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Chapter 5

"Thank you very much for your time, Mrs. Livorno," Tirrell said, making one last note on his pad. "I appreciate your help."

"My pleasure," the older lady said, her thin lips pulling together in a frown that silently proclaimed her distaste for the whole business. "I hope you catch this scum, DetectiveI wouldn't want anyone to get the impression this neighborhood is easy pickings."

"Neither would I," Tirrell agreed. "Don't worry, we'll get him."

And if we're lucky, it'll be before Colin Brimmer reaches puberty, the detective added to himself as he walked down the path and headed for his car. At the moment, though, he wouldn't have placed any bets on that.

Tonio had been faster with his part of the afternoon's work, Tirrell saw; the preteen was seated on the curb beside their car, leaning against a red-and-white-checked "stop ahead" post and gazing skyward. At first Tirrell assumed his righthand was simply daydreaming, but a movement in the tree branches above the car caught his eye. It took another dozen steps for him to realize what was happening: Tonio was amusing himself by plucking dead leaves from one of the branches and teeking them over to another limb. "I hope you're not fastening those permanently somehow," he commented as he reached the car. "The city's going to have to cut off that dead branch pretty soon, and I wouldn't want them to take a healthy one, too."

"No problem," Tonio said, his eyes still on his handiwork. "You finished?"

"For the moment, yeah. Let's get back to the office and see if we can dredge anything out of this mess."

"Okay." Tonio stood up, and as he did so there was a sudden rustle overhead and forty or fifty brown leaves drifted down on them. "See?" the preteen said, holding his hands out as if checking for rain. "Instant autumn."

"Just get in the car," Tirrell said, shaking his head.

"Anybody recognize Macvey's drawing?" Tonio asked as Tirrell pulled away from the curb.

"Nope," Tirrell said. "Not that that's a terrific surprise, of course. Macvey didn't have a lot to work with, and drawing a face minus its beard is an iffy proposition at best."

"Especially when your witness isn't very observant."

Tirrell raised an eyebrow. "That comment sounded rather portentious. Is there some juicy bit of evidence you've been saving for my birthday or something?"

"No, I just heard it this afternoon. It seems Mr. Oliver had been hanging around that park longer than Lenna Thuma said."

"How much longer?"

"According to two of the boys Colin played with, they were chatting to the guy as early as the beginning of March. That's over three months ago."

"Yes, I can count." Tirrell gnawed his lower lip. "Did you get any details?"

"Only that he always seemed friendly and they never saw him except on Saturdays. Oh, yeshe also used a bench near the conetrees in the center, not the one Lenna pointed out yesterday. Apart from that" Tonio shrugged. "Pretty much a blank. None of the children ever saw him anywhere except the park, and they all assumed he knew Colin or his parents from somewhere, which is why they never reported the conversations."

"Only on Saturdays, eh?" Tirrell said, half to himself. "Interesting."

"You think Lenna's on his side?" Tonio asked.

"WhoseOliver's? I doubt it. She's sat with Colin alone on several occasions recently. If the two were in collusion she could have delivered Colin to him at one of those times and not have had to worry about having witnesses around." Tirrell drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "No, what I was interested in was the Saturdays-only aspect. That may imply he's an out-of-towner who normally can't get here during the week."

Tonio digested that in silence for a block. "But this week he came on a Wednesday and a Friday."

"He did indeed. What does that suggest to you?"

"Well-l-l. He changed his pattern in case someone was watching for him?"

"Maybe. I'm guessing it's a bit more significant than that, though. Did you happen to note when Colin's fifth birthday was?"

"Uh, no." Out of the corner of his eye Tirrell could see Tonio giving him a puzzled stare. "Is it important?"

"Uh-huh. Colin was going to turn five next Thursday. And since you probably don't know it, I'll mention that Ridge Harbor law requires a child to be brought in to one of the city's hives for teekay testing on the Saturday before his or her fifth birthday, and to be officially admitted the Saturday after that."

"Oh. So if Oliver had come today, he wouldn't have found Colin in the park?"

"That's part of it," Tirrell nodded. "But think it through a bit more. What was your last week at home likedo you remember?"

"Not really. All I remember is that my parents kept me pretty busy visiting relatives and having parties and outings together." The preteen slapped his hands together suddenly. "Aha! If Oliver hadn't grabbed him yesterday he might not have gotten another chance."

"Right," Tirrell nodded again. "And now you're to the crux of my 'interesting' a while back. One more question, and you'll see that maybe our Mr. Oliver's made a mistakehopefully, a fatal one. Take your time; I'll give you till the station to figure it out."

It was six more blocks to the station. Tirrell drove at a leisurely speed through the moderately heavy Saturday afternoon traffic, Tonio's silence giving him a chance to map out their next move. An examination of the city's records, probably, after a stop by Chief Alverez's office to get the necessary authorization forms.

He pulled the car into the station's level of the attached parking garage and found an empty slot. Sliding smoothly into it, he set the wheels on lock and turned to Tonio. "Well?"

The preteen was frowning. "There's something about this I don't understand," he said, shaking his head. "How could Oliver know when Colin's birthday was?"

Tirrell smiled grimly and patted Tonio's shoulder. "Bull's-eye," he said.

The records keeper was a tall old man, well into his sixties, but still vigorous for all that. He seemed less than happy about letting Tirrell into the vault area. "If you'll just tell me which records you want to see, Detective, I'll bring them to you at one of the tables," he said, halting on the threshold of the massive door.

"If I knew exactly which ones I needed, I'd be happy to do it that way," Tirrell explained patiently. "But all I know is that we're starting with the birth records and probably going on from there."

"What year? I'll get them for you, and you can tell me then what else you want."

"Just let us in," Tirrell sighed, waving his authorization papers gently.

