Amber made a phone call after Kermit was gone. “Jennifer, have you managed to free up any time? Oh, yes,” she almost cried with relief. “I’ll meet you at your office at noon. Thanks a lot. You’re a real friend.”
Stepping down the stairs, she tried to put a bright smile on her face.
“How’s everything look, Mai?”
“We’re ready to open,” the Chinese woman replied. “Everything’s fine. Joseph will take care of things while I’m at school, and Chiang Ku is coming to help him close tonight.”
“I’m off to meet Jody, Caine and Lo Si, and this afternoon, I’ll be in a meeting which may last till after closing. I’ll keep the cell phone on, though. Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”
“You still look tired, boss. You should see if you have time for a nap in between.”
“I’ll try, Mai. Thanks. I’ll be able to sleep when we’ve found Lucy.”
She stepped out the back door and started her Mustang. The car usually gave her a moment of sheer joy whenever she got in, but today it was no more than a flicker. Promising herself that she would take it out for a drive in the suburbs when all this was over, she made her way to the intersection of York and Wellington.
Finding a meter, she dug in her purse for enough change, then stood still, trying to feel the light connection, the sense of the men who’d packed up the last warehouse, once more. As she opened her eyes again, Caine and Lo Si stood in front of her.
“Oh! You startled me. Is Jody here yet?”
Caine shook his head. “She is...on her way. We can wait for her for a moment.”
Amber nodded. “It’s that building on the corner. Another warehouse. Why are there so many of these in Chinatown?”
Lo Si answered. “This was once an industrial section of the city. When many of the manufacturing companies shut down during the Depression, we Chinese moved in. Many of the warehouses were torn down to build such places as we live now, but there were still many more. Some house the large markets and a few clubs, but others are still used for manufacturing and business, but now by our people.”
Jody had joined them during this. “Hey, thanks for the history lesson! I was wondering the same thing, myself.” She turned to Amber and they exchanged a quick hug. “You look tired, pal o’ mine. Let me know when you want to do girls’ night again. I’ll get Mary Margaret to come too, and we can watch some more old movies and then sleep late.”
“I will. I’d like that, Jody. After we find Lucy. I can’t help but feel she’s in some danger -- something to do with where she is, and with whom. Anyway, that’s the place, right there.”
Once again, Jody led the way, Amber right behind her and the two men walking more slowly, as the Ancient held onto Caine’s proffered arm. Amber suspected the old man didn’t really need the support, but if it made Caine happy to offer, Lo Si was not about to turn him down.
Jody took a look around. This warehouse was open, with people moving to and fro. She said softly, “We’ll have to be careful. Try not to attract attention.”
Caine and Lo Si walked past them, and right into the front office.
Jody and Amber shrugged at each other and abandoned any thought of sneaking to follow them in, just in time to see the Ancient peer over the counter with his most winning smile.
“Excuse me, young lady. I am an old man, but not beyond the reach of curiosity. What is it you and your friends do here?”
The woman smiled back at him. “You must be the one they call the Ancient. I am honored to meet you. Actually, what we do is very simple. We make those little white bars you see the kids wearing these days. We’ve been very lucky to establish a new fad, after the loss of our former business contracts with the military. We’re using the leftover metals from those days, and painting them to be pretty, so the teens will buy them as ornamentation. Once we’ve exhausted that, I’m afraid we’ll have to get in on the Pokemon craze, making and distributing those little toys.”
“Are you the only company that makes these bars?”
“Well, we do have two facilities dedicated to making them. I believe there might be another company in the area, but they are latecomers to the market. Their products are substandard. If you were looking to purchase a bar for, perhaps, a grandchild or young friend, I would hope you’d make the purchase from us. Our bars are carefully made, free of any burrs or irregularities, and carefully hand painted.”
“But are they the only option? Have I not seen similar bars of a deeper color? My grandchild is a boy, and he scorns the pretty light colors as ‘girlish’.” Lo Si made a face of dismissal for this imagined grandson’s foolishness.
“We only make the lovely white bars, and we produce, as I told you, the finest bars.”
“But,” the Ancient twinkled over the counter, “Somebody is making darker bars, yes?”
