"Born of the Blade" - Part Two

Twenty minutes later were in Valkyrie's East End loft apartment done in sleek chrome and black furniture and seated on padded metal folding chairs next to her three-screen workstation.
Valkyrie, petite and willowy, red hair falling across her face, looking as if she'd just stepped out of the shower, skull-and-crossbones eyepatch fixed to her right eye, took the disc and inserted it into her terminal tower. "Here we go," she said typing commands on her keyboard. She gestured to the screens as photos of the three women and their biographical information popped up, one on each screen.
"So who are we looking at?" said Val, reaching for the can of Tsunami cola next to her terminal keyboard and taking a swig.
"Miss Renée's employees," I said. "These three have gone missing. We've got to find them."
"Copy that."
As I studied the images on the screens, a thought struck.
"Are they related?" said Mouse.
"Was thinking the same thing," I said.
"Me, too," said Val. "But not according to this." She tapped the left-side screen. "Brittany is really Gladys Smith, twenty-one. Originally from San Angeles." Tapped the center screen. "Eve is Guadalupe Ramirez from Denver, Free Zone. Twenty." Right-side screen. "Sheena is Laura Garner from Boston, NorFed. Also twenty."
"But look at them," I said.
All three women were olive-skinned with round faces, red-brown hair, and dark eyes. Hair length varied between them but all were at least shoulder length.
"Could pass for sisters," said Mouse and shuddered.
"That weird you out?" said Val.
"Bad experience," said Mouse.
"How tall are they?" I said.
Val studied the screens then looked at us. "Meter sixty-five. All three."
Queasiness bubbled in my gut.
"Something tells me that's not coincidence," I said.
"Profiling," said Val. "Gotta be."
"But profiling for what?" said Mouse. "Trafficking again?" She gave me a look. "You think White Brotherhood's back?"
Val quirked both eyebrows at us. "You two tangled with the Brotherhood?"
Mouse nodded. "Two months back. They were going after BCU co-eds."
"They were Brotherhood go-betweens, not actual operatives," I said. "We shut them down, got the girls out."
"Shee-it," said Val, shaking her head. "You two know how to pick 'em."
"Miss Renée said these three were working the university," I said. "Do they have addresses there or nearby?"
Val turned back to the screens, then keyed commands to her terminal and studied the center screen as a map blossomed to life showing BCU and the surrounding streets. Three icons popped up on the map.
"Yup," said Val. "Avon and 46th for Brittany. Arden just past 33rd for Sheena. And Mason and 48th for Eve." More typing. "Looks like apartments."
"Send me those addresses," I said. "And the pics."
"Sending now," said Val, typing commands.
A few seconds later, my phone trilled. I checked, saw the list of addresses and the three pictures.
"Got it," I said.
"More info," said Val, continuing to type commands. Three images appeared on the center screen. They looked like pics from ID badges. The first was of a blond twentysomething male with cropped curly hair and a slight sneer on his face. The label below his read: "Todd Pearson." The next image was of a thirtyish woman with square-cut dark hair and a round face. "Cynthia Baker." The last was "Dale Wannamaker," early twenties with a buzz cut and a long narrow face.
Pearson and Wannamaker were BCU students. Baker was a BCU employee in the records department.
"There are notations here," said Val as another display box appeared on the center screen while she typed.
I looked.
The notations read: "Britt-Pearson, 10-27, 2100, check 2250. Eve-Baker, 11-2, 1930, check 2350. Sheena-Wannamaker, 11-7, 2120, check 2245."
Mouse and I studied them for a moment.
"Dates and times?" said Mouse.
"I think so," I said and pointed at the phrase "check 2345."  "Must be when Brittany checked in. Can you send me those, too, Val?"
"Yup," said Val, keying commands.
Another few seconds and my phone trilled again.
"What next?" Val and Mouse chorused.
I said to Val: "See if you can do a street cam sweep around the university. Some feed picked them up."
"Might take a while," Val said. "That's a lot of cams."
"Do what you can. Also, see if you can snoop around the blue boys for any reports involving missing women fitting their descriptions. Go back at least two weeks."
"That one might be faster. I've opened West Precinct before."
"Let me know if you find anything."
"Oh--BCU cops, too?"
"Yeah," I said. "See if they logged anything."
Val made a small face. "I'll see what I can do. That one might take a little doing."
"Them, too?" I said. "I thought it was just the boots on the ground." BCU Campus Security meant business. Even your garden-variety ronin knew better than to tangle with them. Not unless you had a couple of tanks on your side, and even then, the odds were iffy.
"Nope," said Val. "Their 'jockeys, too. Almost on par with the White Hats."
"White Hats?"
"'Netspace cops."
"Do what you can," I said.
"And us?" said Mouse.
"We check BCU," I said. "Which means a visit to Absinthe."
"Tell Sis I said hi," said Val.

*   *   *

Marco the huge, beefy, pony-tailed bouncer opened the White Rabbit's front door and grinned down at us. "Hey, Ladies," he said.
"Marco," I said. "Absinthe in?"
"Sure," he said and opened the door to let us in.
In daylight, the club lost some of its mystique and looked completely bare. Tables and chairs were stacked along one wall and a black tarp covered the two giant columns of speakers that flanked the deejay's platform.
Absinthe, petite, willowy, with jet-black hair and blood-red highlights, wearing a corset, dark purple blouse with bell sleeves, and knee-length black skirt above tall lace-up boots, stood behind the bar studying a datatab.
"Boss," said Marco.
Absinthe looked up, smiled, put the datatab down on the bartop, and motioned us over.
We headed toward the bar.
Absinthe came around with outstretched arms. "A pleasure to see you two."
"Val says hi," said Mouse.
Absinthe harrumphed and put her hands on her hips. "She hasn't called in a week and she thinks that'll smooth things over?"
"Not our place," I said, hands up, palms out.
"I'll deal with Sis later. What can I do for you?"
"Need local info."
"Not Specs?"
"Not in his wheelhouse."
"And it's in mine?"
"Miss Renée's Copper Girls."
"Ah. I see."
"They work a big area around BCU," I said.
"They do," said Absinthe. "I know them on sight and by name. All fifteen. They often use the White Rabbit as a meet up.
I quirked an eyebrow. "You allow them to do business here?"
Absinthe laughed. "Not final business. They do that elsewhere. But they meet their clients here. A drink or two. A couple of turns on the dance floor. That's all. Why the interest?"
"Three of them have gone missing," I said.
Absinthe frowned. "That's a problem."
"Miss Renée asked us to find them." I pulled my phone from inside my jacket and showed her the pictures of the three women. "These three."
Absinthe's frown deepened. "Brittany, Eve, and Sheena."
"They were regulars?" I said.
"More than regulars. Their patch covered the Rabbit and everything from Steiner to Center, and 38th down to Hillside."
"So this was homebase."
"It was. Is. They're here practically every night. Nice girls, too. Friendly. Smart. The bartenders like them."
"You'd have them on your security feeds, right?"
"Can you pull them for us? I've got dates and times."
Absinthe nodded and gestured toward the stairs that led to her upstairs office. "This way."
"What are you thinking?" said Mouse.
"Let's confirm Miss Renée's info on those last known clients," I said.

(to be continued...)

"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 3

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