Author Topic: Chapter 3  (Read 6475 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 3
« on: June 10, 2022, 05:00:18 AM »
Chapter 3

The drive back to the motel took forty minutes. Margo balanced her desperate need for haste with the possibility of getting pulled over at any moment, and figured it was a minor miracle that she hadn't been. When she finally pulled up to the same motel, two things stood out at her right away. The door to the room Harding had been in was open, and Tin's car was parked in the lot. Beb had downloaded bank footage (with their permission of course; banks didn't mess around when it came to internet security) and sent her the license plate number. It was his, all right.

Margo parked quickly and ran up the stairs to the second level. She knew better than to try to load her gun while running, but held it ready anyway as she looked inside. Telfer and his colleague were on the floor in there, unmoving. She couldn't see Harding.

Cursing under her breath, Margo slipped inside and swept the room as best she could remember. Her police training had been years ago, and didn't quite overlap with the skills she'd developed as a PI. She leaned down and put a pair of fingers to Telfer's neck. He was still alive. So was the other, she confirmed a few moments later.

The motel room was otherwise empty for now. Margo flipped the Marshals onto their backs, and slapped at Telfer's face. "Hey. Bigshot hacker guy. Wake up already!"

This was probably a waste of time, but she had to be sure it was Tin who'd attacked them, and not someone else. Not that the LNL people would leave any witnesses alive. She shook Telfer hard, and he grunted. "Ow."

"Telfer. Listen—you were attacked. I need to know by who."

He grimaced, putting a hand over his eyes. It was getting dark by now, but the streetlight was shining right through the door and into his face. "Patsulas?"

"Margo," she reminded him impatiently. "Who did this?"

"Dunno," he said shortly, as she let him go. "Some guy. I've never seen anyone move that fast. He cut through me and Tony like we were nothing." Telfer rubbed at his neck. "Is Tony ok?"

Margo glanced over at the other Marshal. "I think so, but I don't know a thing about CPR or emergency care. This guy, was he short and heavily muscled? With close-cropped brown hair?"

Telfer nodded, and Margo cursed again. "That's my client. Hang on, I'll get someone up here to check you out."

As she left the room, Margo caught sight of the manager in the parking lot below. It was a different guy than the one from two days ago, and he was staring at the open door. "Call 911," she instructed him quickly. "Two guys got beat up in room 14B."

Despite how dumb he looked, the manager obeyed right away. Margo stopped to think for a minute. Telfer and the other guy hadn't been out for long, and Tin's car was still here. The cameras only covered the walkways themselves, so they wouldn't be much use. Tin must have knocked Harding out too, to keep him from calling out. That meant he was carrying him, and would probably stay off the roads. Most likely Tin had taken Harding out into the woods somewhere. He'd had all day to plan this, and those woods stretched out for miles from the edge of town.

With a predatory grin, Margo ran back down the stairs and got to her car. She quickly loaded her gun and grabbed a flashlight. If Tin was hoping no one would follow him, he was in for a surprise.

It took a minute or two of examining the underbrush, but eventually Margo found a set of prints leaving the pavement and heading out into the darkness. They were deep, suggesting she'd been right. Tin was carrying Harding. He wasn't after revenge, necessarily. He wanted answers, and he would probably take his prey someplace where he could get them without anyone overhearing.

Again, Margo hesitated over whether this was her business or not. The second moment of indecision was even shorter. A man, even if he was possibly a very bad man, was about to be hurt or killed. She had to intervene if she could.

How many times had she gone hunting with her granddad? She'd lost count. The man had been a survivalist, and insisted that his son and granddaughters knew how to take care of themselves in the wild. Just because she'd spent the last eight years tracking people through an urban wilderness didn't mean she'd forgotten those early lessons. Boot prints were a lot easier to follow than animal tracks, but there was no sunlight to help her anymore. This might be a challenge. Hopefully, she'd be able to sneak up on Tin before he knew anyone was there.

