‘But nothing. You think Dia would testify? You think Dia would be alive to testify?’
She had a point — more than one. I held my hands over my face, seeking guidance from somewhere. I opened my fingers and glanced up at her office walls; walls that were like cell bars to me.
She hit me with another blow. ‘And when you reveal all to Mr. Lo — without any physical evidence to back it up — how much would your life be worth?’
Maybe that was what Wang waited for — to find out if I knew too much. I couldn’t get a handle on Wang. Seemed like he held my fate in his hands, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
‘I could turn myself in. Tell the cops what I’ve got ... and pray.’
Janet punched my arm. ‘You expect five-star attention, mister, think again.’
I jumped up from my chair. ‘TV news ... Kay ... there’s a link ... I know it.’
I raced into the living room and switched on the tv. Tuned into the local news and waited for the story to come up. An anchorman read the bit I’d heard before — a kitchen fire in the King’s Royal Palace Hotel was under control. Management denied arson. Normal service was expected soon.
I grabbed hold of Janet’s arm. ‘What did Kay say? Kandoo supplied five-star hotels with Asian women. What if these women were Lo’s illegals? What if the fire was deliberate? What if...?
Janet laughed. ‘Conspiracy theory ... But if we hit upon some disillusioned women? ... Then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be willing to finger Lo.’
I jumped up. Remembered what the big fella had said. ‘Only one way to find out.’
On the way over to the hotel, I called Smokin’ Joe and gave him an update on our Kandoo visit.
‘Hey, brah, it’s worth a shot,’ he said. ‘You want me on standby?’
‘I’ll check in, same as before. Okay?’
‘Okay ... and take care of Missy Janet. We’re in pretty deep with the bad guys.’
As if I needed reminding, but the big fella was right. I needed to tiptoe around with my questions, not go at it like a heat-seeking missile.
‘Copied,’ I said, and disconnected.
I knew my luck was in when Billy greeted us at the hotel entrance. No sign of any fire trucks, no signs of damage. Everything seemed normal.
‘Mr. Miller, how good to see you again.’
He remembered my alibi, but seemed surprised I had a woman with me.
‘Business,’ I said — then regretted it. Janet meant anything but business to me, but I needed Billy’s help. I caught hold of his arm and took him to one side, showed him my badge and my roll of Franklins. I peeled off a couple and tucked them in his top pocket. ‘Billy, it’s sensitive. What can you tell me about the kitchen fire?’
He looked at Janet, who had glided up alongside, but I nodded. ‘She’s with me on this ... strictly off the record.’
‘Follow me, Mr. Miller,’ he said, motioning to one of the other bellhops to valet Janet’s Mini.
I didn’t think he was going to give us a guided tour of the kitchens, and I was right. We found ourselves back in the room with a john on the eighth floor, and a suicide view over the parking lot. Billy kept looking at his watch while he gave us the lowdown. I could sense he didn’t want to be there, but my Franklins talked.
‘Couple of crazy women in the noodle kitchen attacked the chef ... cleavers or choppers, so I heard. Next thing, woks full of boiling oil caught fire ... Nobody knows exactly what happened, but it sure made a mess of the place.’
I glanced at Janet, and she nodded.
I came straight to the point. ‘What happened to the women?’
Billy leaned forward. ‘You haven’t heard it from me. Asians with fake ID’s ... Management hushed it up ... laid them off, with a month’s pay.’
‘And the chef?’
‘Snake Eyes. He’s still here.’
‘Sure ...he’s Chinese. Gambles.’
Janet put a hand on my arm and butted in. ‘Do you know where the women went?’
‘Maybe,’ said Billy. He looked at me expectantly, like a puppy waiting for a treat. I gave him another bill.
He slid it into his top pocket. ‘Our Asians hang out at Charlie Yang’s guesthouse, a few blocks from here.’
‘You’ve been a great help, Billy,’ Janet said. ‘Can we take a look at the kitchens?’
Billy got up, opened the closet door. ‘Coveralls in here, but I haven’t told you anything. I gotta go.’
Janet gave me a look. After Billy left, I guessed what was coming.
‘We split up, huh?’
‘A woman thing,’ she said. ‘Better if I talk to them. And Billy’s got a loose tongue ... we need to move fast. You take the chef. Then stay here until I call you.’
I was feeling hungry, anyway ... and an early dinner for a workman appealed right then. I’d get talking to Snake Eyes afterwards, see if I could get a handle on things from his point of view.
I felt good. Everything was going smoothly. I gave Janet a high five.
‘I think we’ve cracked it,’ I said.