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Needle in a Haystack (IC)


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Early February, 2013

10:30 AM

The day had started out slow for Fred Furlong and Harry Hound of the Bloodhound detective agency. Harry was stuck filling out some paperwork for the police relating to one of the pair's recent cases and a little run in with a street gang. Meanwhile, Fred had been sitting around on the battered old sofa in the office watching some television. More than half the morning had already passed, and so far, they had nothing new to fill their day.

It was just then that the buzzer for front door rang. Looking over, the two private detectives saw a Asian, or Asian American gentleman standing patiently at the front door dressed in a dark grey suit.

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"Will ya get your ass of that damn sofa and....oh! customer!"

Harry smoothed down his shirt, ignoring the coffee stain, and did up his crumpled tie. He looked marginally less crumpled than before. That was to say, he looked very crumpled.

"Please come in sir! welcome to the Bloodhound Detective Agency! Your problems are our problems! Your Worries are our Worries! Your Money is our Money!"

"Please take a seat..." he said, sweeping off some donuts and take away coffee from the table.

"How can we help?"

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Letting in the Asian gentleman, Harry could now see that he appeared to be in his mid-thirties. His dark grey suit appeared to be quite expensive, and was impeccable condition. He glanced around the room briefly before focusing back on Harry. "Thank you." He replied in perfect English. "Mr. Hound I presume?"


He followed the rumpled private eye over towards the indicated desk, casting something of a disdainful glance at the debris that Harry casually swept from the desktop. But he still took the indicated seat, offering a faint smile. "My name is Daniel Ling. I am an attorney representing the interests of a client of my firm." He leaned forward slightly and offered Harry a business card.


Glancing at the card, Harry saw Mr. Ling's contact information under the name of the law firm, Watkins & Berkshire. The address listed was in San Francisco.


"My client, Mr. Zhou, is a prominent business man in Singapore, and he wishes to retain your services for a very delicate matter."

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"Delicate? Why that's our middle name!" replied Harry eagerly as the Mess stood up, scratched his backside, and creaked his neck.

"You can tell Mr. Zhou that we are the solution he has been looking for. Mr. The Hound and Mr. The Mess, that's me and my partner over there, we are experts!"

Watkins and Berkshire....Watkins and Berkshire...

"So, down to details. Which, er, will include the matter of payment, as I am sure you understand. What particular case does Mr. Zhou need investigating?"

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Racking his brain, Harry was certain he had heard the name of the law firm before, even though they were based on the opposite side of the country. He had a feeling that he had seen it in passing, associated with a number of foreign business deals, and also in connection with the firm defending someone being investigated by the SEC, or was it the Justice Department, or both?


Mr. Ling gave another faint smile at Harry's encouraging statements, and the issue of payment when the rumpled private eye brought the issue up. "Payment will not be an issue Mr. Hound." The attorney stated. "I trust a ten thousand dollar retainer will be sufficient for you and your partner to begin?"


"But as for the subject of the investigation," he then went on, "as I said, it is a very delicate matter. One that could cause a man of Mr. Zhou's status a great deal of embarrassment and loss of face should it become widely known, particularly among his business partners or rivals."


"Mr. Zhou's youngest daughter has run away. We believe there is the possibility she is here in Freedom City. We are hiring you and your partner to help locate the young lady, so that we may ensure she is returned safely home."

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"Say no more, say no more!" reassured Harry, gently soothing his way into the wallet of his guest and (he hoped) Mr. Zhou.

"If she is in Freedom City, we can find her. We know this city like the backs of our proverbial paws..hands..."

"Dont ya worry, mister. We'll find her!" saluted the Mess with a bottle of milk in his hand that he directed to his thirsty lips.

"Indeed, indeed!" chuckled the Hound, full of encouragement. "Now then, could you give me a few details of the young lady? her name, her appearance? any particular marks or features, like tattoos, scars, birthmarks, that kind of thing? height? weight? can she speak English?"

Pressing further, he continued.

