Book 1, Chapter 16

Rabbit took care to display as much urgency as he could while delivering Alan’s merchandise. He responded to Alan’s more inane comments with preoccupation, and to his less inane outrage at Riyad’s pricing by pointing out the disclaimer the Arcadian had included on the receipt. He’d only spoken a handful of words by the time he left the shop, and decided that he would make it up to Alan with food at the next available opportunity.

Such an opportunity, he hoped, would present itself after he’d finished his current case. It had wrapped itself around his insides in the time it took him to get to Alan’s from Protectors of Antiquity headquarters, and by the time he’d left Alan’s shop he didn’t think he could possibly get home and to work soon enough.

Home was mid-level and immaculate, except for the room that he used as an office. It was cluttered, dusty and the lighting--provided only by a CommNet terminal and a malfunctioning false window that refused to show him anything but half of a murky view of the interior of a greenhouse--was bad.

Both of these sources of light, connected to a motion sensor, snapped on when he entered the room. Shadows splayed across the walls and Rabbit paused to shake his head, dislodging phantom strains of Nickolaevich’s Moon Dance. He sat at the terminal and began to sift through his files and bring up the ones he needed, poring over them again.

It was a missing person’s case: eleven-year-old William Speight, who had gone missing three weeks ago from a pedestrian zone near his school, where he and a few friends often rode their bikes during the vacation when there was no one around who could make them to stop. He had sandy blond hair and brown eyes, and there had been no witnesses. The police only knew the location of his disappearance because they’d found a tuft of hair, attached to a small chunk of scalp, that was a match for William’s DNA. There was no indication that it was an enemy of the family, who were so stereotypically middle-class that the idea of having enemies had been bemusing to them, and there had been no ransom message. The boy was just gone.

Rabbit had been given the particulars by the SPD and asked to look over the evidence and give his input. That was two weeks ago. He hadn’t stopped at looking over the evidence, but had begun to investigate on his own.

He’d visited underground auctions and checked the child-merchandise against the images he had been given of the boy; he’d poured over every kiddy porn site and forum he could find; he’d exhausted his list of contacts, both savory and un-, had done everything short of go door to door showing the boy’s image, and all he had in the way of evidence was what he’d been given initially. The SPD was on the verge of dropping the case--three weeks was just too long in a kidnapping. They would count themselves lucky if someone called in with the location of the boy’s corpse at this point.

Rabbit wasn’t ready to give. He understood how child kidnappings went--that after a few days, with no ransom demand and no clues, the probability of the boy being alive was next to nothing. Rabbit knew; he’d compiled the statistics and done the math for them himself. There was just something about the case itself that wouldn’t let him leave it. Something was going to come of it, will or won’t the SPD, and somewhere deep inside Rabbit’s murky interior, he knew that it had something to do with him. He didn’t know where the ludicrous notion had come from and he didn’t fully understand it, but it was strong enough to keep its grip on him after two weeks of frustration, and it wasn’t just machismo or a drive to accomplish the impossible or to once again prove his worth.

He fell asleep on the keyboard and woke up to find that the terminal and false window were off; he assumed they had put themselves into sleep mode when the sensor had registered his prolonged lack of movement. He also found, once he’d stumbled into the bathroom through his dark apartment, that he had the letters B, H and J crisscrossed by a grid pressed into his face. In his bedroom, the clock was blank, and only then did he groggily put it all together and realize that his sector’s power generator was hiccupping again, leaving only the dim running lights built into the baseboards for illumination. That explained the dead sensors throughout the apartment.

He fell into bed in his clothes without bothering to reset the clock. He owned an interior apartment, and thus had no indication of time of day other than what his false windows and his clocks told him. His ignorance didn’t worry him; his phone would wake him up at noon, if he didn’t wake himself up before then. If he got back to sleep at all.

Without the clock blank and his phone in the other room, Rabbit didn’t know how long it took him to realize that he wasn’t going to be going back to sleep anytime soon. It felt like hours, but he trusted his internal clock to keep track of the passage of time even less than he trusted his stomach and its lack of appetite to tell him when it was time to eat. He stared at the shadows on the ceiling and tried to think about the kidnapping case.

