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Cadel was in a very sour mood when he first met Detective Inspector Saul Greeniaus.
The day had started badly. To begin with, Cadel had been woken up at 3:00 a.m. by the sound of piercing screams coming from Janan’s bedroom. Though only six years old, Janan had the lung capacity of a whale. He also suffered from night terrors, and the combination was deadly. Cadel usually felt sorry for Janan, who had been living in foster homes for most of his life. But it was hard to sympathize with anyone at three o’clock in the morning, let alone a kid who could scream like a hysterical gibbon.
As a result of his interrupted sleep, Cadel was late for breakfast. Not that it mattered. He didn’t have to go to school, so Mr. and Mrs. Donkin never insisted that he be awake at a specific time. But Mace and Janan did attend school, and were finishing their eggs just as Cadel arrived in the kitchen. Had Cadel been feeling more alert, he would never have sat down to eat just then. He would have waited until Mace was out of the house and running to catch the bus, his gray shirt untucked and his thick legs pumping.
Had Cadel used his brain, he would have sensed trouble in the air, and tried to head it off.
The whole problem was that he couldn’t protect his own bedroom. There was a house rule about always knocking first, and another rule about respecting privacy. These rules were written in beautiful script on a piece of handmade paper that was pinned to the door of the pantry cupboard. (Hazel had done an evening course in calligraphy.) But both rules were quite easy to break, because Hazel had banned locks and keys from the Donkin premises.
Cadel could understand her point of view. One of her previous foster sons had locked himself in his bedroom before trying to set it alight. Leslie, her husband, had then been forced to smash through the door with a hammer. So although Hazel continuously said nice things about sharing, and everyone “always being welcome everywhere,” Cadel felt sure that her open-door policy was rooted in fear. She was afraid of what might happen if, during an emergency, she couldn’t reach any of the kids in her charge.
This was certainly Fiona’s opinion. Fiona Currey was Cadel’s social worker. She had told Cadel about the locked bedroom incident, after Cadel had finally complained to her about Mace, who liked to mess around with other people’s possessions. It was pointless complaining to Hazel, as Cadel had discovered. Her answer to every problem was what she called a “family conference.”
“I’m sorry, Cadel,” Fiona had said. “I know it must be hard, but it won’t be forever. Just hang in there. Mace isn’t nearly as bright as you are; surely you can handle him for a little while? Until things are sorted out?”
Most people seemed to jump to the same conclusion about Mace, whose real name was Thomas Logge. They thought that he was stupid. They looked at his lumbering form, his vacant grin, and his clumsy movements, and they made allowances. They heard his slow, awkward speech patterns and dismissed him as a big dumb kid. Whenever he smashed something, they called it an accident; cracked windows and broken doorknobs were explained away. Mace, they said, had badly underdeveloped fine motor skills for a fourteen-year-old. He didn’t know his own strength. He might have poor impulse control, but he wasn’t malicious. He wasn’t clever enough to be malicious.
Only Cadel had doubts about this interpretation of Mace’s conduct. In Cadel’s opinion, Mace was a lot smarter than he let on. Not brilliant, of course, but cunning. Had he been as stupid as everyone made out, Mace wouldn’t have been so quick to take advantage of the few minutes granted to him while Cadel was eating breakfast.
How many minutes had it been? Six? Seven? Long enough for Cadel to gobble down an English muffin. Long enough for Mace to empty his bladder into Cadel’s bed.
When Cadel returned to his room, he found his mattress wet and stinking.
“Mace did it,” he told Hazel.
“No, I didn’t!” That was another thing about Mace; he had perfected the art of sounding completely clueless. “I did not! He’s blaming me because he wet his bed!”
“Did you really wet your bed, Cadel?” asked Janan, who wet his own bed all the time. He sounded pleased—even excited—to discover that someone else shared his problem. Especially someone who had recently turned fifteen.
“There’s nothing wrong with wetting the bed,” Hazel assured them all, in soothing tones. “I have plastic covers on the mattresses, and I can easily wash the sheets. You don’t ever have to feel bad about wetting the bed.”
“I don’t feel bad,” said Cadel, through his teeth. “Because I didn’t wet it. Mace did.”
“I did not!”
“Then why are my pajamas bone dry?” asked Cadel, holding them up for inspection. Mace blinked, and Hazel looked concerned. She never frowned; her wide, plump face wasn’t built for frowning. In situations where other people might have worn grim or angry expressions, Hazel merely looked concerned, dismayed, or disconcerted.
“Oh dear,” she said.
“He probably didn’t even wear his pajamas,” Mace remarked cheerily, demonstrating once again—in Cadel’s opinion—that he wasn’t as thick as everyone assumed.
“Those pajamas were clean last night,” Cadel pointed out, trying to stay calm. “Hazel, you gave them to me, remember? Do they smell as if I’ve worn them?”
Hazel took the pajamas. She put them to her small, round nose. Cadel knew that when it came to laundry, Hazel had the nose of a bloodhound. After bringing up four children and twelve foster children, she was thoroughly trained in the art of distinguishing dirty garments from clean ones.
A single sniff was all that it took. She turned to Mace, looking disappointed.
“Now, Thomas,” she said, “have you been lying to me?”
Mace shook his head.
“Because you know what I’ve said about this, Thomas. Sometimes we feel angry and frustrated, and do things we’re ashamed of. Then we lie about them afterward, to protect ourselves. But most of the time, there’s no need to lie. Because it’s the lie that people find hard to forgive, not the offense . . .”
Cadel took a deep breath, willing himself to be patient. Hazel, he knew, was a really, really nice person. He admired her selflessness. He was grateful to her for cooking his meals, washing his clothes, and letting him use her computer.
