So here we are almost at the end... It's been a long, bumpy ride but thank you for your patience. Last chapter will be published around Christmas, as a parting gift to an outstanding fandom and a wonderful show which deserved better.
Many thanks to DianeM for her beta skills, and her talent to remind me of my duties and all the gang at YTDAW. I miss the good old days, really!
Part three: Okinawa
Thursday, December 28th, 2006
Kobe Satoshi, 83 hours missing
"It's useless, guys, the damn flat is empty."
Samantha let out a sigh of frustration as she tried to find anything that could suggest the wall she was currently inspecting was not as empty as it seemed. She knocked on the wall, attentive to the merest different sound. She felt the surface, searching for an unexpected asperity. She used all her training to discover evidence, any evidence, in vain.
"The apartment had been cleaned up recently," Shin added darkly. "We lost too much time, and Morita made sure to cover his tracks. Fuck!" He punched the shelves he was standing next to, unable to conceal his own growing anger. His sudden agitation did not achieve anything but shattering the already precarious equilibrium of the piece of furniture that crumbled loudly in a cloud of dust.
The morning light that filtered across the windows briefly made the microscopic floating particles glow before they settled again on the floor.
No words were exchanged.
Maybe they were too late after all.
Hopefully, the rest of the team would find something helpful. Anything.
Samantha walked to the bedroom they had abandoned to Jack's inspection. His prolonged silence was not every encouraging, in many senses. Maybe he had come empty, as they had in the dining room. Maybe he was all over his head and refused to acknowledge it. The first hypothesis was disheartening for their case. The second one was saddening on a more personal front. As she stepped into the room, Samantha mused she liked neither of these ideas.
The sight that welcomed the young agent was confusing. Actually, it was quite normal if Jack had not found anything, he was not searching at all. All this experience was premature, she should have known it!
The former senior agent had sat down by the window and seemed totally absorbed in his contemplation of the Okinawa map on the wall facing him.
"Shin, I suppose your agent was well trained." This was barely a question, more a working hypothesis.
"Nah, I sent a green foot undercover," the irony in Shin's voice was biting. "Of course I sent a seasoned agent, one of my best! What d'you think?"
"I think that, if the genius downstairs is any example, Morita's guys aren't too bright. Maybe they missed something." There was something very familiar in Jack's voice, the hint of a tone Samantha had longed to hear for so long.
She had to keep the ball rolling.
For the case.
"Guys," she interrupted. "Remember Danny's report, the man was a sneaky one. Maybe he left something in plain sight for somebody able to see it, and invisible for anybody else."
"Well, I'm his boss, and I don't see anything." Shin was getting angrier, and more worried, by the minute.
"Shin? When did you send your guy?" Jack spoke again after another moment of silent contemplation.
"Three months ago, why?"
"Did you tell him about me, what I did in the FBI?"
"I told him to contact you in case of extreme emergency only, why?"
Samantha hid a mischievous grin with difficulty before speaking up. Shin may have been Jack's friend for ages, but she was his partner. Bouncing ideas was what they used to do.
All the time.
"Three months ago, Jack still had all his head," she explained. "You think he left something for you?"
"Well, as far as he knows, I'm the head of the Missing Persons unit, and not some useless amnesiac."
Jack was right, of course, but she hated hearing him using such terms when he spoke about himself. She almost protested, but he cut her, going on with his line of thoughts.
"You told him I grew up in Okinawa?"
"Of course, and that your father was a US soldier, and about everything… You're still more or less a legend back home, you know."
"Because, to this day, you're the only one who had ever kicked Morita's ass on a regular basis, when we were kids." The memory brought a fugitive, nostalgic smile on Shin's face.
Samantha searched Jack's face for any sign of recognition, in vain. However, the satisfied grin at the idea he had been somebody's nightmare in the past was another proof that Jack was still there, deep inside.
"Your guy, where's he from?"
"From Yomitan, why?"
"Then, why does the insignia for Yomitan Airbase look awfully wrong to me?"
Shin turned around sharply to consider the map. After a few seconds, his eyes widened.
"Because it is wrong, aniki."
Jack's friend took a few steps to the other side of the room, for closer inspection of the map Jack alluded to. Silently, Samantha observed him as he frowned, scratched around the area of the insignia, as if trying to peel some sort of a sticker off.
New evidence that could lead them to their missing person was not the only thing at stake here, and Samantha was painfully aware of the sheer importance of the moment.
If Jack was right, it would mean he had made his first decisive steps towards recovery.
Shin finally turned around to face his friends with a hopeful smile forming on his lips.
"Well done, J-kun."
Samantha took the minuscule sticker Shin handed her and read the numbers that designated a locker in Grand Central Station.
They had a clue.
And Jack was probably the one who had broken the case.
