Sunday, December 9, 2012

Freedy Filkins, International Jewel Thief, 43.

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"You've created quite the fuss among your enemies, Freedy," Key said, not even waiting for Freedy to say something.  He was on speaker, though Freedy hadn't specified that.

"What the...?" Sheila exclaimed.  "Who's this?"

"This is my friend, Mr. Key.  He's helping me, aren't you Mr. Key?"

"Charmed to meet you, Special Agent Sheila Moller," Key said, agreeably.  "I've heard so much about you."

Freedy put his fingers to his lips when Sheila looked ready to ask more.

"Our friends are captured inside the Price-Ceiling store in Hopperville, Arkansas and I need to know which storeroom."

"That would be Storage Unit G." Key answered.

Freedy started up the van, realizing that he just hadn't driven far enough.  The letter on the dock next to them read "D."

They were just coming around the backs of trucks when he saw the guards.  He stopped and backed out of sight again.

"Did you count them?" he asked Sheila.

"There are two guards on the outside of both the front and back doors, and two guards inside." Key answered instead.

"How does he know that?" Sheila whispered.

Freedy happened to look behind him, and saw a patrol armed guards walking  the outer perimeter of the parking lot.  He edged the van into between some of the giant parked trucks as far in as he could squeeze.

"How many guards are searching for us altogether?"

"Forty-five," Key said.

There was silence in the van as Freedy and Sheila realized what they were up against.
Freedy thought for a moment about ordering all the guards away, but it occurred to to him that among those forty-five were the supervisors, the people giving orders -- including the Grandma from hell.

He might be able to get in by foot, alone, but beyond that he didn't have a clue about how he'd be able to get the entire crew out of there without being discovered.  The fewer orders he gave, the better chance he probably had.

"Can you order the guards out of the room on some pretext?" Freedy asked.

"I can order them out, but they would run to their supervisors soon enough," Key said.  Freedy noticed the Key wasn't making any suggestions about how to get out of this dilemma.  Perhaps, as a program,  It couldn't.  No, that wasn't right.  The Key was self-aware, It could help if It wanted to.  But after Freedy's experience with the bounty hunters, Freedy didn't trust the Key.

No, the only way to use Key was to give it specific and limited instructions, and preferably instructions so clear and simple that they couldn't be be warped or misconstrued.

"Show me the contents of the storage unit," he asked, getting an idea.

"Do you want inventory lists or pictures from inside?"

"Let's start with the lists," Freedy said.

The contents of the warehouse quickly popped up and started scrolling by.

"Slow down!" Freed commanded.   There, just as the scroll suddenly slowed to a crawl he saw what he wanted. "Show me the inside of the room..."

Key scanned the warehouse.  There!  Freedy immediately saw what he wanted.  Now came the really hard part.  Explaining the Sheila.

"My friend Mr. Key is just the most amazing computer whiz you've ever heard of," Freedy said. Which was true, after all.  That fact that the computer whiz was a computer didn't detract from that.

"I can see that," Sheila said.  She could tell something was wrong, probably, but couldn't quite put her finger on it.  "Why have you been keeping him a secret?"

"I wasn't sure about Garland and the others," Freedy said.  "Mr. Key only likes dealing with me, isn't that right, Mr. Key?"

"If you say so," Key said.

Freedy stopped himself from cursing.  "Always a kidder..." he muttered.

"You always liked my kidding before," Key said.

Again, Sheila frowned.  Maybe the Turing Test was still valid after all, because she seemed to sense there was something not quite right about Mr. Key.

"I'm going to have Mr. Key order away the guards inside and at the back exit.  Then, as quickly as possible, I'm going to try to free our guys and get out of there.  Have the van ready to go."

"Freedy," Sheila reached out and grabbed his arm.  "Are you sure about this?  They've only been charged with misdemeanors.  They'd probably be let go by tomorrow morning anyway."

"Remember, there are others looking for them," Freedy said.  "I don't believe they just happened to be spotted and arrested.  I thinking they were waiting for us."

Sheila agreed, he could tell.  But she didn't know about Key, only that he was a computer whiz and far away and a thin reed to hang their plans on.

"Trust me, Sheila," Freedy said.  "I know what I'm doing."