"More importantly, how do you think she came here? and why? does she have any contacts here?"

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Mr. Ling gave a small nod as the two private investigators made assurances about their ability to find the missing girl. Reaching into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, he removed a small envelope, which he opened. First he drew out what was clearly a check, which he sat down in front of him on the table. "Here is the check to cover you initial retainer." He stated, sliding it slightly forward towards Harry. "We will of course, want to have clear invoices showing the time put into the investigation."


"As for the particulars of Mr. Zhou's missing daughter. Her name is Xian Lou, and she does speak fluent English, as well as Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese." He reached into the envelope once again, this time taking out a picture, which he also set on the table and slid forward. "This is the most recent picture available of her." He stated. "She is a few inches over five feet, and not quite one hundred pounds, to my knowledge. I am not aware of any particular marks or features I am afraid."


Looking down at the picture, saw it was of an attractive teenager who looked to be about sixteen or seventeen and was clearly of Asian descent. She had long black hair and was dressed in western style clothing. She appeared to be standing alongside a pier or other waterfront location, and in the background was a skyline that Harry did not recognize. The picture itself was slightly hazy, not out of focus, but not as crisp as one might expect.


"Unfortunately, we cannot say for certain how she came here, or even if she is truly here or not. But she is a rather headstrong and adventurous girl, and somewhat infatuated with the stories of Freedom City. You see, she is a metahuman."

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"Aw she sure is pretty" commented Fred, scratching his chin and snatching the picture, studying it.

"Ah..yes...she certainly is. I am sure Mr. Zhou is very proud" said Harry. Wiggling his eyebrows at the check in his hands.

"Well, if she is a metahuman that complicates matter. Potentially makes this more difficult, although potentially easier as well. They can stick out, you know. Little signs, like being on fire, or walking through walls, or even things like barking when they wake up in the morning, purely as an example. "

"I'll make some enquiries, see if I can come up with anything..."

He coughed slightly.

"Do you have any personal artifacts we could, er, borrow? something that she would have every day, that, er, would be, um, in close contact with her, like an article of clothing or something?" he asked awkwardly.

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"Yes, we understand the added layer of difficulty." Mr. Ling replied as Harry mentioned the fact the teen was a metahuman might complicate things. "But, from your reputations, the added complexity is not something you are unaccustomed to. Mr. Zhou is fully prepared to provide generous compensation in light of the additional difficulties that may exist."


When Harry asked about any personal effects, Mr. Ling had a slightly surprised look. "I certainly have nothing of the sort." He replied. "And I am not certain I would be comfortable making such an. . .unusual request to Mr. Zhou."

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"Sure sure, forget I asked, forget I asked..." said the Hound backing off a bit and rubbing his forehead.

Why can't the dumb schmucks just gimme some goddamn clothes I can smell and track without thinking I am some kind of dirty old man in a mac

He stuffed his hands in his mac in irritation, bringing out a crumpled packet of cigarettes. Knocking one out, and lighting up, he started to think aloud.

"Well, we got a description, we got some ideas. We ain't got a motive, which is a bit of a hole. But hey, we can work with this. I can make a few call's, see what I can find. I gotta warn you, it wont be easy. Could be a whole heap of difficult, in fact, if she can turn invisible or disappear in a flash of smoke. Say, what did you say she could do?"

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Mr. Ling seemed perfectly happy to let the subject of Harry's request for a piece of clothing drop as he focused on the other comments from the private eye. "Well, as I indicated before, she is rather headstrong and a somewhat adventurous girl, in addition to having a fascination with the various metahumans that seem so prevalent here in Freedom City. As for her ability, it is my understanding that she can control water."

"But we fully understand that this could be a difficult matter, which is why we came to you two gentlemen. And you will be properly compensated in light of the difficult nature of the task. It could well turn out she is not here at all, but you will still receive all the compensation owed you for helping to determine that fact."

"Unless either of you have any further questions, I should probably be leaving so the two of you may begin."

