickly and cause his blood sugar to drop too far too fast. Robert wasn’t about to argue; if he had listened to the doctor’s advice sooner and gotten more exercise or eaten better, he may not have needed these shots for another fifteen years or more. Instead he was not quite fifty and keeping track of injection sites.
Robert placed the empty syringe in the plain black zippered case he kept hidden in his jacket pocket. Two more fresh syringes sat there, already full of insulin, one for the end of the day and a backup in case he needed to stay late. Part of him was grateful that modern insulin was safe to store at room temperature; if he needed to keep it cold like people used to, someone would see it in the lunchroom fridge. It was probably a silly impulse. As the Security Manager of the newest casino in Niagara Falls, he should have no reason to worry if people knew he was diabetic. It didn’t affect his job, and he didn’t answer to anyone but the casino owners. Still, he wanted to keep it to himself. The idea of his team looking at him with anything like pity made his stomach turn.
“Robert, do you copy?” Maureen said through his earpiece. A slender microphone arm extended down his jawline, and he knew it would pick up his voice perfectly even in the din of the casino floor.
“I copy. Is there a problem?”
“Two card-counters caught in the act at Table B3, Donahue and Ramsoomair have them in Holding Two,” Maureen replied.
Robert ran through the table assignments for the week in his head. “B3, that’s Brayden’s table. Did he call it in?” That would be a surprise. Brayden was a competent blackjack dealer, but had a terrible attitude. Robert would eat his tie if someone like Brayden went an inch outside of his job description to help the casino. He had once overheard the other dealers describe Brayden as having all the personality of a garbage bag filled with bong water, a colorful turn of phrase that he wasn’t likely to forget.
“No, IRAC flagged them thanks to one betting erratically and the other’s luck being too darn good.” The Incentive/Reward and Anti-Cheating algorithm was one of the state-of-the-art security measures at Freefall, identifying patrons with facial recognition and cross-referencing them with bidding and betting history from the casino’s financial systems. It helped the Client Satisfaction team identify their best repeat customers for occasional freebies, from drink coupons to nights in the hotel suites. It also helped Robert’s team do their job.
“Got it. On my way to Holding Two,” he said.
He tucked in his shirt, washed his hands, and returned to the happy cacophony of the floor. Bells and whistles mingled with shouts of triumph and defeat, and an occasional roar from an animatronic dragon perched on a slot machine in the high-rollers section. Freefall was the newest casino on the Niagara Falls main drag, boasting all the latest games and a dining patio with one of the finest views of the Horseshoe Falls around. People flooded in from every shore of Lake Ontario to gamble at Freefall and catch a show, and from the American side of the Falls as well. Several of the dealers nodded at Robert as he passed, but most of them were focused on their players.
Good: the closer attention you pay, the less they can try to get away with.
Not that cheating was common in the casino, but every now and then someone thought they’d do something clever. Case in point, the card-counters he needed to deal with.
A metal door muffled the noise as he passed into the staff corridors. He was walking in silence by the time he reached Holding Cell Two. He squared his shoulders, straightened his jacket, and fixed a smile to his face without letting it touch his eyes; an expression he had practiced in the mirror. He walked into the small office to find Donahue and Ramsoomair standing calm and silent behind two frightened men seated in uncomfortable folding chairs. The security guards were built like professional wrestlers; Robert went to the gym whenever he could spare an hour, but next to them he still looked like the “Before” picture in a Crossfit advertisement.
The men in the chairs could almost be father and son. The older man was bald, wearing thick glasses and a loud Hawaiian shirt. The other man looked to be in his early twenties, with a mop of red hair and a tasteful blue sportcoat. The bald man actually smiled back at Robert for an instant before catching himself. The younger redhead started to tremble once he saw the nametag engraved with “Robert Harrison, Security Manager.” Robert took the only padded chair in the room and leaned forward.
“I understand that you’ve been acting out your own version of Rain Man,” Robert said.
Panic was written all over the bald man’s face, though the redhead just looked confused. Robert rolled his eyes.
“It’s a movie, son. Tom Cruise? Dustin Hoffman? It came out in 1988, it’s a classic.”
“I, uh, don’t really watch old movies,” the redhead stammered.
Robert ignored the implication as the bald man muttered for his accomplice to keep his mouth shut.
