The morning bell jarred me out of a dream about clean sheets and hot meals. I rolled out of the bunk
and slid bare feet into the plastic slippers that they gave us to wear as shoes. Clancy walked through the dorm, swinging
her wooden spoon. It had a leather thong looped through a hole in the handle and she swung it from her fingertip as she looked
I'd been treated to her spoon across my knees on my first two mornings here. I learned to get
my feet on the floor before she made her rounds. She gave me a crooked smile and gripped the handle of the spoon for a second
as she looked down at my slippers. Bare feet on the floor would get you knock on the top of the head. She moved on. I turned
to smooth the faded and yellowed sheets across the thin mattress. I'd lost my blanket on the third day for spilling my
breakfast oatmeal and hadn't earned it back yet. March is cold in Chicago. I really missed that blanket. A howl erupted
from somewhere down the row of bunks as Clancy found a target.
Clancy checked the bunks and administered a few more sharp raps
with the spoon. She smiled at me as she looked at my taut sheet. She ran a fat hand through my hair. I wanted to vomit but
instead I gave her a toothy Dumb-Dwarf smile.
"Did I do good, Auntie?" I asked.
did fine, Tito. Just fine." She kissed the top of my head. Her breath smelled of stale beer. The spoon dangled from her
wrist as her hand stroked the inside of my groin. I almost kicked her, but managed to keep the stupid grin plastered on my
"Can I have my blanket back, Auntie?" I pleaded. "I been good all week, honest."
make Auntie mad, Tito. You'll get it back tomorrow if you're a good boy for me tonight."
hold your breath, you old hag, I thought. I had enough evidence
get her busted on a dozen abuse charges. All I had to do was signal Franklin and have him get me out of this shit hole.
rang the bell again and we fell in line behind Tommy. He was Clancy's snitch and relished his place. I couldn't hate
him. He'd been here for five years and had been 'Auntie's Special Boy' for most of them. I think he was relieved
when she started to show an interest in me. It didn't keep him from his exacting his own petty revenge. I was used to
it. It'd take more than a few mashed toes and shoves in the back to get me to break cover.
We shuffled into the dining room
and stood behind our chairs. Cassie, the girl with Down's syndrome, was limping and had tear stains on her cheek. She'd
been slow getting out of bed again. Hang on, Cassie. Just for today, I thought as if she could hear. She didn't
"All right. You can sit now. No dawdling. and don't spill." Clancy looked sternly at
We sat, or in the case of me and Tommy, climbed up into the bare wooden chairs. My chin came just above
the edge of the table, so not spilling was a bit of a challenge. I drank the watery orange juice but didn't chance the
cold cereal. Franklin could buy me a burger for lunch. After this, he'd owe me big.
Tommy was a Spud like me. We're
all just about the same age--around twenty-one more or less. But he was afflicted with the developmental delays (social worker
speak for retardation) that afflicted most of us. Maybe one in five hundred had normal intelligence. I was one of the lucky
ones. Even then I'd struggled with reading and learning troubles all through childhood.
I shuddered as Clancy walked behind
me. She had a thing for Denver Dwarves and I was her next target. I'd heard about perverts like her, but usually they
were men who preyed on the girls. They're very specific about their taste. Real Spuds, not just little people.
called Viral Hyperteloric Dwarfism Syndrome, VHDS to the medical community. Denver Dwarf or Fish-Eye Dwarf or just plain Spud
to the masses. We're a select group, about half a million of us. Our mothers were pregnant when the Plague hit Denver
and we were exposed to the vaccine in the womb. It caused a specific and usually devastating series of birth defects.
a personal level, it trapped me in a stunted body with wide set eyes and a narrow chinless jaw. Not exactly the sort of thing
to attract hot girls, or even earn me tolerance in Normie society. Out of sight and out of mind was the unofficial government
policy. Most of us were warehoused in institutions or Custodial Care homes, like this one. I'd busted out of a C.C. home
just after my eighteenth birthday and hadn't been back since. Except, of course, on paying jobs.
breakfast and everyone carefully carried their bowls to the big sink in the kitchen. Clancy rang her bell again. The little
parade left the kitchen and marched to the day room. In another setting, it might have been a pleasant room with a high airy
ceiling and big bay windows overlooking Fargo Avenue. But the ceiling was cracked and water stained and the worn carpet was
caked with dirt and smelled faintly of stale urine.
Three tables with chipped Formica tops and some more rickety wooden
chairs occupied the center of the room. Two battered, threadbare armchairs slumped against the far wall. An old flat-screen
netlink blared from a ceiling mount, permanently tuned to a children's educational channel. That along with a few puzzles
and building blocks fulfilled Clancy's requirement to provide a comprehensive remedial adult education program.
