Xavien

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Chapter 17.StandingAlone

He left the small apartment and saw that there were two men at the far end of the hallway, nearest the stairs. They both had black hair, black leather bomber jackets and blue denim pants with black motorcycle boots. They watched him as if they intended to cause him harm. One of them was almost as tall as he was, the other was much shorter. Their eyes were almost black and their skin was a mess of pock-marks and scars. They wouldn’t seem out of place in prison.

“What can I do for you fine, upstanding gentlemen?” Xavien asked, calmly with a hint of sarcasm.

They did not respond as two more similarly dressed individuals joined at the top of the stairs.

Xavien sighed; “You know what this reminds me of? The opening scene of an action movie… where four thugs appear in front of the protagonist as he is just getting his start… they underestimate him, and then he proceeds to whip the ever-living shit out of them.”

He advanced toward them, casually. Suddenly, the door opened up and a voice hissed; “Don’t look. Just take it!! Take it!”

This was the voice of the plucky Mrs. Willits. He offered his hand into the door and felt something heavy and metal. Xavien rolled his eyes and shook his head at this providence.

This gesture did not go unnoticed as the four men began to walk toward him. The two new entrants onto the scene were much shorter than he was.

As the door closed and bolted, he released the clip and made a show to put it in his pocket. Xavien grinned and looked at the gun. It was a gold-plated gun with an onyx handle. This was likely a very expensive piece, perhaps one of the last few expensive items left over from Mr. Willits’ playing days.

He attempted to calm his nerves, but the adrenaline rush surged as the four men quickly closed the gap.

“You could work for me, you know. I’ve got a great dental plan.” Xavien said as he scratched at his earlobe.

He spoke aloud; “Dispatch?”

His phone twitched in his ear and dialed. Dispatch picked up right away.

“Dispatch.”

“You four gentlemen want to hurt me, right? Cash my body parts in for some cash and respect, am I right?”

“I understand that you are in danger. Indicate the number of resources requested by nodding your head up to five times.” The dispatch operator spoke very quickly.

Xavien chuckled as he nodded three times; “But… you’re waiting to see what I’m going to do before acting, because you’re just a bit unsure of what I’m going to do next?”

There was a large, barred window at the end of the hallway past them, which could not be used as an escape route. He could shift down and slip past them, which may be an option if all else failed. He did not wish to engage in a gun battle, but that was an option as well.

“Dispatching three armed resources to your location. Please allow for three to five minutes for arrival. You are seven-point-three miles from the nearest safe house. I will stay on the line and provide directions.” The operator continued quickly.

Xavien chuckled as he hung his head. He may not have three to five minutes to wait. Tommy could be nearby, still, which would be preferable. Ron could also be nearby, which would be helpful as well. He found it hard to believe that he would be so isolated. It was broad daylight outside. This could also be another test, but he wasn’t taking chances.

He also had no information as to whether these were supernatural creatures. Xavien focused his energies to attempt to adapt his sense of smell to that of the wolf. He was successful.

They smelled simply awful… mostly like garbage, but there was a hint of something else.

The men had stopped about seven feet in front of him, still silent. They watched him carefully, their eyes alive as they prepared themselves. He believed that they could have been in silent, telepathic communication, so he decided to play along.

He used the trick to speak to the tallest one telepathically; “So, what is the next step here? Are you waiting for me to attack you? If so, you may be waiting awhile. We can just get this over with… you and your thug-buddies attack me and we’ll see who ends up dead. I’m ready when you are.”

The tallest one startled slightly, but then stared him in the eyes, before he responded telepathically; “We like to take our time. So far, we don’t think you’re so tough. You can’t escape… even if you could get past, you are too slow to outrun us… and none of your buddies are within miles of here…”

Xavien grinned; “That’s why I have already outsmarted you.”

“By calling for backup? We figured that. You’ll be dead before they get here.” Another voice spoke in his mind.

“Yeh and that pathetic gun is too slow, you unloaded it, and it couldn’t hurt us anyway.” Yet another voice spoke to him telepathically.

Xavien laughed aloud; “You’re hoping that you’re right. One of these days you’re going to be wrong, and you hope that this isn’t one of those days. Personally, I think you are half-assed cowards. If you were even good at being cowards, you would have attacked me immediately. But you can’t even manage to get your shit together to do that much.”

Snip, Snip … away went the fear from his mind.

Xavien walked directly up to them and stood mere inches from the tallest one; “Now what, dick?” He spoke telepathically.

The tallest spoke aloud; “You just made a big mistake.”

He sensed the tension rise and, instinctively, he shifted into his smaller wolf form. As he did so, he saw that he narrowly avoided a dagger thrust into his gut. He scrambled between the four of them, so that they surrounded him.

Xavien then shifted up into his (now nude) form and yanked the dagger out of the tallest one’s hand. Stunned, the tallest one hissed out; “FUCKER

The shortest of the four attempted to stab him, but out of surprise, another one of the men bumped against the side of the dagger; this caused it to barely miss Xavien’s armpit.

