The Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg Job
Nate tried to ignore two whispering voices in his ear. It wasn’t working. He tapped with his fingers on a dark green poker table, keeping a frozen smile on his face. He couldn’t silence Parker and Eliot, so their infinite argument went on and on.
He slowly showed his cards, looked at all five men that sat around the table, and picked up all the chips from the middle of it.
He was winning. No wonder, when his opponents, all professional gamblers, tried to read his face. They didn’t know that his reactions were caused by four voices in his earbud – four distressed, pissed off individuals who were driving him nuts. It was easy to grit his teeth, listening to Sophie whining to Hardison, while at the same time watching extremely good cards in his hand. His opponents must’ve thought he was a world best bluffer.
He was raging inside.
“Ggagogg, hah, that part is funny-“
“Parker, I swear, if you do that one more time-“
“Relax, Sparky, this is fun!”
“Stop talking. Just stop talking.”
Nate closed his eyes, covering that with the rubbing of his forehead, and sighed. At this point, he didn’t care if the five men came to some conclusion based on his sighing.
Sophie’s soft chuckle, this time, didn’t lower his blood pressure. “-not to mention all the little pearls and beads and feathers in my hair; it’s a shame your hair isn’t long enough to try it. I wonder if Eliot will agree to go with his hair fully braided, if we have to go to the tribal meeting tomorrow.”
“He seemed to like the extensions you put in his hair this morning for a practic-“
And Hardison’s reply was cut off, for the hundredth time in the last fifteen minutes. Nate could hear both pairs only for a few seconds, sometimes even more, but most of the time it was just a static in his ear.
Parker and Eliot were together on the one side of the island, while Sophie and Hardison were on the shore of the lake. Hardison couldn’t break the protection that Adrian Martin – somehow - put on the phones, jamming all signals. The earbuds were at least working, but only partially, from time to time. There was no communication between the two pairs - Eliot and Parker had no idea what Sophie and Hardison were doing, and vice versa.
He knew everything, and they could hear him, all of them… but he couldn’t speak freely.
Somehow, he felt this night would be a night to remember.
Twelve hours ago
When Nate and Eliot returned from a client meeting, Sophie still had two cucumber slices put over her eyes. They'd finished The Nail Polish Job just yesterday, and her eyes hadn’t had time to recover from the pepper spray yet. Usually Nate wouldn’t take another client so fast, but it seemed urgent.
And it was.
Chief Keith Vickers of the Sutton-based Hassanamisco band of the Nipmuc Nation tribe wasn't dressed in leather and feathers; he wore a classy gray suit and tiny glasses, but his story was well-known. A struggle for justice, recognition, and the rights of a small people. He needed their help, and he needed it fast. They had just three days to see why, exactly, the claim of recognition of his tribe was rejected. Just three days to do something before the appeal, which he said would be denied for sure.
Nobody else could help them, and that was a problem.
Nate knew that only after the initial investigation would he be able to tell the Chief if they would try to help him, so he decided to take one day, just one day, to see what could be done. He sent all the info to Hardison while they spoke with the client, knowing he would have something about Adrian Martin, their mark, by the time they got back to the office.
Martin was a deputy assistant secretary of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, and, based on the info the Chief provided, his doings were crucial to the denial of their claim. And if their claim was denied, every chance of opening a casino and providing a better life for the tribe would be gone.
They had to find out why. Today.
“Read it out loud, Hardison. I’m not removing these just to squint at your screens,” Sophie said when Hardison pulled up all that he managed to collect.
“Okay, the most important facts first.” Hardison clicked the remote and put Adrian Martin on all screens. Mid forties, plump, brown-haired, average man. “No criminal records, respected in his line of work, and rich. He owns a marina on the Chargoggagoggman…” he took a breath mid-word, “…chauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg Lake.”
Sophie peeked out from under the cucumber slices, rolled her eyes, and put them back.
“Also known as Webster Lake,” he continued. “The name of the lake is American Indian, in case you couldn't guess. It is said to mean ‘You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle’. The Town of Webster, Worcester County, our neighborhood of interest, has essentially that Lake and the Indian reservation, and that pretty much sums up all of it. Martin, however, has a few weaknesses. The first one – his love for expensive boats. The second one, he is an avid poker player. He even attended several tournaments. Not in the top twenty, but well known among the players. He organizes private games, closed, only the best players are invited, but I have yet to find out more about it. I'll have something in an hour or two.”
“Don’t forget we have only three days to deal with him,” Nate said. “And three days isn't usually enough for even basic info.”
“Well, we’ll spend them collecting that basic info, starting with today,” Eliot said, his first words since they got back to the office. Nate observed him; the hitter usually had numerous objections when he saw they were going unprepared, or when they rushed into jobs, but this time he just sat silently.
