Scene 5: Just some street, Tuen Mun

The area Mingxia disappeared in is a length of street some three hundred yards long. There are houses on both sides, and a smattering of businesses. The end of the road is a junction with CCTV cameras, which according to the file she never reached. There's a general store on the right hand side as you retrace her route, and near the end there's a tarmac area you can drive into with lock-up garages around the edges. Overall, the area is a bit down-market for Tuen Mun.

The street is a no parking zone that sees relatively heavy traffic, so the first order of business is deciding where to park the sedan.

Ming: No parking? No problemo! Heh, this is one of the few perks I REALLY like about this job ...

[i]Ming flips the switch to turn on the car's police lights and siren, and pulls over to the curb. She lets the siren blare for a few seconds, enjoying the chaos it causes in traffic before turning off the noise. She leaves the rotating red and blue lights on, though, when she vaults out of the car.

Ming is on a mission ... find all the local security cameras and confiscate their tapes.[/i]

Huang, from the backseat of the sedan, is looking mildly annoyed.

Huang: The one street she disappears on, and it's a no parking zone. Wonderful. Ming, could you pull us into the parking lot of that general store over there? Because I want to check that place out first.

I don't know if any of the people at the houses and businesses over there saw Mingxia get taken, but they're worth checking out as well. Finally, I want to check out those garages way down there. They should provide just enough privacy for Nic to do his thing, and if you're a sick bastard into kidnapping people, it's a good place to hide someone. We should be able to find something.

Ming (from the sidewalk): Keys are in the ignition, Inspector!

Ming scans the area, noting locations likely to have cameras in place.

(Can I get a list of likely camera locations, Queex?)

Nic steps from the sedan, and allows a few moments for any onlookers to clearly see him standing beside the car, lights flashing, poised with his hand on the car door and staring thoughtfully into the distance. Nic lays his cane on the seat in the car, then he slams the door, and casually walks beside Huang towards the general store.

Nic: Heh heh. That pose should give anybody keeping an eye out for us a good view of my face. I'm still hoping to stir up some leads by letting the kidnappers know we're coming. Maybe they're watching this street.

Nic: Huang, if this is a 24-hour store, somebody musta' saw or heard something. They always do. Why don't you shake down the employees for info, and I'll scope out the store for anything ungrocery-like. Besides, I need a new pack of mints.

Nic strolls into the store, flashing his badge to anyone within sight, and calling out happily:

Nic: Hong Kong police! Everything's ok, just a routine visit. I'm sure you're all going to give us your enthusiastic cooperation.

[i]A bell jingles as Nic enters the shop. His entrance attracts attention, while Huang enters behind him and immediately disappears into the maze of high shelving.

There's an old man behind the counter, presumably the owner, short and balding but with so many horizontal wrinkles on his face it looks like he spends all his time smiling. He's serving a customer, who's dropped in for some cans of beer and some smokes.[/i]

Old Shopkeeper: With you in a minute!

[i]He carefully counts our his customer's change then leans on the counter with his hands and turns the full intensity of his grin on Nic.

Huang picks his way through the shop. Some of the stock is covered with a fine film of dust, and probably out of date, but there's really nothing out of the ordinary. Paper shirts for funerals and cheap and tacky good luck charms seem to be the only remotely supernatural items in stock, and they are nothing out of the ordinary. As Huang turns into a gap between two shelves he comes face to face with a short woman, strikingly like the man behind the counter. In her case, though, all the wrinkles suggest she spends all her time frowning.

Meanwhile, outside, Ming Shi is standing outside the shop, thinking. She remembers the file on Mingxia mentioning the traffic cameras at the junction, and how there wasn't anything suspicious on the tapes for them. It would be worth reviewing them if they get a description of a suspect, but unless CID were slack checking them again without looking for something specific will probably not bear fruit. She does see, however, an old and grubby camera on the shop watching the front entrance.[/i]

Ming enters the shop, finds Huang, and whispers to him about the camera.

Ming (whispering): We need those tapes ... probably in a back room.

