I looked for him, of course. I tracked every clue that I could find and
some that were more rumors than anything else. But he’d liquidated
his entire existence within a few days and just vanished. I kept thinking
that we’d at least hear from him, but there was never a peep. Unless
he contacted Trowa, but if so… he wasn’t telling.
After a few months had gone by, I reluctantly added morgue
lists into my search and just tried not to think about it.
I would forever kick myself for not checking up on him sooner.
I’d just been so convinced that he was embarrassed by the whole stupid
incident and just needed a bit of time to get his bearings. I’d thought
his running off that night had been just a strategic retreat. I’d
thought that he’d figured out like I had, that the argument should
have been between Trowa and Quatre and it was their mess to straighten out.
Not that they ever had. They’d broken it off over the
whole mess within a few days. They were both miserable, but the damage that
had been done that night couldn’t be covered over. Trowa had already
been furious that Quatre didn’t trust him any more than to make those
kinds of accusations to begin with, but when it had become obvious that
Duo had been so distraught over the whole thing that he’d… hell,
that he’d run away from home, he had just exploded.
I think, somewhere in there, Quatre had started to have his
doubts, but it was a bit too late by that point. No amount of apologizing
was going to bring Duo back when he couldn’t be found to apologize
And while I personally felt awful for the two of them, I couldn’t
quite forgive Quatre myself. I really didn’t care what he thought
he’d seen that day, he’d had no right to say some of the things
he’d said to Duo. Even if there had been something between Trowa and
Duo that was… inappropriate, it certainly wouldn’t have been
all Duo’s fault. Trowa was a big boy, after all, and perfectly able
to answer for his own actions. Laying it all at Duo’s feet had been
wrong no matter what had happened or not happened.
I think Quatre had been playing to the few things we knew
about Duo’s past and it smacked, frankly, of hitting below the belt.
I don’t think that I ever would have given up looking,
but I have to admit that by the eight month ‘anniversary’ of
Duo’s disappearance, I’d started to feel the hopelessness of
it. Duo Maxwell had always been adept at vanishing. If he didn’t want
to be found, it was highly unlikely he was going to be.
It was, in fact, a total accident when it finally happened.
It was almost embarrassing after all the hours I’d put in hacking
computers and tracing clues, ruthlessly using Preventers’ resources
and screwing policy.
It hadn’t even been me, exactly, that actually found
Sally Po has a niece, Katie by name, and she’d been
using Wufei’s computer at the office since her parent’s internet
connection was on the fritz at home. It had been for a school project and
the kid is pretty easy to get along with, so I hadn’t minded that
Sally and Wufei had left her in my care while they’d gone to lunch.
I really hadn’t been paying that much attention, I’d
been using my own lunch hour, as I always did, to check some of the information
trackers I had out watching for different variations of Duo’s name.
The report that was supposedly due the next day had something to do with
careers; Katie apparently wanted to be a vet when she grew up, or an actress
that worked with animals, or one of those animal cops… and that was
about all I could have told you.
Until there came this plaintive little, ‘Mr. Yuy, how
do I get this to print?’ and I went to help out.
She hopped out of Wufei’s chair when I came across the
office and I sat down to see what it was she was trying to print. She had
a web page pulled up that looked like somebody’s blog, but there were
pictures that made it pretty plain it belonged to somebody in the veterinary
business. ‘What part do you want?’ I asked and she pointed at
the screen, showing me which days. I couldn’t help grinning, Wufei
wasn’t going to be happy to come back and find all the finger prints
on his monitor.
‘Ok,’ I replied and highlighted and hit the print
key. ‘Do you know where the water fountain is?’
‘Yep,’ she nodded vigorously, ready to dart off
there even before I finished my instructions.
‘The printer for this floor is on a table in the room
right beside it,’ I explained. ‘Your printout will come out
there, with Wufei’s name on it. Think you can find it?’
She grinned and was out of the office before she even bothered
with the ‘Yes, sir!’ I suspected research was not going to be
the child’s forte… she was too easily bored.
Almost, I got up to go back to my desk, but then decided I
should probably double check that Katie hadn’t just had me printing
off something we shouldn’t have, and I scrolled down the page.
And thought my heart was going to freaking lurch out of my
There were pictures taken in what appeared to be some kind
of clinic; pretty damn low tech from the looks of it, the entry seemed to
be about rescued animals and in the background of one of the pictures I
found a partially cropped out figure with a more than familiar braid. I
just stared for a moment, at the back and the braid, but the picture wasn’t
that great. I was… almost positive, but at the same time almost afraid
to believe. It just seemed… too damn bizarre. After all the searching
and hunting and the weekend trips to follow up on leads, after getting ‘the
talk’ from Lady Une about misuse of company resources when the IT
department had seen something I hadn’t thought to cover up. After
the late nights and the lunch hours after… after all that damn time,
I couldn’t make myself believe I’d found him by accident.
