Saturday, April 28, 2018

Xan, Part Three

The next morning I showered, dressed, and ate cereal, letting Rachel sleep. I brewed extra coffee for when she woke up.
            I called Hendricks first. He sounded less than thrilled to hear my voice. “Jurgen? Now I know why my colleagues hate you so much. What do you want?”
            “Just checking in.” I tried my best cheerful voice. “What about Kurt Rowe? He’s tied into Brent O’Connor. That makes it your case, right?”
            He sounded as if he’d been up for hours, and not happy about it. “If you’ve got anything to tell me, I’m listening. Otherwise—”
            “Has he said anything? What about that handgun? Have you checked it for, uh, what do you experts call it—ballistics?”
            “Hah.” Hendricks grunted. “You watch a lot of CSI, do you? We’re handling the investigation appropriately. The only reason I don’t have you down here right now is because Detective Sharpe tells me you’re reliable. Also that you’re a pain in the ass. Her exact words were, ‘Do whatever you want, just don’t get me involved.’”
            Anita Sharpe and I were part of the Vampire Squad at CPD—a secret unit dealing with vampire killings. Fortunately vampire deaths had taken a downturn in the last few months.
            “Well, say hi to her. Call me if you need anything.” I hung up before he could curse me out.
            Rachel emerged from my bedroom, dressed in last night’s clothes and rubbing her eyes. “I’m going home. Try not to go anywhere and get killed without calling me.”
            “Do you want breakfast? Coffee?”
            She yawned. “I want fresh underwear.”
            We kissed. Then she slugged me. It’s how she shows affection. I’ve gotten used to it.
            I locked the door behind her and poured myself more coffee.
            Then I took a deep breath and called Hawke Electronics.
            Arnold Hawke, not surprisingly, wasn’t taking calls. Or maybe he wasn’t taking them from me. I left my name and number.
            Now what? I went back to Silvano’s files. Leafed through the Hawke Electronics website. Drank more coffee.
            My phone buzzed. Rikki Silvano.
            “He called me.” She sounded out of breath. “He wants to meet you.”
            Oh boy. “Where?”
            “Downtown at Macy’s. In the men’s section. In an hour.”
            A department store. That would be pretty public—but so was a coffee shop. “Have him call me.”
            “I’ll try. He’s not using his regular phone.”
            She hung up. Five minutes later my phone buzzed again. Unknown caller. “Tom Jurgen? Jamie Silvano. I guess, uh, you’ve been looking for me.”
            “Your wife hired me. What’s going on?”
            “Face to face.” He sounded nervous. “Like I told Rikki, Macy’s. Come alone.”
            “Hang on a minute. Do you know what happened to me last night?”
            “The coffee shop, yeah.” He lowered his voice. “That’s why I’m calling you.”
            “I almost got killed there.” And they’d never let me back in, that was for sure. “The men’s wear department doesn’t seem that much safer.”
            “We’ll be fine. I just want to talk.”
            My heart pounded. “All right.”
            “Come alone.”
            “Right.” We hung up. Come alone. Yeah, right.
Immediately I called Rachel. “Silvano wants to meet me at Macy’s in an hour. Can you come?”
Macy’s. It had once been Marshall Field’s. A Chicago icon, the huge, block-long department store at the heart of the Loop. It had been bought out by Macy’s years ago. But the MARSHALL FIELD AND COMPANY sign was still mounted on the walls as the corners of the building.
            On a weekday it wasn’t too crowded. Rachel and I took separate escalators to the second floor to the men’s wear section.
            “This is stupid,” she’d told me on the cab ride down. She patted her pocket, where she’d stuffed her pepper spray. “But maybe you can pick up a few new neckties while you’re at it.”
            I hadn’t worn a necktie in months. But she was right about the other part.
            On the second floor I looked around, pretending to check out blazers and, yeah, neckties. After ten minutes I spotted Silvano in a corner looking at dress pants.
            He looked as if he’d been sleeping in the clothes he had for days—or maybe hadn’t slept at all. His eyes were bloodshot and he needed a shave. One of the sales associates was keeping an eye on him from two aisles away.
            “Mr. Silvano?” I kept my distance between two tightly-packed racks of trousers. “Tom Jurgen.”
            He looked me up and down, suspicious. “What day did Nikki hire you?”
            Oh, for Christ’s sake. “First, your wife’s name is Rikki. Second, it was this past Monday, the 18th. Do you need to see my ID?”
            “No.” He shook his head. “It’s just been . . . a long week.”
            “Tell me about it.” I saw Rachel examining trousers in the next aisle, her head down. “Really. Tell me about it.”
            He bit his lip. “What do you know about XN?”
            “It’s an alien. Is that right?”
            He shook his head again. “It’s alien technology. It’s not alive. But it powers that AI Hawke is using for his business.”
            “Where did it come from?”
            Silvano rubbed his eyes, seemingly on the brink of exhaustion. “I was following a report about a UFO crash in Michigan, couple of years ago. When I found the site, nothing was left except maybe a small crater, all grown over, and some pieces of metal. It was near a summer home owned by a guy named Arthur Hawke.”
He took a breath. “I couldn’t get much out of him. He had early-stage Alzheimer’s. Anyway, I tracked down his son, Arnold. Who didn’t want to talk to me at all. But I looked into this XN thing he was selling, and it was phenomenal. His clients raved about it. My sources said it was lightyears ahead of anything they’d ever heard of. Then—”
“So why isn’t Hawke Electronics the new Microsoft or Google?” I kept an eye on the aisles around us. This was actually worse than the coffee shop, where I could see everything.
“He’s trying to keep a low profile. For now. Because he doesn’t want a lot of questions about where XN came from.” Silvano lowered his voice. “Finally I got in touch with O’Connor. He was going to bring me—”
“The XN-12.”
His eyes grew wide, surprised. “Yeah. How did you—never mind. I was supposed to meet him in his apartment, but he didn’t answer. When I went down to get my car from the garage, I found him in his car. Dead.”
He leaned down, shaking. “I, uh, I freaked out. That’s when I disappeared.”
I wished we had a place to sit down. “So XN is killing people? Is that what’s going on?”
“XN?” Silvano blinked. “No, it’s Hawke—”
“Oh, come on.” I wanted to slap his shoulder. “The cops are already all over Hawke Electronics. O’Connor’s dead, and that guy last night, Rowe? He’s in custody. And who knows where Tyler whatever-his-name is, but they’re looking for him too. Does that sound like a rational CEO?”
His jaw didn’t actually drop, but his face seemed to shift. “Oh, god. You’re right. Oh hell . . . Nat?”
A young blond woman peered around the rack. “Yeah, Jamie?”
What the—“Rachel!”
She popped out from behind the opposite rack, right behind Nat—whoever she was. Pepper spray in hand. “Hi. I’m Rachel.” She smiled. “Let’s be good friends.”
“Uhh . . .” The blond woman looked confused. “I’m Natalie. Hey, Jamie . . .”
Silvano almost knocked the rack over as he twisted around. Then he swung back to me. “I told you to come alone!”
The sales associate who’d been watching us—a tall African-American man with a bald head—crossed his arms. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
I held up my hands. “We’re going. Sorry.”
Silvano gulped. “Right. Let’s . . . just go. Come on, Nat.”
We went down the escalator together. A security guard followed us. Great. I was probably banned from Macy’s now. Not that I shopped there that much.
Out on State Street I looked around. Rachel kept an eye on Silvano and Natalie.
I pointed across the street toward a sandwich shop. “There. We’re not done talking.”