“What’s the difference?” he asked him directly. Eliot knew what he was really asking.
“The unemployment rate in the US is about eight percent. The Native American unemployment rate is about fifteen percent,” Eliot said not looking at him, watching the picture of Adrian Martin. “That tribe is small, not more than a few hundred people. One casino can save them all.”
“And you might get a chance to braid your hair and do tribal dances dressed only in a leather skirt,” Parker said evenly. The hitter twitched, turning to her with disbelief in his eyes.
“What?” she frowned. “If they have a tribe meetings, they probably dance.”
“That is so….” Hardison sighed. “… politically incorrect.”
Eliot was still glaring at Parker; she returned a bland stare.
“Concentrate.” Hardison pulled up one document. “This is an article that sums up the situation, but I ain’t gonna read it. That’s stupid.”
“C’mon, Hardison, grift yourself into it, we don’t have much time.” Nate took his remote and zoomed the letter. “Go.”
Hardison shot him one pained glance and took a deep breath. “Leaders of the state's largest group of Nipmuc Indians said yesterday the US Bureau of Indian Affairs acted unfairly and was carrying out 'an anti-casino agenda' when it denied the group federal recognition as a tribe. The group, which wants to build a casino in Webster, Massachusetts, announced its appeal of the bureau's decision and blasted the federal government during a news conference at the State House. ''I stand before you defeated by the United States government,' said Chief Keith Vickers of the Sutton-based Hassanamisco band of the Nipmuc Nation.” Hardison stopped when Parker huffed and waved. “What?”
“You don’t sound like a Chief. Do voices.”
“Go on, just go on.”
“Nipmuc Nation councilor Don Hamilton called the decision 'downright disgraceful’. 'It was as if they didn't even read our petition,' said Hamilton. 'This determination was made with an anti-casino agenda. They didn't just deny us. They beat us up. They humiliated us.'"
Parker giggled, Eliot slowly exhaled one long breath, probably counting to ten, or a thousand, and Sophie removed the cucumbers, so as not to miss Hardison’s expression.
“A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately respond to the group's remarks yesterday. But according to the Associated Press, Adrian Martin, the agency's deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, said he knew of no instance in which the internal appeals board overturned a negative finding. The Nipmuc Nation and a Dudley-based group calling itself the Nipmuck Council of Chaubunagungamaug have been attempting to gain federal recognition for nearly twenty-five years. Last week, the federal bureau's decisions stated that neither group could prove it had been active politically and socially as a tribe since historic times, as required under the federal recognition standards.”
Hardison sighed, taking a break. Parker beamed at him and Nate saw the instantaneous impact – the hacker sighed again, took a sip of his soda, and continued.
“Officials at the Chaubunagungamaug group's headquarters could not be reached for comment yesterday, but have said recently that they were also considering an appeal. Unlike the Chaubunagungamaug group, the Nipmuc Nation has made no secret of its desire to build a casino on land owned by the Nipmuc in Worcester County or across the border in Connecticut. One of the islands on Webster Lake was their main target. Frank Conrad, a longtime adviser to the Nipmucs in their quest to build a casino, said he believed the decision was fueled by politicians opposed to casinos, including several lawmakers from Connecticut who don't want other tribes to share in the riches enjoyed by the two Connecticut tribes who already run casinos. Chris Sullivan, a lawyer for the Nipmuc Nation, said the group would file its appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals by mid-September, within the two-weeks window for challenging the Indian Affairs Bureau's decisions. Because the internal appeals board has never ruled against the agency, Nipmuc officials predicted that the case will eventually end up in US District Court.” Hardison finished. “That’s it.”
“Adorable,” Sophie said gently.
Nate studied the documents and pictures on the screen, and they all waited. “That two week window ends in three days. I wish they'd found us earlier.”
“I haven’t finished.” Hardison snatched back the remote from him. “There's one more thing. Martin owns a marina on the Chagogg… on Webster Lake. If the Nipmuc built a casino on the island, that would only help his business. You need a boat to get to the island, right? No point in rejecting their claim. But…” Hardison clicked the remote, showing a Google maps image of the huge, colonial style villa. “I found something. I don't think anybody made the connection. The only house on that island is property of Justine O’Neill, Webster’s well-known pediatrician. Her maiden name is Martin.”
“Okay. Let’s go steal ourselves an Indian tribe. Tonight.”
It seemed so clear – a simple conflict of interest. Martin’s family had a house on the island where the tribe wanted their casino. It was a small island, and his comfort would be destroyed… yet, it seemed too simple.
Recon was the only way to find out more, right?
And nothing could go wrong.
