By Marcus L. Rowland
Cleveland was pretty easy, our contact there was a skip-tracing agency run by a guy called Kramer who knows Dad. I gave him the name and address, agreed a price, and he was ready to start about fifteen minutes later. Faith Lehane would be under the microscope the following morning. He put me onto a guy in London, who knew someone in Bristol, who knew someone in Bath... and that was Rupert Giles taken care of.
London also gave me a French agency who (just) understood what I wanted and put me on to some guys in Milan who in turn had a contact in Rome. Three for the price of one there, Buffy and Dawn Summers and their flatmate Andrew Wells.
Africa was a complete bust, I didn't even know what country Xander Harris was in, and the guys I tried either weren't interested or didn't speak any language I understand, so he was going to have to stay unfound and unwatched for now. Apart from that the tough one was Rio, Cordelia hadn't been able to give me an address, but how many red-heads called Rosenberg were there likely to be there? A Mexican agency that sometimes helps Dad with extradition cases put me onto some guys in Argentina, who put me onto... well, let's just say that I phoned in sick the next day, spent most of the morning making calls, and found myself a redhead and a subcontractor willing to watch her.
In the evening Cordelia called, and I gave her the first reports, a whole bunch of nothing. Don't know quite what I'd expected, but the major excitement was the Wells guy dating a couple of "belissima" girls, not the Summers sisters, in Rome. The rest of them seemed to be living boringly uneventful lives.
On Thursday the Rio guy had found Willow Rosenberg, but I was still getting nowhere with Xander Harris. I tried a few more numbers in Africa but came up empty again. I told Cordelia about it when she called, she told me the clients could manage without him. About eleven dad got back and I told him about the case. He wasn't sure he liked me taking it on without consulting him, but he agreed that the money was too good to turn down. When I went to bed he was looking at the list of names, and I had a feeling that he'd recognised at least one of them.
Friday morning began badly. I was just getting breakfast when Dad put a sheaf of papers on the table and said "Read."
"Read it, tell me what you think."
Faith Lehane's record. Multiple assaults, murder, jailbreak, jumps through a window and down three stories and walks away from it... and an unprecedented 'get out of jail free' pardon from governor Terminator about a month after Sunnydale went down. "How the hell did that stay out of the news?"
"Damned if I know. I remember the case, about four years ago. She was in a coma, came round, then broke out of hospital and went on a rampage from Sunnydale to LA. Then she suddenly gave herself up, and said 'oh, by the way, I killed the deputy mayor of Sunnydale and a couple of other guys, you'd better charge me with that too.' When she escaped I was worried she'd show up here. Now she's got a pardon!"
"If she jumped three stories how the hell is she still walking? And why did the Terminator pardon her?"
"Good questions. Can't answer them, but they're good questions. When's what's-her-name calling, Cordelia?"
"Okay. Eat your breakfast, you'll be late for school. And get home before she calls, I want you to do the talking while I listen in."
The first thing Dad said that evening was "Sit down. I need to talk to you."
"If it's about school..." I began. Because things had not been entirely uneventful that day, but that's another story.
I sat. Dad sat down too, and said "I talked to some people in LA. Angel Investigations went out of business nearly a year ago and Cordelia Chase is dead."
"For some reason the company still exists as a shell, and the web site is still on line, but that's all there is. You've never spoken to the real Chase. She was critically injured a month or so before they went out of business, she was unconscious on life support ever since, finally died three weeks ago."
"But we must have called them a dozen times in the last year. Who the hell was I talking to?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," said Dad. "When I tried it I got the disconnected signal."
"She said she was going to use untraceable phones. Are you sure that this isn't some kind of cover?"
"If it is, it's a weird one."
"Is the money real, at least?"
"It's real, but I'm having trouble tracing the account holder. Not Angel Investigations, if you were wondering."
"Was anything she told me true?"
"The people she wanted to trace really were passengers on the last bus out of Sunnydale. Most of them needed medical treatment, they were caught in the school when the quake started."
"Anyone else aboard?"
"Them and about a dozen others, most of them girls about your age plus the principal of the high school, he matches the description of the black guy seen with Lehane."
"But Cordelia... whoever... didn't ask about them, she was only interested in a few people."
"Maybe she didn't know them. The principal was a newcomer to Sunnydale, so were the other girls."
"That's a weird coincidence."
"This just gets more and more bizarre."
Over the next hour or so a couple of reports came in from the subcontractors in Rome and Rio. A whole load of nothing, with the Summers sisters visiting the Vatican, Wells shopping for food but otherwise staying close to their apartment, and Rosenberg spending the day on the beach with another girl. Guess they were looking for cute guys, but it sounded like they didn't find anyone they liked.
About nine the phone rang, and I picked up while Dad listened in through headphones. He had a voice stress analyzer plugged into the line. "Mars Investigations, how may I help you?"
"Hi, this is Cordelia. Any news?"
"Not really. I've got addresses for all of them apart from Harris, do you want me to send you the details?"
"That's okay, don't need them at the moment."
"But if you're going to be serving papers...."
"Did I say that?"
"You said that there were lawyers involved..."
"The worse kind."
Dad scrawled on a pad, showed it to me: "what firm?"
"Should we be watching out for them?" I asked. "Who do they work for?"
Cordelia, or whoever it was, hesitated then said "Wolfram and Hart. But stay well out of it if there's any sign of them becoming involved, they're really bad news." Dad was nodding hard, so I said "Uh.. okay. But what if they seem to be taking an interest in the subjects?"
"Look, if anything really odd seems to be going down, it might be a good idea for your subcontractors to call it in to the local cops. But I really wouldn't worry too much, I'm pretty sure that the subjects can take care of themselves."
Dad pointed at the picture of Faith, to remind me of the script we'd agreed, and I said "About that... we're a little concerned about one of them, Faith Lehane. Apparently she has a record of violent behaviour."
"And?" Cordelia asked.
"We're going to have to warn our subcontractors in Cleveland, maybe offer them hazard pay."
"Okay, I guess that's fair."
"It's likely to be expensive."
"Not a problem, within reason. Okay, is there anything else?"
Dad shook his head, and I said "I guess not."
"Okay then, I'll call again tomorrow." She hung off.
"What do you think," I asked Dad, who was playing back the tape and looking at the voice stress analyzer.
"It's odd. Not that I trust these things, but it thinks she was sincere when she said she was Cordelia Chase and about most of what she said. The odd part is that I got the same feeling."
"That's impossible, isn't it?"
"I'd say so, given the evidence."
"What about the lawyers?"
"Wolfram and Hart? Bad news. Very bad news. They're heavy hitters, completely unscrupulous, their clients range from big corporations to the Mob."
"So what do we do now?"
"Tomorrow I'm going to try to get hold of someone that knew Chase, make absolutely sure she's dead. What about you?"
"Nothing special planned," I said as innocently as I could.
Dad pretended to glance down at the voice stress analyzer, but it was still plugged in to the 'phone and he didn't need it; he knew I was lying. After a few seconds he said "Stay away from Wolfram and Hart. No 'innocent enquiries', no 'hello I'm looking for my old buddy', no sending potted plants with bugs or hacking into their computers or their phones. These are not nice people, and people who mess with them have a nasty habit of disappearing or finding themselves in serious trouble with the law."
"I mean it."
"Apart from that, have a nice time in LA."
Sometimes I think Dad knows me too well.
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