Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Rooftop Party and a Series of Felonies: Human Trafficking, Day One

One of the men we work with spends his time alongside the moneyed elite of our lunatic city.  He was at some ponderous party, one of those sky bars that dot the Financial District.  An acquaintance approached, eager to impress.  They’re all eager to impress at bars like that.  Commissions spend easier than normal paychecks.  Rumors were exchanged.  I don’t know enough about finances to imagine what may have been said.  Interests were peaked when the junior associate mentioned “a car service that offers more than just a car service.”  

Sex work is debated regularly within our organization.  Some say that legitimate sex work, that is, sex work where the woman has made the choice free of coercion, is none of our business.  Others say it is exploitation, plain and simple.  I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it.  There are days when I think it should be totally above board, licensed sex workers working at a chain store of sex, everything open and safe.  Then there are days when I see it as evidence of some kind of moral decay, or worse, I see that any woman working in such an industry must be coerced somehow, by society, by upbringing, by low self-esteem.  I’ve tabled the debate in my head for now.  When we come across a new organization trading in flesh, we investigate.  We’ve yet to find one completely blameless.  There’s always some evil hidden there.

The junior associate handed our moneyed man a business card, advertising the services of a professional masseuse named Ivanka.  He copied the number into his BlackBerry, and wished the associate a good night.  I’m sure he was met with a lecherous smile.  When he reported in to the organization, we ran the number.  The phone is registered to a company called “Novelty Amusements of Uniondale.”  We searched court filings, but the business had none.  The internet was similarly unhelpful.  The only record was its record of incorporation, which was back in 2002.  That’s what a front looks like.  Some local bank somewhere will have transaction records, probably just enough money in an account to pay for a few phone lines.  

Even a front can be helpful however.  Novelty Amusements of Uniondale was incorporated in May 2002, and the officer of incorporation was oh so helpfully listed.  A gentleman named Lloyd Remmens filed it.  A quick search revealed he was a lawyer of small renown, without a discernable specialty.  He’d been to court on cases ranging from personal injury to landlord-tenant disputes.  He worked at a firm no one within the organization could claim to have heard of.  After completing our actionable avenues, an operation was called for.

The lawyer’s office turned out to be in a large residential apartment building.  A search determined his was not the only business located there.  Two therapist’s offices and an accountant shared the same building, but not on the same floors.  His office was on the 16th floor.  I don’t like to break windows at that height.  I know it’s crazy, but I worry about it doing some kind of structural damage to the building.  Wind pressure or something.  A bit of fake physics I’ve picked up from some action movie I’m sure.  Knowing that you’re being irrational isn’t much of a deterrent.  That meant covert entry. 

You wouldn’t think breaking in to a residential apartment building would be very difficult.  It’s not the Pentagon, after all.  What makes it so difficult is the sheer unpredictability of it all.  We counted 10 apartments per floor, with 24 floors total. That’s 240 apartments.  Let’s be conservative and say there are two people in every apartment.  That’s 480 people.  480 people who might have trouble sleeping.  480 people who might’ve been woken up by their dog for a 2 am walk.  480 people who might be doing laundry, or using the gym (it’s a fancy building, you have to plan for a gym).  It’s harder than you would think.

I made my way to their service entrance, but it had a security camera.  Strangely enough, a well-dressed man in a gas mask isn’t the most covert mode of dress.  Since I was going dark, I had forgone the mask.  That meant the camera had to go.  There are lots of ways to beat a security camera, but I settled for the one that would ensure a security guard go check on it.  This model broadcasts its image wirelessly to a base where the pictures can be monitored.  The likelihood of someone competent actually monitoring the cameras was low, but why risk it?  I hid a device the size of a pack of cigarettes in the roots of the small modesty bush they’d planted to offset the ugliness of their service area.  Close enough to the camera to be helpful, but not so close as to be detected.  The device was the Professor’s.  It creates a neg signal on the same broadcast frequency as the camera.  When I turn it on, if there’s a guard watching, all he can see is static.  I was about to break out a tool developed by the KGB for disabling locks, when I saw that the lock was made by KABA.  KABA locks are used all over the world, even on military bases.  It’s your basic push button lock, where a code is given to anyone who needs access.  For a lock used by several different militaries, it’s amazingly bad.  All you need to beat it is a very strong magnet.  Fucks it right up.  As it happens, I carry a very strong magnet.  

In my coat I carry a handheld, Israeli-made thermal imaging device.  Attach it to any surface, and it can tell you if anyone awaits you on the other side.  No one did.  Once inside I dispatch the Professor’s rolling surveillance pods.  We may have to give them over to the military one day.  They roll throughout the service area, taking pictures like a Google Street View van, telling me what I face.  For something so mobile, they’re really tough to spot; smaller than a marble, they rarely pique anyone’s interest.  They then compile their collective data, and send a complete tactical picture to headquarters, or in this case, to the small tablet in my coat pocket.

I needn’t have worried about security cameras.  They link up to a hub two doors down.  A computer handles the feeds, probably networked to a second computer at the front desk, where the lone security guard is sure to be sitting.  Since I’m all alone down here, I decide to see if anyone is up and about in the building.  A heavyset man is using an exercise bike in a small gym, and someone is doing laundry.  If anyone else is about, I don’t see them.  The main lobby feed is up, and the man at the desk doesn’t seem to be paying any particular attention to anything, in that nether zone of night work, where you’re awake but asleep.  A few keystrokes ensure that even if he should check the cameras, all would look normal.

I sprint up the stairs, and head for the lawyer’s office.  Never take the elevator.  That’s a trap.  When I reach the lawyer’s door, I finally get to use my KGB toy.  I love it.  The Russians were true masters of the craft.  Their device looks like an ice pick.  Instead of a pointy end, it has spokes that look like an unfinished key.  You place the key-ish bit in the lock, and gently let the key bits interact with the architecture inside the lock.  The key bits on the device can be pushed inward, so if you’re gentle, your device will sync up with the pins in the lock.  Once you’ve got it synced up, you lock the key bits in place, and you’ve got a key that fits the lock.  It’s brilliant in its simplicity.

I close the window shades and turn on the lamp in his office.  Flashlights are a dead giveaway.  After some futzing on his computer and a look through his file cabinets, I find out the real owner of Novelty Amusements of Uniondale.  George Vincent, and his son George Jr.  Welcome to the night, gentlemen.  You won’t enjoy what we have planned for you.

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