Clancy surveyed her domain with a satisfied smile, then left us to our own devices, locking the door behind
her. She'd fetch us back to the dining room for lunch at one, then dinner at six. Such was the totality of our existence.
Five days of this had driven me to the brink of madness. Time to call Franklin.
I stood at the window and peered
through the dirty pane. Franklin's green Ford electric was parked a half-block down Fargo. A wisp of steam from the hood
showed that he had the heater on. He'd be watching the house from there. I couldn't see the C.O.P.S., but figured
he had Patrol Units hidden in the alley. I shuddered. I didn't like C.O.P.S.
The signal that I was ready for
rescue was lowering and raising the shade twice. Subtle, simple and effective; unless your partner has fallen asleep and you're
too short to reach the shade in the first place.
Someone had flipped the draw string up over the curtain rod. I stood
on the windowsill and stretched but couldn't reach it. I was reduced to waving my arms at the car, hoping Franklin would
notice. He didn't, but Clancy did. One second I was flapping my arms like a crow in a tornado, the next I was sitting
on the floor with Clancy swinging that spoon at my head.
I brought my hand up and blocked the blow. She screamed something
at me and swung again. I lost it. I grabbed the spoon out of her hand, snapping the thong.
"Get away from me, you fat
pervert!" I swung the spoon and smacked her on the elbow. She screamed again and grabbed at me. I ducked under her arm
and kicked her in the shin. She kicked back and sent me flying into one of the tables. Fury contorted her face. She advanced
toward me, arms out, her eyes red. My side ached where she'd kicked me. This was going to end badly if I didn't do
I scrambled backwards under a table and glanced around the room. No help. My fellow
inmates cowered against the walls. All except Tommy who stood on one of the armchairs smiling gleefully.
grabbed the table and shoved it aside. She got a grip on my ankle and pulled me toward her, raising a balled fist. I brought
up my arms to shield my face.
I heard a shout of "No!" It came from my left. Clancy jerked my leg,
then let go. I opened my eyes to see Cassie shoving Clancy against the wall. Cassie was a big girl, big as Clancy. She'd
never shown any sign of rebellion before. In fact she'd been one of Clancy's favorite targets. I didn't know what
had sparked her to action, but was glad something had.
Clancy turned her wrath on Cassie, slapping her about the face and
head. I looked around for a weapon, but only came up with the spoon. Not much against Clancy's bulk and fury, but I wasn't
going to let Cassie down. I charged but never made it to Cassie's side.
The door splintered and gave way
as a C.O.P. Patrol Unit crashed through it. Franklin stood behind it and there were more units in the hallway.
said the Patrol unit in that commanding synthesized voice that they all use. "This unit is seeking the male Horacio Guzman.
All individuals will suspend activity and assist with a lawful search."
I raised my hand. "I'm
Horacio Guzman. I wish to make a formal complaint against a citizen here present. I charge Mildred Clancy with abuse of the
disabled citizens left in her charge, with fraudulent billing of the Department of Social Welfare and with being an ugly,
The Computer Operated Patrol unit cocked its mechanical head, a rough parody of a man's with
round optical sensors for eyes and a speaker where the mouth should be. It stood over six feet high on two titanium alloy
legs and could move faster than any human alive. It regarded me for a half second as the biochips in its CPU processed my
"Citizens wishing to file formal charges with the Department of Public Safety should clearly state
the nature of the offense and present reasonable evidence before an arrest can be made." It didn't like my editorializing
about Clancy's character.
Franklin stepped forward and rattled off a string of statute numbers. The unit
turned to Clancy who had backed into a corner. Cassie sat on the floor crying. I went over to her and hugged her. Sitting
down, her head was almost level with mine.
"Hush, Cassie," I said softly. "It's all right.
You did the right thing. No one is going to hurt you anymore."
Franklin supervised Clancy's arrest. More patrol units were
in the room, rounding up the rest of Clancy's victims. The units spoke in soft feminine tones to reassure everyone that
the situation was now in the hands of the lawful authorities. I wouldn't let any of them near Cassie. The room was full
of that C.O.P. smell that always set my teeth on edge--lube oil with faint overtones of burning hair.
came over to me. "You have to let her go, Tito," he said. "The matrons are here to pick her up. She'll
be all right."
I pulled back away from Cassie and she dried her eyes. "All better?" I asked.
nodded and said, "Bye-bye, Tito." She smiled as a small round woman in a DSW jacket took her hand and helped her
to her feet.
Franklin had the good sense to keep quiet as they led her away. I turned to face him.
owe me a bonus for this one, Franklin."
"That wasn't in the contract. You knew the situation here
when you took the job."
