Chapter Seventy Seven
Black and Chan are over for a brief debrief. The golfing for gold guy wasn't using extortion or threats, just garden variety mind snatching. Think of a Shadow as an evangelist that doesn't need you to believe in anything, threaten you with hell or promise you wealth and salvation. He takes over your mind and you do whatever he wants.
Janah once made a murdering drug lord shoot off his own toe, with his own gun, in his own office. Then we cleaned his accounts of a hundred million dollars and over a million in gold.
The difference in Janah, Daria (or I to a lesser extent) and Shadows is they prey on innocent people. We prey on the guilty. We are obliged to kill Shadows when we find them, they don't refocus like a normal abuser. A Shadow is a rabid dog, unless you put him down he's going to sink his teeth into another victim.
Black has an injured arm and bruised ribs, "If Chan hadn't come, it would have been worse. I busted in his door, he was waiting for us. A beer bottle smashed my arm, the cut is from that. He used qi to catch me in the ribs. Chan was behind me. When I crashed against the dresser, Chan took him out."
Chan, "He was powerful, not a novice. Small man, late fifties. We didn't get a chance to question him, would have been hard to control his mind without your narcotics. At least it was a private home, the disturbance didn't last long and no neighbors appeared. He kept records on the computer I took from his house."
"I'll go through it later, maybe we can recover some money. If he didn't include names, it's going to be hard to make restitution, not all of the victims reported a theft. Only ones with relatives, found out mom and dad were well off one day, broke the next. One old man killed himself."
Janah, "Anything else in his place?"
Black, "Golf stuff, he had a mid-level Mercedes, house wasn't a mansion, typical cookie cutter neighborhood, not gated or anything."
Janah, "Most Shadows don't live high, they prefer anonymity. We had one, woman in Manhattan, she was more upscale, designer threads, fine restaurants. She still kept to herself, her boyfriend did the socializing, but he wasn't a Shadow."
Chan, "Unless it's on his computer, there was no porn, no drugs, few beers in the refrigerator, bottle of bourbon three quarters full. Typical canned goods, coffee, milk, eggs, couple of steaks in the freezer. The trash had take out boxes, doubt he cooked much. No exercise equipment, no pool, a vanilla place."
"Typical Shadow life, until they go on the hunt. Golf courses are all over St. Petersburg, simple enough for him to find targets."
Black, "We didn't check on his memberships, there are a lot of public or semi-private courses. Would have been smarter not to have memberships, just show up, pay the fee and get put into a twosome or foursome. After a round of golf, he's got names and a bit of biography, enough to determine if the target has money. With retirees, the car they drive can tell you a lot. Most of them don't have car notes, prefer to pay cash for low mileage used cars. These days you can drive a top of the line Lexus with twenty thousand miles on it for sixty percent of the price of a new one. How I bought mine."
Janah, "He have other ID? Shadows seldom keep their real names."
Chan, "Two, he was Frank Malone when we caught up to him. One driver's license from Virginia was Dick Richards, the other from Montana was Charles Gross. That license was expired. Photos more or less resemble him, ages close."
Black, "You took care of the body?"
"Cleaners removed it and straightened up. We're going to show the house as sold a week ago, buyer is a Society dummy corporation, it will resell and we'll have additional restitution cash."
Janah, "Thank you for going, we were kind of shot from the trip."
Black, "Glad to hang with Chan for a couple of days. Private plane, upscale hotel, take down a Shadow. I can see where the private jet thing can get addictive."
"We spoil ourselves."
Janah, "If we make any headway on the money, I'll keep you posted."
Hugs around, they leave, I start in on the laptop. It's a simple Acer, snap to crack, I'm digging around in his stuff in no time.
"He's got two bank accounts, a safety deposit box, that's a goner I guess."
Janah, "Nope, Chan brought Malone's keys, I'm sending it and ID to a Surveillance team in Florida. They'll empty the box and send us the contents."
