Baby Frequency

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Baby Frequency

Postby LilJennie » Wed Feb 03, 2021 9:38 pm

The latest thing that Miki and I have been working on -- hope you enjoy! -- LilJennie

Baby Frequency

by LilJennie and Miki Yamuri

Chapter 1

Susan Gray was at her office in the 3rd precinct, going over the paperwork from the Askew murder case, when she got a call. It was just another case, nothing unusual about it – at least, not at first.

“Gray.”

“Got what looks like a kidnapping, Detective,” said the voice of the precinct captain. “Missing child. Blackwood Heights Park. Third and Fountain. Lab’s just started processing the crime scene. If you get there quick, you can still interview the mother.”

“Tell ‘em I’m on my way, Captain.” Susan grabbed her kit and headed to the elevator.

The cluster of police vehicles made the spot easy to find. Susan walked up to the uniformed sergeant in charge. “Morning, Sergeant Leigh. Captain told me there’s a missing child, and the mother’s still here.”

“That’s right, Detective,” said the sergeant. “She’s right over there.” He turned his head toward a distraught-looking woman standing near a wooden bridge in the park with a baby stroller, surrounded by police officers; several other police personnel were scouring the area.

“Thanks, Sergeant,” said Susan, going over toward the unfortunate woman. The officers noticed her, and one of them turned toward her.

“Detective,” said a female officer. “This is Elaine Spenser. Her son Jesse’s in the stroller. Missing person’s her daughter Nadia.” The officer held up a smart phone showing a photo of a girl who looked 8 or 9 years old. Susan studied the photo for a moment, focusing on her facial features, learning the girl’s face in a way that she’d practiced many times, using tricks she’d learned so she could describe Nadia Spencer to anyone and she’d recognize the girl the instant she saw her. Susan was hoping she’d see her, at least. Far too many missing-child cases ended in tragedy.

“Don’t worry, Ma’am, this is Detective Gray,” one of the uniformed officers was telling Elaine. “She’s the best we’ve got.”

“You’re too kind, Officer,” Susan said. “Ms. Spenser, you’ve probably already told the story several times, but could you tell me what happened?” Susan was already noticing that the investigators were searching under the bridge and in the foliage near the path. “I hurried here because there’s really no substitute for hearing the sequence of events straight from witnesses at the site.”

“W-well … Detective …” said Elaine, who appeared genuinely upset – Susan had learned to recognize faking, but she’d also run across some outstanding actors – “we were taking a walk through the park, we were crossing the bridge here over the stream, and that’s when Jesse here threw a tantrum and threw his favorite toy over the side of the bridge and started crying because he wanted it back. He’s done it at home, but I didn’t think he’d do it outdoors, at a park. I pushed the stroller to the end of the bridge, told Nadia to hold onto it, and went down the hill under the bridge to get the toy back, and it took me a minute to find it, but when I got back up …” Elaine swallowed a sob. “Nadia w-was … gone …” She lost control again, and started crying uncontrollably, causing the baby, Jesse, to start crying again as well.

“Ms. Spenser, we’re all doing our very best to find Nadia,” said Susan. “Now …” Susan paused and looked at Jesse for a moment. Obviously it was very upsetting to a baby when the normal order of the day was disrupted. The outing to the park wasn’t something they commonly did, or Elaine would have known whether Jesse was prone to his toy-throwing game outdoors. She’d chosen to do this as a change of pace. But Jesse didn’t like it. He’d been fussy, Susan somehow knew. And then the toy had gone farther than he’d expected – he didn’t know what bridges were. And then …

Susan barely noticed that she’d crouched down to look intently at Jesse. Jesse stretched out his right hand toward her as he cried, as if trying to push her away, but at the same moment Susan mimicked the gesture with her own right hand. Susan couldn’t help imagining what it had felt like for Jesse; his toy was gone, then his mother was gone, and then – it was like she was seeing through Jesse’s eyes. Nadia was in front of Jesse, saying words to him, but he didn’t know what they meant, then she was singing a song, and then a man had come out of the foliage to the side of the path, clapped a hand over Nadia’s mouth, and dragged her away. Jesse had cried even louder, because now his sister was gone too. But then his mother came back, which made him feel better, except then she couldn’t find his sister, so she was upset, so he got upset again too …

“Detective?” Susan heard the voice of one of the officers. She stood up. She could feel that her face was streaked with tears. “You’re … you’ve been crying. You looked at the baby – Jesse – and then you started crying.”

“I – I’m sorry,” said Susan. She quickly made up an excuse, because she had no idea what had just happened. It had been as if she’d somehow mentally connected with the baby, as if she remembered what he remembered. “C-cases like this – missing children – sometimes I just get so upset that someone would do this.” She took a tissue from her purse and dried her face; luckily she didn’t wear mascara or much makeup on the job. “I notice the evidence techs are searching the foliage over there. Is there an indication of a struggle?” She crossed the path to see what the lab people were looking at.

“Yes, Detective,” said one of the techs. “There are significant signs of struggle. Unfortunately it hasn’t rained lately, so we don’t have much in terms of footprints, but there’s a lot of dry soil, branches, and leaves on the path here, where it looks as if someone emerged from the woods, probably reentering with the victim, since there isn’t another disturbed spot. We’re following the trail of disturbed foliage as best we can.”

This matched exactly what Susan had seen during her strange experience. “Thank you, Hiller,” she said to the tech, then she turned back toward Elaine, thinking of what she’d seen. “Is there … do you know a man, about six feet two, probably about 250 pounds, dark brown hair, graying at the temples, pale blue eyes, bit of a scar under his right eye?”

Elaine had gasped right after Susan had mentioned the eye color. “Th-that’s … you’ve just described my ex-husband.” Susan was inwardly aghast as well, but she hid it. “How did you know?”

“Yeah, how did you know?” asked one of the officers. “You getting psychic on us, Detective?”

“It’s … I’m just putting the pieces together,” Susan replied vaguely. “What’s his name? Has he ever threatened you?”

“His name’s Nick Wells,” said Elaine, looking even more troubled, “and as for threatening, well, yes, he has a temper and got violent, and that’s why he’s my ex. Nadia’s my daughter from my marriage to him.”

“Has he been denied custody?” asked Susan.

“Yes, because of his record,” Elaine said.

“OK, looks like we have a suspect,” said Susan, and the officers nodded. “I’m going to call the captain and see if we can get an arrest warrant for him, and an Amber Alert for Nadia.”

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Susan did that, and soon that Amber Alert was going out to the public, and an APB for Wells. She did some research and found out that Wells had several domestic violence convictions on his record, some from before he’d ever met Elaine. After some incidents Elaine had filed for divorce, and although the proceedings had dragged on, they’d been suddenly clinched when he’d been arrested during a bar fight he’d instigated. And yes, after the divorce he’d tried but failed to get joint custody of Nadia. Judges were often sympathetic to the biological father, but they were often a lot less so when the father had a violent criminal record. He had a restraining order to stay away from Elaine and her new family – if Susan’s strange experience hadn’t pointed Wells out as a suspect, a little research would have.

Elaine had remarried; her current husband Charles seemed like a big step upward – no hint of alcoholism or violence at all. Maybe she’d gotten therapy since her ordeal with Wells and had learned to boost her self-esteem. But Susan stopped her research there, since there were no signs to indicate that Charles was a suspect. Elaine had called him from the crime scene, and he had arrived to comfort her just before Susan had gone to take care of the paperwork.

But … what had that experience been? She’d somehow read the baby’s mind? That sounded crazy, but … was there another explanation? It was as if she’d tuned into some kind of baby frequency and suddenly she’d been thinking what the baby was thinking. That didn’t make any sense.

She’d never had an experience like this before. But then, she thought, how often did she come across babies in her life? She’d been the youngest child in her family, with no infant siblings. She hadn’t done babysitting as a teenager. When she worked cases involving missing babies, she didn’t interact with the babies, for the simple reason that they were missing.

There’d been the Granger case, but although they’d recovered the child, it had been another officer who had actually rescued the child and returned him to his parents. This was an unusual case for Susan in that there was more than one child and the baby hadn’t been kidnapped. Susan realized that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually interacted with a child of baby age before Jesse Spenser.

Susan sat back in her chair and rubbed her eyes gently as she let out a long breath. She couldn’t get the images from her mind of the contact she had made with the infant. She couldn’t come up with any other explanation … and it sort of tickled her deep inside to realize she actually felt like the baby for those moments.

Susan had an idea as she picked up the phone and started to dial. A friend of hers ran a daycare center for infants up to 4 years old. The phone rang 3 times and a female voice answered, “Babies of all Ages Daycare, this is Remy, How can I help you?”

“Hi, Remy! It’s Susan. I’m calling to see if you might still need someone to help you tomorrow. I’m free and would love to assist if I can.”

Remy squealed with delight as she replied, “Hi, Susie! You’ve never wanted to do that before, but sure!”

“Well, it’s for a case, kind of,” said Susan. “I’ve just realized that I don’t have much contact with children of that age, and you know that I work in Missing Persons –”

“Oh, I see! Getting into the heads of the kids to help solve cases,” said Remy, and Susan couldn’t help thinking how right she might be. “Well sure, especially if it’ll help you find missing kids! It’s funny you should ask, too – Leena’s pregnant and having morning sickness. She can’t come in until around 2 in the afternoon when she gets over it all – in the mornings I can use a hand on diaper patrol!” Both women laughed. “I could really use the help until Leena comes in – or longer, if you’re willing.”

Susan put the appointment in her phone’s calendar and replied, “Sure. Be most happy to. See you in the morning.”

Susan made sure to let the officer of the day know where she would be tomorrow should anything come up and she was needed back at the precinct. Susan was going to try out an idea that had formed in her mind. If she could really read an infant’s mind, she would put it to the test.

Susan wasn’t sure how, but she was positive this would help her in many investigations – although there was no way it could be admissible as evidence in court. She might be able to question witnesses that no one would ever have considered before. If this were real, if it really worked, it might enable her to help more people than ever before. Nobody would believe her if she told them she’d read a baby’s mind … but what she saw might lead her to other evidence that could be used in court.

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Chapter 2

The next morning, Susan was at the Babies of All Ages Daycare at 7 a.m. sharp. She and Remy got to the front door of the building at the same time, just as Remy was about to open the place. “Susie!” said Remy, opening her arms for a hug. “Great to see you!”

Hugging her friend, Susan said, “Always good to see you, Remy! Just let me know how I can help.”

“OK, great! C’mon inside, and I’ll show you the ropes as we go. Um, can you change diapers?”

“Uh, I never did babysitting …”

“Hmm, all right, well, most of the kids are potty trained anyway – only the youngest ones are still in diapers. We charge parents more to take care of them, because the diapers and other supplies cost more, of course. But anyway, if you’re up for it, I can show you how to change the wet ones, at least – poopy diapers might be a bit much for your first day. But of course I can’t show you any of that until there are kids here. Naturally, we open for the day before they arrive!” As she said this, Remy was turning on the lights, unlocking the office, hanging up her coat and purse, starting up the coffee maker, turning on the computers, and such.

Remy showed Susan where to find all the supplies, where they kept the food for the kids for lunch, where they kept arts and crafts supplies, and where everything else was. The daycare center was well stocked, that was for sure. It appeared to be part of a chain of daycares in many major cities.



A few other employees showed up, and Remy introduced them to Susan. “Matt and Helen, this is my friend Susan, and Susan, these are Matt and Helen – you can also ask them if there’s anything you can’t find.”

“Good to meet you both,” said Susan. “Now, this might sound strange, but I’m actually a police detective – don’t worry, no one’s in trouble, but I work in Missing Persons, and I’m trying to get a better feel for working with babies and small children, because we often have to talk to little kids as witnesses. I’ve asked Remy to let me help her out sometimes, and I’ve cleared it with my captain as a sort of training.”

“OK, we’ll help you if we can,” said Helen. “We’ve got lots of experience talking to kids, but finding out what you need to know from them can be an … experience.” Susan was thinking that Helen didn’t know how right she was, in her case.

At 8:30, parents started to show up with their kids, and Remy showed Susan how to check them into the attendance system, but once all the kids who were expected had arrived, they got down to business – the daycare business. There were some songs that all the kids sang in the morning, if they were old enough. Remy showed Susan how Helen led the kids in singing, then showed them an educational TV show, and meanwhile she showed Susan how to check on the babies and see if they needed anything.

“Before they can talk, they’ll usually just cry if they need something – but the question is what,” explained Remy. “You’ll have to check their diaper to see if they need a change – that might be making them uncomfortable, but that isn’t always it. They might be hungry or thirsty, or they might have hurt themselves, or they might just be lonely or bored and want attention. Polly here isn’t talking yet, and neither is Sandy, so they’re the ones that need the most … intuition. Then there are Jack and Holly, who know a few words now. Sometimes we can ask them what they need.”

“Hmm, if you don’t mind,” said Susan, “I might want to try figuring out what the littlest ones want. If one of them starts crying, I hope you’ll ask me to come listen to them.”

“OK, will do,” said Remy. “If you can get to the point where you can figure it out even most of the time, that’ll be a sign that you’re a natural at child care!”

It wasn’t long before little Polly, normally an adorable and happy baby girl, started to cry, so Remy called Susan in. “OK, can you tell me what she needs? I’d start by …” and Susan didn’t hear the rest of what Remy said.

Susan crouched down, leaned over the playpen, and looked into Polly’s big brown eyes, and suddenly she felt very distressed. It felt just like that day when she’d somehow linked minds with Jesse Spenser. She suddenly felt everything Polly felt, including something uncomfortably warm and damp beneath her. She didn’t know any of the words for any of it, and that made her upset. Suddenly someone was shaking Susan’s shoulder. “Susan,” said Remy, which snapped her out of it.

“Oh – yes,” said Susan. “I’m sorry. I got … carried away. I was trying to put myself in her position. I think her diaper’s wet.” Susan realized she was now able to put words to what the baby had been thinking, which she hadn’t been able to do while linked with her.

“I, er, think you put yourself in her position a little bit too well,” said Remy. “You were crying too. And, um …” Remy pointed to the tile floor below where Susan was crouched down. There was a rather large puddle there. Susan realized that her pants were soaking wet.

“Oh, my …” Susan said, standing up suddenly. She had no idea how that could have happened. “I’m – I’m sorry … I’m not sure what came over me ...”

“Umm, well, let me get things cleaned up,” said Remy. She’d already brought in a mop and pail, and she got the floor cleaned up quickly. “Now, come with me,” she said, taking Susan by the hand as if she were a toddler who’d had an accident and leading her to another room. Then she realized what she’d done, treating her friend like a child. “Oh! Umm … sorry …”

Susan realized why Remy was apologizing and said, “Oh – no, you’re probably used to having kids do that here. It’s OK. But I really am sorry. I don’t know why that would have happened – unless, as you said, I just kind of got too into Polly’s mindset. Shouldn’t we, you know, change her diaper?”

“Well yes, I’ll show you how to do that shortly,” said Remy, shutting the door and thinking. “But first, we have to get you taken care of. I don’t know why that happened either, but I can’t just leave you in wet pants like this. You’re my friend, and besides, I can help.”

Susan looked around at the room she was in for the first time. It was a bathroom, but it also had a changing table – rather larger than changing tables for most babies, she thought. “You wouldn’t have any spare clothes, would you?”

“Yes, and we can use them as an excuse,” said Remy, opening a cabinet. “We’ve got daycare assistant uniforms, like you saw Matt and Helen wearing. I’m the owner, so sometimes I wear one and sometimes I don’t. But we can say that you wanted to wear one so you didn’t look out of place.”

“OK … I can see that,” said Susan, carefully taking off her wet pants. “That takes care of what I’ll wear … but you wouldn’t happen to have dry underwear, would you?”

“Yes, then there’s that matter,” said Remy. “Just put your wet things in this plastic bag – I’ll just put that in the office until it’s time to go, and you can take them home to put in the laundry. But anyway, first we have to get you cleaned up, and then we have to get you something to wear under your uniform. Just hop onto the changing table, and I’ll give you a crash course in what we’re going to help Polly with in a minute.”

“What? You mean you’re going to put a diaper? On me?” asked Susan, backing up. “I’m not sure – and why would you have anything big enough?”

“Well, the chain’s called Babies of All Ages for a reason,” said Remy. “The second floor’s for adults who are mentally handicapped or otherwise in need of supervision, and although we have different staff up there, it’s also part of my business. But to answer your first question, that’s the only replacement underwear we have around here – and, well, I just had a thought, wouldn’t it make it easier for you to learn how to change a diaper if you’d experienced what it was like yourself?”

“I … I really can’t argue with that,” said Susan. “I guess, if it’s all you’ve got anyway, we might as well.”

“OK, good,” said Remy. “I’ll just be right back. I’m going to get some diapers from upstairs.” She left the room, locking the door so Susan wouldn’t be disturbed. Susan could leave if she wanted, but she currently had no pants on.

“Wait a minute,” said Susan. “Some diapers? Not one?” But Remy was gone already.

A few minutes later Remy returned, unlocking the door with her key. “Here we are,” she said, carrying a colorful pack of diapers. “These are what we have upstairs, and I think this size will fit you. They’re very adjustable anyway.” She opened the package and took one out, putting the rest in a cabinet beneath the changing table. Then she opened the diaper up and spread it on the changing table. “OK, first, I’ll need you to lie down up here, on top of it …”

“Umm, all right,” said Susan, doing so. “I’m supposed to be … like this?”

“A little higher. Yes, right there.”

“OK. So … why … I mean … it looks kind of … babyish …” Susan was confused by the diaper. It had bunnies, Teddy bears, and rainbows all over it, as well as blocks that spelled out “BABY,” as if it weren’t clear enough.

“Now we just get you cleaned off,” said Remy, getting a baby wipe. “Open up a bit – this’ll clean you off. We want to make sure you smell fresh and won’t be getting a rash. I mean, that’s not going to happen with just one time, but it’s best to be sure.” Apparently she hadn’t heard Susan’s question, which had barely been a question anyway.

“Thank you,” said Susan. “So …”

“Next, we don’t usually do this with disposable diapers on babies, but here’s just a little baby powder, which might help you feel fresher,” said Remy, sprinkling powder on her and spreading it out. Remy then washed her hands.

“I meant …”

Remy then brought the front of the diaper up over Susan’s front and fastened the bottom tapes on each side, then the top ones. “All done!” she said. “You can get down now!”

Susan sat up, the diaper crinkling, and swung her legs off the table, standing up. “It’s just … why do the diapers look so babyish?”

“It’s something that the upstairs customers prefer,” said Remy. “They find it more soothing than just bland clinical ones. What’s more … these tend to be way better quality anyway, for whatever reason. Way more absorbent, and less flimsy – less likely to come apart with activity.”

“Huh. Oh well,” said Susan. “Nobody’s going to see them except you and me.”

“That’s true,” said Remy. “The fact is that they’re so absorbent that even if you drank lots of water and had lots of accidents all day – even if you did, and I’m not saying you’d do that – you still wouldn’t leak, not even by the time you got home tonight. They’re really good quality, like I said. Anyway, now for that uniform … I think this one should fit you … if I remember your size … here.”

Susan slipped her legs into the pink overalls that Remy provided. “That white top you were already wearing should work just fine with them,” Remy said, “and besides, it didn’t get wet at all. Yes, that’s perfect. You look like you fit right in! OK, let’s go help Polly out now that you know how it goes.” Susan turned toward the door and could have sworn she heard her diaper crinkle, freezing and blushing. “What’s wrong? Oh – I’ll bet I know. You think people can hear your diaper. Don’t worry – it’s awfully hard for anybody but you to hear that, especially once we’re not in a private room. There’s lots of background noise around.”

Susan felt terribly embarrassed, but also somehow smaller – closer to the children, in a way. At least the pink fabric of the overalls was thick enough that the diaper’s baby pattern didn’t show through. It felt as if the diaper was holding her legs apart, making her waddle a bit as she walked. But she just took small steps. At least she’d been crouching and she hadn’t gotten her shoes wet, except for their soles, and they were rubber-soled athletic shoes anyway, and Remy had cleaned them off with a baby wipe before Susan had put them back on. But now the door was open again and leading Susan back out into the babies’ room, where Polly was still intermittently crying in the playpen.

