Once the house had been cleared of the decedents and law enforcement personnel, Xavien decided that he was not as okay to sleep there as he’d originally planned. It wasn’t out of grief (yet) or fear for his life (yet), or even superstition (yet); but rather that the house felt like a discarded eggshell. The point behind this house that it held what he’d loved, and all of that was gone.
It was all gone.
That phrase angered him, even as hot tears dripped down his stone-cold and expressionless face. It wasn’t just gone; it had been stolen from him. Not only had his loved ones been stolen from him, it felt that they were manipulated out from under him, and then destroyed as if to prove a point. He was angered by his own twin-spigots that noticeably poured salty droplets of useless and inefficient pain. He could not let anything get that close to him again; this display of emotion was just not something he enjoyed and would not permit beyond the current mourning period. If he could maintain an expressionless posture and still experience this wasted expulsion… would it happen in the line of duty? This most certainly should be a weakness that he could cut out with practice. He could go on bleeding on the inside, that would be just fine.
He went to the bathroom sink to compose himself; he was equal parts embarrassed to look at himself and see this exposition as he was to experience this weakness. He washed his face and felt a hiccough; no, it was a sob. Oh, that most certainly would have to go right down to hell.
But, who was he hiding this from; the unseen eyes that watched him? Would they mock him, or would they be surprised that he wasn’t a stone?
Fuckit… this was not only a trial that was worthy of a destruction of a much lesser being, it was in homage to the love that had been systematically destroyed.
That was, at least, the justification that he gave himself as he crashed to the floor and allowed himself to bawl like child. For the first time in his recollection, he ended up curled in the fetal position and destroyed by gut-wrenching sobs and puddles of tear-laden mucous. This was an experience that most men his age had already experienced in childhood, combined with an experience that no man should ever feel; all at once. It was the broken heart and the unusually quick ending to a dream life.
He wanted to be smaller; he felt he wanted to waste away. Much to his surprise, his form changed to that of a large-maned silver wolf. Senses acute and the flow of tears stemmed, he jerked his head up. He could smell… something. It was extremely faint, but there was something he did not detect before. With his head slung low about his shoulders as he padded lightly on his four paws, he sniffed about the floor in the bathroom; it wasn’t there.
He stealthily navigated toward the scent and found that it led him toward the bedroom. He found the scent on the floor and followed it around the floor in a very peculiar manner. Xavien, in the form of a wolf, focused his attention on this scent for several minutes before he noticed something even worse; a pattern!
He put his paws on the table and scraped a permanent black-inked marker to the floor. He chuckled as he thought to himself… Fuck. Opposable thumbs.
He used his teeth and his right front paw to get the lid off and then was knocked back by the putrescent smell of the alcohol in the marker. Quickly, he grabbed the marker and flung it out of the room. He could sense it still, so he bolted to where it landed and carried it downstairs before he raced up and located an Xact-o knife in his desk drawer. It was a little more difficult to remove that lid, but it was off, after about three minutes of frustration.
Xavien tightly clamped the handle of the knife between his teeth so that the point stood straight out, and then sniffed his way back to the unusual scent. Carefully he dug the knife into the carpet where the scent was and cut along its path. It was quite a fine stroke, but he was close enough to the floor to discern the difference.
He’d never been in the small form of a wolf before, merely the monstrous half-man, half-wolf creature. This was an interesting and exhilarating experience, as he felt… comfortable; oddly so.
When he’d finished cutting into the carpet… he laid the knife down and sauntered back a few feet. It was written directly under where the marital bed had been; only the room was barren of furniture, as was the modus operandi of the Immaculate Artist.
It took a moment for his eyes to focus and discern, but then the pattern became evident. The pattern… comprised of cursive letters that read:
His incensed form filled with vitriol and the ravenous desire for violence and he shifted up and distended as he once again assumed the imposing form of the werewolf that he had ignored for so long.
Without furniture or breathing bodies in proximity, all he could do was stand there and seethe as his gigantic torso heaved and flared his nostrils.
His perspective, askew from the vitriolic surges, determined after several minutes that there was nothing to be done about this; at least not in his current livid state.
Xavien melted back into his human form, once again. The tears had finished, for now, at least. He fumbled for his phone and located it in the bathroom. There was a missed call from the captain, he quickly re-dialed.
“Dammit… I ordered you to keep your phone near… I want you to find somewhere else to stay. I can’t let this motherfucker get to you. Look, I know you’re going through a really shitty time right this second… I hurt for you and your loss, but… you absolutely must keep your fucking phone nearby…” The captain’s rant was cut short by Xavien’s angered voice as it shouted wordlessly into the phone.
