“Mr. Takahara,” Winterhawk said carefully, making no move to take the credsticks, “P’raps you might want to consider being a bit less hasty about terminating our contract. You’ve no idea that the chap downtown is Mr. Ng, and if he isn’t, you’ll still be needing our help, I trust. Why don’t you let us give you a ride to the Lone Star station so you can have a look.”
Ocelot nodded. “Yeah. As long as we’re still working for you, might as well let us stick around until you know for sure.”
Takahara looked uncertainly down at the credsticks and back up at the two men he had hired, obviously weighing options. Finally he nodded with a weary sigh and returned the credsticks to his pocket. “All right. You are right, of course. Perhaps it isn’t Edwin at all.” The tone of his voice suggested that he did not believe this, but that he was willing to grasp even the thinnest straw as long as it was available.
“Come, then,” Winterhawk said gently. Together he and Ocelot helped Takahara secure his room and lock it, then led him downstairs to their car.
“Which precinct?” Ocelot asked as they got in—Winterhawk driving, Takahara in the front seat, and himself in the back.
Takahara gave them the address and Ocelot let his breath out. “That’s a ways away,” he said. “Not a nice part of town.”
“Then—it is not nearby?” Takahara seemed surprised. “I do not know what Edwin would have been doing in, as you say, ‘not a nice part of town.’”
“If it is Edwin at all,” Winterhawk said, “it’s possible that he didn’t. The assailants could have moved him.”
The rest of the trip to the Lone Star precinct house was accomplished in tense silence. Winterhawk pulled the car up in front of the station, which was on the edge of one of Seattle’s less savory neighborhoods. Takahara appeared to be steeling himself for what was to come; he got out of the car and stood straight, head high and jaw set. ‘Hawk and Ocelot flanked him as he marched inside.
The desk sergeant didn’t even look at Takahara twice, although he gave Winterhawk and Ocelot a suspicious once-over as he waved them over toward a desk. “Talk to Lt. Beecham there. He’s handling the case,” he said. His voice was neither gentle nor harsh. Obviously he was used to this sort of thing.
“Wonder why they didn’t send us straight to the morgue,” Winterhawk muttered under his breath to Ocelot as they followed Takahara across the busy station. “You don’t think they’re holding the body here, do you?”
Ocelot shook his head. “They probably want the chance to question him. Or maybe they’ve just got a holo here. They do it that way sometimes.”
They fell silent as Takahara reached Lt. Beecham’s desk. Beecham was a harried-looking ork who still had the ragged-edged look of a beat cop about him. He looked up as they approached. “You must be Mr. Takahara. Have a seat, please.” He motioned to the single wooden chair next to his desk and glanced at Winterhawk and Ocelot. “They with you?”
Takahara nodded. “Yes. They are...associates of mine.”
That didn’t seem to bother Beecham, although he didn’t offer to get them chairs. He riffled through a stack of folders on his desk and then punched something into his dataterminal. “I’m sorry to have to call you down here this late, sir, but you’re listed as the contact on a missing-persons report for a Mr. Edwin Ng...”
He sighed, running a hand back through his sparse hair. “Looks like they’ve found a body this morning that might match the description of Mr. Ng. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to look at some pictures. If you recognize the victim, you’ll need to go down to the morgue and make a final identification, but we don’t like to do that until we’re reasonably sure.”
“Thank you,” Takahara said softly.
Beecham glanced at the dataterminal again and then opened the folder. Taking out two holopics, he slid them face-down across the desk. “I’m sorry,” he said again, his voice gruff but his eyes understanding. “Please tell me whether to the best of your knowledge these pictures show Mr. Edwin Ng.”
Takahara didn’t move for a moment. Then, with shaking hands, he picked up the first picture and slowly turned it over. He gasped, went white, and nearly dropped the picture, but when he looked up his face was calm. “Yes, Lieutenant,” he said. “This is—was—Edwin.”
