Ocelot shrugged. “Wouldn’t hurt to go over to the Golden Palace and see if we can find out anything. Seems a little strange to me that a businessman who’s never been to Seattle before managed to get himself killed that far away from his hotel.”
Winterhawk nodded as they got into the car. “My thoughts exactly. Let’s think about this for a moment.” He pulled the car out into traffic. “Why might Mr. Ng have gone to the Golden Palace, assuming that he did at all?”
Again Ocelot shrugged. “Maybe the food’s good?”
“Possibly. I’ve never been there, but I believe I’ve heard good things about it. That’s one reason. Any others?”
“Maybe he had friends there? Meeting someone for dinner?”
Winterhawk sighed. “Yes, but wouldn’t he have mentioned to someone—like Mr. Takahara—if he was planning to meet friends here? It seems a logical sort of thing to do when discussing things with one’s best friend.”
Ocelot rolled down the window and looked out into the night. “You know—I don’t think he went there at all. I think somebody killed him and just dumped his body out behind the place because it was convenient.”
“You’re probably right. But that brings up another variation of the same question: what was Mr. Ng doing so far away from his hotel?” He looked at Ocelot. “You probably know this better than I do: if someone were to kill someone by putting a bullet through his brain, would they want to carry the body a long distance before dumping it? What would be the advantage to it? The risk of being caught is higher the longer one holds on to the body, right?”
Ocelot nodded. “Usually. I can’t imagine somebody would kill someone close to the Laubenstein and tote them all the way over to that end of town. It’s several kilometers. It doesn’t make sense.”
They drove in silence for several minutes. The grungy working-class neighborhood of the Lone Star precinct house gave way to a more commercial area containing restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. This time of night the area was hopping with activity: cars and motorcycles were cruising up and down the street and various people, mostly young, mostly human, were conversing in small groups along the sidewalks. Snatches of various music could be heard briefly as doors were opened and then closed again. “Know anything about this area?” Winterhawk asked, looking around for a place to park.
Ocelot shook his head. “Nowhere near my territory. Doesn’t look like a high crime area, but that’s just first glance.”
Winterhawk finally found a spot to park a short distance down the street. “Want to go in, or look around outside?”
“Outside,” Ocelot said promptly. “I don’t want to go in there until we’re a little more sure of what we’re in for.” He glanced around. “There’s bound to be some street people around—let’s start with them.”
“After you, my friend.”
The Golden Palace turned out to be quite an upscale restaurant, especially when compared with its neighbors. Its facade was done in minimalist Japanese style with the restaurant’s name in English and (presumably) Japanese above two heavy carved doors made of dark wood. The building in which it was housed was two stories tall. As ‘Hawk and Ocelot moved past the front, they noticed that, of the people they saw moving in and out the doors, all of them looked Japanese or Asian of some sort. The two runners continued past. “Nice place,” Ocelot muttered. “Don’t think we’d fit in, though.”
“No, probably not. Still, we might want to look into reservations if we continue on this job after tomorrow.”
Ocelot was about to answer but didn’t—he had spotted a couple of old men sitting against a wall in an alley two doors down from the Golden Palace. He stopped and subtly indicated them to Winterhawk. The mage nodded and followed.
The two men looked frightened when they saw the runners approaching—well-dressed, dangerous-looking individuals didn’t approach street people unless they wanted something. They started to slowly scrabble to their feet but couldn’t move very fast. Ocelot waved them down. “Hey,” he said. “Nobody’s here to hurt anybody. Just want to ask you a couple of questions, okay?”
One of the men looked sullenly up at them through alcohol-bleared eyes. “Questions? We don’ know nothin’. We just sittin’ here.”
“You hang out around here, don’t you?”
“Maybe,” said the other man. He took another pull on a bottle which he had been hiding inside his grimy coat.
Ocelot shrugged. “Might make it worth your while if you do.”
They both perked up at that. “Yeah? Whaddya want?”
Ocelot crouched down, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet with this elbows propped on his knees. “We want to know about the guy they found behind the Golden Palace a couple days ago.”
The two old men’s eyes widened. The one who had spoken first shook his head. “Oh, no, chummer. We don’t know nothin’ about that. Didn’t have nothin’ to do with it.”
That made Ocelot smile a little. “Don’t worry—we don’t think you had anything to do with it. We just want to know what you know. People talk when things like this happen. It gets around.” He pulled out two ten-nuyen notes from his jacket. “You guys tell us what you know, you get these. Deal?”
