“Stores have security cameras, right?” began Amanda.
“Ideally,” replied Miya.
Everyone had clustered around Amanda’s workspace in the lair. Amanda had taken the center position, with Miya lounging in a folding chair next to her. Ben and Rob leaned against the desk, leaning forward to get a good look at Amanda’s screen. Olivia herself hung back, looking over the top of Amanda’s head. Where are you going with this?
“So, we can check their cameras, see what kind of cars pass by. They haven’t changed their systems, so I still have access to most of what the police have. It won’t be perfect, but it might give us something, like the car of a human trafficker or someone,” explained Amanda. “We don’t have any real information on who Olivia could be, other than that old government list thing.”
“Three problems,” said Ben. “What time we lookin’ for? An’ more importantly, they ain’t gonna let us random dudes walk in an’ take a look at their security. An’ third, those cameras are gonna be lookin’ in the store, not the streets.”
“I know. One, I’m just about to get that. Two, they probably won’t. We’re going to have to break in. And third, yes, but there’s a chance we might catch something. We’ll have to take any chance we can get. Do you have any other ideas?”
“Breakin’ in, you say?” asked Rob with a grin. Olivia frowned. Isn’t there anything else we can do? “Weren’t you a cop?”
“Yes, but you’re vastly overestimating how much I actually gave a damn about that job. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And besides, it’s not like we’re stealing anything. We’re just going to be looking at their tapes. If we do this right they won’t even know we were there.”
“Just the tapes?” asked Miya. “I mean, we’ll be in there already.”
“Yeah, ain’t been a safe I couldn’t crack,” added Rob. Ben burst into laughter.
Are they talking about robbing people? “Guys, please don’t,” spoke up Olivia. Don’t make me be responsible for a bunch of break ins.
Amanda shot them a dirty look. “Absolutely not. Unless you want the police to come down on us, hard. They have their hands full right now, but we’ll get on their radar.”
“An’ we’ll be goin’ into shops all next to each other. They’ll pick up on that pattern real quick,” said Ben.
“Shit, didn’t think about that,” muttered Rob.
“Alright, enough distractions,” broke in Amanda. She turned to Olivia and said, “Now, I need you to think. When did you wake up?”
Olivia folded her arms and glanced at her feet for a moment. When was it? Oh, right, that first newspaper I saw. “Um, April 13th? No, that was the next day. April 12th.”
“OK.” Amanda typed something on her computer, then asked, “When that day? Can you remember anything about that?”
“Well, it was raining. And there was lightning. But I saw the sun going down.” Olivia frowned. Am I messing this up? “How does that work?”
“One of those quick storms,” said Ben. “Rolls in, dumps rain, leaves in ten minutes.”
“I’ve seen rain on sunny days before, but not often,” added Amanda. Good, I can remember. “OK, sundown on April 12th. Hang on, is this online?” A few quick keystrokes later, she said, “Holy shit it is. You can look up ‘sundown April 12, 2013’ and it gives you the time the sun went down.”
“Seriously?” Miya leaned over to get a better look, then said, “Oh my god she’s right.”
“Damn right I’m right,” said Amanda. “So we’re looking at around seven thirty, maybe about ten minutes before.”
“She wouldn’t have been layin’ out there that long,” said Ben.
“Someone woulda noticed,” added Rob. “We ain’t lookin’ at a huge window.”
“That worked out really well,” said Amanda. Olivia shot her a small smile. Progress! “Do you remember exactly where you woke up?” she asked her.
It was the alley by the dented door of that apartment building. Red’s building now.Olivia replied, “No, not the street or anything, but I can go and check.”
“I know where it is,” said Ben. Oh, that’s easy enough.
Amanda nodded. “That sounds good. Now, last thing. One of the girls on the list, Maria, has a pretty good chance. She’s your age, and went missing the day before you showed up. That seems like a pretty good indicator. Her parents are migrant workers on the farms out east. They’re probably not going to be the most forthcoming people in the world.”
“Where from?” asked Ben.