"I agreed to get the goods on Clancy. I've got them." I pulled off
the tiny button camera that I'd used to record all of Clancy's antics. It looked like one of my shirt buttons, but
held up to 200 hours of continuous video recording in its tiny brain. "You didn't tell me she had a thing for Spuds."
looked genuinely surprised. Maybe he didn't know. I didn't care. I needed to take out my frustration on someone and
he was handy.
"Did she. . . " He left the sentence unfinished.
"No. Tommy over there was
her Special Boy. But I was next in line for the job. Maybe she planned to make it a threesome." Franklin squirmed uncomfortably.
A bit hypocritical of him, if you ask me, considering his own sexual preferences.
Franklin wasn't into Spuds.
But he did like things a bit kinky and he liked his girls young. I'd retrieved a damning video from a pimp last year as
a favor to him, which was why he was going to pay me a bonus now. The girl in the video had said she was eighteen. She looked
twenty-one. But a judge wouldn't care that she was a well-paid, willing participant. He'd only see that she was barely
sixteen and Franklin would be looking at five to seven in Joliet.
"What do you want?" He lowered his voice and bent closer
to me. At almost two meters tall and only sixty-five kilos, he might have been a stork stooping to speak to a toad. I wasn't
pretty enough to be a frog.
He looked around for the C.O.P. units, but they had all filed out
with the social workers. "That's illegal, Tito."
"So is sex with teenage girls." 'Tis one thing
to be tempted, another to fall, I though, hearing Charlie's voice in my head.
He alternately paled and flushed
with anger. "Where am I supposed to get biochips?'
"You work for DPS. Be creative. Two chips by noon tomorrow.
On top of the credits I earned for this job." I smiled. "And now I think I'll let you buy me lunch. Otherwise
I might have a serious lapse in memory after such a trying ordeal."
Lunch was at an out of the way diner. Not the Taproom at the Drake,
but I didn't care. The burger was good and they used real grease for the fries, not that canola crap mandated by the Health
Department. I made a note of the place for attention later. Halfway through lunch, Franklin took a call. He excused himself
for two minutes, then returned with an envelope.
He slid it to me under the table. A bit melodramatic, but I let
him have his moment of drama. The envelope contained two brand new untrained biochips. Franklin had more resources than I
gave him credit for.
"Thanks. You're a true friend, Jack." I used his first name to make sure he knew I
meant it. If you'd cultivate a man's loyalty, flatter his vanity, as Charlie always said. In Franklin's
case it wasn't just flattery. He went out on a limb with the DPS every time he hired me. Between the two of us, we'd
busted ten C.C. homes and put some truly nasty people out of business. I needed the money he threw my way. And the busts hadn't
hurt his career.
"Just be careful with those things. I can't help you if they catch you with them."
worries, Jack. My problem. Thanks for the lunch."
I stood up to leave as he slid his Universal Debit Card into the
reader to pay the check. He stopped me with a touch on my shoulder. "You did a good thing today. Tito. I'm sorry
if Clancy hurt you."
"'It's not enough to help the feeble up, but to support them after'," I said,
borrowing Charlie's quotation voice. Franklin looked puzzled. "Shakespeare. If you want to do a good deed, help Cassie
find a decent home. I owe her."
I left the diner, my thoughts running down the road with Charlie as they often
did after a job. God, but I missed that old man and his quotations from the Bard. I'd been a smart-ass bum when
he'd found me on the streets two years ago. He'd taught me the value of family and honor. He was on the run from the
DPS himself these days, a blank with no records or identity. And I was now the Fixer in his stead.
It had been rough those first
few months. I didn't have Charlie's flair for drama or his ability to intimidate. But I'd found my own way to
do business. I'd learned to use my 'disability' as an advantage. Like these jobs for Franklin. I could infiltrate
a custodial home without raising suspicion. I had practiced my Dumb-Dwarf act until it was second nature. Once I had enough
evidence, I'd whistle for Franklin and another abusive home would bite the dust. Franklin paid in much needed credits.
often, pay was in favors, courtesies as Charlie used to call them. That's the way the business worked--a favor for a favor.
Value for value. I did a favor for a client and they would owe me one as well. Some were big, most were small, but always
there was an exchange of value. That's something else I learned from Charlie. No such thing as a free lunch.
a cross-town bus to Harlem Avenue, then headed south. I got off at Ashland and walked the last few blocks to Rosie's place.
The building had started life as a gas station and repair shop. It had gone belly up when the government had mandated all-electric
cars. Now it housed Rosie's warehouse and small fleet of delivery trucks, a legitimate business. And a front for his real
I banged on the door and a skinny guy with long blond hair answered it. He held a baseball bat, even
though the Cubs hadn't started spring training yet.
