"Are you busy this evening, Mr. Reese?" Harold said in his ear.
"New number?" John said, setting his basket on the checkout counter. "I can be there in fifteen."
"No, not a number," Harold said, mildly evasive.
"Then I can be there in twenty," John said, and started taking out the groceries.
"I'll meet you in Grand Central by the clock," Harold said.
They caught the 7 train heading to Flushing. Looking around at the crowd, dotted with caps and shirts and grown men wearing face paint, John raised an eyebrow. "I thought you weren't a Mets fan, Finch."
Harold blinked at him. "I'm not, Mr. Reese," he said.
Harold had prime seats right behind third plate, with a full view of the field and plenty of leg room. The Mets were playing the Phillies. Harold bought John beer and hot dogs and popcorn and threw in a free-of-charge detailed lecture about every single Phillies player, including ones that were out sick, and the team as a whole, providing an eye-glazing number of statistics and reference to at least fifty years of team history to back up his conclusions.
It was a beautiful, warm night. The Phillies won. Harold, who had drunk three beers, beamed with uncomplicated and unconcealed delight and spent the train ride home telling John all about what this meant for the two teams' respective playoff chances, statistically speaking. Four disappointed drunk guys glared at them from the other side of the train and eventually tried to pick a fight, so John even got in some exercise. Harold watched him fight and never even twitched from his seat, trusting John to keep him untouched.
The train rolled into Grand Central before the transit cops showed up, and they slipped off with the tides of people, washing up in the main room under the sprawl of the Zodiac on the ceiling.
Harold stopped a way into the room and tipped his whole body back to smile up at the constellations, still loose-limbed and easy. John put a hand in the small of Harold's back to take some of his weight and looked up too, at pinprick stars in a sea of green. He felt glowingly happy.
Harold righted himself and transferred the smile to John. "I'll see you in the morning," he said. "Happy birthday, John."
"Thanks," John said. He stood there and watched Harold make his way with the crowd flowing out towards the cab stand.
His next free day, he took Amtrak to Philadelphia. He'd decided to start with the city high schools, and he'd ruled out all the ones that hadn't graduated a white boy with a name starting with H in 1979 in the top ten percent of the class. That had left him with nine to try. His suit, his smile, and Detective Stills' badge got him into the libraries and access to the archived yearbooks. He had the picture of Harold and Nathan from MIT in his back pocket.
He got out of the first five quickly: Henry Rollins, Harry Proudweather, Hemingway Walker, Henry Goldman, and finally Henry Simpson and Henry Roth both at Central High. They all had pictures in their respective yearbooks, and none of them were Harold.
The sixth, closer to the stadium, slowed him down; the yearbook from 1979 was missing. He got excited at first, but the picture of Harold didn't ring a bell for any of the long-time staff, and then the art teacher said, "Henry Adams? No, that's not Henry. I had to cut an entire jar of glue out of his hair, my first year here. He was blond."
The seventh one was missing yearbooks too, which didn't feel like a coincidence. John started to appreciate just how far Harold had gone to cover his tracks. It was almost five o'clock by then, and the schools were closing. John chased down every employee in the building who'd been there more than thirty years; they all squinted doubtfully at the photograph, shook their heads, but the tiny old guidance counselor, who was evidently planning to drop in harness, said, "Harold Mitchell is who you're looking for?"
She took John back to her office and dug through a wall of filing cabinets to bring out a yellowed manila folder, and peered at it. "Well, I don't have a photograph," she said, "and I can't say as I remember his face, but he went to Oberlin." She let him photocopy the folder.
He rode the train back home reading it over. Harold Mitchell had a 3.8 GPA. He'd played piano and worked on the school newspaper. He'd been in the chess club, the math club, and the electronics club. "Hello, Harold," John said softly, to the thin faded pages.
He folded them up and slid them into a pocket as they pulled back in to Penn Station. When he got off the subway at his house, there was a message waiting from Harold on his phone: a new number.
It was three more days before he had any time to chase the lead any further, but Oberlin was too far for a day trip anyway; he paid a mercenary hacker on the darknet to break into the college records. He got the report almost at the same time as he wrapped the case: Harold Mitchell had an academic record, a degree in Chemistry granted in 1983, and an address in the alumni database — an address in New Jersey twenty minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel. John was hailing a cab five minutes after he and Harold parted ways.
He camped out against the side of the garage of the house across the street, yawning; and then an SUV pulled up and a harried-looking woman got out with three small kids, shepherding them up the front walk; John straightened, his stomach sinking, even before a second car pulled up and the three kids all yelled, "Daddy!" and broke for the man climbing out of it, who turned out to be the perfectly real Harold Mitchell.
John went back to Philadelphia the next day. The eighth school was also missing its yearbooks, and had no staff who'd been there that long. He managed to find the retired principal living only twenty minutes away, and she shook her head doubtfully over the photograph. "No, I don't think so," she said. "Henry Dale? No, I'm pretty sure Henry Dale was a much taller boy — yes. He was on the basketball team. That's right."
John went to his last-chance option, the worst of the schools, run-down and dark, with metal detectors and suspicious looks from the rent-a-cops on the door, and went looking for Harriman Jones. The yearbook for 1979 was missing, but so were the ones for a dozen other years. There were no old-timer teachers here; people did their twenty years and got out.
