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Marcus L. Rowland
“Okay,” said Ben Urich, when they met in a downtown Starbucks two hours later, “what have we got?”
“The victim’s name is Nina Ash,” said Kat Farrell.
Jessica glared at her. “How the hell did you get that?”
“Easy. The receptionist slipped and said her name was Nina, after that I just checked the sign-in book in the building’s main lobby. Only one Nina signed in for the clinic yesterday, it might not have been the right one but you’ve just confirmed that it was her. I don’t have an address yet, but I can probably find it easily enough.”
“Fuck!” said Jessica. “Pretty pointless denying it, I guess. Can we agree to keep it quiet, at least for now?”
“She’s not a celebrity so far as I know,” said Urich, “so there’s no real reason to name her. Not yet, anyway. Unless she’s a well-known mask, of course.”
“She isn’t. No secret identity, no costume, just a frightened pregnant woman. And she really doesn’t have anyone looking out for her interests, apart from me, so I’d take it as a favour if you left her alone.”
“For now we will. Anything else, Kat?”
Kat looked ready to argue, but said “Stark Industries have hired a heavy hitter to take over security at the clinic. Gwen Raiden. She’s a Los Angeles consultant with VERY exclusive clientele. She’s been seen with Stark a couple of times but always in a business context, looks like she’s the one woman in LA he isn’t sleeping with, apart from Pepper Potts.”
Kat flicked through her notes, and said “If she is she’s pretty deep in the closet. More to the point, she’s an expert on alarms and security systems, and there are rumours that she’s worked both sides of the tracks. Industrial espionage at the least, and she was suspect in a couple of jewel heists but never charged. For the last five years she’s been listed as one of the contributors to CMPAC.”
“CMPAC?” asked Ben.
“California Metahuman Political Action Committee. They lobby for metahuman and mutant rights. My guess, she’s some sort of mutant.”
Jessica bristled. “That’s like saying I must be a mutant because I used to hang with the Avengers, and they occasionally work with the X-men.”
“Touchy! Okay, I know mutants and metahumans aren’t the same thing, but the difference can be pretty blurry.”
“Knock it off, ladies,” said Ben. “Do you actually know anything about her, Jessica?”
“Never heard of… wait a minute… come to think of it, I have seen her advertising, in PI Magazine and Soldier of Fortune. She must be earning a hell of a lot more than me; my advertising budget barely pays to get a box around my name in the Yellow Pages.”
“And nothing. There are around fifty thousand private investigators in the USA, double or triple that for the whole security industry, do you think I know every detail of every one of them?”
“Is there anyone you could ask?”
“I’ll talk to my contacts.” Starting, she thought, with Nina Ash.
“How about you two?” asked Kat, “found anything?”
“The kidnapping wasn’t randomly targeted,” said Jessica, “but the motive is as murky as all hell. There’s no money, no family connections. Beyond that is stuff I can’t really talk about.”
“Talk to your client,” said Urich, “her name’s bound to come out from someone else sooner or later, and they won’t be interested in keeping her out of the limelight. If you both work with us we can minimise the damage. We’re working in the dark here; we have no idea why you need us to keep things quiet.”
Jessica remembered that Nina hadn’t made much of a secret of being a werewolf, but at that point Nina hadn’t known she had links to the press. “Okay, I think she’ll cooperate if you agree to keep her exposure minimised. But there are things that will probably have to stay out of the paper. And that means we don’t let Jonah Jameson get a smell of them.”
“This has to be one hell of a secret,” said Kat. “Oh my god, is Spider Man the father? Or Tony Stark?”
“No to both,” said Jessica. Taking a chance, she added “The father is unknown. She’s a rape victim.” It was close enough to the truth for the moment.
“Shit. Okay, low key it is. How about you, Ben? Got anything?”
“We’ve got federal interest. A couple of agents from out of town have taken over the FBI investigation. We don’t know much about them, when I Googled their names the only hits on both come from California a few years ago. If it's the same guys, they were both TA’s at UC Sunnydale a couple of years before the Subterraneans took the town out.”
“The Lava Men denied they had anything to do with that,” said Kat, “so did the Mole People.”
“Whatever,” said Ben, “we have a couple of agents who seem to have come out of nowhere, apart from a possible prior appearance in Sunnydale, the former murder capital of the USA on a per-capita basis. I’m beginning to smell a California connection here.”
“You may be right,” said Jessica. “Nina’s from Los Angeles, and I’ve heard about things happening there that may be connected. I can’t tell you more without her permission.”
“I think you’d better get it.”
Jessica got out her cell phone, moved a few feet away from the table, and dialled Luke Cage.
“It’s Jessica,” said Luke. “She needs to talk to you.” He handed his phone to Nina.
“Hi, Jessica?” said Nina, and listened for a moment. “But… oh, I guess… but… well… okay, better bring them over, if you’re sure they can be trusted.”
“They’re reporters,” said the phone, “of course they can’t be trusted. You decide how much you want to tell them. But they found out most of who you are in a few hours, we need to give them enough to keep them happy and helpful.”
“Okay. We’re at my studio, Luke’s been checking it out. The address is 555…”
They talked for a few moments longer, then Nina gave the phone back to Luke, saying “they’re only a few blocks away, ought to be here soon.”
About five minutes later the goods lift that served the studio began to rattle. Luke moved close to the gates, and gestured for Nina to stay back. Eventually the gates opened, and Luke said “Who the hell are you?”
“Agent Finn.” “Agent Miller.” Both men produced FBI badges, and Luke said “I guess you’d better come in.”
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