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Chapter 11.ExploringBaselines

The car wound its way around the city streets until it reached the Victorian District. This was easily the most beautiful and expensive part of the city. Only the wealthiest of the wealthy could even dream of a place here. It was well known that the district was founded by Wesley Landau, who was equal parts folk hero and criminal. Many sympathizers regarded him as a guardian angel for children, although Xavien knew better.

The centerpiece to the district was Landau Manor, which had been the original home of Wesley Landau. It was also the place that both his mother and father had disappeared. Their bodies had been found shoved inside of old refrigerators at the landfill just south of Flowtown, which was a new resort that was currently under construction about 10 miles north of Hyde City.

The unceremonious dumping was a popular one that had been attributed to the Fratilli family. However, Xavien had discovered that Wesley Landau had been the one to kill his father. Muriel Kretchmar’s sister Tabitha had murdered his mother a month before she committed suicide. He had evidence enough to tie Muriel in as an accomplice, but he found out that the chief decided to put it to rest without any further effort. Xavien expected as much, but at least he had solved it.

Muriel Kretchmar was the sole heir to the Landau estate, and she’d funneled a lot of money through Randall Portis to their charity; one that had been under a lot of scrutiny over the years due to allegations of unscrupulous practices. It was officially on the up-and-up, but that was merely because they had the Fratilli’s as silent partners. By hook or by crook, Muriel had manipulated the fortune to a greater one than when she had started. Meanwhile, she had begun a network of holistic healing and living resources. Most of the people she employed were zealots of the lifestyle, but the work they did was good. Xavien had always found cause to roll his eyes at the reasoning and explanation, but the results were undeniably positive on the community; they preached self sufficiency on minimalist resources. Ironically, the ones who bought in the most were the ones who needed it the least. Yet another way the rich got richer.

Here he was, outside of the manor once again… but this time Xavien intended on going inside. A tear dripped down Xavien’s cheek; he hoped Andrew had not seen. He did not wish sympathy. He needed female attention, a tight and tender hug and sensual kiss to let him know it would be alright. He was briefly sad until something that Andrew said made him laugh.

“You over that yet, can we get going?” Andrew said in a flat tone.

Xavien laughed out of surprise and looked at Andrew, who gave a wan smile; “That was my best Xavien impression. Everyone at the precinct has one… Jorge has the best… I’d like to think that mine is almost as good.”

“Wait, what? People do impressions of me?” Xavien asked, incredulous at the inefficient use of effort.

“Are you kidding? You’re so focused that you really haven’t noticed? They used to take bets on who was best at mimicking you to your face…” Andrew chuckled; “I seriously thought you knew and just didn’t give a patootey.”

“Hm. That would be a good explanation. I just had written them off as being under-educated and mentally inferior.” Xavien nodded.

“Ah. Even worse. I’ll admit, I felt a little bad with my impression of you, but you seemed good natured enough that it wouldn’t bother you.” Andrew chuckled.

“Regardless, you’re right. We can get going. My emotional capacity is vast, and I am uncompromised. It is not often that you visit the site where your mother and father were killed, and the accomplice to their murders remains free; this is not to mention the fact that many other murders are her responsibility as well.”

Andrew shook his head; “I admire you, in a way. Outside hijinks truly don’t bother you, and you are able to compartmentalize so well that you can remain focused no matter what. As I reflect on everything that you’ve gone through, I can’t say I would be so… cool… about it all. I have a pin on emotions, even though I’m not empathic… I read people well… you’re truly unaffected. I can’t operate quite like that.”

“It works and I don’t intend on breaking it. Let’s go, before you get too friendly.” Xavien said flatly, but ended with a half wink.

The two men exited the car and walked up to the large gate at the end of the long sidewalk to their house. Xavien pressed the intercom button and a voice came over the speaker; “Can I help you?”

“Lieutenant Brady, HCPD. We would like to speak with Muriel Kretchmar about a matter of great importance.”

After a pause, the gate buzzed and Andrew pushed it, then held it open for Xavien. They strode down the sidewalk confidently.

Suddenly, there was a large cloud of blue mist that exploded around the two of them. Xavien’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he fainted. He awakened mere seconds later, with Andrew crouched over him. Andrew’s eyes had changed from gray to a rippling liquid and silver. He did not like to wake up to things he did not understand.

“I don’t know how you did this… but I think you managed to surprise my father twice in the same day. I think he may be scared. That blue smoke fits your description of the crime scene fiasco you dealt with, and then also of what happened back at Maniacal Tattoos. Still want to visit with the Kretchmar’s?” Andrew said, with the allowance that Xavien may have changed his mind.

“Hum?? Oh, yeah. I do wish to speak to her. I wasn’t expecting to meet your father here, honestly. This may be something that the… erhmm.. devil… I ran into earlier knew. Devils often leave out some details.” Xavien chuckled as he got to his feet.

Andrew nodded; “You don’t seem overly surprised that you found him here, though.”