"Hey Clarence, whattaya know?" I said.
Tito. You looking for Rosie?"
I nodded and he opened the door wider and waved me in. "He's in the office."
He pointed toward the back of the garage. I said thanks and headed that way.
Ambrose Olongopo was the biggest
human being I'd ever seen. He and I shared a common heritage from the Pacific islands. But where he had inherited the
massive size of his Tonganese ancestors, my family on Guam had mingled with the Spanish generations ago. We tended to be smaller
and fine boned.
"Hafa adai, Rosie," I called as I entered.
"Hafa' Tito, you little
"Who you calling little?"
He laughed. "You still got da tau-tau, da devil, in
you guts. What you want?"
"Trade. The usual."
"I dunno, Tito. Times gettin tough. Maybe da price go up, yah?"
not. It's for Sarafina. You wouldn't want to cheat an old lady would you?"
"Now dat's not fair.
I wanna talk-talk an' haggle a bit, an' you gotta hit below da belt."
I laughed at that. Rosie was a
smuggler and dealer in contraband. He'd buy and sell anything. But he had a soft spot in his pirate's heart for Sarafina.
He'd never been serious about haggling with me anyway. It was just a way to save face. I passed him the two chips He reached
into a big box behind his chair and pulled out two cartons of Italian cigarettes.
"Dese tings gonna kill dat
ol' lady one day."
"She's all alone except for me, Rosie. Smoking's about the only pleasure
she has left."
"You tell her Rosie say 'Hafa' an' she still owe me a lasagna, yah?"
thing." I paused. "Any word from Raratonga?" I asked carefully.
He shook his head. "You family
safe, Tito. No news is good news, yah?"
I nodded but wasn't happy. Dad and Javier had made it to Tonga,
but I'd heard nothing for months. I didn't know how long Consolidated Genetics' reach was, but they had worldwide
operations. I just had to trust Dad to know when it was safe to come out of hiding.
I waved good-bye to Rosie and
made my way home. It wasn't a long walk and the crisp air cleared my head. I hoped Cassie would be all right.
the stoop to the three flat where Sarafina and I lived. She owned the building and I rented the first floor apartment. The
middle floor was vacant. All of its utilities were rerouted to my flat giving me beefed up electrical and netlink access.
winded by the time I'd climbed the three flights to her door. She must have heard me coming. She opened it before I could
knock. Sarafina Nostopolito was a small birdlike woman, painfully thin but quick of movement with sparkling eyes and surprisingly
strong voice. In her youth she'd been famous as Sara Nestor, primary female lead for the Folger Shakespeare Troup. But
VR netlinks had killed live theater, and the Plague had killed her family. She was alone now except for me and her photographs.
How wonderful. What did you bring me?"
I held out the cigarettes and she clapped her hands like a child
on Christmas morning. "Oh, thank you, dear. I was running low again." She was almost never without a cigarette in
her hand, a hard habit to maintain. Tobacco had been illegal since I was eight years old.
"Won't you come in?"
she asked. "I'm making grain pie."
I was sorely tempted. I loved the rich custard pie stuffed with
sweetened wheat berries and chunks of dark chocolate. But lunch was still heavy in my stomach and I was tired and dirty. I
wanted a shower and a nap.
"Some other time, Sarafina," I said. "I've been working and
I need a nap. Rosie says 'Hafa'"
She laughed. "And he still wants his lasagna, that old pirate."
ma'am. Can I come for pie and coffee tomorrow?"
"Of course, dear. Oh, I almost forgot. You had a visitor. She
said she'd gotten your name from Rosie and wanted to talk to you about some work. Very pretty little thing she was, too."
why Rosie hadn't said anything about a job. Sarafina had only a vague idea of what I did. Just that I performed services
for people. I didn't want her knowing the seamier side of the job. She handed me a glossy card. Titania's Purse
it read. Objects of Wonder, Secrets of Beauty from the Faerie World. I flipped it over. There was a net locus and
a vidphone number on the back.
I looked at the front of the card again. As I watched it changed, morphing into
images of elves and faeries holding colored jars of ointments and crèmes with prices scrolling under them. Each flip
of the card brought up a new image until it cycled through all the files and returned to the original printing. It was a nice
effect, probably expensive. Whoever ran this net store was doing pretty well. Good news for me.
I returned to my own apartment.
The front room looked out on the street through big bay windows. I'd salvaged much of Charlie's furniture after the
C.O.P.S. had smashed it. I'd reframed the Seamus Murphy painting as well. The oversized seascape and spare furnishing
gave the room a nautical appearance that I liked. I went to the netlink in the corner and checked my account. Franklin had
deposited the credits already. I was flush for a little while. Even after I paid the utility bill.
