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Authors: Timothy Zahn

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BOOK: Coming of Age
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Ramsden shrugged. “If the hair is in doubt, I probably know a dozen men who could conceivably be drawn like that.”

Tirrell nodded. “All right, then, how about her?” he asked, handing the other the picture of Miribel Oriana Barona's driver's license files had provided.

Ramsden frowned at the photo for a long minute. “She looks vaguely familiar, but I can't for the life of me say why. Did she ever work in my department?”

“No, she used to work at a coffee shop a couple of blocks away—the Redeye.” Which was why, he didn't add, he and Tonio were wading through the various university departments this week.
Someone
must have known the woman, and her restaurant's clientele was as good a place to look as any.

But Ramsden was shaking his head. “No, I haven't been in the Redeye for at least fifteen years—I came down with flu there the day after I got my doctorate, and the decor has made me feel queasy ever since. You sure she never worked here?”

Tirrell felt a small stirring of hope. If Ramsden wasn't just imagining things, this could be the first lead they'd had in five weeks. “Not
absolutely
sure, no, but none of the records we've found mention the university.”

Ramsden picked up his phone and punched a button. “Meri, would you check employment records for a—” he looked up, and Tirrell supplied the name—“Miribel Oriana? Better go back at least ten years. Yes, go ahead; we can fill out the proper authorization forms afterward. Thank you.”

He hung up. “We'll know in a few minutes, Detective. Is there anything else I can do for you while we're waiting?”

“Yes,” Tirrell said, pulling out his notebook. “You can give me the names of those dozen men you mentioned earlier.”

The secretary's report arrived a few minutes later: no one named Miribel Oriana had ever worked in the department. “Meri said she'll check with the university's central records next, see if she might have worked somewhere else on campus,” Ramsden added as he hung up the phone.

“Thank you,” Tirrell said. Probably a waste of time, but long shots were occasionally worth the effort. “In the meantime, I'd like to talk to the men whose names you gave me.”

“Certainly,” the other nodded, getting to his feet. “Actually, only five of them work here—the rest are personal friends or colleagues. But you're welcome to talk to the four who are here this afternoon.”

“Is the fifth one sick?” Tirrell asked as he and Tonio also stood up.

“On vacation,” Ramsden said, gesturing to the door. “Took off June seventh and won't be back for about six months.”

Tirrell glanced at Tonio, saw his own sudden interest mirrored there. One week exactly before the kidnapping … and gone now for six
months?
“You have a very generous vacation policy here,” he said as casually as possible.

“Oh, Matt Jarvis is a special case,” Ramsden smiled. “Hasn't had any time off in nearly five years and we finally decided enough was enough. The rules require a certain amount of vacation time per year, you know. Besides, we can't risk him getting a nervous breakdown.”

“Not if it's
the
Matthew Jarvis you're referring to,” Tirrell agreed.

“It certainly is,” the other acknowledged with understandable pride.

“You know this guy, Stan?” Tonio spoke up.

“Only by reputation,” Tirrell told him. “He's done a great deal of the quantitative work on the teekay ability—designed the brain and metabolism test they use at your hive to judge a new kid's teekay and to predict Transition time.”

“He's also made great strides in understanding the glandular changes at both onset and Transition,” Ramsden added, “not to mention his pioneering work with chemical perception-alteration, glandular disease and dysfunction, and hormone-based medical treatment.”

“No wonder he hasn't had time for a vacation,” Tonio murmured.

“I hope he at least has weekends off,” Tirrell put in, picking up on Tonio's lead-in.

“Oh, I understand there
have
been Saturdays when you could find his lab locked up,” Ramsden shrugged. “There haven't been many of them, though.”

“I'll bet,” Tirrell murmured. “Perhaps we could take a look at his lab later, after I've seen the other four men. And I'd appreciate it, by the way, if you'd keep the specific case we're working on to yourself for the time being. There's no need for anyone else to know, and publicity can sometimes be harmful to this kind of investigation.”

Ramsden nodded. “I understand.”

