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Chapter 15.OnRamp

After the War, the dissolution of the CIA in 2025 had lead to the merger of the FBI with Interpol in 2030, due to the expanded need for communication between the agencies and diminished global clout of the North American Union. Interpol had also absorbed some of the bureaucratic holdovers from the remainder of the United Nations Security Council, which now only claimed the North American Union, Central American Republic, Western Europe and Australia as primary members.

Due to the constant threat of potential espionage and targeted attacks, temporary, unmarked satellite offices took the place of large headquarters. Agents for had both more and less jurisdiction, dependant on the case and, for the most part, the resentment between the local law enforcement had faded; primarily because Interpol was provided the tougher cases and had the resources to devote to the higher profile crimes and criminals.

Xavien arrived at an office that was unmarked and tucked away on the 4th floor of a business complex. There was a cordial, business-like but quiet atmosphere that had little to no extra noise outside of the copiers and other sundry office equipment.

Aside from the receptionist, there were no phone conversations overheard. This was not a place that advertised anything related to law enforcement, nor had any photographs of foreign dignitaries or historical paintings on the walls. Absent were flags of any nationality, slogans or heroic statues. The décor was banal and all wall-hung artwork depicted pastures, landscapes or abstract figures. This could well have been any business office in any country.

Behind the closed doors, the paperwork was officially sealed and watermarked. The technology for the photo identification, ocular and finger recording was all contained in a secure briefcase that required two electronic keys to unlock. There were seven individuals in the room for his processing. His discharge from duty as a lieutenant for Hyde City police department was handled electronically, sent directly to the governor, with carbon copies to the mayor and chief of police. He was drug and alcohol tested on the spot and it ended with his DNA being collected by a rather serious white-haired man in a lab coat.

He was handed a contractor’s badge and told to memorize a list of phone numbers; which he did with ease. These phone numbers were various contacts. They also had him memorize the location of a safe house which housed an emergency arsenal and equipment. Xavien was informed that they had received credible intelligence that led them to believe that there was a significant contract out for his life, and that he would do well to proceed with caution. He was also advised to divest of his official housing and take up temporary living for the duration of the assignment. For a small percentage, they would assign an asset liquidator to handle this in a fast, confidential and streamlined fashion for him, to which Xavien agreed.

The final advisement was that he was to have Myrna placed in hospice care in a heavily guarded rest home for relatives in service of Interpol. This would be a placement that would last until she would expire. He also elected for this, as it would give him a greater sense of comfort.

The efficiency, professionalism and comprehensive nature of this meeting pleased Xavien, even as the drastic nature of it all daunted him. On the whole, he was impressed at their preparation and readiness. They provided him a cellphone that fit inside his ear, as an encrypted and secure method of communication between himself and Interpol.

Before he was sent on his way, Xavien’s final task was to scan their catalogs to see if there was any equipment that he wished to requisition. He scanned through items such as firearms, body armor, alternative subdual devices, vehicles, survival gear, disguise kits, even to the standard kitchenware and appliances for use whilst in temporary housing. He decided that it would not be in his best interest to requisition anything; he would use his savings and liquidated assets to procure what he needed. His mind immediately thought of the Inari, he was drawn to them and there was an unspoken symbiosis that he couldn’t quite place. It could all be a trick, but it just did not feel like deception.

Upon his exit, there were eight missed calls and three voicemails that popped up on his personal cellphone. He scanned through the calls. Four of the calls came from the captain, as did one of the voicemails. One of the voicemails was from Jonah Tan. The final voicemail was from Andrew. The other call was from an unregistered number.

The voicemail from his captain, and his tone was somewhat subdued and laden with subtext:

“Brady… I’m none too pleased that you’ve gone to the dark side, but I can’t say I don’t understand. Neither am I surprised. This is a move that would make your mother proud, I will say that much. I hope you find that fucker. I don’t know what else to say at this point. I appreciate all you’ve done. You’re pretty much the best cop I’ve ever seen, even if you made my job more difficult. Good luck.”

The voicemail from Jonah Tan; “Heard the news… Interpol is taking over Artist case… major dis, homie… or is it? Hit me back wit the dill, yo.”

The voicemail from Andrew; “The captain just told me the news… I am sure your phone has blown up already… anyway… Be careful. These people, are way more than you bargained for. I would really like to provide any help I can in my off-duty time. I hate to say this; but I feel that you need me. I do not like to impose upon anyone or unnecessarily insert myself where I am not wanted… but even with the support network you now have… just… don’t rule it out. Be careful. You know where to find me if you get in trouble.”

