The hunt was not, in the end, a particularly difficult one, just very time consuming. The girl, as it turned out, spent a lot of time outside, her scent twisting and winding around the city, bending into alleyways, crossing fences and occasionally disappearing entirely where she had leaped up onto the tops of buildings, whereupon he was forced either to find a way up in order to regain her trail, or to wander the streets until he could relocate her trail again. After an hour of searching by this deeply frustrating method, he found an alternative. A few times in his search, he had found points where the girl’s scent intersected with another. A young boy, not the one who had accompanied her in the escape last night, his scent was far stronger, more present. Given how frequently the two came into contact, and the length of time their scents seemed to have mingled with one another, it seemed more than likely that the two were friends. If the two were friends, then the boy would likely know where she lived. Questioning him shouldn’t be difficult, and if, for some reason, he failed, then he could send in the kids.
The moment he shifted his focus to the boy, he began to notice the frequency with which he had been coming across the scent. The kid walked these streets regularly. That was not unusual, he supposed; most children lived by a set routine, after all, but most confined themselves to a few set paths. This boy, on the other hand, had his scent scattered over more than a dozen streets, most of the stretches pointing in the same direction. There was a school over that way, if he remembered right, a private school. Good, that should make things easier. Private school children tended to trust authority more, having been raised in the understanding that such people were there to help them. He turned, began to make his way towards the school at a light jog, and soon enough, picked up the boy’s trail again. This one was more recent, much more recent. Less than an hour old, at a guess. He picked up his pace. The school day wasn’t due to start for another half hour, perhaps he’d have a chance to talk to the boy before classes began.
Casper was tired. A late night spent worrying over Tasha and how she planned to deal with James wasn’t exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep. He sat on the school steps, in front of the large glass double doors to the middle school building, his head in his hands while he waited for the other students to begin arriving. The man, at least, he certainly felt like a man, didn’t draw his attention immediately, it was not particularly odd to feel an unfamiliar set of emotions on the campus. A new teacher, a contractor, or maybe just one of the teachers who spent most of their time in the high-school side of the place.
The only thing that struck him as particularly odd about this man was his focus. This early in the morning, most people, even the adults about to start their work day, were still gripped by the lull of sleep to some small degree. This man, however, was focused and awake in spite of the hour; attentive. Casper glanced up, curious as to what had this man’s attention. It didn’t take him long to locate the presence, there weren’t very many people around yet besides the teachers. The man stood at the school gate, a thick brown coat slung around him to protect from the morning chill. The man was staring at him, his face blank, a touch of curiosity in his mind. Casper averted his eyes, a little uncomfortable, and tried to ignore the man’s attention. The newcomer, for his part, began to approach, crossing the near empty parking lot at a light jog.
Casper shifted slightly from his position in front of the doors, not that he’d been blocking them, but the gesture of getting out of the way was one that, in his experience, helped forestall interaction, and he found the idea of a grown man staring at him with that kind of focus more than a little creepy.
He stared at his feet as the man approached, quietly hoping the guy would just walk past him. The footsteps continued to grow louder, and then stopped. Through his power, even without looking, Casper could tell that the man was beside him, attention still fully focused on him. He sighed, well, maybe the guy just needed directions. He turned his gaze to the stranger, fixing a smile to his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but the stranger beat him to it.
“Young man, my name’s officer Lewis Themps, New York police department. I need to ask you a few questions about a friend of yours.” He pulled a small leather article from a pocket, and flipped it open, showing him a police ID.
Casper felt a stone drop out of his stomach. Fuck. This was bad. Either Tasha had actually attracted the attention of the police, or this was something far, far worse, and it had found its way to him.
“Now,” Officer Lewis continued. “Your friend caused a bit of an incident last night with a known criminal organization. She’s in a lot of trouble, because now these people want her dead. I’m going to need you to tell me where she is so that we can get her somewhere safe until this blows over.”
