“Talking hasn’t exactly been her problem.” He chuckles. “Get married, Eddison, or better yet have teenage daughters. She’s better than most, but the patterns are there. You just have to parse through the information for what’s significant. Listen to what isn’t being said.”
“There’s a reason I prefer to talk to suspects rather than victims.” He stalks into the tech room without waiting for a response.
As long as he’s out of the room, he might as well make use of the break. Victor walks briskly down the hall and out into the team’s main room, weaving through desks and partial cubes to the corner that serves as a kitchen or break room. He pulls the coffeepot from the machine and gives it a judicious sniff. It’s not hot, but it doesn’t smell completely stale either. He pours it into two mugs that look clean and pops them in the microwave. While they nuke, he digs through the fridge for anything that might be open season.
Birthday cake isn’t quite what he’s looking for, but it’ll serve, and soon he has paper plates loaded with two thick slices and several packets of sugar and creamer. He hooks his fingers through the handles of the mugs and returns to the tech room.
Eddison scowls but holds the plates for him so he can insert the earbud. Victor doesn’t try to hide the wire; the girl’s too smart for that. When he’s got it settled comfortably, he takes the plates back and enters the room.
He startles her with the cake, and he carefully hides a smile as he slides one of the plates and a mug across the stainless steel surface. “I thought you might be hungry. I don’t know how you like your coffee.”
“I don’t, but thank you.” She sips the coffee black, makes a face, but swallows and takes another mouthful.
He waits until her mouth is full of a red frosting rose. “Tell me about the Evening Star, Inara.”
She doesn’t choke, doesn’t flinch, but there’s the slightest pause, a moment of absolute stillness that’s gone so fast he wouldn’t have seen it if he weren’t looking for it. She swallows and licks the frosting from her lips, leaving streaks of brilliant red across them. “It’s a restaurant, but then you know that.”
He pulls the ID from his pocket and places it and the bag on the table. She taps a fingernail against the ID, intermittently obscuring her face. “He kept them?” she asks incredulously. “That seems . . .”
“Sure.” Her face pulls into a thoughtful frown, and her fingers flatten to hide the plastic card from view. “All of them?”
“As far as we can tell.”
She swirls the coffee in the mug, staring at the tiny maelstrom.
“But Inara is as much a construction as Maya, isn’t it?” he asks gently. “Your name, your age, none of it’s real.”
“It’s real enough,” she corrects softly. “Real for what it needs to be.”
“Real enough to get a job and a place to live. But what came before?”
One of the nice things about New York was that no one ever asked questions. It’s just one of those places people go to, you know? It’s a dream, it’s a goal, it’s a place you can disappear amidst millions of other people doing the same thing. No one cares where you came from or why you left because they’re too focused on themselves and what they want and where they’re going. New York has so much history, but everyone in it just wants to know about the future. Even when you’re from New York City, you can still go to ground somewhere else and they may never find you.
I took the bus to New York with everything I owned in a duffel bag and a suitcase. I found a soup kitchen that didn’t care if I slept in the clinic upstairs as long as I helped serve food, and one of the other volunteers told me about a guy who had just made him papers for his wife, who was an illegal from Venezuela. I called the number he gave me and the next day I was at the library, sitting under a statue of a lion and waiting for a complete stranger to approach me.
He didn’t inspire much confidence when he finally appeared, an hour and a half after we’d agreed. He was average height and skinny, his clothes stiff with salt and other stains I didn’t want to identify. His lank hair was in the process of matting into dreads and he sniffled constantly, his eyes darting around each time before he lifted a sleeve to rub at his cherry red nose. Maybe he was a genius at forgery, but it wasn’t hard to guess where the money went.
He didn’t ask me my name, or rather, he only asked the name I wanted. Birth date, address, license or ID, did I want to be an organ donor? As we talked, we walked into the library to give us an excuse to be quiet, and when he reached a banner with a swath of clean white, he stood me up against it and took my picture. I’d taken extra care before coming to the library to meet him, even bought some makeup, so I knew I could pull off nineteen. It’s about the eyes, really. If you’ve seen enough, you just look older, no matter what the rest of your face looks like.
He told me to meet him at a particular hot dog cart that evening and he’d have what I needed. When we reconvened—he was late again—he held up an envelope. Such a little thing, really, but it’s enough to change a life. He told me it would be a grand, but he’d knock it down to five hundred if I slept with him.
I paid him the grand.
He walked away in one direction and I in another, and when I got back to the hostel where I planned to spend the night—a good ways from the soup kitchen and anyone who might remember a girl being told about illegal papers—I opened the envelope and got my first good look at Inara Morrissey.
“Why didn’t you want to be found?” he asks, using a pen to stir the creamer into his coffee.
“I wasn’t worried about being found; to be found, someone has to be looking for you.”
“Why wouldn’t anyone be looking for you?”
“I miss New York. No one asked these kinds of questions there.”
Static crackles in his ear as one of the techs opens a line. “New York says she got her GED three years ago. Passed with flying colors but never registered for the SAT or asked for the scores to be passed on to a college or employer.”
“Did you drop out of high school?” he asks. “Or did you get your GED so you wouldn’t have to produce a diploma?”
“Now that you have a name, it’s much easier to dig into my life, isn’t it?” She finishes off the cake and sets the plastic fork at a neat angle across the plate, the tines down. Paper crinkles as she tears open one of the sugar packets and empties it into a pile on the plate. Licking the only fingertip not covered in gauze and tape, she presses it against the sugar and sticks it into her mouth. “That only tells you about New York, though.”
“I know, so I need you to tell me about what came before.”
“I liked being Inara.”
“But that isn’t who you are,” he says gently, and anger flashes through her eyes. Gone just as fast as her almost-smiles or her surprise, but there just the same.
“So a rose by any other name isn’t still a rose?”
“That’s language, not identity. Who you are isn’t a name but it is a history, and I need to know yours.”
“Why? My history doesn’t tell you about the Gardener, and isn’t that what it’s really about? The Gardener and his Garden? All his Butterflies?”
“And if he survives to come to trial, we need to provide the jury with credible witnesses. A young woman who won’t even tell the truth about her name doesn’t cut it.”
“It’s just a name.”
“Not if it’s yours.”
That not-quite-smile twists her lips briefly. “Bliss said that.”