Mei pressed her forehead against the the cool glass wall of her shower and let the warm water soothe her. She had to wash it all away, the painful feeling, the confusion; it was all too much. The Nian was taunting her, he had to be. The letter, the picture, another dead end, another lie, another laugh at her expense.
She banged her head against the tiles in frustration. "Shǎbī!" She didn't know what was worse, that she had fallen for it in the first place or that she had almost roped Al into it. What had she been thinking? And the names; the computers had nothing on the first three, that was as far as she'd gotten in the whole two hours she'd wasted. Whoever they were, they weren't in any local databases and if she wanted to look further afield, people would start asking questions.
There was the sound of knocking coming from outside, someone at the door, and so she tucked her long dark hair behind her, twisted it, and secured it in place with a pair of chopsticks she kept near the shower for such occasions. She wrapped a towel around her, securing it just above her breasts, and wandered down the hall to peer through the spyhole. It was Al.
"Mei, are alright? After you left like that I thought I better check up on you."
"Go home Al, I'm fine."
"Look, I... could I come in? I bought pancakes, a peace offering. I'm sorry for sticking my nose in. We can have some pancakes and then I'll get out of here, what do you say?"
Mei rolled her eyes and couldn't resist a smile. Al knew all her weak spots. She slid the door open a crack and peered out. "Let's see these pancakes."
Al smiled and held up a steaming plastic bag.
"Come in then, but not for long. We eat, then you go."
"It's a deal."
"Plates are in the kitchen." She called as she let the door off the chain and headed to the bedroom to change. "I just got out of the shower, I'll be with you in a sec."
She changed into a pair of pyjamas, deliberately choosing something plain - nothing too titillating, she didn't need that going around the office - and kept a keen ear on the noises of plates being placed and cupboards opening and closing.
"So, pancakes..." She said, grinning, but her voice trailed off as she saw what Al was doing. He was stood by the breakfast bar that separated her kitchen from her small lounge, reading the contents of the package.
"Mei, what is this? Is this what you were working on? Mei, this is serious! If even a fraction of this is real, we could reactivate the case, we could find him!"
Mei strode over and snatched the papers from his hands. "Get out!"
"Mei! Why are you so angry? I saw the file on the coffee table, I though it was a case file but this Mei, why haven't you brought this to Lee yet? I don't understand, don't you want to catch him?"
"Catch him!? This is another one of his games! More lies to embarrass me, to mock me, to twist the knife."
"No it's not, Mei, it's not. The second one on the list, Godfrey. He's real."
"What? How did you-"
"You didn't shut down the computer when you stormed out. I thought maybe something you'd seen had upset you, so I went back in, looked at your searches. Ran the names against some international databases."
"But how? You need authorisation."
"Why'd you come to see me in the first place? I don't just make good pancakes, I have some tricks up my sleeve."
She looked down at the paper in her hands. Goff-ray De Freeze. She sounded the name out, it sounded weird, foreign. "Who is he? What's his connection to the Nian?"
Al nodded towards the plates and Mei shook her head, rolling her eyes before taking a seat on the opposite end of the bar and preparing a pancake. Al sat down opposite and began the same.
"He's Dutch." Al said. "He escaped from a minimum security prison a few weeks ago in Holland."
Mei finished preparing a pancake and shoved the whole thing into her mouth. "Bah! He could be anyone! It proves nothing."
"No, but if that photo is right, it means the Nian is a Westerner like this man. Perhaps the Nian wants to trick you into killing any of those that could identify him. The Nian isn't Chinese. Who's to say he isn't Dutch? Who's to say he didn't make a few friends when in a Dutch prison, a few friends that need to be eliminated?"
Mei swallowed another pancake. "You have no idea how much I want to believe this, but you do realise how ridiculous that sounds, right?"
"Not when you factor in that Godfrey was put away from embezzling money. And the first name, I looked her up too. She reported her daughter missing - kidnapped - over a year ago in America."
Mei stopped eating. It was starting to make sense. "Child abduction, international travel. You think this Godfrey was somehow funding the Nian, some kind of international child-smuggling ring. Child porn? Something worse? That's why he wants them killed? Severing ties with his past?"
"I don't know, it's all tenuous at best but I think it's enough to reopen the case. If you'll trust us. If you'll trust me. We can do this Mei, we can finally turn this thing around. The Nian has gone too far this time, he's got cocky and now we have him. We can bring down him and his ring of perverts once and for all."