Xavien head-butted the short one that still had the dagger, which caused his nose to explode with blood and mouth to explode with curses. He felt something strike his flesh from behind and he quickly flipped the dagger around and jammed it into the man’s eye socket. As the man dropped, Xavien fell back and rolled underneath of the man to use him as a shield.

One of the other men had gone missing… no, he was replaced with a half-man, half-rat creature. Xavien hadn’t expected this in broad daylight. He yanked out the dagger from the eye-socket of his new shield and struggled to his feet, with the wall to his back. The other two shifted into their rat-man forms and he began to sense that his options had dwindled.

He saw that his shield had a punch-dagger wrapped onto his wrist; this was the thing that he’d felt. Xavien knew he had begun to bleed profusely and would likely bleed out if he did not adopt a more imposing form.

Xavien braced himself against the wall and shifted up. He used the momentum of this action to shove his shield into the three of them. Two of them got out of the way, but the shortest one was in the middle of them and was thrown to the floor by the force of it. He narrowly avoided a claw-rake from the one on the left as he dodged downward and rolled behind them.

He kept a low profile and lunged for the ankle of the short one that had fallen. He clamped down and tore with all his might, then felt the crunch and tearing of flesh as he managed to remove the entire foot at the ankle.

Xavien resisted the urge to howl out as one of the others latched their teeth on the back of his neck. He then reached underneath of that rat, between its legs and dug his claws into its groin; he hoped that there wasn’t some supernatural protection in that area. It made sense that this would still be a sensitive spot. He was rewarded as the rat relinquished his grip.

With lightning-quick glance about his surroundings, he noticed that his form had not been in view of any peepholes or open doors. He leapt from that area, toward the pile of clothes that he’d left behind. As he landed, he shifted into his human form, although his neck was bleeding as well. He picked up the gun, deftly extracted the clip from the pants pocket and jammed it in.

As he was beset by the other two rats, he screamed as he quickly jammed the dagger through the side of its ribcage and twisted; narrowly avoiding another claw rake. He then braced himself against the wall and wailed the butt of the gun against the side of the head of the one who had just swiped at him.

Unfazed, the rat seemed to smile as he shook his head menacingly.

A fast assessment told him that two men had returned to their human form and now lay dead on the floor, and somehow the shortest rat-man had disappeared.

This last rat was all that remained of his attackers. It taunted him with a hand motion.

Xavien didn’t even wait for the recoil of his hand from the previous pistol-whip attempt as he called all of his strength forward and jammed the gun up underneath of its chin.

It froze, as if worried that he was to pull the trigger.

Xavien tilted his head; “Ahhh… So, point-blank is still a problem, then? By the way… I’d like to mention that you’ve failed. You may be lucky and get a piece of me… but you’re going to die unless you shift down and speak like a reasonable person.”

He was markedly surprised as the rat-man shifted back down. Xavien was pleased with himself as he kept barrel up against the underside of its chin. The thug twitched his eyes back and forth and spoke nervously; “I’ve already called for help… there won’t be any place you can go… or hide…”

Xavien nodded; “Yeah, I got that impression. Were you an assassin squad?”

“No… You were kind of an assignment for us younger guys. To get us more respect… See? I’m nobody important. You can let me go or kill me, but you’re still dead, see?” The man stammered out, nervously.

Xavien sighed, he was about to pass out from the blood loss but could hold it together for a few moments longer. He couldn’t bring himself to be cruel, and the battle was over; this fool was too scared of him to act.

“Whatever. Remember, you guys attacked me first… I would have been more valuable as an ally. If I let you go, you’re going to run away, right? I don’t want to have to kill you.” Xavien glared at him.

“You know? I am totally going to do that. I’m fucking gone. Any messages you want me to give my pals? I can be a good messenger!” The man offered with rotten-toothed smile.

“Yes, actually. I’m not going to exact revenge, I don’t believe in mindless bloodshed. I know why you assholes are after me. I just want to be left alone.” Xavien then grinned wickedly and glared into the man’s eyes as he added; “You caught me at the worst possible time, at my weakest point… Absolutely no backup, no weapons… I didn’t even have my own clothes… and you still failed. I should have been easy pickings… so you thought. Remember that. This is the last time you will catch me flat-footed. The next time, I take prisoners. I know of a place where we can keep you guys incarcerated. Understand?”

“You know, I understand you perfectly and respect you immensely.” The man said as he smiled weakly and nodded.

Xavien lowered his gun and the man ran toward the stairs. The man then disappeared completely, before he’d even reached them.

Several doors opened up in the hallway as onlookers gawked at the bloody, naked guy that had slumped against the wall near the two dead guys.

Marcy and Mrs. Willits were among them, and they raced to his side.

“Lieutenant Brady, you gots to keep ya drawers on!” Mrs. Willits laughed nervously, concerned for the sake of his wounds rippled through her expression.

Marcy seemed near tears, but a sense of relief; “Goddamn rats…”

“How did you know?” Xavien narrowed his eyes.

Mrs. Willits nodded; “Them gangs are always all up in here, causin’ trouble. We calls ’em rats cuz they just look shady wit dem beady eyes an shit.”