Xavien refrained from comment. He recognized a good tip when he had it; regardless of the source.

They walked up to the front door and the door was opened by a gorgeous woman in her mid-twenties. She stood at 5’11 and her long black flower print dress accentuated her perfect hourglass figure, long brown hair and brown eyes; “Hello. My name is Anna Elizabeth. Come in, my mother is with a client but promises to be down shortly.”

Xavien noted her remarkable beauty and was dumbstruck for long enough that Andrew took charge; “That will be fine. We would be happy to wait inside.”

“Follow me, please.” Anna Elizabeth smiled and bowed slightly.

As they followed her into the entryway, Xavien focused on the task at hand and decided to garner some information; “Anna Elizabeth… If you wouldn’t mind… your surname?”

“Landau. If you don’t mind my askin… what brings you to this side of town?” Anna replied sweetly. Her southern charm was enchanting.

Xavien smiled professionally; “Unfortunately, these are details I am only able to discuss with Muriel Kretchmar.”

“Oh, that is more than fair, but you can’t fault me for bein’ curious…” She smiled at him.

Andrew looked over at Xavien with a half-cocked smile and a raised eyebrow, as if to question Xavien on his ability to keep his tongue in his mouth long enough to conduct business. Xavien rebuked him with a glare. Beautiful women were a dime a dozen. Drop-dead gorgeous women were few and far between. He would stop and appreciate the scenery once in awhile.

After a few minutes had passed, they were joined by Muriel Kretchmar. She was in her early 50’s but still had an amazing pixie-like face, brown hair and brown eyes. Gentle highlights of silver accentuated her features and gave her the look of wisdom that did not detract from her beauty.

Xavien spoke first; “Muriel Kretchmar? Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. We have a few questions and then we’ll get out of your hair.”

Muriel smiled and looked into his eyes; “You look so much like your mother… but your eyes… they look like your father’s… you are beautiful like him, you know. After all these years, to see you… so wonderful.”

Xavien glared at her before he continued; “Ma’am… I would like to ask about Irving Masterson. We’re aware that he was here, but we would appreciate any suggestion or hint as to the direction he might go. All help you could provide would be appreciated.”

“You know, I would love to help you if I could. I just don’t know where the wind will blow from one day to the next. The best I can say is that it makes up its own mind until it’s settled. Then the gale picks up and slides to another location.” Muriel said, pleased with herself.

Xavien was irritated at her quickly. Pretentious hippy-types always got under his skin; “Ma’am, it would be wise of you to be cooperative.”

“What is wisdom, anyway? It is a construct imagined by the willfully ignorant to describe the incidental grace allowed by the fates. So, you may be right, but only because the spirits permit it. My cooperation has nothing to do with wisdom. But to catch someone who destroys sweet children? I will go to any lengths to help. No word or action can justify or rectify the murder of a child.” Muriel smiled.

“So… any… help or direction you could provide would be fantastic.” Andrew piped up.

“As you already seem to be aware, he has just left. I provided him no rest in my home. As for his wife and child, I have taken in as a gesture unto the child and his mother, but harbor no warmth for that aimless, depraved beast.” Muriel said, in a tone sweet enough to soothe a child. Her voice was barely graced by the hint of a southern accent, and she spoke with in breathy tones that one may associate with a seductress. She was in her early fifties, but Xavien only knew that because of the investigation. She easily looked in her thirties by most standards.

Xavien was tired of this woman. There were several notes on the cryptic nature of Muriel’s speech, as well as hints that her nature was directly conniving and untrustworthy. He knew her to be a murderess and had taken many lives… but had escaped without conviction due to lack of evidence or living witnesses. As he scrutinized her and pondered her daughter Anna Elizabeth, he could imagine that the hypocrisy may yet reach another generation. He ruefully recognized that there were only so many things that even he could focus on. This Kretchmar family was dangerous, regardless of Muriel’s stance on how ‘vile’ Irving Masterson’s actions were.

Andrew sighed; “Ma’am? We would rather like to speak to Mrs. Masterson, could you find a way to make that happen?”

Muriel smiled; “Certainly. And, Lieutenant… Brady? I understand that you had found some sort of evidence against my dearly departed sister. Please do not convict her of a guilty conscience… She ended her life because of advanced brain cancer, and wished to go out on her terms, rather than suffer the indignity of decrepitude. Whatever evidence you may have believed you had was purely subjective and circumstantial, I assure you. My dear sister, as much as I loved her, could not have possibly taken another life. But it’s no matter; Chief Baskerville has personally informed me that there will be no further enquiries on the subject and that no more attempts to sully her name will be made.”

Xavien felt his blood go from ice cold to boil in the seconds that it took for her to speak that phrase. This creature had blatantly taunted him in a manner that only highlighted what he already knew; Muriel was the accomplice to the murder of his mother and father. He knew he had irrefutable evidence against Tabitha, but also knew that she would never have acted alone, but was likely goaded into the murder by her ‘dear’ sister.

