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Derrin

Rated R Contains: Adult themes, strong language, graphic depictions of death

It started when I found the body. It was burned, badly, hardly recognizable as once being a human being. I was out walking through the area with a specially trained German Shepherd that can find a body even if it's been buried under a couple feet of dirt; he didn't have to sniff that hard. It was our day off, and we were just out for a nice walk. Fuck.

When Mog snapped stiff, barked, then pulled me down the decline into the shadows of the heavy trees, I knew he had either found something, or there was a female in heat nearby. He never hit like that unless it was one or the other. I knew when we jumped over a fallen tree that he had found something; I smelled it.

The body had been dumped onto a pile of dead wood, lit, and left. When a human body is badly burned, the skull explodes and the guts swell and burst, spilling over the fire. Obviously that had happened, then the local wildlife had come for dinner after it had cooled. One arm had escaped the worst of the fire, and the thing angled upward from the rest, nearly untouched. That only made it worse to see; it was too small for even a slightly built adult.

I jerked Mog to a halt and puked. He sat still, watching me with a curious expression; as curious an expression as a dog can have, anyway. I was used to finding bodies, we were, even horribly mutilated and burned ones, like that one, but that was the first child.

When I could breathe, I called into the precinct. "I found a body," I said hesitantly. I knew I would be a suspect when I spoke the next words. "In the woods behind my house. A Ten-forty. Coroner and an investigative team to my house. I've got Mog with me, listen for us and follow his barking."

I sat with my back to it, waiting. After I heard the sirens stop nearby, I told Mog to call. He barked repeatedly, loudly, even howled. He had never done that before. It was as if he was as disgusted and dispirited as I was. They arrived, most with a dog as well. Soon we were standing around, pointedly not looking, but looking all the same. When the field team arrived, they were all asked to sniff out the area while I was sent back to my house.

Somewhere, someone had hopes of their kid coming home. Fuck.

*****

"Officer Poole?"

Turning to see who had called me, I saw the tall, sexy, redheaded woman from administration approaching me at my desk. When she arrived, I nodded and motioned to the chair without getting caught looking at her rack. She brandished a folder, handing it to me with a business smile.

"John Doe Junior," she said needlessly.

I recognized the marks on it left by a blue pen as someone had tried to get it to write. I didn't want it.

"No," I said, pushing it back at her.

"Since when do you guys pick and choose your assignments?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Since I found the kid in the woods not far behind my house," I informed her. "I'm attached. Not objective. Possibly even a suspect."

She grinned slightly and shook her head before she said, "Tough. Cap says it's yours."

Fuck.

*****

How can a child be missing for over a week, and not a soul report it? I wondered. Did he even have parents? Or will we find them, too? An entire family murdered? Then why wasn't relatives calling, looking for them? A week and nobody's missed a ten or twelve year old boy? Or a whole family? At least that's what the coroner claims, though he admits the child was extremely mutilated, sexually. The bone structure and other tests pointed to male, anyway, the only things he had to go on. I had the boys right hand fingerprints, blood, and other useless information in the autopsy results.

I flipped the report open again.

Caucasian, male, eleven to twelve years old, no broken bones, no medical scars, no scars at all, no facial structure to reconstruct; it having been smashed before being burned. Probably sodomized, definitely emasculated after death and prior to being burned. Most likely cause of death was a severed carotid artery; not just a slit throat, only the artery, and only slightly, so that it took a while to bleed to death. Someone knew a bit much about the human body, but not how to dispose of one. The emasculation was likely done very carefully; there were no slashes or violent marks evident, and the entirety of his organs were removed skillfully, along with the skin up to and including the navel.

The thought that someone would be able to do that was repulsive; the fact that someone most likely actually had those things in their possession was disturbing. What the child must have experienced was beyond my ability to tolerate thinking upon.

Formaldehyde sales, pure alcohol sales, medical students, surgical tool sales; what else should I check into beside the usual talking to family and friends once we discovered who was missing? Obviously I had to go through the list of recently released murderers and child molesters in the area, as well as any of them reported moving through the area. Doctors, too.

The crime scene revealed one set of prints made by a large person wearing male hunting boots made by Reiner; Series D, with steel toes and insulation, and identifiable wear patterns and marks if I could get my hands on them. No clothing or burned remains of clothing, on the body or anywhere at the site. The naked boy had been carried there, probably already dead and cut up.

No evidence of any blood or flesh under the fingernails of the surviving arm's hand, but samples were taken and sent in, along a sample from the body, for DNA results. Those won't be back until end of next week.

And no missing children for over a hundred miles around. At least, none reported after a week.

This one stunk. It really fucking stunk.

*****

"Hey, Poolie!"

"Mark," I said, nodding as he approached.

"I got something on that kid. I think," he said, leaning onto the chair across from me.

