Category: Slash/ angst/ h/c/AU.
Word Count: ~41,000
Characters: Sheppard, McKay, and a bunch of others
Spoilers: This is an AU so it doesn't spoil anything, but if you pay attention, you'll catch reference to canon items.
A/N: This is total AU, set on Earth in the 1940s. But don't be turned off by that because I think you'll find the boys are much closer to their Atlantis selves than you might think. Also, the fic is complete and the last half is being beta'd so I hope to have the rest posted before the end of the week. Thanks, as always, to my betas Koschka and kodiak_bear
Summary: Detective John Sheppard and criminologist Dr. Rodney McKay thought they were just investigating another murder that rainy,Seattle night in 1940. They couldn't have been farther from the truth.
The Pegasus Device
Not exactly where I pictured myself ending up, but the past ten years the world had been a picture painted by a madman using one big brush that seemed to color everything with bad luck and despair. The bottom had dropped out of the market and what little folks had in my east Texas hometown soon dropped a little more. Then the crops dried up. Hell, everything dried up and most of Texas blew into Arkansas before the winds finally stopped. The black blizzards that swirled through the early thirties left their fair share of dirt a little closer to home, filling the houses, the barns, the cars… my mother’s lungs, and she died coughing in her bed in 1934.
By then I was a cop. No big city detective like I was now, just a simple small-town deputy on my dad’s force. Sheriff Sheppard was known and loved in our town, just as his father, Sheriff Sheppard, had been, and just as it was assumed one day I would be, if I could ever live up to the legacy that had been played out before me. But the fertile topsoil wasn’t the only thing that left during the dust storms; the people did, too. And after Mom died, my dad wasn’t far behind. Oh, his body hung around all right, but that part of him that the town knew and loved died right along with my mom and no one, not even me, especially me, could find it again.
So, I left and went in search of something I hadn’t seen in years.
Seattle had it in spades─ dripping down the gutter pipes, filling the Sound, washing away thirty-five years of grit and despair that had taken up permanent residence under my nails and other places a lot more inaccessible. There seemed to be water everywhere, and that was just fine by me. After a lifetime of sunshine illuminating everything that was wrong with me in my father’s eyes, I was ready for a little dark. Which was why I took the night beat when I made detective the year after arriving in Seattle.
Besides, nobody gets themselves murdered during the day.
And I seemed to have a knack for solving murders. I’d learned under one of the best. Jack O’Neill had the knack, too, and he taught me one of the most important things I’d ever learned… nobody can do it alone. You can take the lead, take the occasional personal risk, but you need a good team backing you up or you’re up shit creek without a paddle. That’s why I wasn’t upset about being assigned a new partner. Jack had retired a month before. Gone fishing. I never understood the fascination, but if it made O’Neill happy, then good for him. Me, I had a good twenty years left to catch the bad guys and put them away and if I was going to do that, I needed a partner and that’s just what I was getting.
“Ronon Dex,” the big guy told me as he held out his hand. And by big, I mean big. I was surprised he hadn’t scraped his head on the door frame coming into Chief Landry’s office. And I eyed the massive hand he was offering with a bit of apprehension that I might not ever get mine back.
But I was the senior officer here.
“Ronon? What the hell kind of name is that?” I ignored the hand for the time being. This was a test.
“Mine.” The hand stayed right where it was and the brown eyes measured me as much I was measuring him. His eyes were just a shade darker than his trench coat, and his suit under that was a shade lighter still. Me, I preferred black. But, to each his own, I supposed.
I took the hand and shook firmly. “John Sheppard.” And surprise, surprise, my own hand came back.
“Good, you two have met.” Landry bustled through the door and moved to sit behind his desk with barely a glance at the two of us. “Now, get the hell out of my office.”
“Sir?” But I was already standing. If I’d learned nothing else in my father’s home, it was that you respected authority… usually.
“Dex just transferred in from Omaha.” Evidently deciding that was all I needed to know, he looked up and handed me a piece of paper with an address on it.
I lifted my eyebrows and gave my new partner a disbelieving once over. “Ronon Dex from Omaha?”
Before he could answer, Landry waved his hands to both chase us from his office and indicate the paper. “You can get to know each other in the car. You two have a stiff to check out.”
* * * *
The address was down town in an alley between two office buildings and the surrounding area was pretty much empty of people at this hour except for a couple of smaller restaurants on the adjacent block. By the time we arrived, the uniforms had the area roped off and the lab boys were already there.
“All right, who’s the Wisenheimer who’s been messing with my head? Because when I find out the moron who tampered with my evidence, I’ll have your badge before you can say ‘disgraced career’.”
