Chapter III

David McNeal is the is the perfect picture of what Jill thinks could go on the cover of the next Forbes magazine. Tall, well-clad and pockets full of money. This is the impression he radiates. Somewhere in his forties, he has worked out all the little details of business talking. This is probably what got him the position of CEO. It is also what makes it very hard for Chris or Jill to see past the mask of a successful businessman for an answer to Claire's sudden disappearance.

"Redfield," Mc Neal muses as Chris introduces himself. "Are you by any chance related to the Ms Redfield who was here on behalf of Terrasave? Husband maybe?"

"Brother," Chris says. "And that's why we're here, Mr McNeal. My sister- Ms Redfield vanished shortly after

her last appointment at Central Innovations. We were hoping you could answer us a few questions."

"Of course, "Mc Neal says, but he says it with just that little too much sympathy that Jill thinks it's an act.

They all have a seat.

Jill starts. "We're trying to piece together Ms Redfield's timetable from her arrival to her disappearance."

"The security department mailed the respective video feeds to Terrasave. Don't you have access to them?"

Jill nods. "We do."

"Well, I'm afraid," Mc Neal shrugs. "That is as much as I'll be able to do for you. To my knowledge Ms Redfield got lost in her free time. And that is beyond Central Innovations' power to monitor."

They have been counting with such an answer.

Chris puts forth the question they came here for.

"Sir, do you happen to know a place called Kelly's Bar?"

Mc Neal is a little taken aback by this. "Yes, I do. The little pub down on Market. But what does this have to do with Central Innovations?"

"Nothing, directly," Jill says. "But this is where we lost Ms Redfield's track. We were hoping you could tell us something about it."

"There's not a lot to tell. It's a small place. Locals mostly. I can't imagine what drove her there."

"Do you frequent the bar yourself?" Chris asks and at the look on McNeal's face quickly adds "If you don't mind the question."

"I do, yes. But its arguable how much my evening activites will help in your investigations."

"Oh, no, sir. Please don't think of it that way. We're just trying to fit every piece we find into the puzzle. Whether it belongs there or not."

"I see. If you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail, right?"

Chris nods. "That's right, sir. Is there anything else you could tell us about Ms Redfield's visit?"

"I fear not. My meeting with her and her partner was brief. A gesture of politeness. I can point you to the staff that was responsible for them, if you want."

"That would be lovely," Jill said.

They interview Brian Troyer from development, Mary Dexter from human resources and Suzanne Spivey from the research department. None of them yield utilizable information.

"It's like that damn bar swallowed up her existence and the only thing it burped up was her car," Chris says as they're taking a bite at the local fast food restaurant. He thinks they're wasting time with food, but Jill has managed to convince him that thinking on an empty stomach isn't going to get them any farther.

"We'll go there tonight," she suggests. "Stake out the place."

"I'd rather issue a tracing on this Mc Neal guy. He knows something."

"Can't do that. Not on absurd ground. If we stalked every CEO of a major company 'who knows something' their lawyers would eat our heads. You know protocol, Chris. Don't give O'Brian a reason to pull us off the job."

Chris waves his hand. "You're right, I know. We play by the rules. It's just... this is Claire. I know what she's capable of. Finding herself the biggest pile of shit to play in and all that. Girl's got too much of that Redfield character than is good for her."

Jill cannot imagine how hard this is for Chris. She is an only child. All her life, the only person she had to take care of has been herself. Chris on the other hand has been brother, mother and father for Claire ever since their parents passed away, and as much as Jill knows, this has been for nearly all their life.

"It's going to be fine," she assures. "Claire's a tough girl."

Chris' brows furrows. "See, that's what worries me."

They backtrack to the hotel after lunch. O'Brian wants his status update and Chris is eager to do a more detailed research on the CEO before they head out to the bar.

"Excuse me, sir!"

The receptionist stops them in their tracks. They walk over and she puts a big envelope on the counter. It contains something more than paper.

"Someone left this for you."

Jill takes the envelope, tears it open.

Chris asks, "Can you remember who left this?"

The clerk shakes her head. "No, sir. A gentleman. He didn't leave a name."

Jill holds up the content of the envelope.

"A cell phone."

They thank the receptionist and hurry to their room. They can ask to review the security feeds of the hotel later.

"Ok," Jill says after she's checked the phone. "This thing is empty. No numbers, no previous calls, no contacts. There is just one message, in the drafts folder."

"What does it say?"

"34 Oakwood Avenue."