He could think of at least a dozen other cases similar to Will’s, with no suspect, no apparent motive, and no clues. It might be that the information from them would give him some hint as to how to proceed in Will’s case.

There had been one three months ago: a teenage boy, aged fifteen or sixteen, who had gone missing and never turned up again. It had been in a different part of town though, all the way on the other side of the Core in the north sector.

Another case, one month prior to Will’s disappearance, had at least occurred in the same part of town. It had been a woman, though, in her late twenties, and part of the body had eventually been recovered: a femur and the bones of three fingers in a trash canister behind a music store a few miles south of the site of disappearance, and the kidnapper in that case had been officially promoted to murderer. After further investigation, the SPD had concluded that the bones had been dumped, and the culprit could have actually killed the woman anywhere in the sector. Or anywhere at all, really, transportation in Solace being what it was.

Rabbit ticked off three more cases in the past six months, but nothing matched up other than the lack of information concerning the kidnapper and assumed murderer. The six disappearances had occurred in four different geographical locations; only two of the victims had ever officially been declared dead, and then only because small pieces of them were found in the trash.

The SPD did not consider the cases linked in any way, and Rabbit had initially agreed with their judgment. Now he wasn’t so sure and he turned the cases over in his mind, examining everything he could remember from them, which was more than he had hoped he would.

The six victims had been from different areas--at least three of them didn’t even live near their abduction sites. Two of them were female, the remaining four male, and they had ranged in age from eleven to thirty-two.

There had to be something else. He closed his eyes and concentrated, picturing the victims’ image files.

He opened his eyes again, wide. They were all blond, all brown-eyed, all thin. With the exception of Will, they’d all been around 5’8”.

There were no leads in any case, other than the bones that had been found. Rabbit narrowed his eyes, picturing the evidence in question--a femur and three fingers from one victim, half of a pelvis from the other. In his mind’s eye, he could see grooves and gouges in the bones, from being hacked apart, the medical examiner said; the two had been dismembered and the flesh removed. Who knew what had happened to the rest of the skeletons--the medical examiner had suggested the culprit was a cannibal. Or liked to keep trophies. Big trophies.

That would explain why the bodies never turned up at least, assuming that the same cannibal-slash-trophy hunter had been responsible for every case regardless of geographic disparity. And if the six cases could be viewed in connection to one another rather than as individual disappearances, new evidence might appear.

The problem was that he needed evidence of this theory right now if he was going to bring up the idea of serial kidnappings and murders to the SPD. Three cold cases would have to be reopened and the chance to drop Will’s case in the interest of focusing on something they were more likely to make progress on would be lost. No one at the SPD wanted to spend any more time running headlong into dead ends and brick walls with this case than they already had.

All that meant was that Rabbit needed to invest more time in the investigation. He could afford to put off the work for the university a couple more weeks--they were very understanding when he requested extensions. He’d also have to ignore Alan and any other requests for odd jobs for a while, but that would just be a matter of screening his calls and not answering his front door.

On second thought, he had planned to deliver some pastries to Alan in the morning. He could explain the circumstances then and see if there was anything the necromancer could offer by way of help. He doubted there was, but it was worth a shot, since none of his conventional methods had worked thus far.

He’d probably have an easier time of it if he didn’t refuse to work directly with SPD officers. He smirked and rolled over onto his side. It wasn’t that he was that much of a lone wolf or that he thought they were useless. Quite the contrary--he thought most of them were far too astute, and he hated answering questions about his underground ties. Or finding an excuse not to answer them. It wasn’t a matter of pride but of privacy.

He owed the SPD a lot and working with them at all was his way of paying that back. The real test would be solving the case, which had already proven itself to be more than he could handle without their help.

This lights flickered back on with a somewhat alarming, swarm-of-angry-bees noise. Rabbit squinted at the ceiling, adjusting, and sat up. The clock was flashing at him. He hauled himself to his feet, feeling just as off kilter as he had in the dark, now that the lights were blinding him.

His phone, when he found it, said that it was just before nine in the morning--still five hours before his appointment with Maxwell. He groaned and slumped into his chair at his desk. It made him wish he could sleep like a normal person--then at least he would feel rested before going to see one of his least favorite customers. Instead, he would have to spend the intervening time delivering donuts and trying not to strangle his best friend.

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