“Counting cards, kid. We caught you counting cards,” Robert said, dropping the friendly tone.
“There’s nothing illegal about that!” the bald man blurted. “Counting cards is not legally recognized as cheating, it’s just a strategy for playing the game!”
Donahue and Ramsoomair chuckled, a low rumbling noise that Robert suspected they rehearsed. One of them cracked his knuckles for good measure, making the redhead flinch.
“You’re right, it’s not illegal or cheating,” Robert said. “What it is, is against casino policy. Have you ever read the plaques by the front doors? There are two of them to each side, little copies along the coat-check desk, and another pair on either side of the floor entrance. I even keep one in my pocket here.” He pulled a laminated card out of his jacket and held it up in front of the bald man’s face. “Would you mind reading the third point? It’s the one after alcohol not being permitted in the arcade area, and the one before the disclaimer reminding you that you are on camera.”
The bald man swallowed. “The casino reserves the right to refuse customers for any reason, including but not limited to unreasonable attempts to influence game outcomes,” he said in nearly a whisper.
“That’s right, unreasonable,” Robert said as he put the card away. “And it so happens that card-counting is one of those things that we like to refer to as unreasonable around here.”
“Are you going to kill us?” the redheaded man asked, his face flushed. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ll never do it again! Don’t touch my face, let my mom have an open casket!” He was on the edge of tears and Robert decided he had scared them enough.
“Of course we’re not going to kill you, nobody’s going to hurt you,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “For someone who’s never seen the classics, you must watch a lot of movies.”
The redhead sniffled and wiped his nose with his hand. “You’re not gonna break our legs?”
“Nobody’s breaking anything,” Robert said. “What I am doing is telling you to take your chips to the cashier, get your winnings, and get the hell out of my casino. You’re both banned for a minimum of ten years, and if we catch you here before then, it will be considered trespassing. And that is most definitely illegal.”
Robert and the guards escorted the men to the cashier’s window, and then to the front door. Before they could leave, he held up a finger.
“One more thing: I’ve taken the liberty of forwarding your pictures to Fallsview, Casino Niagara, and every off-strip betting hall in the city,” he said. “Something tells me you won’t be welcome in any of them either. Have a good day.”
As they left, Donahue and Ramsoomair chuckled again.
“Good job, guys,” Robert said. “I don’t get it; most people get that the risk and chance are half the fun of this place, and then some people just try to suck that fun right out of it.”
“Did you see the little guy squirm?” Donahue laughed in a surprisingly high voice for a man his size. “I love this job. All those casino movies do half the work for us.”
Robert laughed with him. A text-message alert chirped in his ear. He checked his phone and excused himself.
Separate from the gambling area, the arcade was otherwise very similar. Instead of slot machines, there were rows of new and classic game cabinets spitting out tickets that kids could exchange for prizes. Plenty of the players on this side of the casino were kids too young to be allowed on the floor, but there was always a collection of adults either keeping an eye on their little ones or wanting to recapture the fun of the games they used to play. Some parents in town had made a fuss that having an arcade inside of a casino was just encouraging gambling in young people. Robert’s opinion was that those people were free to tell their kids not to play here. The arcade was one more place those kids could go after school to stay out of trouble, and helped make Freefall into more of a family destination than the other casinos. He made his way through the aisles, nodding and waving to the snack bar staff as he passed, and stopped next to a teenager absorbed in the glow of a screen.
“Young man, if you could come with me to the ticket window, let’s get you cashed out. I’m told your score is just too high to be possible,” Robert said.
The boy glanced away from the screen and shook his head with a small smile. “Hi Dad, how’s work going?”
“Oh, it’s going,” Robert said, ruffling his son’s hair. “Just had to show a couple of card-counters out. I’ll tell you about it at home tonight. How’s your day so far?” It was a day off for the region’s high schools.
“Not bad. The guys and I went riding down by the water for a while, then I suggested we come here.” Ben looked around. “I wanted to remind you to do your, you know,” he said, poking himself in the stomach with one finger.
Robert was surprised. In his experience, most boys Ben’s age wouldn’t think to remind their parents to take their medicine. “Yes, I did my you-know about half an hour ago. Thanks for checking, pal.”
Blushing, Ben turned his focus back to the game. “Yeah, sure. Are we having dinner at home or the buffet tonight?”