Muriel nodded; “Please don’t mistake the firm nature of my speech for insensitivity. I know how important this was to you, as I hold my family in the same regard. Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your parents before you could experience them fully; they were truly remarkable. If there is anything you need or want, I would gladly provide it. I will go and see if Ms. Katija is up for company; you must understand that she has had a rough go of it, herself.”

Andrew, sensing the tension from his partner, spoke up; “That would be fantastic. Thank you for your time. We will wait here.”

Muriel bent her knees slightly and nodded her head, then smiled charmingly before she glided out of the room.

Xavien murmured aloud; “How many devils must I encounter today?”

Andrew nodded, grimly.

Xavien sighed again and noted with mild amusement that he had sighed quite a lot recently. He then thought about PJ Peoples’ advice; that he should be ‘cool’. The man might have been misguided and slightly deranged, but evidence had begun to mount against Xavien as it pertained to his ability to keep his cool. He’d needlessly been a rotten bastard and exhibited exasperation and annoyance quite noticeably… something that his recent devils must have enjoyed.

“Eh… I guess in some circles, I am a devil; historically speaking.” Xavien said, as he readjusted his demeanor to one of near ambivalence.

Andrew snickered, shook his head.

A large well-muscled young man, dressed in track pants and a white tank top, entered the entryway where Andrew and Xavien stood; “Please excuse the delay, detectives. My aunt is assisting Ms. Masterson with her son, and they will both be down momentarily.”

Xavien smiled; “Well, thank you for keeping us informed. If you wouldn’t mind, I do have a couple questions for you… Mr…?”

“Tyre Landau. I don’t wish to unsettle you or cause you reason for concern, but I have little to no desire to interact with law enforcement; except at the behest of my aunt. If you wish to speak to me, please review my public records and note that I’ve committed no crimes. If you wish to speak with me at length, I can provide the number for my lawyer.”

Xavien smiled wickedly and glanced at his partner; “Detective Masterson? I rather enjoy meeting upstanding citizens such as this one. Knows his rights and isn’t afraid to use them; a wonderful sight to behold.”

Andrew smiled and nodded as he barely suppressed a chuckle.

Tyre scowled and sighed, but said nothing further. His job was to keep an eye on them while his aunt was attending to Katija and Nick.

Through his investigations of the Landau & Kretchmar family, Xavien knew of Tyre and his brother Sidon. Sidon had left the Landau compound and become a travelling evangelical minister. Tyre had brutally beaten Sidon in front of several witnesses, but Sidon declined to press charges. Sidon was taller, more muscular than his brother, but arguably the kindest person one could ever meet, according to witnesses and friends.

After several minutes, they were joined by Muriel and Katija. Katija was dressed in black yoga pants and a tightly-fitted black shirt, and her demeanor was decidedly less solicitous than before. She seemed wracked with worry and sadness.

“Ma’am? Is there something of concern we can assist you with?” Xavien asked, as Andrew’s eyebrows knotted up with concern.

“No, honey. Not at all… Too far gone for the concerns I have… I’m just destroyed that you would think to accuse me of protecting my dear husband when he is accused of these these heinous crimes… But, you have a job to do… I suppose.” Katija said as her reddened eyes welled and threatened to burst.

Xavien and Andrew shot each other a glance; it was time to leave. It was obvious that Katija was under duress; but from whom? The Kretchmar family had enough of a checkered history on its own; to add a super-charged sociopath like Irving into the mix would only serve to worsen the situation.

“Ma’am, I understand that you are under a lot of stress and we certainly do not wish to cause you more. If you need anything, you know how to reach either of us.” Xavien said with a gentle tone, then added; “Thank you all for your time. We will be going.”

He remembered the tapes of his mother’s recorded notes on this place. It was surreal to recall his mother’s voice and have those recordings be the only way he could listen to her. Xavien had never been the sentimental type, and listened to those tapes purely in an analytical state of mind. He’d also listened to interrogation tapes and case note recordings from other cases, to gain a sense of his mother’s reliability. He was certain that he had inherited her intuition and natural social understanding; in addition to her relatively anti-social behaviors. It wasn’t until this moment that he wished to listen to those tapes for reasons other than those associated with his job.

In his mind, on parallel with these thought processes, he imagined small scissors as they cut tiny strings. These tiny strings were the connection from the emotions he felt to the expression he wore on his face. This was a method he’d learned to hide his anger or frustration in the past, but the newer rush of negative emotions had caught him completely off-guard. This was equal parts understandable and unlike him.

Myrna often advised him to ‘never let them see you sweat’. She often would say this because she knew he was still learning to trim back his primal nature. She knew enough about how his mind worked to instill hard-coded rule-sets as coping mechanisms. He was often able to calm himself from the point of maddened frenzy with these mechanisms. A part of his mind wondered if this was such a good thing, after all. What if he’d been free to express all emotion, for good or ill?