"Oh? What'cha got?"

Anything he can possibly have is more than I had after a month of investigation.

"Two boys missing from Boulder. Over a month now. Both twelve, from a Scout trip up in the hills."

"Boulder? You sure? That's over a hundred miles away."

"Hey, you got anything else?" he asked, dropping a folder on my desk. "I didn't think so."

I sighed and thanked him, then looked through the missing person report. Nothing useful popped out at me, at first. Then I saw it. One boy's mother's statement.

"They were best friends. We know it. We think they were picked on. Maybe even hurt. They left the camp together, just never came back. When we asked to talk to the counselor who said so, we was told he quit."

A Boy Scout counselor, an adult who was not an actual scout, quits after two boys go missing on a trip he was on. Interesting. Bill Blake, Boulder, Colorado. Thirty-two. Nothing else about him. Was the investigator there stupid? Charlie Q. Pettiford. Faggy sounding name if I ever heard one. I picked up the phone and dialed my chief's office.

"Yup?"

"Need some help. That Jon Doe Junior I found behind my house last month? Something came in from Boulder, two missing scouts. Right age and such. There was a counselor who was there on the trip the boys came up missing during. He quit. Nothing from Boulder shows any follow up on him."

"So? Want me to have Boulder shake things up?"

"I'd like to go."

"For what?"

"If they didn't think to talk to the guy, you trust the same guy or his department to do it now?"

"Okay. The rest of the week. Anything after Friday is your penny."

"Thanks."

"Just finish it off. It bothers me."

"Uh, chief?"

"What? I got the mayor's deputy in a minute. Make it fast."

"Why me?"

There was a long silence before he said, "Why not?" and hung up.

*****

"Yeah, Bill something. I remember his name from the report."

"Why wasn't his interview in the packet?"

The sergeant was fat, bald, pale, and stupid. I hated him the minute I met him. I was sure I'd rather shit a live alligator than work for him.

"Why wasn't it? I don't know. I didn't put it together. Ask Pettiford. It was his case. Why you even bothering me with this?"

"He's gone. Left. Nowhere to be seen."

The guy looked as if I had just told him that I had eaten his wife's pussy for lunch.

"You tellin' me he quit?" he roared at me.

"Quit? I don't know. I asked when I got here. They said he didn't work here anymore."

"Fucking hell and damnation! ALICE! Alice, get your pretty little ass in here!"

She did so, obviously hating the guy as much as I judging by the way she said, "Yes, sir?"

"Pettiford," he said simply at her.

"Hit lotto. Gone to Jamaica, I hear."

"Fuck me! Fuck me running! What a fucking world! What a FUCKING world!"

"Tell me," I mumbled to myself.

"He just won, called next day, never came back in," she offered me, looking as if she knew my feelings on her sergeant and agreed with them.

"Thanks. Anything else?"

"He, it's just a rumor, but, he liked, boys, they said."

"Who said?" I asked, my curiosity piqued.

"Jensen and Riley," she said, pointing to two officers in plain clothes in the mass of desks on the other side of the glass office window.

"How they know? Or think it?"

She shrugged.

"Thanks."

"Get 'em in here," the sergeant growled at her.

I watched as she walked to the two men and spoke to them briefly. They obviously weren't happy about the request, but came anyway. After brief introductions, and the reason I was there, they both looked at each other and asked to speak to me in length after their shift. They seemed very willing. I was very interested.

****

The last photo was of a boy about fourteen, naked, posing for the picture, holding himself out to make it more prominent.

"You can tell it's wet, probably just got, you know, sucked off. By him."

He was the oldest in the photos. The pictures of all the boys were obviously taken in the same room.

"You sure that's his den?"

"Sure. We was there for the Super Bowl last year," one of them answered, looking to be sick.

"That was before we found out about his past. The department shouldn't let molesters be on the force if you ask me. Fags neither. Especially not someone who's both. Don't matter if the thing was sealed."

Thirty-two different boys, all between ten and fourteen or so. All naked, almost all engaged in, or exhibiting recent signs of, sexual activity in the pictures. Not a single shot of the photographer, but they were all taken in the same room and on the same furniture.

"Why didn't you do anything?"

"We was. We snuck in there and got those pictures out of his desk. He quit the next day, just called in. If he won any lotto, he wasn't in any records doing so. He just left."

"Why did you sneak in to swipe the pictures?"

They both hesitated, looking to each other briefly. I knew there was a lie coming at me next, but the tall one stunned me.

"Hung around with him at Julio's. Never suspected he was ... like that. Especially not boys. Not then."

"We got drunk with him a couple of times, but nothing much else. His Super Bowl party. Half the department was there."

"So, why did you sneak into his house? You're both cops, you know it was breaking and entering."

"We, uh, heard about him. Then, well, fuck man, we found out it was true."

