Hank Symmons stood on the south side of Mount Maunganui watching runners, walkers, and hikers making their way around the circuit at its base. The sun was setting, though while everyone else had a bit of urgency to them, Hank stood still about twenty meters above the path. His back rested against a large chunk of rock that kept him hidden. He had military-grade binoculars in his hands that were pointed in the direction of the Ports of Tauranga. This had been his third day watching the ships come in and unload their cargo. It was less about what, more about how. He needed to understand their process, to see how they moved, where things were taken, to understand where the clear points of access were. His binos were synched to his phone so he could record images and play anything back that caught his interest. Today, the ship he had been waiting for, had arrived. He watched the last of the people leave, the sky darkens and the ports with their flashing lights come alive.
Their mark was a Hapag-Lloyd container. One of Germany’s boxes that had actually come in from Asia. Hank smiled to himself. The brief he’d received, as usual, had been a joke. A single line in an email from someone calling themselves -˜Zadkiel’, the last of the seven fallen angels. His first job had been from -˜Gabriel’. They always gave him an obscure code he had to decipher. This one had led him here. He replied in kind, ensuring that its sender knew that this job would be the last. It had bounced back of course. Twice, which always told him that he’d gotten it. The promised fee for success was the highest yet. Thing was, the traps around the prize continued to get worse. He’d have to go carefully.
At 2 am the black zodiac picked him up from the foreshore. The wind was up which made it cold, though their wetsuits kept them warm. They were a team of four. Hank had a policy of never working with the same people twice, so all of them were unknowns. He had, of course, researched them all, medical records, insurance policies, as well as their social profiles. There would be three in the boat and one under contract at the port itself. The fourth had been planted weeks before, around the same time he’d figured out where it would happen. He thought about the shared manifest, the container codes that helped with storage. Everything was well thought out and had thankfully, been recorded. The small auxiliary was a quiet one, it had been masked. Even so, they killed the engine as they drifted into a dark recess of the sea wall that protected the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club which bordered it.
They rechecked their gear, pulled on rubber soles, strapped on the dry bags that held propane tanks, blowtorches, a kevlar blanket, and bolt cutters. With their watches synched, they used small rubber oars to work their way around to the mapped access point. They anchored offshore with a long line tied to a buoy they’d marked earlier, then swam in. The site was a maze of coloured boxes, stacked like lego in epic proportions. A small shower had been through so the sides of the steel boxes glistened under lights. Hank had sketched the layout in a notebook on the opposite shore. The codes his inside man had sent allowed him to pinpoint its location. Though despite their best efforts to change the placement, the container had been elevated and stored hard up against others five containers high, hence the blow torch.
His inside man was on night-shift. He was rostered to walk a circuit every two hours with checkpoints that had to be marked during his rounds. His walk started in five minutes. Hank lay on his stomach at the beachside of the port. His face was pressed to the concrete facing his partner. The third man carried the bolt cutters, he would follow them at a distance, the backup. They said nothing beyond a silent count from five to zero when the time had elapsed. Then they were up, running through a corridor of containers, adrenaline fueling their movements. They used a parked forklift to scale the side of the block they were after. There was a narrow gap that they straddled using their backs and legs to climb. They clipped themselves to the bolts that opened the doors with a caribbena to leverage themself up. They held their positions as trucks passed below, watched from above as cranes slid across rails high above them to move containers. A microlight helped them read box numbers as they searched for their mark. Fifteen minutes had passed before they were pressed to the backside of the container they needed. The door couldn’t be opened having been wedged against another.
Hanks’ running mate clipped his backpack to a caribbena on one side of it. He used another to tie himself to the door’s rods while Hank did the same. Now their weight was being held by the fastenings. With his feet wedged between containers, he pulled his kevlar blanket free and covered them. Hank had his night goggles on, wedged a knee into a wall and screwed the head of the propane tank into a hose that led to a trigger. A gaslighter had them underway. Sparks were caught in the blanket wrapped around them as they cut a hole in the side of the container. They did it slowly, cutting square tiles and stacking each of them on top of it, making sure they’d have space to get in and that nothing would fall out. They paused as a torchlight caught the side of the box, it flashed twice then disappeared. The first pass from their guy. Hank checked an adjacent point to where they were hiding, their back up was hidden on a similar level. They’d need to move faster.
Soon they were done. Hank forced his way inside, he was careful to cover the opening with the blanket to avoid burning himself on the way in. His friend followed.
-˜Holy shit, look at all this gear,’ his friend whispered, pulling a small knife from his pocket.