That would be Dr. Rodney McKay. Loud, brazen, grating, annoying as hell, smartest man I’d ever met… smartest man he’d ever met, too, and the type of guy that would tell you just that. I’d worked with him for over four years now. He was the reason it had been so easy to take the night shift. No one else wanted to work with him even if he was the best crime scientist around. I wouldn’t work with anyone else.
“Should I start making a list, rounding up the usual suspects, McKay?” My drawl had him looking up from the severed head he was studying… the head that rested a couple of feet from the accompanying body that still gripped a gun in its hand.
“Ah, Sheppard, it’s about time you got here. I was afraid you’d taken another shortcut through the secretarial pool and found yourself distracted by the peek of an exposed garter again.” Blue eyes flicked to Ronon. “Who’s the brick wall?”
“Ronon Dex,” he introduced, once again offering his hand. I almost laughed at the attempt. You didn’t make friends with Rodney. He either accepted you as someone worthy of his attention, a necessary annoyance, or ignored you completely.
“My new partner,” I supplied, trying to throw the kid a bone. For some reason, I’d been accepted from the get go. Although with Rodney, it could be kind of hard to tell.
Turning his attention back to the head, McKay asked distractedly. “Ronon? What the hell kind of name is that?”
“His,” I supplied with a grin into my paper cup of coffee. Ronon straightened when he realized he’d been dismissed and seemed to be considering if he even wanted to try again. “And he’s from Omaha.”
“Omaha?” Rodney demanded. “Do they even have cops in Nebraska? What did you do, catch cattle rustlers?” A quick glance back had the scientist observing, “Although it looks like you’ve eaten your fair share of them.”
A drop fell into my cup and I looked up, knowing we were in store for another downpour.
McKay followed my gaze. “Oh, fuck. Grodin! Get the photos of the splatter marks before they wash away! Simpson! Cover the body so we don’t lose any fibers!”
Rodney’s team flew into motion and he moved to stand next to me when I asked, “So, who’s our Ichabod?”
“A literary reference; I’m shocked, Detective. I didn’t know you owned a book except for the one you use to keep your desk from wobbling.”
I shrugged good-naturedly. “Two, actually. War and Peace was too thick… my pencils kept rolling off the edge when I put them down… I had to find something thinner. So, have we got a name yet?”
“I haven’t let anyone touch the body until I get everything I need. Although, by necessity, it looks like we might be at that point.” He pulled up the collar of his overcoat to keep the pending water from running down his neck.
“Mind if I do the honors?” I asked, pushing my hat back with a hitch of my head toward the body.
He just pulled his hat down farther in an attempt to keep the raindrops off his glasses. “Once Grodin finishes the photos, help yourself.”
I tried for another sip of my coffee but had the cup taken immediately from my hand by one covered with a myriad of band aids.
“Oh, thank God.” McKay took a deep swallow. “I had to leave the office before I ate lunch to try to beat the rain.” He gave an irritated glare up into the night sky that it would dare to ruin his crime scene. “For all the fucking good it did me.”
Reaching in my own coat pocket, I pulled out the secret weapon… a Baby Ruth bar. Eyes lit up behind the wire-rims. He’d finally broken down and got the eye glasses the year before. The glasses, the band aides, the chronic back complaints, all of it was from doing what he loved best─ analyzing the evidence. Low light, a dozen file cabinets worth of reports, and hunching over microscopes had led to near-sightedness, ever present paper cuts, and a crick that just wouldn’t go away. But it also led to the highest conviction rate in the country. So, if I felt the need to occasionally thank him for all his effort with a candy bar, so be it.
That didn’t mean I couldn’t use it to my advantage now and again.
I pulled it just out of his reach. “Only if you play nice and introduce yourself to Ronon.” When he just frowned at the large man who was squatting, but, most definitely, not touching the head, I added. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of him. You might as well at least be civil.”
The frown deepened as he turned it on me, but he snatched the candy and went to stand behind Ronon as the rain turned into a slow drizzle. “Dr. Rodney McKay,” he stated, already biting into the Baby Ruth.
When he didn’t offer a hand, Ronon simply nodded. “Nice to meet you.”
But Rodney was already yelling at someone else. “You, policeman standing beside the body, go loiter somewhere else. Your shadows are screwing up the photographs. Grodin, the head, the camera, go. If we don’t document it all now, we won’t have enough to convict the chopper even if you photographed him doing it. Simpson, bag the goddamn gun before the rain really starts coming down. Christ, you people know what a pain in the ass Weir in the DAs office can be.”