The two men entered the car and Andrew had his eyes affixed upon Xavien’s face as if he searched for clues.

“Detective Masterson, do I have food on my face?” Xavien quipped humorlessly.

“I saw that, and I didn’t like it one bit. I saw sadness first, but then your face deadened. You know the odd thing? That’s when I felt the sadness the most. I apologize; I understand that you wish privacy for your emotions. You are entitled to it; I would just think some method of expression would be better for you.” Andrew said, thoughtfully.

Snip, snip… away went the anger and chagrin.

Xavien smiled; “I appreciate your concern, detective. I value your opinion but request a modicum of restraint at this juncture. There are a lot of things on my mind that I must process in a particular order and if the emotions fall a little farther down the list? So be it. Please don’t mistake my disregard for personal emotive expression as disrespect toward your intent.”

Andrew smiled, wryly as he shook his head; “As strange as it may sound, your overblown way of saying ‘I am fine’ is appreciated. I just think that the days where you completely forget yourself should be numbered, is all.”

Xavien nodded; “Let’s get to the station. I have some old case notes to go over. I truly worry for the safety of your step mother and brother.”

Andrew bit his lip and nodded; “I must confess that I’ve harbored a minor amount of disdain for her for quite some time. However, it was quite difficult to remain so distant as I watched the tortured look on her face.”

“Did you dislike her because she was not your mother?” Xavien asked, interested that someone like Andrew would admit disdain.

“No. I held the disdain for the… solicitous and sexually overt manner with which she addresses both men and women; particularly in front of little Nick. Not only was it an insult to my father, but inappropriate for a child to see.” Andrew explained, with something else glossed-over and hidden in addition.

“I have a personal question to ask you, and I wish no offense. I merely wish to know the answer based on my own curiosity.” Xavien asked, quietly.

“Go for it.” Andrew narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips in anticipation.

“Your mother… I am curious to know of her, is she alive still?” Xavien asked gently.

Andrew’s expression darkened; “I do not wish to discuss this.”

Xavien’s curiosity flared up; “Unfortunately, I would have been happy to have you lie to me… But now there is increased concern that this may have relevance to the situation we are currently in, particularly the fate of your mother as it pertains to the safety of your step-mother. I request that you provide something for me to ally my concern.” He said as he navigated the busy streets to the station.

Andrew had a look on his face that Xavien could not quite decipher, which incited a small amount of suspicion; “I never had a mother.”

“Forgive the ham-handed nature of this question, but were you dropped on your father’s doorstep?” Xavien prodded, hot on the trail of the missing piece of information. Andrew had spoken with subtext that was slightly beyond Xavien’s grasp.

Snip, snip… away went suspicion, frustration and anger.

“I apologize for upsetting you. I was unprepared for such a reaction.” Xavien said gently.

“I should have anticipated the question. You are right; it is a logical and pertinent line of thought. I wish I could give you more information.” Andrew said, as his demeanor returned to normal.

This bothered Xavien. He now understood that there was more depth to Andrew than he would admit to or discuss. This meant that Andrew had something to hide… and much like roaches, if there is one, there are many. The old adage ‘we all have our secrets’ didn’t satisfy Xavien. He had his own secret for many years, and would likely have more as he got further into this life as a card-carrying member of the supernatural; however, he did not hide things in the effort to be deceptive. This moment had left him with the sour taste that Andrew had willfully withheld an important piece of information. It would not be dealt with immediately, but eventually Xavien would have to find out.

He parked the car in the garage and the two men got out. Xavien was focused on his disappointment. He felt disappointed that Andrew had not divulged whatever it was. Did this mean that he liked Andrew?

They entered the building and made their way to Xavien’s office. On the way, they passed Officer Jorge Camino’s desk. He was a delicately-boned Puerto-Rican man, who many suspected to be homosexual. Homosexuals may have confused Xavien on a biological level, but he was not overly disturbed by the concept. Officer Camino was leaning against his desk as he spoke with a female officer about a popular night-time soap opera with great amusement.

Xavien paused, to the amusement of Andrew, who chuckled with a distant look in his eyes.

Xavien tilted his head at the missing context; “I’ll meet you in the office.”

Andrew nodded; “Sure thing, Lieutenant.” He then continued to the stairs.

Officer Camino noticed Xavien had paused and raised an eyebrow; “Lieutenant, is… there something I can help you with?”

The female officer, Lindsay Finnegan, was a recent graduate of the academy. Xavien did not know much about her, but had heard lewd commentary by the veteran officers as to the comely shape of her posterior. He did not disagree, but also did not feel the need to ogle.

“I am trying to figure that out, actually. How long have you been on the force?” Xavien asked.

“I’m sure you know the answer to that, Lieutenant. But sure, I’ll bite. Ten years and some days.” Officer Camino chuckled as he responded with a thick accent and animated expression if amused curiosity.

Xavien noticed a certain familiar scent that he had previously ignored. Normally, he had no intention to sniff random officers in the precinct. Recent context and new information allowed him to make an exception. He smelled a bit like the Chief, but with different tones.