“Columbia, I think,” replied Amanda. “I’m guessing they’re here legally if they were willing to go to the police when their daughter went missing.”
“Legally?” asked Olivia.
“Yeah, people sneak into the country,” said Ben. “Met a bunch of ‘em. People movers dick ‘em over all the time, even in Baltimore.”
Miya let out a snort. “You basically have to get in the country by water now.”
“What?” asked Rob.
“Oh, I heard all sorts of awful stories out of Mexico. Like the emperor’s soldiers opening up a shipping container full of people and just gunning them down. Or border guards on both sides of the border setting up minefields.”
Rob let out a low whistle. “Shit,” he murmured.
Olivia covered her mouth with her hands and stared at Miya with wide eyes.“Why would they do that? Why would anyone do that?”
“Why would they care about those people? Those people weren’t Aztecs, or Mexicans, whichever you prefer. If you aren’t from Mexico City you’re nobody. Mexico is still an empire. Empires aren’t built out of love and kindness.” Miya was ranting in a bitter voice now. “And it’s not like Cuauhtemoc is going to kick the bucket anytime soon. The dude’s old, like Cyrus. Except he said, ‘fuck it, I’ll just be an iron fisted dictator. Let the human sacrifices commence!’ He keeps all the old bullshit, changing nothing but the guns he uses. And everyone just uses that to shit on Aztecs outside of the country.”
Silence fell over them once Miya finished. Olivia glanced around at the others. Wow. What are we supposed to say? Ben arched an eyebrow and said, “Got some pent up anger outta your system?”
Miya shrugged, her expression stormy. “Forget about it. What were we talking about?”
“Oh, right, tracking down Maria’s family,” said Amanda, turning back to her computer. “The file here says where they were last employed. The police didn’t look to far into her case when it first appeared, and the feral people didn’t make much headway into investigating last time I checked. And I think Overlord has given them other worries. So we might be able to make some more headway than the police did. If we track down Maria, we can either figure this out or cross her off the list.”
“Sounds good,” said Rob. A buzzing sound filled the room. “That yours, Little Bird?”
Oh, hey. Olivia pulled her phone out of her pocket. “Oh, it’s Beth!” She used the side of her claw to accept the call. “Um, hi?
“Hi, Olivia,” replied Beth over the phone.
“Are you OK?”
Beth laughed. “I’m fine. Just letting you guys know I’m alive.”
“Oh, that’s good. Is everything going alright, then?” At Olivia’s question, the tension in the others receded.
The line went quiet for a moment. “I think so,” replied Beth. “I’m in my old room now. We’re giving each other some space. I think they finally went to sleep.” You only got your daughter back three hours ago. Olivia checked the clock on the phone. Four AM. Right, normal people. “I think they were a bit frustrated. But happy, you know?”
“But they’re OK with everything?” asked Olivia as she walked over to her beanbag.
“They’ve been pretty understanding. I think. They weren’t happy, but they weren’t angry, you know?”
“That’s good. That’s very good.”
“I’ve just been going through my old things. Didn’t you mention something about The Sleepless Ones? I have the first couple books on my bookshelf.”
“Oh! You have that? You need to start reading. It’s so good! There’s one character, and she-”
“Whoa, hey, are you going to tell me the plot of the book?”
“No, sorry. But you have to read it,” urged Olivia.
Beth laughed. “OK, I’ll take a look. I guess I should sleep or… something. It was good talking to you. Thanks for listening. I’ll call you tomorrow, if that’s OK. I tried texting earlier but it’s kind of a pain with the claws.”
“I know, right? That sounds good. Bye.” Olivia slipped her phone back into her pocket as the line went dead. The others had dispersed. Rob and Amanda, as always, had their heads together in their workshop. Miya and Ben both had their phones out at the table. Ben looked up and nodded as Olivia approached.
“How’s Beth doin’?” he asked.
“Good. She said she’s been talking with her family. They’re doing OK.” Miya and Ben exchanged glances. “Why are you guys so doubtful?” asked Olivia.