“Good. Now that I have your attention. I found something you will want to see. I also don’t know what to make of it, nor do I really know how I located it.” Xavien hedged in a calm voice, in stark contrast to the shout only moments earlier.
“—the fuck? Anyway, fantastic. I am waiting outside in my car. I’ll be right in, I’d turned around the second I got to the station because I could not reach you to inform you of the fact that I’d changed my mind… Masterson is with me, as well.” The captain said as apologetically as he could, while still maintaining professional superiority.
Xavien did not completely trust his new partner, but not because of any fault, or even the dramatic coincidence of the potential connection to a suspect… Andrew Masterson was exactly what he needed to transition to this new life; a life that Xavien truly did not wish to enter. He resented the fact that it had been foisted upon him without consent.
He flinched as he heard the front door open downstairs. Even though this was an empty and discarded eggshell, it was still his empty and discarded eggshell, his territory. Quickly, he shook this irritation off and relegated it to the fact that his emotions were too close to the surface.
The two men hurried up the stairs and Xavien pointed at the floor to indicate the new evidence; “Right there. I can’t explain how I noticed it… but I happened to be close to the floor and I picked up this… smell… I then noticed it wasn’t like a spill or anything… there was a pattern, so I cut it out with my Xact-o knife.
“Good Doggie?” Andrew queried.
“FUCK FUCK FHUUUUUUUUCK!” The captain screamed and slammed the bedroom door, then quickly put his fist through it. He turned around; “Motherfucker is not only taunting us… but targeting you!”
Both detectives were startled by this outburst, but all three men nearly jumped out of their skin as the wounded bedroom door quickly opened inward.
With a spurt of unrealistic speed, Detective Masterson pulled his gun and vaulted through the narrow opening of the door before the other two men could identify the intruder.
No sooner did Andrew get the abbreviation; “HCPD” out, then did he leap backwards, drop his gun and put his hands up to apologize; “Chief, holy crap… you startled the hell out of us!”
Nonplussed and remarkably amused, Chief Charles Baskerville let loose a crooked smile and a few deep, rumbling and unsettling chuckles; “No wonder you didn’t hear me over all that racket, boys.”
Captain Crane failed to hide the eye roll that obviously indicated his displeasure at the new entrant to the scene.
The smile vanished from Chief Baskerville’s face and twisted into a scowl; “I promise that I’m not just a soulless bureaucrat that may have held a gun once! I’ve got more than 30 years of active-duty law enforcement under my belt. Regardless… the reason that I am here is because I was informed of the tragic news. I care very much about the men under my care…” The chief stopped and then he sniffed the air.
Xavien’s eyes widened slightly; he most certainly did not like that the chief had done that. That could mean…
“What an odd smell…” The chief shook his head, as if trying to place it. He then crouched down and stared; “I didn’t see this in the crime scene report…” He gestured to the floor, at the cuts in the carpet.
Xavien’s heart raced and his blood boiled as he grunted out; “Pattern wasn’t clear until I traced it in the carpet.”
The chief nodded; “Fantastic work, but then again you’ve always had the nose for this kind of work; don’t often get to see good… police work… in action.”
“All apologies, Chief; please understand that there is a certain level of heightened awareness when a superior arrives unexpectedly. With that said, I honestly do not smell a damn thing… and I’ve nothing wrong with my sense of smell.” Captain Crane remarked as he backpedaled politically.
After a split-second’s pause, Andrew Masterson piped up; “If I may interject, I couldn’t smell anything either…”
“It’s just the difference between a great detective and a legendary detective; that is all.” The chief nodded with a distant look in his eyes and a detached smile on his lips.
The room remained silent and Xavien added; “This pain certainly feels legendary; lucky me.” The bitter sadness hit with a modicum of surprise, which was not lost on Xavien. He wanted to derail the chief’s unprofessional disregard for the other two men in the room. One of which he respected a great deal, the other of which was likely to be his partner. Small gestures like this went a long way, he reasoned.
“Captain, take Detective Masterson back to the station and call an emergency all-hands meeting for 0800. I wish to address the team on a course of action, once I figure out what that will be. I also have budgetary approval on a few things that I wished to discuss in direct relation to this case.” The chief spoke quietly, with the air of authority that shut down additional discussion.
“Right away, chief.” Captain Crane said with a nod and an evened-tone. He walked out quickly, with Detective Masterson in tow.