"Okay, let's see, passwords..., check his doc file....hmmmm, one called PSWD, wonder what that could be? Well, well, passwords. It will take a bit, he's got partial passwords with 'x' in place of numbers or letters he'd remember. It's likely a combo of his birthday, but his birthday on his license will be fake. Maybe he used it anyway. Daria would you come down please."
Daria appears, I tell her, "Here's where I am so far, passwords for bank accounts are some combo of the letters and numbers, along with letters or numbers represented by 'x'. Take the laptop and run the program. It will go much faster than me guessing combinations."
Daria, "I have it here," she plugs in a thumb, enters the code to fire it up, a blur of letters and numbers on the screen.
"Good, that was easy, four hundred fifty thousand in a bank money market fund. Suck it out and send it to the Society."
Ten seconds later, it's gone. Second account has a million and change, now it's gone too.
Janah, "Keep digging, there must be more than that. Brokerage account? Chan said there was no safe in the house, he would have found it."
I click bookmarks, another local St. Petersburg bank and an offshore account in...where else?...the Caymans. Half hour later, the Society has slightly under twenty million of dead Frank's money.
Daria, "Nothing else."
"Now we're looking for accounts the money came from. Likely another offshore account, maybe linked to a US account. He's not going to drain their funds and send it directly to himself. Try his former names."
Bingo, Charles Gross received funds from more than a dozen accounts, all in St. Petersburg. Other accounts sent funds to Dick Richards, who sent funds to a Cayman account also in that name. That money was sent to a shell corporation in the Caymans, then to Frank Malone's offshore account.
We now have the accounts of his victims, names and amounts.
Daria does quickie math, "Almost all the money is accounted for, about a quarter million short."
Janah, "The house will sell for that, plus the car. The Society will contact people anonymously, tell them a private service tracked most of their stolen money, it's being returned and the perpetrator brought to justice. They won't be told anything else, they don't get to ask questions."
I recap to Black and Chan, happy to hear the old folks would get their money, happy to be a part of it.
"Nice to have that out of the way, maybe we can catch a Shadow break, travel break and have semi-normal lives for a while."
Janah, "Current Society projects are standard, abusive husband, boyfriend, refocus Mr. Wrong, remove the abused, monitor the target. Our teams can handle those. You put talented Social Workers in place, the departments recommend people for Placement, Travel, Minders, Surveillance, Extraction and Cleaners. Susan has it all computerized and segregated. "
Janah's primary Society role is to maintain contacts in state agencies across the country, the State Department, Homeland Security, the NSA, FBI and the White House. We don't work overseas, she has CIA contacts anyway. Nobody knows her network, that's why it works. Local cops need information from the NSA they couldn't normally access, Janah is the funnel. The White House wants to disseminate or collect information that can't be tracked to them, Janah gets it. Every agency needs to avoid paper and red tape, Janah cuts through all that. They don't know a Janah, they know various personas. For the Society internally, she's Ms. Pearson. She's Ms. Somebody Else for each entity she contacts. She has a dozen nom de plumes. Good thing she has an eidetic memory, any given day she could be two or three people.
Chapter Seventy Eight
Life cuts us slack for a few weeks, Janah and I go to the temple and catch up. Chloe works on kendo with Nikko, we practice hard, gung fu, mixed matches with Zi, Nikko and me. Dasha gets in on the action. She's not a trained martial artist, but she works the qi dummies regularly. When she spars with us, the fact that she doesn't have a style makes her troublesome to deal with. She punches and kicks like a jackhammer, can take as well as dish out. Qi training hasn't been wasted on her or her sister.
Oceane likes to watch us, talks to herself, "Beautiful, brutal, blurry fast, blood."
She draws while we fight, her pencils skim across the sheet, intense color images emerge, manga.
Janah, "There's a series of strange events out west, not all the way west, Arizona, place called Lake Havasu City."
"What strange events?"
"People are talking Satanic ritual. The community is sixty five percent Republican, may just be the Tea Party, it is Arizona after all."
"Then why do we care?"
