“Let’s go talk to the waitress first. Three’s slow for restaurants-she’s not gonna want to talk if we show up in the dinner rush. After that we can decide where to go from there.”
‘Hawk nodded. “Fair enough.” He downloaded a copy of the waitress’ image to his pocket secretary and stuck it in his pocket.
Ocelot was right about the restaurant: by the time they arrived there it was three-thirty and the place was dead slow. In fact, as they started to enter a young man called to them in heavily Spanish-accented English: “Not open. Five o’clock.”
“We’re not here for dinner,” ‘Hawk called back. Otherwise he ignored the young man and continued into the restaurant with Ocelot right behind him.
The next person they encountered was the bartender, who was putting glasses in a rack above the bar. “Didn’t you hear? We’re not open until five. Better make a reservation-it’s gonna be busy.”
Ocelot took over the lead. “Like he said, we’re not here for dinner.” He moved up to the bar and motioned for ‘Hawk to take out the picture. “We’d like to talk to one of the waitresses here, if it’s okay.”
The bartender looked suspicious. “Why?”
“We think she waited on a friend of ours a couple of nights ago, and we had a couple of questions to ask her, that’s all.” Ocelot lied glibly, but it was easy because not everything he was saying was a lie. The twenty-nuyen note he slid surreptitiously across the bar might have helped too. “You think that’d be okay?”
The barman eyed the twenty, then made it disappear. “She got a name?”
“We don’t know her name,” Winterhawk interposed, “but we do have a picture.” He put the pocket secretary with the waitress’ image down on the bar.
The man looked suspicious again. “Where’d you get that picture? Looks like it came off a security camera.”
“Never mind where we got it.” Ocelot pushed another twenty at him. “She here?” After a second he added, “We really do just want to talk. It can be in here if you want. Just questions.”
The bartender considered a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, okay. But I want to keep an eye on you. You can sit over there.” He indicated a table far enough away as to be out of earshot but close enough to be easily visible from the bar. “Her name’s Margie. I’ll see if she wants to talk-I think she’s in the back. You go sit over there.”
‘Hawk and Ocelot did as they were told and in a few moments a young woman whose face matched up with the grainy image came out. As she got closer it was clear that she wasn’t as young as she might want people to believe. Her gaze slid over the two men warily, but she seemed bolstered by the barman’s presence behind her at the bar. She approached. “You guys wanted to ask me questions?” She didn’t sit down, but hovered in front of the table as if preparing to take their food order.
Winterhawk nodded. “If you’d be so kind,” he said. His voice had slipped into that calming, charming tone he used when he was trying to get information from someone who wasn’t sure of his motives.
“What kind of questions?” The wary look still hadn’t left her face. “Are you from the police or something?”
‘Hawk suspected that Margie might have something in her past that would make her uncomfortable being questioned by police, but that was neither here nor there. “No,” he assured her. “We’re just looking for a friend. We think he’s in town but he didn’t call us and we’d like to get together with him before he leaves. Another friend mentioned that he was seen in this restaurant a couple of nights ago, and that you might have waited on him.”
“I wait on a lot of people,” Margie pointed out. “It gets real busy around here in the evenings.”
The mage nodded understandingly. “Of course, we understand. But if you could p’raps just take a look at his picture-”
Margie shrugged. “Why not?”
‘Hawk pulled out the pocket secretary again and, without showing it to her, switched the image from her own to Ng’s. He held it up for her to see. “This would have been Monday night, sometime between five and six o’clock. He dined alone, and according to our friend he was carrying some sort of bag. Do you remember him?”
The waitress studied the picture. For a long moment her face was troubled, but then she nodded. “Yeah. Now that I think of it, I do. He sat over there.” She indicated a small booth in the interior of the restaurant. “Good tipper,” she added.
“Better than most?” ‘Hawk asked.
“No...about twenty percent. Good but not fantastic.” She paused. “I was surprised, really, because I didn’t think he was all that happy with the service.”
