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Chapter 7.WelcomingCommittee

Xavien and Andrew stayed in Xavien’s office with the door locked and shades drawn as they pored over the case details without disruption. Neither man spoke as they processed the data they had been presented with throughout the day as well as the recorded information in the case file.

Xavien finished reading all of the findings, paperwork and case details, nodded in acknowledgement to Andrew and then left without another word. His tank was empty and his day was done about three hours after his patience had run out.

He went to his car and drove to his townhouse. Sleep would come first, before it got too late. Then, he would contemplate his next course of action. He didn’t have any alcohol in the house, so the idea he had previously had to wait.

He walked inside, closed and locked the door behind him and then he trotted up the stairs into his bedroom. He did not bother to take off his clothes or his gun as he collapsed into bed. By the time he had made it into his bed and had begun to drift off to sleep, it was 5:39 PM.

Unexpectedly, he jolted awake a couple hours later at 7:48. His nerves were tingling and his ears told him that something was off.

He scanned the room, vaulted out of bed and drew his gun. He had hoped that his first werewolf fight would wait until he had gotten some more rest. Again, he would have liked to have keener senses in his human form; it was apparent that he needed them now. Perhaps, as Myrna said, he had always needed them.

“Ahem.” A tinny voice pretended to clear its throat. It was in his room! Was it mechanical?

He whirled around and saw a giant crow sitting atop his curtain rod. Xavien raised his gun toward the bird.

“Leeeetttt’s not be hasty!” The bird said, nervously fluttering its wings and bouncing a few inches to the left.

“What the fuck?!” Xavien exclaimed in irritation and exasperation.

“Oh.. erhmm… ahem… ’Nevermore’?” The bird said, as he joked nervously.

“Okay. It’s not a stretch to think you are either controlled by some supernatural creature, or you are some sort of supernatural creature. I’m about to get quite hasty unless this particular bird has better purpose than as an unwelcome visitor.” Xavien lowered his voice as he annunciated each word with extra emphasis.

“Heh-heh… Okay. Whew. Don’t work so good with a gun pointed at me, but I’ll give it a shot! My name is Karl. Karl Tellam. And I… I… well… I am about to soil your curtains, here… can you please not kill me?” The bird pleaded.

Xavien lowered his gun; “I wouldn’t get cheeky if I were you. I’ve got more than a gun at my disposal, and I’m eager to use it.”

“Oh, I know… Believe me… I know. Thank you, by the way. Okay… So… you’re likely wondering why I’m here, right? I’m in your house, your bedroom, about to soil your curtains and you’re wondering what the fuck is this bird thinking… am I right?” The bird chattered along nervously.

“Get to the point because I’ve not had dinner yet, I’m thinking about eating crow.” Xavien snarled.

“Heheh… You’re really funnier than the liner notes would lead one to believe. Okay, okay. Sorry. Just talk a lot when I’m scared almost shitless. So, here’s the deal. I’m here to help you. I have a bit of… well, let’s just say I work for someone who isn’t quite ready for you to meet him yet…” Karl rattled off.

Xavien raised the gun up at the bird again. This did, indeed, cause Karl to soil the curtains in somewhat of a noisy fashion.

The sound was loud enough that it almost startled Xavien enough to fire his weapon.

ACK! Sorry! Shit! Sorry for the shit! Hah-heh… ACK! Don’t kill me!” Karl chattered and then attempted to shrink down as small as he could make himself appear.

Xavien was equal parts angry and disgusted; “Do you work for the ‘Immaculate-Artist’?”

“NO! NO!! Not that guy! Shit, fuck… no! Umm… there’s this other guy. One that is totally against murder… that I…” The bird panted; “I am really struggling here... Can we give the gun a rest, please?”

Xavien grumbled and thought for a moment before he lowered his gun once again.

“Okay, Okay. Whew. So… the deal… okay… I’ve been instructed to give you answers on things you want to know. Not only do I know some things, I can find things out. If I don’t know it, I know people who do. If I can’t find it out, I know people who can find it out. If they can’t find it out, then you reaaaally don’t need to know about it.” Karl explained, as he tilted his black head slightly to keep an eye on the gun; “You’re obviously the best shot the department has ever seen… but what’s more remarkable is that you blew Charles Baskerville’s records to shit… and he cheated…”

Xavien was intrigued; “Cheated?”

“Yeah… heh… used one of his spiritually enhanced abilities. When the records were set, they even brought in superior officers to re-test him… and they didn’t believe these records were possible. After he showed them repeatable results, they exulted and made him their champion. When you came along? There were people that were glad to see it was possible for someone else to do this stuff… Chief Baskerville scared people enough already without them thinking he was some sort of god. It humanized him a bit, if you can appreciate the irony.” Karl rattled off the details, as he calmed down.

Xavien liked this information, but disliked his visitor; “What is the name of your employer; this person I am supposed to meet but am supposedly not to meet yet?”