Beecham didn’t push him to look at the other picture. He started to pick them up when Winterhawk said softly, “May I?”
The ork looked suspicious again but one look at Winterhawk’s eyes told him he wasn’t just looking for some sort of sick thrill. He handed the two images to the mage and then turned to type something into his dataterminal to give Takahara a moment to compose himself.
Winterhawk held up the first picture so he and Ocelot could both see it. It depicted the body of an Asian man in his mid 30s. He was shown only from the chest up, and was obviously draped with a sheet as if the picture had been taken in the morgue. The cause of death was quite obvious: there was a wicked-looking red hole in the center of the man’s head. From the stains on the sheet under the body it looked as if the exit wound was much larger. ‘Hawk raised an eyebrow at Ocelot and then slid the second picture to the top. It showed the same man from a slightly different angle.
Winterhawk sighed and handed the pictures back to Beecham, who slid them back into the folder and looked once again at Takahara. “Mr. Takahara—I’m sorry to have to ask you these questions now, but we’ll need some information from you. Then, as I said, I’ll have to ask you to accompany me—”
“Yes, of course.” Takahara’s voice was soft and shook very slightly, but still his face remained set and calm.
Beecham nodded. “I have you listed here as Mr. Ng’s business partner.”
“And you say the last he was heard from was Monday night when he arrived in Seattle from Boston and called his wife?”
“Yes. He had checked into his hotel and called her to—let her know she had arrived safely.” Takahara took a deep breath. “Lieutenant—if I may ask, where was Edwin found?”
Beecham paused for a moment and then met his eyes. He looked like he didn’t want to give the information for fear of how it might affect the man, but he said in a just-the-facts tone, “The victim was found behind the Golden Palace Restaurant, a few blocks from here.”
“Behind the restaurant?” Ocelot asked. “What do you mean? Just lying there in the alleyway?”
Beecham’s gaze flicked up to him with a slight hint of annoyance. “We’re not at liberty to discuss the specific details of an ongoing murder case yet,” he said. “It could affect our ability to identify the killer.”
Ocelot sighed but didn’t push it. Lone Star was always mired in regulations which meant that it was often difficult for them to get anything done. Beecham didn’t seem like the cop-on-the-take type (and Ocelot was pretty good at spotting them after more than twenty years on the street) but he was obviously the by—the—book type. That could be annoying.
“Excuse me, Lieutenant,” Winterhawk said. “Would it be possible for us to have a brief word with Mr. Takahara before you chat with him?”
Beecham looked at Takahara, who nodded. “Please make it quick,” he said.
“Only a moment,” ‘Hawk assured him. “We’ll stay right here. No secrets.” When Beecham, mollified slightly, had returned to his dataterminal, ‘Hawk bent down to Takahara. “Mr. Takahara—I don’t believe we’ll be of any more use to you here tonight. Would you mind contacting us in the morning? We can determine then where you’d like to go from here.”
Takahara looked confused for a moment, then nodded distractedly. “Yes, I think that—that is best. Thank you very much for accompanying me here.” He barely seemed to be aware of where he was. “I will call you tomorrow morning.” Beecham looked up again and he was forced to turn back and deal with his questions.
Outside, Winterhawk sighed. “I hated to desert him like that, but I don’t think our Boy Scout Lone Star officer in there was taking too kindly to us and I’d prefer not to have him asking too many questions.”
“Amen to that,” Ocelot said. “You beat me to saying something by about ten seconds.” He looked around the parking lot, then headed for the car. “So—what now? Sounds like our missing person is a dead person now. Are we out of a job?”
“Not yet. Not until at least tomorrow morning,” ‘Hawk pointed out. “But as you said—what now? Do you want to pursue this tonight, knowing that it might come to nothing, or would you rather just wait until tomorrow morning and see what Mr. Takahara has to say?”
VOTE RESULT (Poll closed 7/30/00, 64 votes):
Continue the investigation tonight?: 84%
Wait until morning for Takahara's instructions?: 16%