There’s a saying I’ve heard a lot… it’s not really a crime unless you get caught. It’s a motto that I tried to provide the caveat for every day of my career. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not really a crime unless Weir decides there’s enough evidence to go to trial. And that was the caveat McKay spent his life trying to overcome.
Ronon moved to stand next to me and asked under his breath, “Is he always like this?”
“No,” I admitted. “You caught him on a good night.”
The big guy grimaced at the thought of what a bad night might be like. “He must be good then.”
“Not good, the best,” I corrected. “Luke May hand picked him for his lab.”
“No shit? May himself?”
I grinned. Evidently Dex kept up with his True Detective subscription. Luke May was the foremost criminologist around. He was known as the Sherlock Holmes of America, had worked on almost every high profile crime scene in the country, and had started the crime lab contracted by the Seattle police department over twenty years ago. He’d also helped the Royal Canadian Mounties set up their own lab several years back and that’s where he’d recruited McKay.
“Yep, brought him down here from Canada.”
“He’s Canadian and working here in the States?”
“Had to get my foot in the door somehow,” Rodney grumbled as he came to look over my shoulder while I squatted by the body now that the photos were finished.
“For what? Citizenship?”
Ronon’s question had Rodney sputtering. “Ha! You people wish. I’m waiting for the feds to smarten up and ask me to join the team building the atom bomb.”
I rolled my eyes even as I lifted the lapel of the stiff to find his wallet. “McKay, there’s no secret mission to build a bomb.”
“We’re at war, Sheppard,” he insisted. “Of course there’s a secret weapons program.”
“Canada’s at war, Rodney. Uncle Sam’s decided to stay out of the mess.”
“Patience, Detective. Patience.”
It had been a little over nine months since Hitler had invaded Poland, and while Canada declared war on Germany the next day, the U. S. of A was keeping her nose clean. Not that I minded, let the neighbors clean up their own backyard, I say. But it just felt… off to me. Maybe it was McKay’s national pride, maybe it was the way he kept insisting there was some secret military project, maybe it was the news reports that were coming out of occupied Europe and rumors of ethnic groups being rounded up and segregated, maybe it was just a feeling in my gut that McKay was right and it was just a matter of time before we were all ass deep in a fox hole.
“Do they need someone to lift fingerprints off this bomb they’re building?” Ronon asked with a humored twist of his lips and I did my best not to wince because I knew Rodney wasn’t going to take well to that sort of comment.
“No, they need a brilliant physicist. It’s the Seattle PD that seems to need someone to help remove their heads out of their collective asses. I just happen to fulfill both roles. Now, as much as I appreciate how you’re making a nice wind break for me, Detective Dex, you’d help the case out a lot more if you can find the sword that removed that head from this body.”
“Sword?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, sword. Given the angle, the clean cut, and the pattern of blood, the head came off as a result of one fell swoop of a very sharp blade. That sounds like a sword to me.”
Ronon lifted an eyebrow suggesting he was having as much trouble as I was in buying the sword theory. I mean, let’s face it, it was 1940. It’s not like there were a lot of swordsmen running around in this day and age.
But he was smart enough to realize Rodney wasn’t in the mood for an argument, so he stood and straightened his fedora. “One sword, coming up.”
When Ronon had left on his assigned task, McKay grumbled at my shoulder, “You need to enlighten your gorilla, Sheppard.”
“It’s his first day. Even I took more than a day for you to like me.”
He checked his watch. “We’ve passed four years and I still don’t think I can say I like you. Tolerate, maybe. Gotten used to.”
“Stop it, Rodney, I’m getting choked up here.” I flipped the wallet open and found the driver’s license. “James Frasier. There’s a University I.D., as well.”
“Huh, no wonder he looked so familiar.”
“You know this guy?” I wasn’t sure that was a lucky break or something to be concerned about. People that knew people outlined in chalk sometimes ended up outlined themselves.
“I’ve met him. The lab consulted with him and his research partner… Scottish guy…” Fingers snapped as best they could with the bandages as McKay fought through the clutter of information in his brain to recall the name. “… Beckett. Cameron…Carter…Carson!
I pulled out my notepad and wrote the name. “What sort of research?”
“Genetics.” When I simply gave him a blank look he continued to explain, no doubt dumbing it down to my level. “They’re working on finding markers in the blood, to account for how certain traits that are hereditary…passed on from parent to child… actually work. But in order to do that, they have to isolate the markers in the first place. Luke thought we might be able to take advantage of some of their findings and apply them to investigations.”