“I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Miya.
“She’s changed. They remember a different Beth,” said Ben.
“That’s why we made it clear to her she’s got a place here if she needs it,” said Miya.
Olivia frowned. “She hasn’t changed. She just can’t remember stuff. They’ll work through it.”
“What if her favorite food was some weird veggie thing?” asked Miya. “Is she going to be able to eat that? Because they’re going to expect her to.” Why would they want her to? They should know she can’t.
“It’s gonna be a thousand different things,” explained Ben before Olivia could speak. “Old family in jokes, old references to people she don’t remember. She can’t go meet her old friends. The neighbors see her there’s gonna be trouble. That’s all just more stress for ‘em.”
“A thousand little things, all adding up,” added Miya. It won’t be like that.
“They can work through it. Beth said they were,” said Olivia.
Ben shrugged and said, “Maybe, maybe not. If they do, great. If not, don’t be surprised.”
“Why wouldn’t they make the effort?”
“You guys get scary when you’re angry, you know that, right?” asked Miya. “You’re huge, you spread out your wings to look even bigger, you start hissing, you have claws.”
Olivia tilted her head to the side by a few degrees. “But… they’re family. Why would she get angry?”
Miya shrugged and said, “They’re people. People get angry. Sometimes for stupid reasons, sometimes for good reasons.” Olivia frowned and looked down at the table. Miya broke the silence. “That book you were squeeing about to Beth, is that one of those vampire things?”
Olivia looked up. “Yeah. It’s so good. Have you read it?”
Miya nodded. “The first couple. They lost me after the third book. It got a little too weird. That and the author had no idea how magic works.”
“Oh.” Olivia turned to Ben. “Have you?”
Ben snickered. “Nope. Readin’s borin’.
“No it’s not,” replied Olivia. How could you say that?
“Why read when I can hike up a mountain myself? Live my own damn life.”
“Well I like it,” mumbled Olivia.
“I ain’t judgin’. I’m just sayin’ what I like. To each their own. Speakin’ of which, food sound good?” asked Ben.
“A burger sounds good,” said Olivia, back straightening.. Mmmm, food.
“Have I ever mentioned I hate you sometimes, Olivia?” grumbled Miya.
“What?” asked Olivia, her voice soft. What did I do?
Miya threw her hands up in exasperation. “You eat nothing but meat and sugar and never exercise, but look like you’re in fantastic shape. If I did that, I’d be a ball of fat and acne.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sorry?”What do you want from me?
Miya folded her arms and grumbled, “You should be. You get to be tall.”
Ben laughed and punched Olivia in the shoulder. “Don’t worry, she’s just jealous. Vertically impaired an’ all.”
Miya glared at him. “No, no, no, don’t give me that. Do you know how many times I’ve needed a stool just to reach something at the back of a counter?”
Olivia stared at her. “I’d love to be short. Do you know how many times I’ve hit my head on doors?”
“Or when I have to stretch my neck way back when I talk to anyone.”
“Same for me, just, you know, down.” Especially for you.
“Or jump around in a crowd, trying to figure out what the fuck is going on?” Olivia fought back a smile of that mental image.
“How about sticking out like a sore thumb?”
“Or how about when I need to climb onto the washing machine just to reach the laundry inside?”
“I can’t find clothes that really fit. Ever.”
“Aw,” said Ben, patting Miya on the head. “She gets so cute when she’s angr-oof.” Miya cut him off with a punch to the ribs.
“What have we learned today?” she asked.
Ben laughed and said, “That Napoleon-” She jabbed him in the ribs again.
He jumped out of his seat and out of Miya’s reach. “Food is better than punches?” Olivia smiled.
Miya shrugged. “Close enough. Want anything, Olivia?”
Olivia rose from her seat. “I’ll come. It tastes good when it’s fresh. Or fresher. Whatever.”
“Sounds good,” said Ben. “Hey, you had a milkshake before? It’s sugar.”
Olivia looked at him. “Yes. They’re great! Let’s go.”