The men leaned forward slightly almost as one at the sight of the money.
“Truth, gentlemen,” Winterhawk murmured from his position behind Ocelot. “I’ll know the difference, so please—just the truth.”
They looked at him warily, but the lure of the money was too much for them. The first one spoke again. “They found the dead guy day before yesterday. In the morning. The Star showed up.”
Ocelot nodded. “Did you see him?”
“Nope, but ol’ Billy—he hangs around here sometimes—Billy did. Said the guy got his head blown off, practically. Gunshot.” He pointed to forehead. “Right here.”
Again Ocelot nodded. “Anything else Billy said?”
The man thought again, but then the second one spoke up. “Yeah. He wasn’t wearin’ no clothes.”
Ocelot frowned. “The dead guy wasn’t wearing clothes?”
“Buck nekkid,” the first guy said. His smile revealed two stained teeth.
Ocelot looked up at Winterhawk, then back at the two men. “Do you know where he was found?”
The guy cocked his head. “Told you—behind the Palace.”
“No—I mean exactly. Was he on the ground, or—?”
“Oh,” said the second guy, shaking his head. “Nah, not on the ground. They got a dumpster back there where they throw the garbage from the restaurant. That’s where he got found.”
“You know who found him?”
“Nah, but tell ya this—it ain’t somebody from the Palace who did it.”
Again Ocelot frowned. “How come?”
Both of the men looked wary again as they glanced over toward the direction of the Golden Palace. “Those guys don’t deal with the Star. They’d’a never called ‘em. Musta been somebody else. Prob’ly somebody lookin’ for somethin’ to eat in the dumpster.”
“Why don’t they deal with the Star?” Winterhawk asked.
The two men looked at each other but didn’t answer. They were suddenly looking fidgety.
Ocelot didn’t seem to mind this. He held out the two ten-nuyen notes. “Thanks, guys. That’s about it.”
The two bums snatched the bills away and finished getting creakily to their feet. “Thanks, chummer,” the first one muttered back over his shoulder as the two of them hurried off as quickly as they could manage.
Back in the car, Ocelot was mulling over what the two bums had told them while ‘Hawk drove back toward Downtown. The mage looked over at him. “What have you got on your mind?”
Ocelot shrugged. “Those guys seemed scared when we asked about the owners of the restaurant. That, along with the fact that they said they don’t deal with the Star—that tell you anything?”
Winterhawk thought about it a moment. “That the restaurant’s probably owned by somebody nasty. Probably the Yakuza.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.”
“Do you think our Mr. Ng might have gotten himself messed up with someone like that?” the mage asked. “He hardly seems the type from what we’ve heard, but then again—it’s not the sort of thing one would advertise to one’s family and business associates, is it?”
“Nope. Only one thing that doesn’t make sense, though.” When ‘Hawk looked at him questioningly, he continued, “If they killed him, there’s no way in hell they’d dump him out behind their own restaurant. That’s just dumb, and the Yak don’t do dumb things very often. Especially not dumb things that attract Star attention.”
“P’raps he just got into a fight with someone who met him outside and plugged him.”
“Which still brings up the question of what he was doing there in the first place.” He sighed. “I think we’d better just give up for the night and get some sleep. If Takahara wants us to continue, we can ask him some of this stuff in the morning. Otherwise, I sure as hell don’t want to get tangled up with anything that smells even a little bit like the Yak without damn good reason.”
“Good point.” Winterhawk agreed.
Takahara contacted them the next morning as promised and asked them to meet him at his room at the Laubenstein. When they arrived they found him looking as if he had not slept at all the previous night. He was pacing around the room, his clothing in disarray, occasionally tossing something into his suitcase without bothering to fold it. When he looked at them, his eyes were haunted.
“You’ve been to the morgue?” Winterhawk asked gently.
Takahara nodded. “There is no doubt—the body is Edwin’s. I’ve contacted his wife.” He bowed his head. “It is not easy to tell a woman that her husband of 12 years has been murdered.”
