The phone rang. I tried burring my head under the covers, but it just kept rining. My shift had been one of those shifts that made 'three days on' take on a whole new meaning. It wasn't 'on call' this time, it was 'on duty.' All I wanted to do was sleep, but my caller seemed to have other plans.
Whoever it was, they weren't going away. He finally won and after about the tenth ring, I answered, but not before I turned off the video feed. There were somethings I don't want people to see, and me on too little sleep is at the top of the list.
It was Fin. I think I threw him off by not including the video feed. Still it was good to see the samurai's face, even if he was frowning into the vid.
"Long time no see, Jess. How're things?" he asked. He's way too cheerful for this early in the... I let the thought trail off, I didn't even know what time it was.
I have to admit, it was good to see him in one piece. "Good, things are good. What can I do to you for this call?"
He held up his hands in the universal form of supplication. "Easy there, just thought I'd throw a piece of biz your way."
I frowned, "What type, razor head?"
He laughed at the endearment then continued. "Well, it seems that this guy lost something important to him. I thought it was more up your alley than mine."
"Got any info on the guy?"
"I can have someone drop it somewhere for you to pick up in VR. Sound okay?"
I thought it over, "Well, drop it off, I might check it." It's early and I'm feeling as non-commital as it comes.
"No worries." Fin moved to disconnect but paused. "I heard about the kid in the Barrens. Good job Jess." His voice was soft and I remember what drew me to the man in the first place.
Before I could say anything , he disconnected. I layed back in bed. 'He'll have it in our usual encrypted drop spot in the matrix. Guess I could check it out...' I tried to resist the thought, but its there in the back of my mind, and I knew it was going to keep nagging me until I did something about it.
I shook my head as I looked from the phone, to the bed. Fin wouldn't call me when I'm trying to sleep unless it was important. No, he would, cause he could never keep my schedule straight. 'May as well get some caffine in me and get moving,' I figured
I went to Cosmo's a local cafe, and checked around. I ordered a cup of coffee as I noted who was around. When I was sure everything was cool, and safe, I pulled up my mini-comp and plugged it in. I figured it was time to get the morning news, and maybe send a letter home.
Jess danced on electrons, floating through the lines of infinity to her little cubby hole in the cosmos. Yep, as promised. Delivery of one new message. In the time it takes a cell to divide, she downloads the data and scoots back to her meat.
I looked at my mini-comp and wondered what it would be like to have a 'real deck'. Granted, for what I do, its more than enough, but still sometimes I wonder. I think about Fin's call and kick myself for daydreaming.
I take a sip of coffee and start scanning the file.Apparently, there was a guy searching for his son...kidnapped. He'd been to Lone Star and so far nothing.
"Big surprise..." I muttered to myself.
The only other bits of information concerned a meet at a local jazz club called the Bass Line. The meeting was was set for 9:30 that night. Then there was the pic file. It showed a young blonde boy sitting on the knee of a pudgy (yet very happy) older man, both looking like they just played rugby in the park.
I don't know how long I stared into the picture, trying to see into their lives. I thought about the way the man must have felt, his son missing. I thought about by brothers and how I felt. And when I was done torturing myself with that, I thought about the boy and what he must be going through.
No way I'm sitting this one out. That's probably why Fin sent the business my way. This one would be more than just a paycheck to me, it was 'my crusade' as he called it.
I looked at my watch. There was more than enough time to grab a nap and a shower, but I know myself better than that. Fin was right though, this was right up my alley. Except I haven't had much luck on my own search. At least by now, I know some of the places to look.
The first thing I wanted to do was get some of the legwork out of the way. I wanted make sure I knew exactly what was going on. Was the man on the level? Was it about money?
I knew that if it was just about money, it would be bad enough, but if it wasn't, if it was something personal, then things could be a whole lot worse. Then again, for all I knew, it could have been something like my folks drawn out to the nth degree. I want to walk in knowing what's going on. I do not want a repeat of the Barrens.
Thinking about it I figured I hadn't annoyed missing persons yet that week, by now they may start to miss me. Its was about time for my weekly visit anyway.
I walked into the Missing Person's office and nodded to the usuals. They were getting to know me on site. I wondered how many of them dreaded my showing up. At least they were used to seeing me there and wouldn't think twice about why I was there.
Jimmy was behind the counter as usual. The expression on the Troll's face said it all. "I'll call up da usual information, see if dere's any updates," he grumbled.
I signalled him to hold on and slipped him a data chip I'd made. "I was wondering if you'd check on this for me too. Lone Star probably filed this a week ago."
