Part 1: Chapter 5
Mr. George Wrigley lived in a small farm house twenty minutes from the crime scene. The barn, much bigger than the house, came into view before the house, and Remy pulled into the long and winding driveway, passing pastures full of cows, horses and goats. He pulled up next to the house and spotted an old golden Labrador lying in the shade of an oak tree. A dog that looked exactly like Trust – her mother, Sally, of course.
The sharp bang of the screen door sounded and the thump and thud of an old man with a cane was heard before he was seen. His weathered face broke into a smile, the dentures looking unnaturally white against his black face. “Was hoping I’d see you two boys soon. You come on in.” Sally followed them inside.
Both Remy and Clay knew better than to just get down to business with Mr. Wrigley before accepting his hospitality and they sat at his small, scarred kitchen table, with the same white tablecloth with tiny little apples. It was the one his late wife had put on the table and it would never be changed.
“I would pour you a whisky, but I know you boys are on the job.” His large, somewhat shaky hands held onto the sour mash and he sloshed some into a glass. He poured two tall glasses of lemonade and put it on a wooden tray he had made with his own two hands. Slowly making his way to the table, he sat down, passed out the drinks, and said, “My Callie,” he was referring to his youngest daughter, “says I shouldn’t drink so much. I always say who else is eighty seven sitting at this table? You boys drink this stuff once a day,” he raised a thick finger up, “And you will live to be my age, too.”
Clay raised an eyebrow, and said, “I won’t argue with you, Mr. Wrigley.” He wouldn’t argue, but Mr. Wrigley was not correct. If he drank everyday Bridget would kill him long before he reached the age of fifty, much less eighty seven.
He shook his finger at Clay now, and said, “You tell my Callie that.” He set the drink down, and seemingly pleased with the small talk, he said, “But I suppose neither my whisky nor my wisdom is bringing you boys here today.” Looking up at the walls, cheerily wallpapered in daisies, he said, “Young people don’t have the time for fun anymore. Always business.”
“Unfortunately, you’re right,” Clay replied. “And it’s only gonna get worse for the next generation, I’m afraid.”
“You tell your boys different,” Mr. Wrigley said. “And maybe they will be different.” Taking another sip of whisky, he got down to business. “I’ve got myself seven more farm hands.”
Remy had expected something like this, he told himself, but seven survivors out of maybe fifty hit him hard. “You’ll keep them on hand?” he asked. He drank the lemonade to be polite even though it tasted much sourer than it should have and wasn’t settling properly.
“Well, I can only do so much. And my Johnny don’t mind the help, either.” He gave Remy a small smile, because he knew Remy knew he was keeping the survivors on hand for the simple reason that they needed help, not necessarily because he needed it.
He continued, “You know, one of them’s got more arms than an octopus. Very helpful he’ll be. How’s Ashley? She taking good care of that dog of hers?”
“She works for us, now,” Remy replied, “And yeah, Trust comes in with her every day.”
“Well, good. They were good for each other.” Mr. Wrigley looked long and hard at Remy then, as if he might want to say something. But, he didn’t.
“Dad?” a voice called out, and a tall, strong man in his fifties came into the kitchen. He eyed his father’s guests and then said, to his father, “Just wanted to know who was visiting.” It was apparently Johnny, one of Mr. Wrigley’s seven children. Just as quickly as he came in he went back out.
Not wanting the small talk to end, but knowing it should, Clay stood and said, “We should be going. Hopefully, next time I come this way, it won’t be for business.”
“You bring those boys by, and I’ll put them to work.” Mr. Wrigley stood too, as did Remy and he walked them out onto the porch. “All my grandbabies do. Keeps ‘em humble.”
Clay thought of the fight he had with his son earlier and thought it sounded like a good idea. He told Mr. Wrigley so. Then he said, “You mind if we take a trip to the barn and check ‘em out?” He meant the surviving serpentine mutants and Mr. Wrigley knew it.
He just waved them towards the barn with a “Sure, sure. You take care now, boys.”
The remaining serpentine mutants of West Virginia’s Zone 2 were, as expected, shell shocked, and rocked by what had recently happened. Clay took a glance around the barn for novelty reasons first, and then gave Remy his full attention as Remy conducted interviews with each and every one of them – four ‘adults’, ranging from sixteen to forty nine and three children, aged five, seven and fourteen.
The questions and his expressions changed as he went from oldest to youngest; he wasn’t necessarily looking for too many answers today, more just a conversation to let them know that if they needed anything to keep in touch and to tell them he would find those responsible. Obviously, the three youngest kids were the most difficult, and Clay stared at the wall behind them as Remy tried to allay their fears as best he could.
