Roy pulled into the parking lot behind Sargent Williams. He threw his car into park and was out the door without bothering to kill the ignition. The engine ran at a high idle, like the blood pulsing through his veins.
Williams also stood outside his car, headlights reflecting off thickening fog, obscuring the parking lot. About a dozen men scurried away, like rats in the night, as two squad cars arrived as backup.
Cold light spilled from an open doorway, where a body lay writhing on the ground.
“I take it this is where the shots were fired?” asked one of the uniformed officers, coming to stand next to Roy and the Sargent.
“Don’t know, but it’s a safe bet, judging from the rifle lying next to the guy over there,” said Sargent Williams. He motioned the other officers to cover the front and side doors, removed the gun from his holster.
Roy did the same, following behind the Sargent as they moved in on the victim on the ground.
He’d curled into himself like a fetus but didn’t appear to have been shot.
“What’s this?” Williams shone his flashlight on an object inside the doorway. A jeweled slipper, incongruous and out of place. It looked like it had been trampled, dusty footprints covered the slipper, several jewels were crushed.
“Front doors are locked, Sarge,” came a crackling voice over Williams’ radio.
“Side door secured,” reported another officer.
“Alright. We’re moving in,” Sargent Williams responded. “Hold your position. Report any suspicious movement.”
“Roger that, Sarge, call for backup if you need us.”
Inside was eerily quiet, as if the building were abandoned. “We’ll do a sweep of the first floor,” said Williams. “Officer Tannin, you stand guard at the stairwell, keep an eye on the exit as well as the elevator. Roy, you’re with me.”
The first door they came upon opened into an empty utility closet. There were fresh blood stains on the floor.
“This must be where Cho locked Benji and Magera after they followed him through the cellars,” Roy concluded.
The kitchen was empty as well, except for a sink full of dirty dishes and a small pink pastry box sitting on the stainless-steel counter. The door leading up from the cellar was left open a crack, and Roy sensed movement just beyond.
He motioned to Williams and they crossed the room, inching the door further open.
At first Roy didn’t see anything, but a small metallic clink sounded off to the right and a shadow flitted across the wall before a man dressed in dark clothing disappeared around a corner.
“Stop,” Sargent Williams shouted, immediately going in pursuit. “Stay here,” he called over his shoulder at Roy, whose instinct was to give chase as well. Rapid footsteps moved off into the dank cellar, another shouted order to halt, then a loud oomph as bodies collided and fell to the ground.
Roy waited for Williams to return with his detainee. The scent of bleach permeated the place, covering a fading odor of something rotten. Light from the open doorway spilled onto the cellar floor, highlighting a round spot where a barrel may have been.
Williams came back holding a dishelved Asian man that seemed somehow familiar to Roy. He was struggling against the Sargent’s grip, but Dan had a solid hold on the man.
“What’s your business here,” Williams asked, “and why were you running away?”
“You’re mistaken,” said the man, his eyes darting around the room and landing on the pink pastry box. “I’ve never been here before. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Something about the pastry box triggered a memory in the private investigator, reminding Roy of his meeting with Mao Te yesterday afternoon.
“You’re the baker,” he realized, crossing the distance to examine the print on the pink box. “The Tasty Morsel,” he read. “Well, well.” He opened the box, revealing two dozen bite sized, delicate pastries. “Special delivery, Mr. Sin Wah?”
Sargent Williams handcuffed the baker to a heavy duty, stainless-steel shelving unit affixed to the wall at the far end of the kitchen. “Come on, let’s see what else we can find.”
A clamor came over Williams’ radio, calling for an ambulance and an officer to the scene of an accident. There were no details about the accident, nor any need for Williams to respond, but it gave Roy pause as he thought about Magera and Benji and their rescue mission.
They continued sweeping the first floor, finding two empty rooms before they came to a large room with velvet ropes blocking the doorway, with an unlit neon sign forming the words, “The New Moon.”
“Some place, huh?” Roy says, incredulously. The walls and ceiling were covered with mirrored tiles, the room divided into little alcoves like a fancy restaurant, each alcove containing a table covered with a crisp white cloth. Chairs with plush red and gold patterned cushions surround each table, all facing towards the opposite side of the room, where a red velvet curtain hid a raised platform, like a stage.
“This must be the stage Minsang spoke of.” Roy said, looking about the room curiously. He studied the table arrangement, each row higher than the one before it, like a theater. He spotted some papers left behind on one of the chairs and went to retrieve them.