Xavien sighed as he listened to Andrew’s voicemail. His concern dampened a lot of the initial surge of excitement that was related to his newfound contractor-status for Interpol. It was weighty and straight-forward… He thought about his rather unceremonious exit from his newly-promoted position as Lieutenant, and thought about the Chief’s reaction. Jonah Tan seemed to have at least a slight clue that he was still involved in the case.

He’d already surrendered his car, badge and gun, as this would be provided via courier to the proper authorities. He chose to walk and ponder his rather hasty decision to permanently alter his career path. Xavien had always been so methodical and reluctant to change quickly… this truly was a dramatic and drastic change. It was one that he felt fit with recent events; even to the point where he felt pressure to make a move like this. Every part of it made sense, even if he knew the organization as large as Interpol was not one he wished to be ensconced in for any length of time.

Fuck it, he thought, why not just change everything all at once?

His newly-acquired phone twitched in his ear, which indicated that there was an incoming call. It responded to the vibration of guttural commands, somewhat like Morse code. He answered and it was Agent Tommy Stillwell.

“I didn’t get a chance to catch you before you left. Did you need a ride somewhere? I’m off duty and would be happy to give you a lift somewhere.”

Xavien felt a little silly as he responded aloud; “I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

Tommy chuckled; “If you change your mind, give me a buzz. I’ll be grabbing a bite at the Amazon Café outside of the zoo around 9 tonight if you wanted to join me for a bit of shop talk.”

“I’ve got a lot on my plate, if you’ll excuse the expression. I would, however, appreciate a rain-check.” Xavien said. He didn’t like this phone any more than he liked telepathic conversation. These ear-cell devices were available to the public, but he disliked the concept and preferred to get the full experience of the face-to-face interaction.

Tommy responded after a moment’s hesitation; “Sure thing. I am going to be shipping out on assignment Sunday morning, so if you can’t do it until then I don’t have an exact timeframe beyond that.”

Xavien pondered a few moments. Tommy was one of the few people he’d met in his life that he’d liked instantly. Mi Lei, Jonah Tan and rest of the Inari were entertaining and he enjoyed them for more than just their novelty. Tommy struck Xavien as a kindred spirit; he seemed jaded but genuine, with a fire of an unspoken mission behind his eyes. This life may not present him many individuals such as this, so he did not wish to miss on the opportunity; “Does breakfast work for you?”

“I sleep until noon. Lunch?” Tommy offered.

“Lunch it is. 1pm work?” Xavien confirmed, without a single clue as to where he would be at that time.

“Lock it down. I’ll pick you up and we’ll go to Smiling Jack’s. Good food and atmosphere. Getting another call that I can’t miss, see you then.” Tommy said before he terminated the call.

Xavien knew of Smiling Jack’s. It was in the southernmost part of the city. It was practically across the street from Ricci Towers, a condominium complex owned by the well-known yet enigmatic, Ricci crime family. That part of town had little to no street crime, despite the seedy atmosphere and apparent nexus for sinful escapes. Smiling Jack’s was nestled in amongst various bars, strip clubs, escort services, off-track betting establishments and the future construction site for the Ricci Family casino. This was the one part of the city that the otherwise ubiquitous Fratilli crime family had absolutely no stake in, as not even one of their greasy hot-dog stands roamed the street corners.

Xavien figured that there must be some other reason Tommy wished to meet there, there must be some sort of supernatural connection. He had grown weary of meeting new people; an admittedly foolish thought, as he knew there was a long line of new people just dying to meet him, for better or worse, most likely worse.

He understood that the war had changed so much. After the bombs hit DC and New York, the planned megalopolis of Hyde City made the most sense to become a prime location for all major organizations and corporations, even before the NAU council had officially recognized it as the new capitol. So, much like this city attracted the most corporate and political attention, it did not surprise him in the least that this would also be a hotbed of supernatural activity. However, he wondered when he would run out of supernatural beings to meet.

As he walked, he thought about Jorge Camino. He was a well-known car enthusiast. Perhaps he could put him in contact with a good car dealer and, in the process, forge an alliance? He understood that the Inari were apparently focused on motorcycles, but he preferred the look of the old classic muscle cars that paid homage to the days of the combustion-engine.