“Hey! Whatchu sniffin at me for? Do I smell funny, Lieutenant?” There was a flirtatious twinkle in the officer’s eyes.

Xavien was a little embarrassed at the thought that he had been caught and the intent might have been misunderstood; “Just getting my bearings.”

“Bearings, huh, Lieutenant? Can I… help you get your bearings somehow?”

Xavien began to calculate an explanation for his odd behavior on-the-fly; “Perhaps. You’ve got a penchant for high-performance antique muscle-cars. However, you know your stuff so you utilize a type of oil that is no longer produced. You’ve recently performed an oil change or added additional oil. That doesn’t always wash off so easily, and lingers under your fingernails. It likely dripped on your hand within the past hour, so this may have been a lunch time dalliance. Not that there is anything wrong with this, just an observation.”

This conversation had attracted some interest from others in ‘the pit’ as the collection of desks was often referred to. The pit was in the middle of the floor, with the offices belonging to higher-ranked officers ringing the perimeter. The officers that were not on the phone or otherwise engaged in police work had all begun to pay at least peripheral attention. Xavien was suddenly conscious of the stir that his presence may cause, and knew that he would have to be delicate in his speech so he did not give the gossip hounds anything to sniff at.

Officer Camino nodded, impressed; “Nice. Yeh, I went by my house and did some work on my car on lunch.” He didn’t seem to believe that this was the only purpose for Xavien’s pause, so he punctuated his statement and raised his eyebrow higher.

“I also smell cheap cologne but, even stranger still, the odor of printed media. Officer Camino, did you apply this cologne from the page of an old magazine?” Xavien smirked, playfully.

“Shit, Lieutenant, now I think you’re just showing off. Am I allowed to ask what the point is?” Jorge asked, amid the titters that had begun to rise from the officers that had begun to listen to the interaction.

“I’ll address that in a moment. On your lunch break, you wolfed down a cheeseburger from a greasy fast-food restaurant, as evidenced by the burp I smelled when I walked by, the subtle odor from your shirt and the remnants of a ketchup that dripped onto your color. Someone else wiped it off, however, as you have recently gotten back from lunch. It was likely Officer Finnegan, as the tissue is in the trash. If it were you, this would likely be wiped by a finger and you would have licked the ketchup off.” Xavien observed.

“Are you callin me a slob Lieutenant?” Officer Camino said, as amusement faded from his voice. There were more chuckles from the pit.

“No. I just answered your question. You asked if you smelled funny. I merely mentioned what I noticed. It’s an odd conglomeration of scents… but I was merely curious as to what possessed a grown-ass man to rub cologne on his neck from the page of an old out-of-print magazine?” Xavien chuckled, as his genuine amusement took over. This prompted louder laughter to break out amongst the other officers.

After it died down, Officer Jorge rolled his eyes; “First off, even if I did this, there is no way you can tell if it is an out of print magazine from one that is in-print. Are you just fucking with me because you’re bored?”

Xavien smiled and sighed for effect; “First, let’s go over the obvious and then I will mention the subtle. Formaldehyde, catechin and p-phenylenediamine were all used in the production of magazines until 2020, when it was then made illegal for these known toxic chemicals to be used in the processing of magazines. If anyone has spent time around magazines from that era, they would know the distinctive smell that these magazines emit as they off-gas. This was also likely a mint-condition magazine that had previously been in a plastic wrapper, which had kept it ‘fresh’. There aren’t many glossy magazines that would be in plastic wrappers, with ads for cologne. I would posit that this particular magazine would have been held behind the counter of a convenience store, out of the reach of minors. I do not have the slightest clue what the brand of cologne is, but it does not smell like the pheromonal variety that contains real or synthesized testosterone to attract females. Thereby making it somewhat of a cheaper cologne marketed to those on a budget. Again, a very distinctive smell.”

The laughter died down as some of the officers were caught between amazement and amusement.

“Shit… I’m… uhh… should I be sorry? That was amazing… so, yeah… you got me. Umm… you want I should go clean it off?”

Xavien shook his head; “Perhaps. But what I really want to know is why you wear it every third workday? As an example, one day you smell faintly of cleaning products, another day you smell as if you have eaten more than your fair share of garlic and then another day you smell of that cheap cologne. It’s just the first time I noticed the smell of the magazine. But then tomorrow, you will likely smell like cleaning products. Whatever you do on your personal time is your business… but it does spark a bit of curiosity.” Xavien chuckled.

Then there was a flicker of recognition as Officer Camino smiled broadly; “We all have our secrets, Lieutenant.”

Xavien nodded; “I’m pretty sure that I know all of your major secrets, Officer.” He nodded and laughed again.

“How the hell can you be sure of that?” The officer replied smugly.

Xavien, still grinning, retorted; “That’s for me to know and you to worry about.” He then turned and walked away to mild amused applause from a few of the officers in the pit.