Marcy looked at Mrs. Willits with a slightly raised eyebrow; “Yeah. Yes… of course.” She then looked at Xavien and shook her head as admiration overtook her; “You made it out alright, though… somehow…”

“You callin that alright? He bout to bleed out!” Mrs. Willits said incredulously.

Another neighbor’s voice rang out; “I already called 911… they said they were sending someone…”

Xavien cringed; that would not make things better. He then turned his head toward the sound of additional footfalls as they exited Marcy’s apartment. Three black fatigued gentlemen, one was dark-skinned black male with black and silver hair, one was a tan-skinned black male with a shaven head and the other was a white male with a long red pony-tail.

“Gentlemen! Good of you to… join me. Let me just get some clothes on and we’ll get going.” Xavien said as he mustered up the remainder of his strength to do so.

“Why you fight naked, Lieutenant?” Mrs. Willits asked, amusedly.

“I didn’t want to mess up these nice clothes, that’s all.” Xavien chuckled.

Marcy smiled and winked; “You’ll be in my meditation.”

“Yeah… I’ma pray for you, too. Lord knows we need all the good men we can get. You a good-lookin man, so you needs extra help; mm mm mm. I’ma go prepare myself. Mr. Willits gonna have himself a gooood evenin to-nite” Mrs. Willits gushed suggestively.

The three men waited patiently for Xavien to dress, and nodded at the women as they returned to their apartments. The other concerned neighbor gawked as sirens rang in the distance.

Xavien looked at each of the men as he struggled to his feet; “Okay, gentlemen… which of you is the most senior?”

The other two looked toward the dark-skinned male with the silver and black hair.

“I am Agent Jamison Stake; Freelance Militia Division, call me Jim.” The man spoke up, in a deep and crisp tone. He was slightly shorter than Xavien and had the same build. He had a rather conspicuous silver side-arm holstered and seemed to carry a bit of authority.

“Fantastic. If you could deal with the local cops and meet back at the safehouse, I am going to take the other two there so I can heal up and re-arm.” Xavien nodded.

He seemed less than pleased with this assignment, but nodded; “Very well. Should be no trouble.”

Xavien sighed and winced as he stretched his back. The wound on his back still hurt, even though it had closed somewhat. It felt as if there was a long splinter stuck in there, somewhere. His neck burned, even though that wound had begun to clot a little. He was weakened, but pleased that he could still function; he’d only been wounded this badly once before, and that was when he’d first changed. This was a condition he would prefer to stay out of.

He looked at the other two; “So, if you would help me with a short cut to the safehouse…”

The two of them looked at each other and the tan-skinned black man spoke up; “Short cut? You mean through the shadows? It’s a pretty straight shot…”

Xavien sighed, and did not wish to admit that he did not know how to get ‘to’ the shadows. He calculated the best way to get around it but learn the trick; “My focus right now is really jarred loose… I can look at the damn mirror all I like, but I guarantee you that I’m not going anywhere.”

The white agent nodded; “I get it. My name is Agent Sean McElroy. I’ll give you a hand”

Xavien nodded appreciatively; “And… your name?”

“Agent Simon Tallet. Sorry, I wasn’t thinking that you’d taken a few hits… Those daggers have a heck of a punch. Nice trophy you have, there. You should collect the other one; he won’t need it anymore” He gestured to the fallen rat-man’s weapon; the punch-dagger.

Xavien un-laced it from the lifeless fore-arm and nodded; “Let’s get out of here.”

The other two men nodded as Agent Stake stood by the corpses. Xavien knocked on the door to Marcy’s apartment.

She opened with a smile; “Yes?”

“Two last things… One, can you make sure this gets back to Mrs. Willits, and two… can we use your bathroom… mirror?” Xavien asked, feeling rather silly at the second request.
“Of course.” She said, as she gingerly accepted the gun, flicked the safety on and backed away to allow the men to enter.

“Thank you again; for everything. It may be a few hours of your life, plus some excitement and chicken breasts… but at this moment of my life… the pause I received was priceless, and the kindness felt is immeasurable.” Xavien expressed genuinely.

She hugged him, impulsively; “Just stay alive; and keep your clothes on. Or not. Whatever.”

Xavien hugged her back, warmly; “I’ll keep it in mind.” He chuckled.

“Let’s go, gentlemen.” Xavien said, as he slowly extracted himself from Marcy’s embrace. She was hugging him, but he suspected that she was also hugging her son, in her mind. He didn’t feel slighted, and felt that she deserved every comfort this world had to offer. What he truly wanted to know was what happened to her marriage; he just couldn’t see someone like her turning violent.

“Take care of yourself, Marcy.” Xavien waved goodbye.

“Okay, Agent Brady… ready?” Agent McElroy asked as he held his hand out, toward Xavien’s shoulder.

He nodded; “Yeah. Please.”

Agent McElroy placed his hand on Xavien’s shoulder and he felt an euphoric pins-and-needles feeling wash over his body as the world around faded from view. The final sensation he could feel was a gentle ‘pop’ as if his body passed through some unseen membrane.