She sighed. “Yes, we do have a competitor who makes a cobalt blue version of our bars. But you don’t want to get one for your grandson. Where our bars have lovely, happy things painted on them, Weng Metals makes bars painted with things like ‘Sorrow’, ‘Mourning’, ‘Despair’, or ‘Darkness’...you don’t want him carrying that kind of thing around, do you?”
Lo Si shook his head sadly. “No, I think you are correct. Well, I must think about whether the young scamp deserves such pretty bars as yours. I will come back.”
“Oh, you can buy our bars in many shops convenient to your home, sir,” the young lady burbled. “No need to come all the way back here. We appreciate your business, honored sir. If you have any further questions, you may certainly come back or call me. Here, take one of our cards.”
The Ancient took it with another impish grin. “Is your phone number on it?”
The woman blushed and gave him a nervous smile.
Jody stepped forward. “We’re also looking for a young woman named Lucy Quang. I heard she was working here. Can you tell me which department, and how I could find her?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know anyone by that name.”
“Could you just check for me?”
The woman tapped at her computer and examined the screen. “We have no such person working here. I do apologize, but you must have had some bad information.”
Jody was reaching for her badge when Caine placed a hand on her shoulder. Shaking his head jerkily, he pointed to Amber, whose eyes were clearing from her trance. Lo Si winked roguishly at the woman behind the counter, and the little group left.
Outside, Amber said, “The blue bars were never on the premises -- nor were the fire and water, whatever they are. We’ll need to go back to Benny Hsing’s old place for me to track the cobalt bars.”
Jody rolled her eyes. “Or we could look up Weng Metals in the phone book.”
Amber blushed. “I guess I’m not thinking straight,” she said sheepishly.
“Got a phone book in my car, too,” said Jody with a grin “but let me call headquarters and tell Peter what we’ve got so far.”
Jody pulled out her cell phone as she walked a few steps to get better signal.
“Peter? Jody. Look, we just went to Heaven Manufacturing, and they’re making the white metal bars. Your Ancient cross-examined the receptionist, and we found out that Weng Metals makes the cobalt bars. “
“Yeah. I’ve been walking the same path from my computer. We discovered the same thing. Not only that, Kermit followed the money, and you’ll never guess who owns both Weng and Heaven.”
“A holding company headed by our old friend, Shang Kai Zeng. We’re headed there, ourselves.”
“Give me an address, would you?”
“4527 Lao Tsu Street. Wait for us. Do nothing till we get there.”
Jody snapped the phone off and returned to the group. “Ready to head over? Peter and Kermit will meet us there.”
“Oh!” Amber interjected. “I have got to go -- I have an appointment today. Can you do this without me?”
Lo Si smiled. “Of course, child. Go take care of it. I shall keep an eye on these young people.”
“Call me on my cell if anything comes up.”
She hugged them all and left, looking weary and uneasy.
“You two ready to ride in my car?” Jody asked.
“We shall...sit in the back seat,” Caine told her solemnly. “With our... seatbelts...fastened.”
Jody made sure they were settled in the rear of the car, then drove to Weng Metals.
Amber tapped her foot lightly as she waited for the slow elevator to ascend. It was very elegant, as was everything so far at Beakman, Beakman and Schneider, but that calmed her not a bit. Everything was crumbling at once: the controls she had so painstakingly trained herself into, the feeling of well-being and security here in Sloanville, her relationship with Kermit...must I lose so much? At least Jennifer can help me with this. She knows and understands the truth.
At last, the cool green elevator tapped to a halt, decanting her into a cool mauve hallway dotted with small antique tables bearing soothing dark green silk plants. All this must be designed to calm overwrought clients, Amber mused. The numbers on the sign indicated left, so Amber walked that way, slightly amused at how well her forest-green suit went with the décor.
She tapped at the door to 777, still amused. How like Jennifer to take this office number. If 666 were the number of the ‘Beast’, was not 777 the number of ‘Heaven’?
“Come in,” called a muffled voice.
She opened the door and stepped through.
“It’s time,” she said simply.
“Get your ass in here -- we’ve got work to do! We’ve talked strategy before, but there’s still a lot to be done.”
She closed the door