Standing in the white corridor, Hatchet let his eyes roam around the corners, looking anywhere but at the keypad on the door at the end of the hallway. One of the scientists bent over the keypad, typing in a complex sequence, while his companion stood by and looked back nervously at Hatchet.
Not much met Hatchet’s wandering eyes, however. The corridor was empty, the walls and ceiling covered in sheets of aluminum and painted white. Not even security cameras broke the blank stretch of ceiling.
He’d asked about that, of course. “We can’t use security cameras,” one of the scientists had explained quickly. “They could be hacked, leaked. It’s a security risk.”
The other scientist hadn’t said anything, but Hatchet saw him slide one finger into the collar of his suit’s neck, adjusting its fit slightly. His face stayed blank, but Hatchet knew the man was sweating.
They didn’t want anyone to ever see what they were doing inside this facility.
With a beep, the keypad lit up in green, and mechanical sounds began to rumble from inside the walls. Hatchet knew that steel bars were sliding out of the door’s frame, back into their sheaths in the walls. The process only took a few seconds.
One of the scientists immediately ducked in through the newly opened door; the other lagged behind, waiting for Hatchet. He didn’t look at the white-coated man as he stepped past, through the heavy door.
On the other side, the room looked like a typical research lab at first glance. Lab benches were set up in rows, with shelves stacked with equipment along the walls. Several large apparatuses sat around, centrifuges, incubators, and other devices too complex for Hatchet to identify. Just like the corridor outside, almost everything was painted a clean, sterile white.
Making sure to keep his hands in his pockets, Hatchet strolled slowly into the room, never letting his eyes settle in one place. He noted the bars over the vents, the lack of windows, the steel-plated door set into the opposite wall.
“And through there?” he asked, nodding towards it.
“Storage,” the scientist behind him answered shortly.
Hatchet stepped over to the door. The steel door was also secured by a keypad, but on this door the steel rods were visible, standing up from the floor and emerging down from the ceiling to block the door from opening. Reaching up, Hatchet tapped one of them.
They felt very secure.
“As you can see, completely secure,” the scientist in front of him said.
The consultant shrugged. “Maybe. Open it.”
The scientist in front of him glanced over his shoulder, back at his partner. “Why do you need to open it?” the man behind him asked.
“The crystals were stored in there, yes? So that’s where the theft happened. I need to see the inside.”
Neither man moved. “You can’t go in there,” the scientist behind Hatchet said.
The consultant silently counted to five in his head, and then shrugged. “Okay then. Thank you for your time, and I’ll have my bill sent to you within three business days.” He turned, heading for the exit.
Inside his head, he only made it to three. “Wait!” the rear scientist called out, his voice filled with stress. “Okay, we’ll open it – but you have to promise not to mention it to anyone!”
Hatchet didn’t let a single hint of a smile appear on his lips as he stopped, turning back around. He waited, and the scientists once again busied themselves keying in numbers on the access panel.
With another hiss, the inner vault door opened. Once again, Hatchet stepped inside, sandwiched between his escorts.
The room was small, and reminded the consultant of a bank vault. The walls were lined with locked metal doors, presumably with a space behind each for storing various items.
“Perfectly contained,” the scientist in front of Hatchet said.
Running his fingers over the steel doors, Hatchet slowly walked around the small inner room. Three quarters of the way around, he stopped, tapping on one of the doors.
“The crystals were in here,” he said.
Both men started, jerking as their eyes went wide. “How did you know?” asked the first scientist.
Hatchet didn’t reply. Instead, he pulled out a small metal tool from inside his jacket and slipped it into the lock. Both men raised their voices in a cacophony of objections, but those died away when the little metal door popped open.
“After a lock’s been picked, it’s more worn down and easier to open again,” Hatchet commented, only glancing briefly inside the open, empty container before pushing the door shut again.
“But that still doesn’t explain how the thief got in here,” the second scientist said, as his companion continued to gape at the open door. “He couldn’t have gotten past the keypads-“
“He didn’t,” Hatchet interrupted. Reaching down, the consultant slid his picks into another door, this one closer to the floor. He opened it, and then stepped up on top of the door, using it as a step to allow him to reach the ceiling.
One of the aluminum panels there had a loose edge. When he pulled down, the whole thing opened up with a clatter. Up above, in the newly opened space, all three men could see darkness stretching away; the opening led into the crawl space above the metal ceiling of the lab.
The second scientist was the first to regain his voice. “I don’t see how this helps you get the crystals back,” he spoke up. He probably knew how petulant he sounded, but he didn’t let that stop him.
“It does,” Hatchet replied, crossing his arms as he looked up into the dark hole. “Now, I know what sort of thief I’m looking for.”
“And what sort of thief is that?”
“I’ll tell you when I find him.”