Chris powers up the laptop and they find 34 Oakwood Avenue to be a little side street a ten minutes drive away from the hotel. Chris wants to go. Jill is hesitant.

"This spells trap. We should send the phone to HQ first, have them perform a thorough scan on it. They can give us more information."

"Jill. Claire could be in danger."

"And we're not helping her if we run in there like a pair of headless chickens."

They have an argument. Chris is pro and Jill is contra. It's a professional lovers' quarrel that Jill can't win with logic and reason. Chris claims he can feel something's wrong and he insists on this and how he can't abandon family for O'Brian's protocol.

"Give me the phone," he says.

Jill complies. Chris searches for something. He frowns.

"This is odd."

"What?"

"I just checked the time stamp on this draft. It's from today."

"From when today?"

Chris checks his watch, makes the calculation.

"From five hours. Five hours in the future. It's 4pm now. This thing's written for 9pm, today."

At nine o'clock sharp Chris and Jill have their rental car parked at the corner of Oakwood and Victoria. Chris plays with some binoculars in the darkness, but 32 Oakwood is just an entrance into a (pretty run down) apartment complex and for the last twenty five minutes nobody's gone in or out.

They wait another half hour. This part of the city seems to be as dead as the graveyard by the church.

"I can't see anyone," Chris says. "Not on the street, not in the house, not on the roofs. If we're being watched-" and they both agree that this is probably the case- "then they're using some small camera I can't make out. I think we should move in."

Jill thinks they don't have a lot of other options if they don't want to lose this clue, so she reluctantly agrees. She's mailed HQ their plan and location so if there's no word back by eleven, they're going to send in support.

They get out of the car and Jill brushes a hand across her jacket, feeling the familiar outline of a gun underneath. They're both armed with a pistol and a knife each and Jill has an additional set of lock picks on her. As they move towards the house they look about them warily, but there's not even an owl watching them on their stroll down Oakwood.

They arrive at the door. It houses twenty different flats. Chris goes through the names, but they're all unfamiliar, until-

"Redfield." He grits his teeth and traces the tag with his finger. "Those fuckers."

"I'm calling for backup," Jill says and grabs for the radio.

"No."

She halts the movement, incredulous. "Excuse me?"

"Don't call them. Yet. They could be keeping her at gunpoint. Or she's not even here. If they're just out for money I don't want a troop of gasmasks to stress them into shooting."

"Chris, this is not a good idea."

But Chris has already pressed the button and the door beeps, disengaging the lock. He enters.

"You come with me or you don't, Jill. O'Brian can wipe his ass with his rules."

She sighs, but steps in after him.

"I don't like this, Chris. I don't think what we're doing is clever."

"Yeah," Chris agrees. "That's why they're not gonna expect it."

The apartment is empty. In the clearest form of the word. The furniture that hangs about is covered by plastic sheets to keep it from the thick layer of dust that's settled above. Nobody's been here in quite some time. Jill pointed this out when she lock-picked them inside, saying the mechanism was quite rusty.

Well, this has gone down like a lead balloon.

"There must be something," Chris insists. "Some kind of clue. Why else would they want us here?"

Jill racks her brains but comes up empty. She doesn't know. She can only think its because someone wants to keep them away from somewhere, but before their spontaneous departure she's made sure that HQ monitors what's going on in the town while they're gone.

"Kelly's Bar. That's it. They wanted us off the grid. Something's going on at Kelly's."

"I told Quint Ketchum to keep an eye on that. He's calling if there's anything unusual. You wanted in here, Chris, so let's turn the place on its head."

They do. While Chris pulls out drawers, Jill frees the rest of the furniture of its plastic jackets. All the wardrobes are empty. An uncomfortable smell starts to settle over the place and Jill connects it to the brittle wood they've just uncovered.

"Shit."

Chris is on his knees, about to unscrew one of the air shafts on the wall. He stops midway, dropping the tool and getting to his feet. There's alarm on his face. He grabs the wall for support, out of balance.

The smell intensifies.

Jill's eyes widen.

They're not dealing with rotten wood.

It's gas.

She crosses the distance to Chris, puts an arm around him for support and tries to hold her breath. Halfway to the door, she stumbles.

Chris is too heavy.

She drops him. He's out.

She covers her mouth, grabs him by the collar of his shirt and pulls him towards the door. They're outside on the corridor when Jill loses her footing and takes a tumble down the stairs. She hits her head, moans, and the lights go out.