He dialed Officer Camino’s personal cellphone and he got the voicemail greeting. He left his number with a request to call back about a personal matter, and then he hung up. Across the street, he saw a young man shove a woman and snatch her purse. Without a second thought, he picked up a loose fist-sized piece of asphalt and fired it in the direction of where the man would be when it reached him.

The rock struck the man in the skull and rendered him unconscious. Xavien calmly waded through the traffic on the busy street, picked up the purse and then walked back to the shaken and sobbing woman. He studied her for a moment as her mascara streaked down her cheeks. She seemed harmless and didn’t smell unusual, so he produced a sympathetic smile and offered her purse back.

“Thank you so much *sniff* I don’t know *sniff* how much longer I can *sniff* take this fucking city.” She attempted to compose herself. She was pretty, but unremarkable; perhaps a secretary at a mid-level company. Her professional attire, mixed with a demeanor that screamed ‘victim’ gave him the impression that she could not possibly be in a position of power.

“It sounds like you’ve had a tough time. Is there anything else I can help with?” Xavien asked, gently. He was bored and wanted to see if he could get into some trouble. He reasoned that he wasn’t a vigilante, if he was under contract with Interpol.

“Oh, it’s nothing you can help with. I really appreciate you almost killing that man for me, but I… I’ll be okay.” She stammered.

“Good luck, then, ma’am.” He said, as he walked away. Interpol did not have any direct leads on where Irving had fled to, beyond the fact that he was spotted disembarking a plane in Wales. He was not prepared to face Irving one-on-one, nor did he expect Irving to stay there and act as target practice. He needed to prepare and strategize his plan of attack before he aimed for a showdown.

He needed to attempt to find a way to track Irving’s movements and predict the location of his next target, if any. This was all in conjunction with everything else he had on his plate.

Xavien furrowed his brow as he walked away from the woman; he was lost as to how to proceed. There was no direct path, yet there were many things he had to learn. He’d discovered his baseline for functioning as an individual, but beyond that he’d figured out Smiling Jack Shit.

His would-be mentors had proven to either be too helpful, shady or secretive for his desired level of comfort. His prior contacts would be of little use and he likely made some political waves as he bucked out from under Charles Baskerville’s thumb; would there be repercussions?

His personal cellphone rang. It was Jorge Camino. He picked up and answered; “Brady”

“Hey… whachu need?” Jorge’s voice contained a tone pregnant with an unknown element that unsettled Xavien.

“Wanted to know if you had an idea of where I could get a decent car? If I understand correctly, you’re an expert. If you’re too busy or whatever, I totally get that…” Xavien added, as a concession that his exit would likely be seen as a defection and not be warmly received.

“Oh no, Brady, no problem… Look, if you want, you can meet me at my place at 5. You know where I live at, right? West edge of the city, near the Ingenuitree Building.” Jorge said, enthusiastically.

Xavien’s skin tightened slightly, but he shook it off and replied; “Yes, I think so. It’s that rancher with that huge four car garage?”

He laughed in a patronizing tone; “Hah-hah… yeah that’s it… and… one thing… I like you an all, but this ain’t gunna be free… cool, right?”

“Oh of course. Understood and obviously wouldn’t ask for a handout or a favor; just know you’re the expert and hoped you could point me in the right direction.” Xavien reassured.

“Cool, Brady. Yeh give me until 5:30, I just remembered I got somethin’ to do right after. Cool?” Jorge said, with a tone of slight relief.

“Great. Thanks, I really appreciate it. Hey… one thing… I hope I didn’t upset you too much the other day. I was just kidding around with you…” Xavien cringed as he recalled the systematic deconstruction of the olfactory information that he’d provided the whole pit of officers that surrounded Jorge Camino’s desk.

“It was funny as shit, Brady. You think I give a crap what you think, like really? Besides, I had like four officers buy some of that reading material off me for full collector’s price. It’s all good, man. It’s all good.” Jorge responded with a cock-sure lilt as an almost belittling amusement crackled through the phone.

Xavien sensed something was off. He couldn’t place it, exactly. Perhaps he had hurt Jorge’s feelings. He would check; “Look, I still feel poorly for dressing you down like that. I would like to make it up to you, so just think of a way.”

“You can dress me down all you like…” Jorge blatantly flirted. He was on lunch break and likely by himself.

Xavien shook his head and rolled his eyes; “See you at 5:30”

“Cool, Brady. Hasta.” Jorge replied, and then Xavien ended the call.