Polly sometimes cried, and sometimes she found a toy to play with and quieted down. Then she would cry some more, and then seemingly get distracted again. Susan tried to understand this behavior without completely losing control, but it was no use – she soon found Remy shaking her shoulder again. “Earth to Susan! Here you go,” she said, handing Susan a baby wipe – and Susan realized that there were tears on her face again, and she’d been drooling.

“Oh no! I’m sorry,” Susan said. “It’s like whenever I get too involved in what they’re thinking, I sort of check out.”

“Hmm,” said Remy. “I dunno. But let’s get Polly changed. First, I’ll show you how to pick her up so she’s comfy and safe. Like … this … ok? Got it? You have to support her head. Now I’ll hand her to you so you can hold her just the same way … got her? … There you go.” Susan was now holding Polly. “Now we go over to the changing table. I realize I’m talking a lot, but talking to her and reassuring her is a great way to help her feel more at ease.”

“Umm, ok,” said Susan. “Come on, Polly, I know what will make you feel a lot better,” she told the baby as they took her to a changing room. This one had a baby-sized changing table. “You can just lie down right here, and we’ll get that wet diaper all changed, ok?” Polly made some noises at her, so without even trying to link minds with her, or whatever that was, she could tell the girl was listening.

“Lucky for us she’s just wearing a shirt and a diaper, so we don’t have to completely undress her to change her,” said Remy. “Now, first you have to take off the wet diaper …” Remy talked Susan through the first diaper change that she could remember.

“And there you go!” said Remy once she was done. “Now we have two dry girls.”

“Remy!” said Susan, blushing.

“Don’t worry, Polly won’t tell, will you, cutie?” said Remy, addressing Polly and tickling under her chin, causing the girl to giggle.

Susan carefully picked Polly up again, under Remy’s watchful eye. “So … now we put her back in the playpen?”

“Yep, for now. We should check the others.”

So Susan carefully lowered Polly back into the playpen, where she quickly picked up where she’d left off, trying to see how many blocks she could balance on the Teddy Bear’s belly without any falling off. She focused on the other babies next – Sandy seemed fine but was getting a bit hungry, Jack was wet but not concerned about it at all, and Holly was only slightly wet. Susan kept a baby wipe handy, because she could tell that she was going to need it. Every time she came away from connecting to one of the babies, she was always at least drooling, if not crying. She wondered if her diaper had gotten any wetter, but she realized that if it was as absorbent as Remy had said, it would be pretty hard to tell, until it was really soaked.

“That’s pretty amazing, how you can tell what they’re feeling so well,” said Remy. “I have no idea how you’re doing that. I tell how they are by picking up on little cues, like how they move and the sounds they make, but you’re doing something else, something that seems to take you into their little minds.”

“The fact is, I’m not sure how it’s happening either,” said Susan. “I don’t get it at all. But if it’s something I can really do, for real, I want to know how to do it when I want to – and not when I don’t. I don’t want to have any accidents at work,” she whispered.

Remy replied in a whisper, “You might want to think about wearing – protection – to work if you’re likely to need to do it at a moment’s notice.”

“You … might be right,” replied Susan quietly. “Where … where do you get … these?” she asked.

“We buy them in bulk from a supplier,” said Remy. “I can send you their website.”

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Lunchtime came and went – it was chaotic. As a test, Susan tried to link up with some of the older kids, the ones who could talk. But with them, it was hit or miss – it seemed that the more talking they could do, the harder it was for Susan to get any kind of connection to them. Even the shy, quiet ones – who could speak just fine, but just didn’t do it very often – were difficult to connect with. It seemed that the younger they were, the better this ability worked with them.

Susan stayed for the rest of the day, making sure the babies were as happy as possible by checking in with them frequently – and at the same time getting in a lot of practice. She established that there was just no way for her to connect with any of the babies without going into some sort of babylike state herself. And by the end of the day, she’d done it enough that, she could tell, her diaper was getting noticeably wet. She’d have to go home, take it off, and take a shower.

Finally, when the last of the kids had gone home, and so had Matt and Helen, Remy said to her, “Now, then, about your diaper … you certainly need a change by now.”

“What? … I mean, er, yes, it’s quite wet, but I was just going to go home, take it off, get a shower, and maybe put on some comfy clothes.”

“Sounds good, but … I’d feel better if I weren’t sending you home in a soaking wet diaper,” said Remy. “I guess it must be the daycare professional in me, but I just don’t feel right letting you go without a change.”

“I’m not one of your kids, though,” said Susan.

“But you’re my friend,” Remy said. “That makes it even more important. I want you to be comfortable. Maybe next time you do this, we should prepare – maybe you could change into a diaper first thing, when you get here, then at the end of the day we could clean you up and put your regular underwear back on. Or maybe you could show up already in a diaper.”

“I think … well, we’ll see. But … I guess if you want to send me home in a dry diaper, well …”

“Yeah, we’d better get you taken care of. Come on,” said Remy, taking Susan by the hand again. She sent Susan home in a dry diaper, still in the daycare uniform, because they didn’t have anything else, and insisted on giving her a pack of the diapers, in case she needed to use her ability at work. Susan wasn’t sure, but … it was hard to argue with Remy’s logic, given what she’d learned.

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The next day, Susan was updating the case file when the news came down that Nick Wells had been arrested in the state to the west, and that Nadia had been with him. He’d threatened to harm her and himself, but the state police had managed to separate them, and he was off to jail while Nadia was on her way back to her mother and stepfather. Susan was just glad to have helped, even though it was likely that Wells would have been the prime suspect anyway. But the case had brought Susan’s ability to her attention, and it wasn’t long before she’d need it again.

Later that afternoon, Susan returned to her home, threw her things in a chair and flopped in the soft snuggly confines of her thick pillow chair. As she sat and made herself comfy, her eyes fell on the several packages her friend Remy had given her.

One pack, a large package of Snuggies disposable diapers for large girls, and another of those really adorable and lacy girls pullup diaper panties for large girls. Susan smirked to herself as she got up and grabbed the pack of pullups.

As she took off her clothes and pulled down the panties she had on, she remembered her babydoll smock top she had in the closet. It would be perfect with the pullups. Susan felt really strange as she wiggled into the thick lacy pullup diaper panties, then pulled the top over her head and threaded her arms through the puffy sleeves.

She tugged on the hem to make sure it was on and to remove any wrinkles. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her mouth fell open in shock as she looked over the image. She could see the lace of her panties from beneath the bottom edge of the smock top. All Susan would need to complete this really adorably sexy look, was to put her hair up in ponytails, which she proceeded to do.

Susan felt so cute now as she looked at the image of herself in the mirror. She was just as adorable as any babydoll she could think of. She also was glad she had the diaper panties. She could wear them to work under her normal clothes, and if she needed to interview certain witnesses, she would be safe and protected.

Another thought flitted through her mind – what if doing this left … residual effects? She turned slightly to one side and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She giggled as she forgot about that and snuggled back into her pillow chair with her favorite Teddy Bear. After a few minutes of watching a children’s program called “Laurie Potty Pants,” she realized she was also sucking her thumb and had actually leaked a bit into her diaper panties. She hadn’t noticed at the time, but she was very glad they were thick and super absorbant. Eventually she drifted off to sleep as the TV continued streaming more episodes of the series, until it automatically shut itself off.

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Chapter 3

Susan was on her computer, dotting the Is and crossing the Ts on the Spenser case, when she got a call. “Grey,” said the voice of the captain. “Got another case. In my office, please.”

Susan locked her screen and took her briefcase with her to Captain Tremayne’s office. “Good,” said Tremayne when he saw her enter. “Close the door. Have a seat.” He had been looking in his file cabinet, being somewhat old fashioned – he had a computer on his desk, but Susan knew a lot of his records were still on paper, especially older ones.

Susan sat down in one of the chairs in front of the captain’s desk. She felt a bit self-conscious, as she was wearing a pair of the diaper panties under her clothes, but they were pretty quiet, and nobody had shown any hint of noticing so far. She’d put them on that morning with the same reasoning she’d been using the night before – there was no knowing what cases she might end up working today, and there might be some reason to interact with a baby or young child.

“We’ve got a more sensitive case this time, Gray,” said the captain, opening a manila folder on his desk. “Yeah, the department’s got all of this on computer, but I just can’t manage the things. Sorry. Anyway, this is how everyone did it for years.” Susan had already seen the name on the paperwork inside the folder: Jasperson. That was the most famous name in Somerville. Among the town founders, the Jaspersons were still the richest and most powerful family in town.

“Somebody kidnapped Mitchell Jasperson?” Susan asked. “No – he’s never alone. There’d be too many witnesses. His wife? One of his kids?”

Tremayne nodded. “His wife. Andrea Jasperson was alone in their mansion with their baby daughter, when suddenly all the security cameras went nuts and … she was gone. Exactly what happened we’re still piecing together, but the baby was still there when the maid arrived on schedule half an hour later and nobody was there to let her in. She called their estate security to let her in, and they opened the door but were unable to find Mrs. Jasperson. Of course the security rent-a-cops didn’t see anything.”

“And we’re in here behind a closed door because the media are going to be all over this,” said Susan.

“Exactly,” said the captain. “We have to do our jobs, they’re going to be trying to turn this into a circus to sell papers – or whatever you sell on the internet nowadays – and meanwhile Mrs. Jasperson’s life might be hanging in the balance. We’re treating this extremely carefully. We haven’t even sent squad cars yet, because that’ll attract reporters like flies to trash. We can’t have them interfering with the crime scene. With a baby as the sole witness, the physical evidence is all we’ve got, so we’ve got to collect as much as we can before the press gets there.”

“Gotcha,” said Susan. “I … discovered from the Spenser case that there’s sometimes a benefit to interacting with a young child witness, even if they’re too young to question.”

“I still don’t know how you put two and two together like that,” said Tremayne, “and you know what? I don’t care. You pointed the investigation in the right direction, and it got a kid out of the hands of a dangerous man and back to her mother. If there’s some kind of insight you can get out of having a heart-to-heart with baby Stacey Jasperson, do it. The investigation team’s leaving in ten minutes.”

“Sergeant Leigh?” asked Susan. The captain nodded. “I’m on it.” She stood up.

“Be careful,” said the captain. “I’ve worked in this department for a long time, and something’s fishy about this one. This was an inside job. Corrupt security guards, I’m thinking – or something worse. And the Jaspersons could make things look very bad for us if we mess this up – so could the media, with all the attention this is going to get.”

“I’ll do what I can, Sir,” said Susan. Again, the captain nodded. She left, heading for the parking garage. She already had her briefcase, containing everything she needed – including a spare diaper panty in one pocket, just in case.

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Susan arrived at the mansion and was kind of professionally greeted by a rent a cop who was a total disgrace to any uniform. Susan felt a real disgust and a major suspicion when she walked right past him and all he did was wave and say “Hi.”

Susan made accurate notes of everything she saw and what her initial impressions were, which were not favorable for the rent a cops in any way. There were many people in the house when the maid opened the door and greeted her. The sound of a screaming baby could be plainly heard coming from one of the large rooms.

The maid said cordially, “May I help you? Things here are kind of chaotic currently, just so you know.”

Susan replied as she showed the maid her badge, “I’m Detective Susan Grey from Missing Persons. I’m here trying to discover what happened to Mrs Andrea Jasperson and to keep it as much on the QT as possible.”



The maid gestured for Susan to enter as she said with relief in her voice, “I so pray you can make some kind of headway. According to security, no one saw or heard anything and all the surveillance recording show nothing.”

Susan smiled as she replied, “I’ll do my very best.” she looked around the very plush hallway to an open arch the screams of a very upset baby came from, “Is it possible I might sit with the baby for a few minutes? I might be able to help calm her down.”

The maid replied, “Absolutely. If you can help in that department it would be very appreciated by everyone.” The maid turned and led Susan into one of the most glamorous and plush den type areas she had ever been in. A young maid was holding the baby and patting her bottom softly as she cooed soothing to her.

After a whispered word, the maid set the wailing baby down on a play mat on the floor, and the baby continued right on wailing. As Sergeant Leigh made arrangements for the crime scene technicians to collect evidence, Susan crouched down by the play mat, said softly, “I wonder what you saw?” and tried to make a connection with little Stacey’s mind.

Immediately Susan was assailed by an intense wave of sorrow and anxiety. Mommy was gone, and that was the most traumatic thing that had ever happened to her – or so it felt. Susan couldn’t see what exactly had happened, because there was nothing there but infantile despair. Susan hadn’t run into this sort of thing before. Jesse Spenser had been upset, but still rational for a baby.

Susan was having a hard time not succumbing to the baby’s tears. She felt everything Stacey felt. But … Stacey could feel what Susan felt too. Susan tried to be a reassuring presence. “I’m here to help you,” she thought, more in terms of feelings than words. “I’m here to get your Mommy back.” That seemed to be a step in the right direction. “You’re safe,” the thought, and that seemed to help too. “It’s going to be OK. I’m here. I’m your friend.” Susan tried everything she could think of, and over time – though she had no real idea how much time was passing – the baby’s mood seemed to improve.

Finally Susan was able to get through. She didn’t tell Stacey to think about what had happened – just as with Jesse, she just thought about it herself. Thinking back to earlier that day, she could see what the day had been like. Mommy fed Stacey breakfast. Stacey’s older siblings were sent off to school or preschool. Stacey played with her toys as Mommy watched her shows on TV and chose what to start cooking for supper – Susan was impressed that someone as rich as Andrea Jasperson did her own cooking. Then there was a noise in the kitchen, a metal pot falling to the floor with a clang. That got Stacey’s attention, and the baby gasped and looked in the direction of the noise.

Susan saw what was going on and focused her attention intently. Andrea was fleeing from a man. He was wearing nondescript clothing, a simple blue work shirt and khaki pants. He caught up to her and grabbed her, right in front of Stacey. That was when Stacey began crying, and she had only just stopped. Susan clearly saw the man’s face, and she recognized him immediately – he was one of the security guards, whose faces she had memorized on the way in. His name was Steinmetz. But behind him was another man, whose face she did not recognize. Susan went through her mnemonic exercises again, memorizing what this man’s face looked like. She would know him if she saw him again. The two men overpowered Andrea and dragged her out of view around a corner.

But now she knew that one of the security guards was involved, and she couldn’t let on that she knew or how she knew, until they found more evidence. But … this knowledge could direct the search. Susan gently released the connection … and realized she was lying sideways on the floor in a fetal position, right next to Stacey, who was in a similar position, facing her. Stacey reached toward Susan with her tiny hand, making an upset sound, as if asking for help. Susan realized that she had tears on her cheeks and drool all over her face – she grabbed for a tissue from one of her pockets and tried to clean her face up. The maids were staring down at her with concern.

“I’m all right – I just – get kind of carried away, thinking about how hard it must be for the kids,” Susan said, slowly sitting up. She looked at Stacey in a reassuring way. “We’ll get your Mommy back, OK, Sweetie?” she said.

The security guard, Steinmetz, was the biggest piece of information she’d obtained. He hadn’t been in uniform, but he was now, so wherever he’d taken Andrea, he’d managed to make it to work and change into his uniform. Susan stood up and went to talk to Sergeant Leigh.

“I notice the kid’s quieted down,” said Leigh.

“Yeah, she was pretty upset, as you might imagine,” said Susan. “I think she might have actually seen what happened. Imagine – seeing your own mother dragged away.”

“If only the kid could talk,” said Leigh. “But then, if she was old enough to talk, they might’ve taken her too, or worse.”

“Or at least they’d have made sure she didn’t see anything,” said Susan, nodding. “I notice we’re saying ‘they.’ Are we thinking more than one perp?”

“CSI guys say at least two,” Leigh said. “They say either the security cameras were turned off in the control room, or the power was taken out.” Susan thought back to what she’d seen – the TV hadn’t stopped making noise. So the cameras had been turned off, then back on, probably by Steinmetz.

“Are they thinking it could’ve been one of the security guards?” asked Susan.

“Everyone who was on the property at the time is a potential suspect,” said Leigh. “That includes all the security guards, but also the housekeepers, groundskeepers, even family members.”

“There’s other family on the premises?” asked Susan.

“Jasperson’s nephew and his wife are staying at the guest house,” said Leigh. “I should say almost all the security guards and housekeepers – Lorelei Humbert there is the one who was just coming on duty and discovered the situation.” Leigh pointed at the maid who had let them in. “And Mark Norindra, one of the security guards – he just came on duty minutes before we arrived and has an alibi for his whereabouts before he got here.”

Susan had a strong suspicion where the kidnapped heiress was being held. She knew Steinmetz was involved, but who was the other man? But she couldn’t say anything – she would need more evidence. But perhaps Leigh or the crime scene techs would supply it, especially if pointed in the right direction.

Her reverie was broken when Sgt. Leigh said, “I saw what was going on when you were … comforting that baby in there.”

Susan replied, “I know, I get into the moment real hard. I feel really bad for the infants.”

“Well, so do I, of course,” said Sgt. Leigh. “But, Detective … I can’t help thinking that there’s more going on than that.”

Susan looked at Leigh for an instant before she asked, “Whatever are you saying?”

Leigh replied with a furrowed brow, “It’s almost as if … you’ve been interrogating an eyewitness that none had ever thought to interview.”

Susan laughed, “That’s crazy. How on this earth …”

“Now, I’m saying the same thing,” said Leigh. “How could it even be possible? So it probably isn’t. Besides, we’ve got a missing woman to find. And if we’re going to have a case, we’ll need evidence that’s admissible in court.”

“My feelings exactly,” said Susan. “But I might have some more specific ideas where to direct our attention.”

“Ah, now that we can work with,” said Leigh. “Any suggestions would be welcome.”

“Let me just say,” Susan said in a low tone not likely to be overheard, “the security guard, Steinmetz, was one of the two men involved. The other one I haven’t seen before – I’ll tell you if we see him.”

“I can work with the first part,” said Leigh. “Second part we’ll have to play by ear. I’m going to interview the security guards.” He left the room.

“Detective,” said Shen, one of the crime scene techs, getting Susan’s attention. “We can clearly place two intruders in the kitchen. There’s no sign of the door being forced, so whoever got in either had a key or was let in – more evidence that it was an inside job.”

“Fingerprints?” Susan asked.

“Several sets, but we don’t have matches for any of them in the databases,” said Shen. “Of course, we don’t have matches for anyone in this household, except for Mitchell Jasperson’s wife and kids. He had them fingerprinted for their own protection. And of course Andrea’s fingerprints are all over the kitchen. I guess she does her own cooking.”

“It does seem that she does,” said Susan. “I suppose the housekeepers’ fingerprints aren’t in any databases either.”

“No, but we’ve fingerprinted them,” said Shen. “Their prints are all over the place, but don’t seem to be involved in the scuffle.”

“Are you going to fingerprint the security guards?” asked Susan.

“We don’t have to, they tell us,” Shen answered. “They say they’re all fingerprinted when they’re hired, and Jasperson’s got his own private estate database that has all their information, including their prints. We’re going to be given access to all of that shortly.”

“Hmm,” said Susan. “I’m sure you can see the conflict of interest there.”

“Yes, indeed, Detective. But of course then there are politics. We should take our own, but we’d need a good reason not to use theirs, or we’re as much as telling Jasperson that he’s doing things wrong.”

“Well, just make sure that their data’s good,” said Susan.

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“They’ve all got alibis,” said Sergeant Leigh, “not that that means anything. We haven’t checked them out yet. Obviously that’s the next step. It’s still a work in progress.”

Susan replied, “OK. The techs just got access to the Jasperson Estate’s fingerprint database, and they’re comparing the prints they took in the kitchen to the data. Meanwhile … I had another thought. I need to … bond with little Stacey again.”

Susan entered the nursery and saw little Stacey playing with her toys in the playpen with her Nurse closely watching over her. When Susan entered the room, Stacey immediately noticed, used the bars of the playpen to stand, then began bouncing up and down on her toes and making really happy noises.

The nurse turned and smiled as she said, “Apparently you made a friend. She’s been happy as a clam at high tide since you and her … umm .. had your little chat.”

Susan laughed, “I can relate to that. She was very upset. I was wondering if I could possibly have a few minutes with her again please?”

The nurse replied, “Absolutely. Anyone who can quiet her and make her this happy, I have no problems.”