Roy gave a low whistle. “This is the same photo Mao Te gave me when I asked for a picture of his missing daughter.” He showed the glossy photo of Minsang to Williams, beautifully dressed in a red and gold evening gown, hair intricately done up, with strings of red rubies dangling from her ears.
The other document appeared to be an invitation, printed on red cardstock.
“By Invitation only,” Roy read. “The New Moon Ceremonies. An exclusive ceremony lasting three nights.” He read further, whistled again, and handed the photo and card over to the Sargent.
“You’ll want these for evidence, Dan. It doesn’t use the words auction or highest bidder, but you can read between the lines and infer the intent of these ceremonies.”
“Alright,” Williams folded the documents and tucked them away in a pocket. “Let’s go find the owner of this establishment.”
The second floor was a large open room with a bar, dance floor, and club room seating. It all looked brand new, as if it hadn’t yet been used. The third floor was empty as well, with signs of recent construction, evidence that workers had been there not long before. Tools and materials had been left hastily behind.
Roy thought of the men he’d seen scurrying into the night when they’d first arrived.
As they climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, a noise teased at Roy’s senses. “What is that?” he asked, ears cocked, gun at the ready. A whooshing noise, like a door opening and closing.
The sound came from the hallway on the left. Williams took the lead, gun drawn; Roy right behind. Roy saw the foot first, protruding out of the elevator. When the elevator door attempted to close, it bumped up against the foot and caused the door to move back into the open position.
The man was severely beaten. His left cheek and right eye were swollen, dried blood trailed from nose and ear, soaking his shirt. His gun had fallen from his hand, lying beside him on the floor of the elevator, where he lay sprawled and unconscious.
The door whooshed again, attempting to close, only to bump up against Wu Te’s foot and causing the door to open again.
“Officer Tannin, can you come up to the fourth floor, please,” Sargent Williams radioed down to the officer below.
“I doubt Mr. Te here is going anywhere,” Williams said to Roy, “but we’ll have Tannin keep an eye on him while we check the rest of the floor.”
Officer Tannin arrived and they carried Wu Te out of the elevator, propping him against a wall. The elevator door swooshed closed.
They left Tannin with Wu Te to continue their search. The right corridor had only one room, a large dormitory style room where the girls must have been kept. The room reeked of antiseptic and lingering fear.
“Wouldn’t you have heard if they made it to the police station?” Roy asked, thinking of Magera and Benji and the girls that
William’s just shrugged, “I would think so. At least we know they made it out, right?”
They searched the rooms along the left corridor. The first room had only a cot, small table, and chair. This was the room Minsang described of where she’d been held.
Another room contained a rack of expensive clothing along one wall, a bench on the other. There were shackles secured to the wall below the bench. Roy looked over at Williams, who wore a puzzled, yet disturbed expression on his face.
The next room was divided in two, with a two-way privacy glass separating the space, like an interrogation room at a police station.
“I can’t even begin to understand,” said Williams, a frown marring his normally cheerful demeanor.
There was another sparsely furnished room along this corridor, along with an office.
“Must be plenty of evidence here to sort through,” Williams said. “But we’ll come back for it later. I’m ready to be out of this place,” he said, “gives me the creeps, ya know?”
Roy’s phone pinged, telling him he had a new text. Before he could pull the phone from his pocket, it began ringing. Caller ID showed it was Josh Nelson.
“Josh, what’s happening?”
“Hey, Roy, I just sent you a picture of this guy we’ve been watching down here at the Eastern Pearl. Most of the containers have been offloaded, but this guy showed up a while ago, and he’s just lingering around.”
Roy clicked the phone over to speaker, then opened the text and clicked on the photo.
“I don’t know, Josh. He’s familiar,” Roy said, “I feel like I should know who this is.”
“Let’s see,” said Williams, leaning close to get a view of the photo. “That’s the doctor, Roy. Isn’t it?”
“You know, the one that was there when the old woman died outside the apartment, when we took Cho into custody.”
“You think? What would Charles Madison be doing at the Eastern Pearl?” Roy brought the phone closer to his face, pinched the screen so the face enlarged. “I think you’re right!” He whistled, with excitement.
“Josh, don’t let this guy out of your sight. I’m on my way.”
- : Contemporary Fiction, Thriller