He looked at the other two gentlemen with an excited expression; “Whew…”

As they walked, Agent Tallet nodded; “You took on four rats and lived to tell the tale… that’s tough for anyone; even if they were weak for their kind. Gotta say that’s impressive.”

“Doesn’t impress me. Not one bit. Actually, you probably should have done it without getting chewed up, with all the shit I’ve heard about you…” Agent McElroy said, jokingly.

Xavien raised an eyebrow; “I think I did pretty well, considering the fact I was naked, caught flat footed and just recovered from 8 silver bullets, some of which were lodged in or near my head.”

“You’re goddamn Jesus Christ, you shoulda been able to piss rainbows on them and made them your disciples!” Agent McElroy continued to rib him.

“Enough, Mac. You gotta remember the hype never matches the reality… I’m sure he’s good but, by all accounts, he’s lucky we didn’t have to scrape him off the floor…” Agent Tallet chided.

Xavien good-naturedly played along; “Yeah, I’m just a fucken pussy-cat. Let’s get rolling. I need to lick my wounds and prepare for the next attempt on my life.”

“Fair enough, Sir” Agent McElroy nodded and started to jog, which prompted the other two to do the same.

Xavien looked at the world around him, this place was fascinating. He saw some light red shadows that milled about, but most of this area appeared as an ethereal marshland, with large trees and shadowy wildlife. It seemed very much like a dreamland, where he could barely focus on the things he chose to look at directly. He hid the fact that he was awestruck, but it amazed him that he had easily been pulled into another dimension of the world that he didn’t know existed. The sun was up in the sky and he saw it just as brightly as it would be normally, yet the corona was much larger and there weren’t any clouds.

After a few minutes, they reached their destination and the two of them disappeared. As they did so, he saw that there were two bright-red shadows where they had been. He felt a little silly; it felt very much like he had been ditched, even though that was not the case.

He took the opportunity to look around and saw an ethereal raccoon tilt its head as it looked at him, then tentatively scamper toward him in halting steps.

Xavien watched it for a bit, then spoke; “Do you understand me?”

The raccoon sauntered closer; “Yes. Do you have something for me?”

Xavien looked at the two daggers in his hands; “You mean these?”

The raccoon shook its head.

He paused for a moment as he realized that he’d just begun a conversation with a ghostly-raccoon; “What do you mean?”

“A bit of strength, a token of your spiritual essence?” the raccoon asked.

“I highly doubt you’re getting anything of the sort from me.” Xavien chuckled.

“Oh, very well. You want teaching? I can. You need to show respect, because I am older than your ancestors.” The raccoon grumbled.

“Well, considering the fact you’re the first… umm… raccoon… I’ve ever spoken to… I’m sure I don’t know how to properly address you.” Xavien stammered.

“That, I think… is a fair trade.” The raccoon nodded.

“Mr. Brady?” McElroy’s voice came from behind him.

“Yes?” Xavien answered without turning.

“Let me guess… you need help getting back to the physical plane… damn… what did you get stuck with?” Agent McElroy said, in disbelief.

“Yeah… if you could. Just need to get my strength back. Speaking of back, perhaps you can see if there is a splinter or something in my back…” Xavien asked.

“Oh, shit, yeah… That could do it.” He placed his hand on Xavien’s shoulder and they appeared in front of a large mirror in the common room of a house.

This room had a large beige leather sectional couch with metal framed glass end tables on each end, and a matching coffee table in the center. The dark brown curtains were drawn and the matching dark brown carpet was an expensive stain-resistant variety that had recently been cleaned; the chemical smell still lingered in the air. He smelled the scent of an ammonia-based cleaner from the surfaces and noted the pristine nature of the housekeeping.

Xavien nodded; “So, I’ve got this issue with a splinter-thing in my back…”

“Either of us can help with that, but it’s probably going to hurt a bit. Let’s have a look.” Agent McElroy offered.

Xavien stripped to the waist and turned his back to McElroy.

Agent McElroy whistled; “Whew… this is a spider-splinter… extremely rare property, likely an artifact that rat got from an elder or family member. I’d hang onto that punch-dagger… The splinter serves as a tracking device, of sorts. It’s a good damn thing you have the original weapon! Hold still… These get pretty deeply rooted.”

Xavien suddenly felt very fortunate.

As Agent McElroy began to literally dig into his back, Xavien grimaced. It was painful, in the worst way. He’d never felt anything quite like this. He grunted as each strand pulled free from his flesh, and felt odd twitches as his nerves screamed out in pain throughout his body.

“Damn… fucker’s in there deeper than I expected. Hold still… this is the primary shaft… it’s barbed…”

“YAAARRRGH…” Xavien howled as it was pulled at an excruciatingly slow motion.

“Yeah… shew… okay… and… out! Hang on just a minute and I’ll fix you up a moment…” Agent McElroy said, then jammed his finger into the wound as he murmured under his breath.

Xavien knew that there was a finger in the wound of his back, but was surprised that this did not hurt. He assumed that it was some sort of healing trick, this would also be useful to learn.

“There ya go… all sewn up.” McElroy said, satisfied.