Clay drove them back to the site, just as the helicopter was removing a load of three body bags. The helicopter was taking them out of the valley and out to the airport where they would be transferred en masse to Washington D.C., the Chesapeake Bay actually, where The Triskelion was located, where Dr. Bridges would conduct the autopsies. He informed them that the total death toll was fifty two mutants and twenty four Purifiers.
Clay debriefed the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as quickly as he could, and made a plan to meet with them within the next few days. They would head up the investigation into the sect of Purifiers responsible and would try to track them down. Clay and Remy would be responsible for identifying the victims at a later date, sometime within the week. Perhaps, the sect would be found. Perhaps, a conviction would vindicate the seven survivors. But, as past cases would attest to, the Purifiers would take care of their own and the deaths of fifty two mutants would most likely be just that. A sad ending. The agents knew it, and Clay and Remy knew it. But, no one said so, because doing so would be admitting that one’s job was practically useless, and nobody wanted to say that.
It would be nearly five by the time they landed. Weiderman gave the ETA and further communication between pilot and passengers was unnecessary. Clay watched the indicator lights for the seat belt switch from on to off, and he stayed put in his seat, hands clasped in his lap. He thought of the drive from the sewers yesterday, and needing that time to shake off what one had just came from. Very apropos to the current situation.
He remembered when he had first been assigned to Remy, over three years ago now, that neither one really understood why. Sure, it was a good idea to allow baseline agents a chance to work in a very mutant-centered team. But why Remy and Clay? Well, Clay at least learned why pretty quickly. As an empath, Remy did not handle trauma, death, rampant poverty, brutalized children and the lost and forsaken well at all. And yet, he had a job that put those things in front of him at least once a week. And every once in a while, when he was tired and sick or when the woes were too great, like now for instance, it caught up to him. And so, Clay just sat there, wanting to do something more, but knew it wouldn’t be received kindly, as Remy threw up in the plane’s small restroom.
On Clay’s watch, he had only witnessed this particular reaction a handful of times, but it had yet to get easier for him to deal with. This is what they didn’t tell him eight years ago when he switched from the cushy military consultant job in his beloved Texas to S.H.I.E.L.D. And what they didn’t tell him when he was first assigned to work hand-in-hand with a mutant Avenger on very real mutant issues.
Remy exited the restroom wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He had splashed cold water on his face after rinsing out his mouth. He looked pale and exhausted as he gripped the seats on the way back to his own. He said nothing as he sat down; the first time it had happened, he pretended it had something to do with what he had eaten, but Clay knew better by now.
Clay gave him a minute or two before he couldn’t resist the desire to tell him what to do. “I know you’re not gonna listen to me, but I’m going to suggest it anyways. Don’t go back into work tonight.”
Remy raised an eyebrow at him, maybe a warning, maybe not, and replied, “Makes you feel better to suggest it.” It wasn’t really a question, just an acknowledgement.
“It does, yes.” Clay would not be returning to Westchester tonight, instead heading to The Triskelion to follow up on the tactical training assignment he had had yesterday. He had to take a quick test to see if he qualified as an instructor. It was a formality since it was kind of his job before he was transferred to New York, but he took it because he had to. For paperwork reasons, not because he was actually thinking about changing his position. His phone buzzed again, the third time now since the pilot told them they could turn their phones back on. He ignored it again, with a sigh.
“Family thing?” Remy asked him, his sentences blunt and truncated; the usual after he had dealt with something traumatic. Clay had spoken to Dr. Emma Frost several times to try to understand how best to deal with Remy, or any empath, under these circumstances. Emma told him it was best to let Remy say what he would when he was ready. Clay found it was helpful to talk about other things – more normal things.
“My middle son’s game. I can’t go to it though, obviously. He’ll understand.” Like Clay had, all of his boys played football, at various levels. Travis was a quarterback, second string, with a pretty good arm. His eleven year old, Ryder, was still learning the ropes. But his middle son, Hunter, was spirited, passionate and always fun to watch. Also a quarterback, he showed a lot more promise than Travis had at his age.
Remy had also played football, was a decent wide receiver, because he was fast and agile. He had also been an accomplished basketball player and a pretty good high and triple jumper, and still held the record at his high school for the pole vault. He knew very well what it was like to have someone cheer him on in the stands and also what it was like to see an empty seat. And, thinking of all the football games, basketball games and track meets his father had missed because of work, or whatever else, he said, “I never did.”
“I guess I could reschedule that training thing,” Clay said, mostly to himself, no longer surprised by Remy’s intuition. It had at first bothered him that a kid without any parenting experience could know any answers to anything, but especially when it came to children. Now, he accepted it, with a wisdom he sometimes wished he could go back in time with.
Weiderman had orders to take Clay to The Triskelion, so he went into the cockpit to change his plans. He would fly to Westchester, too, and from there, head to his son’s football game.