Everybody Rock your bodyEverybody rock your body rightBackstreets back, all right
The doll was bouncing around. He had taken off the hoodie, the brightly colored t-shirt flaring out from the child-like simulacrum’s slight frame as it bobbed and bopped back and forth. A pair of headphones connected its head to an audio jack on the ORACLE terminal. The large screen overhead held a massive display of the popular children’s massive multiplayer online game that was known as Poptropica
Dick had used Google maps to pull up a view of the crime scene. From there, the boy had been able to access the Google search engine. That had, in turn, introduced him to YouTube, where he had found, among other things, a playlist of 90s pop music -- which was currently cycling through the giants of the age. Dishwalla. Backstreet. Eagle Eye Cherry.
For his part, Dick just stood there. His shirt was hanging open, an untied tie dangling from his shoulders, and a multi-grain bagel in his mouth. Strolling from the doorway over to the computer, he held the half-eaten bagel in one hand and used the other to pluck the headphones from off the Toyboy’s head. “This is what you’ve been doing?”
the detective asked. Was he surprised? Yes, but to be honest he wasn’t sure why. “Playing?”
Arching his back, the automaton craned its head back so that it was looking back at Dick. “You are aware that I am a toy... right?”
the life-like robot supplied in retort. Then, straightening back up, the android gestured up to the monitors as it proudly exclaimed, “I’ve been getting caught up with the latest trends in children’s games and activities.”
It was programmed to adapt to current and emerging trends in children’s activities, in order to be the best toy that it could be. “Turns out pog slammers really didn’t make it past the mid-Nineties,”
the robot noted candidly, crossing its arms as it added, “Well, that’s two megabytes of hard disk storage I can reclaim, I guess.”
Dick passed the headphones back to Toyboy. Then, taking a bite out of the bagel paused a moment before asking, “So, there was a bus..?”“Oh, yeah,”
Toyboy chirped, with entirely
too much cheer at five in the morning. Minimizing the Poptropica
window, the robot started calling up a multitude of different windows in various displays throughout the room. As he did, he explained, “I sorted through the camera footage and was able to locate the school bus entering Route Sixteen from the Gotham Highway off-ramp.”
Bringing one window to the center view, Dick watched as a bus turned onto Route 16. The markings on the side were not so clear that he could read the lettering on the side of the vehicle, but he knew looking at it that it was their crime scene. “Now, check it,”
Toyboy interjected, speeding up time for a moment. As the doll resumed normal playback speed, Dick saw a shorter bus making the turn onto Route 16. “Five minutes later, this school bus comes along from the same entry.”
A pit was already forming in Dick’s stomach. Whoever was behind that bus, that was the criminal they were after.“Assuming that it travelled Route Sixteen at the posted speed of forty-five miles per hours, and alloting for distance, that second bus should have reached the I-Twelve intersection nineteen minutes and twelve seconds later,”
Toyboy noted, moving the center window off to one side and bringing up the camera for the intersection at I-12. Pausing the playback, the doll enlarged the area of the window that displayed the timestamp on the footage. “Instead, it appears on camera twenty-five minutes and forty-eight seconds later.”“Seven minutes off.”“Presumably the time that it would have taken to off-load the bus and load the children onto this second one.”
Dick finished the bagel with another bite. Rubbing his fingers to dispel the crumbs, the man asked, “What happened next?”
Toyboy resumed the normal playback. Dick watched as the bus made a turn right and then disappeared off camera. “Our mystery bus appears to turn onto I-Twelve North,”
the doll noted aloud, before cycling to a third highway camera window. “However, the bus does not reappear on the camera for the I-Twelve/Highway Three-Thirty interchange.”
Dick began buttoning up his shirt. His mouth fell open to speak, but Toyboy seemed to anticipate the question. “I checked the cameras going south, but it does not appear on the I-Twelve/I-Forty interchange either.”
Dick just gave a slight nod of his head. Internally, he had to admit that he was impressed. When he’d decided to pull Toyboy from out of storage to assist with this case, he hadn’t anticipated that the doll would be this capable. “So it turned north onto I-Twelve and vanished somewhere between I-Twelve and Highway Three-Thirty,”
the detective noted, as he began fiddling with the tie.“That appears to be the facts as we know them presently,”
Toyboy affirmed quietly.
Hitching the half-Windsor up to the base of his throat, Dick smoothed out the collar as he said, “All right, I’ll see what I can come up back at the precinct and be back in touch.”
Stepping off to the side, Dick grabbed his service pistol and holster from a coat rack near the computer. Slinging that around his shoulders, he next picked up a package and turned back toward Toyboy. “Are you programmed for sewing at all?”
The doll just turned to give Dick a kind of curious, head tilt. “Of course,”
the automaton answered simply. “The Toyman made certain that I could help him to knit and assemble dolls.”“Think you could manage some clothing alterations?”
The doll just blinked. It was difficult to ascertain all of the variables involved in a hypothetical when one was missing key components of the problem set. “What would you like altered?”
Toyboy asked finally.“I need you to alter this to fit you,”
Dick said, tossing the package over toward the doll.
As Toyboy caught it, the red and green ensemble became clear. It was Dick’s old costume from when he’d been younger. Holding out the Robin costume, Toyboy seemed confused at the meaning or purpose of the task. Finally, lowering the garment, the doll asked, “Are we playing a game?”
Shrugging on his suit coat, Dick just gave a slight nod. “We’re narrowing in,”
the detective supplied cryptically, before adding, “When we make our move, if it is Cunningham, then he would recognize you.”
