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Authors: Timothy Zahn

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BOOK: Coming of Age
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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, yes—he 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.

“Whose—Oliver'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 like—do 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 mistake—hopefully, 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 word—probably, 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
all
the records for Tigris in here?” he asked.

“Oh, no—not by a long shot,” Tirrell said over his shoulder, his eyes searching the shelf labels. “Not even for the whole continent—you'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 one—third 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 not—his 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 moment—we 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, too—you 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 question—fagins 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 reason—something 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 6

“N
OW LOOK, KELBY, THIS
is ridiculous,” Jarvis said as patiently as possible into the radiophone. “I'm supposed to be on vacation out here, remember? Or is one week your idea of a long time away from the lab? I don't want to hear about your troubles.”

“Now, now, Matt; let's not overdo the hyperbole, eh?” Even Jarvis's less-than-magnificent equipment couldn't filter out the bluff good humor that was a permanent feature of Kelby Somerset's voice. “In the first place, this is
not
going to become a regular event; and in the second place I doubt very much you're really forgetting about work out there. I'll lay you very heavy odds you've got yourself a cozy little lab in this allegedly rustic cabin of yours. You're probably working your tail off, making twice your usual progress now that you don't have to worry about trivia like staff meetings and faculty lunches—not to mention simple food and sleep—”

“All right, all right,” Jarvis interrupted with a sigh. “I give up. Ask your question and let me get back to my book, okay.”

“Right. It's about the results of that test you and Cam ran last month—the induced-hibernation one. We've been running through the data and are getting a strange sort of anomaly between the eight-and ten-milligram dosages. The
rate
of decrease of heartbeat, respiration, and brain electrical activity goes way down all of a sudden. As you increase the dosage the decreases plot out smoothly, but that discontinuity's driving everybody crazy. We've looked at the obvious possibilities and they all washed out. I thought you might have a brilliant suggestion or two on something new to try.”

Jarvis sighed. “Disturbing my privacy isn't enough—now you want long-distance prophesy, too?”

“Not necessarily. If you want to sneak back to the lab for a day, I promise I won't tell anyone.”

“Thanks a lot,” Jarvis growled. “All right; read me some relevant numbers, will you?”

“Sure. Here are the blood insulin levels for the eight-milligram subjects …”

Listening with half his attention, Jarvis stretched his neck to peer out the window. Colin was still in sight, playing at the foot of the big conetree next to the grassy path that served as driveway. As he watched, two large seed pods shot past the boy's head; Colin was apparently still playing dogfight. He was good at it, too, for someone his age. Jarvis made a mental note to take a dexterity/control measurement soon.

BOOK: Coming of Age
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