Ming looks around for likely locations for the supposed back room.

Huang watches Ming as she looks around for one of the back rooms. He will be joining her shortly. But first...

He turns toward the woman and gives his introduction.

Huang: Inspector Ken Huang, HKPD. How may I help you?

Nic pulls the photo of Sarah and Mingxia out, and slides it across the counter towards the old man.

Nic: Hello, good sir. Nic Bennet, HKPD. A fine establishment you have here. May I ask your name, sir? I hope you can help us. It's very important that you tell me if you've seen either of these two girls lately. If you have, please tell me, when was the last time, what were they doing, and most importantly, where were they?

Nic glances around the counter as he speaks, but then pays close attention to the old man's reactions to the questions.

Nic: Oh, great! I also would like a pack of that ginseng gum right there. That'd be fantastic.

The old man clearly has his own unique priorities. He slowly walks down the counter, takes a pack of gum from the shelf behind him, and slowly walks back before picking up the photo and looking at it. He doesn't respond to the questions, just seems to be taking everything at his own pace.

Old Shopkeeper: This one- (he taps Mingxia's face) she come in some mornings. On way to school. Like I told other police. Sometimes both come in, when they should be at school. Good kids, though, never try to buy cigarettes or alcohol. First one, saw her a week ago, on way to school. Second one, came in four days ago looking for friend. Haven't seen her since.

The old woman stares at Huang with pursed lips. Then, with studied insult, she turns back to a shelf and starts pricing cans of soup with a ticket gun.

Ming Shi, meanwhile, picks her way through the shelves towards the back of the shop. It looks like there are a couple of rooms through a bead curtain behind the counter. There's also a door with a hand-written sign that reads:

Customers only!!

[i]Huang rolls his eyes. This lady's not the most personable one in the bunch, it seems. Probably has to deal with asshole customers all day, and probably isn't crazy about getting bugged about her work. But Huang has never been a big fan of leaving stones unturned during an investigation, and if this lady knows something about Mingxia or what the hell happened to her, he's going to have to work a bit in order to get the info out of her.

Huang tries a different approach this time...[/i]

Huang: Judging from that little ticket gun that you have, I think it's safe to say that you work here. And judging from the way you just turned your back just now, you're not the kind of person who likes dealing with customers, and you probably want me to get out of your sight. I don't like dealing with a lot of people I meet on the job. But when I'm conducting an investigation, especially one involving missing persons, I have to deal with everyone who may be able to contribute something to the investigation, no matter how disagreeable they may be.

Now, my partner Nic is already talking with your boss concerning what he may have seen of Mingxia Thomas four days ago, but you may have seen a few things that he might not have seen. And all that I need from you is any information that you can give me about...anything unusual that happened on that day or any of the preceding days, especially if it involved her or her friend. Once I have that information, I can get out of your hair and you can go about your business again. How does that sound?

Ming feels a sudden urge to use the bathroom ... she glances around, noting that the staff all seems distracted, then ducks behind the curtain.

At mention of the word 'boss', the old woman seems to bristle. She waits for Huang to finish his question, then prices his nose and turns away again.

Behind the curtain, there's a storeroom, a fire escape out the back, some stairs leading to the upper floor, and the aforementioned toilet. The door to the storeroom is open, revealing open boxes of tins and cigarettes. Somewhere, there's a radio playing a popular Cantonese-language station.

Nic slides a small bill over the counter to pay for the gum, along with his business card, and takes the photo back when the shopkeeper is finished looking at it.

Nic: You've been very helpful, sir. I appreciate you taking a minute to speak to me, when other police have already taken up so much of your time. Please use my card to contact me at any time if you should see these girls again, or if you recall any more information.

Nic makes his way through the store, passing Huang and the old woman. He stops in midstride and does a double-take at Huang's nose.

Nic: Three ninety-nine? Hey, that's a good deal for a top-notch police inspector. [size=75]heh heh![/size]

Huang proceeds to peel the price tag off his nose, giving Nic a look that tells him in no uncertain terms that he is so not enjoying this. Nic will have to deal with this lady. But first things first...