The keeper glanced once at Tonio, as if considering whether or not to forbid the preteen's participation, but apparently decided further resistance would be a waste of time. Muttering something under his breath, he turned and fiddled with the combination lock. A moment later the door swung open, revealing a large, dim room with thick binders stacked in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Flipping on the overhead lights, the keeper stalked off without a wordprobably, Tirrell thought, to watch them on the vault's interior monitor system. Stepping inside, the detective studied the floor plan taped to the nearest shelf and headed off to the left.

Tonio followed a bit more slowly, looking around in wonderment. "Are ail the records for Tigris in here?" he asked.

"Oh, nonot by a long shot," Tirrell said over his shoulder, his eyes searching the shelf labels. "Not even for the whole continentyou'd have to go to the university archives in Barona for that. No, these cover only Ridge Harbor, and only since the Lost Generation. Before that everything was kept in a kind of machine called a computer. I've heard that one of those computers could have stored Ridge Harbor's whole history in a single one of these books." He found the proper aisle and ducked into it.

"You're kidding."

"Well, that's what they say." Tirrell pointed to the top shelf. "That's the onethird from the left. Teek it down here, would you?"

The heavy book drifted off its shelf and into Tirrell's waiting hands. Tucking it securely under his arm, the detective led the way to a small table in one of the room's back corners. "Okay, let's see," he muttered as they sat down and opened the binder. "We want June seventeenth... June seventeenth... here it is. Baby boy, adopted by Thom and Elita Brimmer for the city of Ridge Harbor... mother's name was Miribel Oriana.... Hmm. Says she was twenty-six, unmarried, and originally from Barona. I wonder why she came here to have her baby."

"Didn't want any of her friends to know about it?" Tonio suggested.

"Maybe. I would have thought Barona was more liberal about such things, though." He read further. "Strange. I'd assumed Colin was adopted because his parents died soon after he was born, but I guess nothis mother simply walked out the day afterward and disappeared."

"Sounds like a real winner," Tonio said, a touch of disgust creeping into his voice.

"Yeah. Seems odd, though," Tirrell said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "If her partner cut out on her when he found out she was pregnant and she didn't want to raise the baby alone, why didn't she simply arrange beforehand for the baby to be adopted? It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble and given her a little money during the pregnancy, besides."

"Maybe her partner was married and she didn't want to have to name him."

"Maybe." Tirrell sighed and fished out his note pad. "Let's put our supposers on ice for the momentwe may get the chance to simply ask her. Let's see. The obstetrician knew Colin's birth date, of course, and so did the assisting nurses. Any of the staff on that floor would have been able to look at the records for the next month, before they were sealed away. Then there's the Brimmers' neighbors and close friends, and Colin's biological mother if we can find her. Who else?" He stared at the list, pondering.

"Did the Brimmers ever order a birthday cake for him?" Tonio asked suddenly. "Or have professional help throwing a birthday party?"

"Good point. We can check on that." He made another note.

"This isn't going to work, you know," Tonio said, shaking his head. "We're going to wind up interviewing half of Ridge Harbor.

"Oh, it's not that bad," Tirrell said soothingly. "Whoever Oliver's informant is, my guess is we'll find he was relatively new to his job when Colin came to his attention. That's because"

"Wait a second; let me guess." Tonio stared into space for a few seconds, lips moving silently. "Ah. Because if the informant had been at it longer, we should have had earlier kidnappings like this?"

"Right. Good thinking," Tirrell said, impressed in spite of himself that Tonio had successfully tracked through the logic. "I guess we'll start by calling the Brimmers again, find out about birthday cakes and such. Then we should probably try the hospital." He started to get to his feet.

"Stan?" Tonio had a thoughtful look on his face. "Maybe I'm missing something here... but what exactly does a fagin do with kids, anyway?"

Tirrell sat back down. "Well, fagins do different things, I guess, depending on how cold-blooded they are and what they think they can get away with. Usually, they have their kids using teekay to steal for them, but I know of at least one case where the fagin was hiring the kids out to an underground mine operation that was so carelessly run the local hives wouldn't let their kids work there. We caught one using the kids to smuggle stuff past customs, tooyou may be old enough to remember that one."

"So they just want cheap labor out of them, right?"

"Basically. What they're doing is exploiting the kids, who are either taken young or sucked in by big promises. The real tragedy is when the kids hit Transition and get tossed out by the fagin, and then find out that without a hive record they're not entitled to any education. That doesn't happen very often," he added, seeing the look on Tonio's face, "since we usually catch fagins early enough to give their kids at least some hive time. And the last time it happened in Ridge Harbor, the kid got Basic anyway, at city expense. But even beyond that, the whole experience can scar a kid for life."

Tonio was still frowning. "All right," he said slowly. "But if it's just teekay they're interested in, why pick on Colin in the first place? The children I talked to said he was small for his age, and that means he'll be less powerful."

"Not always; and smaller kids usually keep their teekay a little longer as preteens," Tirrell corrected absently, staring at nothing in particular. "But that's still a darn good questionfagins aren't interested in the long-term teekay characteristics of their victims. And this guy Oliver seems to have latched specifically on to Colin a long time ago."

"You suppose it was because Colin was adopted? It might not be as hard on his parents that way."

"Fagins aren't noted for that kind of consideration, either," Tirrell said, a bit tartly. "No, there has to be another reasonsomething about Colin himself. Something the average person wouldn't know, perhaps?" He got to his feet and started back toward the vault door. "Let's go find out."

The preteen followed him. "We going to call the Brimmers?"

Tirrell shook his head. "I think we'll start at the hospital instead. I'd like to take a good look at the rest of Colin's medical records. And at the people who compiled them."

Chapter 4 | A Coming Of Age | Chapter 6