Part 6

The mage considered. “I think if it’s all the same to you, I agree with what you said last night—I’m in no hurry to walk into a den of organized crime activity before we have a bit more to go on. I’d be more in favor of figuring out what Mr. Ng did the night he died.”

“You and me both,” Ocelot agreed. He sounded relieved that ‘Hawk swas of the same opinion as he was.

“It sounds like we’re back to the hotel, then. That’s our starting point.”

Ocelot nodded. “Yeah, but now? It’s too early in the morning for anybody who might have seen him to be working.” He sighed. “I don’t want to wait until this evening to get anything done.”

Winterhawk pondered that for a few moments and then looked up with an ‘aha!’ expression. “I’ve got it,” he said, smiling.

“You’ve got what?”

“How we can do this. But it’ll take letting someone else in on the situation.”

Ocelot crossed his arms. “Okay, out with it.”

“A hotel like the Laubenstein has got to have security cameras covering just about every inch of it, except p’raps inside the rooms—and I wouldn’t even be surprised if they had those, though I doubt they’d admit it. If we could get a look at some of that footage—”

Ocelot grinned. “I think I’m following your idea. C’mon. Let’s go somewhere we can call.”

T.C. Pip, the decker ‘Hawk and Ocelot employed to do their Matrix work, was not pleased at being awakened at such an ungodly hour. “What is it, ten-thirty in the morning?” she asked blearily. “This is going to cost extra.”

‘Hawk ignored that and smiled at the stylized icon on the screen. “This should be a piece of cake for you,” he told her. “How hard is it to break into the security feed at the Laubenstein Plaza?”

The icon snorted. “That’s all you want? And you woke me up? Any kid with a Radio Shack deck and half a brain could do that one. I’m insulted.”

Again he ignored her—both he and Ocelot were quite certain that despite T. C.’s feigned indignance, she was just teasing. T. C. was a bit strange, but she was a good decker. “So—what do you say?”

“What are you looking for?” the icon asked with a sigh. “As long as I’m up, I might as well make some money.”

They sent her a copy of the picture of Ng and told her what they knew about his movements, including his room number. “Anything you can find out might be helpful—when he arrived, when he left, if he talked to anyone—you know.”

“If it’s got to do with this guy we want it,” Ocelot added over ‘Hawk’s shoulder. “Even if it sounds totally trivial.”

“Got it,” T. C. assured them. “I don’t know how long this’ll take—I’ll call you when I’ve got something.”

“How much do we owe you?” Winterhawk asked.

There was a pause. “Tell ya what. Send me a hundred now for waking me up so early. We’ll talk about the rest when I’ve got something.”

While they waited for T. C. to get back to them with the security camera information, Winterhawk and Ocelot grabbed lunch and then spent some time at ‘Hawk’s place using his cyberterminal to find out what was publicly available about Ng, Takahara, and their company. There wasn’t much, and all of it was generic in a public-relations/marketing sort of way.

Cyberia Systems, their company, was a small operation based in Boston, just as Takahara had told them. It had secured its first round of financing about a year ago and was now seeking its second. The business of Cyberia was making a specialized form of Matrix inventory software useful to the medical industry. “That’s about as noncontroversial as you can get,” Ocelot commented when they found that. “Can’t see anybody getting killed over inventory software.”

They found bios of both Takahara and Ng on the company’s public Matrix site, and nothing in them contradicted anything Takahara had told them. Both men seemed, at least by what they saw on the site, to be highly dedicated to both their company and their families.

Winterhawk sighed and leaned back in his chair, running a hand through his hair. “This isn’t getting us anywhere,” he said. “This is nothing but fluff for the public. They could both be convicted axe-murderers and all the corporate site would say was that they enjoy getting in touch with their inner lumberjack.”

Ocelot chuckled. “Well, we could go back to the Laubenstein and see what we can—”

‘Hawk’s phone rang. He snatched it up from the table next to him. “Yes?”

“It’s me. I’m still half asleep, but I think I’ve got some stuff for you. Where do you want me to send it?”

The mage gave her the address of one of his maildrops. “Anything good?”

T. C.’s icon shrugged. “All looks pretty boring to me, but I think it’ll help you. I found your guy and followed him around for awhile. Didn’t look like he did anything too strange, but who knows? You decide. I’m making the transfer now. I’ve included some notes so you’ll know what you’re looking at.”

Winterhawk nodded. “Thank you, T. C. Now, the matter of price—”

“Five hundred’s fine. Their ice was more like slush. Didn’t even have to break a sweat.”