Rodney bobbled his head. “They’re making progress, but the isolation techniques aren’t exactly conducive to our lab setup… too much prep cost for the return on the investment.”
“So, this Beckett, did he seem the type to carry a grudge against his fellow researcher? Or for that matter, did he seem the type to carry around a sword?”
“Well, he didn’t have a Highland broadsword strapped under his lab coat, if that’s what you mean, and they seemed to be getting along fine when I saw them. Besides, Fraiser’s about your height…”
“I’d say he’s about a head shorter.” My grin was met with a roll of McKay’s eyes and he ignored my joke.
“Beckett’s close to the same height, maybe an inch or two shorter. But whoever killed Fraiser, given the angle of the slice, is a good six inches shorter.”
The sky opened up then, the rain coming down in icy sheets. Rodney pulled his coat tighter around him and hunched his shoulders and I found myself doing the same after I put away my pad. McKay was already twirling his hands in the air to gain the crowds attention. “All right, people, bag him up. Let’s go. This shindig is officially over thanks to Mother Nature.”
As McKay oversaw the cleanup, I heard Ronon call out, “Hey, Sheppard, you need to see this.”
Joining the large man over by a cluster of overflowing garbage cans, I could see by the way he was wiping his hand on his handkerchief and standing up to his ankles in trash that he had been rummaging through the refuse. He simply pointed and my eyes widened when they followed where Dex was indicating.
“Son of a bitch.” With a shake of my head, I admitted, “Maybe he’s right about the goddamn bomb, too.” Then I turned and yelled to be heard over the pounding rain.
“McKay, get over here!”
He trudged irritably to where we stood, declaring as soon as he was within speaking range without having to shout, “I’m a little busy here, Sheppard. So this better be…” I pointed just as Ronon had and the ire turned to awe. “Hello, gorgeous.”
Rodney slapped away Ronon’s hand that was reaching for the leather-wrapped hilt sticking up out of the trashcan closest to the wall. “Grodin! Get your ass and your camera over here!” The silk tassel was soaking wet and stained with blood, but there was no denying we’d just found a goddamn samurai sword shoved in a pile of garbage.
* * * *
A few hours later, Ronon and I stopped by McKay’s lab to find the scientist dusting the sword for fingerprints.
“Any luck with the leather hilt?” I walked up behind him and peeked over his shoulder.
“Leather is notoriously bad for retaining prints,” he pointed out without glancing back. “It’s like taking a print from your skin. But this is even worse. It’s shark skin.”
He shrugged. “It’s tough, has a texture to ensure the grip, and traditional. Which means this isn’t some tourist trinket. It’s the real deal.”
I asked with little hope, “And the blade?”
“Clean,” he informed me. “Although the markings might be distinctive enough to identify the killer.” He tilted the blade to reveal Asian characters etched into the metal. “Or it might say ‘Eat at Royal Dragon House’ for all I know.” Looking up from his work with the feathery brush and powder, he saw Ronon peering curiously at one of the microscopes. “Don’t touch that. You’ll have to rustle a few head of cattle yourself to pay for it if you break it.”
Ronon held his hands up before stuffing them in his pockets to show he had no intention of touching something he shouldn’t but continued to study the equipment anyway.
“Are the photos of the sword ready? I’m going to need them to show around. If it’s authentic that means the best place to start is Japanese town”
“Grodin’s developing them now.” Satisfied that Dex wasn’t going to touch anything, Rodney turned back to his work waving a hand over his shoulder. “Oh, Sheppard, while you’re here, do me a favor and fire the gun into the ballistics chamber.”
I shook my head, exasperated by the request. “Rodney, when are you going to learn to do this yourself? You work around guns all the time. Hell, you can practically disassemble and reassemble one in your sleep. You shouldn’t be afraid of them. If you’d just let me show you how to handle one when it’s loaded then you wouldn’t be so uncomfortable with them.”
It was an old argument, one we’d had ongoing since we met. And every time we had it, I’d offered to teach him how to shoot. And every time he’d refused the offer.
“I’m not afraid of them,” he insisted. “It’s just a line I’ve drawn for myself that I won’t cross. I’m not a cop. I’m not a criminal. I shouldn’t have to fire a goddamn gun.”
“Your way of separating yourself from the animals, huh?” I took the gun and loaded a single bullet into the revolver’s chamber.
“More or less,” he agreed.
Ronon straightened and turned his curiosity on McKay. “So what’ve you got against guns? One could save your life.”
“And in the process, take another. That’s not exactly something I’m willing to do.”
“What do you think this super secret bomb is going to do, Rodney?” I challenged.