That would bring up questions about what had happened to Toyboy after Hinkley Creek. Which would implicate Dick, Sara, and S.T.A.R. Labs if the right questions got asked by the wrong people. Complications that Dick preferred to avoid.“Mister Grayson?”
Turning his head up, Dick just looked back over at the doll that was holding the suit that Dick had worn in another era. Another Dick. Another Bruce. Another lifetime ago.“Why do you trust me?”
It was a pointed question. With a shrug, Dick shuffled toward the door as he offered, “You proved who you are a long time ago.”
His hand turned the knob. “Don’t you mean what I am, sir?”
Standing in the doorway, one foot already out the door, Dick turned back to look at the doll. “No,”
the man answered simply. “I do not.”
+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +“CHAMBERS!”
It was known as the Grayson Effect
. The name for the collective pucker
of every asshole from the newest police academy graduate to the veteran captains, from the lobby of the police headquarters all the way to the top floor. Commissioner Grayson moved like a man on a mission, each step resonating through the interior as all other sounds immediately stopped. No one so much as breathed.
His voice rolled like thunder, echoing off the walls as he brushed right past the blond haired lieutenant. “My office. Now.”
Her arms full of case files, a report that was past due, and a cup of Starbucks that had been cold for the better part of the last hour, Cissy Chambers came chasing after Dick’s coattails as she dumped her armload of crap off on the nearest desk and then scrambled to make it through the doorway before Dick had slammed the door in her face.
Again, that is.“Fifteen children missing from our jurisdiction in the last month,”
the commissioner growled, stalking around behind his desk and tossing his keys down. Then he turned his head up and said, “Give me something, Chambers.”
Wringing her hands, the woman’s mouth fell open for a moment. “Sir, we have no conclusive evidence that the previous incidents of missing children are connected to the…”“Bullshit.”
Cissy went up on her toes, hair standing on end as Dick summarily silenced the lieutenant. Recovering, or attempting to, the woman smoothed the front of her uniform as she said, “We’re still processing the bus. Now, there are no fingerprints, but we’re hoping that some fibers might come back from the lab and...”“Chambers, I don’t give a flying fuck what your hopes are,”
Dick stated flatly, looking the woman hard in the eyes as he laid it out like that.
Cissy’s jaw was hanging open. “I asked you to give me something and what you’re telling me is that you’ve got nothing,”
the commissioner stated, in the same matter-of-fact tone that so neatly cut the woman straight to the bone.
Dick was quite adept at creating that effect in people. And he should have been. He’d learned it firsthand from the very best.
Reaching into his pocket, Dick flipped an object down onto the desk. Glancing down, Cissy realized that it was his badge. “You want my job, Chambers?”
Dick demanded, pointedly.
Lieutenant Chambers brought her head back up. “Sir?” she asked.
No, she wasn’t sure.“Fifteen kids,”
Dick said. “Inside a month.”
Another pause. “Our jurisdiction. My watch.”
Each statement rang out like a nail in a coffin. And the tombstone was engraved with all of their careers. “If we don’t have something soon, I’m going to have to resign,”
Dick stated. It was same same level-headed tone. “When that happens, I need someone who is capable of running this department.”
Cissy opened her mouth to speak. Then hesitated. Then opened her mouth again, thought twice about it, and just shut up smartly.“Where were you in ninety-six, Chambers?”
The woman gave a slight shake of her head. This conversation seemed random. “Nineteen ninety-six? High school… I think?”“I was on the homicide desk in ninety-six,”
Dick stated, at last dropping down into his chair. Looking up at the woman, he continued. “Nine children were abducted from that exact same spot on Route Sixteen. Practically the same day and time. Five made it back alive,”
he explained, leaning back to put his feet up on the desk. “Now, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a copycat. But it’s worth finding out if any of those five are even still in this jurisdiction.”
Popping to military attention, Cissy gave a firm nod. “On it, sir.”
The young woman made it halfway to the door of Dick’s office before she’d paused. “...wait,” the woman murmured aloud. She stood there a moment, then cut a slidelong glare over at the commissioner. “You already know the answer.”
It hadn’t been a question.
Dick just gave a slight nod of his head in response. “If you’re going to do this job, I can’t spoon feed you, Chambers,”
the man stated firmly. Then, looking squarely at the woman added, “But I’ll give you this much, one’s in Blackgate and another’s in Ellsworth.”
“Ellsworth?”“It’s a hospital in Metropolis.”
Another nod and Cissy popped open the door out of Dick’s office. His voice stopped her in her tracks. “And Chambers?”
Holding the door, the woman looked back over at her boss. “Sir?”“Experience has taught me one thing about child abductions,”
Dick stated, lifting his feet off the desk and then leaning forward as he said, “Time is not on our side.”
He watched as she left.
Once she had, Dick called up another view of Google Earth. There were several county roads that branched off the section of I-12 that Toyboy had identified. A few were no longer in use, ending in cornfields and dead ends.
If the bus was just hauling bodies away for disposal, it could have gone anywhere. Except, if that were the case, why the elaborate re-creation of the abduction of a school bus that had set-off the Hinkley Creek disaster?
No, to follow through with that example, the kids had to be held somewhere.
A couple of hours polling through city records and cross-referencing the most recent Google Earth footage, Dick had identified two possibilities.
There was a barn on County Road 448. The farm had been foreclosed on, but the structures were still there. That kind of abandoned acreage would make an ideal spot to disappear.
The other was a self-storage business that had gone under when the anchoring strip mall had closed. Later development had made that particular part of I-12 less traveled, as people took by-passes that reduced commutes by a rather significant margin.
Two locations that they’d need to investigate.
Apparently Robin wasn’t the only one making a comeback tonight.