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"Born of the Blade" - Part Four

The Roadside Motor Inn, three stories of unassuming beige with a Spanish tile roof, occupied most of Center between 47th and 48th immediately south of Civic Park. A parking lot edged with tired-looking shrubbery flanked its north and west side and a cover portico perched on two rough-edged brick columns completed the look. Its only neighbor was on the south end of the block, a pizzeria with a colorful awning over the front entrance.
   
We told the twentysomething blond desk clerk that we worked for Miss Renée and needed to talk to someone in charge. She let out a little gasp, mumbled something about the assistant manager, and scurried to a nearby office to summon him.
   
The motel's assistant manager, tall and slender with thick brown hair and a pencil-thin mustache, dressed in a tailored gray vest over a white shirt and red tie, emerged from the office. He stood in the middle of the foyer, and regarded us with one arched, well-manicured eyebrow, hands on his hips, his body slightly tensed.
   
Given how we were dressed, I wasn't surprised at his reaction.

Thankfully, Mouse had left her back scabbard in the Royale.
   
But he still probably didn't expect the sight of us.
   
"Miss Renée," he said with a slight lisp, "is one of our valued clients."
   
"We have a matter that needs attention," I said. "Is there somewhere private we can go."
   
"I'll need verification, of course," he said, the eyebrow still arched.
   
"You can call her," I said.
   
"I will." He signaled to the blond desk clerk. She handed him a headset and mic. After a moment he said, "Roadside Motor Inn for Miss Renée. Yes, I'll hold." He gave us a humorless smile.
   
I returned it.
   
"Miss Renée," he said into the headset mic, then lowered his voice and turned away from us. He spoke in hushed tones, nodded, a few times, spoke again, nodded again. This time his shoulders relaxed and he turned back to us. He took the headset off and handed it back to the desk clerk.
   
"Verified?" I said.
   
He gave a short nod. "This way," he said and ushered us into the nearby office he had emerged from.
   
It was small,with barely space for a desk, terminal, and two chairs, one on either side of the desk. With just the furniture and the assistant manager it looked cramped. With the three of us, it felt claustrophobic.
   
"My name is Lawson," the assistant manager said as he took his seat behind the desk and motioned for us to sit.
   
I shook my head. So did Mouse.
   
He shrugged and settled into his chair.
   
"Kat and Mouse, is it?" he said.
   
"Kat," I said, indicating myself then gestured to Mouse. "My partner, Mouse."
   
His eyebrows popped up and down. "How charming. Now, what is this matter that requires attention?"
   
"Miss Renée tells us she has reserved rooms here."
   
"She does," Lawson said. "Standing reservations. Rooms 111, 113, 223, and 225."
   
"And you have records of their use?"
   
"We do."
   
"How extensive?"
   
"If you mean do we have the identities of the persons who make use of those room, then no. We know when her girls arrive to use them. But we don't record who they arrive with."
   
I pulled my phone from my jacket, found the images of the girls, and showed them to Lawson.
   
He nodded. "Yes, I'm very familiar with those three. Brittany, Eve, and Sheena." He grinned. "They're recurring guests, you might say." His grin suddenly grew uneasy. "Except I haven't seen Brittany and Eve in a while. I hope they didn't go elsewhere."
   
"Do you remember when you saw either of them last?"
   
Lawson leaned back in his chair, one elbow on the armrest, smoothing his mustache as he thought. "Brittany was here a week ago. The 26th or 27th. And Eve I saw on the 2nd. But not since then."
   
"And Sheena?"
   
"Last night," said Lawson.
   
"If the rooms are a standing reservation, how do you know when they get used?"
   
"Oh, the girls check in for their initial use. The keycard is good for twenty-four hour access. After that it needs to get re-coded." He frowned. "We had noticed that after their visits, Brittany and Eve never returned their keycards. We assumed an oversight on their part and the manager, Mr. Denton, had notified Miss Renée so I thought it had all been taken care of. I mean, he never mentioned anything more about it after that." His eyes suddenly went wide and he put a hand to his chest and sucked in air. "Oh my god. Did something happen to them? To the girls?"
   
"That's what we're here to look into," I said.
   
"Oh goodness," Lawson said, looking pale. "Those poor dears."
   
"Is there anyone on your staff who might have an issue with the girls bringing their business here?"
   
"Not that I know of. We've had a contract with Miss Renée for the last five years. I've never heard any staff member complain."
   
"Would you know?" said Mouse.
   
Lawson's smiled. "One of our custodial staff has her ear on all the work gossip and I encourage that in her. She likes to keep me informed. In return, I treat her well. Extra time off. Longer meal breaks. That sort of thing."
   
"And she's never heard complaints about Miss Renée's girls?"
   
Lawson shook his head.
   
"Does the motel have security cameras?"
   
"We do," he said. "Inside and outside."
   
"Do you monitor the feeds?"
   
He gave a sheepish grin. "I'm afraid not. The most we do is shift the footage to data storage whenever the system tells us."
   
"Where's your storage?"
   
"Data room. South end of the hotel."
   
"Can you access a specific date of footage?"
   
"I assume so. I've never tried it."
   
"You're about to," I said.


*   *   *

The data room was the size of the Red Dog's back office and at least ten degrees cooler than the hallway outside. Five rows of floor-to-ceiling equipment racks dominated the space packed with gunmetal gray boxes that blinked red and green and crisscrossed with lengths of thickly bundled cables. A workstation with a terminal and twin screens sat near the entrance.
   
Lawson closed the door behind us then sat down at the workstation and started typing on the terminal keyboard.
   
The left-side screen was split into six separate image feeds that cycled between locations every ten seconds. The right-side screen had two columns. One column had a continuing scroll of alphanumerics. The other was a command menu of some sort.
   