Susan replied, “Thanks.” As she knelt beside the playpen and looked Stacy in the eyes.

This time, the bond happened immediately and she knew how wonderfully happy Stacey was that Susan had returned.

This time there wasn’t all that interference from Stacey’s sorrow. That made it easy for Susan to do what she’d come there to do. She remembered exactly the face of the other man who had helped Steinmetz abduct Andrea. Now she would search Stacey’s memory for that face. If the girl had seen that man before, Susan wanted to know it.

She searched recent memories and saw only Stacey’s mother, father, and siblings. She searched a little farther back and saw … a lot of children’s television programming, a lot of diaper changes, a lot of feedings … and a limousine. It was an airport limousine – Stacey couldn’t read the writing on the car, but Susan could. A man and a woman got out of the limousine – and Susan knew that man. Stacey’s parents greeted the couple warmly and … the last time Stacey saw them was at a house that Susan didn’t know.

After making sure she’d recognize the woman if she saw her again, Susan left Stacey with reassuring thoughts that they’d get her mother back to her and everything would be fine, Susan gently left the connection, and this time there were no tears on her face when she became aware of her body once more. Although she realized that her diaper panties were quite wet … she’d have to change those soon, but the sensation didn’t bother her as much as it once had.

“Everything OK?” asked the nurse.

“Um – yeah, thanks,” said Susan. “I just … she really seems happier. I’m glad. We’re going to get her mommy back. Hear that, Stacey? We’re gonna get your mommy back to you, OK?” Stacey smiled at Susan, who then walked back out of the nursery and down the stairs to the house’s great room.

But Susan still didn’t know who the man was – she only knew that the Jasperson family knew him, and that he was staying … somewhere. Was it on the estate? “I need to know,” Susan asked Lorelei, the housekeeper, “Jasperson’s nephew and his wife are staying on the estate, right? In a guest house?”

“Oh! Yes. There are several,” said Lorelei. “I’ve cleaned ‘em all. There are five guest houses. All pretty nice.”

“Which one’s the nephew and his wife in?”

“Number Four. Just up the road, over the hilltop.”

“Red door? White shutters? Lots of ivy?”

“That’s the one,” said Lorelei.

“Sergeant Leigh!” said Susan, hurrying toward the kitchen, where Leigh was still talking to the investigators.

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“None of the fingerprints match any of the security guards,” Shen was saying to Leigh. “Of course, as Detective Gray pointed out, that’s according to their own fingerprint data, which the guards have control over, meaning that data can’t be completely relied upon. Why you’d design a security system that puts the foxes in charge of the henhouse is beyond me, but I didn’t design it.”

“Well, double-check the data. If the culprit’s a security guard, they might have wiped their entry from the database, or copied someone else’s,” Leigh said.

“Detective Gray suggested something similar,” Shen said, before Susan hurried into the room.

“Sergeant Leigh!” she said. “I’ve been giving some thought to where the abductors took Mrs. Jasperson.”

“What have you come up with, Detective?” asked Leigh.

“I have … reason to believe that they would have rented a car,” said Susan. After all, she thought, the nephew and his wife had come here in a rented airport limousine, so they probably hadn’t driven their own vehicle here. As for Steinmetz, he wouldn’t have wanted one of the clearly-marked estate security vehicles to be implicated, and the car he drove to work could easily be traced to him if a witness or traffic camera managed to see him. “I also don’t think they would’ve hidden her on the estate – we have blanket permission from Jasperson himself to search anywhere on the property.”

“I’ve got the data about when the guards clocked in and out,” said Leigh, looking at his clipboard. “And I’ve interviewed them individually, so either their stories are well rehearsed or they aren’t lying about when they came in, took their breaks, and so on. Now Steinmetz, he went on break at 10:30 and didn’t return until 11:00 – 15 minutes late. He doesn’t deny that, and there’s nothing illegal about it, but …” He picked up his radio. “I need a canvass of all auto rentals in the area that would have been out between 10:30 and 11:00 this morning,” he said. “Especially any that haven’t been returned yet.”

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Susan was doing her preliminary investigation of Bungalow 4. It was a rather large and very pretty ivy covered cottage with many gardens and fountains surrounding it. As Susan left the guest house and was walking down the path to the expansive park-like courtyard separating the guest houses from the main house, she noticed something sparkling alongside the walkway in the neatly manicured grass.

Susan bent and looked at it. It was a pierced earring with a very large and expensive smoked diamond. The stud and post were still intact and had signs of blood on them. Susan shivered as she thought of such an earring being forcefully pulled from her ear as she put her hand to her own lobe.

She thought about Stacey’s memories: her mother had been wearing those ear studs when Steinmetz and the other man had abducted her. The earrings appeared in many of the infant’s memories, so obviously this was an important bit of evidence. She placed an evidence marker near the earring, photographed it in place from different angles, and got some closeup photos, then picked it up in one of the evidence baggies and sealed the top.

She wrote on the bag where and when she had found it. Susan knew that someone’s clothing had to have residual spatters of this blood on it. This was no clip-on earring – there was no way it could have been pulled from anyone’s earlobe without it bleeding profusely.

Susan looked closely at the surrounding well-clipped grass and found small blood splatters. She got out her cell and called the forensics blood team, requesting they bring the UV blood kit. The chemical in the kit would make any blood trail fluoresce and easy to follow.

Other than the minute traces of blood and the diamond ear stud, Susan saw nothing else she might consider evidence. About that time, a large police van arrived, and some uniformed investigators emerged. She explained what she had found, gave them the earring in its evidence bag, and transferred copies of the photos she’d taken to their phones.

The men got out some tarps, spray bottles, and handheld UV lights, and spread the tarps to block the sunlight. Then they knelt down and began carefully spraying. Before long they were able to isolate the blood, which glowed like lamps and seemed to go off in the direction of some woods. Susan knew from maps that the edge of the property was close in that direction.

After hearing the investigators report what they’d found to Leigh, Susan continued toward Bungalow 4. She knew full well that if the nephew and his wife were home, one if not both of them were kidnappers if not outright murderers. It was also possible that the wife didn’t know what sort of man she was married to. This was why she’d asked Sergeant Leigh to meet her there. It was against police procedure to interview a suspect without backup.

Leigh and his partner Jacobs were waiting for her in their patrol car, which was parked outside the guest house. The two of them saw her and got out as she approached. “We’ve got people on the phone right now,” said Leigh, “talking to the local car rental agencies. If anybody matching Steinmetz or the nephew’s description rented a car that’s still out, they’ll find it, and we can put out an APB on the car. And that blood trail the forensics guys found – there are some woods in that direction, with a parking lot on the other side.”

Susan nodded. “Dragged her through there to a waiting car, then one of them drove off with her. Most likely Steinmetz. But there’s only so far he could have gone, if he clocked back in half an hour after clocking out.”

“We don’t know when the nephew got back,” said Leigh, “or if he did. Let’s see if anyone’s at home.”

Susan and Leigh went up to the bungalow’s door. Susan pressed the doorbell. They heard a bell ring inside. Then the door opened.

The man who answered was the man Susan had seen in Stacey’s memory. He had helped drag her mother away. Susan tried to control the expression on her face. But she could clearly tell he was trying to do the same. “Can I help you, Officers?” he asked, clearly in response to Leigh’s uniform.

“Detective Susan Gray and Sergeant Kevin Leigh, Missing Persons,” said Susan, holding up her badge. “I don’t know if Mr. Jasperson’s notified you yet, but his wife’s been kidnapped.”

“Aunt Andrea? Oh, my G- I have to talk to Uncle Mitch,” the man said. “I have to call him.” He fumbled in his pockets, presumably for his phone, which he didn’t seem to have. Susan watched him carefully for signs that he’d give something away.

“Grant? What’s happened to your aunt?” asked a woman’s voice, and the owner of the voice came into view. She had curly black hair and wore blue and white, and Susan had never seen her before, in Stacey’s memory or her own.

“I’m afraid she’s missing, Ma’am,” said Leigh. “We’re investigating, trying to find her. We have Mr. Jasperson’s permission to search the entire estate, so I’m afraid we’re going to have to search this house. But first, if you and your husband would like to help, we need to know whether either of you saw anything unusual between 10:30 and 11 this morning.”

“Well, Grant was out taking a walk,” said the woman.

“Yes,” said Grant, “taking a walk. I went up for a walk around the tennis courts – didn’t see anything odd.”

That was convenient. Susan knew that the tennis courts were in the exact opposite direction from the main house from here. If he had actually walked in that direction, he wouldn’t have seen anything. But she knew that’s not where he’d been.

“And you were here the entire time, Ma’am?” asked Susan.

“Yes, I didn’t feel like a walk, and besides, my favorite morning show was on TV,” said the woman, whose name they still didn’t know – Grant Jasperson’s wife’s name was Gina, but a good detective never assumes.

Sergeant Leigh’s phone buzzed. “Oh – just a sec. This could be important,” he said, lifting it to his ear. “Yeah,” he said. “Mm hmm. OK. That’s great. Thank you, Irakawa.” To Susan he said, “They already found the car. Rented by exactly who we expected. Abandoned in a crowded mall parking lot – must’ve thought that’d make it hard to find. Must’ve taken a Yoober back to wherever he left his own car.”

“That puts a serious limitation on where they took her,” said Susan, keeping watch on Grant out of the corner of her eye. Leigh hadn’t said what mall parking lot they’d found it in, but that wasn’t the point – wherever it was, it would narrow down Andrea’s location. Grant had to be feeling the heat. If Andrea was alive, and if they could find her … she’d identify Grant as one of her kidnappers.

“Yes, it does,” said Leigh. “If Mrs. Jasperson is alive, and if we can find her, she’ll be able to identify the person or persons responsible, unless they concealed their identity.” Susan thought Grant was seriously fidgeting.

“But meanwhile, we’ll have to search this residence,” said Susan. “Sorry, but it’s procedure. Anything at all could be evidence or a clue.”

“Uh, I, I mean, sure, go ahead,” said Grant. He wasn’t the owner of the property – Mitchell Jasperson was, so Grant, a mere guest, couldn’t deny them the right to search. He couldn’t even object, because that would seem suspicious. So Susan and Leigh would be able to get fingerprints of both Grant and the woman he was with, who still hadn’t volunteered her name – was that by chance or design? It didn’t matter. They’d find out before they left and make it seem natural.

Susan and Leigh followed procedure to the letter, and they got fingerprints – Grant’s belongings had his prints on them, while the woman’s prints were all over hers. They sent photos of the prints to the forensics people, who quietly confirmed that Grant’s prints had been all over the scene. Susan had to wonder what he’d been thinking. He hadn’t covered his face and hadn’t worn gloves. But with Andrea in an unknown location, she could still be in danger – possibly unable to free herself.

“Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. and Mrs. Jasperson,” said Leigh as they left. “We’ll let your uncle know as soon as we learn anything.”

As she left the bungalow, Susan had been concentrating on the situation with hyper-vigilance like awareness when she realized with surprise she was actually having an accident in her already wet pullup panties. Now, Susan was sure that some type of residuals from her bonding with infants were sticking to her psyche.

Ordinarily, she would have gotten upset over having uncontrolled accidents in her panties. This time, it actually felt really nice, although it brought on several worries. Without thinking about it, she had gasped and grabbed between her legs like a little girl as she felt the slight warmth begin there. Hoping Leigh hadn’t noticed, Susan looked up, her expression changing from mild panic to embarrassment, and she saw Leigh look away quickly before he returned to the investigation once again.

Susan decided to return to the precinct so she could change her diaper panties and also do a bit of research on where Steinmetz lived. He owned a home, within the area reachable between the time of the abduction and the time Steinmetz had clocked back in at work. And the deed and the surveyor's data were readily available for her to peruse through the city archives.

The house plans looked fairly normal, but there was apparently some kind of structure on the far corner of his lot that had been either torn down or forgotten, from what the plans showed. Whatever it was had originally been constructed in the late 1950s. The property map wasn’t exactly clear as to what the construction was, but apparently no one had been paying taxes on it since the late 70s. Perhaps it was an uninhabited shed, or perhaps it had been torn down, but this was an anomaly Susan intended to check on personally. But it was against procedure to go to such a place without a partner, and she would need a warrant.

“Captain, got a minute?” she asked, knocking on the open door to Captain Tremayne’s office.

“Got something, Detective?” asked Tremayne.

Susan explained what she needed. “So I’ll need a warrant to search the place. It’s hard to say whether he’d take the risk of hiding the kidnapped wife of the most powerful man in town on his own private property, but then Steinmetz was in a hurry, and he’s clearly not the brightest bulb in the box.”

“I’ll call the DA’s office for the warrant. Considering this is for Jasperson, I doubt there’ll be any delays. And … I’ll go with you myself. Sergeant Leigh’s still working the case at the estate.”

After a phone call, Tremayne said, “OK, they’re … emailing me the warrant? Damn computers. OK, so I need to …”

“Click on that … and that … and then click Print …” said Susan, pointing at his computer screen. “There you go. And you’ll want to file that email in your folder for this case.”

“My folder for this case is here in the cabinet,” Tremayne said. “Anyway, here’s the warrant.” He grabbed the printout from his printer. “Let’s go.”

As he drove them to the property, Tremayne told her, “Yeah, you and Leigh have been doing a good job keeping me updated, and I’m very grateful for that. Does wonders for my blood pressure.”

Tremayne’s phone rang, and as they were stopped at a traffic light, he answered it. “Tremayne. Yes, Sergeant. Detective Gray is with me. Here she is. Put it on speaker, will you?” He gave the phone to Susan, who put the call on the car’s speakers.

“Sergeant, the captain and I are heading to Steinmetz’s house. It’s conveniently located, and he’s got an old root cellar or something on his land. I’ve just got a feeling.”

“Good luck,” said Leigh. “I just wanted to let you both know, the forensics guys took your suggestion and checked the estate’s fingerprint database – Shen said this Steinmetz guy’s fingerprints were wiped. They said they were garbage data. Nobody has fingerprints like that. They were like static on a TV screen – like you’d get if you tried to fingerprint a block of concrete. No wonder his prints didn’t match the scene at first – he must have wiped out his own data. But I got a warrant for Shen to take Steinmetz’s prints himself, and they matched one set of prints from the kitchen. He was one of the abductors, no question. So we’ve arrested him. And from the other prints, we’re bringing in that Grant Jasperson too. They’re both on their way to the station for questioning.”

“Sorry we’ll miss it,” said Susan. “But with any luck, we’ll find Andrea.”

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They walked right onto the property when they arrived – they knew Steinmetz wasn’t home. “Now, I’m not sure exactly what kind of structure we’re going to find,” she said as they approached that corner of the lot. When they got there, they found some doors in the ground.

“Looks like a large root cellar or storm shelter,” said Tremayne. “Maybe it was once next to a house that was torn down.” The doors had a lock, but it was rusted and decrepit. Susan opened the door, and the afternoon sunlight flooded in upon some moldering wooden steps going down. Her flashlight lit up the darkness as she ventured further in, the captain behind her.

She heard something move, but her light illuminated only some mice, which scurried farther into the dark. “Looks like some sort of storm shelter,” said Susan, as there were empty shelves around the outside walls and some crumbling furniture on the dusty concrete floor.

“Or a bomb shelter, from back in the 1950s when people were building those,” said Tremayne.

They suddenly heard a muffled sound and some clattering. They both turned their flashlights in the direction of the sound and found a gagged woman tied to an old but still sturdy chair. “Mo – Mrs. Jasperson,” said Susan, recognizing her instantly, though from her daughter’s memories. “Detective Gray, Somerville PD. And Captain Tremayne. Let’s get you out of here.” She undid the woman’s gag as the captain cut the ropes binding her.

“Oh, thank God,” said Andrea, getting unsteadily to her feet. “I’ve been here for … hours, I think. I guess I fell asleep, from exhaustion.”

“Can you walk?” asked the captain. “How do you feel?”

“My – my ear.” Susan shone her light on Andrea’s ear and started cleaning it with an alcohol wipe from her first aid kit. “Other than that … I’m feeling pretty stiff, but all right.”

“We’ll take you to any doctor you want, to get your ear checked out,” said Susan, as they helped her up the stairs. “Do you know who did this?”

“It was my deadbeat nephew,” Andrea said. “Didn’t like being written out of the will, so I guess he thought he could ransom me. But they didn’t blindfold me very well, and he didn’t hide his face. And he had some security guard he’d bribed to help him.”

They helped her into the captain’s car. “Well, we’ve got both of them at the station now,” said the captain. “Detective Gray here, along with Sergeant Leigh, and our forensics team, they already put the pieces together. Fingerprints all over the kitchen, and we found your … earring. You put up quite a fight.”

“You’d better believe it!” she said. “Taking me away from my daughter like that. How’s Stacey?”

“She was really upset at first,” said Susan. “I’ve talked with her – I mean, well, talked to her, anyway. I helped calm her down. I promised her we’d bring you back, and I think she understood. She’ll be glad to see her mother again. But the housekeepers have been looking after her. I guess your other kids will be coming home from school soon.”

“What time is it?” said Andrea, looking at the clock in the car. “It’s … it wasn’t as long as it seemed.”

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They called Mitchell Jasperson and met him at the clinic of the family doctor they usually went to. Andrea embraced her relieved husband. “Thank you so much,” he said to Tremayne and Susan.

“All in the line of duty, Sir,” said the captain. “The DA will be contacting you, Andrea, about testifying …”

“Oh, I’ll be testifying, all right,” said Andrea. “Grant has to pay for what he’s done.”

Mr. Jasperson sighed. “That boy … he just grew up wrong. Expecting handouts all his life.”

“I don’t know how many people like that I’ve run into, in this line of work,” said Susan.

“I imagine,” Andrea said.

“Well, you should get in to see the doctor, and we should get back to the station to take care of things,” said the captain, and Susan nodded.

“I’m grateful,” said Mr. Jasperson. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“Well, our investigators should be finishing up at your estate shortly, if they’re not already done,” said the captain.

“If I were you, I’d do some more in-depth background checking on your security staff,” said Susan. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that Steinmetz had some skeletons in his closet – figurative or literal.”

Mr. Jasperson nodded. “There’s going to be some house cleaning,” he said.

“Take care, Sir, Ma’am,” said the captain. They parted ways, Andrea and her husband heading into the clinic while Susan and the captain headed for his car.

“Leigh said something about you knowing it was Steinmetz even before the fingerprints were straightened out,” said the captain as they drove back toward the station. “And what was that about calming down their daughter?”

“I … I just had a feeling,” said Susan. “Not that it clouded my judgment. I was just so sad to see poor little Stacey so upset. I just … had to calm her down. I’ve learned I have sort of a way with small children. As for the security guard, something just seemed … not right about him. Then we gathered evidence, and those feelings just kept getting borne out the more we found. But it was a team effort.”

“Well, I’m just glad we’ve got some good officers,” said the captain.

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Chapter 4

“Have you ever tried … making contact with anyone who’s not a baby?” asked Remy. Susan was spending her one day a week at her friend’s childcare center. She had on the usual uniform this time, the pink overalls and white top, and she was quite aware of the thick, babyish diaper she was wearing under them, although it wasn’t too obvious from the outside. If she accidentally mind-linked with one of the babies or other kids, she’d be well protected.

“Well … no, not really,” said Susan. “I’m not sure what would happen. Maybe nothing. It’s only worked with babies so far.”

“Well, everybody used to be a baby,” Remy said. She leaned in conspiratorially. “Wanna try?”

“Try … reading your mind?” asked Susan. “Are you sure? I mean, probably nothing will happen.”

“Yeah, why not?” Remy asked.

“I guess trying can’t hurt,” said Susan. She looked into Remy’s eyes. She felt something … but it was hard to concentrate. Even though the other employees were handling the kids, there were still lots of noises of playing, along with music, and the sounds of a children’s educational program on the TV. “Sorry,” said Susan. “Too many distractions, I think.”

“Well let’s try it somewhere there aren’t distractions,” said Remy. “Matt, Helen, we’re going to take a bit of a break. We’ll be upstairs if you need us.” They heard and nodded.

“Upstairs?” asked Susan. “Isn’t that …?”