Half an hour ago
“I still think I should go and play poker with those guys, Nate,” Hardison said for the hundredth time since they'd left Boston, shuffling with two decks in one hand. “I need to practice.”
“And I should go and hack Adrian Martin’s computer while you play?”
“No, just… we could rearrange tonight’s actions so I can do both things.”
Nate said nothing, wondering if the hacker’s remark was just expressing the worry that had gnawed at him since this started.
They were all sitting in Lucille, parked as near to the lake as they could get unnoticed. They'd arrived too early. The night was cold, and eerie fog was all around the lake. The fog would help them; moonlight, high above them, added a silvery glance, and more than that, added to the strange atmosphere.
Eliot was using night vision binoculars from the front seat. “Three players have arrived,” he reported, going to the back to them. “Ten minutes, Nate, and you can leave.”
Hardison managed to throw him into tonight’s play; every two weeks, Martin organized a very secret and very professional poker game. The stakes were high, and there was a list of pros signed up one year in advance. Hardison had spent the better part of the day negotiating, threatening, rearranging and messing with their schedules, but he finally did it. It was important that they started tonight – waiting two weeks for the next chance was out of the question.
This was supposed to be just a usual recon before Nate even started thinking about the plan. Simple data collecting. And he didn’t like it. They had been rushed into this and were unprepared.
They all shared that feeling, he knew it.
They had two main targets tonight, both on the lake. Martin’s family owned two large facilities. One marina, just two minutes from their hiding place, with four guards who were securing the object and patrolled around the boats, and a small hotel in the complex, which was Nate’s target. The poker game was in luxury salon on the first floor. He would keep Martin and his players occupied, take his pulse.
Sophie, as an exotic dancer who was sent as a surprise - or a prank - for the guards, would make a diversion for Hardison to pass by them. The offices with computers were behind the guard’s main room, in one long, tall, one-story barrack near the docks.
Eliot and Parker had a different task: they had to search Martin’s villa on one of the four islands on the lake - the same island where the Nipmuc tribe planned to build their casino. That wasn’t a coincidence, and Nate knew that was a big and important part in Martin’s decision to reject their claim – but there was something more than that. And the fact he didn’t know what, yet, was making his stomach churn.
Something was definitely wrong with this night.
Hardison wasn’t able to find anything useful about that mansion on the island. Almost a hundred years old, so no blueprints. There was a rumor of some major construction work, but every single trace ended in small local craftsmen, again with no data he could find or hack. They didn’t have enough time to go from door to door and talk with locals, to see who had done what and why. Eliot and Parker were going blindly, to find out what the hell was there. That was a main reason for this split up – Eliot would usually take the part with four guards, but not now. The two of them were a better choice for the unknown.
Traffic cameras in Webster were scarce, and only one camera was at the main gate of the marina. That one proved to be the most useful, and Hardison worked on it for the last four hours, going through the last week’s recordings. The results weren’t good. There was a significant increase in traffic in the late evening. The cars were entering through marina gate and were left on the parking lot, passengers going to the boats. The camera covered only one small piece of the dock and open water, so they could see only about twenty percent of the boats. During the day, boats went all around the lake. In the evening, they were mainly going to the island, returning at different times during the night and next morning.
They had about half an hour before the first visitors started gathering on the island.
Parker and Eliot both wore black clothes. Eliot had already found them a small boat, hidden from sight at the end of the dock. Paddling to the island would take ten minutes, no more, but they had to be silent and invisible. The fog would hide them, make it easier.
“Adjust your watches,” Nate said when the huge windows on the hotel’s first floor flashed with light. “The game starts in six minutes. Hardison, how long it will take to find something useful in the offices?”
“Can’t tell. Two minutes to enter, two minutes to start the systems, an unknown number of minutes to pass any possible protection, though I don’t think it would be anything serious – and a couple of minutes more while I copy everything. Sophie, you'll be able to keep them occupied that long?”
Sophie just blinked once, lazy. She was in black, too, but in layers and layers of veils and scarves, with her hair in a wild mess. When she moved, veils danced around her. Oh yes, she would keep them occupied without any need to actually dance or perform anything.
“Last call, Nate.” Hardison cut the deck, grinning. “I can go and play, and then go with Sophie.”
“Stop with that,” Eliot said lowly. “This isn’t a time for practicing playing poker, Hardison. They're pros, and your tells are indescribable.”
“What’s the matter, scared of a little fog?”
“The fog is an ally, there’s nothing to be scared… nope, you're the one who freaks out when outside.” Eliot opened a side door, letting the colder air in. He turned again to Hardison, with an evil grin. “Do you hear that?”
Eliot said nothing. In silence, they all heard crickets and frogs, their voices echoing dully through the fog.