Casper listened, his power focused near completely on the man, trying to detect a lie. Nothing. The emotions were too calm, too businesslike. No, if he was going to figure out whether the man was lying, he’d need to draw attention to it, make him focus on his own deception actively, and check the response to that.
“… You promise you’re a cop?” He asked, trying to make his voice small and scared sounding. Not too difficult to do, he just needed to express the fear he was really feeling.
The stranger smiled, a tiny note of satisfaction playing through him as he fished the badge out again.
“I promise, kid. Now, you gonna tell me where I can find her?”
Casper almost had to hold back a groan. The emotional response there could just as likely mean that he was a cop, or that he wasn’t; mere satisfaction that he now had the kid’s confidence. He tried again.
“…I don’t want anyone to hurt her.” Again, he tried to make himself sound small. The man’s expression held steady, but mentally, he flinched, a touch of guilt, a momentary regret. Casper swore internally. Still not sure if this guy was a cop or not, but whatever he was doing, he was clearly under the impression that it would bring Tasha to harm. Well, for now, the path was clear, he had to convince this guy that he didn’t know a damn thing, best play up the victim card, try to lie as little as possible. “I-I don’t know much,” he mumbled. “I-I saw her on my way home once… She was beating up some guys… I ran away. A few days after, she came to find me. S-she said she could help me.”
“Help with what?” The man asked, his voice kind as he sat himself down on the step alongside the boy.
Casper hesitated. Much as this stranger was a threat, the possibility still existed that he was a real cop, and that telling him about his dad could cause some very real trouble.
“… Personal stuff.” He answered after a time. “She said she could beat someone up for me… I told her no.”
“Wanted to deal with it yourself?” The man asked, raising a hand to stroke the poorly shaved stubble that lined his jaw. “I can respect that.” The words came out accompanied by a surprising degree of sincerity. Casper wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about the idea of this guy genuinely liking him.
Casper nodded, then continued. “I… I don’t know where she lives. We just meet up every now and then… talk about stuff.”
“Could you get her to meet up with you today?” The man asked, his calm disposition giving no trace of the spike of eagerness that had begun to flow through him.
“… I don’t know,” he answered. God, why did this all have to be so confusing? On the one hand, he didn’t want to lead the guy to Tasha, but on the other, if he really was a cop, then he didn’t want his dad getting word that he’d said no to a policeman. “I-I’d need to ask her first… I don’t think she’d like it.”
A flash of annoyance, quickly hidden, a level of determination. “Young man, if these people find her, they will hurt her very badly. Do you want that?”
Casper nodded. “Yeah, but what if you’re not really a cop? Or what if you are, but you’re really a bad cop, and you’re going to tell them where to find her?”
More frustration. “Heh, kid, I think maybe you watch a little too much tv. I prom-”
An idea flashed into Casper’s mind, and he snapped his fingers together, grinning. “I know! What if you take me to the police station? Then I’ll know that you’re really a cop, and I’ll know I can help you cuz there’ll be a bunch of other cops around who can hear what I’m saying!”
The man’s annoyance deepened, another flash of anger, a touch of fear. So, then, probably not a cop.
“You’re making this way more complicated than it needs to be-”
Casper made a show of digging a hand into his pocket for his phone, his hands shaking slightly.
“I could even take a picture of you and ask my dad about it. He works with the police, so he could tell me. Then you could come back after sch-” The man batted the phone away with the back of his hand, the polite facade dropping away from his face.
“Word of advice, kid.” He murmured, his voice even. “That friend of yours? She pissed off some very dangerous people. Right now, you’re only getting in my way, and you’re lucky about that, cuz I don’t like hurting kids. But if you manage to get in their way too? Then, you’ll be in trouble, and the next person they send won’t be so likely to just look the other way when some kid gets too clever. Remember that.” With that, he stood up, straightened his coat, and walked away, leaving Casper shaking where he sat, trying desperately not to cry.