He trotted up the stairs with a spring in his step. It had been a long time since he’d had fun. It had never really been his element, but he could function and build rapport if it was needed. Xavien had been so focused on the serious nature of his life that he had rarely stopped to enjoy himself. The only time he truly was ‘frivolous’ was when he played with Scott. Prior to that, it was during Clara’s pregnancy. It dawned on him that he had no longer been playful with Clara, and this may have served to distance him from her further.

He truly regretted this the moment it hit, but his mood would not be dampened. His perspective at the time did not allow this enlightenment, and she suffered in silence. But this revelation would not bring her or Scott back. The best he could do would be to live more fully. He pondered what Andrew said about his emotions, particularly the negative ones. Perhaps there would be some benefit if he took this advice to heart and acted upon it.

Xavien turned right out of the stairwell and headed into his office. Captain Crane was in discussion with Andrew, presumably about the case. They nodded as Xavien entered.

The Captain spoke; “Brady… So, Andrew has just filled me in on your progress so far. Do you have an idea of a direction; he’d mentioned you wanted to go over some old case files… or something. If you need someone to do grunt work, I can assign someone to assist so that you can follow up on any other leads you may have.”

Xavien shook his head; “No, that will be alright. I may not need to review the material after all. I just need to spend a few moments with my own case notes and process what I’ve experienced so far. Any luck with that press conference?”

“Yeah, uh… that’s just not gunna happen. Chief laughed me out of the room. Oddly, it was primarily over your persona, rather than out of derision based on your knowledge or concepts. I should mention that he liked your idea to take credit, and he ran with it on a larger scale. I wasn’t pleased with the angle he took, but that’s politics for ya. To warn you… he’s announced publicly that you have carte-blanche to do ‘whatever it takes’ to bring the ‘Immaculate-Artist’ to justice. He also gave you… credit… for the explosions at both houses.” Captain Crane winced with distaste.

Xavien smiled. His uplifted mood allowed him to enjoy the concept a bit more. Nothing would be comfortable for him, so what if the heat got turned up a bit more?

“That’s… very interesting…” Xavien said as he barely contained his amusement.

“There’s a bit more. The network picked up on this and decided to go national. As these things go, the jackals have all swarmed and are feeding off this… it’s working its way through all major news outlets and across the internet. This is going to be out of control faster than we can contain it. Personally, I want to crawl into a hole. Additionally, I wouldn’t expect that you will remain as anonymous as you would hope… You do this the right way, you’ll be a shoo-in for a career in politics… you do it the wrong way, you’ll be lambasted and publicly humiliated, even scapegoated right into jail. I wasn’t even going to say anything… but you know the Chief… he’s always got a way of tricking the truth out of someone. I mean, I was dead-set against saying something. Then there I was, divulging the contents of the conversation. Kinda felt like a cheap whore… Anyway… what’s done is done.” Captain Crane trailed off. He looked wearier than usual.

Xavien recalled the conversation with Karl about the Chief’s auspicious beginnings in the force. It incensed him that the captain had, at the very least, been manipulated into giving information he wished to keep secret. At worst, the Chief had surreptitiously used a spiritual trick to force the captain to speak.

The Chief would be in Xavien’s cross-hairs at some point… but his focus was now on the larger issue at hand. He needed to focus on the other part of his life, to strengthen and educate as he prepared to be both hunter and hunted. It invigorated him to be so overwhelmed and inundated with challenges that he absolutely could not solve without complete focus. This was truly exciting and, whether he would come back down to Earth and buckle under the pressure remained to be seen. For now, he would ride the near-endorphin rush of the volley thrown at him.

“I would like to see Myrna and talk with her privately. I will then need a few hours to gather some things from my house. I may need to find a new place to rest my head for awhile.” Xavien stated, as he plotted his course out loud.

“Here. Take this, it’s the address. Commit it to memory and then destroy it.” The captain took a post-note and wrote the address in abbreviations that he knew Xavien would understand; “Life isn’t going to go back to the way you like it, and I would hate to see you crack under the weight of it. That’s why it pains me to say this, but all requests for leave are going to be rejected until this has been resolved. This goes for myself as well as you, Andrew. I can cover you for a couple hours, if I absolutely have to, but beyond that I’ll need some sort of info to pass along to the powers-that-are.”

Xavien nodded; “Yippee. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It’s not like I have any ties or other responsibilities. Is the Chief going to crawl up my asshole if I decide to hit the gym?”

The captain chuckled; “No, I think not. Just don’t take forever, or hurt yourself…”

Xavien nodded, in deep contemplation; “Okay. Well, I got the address. I’m going to head there in a few, likely going to get a haircut. Time to get ready for my close-up.”

“Gunna cut that silver mane of yours?” The captain chuckled.

Xavien did a double-take and mentally checked for subtext. Sensing none, he simply nodded; “Yep. It’s about time. I’m thinking that I’ll go with a bit more of a contemporary style.”

