Cassie lay on one of the mattresses in the ward, leafing through one of Doc’s notebooks with her bandaged hands. Beside her, Doc sat cross-legged on the floor, also flipping through a notebook.
“Hypothalamus,” Cassie said.
Doc stopped reading and wrote the word on a pad of paper.
“How many are we up to?”
“Seventeen. When we have twenty, we’ll boot up and try again.”
They went back to reading.
“Somatrem 192,” Doc said. He paused to write it down.
“Sounds promising. Numbers and letters. Strong password.”
Doc mumbled something and was about to return to his notebook when the door opened and Julilla stood framed in the doorway. “The freaks are here.”
Cassie scrambled to her feet. “Where? How’d they get in? Did we capture them?”
Julilla shook her head. “Showed up in nice street clothes, walking in the front door like it was an ordinary social call. They said they wanted to talk to Mundo and they’re in the conference room with him now.”
Cassie stared in amazement.
“It was probably the smartest move they could’ve made,” Julilla went on. “Keep the enemy off balance by not doing what they expect you to do. If they beef up security, walk in like a civvie selling Girl Scout cookies. Very clever.”
“Well, I want to see these people,” Doc said. “Did Mundo say it was a closed meeting?”
“It is. But he said to get you.” She motioned to Cassie. “You, too.”
When they got to Conference Suite A, they found the twins at the table with Mundo and Alex, ignoring the tumblers of whiskey in front of them and the armed guards hovering behind their chairs. Danny was in a suit and fedora, Danica in a skirt, jacket and odd little cap with a veil. Everything from their hats to their shoes was black, as was the heavy eyeliner which gave them the appearance of mutant raccoons.
In her loose-fitting pants and t-shirt, which had been all she could manage that morning, Cassie felt slovenly by comparison. As she slid into a seat, she caught Danica staring at her hands. Cassie blushed and hid them in her lap. Danica made no comment but her silent smirk spoke volumes.
Meanwhile, Doc assessed the twins with interest. When Mundo attempted a formal introduction, he brushed him off. “They stole my father’s computer. That’s all I need to know.”
Danica rolled her eyes. “Technically, the Pharms stole it, since they took over the lab and everything in it.”
“And now you have it,” Danny pointed out. “Stolen from us. Two wrongs—”
“Three,” said Danica.
“However many. Don’t make a right. Besides, if we want to get picky about it, the computer belongs to the Sandoz Corporation. Or am I missing something?”
Mundo rubbed his temples in irritation. “Playground politics of who had what first isn’t going to get us anywhere. Point is, we’ve got it and we’re keeping it.”
“We can’t allow that,” Danny said.
“You don’t have much choice,” Alex reminded him. He gestured toward the guards. “We don’t even have to let you leave if we don’t want to. Be glad if we decide to let you out the door with everything you came in here with.”
Danica sat a little straighter. “We came in peace, strictly for discussion and negotiation.”
“Like we did yesterday?” Cassie said. “You kept us locked up for hours.”
“And I wouldn’t mind you giving back my Glock,” Julilla added, from where she had seated herself by the window. “You’re a fine pair to say what’s right and wrong.”
The twins exchanged a look.
“Okay,” Danica said. “You’re right. We would’ve let you go eventually, though.”
“But without what we went there for.”
Danica shrugged. “The computer is useless to you. I changed the password and re-encrypted everything.”
While Doc slumped in his chair in frustration, Danny leaned across the table. “Work with us. We’ve each got something the other wants and we came to cut a deal. We’ll give you the password if you give us the secret formula.”
Doc frowned in confusion. “What secret formula?”
“Eternal life. The fountain of youth.”
“My father wasn’t working on anything like that. Just ordinary synthetic growth hormone.”
“That’s not what we heard,” Danica said.
“Well, I don’t care what stupid things people are saying on the street,” Doc said. “They’re wrong. There were people who called human growth hormone the fountain of youth, but it was just a figure of speech. It didn’t mean you’d live forever if you took it.”
Danny reached for Danica’s hand. “Are you sure? We want to be together always and if you promise to play straight with us, we’ll work with you in whatever way we can.”
“The Pharms said—” Danica began.
“Wait.” Mundo leaned his elbows on the table. “Now we’re getting somewhere. What’s your connection to the Pharms?”
“We’re not allies,” Danica said. “But we have business dealings with them like everyone else. Our main contact said the Obits would pay top dollar for Dr. Brody’s computer.” She glanced at Danny, who squeezed her hand and encouraged her to continue.
“The Pharms didn’t want to hand it over without finding out what was on it,” Danica said. “They figured if it was some kind of formula, maybe they could get May to make it for them and corner the market.”
“Corner the market in what?” Doc said. “I still don’t get this fascination with growth hormone. Are we expecting a plague of shortness now, too?”
“That’s really all we know,” Danny said. “The Obits want the computer, the Pharms wouldn’t give it over, our contact said if we got it for him, he’d play turncoat and split the profit with us.”
“But not until after you’d gotten the data off it,” Cassie said, too fascinated by the convoluted tale to notice that she had rested her bandaged hands on the table and Danica was staring at them again.
“Well, of course,” Danny said. “It’s a fucked up world. We don’t mean anyone harm, but we only look out for each other. The rest of you—”
“Can rot,” Danica finished.
“Nice attitude,” Julilla mumbled.
Danica turned on her. “Who else is going to look out for us? You?”
“If you don’t believe your father was working on anything important,” Danny asked Doc, “Why do you care who has the computer?”
“You can’t be that sentimental,” Danica added.
Mundo answered for him. “We’re trying to understand what the fuss is about. The second time May’s shop was invaded, it was by kids demanding…” he turned to Doc. “What’s the formal word, again?”
“Any medical book can tell you about that,” Danica scoffed. “I bet the Librarians have books with pretty color pictures so you can even see what the molecules look like.”
“There are other reasons we’re interested,” Mundo said. “Ones we don’t have to share with you.”
“In the same way we don’t have to share the password?”
The silence that followed was almost thick enough to cut. Finally Doc glanced at Mundo for approval to speak, then said, “We have reason to think my father’s research turned up something related to the Telo.”