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Chapter 20

Dayspring Hive was a towering collection of uniformly dark windows as Tirrell pulled the car silently to the curb and gently opened his door. "Don't slam it," he cautioned Tonio as the righthand slid out his side of the vehicle. "Sounds carry pretty well at night."

The preteen nodded and swung the door to with a barely audible click. "You want me to wait out here and watch?" he whispered.

Tirrell shook his head. "There's no way you could cover the whole building by yourself. Let's try the battering-ram approach first and see if we can get to her before she knows we're here."

Still, the detective kept an eye skyward as they headed up the long walkway to the main entrance.

The outer door was unlocked. Opening it and stepping through, Tirrell found himself in a glassed-in vestibule whose inner door turned out to be locked. In the larger entrance hall beyond, a young adult was sitting at a small desk, a solitaire hand laid out in front of her. Looking up at the visitors, she leaned toward a small microphone. "May I help you?" she said pleasantly, her voice coming through an intercom grille in the vestibule ceiling.

Tirrell held his badge up to the glass. "Police," he said. "I want to see both your Director and your Girls' Senior right away."

Eyes bulging slightly, the woman nodded and groped at the far side of her desk. With a snick the inner door popped open a centimeter or two, and as Tirrell pulled it open, she reached for her phone.

They arrived almost simultaneously from opposite directions a few minutes laterthe man in robe and slippers, the woman still dressed. Tirrell wondered why she'd still be up, decided to hold the question for later.

"Detective?" the man asked as he approached, as if there could be any doubt. "I'm Director Allan Gould. What seems to be the problem?"

"I'm Detective First Tirrell," Tirrell identified himself formally. "One of your kids broke into my office at the city building an hour ago and assaulted a police officer. We're here to pick her up."

"What?" Gould's jaw sagged.

"Who?" the woman asked.

Tirrell shifted his attention to her. "You're the Girls' Senior?"

"Yes; Gavra Norward. Whom are you accusing?"

"It's hardly a simple accusationone of the officers who saw her enter the station has already tentatively identified her from her picture. Her name's Lisa Duncan."

Something flickered over Gavra's face, something that didn't look altogether surprised. "Are you absolutely sure it was Lisa?" she asked, her voice strangely tight.

"That's what we're here to find out," Tirrell said. "Would you take us to her room, please?"

Gavra held his eyes a fraction of a second, then turned to the young woman at the desk. "Has Lisa come in since you've been here?"

The other was already running a finger down a long list in front of her. "Not since the doors were locked at eight-thirty," she said, shaking her head.

"You knew she was out?" Tirrell asked, watching Gavra's face closely.

"I knew she'd missed the eight-thirty sign-in," the Senior replied without hesitation. "She's never missed lights-out before, though, so I had no reason to suspect she'd be late this time."

"Uh-huh." Or else had suspicions and carefully avoided any direct knowledge. "I'd like to check her room for myself, if you don't mind."

Gavra glanced past him at Tonio, opened her mouth as if to object to his presence on the girls' side, then abruptly turned and headed back the way she'd come without saying anything. Tirrell fell into step beside her, Tonio following close behind.

The twin towers started three floors above street level, rising above the hive's common areas, and Lisa's room was five more flights up the girls' tower itself. Tirrell pushed the pace, with the result that both he and Gavra were breathing a bit heavily by the time they started down the hallway. Tonio, of course, showed no strain at all from the trip.

Gavra led the way to one of the doors about halfway down the left-hand corridor. "This is it," she said in a soft voice which tried very hard to disguise its tension. "May I knock before you go barging in? Knocking is a hive privacy rule."

Tirrell hesitated, then nodded. "All right, but don't wait for an answer before opening the door."

Gavra grimaced, but turned back to the door without comment and rapped gently on the panel. Twisting the knob, she pushed the door open and stepped inside. "Lisa? Sheelah? It's Gavra," she announced quietly as Tirrell flicked on the light and took a long step past her into the room.