"He did five years for raping a seventeen year old boy, just got out a couple years ago," the other finished.

"So we went to his place and found those."

"Why didn't you get these to your boss?"

"Sarge? Why? He'd shove it under a pile and forget 'em. We tooled around, trying to get anything we could on him without starting a real hunt after he disappeared. We got shit. He covered his ass well."

"Do you think he had anything to do with the John Doe Junior out my way?"

"Don't know."

"So, Pettiford's got this thing going on with Blake. Blake's a Scout counselor, comes up missing with two boys on a troop trip up in the mountains. Pettiford investigates, finds out Blake did it, and tries to cover for him?"

"Pretty much."

"And no clue where Blake is now?"

"Not a one. He went poof!" he laughed.

"Is your body one of the two Boy Scouts missing with him? Any idea yet?"

"No. I'm meeting the parents tonight and the other one's parents tomorrow night. DNA comes back in two days."

"Tough. Want, uh, want one of us to go with ya? Sorta, you know. And it is our precinct, anyway. Someone should rep."

I did know. And it would be a help for me.

"Yes. That'd be great. Alone would be worse."

They nodded in shared knowledge with me.

*****

The three of us left the first set of parents with nothing to identify my John Doe Junior. The photos of their missing son provided nothing helpful. Their son had no broken bones, no surgeries. No birthmarks on his arm to eliminate him. The fingerprints from his belongings didn't match.

"Damn."

"Nothing is worse than a little something."

"At least the prints don't match. My Doe isn't their kid."

"I know. Just, you know?"

"I know."

"Fuck."

*****

The next day, the next parents were even less helpful. No prints. No birthmarks or anything on their son's arm to eliminate him. No broken bones, no surgeries.

The detectives wished me well and a safe trip back home. They offered to let me know of anything that ever came of the two missing boys; Bill Blake, the missing counselor; or Pettiford, their former work peer. We knew that they were all connected, somehow. Just not to my case.

Fuck.

*****

"Hi. It's me, with the Jon Doe Junior and thought the two Scouts might have been one that was him."

"Yeah, I remember you. Burned boy's body in the woods down that way. Anything get found yet?" the ugly sergeant from the Boulder district of the Colorado State Police asked.

"Nothing. Yet, I hope. I was calling because I heard Pettiford was found."

"Sure was. I was just thinking about calling you, in fact."

Oh, I'm sure you were, I thought.

"Anything you can tell me?" I asked instead.

"The kid's okay. A patroller pulled him over for speeding and got suspicious when the kid didn't act right. The patroller ran his license and got the pedo info on him. So he got suspicious about a child molester with a kid who didn't act right in his car."

"The kid? What kid?"

"You don't know?"

"Obviously not."

"He had a kid with him, boy about twelve, no identity, no one looking for him, won't talk. Hang on a sec."

There was the sound of a conversation being muffled by his hand or such before he returned to me.

"Can you get here today?"

"I can be up there in an hour or two."

"Good. Come by my office then. I'll have something you should see."

*****

The kid was laying motionless, uncaring. He was pale, with straight black hair and pale gray eyes. He didn't react to anyone speaking to him. One doctor pinched his arm very hard, enough to draw blood. The kid didn't react, except that his arm seemed to recoil a bit.

"As you can see, only subconscious reactions. Pupils are the same. Nearly normal reactions for a coma, or brain damage, but nothing else."

"Never said a word?" I asked, stunned.

The boy looked like a robot. A life-like humanoid robot. If his eyes were closed, you'd think he was dead or asleep. But he just stared ahead into space, as if stoned or drugged.

"Nothing."

"Drugs?"

"Nothing I've tested for, or can be tested for. Toxins as well. Interesting results, that. He sucks and swallows like an infant, but nothing else. Defecates and urinates, but doesn't seem to notice. No scratching, no facial reactions, no communication. No reaction to sudden, loud noises. His eyes don't even follow a light in the dark. Nothing. His eyes will open and close. Blinks normally. If you touch his eyes, they react normally. Like his mind is gone. Nothing. I've never seen anything like it."

"Some kind of metal disorder? I seen people like that before."

"Not like this. Even the most profound cataleptic state has the usual brain waves, betas and others, the ones from thoughts, seeing things in your mind's eye, processing touch and sounds. When you drop a book near even a comatose patient with an encephalograph on them, there are obvious mental reactions to the sound, even if there is no processing of it. But with this boy, the sound simply registers, but nothing else. Touch is the same. You can see pain impulses speeding through his brain, but we don't see the brain reacting to it."

"Is he okay? Otherwise?"

"Otherwise? You mean physically? He's perfect. Except... "

The doctor threw back the sheets, exposing the nearly naked boy. He was pale and unmarked. He wore only a diaper from which two tubes ran to the side of the bed.