He lifted his chin and rocked back on his heels. “That’s war, Sheppard. That’s an entirely different animal to become.”
Placing the barrel of the gun into the drum, I shook my head. “I swear to God, McKay, I’ll never understand how someone can be so logical and still make absolutely no sense whatsoever.” And then I fired the gun.
“I’m sorry if my sense of morality is beyond your ability to grasp.”
“What’s beyond my grasp is the level of stubbornness one man can possess without growing a tail and braying.” I checked the gun to make sure it was unloaded.
Arms crossed across his lab coat and he snarled back, “You don’t have to live with the consequences of my actions, Detective. I do.”
“No, I’d just have to live with the fact that you’re dead.” I shoved the gun back into McKay’s hands and turned irritably toward the door, ignoring the way his mouth opened and closed in one of the few times he didn’t have a snappy comeback to something I’d said. “Send the photos down to me when they’re ready.”
I didn’t look back. Instead I stalked deliberately and directly out of the lab and down the hall toward the stairwell that would lead downstairs to my desk that sat three stories below the most conceited, self-righteous son of a bitch that had ever drawn breath. Consequences my ass. He had no clue about consequences. No goddamn clue. Who the hell did he think he was that he could take that holier than shit attitude and think that his personal moral agenda was more important than… than… fuck, than me.
I slowed my pace as I realized why I was so angry with McKay. I’d lost people in the past. Hell, who hadn’t? But some people… whether I wanted to admit it or not… some people meant more than others. And just the thought of that person, of him, not being there, even if it was just to annoy the living shit out of me, was more than I could wrap my mind around.
Ronon used my slowdown to catch up to me. “He really knows how to push your buttons, doesn’t he?”
“I think that’s what he’s got one of his degrees in.” When Ronon grinned, I warned him, “Give him time, big guy, he’ll find yours, too.”
“Who said I have buttons to push?”
“Everybody has buttons,” I countered as I started down the steps, my voice echoing off the walls, competing with the sound of our footfalls in the stairwell. “Some of them just aren’t as shiny and red as others.”
It was almost dawn by the time the photographs showed up with a note written in McKay’s small, tight script paper-clipped to them. Tatsuo Ishikawa, Ancestral Antiquities, Main and 5th. If he can’t help you, check out a Japanese dictionary from the library and I’ll translate it tonight. R McK..
Evidently I wasn’t the only one still steaming from our confrontation since he’d obviously dismissed our typical end of shift breakfast at The Commissary Diner. Fine, whatever floated his boat. That just meant I could check out this Ishikawa character when his shop opened first thing in the morning.
Japanese town covered about a four-block area along Main Street. A few years back, the Japanese community had been booming, immigrants pouring into Seattle. But when the hard times started and jobs became scarce, a good third of them skedaddled in search of a new life. What were left were a few thousand of the hard core, the lucky, and those that catered to the folks with money.
Ronon and I parked the car and walked the block over to where the shop was located, stepping across puddles from the previous night’s rain. The sun was cutting through the clouds that morning, glaring blindingly off the small pools of standing water and causing me to squint as I tried to find the shop. To be honest, I wasn’t what you’d call a morning person. The sunlight seemed almost garishly bright when it wasn’t being smothered by low-lying clouds and it just drew attention to everything that I really didn’t care much about… housewives gathering the milk off the stoop, paperboys tossing the daily news, businessmen heading into the office for another day of the same old same old… a normal life. Something I was working to provide to every one of these poor schmoes but, by the very fact of that undertaking, I could never have for myself. Eh, it was the nature of the business and since I was all business, I’d taken it as my nature in turn.
The shop sat halfway down the block between a market and a dentist office. The only word in English was Antiquities over the canopy but seeing as it was the only shop that came close to what we were looking for, it had to be the right place. Ronon leaned casually against the wall, watching as the woman from the market set out produce in front of her shop. Her smile was wary but warmed when my partner tipped his hat with a friendly curl of his lips and helped her with a box of apples.
“Tatsuo Ishikawa?” he asked, pointing toward the window of the shop. “Does he work here?”
She nodded enthusiastically, smiling and chattering off a string of Japanese that neither of us understood. I found myself grinning as Ronon did his best to appear to be listening, occasionally asking a clarifying question, and found himself moving a box of green beans, as well. I stayed clear of the woman and the tasks she was assigning, instead looking around at the various notices posted on light poles and windows. There was one with a sketch of a young woman, Japanese characters, and $5000 directly under the picture. A reward poster, a missing person poster, or both. Looking around, I saw that most of the windows up and down the street had the same notice. Evidently a local girl then.