-.-

After maybe half an hour, Margo was starting to wonder if Tin was even human. His tracks were easy enough to follow, but he seemed to have limitless energy. The prints had been as evenly spaced as the terrain would allow, suggesting that he wasn't even tired yet. All while hauling a 200-some pound man on his back like a sack of grain.

She stopped for a second, and squinted up ahead. There was a light flickering in the darkness up there. Checking the safety on her gun, Margo ducked down and approached as quietly as she could. It had rained four days ago or so, she could tell. The brush was wet enough that she might not snap any smaller branches. As she approached, she could see the light was from a gas lamp in a window. It looked like a small shack; maybe an equipment shed or even a large outhouse.

Margo checked the GPS on her phone. There was a small cabin on the map, part of a now-defunct ice fishing business. There was a lake just beyond this shack, and this late in the year, it'd be getting pretty cold.

A shadow passed behind the lamp, and Margo tried to stay as still as possible. Fortunately, she'd remembered to turn off her flashlight before getting closer. The shadow turned again, and went out of sight.

Margo slowly made her way around to the door of the shack, all the while considering her options, along with her opponent's traits. He was fast and resilient, and had the martial skills to take out two armed Marshals without either getting off a shot. He was military-trained for sure. Navy seals or army rangers, maybe. The only chance she had was to take him by surprise.

Not giving herself a chance to be afraid, Margo slipped forward and yanked the door open. "Don't move, Tin!"

They were both inside, all right. Tin looked unarmed, but that hadn't seemed to matter before. Harding was sitting in a chair in the middle of the small room, either unconscious or dead. Tin was standing over him.

"What did you do to him?" She demanded, taking a step closer.

He turned his head slightly, and smiled. "Hello, Margo. Fancy seeing you again so soon. Mind lowering your weapon?"

"Not a chance. Step away from him."

His smile turned menacing, even in the dim light. "You saw what I did back at the motel, I assume. I could take your gun and feed it to you if I wanted. As for Harding, you can relax. I didn't hurt him that bad. Just knocked him out and drugged him. I have the drugs to bring him out of it." He leaned back away from his prisoner and rolled his shoulders slightly, as if bored.

"Then bring him out of it. Right now," she insisted. "You've already kidnapped and assaulted people. I won't let you torture anyone. I gave those Marshals my phone tracking ID. By now they have cops already on the way out here," she bluffed on a whim.

"Sure you did," he said snidely. "And I'm not torturing anyone here. What is this, Gitmo? Torture has never been effective for interrogations. Any intelligence you get is unreliable at best, because they'll say anything to stop the pain." He glanced back at Harding. "No, this is regression therapy. Hypnogogic memory retrieval. You can stay and watch if you want. Here, let me show you."

When he moved, it was like a blur. One instant he was in her line of fire, and the next he was at her side! She fired instinctively, and the sound blasted through the confined space. Through the ringing in her ears, she was aware of an iron grip on her hand and gun, wresting it from her grip. Fearfully, Margo looked over at his face.

He wasn't smug or calm as he'd been before. He didn't even look angry. There was surprise and fear in his eyes. He hadn't expected her to shoot, and apparently her miss had been a near one. "Nice try," he said roughly. With practiced ease he removed the clip from her gun, emptied the bullets onto the ground outside, and then closed the door. He shoved the clip and gun into her hands, and she grabbed hold of them only by instinct. "That's better. Now I can get on with it, but if you give me any trouble, I'll break a few bones. Scream and I'll knock you out, too. Understood?"

"I understand," she assured him. This place was small enough that she couldn't realistically get out of arm's reach from him. Now that she was inside, she could see a particle exciter mounted on the wall. Was he planning on recording his apparently-not-torture scene for posterity?