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"Sure, sure. We'll be in touch, and we'll take the case. Don't you worry" said the Hound, reassuringly, leading his new employer out as politely as possible.

Once the coast was clear he sat down in their battered leather sofa and slung the picture onto the arm rest.

"Well, the pay's good. But this will be like finding a Needle in a Haystack" he sighed.

"Whats the plan then?" said the Mess, throwing a basketball into a hoop in the gym at the other end of the barn.

"Beat's me" replied the Hound, with a weary smile at his partner.

Dumbass always keeps me going he smiled to himself, thankful of his partners energy.

"But we gotta start somewhere. Make a few phone calls. Maybe see if anybody at the docks has heard anything. I'm guessing she came in by sea. Maybe make a few inquiries at Claremont, see if anybody there knows anything, although they can be a secretive bunch, for sure".

Summoning up his energy for what would be a difficult task, he pulled himself up from the Barn's sofa to the desk, and started tapping in some numbers...

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Before he left, Mr. Ling singed the necessary paperwork to retain the pair. Then he added. "In addition to your normal fees and expenses, there is an authorized expense account of up to five thousand dollars to cover any expenses you incur as part of the investigation. Should there be expenses necessary that exceed that amount, we will require some explanation and documentation for them before they can be approved."

"Good day gentleman." With that, the lawyer made his way out of the office and over to a waiting LEXUS with tinted windows, another dark suited Asian opening the back door for Mr. Ling, and then climbing into the front passenger seat himself before the vehicle pulled away.

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Making their way out of the office, the two private investigators climb into the old Caddy and start off towards the city's docks with a quick stop at the bank along the way to deposit their new client's check into the business account. With Freddy driving, Harry makes a few phone calls, trying to see what sorts of possible leads they might be able to dig up.

Harry's idea to make some inquires with Claremont Academy quickly proves that it might be more difficult than he thought. The woman who answered the phone was quick to shut down any attempt at questioning, indicating that the school did not discuss its students with anyone other than a student’s parents over the phone.

Harry next makes a few calls to a few contacts. Those conversations quickly turn out to be rather short as well, as none of the contacts have heard anything about the girl or have any other potentially useful information, though several indicate they can try to make some inquiries of their own and see what might turn up.

Soon the pair were down at the docks along the city's Waterfront as they began speaking with various longshoremen, warehouse and pier managers, and anyone else that seems to regularly be along the piers throughout the day. After a few hours of walking and numerous conversations, it was quickly appearing likely that no one down here knew anything about the girl.

It was about that point that Harry's phone rang with a return call from one of his contacts named Jake Newell. "Hey Harry." Jake said when the rumpled private eye answered the phone. "I think I might know someone in Chinatown that might be able to offer some help. His name is Gordon Chen, and I have arranged a meeting with him in about forty five minutes. If you don't think you can make it, let me know and I can try to push it out."

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"Curse you, you heap of no good trash, get moving!" shouted Harry at their faithful Caddy, as its engine burped several times, refusing to start.

The Mess, passing by to get in, gave the Caddy a sturdy kick in the side. The engine jolted and started up, giving a puff of dirty gas as it did.

"How in hell's name do you do that?" shouted the Hound as the Mess got in, grinning from ear to ear with out saying a word.

"Right, I got us a lead" he explained as the duo sped off. "A Mr. Chen. Gordon Chen. Lives in Chinatown. Should have thought that would be the place to snoop around in. We got a meeting with him in...hell...twenty five minutes...so that means we gotta move...."

The Caddy shifted forward, travelling as fast as it could through the irritations of Freedom City Traffic, towards Mr. Chen...

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Despite the Caddy's occasional protest, Harry managed to keep good time as he drove them back towards the West End for their appointment. Years on the force had helped him learn more than a few short cuts through the city, and he used every one of them now to cut down on the travel time.

The pair reached Freedom City's small Chinatown just about twenty six minutes later. Somehow managing to quickly find a parking spot large enough for the Caddy, they were soon hustling down the sidewalk towards the address Jake had provided.