"I don't know if we do. A contact in Arizona said the local constabulary was blowing it off, then blaming it on disgruntled Native Americans. The Colorado Indian Reservation is nearby, operates a casino of course. The Chemehuevi Indian
Tribe is practically part of town, a mile away. They run the Havasu Landing Resort and Casino. There are land disputes going back to the seventies. It might be related, it might be nothing to do with the tribes. The problem started with dead cattle and sheep, then domesticated pets, then people started to disappear. Lake Havasu is surrounded by desert. A decently buried body would never be found."
"Somewhere along the way, the action ratcheted up, got meaner, then deadly."
"Looks that way, it could also be a third party taking advantage of old antagonisms. Tribes are easy targets, the place is near fifty thousand residents, most of them white Republicans."
"The locals are blowing off disappeared people?"
Janah, "No, but they have no reason to believe they've been murdered. No witness, no weapon, people thought to have seen them last have alibis. Obviously someone unknown saw them after that. Everyone has people who don't like them, ex spouse for instance, nothing that arises to violence."
"Not on the face of it. Two were tourists, one a traveling sales rep, two locals, one prostitute. Of the six, four were female, two male. It's a tourist town, the cops don't want serial killer mentioned and they may not be wrong. Serial killers usually have a type of victim, a method, a twisted rationale. This is a mix of victims, no bodies, method unknown. If I can figure out a connection between the missing, a rationale may be surface. We need to go and ask questions, see if we can track last known movements."
"It's possible one or two may have just split town, people sometimes decide to evaporate."
Janah, "I get that. The prostitute may have decided Nevada had more promise, it's legal there. Maybe the salesman got tired of the road, his wife, his life. He's gone a lot, he buys several days before anyone asks questions. He was supposed to check out on a Friday, he didn't, his rental car was in the hotel lot. When management knocked, nobody answered. Stuff was in his room, when he didn't check out, they cleaned the room and dinged his card for another night. It wasn't until the next day when the housekeeper found the room hadn't been used that they called the police. Maybe he packed a few things, walked to a bus station or hitched with a passing trucker. He didn't rent any other cars, he didn't fly, not under his real name."
"If he was planning an escape, he'd get a new him."
"Which complicates things."
"Salesman, what did he sell?"
"Several lines, prefab windows for buildings, multiple mailboxes like you find in apartment complexes. There were brochures for water treatment systems and home alarms. Man for all seasons."
"Nothing in the rental?"
"Nothing of any use the cops found. I wish I could have searched it, and his hotel room. That's blood under the London Bridge now."
"Ah, Lake Havasu City, the place that bought the old London Bridge back in the, what, seventies?"
Janah, "Late sixties. Robert McCulloch, the chain saw manufacturer, brought the bridge stone by stone, marked with what goes where and rebuilt it exactly. The original, from 1831. Cost him a couple million to buy and seven million to move. He built a bridge of reinforced concrete, then added the blocks brought from London. He made Lake Havasu a retirement community, with the kicker of a tourist attraction. It worked okay."
"So when do we leave?"
"This isn't a Society thing, I'm going to get Daria and Susan on the salesman's life. I have a name and home address, they can hack his accounts, credit cards, bank accounts, see if he pulled out money or closed them. They can check out the prostitute, doubt there's much to find. Then the tourists. The locals are pretty well known already. No reason to go until we've researched the others. I booked rooms and a flight for three days from now, we can shuffle that if we need to."
Turns out we stick to the schedule, flight is five hours plus. Advantage of private is we can go direct from Teterboro to Lake Havasu Municipal nonstop. It was going to be Janah and myself, then Dasha wanted to go, then mysterious Oceane asked to come as well.
Chapter Seventy Nine
We have a two bedroom suite at Heat, strange name for a hotel, but it's well rated. It's not the luxury upscale we tend to gravitate to, but it's Lake Havasu, a minor middle class tourist destination and there isn’t anything further up the scale.
Lake water's clean, view is nice, the room well maintained and modern, no complaints.