“Home, definitely. Too much buffet food and you’ll need you-knows of your own,” Robert said, poking Ben in the ribs and making him laugh. “I’ll see you later son, let me know if you’re still here closer to five.”
Robert set off for the main Security office, still proud of his son for checking in on him. Being a single father wasn’t easy, but every now and then Ben’s behavior reassured him that he must be doing something right.
In the Security office, Maureen was at the dispatch desk dealing with reports from the floor staff and IRAC, the IT guys were monitoring the security systems for any errors that could affect their coverage, and a small platoon of people watched the monitors to keep human eyes open for any suspicious activity that IRAC didn’t catch. The monitors showed every corner of the casino except for the washrooms and hotel rooms, and Robert did his own quick scan every time he entered the room he called the command center. Vault corridor, clear. Cashier windows, busy but normal. Buffet, no fistfights over someone hogging the crab legs yet.
“How’d it go with the counters, boss? Any blood?” Maureen asked with a twinkle in her eye. Pop culture had painted casino security in general as being violent mobsters, and that over-the-top characterization was a running joke among the team.
“Oh, not much,” he said lightly. “Although the little guy may never play the piano again.”
Maureen laughed, but it was cut short when the office was plunged into darkness. Panicked chatter filled the room, and one of the staff tripped over his own chair in his haste to get to the door. Robert turned on his smartphone light, holding it as high as he could reach. From that angle, a wide circle around him was dimly lit; not enough to read by, but enough to see the general state of the room.
Robert stuck his fingers in the corners of his mouth and whistled. The piercing noise got everyone’s attention. All eyes were on him. His phone was illuminating him like a spotlight, and the weight of his position felt real in a way it normally did not. He knew his team, he knew their skills and limits, and on a normal day he knew that they knew what to do and how to do it. Today was clearly not going to be a normal day.
“People!” he called. “We obviously have a situation here. Does anyone’s station still have power? Sound off!”
A chorus of negative responses came from around the room. A few people added their phone lights to his, and he gladly lowered his outstretched arm.
“Alright, if we don’t have power then I bet the rest of the casino won’t either. Maureen, get someone from Maintenance on the phone and patch me in. Until we get power, we just have to wait and be ready.”
He swung his light around the room to take stock of his team nodding their understanding. The first job of getting his team out of panic mode was done. He could only hope that this was just a blackout and not something worse.
Robert’s earpiece beeped, and he heard Maureen in stereo as she told Maintenance that Security was on the line. Robert recognized the voice on the other end of the line as an electrician named Hagen who told him that it would be a minimum of ten minutes to get the lights back on.
“I can’t say I love that answer, Hagen,” Robert said. “What strings do you need to pull to get it done in five?”
“Are you crazy?” Hagen replied. “This isn’t some tripped breaker, this is deliberate action against our power grid; they even took out the emergency lighting!”
If the emergency lights were out too, that meant the gambling and arcade floors were in pitch-darkness and full of frightened (and on one side of the casino, likely drunk) customers. Robert’s stomach churned.
Ben’s a smart kid, he’ll figure out a way to stay safe. In any case, there wouldn’t be any way to make sure his son was alright until he got this sorted out.
“Listen, Hagen, I need at least those emergency lights on,” he said. Relying on his intuitions about the man he was talking to, he pushed. “Did you ever hear of the Algonquin Reserve Gaming robbery in 2012, on the New York side of the Falls? They cut the power there too, and staff got it back online within three minutes. But hey, if you can’t do it in less than ten, we’ll just have to live with that. Those American technicians, right?”
Hagen swore and hung up, and Maureen gave Robert a confused look. Robert held up a finger, and watched the timer on his phone. Casino management liked to organize social events for the entire staff. Whenever there was a contest between the Security and Maintenance teams, Hagen had always been one of the most competitive, and loved to trash-talk their southern neighbors. Two and a half minutes later, the emergency lights in the corners of the room kicked on and the machines around the room whirred as they powered up again. Robert imagined Hagen at whatever control panel he was working on, smiling in triumph that he beat some Yankee’s time. There was a cheer from the monitor team as their screens came back, but it died when they saw the camera feed.