Katie suddenly appeared at my elbow, sheaf of papers in her
hand and grin on her face. ‘I got it Mr. Yuy; thanks!’
‘Sure sweetie,’ I told her absently and she giggled
at the endearment that had slipped out of my mouth. I realized it was something
Duo would have said, and I quietly memorized the web address and went back
to my own desk.
I spent the rest of the afternoon pouring over the blog of
a woman named ‘DeeDeeVet’, who claimed to be a vet somewhere
in the southwest. She was a rather… blunt person, calling clients
stupid when she thought they were stupid and so the journal wasn’t
entirely… out in the open. She was coy about using real names and
had a series of tags for various people. And while there were pictures of
the animals, people mostly were edited out. That one hint of braid down
a turned back was the only picture I found that I thought might be Duo.
Though, about seven months ago, a new tag had cropped up.
References were made to a ‘Mr. Tightjeans’ and involved the
woman foisting off a stray dog or something. She seemed quite pleased with
herself and had apparently had the help of some local personality that she
referred to as ‘Applepie’. The two of them seemed to be of the
opinion that Tightjeans had needed the dog even more than the dog had needed
a home. There was a whole paragraph that waxed near poetic on how sad and
lonely Tighjeans seemed to be and I got the distinct impression that dear
DeeDeeVet wished she could remedy that with something besides a dog.
It amazes me what people will say in an open, internet forum,
trusting to… I’m not sure what, to keep anybody they know from
After that entry, Tightjeans became a regular topic and seemed
to be turning into some sort of animal savior. Or just the vets own personal
sucker. Woman used him fairly mercilessly. The entries that mentioned him
involved everything from hamsters to a damn horse. I wondered how the poor
sap had time to breathe.
But then I started imagining Duo instead of some faceless
‘Tightjeans’ and I was surprised that I was almost angry on
I made up my mind then and stopped reading the blog itself
and started back tracking it. It didn’t take much tracing of entries
to find someplace the woman had posted, that recorded IP addresses. A quick
trace route yielded an ISP which handed me a state. I went off on searches
for veterinary practices in that area.
Somewhere in there, Wufei and Sally came back from lunch and
Sally took Katie away to spend the rest of the afternoon in her own office.
She waved and told me goodbye and I waved back distractedly. I think Wufei
questioned me, but must have judged from my reaction, or lack of said, that
I was distracted, and left me be. I felt vaguely guilty because he probably
thought I was working on our current case. Nothing could have been further
from the truth, and not only was I blowing off work for the afternoon, somewhere
in the back of my mind I knew I was about to be taking some vacation time.
Some hours later I had a list of female vets in the northern
corner of New Mexico and had pretty much narrowed it down based on mentions
in the blog that the vet in question had a practice that rotated across
several counties. Of the half a dozen names I came up with, DeeDeeVet seemed
to most likely match up to a Deirdre Card. The blog told me that the place
I was looking for was wherever the woman spent her Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The listing for her practice told me just where that would be.
Somehow, when I saw the name of the town, I just knew I was
on the right track. Wouldn’t a place called Devil’s Palm appeal
to Duo’s sometimes morbid sense of humor?
When I sat back in my chair with a heavy sign, I was rather
surprised to find that it was almost quitting time. I looked across to see
Wufei regarding me quizzically. ‘Finally come up for air?’ he
smiled. ‘Going to tell me what kind lead you found now?’
I sighed again and rubbed at tired eyes. ‘I… it’s
not the kind of lead you think,’ I confessed and then met his gaze.
‘I think I found him.’
I was almost surprised that I didn’t have to clarify.
I saw his eyes widen and he sat up straighter, almost leaning toward me.
‘Are you sure? How?’
I had to give a mirthless little laugh. ‘Would you believe
by accident? And no… I’m not a hundred percent sure. But…
I really think so.’
He just stared at me for a moment, processing it in that clinical
way he has, before he said, ‘We should call Trowa…’
‘No,’ I told him, managing to keep the harshness
out of my voice. ‘I’m going to handle this.’
‘Heero…’ he began, but I was shaking my
head before he could even start reasoning with me.
‘I’m not going to risk losing him again,’
I said firmly, not caring what I implied or how he chose to take it. ‘I’ve
already e-mailed Lady Une to tell her I’m taking leave. I’m
going to go find Duo, and I don’t want this… bullshit to follow
He thought about that for a moment and then nodded slowly.
‘Will you… please… at least give me a clue where?’
‘If you agree not to share the information until I say
it’s ok,’ I said and was pleased to see that he did think about
it before finally nodding.
‘I… guess I understand,’ he replied. ‘I
can agree to that.’
So I went to his desk and pulled up the web-site from his
history and watched him scan the blog and look at the pictures, explaining
my findings. Then he chuckled mirthlessly, caught somewhere between amused
and pained. ‘Sitting in the palm of the Devil’s hand. God…Only
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