Low on time.
"Val," I said. "An innocent woman will die at 13:00 if we don't find her. We need your help. When that's done, we'll go talk to Eddie and get to the bottom of this. Deal?"
Val fixed me with a long look. Then she said: "Deal. What do you need me to do?"
"Security feeds from B.C. International," I said. "Last night between 19:00 and 20:00. Flights from Hong Kong." I pulled out my phone, found the picture Lee had sent of Mei-Lin, and showed it to her. "Look for this woman."
She inclined her head at the picture. "Send it to me."
"What's her name?"
Four minutes later, Val sat up in her highback leather chair, let out a long breath, and turned to me, data cable still plugged into the jack behind her ear. "I think I got it."
We were gathered around Val's workstation at the back corner of the apartment. A long table with three flat-screens, a keyboard, two towers, and a cyberdeck sat against the wall. Mouse and I sat on folding metal chairs to one side of Val's chair.
"Doesn't that hurt?" Mouse said, gesturing to Val's data cable.
"Not really," Val said with a grin.
"That was quick work," I said.
"That's me," Val said, swiveling her leather chair to face us. "Plus I've had to pull data from airport security before so I used a backdoor I put in." She half-turned and tapped on her keyboard for a moment, then inclined her head at the center flat-screen.
Mouse and I sat on the edge of our chair and leaned forward.
A series of windows cascaded on the screen ending with three showing crisp camera footage of a terminal gate from different angles. Val gestured to them. "DeltAmUnited Flight 421, Hong Kong to Bay City, got in at 19:15. Footage on the far left showed passengers getting off the plane."
Val typed again. The image on the far left highlighted the face of a twentysomething woman with short dark hair wearing a blouse and slacks talking on her phone. Alphanumerics streamed across a window near the bottom of Val's screen, appearing in time with her typing.
A copy of the picture I'd sent her popped up near the top of the screen--Mei-Lin posing with a wide-brimmed hat on her head, standing in front of a well-manicured garden, a wide smile on her face--and a series of graphics danced across the image, then across the image on the footage.
A message box popped up: MATCH.
Val looked at us. "I already ran the biometrics before I popped back. They matched. That's Mei-Lin Sun. Just wanted to show you here."
I nodded. "So we know she got off the plane. Lee said he talked to her when she arrived. But she never got to her hotel."
"So Wei had his goons grab her enroute somewhere," said Mouse.
Val went saucer-eyed. "Holy shit. Wei? As in The 108?"
I shot her a lopsided grin. "Yeah. The 108."
She returned the grin and shook her head. "First White Lotus. Now The 108. You two never go half-assed, do you."
"Full-assed," said Mouse. "Always."
"How'd you know about Lotus?" I said.
"Mikey told me," Val said. "Heard it from Jake."
At the mention of Jake, I felt heat flare up in my belly. I mentally shoved the sensation away and refocused on the images on the monitor.
"Nevermind that," I said and gestured to the security feeds. "Can you get a shot of Mei-Lin going through the airport?"
"Done," said Val, tapping away on her keyboard.
Another series of images popped up on the screen, again security footage from different angles. We watched as Mei-Lin left the gate and make her way into the arrivals area, a rolling carry-on bag trailing behind her. She stopped in front of a dark-haired woman in a pantsuit holding a placard.
"There," I said, pointing at the image. "We need to follow them."
"On it," said Val, tapping away.
I continued watching the feed as Mei-Lin and Pantsuit Woman spoke briefly then walk off together toward the main entrance. Val typed quickly and another set of images popped up with an angle from outside the airport entrance. Mei-Lin and Pantsuit Woman approached a gray MitsuAudi sedan parked at the curb. The car's trunk popped open and Pantsuit took Mei-Lin's carry-on bag, hoisted it into the trunk, and closed the lid. Then Mei-Lin opened the rear passenger door and slid inside. Pantsuit went to the driver's side door, opened it, and got in. A moment later, the car started up, paused, then joined the flow of traffic heading away from the airport.
"Gonna see if I can follow the car," said Val. "Back in a bit." She checked her data cable, tapped a command into her cyberdeck, and slumped in her chair.
Mouse looked at me. "What do you think? Nabbed enroute like I said?"
I gestured at the footage on the display. "You saw where she went. But remember--Lee said she was gonna take a cab."
"It looks like she went into the car willingly," said Mouse. "Probably figured what the hell. Lee sent a car. Romantic gesture or something." She frowned for a moment, then nodded. "So that brunette was probably working for Wei."
"But she's not Asian," I said. "I don't think the Triads outsource. It's all in-house. Like Lotus."
Mouse grabbed my arm. "Hey--the guy at Johnny's wasn't Asian either. What if these two are connected?"
The queasiness returned like a gut punch.
Mouse must've seen the look on my face. "I hate being right."
"And I hate it when you are right," I said. "Wei had nothing to do with this. With Mei-Lin or with Johnny. This was a set-up."
Mouse gave a low snarl. "Again with this set-up shit."
Val stirred, coughed twice, then sat up. "Whoa. That was different."
"Problem?" I said.
"Not with the search," said Val. "Afterwards." She frowned "Something way hinky. If I was a believer, I'd say it was a gibson."
"A what?" said Mouse.
The corner of Val's mouth twitched up into a grin. "Gibson. Ghost in the machine. Old story about disembodied intelligences running rogue in the 'Net." She shook her head. "Nothing to worry about. Just stories."
"Stories," said Mouse.
"Yeah," said Val. "You know--ghost stories around the campfire."
"What's a campfire?"
"Do you get out much?"
"All the time."
"I mean out into nature? Hiking? Trees? Fresh air?"
Mouse shuddered. "We took a trip into nature once. About a month ago. Lots of trees, bugs, and shooting. I'll take the shooting. You can keep the rest."
"What'd you find on our mystery woman?" I said.
Val typed a series of commands on her keyboard and three boxes popped up on the screen. The first was a traffic cam image of tags from the MitsuAudi. The second was an image of Pantsuit taken from security footage by the car outside the airport entrance. The third, a state identification card photo of Pantsuit.
I found myself looking at myself.
Not exactly. But close enough.
"Holy shit," Mouse said.
"That's what I said," said Val.
"That can't be good," said Mouse.
"Did you have a twin we didn't know about?" said Mouse.
Checked the ident card.
Sarah Hiller. Five years my senior. Two centimeters shorter. Slightly heavier. Same hair and eye color.
But to the untrained eye, she'd pass as me.
"I can forsee bad things happening," said Mouse.
"Me, too," I said.
(to be continued...)