“Yes, it’s where we have our adult customers,” said Remy as she led Susan to a door, opened it, and went up the stairs beyond. “But there aren’t any today, so it’s totally quiet up there. No distractions at all.” Susan followed her upstairs to another playroom, but this one had adult-sized toys – large bouncy balls, larger soft blocks, a large tricycle, large plushies, even large play areas and large cribs.

Closing the door, Susan noticed that it was completely quiet – no distracting noises at all were audible from downstairs. Remy sat on a play mat on the floor. It was so quiet that she thought she heard a crinkling sound as Remy did so. “OK,” she said, patting the mat in front of her. “Let’s sit down and try again. I just want to know.”

“Well …” Susan said, sitting down. Her diaper crinkled quiet noticeably as she sat, the same sound she’d heard when Remy had sat down. “Wait, are you …?”

“Yes, I’m in a diaper too,” said Remy. “I just … I don’t know, it helps me remember what it’s like to be one of the little kids.”

“You’re not … you can’t do the thing I do, can you?” asked Susan.

“Nope,” said Remy, “though I kind of wish I could. But come on, try it out.”

“Well, here goes …” said Susan, looking into Remy’s eyes. At first there was nothing, then she started feeling something, seemingly far away, and then it started to come into focus, and she was … suddenly in the mind of not an adult but another baby, who was astonished to be here. This baby girl was very happy to be able to come out and play, as if she’d been mostly hiding for a long, long time and only occasionally got to come out. Susan didn’t mean to pry into Remy’s mind, but she saw the last time this baby girl had been out to play. It had been in this very room, and there had been a beautiful woman here, surrounded by a bright light, strawberry pink in color.

Remy squealed with delight and started stacking some of the nearby soft blocks. Susan did the same, and the two of them played together, building towers with the blocks and then screeching with delight when they inevitably fell over all over them. Susan didn’t know how much time passed, but eventually she began to feel tired …

Susan woke up on the floor. She sat up. Her thumb was in her mouth. She pulled it out with a pop and looked incredulously at it. Her thumb’s skin was wrinkly. She looked around. There were soft blocks everywhere, and Remy was lying nearby, sucking her thumb and sleeping peacefully. Susan nudged her shoulder. “Remy?” she said.

“Ngrmlbnr.” Remy stirred.

“Remy, wake up,” said Susan. She looked at her watch. “I think it’s been almost an hour.”

“Wha?” said Remy, sitting up and taking her thumb out of her mouth. “Whoa. That’s weird.”

“I think … I somehow made contact with your inner child or something and brought her to the forefront. I think … we played together for a while, until we fell asleep and took a nap.”

“Wow!” said Remy. “That felt great! Only I think I’m … wet.” She poked at where her diaper was, under her overalls.

“I … think I am too,” said Susan. “So … what does this mean? I can bring out someone’s inner child?”

“I guess?” Remy replied, standing up and wiping her thumb dry on the leg of her overalls. “That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? I wanna do it again! But sometime when it won’t cause problems if we take too long. Can we do it again sometime?”

“I mean, sure, I guess,” said Susan. “I want to learn more about it.”

“And … admit it … it was fun, too,” said Remy with a grin. She started to put the blocks away, spraying them with a bottle of disinfectant.

“OK, yes, it was fun too,” said Susan with a smile, helping Remy straighten up.

Later that day, after the children, Helen and Matt had gone home, they did try it again, and Remy and Susan played happily, unaware of passing time, before they both fell asleep and napped on the floor.

Susan had dreams. They were rather vague, but she remembered a very beautiful woman in a bright white gold trimmed dress. She also sort of remembered being babied and playing with Remy in something filled with wonderfully exciting toys that beeped and squeaked.

Susan awoke slowly. She was snuggled up with a large fuzzy and soft Teddy Bear. She sat up and realized she was also in a large crib. The only thing she had on was a wet diaper and a pair of cute ruffled panties. Susan could clearly see Remy in the next crib over dressed the same way, just a diaper and panties.

She felt so nice as she reached through the bars and lowered the rails so she could get out of the crib. Fortunately there was a private bath that Susan could use to freshen up and change into pullups. Susan was sure she would have accidents; the reason was sort of vague … it had something to do with some sort of question she seemed to recall answering.

As Susan dressed in the daycare uniform, Remy woke and sat up. She giggled and said, “Well, it seems our inner infants came out and played last night.”

Susan replied, “I can tell. Now, I have the bath all ready for you, and another pullup. I know we’re going to need them … somehow.”

“Oh, thank you!” said Remy. “That’s very kind.” Susan opened her crib for her, and she got out and headed for the bath.

“I just have one question,” asked Susan. “We both fell asleep on the floor. How did we get put into separate cribs … and wake up with our clothes changed?”

“Umm …” said Remy, pausing. “Well, I’ve got a lot of experience with this kind of thing. Also, sometimes I get help. It’s hard to explain. But the world isn’t as simple as we’re sometimes led to believe.”

“Oh … kay,” said Susan, as Remy grinned and closed the bathroom door behind her. The playroom was straightened up, so she had nothing to do other than check her phone. She had a text message from a blocked number saying nothing but a pink heart emoji.

Remy came back out dressed in her daycare uniform as well. “All right,” she said, “it’s Saturday, so there’s nobody here until the evening – someone has the upstairs booked. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. We didn’t have any supper last night. Want to go somewhere for breakfast?”

“Sure,” said Susan. “I’m on duty later on, but that’s not for hours. Isn’t there a diner down the street?”

“Just what I was going to suggest,” Remy said.

Susan changed back into her street clothes, and when she was done she found that Remy had done the same. They walked two blocks to the nearby diner.

Over pancakes and sausages, they talked about what had happened. “So … it’s never happened before, but it’s like I reached out and found some kind of … inner child in you. It’s like when I connect with a baby, but much farther away, in a way. Does that make any sense?”

“It sure does!” said Remy. “I mean, I know I have an inner child. Everyone does. But I access mine a lot, working where I do. It makes the job a lot more fun, and kids seem to love it when I can enjoy playing just as much as they do. Of course, I have to be part adult too, so they can learn what they’re supposed to do and what they’re not. But that’s probably why you could do that. It was so much fun! I want to do it again.”

“I … kind of want to, too,” said Susan, blushing slightly. “It seemed to last longer than other times, and I wasn’t under pressure to solve a case.”

Remy nodded. “So you were able to use it to unwind, rather than to save someone’s life. But both of those are good things! I mean, obviously, finding missing people is very important. But dealing with stress is important too.”

“You’re right, of course,” said Susan. “Remy … I don’t know how to say this, but … the more I use the ability, the more I … well …” She leaned in and whispered. “I just wet my pullup. And it wasn’t the first time since my bath either. Also, I’m feeling other impulses. I feel like I want to suck my thumb. And it’s hard to keep from picking up one of the sausages with my hands and throwing it, or trying to build something with it, or just eating it with my fingers.”

Remy said quietly, “I don’t know how to tell you, but … you’ve already got syrup all over your face, and you’ve actually already eaten two sausages with your fingers.”

“What?” said Susan, grabbing for her napkin.

“I think you’re accessing parts of yourself you haven’t seen for years,” Remy said quietly as Susan cleaned her face, which was sticky. “Also … um … I’d probably keep wearing protection if I were you. It’s … well … complicated.”

“More of that complicated stuff,” said Susan.

Remy smiled and said softly, “More than you could possibly imagine.”

Susan managed to clean her face and hands, then she sat back and thought about last night. All the memories had a warm and fuzziness about them even though they were vague. She did clearly remember being in some sort of playpen with Remey, and actually enjoying playing with the many toys and plushies.

She also remembered one thing very clearly, and that was saying yes to some sort of very important question that Remy also said yes to. Susan knew, beyond any doubt, that she was retaining many infantile traits, and she was also sure they were going to manifest themselves more as time passed. How she knew, she wasn’t quite sure, because of how vague the memories were. It was like a dream that is soft and fuzzy in memory, but almost forgotten too.

That was when Remy giggled, leaned over close to Susan, and whispered, “I know, sucking my thumb helps me think sometimes.”

Susan suddenly realized that she had been sucking her thumb thoughtfully as she had tried to remember what they had been doing most of the night before. She quickly took her thumb from her mouth and blushed strawberry pink. Remy giggled as she patted Susan’s hand.

Remy said softly, “I think we should head back towards the daycare. I’m getting sort of soggy. For some reason I can’t seem to keep from wetting my pullup.”

Susan realized with a start that she too was having the same problem, as her pullup felt heavy and warm from her most recent accident, which she only just realized she’d had. The two women got up, paid for their meal, then headed towards the daycare, all the while eyes wide with wonder at the sights along the way. Neither one realized that they were enjoying the walk back as any child would have as they saw many butterflies, flowers, and other creatures that caught their eye along the way.

Chapter 5

By the time Susan had gotten back to the nursery and cleaned and changed into a dry pair of diaper panties, it was time to report back to the precinct. Just as she walked in, the captain immediately leaned out his office door and motioned for Susan to come in.

As she approached he said, “I have another case for you. This one is a bit strange. Multiple adult disappearances from the same location – all of them in some sort of relationship with the same woman.”

Susan nodded. “Poly relationship?”

“Seems so. Four of them living together. The woman who reported them missing said they have a unique lifestyle, something in the LGBTQIA …BDSM ... LMNOP alphabet thing, so this could be some sort of hate crime. I don’t know more details. Point is, all of them were expected to arrive home from their jobs last night – none of them did so.”

“Relationships that are a bit different? Nothing we haven’t dealt with before,” said Susan. As police, they saw quite a diverse spectrum of unusual but legal behavior – and sometimes not so legal.

“Yeah, as long as they aren’t doing anything illegal, all that matters is finding them. Since you just closed a case, you’re the lucky one who gets to find out. Take whoever else is free and get a start on it.” Captain Tremayne handed her a folder containing just a few pieces of paper – the initial contact form and a computer-printed map to the victims’ home.

After reading what little information was in the folder, Susan checked in on her favorite sergeant. “Sergeant Leigh, are you and Jacobs free?” she said, passing by their desks. “Got a case. Sounds like an … interesting one.”

“Yep, lemme finish my coffee.” He and Jacobs both gulped their coffee cups dry, locked their computer screens, and led the way to the garage, where they got into their squad car. Susan got in the back with her briefcase – for a second she thought of it as a diaper bag. It did have her changing supplies and extra diaper pants – as well as one of the thick diapers, just in case, although how she’d hide that under her professional slacks was a good question.

Susan gave Leigh the address, and they were under way. He didn’t have to look at the map, and neither did Susan, really – they’d all lived and worked in Somerville for years and knew the lay of the land. On the way, they talked about what little they knew of the case.

“So they all failed to come home last night?” asked Jacobs. “Do they carpool? Or take a bus? Or do they come home separately?”

“From the initial contact notes, it looks like they don’t all get off work at the same time, so they come home separately,” said Susan.

“Hmm,” said Leigh. “If we’re talking about one perp grabbing all of them, that’d make their job tougher. Well, if they drive, we can put out notices for their cars. If they take Yoobers, we can get their records to see if they got picked up. If they take the bus – we’ll see.”

“Can’t rule anything out,” said Jacobs. “Maybe the woman who called is the perp – calling us in to throw us off her trail. Or there might be more than one perp, who she might or might not be in cahoots with. Or it might be one of them’s the perp, then we’ve only got two vics.”

“There has to be a motive,” said Susan. “The question is why someone would kidnap all three partners – looks like two are male and one’s female – and why all at once. It says personal, to me. The woman who called us – Melissa Nelson, she said her name is – has just lost three people she cares about a lot. I didn’t take the call, but I’ll bet she’s upset and scared. If there’s somebody out there who really wants to hurt her, this would be a great way to do that. And if they want her hurt badly enough, they’ll get help.”

They talked about it more, but they couldn’t do very much with what little information they had so far. Finally they arrived at the unusual family’s home, a fairly nice two-story residence that looked as if it had several bedrooms. “Three incomes, if not four. They can afford a nice house,” said Susan as they got out of the car. “Probably a nicer one than this. Unless they just don’t want to move.”

They went up to the front door. Susan went first, because she was the ranking officer and because she was female and typically less threatening to the family of the missing victims. The woman who answered the doorbell looked like a mess. She wore blue and gray sweats, and her hair was tied back into an unbrushed ponytail. Her eyes looked as if she’d been crying. “Officers,” she said. “Thank you for coming.”

“We’re here to help. Are you Melissa Nelson?” asked Susan.

“Yes, please come in,” she said, motioning to the living room, which was rather large, with a lot of couch space. She put away a bag of snack chips that she’d obviously been eating out of. “I’m going to pay for it later, but I eat when I’m upset, and it only makes me feel worse.” She was quite petite, and Susan knew that you didn’t stay petite unless you worked at it. She suspected that Melissa normally dieted and probably exercised a lot. “Please, sit down,” she said once she’d put things away.

“We’re responding to your call about your three missing partners,” said Leigh, “Philips, Lin, and Franklin?”

“Yes, all so sweet and wonderful,” said Melissa, tears in her eyes. “Why would anyone want to hurt them?”

“Have you heard anything from anyone since … last night?” asked Susan.

“Nothing,” said Melissa.

“No calls,” said Jacobs. “If ransom were the motive, there’d have been a call.”

“There could still be one,” said Leigh. “Why don’t you hook up your computer to the phone in case there are any?” Jacob nodded and started setting up his call-tracing equipment.

“Forgive us, but we need to ask,” Susan said, “is there anyone you know of who would want to hurt them – or to get at you?”

“I – I can’t think of anybody,” said Melissa. “It’s pretty hard to concentrate right now.”

“I know it is,” said Susan. “Look … something that helps me sometimes is to just take a deep breath and go back, back to when everything was fine, taking refuge there, and to think about how everyday life was the same, day after day, one day at a time.” Susan was using a technique she often used, based on some classes she’d taken, to help witnesses focus. It briefly occurred to her to try what she’d tried on Remy, but that could cause … unpredictable results, so she reserved that for a more dire situation. “Every day the same, maybe with little differences, but sometimes there are special or unusual things that happen, things that jump out at you, things that have never happened before. Have there been any events like that?”

“Well, there was the big party we all went to, two weekends ago,” said Melissa. “We all got all dressed up, and so many others were there, almost everyone in the local community, all the little girls and their Babydolls.”

“Babydolls? Little girls?” asked Susan, slightly surprised, especially considering that she was wearing diaper pants and occasionally experiencing babyish behaviors. For a moment she hoped she hadn’t accidentally done anything untoward without realizing it, but she made herself focus on the case.

“I – I don’t mean real little girls or anything,” said Melissa. “All consenting adults. Just – some like to play as little kids, some like to play as Babydolls … it’s probably going to sound kind of strange, but nobody gets hurt.”

“Ms. Nelson, we’re not here to judge your lifestyle,” said Leigh. “If it’s not illegal, it literally doesn’t matter. We just want to help get your partners back.”

“Thank you,” said Melissa.

“This party,” said Susan, “it was at the home of someone you know?”

“Known for years,” Melissa said. “We’ve been going to their parties for a long time – and others’ parties too, and sometimes we have them here.”

“And did anything unusual happen at this party?” asked Susan. “I don’t mean what other people might find unusual – I mean anything that wouldn’t normally happen at one of these parties. Was anyone there you didn’t know? Was anyone new there?”

“Well, there was a new baby girl,” she said, “and there was also this man – the host said he knew him. He said he was a filmmaker. He gave everyone his card. He said he wanted to make a documentary.”

“Do you have one of his cards?” asked Susan. “And this new ‘baby girl’ … was there anything unusual about her? And again, by that I mean, anything you wouldn’t expect?”

“No, not really,” said Melissa, getting up to look for her purse. “She’s young, she’s not sure what she’s into, we were all like that once. We talked some. She’s really into diapers and being a baby, though – in our particular corner of the community we’re likely to encourage her to become a Babydoll, but if she’s too into the regressive side of it she might not be a good fit … oh here’s my purse, and if I kept the card it would be in here … yes, here it is.”

“Did this filmmaker show a lot of interest in this new girl?” asked Susan as Melissa gave her the card, which she photographed with her phone. It said “Desmond di Terrence – Cinematic Excellence.” It looked as pretentious as humanly possible.

“Well, yes, but he showed a lot of interest in a lot of people.” Melissa sat back down.

“Your partners?” asked Susan.

“Yes.” Melissa looked worried.

“Did he want to put them in a film?”

“He wanted to put everyone in a film,” said Melissa. “Not many were interested. We’re a pretty insular community – as you might imagine, we’re not looking for exposure. A lot of people wouldn’t understand. People like us get attacked online all the time and called ‘pedophiles,’ even though we’re not. We have nothing to do with actual children. If any of us have kids, we keep them separate from this lifestyle.”

“I understand,” said Leigh, “and I assure you, you’re not under investigation here. Now, do you have any photographs of your partners? It would be a big help if we could recognize them.” Melissa produced several photos of each of them, and soon Susan knew she would recognize Paul Philips, Sue Lin, and Devon Franklin if she saw them again.

“Ms. Nelson, I assure you that we’ll do everything we can to find them,” said Leigh as Susan studied the photos. “She’s doing that thing she does. Soon she won’t need the photos – it’ll be like she’s known them all her life. It’s amazing how she does that.”

“Hmm?” said Susan when she finished, looked up, and realized everyone was watching her. “Thank you, Ms. Nelson, for letting me borrow these.” She handed the photos back to her, unaware of what they’d been saying. “Now, if you could tell us anything else – where they work, what kind of cars they drive, what they were wearing when they left for work, or anything else you think might be important.”

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After getting these details typed into her organization system on her laptop computer, Susan looked up this Desmond di Terrence and his film company from the card Melissa had given her. From the available data, the filmmaker was a rather sleazy sort who had already been in trouble several times for alleged sexual assaults and harassment. They found photos of him, because he seemed to love turning the camera on himself.

There were rumors of other misdeeds that raised some alarms in the back of Susan’s mind; however, none of the accusations had ever been supported by enough evidence to prosecute him. Susan sat back in the seat and pinched her lower lip in thought. Although the address on the card was in Somerville, her internet search showed that they had studios and other properties outside of town, one of them in a rather remote area that would lend itself easily to hiding less than reputable goings-on.

The name of the film company was Route 69 Films, of course. Susan quickly learned that di Terrence’s real name was Terrence Roberts, but she couldn’t help laughing at some of the aliases di Terrence went by: he acted under the name Run Effinfaster and wrote as D. Tremens. Susan laughed as she thought of a few reasons he just might want to run faster. She pointed out the aliases to Leigh and Jacobs, and they laughed too – even the worried Ms. Nelson managed to smile.

“Haha, well, what I’d like to do is drive out to the remote studio to do some nosing around,” said Susan, “but we won’t be able to enter the property without a warrant or permission, unless there’s immediate probable cause. I don’t think we have enough evidence for a warrant yet, and they’re not going to let us on the property unless there’s nothing to find, so asking permission is probably a waste of our time, but … there are other possibilities. Let me see what I can dig up.”

Susan, Leigh, and Jacobs discussed what they knew as they took the long and scenic trip out to the location. “There’s always the possibility that we might get permission from an employee,” Susan said. “The problem is that the remote site isn’t always staffed, only when filming is going on, and immediately before and after – to set up and tear down. So our best bet would be to find out when he’s going to film and get there early, before di Terrence gets there, and ask employees whether we can search …” But they decided to go there in person first, to get the lay of the land.

Along the way, they stopped at a diner named The Toddle Inn for a quick bite of lunch. To their surprise, it was a theme restaurant – all the waitresses and other visible employees seemed to be dressed in some sort of overalls, rompers, or other juvenile clothes that looked remarkably like what a real toddler would wear.

Susan accidently locked eyes with their waitress for just an instant, and she found herself within this adorable young woman’s mind in a very infantile place that surprised her.

But in that moment she saw a large van in the woman's memory with the name Route 69 Films stenciled on it. Apparently it had stopped for a take-out order, which was unusual, as most people who came to this diner were here for the atmosphere and not necessarily the food. Susan got a really good look at the man who was driving the van and came in to pick up the food – it was di Terrence. She also got several conversation snippets about where he was headed, which was of course to the studio lot to work on the latest film. The man appeared to be rather excited about the new film, according to what Susan saw from the woman’s memory.

She came back to herself with the woman looking at her all wide-eyed. She said in a cute shy whispering voice, “How did you … do that? I never knew I could be taken to that place like that.”