In the vault corridor, masked figures wearing elaborate goggles paused as they ran away with large duffel bags over their shoulders. The masks looked like they’d come from a dollar- store Halloween display, but did the job of hiding their faces; IRAC wouldn’t be any help in identifying them.
One of the duffel bags - it had a set of reflective orange stripes on the side and a logo that looked like a wasp - caught Robert’s eye. The robbers recoiled from the light and scrambled to take off their goggles, then continued running. They left behind a group of casino staff, men and women responsible for bringing cash from the tables to the vault, bound with zip-ties on the floor. Robert tracked their progress through the corridors as they moved from one camera’s view to the next. He radioed for Donahue and Ramsoomair, as well as every other security guard in the building, but the cameras went dark again before he could give them a precise location.
Maureen’s phone rang.
“It’s Hagen,” she said. “Something killed the cameras after he got power back on, but he’s kept the network and lights alive.”
“It’s more than we had; tell him I said thanks and to keep trying to get us back to a hundred percent,” Robert said. He radioed for Donahue again and ordered him to lock down the building; nobody would get in or out until this was dealt with. Donahue’s voice echoed the orders over the channel, coordinating the rest of the guards.
Meanwhile, Robert walked over to the IT team.
“Maureen, do we have an outside line?” he asked.
“Good,” he said. “Call the cops, for all the good that will do.”
The new chief of police had decided to hold a grudge against the casinos, and with that came an unwritten rule that patrols were expected to drag their feet on any calls coming from them. Not that things had been much better under her predecessor.
When seconds matter, the police are minutes away.
He turned his attention to the row of people with keyboards at the ready.
“We already know they’re screwing with our systems; what else can we see them doing?” he asked. The techs immediately responded with a clatter of typing, writing instructions on the command line that Robert couldn’t follow and analyzing the input that came back.
“They’re definitely accessing our network from somewhere on-site,” Kim said. It’s the only way they could cause this kind of trouble, but the IP logs show the traffic coming from somewhere in Africa; they’re hiding their real location. I can pinpoint them, but it’ll take time.”
“So their tech guy has to be in the casino or hotel somewhere. Find him, it’s your top priority until the situation changes. Patwary, do you have anything?” Robert asked, turning to one of the other senior technicians.
“Sir, they’ve drained the electronic accounts,” he said. “The trail goes cold at a cryptocurrency exchange, I can’t track it.”
Robert took a deep breath; the electronic accounts had the potential to be even more valuable than whatever the crooks had gotten out of the vault. Every slot machine had an option for electronic payment, and those payments could get massive on a busy day like this one.
“Cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin?” he asked.
“Not Bitcoin specifically, a different one,” said Patwary. “But basically, yeah.”
“That’s fine, then,” Robert said, relieved. “That blockchain thing it’s all built on, it tracks every transaction, doesn’t it?”
He tried to keep up-to-date on new financial technology precisely for situations like these, where they might be used against his casino.
Patwary shook his head. “With enough time, maybe we could track it all. The coin they’re using has no transfer fees, so they’re able to transfer the money over and over again between dozens of different wallets - kind of like money laundering. By the time we figure out where it all ends up, these guys will be long gone and our only hope to get the money back will be the courts. And that’s assuming that this coin doesn’t have some sort of anonymity feature built-in.”
Robert frowned. Expecting a quick result from a court case was a fantasy under normal circumstances; adding new technology to the question made it about as likely as a heat wave in the Yukon. The amount of money these thieves had taken from their systems, on top of what they may have gotten from the vaults, could ruin Freefall entirely; they didn’t have time to wait years to see a judge and months after that for him to learn what cryptocurrency was.
Donahue radioed in; the lockdown was in place, and they had confirmation that nobody had left the building beforehand.
“Okay people, what do we know?” Robert said to the room at large. “They’ve taken cash, but they’re locked in. They’ve robbed us electronically, but whoever knows how to get the money back is locked in too. We’ve got a building full of scared customers and an unknown number of crooks hiding among them, somewhere in the casino.”
“Or the arcade, or the hotel,” offered Maureen. “They may have even checked in.”
Her words made a connection click in Robert’s head. The duffel bag with the orange stripes and the wasp logo came to mind again. He got Hagen back on the line.
“Hagen, I know the live feeds are down, but how about the archived camera footage from the past 24 hours?” he asked.
