Ocelot thought about it a moment, then shrugged. “I guess we should probably check the hotel before we hit the morgues. I don’t know about you, but spending my evening looking at stiffs if I don’t have to isn’t my idea of fun.”
“I’d be worried if it was.” Winterhawk made a U-turn and headed back toward the Laubenstein Plaza. “Even if you do have to.”
Ocelot chose to ignore that. “You think they’ll talk to us?”
The mage shrugged. “With the proper application of alcohol or nuyen, most people will talk. It’s not as if we’re obstructing any official investigations, after all.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Can’t even get too pissed at the Star for letting this one go for a couple of days. I mean, people turn up missing all the time, and sometimes it’s because they wanted to be missing, you know?”
‘Hawk turned slightly to look at Ocelot. “Are you suggesting that our Mr. Ng’s aura of connubial bliss might be a bit thinner than we might have suspected?”
“Hey, it’s happened before. Mr. or Mrs. Happy Homebody gets fed up with the demands of home and family and skips out. Gotta admit, it’d be a good place to do it. It’s easy to lose yourself in Seattle if you know what you’re doing.”
Winterhawk considered that. “It’s certainly something to think about. Let’s see what they have to say inside and we’ll go from there.”
Back at the hotel they re-parked the car and headed inside. They didn’t go to the front desk—security there, especially at a hotel this upscale, was bound to be tight and it was unlikely that the desk clerk would be willing to answer questions. They decided to return there later after they’d gotten some more information.
“Okay,” Ocelot said as they entered the lobby. “Got any ideas where to start?”
‘Hawk smiled. “Yes, indeed.” Unlike Ocelot, who felt vaguely uncomfortable amidst the Laubenstein’s rather stuffy finery, the mage was at home here.
“You gonna share?”
Ocelot grinned. “Good idea. If Ng didn’t come back Monday night and left his stuff in his room, the maids would’ve found it.”
“And likely they’ll keep records. Come on. Let’s find Housekeeping.”
A casual question to one of the bellmen pointed them down one of the hotel’s back hallways to a door labeled “Housekeeping.” Their knock was answered by a female voice: “C’mon in. It’s open.”
As the two runners entered, the ork woman behind the littered desk looked up first in surprise, then in suspicion. “Who are you? I was expecting somebody else.”
“We’re terribly sorry to bother you, Ms. Murphy,” Winterhawk said smoothly, picking up her name from the small badge she wore. “We’re looking for some information about a friend and we thought p’raps you might be able to help us.”
The woman didn’t look any less suspicious. “Why do you think I can help? Did your friend have some kinda housekeeping emergency or something?”
“No. He’s disappeared. And to be honest with you, he’s not actually a friend of ours—we’ve been retained by his business partner to find out what’s become of him.”
The woman calmed just a bit. “Don’t know how I can help you. I’m afraid I’m pretty busy—”
“It’ll only take a minute,” Ocelot said.
“Quite so,” ‘Hawk agreed, putting on his best ‘charming Brit’ manner. “Can you spare us just a few moments of your time?”
Ms. Murphy sighed. She was a middle-aged woman with a careworn, open face and did not appear to be the type who appreciated bullshit. “Okay. Pull up a stack of laundry and shoot. But I’ve got a shift of maids comin’ by in about half an hour for a meeting, so you’ll have to clear out before that.”
Winterhawk nodded. “Not a problem. The gentleman we’re looking for is named Edwin Ng. He—”
“You got a room number?” the woman interrupted.
“No. That’s what we’re hoping you can help us with. You see, he checked in Monday evening and was due at a meeting Tuesday morning which he never attended. We’re trying to determine if he might have left anything in his room or if he actually even stayed in his room Monday night.”
“But you don’t know the room.”
“No. Do you have any way to look up guests by their names?” He indicated the dataterminal off to one side of Mrs. Murphy’s desk.
She shook her head. “No. We track only by room number. They don’t want the maids to have access to the guests’ names.”
Winterhawk nodded. When he paused a moment to consider his next question, Ocelot spoke up: “Do you keep records of anything weird found in any of the rooms, or anything unusual that happened? You know, like maybe the maids had to clean up after a wild party or there was blood in the bathtub or something?”
The ork woman shuddered a bit at Ocelot’s phrasing, but then she nodded. “Yeah. Anything strange, we log it just in case we might need to check back on it later.”
Winterhawk smiled. “Excellent. Can you p’raps check to see if anything odd occurred during the room cleanings on Tuesday morning, for any guests who weren’t checking out then?”
Mrs. Murphy nodded and turned to her console. Before she began, she looked up with a hint of the old suspicion. “Did you guys say you were private detectives?”
“After a fashion,” Winterhawk said. “We’re—more like private consultants.”
That seemed to satisfy her. She turned back to her task, punching in some information and then sifting through the results. “Let’s see...here’s one where the guest got sick all over the bed...one with a party where the guests spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the room...one where the window was broken when a chair was thrown through it...no...no...wait! Here. This might be it.”
Winterhawk and Ocelot leaned forward in anticipation. “Yes?”
She paused to read over the rest of it before returning her attention to her visitors. “Looks like the maid showed up to clean the room and found it hadn’t been used...That’s not really unusual, but then there’s a note here that the guest should have checked out this morning, but when the maid showed up to clean the room after eleven, his things were still there, just like before.”