The microlight lit up stacks of oversized porcelain skulls. Their heads were huge, the largest of which bordered on being close to an inflatable beach volleyball. Some were ornate with gold flecks stuck to craniums, others silver, bright-greens, pink skulls with headbands, others with giant headphones and eye sockets filled with plastic flowers. Huge candelabras rested on the floor between them.
-˜Must be some kind of artist. Pretty awesome man.’
Hank ignored him. -˜There’s a painting here somewhere. Find it.’
There were several, all as macabre as the next, with nudes, ghouls stretched across each canvas depicted in oils that were both rich and grotesque under the light. A gentle tap on a bottom container reverberated through the floor, a gentle steel ping that sounded. They’d been here too long, a second pass had been made and it was time to go.
-˜Where is it?’ he hissed.
They’d gone through everything, there was no sign of it. Then he looked up. Stuck to the ceiling was a large thick print.
-˜Give me your knife. Now, quickly.’
Hank ran it gently around the sides of the picture’s packaging, the paper fell away to reveal a canvas of the seven angels in all their glory. Their faces were almost passive if not slightly pained as they tumbled one after the other from a clouded night sky, their wings either singed or still burning. The piece was beautiful. Hank traced their fall with a finger, raised the knife to the last angel and plunged it through its chest.
He heard his mate gasp behind him, though kept going. His gloved hand split the canvas, then ripped at it as he felt in behind the ornate frame. He inhaled as he withdrew an old book. He blew dust from its cover, studied, then pocketed it within his jacket.
-˜We’re good to go.’
-˜Not so fast,’ said his friend. He had disconnected the tube from the propane tank and swung it hard into the side of the large pink skull with the headband. Its head caved in. He reached inside and withdrew bags of white powder. He grinned. -˜Jackpot! Looks like meth to me,’ he said peering into it. -˜There’s got be at least forty kilos in each of these heads.’
-˜Leave it. Time to go.’
-˜What?’ He asked, his face screwed up beneath the beanie he wore. -˜All this for a book? Have you got any idea of how much this shit is probably worth?’
He smashed the silver skull and took two more bags from another head. -˜See. You’re crazy man. I’m not leaving without it.’
-˜It’s not what I’m paying you to do.’
-˜Then don’t pay me at all,’ he said stuffing white bags into his backpack.
Hank was off. There was no reasoning with him. He’d connected his caribena to the bolt before he made it through the opening. The blanket was still wrapped across the hole they’d made before something connected with his face, knocking him backwards, stretching the cord that connected him to it. He crashed into the nearest skull shattering it. He rubbed his head as he sat up amongst a fresh pile of white bags. The assailant was his third man. He’d used the bolt cutters to strike him.
-˜Grab him, Terry.’
Terry paused, though Hank heard movement behind him. He launched himself forward, wrapped the cord around his assailant’s neck and dove for the entrance, slamming into the opposite wall of steel before sliding down in between the containers. He could hear his attacker gasping, chocking then saw him convulsing above him as he hung from the side of it. His assailant’s neck had broken his fall, then itself. Hank checked his jacket for the book, then unclipped himself and dropped to the concrete below. He could hear Terry yelling, then screaming. The cord started running as he heard him following him down.
Lights brightened, alarms sounded as the place came alive. -˜Stop! Come back, this is on you,’ shouted Terry.
The first to arrive on the scene was his fourth man. He wore an orange hi-vis jacket, smiled at him from behind a beard with a gun in hand. Terry arrived behind him, panting, backpack still in place.
-˜I think we’ve got a problem, Hank,’ said Hank to Terry.
Terry looked confused.
-˜Too bad, I’d expected more from you,’ said his fourth man as he fired.
Terry fell as Hank drove the small knife into the hand of the fourth man. The gun dropped to the ground, though Hank was on top of him, reigning blows as he fell.
The fourth man laughed as he lay on the ground, bleeding through his smile.
-˜Did you get it?’ He asked.
-˜You mean this?’ Said Hank taking the book from his pocket.
He smiled again. -˜Then your wealthier than I ever was.’
-˜Thanks, Gabriel. Enjoy your time inside,’ he said driving his fist into his face, knocking him out. He tore the hi-vis jacket off his body, swapped his own beanie for a hard hat, then left Gabriel with his gun and Terry’s backpack. He took the phone from his pocket, used Gabriel’s thumb to unlock the device with the home key. He took a lanyard from his neck, then looked out towards the shoreline. The coastguard already had its lights sweeping the water. He joined the other staff as they watched it sweep the bay back in forth in front of them.