“I guess there’s no harm in telling you… His name is Arthur Chase. Now, I assure you… This is not the time to go looking for him. Many others would love to find out where he is, but even I don’t know exactly where he is. He contacted me through my computer.” The bird explained, then was happy to provide an answer to the anticipated follow-up question.

“Fine. Whatever. Why help me?”

“Vandeleur money, power, etc. He’s likely the only person keeping your family line from extinction. Think of him as a guardian, but in the totally selfless way. I think we’re supposed to believe he stands for honesty, truth and justice…” Karl spoke of those three items with a bit of disdain.

“You’re a talking bird. I’m supposed to believe that you’re a talking bird. I suppose that anything is possible.” Xavien noted.

“Well, I’m a bit more than that, but yes.” Karl nodded after a quick gesture with his wing.

“Well let’s see it. Show me exactly what you are.”

“I… I’m not completely comfortable playing this game in the bedroom. The whole I-Show-You-Mine, You-Show-Me-Yours game isn’t one that my kind typically wins at.” Karl nervously joked.

“Then tell me. What are you?”

“I’m a shifter, like you. But my spiritual connection is with ravens and crows, where yours is with the wolf. I also have a big scary form… but whereas your form gets rave reviews at the horror show… Mine usually gets stuck in the ‘what-the-fuck’ section of the sideshow. We are neither imposing nor all that scary. I can also appear as human… but this is how I was born, so it is how I am comfortable.” The bird reasoned.

“I was wondering when the floodgates would open. What do you know about Andrew Masterson?” Xavien asked as he wasted no time with his newfound resource.

“Not a lot beyond that of public record. Trust me. I’ve looked. This is usually not a good sign. Then again, his daddy… is just the type of dude that would lock his kid up for 18 years and then let him out of the house. It might explain his naïve outlook and boy-scout demeanor.”

“That’s one theory. What do you know about his father… more specifically… Is his father the ‘Immaculate-Artist’?” Xavien pressed further.

That… I can’t prove. That information is useful, in one way, because… if he is, it lets us know that he’s aware of us and can also evade us. I don’t think you’re barking up… hehe… barking up… the wrong tree… heehhe, sorry. You’re not the only one who suspects it. Unfortunately… you gotta catch him in the act to prove it. Then you also have to… umm… actually catch him. Problem is, if you can’t find the guy to begin with, you can’t follow him. If you can’t follow him, you can’t catch him. If you can’t predict his movements, you can’t lie in wait for him. There’s a large contingent of us that tries to prevent any breach of the shroud that keeps the human cattle oblivious. This fucker really pushes the envelope.” Karl nodded for emphasis.

“I dislike speaking with a bird. Will you at least shift into a human form, so that I may address you in a proper manner?” Xavien grumbled as he fiddled with his gun.

“I guess so. As long as you promise to put your gun away.”

Xavien rolled his eyes and holstered his gun. He then thought about how Chief Baskerville cheated to get his records. Xavien had never cheated on anything in his life. This made him feel as good as it confused him.

Karl flapped down, and his form distended into that of a human as his feet gently touched the carpet. He was an extremely pale and skinny man, who had his hair shaved into a black crew-cut and wore black military-style fatigues. He stood about 6 feet tall, but did not look to weigh any more than 150 pounds.

“Is that better?” Karl spoke, in a much deeper and resonant tone.

“Much better, although the depth in your voice is a bit surprising.” Xavien mused.

“Ah yes, my best asset! It’s one thing I like about this form. I’m classically trained and sing bass for the Hyde City Opera House on occasion. It’s something I rather enjoy, as far as hobbies go.” Karl beamed.

“Enough about you. Now… Why was I able to defeat Charles Baskerville’s records in the academy? I was a year younger, and ignorant of these special abilities that he used to cheat.” Xavien queried further.

“Two schools of thought on that. One, he comes from the same breed of wolf that you do; except that he grew up in a life of entitlement, with no real need to push himself. So, perhaps his physical ability was good enough, but his enhanced spirituality put him that far over the edge. You, on the other hand… fought for every inch and have a bit of a natural edge, obviously you’ve taken physical conditioning seriously. The second school of thought? You’re just the man… the chosen one.” Karl chirped sardonically.

“I’d be inclined to believe the first one. That is a reasonable explanation. Now, back to the case… Do you know of any other individuals that could be capable of this?”

“Nope. He’s the only one we have. His wife is a… special lady… but too visibly fucked-up to escape notice… well, at least noticeably.” He shrugged.

“Wait, what?” Xavien grunted quizzically.

“Their kind has some reaaaaally wild and vast abilities. It is remotely possible that she could, or any of their kind could, do this sort of thing… while remaining in plain sight… don’t ask me how… I’ve just been informed that it is possible. Fuckin’ brain-waves or some shit, I dunno…” Karl shrugged; “Look, are we gunna kiss or somethin’? I’ve never liked talking a lot in the bedroom, and prefer to just get right to the point.”