84 hours missing
"Danny, did you get anything?" Vivian called her agent while she forced her way through the crowd the operation had attracted around the bar. Danny snorted and thought it was high time to call for some more uniforms. This kind of situation could evolve quickly.
"Not really. No girl is willing to talk, and I can't blame them, honestly."
Of course, he was a seasoned agent, and very few things really bothered him. However, the sight of lost, scared girls, agglutinated on the pavement while the police searched the bar where they worked and Immigration proceeded to check their IDs and visas always made him feel sick in the stomach.
These girls were caught between a rock and a hard place, and they knew it, if their scared expressions were any proof. They had risked everything to change their lives and had trusted shallow promises, only to find exploitation and possible expulsion at the end of the day.
Danny did not like the mix of relief and accusation he could find in the girls' eyes, and he liked the role he had to play even less.
"We have to connect this bar to Morita, Danny. We have to interrogate them." As usual, Vivian was an example of calm demeanor, not betraying what she was feeling deep inside.
"Of course, we do. Hopefully, we'll be able to make a connection with whatever Elena and Martin can find in Atlantic City."
85 hours missing
"An honest Japanese citizen who had made some good investments in the US, right… Do you believe this bullshit?" Sarcasm covered Elena's every word as Martin and she were taking in the brand new hotel casino before them.
"And he called this Okinawa? Give me a break!" Martin muttered. "Two solutions: the man is a complete moron, which I doubt, or he's awfully sure about the soundness of his cover."
He let Elena step first into the tropical heat of the casino.
"Maybe a little bit of both?" she asked mirthlessly and showed the main attraction in the casino, apart from the tables and the machines. The right side of building was occupied by an interior swimming pool designed to look like the sea and a makeshift sandy beach. "Wanna bet the sand is advertised to be from Okinawa for real?"
"I'll pass," Martin snorted. "I am a lousy poker player, but I know to recognize when my odds are awfully bad."
An anxious manager had noticed the two agents and walked to greet them, all smiles and good manners.
"Not anonymous for long, are we?" Elena joked as she retrieved her badge.
"Must be the coat…" Martin plunged a hand in his pocket as well. "Wanna bet these girls in kimonos are far from being eighteen?"
"Nope. But I'll add this to my list of questions for…"
"I am Kentarou Otah, Mr Morita's chief manager. What can I do for you?"
"I am Agent Fitzgerald from the FBI, and this is Agent Delgado. We have some question for you."
Vivian was positively livid. How could they have taken such a risk? From the short exchange with Shin, she had feared this was the kind of reckless action he could launch, and had warned him sternly. Obviously, the warning had fallen into deaf ears, but Samantha should have known better. Of course, there was nothing she could have done about Jack's encounter with the stupid Yakuza. However, she should have sent him home immediately, and reported the incident to Vivian.
What if they had met a welcome comity in the room?
Vivian shuddered at the thought.
To be fair, it was not the first time Samantha was reckless when Jack was concerned. Both the blond agent and the MPU supervisor had showed more than once their reckless tendencies when the other was concerned.
Furthermore, if the content of the locker scattered on the table at the center of the bullpen was any proof, Vivian had to admit that Jack had still his mojo intact, which was unexpected, unhoped-for good news.
Yet, this did not mean she would accept another breach of protocol. Jack was on medical leave, with reason, and his place was not in the field.
"This isn't a negotiation, Chief Miyabe. Actually, I've got enough to throw you off the case, so consider yourself lucky. In Japan, you may do as you please, but this is my turf. My turf, my rules, understood?" Years of working with Jack had prepared her to confront a pain in the ass like Shin. Those men were carbon copies of each other.
"I suppose so, but let me object one last time that few people know Morita like Jack does."
"Objection dully noted. Now carry on, Danny is waiting for us in the interrogation rooms." Once she was sure she had made her point, Vivian finally made a little concession. Some more desk work could juggle more flashes of knowledge and memory. In the safety of the MPU, this was a risk she was willing to take. "Meanwhile, Jack, you can always try to solve the puzzle," she added, waving nonchalantly at the table.
It was no use to put pressure on the man's shoulders.
All was needed was a spark, she was sure of it now.
86 hours missing
The clicking of the keyboards.
The hurried steps on the carpet.
The sound of a printer.
The ringing of the telephones.
The noisy, nervous atmosphere of the office would drive any sane person crazy, but to Jack, it sounded like home. Strangely enough, he found it very easy to concentrate in this incessant hum of activity.
He found it easy to block the outside world and focus on the puzzle in front of him. Instinctively, he had gathered the bank statements in one place, the phone statements in another one and had begun to search for parallels, recurrences, anything that seemed strange to him.
Jack had no idea why or how, but he knew how to proceed.
It was evident.
The sheer familiarity of the work was almost overwhelming, just like when he stepped into the bedroom at Kobe's place and immediately felt something was amiss.
He felt focused, in his element.
Then the flashes started.