"No scars, no marks, no old cuts, scrapes or burns. Nothing. Do you understand? NOTHING. It's not normal. Nor is, well, as you can see," he said, gesturing toward the boys lower abdomen.

I could see that the boy was twelve, maybe early thirteen at most. He was very pale, no sign of ever having been tanned anywhere, normally built, seemingly unharmed.

"What?"

"Someone did this," he said, gesturing at the boy emphatically.

I could make no sense of that statement, and the doctor obviously saw that in my expression.

"Someone changed him into a vegetable? Someone made that happen to him?"

"No. The whole package. The entire enchilada. He's not, uh, he was never, born."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

The doctor moved the camera. He tilted it downward and then zoomed in so that the boy's belly, from diaper to ribs, filled the screen.

"What's missing?" he asked.

It was weird looking, but I didn't know why. I shrugged. The doctor pointed at the smooth skin of the boy's belly. He circled around in the center with his finger.

"Where's his belly button?" I asked in sudden shock.

"You tell me."

"They removed it?"

Like the burned body. I was sickened.

"No. As I said, no scars, anywhere, of any kind. He has never had a belly button."

"Fuck."

*****

"I'm positive, detective! I've been in pediatrics for over fifty years. I've been the chief pediatrician for seven years, and now director here at the Institute for Children's Health for ten of those years. It's not possible to be born without a navel. It's the only connection the fetus has for support. Food and nutrients exchange there. Without that connection to begin with, a fetus cannot develop after fertilization of the egg. It's impossible."

"Lab?"

"No. Not even then. You'd still need the connection for nutrients and blood to pass through, not to mention to even get it started. Without it, hell, there is no way without a navel. The umbilical is the only way a fetus has to grow. Without that umbilical, the fetus will burn out what nutrients it has available within days of fertilization, even if it somehow begins growing without the chemical signals verifying that existing connection. It would die in days after fertilization. No connection, well, it can't be."

I removed some of the still images from the video and showed them to him. He laughed and asked who my photo editor was. I showed him a still with the image of the doctor in it.

"Doctor Kesagarian? That's Kesagarian!"

"Yes."

"This has to be fake!"

"I spoke to him in video. He conducted the exam those images are from. Real time. It's no fake."

"As director of this institute, I demand to meet this child. And Kesagarian. As soon as possible."

*****

"It's incredible! You say he's been like this the entire time, Doctor Kesagarian?"

"Indeed."

"He was found with a known child molester. The guy won't say a thing, and in fact, he's demanded that he be left alone and given the death penalty as soon as possible," I added.

"Incredible! You've spoken with him?" I was asked.

"No. He won't meet me. His lawyer says he has nothing more to say."

"I must speak with him. If this is what it seems to be, someone is well ahead of the curve on in-vitro. Or possibly cloning. Either way, it's all highly illegal."

"So far ahead of the curve, they've left the rest of the world in the dark dust behind them," Kesagarian offered.

"How did he come by the boy?"

"He claims the kid contacted him. Said he was going to leave home, and if the guy didn't come meet him, he'd go with whoever would take him away from there."

"Have you spoken with the boy's parents?"

"We can't track who the kid is yet. Takes days to get records from those chat companies. You both are sure this boy is normal, otherwise?"

"Indeed. Perfectly so. He is as healthy as a human being can be. Not even any signs of heavy metals or other pollutants we all carry. Nothing. Until this week, as he started being given food here, he's absorbing all the usual things since. His hair is what's really interesting," Kesagarian said, handing Doctor Smoth a sheet of paper.

"Wait, now. Nothing but proteins and... Nothing else? That's, that's, Jesus Christ!"

"What?" I was forced to ask.

"This boy is perfect. He has not eaten or absorbed a single thing from his environment until he came to us. Nothing. It's like he didn't even exist until he was found, simply coming into existence from nowhere, with no past life."

"I doubt you will ever find any parents."

"How can that be?"

The doctors shrugged at each other.

Fuck and fuck.

*****

Days later my phone rang.

"Hello?"

"It's David in the lab! Man! They match! The ones from Monday! The DNA matches! Even the trace results on environmental factors! They all fucking match! One hundred percent! Not a single difference! Not related, not brothers, not even fucking identical twins! It's the same fucking kid! How the fuck can that be?"

I hung up in shock.

*****

"Down this hall a-ways, Detective. He won't talk," his lawyer told me for what seemed the hundredth time.

"I don't care. I don't care if he just stares at me, I'm asking him my questions."

"Fine with me. I can't stop you, even though my client should have some kind of legal protection from this sort of thing."

"Legal protection? Your client? Give me a fucking break! He's molested kids for fucks sake. He's anally raped a seventeen-year old boy! He was caught with a mystery boy in his car, one even the doctors can't explain properly, and you want to give him protections from telling us what he knows?"