Daria and Susan uncovered the lives of the salesman, prostitute and two missing tourists. The prostitute is an Arizona native, busted in Phoenix and Tucson. They dug as far as public school records. No Mensa candidate, quit high school midway, waitress, married and divorced, no kids. Not beautiful, not ugly, bit overweight from the mug shots. High school yearbook showed a plain jane with zero interest in being photographed for the class picture. No clubs, no academic notes.
The manufacturer's rep was fifty when he disappeared. Had a seldom used Facebook page with nothing of interest, mostly semi-advertising about the lines he represented. Another Linked-In profile, same stuff. Married, sort of. Two kids, one finishing high school the other in college. The marriage appears to have degenerated into daddy travels, mommy an administrative assistant at a Hartford Insurance branch office. Pretext calls to friends and relatives turned up nothing interesting.
A pretext call is what the Society does when they dig into a target's life. Pretend to be job recruiters, lawyers looking for relatives of some deceased aunt or uncle, census survey, loan application references, anything that sounds legitimate, friendly, good news. People think they're helping a friend or colleague, they aren't.
One tourist was from Las Vegas, it's a short hop with cheap airfare to Lake Havasu. He was a blackjack dealer at a minor casino and interviewed for a job at the casino in Lake Havasu. He checked out both in Vegas and with the Indian casino. Nothing illegal about looking for a better job or a smaller town.
The second tourist is a mystery, checked in to the Hampton, went to the casino, rented a jet ski. Her name didn't Google, Link-In or Facebook, no Tumblr or Instagram. The hotel said she was in her late twenties, confirmed by a Washington State driver's license, a narrow faced auburn haired woman, green eyes, five seven. No record of employment, no relatives, address on the license is a mail drop.
Janah, "Let's visit the cops, get the formalities out of the way, let them huff and puff about interference."
We do, get a pleasant surprise when we meet with the Chief, "Been expecting you. Got a call from the state, you have serious connections. You're welcome to look around, ask questions, play detective. Long as you don't imply you have any authority from the LHCPD and don't create suspicions. We found no suggestion of serial killer and I won't have that term thrown around carelessly."
Janah, "I have no grounds to suspect a serial killer...at this point. The missing are too varied, no bodies with ritualistic similarities, nothing to draw attention to the killer. The prostitute may have just moved on, salesman may have decided to erase his past, mystery tourist was practically invisible before she came here. The blackjack dealer is more troublesome, he's not here and never returned to Vegas."
Chief, "You got a handle on these folks pretty quickly."
"As you pointed out, I have serious connections."
Chief, "So it seems. Our missing locals knew each other casually. We're not a small town, hardly big either, locals don't know everyone, but they usually know a name, kids go to school together, connected by marriage, like that. The two weren't pals, one female one male, no known contact, romantic or otherwise. No family or social connection, man was a churchgoer, woman not. The man worked at the bank, branch manager, the woman was a cashier at a local grocery. Likely didn't know each other."
"The disappearances were a few weeks apart, two to three. Last two weeks ago. You see where I'm heading."
Chief, "Maybe another soon."
"Yes. And your dilemma is clear. Start warning people to pay attention, serial killer becomes the buzzword. And pay attention to what exactly? Nobody knows how they disappeared, nobody saw anyone pushed into a car, no barroom arguments, locations varied, the hotels have security cameras, nothing on video."
Chief, "Look Miss....sorry, I've forgotten the name."
"Stapleton, but it's easier to call me Jane," we aren't us on these jobs.
"Okay Jane. I got a call from the state AG's office. When the chief law enforcement officer calls, I gotta pay attention. I was told you and your pal here have been helpful in other investigations, that you're reliable, not interested in making a name for yourself. AG said he reached out for you, not the other way round. Guess he don't think much of my investigative skills."
Janah, "Didn't tell me that. We're here to help you avoid a serial killer nightmare. You get three quarters of a million tourists a year. That's the economy. With us here, you get to let the press speculate about bad Indian relations and old landowner grievances. You could suggest that the prostitute just left town. Mystery woman was practically invisible in Washington, nobody knows she's missing. You are looking into rumors the salesman wanted out of his old life. The blackjack dealer was looking for a new job. He could be going to casinos all over the country, it will take a while for you to track him down, how could you know where he's headed next? That leaves you with two locals to dream up stories about. One man, one woman, not only doesn't fit a serial killer profile, you don't know if either of them are dead. Drip that out slowly, stick to the story until facts tell you otherwise. If someone else goes missing, whether it flames the fire depends on who, a tourist or a local."