“So… Clothes…?” Xavien asked.

“Bedroom, where else? You should find your size, if not… we can get that pretty quick.” Agent McElroy offered with a gesture down the hall.

“Cool. And weapons, I assume, are an easy grab as well?” Xavien asked.

“Yeah, same place… just type in the serial number and your name to sign ’em out. We track those pretty carefully. Some nice stuff, but you foot the bill if it gets lost or fucked up.”

Xavien nodded; “Thanks.” He then headed to the bedroom.

When he made it down the long hallway, he opened the door and noted that this room, too, had been dressed in varied shades of brown and beige. The bed spread was patterned with large dark brown and beige squares, with matching throw-pillows. The door was open to a large walk-in closet that had several sets of black fatigues hanging from the racks. The wooden bed frame was a highly-polished mahogany, with matching dresser and night stand. A full-length mahogany-framed mirror stood next to the closet. This furniture was expensive and rare to find, which caused him to wonder about the resources that Interpol had to draw from.

The door to the bathroom was cocked open, so Xavien shed the brown pants and dropped them on top of the gray shirt, kicked off the shoes and took this opportunity to shower. He was comforted that the wounds had sealed up enough so that he wasn’t bleeding any longer.

After he toweled off, he walked to the closet. He scanned the large array of black fatigues for his size and located pants, shirt, socks, undershirt, boxers and boots. Xavien dressed and then knelt and concentrated on the clothes. He meditated on their substance and willed it to adhere to his skin, performing the mind-over-matter ritual he’d been taught all those years ago. He ran his hands over the clothes as he quietly coaxed aloud; “Become one… Breathe with my breath, stretch as I grow, distend as I extend”

After the ritual was over, he stood and left the closet. He looked around the rest of the bedroom and walked to the dresser. As Xavien tugged on the top drawer, he noted it had some give, but was heavier than he expected. A stronger tug pulled it open, but then an electronic mechanism raised the top of the dresser to display a large touch-screen. The top drawer displayed six small hand guns beside their appropriate ammunition. He closed the top drawer and pulled the middle drawer, which displayed six larger handguns beside their appropriate ammunition clips. He closed the middle drawer and pulled the bottom drawer. This had two assault rifles and several magazines.

He smiled; this could be fun! He selected one of the assault rifles and took all associated magazines. There was a serial number on a metal plate underneath of it. He looked up at the screen and saw that it prompted him to type in his name to electronically sign them out as well as the serial number of the weapon. This screen displayed a copy of his identification card and had the words in green: ‘retinal scan: confirmed identity’. He punched in his name and the serial number of the weapon. The words ‘electronic signature confirmed’ appeared.

Xavien then repeated the process for one gun each from the top two drawers. He had a feeling that he should retain some temporary firepower until he could secure a private stock. He’d noted that there were some holsters in the closet, so he grabbed one for each of the smaller guns and a sling for the rifle.

A quick glance in the mirror gave him pause and he frowned. He looked like one of ‘them’… a faceless foot soldier for a shadowy and corrupt organization that claimed to fight crime. This was not much different than his previous job, but at least he’d worn his own attire. Xavien was grateful that this was a temporary assignment, but was greatly disdainful of the appearance. These clothes were temporary, as were the guns, the hired men at his disposal and the corrupt feeling of this organization on his skin. It had not escaped his notice that they tracked his every movement and this was just another side-effect of this arrangement. He could only hope that they would release him without too much of a hassle. He barely finished the thought before he recognized this as a laughable concept.

He was too valuable for them to merely ‘let go.’

Even if he wasn’t directly involved with a criminal organization, this organization certainly had its share of criminals; of this he had no doubt. The nature of this life lent itself to corruption and decayed principles; he understood it. Part of his mind wondered if his will would be strong enough to remain apart from it, rather than have him become a part of it.

Self-doubt was an unfamiliar sensation, one he did not like.

Fuck that.

He’d prided himself on logical amorality which he felt would improve his chances of success, because he would not succumb to insidious political bullshit. The path of least resistance would be to avoid intrigue and drama; the kind that political organizations embodied. He would focus on the task at hand, without a worry to what anyone else was doing.

As long as he did what he felt was proper and, surrounded himself with like-minded individuals, then he could remain uncompromised. Many tried to affect their world on a larger scale by becoming a part of the system with the genuine intent of changing it from within; but that could not work with any verifiable result. At heart, he was an anarchist, with a dislike for any organization that claimed to have ‘the greater good’ in mind.

The more people touted ‘the greater good’, the more selfish their focus seemed to be.

Fuck that.

He would be just fine. He would not wear their skin, and he would not adopt their supposed ideals. Xavien shook his head; he couldn’t use their tools either. He would wear these clothes until he got his own. Even though he’d just gone through the motions to dedicate these clothes to his body, he did not feel foolish. Xavien had attempted to accept his role, he’d tried to hold these weapons… He just could not abide the appearance.

It was a small lesson that he’d learned on his own.

He returned the weapons to the dresser, signed them back in, and then closed the lid.

If he was going to do this, he would do it properly; on his terms, as much as he could, and with as little aid as possible from his employer.