But she was also driving him mad. Sometimes he could understand why Janan threw such terrible tantrums. Cadel was often tempted to throw one himself, after sitting through yet another gentle, stumbling lecture on why it was important not to kick a football at somebody’s face. He had to make allowances; he realized that. No doubt Hazel was used to dealing with kids who didn’t grasp how wrong it was to throw large, heavy objects at people. Or spit in their food. Or piss in their beds.
All the same, he found it hard not to lose his temper. Because Mace, he knew, needed no reminding about the proper way to behave. That dumb act was all a front.
“Okay, okay,” Mace finally conceded. It seemed that he, too, could only stand so much of Hazel’s well-meaning counsel. “I did it. I was joking. Can’t you take a joke?”
“But it’s not a very nice joke, is it, Thomas? Cadel doesn’t see it that way. Would you like it if he went to the toilet on your bed?”
Mace shrugged. He was still smiling a big, goofy smile.
“My brother used to crap on my pillow,” he said. “Everyone used to laugh.”
“I know.” Hazel was very earnest. Very sympathetic. “It must have hurt when your brothers laughed at you. Still, that’s no reason to make other people feel bad, is it?”
Hazel proceeded to explain why she was going to ask Mace to strip and remake Cadel’s bed. But Cadel didn’t want Mace in his room again. Enough was enough.
“It’s all right,” he interjected. “I’ll do it myself. Or Mace will miss the bus.” (And if Mace missed the bus, there was every chance that he wouldn’t end up going to school at all.) “I don’t mind,” said Cadel. “Really. There’s not much else for me to do, anyway.”
Everyone stared at him in utter disbelief. So he pursed his lips and opened his big, blue eyes very wide—and it worked, as usual. Nobody looking at his angelic face would ever have suspected that he was planning to dump the soiled sheets on top of Mace’s prized football boots.
“Well, that’s nice of you, dear,” said Hazel, somewhat at a loss. “I hope you’re going to apologize to Cadel, Thomas?”
“Oh, yeah,” Mace replied, with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. He opened his mouth. He took a deep breath. Then suddenly he yelled something about hearing the bus, and bolted into the garden.
Every footfall shook the house. His schoolbag knocked a calendar from the wall. The screen door slammed behind him with an almighty crash.
Cadel peered through the kitchen window at his retreating form, as it moved across a large patch of mangy grass toward the front gate. Beyond this gate lay a wide, almost treeless street. Cadel could see a pair of sneakers, their laces tied together, dangling from a suspended power line. He could see a small plastic bag skipping along the footpath in a fitful breeze. He could see a sparrow pecking at something edible in the gutter.
But the school bus was nowhere in sight.
“I’ll make him apologize properly when he gets home,” Hazel promised, before hustling Janan into her car. For about twenty blessed minutes, while Janan was being delivered to school, Cadel had the house to himself. But then Hazel returned home, and settled in front of her computer (she had a part-time data entry job), and Cadel, once again, found himself with nothing to do.
Nobody seemed to want him anymore.
None of the universities wanted him. Even though he had completed high school more than a year before, at the age of thirteen—even though he had scored perfect marks in all his exams, and knew almost everything there was to know about computers—Fiona could not find a single faculty anywhere that would admit him. This was because he had no official status in Australia. He was an illegal alien. No one knew exactly when he had arrived, or exactly where he had come from. It was thought that he had been smuggled into the country at the age of two. It was also thought that he might have been born in the USA. Australia, therefore, didn’t want him. But the United States didn’t want him, either. Since no record of his birth existed, there was no proof that he could legitimately claim U.S. citizenship.
Most importantly, no one could be sure who his father and mother were. The woman who may have been his mother had died mysteriously, in the States, when he was still an infant; officially, her murder had never been solved. And the man who had once claimed to be his father (off the record) now refused to admit it in public.
Even his own father didn’t want him.
Cadel was therefore living in a kind of limbo, with nothing whatsoever to do. He didn’t even have access to his own computer. At one point he had owned two computers, but both had been confiscated by the police as evidence. They were part of an ongoing investigation into the activities of Prosper English (alias Thaddeus Roth), who may or may not have been Cadel’s father. Prosper was in jail now, awaiting trial on charges ranging from fraud to homicide. His network of employees had disintegrated. His assets were frozen. His various properties were being treated as crime scenes.
It was all a huge mess, and Cadel was sitting right in the middle of it. Nobody knew what to do with him. He had no money. No family. No country of origin. He didn’t even appear to have a name. Originally, he had been called Cadel Piggott. Then his surname had been changed to Darkkon, when Dr. Phineas Darkkon—the criminal mastermind and genetic engineer—had suddenly appeared in his life, claiming to be his father. But Phineas was dead now, killed by cancer, and very probably hadn’t been his father after all. Prosper English, Darkkon’s former second-in-command, was a far more likely candidate. Only Prosper wouldn’t admit to anything.
So what was Cadel supposed to call himself? Cadel English? Cadel Doe?
Fiona called him Cadel Piggott, because Piggott had been the assumed name of his adoptive parents. Not that they had really been Piggotts. And their adoption of Cadel had never been officially recognized. They’d never even been married. Dr. Darkkon had simply employed them to raise Cadel as a screwed-up little weirdo.
Cadel didn’t know where they were now. Nor did he know what had happened to the house in which he’d lived between the ages of two and fourteen. His whole former life had been torn up and thrown away, like so much scrap paper.
All he had left was one friend. Sonja Pirovic. She was the only person who had never lied to him. So Cadel decided to visit her, on the day he first met Saul Greeniaus.
He hoped that visiting Sonja might cheer him up.