Susan smiled warmly as she patted the waitress’ hand. “Don’t let it upset you,” she said. “I’m not sure what it is, but sometimes I just … connect with certain people somehow.”

The woman giggled adorably as she said in her cute voice, “What would the three of you like? I can get you some bibs if you want to. Part of the atmosphere of our place here.”

“Err, I don’t think that will be necessary,” said Leigh, and Jacobs wasn’t thrilled with the idea. But Susan smirked and said, “Sure, I’ll go for it. What’s the point of going to a place and not enjoying the atmosphere?”

Giggling again, the waitress took their orders and said, “I’ll be right back, then!” A few minutes later, Susan was surprised when the waitress quickly wrapped a bib loosely around her neck and fastened it behind with snaps, then brought them their soft drinks – Susan’s was in a sippy cup. “I can make that a baby bottle if you want,” she said with a wink.

Susan blushed and said, “Er, no, this is fine, thanks!” She looked down at her bib, which had a colorful picture of a yellow duck on it. She was trying to be a good sport about it, but she didn’t know how far she dared go in public like this, among coworkers.

“Okie dokie!” said the waitress. “Your orders will be right out!”

“I’m amazed they don’t have baby high chairs,” said Susan.

“Look over there,” said Leigh, pointing across the room. “They do. But I guess they’re by request only. Want one?” he asked with a chuckle. There were high chairs built to seat adults, lined up along a wall, but none were in use at the moment.

“Maybe another time I can come back for the full experience,” said Susan, trying to sound ironic, “but we’ve only got half an hour for lunch.” Susan also didn’t want to be fastened into such a contraption because she had to change her underwear. Excusing herself to use the facilities while they waited, she unsnapped her bib, headed for the restrooms, chose the one labeled “Baby Girls,” and went into a stall.

She was a bit disappointed that the restroom was just an ordinary one, aside from some babyish decor – there was a changing table, but it was one of those utilitarian pull-down ones, only big enough for actual babies. She changed into her spare diaper panty, washed up, and returned to the table.

“Oh dear, did someone get her bib off?” asked the waitress with a giggle as she brought their food. “I’ll just have to fix that.” Susan found herself quickly re-bibbed, with a plate of fries and chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs in front of her.

Sergeant Leigh and Officer Jacobs didn’t get off scot-free either; Leigh thought he’d ordered a cheeseburger, but it was cut into bite-size pieces, while Jacobs thought he’d ordered a fish filet, but he got fish sticks instead. “We’ve only got finger food here,” she said.

“Finger food …” said Susan thoughtfully, nibbling on a chicken nugget. That di Terrence guy had picked up four carryout orders and had taken them out to his van. That would be perfect for him and three others – especially if they weren’t in a state to use their hands. Still not the sort of evidence that could get them a warrant, but it did suggest they were on the right track. But … if it had just been di Terrence and the three victims in the van, how had one person kidnapped all three? If he’d had help, Susan wanted to arrest all the kidnappers, not just their ringleader.

After they finished, they returned to the car and proceeded down the highway to the dirt and gravel road indicated on the map. It wound around through a thick forest and crossed a beautiful stream before they came into sight of the location. It was peculiar seeing an old, decrepit looking barn like structure surrounded by a new, very high chain link fence with a barricade and guard building.

They drove up to the guard shack. Susan showed the guard at the gate her badge and said, “I’m Detective Susan Gray, Somerville PD. We’re here following up on people who attended a party last night. If we could, might we also look around some and ask a few questions?”

The guard shrugged as he filled out 3 guest passes and handed them to the detective. “Sure, go ahead, Officers. I’m sure Mr. Roberts won’t mind.”

Susan smiled as she took the passes from the guard and handed them to Leigh, who passed one to Jacobs. This was perfect. They had permission to look around and ask questions until someone gave a different opinion. But … she was reasoning that di Terrence, or Roberts, must be filming something today, if he had staff at the site, so why wouldn’t he have told the guard not to let them in? He could easily have prevented them from entering. Perhaps the victims weren’t here? Perhaps he thought they were well enough hidden that they wouldn’t find them? Perhaps he was going to claim that they were there consensually?

Once they had entered the compound, Susan said, “I want the two of you to split up and basically do the spyglass on this place, but keep it short and within reason. This place is huge.”

The two officers acknowledged, then began their searches in opposite directions, taking notes along the way. Susan followed the paved drive area in a third direction, around the back of the barn like structure. As soon as she cleared the building and her eyes fell on the truck backed up to the loading dock area, she experienced a strong sensation of déjà vu.

There was the very van she’d seen in the waitress’s memories, right down to the scratches and dents. Susan walked over to it and looked into the open back. There were three styrofoam takeout containers, along with paper napkins, bags, and several cups that actually looked like large baby bottles, printed with the Toddle Inn’s logo. This was too good to be true, which made her wonder what the catch was, since she wasn’t seeing anything resembling restraints in the van. Susan immediately photographed everything, then began gathering the evidence and putting it into a large field sample evidence bag. Susan heard some voices approaching and peered out the back of the van.

Three men walked toward the van. One was carrying a large trash bag, and the other two were carrying brooms. Susan didn’t recognize any of them. “He wants the back of the van totally cleaned out,” said one of them. “They’re supposed to be shooting a scene in there later.”

Susan had no time to do anything else, and besides, she had both a badge and a guest pass. She was allowed to be here. She stepped right out of the back of the van and said, “Afternoon, gentlemen – Detective Susan Gray, Somerville PD. I’m afraid your van is a potential crime scene.” There were three of them and only one of her, though, which is why she was holding down the button of the walkie on her belt with one hand. She hoped Leigh and Jacobs were in range. She doubted her phone had any reception way out here.

“Cops?” asked one of the men holding a broom. “What’s he done this time?”

“Shut up,” said the other man with a broom to the first man. To Susan he said, “We don’t know nothin’. We’re just supposed to clean out the back of this here van.”

“So I heard,” said Susan. “There are three missing people, presumed kidnapped, and we’ve traced them here. Did your … employer bring any new people in today?”

“Err, uh,” hesitated the man with the trash bag. “I think we better not say anything … we might get in trouble …”

“If you haven’t done anything wrong, you won’t get in trouble,” said Susan.

“Maybe, but if our boss has, and he gets himself arrested, we don’t get paid,” said the first man with a broom.

“Shut up!” said the other man with the broom. “Look, we don’t know nothin’. You wanna talk to our boss.”

“I’d be delighted,” said Susan. “Where is he?”

“He’s right here,” said Roberts, coming out of the building. Now that Susan had seen the building up close, it wasn’t decrepit at all – it was just built and painted to look that way, probably for whatever film they were shooting. Roberts was wearing dark slacks and a white shirt, and he was carrying an electronic tablet. “And you are?”

Susan identified herself yet again. “There are three people reported missing, evidence suggests against their will, and we’ve traced them here.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Roberts replied, looking nervously at the evidence bag Susan carried.

“If you’ve got them on this property, we will find them,” Susan said.

“I – uh, well, you’re welcome to search the dressing rooms and sets in here,” he said. “Nobody in there but actors and stage hands.”

“Fine,” said Susan. “I’ll just be taking this evidence back to the car, and I’ll be right back with you.”

In retrospect, she was thinking that she probably shouldn’t have turned her back on them, because apparently Roberts had gestured or whispered to his three stage hands, who moved in to try to grab Susan. She dropped the bag and let go of the button on her walkie to try to defend herself, but she wasn’t able to fight off four others alone. Struggling, she tried to resist, but they carried her inside. One of the men had a huge hand over her mouth and nose, so she couldn’t make much noise.

They carried her past one studio after another. One of them looked like some kind of nightmare version of Remy’s upstairs room, with cribs and toys, but the toys were interspersed with sex toys, and the cribs had restraints and black leather cuffs chained to their bars. Leather crops and floggers hung on the walls close at hand, and there were gags in addition to pacifiers lying on the crib mattresses. Another set was decorated like a barn stall, with straw on the floor, but again it was outfitted with kinky restraints and sex toys. If Susan still had any lingering doubts that this “documentary” filmmaker was a sleazebag, they’d have been gone as of this moment.

But where they took Susan was simply to an office in back. Just a simple small room with a desk and chair. “You. Watch her,” said Roberts, and the men shoved her into the room and closed the door, leaving one of the men in the room with her.

Susan had been shoved into the far corner. The man was between her and the door, and there was a chair in between them. He made no move to sit in the chair. So Susan grabbed the chair, thinking to throw it at him, but he grabbed it too, and he was clearly stronger than she was. So Susan just let it go and sat down on the floor in the corner.

Susan still hoped Leigh and Jacobs had heard all that on their walkies. They might be outside now. Roberts and his men hadn’t picked up her evidence bag, because they’d been busy picking her up. But they might be going right back outside to get rid of the evidence. Of course, if she could get out of there, these four at least would be going away for assaulting an officer. There’d be no problem getting a warrant to fully search the premises. But again, that would be if Susan could escape and get help.

Susan looked up at the man. He was the man who’d been holding the trash bag, so not the stupid one with the broom. He stood there, arms crossed, looking down at her, somewhat uncertainly. He probably knew how much trouble he was now in. Susan looked him in the eyes.

And she felt the connection start to happen. Really? This guy? I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover, Susan thought. A dark stain started to form in the crotch of his pants as he sat down on the floor and started to suck his thumb. Susan’s diaper panties felt suddenly warm too, but they were made for this. She tried to hold onto her adult mind and search his. It was somehow easy to keep him in a state of infantile bliss as she thought about what had happened that day. Yes, she saw Roberts in his memory, pulling up in his van and telling him and his compatriots to lead the three people in the back – Philips, Lin, and Franklin – into the building. They looked dazed, perhaps drugged. He’d taken them inside and down the stairs to the dressing rooms.

“You’re a good boy, aren’t you, Billy?” said Susan quietly to the man as she got up, trying to keep her rapport with him. The name Billy resonated through his inner child mind. It had to be his name, or at least, it must have been the name he’d been called as a small child. “Such a good baby boy. You just wanna sit on the floor and play, don’t you, Billy?” She stepped over him and opened the door a crack, peeking out. She didn’t see anyone immediately. She went outside and closed the door behind her. She really wanted to sit on the floor and play too, but she focused on the case and broke the connection with Billy.

She usually didn’t carry a gun, but she now wished she had one. But apparently she had another weapon, one that couldn’t be taken away from her. It hadn’t occurred to her to use her ability in that way until she’d just found it happening, but now that serendipity had struck, she thought she might be able to do it again – although she hoped she wouldn’t have to face more than one at a time. And using it in front of someone else might be difficult to explain.

Quietly Susan slipped around corners into one set, then another – filming must not have begun yet, and considering the situation, Roberts might have canceled it for today. She looked for the stairs down to the dressing rooms. She didn’t know where Roberts was, probably destroying the evidence, but the ultimate evidence would be finding Franklin, Lin, and Philips.

Suddenly her walkie made a noise. “Gray? You OK?” It was Leigh.

“Request assistance,” she said tersely. “Captured by Roberts and three others but escaped. Status green. Searching for victims in building. Roberts may be destroying evidence.”

“Roger that,” said Leigh. “Evidence secured. Location of Roberts unknown.”

“Roger.” At least the evidence was secure, probably locked in the squad car. They must have found it while Roberts was busy. But where were Roberts and the two others? Well, there were three victims for them to try to silence … Susan didn’t think Roberts would go so far as to murder them, especially considering there were now police officers who were witnesses, but he might use them as hostages to bargain for an escape.

Susan found the stairs and carefully climbed down. There was a hallway lined with doors. She opened one quickly – inside was Franklin, lying back in a chair in a dressing room, clearly pretty out of it. She checked his pulse – it was slow but regular. Roberts and his men must have used drugs of some kind to make them groggy, maybe feeding them a meal by hand on the way here. That might explain why they’d stopped at a restaurant with a toddler theme. She heard a sound and quietly closed herself in the room with Franklin, listening at the door.

Susan heard the familiar voice of Leigh whispering, “Detective? Is that you in there? It’s me Sergeant Leigh.”

She opened the door just a crack and saw him as she replied in a whisper, “Am I glad to see you. Come in, hurry, before someone sees us.”

Leigh entered the room and held out a large .44 magnum. “I think you should carry this. Not sure what the others might have, but they all know they really messed up by assaulting you.”

Susan took the weapon and opened the cylinder to check. It was loaded. She closed the cylinder and replied, “I left one of them – I think his name is Bill – sprawled on the floor in a puddle.”

Leigh laughed softly, “I know, Jacobs has that infant in cuffs in the squad car. We called in backup too; we need it. What the heck did you do to him, anyway?”

“Later.” Susan didn’t know how to explain it to Leigh. Instead, she stayed on task. “As you can see, we’ve found Franklin here, so that pretty much implicates Roberts and at least some of his employees. I’m not sure what they gave him, but he’s barely conscious and should be checked out by a doctor. Wouldn’t happen to know where Roberts is currently, would you?”

Leigh replied, “Not exactly, but I do know he’s armed himself and is dangerous. Got a quick glance of him. He took a shot at me before he ran into a rathole.”

“He’s got the advantage of knowing the building,” said Susan. “Also, we’ve got two other victims to find. It’ll be good to have that backup.”

“Unfortunately, we’re way out in the boonies – it’ll take ten more minutes minimum for any of them to get here.”

“OK, let’s check out some of the other dressing rooms,” Susan said. “Roberts probably isn’t down here, but the other two victims might be.”

“I saw another door on the left and two on the right,” said Leigh. “I’ll get the first one on the right; you get the second one on the left.”

“Copy that.” The two of them quietly left the room and moved on. Susan moved to the second door on the left, quietly turned the doorknob, and threw the door open. Nothing happened, so she quickly looked around the frame and back – another victim in a chair. She recognized this one as Lin. Entering the room, she pointed her gun at the ceiling and checked Lin’s pulse. Again, slow but steady.

But then Lin spoke, in a very slurred voice. “You … cop?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. Lin,” said Susan. She identified herself. “Think you can walk?”

“Not … sure …” said Lin slowly. “Feels like … my body … weighs a ton …”

“Yeah, Roberts definitely slipped you something,” said Susan. “Sit tight. We’ve got backup on the way.”

“Roberts … has backing … somebody … bankrolling him,” Lin said. “Hard to remember …”

“Good to know,” said Susan, “but just hang on. You can tell us more when the drugs wear off. I found Franklin. We’re still looking for Philips.”

“Philips is across the hall,” said Leigh from the doorway. “Same condition.”

“What about the fourth dressing room?”

“Some girl’s in there,” said Leigh. “In similar condition. I don’t recognize her.”

Susan went to look, and she didn’t recognize this blonde girl either. If she was of legal age, it was barely. She memorized this girl’s features. “OK, we’ve found all three victims. Now the question is where Roberts is. First, is Jacobs with the car?”

“Yeah,” said Leigh. “Watching the evidence and the suspect, and waiting for backup.”

“If I were Roberts,” said Susan, “I’d want to do one of two things right now …”

Leigh practically read her mind. “Yeah, either run like heck, or destroy the evidence and then run like heck.”

“Neither of those things involves saving the other two henchmen,” said Susan. “Did you and Jacobs find any other buildings on the premises that could have housed a vehicle?”

“No, this one’s the only one big enough for that,” said Leigh. “So his options are to come out of his rathole to get away in his van, or to steal our squad car, and if Jacobs is in the car, that’s the harder target.”

“We should stake out the van, then,” said Susan. “He’ll be coming for it.” Leigh nodded.

The two of them took on what they hoped were covert vantage points, Susan inside the door to the main building, Leigh behind a large tool container in a corner. With the door open slightly, Susan could see the van. If Roberts came to use it to get away, she’d see him and nab him before he knew what was happening. The hope was that Leigh would see too. What’s more, Roberts would have to act soon if he was going to act at all, because soon their backup would arrive.

It happened about five minutes later. All at once, Roberts and his two remaining henchmen came around a corner and into the garage, making a run for the van. Leigh hadn’t mentioned seeing them when Roberts had hidden from him; they must have met back up somewhere in the building. Simultaneously, before they got to the van, both Leigh and Susan stepped out of their spots, weapons at the ready. “Stop right there!” shouted Susan. Roberts and the two men froze and looked back and forth between Susan and Leigh.

“Make a move and I’ll fire,” said Leigh, looking Roberts right in the eye. Roberts had his hand halfway to his pocket, but he wasn’t moving. He didn’t seem to fancy his chances with two armed police officers right there, guns trained on him. “Cover them, Detective.”

Susan kept her gun at the ready and moved to a vantage point where she had an easy line of fire on all three suspects. Leigh moved in and cuffed Roberts, disarming him and patting him down for other weapons. He told them that they were under arrest and formulaically informed them about their Constitutional rights. Susan stared at all of them, not wanting to have to fire at them or to use her newfound gift to disable them, and fortunately none of them seemed to want to chance being shot with the rather powerful weapon Leigh had brought her.

After that, it was just a matter of waiting for backup. They informed Jacobs of the situation over their radios. Only a few minutes later they heard distant sirens that grew louder, and their walkies both activated at once. “Gray and Leigh, this is Kreminsky. We’re here with Jacobs. Status? Over.”

Susan knew that Kreminsky was a patrol officer in one of Somerville’s eastern precincts. “Three suspects still in custody in the garage of the main building,” said Susan into her radio. “Bring more handcuffs.” In short order there were four more officers in the garage, taking Roberts and the other two away. And after that, Shen and his people arrived to start gathering more detailed evidence from the van and the building, and Susan led a team of medics downstairs to look after the victims.

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Susan was back in the office later that day, filing the electronic forms for this case. It was difficult for her to explain what she had done to Billy that had left the urine puddle Shen and the investigation team had found on the floor of Roberts’ small office, but she didn’t really have to go into detail; she just had to explain the sequence of events. She wrote that she had spoken to Billy and used “psychological manipulation” based on her observations of his interactions with Roberts, and that had seemingly caused him to have some sort of emotional breakdown that had allowed her to get past him and escape the room. Nothing about her report was actually untrue, either – it was just a bit vague in its language in that one spot. Besides, Billy had been the one interfering with a police investigation, on Roberts’ orders; Susan had discharged her duty as befitted an officer of the law.

“So it seems Roberts really was a documentary filmmaker – at one point,” said Tremayne, stopping by her desk. “But documentary films don’t pay the bills, and he was hard up for cash. He got in touch with some big porno company and started making fetish films for them. Seems he was trying to branch into new subjects that he didn’t know much about. He was worming his way into some local communities of … let’s call ‘em non-normative practices, giving the excuse that he wanted to make documentaries about ‘em.”

“And they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea of being filmed, I gather,” said Susan.

“Not at all. And he was apparently deeply in debt to some unsavory characters,” said the captain. “He was starting to get desperate. He had his guys follow some people, they grabbed and drugged ‘em, and I guess they were somehow gonna make ‘em act out some stuff on camera.”

“How were they going to do that, with them practically sedated?” asked Susan.

Tremayne shrugged. “I’m not saying it was a perfect plan,” he said. “Seems it was kinda hastily thrown together. Maybe he was gonna give ‘em more drugs, some stimulants or something. Shen’s people found a veritable rainbow of controlled substances on the premises. The charges are piling up. Things do not look good for Roberts. And Vice is going to be looking into this porno outfit, and also whoever he owed money to, which looks like where he got his drugs from as well. So this missing persons case has turned into a lot more.”

“I’m just glad we found them before something worse happened to them,” said Susan.

“Yeah, me too,” said the captain. “And that girl, she hadn’t even been reported missing yet.”

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to her,” said Susan. “Says in the interview that she’s one of Ms. Nelson’s friends.”

“Yeah, Roberts must have met her at one of their parties,” said Tremayne. “Anyway, I just stopped by to say … good work. I’m gonna go say the same to Leigh and Jacobs. You OK? Roberts and his goons abducted you, after all.”

“I’m … fine,” said Susan. “I didn’t know Roberts was armed. I was … afraid, sure. I mean, I was physically overpowered. It was four on one. But there wasn’t any sexual component to the assault. I was … a bit worried that there might be, considering what I was suspecting went on at the site. But nothing like that happened. It’ll be in my report.” She gestured at her computer screen.