Tin's earlier look of fear was still there, though. The small window had been open, so the bullet hadn't shattered anything on its way out, but it had only missed his head by an inch or so. Margo knew how he felt. She had to put all her effort into not shaking from being so easily disarmed. Still, she couldn't let this go on. "Don't do this, Tin. Or whatever your real name is. He has no motive to want Jia dead! He's just a former drug dealer-turned-janitor who's afraid for his life!"

"I agree it's unlikely, but I have to be sure," Tin insisted. "Now be quiet. Wake up, Cole. Wakey wakey." He slapped Harding's face lightly.

Harding's eyes opened, but they remained unfocused. He looked more like a vegetable than a functioning human being.

"That's perfect." Tin reached over to the exciter and turned it on. Abruptly the whole room was filled with trees and brush, and faint forest noises emanated in the background.

Margo had only heard the basics of regression therapy, but one of its components was getting people into the same headspace they'd been before, in order to make the memories easier to get at. This was probably a recording of the area near Jia Haldar's house. Tin had done his research.

"I want you to think about Jia, Cole. You were with her for a long time. Picture her in your mind," Tin said softly, almost in a monotone. Despite the situation, Margo was fascinated. Whatever drug Tin had used on him seemed to be speeding the process along. Typically, regression took hours or days to produce results.

"Do you see her?"

"Yes," Cole breathed out. "She's so beautiful. She's always so beautiful. She... was."

Tin's eyes tightened a little. "Stay with me, Cole. Think back to when you were last with her. When you were last speaking; tell me about that. You're part of that conversation again, all right? Speak through it like you're there."

Cole nodded just a hair. "I know that face, Jia. You're worried, aren't you?"

"I'm fine. It's just work stuff is all."

Cole's voice filled both roles in the memory, and again Margo found it amazing. He was reliving his own memory now in this hypnotic state. He was playing both parts as if he was an actor!

"Stuff you can't tell me about?" His voice took on a disgruntled tone.

"It has to do with the exciter. That's all I can say."

Margo shared a surprised glance with Tin. She'd known Jia worked at Aldwin-Farrow, but not that she'd been involved with their most prized product.

Cole moved his arms up from the chair, as if he was wrapping them around someone protectively. "Does this have anything to do with Alice Draper, your assistant?"

"Why do you say that?"

"Because women in their thirties don't just drop dead from embolisms like that. The odds are... well, you'd know a lot better than I would. A snowball's chance in hell, really."

Cole let out a sigh. "I really can't tell you, Cole. There's some secret to do with the exciters, and there's an announcement scheduled for a few weeks from now. Until then, you have to stay in the dark. Now, I have to get to work, and so do you. See you tonight, ok?"

Cole made a kissing noise. "All right."

This was awkward, but it also raised a few questions. Had the problem been on Jia's end and not Cole's? Had she been killed for work reasons?

It seemed Tin was thinking on the same lines. "Tell me about Alice Draper, Cole. Did you ever meet her?"

"Yes, twice I think. When I went to pick Jia up a couple of times."

"Do you think she was killed? That her embolism was fake or something?"

Cole nodded. "She wasn't the only one. Others died too. Four of Jia's friends, before and after she died. Accidents, heart attacks, a suicide. All fake." His head lolled slightly. "She wasn't special to them, but she was to me. Special."

His voice was fading, and Tin grabbed his head. "Stay with me, Cole. Who were these people who died? I need names."

But Cole looked mostly gone. He just kept on mumbling the word 'special' over and over again.

Tin growled and reached for his bag. "We're not done yet, you cockroach." Inside was a set of syringes, all capped for safety. He selected one and removed the cap.

He was about to put it to Cole's arm when Margo reached out. "Don't. You have what you need."

"You have no idea what I need," he retorted, shying away from her hand.

"I know you want the truth, and you're willing to risk your freedom to get it," Margo continued regardless. "You have your answer: Jia wasn't the only AFI person to get bumped off. She was killed for work reasons, and that has nothing to do with Cole. Now bring him out of it! You know how dangerous it can be to keep people under sedation, and God knows what other hallucinogens you pumped into him. Let him go, Tin. For your sake."