It turned out to be a small, hole in the wall Chinese restaurant, decorated with dark wood paneling and Chinese paintings, ornate looking vases and faux gold statutes of dragons. At this time of day, it was almost completely empty, save for the staff. Sitting at a small table in the center of the dining area was a Chinese gentleman who appeared to be in his late forties. He was dressed in a dark grey suit, with a grey dress shirt and black tie.

As the two made their way forward, he looked up at them. "Mr. Hound, Mr. Furlong I presume?" He stated in way of greeting. "I usually expect those I deal with to be more punctual. But I am willing to be understanding, this time. Please, have a seat." He stated, indicating the two seats across from him.

"Would either of you be interested in some tea?" He asked, indicating the porcelain tea pot sitting to one side of the table, a number of tea cups beside it.

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"Tea..yeah...ummm...great..." said the Hound, sitting down and wrinkling his nose.

Some damn green oriental stuff no doubt. Gimme some American coffee, thick as tar as bitter as hell anyday. Still, when in Chinatown...

"We are real pleased to meet you, Mr. Chen. Heard a lot about you" he lied, smoothing down his crumpled tie onto his crumpled shirt.

"I see we were not mislead. You got class Mr. Chen. I can see that. Real class. That don't come around much often these days, huh?"

Freddy stuffed his face with prawn crackers giving a cheeky grin.

"Yessir" snapped the Hound, keen to direct the attention back on to him. "Real class. Not like some people would know" he said firmly, sparing a despairing glance at Freddy.

"Anyways, we need some help Mr. Chen. We are at a dead end without your help, to be frank. We are looking for a young girl, a runnaway. We believe she might be in some kind of trouble. We wondered if you might know anything about it, or where we could be looking...." he said, imploringly, passing over the photograph of Giang.

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Mr. Chen gave a small smile as Harry and Freddy took the indicated seats, reaching over to set out three tea cups and then pour some of the green tea into each. Taking up the cup nearest to him, he took a sip, and listened intently as Harry began explaining what they needed his help with.

Setting down his tea cup, Mr. Chen took the photograph of the Asian girl when offered by Harry, studying it for a moment. "A very lovely young lady." He stated, looking back up at the two across form him. "Unless I am mistaken, this was taken in Hong Kong."

He sat the picture down between him and Harry, was quite for a moment and then continued. "It can be a difficult matter, looking for someone in a place this large, particularly if they do not want to be found and keep a low profile."

"I cannot say I know anything about her, but I can certainly make a few inquiries, see if I might be able to uncover something. I trust you will still be needing this picture?" He asked as he indicated the photograph. "Of course, there is the question of what I might be able to expect in return for my assistance in this matter."

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"Ah yes...money, you mean. But of course..." mumbled Harry, his voice laced with irritation.

He patted the pockets of his Mac. "How odd. I seem to have misplaced my wallet...most awkward...I could have sworn it was here somewhe..."

"Its in yer inside left one!" yelled out the Mess from a few yards away, still stuffing his face with prawn crackers.

"Oh yes. So it is..." withered Harry, bringing out his leather wallet. "How could I have missed it..."

He drew out a bundle of notes and slid them across the table to Mr. Chen.

Good thing that lawyer was liberal with the payments...

"I hope that will cover the cost's of any manpower, or even, dare I say it, bribes" he said, hunching and screwing up his body.

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Mr. Chen took a sip of his tea as he watched with interaction between Harry and Freddy with a hint of amusement. When Harry finally withdrew some money and set it down on the table between them, his eyes looked down at the stack of bills for a very brief moment before looking back up at the rumpled private eye.

"Truly Mr. Hound, currency is one manner of potential exchange, and for many, the only substantial thing they might be able to offer. However, I believe you and your partner have far more valuable skills which you could offer. I could well have need of your assistance in the future. Shall we agree to exchange a favor for a favor?"