“You mean he hadn’t touched anything in two days?” Ocelot asked. “Was it the same maid?”
Mrs. Murphy nodded. “Yes. The maids are to note down anything odd that they notice in the room, and she wrote that everything there was in the same position as when she was there the day before. The same clothes in the same spot on the bed,the same cyberdeck on the table—she thought it was strange that it looked like he hadn’t returned at all.”
“Interesting...” Winterhawk mused. “You say it was past checkout time and he didn’t pick up his things. What might have been done with them?”
“Oh, they’re gathered up and tagged with the guest’s name and then placed in our secure storage room. They try to contact the guest to make shipping arrangements.”
“So they’ve probably called his wife,” Winterhawk said under his breath to Ocelot. “We’ll have to check on that.” To Mrs. Murphy, he added, “Do you have any record of what things have been stored?”
“No. Other than what the Maria has written down here, we don’t. That’s all handled by hotel security.”
“What exactly did she write down?” Ocelot asked, trying to get a glimpse of the screen.
Mrs. Murphy looked at it again. “A business suit in a garment bag on the bed, and a cyberdeck on the table. That’s all she noticed.”
Winterhawk nodded. “Thank you, Mrs. Murphy. You’ve been very helpful. If you could give us just one more bit of information, we’ll be on our way.”
“The room number.”
The ork woman hesitated, obviously wondering if she had already said more than she should. Apparently deciding on the in for a penny, in for a pound philosophy, she sighed. “1247.”
Winterhawk gave her a dazzling smile. “Thank you very much, Mrs. Murphy. We appreciate your time.”
Outside, the two of them headed back toward the lobby. “So it looks like he didn’t stay in the room Monday night at all,” Ocelot said. “We should find out if anybody saw him around here after he checked in.”
“Shall we investigate the hotel bar, then?” ‘Hawk asked. “P’raps he stopped in for a drink before heading out to wherever it was he went.”
Ocelot didn’t have any better ideas so the two of them located the Laubenstein’s bar, a ritzy little hole-in-the-wall place that didn’t have a name, just a discreetly placed “Bar” sign over a doorway framed by two tall potted plants. It was adjacent to the restaurant, which was reached both from the outside and through an archway on the far side of the bar. This time of night the place was well-occupied, its small intimate booths filled with young and not-so-young individuals, mostly human, in corporate suits. ‘Hawk and Ocelot noticed that the ratio of whites to Asians seemed to be about 50-50.
They approached the bar and ordered beers. When the bartender, a young Japanese man, returned with their drinks, ‘Hawk slid the holo of Ng across the bar. “We’re looking for a friend,” he said offhandedly. “Have you seen this gent in here in the past couple of nights?”
The bartender studied the pic for a few moments, then shook his head. “Not that I know of. Sorry.”
“It would have been Monday night sometime,” Ocelot said. “Between 6 or so and closing.”
“Hey, I see a lot of people,” the man protested. “But I don’t think I’ve seen this guy. You might try asking some of the waitresses.” His eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Just looking for a friend,” Ocelot said, picking up his beer. “Thanks.”
None of the waitresses recognized the picture either, but most of them cautioned that they saw so many people every evening that one man who’d only been in once would likely not set off any particular bells in their minds unless there was something quite unusual about him. Ng, a rather ordinary-looking man, had not sparked anyone’s memory.
Winterhawk put the pic back in his pocket and sighed. “Restaurant?”
“Yeah. Then maybe we should go talk to security.”
They were heading across the bar toward the archway that led to the restaurant when Winterhawk’s phone buzzed. “What now?” he asked with a sigh, moving over into an alcove where he could answer it. “Yes?”
As Ocelot watched him, his expression went from mild annoyance to wide-eyed shock to weary acceptance. “I see. Yes, of course. We’ll be right there.” He closed the phone and slowly put it back in his pocket.
“What?” Ocelot demanded.
Winterhawk’s eyes met his. “That was Mr. Takahara. It seems we don’t have to look for Mr. Ng anymore. They’ve found him. Dead.”
Yuri Takahara looked like he was about to collapse when Winterhawk and Ocelot arrived at his room. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Takahara,” the mage said, gently propelling their distraught employer to a chair. “Do you—have any more information about what happened to him? Where he was found?”
Takahara shook his head. “No. Lone Star called me because I’d left my number with them should anything turn up. They’ve made a tentative identification based on the picture I gave them, but they want me to come to the station and make a positive identification. I’ve asked them not to call Lucinda—his wife—until we are certain.” He looked up at them with haunted eyes. “I wanted you to know, so you could collect the remainder of the payment I promised you. I suppose there’s no need for me to retain your services any longer, since it appears that Edwin has been found.” He reached into the pocket of his suit and with shaking hands offered two credsticks. “Thank you for what you’ve already done, gentlemen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should be going to the Lone Star station.”
Winterhawk and Ocelot looked at each other, each one wordlessly questioning the other.
VOTE RESULT (Poll closed 7/23/00, 83 votes):
Refuse the credsticks for now and offer continued services: 82%
Take the credsticks, thank Takahara, and go on their way: 18%