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good enough for any world

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It was almost half past four on a Saturday in November, and the sun was slinking toward the horizon with the eagerness of a high schooler off to his first house party. I was in my office because I had an appointment, but she hadn’t showed. I was just getting comfortable with my novel when there was a knock on the door. I marked my place and put the book away. Harry Potter and his many magical troubles would have to wait for another day.

The woman who came into my office looked tired. She’d used cosmetics to no great effect and her outfit was clearly assembled by someone who’d heard of the notion of seasonal trends, but didn’t quite understand it. My estimate was she was only a few years older than me, but the journey had been much rougher for her. “I want you to find my daughter,” she said.

She’d said the same thing on the phone when making the appointment. Lost child cases are one of my most common types, right after cheating spouses. They’re usually much faster to resolve, too. “I have a five grand retainer. I charge sixty bucks an hour, plus expenses.”

She produced a rubber-banded bundle of bills and counted off fifty Benjamins. I examined the bills. Nonconsecutive serials, normal amounts of wear, no obvious fakes. I placed them back on the desk, but closer to my side. “Tell me what you know,” I prompted.

“Her name is Amelia,” she said. She handed over a printed-out photo of a toddler in a sundress. She had curly brown hair and an uncertain expression on her face. “She was with her father last.”

I looked it over and set it to the side, next to the money. “When did you last see the father? Do you know where he might be now?” I’d handled custody disagreements before. Unless the other parent decided to leave the country, they didn’t tend to be too difficult.

“I know exactly where he is,” she said. “That’s the trouble. His name is Tony Lavere and he’s in prison now.”

That was a wrinkle I hadn’t been expecting. Anton Lavere, the so-called “Marquis” of Brockton Bay, was doing forty years in maximum security prison after a cop got killed trying to arrest him. He hadn’t fought the charges and the trial had been relatively speedy, only winding up in the news a couple of times. I’d have to refamiliarize myself with the details, but it was a sure thing he didn’t have a three-year-old girl clinging to his coat sleeve in his prison cell upstate.

We talked for the next half hour. Claire told me about her relationship with Lavere (initially a soldier in his crime empire, later his girlfriend), a lot of largely irrelevant details about Amelia (her liking for cauliflower was pretty unlikely to be relevant, anyway), and that she’d last seen Amelia before heading to Boston on a weekend trip that had turned into a three month stay when she’d been pulled over for speeding and found with a joint in her pocket. At least that explained why she hadn’t gone to the cops to ask about her daughter. In the end, I agreed to take her case. She went home and I powered on my laptop to go through back issues of the Brockton Bay Journal-Dispatch.

The facts were these: Lavere’s racket included drugs and gambling with a small sideline in protection and the occasional murder for hire. Late in September, two police detectives who had been apparently building a case for some time tried to make an arrest. In the process, Detective Wallis was shot in the face and died on the scene. This much I learned from the handful of articles covering the arrest; when Lavere pled no contest to the killing, the district attorney got an expedited sentencing hearing and Lavere traded in his three piece suit for a prison jumpsuit a little over a week later. The paper had lost interest by that point; relegating him to page 16 instead of the front above the fold.

I put in an application to visit Lavere in prison. Unlike Claire, I had no particular reason to be wary of the cops, and talking with Lavere would be sure to shed some light on the situation. Prison bureaucracy being what it was, however, I would not have a chance to meet with him for at least a month. Amelia deserved something faster than that.

I pulled out my phone and went through the contact list. I tapped “Jamie” and waited while the phone rang. Her name was not, of course, actually Jamie, but she was a cop and the daughter of a cop, and she had been known to give me a piece or two of information when I had a good excuse. “Hey,” she said.

“It’s me,” I replied. “I need a favor. I’m trying to find a missing kid.”

Jamie and I met in a coffeeshop the following morning. She had photos of the arresting officer’s report from the night Lavere was taken in, which she transferred to my tablet. We shared a danish and small talk about holiday plans. After not too much time, we went our separate ways and I settled in to read.

The report was long, and written in precise cop speak. Detective Anders gave every impression of giving every possible detail, closing off any possibility that the perp who shot his partner would get away with it. He described their approach to Lavere’s rented office, their rapid entry to the premises, and the state Lavere was in when they found him. Lavere was a Talent, one of probably a couple dozen in the area. His power let him cover his body in a sort of bone armor that was somehow flexible enough to move freely, but rigid enough to block a few bullets. Lavere had started growing his armor when they disturbed him, but not quickly enough to protect himself, so he’d also had a 9mm handgun in his fist. A bullet from that gun had ended Wallis’s life. The rest of the report described Anders summoning backup, talking Lavere out of a standoff, and leading him away in cuffs.

There was no mention at all of a little girl.