The four meetings went quickly; as Tirrell had expected, none of the men bore any real resemblance to Oliver's sketched face. All denied knowledge of anyone named Miribel Oriana, and only one thought he recognized her picture. Tirrell made a note for the Barona police to check their alibis for the day of the kidnapping, but that was pure by-the-book reflex, and he didn't expect anything to come of it. Ramsden seemed a bit embarrassed—Tirrell sensed he'd had visions of minor fame as the man who'd provided the case's first solid clue—but the detective assured him that chasing dead-end leads was all part of the job. Looking only marginally consoled, Ramsden led them upstairs to Matthew Jarvis's lab.

Tirrell had reasonably expected “lab” to be a singular noun, but in this case it turned out to be decidedly plural. Jarvis presided over a fourth-floor complex that included two labs, an office, a preparation room, and a small menagerie of caged animals. “Very impressive,” Tirrell said after one of Jarvis's assistants gave them a brief look at the facilities. “I begin to understand how Dr. Jarvis can handle five different projects at once.”

The woman, Cam Mbar, smiled. “Actually, he was handling five projects at once long before the department gave him this much room. He just gets all of them finished faster this way.”

“What are all these animals for?” Tonio asked, drifting sideways through the air as he scanned the rows of cages with obvious fascination.

“They're used in various experiments,” Ramsden told him. “If we're working with a new drug, say, we have to test it on animals to make sure it'll be safe for people to use.”

“What happens if it's not?”

“Well, we do more testing and research to try and—”

“I mean what happens to the animal,” Tonio interrupted, still gazing into the cages.

Ramsden exchanged a quick glance with Cam. “Well … usually the animal dies, I'm afraid.”

Slowly, the preteen settled back to the floor and stepped back to Tirrell's side, his face set into an expression that was simultaneously hard and blank. Forcing his eyes back to Cam, Tirrell broke the awkward silence. “I wonder if we could go to the doctor's office now and ask you a few questions, Ms. Mbar.”

“Certainly,” she nodded with evident relief. Tirrell glanced once at Tonio's face as they all filed out of the animal room, but the other's expression hadn't changed. The righthand's reaction worried Tirrell a bit, and he made a mental note to ask about it later.

The office was considerably smaller than Ramsden's had been, but once Cam had sat down at the cluttered desk and Tonio had drifted up over everyone's head, there was enough room for everyone to breathe simultaneously. “Have you ever seen this woman before?” Tirrell asked Cam, handing her the picture of Miribel Oriana.

Cam gazed at it, shook her head. “No. Sorry.”

“Okay. Do you happen to have a picture of Dr. Jarvis available?”

She blinked at the request. “Uh … I think there's one on the jacket of his latest book.” She scanned the bookshelves. “That's one—end of the shelf, gray cover.” She pointed past Ramsden.

“Tonio?” Tirrell said, and the book slid out and flew into the detective's hands. The picture was on the front inside cover, and he studied it for a long moment in silence. It
could
be Oliver's face, he decided; but, then again, the description they had was so limited that nothing conclusive could be drawn from it.

“Cam? Louden? Anyone home?” a voice said from outside in one of the labs.

“In here, Dr. Somerset,” Cam called.

A bluff, friendly looking face peered around the door jamb. “Whoops. Didn't realize you were having a party here. I just brought in the latest prostaglandin test results. He stepped in and leaned past Tirrell and Ramsden to hand Cam a piece of paper. As she took it, his head twisted sideways, and he gestured to the photo still lying on the desk in front of her. “Where'd that come from?”

Tirrell had caught the head movement and was already picking up the photo and turning it right side up. “Do you recognize this woman, Doctor?” he asked.

“Sure—Matt was going out with her a few years ago.” He focused on Tirrell's face. “Why do you ask, Mr.—?”

“Tirrell, Detective First Tirrell of Ridge Harbor.” Tirrell's heart was doing rapid flip-flops in the center of his chest. “Do you remember how long ago this was?”

“Uh …” Somerset hesitated, looking questioningly at Ramsden.

“Tell him anything you can, Kelby,” the other affirmed. “This concerns a very serious matter, and I've promised the departments full cooperation. Detective, that must be why she looked familiar to me—I must have seen her in the building with Matt.”

Somerset still looked uncertain. “Is Matt in some kind of trouble?” he asked.