Xavien couldn’t place the vibe he got from Jorge, primarily because he did not have enough data on one angle. On another angle, he had too much data to process. His experience in one respect had highlighted his inexperience in another. It took him almost 15 years before the supernatural world caught up with him and forced him to acquiesce to his true nature. Then, as a snowball effect, the rest of his life blew up exponentially.

It suddenly dawned on him that there was literally no way this could have been possible, particularly since he’d recently been informed that several shifters had known about him this whole time.

There was no way he could have gone untouched for fifteen years, or even twenty-six. There was something else, or perhaps someone else that had made it possible for him to remain has he had for so long. His personal phone rang, Xavien noted that this was the unregistered number and he picked it up quickly; “Grand Central Station, Brady speaking…”

“Shut your mouth and open your ears.” It was Myrna, as she spoke rather quickly and quietly; “There is someone looking for you. You could consider him a very good friend of the family. His name is Ron. Listen to him, if you know what’s good for you. I don’t have much time; because they’re going to take me to another place… but I just wanted to tell you how upset I am that you are working for Interpol. It was bad enough that you were working for one crime-ridden organization… but at least you had the possibility of doing good police work. I wish you’d just… I wish you’d just waited before selling your soul… there were other options.” She finished, quite flustered.

“I gain the impression that you’re not telling me something” Xavien interjected.

“If I’ve kept anything from you, hon, it had been for your own good; as well as the safety of another. You are a great detective, but I taught you how to read people better than this. Dammit, boy… dammit. Just… Dammit. Ron will explain everythi…” The line suddenly went dead.

His ear-cell twitched. It auto-answered.

“Sorry about the interrupted call, Mr. Brady. The line was not secure, so we made the choice to terminate the connection. We will re-establish the call on another channel momentarily. We ask that you dispose of the personal cell phone and restrict all communication through your ear-cell.” An unidentified voice rattled off in an apologetic tone.

Without a second thought, Xavien smashed his personal phone on the ground. This wasn’t out of direct obedience; rather, it was out of anger. He’d made it to the outside dining area of an Italian Restaurant. This move had startled some of those at the tables, and attracted the attention of the rest of the pedestrians. The phone had come apart in three pieces, but was certainly would not function any longer. He picked up the phone pieces and tossed them in a nearby garbage bin; then waved to the patrons in an apologetic manner.

Suddenly ravenous, he decided that he would get some food. Italian food tasted good, but he fully intended to hold himself to his newly-restricted diet. He walked to the grocery store on the corner and purchased a half dozen baked chicken-breasts from their hot-bar and consumed them quickly, while seated at the in-store café.

He then burped, excused himself to no one in particular and then placed his face in his hands to shut the world out. He needed to work through everything in his head. Xavien had burned bridges faster than he could build them, but he knew that those bridges led him in directions he refused to take. He would be (further) damned if he would live in a manner dictated by anyone else. He’d fought for so long to make his life, his own; no way would he give it up for anything or anyone else. This was his life and would be lived under his terms; regardless of the hazard to would bring.

He mulled over all of the possible angles to everything that had happened in an attempt to organize it. Everything fired at him in such a rapid succession… it just felt like the next logical conclusion would be that a direction would present itself, as well. He’d never lived by the seat of his pants before but, then again, he’d never really lived under his full capacity before. It wasn’t out of the realm of logic that this was how many supernatural creatures lived, in the first place.

Andrew seemed to be a good resource, as did Giles; even if he liked neither of them. The Inari… he remained hesitant about, although he loved their company and had a good feeling about them. Tommy was an unknown entity, but had potential to be a great ally. Jorge was shifty, at best. Joseph Johnson, Charles Baskerville, Mortimer Taggert and Karl Tellam were non-factors in his furthered development. The vampire triplets seemed to be business-oriented, even though he knew them to be untrustworthy. He’d already gathered that further contact with Half Mouth was less than advisable.

He wondered how long it would be until this ‘Ron’ caught up with him. He suspected there would be a remarkable quality to this individual, as well.

Then, his mind traveled to the bald vampire at Carpe Noctem… Vic… Would he be a reasonable resource? Probably not, if he was required to imbibe these messages.

Xavien had been lost in thought for so long that he lost track of time. By the time he noticed the clock, it was already five. He cursed under his breath and calculated the distance. He had enough time to get there, but only if he jogged. He wasn’t about to run pell-mell through the city in his wolf form; that might attract more than a little attention. A wolf running through the city was never considered normal, no matter what city. He had already become spoiled by his four-footed form, as his two, clunky human-sized feet seemed inefficient and slow.

