From the diary of Carmelita Montoya Fox Cooper, Inspector:
Some of the things we get into. I swear sometimes we have "Weird" tattooed on our foreheads for Fate to see, so she knows to give us trouble.
Today we had a nasty one, a double murder of a rabbit and a raccoon, with the raccoon pregnant. There were about four wharf rats dead. We had a tip and were on our way when the call came in that shots were going off. The house had been torn up; the murderers had been looking for something. There was blood going away from the house. From the look of the raccoon's gun and hands, and the tracks of blood going from the house, she got one or more of them pretty damn good, as well as the four dead. The rabbit was near the door and evidently was shot down when he answered it. We got there fast, but not fast enough to save them. We did manage to get some of the gang, thanks to Sly's skills and my roof jumping, but I had my doubts as to what we could get out of them.
When we came back into the house, Sly looked over the situation and sighed. The bodies were gone by now, but he looked at where the raccoon had lain. "I want to look in the closet," he said wryly. Then he froze, listening, and turned. Carefully he moved around and opened the door. We all heard it then- sobbing. Sly slipped in and emerged with a bundle wrapped in a blanket, murmuring to it the things you say to a small child who has just been through some kind of chaos he cannot hope to understand, in the hopes that the child will hear the comfort more than the words. The blanket, he told me later, was so the little raccoon would not see his house splashed with blood.
Hours later, the boy was asleep in Sly's lap, while we made out reports and waited for someone to arrive to deal with him. He had clung to Sly the whole time, and my husband, remembering too well his own past, helped deal with the incident paperwork and reports with a three year old child on one arm. It reminded me of how he did housework with Angelina on his back. He also managed to get from the little one that his name was Moses Cooper. I was getting jumpy. Angelina was with my mother and I knew she was fine, but that the social worker had not arrived bothered me. I knew from experience that often a long wait meant there wasn't space at a foster home, and I knew how Sly would feel about a child going to the orphanage. As the minutes ticked by and we waited, the idea that I had pushed away again and again began to resurface.
I had a hard time birthing Angelina and that was almost as hard on Sly as it was on me, so the decision that she would be the only one was not hard, and we made certain of it. After all, neither of us was getting younger. Still, I kept wondering if Sly wanted a son. Some men do. When I mentioned the idea of adopting so Angelina wouldn't be raised alone, Sly was interested. We went through all the paperwork and examinations, but we had not gotten to the point of choosing a child yet. The social worker told me that we were licensed to be foster parents so that we could keep a child for a while without committing, to see if he was a good match. Just was I was telling myself I was being impulsive, an exhausted looking young woman dragged in. She went over to Moses, checked as well as she could without waking him, and read the report. I went over while she read. Then she looked up. "I've called all over," she told us. "It's a bad night; I can't find anyone at home, and the orphanage doesn't have a bed. When I spoke to Jeanne at the orphanage, she said to ask the Coopers if they could help her out tonight." She looked at Moses. "Can you direct me?"
I half-expected Carmelita to either object or make conditions when the social worker asked us to take Moses for the night, but she only nodded. I'd seen her looking over several times. I don't know if it was just because I was the first one to pick him up, or because I was a raccoon, or what, but Moses hung on to me from the beginning.
The night turned into a week, then "until." Moses began to open up after a couple of days. I remember best when he pointed to Angelina and asked if that was a baby sister. It seemed that his mother told him he was going to have a baby sister soon that would be company for him. Mother was Sylvia Cooper, born in the United States, and having no visible means of support other than the rabbit she lived with. We had him as Robert Hare, an expert mechanic, who owned his own business, and seemed to be a normal, upstanding businessman. He had family, but they did not wholly approve of Ms. Cooper, and were emphatic that Robert was not the father of Moses. Moses agreed; he referred to the rabbit as "Papa Rob," and said that he was "baby sister's" daddy and he and Momma were going to get married when the baby was born. There was no father listed on the birth certificate, and Moses was clear that he did not have a daddy that came to see him, only "unk" who came to see Mama sometimes. Mama, he said, stayed home with him, and sometimes in the first few weeks he woke up crying for her. Then some of the behaviors he started to show got me thinking. He saw me stretching once before running, and then did the same. For a while I thought he was only copying me- that child could be a wicked mimic- but after a moment I decided it was too perfect. Moses had been taught. He wanted to "walk on the fence" and did quite a good job, with Carmelita on one side and me on the other. He drew pictures with the other children at the daycare the orphanage ran, and one they showed me proudly was the head of a raccoon, somewhat stylish, in black and blue. When I asked Moses where he saw it, he said it was on Mama's book. I asked him to draw the book, and he tried, but he couldn't quite draw the letters. He didn't need to; I knew the book immediately. I asked him if Mama had told him stories of other Coopers, but he could not- or would not-remember. I was fairly sure that he was not mentioning something. He said he did not remember a grandmother or an aunt, and he had an "unk" but could not come up with a name. We did find his birth certificate, and his shot record, with some other personal papers of the mother. The pediatrician that saw the youngster talked to us, and said Moses was one of the healthiest children he'd ever dealt with, but he though some of that might be isolation; he had warned the mother that Moses needed to be around other children more.