"My client's relationship with the seventeen-year old was completely consensual. There was no coercion, even the subject claims so to this day. Until he came up missing, anyway. And my client wasn't even twenty at the time they met. The state stepped in where it didn't belong. There was never any rape. And never any other charges, other minors, or molestation."

"He was seventeen. You know the statute. Then why was he convicted?"

"The letter of the law, officer. You're familiar with the trouble it can cause. Why do you think the entire case was sealed? Even the judge saw that it was ridiculous, but he had to follow the laws. He ordered the case sealed, and my client fit for continued public service."

He had a point. Several. But I wasn't there over a five year old, settled, closed case.

"My client was taking the boy to the hospital. He tried to tell the officer that. He was speeding in that direction, two blocks away, when he was pulled over. The park where he said he had gotten the boy was directly the opposite direction he was driving. My client lives in that opposite direction, back past the park, for crying out loud. Not to mention my client is not interested in children. Young men, teens only peripherally, men admittedly. My client is gay, but he's never shown any interest in prepubescent boys. He's never been interested or shown interest in boys as young as the one he was tricked into helping."

"I'm not believing that whole, lonely-kid-who-seemed-to-need-someone-to-help-him bullshit story."

"Detective!" he yelled, pulling my arm to swing me to face him. "My client is accused of kidnapping a child. A child that undoubtedly he was only being concerned about. That boy was contemplating suicide or running away from his home, and my client, out of concern, went to meet him. Prior, he had declined the invitation. This time he did not, and he found an unresponsive child, and immediately loaded him into his car and drove at nearly reckless speed directly to the nearest hospital. Directly away from his own residence!

"If my client was attempting to kidnap the child, he was driving far too dangerously to expect to get too far with him. And he was driving away from the computer records at his home that proved he had been in contact with the boy. He served his five years, for sex with a younger friend, only two years and seven months difference, I might point out. He is now in his mid-twenties, and trying to live his life. He was propositioned by a neighborhood boy, several times, and declined. He was then told by the boy that he was going to run away, and would go with the next person who asked him to at the park."

"Wait a sec. How does he know he's a neighborhood boy? Does he know where he lives?"

"Have you read his statement? Or the chat logs?"

"I didn't have to. I read the findings. He said the boy said so. That's all he knew."

"Exactly. Now you come hell bent for blood, forcing him to an interview, despite the fact he has clearly given every aspect and fact several times since the moment he was first asked. He has given every aid, despite, and I must point out, despite, the simple fact that he has already been summarily tried and convicted, all while being held without bail or expectation of fair treatment. He's a cop, he knows what's going to happen to him. For helping a boy who had taken or been given something in the park. He may well have saved the boy's life."

"So where's he been since he quit being a cop?"

"He won a considerable sum in the state lottery, requested privacy, and was waiting to move back to his hometown when the lump sum payment cleared. If you had so much as visited his house, you could have asked him all this prior to his being contacted by the boy the last time, detective."

I didn't like how he had said that, but I couldn't blame him. I'd had no idea that the two detectives had been blowing smoke up my ass until talking to this pain-in-my-ass lawyer protecting a pedo cop. If I had done my job right, I would have gone to the guy's house, just to check it out. I remembered questions about his house being deflected by the two detectives, or saw how they were deflected with hindsight."

"He's still a gay, pedo cop. And had another boy in his car."

“The man is gay, true, but he was involved with the younger man when they were both much younger, and before he became a police officer. We all deserve our rights, detective. Especially innocence until established guilt. If we start dropping rights for this person or that person, for this reason or that reason, we start taking rights from everyone."

"Stuff it," I told him as we arrived and the officer opened the door to the interrogation room.

He wasn't as I expected him. He looked as normal as anyone, and I was used to that, but as we entered, he stood, said four words, overturned his chair, then threw himself onto it, impaling himself through his chest with the leg.

"Fuck!"

He died before the prison doctor arrived. As I tried to leave the room without stepping in his blood, I asked his lawyer if he understood the words he had spoken.

"Bill Blake's name? Certainly. His lover whom he served five years for having sex with. And who is currently missing. But, Exigent Products? Not a clue," he replied, still wiping the sweat from his face.

"Well, now you don't have to worry about your client's rights," I said with a sneer.

*****

"They supply live medical supplies. Like skin grafts for burn patients, eyes and organs, bone materials for surgical replacements, that kind of thing," Kesagarian explained.

"You ever do any business with 'em?"

"I've used a few of their products through my career, I'm sure. I just do the work, I don't buy the materials. Talk to the hospital there, I'm sure they use at least some of their products as well."

*****

"We use many of their products. The skin graft kits have saved numerous lives just this year, let alone the past decade or more. And the new bone matrices work wonders for limb reconstruction and skull repairs. Why?"