Still focused on the floor, the chief turned his ear to the side and waited until the front door closed shut behind them. He then stood up in front of Xavien. He was slightly shorter than Xavien, around 6’4, but likely outweigh Xavien by about fifty pounds. Chief Baskerville had just turned seventy-two but carried himself like a grizzled old southern gentleman that would gladly get into a scrap just to prove he could still win a fight, despite the toll of age. He and his wife had been a part of high-society circles for quite some time, but he still had the thousand-yard stare of someone who wouldn’t think twice about taking a life or twelve.
The Chief sneered as he watched Xavien to size him up. The men locked eyes as the chief challenged him to get a good look.
This man did not carry the aura of the textbook old-world sheriff. Xavien took in a quick breath… he understood, at the very least, why this man could be the subject of rumors. He had the piercing gaze and the sly smile that would befit a textbook old-world outlaw. A wolf in chief’s clothing, as it were.
“Theeerre it is, cub.” The sneer broke into a wicked, taunting smile as the chief nodded.
“Well, okay. I have to know three things… merely out of relevance, because I fucking despise politics. One: did you have anything to do with the untimely break-up of my marriage. Two: did you have anything to do with this murder or any of the murders of the so-called ’Artist’ and Three: What reason, beyond your well-earned superiority, do I have to believe your answers to the first two questions.” Xavien rattled off as the chief watched with self-important glee.
“What? No questions about my references?” The chief chuckled.
“I am thoroughly disinterested in anything to do with wolves, werewolves, cubs, elder-werewolf-things or any supernatural-gobbelty-gook at the moment. I would request that you do not assume any disrespect; I am just extremely focused on the case at hand.” Xavien bowed his head in deference.
Chief Baskerville sighed, disappointed at Xavien’s disinterest; “Very well, for now. One: I truly did not know of the break-up of your marriage; all I’d known was that you two were very happily married and were the loving parents of a very cute little boy. Two: If anything, I’m offended that there is someone out there that thinks we won’t catch them. Personally, I’d love to see the culprit strung up and smeared in hog-shit. Three: It’s all connected, the avoidance of your nature notwithstanding… Captain Crane was correct, you are being targeted. The reason you should believe me is because I not only understand the politics and motivation for me to get this solved within human society, but I feel offended and angered by the upset that this could cause to the society that you have willfully chosen to be ignorant of. To a point; you should believe me because I haven’t got the foggiest of where to begin and I don’t have the kind of time to devote to it.”
“If I may be so candid… The mere fact that you answered question number three is a disservice to your argument and thereby casts you in a suspicious light.” Xavien swallowed his heart back into his chest and continued; “However, I certainly feel targeted of late. I’m going to put every part of my being into this case. I gain the distinct impression that, even if you are the actual murderer, you will give me every avenue and remove every roadblock in my path; even up to and including a promotion. Not only would it make the game more fun for you, it would look great for you on a political level.” Xavien snarled as he allowed the adrenaline to power his obvious disrespect. He kept his eyesight lowered, if only slightly.
Chief Baskerville’s eyes changed from that of a human to something decidedly more wolf-like; “Cub, you will watch your tone or I will end you!”
Xavien’s heart slammed in his chest and he locked eyes; “I am not and will not be a part of your secret club of meddlesome and dramatic supernatural freaks. I reluctantly follow your lead as chief but am well aware that you are little more than a corrupt public figurehead!”
Charles kept his steely gaze locked with Xavien’s, but grinned smugly as he shook his head side to side; “I suppose that it’s a bad time to mention that we are… related on yet another level.”
Xavien rolled his eyes and tossed his hands up in frustration; “If you tell me that you’re my real father, this is just going to have to end in blood.”
The chief unleashed a down-home southern guffaw at the declaration; “Son, you are too much! No, no! We’re related by blood, but you aren’t my boy. You’re from another branch of our family, the Vandeleur’s. The third branch of the family, just so you’re aware, is surnamed Sykes.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake… this is too fucking much. This feels every bit like a crime family… One I want no part of on any level…” Xavien’s shoulders slumped under the weight of so much bullshit.
“Well, fore-warned is fore-armed. I will, for now, allow it all to sink in until my hand is forced. However, I would like to mention that there is a substantial fortune that awaits the eldest member of the Vandeleur family, which would be you… although it’s worth mentioning, I suppose… that your family has a tendency to… trip and fall into shallow graves an awful lot.” The chief shrugged it off, like one of life’s inevitabilities.
“What? Like my mother and father?” Xavien advanced a step toward the chief and glared menacingly.
Again, a sigh from the chief; “Boy… can you just be calm and let me give the Clive’s notes on this before you shoot your load like some high-school virgin?”
Xavien remained silent and chose to narrow his eyes defiantly.
