Author Topic: Chapter 4  (Read 1552 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 4
« on: June 10, 2022, 03:00:11 AM »
Chapter 4

"You did what?" Beb exclaimed the next morning, leaning over her kitchen table.

Margo spread her hands. "It's not as bad as it sounds, I just needed more time to find him, that's all."

"It sounds pretty bad. You know I don't mind pushing boundaries with you sometimes, but this is obstruction of justice we're talking about! If they find out, you won't just lose some business. They could lock you up." She sighed. "Then I'd have to break in a whole new friend. Someone easily impressed, like you."

Margo gave her a wan look. "He could have killed Harding. He could have killed me, or either of those Marshals. All he wanted was answers, and so do I. Besides, you saw the news this morning—he's all over it. Once I bring him in, Truth Uncovered will get calls from all over the city!"

Beb grimaced. "I still can't believe you went with that name for your business. Maybe change it before you bring him in?" She poured herself a little more coffee. "Are you sure you're just after the extra business?"

That took Margo a bit by surprise. "Of course. What else could I want?"

"Well, he did fool you when you first met. You've been known to hold a grudge from time to time. Isn't this a little bit personal for you?"

"Ok, I did buy his lines—that's on me. Still, I'm not angry or anything. It's not like that would help me track him down. I'll just chalk it up to learned experience and move on."

Beb still looked a bit skeptical, but nodded anyway. "Ok, what now? How're we going to find him?"

As usual, she'd insinuated herself into one of Margo's cases. The confidentiality concerns from earlier didn't apply anymore, now that they both knew Tin had been lying, and the police were searching for him as well. Now, Margo had a legal reason to share information about Tin, or whatever his name really was. Beb only did this with the interesting cases, and it might have been annoying if she wasn't useful at times. Not that Margo would let Beb anywhere near Tin in person. Being disarmed so quickly was terrifying enough—putting Beb in a similar situation would be unacceptable.

Margo shook her head and tried to focus. "I did some checking last night. Alice Draper was Jia's assistant, and she did die about two weeks ago, from natural causes. Dr. Alfred Poe died in a car crash on the same day, and the day before, Dr. Joe Lofton died from an opioid overdose. Harding mentioned two more suspicious deaths, but I haven't found any record of them. It's possible they worked for Aldwin-Farrow in some other city. All of them worked closely with Jia. I put in a request for official employment records with AFI, but they haven't got back to me yet. I doubt they will. We may have to go straight to their headquarters downtown."

Beb grinned. "Are we pretending to be insurance adjustors again?"

"No, AFI is a big outfit, complete with local security. They won't fall for it. I can't get access to Jia Haldar's financial records or property holdings. I looked all up and down Jia's social media accounts, and didn't find anything else to go on. Either she didn't care that much about social media, or she was being very careful with her posts."

"What about Goswin? Harding, I mean," Beb clarified. "He didn't know Jia's big work secret, right? He might not have been as careful about hiding things."

"It's worth a try," Margo agreed, and pulled out Beb's enhanced laptop again.

Beb got it started, and then started making adjustments. "I'll shut off the extra programs so we don't step on any government toes. It shouldn't take that much to cross-reference Harding's posts." She paused. "Sheesh, he was a real shutterbug, wasn't he?"

Margo could see what she meant. Harding had taken hundreds of pictures and posted them. His camera had apparently been off limits at work, but everywhere else was covered. Lots had Jia in them, but none had his own face. That wasn't surprising, given that he'd been in hiding. "There," she pointed, and Beb stopped scrolling through the pictures.

The image showed Jia in a rocking chair, in front of a cabin in the woods. Margo had been to her house, and that wasn't it. "Are there any more of this building?"

"Lemme check," Beb said distractedly, and altered her search algorithm. "Yeah, a few." She pulled them up.

"The leaf colors are mostly the same, in the fall. But the tree sizes are different from picture to picture. They must have vacationed there yearly," Margo realized aloud. "That's bad. There's no way Harding won't tell the WitPro guys about this place."

"Any clue where it is? I can't see any recognizable buildings from this. It's just a cabin in the woods. It could be from anywhere in Pennsylvania."

"Don't be so sure," Margo admonished her lightly. She pointed at the screen. "Those are sugar maple trees. I can see at least four of them in this shot, and more in the others. They don't grow this far east. This cabin is out of state."

"How do you know that? Oh, right. Your grandpa."

Margo nodded. "Mandi and I would spend summers with him growing up in Indiana. I saw a lot of these there." She paused, moving away from those pleasant memories of her sister and granddad. "This might be helpful, actually. The list of Harding's medication locations is local to PA. Can you do a search in the northern Midwest instead? It's a bigger area I know, but population density is a lot lower."

"Unless you count Chicago," Beb noted, but got started anyway.

It seemed Harding had been just as careful on his vacations as he was while here in PA. He'd used a fake name to get his medicine there as well. Fortunately, it seemed he'd still wanted it delivered to him rather than going to pick it up. Over the next few hours, Beb and Margo ran down the list of medicine recipients one by one, eliminating state after state. In the end they had four possibilities: one each in Indiana and Illinois, and two in Michigan.

Margo let Beb pick the first choice. She'd always been luckier. Once she chose an address, Margo smiled. "Are you up for a road trip?"


