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Chapter 12

"No, bring that end over the other one," Jarvis said. Sitting cross-legged on the moist ground, he indicated with his fingers the way the knot should be tied.

Carefully, Colin did as instructed, teeking the end of the rope through its last two convolutions and out through the far side of the knot. "Good," Jarvis nodded, glancing surreptitiously at his watch. Thirty-five seconds to form the knot, subtract maybe five for hesitation and uncertainties.... He would have to check that against the B and M tables when they got back to the cabin, but it looked like Colin's teekay dexterity was about where it was supposed to be. That was good; nothing drastic should be happening for a long time yet.

"Now pull this tight?" Colin asked.

Jarvis nodded. "Yes, but not too tight or you'll put too much strain on the smaller branches."

Colin sucked his lip in concentration... and a moment later a handmade lean-to was standing proudly beneath the lowest branches of the conetree.

"Yay!" the boy crowed excitedly, clapping his hands. "It worked! Can I try it?"

"Sure, go ahead." Jarvis watched as Colin crawled carefully under the thick mesh of branches leaning at a forty-five-degree angle to the ground. A new pang slid through his chest like a knife as he once again reminded himself that Colin might someday have to use these outdoor skills for actual survival. If society overreactedas it easily couldColin could become an overnight outcast.

"Can I sleep here tonight, Matthew? Can I, huh?"

"I'm afraid not," Jarvis said, smiling despite his gloomy thoughts at the sight of Colin stretched out on the leaf-and-moss rug they'd laid out under the lean-to. "Maybe in a couple of weeks we'll go on a long hike, though, and then we'll sleep out like this every night."

"Why can't we go now?" Colin asked.

"Because you haven't learned enough woodlore yet," Jarvis explained. "You need to know how to catch animals for food first, for one thing."

"Okay." The boy scrambled out of the lean-to, coming within an ace of bringing the whole structure down in the process. "How do you catch animals?"

"We'll work on that some other day," Jarvis said firmly. It was already midafternoon, and he had no intention of starting such a topic without a full day ahead of them. Besides, he'd determined two days ago that he needed some information from his office, and he'd put off making that call long enough. "Right now I want you to show me you remember the knots I taught you. Then we'll go home and you can play until it's time for supper. Let's start with a half hitch; and I want you to tie it both by hand and with teekay."

"Okay," Colin said with the theatrical sigh he did so well. Teeking over a piece of rope, he got busy.

It was nearly four o'clock when Jarvis finally sat down at his desk and reached for the radiophone. For a moment he paused, checking his notes, pens, and paper and confirming that Colin was visible through the window, playing happily and showing no signs that he would be bursting into the cabin at the wrong time. Picking up the handset, the scientist punched in the operator code and then his office phone number.

Cam Mbar answered on the fifth ring. "Dr. Jarvis's office."

"This is a surprise," Jarvis said lightly. "I used to sneak off work at three when my boss was out of town."

"Dr. Jarvis!" Cam said, her voice unexpectedly intense. "Are you all right?"

Jarvis frowned. "Of course. Why shouldn't I be?"

"Uh..." Cam audibly struggled for control. "No reason," she said after a few seconds, her tone now exaggeratedly casual. "I just wasn't expecting you to call."

"I see," Jarvis said as something prickly seemed to settle into his neck. "I need some numbers from the second to the last of our hibernation-studies notebooks. Could you get that for me?"

"Sure. You want me to bring it to you? Just tell me where"

"No, that's okay," he said hastily. "There's only one table I need; you can just read it over the phone."

"Oh." She sounded vaguely disappointed. "All right. I've got it; what do you need?"

The prickly thing on Jarvis's neck dug its barbs in a bit deeper. The cabinet where old lab books were locked wasn't within reach of any of the lab's phones... and yet Cam had found it instantly and without having to put down the handset. What would that book have been doing out at four in the afternoon?

"Dr. Jarvis?"

"Uh, yes. Um... about page eighty there are some figures on metabolism rate versus brain electrical activity...."

Cam found the place and read off the table, but Jarvis hardly heard the numbers as his hand dutifully took them down. Cam was the stereotypical unflappable scientist typeJarvis had seen her spill hydrochloric acid down the front of her lab coat without getting as excited as she'd sounded a few minutes ago. Instinctively, his gaze flicked to Colin, who was examining a large dragonmite struggling helplessly in the boy's teekay grip. Had someone seen him putting Colin in his car back in Ridge Harbor and taken down the license plate? But surely the police would have long since found and raided his hiding place if that were the case. Wouldn't they?

His hand was sitting motionless on the desktop, and with a start he realized Cam had finished her recitation. "Thanks," he said, hoping the silence hadn't dragged on too long. "Uh... how are things going?"