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Harry's fingers clawed around the ball of notes, drawing it back to his wallet with greater speed than they had been pushed away.

"A Favor for a favor, eh? well that works for me, Mr. Chen. I like the way your wheels are greased" he replied, a sly grin curling up one side of his face.

Not that I like being in pocket to an unknown quantity, but, eh, this Chen chap sounds useful!

He stuffed the money back inside the wallet, placing it, with deliberate slowness in his inner left mac pocket.

"You can have that favor, Mr. Chen. So, what about that girl? we don't have much to go on , you understand. We got a picture, and a name...Xian Lou"

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"Hmm, Xian Lou." Mr. Chen replied as he studied the photogrpah once again. Taking out his smart phone, he held it over the picture, manoeuvring the camera to have the photograph fully in frame. There was a faint clicking sound and then he studied the screen on the phone. "I will begin making some inquiries. It may take some time however." He stated as he looked back up at Harry and Freddy.

"As for other potential avenues you might wish to pursue, there are a couple which come to mind. First, though it is still some time away is the arrival of the Chinese New Year on the 10th. There will of course be a significant celebration here in Freedom City's Chinatown. It may well be possible that Xian Lou will choose to attend."

"Another possibility, and one that could take a good bit more time to investigate, are the number of Buddhist temples and shrines in and near Freedom City. They are small to be sure, nothing as grand as the Cathedrals and churches that predominate, but, still if Xian Lou is a practicing Buddhist, she may have visited one or more of them, or may in the future."

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"New Year, huh? well that's a good idea. It will be devil busy, mind, but you never know...." stewed Harry as he contemplated the options, fingers drumming.

"As for the Buddhist temples, smaller, easier to look into, but on the other hand requiring a lot of diplomacy" he muttered to himself. Priests of any sort were not the best source of his information, in his experience. On the one hand they wanted to be helpful, but on the other they deeply respected privacy. It was hard enough getting them to open up when he was 'official', on the force, but as a private investigator they would be even more likely to 'politely decline'.

"Well, they are both a bit of a shot in the dark, but you never know, we might just hit bullseye" he concluded. "In the mean time, lets hope you and your phone call put a rabbit out of a hat, eh?" he finished, finally caving in and placing a prawn cracker in his mouth.

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Mr. Chen nodded as Harry briefly mentioned some of the potential problems with either of his suggestions. "Yes, there are difficulties to be sure. Merely indicating some other possibilities." Finishing his tea, he took out a business card, setting it down over in front of Harry. "You can reach me at that number if you uncover any further information which may assist me in my inquiries. I will contact you promptly should I come across anything immediately important, otherwise it may be a few days before we talk again."

With that, he rose up from the table and made his way over towards the front, stopping briefly to pay for the tea.

After Mr. Chen departed, the two private investigators made their way out as well. Deciding to consider the two suggestions a bit more, Harry instead called some he knew from when he had been on the force. Lance Ricks had begun working for the FCPD as a photograph and film analyst during the last couple of years Harry had been on the force. Lance was fresh out of college, and very bright.

But Harry's sensitive nose had been able to pick up something else, that Lance had a drug problem. Not wanting to see the young man throw away his career, let alone his life, Harry helped him get treatment before anyone else on the force had learned of the problem. So, naturally Lance owed Harry, big time.

Given his work, Lance often worked from home, so he told Harry to come on over to his apartment in Grenville.

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Freddy and Harry stepped out of the Caddy, the evening well and truly progressed into night time.

Damn its been a long day. We gotta catch some sleep soon... yawned Freddy, pulling out a cigarette.

"I got this, Freddy" he said, stifling another yawn. "Lance and I go back. I sorted him out back in the day, kid got himself into some bad ways. Would have crashed and burned if I hadn't stepped in. Kept it real quiet too. No need for those stuck up brass to get involved and napalm his career early on. Lance is smart, real smart. Genius with photoshop..."

It was a long shot, but worth looking into. He fingered the photograph in his pocket and pressed the buzzer to Lance's home...

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