He flicked his earlobe; “Operations Secretary”

The phone vibrated in his ear and then someone answered up; “How may I help you, Mr. Brady?”

“I would like to check the status of my asset liquidation as I will need access to those funds shortly.”

“The funds are already available and in your employee account, Mr. Brady. We can provide the routing number should you wish to transfer to a standard financial institution, or we can have the cash dropped to your safe house for a nominal fee, likely lower than that of a brick and mortar bank.” The secretary responded courteously.

“Yes, please have it dropped off to this location. I can handle the rest on my own. One more question; how was this handled so quickly?” Xavien asked.

“Well, as most things, all sales handled electronically and through a partnered broker. This has been a well-utilized benefit for many of our contractors and agents.” The friendly female voice smiled through the line.

“Wow, isn’t that convenient. It’s… almost scary how efficient that is.” Xavien chuckled.

“It is daunting at first, but when your life is on the line for the greater good, it is often a shame that we couldn’t do more.”

Xavien chuckled at the word choice; “Great. How much should I expect, will there be a list of where it came from?”

“Oh, indeed; fully itemized receipt will be packaged in the case with your cash. The full amount comes to… six hundred fifty-three thousand, six hundred seventy-two dollars and twenty-seven cents. We’ve taken the liberty of providing you with an assortment of denominations. Allow me to provide the advice that we are also partnered with several financial institutions that provide favorable interest-bearing accounts. Would you like to speak with a broker?” She asked.

He disliked the salesmanship; “No, thank you. I prefer to deal in cash and don’t wish to delay access to my money for any reason. How soon can I expect this?”

“For a fee of point two-five percent, I can send the request now and it can be there in twenty-four hours. For an additional point seven-five percent, I can put a rush on it and it could be there within the hour; as it appears you have a higher sense of urgency.”

Xavien felt that time was money and he was not keen on a return to this place; “So for roughly 6500 dollars, I get it within the hour? That’s fair.”

“There’s also the point 5 percent processing fee, which includes courier, state taxes and international trade fees. Total cost to you is nine thousand, eight hundred five dollars and eight cents. Cash-in-hand will come to six hundred forty-three thousand, eight hundred sixty-seven dollars and seventeen cents. Shall I rush this for you?”

“Please do. Thank you for your time.” Xavien replied cordially.

“I’ve sent the request. It should be processed and delivered between forty-five minutes to an hour. Will there be anything else I can help you with?” She asked.

“No, thank you.”

“Wonderful to hear. Thank you for your call, Agent.” She said, then terminated the call.

He took out the ear-phone, and set it on the top of the dresser. It was too easy to get sucked into this lifestyle. Everything had been so easy and readily handed to him. He pondered the thought that his entire material existence had been distilled into a dollar amount, which did not upset him as much as he would have expected.

He would release his ‘resources’ as soon as he secured a reasonable method of transit.

Then it would be time to literally pay a visit to the Inari.

He exited the bedroom and walked down the hallway to the common room. His three hired ‘resources’ were seated on the couch and each acknowledged him with a nod.

“So… everything secured at the apartment complex, Agent Stake?” Xavien asked, casually.

“Of course, easily as expected.” Agent Stake nodded, pleased with himself.

“Excellent. I’m expecting a delivery, very shortly. Once that arrives, I am going to go car shopping. I know that may sound pedestrian, but appears that I’ve got a great big target painted on my back.” Xavien chuckled wryly.

Agent Stake shook his head quickly to dismiss the thought; “Not at all, you need to be careful, makes sense that you bring backup. Plenty will mess with you, but not so many will tangle with three trained Interpol operatives… more than just brute force to intimidate them, in that case.”

Xavien went back to the bedroom and secured both daggers; he would not let those out of his sight. Xavien walked back into the common room as he held them.

“Rudimentary design, but pack one hell of a punch” He said, to no one in particular.

“Pain daggers live up to their name… that’s for sure” Agent Tallet observed.

Xavien nodded, then found his way to the kitchen. He selected a bottle of water from the refrigerator, sat down on a bar stool at the island in the middle and waited for the courier to arrive. He was lost in thought as he contemplated the information he’d encountered; both the resolved and unresolved mysteries.

Of the greatest concern was the one relating to Andrew, which Tommy had drawn his attention to. Tommy had cautioned him against directly questioning Andrew, but Xavien did not have patience for that sort of hesitancy. He would, most certainly, question Andrew at his first opportunity. The worst answer he would get would be that Andrew did not know; and he would then have to determine how willing he was to trust that assertion. The next worst answer he would hear would be that he was a bi-located copy of Irving. Beyond that, there could be several plausible and acceptable answers that Xavien could live with. He didn’t care if Andrew was as much of a boy scout as he purported, he just hoped that it didn’t pose a problem.

He thought further on the status of the case itself; it felt like he had a long way to go before he could locate much less capture Irving. Xavien also wondered if there was a possible prison that could hold someone with such power.