Hagen grumbled on the other end, not happy about being interrupted, but he came back with the answer Robert was hoping for: the archived footage was still available. Robert thanked him and hung up, then got the monitor team to pull up the check-in desk from the day before, looking for someone he remembered seeing on his morning patrol. He scrutinized the multiple angles until he saw what he wanted, then paused the footage. A man was frozen in the act of accepting his room key, and hanging from his shoulder was a striped bag with a familiar insect on the side.
Robert jabbed the screen with his finger. “Get IRAC to follow that guy through the archive footage, I want to know where he went and who he spoke to.”
I’ve got to recommend Hagen for a bonus after this.
Those precious few seconds of camera footage had given them exactly the edge they needed.
Fifteen minutes later, Robert approached room 0719 with Donahue and Ramsoomair behind him and opened the door with the Security master key. Inside, a round little man with tightly-curled hair looked up with shock from a laptop. He tried to run, but was easily caught and restrained by Ramsoomair.
Robert radioed for Maureen to send Patwary or Kim up to the room. While waiting for the tech to arrive and figure out where the cryptocurrency was, he needed to figure out where the robbers themselves would be next.
“Let’s get you a seat,” he said to the fat little man.
Donahue helped Robert duct-tape the hacker to the simple wooden office chair from the suite’s desk, with his hands immobilized in front of him as if he were about to pray.
Robert picked up the two-slot toaster from the kitchenette and unplugged it.
“Around here, we like to joke about the bad reputation casino security has. People always think we’re going to break their legs for cheating, or cut off a finger for counting cards,” he said. “The truth is, we don’t do any of that. Maybe some mob-run places in New Jersey do, but we’re an honest business, and we’d lose all of our customers pretty darn quick if we started mutilating them whenever we thought they were screwing us over.”
Smiling his well-honed Security Manager smile, Robert held the toaster up in front of the other man’s eyes. “Of course, robbery is a bit of a special circumstance, isn’t it?”
He turned the toaster upside down and slid it onto the hacker’s trapped hands like stainless-steel mittens, then picked up the cord.
“You’re going to tell us how to find your friends and get our money back,” Robert said from behind the chair as Donahue dialed the toaster up to the highest setting, “and I reckon that you’ll want to do it quickly.”
Donahue pushed down the cooking lever, and the hacker yelped as the grilles tightened on his fingers.
“This is crazy, you can’t just cook my hands!” He struggled to get free of the tape.
“Tick tock, pal,” Robert said.
Ramsoomair gave a low rumbling chuckle from the bed, where he helped himself to an open bag of cheese puffs. Sweat broke out on the hacker’s forehead as he squirmed.
“Come on, no, don’t do this!” he stammered, looking around the room desperately. “Please!”
The builders knew that casino guests can get rowdy, between late parties and other shenanigans, and the soundproofing between rooms was superb.
“Hey Donahue, do you know how hot a toaster gets?” Robert asked in a pleasant tone. “I mean, I know it’s hot enough for those coils to start glowing red, but what is that in degrees?”
“All right! All right!” shrieked the hacker. “It’s an inside job, it’s all Brayden’s idea! He’s been casing the joint as a dealer, he knew the schedule for taking money to the vault, he got me the information I needed for the crypto heist! They were going to ditch their disguises and just leave with the money, but now I don’t know what they’ll do! Now get this off me, get it off me!”
Robert snapped a photo with his phone.
“There’s no rush to do that,” he said. He held the screen up in front of the restrained man, showing the toaster cord tied to the leg of the chair and nowhere near an electrical outlet. “It wasn’t plugged in, genius.”
Kim entered the room as the hacker sobbed with relief and Robert stood over the abandoned laptop.
“This is what they were using to keep the cameras down; I want you to get them back up, then work with our new friend here to track down our money. And Ramsoomair, if he gives Kim any trouble, you have my blessing to plug in the toaster.” Robert switched gears, talking to Maureen again. “Kim’s working on getting the cameras back up; get IRAC looking over every bit of footage showing Mike Brayden. We need to find him and his friends right now.”
A walkie talkie that had been lying on the nightstand squawked to life. “Everyone, this is Sinatra. They’ve locked down the doors, but I’ve got a way to open them,” said a nasal and arrogant voice Robert recognized as Brayden’s. “Get ready for Plan B. Don’t wait for the splash, just run like hell, got it? Sinatra out.”