Tirrell hesitated a split second, decided to give the most favorable interpretation that wasn't an outright lie. “At the moment, we're just trying to locate this woman or find out as much about her as we can.”

“Well, I doubt that Matt would be much help with that,” Somerset said, still sounding reluctant. “I haven't seen her around for at least … oh, at least five years; probably closer to six.”

“I see. I understand Dr. Jarvis is on vacation at the moment. Do you know where he is?”

“Sure—he's out at his cabin.”

“Where's that?”

Somerset shrugged. “I don't know. Out in the woods somewhere. Cam, do you know?”

The woman shook her head. “I was thinking it was somewhere due north of here, east of Banat perhaps. He's got a radiophone up there, though.”

Somerset nodded. “Yes, I've called him a couple of times since he left.”

“You
what?
” Ramsden snapped. “Blast it, Kelby, he's supposed to be on
vacation
out there.”

“Funny, that's what
he
said,” Somerset said blandly. He looked back at Tirrell. “I'm sure he wouldn't mind coming back for a few hours to talk to you, Detective. I can get a radiophone link from the phone here, if you'd like.”

“No, that's all right,” Tirrell said, his mind racing. “There's no need yet to interrupt his vacation. It's possible we can get all the information we need from other sources, especially if Dr. Jarvis hasn't seen Ms. Oriana in several years. I would, however, like to ask you and Ms. Mbar some questions about Dr. Jarvis's recent work, if I may.”

“What sort of questions?” Ramsden asked guardedly. “I don't mean to be rude, Detective, but you'll understand that some of the work here has important commercial applications, and we can't afford premature disclosure of sensitive details.”

“I don't expect to need any sensitive details, and any I
do
will stay with me,” Tirrell told him. “But it may very well prove vital for me to know of the existence of such details. I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say more right now.”

For a moment the others mulled that over, while Tirrell crossed his fingers and prayed for Tonio to keep his questions to himself. “Well …” Somerset said, glancing at Ramsden, “of course we'll be happy to cooperate as much as possible.” He paused, but Ramsden didn't interrupt, and he continued, “I have an important appointment in five minutes, but I could probably cancel it if absolutely necessary.”

Tirrell shook his head. “No, you can go ahead. Ms. Mbar can give me all the help I'll need for a while. Just come back as soon as you can and don't mention any of this to anyone else.” He shifted his gaze. “That applies to you and your secretary, too, Dr. Ramsden. Thank you for your time and help; I'll let you know if I need any further assistance.”

Ramsden nodded and, correctly interpreting the comment as a dismissal, squeezed past Somerset and disappeared. “I'll be back in about an hour,” Somerset said and followed his colleague.

“If you don't mind, Detective,” Cam said, rising from her chair, “I have to get something out of the autoclave before we begin. It'll only take a minute.”

“Go ahead.” Tirrell nodded, pressing himself back against the wall to let her by. Tonio dropped back to the floor as she left, took a quick look out the door, and turned to face the detective.

“You going to let me in on this game?” he asked in a low voice. “What does Jarvis's recent work have to do with anything?”

“If he's like most scientists I've known, he'll have all his lab book entries dated,” Tirrell said. “Ramsden said he was often here on Saturdays; if we can prove he
wasn't
here on the days Colin's sitter and playmates remember seeing Oliver in Ridge Harbor, we may be able to persuade the Barona police to authorize our using direction finders to locate Jarvis's convenient little hideaway.”

Tonio frowned. “Why do we need to persuade them? He's a material witness or something, isn't he?”

“Not really—all we know is that someone else says Jarvis once knew Oriana. That justifies our calling him and asking him to come in for questioning, but if he
is
involved in the kidnapping, that would tip him off and might even spook him into deeper hiding. And if Colin is still with him …” He left the sentence unfinished.

An odd look flickered across Tonio's face, but before Tirrell could ask about it, he heard the sound of returning footsteps. A moment later Cam appeared with a half-dozen thick binders. “Here are Dr. Jarvis's lab books, Detective,” she said, sidling past him back to the desk chair. “What would you like to know?”

BOOK: Coming of Age
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