"Pretty good. We've been getting some good pituitary data the last week or two. Maybe you can come by and see it sometime soon."

"Perhaps. Well, keep busy. I'll probably check in again later. Good-bye." He dropped the handset into its cradle, barely hearing Cam's own good-bye as he did so.

For a long minute afterward he stared at the radiophone, gripping the arms of his chair tightly as beads of sweat gathered on his forehead. Cam's tone of voice, the notebook sitting out for no good reason, her attempt to find out where he wasit was too much to pass off as coincidence. Clearly, someone had been snooping around the lab, trying to find out what he was up to. And that someone couldn't have persuaded Cam to help him without some kind of evidence that Jarvis had indeed kidnapped Colin Brimmer.

So the police were on to him. He'd known they would be, eventuallythe trail through Colin's mother Miribel was all too clear. The real question now was whether they'd had the inevitable radio direction finders running as he talked to Cam. If so, his experiment was about to come to an abrupt end. If not... well, he might still have enough time.

With an effort, he pushed himself out of the chair. The chances that the police had had everything ready were probably slim. From now on, though, use of the radiophone was outit might, in fact, be safest to disable the instrument, lest Colin accidentally turn it on while playing inside.

Stepping to the window, Jarvis gazed out at the small boy, now standing under one of the longer branches of the nearest conetree and trying to jump high enough to catch hold of it. What will they do to you, Colin? he wondered. Human society has always hated those who were different, especially those who were truly superior in some way. How will you respond to that hatred?

There was no way to answer that questionnot yet, anyway. After a minute Jarvis sighed and moved away from the window. Whenever the police came, he would be ready... but right now, it was time to start cooking supper.

Hob Paxton shook his head as he again leafed through the report Tonio had flown in from Ridge Harbor and peered at the five almost-identical photos. "I wouldn't have believed it," he said. "She really picked Jarvis's photo out of this lineup?"

"Three times straight," Tonio told him with obvious satisfaction. "It was the eyes and cheekbones, she said, and the fake beard didn't hide those features."

"Maybe she was reacting to the retouching on the other pictures," Weylin Ellery suggested from the corner. "Hypnotized people notice details like that."

Tirrell shook his head. "Our artist knows his job. The copy that still looks like Jarvis has touch-up lines over the originals."

"All right." Paxton tossed the stack of paper onto his desk and leaned back in his chair. "But evidence obtained under hypnosis isn't admissibleyou know that."

"Of course. But it should be good enough to get those radiophone direction finders I wanted two days ago."

Paxton's expression was that of a man whose shoes were too tight. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll talk to the chief about it." But he made no move toward the phone. "I don't know, thoughthe whole thing's ridiculous. Why would Matthew Jarvis, of all people, go out and kidnap someone? Or are you going to tell me he's popped his stopper?"

"No, I don't think so," Tirrell said slowly. "I think he's doing some sort of experiment out there, something he doesn't want anyone to know about."

Weylin chuckled. "You make him sound like one of those crazy scientists you see sometimes in hive monster movies," he said. "I quit believing those when I was ten."

Tonio turned irritably toward the other preteen, but Tirrell spoke up before his righthand could say anything. "Of course he's not crazy; I almost wish it were that simple. I think it's probably much worsethat he's stumbled onto something so explosive he doesn't even want hints of it leaking out."

"Like what?" Paxton snorted.

Tirrell hesitated. It wasn't a theory he wanted to toss around too freely, especially if it turned out to be true. But Paxton was still dragging his feet on Tirrell's radiophone detector request. Perhaps a good shaking up would help. "I think Jarvis is fiddling with the Transition point," he said bluntly. "He's stockpiled a supply of growth and puberty hormones; he's apparently taken several critical lab books into hiding with him; and if he's got Colin Brimmer with him, he's got a human test subject to work on. And if we don't get busy and find him, he could knock the props out from under the whole society."

"Holy Mother," Paxton muttered, forehead corrugating into an intense frown. "You think he might find a way to knock out teekay entirely?"

"Or push it past puberty, or make it stronger, or add telepathy or heaven knows what to the ability," Tirrell countered. "How the hell should I know what he's up to? But we'd better find out, and fast."

"Yeah." Paxton brought his feet back to the floor with a crash and picked up the papers Tonio had brought. "Let's go see Chief Li. If we hurry we can probably get your direction finders set up by Saturday night. That fast enough for you?"

Tirrell nodded as he and Tonio stood and let Paxton walk between them to the office door. "Let's hope so," he said as they fell into step behind the other detective. Now, perhaps, they'd make some real progress.


Chapter 11 | A Coming Of Age | Chapter 13



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