It was, unfortunately, an anticlimax. One of the two beds was clearly empty; in the other a tousle-haired girl, startled awake, was half sitting up with an arm thrown protectively over her eyes. "What" she gasped.

"It's all right, Sheelah; it's Gavra and a police detective," the Senior said quickly.

"The police?" Still squinting, the girl lowered her arm and peered in Tirrell's direction. "Why isoh!" She broke off, and her sheet suddenly jumped to chin level.

Beside him, Tirrell heard a sort of embarrassed gulp from Tonio. "Maybe I should wait in the hall," the righthand suggested.

Tirrell's eyes had already completed their sweep of the room without finding any place even an undersized preteen like Lisa could be hiding. "All right," he told Tonio. "But stay close."

"Right." The other took a breath and got out fast.

Turning his attention to the girl now sitting straight up in bed, the detective gave her his most reassuring smile. It didn't help; above the sheet her expression remained wary. And she's wide-awake, he noted suddenly. A fast waker? Or wasn't she asleep at all? "Please don't be alarmed, Sheelah," he said. "I'd just like to ask you a few questions, if I may. Have you seen your roommate Lisa this evening?"

The girl's expression didn't change. "No," she said. "She left this morning and I haven't seen her since then."

"Do you know where she might have gone?"

"No."

"Did she leave with anyone else?"

"I don't know."

"I see." Tirrell glanced at the curtained window. "It's been over an hour now since lights-out. Any chance she could have sneaked in and out during that time?"

"The window's locked. You can check if you want."

"I'll take your word for it." Tirrell studied her thoughtfully. "You're certainly taking this calmly, Sheelah. Aren't you even worried about what might have happened to Lisa?"

For the first time Sheelah seemed uncertain. "Lisa can take care of herself," she muttered, looking at the floor.

"Maybe she can, but maybe not," Tirrell said. "The fact is, Lisa is in a great deal of troubleand running is only going to make it worse. You'd be doing her a favor by telling me where she's gone."

Sheelah's eyes snapped back up to the detective, guilty surprise plastered across her face. "I don't know what you're talking"

"Sheelah, Tirrell cut her off quietly, gesturing at Lisa's bed. "You don't have to look very closely at that blanket to see that two people have been sitting on itand I remember enough of hive housekeeping standards to know Lisa wouldn't have left it like that in the morning. You let her in, sometime in the past half-hour or so, you sat on her bed together and talked, and then she took off looking for a place to hide. True?"

Sheelah's gaze was back on the floor, her throat making swallowing motions. In the silence Gavra stepped forward and sat down on the edge of the girl's bed. "Sheelah, is he right?" she asked gently.

The preteen closed her eyes and drew a shuddering breath, but otherwise remained silent. "Look," Tirrell said after a moment, "we know you're trying to protect her, but you're only making things worse for both of you. Aiding a fugitive, especially one who's committed assault, could"

"Lisa didn't hurt that policeman!" Sheelah flared with a sudden fire that took Tirrell by surprise. "It was that other guyWeylin something. He did it."

"So Lisa did come here," Gavra said, her voice tightening. "Why didn't you?"

"Wait a second," Tirrell interrupted. "What makes you think Weylin was involved? He wasn't even in the same room at the time."

Sheelah's expression was pure puzzlement, without a trace of guile in it. "Yes, he was. He took Lisa there to... look at some things."

Tirrell stared at the girl for a long second, his brain adjusting to this unexpected revelation. It could be a lie, of course, Lisa trying to cover up what she had done. But the more he thought about it the more sense it made. Weylin had the necessary skill to use a spy-scope, and faking an attack on himself took nothing but determination and chutzpah. Belatedly, now, Hob Paxton's idle comment several weeks back about how Weylin had nagged him into requesting the liaison job took on a new significance. If Weylin had been spying for Jarvis all this time, then it was no wonder the scientist had outmaneuvered them at every turnand in that case Lisa might simply have been recruited on some pretext for this specific job. If she had no especial loyalty to Jarvis she would make a good witness against him... if she could be found.