An exasperated snort later, Charles explained; “It all started out as the Baskerville family. We were politically active and in high standing across Europe several hundred years ago. Skipping the details, most of us were warrior-types, without desire for politics. We ran into many blockades in that arena and needed an infusion of talent in that regard. There was a female courtesan in the… primal society by the name of Psykka. She was adept with her tongue on many levels, and whilst it was her intention to assassinate the head of the Baskerville family, it didn’t get so far as we promised greater wealth if she joined us. The spiritually-centered name was a bit too indicative of her nature, so we altered it for human society and she founded the Sykes family. Eventually, the Baskerville-Sykes family had a stranglehold on most of Europe from a political standpoint. Our purposes are not served to remain popular within society, so we planted figureheads in front whilst our family reaped the financial and political benefits.” He paused and was marginally grateful to see that Xavien had softened his attitude so that he could soak up this information.
Charles then continued; “The political benefits became immense and there was… an unfortunate dalliance with members of the Taggert clan that… sullied and tainted our blood dramatically. In addition, the infighting and violence amongst family members began to get out of hand. It is worthy of mention that the Baskerville family started out as a sort of organization that acted as law enforcement within shifter society. Bearing this in mind, in 1784 the family heads banished all members of the Taggert family to the states and recruited the aide of Pierre Van de Leur, who was a simple French constable who had a bit of family in the states as well. By all accounts, he was the purest and kindest soul in what was a gritty and corrupt city of Paris. He was also like you, in rejecting his werewolf nature. He was on the radar because well, the same reason I’ve always known what you were… other shifters kept tabs on him. I mentioned that he lived a simple life, and this translated to his overall lack of wealth. We made him a job offer that he could not refuse. He was to be hired as law enforcement for the two—err… two and a half families.”
Xavien nodded; “To hurry this up… how did the family gain this fortune?”
The chief smiled and raised an eyebrow; “I do get long winded, but in my defense, you’re ignoring several thousand years of history… and if you aren’t careful… you’re going to find yourself dead without knowing why or where it came from. The Clive’s notes on it—“
“…you keep saying Clive’s notes… Isn’t it Cliff’s notes?” Xavien hung on that detail for significance.
“Ah. Good catch. This comes from a contracted member of the family, Clive Chatterjee. He and his sister Camille are quite the asset as it relates to unbiased reporting. Conveniently? They report to… well, they will report to you, actually. They’re spies, scribes and dirty-rotten thieves… however I like to think of them motivated informants. Anyway! To wrap this up… You will like this part. The money came in because Pierre Van de Leur was to get the ultimate deferred salary. We took care of the needs of him and his family, but there was to be no financial benefit otherwise. The fortune would not be active until three generations later in the chain; after they had proven themselves trustworthy and honest. This was not a great challenge for him to accept, as his modest means and low political standing became a source of great stress for him. He went gray around the same time you did, actually. Turns out it’s more genetic than anything, but at the time they said the ill-will of his fellow officers aged him forty years. The end result is that, the eldest male member of the Van de Leur family not only gained control of the Van de Leur family, but full access to their resources.”
Xavien, locked in thought, nodded and muttered; “Was… my father the head of the family?”
Charles shook his head; “No. That was actually Charles Van de Leur, who was killed three years after your father’s death. Your father would not have been eligible as he did not have the spiritual connection to the wolf as you do.”
“So, I’m the eldest male… werewolf… or whatever… and I get all this stuff. Calling it as I’ve heard it… I’m hearing this information from a source that is, in human society, dubious at best. The fact that your family has to have its own police force gives me a bit of pause in the belief that you may, indeed, be corrupt.” Xavien sighed as his brain furtively worked to process this information. He wanted to know more, but now wasn’t the time.
“Calling it as you’ve heard it?” The chief said with a laugh; “I’m just going to come out with it… corruption is so deliciously inter-woven throughout all walks of my family, that you couldn’t have a prayer of where to begin. The reason I tell you is that I can get away with it. You’ll never actually prove a thing. Plus, if you follow me around, you’re going to see why your family members have such a short lifespan.”
Xavien laughed with incredulity; “Oh for goodness sake, are you kidding? Are all of you creatures this arrogant and revolting?”
The chief guffawed again; “Oh, goodness no! Just the breed of werewolves that you happen to be a member of and the family that you’re related to by blood. Where there’s cops, there’s criminals, boy. But before you get movie-star pipe-dreams about having a final showdown and catching me? I can positively assure you that I will die of natural causes before you have a prayer of such a thing. The Baskerville family flourishes because the Vandeleur family has met with enough accidents to diminish their effectiveness. The Sykes family is a bunch of whores and politicians that are all too happy to play along… save for a few that didn’t live very long… and it’s all the Vandeleur’s can do to produce enough young to remain relevant.”