"I have a case, the only clue I have to go on now is the name of a missing person, and of that company. It involves a lost boy, without an identity or past, and nobody missing him."

The bureaucrat seemed put back momentarily, the only sound over the phone was his shaky breath.

"What is it?" I asked, hoping to get it from him the easy way; he obliged.

"Well, you say there is a boy with no name or identity that hasn't been claimed? Is he unresponsive? Black haired, pale, gray eyes, no navel?"

"How do you know that?"

"Where?"

"Tallison, in Boulder."

"The boy is there? Now? He's never left?"

"No. He was picked up by an officer almost a month ago now. Been there ever since. Not moving a muscle or talking, or anything."

"There is someone you need to see. I'll give you his number."

*****

It was the same boy. Same age, same perfection without blemish, bruise or scar, same hair and eyes, no navel. Unresponsive. I had to call Tallison and make sure the other boy was still there.

"Where did he come from?"

"He showed up when a car was found turned over in a ditch about a week ago. He survived the accident, but the driver didn't," the doctor said, shaking his gray-haired head.

"Who was the driver? Relative?" I prayed.

"No. Local child molester. Usually liked girls, but seems he changed taste. Drunken and seemingly lost control on the highway."

"He's never spoken?"

"No. Nothing. He seems unable to. His brainwaves are, well, odd."

He handed me a readout that made as much sense to me as ancient Greek.

He snickered and explained, "Nothing normal but body regulations. No thoughts. Well, almost none. They've been increasing lately, but basically, nothing. Just signals keeping his body working normally. This boy has the mind of a fetus, at best. His development seems normal, physically. Other than his lack of an umbilicus scar. Belly button. And no signs of any actual dreams, mind you. Just the physical routine. Just, he's, well, like that."

"About twelve?"

"Physically, yes."

"He's identical to the other," I said to see his reaction.

"What other?" he asked, seemingly very concerned.

"There's another. Two, actually, one's dead, murdered and burned in the woods. The one alive was found when an officer pulled a car over for speeding recently. The driver was a known child molester, so the officer was concerned about a silent, stationary boy in the car with him. He was unharmed, seemingly. So far, anyway."

He turned pale and sat down, almost missing the chair. He stared at the boy, tears forming in his eyes. He shook.

Ah, fuck.

*****

"Where?"

Along a river through the base of the mountains. Looks like they'd walked the entire way there. Eleven miles in rugged terrain. No supplies, and it looks like they'd last eaten leaves and plants. Guess they camped along the river one night, inside the rocks without a fire, and never woke up."

"So, Bill Blake didn't abduct them?"

"Not unless he made them write the letters they had on them. Sure don't look it."

"Where the hell is he, then?"

"I don't have a clue. I just thought you'd wanna know the scouts turned up."

I thanked him and hung up.

So where the fuck is Bill Blake, and how does he play in this?

I'd learned that he had quit the week previous to the trip on which the boys had come up missing. He hadn't even been on that trip, as verified by the other counselors and kids. More things pointed to more lies from the two detectives from Boulder.

*****

Exigent Products. Three hundred acres of buildings, mostly glass and towering. Inside the building where I was meeting the director, the place had the feeling of cold sterility, despite the paintings meant to warm it.

Exigent Products. The name a man had spoken with his last breath as he threw himself onto an upraised chair leg in front of me. But only after speaking the name of the man he had gone to jail for having sex with, a man who was currently missing, likely with two Boy Scouts.

Exigent Products. Three identical boys, without any navel or mind. One murdered.

Would they dare?

"Mr. Compton will see you now," his secretary said, directing me into his office.

It was larger than my entire house, decorated in brass and dark wood paneling. He sat behind a desk as large as my old Buick. He grinned and welcomed me, shaking my hand and motioning to a large chair before his desk.

"How can I help you, Detective?"

I tossed the picture of the boy onto his desk. The one with a full, frontal view of his nakedness.

"I'm not into boys," he said, tossing the photo back to me with a grimace of disgust. "I don't know why you choose to shock me with that image, but if there is anything I can help you with concerning child pornography, I am not aware of it."

"I'm not here over pornography. I'm here over murder, abduction, child molestation, and three unidentified missing persons, one a corpse."

"And how can I help you with such a case?"

"I want you to look at this boy closer. Very closely. Tell me what you notice seems, missing."

I tossed the photo back to him, and he picked it up eventually. He looked closely, an expression of distaste on his face.

"I see nothing unusual about the young man."

"His navel."

He looked at the picture again, then blinked.

"There is another, identical boy, with the same lack of navel. Identical, right down to his age, hair length, trace metals, comatose condition, and DNA. And a third one is dead, mutilated and burned in the woods out my way. Again, all the, frankly, all the same boy."

He looked into space for a moment. He looked at the photo closer, then cocked his head at an angle. He reached for his intercom.