The chip contained most of the information I had on the kid. A physical description and the name "Darren Gillian."
The troll gave me a surprised look. "No probs, Jess. I'll check it real quick for ya."
"Thanks, Jimmy," I responded, but I was talking to his to his shell: he was already jacked into the matrix. It didn't take long for him to return either
"Sorry, doll. Nothin' on yer family." He handed back the data chip. "N da Star ain't called in anyone by dis description."
I numby took the data chip, stuffing it back in my jacket. "Thanks, Jimmy. How much do I owe ya?"
The troll waved a beefy hand at me. "Get outta my office for I wedge my boot in yer head." His voice was gruff, but I knew he was smiling.
I'd pretty much gotten used to nothing when it came to the sibs. It still hurt, but at least I was used to that. But finding nothing in missing persons on the kid... That didn't make any sense. According to the chip, Gillian had called in the Star on this one, and SOP stated, they filed with Missing Persons. It was too much to digest in one sitting.
By then I had another message: Gillian wanted to meet at the Bass Line tonight, 9:30.
I mulled over what little I did have as I headed over to the bank. I had to wait for a clerk, but there were no problems as they took me back into the safe and I retrieved my safety deposit box.
In the privacy booth, I checked the contents and added an update chip. I included a copy of the information I'd gotten from Fin, and a note about the lack of information from Jimmy. If there was one thing I had learned from by brothers' dissappearance, it was to let somebody know what I was up to. Of course they'd have to decrypt it, but still. It was more than the boys had left me.
Its not like I really think the rest of the family would be coming to look for me, but I like to think somebody might. I shake my head. I'm getting mauldalin again. Time to head home
Back at the apartment, I lay down and try to get at least some sleep, but its slow in coming. I finally get a few hours before the alarm goes off. Six thirty can be pretty ugly sometimes.
I got up and grabbed a quick shower then changed into something a little more respectable than my "kicking around" jeans. I slipped my palm gun into it's 'dainty' holster, added a clip of glasers and then stuffed my purse with a few necesities. Like something a little more effective than a trauma patch. With the mini kit in place, I'm as ready as I'll ever be.
I looked at myself in the mirror and shook my head. If they could see me now. Somewhere in there, I could see traces of the little girl who swore she'd never cut her hair, that she would never be far from her brothers, that she'd always be there for them.
Of course I'd cut my hair to the point that it was just off my collar. Now it was gathered into a small pony tail. As for the rest, I don't know. I turned my wrist towards me and check the time. 7:30.
It was time to head out for the Bass Line.
Well, I had planned on getting there early, my luck true to form left me walking half way there before I could catch a cab. I was not amused. But I still managed to make it there pretty much on time. Any irritation over the trip dropped when the rythm from the jazz trio took over. All my tension melted away to the strains of Basin Street Blues.
The music seemed to have that effect on just about everyone. The people who came here had one thing in common, a love for the music. No one seemed to care about stereotypes here, just good music and relaxation. And people doing business.
I reminded myself that I had a meeting to attend, and some details to straighten out, and the only way I was going to do that, was to talk to Mr. Gillian. As I looked for him, two waiters descended on me offering alcohol and other various 'spirits.' But then I saw him...
He was sitting at the only table without a table cloth, oh if that didn't scream 'I'm up to something...' alarms started going off in my head, but Fin had gotten me this far, the least I owed him and the man for that matter was a meeting.
As I approached the table I was reminded of the tension I felt on the way over. This time however, the tension took the form of a young filipino man. He practically brisled at my approach.
This was not what I expected, but at least I have learned not too expect too much, or more to the point, expect just about anything. The last thing I wanted to do was fight. That wasn't why I'd come. I gave him one of my 'I'm not here for trouble smiles' and nodded respectfully.
Then I turned to Mr. Gillian. "Sir," I said quietly. "I'm Jess." He didn't recognize me, but he knew the name. Trust Fin to not tell the man anything about the way I look. I smiled as he introduced me to the ball of tension.
"Yes, yes, of course, Jess," the accountant responded, "please sit down." I took the seat he offered and waited for him to continue.
"This is Sticks. He's another person whom I've hired for the....uhm, investigation. I thought you I'd introduce the two of you and then we'd get the last member of the group. Unfortunately, Tal, the...uhm, elf magic user I told you about, is....uh, unavailable at the moment....."
He trailed off as Tension, Sticks, stood and shook my hand. I could feel him sizing me up as we exchanged nods. He seemed to know a lot more about what was going on. He seemed to stare at me for a minute before he came to his conclusions.