His thoughts went to the benefactor, and he wondered if this person kept tabs on him; to test his resolve and mettle. Could he trust this benefactor? Likely not right away, but if it was some sort of superlatively-honorable individual… it wouldn’t be unreasonable that this person had to ensure Xavien’s trustworthiness as well.

Xavien thought some more about the individuals he’d encountered, and then the doorbell rang. His senses came to life and his heart raced as it prepared him for battle.

“Agent Tallet? McElroy, back him up and Stake join me in the kitchen.” Xavien hollered out.

“Sure to. On it.” Tallet responded.

“Got it” McElroy responded.

Agent Stake made his way into the kitchen quietly and eyed him, inquisitively.

Xavien didn’t speak as he listened as the exchange happened at the door.

McElroy and Tallet accompanied a man into the kitchen. He had a black security-case in one hand and a large sidearm on his hip.

“Mr. Brady? Your funds. I can remain and count it in front of you, or you can count it in my presence.” The courier was slightly built, pale skin, dark brown eyes, shaved head, roughly five-foot-two-inches tall.

“Trust but verify.” Agent Stake chuckled.

Xavien nodded; “Thanks for the advice… Mr…?”

“You have no need of my name.” The courier responded curtly.

“Will you gentlemen excuse me?” Xavien spoke to the other agents.

They nodded and left the kitchen.

“Please open the case, remove the cash and place it on the counter.” Xavien asked, flatly.

“As you wish.” The courier nodded as he complied.

The cash was set out on the counter and Xavien noted that each stack of bills was bank-wrapped. Some of these bills had been in circulation, but most were fresh and crisp. He noted that the courier had a snake tattoo on his wrist, with two dermal piercings for eyes.

“Snake shifter” Xavien muttered aloud.

The man tilted his head as he laid the final stack of money on the counter; “There’s no such thing.”

Xavien chuckled; “Yes there is.” He then twitched his eyebrows and continued; “Don’t worry. I won’t tell.”

“There’s nothing to tell.” The courier said, flatly.

“Do you free-lance, as a courier, I mean?” Xavien asked.

“On a per-item basis.” The courier nodded.

“This is highly valuable information for me to have. May I have a method of contacting you later?” Xavien asked.

“I am merely providing a disclaimer, as indicated in current context. This could be considered a conflict of interest and as such I am unable to provide this until my contract is fulfilled. I am not permitted to discuss any arrangements, nor provide indication of my interest in any way to additional, private contracts with members of Interpol or their contractors. I am considered a third-party vendor and contractor on a per-item basis through Interpol, but am held to a blanket agreement that precludes any discussion in the matter.” The courier responded, as if by script.

“Then do not respond or react to the following statement: I have a feeling you could find me with great ease. Once you consider your contract filled and we accidentally happen to run into each other… I may attempt the same question once more. If I never see you again, that is fine as well.” Xavien smiled.

The courier smiled politely as he bowed slightly; “I am required by the contract to decline and discourage such things for the length of your contract, at the risk of voiding the terms and incarcerating you for the assumed length of your contract or tenure. Now, if our business has concluded, I shall be going.”

Xavien nodded; “Awfully honorable for a snake… anyway… hang on. I’ve not counted my money. I’m going to inspect the bills for invisible inks, tracking devices or other concerning elements.”

“Your level of distrust in the currency is refreshing. However, I can assure you that the funds not contaminated.” The courier said, in a monotone.

Xavien smirked; “Hmm… I like you. It is a shame I can’t meet more people like you. Take the case with you, please. I have no need of it, nor do I trust it. Thank you.”

“Very well. Thank you for your business and the compliment.” The courier nodded, then left.

Xavien fished out a trash bag from under the sink and then stuffed his money into it. He walked out of the kitchen with it in his hand and gave a wild-eyed grin to the Agents that were seated on the couch; “It’s not paranoia if they are out to get you!” He then gave a brief maniacal laugh, much to their bemusement.

As they searched each other for answers.

“Let’s go shopping.” Xavien chuckled as he derived a bit of enjoyment from his currently capricious demeanor. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if he would be presumed insane, he reasoned.

“A trash bag?” McElroy questioned; “Really?”

“Shut your pie hole, we’re not here for your insipid banter, McElroy!” Agent Stake barked, more to regain a sense of control rather than out of irritation.

Xavien looked at the three of them; “So, I assume there is a set of wheels parked outside that we can use?”

Agent Tallet nodded; “Yep. A Camry. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Let me guess, a relationship with the maker?” Xavien asked.

“Nope. Needed a piece of junk that blends in.” Tallet chuckled.

“Fair enough. Let’s ride!” Xavien grinned and then shook his bagful of money. It was his life savings, liquidated money from his house, possessions, Lexus ORV, wife’s minivan and their investment accounts; but it just felt like play money that was a means to an end.

The three men looked at each other, McElroy shrugged; “Okay… you’re the boss.”

They exited the house into the garage, and got into the tan Camry with mirrored windows. McElroy drove, and Xavien sat in the passenger seat as they drove out of the garage.

Xavien directed them to the junk yard just outside the city. He was amused with himself; it was time for payback.

As they pulled up to the locked fence, a man behind the fence hollered at them; “Whaddya want?”