I walked down the long hallway
to my room, stripped off my clothes and turned on the shower. Soap and hot water stripped away the grime of Clancy's hell
hole. But a deep sadness and feeling of futility remained. What did it matter if I closed her down or a dozen like her? I
was still a Spud to most of the world. At best an object of pity. At worst a reminder of a loss so terrible that most Normies
chose to forget it and bury themselves in mindless pleasures. No room there for unpleasant truths like me.
off and put on fresh jeans and a sweatshirt. I picked up the card. Titania's Purse. Interesting name; showed
more than the average level of literacy. I went back to the netlink and activated the avatar program before entering the vidphone
number. I don't use an avatar to talk to people I know, but for new customers it helps reduce some of the shock at my
true appearance. Until we had an agreement, all they'd see was a handsome cartoon of a dark haired man with vaguely Latino
She answered on the second ring. Sarafina hadn't lied. She had white-blond hair cut in a short
bob that framed her heart-shaped face. Her deep blue eyes were set above high cheekbones and a thin delicate nose. She peered
into the link.
"Horacio Guzman?" she asked. Her mouth was a little wide, thin lipped with perfect white
"That's me. Forgive the avatar. Until we have an agreement, I prefer to keep my face hidden. It
may save some embarrassment for both of us if I don't agree to help you."
"Why do you think I need
help?" Her words were subtly accented. European, maybe Slavic or Russian. I'd spent enough time in Blanktown to tell.
Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.
"You wouldn't look for me if you didn't. I understand
Ambrose Olongopo referred you. What's your connection to him?"
She looked around her as if someone were watching, then lowered
her voice. "I make various beauty aids. They are sold in some of the finest VR malls. But many ingredients are difficult
to get at reasonable cost. Mr. Olongopo helps supply them. He said you were a man to be trusted." Again her words and
speech pattern suggested she wasn't a native Chicagoan.
"Your name?" I asked.
It's why the shop is called Titania's Purse."
"Ukrainian. By birth at least.
I am a citizen now." The pride in her voice was touching.
"'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips
and the nodding violet grows, quite over canopied with luscious woodbine'" I said softly.
""With sweet musk roses
and with eglantine'" she finished. "You know the play?"
"A Midsummer Night's Dream. I wondered if it inspired
the name of the shop as well."
She nodded and grew serious, as if she'd made a decision. "I need your
help, Mr. Guzman. I must find my sister."
"Is she missing? Perhaps the police would be better."
They will not help. I haven't seen her in almost twenty years, not since we came to this country. We are orphans, adopted
from the Ukraine through an American charity, but by different families. The Plague struck just after we separated and I haven't
heard from Irina since."
"Was the family in the Plague zone?"
She nodded. "They were from
Woodland Park, a suburb of Denver."
"Forgive me for being blunt, Ms. Pedenko, but are you sure your sister is
"I think so." Her eyes clouded with tears. "I don't know. The adoption records
were sealed. I don't even know the name of the family who adopted her, only the date and the location. The authorities
say they are very sorry, but the records are sealed and cannot be opened without court order. I have tried to get the order
but have no 'standing' they say. Not even as sister."
I thought for a minute. Adoption records were under the jurisdiction
of the DSW, but DPS could access them in a criminal case. Franklin might be able to help there. At least to get me into the
Denver system. I could then find out the names of families adopting children on the date Titania knew. I could cross reference
that with the survivor lists from Woodland Park and get an idea if the sister had survived. Tracking her down might be harder
but I knew someone who could help with that, too.
"All right," I said. "I'll see what I can do.
Did Rosie tell you how this arrangement works?"
"I have money. I can pay."
"I'm not interested in
your money. It's traceable and I work outside the system. If I succeed, you will owe me a favor, a courtesy, that I may
collect at the time and place of my choosing. It will be task or an object that is within your ability to provide and once
complete will cancel your debt. Failure to perform this service when asked will result in serious consequences. Is that understood?"
sort of consequences?"
"I have considerable resources at my disposal, Ms. Pedenko. 'The bond
doth give thee here no jot of blood; the words expressly are "a pound of flesh"."
Her eyes widened and she swallowed
hard. She nodded. "I understand."
"Can I always reach you at this number?" Again, she nodded.
I had her give me the date of the adoption and any other information she could remember. It wasn't much.
be in touch." I reached out and broke the connection.
I checked the clock. It was just after one in the afternoon. Plenty
of time. I called Franklin. He picked up on his mobile link, voice only.
"What do you want, Tito?"
"Hi Jack. I need a favor."
not going to like this, am I?"
"I need a login code for the Department of Social Welfare, adoptions division.
DPS has those in case they need to track next of kin, right?"