Gavra was speaking again. "What was she supposed to look at, Sheelah?"

The preteen shook her head. "I don't know, exactly. This Omega guy who sent her said it had something to do with a child who'd been kidnapped."

Gavra looked up at Tirrell, startled. But the detective nodded. "No, she's rightI am working on a kidnap case. I think Lisa was after our list of the kidnapper's possible locations. How much she got, I don't know."

"But why would anyone be interested in something like that?" Gavra asked. "It doesn't make any sense."

"It does if the man who sent her is also the kidnapper," Tirrell said bluntly.

Sheelah's eyes widened. "You mean... but Lisa said Omega was a prophet."

"Prophet, my foot," Tirrell growled. "He's a coldblooded kidnapper who thought nothing of snatching a five-year-old boy forwell, never mind." The detective had no intention of going into the whole story. "The point is, he's just using Lisa to find out how close we are to him. Once she's served her purpose, there's no telling what he'll do to make sure she can't tell us anything about his hideout."

This time Gavra's eyes went wide, too. "You mean he might... kill her?"

"He already faces charges of kidnapping and possibly of suborning a police righthand, depending on what we find out about Weylin," Tirrell pointed out. "I'd rather get to Lisa before we find out just how far he's prepared to go."

But Sheelah's face had gone rigid again. "You don't believe me, do you? You still think Lisa hit that policeman, and you're making up this whole thing about Lisa being used just so I'll tell you where she's gone. Well, I won't."

Clamping his teeth together, Tirrell counted to ten, cursing his loose tongue. Of course he wasn't going to pass final judgment on Weylin on Sheelah's unsupported word, but he hadn't intended for the girl to know that. "Sheelah"

"No! You don't want to help Lisa, so just go away." Flopping down onto her back, Sheelah turned sideways to face the wall.

"All right, this has gone far enough," Gavra said, her voice abruptly hard. "Sheelah, this isn't some kind of game. If there's any chance at all Lisa's in danger, you owe it to her to tell Detective Tirrell everything he wants to know. You'll regret it the rest of your life if something happens to her that you could have helped prevent."

Sheelah said nothing, but Tirrell could see her body shaking with quiet sobbing under the sheet. Studying the back of her head, he decided that threats against her hive points would probably be a waste of time. "All right, Sheelah," he sighed. "We'll find her ourselvesand maybe prove Weylin's guilt or innocence in the process."

"How are you going to do that?" Gavra frowned.

"I'm going to call headquarters and tell them we've picked up Lisa and are bringing her in," Tirrell told her, watching Sheelah. The preteen was still facing the wall, but her shaking had stopped. If you can convince her you mean thisand can convince yourself it'll work"I'll tell them that you, Ms. Norward, have told her not to say anything until she's formally charged, and that they should therefore call the hospital and have Weylin come back to the city building to make a positive identification of her."

"But you don't have Lisa."

"No, but Weylin won't know thatand if Sheelah's version is the truth, he'll know that the minute Lisa starts to talk his little charade will disintegrate. With any luck, when he runs he'll head straight to his boss's hideout." Tirrell nodded to Sheelah, who had now turned halfway back toward him. "Sheelah, if you can at least tell us which general direction Lisa went, it'll help us pick up Weylin's trail when he takes off."

Sheelah pursed her lips tightly. "South," she said at last.

"Thanks." Tirrell looked back at Gavra. "I noticed a phone at the other end of the hall. Can I get an outside line on it?"

"Yesjust punch one first. Can you find your own way out? I'd like to talk to Sheelah for a moment."

"No problem. Sheelah, whatever you might feel about it now, you did the right thing to tell us what you did. Thank you." Nodding once to Gavra, Tirrell left the room, closing the door behind him.