“What’s that?” Hardison frowned.
“Nature. You have to pass through it to reach the marina. Are you scared enough?”
“Scared I ain’t – I’m cautious. I am-“
All four of them twitched at the same time, reaching to their ears. Nate hadn’t put in his earbud yet, so he heard nothing, but he knew that grimace – a burst of static, or worse, the screeching of a dying earbud.
“Fuck!” Hardison quickly turned around to his comm feed on the side table. “The game is starting, and they're jamming the signal – probably usual measures while playing to keep players safe. No one can listen. Not even the FBI surveillance van would break through this.”
“Can you fix it?” Nate took his earbud out of his pocket, but Hardison stopped him when he tried to put it in his ear.
“Don’t, wait. There’s a slight chance yours can get through if you activate it when inside the protected zone.” Hardison was quickly typing while speaking. “I’m boosting up everything I have – yours might work and ours – yep, here it is, I have it… I’m working on noise margins. Distortion and interference will stay. I can’t predict what will happen, not unless I work on it for two hours. Which we don’t have.”
This was getting better and better. Nate sighed, watching their faces. Worried, yes, but not more than with any usual job faced with unexpected obstacles. Eliot was annoyed. Sophie radiated calm all over the place. Parker was checking her backpack, seemingly concentrated only on that. Hardison was too occupied to radiate anything but sharp concentration.
The fog was creeping around the windows, and Lucille felt surrounded.
He wasn’t thinking about pulling the plug, at least not yet. The strange feeling wasn’t enough for that decision, and all of them would probably look at him as if he had lost his mind if he suggested they all stay in the van while he finished the poker game. They had one day to collect as many useful things as they could, and two more days to play them out; not nearly enough time. This chance, if missed, would delay everything. Breaking in to find computers, and paddling to the island to investigate the mansion, both of those were easier to do in darkness that in a daylight.
“That’s it.” Hardison hit the last keys and turned in his chair. “Try to ignore noises. You have your phones, so this ain’t critical. Nuisance, yes, but nothing more.”
“Right.” Eliot smirked. “We’ll need silence on that island, Hardison, not thundering or shrieking in our ears.”
“So take it out when you want to listen, duh.” Hardison rolled his eyes. “You are worried.”
“Nope, I’m pissed off, and you ain’t helpin.’”
“Nah, seriously, there’s nothing to be worried about – not the first time we…” he took the deck of cards and spread it in front of the hitter. “Here, pick a card. For morale. I bet you’ll draw a queen, whichever. Maybe the only person on that island is Martin’s wife, pretty and lonely, who knows? Maybe even a redhead. God knows you need to get back to redheads.”
Uh- oh, wrong distraction. Nate hid a smirk when Eliot’s frown went into a scowl. He growled lowly and took one card from the deck.
“So?” Hardison raised his eyebrows. “Which one?”
Eliot said nothing for two seconds, watching a card, then a quick smile flew over his face. “Nope… if you want to know which one, you’ll have to check the rest of the deck… and you don’t have time for that.”
A hand flashed past his shoulder; Parker snatched the card from his hand before he could turn around to stop her.
“Uh – oh,” she turned the card to all of them to see. The Ace of Spades. Her eyes grew wide in the blue light from the monitors. “Eliot, this is a Death Card. You’re so screwed.”
Well, they didn’t need that shit on top of everything.
For a moment no one spoke, no one moved – Eliot just rolled his eyes at the thief.
Nate let the silence spread for a few more seconds, but right at the moment he prepared to speak, to hush them all out to do their jobs and forget the stupid cards, Sophie moved.
She took the card from Parker’s hand and glanced at it, with a same lazy, comfortable smile.
Then she turned the card in her long fingers, reached and put it in his pocket. “The Ace of Spades,” she said quietly. “Atout Majeur, or the Main Advantage. The card of spiritual wisdom, and inspiration for others… when not indulged in bitter despair. The highest card in the deck.”
She turned to the others - not looking at Eliot who still had the same smile on his face – but to Hardison and Parker. “Your deck just decided who will play the game, Hardison. Nothing more. Shall we go?”
“Yep, we’re ready,” Hardison said. His face was one nuance lighter than usual.
Eliot’s grin became wolfish while watching him; the hitter clearly paid no attention to ominous signs, enjoying the hacker’s discomfort.
“Be careful,” Nate said when they all climbed out of Lucille, ready to spread in different directions. He immediately bit his tongue because of that slip – he rarely, very rarely warned them that way, not even when danger was more imminent.
They just nodded and disappeared in the fog.
He went to the main gate of marina, suddenly wishing that they'd all paid just a little more attention to this.
The fog was heavy, dark, and alive.