Andrew watched the conversation intently, with a detached sense of amusement. Xavien still suffered the festering irritation that Andrew had kept something pertinent from him; that something would have to be investigated quietly. Again, ‘Half-Mouth’ may have been onto something as it related to parents. He knew next to nothing about his father, beyond personnel file and passing comments by the captain.

There were many people that had come out of the woodwork to provide him unsolicited advices. It certainly seemed as if he had been watched closely for quite some time, waiting for the right moment when Xavien decided to join them. This wasn’t completely a bad thing, but it lessened his ability to preserve the illusion of privacy; which is the one thing he had enjoyed for so long. If he was to be successful, he had to find a way to get that back.

He was adjusting as well as he could to the changes, but he had a direction as to the proper manner to present himself to others. He wouldn’t let anyone see him sweat, play it cool, genuinely attempt to find enjoyment where possible and find an outlet for his negative emotions that didn’t involve facial contortions or tears. This would be, at least, the baseline at which he would attempt to operate; a learned behavior he may not master right away, but a work in progress.

There was no telling what could come next, for him.

When he excused himself and left his office, Andrew and the captain nodded. They began to discuss the repercussions of the public nature of this investigation. Xavien had already made those calculations; he was secretly pleased that the chief had seized the idea. In the back of his mind, he began to plot his exit from the public arena. He could not continue his life as a Lieutenant for the Hyde City Police Department for much longer. There were many ways out of the situation, some of them made easier with the recent events.
He got into his car and drove toward his home. He was not going to drive to the address where Myrna was kept on the off chance he would be followed. He would get there in a much different manner.

When he got closer to home, he saw there was a crowd full of people, along with several news vans outside of his house with a few officers keeping the peace. He sighed and turned left down the side street that came right before his house. He would drive to his old home, instead. On the way, he drove through Little Tokyo and saw that there was a barber shop. Impulsively, he parked on the street in front of a parking meter. He got out, fed the meter an hour’s worth of coin and then walked through the open door of the barbershop.

He smiled at the stunned faces that watched him. There was a Japanese-language station on the televisions mounted on the wall. His face was on the news at that very moment. There were three older gentlemen that attended to their clients, all younger men in colorful leather motorcycle outfits. There was another young man in a bright blue and green leather motorcycle outfit seated in one of the waiting area chairs, but he seemed more amused than stunned. The barbershop smelled clean and appeared to have modern fixtures. This would do just fine.

The cashier looked at him and spoke in a heavily-accented voice; “How may I help you?”

“Haircut.” Xavien pointed to his thick, wavy, pepper-gray locks. He’d never been concerned about preening. He kept his hair neat, but it was among one of the fuller heads of hair in the department.

“Okay. Sign here. Wait there” The cashier gestured to a sign-in sheet and then to the empty chair next to the amused young man in the motorcycle outfit.

Xavien complied and braced himself for more amusement as the young man tracked his movements to the seat beside him. This wasn’t much of a waiting area, merely two padded metal chairs with magazines piled on the window sill; all Japanese-language publications.

This particular young man seemed a little brash compared to a typical Japanese male, and he seemed to expect Xavien to acknowledge him on some level. As Xavien locked eyes with the young man, he saw subtle signs of age that were not as readily noticeable. Of particularly interest was the calm in his eyes that is usually absent from those of youth.

“I suppose that this may be somewhat of a formality, but what the hell. Lieutenant Xavien Brady. And you are?”

The man tilted his head and furrowed his brow as he shook his head and shrugged.

Xavien pondered for a moment; “You didn’t understand a word I just said, did you?”

The man shook his head, somberly; but with a touch of mischief in his eyes.

Xavien sighed and sniffed out of amusement.

“Ahh! Gotchu! Hah Hah! Jonah Tan. You’re happy to meet me, I’m sure.”

Xavien chuckled. He wasn’t the first to fall victim to this joke. “Absolutely dazzled. Should I know you?”

“Everyone should know me, I’m fantastic! So handsome, charming and funny that I’ve been told I should give up racing and go into movies or politics!” Jonah grinned.

“Would you be alluding to street races?” Xavien raised his eyebrow, playfully.

“Oh, no, for sure legit! I may have done so as a child, but when I grow older, I put away childish things… just like the good book says!”

Xavien liked this guy instantly. He didn’t know why… but he was entertaining and playful. Karl had an awkward nature to him that was sardonic and angry. He narrowed his eyes, as if in thought and focused on his sense of smell. There were too many special people that ‘just happened’ to stand out. He smelled different, but without the use of that trick he couldn’t determine anything.

“Nope… can’t say I’ve heard of you Jonah Tan… have you won anything?” Xavien asked.

Conversation in hushed tones, but were in Japanese so Xavien could not understand much beyond the context. Apparently, this guy must have been a big deal.

“Hah! You will learn about me, then. After you get your hair cut, you can follow me to our garage!” Jonah Tan smiled.

