Hiroki held open the heavy wooden door to the law offices of Barston & Chase for Camen, following behind him and trying to look as official and adult as he could. The two of them were woefully out of place in these stolid, somber surroundings. But Camen was an old hand at handling these situations, introducing himself with all the gruff competence of a beat cop.
The receptionist gave way to a suit, who approached them and shook Camen’s hand. He seemed rather embarrassed to have them there, looking around them to the door. “Good morning, gentlemen. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to handle this privately,” the suit said as he motioned them down the hallway to the offices.
“I’d like to see Samuel Wallace’s office, if you don’t mind,” Camen said, not taking the invitation to go immediately.
“Um … yes, but first I’d like to talk to you in mine,” the suit said, glancing towards the door as if he expected someone to walk in at any moment. “Just follow me.”
He led them into a big, imposing office, all big leather chairs and monolithic mahogany desks. “You’ll have to excuse my insistence on doing this in private,” the suit began. “Our clients are very protective of their privacy, and it wouldn’t do to have them see an investigator here. Bad for business.”
“Just what sort of business is that?” Camen asked.
“We deal with the legal and financial affairs of many of the most prominent citizens and corporations in Colston City. This law firm has been here since the 1800s, Barston and Chase were lawyers turned prospectors who rushed out here. Thankfully, when the rush turned out to be largely hot air, they had skills to fall back on and plenty of people who regularly got in trouble.”
“You sound pretty proud of that,” Camen pointed out, looking around the room now, obviously uninterested. Hiroki wondered how long they’d have to talk to this guy before they’d be allowed to search the room proper.
“It’s an impressive heritage, one we strive to live up to. People depend on us to be there. Unfortunately, when one of our own goes missing, it looks bad. We’ve been shouldering his load, claiming that Sam is laid low with an illness, but we want to know where he is as bad as you do.”
“So you have no idea?”
“I’m afraid not,” the man said. “We’ve made some inquiries on our own, informal and discreet of course, but so far there’s been nothing. But things have changed, and we have to act.”
“So now that there’s a dead body and Sam’s got police attention, you’re going to cooperate, is that what you’re saying?”
“More or less,” the suit admitted with a shrug. “Go ahead, Wallace’s offices are down the hall. I just beg you to be discreet.”
Camen nodded and the two of them exited the office and made their way down to the large door with Samuel Wallace’s name on it. When they entered, they were in an antechamber the size of the office they had just come from, this one brighter due to the wall of windows along one side.
“Hello, gentlemen,” the assistant, a woman in severe business attire said from behind the desk as she stood up. She seemed overly composed, a well-practiced neutral expression on her face. “I was told to expect you.”
“Benjamin Camen, ma’am,” he said, shaking her hand. “This is my assistant, Hiroki Sugoi. Don’t mind him, he’s mostly just here to observe. He’s in training.”
“My name is Brittany Hughes. What can I do for you today?” She seemed to ignore Hiroki entirely, writing him off as irrelevant. Hiroki didn’t go out of his way to change her mind.
“We’re investigating the disappearance of your boss, Samuel Wallace. We were hoping for the opportunity to search his office.”
She sighed and shook her head. “I’ve been told to give you as much access as I’m comfortable with, but I’m afraid I’m not very comfortable with you poking around in his office unsupervised. There are hundreds of files in his office, all of them privileged, and the last thing I want is finding out after you’re gone that while you were here you decided to indulge in some profitable espionage.”
Camen didn’t seem very surprised by this. He stood his ground and shrugged his shoulders. “I need to look for some idea of where Mr. Wallace went. A woman is dead. Either I come in and poke around or the police come in and do it. Your choice.”
Miss Hughes stared at Camen for a long moment and then nodded. “Very well. Come with me. I’ll let you look around, but I want you to do it under my strict supervision.”
The three of them walked passed her desk to the closed door, opening to another, larger room. This was as plush and richly furnished as the first office they were shown, but much bigger. Hiroki scanned the room. There were several large file cabinets in the corner, and along the wall opposite the window was a wall of case files and ledgers and books. Hiroki’s eyes were drawn to the computer, a dark screen sitting off to one side of the desk.
“Your assistant can sit at the desk,” Miss Hughes said by way of explanation. “Mr. Wallace’s computer is protected, and so far the systems guys haven’t been able to reset the password or anything like that, so I’m afraid it won’t be much help.” Hiroki noticed that she didn’t actually sound all that sad about that, but Camen nodded for him to sit in the large leather chair and Hiroki was glad to oblige.
As Camen began to head towards the wall of files and books, Hiroki discreetly pulled two pieces of equipment out of his bag. One was a small, low profile hard drive. The second was a small USB key. He kept them both under the table, where the watchful eye of Miss Hughes couldn’t see. Thankfully, Miss Hughes looked pretty occupied as Camen began to pull the ledgers and notebooks from the wall and flip through them.
“Mr. Camen, you can’t just start going through things like that. What if there’s sensitive information? I said I would help you, but you need to let me know what you want to see and then I’ll determine whether or not that’s an appropriate course of action.”
“I want to see all the things he wrote down. Not the case files, not yet anyway, but the books he kept. His home office was suspiciously devoid of information. If there’s any clue to where he’s gone or why, it has to be here.”
“Well, let’s start one at a time,” she said, taking down the first ledger, glancing at the first page where there was a quickly jotted inventory of what was inside. While she was looking, Hiroki plugged the hard drive and USB key into the computer as discreetly as possible.
Camen flipped through the notebook for a moment, and then handed it back to her. “No good. Give me another one.” As she looked through it, he turned to Hiroki. “I hope you brought something to keep yourself busy.”
Hiroki shrugged his shoulders. “I brought my computer. Thought that maybe I could do some school work. If that’s all right.”
“Miss Hughes, is that all right?” Camen said, pulling out the files on the wall halfway to look at what was written on them. Miss Hughes looked up and situated herself in between Camen and the files as she handed him another notebook.
“I guess that’s all right,” she said absently. “We don’t have wifi here, hopefully you’ll keep yourself busy without the internet.”
“It’s fine, I can use my phone to tether,” Hiroki said, pulling out his laptop and setting it up on the desk. As she was looking away to keep Camen from pulling down more files, he reached over and pressed the power button on both the laptop and the desktop at the same time. The sound of the powering computers was loud, but could easily be accounted for by Hiroki’s laptop looking a little too big to be all that quiet.
Hiroki pulled up the utility on the USB key, connecting to Wallace’s desktop. The program he had installed interrupted the boot sequence, loading a program of his own instead of the original OS. He worked quickly and efficiently, trying to be as unassuming as possible. Thankfully, that’s what he was good at. He quickly set up the program to clone the hard drive off of the desktop onto the one he brought with him.
Once that was set up and running, he tabbed over to the word processor and began to work on one of the papers he had to write for his finals. He didn’t really have to pay much attention to Camen anymore. He would make a lot of noise, maybe find something out despite Miss Hughes’ obvious smokescreen, but the real work was done. He felt proud of himself. Without him, Camen’s job would be a lot harder. It just proved to him how much the detective needed him in his life.
He titled his paper with his name and with the class he was taking, and began to write. There was a murder to solve and a missing man to find, a mystery all around them, but for now all he could do was wait for the platters of data at his feet to spin and for Camen’s act to hold up.
Hiroki could think of worse jobs.