There's nothing I hate more than being woken up. The feeling of being ripped from a peaceful sleep ought to be illegal.
The sound of a phone ringing forces me awake. The device vibrates far too violently for something so small, banging against the wood of my bedside table. I try to ignore it, hoping the caller will give up eventually. Sure enough, the phone eventually goes quiet. I pull the sheets over myself and turn over in my bed, slipping back into unconciousness. Not a minute later, the phone begins to ring again, enough to shake itself off the table and onto the floor.
"For the love of- Can't a guy get some fucking rest?!"
My irritation growing by the minute, I finally sit up and kick the sheets off my legs. I lean over the side of the mattress and grab the damned thing, clutching it so tightly that I feel it bend in my grip. Such cheap plastic isn't uncommon for burners. They all get thrown away in the end. I squint my eyes in the dark, trying to make out the caller. Whoever it is, they're going to live to regret bothering me in the middle of the night.
"Andrea? The fuck does she want at this hour..." I groan, exhaling loudly. I accept her call and put the phone to my ear.
"Boss," A familiar, feminine voice addresses me. Her tone is ice cold and objective. "there's trouble. Are you somewhere safe right now?"
"Why's it matter?" I groan, sighing deeply. I rub the back of my neck with a hand as I crack it left and right.
"Our operation has been comprimised."
"What makes you so sure?" I say, now fully awake.
"The cops put an APB for your arrest less than an hour ago. They're likely sweeping your public address as we speak. It's a matter of time before they find where you really are."
I rush over to the window, peeking through the blinds. The streets are empty. I don't see any signs of a threat, yet.
"How many of our guys did they get?" I ask her while getting dressed. "Has anyone talked?"
"No, sir, everyone is fine. It seems they're only after you."
"How'd they- Never mind, I'll worry about that later. For now, I need to get out of here. Where are you at?"
"I'm at the usual meeting spot."
"Good. Have the boys to head over there. Stay where you are, I'm coming to you."
I end the call and then drop the phone on the floor. With a hard stomp of my heel, I destroy the thing without hesitation. I grab my coat and my 9mm and leave my hotel room, never to return. I tend to travel light, meaning I didn't bring much with me other than a bar of soap and a change of clothes, neither of which I'll miss. My most valuable possession is my stash of tech, which I keep in a special room in our workshop. I made it a point not to keep anything I'd regret losing at my place, for this exact reason.
"Dumbass cops are always two steps behind. They'll be chasing my shadow till dawn." I shake my head, a smug look on my face. "Then again, all I have to do is stand still and they'll catch up."
As I make my way to the workshop, I think about what to do next. It's not easy while I'm so agitated. There's a burning question in my mind, one that I can't ignore.
Who the hell ratted me out?
As far as anyone's concerned, I'm an upstanding citizen. I own a humble tech repair shop on the shadier side of the city. People come to get their cracked screens fixed and to unlock password protected devices that may or may not be their own. It's not my business to ask. All I care is about is seeming as mundane as possible. I couldn't give less of a fuck about what people think of me, so long as they leave me in peace.
Though, that's only half the story. A business like mine hardly provides. Hell, in this economy, it'd leave me living paycheck to paycheck. That's no way to live, especially when there's ways to live better. There are business oppurtunities everywhere, especially in our industry. Technology's come a long way in the last couple of decades. It seems like every time something interesting gets made, the government decides to regulate the shit out of it. Illegal tech is hard to come by, and even harder to make. It's basic supply and demand. The less there is, the more people want it. And we'll provide it, but not for free.
As I arrive at the workshop, I notice that the lights are off and the metal gate's been left two thirds closed, a sign that one of my guys is in. I go over to it and knock twice, before heading around back. I wait at the other entrance until I hear someone moving around inside. The door then opens, revealing Andrea. Our gazes meet, but we say nothing. She steps aside to allow me in and locks the door behind us. We head into one the storage room, a place we made entirely sound and bullet proof, where I find Lucian, Manish, and Yeong-Su seated at the table. All three of them look visibly uncomfortable when I enter the room.
"I'm sure you've all heard the news. I'm a wanted man, thanks to someone saying something they shouldn't have."
I pause to gauge their reactions. I look for any tells, even a slight reaction to my words. None of them seem guilty, at a glance. I wonder if that'll change in about fifteen seconds. I reach into my coat and pull out my gun, the slince of the room making the click extra loud as I switch off the safety.
"You know, I'm in a pretty fucking terrible mood tonight. Here I was, sleeping soundly, like a newborn baby, when I get woken up by a call."
I say this as I begin to pace around the room. Their eyes follow me as I do so.
"A call that I never thought I'd get. A call that just didn't make sense to me. A call that makes me wonder about loyalty. Considering we handle both development and distribution, there's no middle man to blame. The only ones who are in the know are in this very room."
I stop next to Yeong-Su, putting my hand on his back. He flinches as I do so, his eyes locked onto the firearm in my hand. I give him a hard pat on the back, but he remains silent. That's fine, since I'm pretty sure it wasn't him. I just need to make the other two nervous.