Tremayne nodded as he left Susan’s office. She sat back in her chair and took a deep breath. She thought about Roberts overpowering her, and putting her in one of his sexually explicit movies, just as that very young girl they had discovered in one of the dressing rooms had been about to be.

Susan typed on her computer’s keypad and requested the current status on William. From the medical reports that had been filed recently, Billy, as he had come to be called, had regressed to about 19 months old in his mind. The psychologists and psychiatrists were completely at a loss to explain what had happened, nor did they have any reasonable course of treatment that might bring him back. As things stood currently, he was mentally incompetent and could not stand trial.

Susan had had no idea she had the ability to do that to somebody permanently. William was a huge hunk of muscles and brawn; there was no way she could have known that deep in his heart he was still just an infant, lost and afraid. Was everyone? Did she have the ability to do … that to anyone?

A chill ran down Susan’s spine. She’d single-handedly destroyed William’s adult mind. Of course, he’d been a criminal who had been part of her abduction, but what gave her the right to be, effectively, judge, jury, and executioner? What if she did it to someone without intending to? Could she undo it? She’d done it to Remy, but it had worn off – had that been a fluke? Or had it been different? She promised herself not to do it without good reason. She had to talk to Remy, but she already had an appointment at her daycare center soon.

Susan noticed that the financial investigations had already begun on the porno company that had been funding Roberts’ production studio. She was mind blown to discover that several state senators were huge monetary lenders to that company – through shell corporations they owned, of course. Most of the money was going toward the production of sexually explicit fetish films. There were also notations about several “special” sexually explicit fetish movies, and the investigators had traced their deliveries to the private dwellings of the contributors.

Susan felt a twinge of anger as she thought about young girls being kidnapped and drugged, then forced into making those types of films. These state senators were part of this, and in her opinion they should never hold public office again.

When this story hit the media, it would be explosive, but if she leaked it, she might lose her job. The investigation would soon lead to charges being filed, and those were a matter of public record, so she probably wouldn’t need to do anything; reporters would find that story and follow it.

But she could make sure it got to the right channels right now – she immediately got on the phone and contacted the state senate’s Ethics Committee and filed a formal accusation, accompanied by the supporting documentation. That was likely to get her in a bit of trouble, but it wasn’t illegal; it was her right as a citizen.

Susan assured them that it was only a matter of time before the story became public, so it would look very bad for the committee members if they tried to bury this, but it would look very good for them if they were already investigating before the story broke. She made sure they knew that there were multiple copies of the documentation, so any effort to lose the request or evidence would fail.

Over the next few days, there were legal challenges to the way they had pursued the case and attempts to get the evidence thrown out. That usually happened – during a trial. The difference was that no trial had begun yet. Someone was very afraid of this evidence coming out in court. It turned out that all of these challenges originated with one judge, and it turned out that the evidence trail implicated this same judge.

Susan wasn’t directly involved in this, as she was in Missing Persons, but this judge was arrested and handcuffed. The legal system allowed him to remain a judge for now, but he was not allowed to rule on anything even remotely related to this case, and it was quite likely that he would be impeached from his seat.

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Chapter 6

“He’s in a what?” asked Remy.

“Fugue state, they say,” Susan replied. “This William guy’s mind is like the mind of a child now. He’s … not there anymore. Remy, that scares me.”

“But you told me he was put in that room to guard you, to keep you from leaving,” Remy said. “You did what you had to. You were trying to save people’s lives.”

“Well … he’s a criminal,” said Susan. “If he recovers, he’ll have to stand trial for what he did. But … Remy, what if the same thing had happened to you?”

“I … hadn’t thought of that,” said Remy.

“I mean, I did something similar to you, right? Maybe not in the heat of the moment – I didn’t feel any anger or fear. But it was similar. What if you hadn’t come out of it? What if you were stuck like that guy?”

“But … well, obviously I wasn’t,” said Remy. She leaned forward over the table at the restaurant where they were having breakfast. “I can still talk, use computers, and do math. I mean, my potty training’s a bit suspect, but … to be honest, it was before.” She giggled a bit. “I don’t think what you did to me was anything like what you did to this William guy.”

“I’m just … scared that I might hurt you if it happens again,” said Susan. “I’d wanted to try it again, but now …”

“Well, then, let’s not do it until you feel safe doing it,” said Remy. “No way do I want you worrying like that. But … hey, have you visited him?”

“No …” Susan replied.

“Maybe you could,” suggested Remy. “You could see if you could maybe bring him out of it. Then you’d know if it was really permanent or if you could undo it.”

“I guess … after all, I feel really bad, even though he’s a criminal. If there is a way to undo what I did, I’d feel bad for not trying.”

“The fact that you feel bad means you’re not a criminal,” said Remy. “But … I’m not a lawyer or anything, but I don’t think there are any laws about this kind of thing. All you can do is try to do the right thing.”

“All right,” said Susan. “I’ll do it.”

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“I don’t really know if he’ll recognize you, Detective,” said Nurse Hennepin as she led Susan through the hospital hallways. “He’s not really verbal, so it’s hard to tell, but he didn’t react when we asked him about his parents or his sister by name. None of them seems to want to come visit him – I guess his relationship with them isn’t that great.”

“Well, all I want to do is make myself available,” said Susan, “to see if there’s anything I can do to help his mental state. After all, I seem to be the last one he saw before his … breakdown. Maybe seeing me again will help him come out of it?”

“Well, stranger things have happened in the literature,” said the nurse, “and William’s a strange case already. OK, here’s a visitation room. I don’t expect he’ll be violent, and I know you’re a police officer and can handle yourself, but we don’t want to take chances.”

“Whatever you think, Nurse,” said Susan. Nurse Hennepin opened the door to a room with chairs and a glass wall, with small metal vents in it for sound to pass through. There was another room on the other side, equipped with the medical equivalent of wrestling mats on the floor and walls.

“They’ll bring him in soon,” said the nurse. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ll be staying here to observe. Anything that happens could be the key to helping him.”

“Not a problem; helping him is the goal – even if he did assist a criminal.”

Two strong-looking orderlies brought William into the room behind the glass. The man looked disinterested in what was happening to him and seemed barely able to walk; the orderlies each had him by one arm and seemed to be supporting him. They lowered him to the mat facing the glass, then retreated to the corners of the room. One of them closed the door. Behind Susan, Nurse Hennepin readied her clipboard and pen.

“William – Billy – this is Susan,” she said. “Do you … remember me?” She hadn’t really come here to talk to him, but she did sort of want to give the others an explanation of sorts for what might be about to happen – if anything did. She reached out to his mind. He looked up at her. Immediately, Susan heard the nurse’s pen writing on the clipboard.

And then Susan was an infant like him. It was very hard for her to retain control of her body. She felt her diaper getting warm, but that’s why she’d worn it. She also felt herself getting off the chair and kneeling, arm against the glass, and Billy pressed his hand to the glass too. After a moment Susan remembered she wasn’t a baby, and she tried to find an adult mind in there with Billy.

She suddenly saw a lot of images that weren’t very nice. Things that Billy’s mother and father had done to him. Things Susan would find herself wishing she hadn’t seen later. But then … she saw Billy’s sister, and she understood why. As they grew up, he had deliberately taken all this abuse so his sister wouldn’t have to. He loved her. And he’d never told her about it. It was incredibly noble. But it had also broken him, led him into a life of crime. He truly hadn’t known better, because of the way he’d been taught life was like. An entire book could have been written about this man’s life. Behind her, Susan heard the nurse writing furiously on her clipboard.

“I understand,” said Susan in a whisper. With her thoughts, she tried to tell Billy that it wasn’t his fault, that he didn’t have to hide away in the idyllic world he’d wanted for his sister but couldn’t have himself, that he should tell her about it all.

William burst into tears and sat back from the glass. He put his hands to his eyes and said, “Not my fault … not my fault …” Nurse Hennepin gasped and wrote more on her clipboard.

Susan took a tissue from her purse and dried the drool from her lips before standing up again. She turned to the nurse. “I’m … not sure what happened here, but I think he just had some kind of epiphany … and maybe I did too.”

The nurse finished writing. “That’s the first time he’s spoken intelligible words since he’s been here, Detective,” she said. “I think it’s a breakthrough. We might be able to make progress now.”

“I realize that if he improves enough to be mentally competent, he’s going to have to stand trial,” said Susan, “but if he does, please contact me. I might be able to put in a good word for him. I’ve read his arrest records, and there are a lot of them. He’s a very troubled man. But I think he might be turning the corner.”

“We’ll do what we can to help him,” said the nurse. “We always do.”

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The news of the investigation broke in a big way. It turned out to be one of the largest human sex traffiking operations in state history. Young children to adults 35 years old were involved. One lead led to another major breakthrough then another in the case, and what happened to those unlucky individuals that had been captured were traced to a flesh farm in South America.

Several hundred missing and exploited children were found in the insuing raids by Interpol and were in process of being identified and returned to their families as fast as possible based on necessary medical or mental treatments required.

Susan, Leigh, and Jacobs had been given all the credit for breaking this case wide open. They not only got a promotion for their outstanding work but also several awards and commendations. They had actually closed many missing persons cases and brought them home safely, broken the back of a very large human trafficking ring, and had jailed the state senators directly responsible for its funding.

Susan was a bit less worried about her new ability after visiting William. Apparently there was still a way to reverse what she did to a person even if it got out of control. But what effect was it having on her? She knew she was losing her ability to hold herself, as her wet diaper panties proved, but she also had this … longing within her to be in that state from time to time, as she knew well Remy did. Deep inside, Susan knew she had an inner toddler that often wanted very badly to come out and play.

She sat on her comfy sofa with her cuddly Teddy Bear. All she had on was a diaper and panties. She sucked her thumb as she thought about how to practice with her new ability.

Everything became warm and fuzzy ... and the next thing Susan knew, it was morning, and she needed a change badly. She looked at her phone and realized that she only had an hour before she was scheduled to be at Remy’s daycare center, so she got cleaned up and jumped into the shower. She got dressed in one of the new diapers she’d ordered based on Remy’s recommendation, put on her daycare uniform, made sure she had extra diapers in her purse, and headed out. She made it to the daycare center in plenty of time.

“Hiiiii!” said Remy joyfully upon seeing Susan walk in the door, running up to hug her friend. Remy was in her uniform too – pink overalls with the daycare logo on the front pocket over a white short-sleeved top. Susan’s overalls were orange, but otherwise it was the same. “Ready for more kid watching?”

“You bet,” said Susan. “I suppose you probably heard about the … you know.”

“The huge crime ring you busted? Holy smokes! It’s all over the news and the Internet! You didn’t tell me much about the case you were working on, but … I just knew that was you. And your fellow officers, I suppose. Can’t forget them. And … I kind of helped! That makes me feel good, knowing that something I did helped you put away the bad guys.”

“Yeah, I’m just glad we were able to save the people we did,” said Susan. “I wasn’t involved in stopping the whole crime ring, though – just made the arrests that led to it all coming to light. Most of the hard work was other people. Lots of other people.”

“I guess so, but I don’t know them,” said Remy. “I only know you! By the way, what about that guy you told me about … the one in the hospital?”

“I did go to see him,” Susan said. “I think … he’s going to be better now. I’ll tell you more about what happened later. I feel a little better about … you know. He had a lot of emotional problems, and I think that’s why … it happened. You know what I mean. I don’t think that would happen to most people.”

“Ohhhh,” said Remy. “Well, I’m glad he’s going to be ok … even if he is a criminal.”

“I saw … well … I know why he turned out the way he did. His childhood wasn’t happy at all.”

Matt and Helen arrived and started getting things set up for the day, so Susan and Remy’s conversation had to wait until later. Parents started dropping off their kids for the day, so they were all suddenly busy getting them all situated and keeping them busy. Before Susan knew it, it was mid-morning.

Susan was playing an educational show on a TV for some of the preschool kids, singing a song with them about the letter R, when she heard a faint crying coming from another room. Apparently one of the kids in the nursery wasn’t happy. She finished the song, then Matt brought in the juice boxes that were the mid-morning snack. But Susan still heard the crying and wondered who it was. Suddenly her mind reached out …

It was like she was in the minds of every child in the vicinity. It was easy to find which one was upset – well, it was easy to find the child’s mind. Where exactly the child was physically was another matter. But she knew this child. It was Polly. Her diaper needed changing, and badly. Susan’s heart went out to the poor girl, and Matt seemed to have things under control here, so she said, “I’m going to go check on Polly …” She still felt as if she were in some kind of dreamlike state.

“Um … OK …” said Matt, looking at her oddly. Susan was embarrassed when she realized she had her thumb in her mouth, so she pulled it out, blushing.

“Err … sorry …” Susan left the room quickly, heading for the nursery.

Susan found Polly, picked her up, and realized that this baby did not smell good. Luckily she’d had lots of practice by now. She took poor little Polly to the changing room and got her all cleaned up and into a new diaper, and now the little girl was happy and smelled much better. “Who’s a happy girl now?” she said merrily to the baby as she carried her back to the nursery. “Is it Polly? Is it Polly? I think it is!” Polly giggled at her.

“Oh – did Polly need a change?” asked Remy, passing by.

“Yes, she did,” said Susan. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear her crying.”

“Crying? I didn’t hear any crying,” said Remy, confused. “And we have monitors.” Remy held up one of the baby monitor receivers that one of the adults always carried around.

“But … she was crying … and she needed a change really badly …” said Susan, confused.

“I think you’re just … really in tune with the kids,” said Remy. “In a way that few people could match. If you wanted to go into childcare, you could demand a really good salary, and get it … but only if you could find the right customers.”

“I … could have sworn that I heard her with my ears,” said Susan.

“OK, look. Let’s try something. You know Michael, in the preschool room. What’s he doing?”

“He’s … it’s a little harder, probably because he’s older, but he’s finishing his juice box. He wishes there was more juice. But now he’s realizing that it isn’t long until lunch.”

“All right, now … is anybody thinking they want to go outside?”

Susan reached out and experienced what she’d felt before, touching the minds of every child in the area, but focusing on the ones who were thinking a certain thing was more difficult. “I … yes … Shawna and Mark want to … Keisha wants to but knows it’s cold so she doesn’t want to go out that badly.”

“Wow,” said Remy. “You’re like some kind of baby sensor array.”

“That’s … different,” said Susan. “I’m not sure I’ve felt that before. Why can I do this now?”

“Maybe you keep pushing yourself, and you’re getting stronger?” suggested Remy. “Like exercising a muscle?”

“Except I think certain muscles are getting weaker,” she said. “I think Matt saw me sucking my thumb, too.”

“Well this ability of yours is obviously linked somehow to your inner child,” said Remy quietly. “Better control over it and being in better touch with your inner baby clearly go hand in hand.”

At the end of the day, after everyone had gone home except Remy and Susan, Remy suggested they go upstairs again. “I don’t know if you feel comfortable, you know, putting the whammy on me, but at the very least, do you want to let your inner baby out to play?”

“I … I really do, very strongly,” said Susan. “But … is there a chance I’ll get stuck, like William?” She’d had a chance to explain William’s situation to Remy.

“I don’t think so,” said Remy, “not unless you had a terrible childhood like he did. And also … you can probably tell yourself that you’re going to put a limit on it. Like, if you fall asleep, you’ll wake up and be normal. Or if there’s some kind of emergency, you’ll be able to go back into adult mode and deal with it. These are things that I know can happen.”

They climbed the stairs. “I … just want to be safe,” said Susan. “And I want you to be safe.”

“I think it’ll be fine,” said Remy. “In fact … I know it’ll be fine. You can make sure. And … well … it’ll just be fine.”

“You’re awfully sure,” said Susan. “Well … let’s both make sure we’re ready. I need a change. So I’ll be right back.”

“OK, and I’ll find us some cute clothes,” said Remy.

When Susan emerged from the changing room, Remy had laid out some adult-sized baby clothes, just scaled-up versions of things real babies might wear.

Susan picked up the adorable Lolita babydoll dress and held it up. It was soft powder blue with a periwinkle Peter Pan collar and puffy sleeves surrounded by more lace. Susan smiled as she picked up the matching plastic-lined powderpuff panties and held them up. Ruffles and lace made them look like an adorable blue puffball.

Susan stepped into the panties and pulled them up. The sensation was almost overwhelming as she felt a wonderful wave of pure infantile contentedness wash through her. She looked at herself in the nearby mirror. Except for the fact she had small breasts, she looked like any pretty little toddler girl.

Remy came in and without fanfare picked up the dress and started threading Susan’s head and arms in their proper openings. Susan was almost totally gone by the time Remy had finished and buttoned it up in back. Susan’s mind was in a totally amazed blitz as Remy dressed herself rapidly.

Susan found her mind reaching out to Remy and making contact. Without warning, Susan and Remay found themselves in the most wonderful plushy fight ever. Neither woman could be thought of as adult as they continued to play and giggle.



Neither girl questioned the vague and fuzzy memory of some woman being there and giving them snacks and changing them when necessary and basically being a really good and fun Nana. Time passed quickly, as it has a bad habit of doing. Then Susan opened her eyes. She was in just a cute pair of plastic-lined pink rumba panties with white ruffles across her seat, and a very thick, although wet, diaper.

Susan sat up. She immediately realized she had been nursing on a large bottle filled with wonderful-tasting strawberry juice. Susan looked around and saw Remy in the next crib over, dressed the same as she and nursing a large bottle of purple liquid.

Susan found her purse and phone. She couldn’t for the life of her actually remember what had happened for almost 17 hours. The only things she could recall were very warm, fuzzy, and hazy memories of being tickled, changed, and patted on her behind, along with Remy, who Susan remembered playing with among all the many toys that were still scattered about the nursery room.

Susan let herself out of the crib and went to Remy’s crib, reaching in and shaking her shoulder softly. Remy’s eyes opened slowly before they popped wide and she sat up with a startled squeak.

She looked down at her diaper and panties as she commented, “OMG! It happened again. Do you remember anything other than a really warm and contented time?”

“I remember … there was somebody else here … a woman … but I can’t remember what she looked like.” Susan thought, but she couldn’t get any more details, which was quite remarkable for her. She was usually excellent at remembering people’s appearances. “Very good with children, though. I … remember playing, giggling, being fed, being given bottles, my diaper being changed several times, and oddly I have a distinct memory of not knowing what words were, and being reassured that that was just fine for the moment, despite not understanding words. That makes no sense now that I think about it.”

“Maybe it was more of a feeling than an explanation,” said Remy. “I thought it was … beautiful. Absolutely dreamy. Sometimes … I wish I could be like that all the time …”

Susan was slightly shocked. “You mean … you’d want to completely give up being an adult? Be a babbling infant for the rest of forever?” Susan couldn’t help feeling somewhat attracted to the idea, but mostly horrified at the thought of becoming completely helpless and dependent for the rest of one’s life.

“Well, I only said sometimes,” said Remy. “I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense, saying I sometimes want to be like that forever. But most of the time I don’t want that to happen.”

“I … guess that makes sense,” said Susan. “Like I dream about retiring to someplace nice, but I’m not ready to do that yet.”

“Sort of like that, I guess,” said Remy. “Hey, is your diaper in any danger of leaking? I’d better get changed, and soon, which means I might as well take a shower, but can you hold on long enough?”

“I’m not sure,” said Susan. “But I think I’ll be fine for a few minutes. Go ahead.” As Remy entered the washroom, Susan had more time to think about her recent experience. She also remembered trying to see into this mystery woman’s mind, but it was like some kind of vast temple, a huge, silent space of contemplation, and she’d been unable to see any memories or push her toward an infantile state. That was assuming Susan’s memory wasn’t playing tricks on her. Had this woman actually existed? Or had she been some sort of dream?

One thing was for sure – Susan had had a lovely time, and she couldn’t wait to do it again, although she had to be on duty later that day. Remy walked .. or better description was toddled, back into the nursery with Susan. Remy had on a cute little romper with lots of lace and ruffles. It was also obvious she had on one of the thick all night toddler Snuggies.

Remy said in a cute voice, “We no got cussermers taday, sos us widdow girls can pway more,” then she started to suck her thumb.