Huang: What have you gotten from the guy who owns the place?

Nic stands close to Huang and sighs heavily.

Nic: The old man says both girls come in frequently. Hasn't seen Mingxia Thomas in a week. Sarah, the friend, came in looking for her four days back though, so it sounds like Sarah isn't involved with the disappearance and didn't even know Mingxia was really missing at first.

Nic: I don't think the shopkeep knows anything else. He doesn't give the impression of being deceptive, but I haven't pushed him. If you can think of any more detailed questions for the old man, go chat with him, and I'll try smooth-talking your ladyfriend, here.

Nic motions over his shoulder towards the price-gun woman.

Nic: Ming Shi seems to have vanished, so I'm assuming she's taking care of business in the back. One of us should check with her in a few minutes, see what she's up to.

Nic stops to take a worn plastic chair from beside the counter, and then approaches the woman with the pricing gun. He waits patiently for her to look at him, then slightly bows his head in a deferential manner, setting the chair in the aisle.

Nic: Please, ma'am, you are working far too hard for one of your demure nature! Take a moment to sit. It must be difficult taking care of this shop, doing all the work without much help. Can I get you something? Would you like a water, or a juice? Perhaps a moist cloth to wipe your hands?

[i]Huang listens to Nic give his speech to the price-gun lady and gives a look to him that says "good luck." Judging by how this lady's treated Huang, Nic'll probably be covered in price tags or the target of a tirade by the time he gets back. But at the same time, Nic's revelation that Mingxia hadn't been seen for a week worries Huang. That means that Mingxia's likely been missing for at least three days before the report even came in, and that poor Sarah was probably the one who phoned it in to begin with. This is not good.

Huang heads toward the counter to get some more detailed info out of this shopkeeper. Once he's done that, provided that Nic had more luck with the price-gun lady than he did, he's heading off to the back to check on Ming.[/i]

The old woman glances at Nic briefly, pausing in her pricing work, then folds her arms and replies in Cantonese.

Old Woman: I'm old enough that that kind of flattery won't work on me, but not so old and feeble that I need to sit down every five minutes. We've already told the police everything we could think of; do you think we'd hold anything back when a child had gone missing?

Her frown deepens.

At the counter, Huang is going over old ground with the shopkeeper. Despite his winning smile, the old guy doesn't have anything interesting to impart. As he parrots what he's said before, Huang finds his attention wandering, and he notices a small photograph in a grimy frame hung behind the counter. In it, the shopkeeper and the old woman, obviously many years younger, are stood with their arms round each other with a girl in front of them, who looks to be about 8.

[i]As Huang stares at the old photo, his curiosity gets the better of him. He doesn't like to pry into people's private matters unless it's important to an investigation, as it tends to lead to a lot of hurt feelings. But still...

Huang stops his talking and turns the shopkeeper's attention to the photograph.[/i]

Huang: Sir...who is she? That kid in the picture?

Nic smiles at the old woman. He responds in his best Cantonese, which is passable.

Nic: The flattery was sincere, ma'am. I just thought you might like to sit for a moment while we talk. And I certainly don't believe you'd intentionally hold anything back from the police, no. It's just that sometimes the detectives are in a hurry the first time around, and sometimes after a few days, witnesses start remembering things that they didn't think were important when they were first interviewed. You understand that when a little girl's life is at stake, we need to be as careful and thorough as possible. I'm just trying to find out if you or your husband recall any new information, or have anything to tell me that you maybe didn't mention to the first investigating team. Anything at all may be helpful.

Nic steps back from the woman, wary of the hovering price gun.

Nic: Please just don't hesitate to contact us if you think of something, or see something unusual, that's all. I'll leave you alone now to your work.

Relieved to come out of the encounter without "sale" stickers plastered to his body, Nic sighs and heads towards the back of the store, where he last saw Ming Shi wandering.

Nic: (to himself) : Man, it's never jaywalking, or shoplifting. It's always, 'Random girl vanished, possible demonic involvement, no one saw anything...' Geesh!