Two: The
Search for Truth

While we waited, I rifled the corpse’s pockets. He didn’t
have much: a wallet marked with an old condom ring and stuffed with a dozen
credit cards and ID, a separate money clip with what looked like a couple
thousand dollars, keys with a flash drive on the key ring, a folded slip of
paper, and a packet of mayonnaise. I took the paper and the flash drive and put
the rest back.

"Here." I handed her the flash drive. "Me
and computers, we don’t get along so well." I unfolded the plain white
paper. On it some crabbed notes were scribbled. I squinted to decipher them.

  • 1734
  • "Veritas"
  • Pickup American under knee

1734 was Ann’s room number. That was pretty simple.
Clearly Ann knew what Veritas was. The money looked like a payoff. But the last
line–that was a mystery.

"Oh my god." Ann leaned over my shoulder.
"Who taught him how to write?" She exhaled. "Okay–my room
number, Veritas–a knee? Am I reading that right?"

I shrugged. "That’s what I read too."

She frowned. "Well, you’re doing better than I am.
This flash drive’s empty."

"Fatso was going to copy something from your
computer, maybe."

She had a careful look on her face. "Yeah, maybe he was trying to copy

Her tone made me suspicious. "So spill–what’s Veritas?"

Her mouth tightened. "If I told you, I’d have to
kill you."

"Very funny. I need to know."

"No, you just need to get rid of the body." She
sighed. "Look, if I tell you, I’m putting you in a lot more danger. You’re
better off not knowing."

Someone pounded on the door. "That’ll be our
delivery." I looked at her once again. My inner knight was coming out–the fellow who always got me in trouble with the dames. "Fine. But the
second I smell trouble, you gotta level with me. If I’m going to get killed, at
least let me know why."

She snorted. "You’re not going to get killed."

The visitor knocked again. "I’m coming, I’m coming!"

Hastily, I moved the desk chair to conceal the corpse’s
feet and sat down, arranging my coat for concealment. Just in time, too. The door flew open, and a very large box
rolled in on a heavy-duty dolly. Peering around the box were the bright eyes of
my former lady love, looking fetching in her brown delivery uniform. She
blinked several times when she saw Ann. "Wow, aren’t you–"

"Ann." The dame stretched out her hand. Vanessa divested her right hand from the
dolly and shook weakly. Ann smiled at
Vanessa. "So, you know Mr. Hammer,

Vanessa smiled uncomfortably. "Uh, yeah, he needed this." She glared at me. She wasn’t jealous anymore, she was
protective–and it wasn’t of me.

"Please, just right here?" Ann motioned toward the end of the bed.

As Vanessa rolled the dolly forward, she glared at me
with that "what have you gotten yourself into, and am I going to have to bail
you out?" look. I leaned back, keeping
my grinning mug between her and the stiff.

"Perfect!" Ann pulled a twenty out of her
pocket and shoved it toward Vanessa, who shook her head.

"Ms.–Ann, if you’re involved with him, you’ll
need that more than I do. I just want out of here." She got to the door
and hesitated. "But–maybe a copy of your book?" She looked away

One signature later, the door shut behind her. I breathed again. "We need to get
moving. What was with all the schmoozing and stuff, anyway? I could have taken
the book to her."

"Hey, my fans are my livelihood. Besides, it annoyed

"Oh, okay. I see how it is." She was already
moving the box to the back of the room. "Ah, cripes, we should have put
the stiff on the bed."

"Are you kidding? I have to sleep there." Fair
enough. With a good deal of heaving and rolling, we managed to bundle the body
in three layers of bubble wrap. I laid the box on its side and we rolled him
into his Chicago overcoat.

Ann looked at it. "Rest in peace, you old SOB."

"I guess you don’t want to say words over him,

She glared. "Come on. We can’t take all night."

Together, we rolled the box onto the loading strap
attached to the dolly, and I jacked it into place. Something shifted inside,
but Ann ignored it. "So. Now what?"

"Ah." My clever plan had not gotten this far.
"The. . . service elevator!"

"Which is. . .?"

I glanced at the fire escape map. "Ah–end of the
hall, behind the ice machine." I looked at the box. The elevator was a
long way off, and I heard conventioneers passing periodically. "Might need
to wait."

"With a dead body in my room?"

"We can’t make a clean sneak with that thing,
sister!" I jerked my head at the box.

Ann shushed me. "Hold on, I’m thinking." She
picked up the phone. "Someone else was here when I was gone." She
motioned toward the open bathroom door. There were fresh towels on the rack.


One call to housekeeping and a half dozen questions
later, Ann had cracked the hotel maid who cleaned her room. "They promise
me help, you know? My sister need help getting here from Shanghai so she does
not die working in factory, and they promise her a job with the missy–"

"Wait. Who was the missy?"

"She was old, very very old. But perfect makeup,
perfect hair. The dress was, what do you call, designer? Very expensive. Her
face look pressed."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"You know, like we do with sheets." She mimed

"Oh," Ann said. "Ironed." Then she
blinked in surprise. "It can’t be. Impossible."

I turned back to the maid. "Did they both go

"Yes, yes, him first."

"Anything else?"

"Um. They were talking. He said something about
spreading the truth. She did not like that."

"I bet," said Ann.

"Is that all? Can I go?"

Ann pulled out a card. "In a minute. First, listen,
these people won’t help you, not one bit. In fact, letting them in my room was
a felony. Not only could you lose your job, you could go to jail or back to
China." The maid sucked in her breath, clearly frightened. "But I’ll
help you. If you don’t tell anyone about any of this. Do you understand?"
She nodded.

Circling her phone number, Ann handed the card to the
maid. "What’s your name?"

"Wu Shengyi."

"Call this number in three days. You’ll get help.
But I need one more thing." Shengyi nodded eagerly. "I need a laundry
hamper. The biggest one you can bring through the halls. And I need access to
the service elevator."

Half an hour later, we had disposed of the body. The
laundry was conveniently close to the hotel’s large trash receptacles. I nearly
threw my back out, but the fat man had found his temporary resting place until
his ultimate rendezvous with that great landfill in the sky.

Now we just had to figure out what the knee was.


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