Jason had concluded one adventure. Now we move on -- and hit the first completely new chapter in the book!
Part II: Lawyers, Ghouls, and Mummies
Chapter 8: New Client, Closed Case
For some reason, Syl's words echoed back to me at odd hours in the next few weeks. I did find myself glancing at shadows out of the corner of my eye more often, looking at mist-fogged streets with a different perception, but for quite a while nothing of any note happened.
The only real reminder of the strangeness in my life was the lack of it when I talked to Renee Reisman. She had volunteered to forget the truth – it would make the deception easier and more convincing – but that meant that she had literally no recollection of the most frightening and bizarre episode in both our lives. It was hard, at first, to go to our usual Thursday bowling session without expecting that subject to come up, and to not bring it up. But after a couple of weeks I adapted to it, and things were back on track.
I glanced at the clock. Four-fifteen. I keep WIS open until five every day, but a lot of the time no one comes in for hours. More than half my clients I hardly ever see, just hear over a telephone or get E-mail or faxes from. I had just looked back down to the package I was preparing for IntraScience Technologies – prior art research on a patent they thought they could get, and probably wouldn't if they couldn't get around the prior art I'd found – when the door chimed.
The boy coming in looked vaguely familiar; about five foot seven, looked to be about fifteen, skin with the dark complexion of the Middle East, a narrow face that Syl would have described as hawklike, slender build, and eyes of a startlingly clear grey shade I could see from my desk.
I could also see even darker circles under his eyes, and he was walking with the heaviness I associated with someone near the limit of exhaustion. "Mr. Wood?" he asked.
"That's me, yes. Welcome to Wood's Information Service, Mr…?"
"Ross. Xavier Ross."
Oh, that poor kid. Once he said the name I knew who he was. I'd actually seen him a couple of times in the news before the lastest disaster – he was a star of the local martial arts scene and had just come back from an overseas tournament of some kind with medals. But the big news hadn't been nearly so cheery. "My sympathies, Mr. Ross. I was familiar with a lot of your brother's work."
"Th… thanks." He hesitated, then sat down on the red leather chair I had in front of my desk for clients. "Um… how much would it cost me to have you do something for me?"
I grinned. "Depends on the something, I'd say. What do you want me to do?"
He looked embarrassed. "Sorry, that was stupid. I…" Xavier sighed, looked down. "You work with the cops, right?"
"Sometimes. I can't talk about, or give you any information on, whatever they give me to do. Just to warn you."
"Oh, no, I don't want that. But you're not part of the police yourself?"
Well, this is an interesting conversation already. "No. But if you want me to do anything criminal, I don't do that."
He shook his head violently, long black hair twitching in the ponytail he wore. "No, no, I wouldn't ask you to do anything like that, Mr. Wood. I just… You know they've closed the case?"
I started to get some idea of what he might want. "I'd heard. Drug-related killing, your brother was a freelance investigative reporter and photographer, he must have seen the wrong thing at the wrong time."
"I don't think so," Xavier said, and I was startled by the venom in his voice. The conviction in those words was also impressive. "Sorry. Not your fault. But… they sent back my brother's laptop." He reached into a bag he was carrying and brought out a Lumiere ToughScreen 97E – a very nice computer for anyone on the go. "I'd like you to check it out for me."
I raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure the police went over all the files, and if it boots it should be in good shape. What do you want me to check?"
He looked suspiciously at me, then his gaze dropped. "For anything that might have been wiped. I've heard you're really good." He rolled his eyes, obviously annoyed with himself. "Okay, look, I'm not … I've never done this kind of thing before. My brother, M…Michael, he used this to take notes. He took notes on everything he did and kept it in a very exact format. Like this," he opened the laptop and showed me a series of files with names that told me the location and date. "The cops didn't find anything that showed he was in any kind of…" he hesitated.
I decided to wait, see what he had to say.
"Any kind of… strange investigation," he finally finished. "Something different than the ordinary. They didn't find anything specifically about drug running, either, but they figured he'd run into his problem while on one of the other jobs. But I knew Mike, you know?" I nodded when he looked at me. "So I knew what his workload was like and how he did things. It just doesn't look like there's enough on the computer for those weeks."
"All right. You want me to see if there's anything showing that someone erased files in this format, and recover anything I can. Is that it?"
"Yes! That's exactly it."
I frowned. Lumiere PCs were pretty good about their erasure procedures, and bringing up stuff someone tried to delete… Maybe. But it'd be a bear. "That's going to be very expensive, Xavier, and I don't know if I should be doing this at all. Who owns this?"
"I do. Once they released Michael's stuff, my mom gave me pretty much everything." His tone wavered and I could see the effort it took for him not to let that thought start him crying.
Well, if the cops closed the case there's nothing stopping me from poking around in it. "You want this done the way I'd do it for a top police investigation, I'm going to have to charge you what I would charge them. That's about three thousand dollars, Xavier." Actually, for an official investigation it'd be about six thousand, but I was willing to cut him a break – but not too much of one, because this would take some work.
He didn't hesitate; his eyes might have widened a bit, but he reached into another pocket of the backpack and pulled out a debit card. "You take Virtuoso cards?"
Man, I wish I had that much money to spend when I was his age. "You're allowed to do this?"
"Mom said I can spend money in that account any way I want."
"If you say so." I worked up the job on one of my standard forms with a clear, short statement of work, had him sign it, and ran the card. It cleared that amount without a problem. "All right, Mr. Ross, I'll get to work on this. It will take some time, and I have other clients, but you can expect to hear something back from me no later than two weeks from now, and possibly as early as one week."
He stood stiffly and nodded. "Okay." Xavier stuck out his hand and we shook hands. "Thanks, Mr. Wood."
I watched him leave, wondering. Then I took the laptop and put it back in my main work area. "Time to start closing up."