Tonio was hovering in the middle of the hall, his expression reminiscent of an approaching thunderstorm. "That lousy, rotten, batling eater!" he hissed.

"I gather you were listening in," Tirrell nodded. "Good. You think you'll be able to follow Weylin if he runs for it? Quietly, I mean, without being noticed."

"No problem." Though his expression said he'd rather teek Weylin into something solid.

"Okay. I want you to get going right away and find a good spot to watch the south side of Mercy Hospital from. Stop by the car first and grab a portacomthe private, not the broad-band; I don't want Weylin listening in if he thought to take a broad-band with him. Weylin or anyone else, for that matter."

"You're not going to tell the other police what we're doing?"

"Not yet. If Jarvis got to Weylin he might have gotten to one of the others, too, or even to some of the officers. For the moment, it's just going to be you and me on this. If and when Weylin leads us to Jarvis we'll think about how to get some help. Get going; I'll give you a few minutes to get in position before I make my call. I'll head out on the Plat City road when I'm donegive me a call when you've got a clear direction."

"Right." Taking off down the hallway, Tonio vanished into the stairwell.

Checking his watch, Tirrell followed more slowly, bypassing the stairs and stopping finally beside the phone fastened chest-high on the wall. How on Tigris did Jarvis get Weylin in on this? he wondered, staring at and through the phone. What could he have promised him in exchange for information? Or was he instead using some kind of blackmail? Orand the sudden thought was soberinghas he come up with a genuinely foolproof method of mind control? The concept was not as farfetched as most people preferred to think; hypnotic drugs came disturbingly close as it was... and Jarvis had presumably kept Colin Brimmer under some kind of control these past two months.

There was a footfall behind him, and Tirrell turned to see Gavra Norward approaching, a piece of paper in her hand. "Something?" he asked.

She held out the paper. "Lisa left a note for me," she said steadily, watching his face. "I convinced Sheelah you should see it."

"I know about Lisa," he nodded, taking the paper. The message was short, its painfully blocky letters done in some kind of soft blue pencil. But the words, if not the meaning, were clear enough:

Gavra i am al rite. I hav gone to see the profit omaga. He and the other kids wil find Daril for me if Waylin and i got wat he wanted us to. Plese dont wory il be al rite i did it to help Daril. Lisa.

" 'Daril'?"

"Daryl Kellerman was the teen who taught her to read," Gavra explained. "He's just been transferred from Barona to an intro school in Cavendish, but I've been forbidden to tell her where he is, and she's gotten it into her head that something terrible's been done to him."

"Damn," Tirrell swore gently. He reread the note, a small feeling of uneasiness nagging at the back of his mind. Who in hell were these other kids Lisa was talking about? Colin and Weylin? Or was something else entirely going on out there? A fagin operation? Ridiculousworld-famous scientists don't become fagins.

"Is something wrong?" Gavra asked, frowning.

Tirrell refocused on her face. "A lot is wrongand I'm not sure anymore I understand all of it," he growled. "I'd like to keep this, if you don't mind."

Gavra nodded. "If you think it'll help you find Lisa." She hesitated. "You know, I think I've persuaded Sheelah to trust you a little. I'd like to think that trust will be honored."

"Saving one preteen's respect for authority is pretty low on my priorities list right now," Tirrell said shortly. "I'll see what I can do, but if it turns out Lisa deserves getting the book thrown at her, then that's what's going to happen."

Surprisingly, Gavra smiled tightly. " 'The book.' Your choice of words is appropriate, Detective." The smile faded and she nodded. "I understand. Good luck." Turning, she walked back down the hall toward Sheelah's room.

Probably going to prepare her to expect the worst, Tirrell decided morosely. Jarvis, I think I'm starting to hate you.

Checking his watch, he turned back and reached for the phone.


Chapter 19 | A Coming Of Age | Chapter 21



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