"Those are for criminal cases, Tito." He sounded weary,
not angry. I took it as a good sign. "You need a case number for access."
"But if we had a legitimate
case number we could get in." I opened a window to my credit account and looked up the case number for Clancy's arrest.
It was part of the documentation DPS used to authorize my pay.
"Yes," he said cautiously.
"I really need one of those
login codes, Jack."
I thought fast. "I think Cassie has family in Denver. She said
some things that made me think she has a sister who was adopted when their parents died."
"Why is that girl so important
"She didn't deserve what Clancy did to her every day. She's sweet and good natured,
never hurt anyone. And she kept Clancy from smashing my skull while you were sleeping in your car."
sighed and I knew I had him. "Okay. I'll send you the code under a different name. This better not get back to me,
"Sure Jack. Thanks."
A few seconds later, my mailbox dinged and I had the code. I logged
on to the DSW site and searched adoptions near Denver for the date Titania had given me. I got thirty hits. I narrowed it
down to four year old girls, which left only three. And only one of those was from Woodland Park. A family named Stevens had
adopted a little girl named Irina.
I was about to log off when a thought struck me. I tried to shut it out, but couldn't
shake it. I entered an new date, two and a half years ago, eight months after my eighteenth birthday. Adoptions near Denver--forty
two. Newborns--twenty eight. Mother's name--I stopped, a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. If I did this, I would
be betraying a promise I'd made to someone I'd once loved. Still loved if the tightness in my chest meant anything.
the name--Marie Williams. The document flashed on the screen. Baby girl, born just before midnight. Healthy. Adopted out the
following day. Family--Moore, residents of. . .Evanston, Illinois. My head spun and my heart pounded. She was only a few miles
away. My daughter.
I'd promised Marie that I'd never try to see her or find the child. We knew there was no
way they'd let her keep it. A Spud raising a Normie child would open too many uncomfortable questions. Besides, at seventeen
and legally disabled, she had no say in what happened to the child. Her family had handled the whole thing. Quietly, respectably,
but above all secretly.
I'd kept that promise for two and a half years. Now it stuck in my throat like a stale crust
of bread. Marie, I know what I swore to you back then. I remember telling you to forget me. I never thought I'd have
this chance. Forgive me.
I logged off of the DSW site after noting the last known address of the Moore family.
I checked the survivor roles from the Plague zones. They're still open, a kind of public memorial to the chaos of that
time. There's a name finder and an update function as people are located, or die of other causes. A few minutes search
turned up the Stevens family, all three of them, alive and well in Grand Junction. Irina was married now; changed her name
the Forbin, but still lived near her adopted parents.
It occurred to me that I'd never asked Titania why she needed
to find her sister. Those had been her words: I need to find my sister. I decided to keep this information to myself for now
until I could ask Titania why.
I made a note of the names and last known addresses. A quick check of phone listings
confirmed that Irina Forbin still lived in Grand Junction and had a listed netlink and vidphone number. I saved the file and
I sat there in the front room for a long time, watching the street until the sun went down. I'd
just broken a solemn promise. I could live with that. Regret it, sure. But the regret would be private. If I took the next
step, there would be no going back. Even if Marie never knew, our daughter would.
The room grew dark and I turned
on some lights. It was still early enough in the evening to call Titania. She answered almost immediately.
never told me why you needed to find your sister." I said without preamble.
"She is my sister. Why would
I not want to find her?"
"Why now? It's been twenty years."
"I don't see that it's
your business why. I hired you to find her."
My temper flared. "You don't hire me, Ms. Pedenko. We agree
on a contract, an exchange of mutual value. Before I fulfill this contract, I need to know that your sister wants to be found.
And I need to know your reasons for finding her after all this time. Otherwise we can cancel the arrangement now and you will
owe me nothing."
"No, wait. I will tell you." She paused as if considering her words. "Irina was two
when our parents died. I was four, the big sister. We were two years in the orphanage in Kiev. When we came to this country,
we had no family, no roots. The people who adopted me were kind and gave me a home and an education. But they let me keep
my name and my language. There were Ukrainian people in our neighborhood, Irving Park. Do you know it?" I nodded through
my avatar. "But my adopted father died ten years ago. My mother, just last year, so now I am twice an orphan."
Irina is your only family now."
She nodded. "But it is not just for me that I look for Irina. I have a daughter,
Diana. She is almost three. I want her to know that she has connections in this world. Right now this is not important to
a child. But when she is older, she will need a family. I want Irina to know her niece. Do you have family, Mr. Guzman? Do
you know how it feels to be without them?"
She hit home with that. I knew the need to feel connected to someone,
even if they were ten thousand miles away. I had lost Dad and Javier for many years. Found them, only to lose them again.