"Janet, will you bring the personnel file on Doctor Merrik in please? We keep most of each person's file on computer, but pictures and images we do not. But his family was at a company event many years ago, and I remember a photo you should see. It was long ago, but, I think you will see why. Ah, here it is."

His secretary handed him a folder. He opened it and leafed through it momentarily, then removed a single photo. He stared at it, seemingly comparing the image with the one I had given him. He wasn't liking what he was seeing. He handed them both to me. The man in the image looked to be an older version of the boys. Black hair, gray eyes, same shape to the features, only aged and weathered.

"He still works here. Does research with the brain and how it works to regulate the body. Chief of his department. He used to work in genetics, until cloning became, dubious."

"Fuck."

*****

"Doctor Merrik?" I asked, entering his laboratory with the director.

"Yes?" a man of about forty in neat clothing asked, looking up at me.

His black hair and pale gray eyes gave me the shivers.

"I'm-"

"Yes, I know who you are. I've expected this for some time now."

"Doctor Merrik, are you telling me you've been conducting such work here?"

"Yes, sir, I have. I'm sorry, and I hope nothing comes of it for you, but I have."

He seemed to deflate.

"You did this?" I asked, handing him the photo of one of the boys.

He nearly collapsed onto his stool. His eyes grew moist and he looked as if he were looking at his own son on a morgue slab.

"I did not do this!" he almost screamed. "This! This is... dear Lord in heaven!"

I saw him mumble under his breath as he cried over the image. I knew I was closer to wrapping things up, but not as close as I had just hoped.

"Then what have you done?" the director asked incredulously.

"I sequenced his, his DNA, and I in-vitroed him, but nothing live! I have his cells in deep freeze is all! I swear it!"

"That is enough for your termination. Despite it's leading to, whatever has happened, or not, I'm afraid you are terminated. Your son's cells belong to Exigent Products and will be destroyed."

He broke down. When he was more able to communicate, and I had talked the director into not terminating him immediately, we talked. He had used some of his son's cells to create a fertilized group that would be capable of being used to clone him. He had considered his options, and had frozen the cells.

"These are they," the director said, placing a heavily frosted cooler on the table. "They will last a few hours before they warm and die," he said firmly. "And they will."

"Derrin... " Doctor Merrik said softly, looking at the thing.

"Why?"

"My wife and I, we tried to have children, but, but he was our only, he was our only child. We've tried since, as well. But, without much success. She, her eggs just weren't, healthy. We won't have another."

"I'm sorry about that."

"It's not your fault. I had nothing to do with, this," he said, throwing the photo back at me. "I'm so sorry, son," he said, looking back at the cooler.

"Why are you sorry?"

"I killed him. I let him go to that damned party. I knew it was going to be trouble. That guy was nothing but trouble."

"What guy?"

"His friends father. I saw to it that he was fired for a good reason, but our sons were friends. Had been for a while. I should haven't let him go!"

"Who?"

"Miller. Kevin Miller. Geneticist. I saw to it that he was fired after I discovered his material acquisitions. Over a decade ago. I suspected, but not, not that he was, using, using... "

"Your son?"

I smelled the end of the trail.

*****

He didn't fight. He saw me coming, he saw the uniformed police behind me. He put down what he was working on, turned away, and there was the sound of a shot. His brains splashed over the three of us.

"Fuck."

*****

His notes and materials concerning the clones were claimed by Exigent Products, but his personal files were mine until I released them from my investigation.

He had kept meticulous records. The four boys had been failures, he considered them. He didn't understand why they were without a mind. The first he killed and burned, no mention of how, where, or when. After that he had given the remaining three to child molesters he had found on the internet predator list who were living locally. He hadn't been careful about whom he picked, explaining why one of them was known for molesting only girls. Each time he had contacted them as the boy, seemingly needing help, convincing them to come meet to prevent him from running away or committing suicide. Several times he had left one of the boys at the spot, but no one had come. He'd had to load the boy up and take him away, so that no one else found them and called the police or an ambulance. Or taken them to the hospital themselves.

I got onto his home computer and found his chat logs. Idiot kept them. I guess he figured if he got caught, he might as well not bother. He'd been busy. Pettiford had tried to be helpful to the 'kid'. He'd told him to be calm, and talked him down. Seventeen hours they chatted in total, before the good doctor had tried the first time to leave the kid for Pettiford in the park. Three times Pettiford said he would call the police if he didn't hear from him tomorrow. Three times the kid showed up again. The last time, the good doctor hadn't put the boy in the park until late the next night. Being a cop, Pettiford knew there hadn't been any missing children calls the next day, but when the boy hadn't shown up online that night, he went to the park. That same night Pettiford was picked up with the boy, speeding away from the park, straight toward the hospital; away from his own home.