It seems incredible when I look back, but at the time, we did not realize just quickly Moses became a part of our lives. We put him in the bedroom with Angelina, who had just been graduated to her own bed after we caught her climbing out of the crib for the third time. She didn't like the bed much and kept trying to come into our room, ruining some of our normal nighttime activities. When Moses came, while they had their spats and she had one or two moments of jealousy, she stopped coming into our room and we found her with Moses instead. They both wanted to come with us when we ran, and we sometimes took them, Angelina in the back carrier, Moses hanging on to a back. Carmelita's mother, who did not approve of our decision to not have more children, was delighted with Moses. For a time she thought he was mine. I was indignant, because at that time I was living with Carmelita, but then Mama Fox was never very logical. She was the one who pointed out that Moses looked remarkably like me, somewhat defensively. I blew that off as her silliness. I really do like Mama Fox; she's a good lady and a real help with the children, but sometimes I wonder how she managed to birth a daughter like Carmelita.
Shelly, a squirrel on our team, and her husband John, Bentley and Penelope, and Carmelita and I had an arrangement that we would all take turns watching the kids for one night a month, giving the other parents a break. Two adults would stay with the children. There was always one couple left free, and sometimes two, depending on how the schedule went. The month after we took Moses in, it was my turn with Bentley. We lucked up, because Murray showed, and the children loved climbing all over him. For a while, we had our hands full. I prefer running the legs off the children if I possibly can, as that tires them out and they go to sleep earlier. Moses hung on to my leg for a while until Bentley's twins and Sylvia, Shelly's daughter, lured him away with one of their remote control toys, and then he ran around with them without any more problems. When they played hide and seek, even I had a hard time finding him. More than once, I saw the twins walk past him. He was standing so still it was easy to look past him. Only his clothes sometimes gave him away; I remembered that Mama Fox had not liked his clothes, saying small children should have bright clothes, not dark ones, and had bought him new ones. I added his ability to freeze to the other items in my mind and was coming to a conclusion I did not like at all. Bentley noticed the child's ability as well, but other than a hard look at me, said nothing. When all the children were fed, bathed, and in bed, I flopped into a chair and blew out a breath. "They're a handful," I said feelingly.
"That they are," Bentley agreed. "All right, Sly. Tell us about that child."
"He looks like you," Murray said. He was flopped out on the couch, finishing the potato chips.
"So I've been told. I told you how we found his mother. There isn't a doubt in my mind that she was the one who killed the thugs we found dead. We found several with wounds, and two more came in dead later. We know who they were working for, a local wildcat drug lord we've already hauled in, but he was working for someone else. Before we could find out who, he got out on bail and was killed. He did not know why he was to kill her, only that he had the job. Both of you saw how Moses was hiding today." They nodded.
"It was your disappearing act," Bentley said. "Or a child's version of it."
I showed them the drawings Moses had made. "Mama's book," I told them. "He does a good job of walking on a fence without help, and he's learned to do stretches." I grinned, remembering the first time I found him doing that. "Mama's name was Sylvia Cooper. She doesn't seem to have a past that anyone knows about. She had no relatives anyone knows about, but Moses has mentioned an uncle who came to see Mama when Papa Rob was at work. "
"So Mama was a thief," Bentley said. "A good one, who wasn't caught by the police-just not quite good enough not to be caught by a victim."
"Right," I said. "And I wonder about the brother being her partner. I can see a mother taking time out to raise a child. Something Wildcat said led me to believe that he was supposed to be after someone else as well. When he realized he'd slipped up, he shut up. He'd have been better off talking."
"Do you think there's another line of Coopers?" Bentley asked bluntly. "You thought you were the last. Clockwerk said you were the last. "
I shrugged. "My father would hardly tell an eight year old everything. Or neither he nor Clockwerk may have known. I've never heard of any other thieves who left our mark, have you?" They shook their heads. "But if they were thieves- just thieves, not ones who went after other criminals- and they wanted to avoid Clockwerk's eye, I can see them dumping that part of the tradition. I just don't know. There has to be a connection."
Just then there was a wail from one of the bedrooms. It was Moses, having a nightmare of some kind. I took off to get him, but he woke up the other kids, and the conversation ended while Bentley and I rocked two children apiece to sleep and Murray let Sylvia go to sleep on his lap.