She stared into his eyes, and no doubt saw the fear in Freedy's eyes -- but she also must have seen the strange confidence that came from having an all-powerful, self-aware -- if treacherous -- computer program helping him.

"All right.  The guards made their circuit a couple of minutes again, you should be clear for about five minutes."  She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.    "Hurry, Freedy.  Come back to me."

Freedy jumped out and ran toward the dock.  He could still feel her soft lips on his cheek.  It energized him.

Outside the doors, he stopped.  "O.K., Key -- here's what we are going to do if we can't make a clean escape."

Freedy gave a series of rapid and specific instructions.

"You got that?" he said at the end.

"That's is pretty crazy, Freedy," Key said.  "But yes, I understand you."

Very well, Freedy breathed.  Time for the great escape.

 "Open the bomb-bay door, Hal!" he shouted into the Hello Kitty phone and unlike the movie computer, this computer obeyed.  The sliding door started ratcheting up.  He ran into the room and immediately saw his friends trussed up but not hooded and gagged.

"Holy Moly!" Jay said.  "Do you guys see who I see?"

"Master Thief indeed," Charlie said, looking pleased.

Freedy had his pocket knife out and was cutting at the plastic ties in seconds.  Good thing no one used old fashioned handcuffs anymore.  He would have been screwed.  He was getting pretty good at this.  They were free in less than a minute.

"Let's get out of here!"

It was too late.  There was banging on the front door of the storeroom and not seconds later banging on the back doors.  They were trapped.  Freedy realized that he hadn't given instructions to Key to lock the door behind him.  The Key had apparently thought of that Itself.  Perhaps the Program was trying to help after all.

"Thanks for locking the doors, Key," he said, aloud.

"Hey, I'm enjoying your shenanigans.  But I'm wondering if you're going to get out of this one."

"Who you talking to?" Charlie asked, confused.

Freedy saw a window at the far end of the room, ran over and opened it.  Just barely big enough for most of them, and probably too small for Jim, actually.   About a twenty foot drop to the ground.  Not impossible, but pretty scary.  It was also visible from every direction.  He left the window open.  His clothes were so ratty by now, he easily tore off a section of his sleeve and shoved it into the grooves of the window ledge.

"Well, nice try, Freedy," Charlie said, looking resigned.   "I'd be impressed if I wasn't afraid we're about to have our heads beaten in for trying to escape. You may have just made it worse."

"Time for Plan B," Freedy said, sounding more confident than he sounded.   He got on his Hello, Kitty phone, calling the only number on his list.

"Get out of the parking lot, Sheila.  Now.  Wait at the eastern outskirts of town.  At about 4:30 this afternoon, a truck with the serial number STW421 will pass you.  Follow it to it's destination."

"What's going on," Sheila said, sharply.

"No time to explain."  Freedy turned off the phone.  He took out the Key.  After a moment's thought, he removed the battery.

Along the back wall there were seven huge beer barrels.  They'd been used recently in a local beerfest and were scheduled to be sent back to Milwaukee.  Freedy had rescheduled them for Centerville, Pennsylvania instead.

He opened the lid of one of them, and an odor of days old beer wafted out.  He recoiled.  Oh, well.   No help for it.

"Your chariots await!" he shouted at the others, pulling the lids off one by one.  "Hop in!"

"I'm not getting in one of those!" Jim said, and Freedy remembered too late that the big miner was afraid of enclosed spaces -- which was quite a handicap for a miner to have.  Fortunately there were enough jobs outside the mines to keep him busy.  Now he was sweating profusely and his eyes were wide.

As the banging grew louder, the other miners ran to barrels and one by one plopped in.  Freedy pounded down the lids securely behind them.

Fat Jim approached last, and looked at Freedy.  "There's only seven barrels and eight of us," he said.
Freedy hadn't thought of that.  There wasn't time to rearrange.  It would've made more sense to have Steve and Sam share a barrel, for instance, instead of chubby Freedy and even chubbier Jim.

But there was no help for it.  The banging outside the doors suddenly stopped.  Oh, oh.  The guards with tools to open doors were either on their way or already there.

"No time to argue, dammit," Freedy said.  "Jump in!"

Eyes wide in panic, Jim got in, and Freedy gingerly lowered himself into the last little bit of space.  They barely lowered the lid before they heard the doors opening.

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