"I'd like to think I'm a generous man. You show up, do your jobs, and leave with ten times the amount any legal job would pay. The only reason I take a cut is to pay the electricity bills. You know I don't make any more than you. We have an understanding. That's how we do things, right?"
I notice Manish nodding nervously in agreement. The other two follow suit.
"Now, as pissed off as I am, I'm willing to give you guys a chance. If you know something, speak now. There won't be any consequences."
I give them a minute to consider my offer. Though I said I'd give them a chance, I don't really know how I'll act if someone confesses. I can feel my finger itching to pull the trigger. I've never killed a man before, but in a situation like this, I'm not feeling anxious about it. An example has to be made, in one way or another. It soon becomes clear to me that none of them are going to speak up. I don't think it was one of them. Though I know it has to be, the feeling in my gut says otherwise. They're just university students looking to make an extra buck. They've got more to lose than me if they're caught. I doubt they would've showed up here on my order if they were guilty.
"I've seen enough. You've earned the benefit of the doubt, for now."
Finally, I put my weapon away, as it was before. I sigh loudly, venting a little of my frustration in the process. As the Boss, it's my responsibility to protect my boys, as well as our operation. Internal conflict is the last thing we need right now. We need to shift regain our focus if we want to come out of this unscathed. I suppose now is as good a time as ever to announce my plan.
"With things the way they are, it's unlikely anyone will come after you all. Keep your heads down, show up to your classes, and don't say a word to anyone. If the cops comes to speak with you, you give them the usual story. Am I clear?"
"Yes, Boss." The three of them say at once.
"We're going to need to clean this place out tonight. Grab our product and move it out to the other location. In a few days we'll resume business. Lucian know where. After that, you wait until Andrea contacts you."
"What about you, Boss?" Yeong-Su asks, his gaze unable to hold mine for more than a few seconds.
I feel a smirk crawl across my face. "I'm going to disappear."
"They'll find you. There's nowhere in the city that isn't on CCTV." Lucian says, looking skeptical.
"Trust me, I'm not going to be found. That's all you need to know. I need to figure this fuckfest out before we can resume business. In the meantime, you'll be reporting to Andrea."
"I'll do my best." She says, accepting her new responsibility.
"Now hurry up and get to work. Who knows how long it'll be before they come check this place too?"
The three of them practically jump out of their seats and begin collecting all of our contraband. It doesn't take long, since we keep so organized. Ten minutes later, each of them exits the workshop with a large box of tech, leaving me alone with Andrea. She leans against the wall with her arms hugging her waist. She's eyeing me as if she has something to say, but isn't sure she should say it.
"Spit it out. There's no better time than now."
"I'm concerned." She begins. "What did you mean by 'disappear'? Lucian is right, there is nowhere to go."
I give her a smile and walk over to one of our storage lockers, pulling out a device from inside. It looks like a remote, only bulkier and with less buttons.
"No one can actually disappear. What's important is not to be found." I say, walking over to her slowly. "I recently got my hands on an especially illegal piece of tech, one that can do just that."
She stares at the device, studying it. Unlike the boys and I, she's no tech person, but she's very good at bookkeeping. Even so, it doesn't take her long to recognize it, considering it was all over the news just a year ago.
"This is one of those matter-altering devices. They call it a shrink ray."
"And who says you're just a pretty face!" I reach out and pinch her cheek. It clearly bothers her, but she doesn't complain. "These things threatened to destroy the economy after they tried to grow gold. That's the official story, at least. Turns out the real reason was because it's great at destroying evidence. Want to hide a body? Shrink it down to nothing. Got something illegal to hide? Shrink it too."
"Wait. Couldn't we have used it to hide our tech?"
"We could have, but then we would have to cease operations entirely. I can't let that happen. Business will continue, even if it's slower."
"So you plan to shrink yourself and hide? Since you don't want to be found, I assume you plan to become quite tiny."
"A quarter millimeter, to be exact. So small that I can hardly be seen by the naked eye. There could be a hundred cops in the room and not one would be able to find me. I won't have a scent either, meaning none of the dogs'll be able to track me." I tell her, handing the device over.
"That is...difficult to visualize. I suppose that could work, but what next? At that size it will be difficult to live normally."
"You're right. That's why I'm going to be in your care."
"Excuse me?" She looks at me, wondering if she misheard.
"You heard me." I say, in a more serious tone. I give her an intimidating look, daring her to object. "I'm going to put myself in your care for the time being. Got a problem with that?"
"None, sir." She says, quite obediently.
"Good." I smile. "The device has already been configured. Press the red button to reduce me and the blue one to restore me to normal. Aim and shoot, simple as that."
I step back as she aims the device at me. She hesitates, for a moment. "Do you really trust me with this? You're absolutely sure?"
"Andrea, you're my right-hand woman. Plus, if I'm going to be hanging around with someone for a few days, I'd prefer a woman to one of those sweaty kids." I wink at her. "I probably won't be able to talk to you very easily while small. You're gonna have to get used to one-way conversations. We'll figure it out later, I guess."
Andrea aims the device at me, her thumb hovering over the red button. "I will do everything I can to help. Good luck, Boss."