But at least now I knew they were alive and safe. And that they cared about me.
"All right, Ms. Pedenko.
Give me a day or so. I should have something for you." I broke the connection before she could say anything more. I knew
I would keep the contract. How could I not? Titania, and especially Diana, needed to know about Irina. If the three of them
met and decided they didn't want to stay in touch, that was their decision. But both Irina and Titania deserved a chance
to make that decision for themselves, didn't they?
But what about me? Didn't I deserve the same? My daughter was
out there, not far away. She had no idea I existed. I remembered the years after Dad disappeared and the feelings of worthlessness
that colored everything I did or said. I wouldn't have her thinking that her parents simply abandoned her.
rationalizations all seemed reasonable, sitting there alone in the dark. I would go to Evanston and find her, become a part
of her life. I'd make sure she knew where she came from and that I cared about her. I shut out the small voice in the
back of my mind that tried to tell me I was being selfish. That this was a bad idea. That I'd made a promise. I went to
bed resolving to speak to Irina the next day. Then I'd go to Evanston and find my daughter.
The morning was bright clear and
cold. I took it as a good sign. Grand Junction was an hour behind Chicago so I waited until almost ten before calling the
number I'd found for Irina Forbin. She answered after a few seconds. She had her sister's high cheekbones and deep
blue eyes. Her face was full and ruddy, as if she spent a lot of time outdoors. Her hair was as dark as her sister's was
"Irina Forbin?" I asked.
"Speaking." She peered at my avatar.
were adopted at the age of four by Charles and Shirley Stevens. You have a sister named Titania."
was a long pause. "Who is this."
"My name isn't important. Your sister asked me to find
you. What I need to know before I tell her anything is whether you want to be found."
She gasped. "Titania? You
know where Titania is?"
"Yes. She wants to find you. I won't violate your privacy without your
permission. If you want to make contact with her, I'll tell her how to find you. Otherwise, I'll cancel my agreement
with her and you won't hear from me again."
"Tatania? My big sister? But why? Where has she been and why
"She was adopted by another family. Her adoptive parents have died and she wants to reconnect
with her family--with you. She has a daughter. She wants you to meet your niece. DO you want to see them?"
Yes, I do." She paused. A suspicious tone entered her voice. "Who are you? What do you get out of this?"
from you. Your sister will contact you." I logged off. Long explanations only confused things. Irina wanted to be found;
that's all I needed to know.
My next move was to contact Tatania. She must have had my number in her ID list
because she answered, "Do you have some information, Mr. Guzman?"
"And good morning to you,
She flushed. "Forgive me. It's just that after last night . . ."
it. I found your sister. She and her family are in Grand Junction, Colorado. She's waiting for your call."
her the number and address. She started to gush her thanks, but I cut her off."This completes my part of our contract.
I will contact you when it's time to repay the debt."
She looked nonplussed, but nodded her head. "Thank, you. You
are not so hard as you pretend to be."
"Maybe not," I said, smiling in spite of myself. "But
I will collect on your debt." I logged off and checked the time: ten-fifteen. Plenty of time for what I planned to do
I put on my boots and a hooded parka. The sky was clear but the air was cold, below freezing and I didn't
know how far I might need to walk. I checked the Moore's address in Evanston and cross referenced it with the netlink
directory. They still lived there.
I quivered with excitement as I rode the L north to Howard Street. I was going
to see my daughter. She was near. She was part of me, part of Marie, and soon I'd see her.
I caught a northbound bus at the
Howard street RTA center and took it along Sheridan Road as far as Dempster, then walked east, almost to Lake Shore. The house
was relatively small compared to its neighbors. A black wrought iron fence surrounded the front yard, ornately worked with
a leaf design. There was a gate across the driveway and a green van parked next to the house.
I stood at the corner of the yard,
looking toward the house. The windows were large and the curtains open to let in the morning light. The front door was brick
red with a small wreath of dried flowers hung from the knocker. It looked clean and warm and inviting. I started forward toward
"Lucy, where are you?" a woman's voice called from the side of the house near the car.
With a peal of shrill laughter and a churning of tiny legs, a child ran across the yard toward me. Her hair was black,
tied back in short pigtails. She looked back at the woman who was rounding the back of the van and laughed again.
see you, little girl," the woman said, laughing herself. "I'm going to get you."
laughed again and ran faster. She was near the fence, now. Close enough to touch. I stood still, watching her. She caught
sight of me and stopped, staring. The look was curious, no fear in it. I was a new thing in her shiny, safe little world.
A thing to be seen and understood. I smiled at her. She smiled back, then looked at her feet, suddenly shy.