Code names. Cute.
“What’s Plan B?” he asked the hacker, but the man was still incoherent.
A dull ache was building up behind Robert’s eyes and he could feel his hands starting to shake; with all the stress and exertion, his blood sugar was dropping quickly. He surveyed the junk food in the room and picked the least offensive option. Chewing on the chocolate-coated granola bar gave him time to bring his brain back up to speed, and the sugar helped to steady his hands. He stared out the window while he considered the situation, and the view of Horseshoe Falls distracted him for a brief moment as it always did. Then it clicked.
“Waterproof,” he said. “The bags must be waterproof. They’re going to throw the money into the falls, then recover it later.”
His mind raced. For a plan like that to work, there had to be a tracker in each bag. That way they could find the money again no matter how far downstream it went. He ran through a mental checklist of what he knew about Brayden from the few times they’d met: quiet, kept to himself, didn’t really get involved in work events. Not much of a team player. A guy like that wouldn’t trust anyone else to be able to find the bags; he’d have the tracker with him. As long as Robert could catch him, they’d know exactly where the cash went and could recover it at their leisure.
Maureen spoke up in his ear. “Robert, I’ve got eyes on Brayden. He’s got one of the duffel bags and he’s in the staff corridors heading west.”
“West? Why would he go that way? He should be heading for the Falls on the east side of the building,” Robert said. “Get teams watching every exit on the west side, and keep track of Brayden.”
Robert could hear Maureen relaying the orders, then she came back. “By the way, I’ve got eyes on Ben too.”
“How is he?” Robert asked, trying to ignore the worst-case scenarios in his head.
Maureen laughed. “It’s hard to tell without sound, but I think he’s got the younger kids in a circle for story time. Whatever he’s doing, the situation in the arcade looks calm enough.”
For the second time that day, a proud sense of surprise bloomed in Robert’s chest. Instead of giving in to panic, his son had stepped up to keep the situation from getting any worse.
“Brayden’s still heading west, towards the buffet,” Maureen cut in. “Now he’s stopping for something… oh, you son of a -”
The fire alarm didn’t scream, so much as it nudged into the conversation with a gentle but incredibly loud piano chord.
“The fire alarm has been activated,” said a soothing voice at decibels loud enough to be heard over the loudest noises the casino floor could produce. “Please proceed to the nearest emergency door and exit in an orderly fashion.” The music and warning repeated itself again and again. If Brayden had pulled the fire alarm, the building systems would automatically lift the lockdown and the robbers could mingle with the crowd of guests to escape.
“Robert, everyone is heading for the exits,” Maureen said. “There’s too many people for the guards to manage. What do we do?”
“Stay on Brayden.” Robert had to restrain himself from shouting, knowing that the microphone would pick up his voice regardless of ambient noise. “Disregard everything else; we need to get Brayden before he gets away.”
He made his way to the exits too, then thought better of it. Like Maureen said, everyone was going that way; he’d just get stuck in the crowd. Instead, he ran for the nearest staff access door and keyed in the code to get into the employee corridors. The walls there were plain painted brick instead of the sumptuous decorations of the customer areas, but they were nearly empty, and that’s all Robert needed. He easily shouldered past the few staff members making their way to the nearest exits, and headed for the dining patio. It would give him an elevated position to watch the crowd for Brayden, and the spiral staircase would be a quick route to ground level to catch him.
Robert heard footsteps and voices at an upcoming intersection, and stopped in his tracks when Ben appeared. “Ben? How did you get back here?”
“When the fire alarm went off, I thought this would be a safe way to get everyone out of the arcade,” Ben replied.
There was a parade behind him with kids of all ages, and other teenagers helping to keep things organized down the line.
“Don’t get mad,” Ben said, “but Donahue told me the code months ago. I beat him at air hockey. What’s going on?”
“Too much to explain right now,” Robert said.
There would be time later to praise Ben’s initiative and have a talk with Donahue. Robert patted his son on the shoulder and told the kids to follow him, then led the way to the dining patio. The air that rushed into the corridor was crisp; the patio was near enough to the edge of the cliff for a refreshing breeze, but far enough from the Falls to avoid the spray. Some of the tables still had half-finished meals that were probably abandoned when the alarm sounded. A quick scan of the dining area and outdoor bar revealed nothing suspicious, so Robert ushered the kids outside and directed them down the stairs. They followed the mounted signs designating the fire exit route.