Susan felt it as the urge rushed all through her body in a tingling surge. She said, “I … have to work in 6 or 7 hours .. I’m … not …”

Remy toddled up to Susan and put her hands on both sides of her head. She looked right into the depths of Susan’s eyes. Susan and Remy’s minds met on a magical level, as Susan found herself dressed much as Remy was, and they were having a tea party with all their plushy friends. Susan knew much time had passed by now as she stood. She could feel the damp heaviness of the diaper she was wearing.

Remy giggled, “See? We comeded out wif tonsa time .. before you have to go to work.”

Susan noticed how Remy’s speech had changed as she spoke. “Well, little girl. It would seem we can safely do this as often as we want.” She looked down at the adorable lacy romper she was in. “I would like to know how I’m getting dressed, though. I don’t remember doing it.”

Remy replied, “Don’t fret over it, girlfriend. Stuff like that has always happened around here when I’ve done my baby thing in the past, so I figured it would happen for you too.”

For a detective like Susan, a mystery like that could drive a girl to distraction. But she had a job to get to, and it’s not as if it were against the law for Remy to have some kind of mysterious benefactor who came in and changed her diapers. For all Susan knew, it had been Remy herself, slipping easily into and out of her baby state of mind, or some other strange ability like that. After all, if Susan could have this strange ability, who was to say that other people might not have other strange abilities, like perhaps Remy herself? Besides, Remy didn’t seem at all upset or troubled by this mystery.

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Chapter 7

Susan walked into the precinct office and sat down at her desk. The diaper felt huge under her skirt, but it wasn’t one of the super thick nighttime ones; it was just thicker than the pullup diaper panties she’d been wearing in case she needed to use her ability. The difference now was that it wasn’t just when she used her ability that she had accidents; it seemed to happen all the time uncontrollably, so she’d finally just given up and accepted that she was incontinent now. She’d examined her work skirt from all angles and had to accept that it just wasn’t visible at all, even though it felt extremely obvious. Perhaps she’d get used to it.

She started work by doing some paperwork related to her recent cases and checking up on new developments. Grant Jasperson was out on bail, though he’d stand trial in a month or so. Nick Wells had been unable to post bail and was still in custody; how much money you had made a big difference in how the justice system treated you, unfortunately. There was still quite a lot of media attention on the senators implicated in what had started out as the Roberts case, but fortunately not a lot of it was on her – she’d cracked the case open, along with Leigh and Jacobs, but other departments had followed the leads they’d given them and unraveled the bigger picture. That case would be developing for months to come, maybe even years, but Susan’s part in it was done.

Having a promotion had been nice – more perks, higher pay grade, but even though she was now Detective 1, she was still a detective, and besides, she still wanted to make the world a safer place by finding people who’d gone missing.

She looked into the file of recent reports. Miscellaneous stuff – sadly, every year about 750,000 people were reported missing in the USA every year on average, but fortunately, the average number of unresolved missing persons reports nationwide was much smaller, around 2700 per year. Many were found, and many more were mistakenly reported missing – some of those had not wanted to be found. And the statistics of Somerville more or less tracked those of the rest of the nation, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Child reported missing, found two blocks away, having wandered off. Missing husband, turned out he’d been out drinking. Missing college student; she was still missing, but it had only been 9 hours. Missing girlfriend, but that one had been under investigation for weeks by another team, without any leads. Another child reported missing, but this time it had been an absent-minded parent who’d forgotten he’d gone over to play at a friend’s house, then he’d come home. Several cold cases from months or years ago.

Susan looked at the missing college student. What was known? She’d been drinking with her friends at a bar, then the bar had closed, and all the friends had gone to various other locations. This one, Shelley Goodwin, had left in the general direction of her apartment, according to witnesses, but according to her roommates she’d never arrived.

The vicinity of the Somerville State University campus was full of traffic cameras – perhaps she could pull the camera footage from the night before. Before too long, she was looking at it on her computer screen. There it was – closing time at the bar, all the students exiting onto the sidewalk in various states of inebriation and dispersing in different directions. Which one was Shelley? She checked the report. It was hard to tell from that camera angle, so she switched to another one, near where the witnesses had said they’d last seen her. There she was, leaving two other students and going off on her own. And out of camera range. Another camera – there she was again, walking alone, late at night. Another person, coming the other way down the sidewalk, passed her, and – both vanished.

What? She ran the video back and played it slowly. This person in a dark hoodie sweatshirt, face concealed, walked down the sidewalk in the opposite direction as Shelley, and just as they passed her, both Shelley and the unknown individual were just gone. She went frame by frame. One frame, they were there, and the next, they weren’t. Susan checked the time codes. There was no time jump between one frame and the next. It was as if these two people had just … ceased to exist.

Before Susan had begun having her strange experiences and exploring her unusual ability, this would have been the point where she’d have gone to other detectives, perhaps video experts, for advice. But now, she began wondering whether some unexplained phenomenon could be at work here.

After all, she was the cause of some unexplained phenomena herself. Hadn’t she just been wondering whether other people might not have unusual abilities? What if this person could take people and vanish with them – what was it called in science fiction? Teleportation? Or what if there was a third party, unseen in the video, who had taken them both? Either was basically a Missing Persons Division’s worst nightmare. Vanishing without a trace? She ran the video back again. It looked as if the person in the hoodie had swerved suddenly toward Shelley, as if trying to bump into her, before – gone.

Well, she shouldn’t get ahead of herself, thought Susan. There was still the possibility of video hacking or tampering. She downloaded the video and sent it via the department’s secure system to Shen in the crime lab. He had people who could tell if the camera or video had been tampered with. If it had, that meant one thing, like a computer hacker, someone messing with the camera’s electronics, or an inside job at the Traffic Division. If it hadn’t been altered … that meant something else. Something much stranger.

While she waited, something in the back of Susan’s mind kept insisting she look at some of the other unsolved missing persons cases that might have happened around the same time, or perhaps within a year or so.

To her surprise, there were a few cases where the person allegedly walked into a wall or behind a building and vanished from the face of the Earth. Susan methodically looked through the files and other traffic camera videos to see if some of the other unsolved cases also had similar sudden vanishings.

To her amazement, several of them happened in the same area of town. While she diligently looked over the available security footage, the newly promoted Detective Leigh walked into the video library and remarked, “Ok, there lady, no watching pornos on duty.”

Susan snorted a laugh before she replied, “Take a look at this security camera footage.”

Leigh pulled up a chair and sat in it backwards as Susan ran the footage on a long-cold case. Leigh commented, “I don’t think you’ll find anything new …” He stopped mid-sentence as he saw a figure dressed in some sort of fleece hoodie walk past a girl … then both of them seemed to vanish from the screen, “Wait, back up.”

As she reversed the video a dozen frames, then proceeded forward frame by frame, Susan said, “I’ve been finding a lot of these.” One frame showed the girl and the person in the hoodie … and the next didn’t. “We deal with disappearances, but actual vanishing?”

“What?” asked Leigh. “How could …?” He trailed off as Susan showed him the first video she’d found, then several others.

“We’ve got several more cases where someone’s reported to have just vanished, but they weren’t in range of a camera,” said Susan. She held up a legal pad she had been writing on. “And many of them happened within the same block in town – though I’ve learned that it’s the single block in town with the most traffic and security cameras, so it might or might not mean that the perp is somewhere nearby. But apparently they’ve got some sort of ability to tamper – not with the video, though. I’ve sent several of the videos to be examined by the lab, and they say there’s no evidence the footage was tampered with.”

Leigh replied, “After watching how you go about interrogating little babies, I suppose someone with some other kind of weird thingy is possible.”

“I … what?” asked Susan.

“Come on,” said Leigh. “You can do some kind of mind-meld with babies and get information that no one else can. I’ve noticed. But I haven’t told anyone. You’re very careful not to let it prejudice the evidence chain. It’s like … some kind of super power, and you’re using it to do good, so I’m not complaining. But this ...”

“I … look, you’re right,” said Susan. “I don’t know how it works. I just look into a baby or toddler’s eyes, and suddenly I know what they know. It’s very confusing. But right now we’ve got something going on that goes back at least eight years. Somebody’s taking people without a trace, and they’re never seen again. It might not be something … weird. It’s still possible that whoever it is has been messing with the cameras themselves,” said Susan. “Maybe cutting power to them, or some kind of short-range EMP …”

“Well, does the lab have any idea how this could happen?” asked Leigh. “Some scientific explanation, I mean?”

“No,” sighed Susan. “They’re completely … baffled.”

Unfortunately, they only had footage from six cases from the last three years. Security and traffic camera data older than a few months tended to be wiped, to make space for more data. But Susan had gotten lucky, and a few systems held onto data for longer than most. And there were eyewitness reports for dozens more cases, if they counted similar incidents all over town. But in each video, and in each eyewitness’s story, there was a person in a dark hoodie. The person’s face was never clearly shown, but all evidence was consistent with it being the same individual in each instance. And at the exact time the hooded individual passed or bumped into the missing person, both mysteriously vanished from sight.

“How did we miss this?” asked Leigh, after seeing all the evidence.

“No trace evidence, doesn’t match any of the typical MOs, and whoever it is has made sure not to go after anybody whose family has lots of money to keep pursuing the investigation,” said Susan. “But … this time, with this last girl, Shelley Goodwin, they might have picked the wrong girl. Her parents aren’t rich, but they’ve launched a social media campaign to find their daughter. They’ve got a funding campaign. They’re going to be on the national news on all the networks. It’s gone viral.”

“The captain’s going to be getting pressure about this one soon,” said Leigh, “assuming he isn’t already. We should go to him, give him a heads up.” Susan nodded, and they went to Captain Tremayne’s office.

“Captain?” asked Susan, knocking on the frame of Tremayne’s open door. “Got a sec?”

“Gray, Leigh, come in,” said the captain. “What’s going on?”

“Got a missing college student, Shelley Goodwin,” said Susan. “I think she might be linked to a string of cold cases going back at least eight years. And that’s not all.” She told him what she’d found, showed him the videos, and explained about the sudden attention the media were paying to the case.

“People literally vanishing without a trace?” asked Tremayne. “Men, women, children – no doubt about it, Gray, you’ve found yourself a weird one. I suppose I’m gonna be hearing about this soon –” His phone rang. “Hm. Three guesses, first two don’t count.” He picked it up.

While the captain was on the phone, Leigh leaned over toward Susan. “But how do we even proceed?” he asked quietly. “No evidence other than these videos …”

“Well, let’s think about it logically,” whispered Susan. “Entertain extreme possibilities. If we are talking about somebody with … a weird ability, it has to have limitations. Mine does. Like – we’ve seen that they seem to have to bump into the victim. So it requires physical contact. I’m betting it’s got a range, too – can’t go farther than a certain distance in one shot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do multiple jumps. Probably can’t go anywhere they’ve never seen before, either. I’m just assuming they have to know where they’re going, because how could you go anywhere without a good idea where it was?”

“Although … would a map help with that?” asked Leigh. “What if they haven’t seen the destination, but they have a map of it? Like a building floor plan?”

“I don’t know; it might not work that way – or it might. And if it does … they’ve got a lot of maps and floor plans. Or, of course, they break into a lot of buildings. Or enter them legally.”

“Knows when the nearby buildings are occupied and when they aren’t,” said Leigh.

“Not gonna just pop up anywhere there might be people around,” said Susan.

“He’d take his victims somewhere he knows is unoccupied,” said Leigh. “Nowhere outdoors. Somewhere he’d checked out in advance. But somewhere without motion sensors or security cameras – unless he could disable them.”

“What’s around the area where Goodwin vanished?” asked Susan quietly.

The captain hung up the phone. “Yeah, that was City Hall,” he said. “And yeah, it’s the Goodwin case. Good catch there, Gray and Leigh. You two are now officially assigned to this case. If you were looking for something to do, you’ve got it. Nationwide attention is about to focus on this department, courtesy of this social media thing that I personally don’t understand, and we’ve got to be seen to be doing something about it. I’d prefer if that something was solving the case and finding the girl.”

“We were just talking about how to proceed, Captain,” said Susan.

“Good,” said Tremayne. “Get out there, do whatever you have to do, find Shelley Goodwin.”

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“So how does this work?” asked Leigh.

“I’m not even sure,” said Susan. Leigh had driven them to the block where Goodwin had vanished, now 12 hours ago. “We’ve got the department putting together a list of everyone who lives and works in every building around here. If they can really … teleport, they took her to a business office, or apartment, or basement, someplace unoccupied, and from there, we don’t know. But we know one thing.”

“They didn’t stay there,” Leigh said.

“No,” said Susan. “I’m betting the perp had a vehicle parked right outside wherever it was, and as soon as they’d overpowered Goodwin, they took her to the vehicle and drove away. My ability … kind of wipes me out if I use it a lot. I’m betting this person’s does that even more, because I just deal with thoughts and mental images, but this person’s moving hundreds of pounds of physical weight in the blink of an eye. I don’t think they’re jumping multiple times in a row. I doubt they’re even jumping twice.”

“So … you’re going to try to see if anyone saw anything?” asked Leigh. “Any babies, anyway?”

“Well, it was at 2:13 a.m.,” said Susan. “But people who think babies sleep all night don’t know babies. The question is whether anybody who lives nearby and has a baby had the curtains or shades open. But we have to try. And meanwhile, the folks back in the office can see if anybody’s motion detector tripped at exactly 2:13 a.m.”

“So I should …”

“You should just sit there quietly, while I look like I’m taking a catnap,” said Susan. “This is an unmarked car, and we’re not in uniform. Nobody’s going to think we’re cops and I’m sleeping on the job.” She leaned her seat back and closed her eyes. “Here goes.”

Just as she could sense what the babies in the daycare were thinking and feeling, she could detect what the nearby babies of the neighborhood were experiencing now. Some were napping, some were being fed, some were playing with their toys, some were having their diapers changed, and so on, but Susan could feel they were out there. Next, she tried to think with them back to the night before, remembering what had gone on in the darkness. Had they seen or heard anything? Making it more difficult was the fact that none of the babies, of course, had any idea when 2:13 a.m. was. But maybe they’d glanced at a clock, and Susan could tell what time it was from what they remembered seeing.

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In a dimly lit although very large concrete room, several young girls, many young women, and young boys and men in various stages of undress were held in large metal wire cages. Several of the young women were pregnant and had on even less clothing.

A man in a dark hoodie sat at a desk across the large room from the stacked cages and went over his offshore bank accounts. Ever since he had discovered his unique ability, business had been good. Didn’t matter to him in the least how old, or what gender, as long as the clients kept paying top dollar, he could care less. Besides, some of it was fun … especially creating the infants. He had his choice of females to breed at his discretion.

Everything had been going wonderfully well worldwide until he snatched the last college girl. He had done his homework well, but he hadn’t anticipated the social media aspect. He looked over to the cage that held a very pretty young woman in just her panties and a bra as he thought how to maximize his gains on her.

Now that her face was all over the internet, selling her would be very hard. A smile crept across his face as he thought how much fun it would be to make infants with her to sell on the black market. That would bring top dollar, especially to the baby farms.

But then he frowned. He’d been able to keep going for years because he’d been careful. The cops had never even suspected that the disappearances were connected because he’d left so little evidence. Now they were on the case and getting pressure from the public. They’d be looking for him now, and that had never happened before. He decided that he was going to stop. He’d find buyers for the stock he had, and that would be it. He’d find some other racket to get into. He had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life, so there was no rush. Once he’d recouped his investment on the ones he had already, he’d quietly disappear, and no one would ever find out what had happened to the people he’d harvested.

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Susan finally found something. The memory was fresh, so it was no more than a day old. The baby boy had been crying all night – teething pain. Susan felt it and definitely knew why the boy had been crying. But his mother had come to try to soothe him. She’d picked him up and taken him out onto the balcony of the apartment they lived in, walking back and forth and rocking him in her arms. Perhaps her husband had work in the morning and she didn’t want him to lose sleep, but that was just Susan guessing. But it was dark and quiet, until – there – three stories below, across the street, a man carried a bundle up the stairs from a basement door. He put the bundle in the back of a minivan. He got in. He drove away. Susan tried to focus on the baby’s memories of the van. It was red. It was … she recognized the make and model. The license plate! She had the first three letters.

She combed through memories of anyone she could reach for more about that minivan. She got the rest of the license plate. Registered out of state. She tried to get more about the building it had been in. She saw it from several angles …

Susan opened her eyes. “Got something?” asked Leigh.

“Vehicle,” she said briefly, entering the make, model and plate in her computer and starting the search.

Leigh was surprised. “What? How? And where are you going?” Susan was getting out of the car, and Leigh released his seat belt to come with her.

“Have to find the building,” said Susan. She stood up and looked around. “They weren’t there long, but maybe they left evidence.”

Susan led them a block south, looked up at a building of apartments with balconies. “From there it would have been … that way.” She turned east and stopped in front of an older building. “Here. They came up these steps.”

Leigh noted the address. “I’ll see if they’ve got security and if they got an alarm last night.”

Susan carefully examined the curb in front of the building, then the trail from the stairs to the curb, then the stairs themselves. “Prints, look like a men’s size 10 wide. Then there’s the door …” She put on a latex glove to gently test the knob. “Locked now. We should be able to get in if we ask the super.”

It wasn’t long before Leigh had heard back. “OK, they’ve got a security firm that says yes, the door was opened at 2:16 a.m. last night, but as it’s locked from the inside, they didn’t worry about it. Trespassers leaving the premises aren’t as much of a concern as the ones entering.”

“Great, we’re on the right track,” Susan said. “The super says he’ll be here in a minute.” A middle-aged man with a toolbelt soon drove up and left his pickup truck. After a quick conversation and a show of badges, he led them into the building and into the basement.

“Signs of a struggle,” said Leigh. Some metal shelving had been knocked over, scattering containers of cleaning supplies all over the floor. Susan took photos of the scene from various angles, then moved to the door, but didn’t touch it.

Turning to the building superintendent, Susan asked, “How long has it been since anyone was supposed to be down here?”

“I’m the only one who’s supposed to be down here,” he said, “and I haven’t been here since … last Tuesday, I think. Yeah, Tuesday – that’s the day when 4C had their plumbing problem.”

“Sir, we’re calling in the crime lab to gather evidence here,” Susan said. “We have reason to believe they used this room as the staging area for a kidnapping. If you could, please stay away from that door. It might have fingerprints.”

“Damn,” the super said. “Well I don’t know anything about any kidnapping. What’d you say, 2:16 a.m.? I was at home. Ask my wife.”

“We will if we think we have to,” said Susan, “but right now you’re not a suspect. But your prints are probably all over this room, because it’s a place where you work, so if we could just … ah, here they are.” Shen and his team had arrived. “If they could just get your prints so they can focus their attention on any prints that aren’t yours, that might help us find the missing girl … now, do you have an assistant or anyone who’s authorized to be down here?”

The lab did find prints on the door that didn’t match either the super or anyone in the city, state, or national databases. They also established the probable sequence of events, though they didn’t understand it. “There’s no sign of entry,” Shen said in confusion. “It’s as if two people just … appeared out of thin air, right here, there was a struggle, knocking over these shelves and shoving this table here, then one of them overpowered the other, and after applying some sort of restraints, they left carrying the victim out the door there, up the stairs, and to the curb. The trail ends there, so there was probably a vehicle.

“And no cameras watching this building,” said Susan. “Probably why the perp chose it. Good thing for that silent alarm on the door.”

“But … how did they get in?” asked Shen.

“We’re going to leave that question in your capable hands,” Leigh said, “but let’s see if we can find where they went. Susan, what was that other lead you had?”

“Yeah, on my laptop,” she said, and she and Leigh went back to their car, where the license plate search had revealed a red minivan with exactly that plate, registered to a rental company, but the rental company showed it was currently still out, rented using a credit card and license in the name of Gerald Bonaventure.

“No records of any arrests, or even parking tickets, under that name,” said Leigh. “Not in this town, not in this state, not in any neighboring states, nothing in the FBI files either.”

“Well, let’s send the name to the station and get somebody to look up everything they can find about that name,” said Susan. “Maybe he owns land, rents a house, has a passport, something.”

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His phone buzzed. “Just a sec, I’m getting another –” He looked. It was the doorbell camera app – someone was ringing his front doorbell at home. He looked at the live image. Some man and some woman he didn’t know. He didn’t answer – he wasn’t at home. “Never mind, don’t know that number,” he said. “Now you know I’ve been a good supplier for you all these years, and you’ve never let me down, so if you could just take a look at these – okay. I’ll get you some photos.”