The woman was closer now. She could see me and a tiny note of concern had crept into her voice. I stepped back from the fence
and kept the hood of the parka pulled low. To the woman, I must have looked like a child myself. Bigger, older that Lucy,
but still a small child. Not a threat, just someone who didn't belong there. I stepped back again as she came up to the
fence and swept Lucy into her arms. The child hugged her neck playfully, then turned to look at me. She reached out to me,
opening and closing her tiny hand.
The woman looked at me curiously. "Hello?" she said in a pleasant voice.
High pitched, as an adult would address a child. "Do you live around here?"
Now is the time, I told myself. Throw back the hood. Tell her who you are, who Lucy really
is. The baby is yours, part of you and Marie. She should know. I said nothing. I stood peering out from under the hood
until she began to be uncomfortable again.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
I think she caught a glimpse of my face. She pulled the little girl tighter to her side and turned slightly away from me.
"Where do you live?" she repeated. I pointed west, back the way I'd come. "Well, I think you'd
better go home now." She turned and walked back toward the house. Lucy looked at me over the woman's shoulder and
I turned and walked away. After half a block I stopped, my breath coming in short gasps. I clenched
my fists. Tears filled my eyes and I sobbed. I turned to go back, but knew that I couldn't. What did you expect, idiot?
Show up unannounced with your face and expect to be welcomed? That would have worked well. Throw back the hood and scare the
little girl half to death.
I walked to the end of the block. I tried to turn around and go back. Again I stopped.
Marie had known this would be the way of it. Lucy was beautiful. What Marie and I might have been, in another place and time.
She was free, safe, loved by her new parents. That much was plain even to me. Let it go, I thought. 'Absence
from those we love is self from self- a deadly banishment'. So be it. Marie and I could never be together, not in
this world anyway. Some part of us would go on in Lucy.
It was late afternoon when I got home. The ride had been long, lonely
and thought filled. I'd made a decision. I booted up the avatar program and placed a vidphone call to Titania Pedenko.
She answered immediately.
"Yes, Mr. Guzman. What can I do for you?" Her tone was cheerful, but there was a slight
quaver in her voice. Anxiety perhaps.
"Did you get in touch with your sister?"
She smiled happily. "Yes.
We are going to meet in St. Louis next week. With our children. Diana will have cousins! It is so wonderful. Thank you again
for what you have done."
"How nice for you," I said. "But it's time to collect on your
She nodded. still smiling, trying to look serious. "I understand. What do you wish me to do?"
we first spoke, you offered me money for my services. I checked your finances. You have a successful business but live quite
modestly. Most of the business profit goes to expansion of the company."
"That is correct," she
said, her accent suddenly heavier. "I have few needs. Of course I put money aside for my daughter, for her education
and in case anything happens to me. How much do you require for your service?"
I said. "I want nothing for myself. I want you to set up a trust for someone and fund it on a regular basis, say a half
percent of your yearly business profit. The money will be kept in trust for sixteen years. No information will be transmitted
to the beneficiary or to anyone else. At the end of the sixteen years, you may stop paying into the trust and turn the money
over to the beneficiary. I'll have a lawyer draw up the documents and you can review them. But you will sign them."
cocked her head and looked into the netlink. "I will do as you say. We had an agreement. And I consider the amount a
small price for finding my family again. But why do you do this? Who is to get this money if not you?"
little girl who, like you, was adopted when her parents were unable to keep her. I'll give the lawyers her name when they
draw up the trust. Understand me: you are not to attempt to contact her, nor will you reveal where the money came from, even
after the terms of the trust have expired."
"This little girl, she is special to you?"
abide by the agreement, Ms. Pedenko."
She was silent for a long moment. "I would like to see your
face, Mr. Guzman. Never fear. I will not give you away if we meet on the street. But you are a very interesting man. I would
like to see your real self."
I hesitated for a second, then shrugged and disabled the avatar program. To her
credit, she didn't gasp, or look away or even blink twice. She looked into my eyes and gave a solemn nod.
understand. I will do as you ask, Mr. Guzman. And if I may, I would like to meet your daughter when she is grown. She should
know something of her father." With that she reached out and broke the connection.
"I'll be damned,"
I said to myself. I shut down the netlink. I would call Rosie tomorrow. He had a troop of lawyers in his pocket. One of them
would draw up the trust for me, no questions asked. He'd say I was fafata, crazy. But then, he said that all
I left my apartment and went upstairs to Sarafina's. She opened the door in a small cloud of
"Tito! Come in, come in. I just made some fresh coffee and there's a big piece of pie with
your name on it."
"Thanks, Sarafina. I need a little comfort food right now."
She smiled and put an arm around
my shoulder. "I know, dear. Come tell em all about it. That's what family is for."