Sammy Oh was waiting in Peter Held’s lab office when Branch and Chat arrived. Oh was a lot bigger than Branch expected, well over six feet, with a stiff brush of black hair, no glasses, and a sly grin. He wore a Raiders t-shirt and jeans.
“I suppose I don’t need to tell you,” Branch said to Oh, “that this may be sensitive material that needs to be kept confidential.”
“Of course. No problem.” Oh spoke without accent.
“Sammy’s a good guy,” Peter said earnestly.
Branch pulled out the sheets that he had printed from the microfilm. Oh took them and frowned in concentration. Branch found a lab stool and watched him scan the sheets. Chat also kept watch on Oh’s face.
Without looking up, Oh said, “Well, they’re incomplete. The first and last pages begin and end in the middle of sentences. Just from skimming I’d say that they describe some sort of shoulder-held rocket launcher.”
“A bazooka?” Chat asked.
“Yeah, maybe. There’s a lot of technical language I’d have to look up. But there’s a recognizable logarithmic table describing a trajectory. And there’s an electrical diagram for a firing mechanism. And this drawing”—he held up a sheet—“looks like some sort of small rocket.”
“Anything about anything nuclear?” Branch asked, “or biological?”
“Not that I noticed. But I’ve only skimmed it.”
“Could you read it more carefully? We can wait.”
“Do you need some sort of technical Korean dictionary?”
“No, just an English one. They just transliterate English technical terms.”
Peter grabbed a thick book from a shelf. “See if this helps.”
They all sat while Oh read the sheets, now and then looking up a term or asking Peter what something might mean. At one point, Peter said to Branch, “We ought to get Bart in on this. This seems more like engineering than physics.”
Branch watched Chat get up and walk restlessly around the room. They had been sitting in one corner where there was a desk and computer, several chairs and stools, and shelves filled with journals and papers. The rest of the room was taken up with a large table piled with apparatus that seemed to Branch to be both sleekly electrical and clumsily improvised. He had no idea what it was for, and it was clear that Chat was also at a loss. Branch felt uncomfortably out of control. He had to trust Peter, and trust Peter’s student to give him an accurate report on the material that someone had troubled to hide in a Strad cello and someone else had killed for.
Eventually, Oh put down the papers and shrugged. “It looks like part of a set of instructions for making a kind of rocket launcher. It says how to make the missile, and how to launch it, but nothing about what’s in the missile—just how to make one that can be fired by this system.”
“Just like a World War Two bazooka,” Peter added.
“Nothing more exotic?” Branch asked.
“Not that I could see,” Oh said.
“Me either,” Peter said.
“But there’s more, right?” Chat asked.
“It appears so,” Oh said.
On their way back to the station, Chat asked Branch, “Any more microfilm stashed in those other fiddles?”
“I don’t think so, but I’m sure going to look again.”
“Maybe in the cases.”
“Or even the bows, though that’s not likely.”
“I’ll give the jakes at the dump a buzz,” Chat said with a grin. He punched numbers on his cell phone. “Hello, this the Houston perfume works?” He winked at Branch. “Well, yo mamma smells so bad that skunks run in front of cars when she come up the road.” He chuckled. “Miss Polly keeping you busy? Hot? Nothing, huh. Well, just keep on digging, my man.”
Back at the station, Branch looked carefully at the instruments yet again, using a dental mirror and penlight to search the interiors. Nothing.
Branch knocked on Lieutenant Sandoval’s door, and stuck his head in. Sandoval waved him to a chair.
“I’m stuck,” Branch said. Sandoval nodded, leaned back and closed his eyes. “We found some microfilm in the cello with some Korean on it that seems to describe a bazooka.”
Sandoval opened his eyes and gave a questioning look.
“There’s probably more microfilm in the cases—or was, if the perps have found it by now. We still haven’t found the cases. I would love to get a warrant to search Clint Mattingly’s offices. Or Joe Haggarty’s.”
“Evidence of probable cause?”
“Both have done business in Korea. Haggarty collects old violins.”
“But the violins have been recovered.”
“Right.” Branch couldn’t get around that. “Maybe he used his knowledge to facilitate this smuggling of weapons technology. He’s in the import business.”
Sandoval held his hand out, palm down, and wobbled it. “What about Mattingly?”
“Mattingly fed the victims a drink before they were killed. Nobody else had any. The victims had swallowed an opiate that would make them get sick. When they stopped their car to puke, the perps killed them. They may have been hired by Mattingly.”
“Maybe. But I don’t think that’s enough to get you a warrant on either one. Can you think of a single judge in town that would give you a warrant on that?”
“Mattingly may have been involved in the death of a journalist in Austin.”
Sandoval’s head had reclined again and his eyes closed. “Evidence?”
“The journalist died of a some sort of toxin; he had written an article accusing Mattingly of funding some neo-Nazis.”
Sandoval’s head rolled from side to side. “Not enough. But I think maybe we need to get the FBI in on this, what with the Koreans and the bazooka.”
Branch had been afraid of that. If the Feds came in, he would be shut out—politely, with thanks, offers of cooperation maybe, but their priorities would be different. “Give me a little more time before you do that.”
Sandoval pursed his lips. Branch knew that he knew the FBI would complicate their murder case. “Ok. A little more. Keep me posted.” He sat up. “The killers sound like pros. Why don’t you try some of our friends in the East and Vegas and see if they have seen any hit men in the airports recently?”
“I’ve done a little of that. I’ll do more.”
Back at his desk, Branch composed an email to be sent to police departments that kept an eye on suspected hit men, asking if they noticed any movements around the date of the murders. Small chance that they would notice, he thought. Too many possibilities, not enough cops, and not many hit men suspected as such. A known hit man wouldn’t be very employable. But it was something to do.
As he watched his computer send the messages, he wondered if he should tell Celia about their latest discoveries. Maybe it would be wise to tell her that they found something in the cello without going into detail. Just so she could calm the impatience of the Coleman Collection people if they were bugging her about getting the instruments out of the evidence room. Maybe so. It would be a chance to talk to her, hear her voice, maybe see if they could work out a way to meet again. Maybe he’d check with the Dallas cops first to see if they have come across the cases.
The phone rang. “Lieutenant Branch? This is Eileen Mattingly.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Branch sat up, on high alert.
“I’m hoping you can help. I—I’m worried about my husband.” She paused; Branch could hear her take a deep breath. He was silent. “I think he’s been kidnapped.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I don’t want to go into it on the phone. Could you come out to the house?”
“Of course. I’ll be right over.” He spoke quickly. “One thing. If I come over and agree that we need to look for Mr. Mattingly, I may need to see some of his private records and things. Would you be willing to sign a release allowing me to do that?”
She hesitated, breathed deeply again, and said, “Yes.”
“Be there in a few minutes.”