I was hungry. We ordered sandwiches and drinks—Rachel got a salad—and then sat at a small round table near the back. Rachel kept her eye on Natalie and one hand near her pocket with the pepper spray.
            “So Natalie, I’m Tom Jurgen.” I took a bite out of my grilled chicken sandwich. “Jamie’s wife hired me to find him. Looks like I have.”
            “Natalie works for Arnold Hawke.” Silvano stared at his ham and cheese as if he didn’t know what to do with it. “She’s going to help me get the XN tech out of there tonight.”
            I stiffened. Rachel nudged her chair back.
            “What?” Natalie glared back and forth between at us. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
            “Because . . .” I leaned back, ready to make a run for the door. “Your co-worker—Tyler? He set me up last night. Kurt Rowe tried to shoot me. I’m a little skeptical about anyone working there right now.”
            “But I’m not . . .” She slapped Silvano on the arm. “Who are these people?”
            “He’s . . .”  Silvano stared down at his French fries. “A private detective. My wife hired him.”
            “Okay.” Natalie looked at Rachel. “Who are you?”
            “I’m Rachel.” Rachel held out a hand. “Junior associate detective. Plus, I’m kind of psychic. You mind?”
“W-what do you mean?” She shivered. “Jamie?”
“Relax. This doesn’t hurt.”
Silvano grabbed a plastic fork. “What are you talking about?”
            I held up a hand. “Just wait.”
            Rachel closed her eyes for a second, then let Natalie’s wrist go. “It’s okay. She’s not possessed or anything. Just scared.”
            “Of course I’m not scared! I mean, I am scared, but . . .” She pulled her hand away. “What’s going on?”
            “I’m psychic. I can’t read minds, but I can pick up things. Something was inside the guy that tried to kill Tom last night—inside his head.” She looked at me. “It’s not there.”
            “So you think the XN is . . .” Silvano picked up a fry. “What, some kind of body snatcher?”
“Employees shooting people out in the open is only going to draw the cops deeper into the company. Hawke isn’t that stupid. But a computer program may not think that way.”
            Silvano chewed. “Especially an alien one.”
            “That’s why we have to get it out.” Natalie took a bite of her sandwich.
            He nodded. “We can break in tonight and—”
            Uh-oh. “Wait. I can’t be part of anything illegal.”
             “It’s not illegal. Natalie’s an employee—”
            “But stealing company property? Does she have permission for that?”
            Silvano pounded a fist on the table, almost spilling my Coke. “This could prove what I’ve been talking about for years!”
            “Fine.” I moved my glass. “Just don’t tell me about it. Or tell anyone we talked about it.”
            “What about your wife?” Rachel slid her empty plate away. I hadn’t seen her take a bite.
            Natalie gazed at Silvano. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “She understands.”
            Rachel gave a skeptical shrug. “Let’s hope.”

Back in my apartment I called Rikki Silvano. “Your husband is fine,” I told her. “Although he probably needs some rest. He’ll be home in a day or so.” I didn’t mention the part about his plan to illegally go into Hawke Electronics to steal the XN.
            She sighed. “All right. Send me your bill. And thank you.”
            “Natalie’s in love with him.” Rachel sat across from me at the table as I pulled up my invoice program.
            “I got that.” I’d seen her reaction when Rachel had asked about Silvano’s wife. “What about him?”
            She shrugged. “I don’t think so. He’s just using her to get inside the company.”
            Asshole. But . . . “Not my problem either way. Unless I get hired for the divorce case.” I started calculating my hours. “Looks like this one is done.”

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