Chapter 21


Rabbit was sitting on the floor in front of his couch, playing End of Time III--a title that amused him, since it implied that time had ended on three separate occasions in this video game world--when the door buzzer sounded. He paused his game and looked over, cigarette dangling from his lips, considering. At the moment, he didn’t want an interruption, especially not in the form of company; company usually only came in the form of Alan, and he definitely did not want company if that was his only choice.

On the other hand, it might be a delivery of some sort. He wasn’t expecting anything, but if he ignored the door, the fool wouldn’t leave the package. He’d tried it before, and had come to the conclusion that they somehow knew when he really was absent and when he was faking it, and they only left packages in the case of the former.

The buzzer sounded again. Rabbit sighed, put his cigarette out in his coffee cup, and rose. He padded across the room and jabbed the view button on the control panel to the door’s left.

Julian Vaughn was standing outside the door, a white paper bag in one hand, looking off down the hallway. Rabbit groaned and reached for the open button. The door slid into the adjacent wall and Julian turned to look at him, a bright smile pasted on his face.

“Hey. I brought breakfast.” He shoved the bag into Rabbit’s hands and pushed into the room before his reluctant host could reply. “Hm. Nice place. I expected it to be messier, somehow.”

Rabbit watched him quietly, then slid the door shut and padded back into the room. On his way to switch off his video game, he dropped the bag of pastries on the coffee table. “How did you get my address?”

“Oh, I just looked you up in the database. Not many people with your description, so you were easy to find.”

Rabbit eyed his guest. He didn’t like the man’s demeanor, which came off to him as haughtiness; after Julian’s performance at the auction a few weeks prior, he was not impressed with the other man’s skills at deception, which meant to him that the haughtiness was real and not a front. He liked that even less. He sat down on his sofa and looked up at Julian, but he didn’t speak

“...Since I have the program,” Julian added. “You know, the SPD search engine.”

“Why?”

“I’m a private detective.”

“Could have fooled me.”

Julian made a face at him and took a seat, since Rabbit refused to offer him one. “Well, I’m a mercenary, really. I get some jobs as a body guard, but mostly it’s detective work on things the SPD wouldn’t bother with.”

“So, you work for jealous spouses.”

Julian took the barb with grace. “Hey, a living’s a living. At least I don’t have to sit at a desk and wear a tie everyday.”

Rabbit grunted and fished in the pocket of his pajama pants for a somewhat crumpled cigarette. “You find your brother?” he asked at length, mumbling around the cigarette as he lit it.

Julian’s smile grew lopsided. “I did, in fact. Right where I was told he’d be.”

Rabbit took a slow, long drag, and looked up at Julian. He held the smoke in his lungs for a moment, then let it out through his nose a little at a time. Julian waited.

“He’s safe then, I assume.”

Julian nodded, then shrugged. “As safe as any runaway kid is after they go back home to face their parents.”

“So not too well, considering the parent.” Julian gave him a bemused look, at which Rabbit added, “I’ve met your father. I do work for him on occasion.”

Rabbit looked down at his cigarette long enough to flick the ashes into the coffee cup on the floor, and so he missed Julian’s reaction. When he looked back up, the detective’s face was composed.

“What kind of work do you do for him?”

“Computer work, mostly.”

Julian raised an eyebrow. “You’re a man of many talents, it would seem.”

Rabbit shrugged in a noncommittal way and took another pull on his cigarette.

“So undercover work isn’t your primary source of income?” Julian pressed.

“I work for the university. Department of Theoretical Mathematics,” he added before Julian could ask, hoping that the finality in his voice would forestall further questioning.

“Sounds pretty intellectual.” Julian sounded impressed. Rabbit suspected that he was just trying to get on friendly terms.

He cut to the chase. “Why is it you came here, exactly?”

“Have a cinnamon roll,” Julian suggested, taking the bag from the coffee table and offering it to him.

Rabbit shook his head. Julian continued to smile and thrust the bag toward him anyway, and he finally took it and pulled out a pastry. Cinnamon rolls, coincidentally, were among his favorite foods--he liked that he got to lick icing off of his fingers when he was done--and the ones Julian had brought were somehow still warm enough to be gooey. He began to pull it apart and eat it one piece at a time without taking his eyes off of Julian, waiting for him to answer the question.

Julian helped himself to a cinnamon roll and ate a few bites first. “I’ve been assigned to help you out,” he said at length.

Rabbit stopped with a piece of pastry partway to his mouth. “...On what?”

“The kidnapping case you’re working on. William Speight, that’s the name.”

“I don’t need help on the case.” Rabbit’s tone was cold. Julian smiled.

“Apparently the folks at the SPD think you do. You’ve been on it for three weeks or something like that, right? And you haven’t found anything. They thought you could use a second opinion--that maybe I would see something you hadn’t.”

Rabbit felt somewhat insulted at the suggestion, but kept his face neutral. “They do, do they.”

“I agree with them,” Julian replied. “Why don’t you run the specifics by me? Just so I can get acquainted with the case.”

Rabbit raised a skeptical eyebrow. “They didn’t give you any information on it?”

“Of course they did.” Julian leaned forward a little, smiling. “I just want to hear it from you.”

Rabbit regarded him coolly, then told him what he knew, and what, no doubt, Julian himself already knew: that the case was blocked by lack of evidence and an absence of leads. At the end of his explanation he added, as an afterthought, that he suspected the case might be part of a serial.

Julian’s eyebrows arched eloquently. “You think it’s a serial murderer?”

“There’s no reason not to think that. There have been at least six other cases that I know of that are almost the same. The victims were from different areas, but they all had something in common.”

“What’s that?”

“They were all blond.”

Whatever common trait Julian had been expecting to hear, that wasn’t it. “That isn’t grounds to assume the same person is behind all the disappearances.”

“You think the fact that there’s just as little evidence in every other case doesn’t contribute?” At Julian’s continued look of skepticism, Rabbit scowled a little, put his cigarette out and stood up. “You can look at the records for the other cases--then tell me a single perp isn’t a possibility.”

Julian smiled like a housecat, obviously pleased with something, though Rabbit had no idea what. “I’d love to.”