I stared at her.
"Mind the road, dear." I swerved to avoid a fallen tree. "What's his story? If I have to take care of him, I might as well know the whole thing."
"It's all very, very sad. Martina, his mother, met his father while she lived in the Midwest. Not a lot of boudas out that way, so when she found him, she didn't look too closely at the quality of his character. And he seemed like a good enough sort, a proper bouda, on the passive side, but our men sometimes go that way. They had their fun, she conceived. She was thrilled. He was not."
"Didn't want to be a father?"
Aunt B rocked her head from side to side. "Not exactly. Turns out to be that he was on his `pilgrimage.' He grew up in a religious community out in the boonies led by some prophet, and they sent him out to see how the `heathens' live. He wasn't supposed to be getting his jollies on and seek carnal pleasures." She raised her eyebrows at "carnal."
"So what happened?"
"He stayed with her. Martina thought they were a family. She gave birth. It was a hard birth. The hospital had sedated her--they were afraid she might snap from the pain. When she woke up in the hospital bed, the baby and the father were gone. He'd left her a note. He was going to raise the baby in the `proper' way. The baby was an innocent, but she was unclean, because they'd sinned and had intercourse without the blessing of the prophet, so she couldn't come. Martina barely got to hold the boy. A dim memory, that's all he left her. She can't tell the story without breaking into tears."
I would've found him. I would've found him and killed him and took my baby back. "Did she chase him?"
Aunt B nodded. "She did. But she was weak and he was very good at covering his tracks. She floated about for a few years like a broken ship without a rudder until she came here and we took her in. She is a good person. Just had to get her head on straight. She swore off having children, and we can't afford to do that, not with our numbers."
"What happened to Ascanio?"
"His father brought him back to his sect." Aunt B grimaced. "The way the boy tells it, it was one of those sects where the prophet starts receiving messages from some celestial flimflam god, who tells him to sleep with all the women. Especially the younger prettier ones. This prophet wasn't that keen on Ascanio's father returning."
"Eliminating the competition," I guessed.
"That's right. Most young men didn't come back after the pilgrimage--why would you? You'd have to take a wife eventually, and how can you do that knowing she leaves every night to go sleep with this prophet? But Ascanio's father was too stupid to think for himself. When Ascanio was about seven or eight, he died. A hunting accident." "Aha. I'll buy that for a dollar." What kind of a hunting accident would it have to be to kill a damn bouda? Were they hunting an elephant and it fell on him?
"The boy was sort of collectively raised," Aunt B continued. "The sect mostly consisted of women, the only men being the prophet, a few old-timers too creaky to leave, and the prophet's progeny. They spoiled him rotten, but eventually he grew up. You've seen the way he looks. He got to sowing some wild oats. The prophet started getting messages that Ascanio was unclean real quick. Except by that point, Ascanio was strong enough that the prophet was worried about confronting him directly. Ascanio's daddy had written the whole sordid account of his sin in a confession, so the prophet found the mother's name, looked her up, and called us. `Come and get him before something bad happens.' So we came and got him. He is ours now. He has a good heart. He just doesn't know the rules and doesn't have an awful lot of sense in that pretty head of his."
So the only male role model Ascanio had ever had was a lecherous, murdering con man. Great. That explained a few things.
Aunt B stared into my eyes. "You will take care of my boy, won't you, Kate? I'd consider it a personal favor."
"I'll do what I can," I told her. "But I can't pull him out of the fire if he jumps into it after being warned."
"I don't ask for miracles," Aunt B said. "Just things within reason."
It would take a miracle to keep Ascanio in line. But now didn't seem like a good time to mention it.
AUNT B WANTED TO BE LET OUT HALF A MILE FROM my office, at some bakery. When we got in, Andrea was already there, sitting at her desk. The loyal hound took a running start and hit me in the chest. I could've used Grendel's company last night. But Andrea still needed him more than I did.
"Did you sleep here?" I asked.
She raised her chin. "Of course not."
Yep, she slept in the office. Sometimes being by yourself in an empty apartment, with nothing but your own craziness for company, was far worse than weathering a night in the office in an uncomfortable bed. At least in the office you could pretend you were still at work and keep busy. I'd been there.
Derek stuck his head into the fridge. "There is nothing to eat."
"Did you not eat before we left?"
Derek gave me a long-suffering look. "Yes, I did. But by lunch we'll need food, and we can't afford to keep running out of the building for munchies." He was right. We had three shapeshifters to feed, and every time one of us left the office, we became a target. "Fine." I opened the safe and handed him three hundred dollars. "There is a grocery down the street. Get something that will keep well."
"I'll go with him," Andrea said. "I need to walk the fur-face anyway."
They left, and I watched Ascanio bar the door behind them.
The box containing the evidence from Adam's house wasn't at my desk. If Andrea spent the night, she probably took it upstairs. I ran up the steps. There it was, spread out all over the floor into neat little piles: Polaroids on one side, Andrea's and my notes on the other, little baggie with dead ants in the middle. I sat on the floor. There had to be something here we could use. Something we were missing. So far all I had to work with were theories and suppositions. The volhvs had probably kidnapped Adam; Roman pretty much confirmed it. But unless he was lying, the device was still out there, somewhere. The Red Guard didn't have the device either, otherwise the Guardsmen wouldn't have hired us to look for it. Adam couldn't have moved the device by himself. It weighed a ton. That left the Lighthouse Keepers. They must've wanted both Adam and the device, but the volhvs snatched Adam from under their noses, so they took the device instead. And used some sort of vehicle to move it out of Sibley, leaving the trail of screwed-up magic. And I would know what that vehicle looked like if only Ghastek condescended to let me in on it. Ugh.