McElroy looked at Xavien quizzically.

“Tell him that we are here to see Blackie about a car.” Xavien chuckled uncontrollably.

McElroy hollered out as instructed.

The man nodded, then opened the gate, and directed them up to the trailer. McElroy drove up and parked as directed.

Blackie flung the door open and stood defiantly in the doorway, arms folded.

Xavien opened the door and got out as he grinned like a fool.

Blackie’s lips curled into a snarl, then his face straightened as the other three men exited the car; “Wh—What can… I? Do for you… gentlemen…?” Came his frightened response.

Agent Stake responded; “You nearly jumped out of your… skin… when you saw me, Blackie. What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. Nothing. How’s that…lovely wife of yours?” Blackie stammered, nearly ready to wet himself.

“Fantastic. Now, how about you help Agent Brady here… and we’ll get out of here before I get involved in any more interesting… discussions... with you” Agent Stake cackled in a sinister fashion.

Xavien was very interested in this exchange, but he had some of his own. He held his hand up for the other three to wait, which they did.

He walked up to Blackie with the garbage bag in his hand and maintained his foolish grin.

Blackie focused on Xavien, seemingly even more concerned by his presence; “What do you need, Agent Brady?”

“That old Lincoln. How much for it? I want it.” Xavien said.

“It’s yours, take it. Like a gift. Like an ‘apology-for-almost-killing-you’ gift.” Blackie smiled.

Xavien loomed over Blackie’s five-foot form, imposingly; despite the grin. “I’m going to give you money for the car. Will two thousand do?”

Blackie tilted his head; “If that is what you want, sure, yes.”

Xavien said; “Is this what you consider fair market value? I would like a receipt.”

Blackie raised his eyebrows; “It’s only worth what someone will pay for it, right? Two-thousand sounds perfect. It runs on fuel-cells, even though it looks like the old-school combustion engine… it’s a kit, no original parts... just so you know.”

“Wonderful. Can we discuss the transaction in private?” Xavien said, menacingly.

“Sure, sure… Come inside. I’ve got my girl in here… want her out?” Blackie asked.

“Yes.” Xavien nodded; “If anyone is watching from the shadows, I’m going to know…”

Blackie’s eyes shifted around and he tilted his head as deep-set fear settled; “No worries. No one watching.”

Xavien glanced over to McElroy; “Can you back me up on that?”

“Sure to.” He responded with a grin. McElroy had no idea of what was going on, but seemed to be enjoying himself.

Xavien followed Blackie into the trailer and pulled the door closed behind him.

Blackie whipped around to face Xavien; “Look, cub, I ain’t got nuthin’ against you, personally… what the fuck do you want?”

“Two-thousand dollars in your hand for the key to the Lincoln in my hands, complete with receipt and paperwork.” Xavien said, as he enjoyed the uncertainty he evoked simply with his presence.

Blackie spat out a curse as he wrote a receipt out by hand and fumbled on his computer to print out the car’s paperwork. He tossed the keys at Xavien, and Xavien playfully tossed the two thousand dollars at him.

As Xavien did so, Blackie nearly jumped out of his skin; “What the fuck you do that for?”

“Why do you think?” Xavien dropped his smile and stared into Blackie’s eyes.

“You made your point. You ain’t gotta worry about my pack troubling your sorry ass…” Blackie sighed and half-whined.

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of your mistake. But if you cause me trouble in the future?” Xavien raised an eyebrow and tilted his head down and to the left.

“Look… okay. Like I said… my pack will leave you alone. I can’t do more than that… Besides, you got bigger folks than us to worry about.” Blackie chuckled, derisively.

“I’ve already got that covered. Trust me.” Xavien snapped.

“Okay! Okay. Look, you are the lord god almighty and sunshine shines out your damn ass. I gave you the keys, there is a full charge on that cell… now get the fuck out; take that motherfucker Stake out with you.” Blackie rattled off in frightened exasperation.

Xavien got the impression that Blackie was stronger than he, supernaturally and politically… but that Xavien had won the upper hand with his behavior and company. He wouldn’t refuse it, nor would he directly threaten bodily harm or social repercussions. He refused to clear up any misconceptions based on conclusions others would draw for themselves. Their perception belonged to them and became their affliction if they did not clarify statements or questions that potentially pertained to their safety.

“I will say this… whatever involvement you have with Stake? It is not worth what he’s gunna take from you. Him or his rotten wife.” Blackie advised as his nerves calmed slightly.

Xavien chuckled; “If I were to be working for him, that is. Until next time, Blackie…”

“Let’s just hope I don’t have to see you again.” Blackie said, nervously.

“Good doing business with you.” Xavien nodded, held up the receipt, papers and keys.

He exited and grinned at the other two that waited for him. They watched him with marked interest as he got into his car and started it.

McElroy appeared next to his car and said; “Where to next?”

“I think I’ll be okay from here. I’ll call if I need you guys; thanks.” Xavien smiled.

“You sure?” McElroy verified.

“More than.” Xavien nodded, then slammed the door, jammed the car into reverse, yanked the wheel and drove away.

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