I turned my attention back to Ronon who was being chastised for something by the grocer and almost didn’t notice the middle-aged man in the pinstriped suit, dark hair salted with grey, who had arrived to unlock the door to the antique shop.
At my inquiry, he nodded. “Yes, may I be of assistance to you?” His English was heavily accented but clear and I pulled my badge to introduce myself.
“Detective John Sheppard, Seattle PD, homicide. This is my partner, Detective Ronon Dex.”
“Homicide?” he asked in alarm. “There has been a murder nearby?”
“No, not here. But we’re hoping you might be able to help us with some information about the murder weapon.” I pulled the photographs out and showed him. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a sword, would you?”
His eyes narrowed as he studied it and he ushered us inside when the neighbor started getting nosey. “Please, come in. We can speak in here.”
The inside of the shop was small and cluttered with a variety of furniture, vases, statues, and jewelry. Ishikawa excused himself to remove his hat and coat in the back office and Ronon moved almost immediately to the display of knives and swords on the far wall. Even from where I stood, I could tell the ones for sale here were rip-offs. The metal didn’t gleam in the same way, the wrapping of the hilt wasn’t as precise, and the guards were much simpler in design. But Dex evidently found a blade that was of interest to him. He picked up the switchblade, turned it from side to side, then with a movement too quick for the eye, he had it opened and admiring the blade. Then with a movement the opposite of what he had done before, it was closed and out of sight. It wasn’t until he reached into his pocket and pulled it out again to give it an appreciative nod of his head that I realized where he had put it.
“Where did you find this sword?” Ishikawa asked when he returned from the back.
“At a murder scene downtown. It was used to chop off a man’s head.”
I could almost see the denial forming on his lips, that it was impossible that this sword could have been used for such a thing. But he recovered quickly, shaking his head. “I am sorry, Detective. It is not from my shop.”
“Do you know where it would have come from? Who it might belong to?”
“No, I am sorry. I cannot help you.”
He might not be able to help us, but it wasn’t from lack of knowing just who the hell it belonged to. Ignoring the dismissal, I pointed to the photo with the close up of the markings. “Can you at least tell me what these say?”
He looked closer, squinting slightly before telling me, “It appears to be a dedication or perhaps a blessing. That was common in the old days when a sword was presented to an honored samurai that had found glory on the battlefield.”
“So this sword is that old?” Ronon asked as he came to stand beside me.
He laughed lightly. “My own father told me stories of the samurai from his village. A sword like this would have been worn openly in Japan as little as eighty years ago.”
“I don’t suppose there are any samurai roaming around Seattle that you know of, are there?”
My hopeful smile was met with a saddened one. “There are no more samurai, Detective Sheppard. In Seattle or anywhere else. This sword probably belongs to a private collector. No doubt stolen.”
He handed me back the photographs and I frowned in thought. “Really? Why would you say that?”
The storekeeper blinked and stammered, “It… It is the only logical explanation.”
“Why couldn’t this have been owned by someone around here?”
He held his arms up. “Look around, Detective. No one in this neighborhood could afford such a sword as that one.”
“What if they didn’t buy it?” I suggested casually. “What if they inherited it?”
His eyes flicked to the cash register, so quickly that I would have missed it if I didn’t already have a hunch that there was something he wasn’t telling us. “If they did, I would have no way of knowing who it would be.”
Tapping the photos against my hand, I nodded. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Ishikawa.”
“I am sorry I could not be of more assistance.”
“Oh, you helped plenty.” Stepping over to the counter, I picked up the flyer that was laying there, the same one that was plastered all up and down the street. “I noticed this outside. Who’s the girl?”
“Miko Kusanagi. She’s been missing for several weeks now.”
I pointed inquisitively at the characters under the picture. “Is that what this says? Miko Kusanagi? And there’s a reward of five thousand dollars for information to her whereabouts?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, “more or less.”
I considered the information. “Five thousand dollars; that’s a lot of money to offer as a reward, especially by someone in a neighborhood that can’t afford to buy a sword.”
Ishikawa kept his expression and his voice level. “Her family is prepared to mortgage their business to pay if information becomes available.”
“What sort of business do they run?”
He suddenly seemed trapped, like he’d said too much. Realizing there was no way to avoid answering, he admitted, “They run the Dojo where they train in martial arts.”
Taking the flyer, I smiled in satisfaction. “Thank you, Mr. Ishikawa, you’ve been a great help.”
Once outside, I started immediately for the car. Ronon easily matched my pace. “So you think this Kusanagi family is somehow involved?”