She wasn't sure why she kept calling him Tin. For all she knew it was just another lie, but somehow, it felt like his name. Maybe it was some subconscious cue he was giving her.

Tin seemed to sense that too. He hesitated, needle to Cole's arm, but then pulled it away. "It's a dry well anyway."

He snatched up a different syringe, and put it in her hands. "Give him this to bring him out of it. You can get the cops and Marshals all over this place; I don't care anymore. He can scuttle back under whatever floor he crawled out of." He paused, and grabbed her wrist in an almost painful grip. "I'm going to find who killed her, Margo. If you're smart, you'll stay out of my way."

He ripped the exciter off the wall, deactivating it and plunging the room into drabness again, and picked up his pack. In another instant he was gone.

-.-

Margo called the cops after he left, her mind still spinning over what she'd heard and seen. It only took them fifteen minutes to get to her location, which meant they were also out in the woods looking for him. She'd just gotten a head start on them. For a moment she wondered if any unfortunate cop was going to stumble on him in the forest. God help whichever poor soul did so.

She'd wanted to give the antidote to Harding, but hesitated. The police and Marshal's service would be screaming mad about this, and a manhunt would be underway soon, if it wasn't already. They would leave no stone unturned looking for Tin, and if they knew she'd spoken to him, she would be deposed and interrogated. Margo couldn't let that happen; she had to find Tin again before the authorities did.

So far, Margo's career had been middling at best. She'd had no major cases, and no real publicity to elevate her business. This was a chance to change all of that. Once the manhunt was announced, people would be coming out of the woodwork to find him. Even if no one offered a reward for his capture, it would still get people to notice her. Tin was her ticket to fame, and a real future as a respectable PI.

She wiped the syringe he'd given her clean of fingerprints, and left it on the ground next to Harding's unconscious form. She also left the room, picking up her bullets off the ground, and put a firm shoeprint where they'd been. By the time the cops arrived, there was no evidence she'd done anything but look in through the window and call them.

One of the unis took her back to the motel parking lot while the others secured the scene. Margo heard them calling in medical backup as she left. As she stepped from the darkened woods into the flashing lights assembled outside the motel, one of the people next to the cop cars did a double take. "Margo?"

Margo raised a hand against the harsh glare, and then smiled. "Hey, Connor. I mean Detective Malley," she corrected herself, looking at the unis nearby. "I guess it's a good thing you caught this case."

The tall man looked suspiciously back up at the motel for a second. "The Marshal in there said a PI was involved in this case, but I didn't think it would be you. What brought you all the way out here?"

She sighed. "My latest client turned out to be a criminal. He's the guy you're looking for. I should make a statement right here and now, so that you don't have to call me in to the police station later."

"Fair enough," he said easily, and pulled out a notepad. Margo had made dozens of police statements over the years, sometimes to this very man, and knew all the ins and outs, as well as which details they wanted. She answered Connor's questions truthfully, right up to finding Tin in the woods. He was a good cop, and pressed for details, but he seemed to buy that she'd just found the cabin with an unconscious man inside. Connor was a by-the-book investigator: decent, hardworking, and conscientious, but he wasn't the most innovative of thinkers. Margo had a good chance of being able to track Tin down before he could, despite the massive resources the PPD would no doubt bring into the search.

As she walked towards her car, she could see the police going over Tin's vehicle with a fine-toothed comb.

Who was this guy? Why did he care so much about Jia Haldar? He was willing to kick the hornet's nest, and sacrifice a perfectly good car, for answers. Somehow, Margo was sure the cops wouldn't find anything to identify him on the car, either. Tin had been utterly unhesitating back there in the woods, and his combat skills spoke to long experience in the field. If he hadn't been caught by now, he wouldn't be by any conventional means.

To be fair though, everyone had thought Capone was unbeatable, until his taxes had brought him down. Anything was possible.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 05:02:51 AM by Daen »