The first location was a total bust. Even driving past it was enough to show that it wasn't the cabin in Harding's photos. Fortunately the next one was only a few miles north, just across the border into Michigan.

The trip from PA had taken hours, and as much as Beb liked Margo, she was getting tired and cramped from sitting in place for that long. On her suggestion, Margo pulled over to a diner for them to get a meal before their next stop. At this rate they should be able to examine the other three and get back home by tomorrow, which was good news. Dynamo languished without her if he was left powered down for too long.

It had been forever since Beb had even left Philly, much less her home state. Between her consulting work for various engineering firms and auto suppliers, she'd been so busy that a vacation had never even occurred to her. In her bones, Beb knew it had been too long. She always got caught up in her projects, or in her latest boyfriend, and taking time off never seemed to get any priority.

She resolved to make the time, as soon as she got back. Her mom had taken her to Maine's beaches when she was a kid—maybe she should return there. Hopefully the people would be as friendly as they were here in rural Michigan. Then again it was probably just because they lived in wide open spaces instead of big cities. People like Beb were always walking through streets surrounded by high-rises, weaving through crowds of strangers, each with their own tasks and worries. It made sense that people who weren't crammed into small spaces tended to be less stressed.

Speaking of small spaces: the diner wasn't exactly huge. Margo took a seat next to the far wall, and Beb sat across from her. She ordered a turkey sub, and Beb went for soup with a baked potato on the side. As they ate, Beb listened to the idle flow of conversation from the other customers. Actually she listened past that flow, into the emotions underneath.

They could be talking about politics, or the weather. They could be arguing about sports, or epistemology. It didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, because how they spoke meant just as much as what they said. Beb detected no anger in any of the nearby voices except for one. A thirty-something man was arguing forcefully with another guy at the bar. Beb couldn't make out the actual words, but eventually the man threw up his hands. He slapped a bill down on the table and stormed out, practically sparking with rage. His friend looked concerned at first, but eventually shook his head and went back to his dinner. Beb knew how he felt.

Margo had been watching the exchange as well. "What do you think that was all about?"

Beb shook her head. "No idea. I guess even out here you have some people who just get angry easily."

Margo's phone rang suddenly, on the table between them. Upside down, Beb could see that it was from an unknown number. Giving her a surprised look, Margo picked it up. "Hello?"

The voice on the other end was faint and unintelligible, but Beb saw Margo's face tighten as she listened. "How did you get this number?"

A faint laugh echoed through the line, and Beb ran through the possibilities in her mind. It was a long list of people—Margo had been a private investigator for a long time. She had more than a few people who didn't like her very much, and they all knew her work number. Her home number was a different story.

It's Tin, Margo mouthed at her, and Beb sat up straight. Margo's latest client was still the subject of a statewide manhunt. If the authorities were tracing this call, they'd have Margo in their sights again.

Beb tapped her finger on the table, suggesting that Margo put it on speakerphone, but she shook her head, looking around at the diner. It was too public, and Beb could see her point. Suddenly Margo reached into her bag and pulled out the list of addresses they'd compiled. "How did you get that address?" She asked into the phone curtly.

Another laugh came through faintly, and a brief statement. Scowling, Margo responded. "I'm actually in the neighborhood now, but you probably knew that already. What, are you tracking my car again?"

The line went dead, and Margo moved it away from her ear. "He's gone."

"But he's here? In Michigan, I mean?" Beb asked excitedly.

Margo nodded. "At the second address a few miles away. I get the feeling he just got there, too. He said he'll wait for me there."

"For us, you mean," Beb put in. After all the hype, she was looking forward to meeting him, and not just because of his looks.

"You're staying here until I get back," Margo insisted. "Tin is dangerous, Beb. You don't have any training for this. I do. Hell, I was armed, and he got the better of me without even breaking a sweat!"

"And then he let you go," Beb reminded her. "So you could tell the cops most of what you knew about him. His life would probably be a whole lot easier right now if he'd just killed you back in that shack, but he didn't. He's only after Jia Haldar's killer, and unless he thinks that's us, we should be safe. Besides," she fished around in her bag for a bit and pulled out her stun-gun. "I have this, for what little it might help."

Margo looked down at the black rectangle with surprise. "Is that legal to have here? Is it even legal back home?"

Beb nodded. "The standard version is. I made some modifications to this one. It could take down a rhino." Holding the original one had given her a sense of power, and it was only greater now that she'd been able to tinker with the weapon.

"You need to be careful with that. If you're touching whoever you use it on—"

"—I could zap myself, too. I know." She paused, looking more seriously over at her friend. "Are you going to try to bring him in? If so, I probably should stay here."

Margo hesitated for a long moment, and that itself surprised Beb. She was rarely unsure about anything. Well, anything outside of her family that was. "I haven't decided yet. Even if I can take him down, it's possible that this Jia murder situation is even more of a story. I might need him to help me figure it out. Somehow he found the cabin just as fast as we did, so he's clearly capable of investigating on his own."

Beb hid a smile. Margo was still telling herself this situation was professional—that it was just about boosting her image as an investigator. It was personal though: even Beb could see that. Margo was angry and intrigued, and was going to figure Tin out no matter what it took. Beb retrieved some money and put it down on the table. "Then I'll take the risk. Let's go."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 03:03:41 AM by Daen »