Regardless, he left the grocery store and jogged toward Jorge Camino’s house. He wondered if he would meet the other two brothers, or if they would retain the charade.

He got there with just under a minute to spare. Xavien was not even close to breathless, as his physical condition was prepared and conditioned for faster and longer exertion.

He saw a dark purple car with two wide, black stripes down the hood, roof and trunk. It had just turned down the street toward the house; it was a noisy vehicle that had one of the classic fossil-fuel engines. It was a DMZ-modded 1970’s Dodge Challenger. DMZ had been a classic-car restoration company in the early 2020’s that modernized interiors and retrofitted with performance enhancements to rival that of modern production-model fuel-cell cars.

Xavien waited patiently and watched as the car pulled slowly down the street and into the driveway. It was a nice-looking vehicle, but a bit more garish than he would prefer. He would be looking for a more subdued vehicle with a lot of quiet power.

Jorge got out, and then two more Jorges got out. They were each dressed in uniforms. Xavien tilted his head and winced in an overt display of confusion.

The driver spoke up; “I’m Jorge, the passenger is Sergei and the one in the back seat is Muerte. They are my brothers, but I guess you knew that.”

Xavien nodded; “Fascinating.”

Muerte spoke up; “So, I talked to you on the phone. You want to go shopping? I got a used car guy I buy from. You buy the car from him; you pay us to fix it up. Jorge and Sergei are getting chit together for a party later on; if you’re still around, you can join us.”

Jorge chuckled; “Later, Brady…”

Sergei chuckled as well, but merely waved.

Muerte got in the driver’s side and waved Xavien to the passenger side. Xavien complied, still with a sense that something was a little bit ‘off’. The context was lost on him, but he attempted to scrutinize his surroundings to try and gain insight.

He rode in silence with Muerte as he drove to a place that looked precisely like a junk yard. It was just outside the city and had some viscious mutts that milled about the inner perimeter of the fence. A few sparse trees provided shade over the trailer, with a few antique cars parked in front. He spotted a vehicle that resembled an old Lincoln Towncar from the turn of the century. It was rare to find cars that were fifty-plus years old in such excellent condition.

Muerte slowed the car to a stop next to the Lincoln, and then nodded with his head as an indicator that Xavien should get out and follow him.

Once again, Xavien complied, but he broke the silence; “So, is this the selection? Are there any more modern vehicles, or are these street-legal?”

“Like you, they need a bit of work…” Muerte chuckled; “But it’ll get there. The way they work is better and more efficient than you’d think, if you tweak it right. Besides, the old style can’t be beat. We can put a fuel-cell engine in there, too.”

“What about something a little less… conspicuous?” Xavien asked, tentatively.

“My man Blackie? He can find any car you want. He likes money and has a ton of online contacts that are willing to drive down merch. This is all on the level, don’t worry. Don’t want you going all Interpol on me, homes.” Muerte chuckled and winked flirtatiously.

Xavien nodded. It wouldn’t be any sort of surprise if this were an illegal operation. After all, there were three men pretending to be one single police officer. The thing about deceptions was that they have a way of piling up, and he certainly wasn’t naïve enough to believe that all supernatural beings were honest or honorable. He was even reasonably sure that even the ‘good’ ones didn’t operate within the guidelines of human society; with Andrew likely to be a rare exception.

The door to the trailer opened and a short, skinny black man in horn-rimmed glasses walked out. Xavien pondered the name and wondered if it was a spirit name, as the name ‘Blackie’ seemed a bit racist and blatantly insensitive for the time.

“This the dude?” Blackie asked, with a nasal but otherwise unaccented voice.

“This is the dude.” Muerte added, with pride.

“Wonderful. This will help us out significantly.” Blackie said with confidence; “Let’s not waste any more time.”

Xavien’s blood went cold. His senses felt danger and he reflexively dodged out of the way; too late. As he attempted to fall into a roll, he felt something impact the side of his head. His eyesight faded around the vision of Muerte as he handled the recoil of a gun that was most certainly not department-issue.

As his consciousness quickly faded, he couldn’t understand precisely why he had been so fucking naïve and blind.

He felt his consciousness roar back to life and his vision went red with the unbridled rage of frenzy, before he blacked out once again.

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