Chief, "Sounds reasonable. You gonna talk to the local families?"
Janah, "We already did, they don't know anything."
Chief, "When! You already moving behind my back?"
"I didn't talk to them. Our agents made pretext calls, nobody was asked about missing people. We got a feel for family relations. Nothing we found points to another family member or even a friend or acquaintance. I can tell you what it isn't. No connections between the missing, no old grievances, no common friends, business dealings, church or social relationships. The common thread is no thread."
"Well what in hell do you do with no leads, no evidence, no nothing."
Janah, "The nothing is the lead, and a most productive one."
"I don't have to waste time looking for connections, there aren't any."
Chief, "You sayin' the disappearances are random, somebody's just picking them out of the air?"
"Then we have to get lucky."
"You keep doing the not necessarily missing persons thing. Tell your people to stick to the story, some just moved on, another may have chosen to disappear. Only the locals are a concern for now. Make the public believe there are only two people missing, and they went missing two months apart. And hope the next disappearance isn't a local."
Chief's shoulders sag, "I'll make the speech at the end of shift and again at shift change in the morning. Do they need to know about you?"
"Don't see why. We work best off the radar. Del (meaning me) and I came out with friends. We're tourists. If I need more troops, I can have them here in a day. I'm mulling that over."
Chief, "What do you need from me?"
"If your people find something, a body, a real lead, run with it. Better for you to keep me in the loop, but it isn't a requirement. If we find something that opens the case up, you'll hear from me. We don't want to be in the news, don't mention us to your officers, staff, nobody."
"You ain't lookin' to make the big splash?"
"It's the reason they call us."
In our suite, Dasha asks, "What ees to do now?"
"Zi is flying in tomorrow, we need a Sensitive to explore the shorelines, look for six or more people stored away someplace."
Dasha, "I will take Oceane around, salesman haf leftover clothes, she can touch for feeling. Anything left from others?"
Janah, "Mystery woman and blackjack dealer's things are in the evidence room at the police station. They didn't leave much, the cops at least had the sense to collect leftover soap, shampoo bottles, dusted the rooms for prints. It's a hotel room, all kinds of prints on lamps, remote, light switches, closet doors, desks and chairs, testament to inefficient housekeeping. They clean the bathroom, change sheets and vacuum, that's about it."
"Then she should go to the rooms as well, even if they've been occupied by new guests."
Janah, "Can't hurt. I'll have arrangements made."
Oceane is on the balcony, boats everywhere, jet skis hum in the distance, "Flying on water."
Dasha, "I will take you for jet ski after we see hotels and evidences."
Oceane smiles, "And swim in the lake."
"There's a beach minutes from here, do you want to go now?"
Rhetorical question, Dasha and Oceane get suited up and leave wrapped in towels. It's three thirty, Oceane can spend a couple of hours getting a water fix, nothing's going to happen to her with Dasha around. Janah calls the Society, they'll contact the hotels and get the rooms opened up tomorrow.
She calls the Chief, "Would help to see the physical evidence, when's a good time tomorrow?"
"I'll call down, anytime tomorrow from nine to four. Gotta tell you, ain't much. We emptied the wastebaskets, took the soap and toiletries, salesman left clothes and a suitcase. Blackjack had a rental car, there was no suitcase. Car was returned, washed and cleaned out. But he never got on a plane. Mystery woman came on a bus, nothing left in her room, paid cash. There's no formal checkout, they slide the bill under the door these days, people just leave."
"We don't expect to find anything your people didn't. I've also arranged to see the hotel rooms, we need to see the prostitute's apartment."
"After you done with the evidence, someone will take you over. She shared it with another working girl, still there as far as I know. She's not a suspect."