The call was over, but the strangers at his front door didn’t go away, and soon he noticed that they were walking purposefully around his lawn. Were they cops? He was sure they were cops.

That was it. The cops were getting close. He had to move his inventory. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere nobody would suspect. He had to move them now. He could pick a new place once he’d moved them the first time and had a chance to rest. He opened his database of maps and floor plans of nearby buildings.

“Babies of All Ages Daycare Center,” he said, reading the name of one building and opening its floor plan files. “Looks like they’re closed tomorrow. I’ll have to see if they have security cameras.” The floor plan for the daycare’s two stories and basement came up on his screen. Three blocks away, and he’d have to make many trips to take all the stock and their cages. He’d be exhausted afterwards. But the cops would never find him. He’d check the place out late that night.

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“Whew,” said Remy, closing the daycare center after a long day. Helen and Matt had just left. “A good day, but a long one. I’m glad it’s the weekend.” She thought of her friend Susan and decided to give her a call.

“Hi Remy,” said Susan. “I’m on a case – big one, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, wow,” Remy said. “I was gonna ask if you wanted to come over tonight, hang out, you know. But I know how your job is – the bad guys never rest, do they?”

“Wish they did,” said Susan’s voice on the phone. “I’d love to, but I just don’t know if I’ll have time tonight. We just got a lead – guy’s got some kind of property that’s … you know, maybe I will come over and hang out with you tonight. I don’t know, I’ve just got a feeling.”

“That sounds … mysterious,” said Remy. “Well, I’m going home to rustle up some supper, then if I haven’t heard from you I’ll call back. Sound good?”

“OK,” said Susan. “Whoa, Shen’s on call waiting. It just keeps going. Talk to you later!”

“Good luck!” said Remy, hanging up. Maybe Susan would come over. It would be nice to experience that ability of hers again. They might even get another visit from … her special friend, the one who could pop into the daycare without using the door. But even if that didn’t happen, it was always such a stress reliever when Susan turned both of them into helpless babies.

Remy got into her car and drove home to her apartment. Susan looked at her phone after she hung up as she thought over what evidence she already had. Susan knew the individual more than likely already knew they had found one of his jumping off places and would be on the move again. She also knew it would require a tremendous amount of energy to accomplish a move due to the number of bodies he would probably be moving.

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In a dark, unlit portion of the Babies of All Ages Daycare Center, two cages with young women in them appeared, a man holding the corners of each of them. The man, still in his dark fleece hoodie, began arranging the cages along one of the back walls.

Suddenly he was gone. A few minutes passed, and he reappeared amid several more cages. In one cage, the newest pet in his menagerie began to whimper. He had made sure that all she had on was a pair of bikini panties for the pictures he had taken for his clients.

She said loudly, in a voice with much fear in it, “Why are you doing this to me? How did you do it?”

The man turned and barked viciously, “Shut up, slave. You have no rights, or even permission to talk. If you continue being disobedient, I will punish you again, only this time I will use the cord whip. It will really hurt.”

The poor girl backed into a far corner of the cage and started to cry softly as the man scowled at her. He thought to himself that this girl was more trouble than she was worth, almost. The only option besides baby farming her was the fire pit. She was far too pretty and valuable for that, but if things didn’t improve rapidly … he turned his thoughts from that and proceeded to bring the rest of his stock over, before he had to lie down and rest. This was an extremely hard thing to do all at once, but he was going to get it done.

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After Remy had gone home and piddled around for a little while, she decided to gather some things together before going to meet Susan back at the daycare center. She packed an over large diaper bag with several adorable adult-sized baby outfits, several for her and several for Susan. Remy was positive she could get Susan to agree to an evening of infant play … it was too relaxing and fun not to.

She arrived at the daycare and unlocked the door. When she walked in, she saw a rather large man in a black hoodie standing in the middle of the playroom next to where the door to the downstairs storage was.

He turned and looked at Remy for an instant, then suddenly lunged at her as if to tag her with one hand. The next thing Remy knew, she was somewhere else, among many cages. Her mind was in a complete daze, and the man quickly subdued her removing all her clothes but her pullups. He smirked and stuffed her into one of the empty cages.

The man said to Remy, “So, you’re one of those adult infants are you? As pretty as you are, I know I can find a buyer for you.” He seemed out of breath.

He held up some sort of can and sprayed something into Remy’s face between the bars, and suddenly darkness took her. When Remy awoke, she was in a thick diaper, cute little purple rumba panties, and crocheted booties. She was in a wire cage together with many other young men, women, and children.

She looked around. Finally she recognized her surroundings – she was in the basement of her own daycare center. There wasn’t usually much down here, just storage and utilities. But this man – how had he gotten in? How had he gotten all these cages in? What had he done to her? What hold did he have over all these people? Come to think of it, where was he?

Suddenly she heard a sound and saw movement, and she turned her head. He had appeared again, with two more cages containing more people. He bent over for a moment, hands on his knees, as if catching his breath. Then he vanished again, into thin air. How was he doing that?

Remy tested the strength of the cage. It was pretty strong, though pretty light. The other people in it with her looked at her sadly.

The man appeared again, with two more cages. He coughed and wheezed, steadying himself on the nearest cage for a moment, before vanishing yet again.

Remy watched all of this and hoped Susan could avoid the same fate that had happened to her – she was feeling quite scared, as well as violated. This was her property! As well as the property of … someone else, who wouldn’t be happy at all that this was happening, but Remy hoped not to involve the head of the company. But Susan … she would be coming soon, and what would happen then?

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Susan was a bit delayed. Shen and the forensics team was investigating a property in another part of town that the records said Gerald Bonaventure owned, via a company called Bona Ventures, Inc. that he owned all stock in. They’d told her that they’d found some disturbing evidence, such as some metal pieces that were parts of broken shackles, tied bits of braided leather that might have been part of whips, and blood traces, not to mention rusty and outdated medical furniture. Fingerprints all over the place perfectly matched the ones they’d found on the doorknob. But nobody was there, though evidence indicated that someone had been there recently.

Where had he gone? If he’d been keeping Goodwin there, he might have decided to move her if he realized the police were on his trail – and boy, could he move. The trouble was that he could move instantly without leaving a trace, although he couldn’t go far. And the investigators had told Susan that there were signs that several people had been there – possibly in cages, as they’d found parts of several broken enclosures. So he might have had to move multiple people, along with the cages they were in. This guy was responsible for a lot of disappearances, and it looked as if he had some kind of slavery thing going.

But now Susan was going to Remy’s daycare to take a break. She got into her car and opened the garage door – then realized that something in the back of her mind was bothering her. Where was this building again? She looked it up on her phone’s map software.

It was just blocks away from Remy’s daycare. Of course, there were also dozens of other buildings within the same distance. But she didn’t like the odds. She made sure to bring a few things with her that had nothing to do with harmless infant roleplaying.

About fifteen minutes later, she parked her car outside the darkened daycare building. Remy’s car was outside, but no lights were on. Susan was immediately suspicious. Looking around the side of the building, she noticed light through the basement windows. No. This was bad. She got back in her car and used her phone.

Then she sat back and let her mind drift for a second. In her mind she felt a lot of people nearby … including Remy. It was interesting that she recognized Remy’s mind. But she suspected that if she made contact with her, it would put Remy into a babylike mental state, and that might not be the best thing for her right now.

She would have to enter the building. Remy would hardly have left the front door unlocked, and breaking it in would make noise and alert Bonaventure, if he was inside. But if she made it quick … then again, she’d worked in that building once a week for months now. She could try all the entrances, quietly, before deciding how to go about this.

So she got out of her car again and did just that. Just as she’d figured, the doors were all locked from inside. But the back door was far from the basement entrance. It was possible that she wouldn’t be heard if she entered there.

She could tell the jury it was probable cause, she thought to herself as she cut the glass in Susan’s back door. She’d learned how the crooks did this, so she did it just as they would, with a glass cutter and a suction cup, so the piece she was removing wouldn’t fall inside and shatter. She reached though the hole and unlocked the door, letting herself in. She should’ve taken Remy up on her offer to make her a set of keys.

Gun at the ready, Susan made her way slowly and quietly to the basement door. Police procedure said to announce one’s presence – but it also said to wait for backup. Unless, that was, lives were at stake, and Susan was sure that Bonaventure was here, and had done something with Remy. Besides, she’d called for backup already.

Holding the gun at an angle where she could fire down the stairs if she needed to, she slowly opened the basement door. Light streamed up the stairs. She went down, around the first corner, and then the second – and then she saw them.

Several people in cages. There was Goodwin – in a cage of her own, almost naked. Some others had their own cages, and then there was a larger one with multiple people in it – including Remy. Where was Bonaventure?

She heard a voice right behind her. “Ah ah ah, I don’t think you should play with toys like that, little girl,” he was going to say, except that Susan hit him with a martial-arts elbow to the ribs after the second “ah.” The wind went out of the man’s lungs, and Susan kicked him in the shin, unable to get any higher with him behind her on the stairs. She grabbed his arm and rolled with him down the stairs to the basement floor – and found herself suddenly in a cage, Bonaventure outside, kneeling on the floor, gasping for breath.

“Almost – had me – there – lil girl,” he said. “But you’re –” He stopped, because Susan still had her gun, and it was pointed at him.

“Somerville police department,” said Susan. “You’re going to open this cage and let me out, or I’m going to fire, and I don’t think you can disappear before the bullet hits you.”

He coughed but didn’t get up. “No, you see – if you really are a cop ... you won’t do that ... Cold blood? … I know murderers ... you aren’t one.” He was still panting for air.

Remy was right next to her; he’d put Susan in the same cage. She whispered in Susan’s ear, “I don’t think he can vanish again – he’s totally exhausted –”

“Fine, I’ll let myself out,” said Susan, and aimed her gun instead at the cage door’s latch. It was risk, as it was very close, and her ears rang after she fired. But the latch broke, and the door swung free.

Suddenly he was right next to the door, with a plastic zip tie, tying the door to the cage’s post, shutting it again before Susan could escape. But he was reeling, barely able to stand. “Not – so easy –”

“Give it up!” said Susan. “You’re barely even conscious!”

“I’ll be fine – with a little rest …” he said, sinking to the floor and looking cruelly up at Susan. “Can always – set off – one o’these …” He had his hand in the pocket of his hoodie. Something like a can. Gas bomb?

Susan thought quickly. He could set off some gas, knock them all out, and teleport out of the house. Then he could rest and come back, and they’d probably all still be unconscious. But even if she stopped him, how would she arrest him? He could always escape again. But she couldn’t just shoot him dead. He was right; she wasn’t a murderer.

But she knew a way to neutralize him that wouldn’t kill him, a way that was reversible if she needed it to be.

She looked into his eyes and reached out. He seemed surprised, as if he recognized what she was doing. Perhaps he’d seen it before, or something like it. She very deliberately found the inner baby within his mind, locked tight inside his playpen, and let that baby out, locking the adult Bonaventure quite securely in. There was no hint of knowledge of any teleportation ability in the baby part of his psyche, just knowledge of how to play with very simple toys. Susan came back to herself, her diaper soaked, but with Bonaventure slumped on the floor, napping soundly. His body was still exhausted.

Susan used her utility knife to cut the zip tie and let herself, Remy, and the others out of the cage. She searched Bonaventure and found the keys to the other cages, reassuring Goodwin that she’d be seeing her parents and friends soon.

“What’d you do to that guy?” she asked.

“Do? He just collapsed,” said Susan. “Whatever he can do, it takes a lot out of him. I think he just … reached his limit.”

“What the hell was that? How did he do that?” asked Goodwin.

“Beats the heck out of me,” Susan replied. “I guess … maybe some people just have weird abilities. We’re gonna have to find a way to keep him unconscious, it looks like.” Susan wasn’t even lying. But she didn’t really know how to explain what had happened here this evening, let alone what Bonaventure had been doing for years.

“Sorry, Remy,” said Susan when she had a chance. “I didn’t want you to get mixed up in this. I wish he hadn’t picked your basement for a new temporary hideout.”

“Well, it looks like he picked the wrong place,” said Remy. “I … wanna get outta these clothes. Look, everyone, I wish I could offer you something else, but this is the basement of a daycare center, and it’s my business, I own it, and there’s a very limited choice of clothing.” She gave everyone Babies of All Ages T-shirts and overalls.

And that was when Leigh and Jacobs arrived, together with Captain Tremayne as well as Shen and the evidence team. Susan opened the door for them and explained what had happened as best she could.

“So this guy, Gerald Bonaventure, is …?” asked Leigh.

“Unconscious. In the basement. Where he’d been keeping all these people he kidnapped, including Remy here, owner of this business.”

“And Michelle Goodwin?” asked Captain Tremayne.

“Right here, Captain,” said Susan. “Might want to get a doctor to look her over, but I think she’s uninjured.”

“I’m fine,” said Goodwin. “He didn’t … touch me … though I think he wanted to. He did a lot to everyone else. He was … I think he was very worried the police were on to him after so long?”

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to get a statement from you, Ms. Goodwin,” said Leigh, and Shelley nodded. “And from anyone else who would like to see this Bonaventure guy behind bars for a long time.” Leigh leaned over and whispered to Susan, “Got any ideas on how exactly we keep him behind bars?”

Susan whispered back, “He’s unconscious now, for starters. And then – well, I’m not sure he’s going to be exactly the same after this.”

Tremayne said, “Detective Gray – good job. This is supposed to be your night off. We can take it from here. This is your friend here, right?” He gestured toward Remy. “Guess this is her daycare, where you’ve been going once a week? Get more comfortable working with kids?”

“That’s right, Captain, and thank you,” Susan said. “Remy, they’re going to be cleaning up your basement for a while. What do you want to do?”

“I … I just want to go home, I think,” said Remy. “But … you can come with me. I don’t know if you’ve … no, you’ve never been over to my place, have you? Let me show you. You can follow me in your car.” They left the building. Shen and the forensics team were taking photos as they started processing the evidence in the basement. Leigh and Jacobs were interviewing the kidnap victims. Remy and Susan got into their cars.

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While Remy and Susan got dressed in some very adorable clothes and thick diapers at Remy’s home, a man was in a locked crib-like cage. He was currently playing with his toes like any infant with the psychologists and psychiatrists looking on.

One of the psychiatrists said, “Dr. Bennit, I have seen a similar case with another man not long ago. He still hasn’t yet gained full falculties and acts like a spoiled infant, but he does appear to be growing up mentally at an accelerated rate.”

Dr. Bennit looked at the other psychiatrist with a strange expression. “You say you’ve actually seen something like this before?”

A woman psychologist spoke up. “Yes, I think it was one of those persons involved in some type of kidnapping – something involving X-rated movies, or something like that.”

Dr. Bennit took the chart hanging from the end of the crib cage and opened its metal top. He started writing something as he asked, “Do you remember the dates and names of the individuals?”

The woman replied, “Not right off, but I do know where the archived clips and records are for that particular case. That man is still in the lockdown part of the psychiatric ward on the top floor under heavy police guard.”

Dr. Bennit said, “Let’s convene this conference in the archive room, then. I want to take a look at whatever footage and records are available on that other case.”

No sooner had the group of doctors left and the door to the isolation room closed than the man in the crib sat up. An intern watching him on camera from another room glanced up at the screen when she saw him move, but all he seemed to be doing was staring into empty space, so she looked back down at the book she was reading as she worked on her research. But in the mind of the man who had once called himself Gerald Bonaventure, a flash of blue/white light appeared. A very beautiful woman with long silky brown hair, dressed in a white gold trimmed gossamer gown that left nothing to the imagination appeared and looked into the crib with a mysterious expression on her face.

“The grownup inside you has been a very bad boy,” she said – she spoke in musical sing-song syllables that would have sounded like baby babble if anyone else could have heard her, but the man’s baby mind could understand her perfectly. “He tried to hurt two of my friends – one who knows me and one who doesn’t yet. You don’t think that’s good, do you? No, of course you don’t. I’m just going to have to make sure he can never hurt them ever again. But don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt you. I’d never hurt a lovely little baby like you. So I’m just going to make sure that the mean old grownup who’s kept you locked up for so long never gets to come out and play ever again.”

The man in the crib looked up and grinned a perfect infant grin. A gleeful string of babbles ensued as he clapped his hands and bounced on his diapered bottom.

“I knew you’d approve. So I’ll let you answer for him. Does he accept Baby Rules? Keep in mind that your answer will bind him.” The baby in Bonaventure’s body giggled and babbled happily at the beautiful woman. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the adult who had once been in control howled and cursed, but nobody heard him, just as nobody would ever hear him again.

The woman reached through the crib bars and patted the man on his head as she babbled, “Very good, Sweetie. Now, Auntie has just played a trick on human medical science. But don’t worry; you’ll love it. And you love me, don’t you, Honey? As long as you do, I’ll come back to visit you.” And the baby did love her, with all of his heart.

She smiled and remained standing there as the group of attending doctors returned. Of course, only the baby could see her.

The woman psychologist pointed at the man in the crib and said with wonder in her voice, “Tell me I’m not going crazy. Is that man … getting smaller?”

Dr. Bennit’s eyes grew large in surprise has he realized the man was now nearly a foot shorter than when they had left the room. His clothes were loose on him, and he looked like a teenager.

“You’ll soon be a beautiful baby girl inside and out, Sweetheart,” the beautiful woman babbled to the baby in her musical voice. “And you’ll stay one longer than mankind can possibly imagine. Inside. And. Out.”

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“You … really are into this, aren’t you?” asked Susan upon seeing the spare room in Remy’s house, which was completely decked out as a perfect nursery for a baby girl. The queen-size crib was pink and had a beautiful fairy decorating its headboard. A huge Teddy Bear smiled welcomingly inside it. There was a changing table well stocked with diapers, powder and wipes, and a large playpen with all sorts of toys inside; a huge toy box probably held even more. The walls were pink and decorated with a runner showing pastel baby blocks.

“I … like to let my inner child come out,” said Remy, “but you already knew that, I guess? You understand, though. I know you do.”

“I … do,” said Susan, “now. I love how it feels when I go baby – it’s so unrestrained and stress-free. I wish … no, not really.”

“What?”

“Well I was going to say that I wish I didn’t need diapers, but the fact is that they actually feel kind of nice.”

“They do!” said Remy. “So, if you want, we can get dressed and forget about tonight for a little while.”

“I … would like that,” said Susan. “Can I borrow some clothes?”

“You sure can!” said Remy. “And don’t worry about diapers. I’ve got plenty. They’re the kind I recommended to you – I mean, why would I recommend something I don’t use myself? I know what works.”

“I do want to say that these are amazingly thick, though,” said Susan. “I can only wear them at work if I wear a skirt. And I’m afraid that I waddle when I walk.”

“Thick feels the best.”

“You … aren’t wrong.”

Susan and Remy took turns changing each other’s diapers, then they got dressed in some of Remy’s cutest baby play dresses, put their hair in pigtails, and sat down in the playpen.

“OK, here goes,” said Susan. “I set my phone to make that noisy thing when it’s morning and I have to check in at work.”

“You mean the alarm?” asked Remy with a giggle. “Are you forgetting words now?”

“I guess I’m already relaxing,” said Susan, smiling. “Sometimes words are too hard so I don’t bother.”

“It’s true!”

Susan put her pacifier in her mouth – she’d bought several for herself, as she had discovered that they were quite soothing. “Ready?” Remy nodded her head, her thumb in her mouth and her pigtails bouncing.

And the two were off on another adventure into baby land. Susan later dismissed her memories of some beautiful mystery woman who changed their diapers and sang to them as a dream.

When the news broke that Detective Susan Gray had once again saved the day and had been instrumental in returning Shelly Goodwin to her family and her life, Susan became more famous than ever. The police department tried to explain to the public what had happened, but admitted that some parts of the Bonaventure case defied explanation and might never be fully clear, especially given that there were some very strange reports coming from the institution where Bonaventure had been sent for mental evaluation. Susan continued to use her ability to find missing people, and the city of Somerville became quite a bit safer as a result. And she personally fixed the glass in the back door of Babies of All Ages Daycare Center.

~~ The Dawn of a New Baby Day ~~
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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LilJennie
 
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