Then he sat back down.
Once we were again seated, Sticks asked, "Does this magic man not understand the seriousness of what we do? Does he not see that we must move quickly before the trail grows cold?"
I nodded in agreement, but there were still some questions on my mind. "There are some things I need to ask you sir. Some of the information I was given doesn't jive. If you don't mind, I'd like you to tell the whole story, in your own words..." I prompted, keeping my tone as soft and encouraging as I could. There was a time for playing things hard, this was not one of them.
If the man was telling me the truth, then he had been through a lot, and things were only bound to get worse. I needed to know the full score, but the last thing I wanted was to upset the man unnecessarily.
Especially not with his companion, Sticks. From the sound of things this was more than a job to the man, which could prove dangerous under the wrong circumstances.
I could see that the man was obviously upset, but was it really the loss, or was the stuttering the result of nerves. I had to know. I smiled encouraginly. "I understand what it means when someone you care about dissappears, but sometimes, even the smallest thing, something seemingly unrelated, may be helpful."
I took a deep breath. I hated opening up those wounds, but I hoped it would help the man trust me enough to give me the full story. Sticks was right about one thing, we needed to move before the trail got cold.
Gillian sat back, a look of curiousity on his face. "I don't quite understand what didn't jive. I gave you everything I dared without face to face contact. Just enough to prove to you my situation."
I listened to him, it wasn't so much what he'd said, but how he said it. It was time to play my trump card and see how things fell afterwards. I wasn't particularly proud of it, but it needed to be answered. I can't work for somebody I don't trust.
I took a deep breath and told him what I found at missing persons, or more to the point, didn't find. "I went to missing persons," I admitted. "They didn't seem to have a file..."
"They didn't have a file?!?!?" Gillian almost leapt from the booth.
Sticks put a hand on the man's arm. "Do not fly off the handle Senor. You should sit down and relate to Jess what you've told me."
I noticed how the young man managed to keep Gillian calm and functioning. There was obviously some kind of bond between them, but I had no idea what it was.
Once he calmed down, Gillian attempted to relate to me what had happened. "Seven days ago, I came home from my office, late. I came home to my wife crying alone in our son's room. She went on and on about what kind of bastard I was and..."
He stopped, practically overwhelmed with emotion. I guess I'm a little jaded. My dad never showed this kind of emotion when the boys went missing. If only he had, it would have made leaving easier. At least then, I wouldn't have felt alone.
Gillian's pain was obvious, and that made it more believable. Dad hid his, if it ever existed. I can't do anything about that, but maybe I can help Gillian. I listen as he pulled himself together and continued.
"I called Lone Star right away and they sent out a Lt and some officers to collect evidence. The Lt promised a magical investigator would come and take readings, but he never showed. On the days after, I tried contacting them as much as twice or three times a day. Everytime it felt like they were giving me the brush off."
He stopped again as emotions overrode everything else. He looked at us, and his hands were clenched so tight they were turning white. He swore he didn't know why his son's case wasn't on file, but it was beginning to sound like one of those cases that anybody with any sense would avoid. I never claimed to have any sense. If I did, would I have moved to Seattle of all places? No, this was my crusade all over again. Fin was right, it was right up my alley.
The man stopped and looked at the Sticks then me, his hands were balled into fists. "I don't understand why Darren's case wouldn't be filed at missing persons...I don't think that I want to know why." Gillian's knuckles were white. He turned to Sticks, "As for the magic user, Tal. He should be along as well. It is only nine."
Gillian rose from the booth. "I'm going to go get a drink, you'll know the magic user when you see him. He's a fair skinned elf of thin stature, walks with definitively. Tal is his name." And with that, Gillian moved from the table towards the bar. before he left completely he turned back to Sticks. "Fill Jess in on anything else I might have left out. So far you know as much as I do." The old man took a deep breath then melted into the club goers.
I took a deep breath. That had gone really well. I could all but feel his anguish. There was no doubt in my mind that that was real. I looked at Sticks, hoping to get some kind of detail on what had been happening. I mean, it wasn't unthinkable that Lone Star would bury the report, but what would they have to gain. I mean from what I've seen, the Gillian's aren't the type of people that the Star snubbs.
By that point, the more I learned, the more questions I had. I was hoping Sticks could give me something more to go on.
"I'd appreciate it if you could fill me in," I stated quietly as my mind raced. 'How long does a 'magic' trail would last anyway?' I was betting that a week was a pretty long time.