When John made a tired secretary in the office look up the records, it looked improbable: Harriman had mediocre grades in science, one outright F in Biology, his GPA pulled up by humanities courses. John shook his head; he'd gone down the wrong road somehow; he'd have to start over. Maybe Harold had ditched his original name completely. Just to be safe, John got Harriman's old address anyway and stopped by: the house was small and old and bright-painted, in a neighborhood full of small old houses; he tried the photo on a few of the neighbors, going around from porch to porch in the warm summer air.
"Is he in some kind of trouble?" It could have been an idle question: the woman was eighty-something, studying the photo with no obvious recognition, but John would have pricked up his ears if he could.
"I just have some questions for him. Did you know him well?"
She was old but still sharp; she gave him a hard considering look that gave nothing away. She was tall and had a British accent worn very thin and grey hair cropped short, straight shoulders and a faintly stern face, something unyielding in it. "Have you got a more recent photograph?"
"I'm afraid not," John said mildly. "That's why I'm tracking him down from this end."
Inside he was turning cartwheels; it almost didn't matter if she admitted it. She knew Harold, well enough to be willing to lie for him to the police.
"Hm," she said, dissatisfied. "Well, I can't see what you'd be interested in from when he was a boy. Good Lord, it's thirty years since he lived here."
"It's a long story," John said. "He lived at 139?"
"Yes," she said. She looked at him once more, then said, "You might as well come in, Detective."
Her name was Esther Lincoln. "I took care of him after school, starting when he was six or so," she said, settling down on the couch in the front room. "His mother had to work; my own children were only a little older. It was easy enough for me to do."
John took a polite sip and put down the coffee cup she'd given him. "His father — "
She snorted. "The usual story: a younger woman, trying to forget he wasn't twenty anymore. It ought to have been patched up, if Miranda had been sensible." John squirrelled the name away, another gold coin to hoard. "He came around a few times after they'd first moved in, trying. But she wouldn't have any of it: she was an idealist, I'm afraid. I don't think I ever heard his name so much as mentioned after they'd been here a year."
"And — Harriman?" John said, poking: he wanted anything, everything. "He was good in school?"
"By the numbers, yes," Lincoln said. "But it was really quite unpleasant for him. He was in a book all the time, and it wasn't that sort of place. It was all right for my boys, they were sport-mad." She indicated a few pictures on the mantle, and John stood up eagerly to look at them: mostly a stocky grinning family, father and three boys all over six feet, standing around her, but there was one with the three boys and another kid in it: with Harold in it.
He was maybe twelve, skinny and narrow-faced and clutching a book, the awkward ugly duckling of the bunch, but happy anyway, smiling. John picked it up, fighting back the urge to smile back at him that would have made Lincoln suspicious, rubbing his thumb over the smooth black wooden frame. The boys were all wearing Phillies caps.
"They did look out for Harry when they could," she said, "but they were brothers, not friends. He didn't do very well at having friends. He was like Miranda, that way: he expected too much of people. He wanted them to be extraordinary, and he didn't hesitate to show disappointment when they weren't. So of course, they tormented him unmercifully, and he didn't even understand why. He was always so bewildered by the cruelty."
She sighed, a soft clink of her cup as she put it down again. "Of course, they didn't know what was going on at home."
John turned around. "You mean the divorce?"
"Oh, no, that was long over by then," she said. "No, I mean when she was dying."
It was getting late by the time he went outside again: four o'clock. He stood on Esther's porch waiting for the taxi, looking over the street where Harold had lived.
"I don't remember the name of it," she'd said. "Something to do with blood, long and complicated and slow. She fell ill when he was twelve, and he was sixteen when she finally passed. He somehow persuaded the city to let him live alone, I'm not certain how."
John had a pretty good idea, himself. Sixteen-year-old Harry, breaking into city records, wiping away pieces of his own existence so he wouldn't be shipped off to the man his mother had written out of their lives ten years before. Building Harold Wren, who would appear fully-grown in MIT's student database, supposedly from a school three states away.
"I haven't seen him since my husband's funeral, four years ago," Esther had said. "We talk on my birthday and at Christmastime." She'd looked at him sharply. "Is he in trouble?"
"Not from me," John had said, quietly. He half wanted to tell her more. She hadn't said very much about it, but John was pretty sure that this had been Harold's home, those last two years, and a shelter before. Harold's voice was full of words she used, phrases, rhythms; faint echoes. He looked down at the note he'd scribbled down: the phone number she'd given him, and the return address on the last Christmas card.
The train back to Penn Station seemed to take a long time. John stared out the window, watching the trees and the power lines whip by. He'd gotten his answers; he'd found Harold. He didn't know where the urgency was coming from now, why he was still in such a rush to get there. Maybe it was because Harold had given this to him, like a present to unwrap. John just didn't get what was going to be inside.
It was dark by the time he got down to the Village. 122 Waverly was a wide townhouse, red stone and brick, mullioned windows. John stood on the street looking up at it, and then he slowly went up the steps and rang the bell.
There was a scraping of paws on the other side, a low eager bark; John's heart thumped as he heard Harold's muffled voice said, "Af, Bear." Harold opened the locks and swung it open and stood in the doorway, not surprised to see him.
John said, "Sorry it took me so long."
"Not at all, John," Harold said softly. "Would you — like to come in?"
John heaved a short, startled breath. But it made sense, of course. Harold had given him a home last time, too.
"Yes," he said. "Thank you," and crossed the threshold.