“Yeah, I do.” I pointed to the character that was below the sketch of the woman. “Now, look at the symbols on the sword.”
“It’s a match,” he observed, a slow smile spreading across his face.
“That sword belongs to the Kusanagi family. And I bet you a wooden nickel the murder has something to do with this girl.”
“I bet Ishikawa’s already on the phone to warn them we’re coming.”
I could only nod in agreement with Dex’s conclusion. “Which is why we need to find them fast.”
Snatching the paper from my hand, Ronon turned and walked quickly in the opposite direction. Before I could ask what the hell he was doing, I saw for myself. The woman at the grocery was pointing down the block and across the street in response to the way Ronon was pointing at the poster. With a hitch of his head, he indicated I should follow and within a few minutes we were standing outside the Dojo.
Ronon tried the door and found it was locked before he started to pound on the thick wood. When we got no answer, he headed into the alley to look for another entrance. The sound of excited voices had us breaking into a run and we rounded the building to see an older man and woman yelling to a teenage boy as soon as they saw us. I didn’t need to speak Japanese to know the older guy was telling the younger one to run. He did as he was told, darting up on a pile of pallets to hurdle over the wall backing the alley. I snatched a handful of shirt before he made it more than halfway up, yanking him down, only to have an elbow slammed into my face before a foot impacted with my stomach. Staggering back, my eyes instantly watering against the sharp pain, I gasped for breath.
“Son of a bitch! Ronon!”
“I’m on it.”
By the time my vision had cleared and I could breathe again, Dex had him in cuffs, and the boy’s parents were babbling nonstop in Japanese. I ignored them, taking out my handkerchief to pinch my bleeding nose instead, and leaned in close to where Ronon had the kid pinned to the ground.
“Do you speak English?” My voice was nasally but I didn’t really give a shit.
“Yeah,” he responded fluently. “I speak English, Copper.”
I rolled my eyes. James Cagney hadn’t done the fraternal brotherhood of policemen any favors. But his response told me what I needed to know and had his mother and father start yelling at him instead of us.
I raised my voice to be heard over the ruckus. “Good. You have the right to remain silent… and I wish to hell your parents would do the same.”
* * * *
My nose had stopped bleeding by the time we had the kid booked and processed. Kitsuro Kusanagi, age seventeen, now sat defiantly in an interrogation room refusing to tell us anything. Ronon loomed silently against the wall across from the boy, brown eyes boring into the suspect who sat with his hands clasped tightly on the table before him. I was outside the room, watching the complete lack of activity through the two-way mirror, dabbing delicately at my nose.
Lorne stood beside me, his arms crossed across his blue uniform as he watched the same cooling of heels that I was. “You really think he killed that guy?”
Lorne was a good cop, was up for detective himself next year, and I would have gladly taken him as a partner if O’Neill had hung around long enough for that assignment to work out. As it was, he was my man on dayshift, tracking down leads that I couldn’t on the backshift. I shrugged at his question. “He meets McKay’s height requirement for the perp, his family name is on the sword, and he ran when we came to find him.”
“He just seems kind of… small.”
“Believe me, he packs a wallop.” Lorne’s taunting smirk had me frowning and changing the subject. “So there was no sign of Beckett?”
“He had three days of newspapers sitting on his walkway and evidently canceled his classes for the past week at the University. I’ve got a black and white watching his house, but so far nothing. We’re waiting on the warrant to search his house.”
“Let me know when it comes in. I want to be there during the search.”
McKay’s voice had me cringing. There was no way he was going to let me live down letting a scrawny teenager get the jump on me. Instinctively, I ducked my head so he couldn’t see my nose, although I had no doubt he had heard what had happened.
Without preamble, he tipped up my chin, the touch surprisingly gentle given the way his eyes glinted angrily. “Is it broken?”
“Miraculously, no.” I let him give me a cursory once over, his jaw flinching at what he saw, before he pressed a towel filled with ice against my face. “Ow!”
“That should at least help with some of the swelling and discoloration.”
“Wow, I had no idea you were a real doctor, too.”
Blue eyes narrowed dangerously behind his glasses. “Don’t piss me off any more than I already am, Sheppard. The kid might not survive if you do.”
Sitting straighter, I asked, “What are you planning to do to the kid?”
“Get him to talk.” His answer was as simple as the wooden box he had tucked under his arm.
“We have everything under control, Rodney.”
He blandly looked from the room where Ronon and Kusanagi were silently staring each other down, back to me. “The flow of information is overwhelming. How are you ever keeping up with the dictation?”
“Ronon’s just softening him up,” I defended, letting the ice pack drift off my nose.