“Why not just take over? Why not eradicate the family completely, take the money and rule both worlds?” Xavien asked.
A look of genuine anger crossed Charles’ face; “…the Taggerts. They have always been a terrible blight and taint on our existence… not only did they start out as the most corrupt and meddlesome… but they somehow became the thorn in the side of the two ruling families. They have a vested interest in this, as they have connections to some of the darkest members of the supernatural world… and have a way of making their point in dramatic fashion. If we were to gain access to the Van de Leur family fortune and secrets, you would likely see world domination. Additionally, there is another… silent benefactor that we have yet to locate. But this individual is… differently… abled. Rumor has it that they are interested in resurrecting the paladins of old; the kind of shit that your family gets off on. This benefactor, or benefactors also act as bankers and archivists for your family. This is a connection that your family made, on the off chance that… well, your family ended up in this condition.”
Xavien processed the information he’d gotten thus far, inhaled deeply and forced out the air through his nose; “This is a lot to process, and I barely have a pamphlet to go on. Could it then be assumed that the Taggert family is interested in tracking down this benefactor as well?”
“Elementary conclusion, at this point in the game. The Taggert family is only interested in power, more and faster. To put it in perspective? I’m one of the ‘good guys’. Beyond the in-fighting and corruption, at the highest level we actually fight for a decent cause; the prevention of this world’s end. This is why I could give a shit less about the details in between.” Charles finished with a self-satisfied nod.
“Okay. Fantastic, you’re a super race of corrupted good-guys. I had assumed correctly from the start; this world that you are a part of is full of the same bullshit, only amplified, over-grown and furry.” Xavien grumbled. He was finished with this ridiculous conversation.
“You are absolutely correct… but it gives me unending glee that you finally understand that you can no longer avoid it. For all your misdirected anger with me… you finally realize how fucked you are, and you’re scared. What’s more? You’re scared and you like it.”
Xavien sighed and nodded; it did provide a certain thrill.
“But I’m gunna tell you this now… you half-assed your police career and stayed ahead of the pack… but even if you are the best damn werewolf in human society that gives everything? It’s going to take a miracle mixed with good connections and more willpower than you are capable of to make any kind of waves; much less make a change for the better.” The chief shrugged, in consolation for a life that was over before he got the motivation to start.
Xavien nodded; “No problem. If you’re so sure, then I cannot change your mind. Additionally, I trust that your political support will be unwavering as will your cooperation when I ask you to absolutely step the fuck out of my face and let me figure the rest of this shit out on my terms. I’m not your cub and I’m not your subordinate in your bipedal wolf-man society… By all accounts, when all is said and done and when I get my feet under me… you’re the one who will have to answer to me. If I end up dead, oh well.”
Chief Baskerville nodded with a secretive smile; “Indulge me just a moment longer.” He beckoned and Xavien followed him to the bathroom, grudgingly.
“You’re going to get all you ask for and more. But before it all happens… I think that there’s another point that you will appreciate.”
“I doubt it.” Xavien retorted.
Charles smiled and muttered under his breath, as he pretended to grab something from the air and toss it toward the bathtub. The moment he did so, several gallons of water filled the bathtub. Xavien’s eyebrows rose upward in shock. To which, Charles held up a finger to delay his shock a moment. He then shook himself, as a dog that tried to dry himself off from a bath. The chief’s body then lit up in a pale blue light that licked across his body as a cool fire that did not consume.
Xavien did not like clowns, fan clubs or senior citizen discounts… but he disliked magicians the most.
“This stuff is beyond elementary, and before I show you the final elementary trick… I would like you to understand exactly how behind the eight-ball you are. Most of your kind… that accept society right away? Generally, they know these tricks by the time they are 13 in human years… just food for thought.”
The chief smiled and then turn toward the mirror and gestured. Soon Xavien’s eyes on the image in the mirror and realized that the chief’s physical body no longer stood there, even though the image remained.
He watched in amazement as the chief’s smiling image faded quickly. All at once, he was alone.
He needed Myrna, even though he knew that she had less of a clue about this type of existence than he did. Even if she wasn’t as naturally intelligent as he was, she had a way of thinking that he understood. This understanding allowed him to process with her help, as well as the voice of experience that she carried as it pertained to society. He’d never quite been adept at it, even if he had gotten better. It was both a lack of desire and a lack of skill; not to mention the lack of need.
He needed to get better at this… somehow.
He didn’t feel as far behind the eight-ball as the chief stated, but the time had certainly run out for willful ignorance.