“All right, so here we go. Missing students and kids include Andromeda Wallace, Felicity Norton, Princessa Washington… okay, I’m going to stop listing names for a moment and ask what the hell is up with these people and their names? I mean, seriously? Andromeda?”
“It’s California,” Eliot scoffed. “They probably think that it’s bad karma or bad feng shui or something to give your kid a name someone else has.”
“Historically,” Sophie offered, “in many cultures, it’s considered good luck to give your children the names of those who have come before.” She mentioned it more to Parker, who was sitting next to her, playing the role of her teenaged cousin, then to Hardison and Eliot sitting behind them.
“Mmm,” Parker agreed. “Or a street.” She smiled, bright and sharp, and then, just as quickly, her smile vanished. She twisted in her seat to look at Hardison. “So these kids… what sort of youth group is this? I mean…”
“The thing is… I’m not sure. I mean, this isn’t any ‘Boys and Girls Club’ thing, this is set up in one of the nicer neighborhoods in what’s a pretty rich school district. This is like, rich kid day care, but for the evenings, and for kids too old to really need day care.”
“Keep ‘em out of trouble,” Eliot opined. “GIve ‘em something to do so they’re not just spendin’ mommy and daddy’s money.”
“But now they’re in even more trouble.” Parker frowned. “Well, we think they are, right? I mean… sometimes missing kids just run away.”
Nate coughed. He’d been quiet, pretending to study a tourist guide to Bright Sunnydale. “It is a rare case that a runaway finds a benevolent mentor who’s a good fit for her, Parker. Many runaways… well, they need rescuing, too, even if they don’t know it yet.”
“Still, I mean. We’re not just returning these kids to sender, are we?”
“If it turns out they want to be lost…” Hardison began.
“Then it’s still illegal.” Eliot’s frown took on a sharp edge. “Anything you do involving kids is illegal, pretty much.”
“Everything we do is illegal, man.”
“I bought a pair of shoes last week,” Sophie offered. “Bought, as in paid for. Now, mind, the price I paid for them ought to be a crime. But it wasn’t technically illegal.”
“You stole the money though, right?” Parker popped her gum. “And the dress?”
“Well, of course, I’m not insane.”
“That’s different.” Eliot’s growl was tense. Both women stopped and looked at him. “I’m serious, guys. One, the people that mess with kids are shit, the absolute worst. They’re going to fight dirtier than…”
“Yes. Dirtier than him. Dirtier than anything you’ve seen. Two… Do not,” he dropped his voice to a fierce whisper, “ever let the cops find you out doing anything at all involving kids. They can get you, and they will, because they can’t get the real assholes.”
“Yes please, two of those lovely little drinks, thank you.” Hardison smiled at the flight attendant. “And could I get a pillow? Maybe some headphones? I know, everyone wants everything, and there’s only the one of you to go around, but you’re a sweetheart to try. Thank you, thank you.” He continued gushing until she scurried off, a little confused but, more importantly, no longer paying attention to what Eliot had been saying. “Man,” he added, annoyed, “we are on a public plane. They will arrest my ass if they think that I am doing anything remotely suspicious. Do not get me arrested again, Eliot.”
“That time in Cancun doesn’t count,” Eliot snapped. “Man, just because—” his annoyance faded into a reminiscent smile as he leaned back in the seat “—that nice policegirl had a thing for me…”
Hardison opened his mouth, gestured, and shut his mouth without saying anything.
“So anyway,” Parker picked up. “We’re just looking. When we find things, then we make a plan for the next step. Wait.” She wrinkled her nose at Nate. “Then we decide which plan we’re going to use.”
“As long as it’s not the one where I die,” Hardison muttered.
The Human Intelligence
“All right.” Cordelia strode in. “One, you owe me. Two, you really owe me. If my lab partner hadn’t gone missing, I would not have done this. Franklin Enrian is the creepiest creep of an amazingly rich, attractive man to ever walk through this school, and after talking to him for half an hour.. I feel as if I need either a shower or a marriage license. With a very nice prenup.”
“Thank you, Cordy.” Buffy managed to sound mostly relieved instead of amused. “If we had petty cash, I’d suggest you could go get a manicure out of petty cash. Giles, why don’t we have petty cash?”
Giles coughed. “What did you find out, Cordelia?”
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