We stood just behind Lawson as he worked to navigate the menu choices on the screen.
   
After a few minutes he said, "I think I've got it."
   
A narrow display box appeared on the right-side screen.
   
"When was the footage you needed?" he asked.
   
I pulled my phone out and referred to the notations from the data disc. "October 27th. Start at 2200 hours."
   
"Right," said Lawson, typing commands into the keyboard.
   
A moment later, the right-side screen split into six separate image feeds, just like the left-side screen. Each feed had a timecode along the bottom of the image. After watching the feed cycle through I said, "There are eighteen cameras?"
   
"Yes," said Lawson. "Twelve outside, six inside."
   
"IR on the outdoor cams," said Mouse, inclining her head.
   
"That's right," said Lawson. "Full color video in daytime. Automatically switches to IR at night and records in grayscale."
   
"Which of the cameras cover the reserved rooms?" I said.
   
"That would be on the north side. Interior cameras."
   
"Show me those."
   
Lawson typed commands. The screen split into two image feeds. The top feed looked out on a long corridor with doors along either side. Just beyond the camera's view to the left of the feed was a small corridor that led to a stairwell. The bottom feed looked the same as the top feed except for a glare just outside the camera view that indicated glass.
   
Lawson pointed to the top feed. "That's the second floor, just outside rooms 225 and 223 to the left of the screen." He pointed to the bottom feed. "And that's the first floor, and rooms 113 and 111."
   
I pointed to the glare on the bottom feed. "Is that a window?"
   
"Side entrance," said Lawson. "Leads to the parking lot outside."
   
"North end of the building," said Mouse.
   
"Right," said Lawson.
   
We watched the progress of the footage in realtime for a few seconds.
   
"Can you speed it up a little?" I said.
   
"Sure," said Lawson, typing commands. The footage sped up slightly at twice normal time.
   
"Little more?"
   
Typed commands, then the footage went to four times as fast.
   
We watched.
   
I kept my eye on the timecode.
   
When it got close to 22:50, I said, "Go back to normal speed."
   
Lawson typed commands and the footage dropped back to normal.
   
"There," said Mouse, pointing to the bottom feed.
   
A figure stepped out of room 113.
   
Brittany.
   
She dialed her phone, put it to her ear, and started for the side entrance.
   
"Follow her," I said.
   
Lawson quickly typed commands.
   
Another image feed popped up, this one outside the motel. The view, in grayscale, showed the north side of the property looking out onto part of the parking lot, along the exterior wall of the building, and out toward Center Avenue to the west. Brittany came out through the side entrance, still on the phone, and stopped on the walkway just beyond the entrance door. The camera captured her in profile, standing along the lower edge of the frame. She looked out toward the parking lot, finished her call, then lowered the phone slightly, began to dial another number, and turned her back to the camera.
   
Then a flash of movement just beyond the camera's view and Brittany crumpled to the ground.
   
Lawson gasped.
   
Mouse said, "Shit."
   
Ice slithered up my back and I clenched my teeth in response. I shook away the sensation and leaned in toward the screen.
   
Brittany had fallen forward and was lying prone, arms splayed out above her head. Shadows played along the edge of the frame.
   
Then Brittany was dragged out of camera frame.
   
Lawson gave a strangled yelp.
   
"Holy shit," said Mouse.
   
What the hell--?
   
"Play that again," I said.
   
"Oh god," said Lawson, his face pale.
   
"Please," I said. "You don't have to look."
   
He nodded, typed commands on the keyboard, and turned away from the monitors.
   
The feed replayed. Brittany stepped out, finished her call, dialed her phone, and turned away. Movement, and Brittany crumpled, prone. Shadows flickered. Then Brittany was dragged away.
   
"Fuck a duck," said Mouse.
   
"There's another angle on that side of the building, right?" I said.
   
"Yes," said Lawson, "but please don't make me watch again."
   
I looked at him.
   
He had paled further and looked ready to collapse on himself.
   
I let out a long breath. "Okay, Mr. Lawson," I said. "We won't make you watch."
   
He sagged into the chair and let out a relieved sigh. "Thank you."
   
"We're going to need copies of that footage," I said.
   
He looked up at me. "You'll find those girls, won't you."
   
Mouse and I exchanged looks. "We hope to," I said. "Miss Renée's counting on us."
   
"Bless you both," Lawson said and straightened in the chair. "I'll have copies in a moment."
   
"Two other sets of footage, too," I said and gave him the dates and times for Eve and Sheena.
   
Lawson keyed a long series of commands into the terminal, then watched the right-side screen as the machine did his bidding.
   
I motioned to Mouse and we stepped away from the workstation while Lawson did his work.
   
Mouse said: "Not going to tell him about--"
   
"No," I said. "You saw his reaction to Brittany's footage."
   
She nodded. "Point. Back to Val to take a look?"
   
"Yeah. Maybe one of the other cameras can get us a better angle on Brittany's attacker."
   
"And then we slice and dice?"
   
"And then we slice and dice," I said.
   
Mouse rubbed her hands together. "Wiz. And then we can start after Hiller and her boyfriends."
   
"As soon as Val and Kid get us more info."
   
"I know, I know," Mouse said. "No blind shooting. Just itching to get it over with."
   
"So am I," I said.
   
"I've got it," Lawson called out.
   
We turned back to him.
   
He held out a data disc in a jewel case. "Here you go," he said. "It's all there."
   
"Thank you," I said, taking the disc.
   
"Do me a favor?" he said.
   
"If we can," I said.
   
"Find the bastard and make 'em pay."


(to be continued...)


"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5