In Peter’s car, Kermit turned to him. “We have a few minutes, kid. Now, what’s the problem with Amber? I swear, the other day she almost took her thumb off slicing something when I came up behind her. Is she going to call it off, or what?”
“I don’t think so, man. Look, Amber’s had a lousy track record with men.”
“Like mine with women has been a rose garden.”
“Amber never had a father. Apparently, her mom just got pregnant and then left the guy. Amber was raised with no male influences until she left the orphanage with Edith and Dougie, and at that point, she was too old to really gain the benefit of a positive male role model. I’d say that it’s probably that she thinks you’re going to split.”
“WHAT?” Kermit roared. He checked himself and continued more quietly. “Is she nuts? Peter, I’ve let the woman put plants all over my house -- me, with plants. You know what? I even water the damned things, because it makes her happy.”
“I’d say you ought to have a talk with her, see where you both sit. Maybe after we’ve seen Weng Metals, you can take her aside and go somewhere to talk it all over.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s time we talked.”
As Peter and Kermit pulled into the parking lot of Weng Metals, Peter saw his father get out of Jody’s car with a grimace, then help the Ancient, as well. He pulled into a space beside them.
Jody held on to Lo Si’s other arm, asking solicitously, “Are you all right? I tried to take it easy for you, but that last turn came up fast.”
“It is nothing,” he waved her away with a slight smile. “I merely need to regain my balance. But such a pretty lady may hold my arm all she wishes,” he grinned.”
Kermit pushed his sunglasses up on his face. “Where’s Amber? I thought she was with you.”
“She told us she had a meeting. Why?”
“Was that before or after she heard I was coming?”
“Right after, but it didn’t sound connected. Why, Kermit? You two have a falling out?”
“No.” So much for talking to her this afternoon.
Peter looked at his father, but there was no information forthcoming. “Let’s get this going, people. This is Shang Kai Zeng we’re getting ready to move in on. Nothing hinky -- just a straight information-gathering visit, right?”
“Right.” Kermit said shortly. I’d rather leave him begging and weeping when I go, but I guess this is not the time. Not today.
They walked to the front door as a group, and into the lobby.
Jody let out a low whistle. “Much nicer than Heaven Manufacturing. If Shang owns both these properties, I wonder why the other isn’t so posh?”
“So no one will suspect...the truth,” shrugged Caine.
Peter strode to the counter showing his badge. “Police. We’d like to speak to whoever’s in charge.”
The young man smiled disarmingly. “Of course, Detective. Just one moment, please.”
He spoke softly into an intercom in rapid Chinese. Peter grinned -- three of his group understood everything the man said: “Mister Shang, the detectives you were expecting have arrived. There are two old men with them.”
A crackle on the line obscured the response, at least to Peter’s ears.
“If you and your group will please step this way? You are fortunate. Mr. Shang is on the premises today. He is not often on-site.”
Peter gestured to the others. The young man, whose tag read “Steven S.”, led them down a short corridor to the end office. He waved them inside with a respectful bow to the Ancient and a hungry smile at Jody, who grinned tightly. “When you’re old enough, maybe.” She followed the others in.
Shang Kai Zeng beamed up from his comfortable chair. “Steven, please bring a few chairs from the president’s office.”
In a few moments, there were enough comfortable chairs for everyone, and they sat. No one had responded to Shang’s smile yet.
“Please, make yourselves comfortable. How may I help Sloanville’s finest and... associates?”
“We’re looking into a couple of situations.” Jody said coolly. “We’ve been to Heaven Manufacturing already today. We’d like to confirm that you own that facility as well as this one.”
“Well, technically, they are both owned by a holding company of mine, but yes -- in essence I own them both.”
Peter pounced. “So you are responsible for the fact that both factories make these bars the kids are all carrying?”
“Why, yes. There’s nothing against profiting from a fad, is there?”
“There is when the bars can be used to make THC gas. Especially if these kids are not following the procedures closely and are dying in the streets and bedrooms all over this city.”
Shang sat up, an expression of shocked horror on his smooth face. “What are you talking about?” His expression evened out to one of genteel sadness. “I’m a simple businessman. I saw a way to create a market, just as those revolting card games do -- nobody is blaming Dragonball Z for the way children play it endlessly. How are these children ‘making THC’ with my lovely bars?”
Tersely, Peter explained about the battery and water.
Shang looked gently horrified once more. “What are you saying? How can you blame me for what these children do? This is amazing -- who would have thought the children of today so clever? It must have taken some young person a lot of time to figure all that out. This child might have quite a future in chemistry.”
Peter did not trust Shang, no matter his expression. “Are you telling me you knew nothing about the chemical reaction? That you did not see this as an opportunity to addict a whole new generation of something they would have to get from you?”