The good doctor had done the same for each of the four clones he'd created. He'd find a local predator's name from the public online list, two very familiar names at that, then eventually get them to try to meet the boy.

I found his boots. They matched the prints from the crime scene in the woods behind my home. I found his lab, too, in his basement. The director of Exigent was ecstatic.

“Brilliant!” he exclaimed, looking over the mass of machines and equipment.

“Brilliant?”

“Yes. Of course! So simple, so elegant. This could revolutionize the medical field!”

“Or not,” I warned him.

“Yes, of course,” he said again, subdued this time. “Yet, the technique, it could be utilized. Not for whole bodies, just for parts. Donor's cells for the appropriate organs, other cells culled away and destroyed as they grow. Of course, older patients, not so likely to work for.”

“Why?”

“Puberty,” he said simply. “Once that process begins, and the body undergoes the maturing process, the cells lose the property that Dr. Miller was taking advantage of.”

“That's why he used Dr. Merrik's son?”

“Yes. Perfect subject. Old enough to be well developed, but free of the changes that would make the process almost impossible.”

The director wanted secrecy, and we worked out a deal.

My file, a simple murder case of a John Doe, was closed, body unidentified. Pettiford had killed himself, so he had no defense, and since Bill Blake was still missing, he was obviously an accomplice.

There is no official record of any of the other boys in the case, only the John Doe Junior in the woods, let alone the fact that only three of the four could be accounted for - for now. But that's another story.



*****



"Doctor Merrik?"

"Yes," the voice said, still sounding lost.

"Doctor, I have a problem."

"Detective? Is that you?"

"Yes. I hear you still work for Exigent Products."

"Yes. Thanks to you, mostly, I understand."

"You're welcome. You'd done nothing illegal. Against company policy, perhaps, but you helped solve a murder."

"Oh?"

"Not to worry. What do you do for Exigent? That you can tell me about."

"I do research into brain functions, as well as its regulation of the body."

"Perfect."

"Sorry?"

"Well, like I said, I have a problem. I solved the case, but it left two loose ends."

"How so?"

"The two surviving clones. Both are showing the signs of learning. They both recoil from light, pain and loud sounds. They cry like infants. The older one babbles. and sucks his thumb. But, both are developing personalities and seemingly learning. Quickly, the doctors say."

"Making up for lost time. They have fully developed brains now. No time in-utero to develop those proper chemicals and connections. They'll learn. And live. And probably be as normal as anyone. Probably develop normally, I suspect."

"Yes, the other doctors think the same thing."

"Poor kids. They're going to grow up and become real people, but with a childhood in a nearly adult body. Imagine, being a child in an adolescent body. They would get into everything. The bulky, awkward body of a teen, but the mind of a child. Then thinking like a teenager, but having the body of a thirty-something. They're going to be normal adults by thirty-five or so, aren't they?"

"Yes, that's the consensus. How'd you know?"

"I do research into mind, remember?"

"Yes. That's why I want to propose something."

"What would that be? I'd like to help them any way I can."

"Great. Wonderful. You have peers familiar with special developmental needs?"

"Certainly. I know colleagues in most fields of human brain and social development."

"Are any close by? Able to be there in person?"

"Most. A few are out of state. They have contacts here that I've been in contact with from time to time."

"Do you think that any would be willing to help with the boys?"

"Likely. But why? Are they coming here to be poked and prodded?"

I heard the disgust in his voice.

"Yes and no. They can go there. And they can stay there. Robertson's Children's Hospital has agreed to provide any medical care, including in-house, and the staff psychologist is willing as well, and Exigent will pick up the bills."

"For what purpose? And why tell me? So I'll know the boys created from my boy's cells will be teasingly close?"

"I was hoping you'd let them stay with you. Eventually. They'll need a normal place to call home, to have a chance to be normal. Parents and such. Living in an institution is hardly conducive to normal development, now is it? I've pulled the proper strings, and talked to the proper authorities. They agree."

The line was silent for a very long time. I was beginning to worry that he had blacked out or hung up softly.

"Are, are you telling me, that, the boys, they, they're going to come here?"

"No. I'm telling you that the persons taking care of the boys, in both cases, agree that they shouldn't be kept institutionalized forever. Especially now that they are showing all the signs of developing a real mind, personality, life. I'm telling you that it is agreed, and things are ready to proceed, if you and your wife agree to take them in. If they develop normal personalities. Treat them as your own. Otherwise, they stay in the state institutions where they are now, as John Does. Maybe get adopted someday. At least until they are able to be proven to able to take care of themselves. The doctors say there is no way to know how long that will be, but they are guessing the usual eighteen years or so. I'm telling you that if you agree, you can bring them up as your own. They are, anyway. Tell them they're twins, born with learning disabilities. Or the truth. Or not. It's up to you. And your wife. If you want to do so."

The line was silent again. But not for long.



Shorts - Derrin