“Why not?” Ocelot asked. “Was he a pain to wait on?”
“No...not really. Just kind of...not there. You know?”
“Not there?” ‘Hawk’s gaze fixed on her. “In what way?”
Again Margie shrugged. “He seemed really...preoccupied. Like he had something heavy on his mind. He kept looking at his watch and fiddling with his bag-he kept that on the floor, and he kept checking it with his feet to make sure it was still there. He was polite enough, but I’ve seen enough people to know when somebody’s nervous, you know?”
Ocelot nodded. They’d seen that on the tape TC had made for them, though it hadn’t been completely clear in the dimness of the restaurant. “Yeah, sure. So what’d he do when he was done?”
“That was the weirdest part. Like I said before, we get real busy during dinnertime. We try to keep the service fast but sometimes things get a little stopped up in the kitchen. He was really looking at his watch there toward the end. When I showed up with the check he paid it in cash-I think the only reason he gave me twenty percent was because he didn’t want to wait for change. He was out of there as soon as he paid me.”
“Did you see where he went?” ‘Hawk asked, without much hope.
“Out,” she said, shrugging. “I don’t follow ‘em once they’re out of the restaurant. I had lots of other customers to wait on.” She paused and gave them both a suspicious look. “You guys aren’t friends of his, are you?”
“Sort of,” ‘Hawk told her. “We’re working for a good friend of his, actually.” He paused a final time. “One more question: did he say anything odd to you? Anything beyond typical customer things?”
She shook her head. “No...he didn’t say much at all, really. Just ordered his food and kept quiet. Like I said, he seemed to have a lot on his mind.”
“Thank you,” the mage told her. “You’ve been very helpful.” Even more subtly than Ocelot had done it, he rose, slipped a bill from his pocket, and pressed it into her hand. “We’ll tell all our friends that the service here is excellent.” Ocelot rose as well and the two of them moved to leave.
Margie eyed them questioningly but did not decline the payment. “Uh...thanks. Glad I could help.” She shook her head as they left-just two more weird characters in the endless parade of them that passed through her restaurant every night. At least these two paid well.
Outside, Winterhawk and Ocelot were going over their latest bits of information. “So he was nervous about something,” Ocelot said. “Sounds like he had somewhere to be and was afraid he’d be late.”
“Indeed.” ‘Hawk nodded. “So let’s examine this a bit.” They were walking back out to where they had left their car. “Where might an out-of-town businessman be going in the early evening that would cause him to be nervous about the time and to be carrying a duffel bag to dinner with him?”
“A duffel bag that he hadn’t carried into his hotel room in the first place,” Ocelot pointed out. “Unless he had it hidden inside his suitcase and filled it up later.” He thought about that a moment. “I still go with the hooker theory.”
“Possible,” ‘Hawk admitted. “However, I wonder-I don’t have firsthand experience with such things, but isn’t it usually customary for the young lady to wait for her customer’s arrival? I wouldn’t think if that was Ng’s destination he would be so concerned about the time.”
“He could have made an appointment,” Ocelot said, but he didn’t sound quite so convinced now. “But yeah, you have a point-he wouldn’t worry about being a little late if he was paying her.”
“And it doesn’t sound like he was just nervous about whatever it was he was doing, though it’s difficult to tell. We did see the tapes, and our waitress friend was right-he was spending a lot of time looking at his watch.”
Ocelot nodded. “So it was something with a time constraint.” He paused, thinking. “Maybe he was meeting somebody about money. They did find his body dumped out back of the Golden Palace, remember-a place we think is Yak-run. Maybe he was meeting with one of them and things went bad.”
“I’d sooner believe that than the prostitute angle,” ‘Hawk said.
Ocelot sighed. “Well, once again it looks like we can go in two directions here: we can check out the cab company and see if the cabbie remembers where he took our boy, or we can see about finding more dirt on the Golden Palace. Which one would you rather start with?”
Check out the Cab Company: 73%
Check out the Golden Palace: 27%