Janah, "Thanks for the help, we get lucky, I'll call you first."
Janah and I have tea in the room, "This is strange."
Janah, "It's interesting. Six people missing in under four months, no obvious connection, different walks of life, two locals, one prostitute living here for over a year. A manufacturer's rep who had been here before, mystery guest and a card dealer looking for a new job. None of them in legal trouble, didn't owe loan sharks or the IRS. No significant criminal record. The prostitute busted twice, others had a traffic ticket or two, the locals were small town salt of the Earth."
"And the major lead is nothing."
"Let's presume at least one of the missing just walked or drove away without making an announcement. That's likely to be mystery woman. Lots of people are floaters, have a trust fund or just do whatever work until they have enough to move on. That leaves five, even if another is just under the radar, like blackjack dealer, it's still four."
"So what does an abductor do with four or five people who don’t know each other?"
Janah brightens, "You may have hit it."
"Oh geez, I hope I didn't hit it, that's ugly."
Oceane and Dasha come in, "Oceane ees sweem for almost two hour. She ees motorboat. I sweem wiz her for a while, then sit on shore and watch. Boys all over, I have to buzz them off."
"You didn't hurt anyone."
Dasha, "No, I practice like Eemaya says. How are you doing, what ees your job, why are you here, you go to school, blah blah."
"Good for you. Don't arouse any suspicion."
Dasha, "I don't haf accent, they think I am American girl wiz Eemaya enunciation. They play wiz freezebee toy, Oceane comes along, boys want to talk to Oceane."
"She tells them about their girlfriend, smoking marijuana, one boy ees gay person, another has never kees girl. They are angry, say she make up story. She describe what veedeo game they play, what food they haf for lunch, who ees reech, who ees not. They don't anymore want to talk to Oceane, so we leaf."
Janah's giggling, "You aren't getting any dates that way."
Oceane, "What is a date?"
"A boy asks you to go to dinner, or a movie, to get to know you, to impress you."
Oceane is bemused, "Why?"
"The ultimate objective is to have sex."
She's thoughtful, "No dates."
We decide on Shugrue's, lots of variety on the menu, two steaks, one garlic crusted halibut for Oceane, penne pasta with vegetables for Janah. It’s okay, not great. Beware places in the center of the action, the rent’s high, they have to make it up in either high prices or low quality, sometimes both. Still, it was edible and we didn’t get food poisoning.
Janah, "Tomorrow, we go first to the hotels, shouldn't take long, the rooms have been cleaned and other guests have occupied them. Then to the evidence room, that might take a while. Zi is coming in before noon, we'll hook up with her, then rent a boat and start sniffing around."
"You think they may still be alive."
"Hope, based on nothing. If they were murdered, no bodies have turned up, they could be buried anywhere. Nothing's floated up in the lake. We can only see if Oceane or Zi get a vibe, give us a starting point."
"What if there's no vibe?"
"If no one else goes missing by the end of the week, we go home."
After dinner, we take a drive. The lake is a popular spring break spot, boats packed together, music blasting, party on dude. Away from the lake it's like any small town, residential, strip malls, movie theaters and supermarkets. Summer's hot, no significant elevation like Flagstaff, temps run to the mid nineties. Better than Phoenix where they run to the hundred teens.
Oceane generally has a murmuring dialogue with the environment, tonight she's quiet.
"Oceane, what are you feeling?"
"What kind of sparks, flashes of light?"
"Red and yellow electric sparks. Anger and fear."
She isn't referring to her feelings, she means the atmosphere, and it isn't about to rain.
Girls have champagne, we sit on the balcony enjoying the dark lake and London Bridge. It's past ten, boaters and swimmers either in bars or bed, or in bars with an eye to getting into someone's bed. The nature of things.
Janah, "Enough day for one day, I'm going to bed."
"Good with me," I kiss Dasha and Oceane, they're in one bedroom, Janah and me in the other.
Fortunately, Janah's travel lust kicks in, it's another while before we actually snuggle and drift away.