Winterhawk nodded. “Of course not,” he murmured. “Please, Mr. Takahara—sit down. Would you like a glass of water, or—”
“No, thank you,” Takahara said, but he did sit down. He continued to fidget with a tie he had been about to put into the suitcase. “I’ve rescheduled my flight to Boston for later this afternoon—my meeting with Lone Star did not finish until almost three a.m. and I wanted to speak with you in person.” He looked up at them, beseechingly. “Gentlemen—if you would not mind—I wish to continue retaining your services. The Lone Star lieutenant has assured me that they will investigate the case, but I as well as anyone know how busy they are and how many cases they must deal with. I wish to have—some additional, more dedicated help in this.”
Winterhawk sat down across from him while Ocelot remained standing. “We’re certainly willing to continue the investigation, Mr. Takahara, and we will do what we can to find out what has happened. We might need some assistance from you, however.”
“What—sort of assistance?”
“Some questions,” Ocelot said. “We did a little checking last night and found some things we’d like to know about.”
“Also,” Winterhawk added, “we might need your help in obtaining various documents that might be required.” He dropped his voice, making it even more gentle than before. “Such as a copy of the autopsy report, when one is available.”
Again Takahara bowed his head. “I will do everything I can to help you. I want to know what has happened to my friend—why he was murdered so brutally when he had no enemies.”
Winterhawk and Ocelot exchanged glances, neither one feeling this would be the appropriate time to tell Takahara that in Seattle, one did not necessarily need enemies to be killed. Sometimes an enemy was simply someone you ran into in the wrong place at the wrong time. The mage let out his breath slowly. “All right, then.” He paused. “Mr. Takahara, do you have any cause to believe that Mr. Ng might have any acquaintances, connections, or dealings with—organized crime?”
Takahara’s gaze came up quickly and he frowned. “Organized crime?”
Ocelot straddled the other chair at the table. “We went over by the Golden Palace last night. We didn’t go in, but we talked to a couple of street people who squat around there.” He paused, realizing that it was probably better for Winterhawk to reveal the more distressing bits of information—he himself knew he tended to be too blunt.
The mage picked up on this and continued smoothly. “Yes. The gentlemen we spoke with told us that Mr. Ng had been discovered by a street person—in a dumpster behind the restaurant. As you know he had been shot—but did they tell you his clothes had been removed?”
Takahara nodded wearily. “Yes, Lt. Beecham told me all of this. But what does any of it have to do with organized crime?”
“We’re not certain yet,” Winterhawk said. “But we believe from what the street people told us that the Golden Palace might be owned by someone involved in it. Our guess is the Yakuza, given the area and the type of establishment.”
“We’ll find out for sure,” Ocelot added, “but I won’t be surprised.”
Takahara studied them both for a moment, then sighed. “To the best of my knowledge, gentlemen, Edwin had no connection to organized crime. Remember, I have been his friend since we were children. If he were having money problems, I am sure he would have come to me before...” He trailed off, shaking his head. “Of course I did not know everything that went on in his life, but we were very close, and our wives were very close. We had few secrets.”
Winterhawk nodded. “All right. We’re not even certain yet that the Golden Palace is a Yakuza organization, so we’ll leave that for now. Can we still reach you at the number you gave us?”
“Yes. That is my personal number and it can be reached at any time.”
“Good.” The mage stood. “We’re terribly sorry for your loss, Mr. Takahara. We will do what we can to find out what has happened, and no doubt Lone Star will as well.”
“That reminds me,” Ocelot said. “If we get hassled by Lone Star, can we tell them we’re working for you?”
Takahara looked confused for a moment, then nodded. “Of course.”
“All right, then. We’ll be in touch,” Winterhawk said.
“Please do. And let me know if you need anything else. I don’t have a great deal of money in cash, but—”
“We’ll let you know. What you’ve given us should last a few days at least. With luck we should have the matter solved by then. You go on home and do what you need to do. I trust they’re sending Mr. Ng home?”
“Today,” Takahara confirmed. “After—after the autopsy.”
Winterhawk nodded. “We’ll be in touch,” he said again. “If you should find anything in Mr. Ng’s personal effects that might be of assistance, please let us know.” With nothing more to say and not desiring to upset Takahara any further, he and Ocelot took their leave.
“Okay, so we’re still on the job,” Ocelot said. “Now what?”
‘Hawk thought about it a moment. “It appears to me that we’ve got two possible avenues to pursue.”
Ocelot nodded. “Yeah. We can find out what’s up with the Golden Palace, or we can try to track Ng’s movement the night he died.”
VOTE RESULT (Poll closed 9/3/00, 85 votes):
Investigate the Golden Palace: 18%
Track Ng's movements: 82%