“I appreciate the offer, but I have another errand to get to before I get back to work. Perhaps after my shift today?” Xavien offered.

“It’s 4pm, you can’t use a lame excuse on me. What, you work overtime to catch ‘Immaculate-Artist’? I don’t think so. You don’t have any leads yet, and you blow up the last places he was seen!” Jonah paused, and then added; “Or did you? And do you?” He added a knowing wink.

Xavien was fascinated with the upbeat nature of his speech and wisdom that he seemed to hide beneath the youthful demeanor. He ran a mental diagnostic and checked to see if he was under the influence of some sort of trick, but felt that he would easily be able to defend himself from Jonah if he felt his life were threatened.

“Sorry, I am not at liberty to discuss the case.” Xavien shrugged.

“That’s just what your partner says. That is so annoying!” Jonah pouted.

This sparked Xavien’s interest; “Excuse me? What of my partner?”

“He did not tell you about me? Oh, I get it! He must not wish to name-drop. We go out together, you know.” Jonah nodded.

Xavien thought a moment; “Hm, well I can see where he would wish to hide his homosexuality. I’m not offended or disgusted by it, but I won’t tell him I know.” He paused at the mirthful but confused look. He also noticed that everyone in the shop paused again. Jonah Tan was no ordinary young-ish Japanese male. He must certainly be a celebrity.

“If he’s gay, that is okay with me, too. Me? I bag mad honeys. But he races with us… He’s a cool cat, yo. That may explain why he is such a good boy. I won’t tell him you know either.” Jonah said and then broke out into laughter.

One of the nervous patrons returned to the waiting area and Xavien heard his name called by the cashier; “Mister Xavien—“

“That’s Lieutenant Brady” Sparked out Jonah, then continued the rebuke in Japanese.

“So sorry, so sorry. Many apologies Lieutenant Brady.” The humble cashier bowed quickly; “Please, your chair is ready. What hair you want?”

Xavien hadn’t thought about it, but he looked around on the walls that displayed haircuts. He then pointed to one on the wall. It was a high and tight fade with it about 3 inches long at the front, waxed backward.

He sat in the chair and the barber cut his hair in the desired fashion, without a word in any language. The older gentleman worked quickly and with precision as he worked the scissors over his head. He used clippers and sighed in annoyance as the thickness of his hair slowed the progress significantly. In fifteen minutes time, his locks lay on the floor, the remaining length of his hair was slicked back and Jonah Tan stood nearby with a nod of approval.

“Cool cat, you look like a cooool cat. I dig it.” Jonah smiled.

Xavien pursed his lips and nodded. He liked Jonah, but understood that his enthusiasm would grate after prolonged exposure; “Thank you. Miss? How much?”

“Oh. It free.” The cashier responded, humbly.

“You’re welcome, Lieutenant Brady! You can thank me by coming to the garage! Your partner will be there, and it is a good way to build relationship!” Jonah grinned as if he knew something Xavien did not.

“Honestly, I have somewhere I need to be. I also have to do some work thereafter, with some leads to follow up on.” Xavien said, apologetically; “I truly appreciate the offer, but today just really isn’t good for me. Tomorrow evening, perhaps?”

Jonah nodded; “Make you a deal, my Lieutenant friend. You do this other errand. Then you come by the garage. We hang out and you meet everyone. Since you are now cocky-commando-celebrity-super cop… they would love to meet you… fifteen minutes tops. You do this, and then maybe you come to a race on Saturday?”

Xavien pondered this individual’s demeanor and thought about his potential personality. Jonah seemed to be a thrill seeker, with the desire to meet others that have similar zest for life. If he perceived Xavien as this commando-super-cop, it would fit the amount of enthusiasm; he would be a trophy of a name-drop. Celebrity status was an unintended effect of his initial concept to put a face to the movement to capture Irving. He had a feeling that Jonah may have been more than what was on the surface, and with his curiosity piqued he decided that he would follow up on the counteroffer.

“Okay. I will come visit you and your gang at the garage. Give me the address of the garage and your phone number so that I can call you if something comes up.”

“Tight! My card!” He held up his hand and one of the other young men handed him an eight-by-ten-inch glossy picture. Depicted was a smiling Jonah in his bright blue and green racing outfit, straddled over a matching blue and green racing bike with his helmet under his right arm. Jonah held up his other hand and a black permanent marker was provided. He wrote his phone number on the bottom, along with the address. He grinned and began to speak as he wrote. ‘First in line to be your biggest fan! Warmest regards, Crazy Jonah Tan!’

Xavien chuckled. Even if he ended up as only a human, he was still an interesting character; “Thank you very much! I’m not sure how long I will be. How long will you be there?”

Jonah laughed, put his hands behind his head and began to thrust his pelvis to punctuate each word. “Oh baby, all… night… long!”

Xavien threw back his head and let out a hearty belly laugh. He should have expected this sort of thing. What a strange existence this would turn out to be.

At least not all of it was unwelcome.

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