Shang extended his hands, palms up. “How can you even think such a thing of me? In any case, I defy you to prove it.”
Peter grumbled something under his breath, but Shang continued.
“My intent was to provide the children of the country with a simple bit of self-decoration, a bit of ‘cool’, if you will. If some person or persons have spent the time and energy to do something illegal and dangerous with it, how can you blame me? I am selling toys, gentlemen and lady, not drugs.”
He sat back in his chair, drew his manicured hands to close over his chest. “I’m very sorry I cannot help you further.” A catlike smile crept over his face. “And please, Detective Griffin, do present my compliments to your paramour, the lovely and intriguing Amber Adair.”
Peter’s hand flew out to restrain Kermit, but there was no need. The man sat easily in his chair, almost smiling. “I certainly will not, Shang. But I do hope you got that terrible mess with your network straightened out. I hear things from time to time, and I felt terrible when I heard about your virus problem.”
“If that is all, gentlemen? Lady?” Shang’s face went utterly cold for a second, then smoothed back into the picture of calm.
They rose and departed in a group. Outside, Kermit left the others to discuss what had happened, and stepped away, dialing his cell phone.
“Amber?” He asked.
“Yes, Kermit. How are you?”
“I was wondering why you didn’t come along to Weng Metals.” Was it because you knew I was coming?
“I’m sorry, Kermit. I’m in a meeting.”
“Can I see you after it’s over?”
“I’m afraid I won’t be home till late tonight. We have a lot of work to do.”
All right. This is it. “We need to talk. About us.”
There was a long pause. “Yes,” she replied sadly. “I guess we do. But I just can’t right now. Can we try for tomorrow?”
“I’ll hold you to that, Green Eyes.”
“Tomorrow, then. If I’m not looking for Lucy, I’ll be at the store.”
Kermit snapped his phone shut, considered kicking something very very hard, but decided it would ruin his image of being cool and unflappable. He rejoined the group.
Peter was speaking. “Well, Shang is right. We can’t prove his intent to create a drug, so we’ve got very little on him.”
Caine put a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “But...there is...a crime here. A girl has been taken...from her family.”
Jody snapped her fingers. “You’re right! Let’s go back in and ask that slime ball about Lucy!”
Peter led the way once more; the others close on his heels. Steven S. sighed as he saw them return.
“We need to talk to your boss one more time,” Peter said.
“I will just see if he is still available.” After a quick consultation through the intercom, he said, “Mr. Shang is busy, but he can spare you a moment. This way, please.”
Shang greeted them with a “what is it now” smile. “I wonder what you think I can do to help you this time?”
Peter ignored the implied insult. “We’re looking for a young woman named Lucy Quang. She’s been missing for some time. The last time we can place her, she was painting characters on your bars. Can you tell me when you saw her last?”
“Missing?” Shang’s expression was one of amused exasperation. “She certainly is not missing. Miss Quang works for me. She is one of my best calligraphers, and a trusted employee. In fact, she is out on an errand for me today. I will have to rearrange a few things, but if you would kindly return at eleven tomorrow morning, you may speak to her.”
“We’ll be here.”
“Good. Perhaps after you do see the young woman and satisfy yourself that she is, indeed, not missing and quite happy working for me, you will leave me to conduct my business.” He turned a mild look on Kermit. “After all, I am caught in several little legal misunderstandings. It seems that some corporate spy managed to send many of my business files to certain people in government positions. It takes time to straighten these things out.”
Corporate spy. That’s a good one. Kermit smiled blandly back at Shang. “Those little misunderstandings can make it hard to get anything done.”
He headed for the door, Peter and the others behind him.
“Let’s go back to the precinct and see what we’ve got,” suggested Jody. “And maybe get some sandwiches on the way -- I’m starved!”
Back at the 101st, Caine and the Ancient took seats in the interrogation room. Jody leaned in the corner; Kermit lounged against the door while Peter paced with restless energy.
“Deep breath, kid. Now, what have we got?” Kermit was tired of this. He wanted to go find Amber and shake some answers out of her and get it over with. He liked to solve his problems quickly and permanently. Too bad this isn’t some computer issue. I could try several different things, and then if none of them worked, shut it down and try again. He almost chuckled at the thought of rebooting a relationship -- but this was too serious.
Peter took the suggested deep breath, but did not cease pacing. Caine watched him in fond frustration. “Peter, you are...making me...dizzy.”