“Mr. Harrison, I wish I could say it’s nice to see you.”
Robert turned around. Brayden, duffel bag over his shoulder, was holding a gun to Ben’s head. A scrawny man with narrow features and a long face, he was still wearing his dealer’s uniform. A cold vice clamped onto Robert’s heart and hot rage flooded his brain at the sight of Ben in danger. He put up his hands and composed his features.
This is no time to be impulsive. Think of a plan.
“Mike, put the gun down,” he said in his Security Manager tone. He searched his brain for anything that he knew about the man in front of him that could help defuse the situation. “We’re all friends here, aren’t we?” He tried to look Brayden in the face, but his gaze was drawn back to Ben. The boy had frozen, not moving a muscle aside from his wildly darting eyes.
“Friends? Like hell are we friends, Harrison. You’re just another cog in this whole stinking greed machine,” Brayden said. “You and the kid just hold real still, and we’ll all get out of here in one piece.”
“You want a hostage? Use me instead. Ben’s got nothing to do with anything,” Robert said, careful to keep his voice steady. His only chance to get his son out safely was to keep a level head. He seized on Brayden’s words, taking a chance that his intuitions about people wouldn’t fail him. “I’ve got no love for this place. Do you have any idea how long I’ve worked here? Can you guess how little they pay me? My Christmas bonus last year was coupons to the buffet, Brayden.”
“Boo hoo, what difference does that make?” Brayden asked.
“It makes a difference because I’ve been looking for a chance to screw them over. I can help you,” Robert said. “There’s a tunnel we use for taking cash from the vault to the bank when it gets too full, only staff with the highest security clearance know about it. I’ll take you there, and the cops won’t have any idea where you went.”
“Nice plan, but what do you get out of it?” Brayden asked.
“I get the perfect excuse to help you knock the pricks who run this place down a peg or two,” Robert said with disgust. “You get away with the money and I get to say ‘Hey, it wasn’t my fault, he had a gun.’ I might even get a commendation for bravery. Besides, what do you care? It’s your ticket out of here.”
Brayden stood in silence for a moment, then pushed Ben away. He immediately ran to Robert’s side, and threw his arms around his father’s neck as if he were a little kid again.
“Dad, what are you doing?” he whispered.
“Trust me son,” Robert replied. “Just get out of here and find someplace safe.”
He watched Ben descend the stairs. He looked back just before he moved out of sight, and Robert gave him a nod. With Ben gone, he could breathe again and focus on what needed to happen next.
Brayden cleared his throat, and aimed the gun in Robert’s direction.
“Come on Harrison, let’s go for a walk. Just keep in mind that this is staying in the small of your back the whole way.”
Robert nodded and led Brayden back indoors and down to the vault.
Brayden slammed a door behind him and cursed.
“How much farther is this tunnel, Harrison?” he demanded, jabbing Robert with the gun.
They had gone several levels down in the building, making turn after turn, with no sign of stopping.
Robert turned another corner, then pointed to a nondescript door at the end of the hall with a security keypad next to it. He keyed in a code, but the red light at the top of the pad blinked in denial. He tried another code with the same result, then a third.
“Okay, hang on, hang on,” he said with a hitch in his voice. “My hands are shaking too bad to enter the code.” He held one up as evidence.
Brayden laughed. “Aww, is the big bad security guard scared?”
Robert shook his head, then looked around to make sure the hallway was empty.
“No, it’s just that - look, I’ve got a habit. I need my fix, or I’m not going to be able to get us out of here,” he said.
Brayden shuffled his grip on the heavy duffel bag and the gun to wipe his face. He looked around for another exit, but saw only the nondescript hallway they’d come down. “Fine, whatever, take your damn fix. Just be quick about it.”
“It’s good stuff, believe me,” Robert said with an embarrassed chuckle. He slowly reached into his jacket, pulling out the plain black case. “I can’t get through the day without it,” he added, pulling out one of his prepared syringes.
“Looks like you’ve got enough to share,” Brayden said, leaning in and eyeballing the second full needle. The gun hung by his side, temporarily forgotten.