“Yes, because there’s nothing like a round of good cop, bad raccoon to intimidate the person who kicked your ass in the first place.” He took my hand and placed the ice firmly back in place.
“He didn’t kick my ass… it was my stomach,” I mumbled despondently and sunk back down in my chair.
“Anatomical precision aside, Detective, I missed breakfast and don’t plan to miss lunch waiting on this yahoo to spill. Besides, the Seattle PD can’t afford my overtime rate, so in the interest of the tax-paying citizens of this fair city, I plan to make this bird sing.”
And with that, he straightened his tie and strode purposefully into the room. Lorne leaned forward and flipped open the intercom so we could hear what was going on inside. “This ought to be entertaining.”
“It ought to be something, that’s for sure,” I agreed, sitting up so I could see what Rodney had planned.
“Kitsuro Kusanagi, I’ll be taking your fingerprints today.” Rodney opened his box to reveal his print kit, taking the kid’s hand to look closely at the fingers.
“They already took my prints downstairs,” he told the scientist with a touch of defiance.
McKay just answered distractedly, “Yes, I’m sure they did. But when we have a potential match, they call me in to make sure the prints are of the highest quality… you know, to ensure the conviction.” Flipping open the inkpad, he rolled Kusanagi’s index finger across the surface then carefully rolled it on the card to capture the print.
“You found a fingerprint?”
McKay moved to the next finger. “Oh, yes, a very nice one. Right on the blade itself.”
“That sneaky little bastard,” I mumbled in appreciation of what he was doing.
“I thought he didn’t find any prints,” Lorne observed beside me.
“He didn’t,” I grinned. “He’s bluffing.”
“The blade? I’ve never touched that blade,” Kusanagi contended.
“Oh, well, then I guess it’s a good thing I’ll be fingerprinting your parents next, because someone touched that blade. And whoever did will probably be hanged for murder. But don’t worry, even without the murder charge, you’ve still got resisting arrest and assault of a police officer hanging over you. The DA might even push for attempted murder seeing as you’re obviously trained in certain martial arts and the detective you attacked is just as obviously a rather frail subject to begin with.” I rolled my eyes at the comment that was directed at me even as Rodney rolled the teen’s middle finger across the ink. “Do you think you can stop shaking? It affects the quality of the print.”
The kid wasn’t just shaking at the thought of his parents being convicted of a murder they didn’t commit, he had actually paled, and for a second I thought he might pass out. “I didn’t mean to kill him,” he mumbled dazedly, all signs of his earlier insolence gone.
Rodney’s eyes flicked up to where he knew I sat and I could see a small triumphant glimmer in them before he turned back to his work with a snort. “If I had a dime for every time I heard that one I wouldn’t have to invest in so much ink remover.”
“No, honest, I didn’t go there to kill him with the sword. I thought he knew what happened to Miko. I’m sure of it. But when he wouldn’t tell me anything at the University, I followed him to the restaurant, waited until he was walking back to his car, and tried again to get him to tell me.”
“And you used the sword to threaten him.” Ronon, who had been watching silently from his post in the room, finally spoke up.
“No! I went to offer it to him. Miko said he was interested in antiques, artifacts, willing to pay big bucks for them and I thought that maybe he might be willing to take the sword in exchange for telling me where she was. But when he realized I knew he knew where she might be, he pulled the gun and was going to shoot me. So I… I… please, you have to believe me, I didn’t plan to kill him.’
Ronon leaned forward on the table. “Why would you think Fraiser knew where your sister was?”
“She’s a student at the University. She talked about working with him, giving blood samples, as part of a research experiment he was working on. She was going to get credit for a class and all she had to do was show up every week, touch a few things that would light up, and let them monitor her while she did it. The day she vanished was the day she normally went to the lab.”
“What about Beckett?”
At Ronon’s question, the boy furrowed his brow in genuine confusion. “I don’t know… who’s Beckett?”
Now it was Ronon who looked back to where I sat. I keyed the intercom button and told him, “We’ll send the stenographer up to record his statement.”
Rodney handed the kid a rag to clean his fingers and he looked to the scientist with pleading eyes. “Are you still going to fingerprint my parents?”
Packing up his equipment, McKay shook his head. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary, now.”
Kusanagi seemed to wilt in relief and Rodney exited the room, stopping long enough to address me. “You owe me lunch.”
With an amazed shake of my head and a grin I couldn’t deny anymore than his statement, I told him, “I’ll meet you downstairs in ten minutes.”
“Make it five; I’m starving.”
I was downstairs waiting in four.