“Sorry, Pop -- I mean Dad. Okay. So far we know how the drug works, and we know all the components. We just can’t place them together, or even really connect them beyond the fact that Shang has two different companies making the different bars. He’s kept them separate enough that we can’t use the fact of his dual ownership. We can’t even prove there was intent to make a dangerous drug -- even though we know Shang is not above it. Not to mention he was smooth as silk about it. No question in my mind, he knew about the process to create the THC before we told him. “
“He profits from...the weaknesses...of others.” Caine intoned.
Lo Si sighed. “We have our work cut out, Kwai Chang Caine. We will have to redouble our efforts to educate the young people. They must learn that this drug is not the path to enlightenment.”
Caine nodded. “You are...correct.” He looked up at his still-prowling son. “Peter...there is...nothing...we can do about the drug...as yet. Is that correct?”
“Nothing except, as the Ancient said, educate the kids about it and hope they listen.”
“Then we must...focus...our attentions on...catching Shang through...other means. We must...see Lucy Quang tomorrow...and make sure...she is safe and well. If we are...successful, you will...be able to arrest...Shang for...kidnapping.”
“I guess that’s what we’ll have to do. If we can get him off the streets for something, I’ll feel better.” Peter said.
“After all, Al Capone was finally brought down for tax evasion, not the many murders he committed,” the Ancient put in.
Jody, Peter and Kermit turned to regard the old man in amazement. He grinned impishly. “I am old. I remember what you have only read about, children.”
Kermit shrugged. “All right. We go to check out Lucy at Shang’s office tomorrow. Is that it for now?”
“I guess it is.” Peter confirmed.
“Then I suggest we get back to our other case loads,” Kermit looked from Jody to Peter. Then, with a more respectful glance at the two Shaolin, “And I expect you two have a lot to do, as well.”
“Yes,” said Caine, getting to his feet and offering Lo Si his arm. “We will meet you...tomorrow...at Shang’s office.”
At that moment, Shang stood in the middle of a sterile room, clad in a plastic clean suit over his impeccably tailored attire. He was surrounded by large tanks of colorful liquid burbling softly around bodies suspended within. People in the same clean suits bustled around from the tank control panels to computers. The lab manager attended Shang respectfully.
“And you should have seen their faces,” Shang was gloating. “I am running a legal business and they can’t touch me, no matter how badly they would like to! And then, all this,” he gestured around at the bodies in the tanks, “is also completely legitimate. Are you making progress?”
“Well, sir, we are making little progress on the ovarian cancer research, but as we do progress, we should make you a good deal of money.”
“And the other, more important matter?” Shang asked sharply.
“I am sorry, sir. I thought you might have already read my last report, but I am sure you are much too busy with more important things. We’ve got almost everything laid out. There’s a bit more to do.”
“How long until you are ready?” Shang hissed it. The lab manager flinched visibly.
“It will be another nine months before we can show you a prototype. We’ve just worked out the animation and basic programming.”
“So you are, indeed, making progress,” Shang almost purred. “Excellent. Good job, Levitz.” He slapped the manager on the back. “I will be back for updates from time to time. Let my secretary know if you need anything at all. Just keep working on it.”
Levitz, still shaking a little, nodded. “Of course, sir. We won’t let you down.”
Black eyes pierced him to the core. “See that you do not.”
Amber drove quietly home from Jennifer’s office. For the first time in two days her head was clear. She could feel things once again, such as Kermit’s frustration with her, and his desire to discuss the situation. It wasn’t as late as she told him she would be, and she toyed with the idea of calling him.
No. I really have to write these letters -- that’s a lot of favors to call in, and I have got to get it done before it overwhelms me. I’d better do it, and talk with Kermit tomorrow, like I already promised. Tomorrow is soon enough to get dumped.
Parking her car, she was suddenly struck by a burning need to talk to the Quang parents. Recovering, still holding her head, she made for the door, the urgency blessedly receding. Thank the Lady. That’s one more thing I have to do tomorrow. I’ll go see them after I get the address from Caine. I’d rather avoid Shang, anyway.
She made her way upstairs, made a pot of coffee and set to work writing the necessary letters.
As Kermit left the station he was still thinking about having to talk to Amber. I’ve got to tell her that I’m not the one looking to move on. If Peter’s even right and she thinks that. And damn it, if she’s planning to break with me, I have to know. No more Dear Johns -- I want to know up front.
He took a chance. She’d said she wouldn’t be home until late, but he might as well check. If she’d been seeing someone else, if this Jennifer didn’t really exist, she might have the man with her, and he could see for himself. If she’d really been meeting with this Jennifer, she’d been there most of the day and evening -- she might have gotten home earlier than expected. In any case, if he didn’t see her car he would go on home and be back at the store first thing in the morning to catch her before going to see Shang.
Her car was in its
usual spot. The shop was closed up for the night, so Kermit used his key
and went up the back way.