At first, he paid them no attention, concentrated as he was on a ledger that made no sense at all. These were not the accounts of shop or a bar, the figures were impossible, the entries written in Japanese were totally fantasist.
"Shin! Come down! We're waiting for you! Bring your ball and glove!" From the streets, Jack and the rest of the gang were calling for their best pitcher. Without him, the fourth years would kick their asses big time.
"Can't… I have to revise my kanjis. My grandmother almost had an attack when I confused the damn signs and wants me recite them in front of the whole family next Sunday."
A kanji could have different significations. This was some code and he needed Shin to break it.
"Baka! We've been searching for the damn chest in wrong place the whole time!"
Usually, this customary insult from Shin would have been repaid by a smack on the head, but Jack was too exhausted from the digging they did all afternoon, for naught.
"No kidding," he just commented, staring angrily at the dozens of holes they had dug since midday.
"The chest is over there, in the sea, I'm sure."
"I hope you are because there are sharks over there, as well!" Jack protested.
"No risk, no gain, aniki."
"Finding anything?" a familiar voice enquired.
The sound of her voice.
The smell of her perfume.
The feel of her hand on his shoulder.
This was very familiar as well, almost too familiar.
"Dunno. Maybe. I've the feeling that these books aren't mere accounting documents." Then he added, showing a particular set of documents, "Moreover, this Miyamoto Musashi seems a bit phony to me, and he reappears a lot in the different statements."
"Do you have many associates called Wyatt Earp?"
"Makes sense… By the way, are you talking about these characters as if it was common knowledge or is it wishful thinking on my part?" Her tone was hopeful, vulnerable almost.
"The hell if I know. I've kept on blurting things out since this morning. Must be your coffee."
A bed. Rain outside. The smell of coffee coming from the dining room. Crosswords abandoned on the night table.
A hint of embarrassment could be heard in her next words.
"Is it Mr Musashi's photo, here?"
"I suppose, why?"
"Good, because, he looks just like the sketch we obtained from the terrified girls down in Interrogations, and the only name they know is Goro-san." Samantha posed to retrieve her phone and show another picture to Jack. "And he happens to look like this man a great deal. Meet Otah Kentarou. Elena and Martin talked to him in Atlantic City, and slipped between their fingers. We have a BOLO on him and his car."
The bullpen. A photo on the white board. Samantha getting up from her chair and meeting him in his office, proof in hand.
"Anything else?" Samantha pressed on, ready to deal with her next task.
God! So that was the rhythm he was used to, in his work, and apparently, in his life: always rushing from a task to another one, always following the hint of a lead, then another one, until the missing person was found. It was exhausting and the mere pair of hours he had spent on the content of the locker had given him the worst headache.
But the rush of adrenaline when he had finally made sense of the puzzle had been worth it. Bouncing ideas with Samantha and her rewarding smile had been more than worth it.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully.
Samantha raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to go on, obviously resisting the urge of some teasing remark.
"For your information, half my hard drive is fried. It's a miracle it's still functioning, y'know," he answered her silent mockery. He did not know why, but he felt that preemptive attacks were the way to go with her if you wanted to survive the day with your pride intact.
"Don't play the humility card, Jack, it doesn't suit you."
"No, you can gloat all you want…"
Her voice had a… husky tone? He decided he enjoyed bantering with her.
Jack sobered up and focused on the documents once more. A detail still bothered him, but without his knowledge, he was unable to say if it was important or not. He handed her a sheet of paper. "Where's that neighborhood?"
Samantha took the paper and frowned in concentration.
"Nice one, and at the opposite of Kobe's apartment, albeit on the same line of the metro. Why?"
"Because there's this wallet, with an ID and a driving license registered to the name of Joe Kabuki, American citizen, and a salesman for EA Electronics. This address appears in these documents, on some other cards as well. The problem is that Joe Kabuki sounds as phony to me as Musashi. We need to check this up."
"We? Geez Jack, go on that way and in a few minutes, you're going to assign the tasks to the team."
"I'm sorry," he replied with an apologetic grin. The flashes had stopped but he was beginning to blurt out things without even knowing why. "Just getting ahead of myself, I guess."
"Don't be sorry for that." Samantha's smile was sweet, proud almost. "Phony, why?"
"Do you know many Clark Kents?"
"Not really. And you know this how?" She was testing him, obviously.
"The hell if I know," he shrugged. One day at the office did him more good than a whole month of family life. Jack ignored if he had to be frightened or enthusiastic about that.
"No matter. I need to check this, but I've the feeling you just found Kobe's hiding place. The man's not missing, he's hiding. Morita must have discovered he was undercover."
A gentle hand went to the white hair that underlined his scar.
"Not so bad for a half-fried hard drive, not bad at all."
For the first time in what seemed ages, Jack let a genuine, relaxed smile form on his lips.
Indeed, not bad at all… In many senses…