“Yeah, absolutely. Here, have a taste,” Robert said, jamming the syringe into Brayden’s bicep. The needle easily passed through the thin white uniform shirt and into the muscle beneath, releasing a full dose of insulin.
Brayden’s eyes went wide and he tried to raise the gun, but Robert grabbed him by the shoulders and kneed him in the stomach as hard as he could. The gun clattered to the cement floor as Brayden gasped for breath. He lunged for it, but the bag threw off his balance. He stumbled over his own feet and collided with the painted cinder block wall instead.
Profanity poured out of Brayden’s mouth as he pushed up.
“I’m going to kill you, Harrison,” he snarled. “Then I’m going to find your kid and kill him too. Then I’m going to get out of here with my money, and every year on this day I’ll have a good laugh thinking about it while I’m living on a beach somewhere.” He reached into his pocket and flicked his wrist, and the blade of a folding knife gleamed in the fluorescent lights.
The gun had slid down the hall, and Robert would have to pass Brayden to get it. Brayden was starting to sweat and turn pale, but there were no other ill effects yet. Robert bounced on the balls of his feet to stay nimble. He dodged while Brayden slashed at the air in front of him, but on the third try the blade caught him across the upper arm.
Getting sloppy. I could have guessed he’d have a knife.
The knife in Brayden’s hand started to shake, and the tremor moved up the arm. Brayden swung again, but the tremor spread to the rest of his body. With a look of dumb surprise, he fell convulsing to the ground. Robert kicked the knife away when it hit the floor, and waited until the seizure stopped. He opened a line to Maureen on his earpiece.
“It’s Robert. I’ve got Brayden.”
A petty impulse in the back of his mind told him to just leave Brayden be; it would serve him right for endangering Ben.
“We’re outside the server room on the vault level. He needs urgent medical attention,” he said instead.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I’m still a human being, and so is he.
As the police officer walked away, Robert watched from the front steps as the paramedics loaded Brayden into the back of an ambulance. The thief was handcuffed to his stretcher; Robert wondered how he would react when he woke up in a hospital bed under police custody. After he finished giving his own statement, Ben ran over to throw his arms around him.
“Rob, you really came through. We’re on track to recovering all the money, and most of the perps are rounded up already,” Maureen said from behind him.
The information on the hacker’s computer had been exactly what they needed to recover the stolen digital currency. Ramsoomair and the other guards had kept most of the guests away from the railing overlooking the Falls, though a handful of the robbers had managed to already throw their bags over the side. A device in Brayden’s pocket had led them straight to the guilty parties who hadn’t dumped the money in time and were still holding their bags, and a team had been dispatched to recover the others. There were still some thieves on the loose, but Robert was confident that someone on Brayden’s crew would confess and snitch on the ones who got away.
Donahue came around the corner and gave a whooping laugh when he saw Brayden. “Aw, yeah!” he shouted. “The boss put Brayden in the hospital! That’ll teach him to knock over our house! How’d you do it, sir?”
Robert looked around. His team was standing around him in a loose circle, watching him for cues as they always did. He looked at Ben, and thought about all the ways his son had surprised him that day. If he was going to keep being an example for Ben, it was time to tell the truth. He took the black zippered case out of his jacket.
“I’ve been taking insulin injections for a couple of months now,” he said. “I lured Brayden away from the crowds, gave him a shot, and kept him busy until diabetic shock set in.” He waited for their reaction.
The team were silent for a moment.
“Damn, sir,” Donahue finally said, “that’s just… awesome! I wish I could have seen that!” He came up the steps and clapped Robert on the back, then shouted after the ambulance as it pulled away. “That’s right! My man will eat you for breakfast, check his blood sugar, then go back for seconds! You better run!” He insisted on pantomiming the fight with Robert, who was happy enough to oblige after not seeing the pity he’d been so afraid of on the faces around him.
After the second re-enactment of how he took down Brayden, he clapped his hands twice.
“Alright, enough fooling around. Donahue, start securing the building so we can let everyone back in. Maureen, work with Client Satisfaction to get these people some freebies for the inconvenience. Kim, Patwary, make sure our network is back in fighting shape. Keep in touch with Hagen, too. I want IRAC back up five minutes ago in case some of the perps are still hiding in the crowd.” Robert took another look around at his team. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, people.”