‘Hawk transferred over the requested cred, smiling a bit to himself. He suspected that it hadn’t been quite that easy, but who could tell with deckers? He generally found them about as odd as most mundanes found mages. “Thank you,” he said again. “We’ll give you a call if we need anything else.”

They wasted no time in retrieving and loading up the data T. C. had sent them. It started out with a shot from the hallway camera in front of Ng’s room. There was no shot inside, though—either they didn’t have cameras inside the room, T. C. had been unable to access them, or hotel security didn’t save the footage. The timestamp at the bottom of the screen placed the shot at slightly before Ng was supposed to have checked in.

The picture skipped as if something had been cut out. “Snipping the boring stuff,” came T. C.’s mechanically-altered voice through the terminal’s speaker as two figures appeared in the camera’s viewfield.

“Is that him?” Ocelot leaned in for a closer look.

The picture was a bit grainy but fairly clear. The two men walked into the scene and immediately went to the door of Ng’s room. One was dressed in a bellhop’s uniform and carried one hard-side suitcase and a garment bag; the other wore a suit and carried what looked like a leather cyberdeck case. The suit-clad man had black hair and was built like Ng. “I think we’ve got our man,” Winterhawk said in satisfaction. “Now we watch.”

The two men went into the room and less than two minutes later the bellhop came back out. Once again T. C. snipped the “boring stuff”. When the scene came back the timestamp showed about an hour later—a little after six o’clock. Ng exited the room, still dressed in the same suit he had worn when going in. In his hand he carried a small leather duffel bag.

Ocelot tilted his head. “He didn’t have that going in, did he?”

“Hmm...” Winterhawk ran the scan back to the scene with the bellhop. “It certainly doesn’t look like it, does it? Interesting...” He fast-forwarded again to the scene they had just left. “Let’s see what he does.”

T. C. was good, and worth every nuyen they paid her. As Ng headed out, the decker followed him, switching from camera to camera and even watching him in the elevator. There was nothing unusual about his behavior as he went. When the elevator let him out on the hotel’s main floor, the camera lost him for a few seconds and then picked him up inside the restaurant. He sat down at a table, slid his duffel bag underneath, and proceeded to order and eat dinner.

“Pay attention to his waitress,” Ocelot said. “We can question her later.”

‘Hawk nodded, fiddling with the controls to zoom in on the waitress’ face. The shot was even grainier at this level of zoom, but he snapped a shot of her face and filed it away for later retrieval.

Ng remained at the table for about forty-five minutes. During this time he looked at his watch twice and glanced around as if trying to spot his waitress. “He’s in a hurry...” ‘Hawk muttered. “Wonder why? Has he got plans for the evening?”

“Maybe he’s just going out to meet a hooker or something,” Ocelot said, only half kidding. “I know he’s supposed to be an upright family guy and everything, but even upright family guys sometimes need a little companionship.”

Winterhawk shrugged. “We’ll see, I hope—wait, he’s getting up.”

Indeed he was. Ng paid his check, picked up his duffel bag from under the table, and headed out of the restaurant. T. C. caught him again in the lobby. “He’s heading for the door,” Ocelot said.

The two of them watched as Ng crossed the wide expanse of carpeted lobby and exited the hotel. The view changed again, this time to the one of the cameras outside that watched the arrivals and departures. An endless line of taxis streamed through, picked up passengers, and left again. Ng headed for one of the empty cabs, got in, and then the cab moved off into traffic. “That’s it,” T. C.’s voice came. “Hope it helps.” The screen went blank.

“Zoom in on the—” Ocelot was saying, but Winterhawk was already rewinding the view to the taxi scene and focusing in on the cab Ng had taken.

“I can’t quite get the cab number,” the mage said in frustration, “but that shouldn’t be too hard to check. Hold on—” He fiddled with the view and zoomed in on the door with the name of the cab company in white on green, but the name too was fuzzy. “What is that below the name?”

“Looks like a smiley face,” Ocelot said. “Wait. I’ve seen cabs with smiley faces before. Pull up a comm directory.”

‘Hawk did as requested and Ocelot leaned over and began typing. In only a few seconds they had a name and address for the “Happy Cab Company.” The mage saved off a shot of the cab along with the waitress’ picture and then leaned back in his chair and glanced down at his chrono.

“Looks like it’s a bit after three. If the waitress is working today she’s probably on shift now. We can either go talk to her or go see about the Happy Cab company. Preferences?”

Decision point
Should they:

Talk to the waitress?
Go to the cab company?

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