Xavien’s face drained of all expression as he stated; “I have absolutely no intention of kissing you.”

“Can we go grab some food, then? I’m starving.”

Xavien noted that he, too, was famished; “For future reference… what do I say to make you ‘go away’? Is that like a hand signal or magic spell?”

Karl grinned; “I like you. You’ll be just fine. You’re getting the hang of this superiority complex juuuuuust fine!”

“Superiority complex, shit. I am not extraordinarily fond of conversation to start with, nor do I enjoy people. You seem to have an overabundance of this talky shit.” Xavien half-joked.

Gingerly, Karl made his way past Xavien as he said; “You could have just said that I will get on your nerves after awhile, it’s okay. I get that a lot. It’s a blessing and a curse.”

Xavien followed him out of the bedroom, halfway surprised that he would intentionally spend more time with this… crow shifter. His demeanor appeared earnest, even if Karl did not appear extraordinarily loyal or trustworthy.

“How limited are your numbers, Karl?” Xavien asked, as they exited the house toward his car.

“Ever seen a bird?” Karl asked, with a direction beyond the obvious answer.

“Of course.”

“Then you’ve seen my network. Even if myself or someone like me can’t be there, we can talk to other birds. For most people, it’s rather intimidating once it sinks in. To be more direct, I don’t have exact numbers. The more populated a city is, the more of us there are. In this city; about twenty, depending on the day.”

Xavien wasn’t intimidated, but admitted a certain amount of concern and surprise at the number of his kind, as well as their capacity to gain information from otherwise unremarkable birds. The potential was vast, and he gained the impression that it was nearly impossible to escape view. Such a network, if properly tapped into, could be integral to his efforts on all fronts.

“What is the social structure like? Is there like a… king bird… or something that I’d want to speak to if I wanted some help?” Xavien asked.

“I see where you’re going with that. For now, you go through me… I’m truly all you need. There’s not exactly a king or queen… but each murder has its own elder member. Some murders are more populace and have strength in numbers than other murders. Some murders are more respected and skilled than other murders. Same as any group anywhere, of anything.” Karl offered.

“Murders… I assume this to mean flocks?”

“Yeah. I just like the funny little thing you do with your eyes every time I say the word murder.” Karl chuckled.

“Who is the leader of your murder?” Xavien sighed and rolled his eyes as he headed toward the sub shop; he was in the mood for a massive meatball sub.

“I’m freelance, sort of. I am not exactly independent, but I kinda have a free pass. As long as I don’t cross any wings, and keep in touch with the others of my kind… I’m allowed to do what I like. Many of us do this, but it’s safer to remain in a group. Combat and confrontation is really the last thing any one of us is interested in. We’re unabashed snoops, gossips, thieves, spies, double-agents, gophers, messengers, you name it… but the job descriptions we have rarely involve up-close shit. A shit ton of snipers, though; but yeah, logic dictates that profession.” Karl rambled on.

“I would like you to remain quiet until I have eaten. Is this possible, without threat of bodily harm?” Xavien asked, as he noted his last question branched off into a lot more information than he wanted.

“I’ll do what I can. No guarantees.” Karl sighed and held his hands up. Xavien snarled angrily.

“Okay! Guarantees! Lots of guarantees!! Whatever you say, man… sheezzz…” He shrunk away from Xavien, as if he wished to meld into the passenger door.

Xavien smiled broadly, and then turned his head back to the road.

“Yeah, see? That right there. That was some sick-ass psycho look right there. Shit! I’ll be quiet, sorry. Just sometimes things come into my mind and I can’t help but speak…”

QUIET!” Xavien bellowed in exasperation

Karl quietly breathed out a sheepish; “Sorry, It’s what I do…”

Xavien pulled up outside of the sub shop, exited the car and put an hour’s worth of coin in the meter. He heard the passenger door open and shut as Karl got out and accompanied him into Fratilli’s Pizza & Subs.

The deep-fried meatballs combined with the seasoned tomato chunks and large amount of melted mozzarella that filled the 14-inch toasted rolls happened to be one of Xavien’s main culinary weaknesses. It wasn’t completely uncommon for him to consume two in one sitting. The owner, Johnny ‘Half-Mouth’ Fratilli had helped him with some ‘grape-vine’ leads in the past. These leads had always been helpful, and Xavien derived amusement from their interactions.

The old coot was called ‘Half-Mouth’ because he did not have any teeth in the right side of his mouth. Xavien made it a point to ask him how Johnny lost his teeth every time he went in. Johnny always had a different story; just like he seemed to be a different age every time Xavien asked. He’d heard ages from 54 to 73; even Xavien couldn’t tell. The old guy weighed about two hundred fifty pounds, was about 5’2, had wrinkles beyond his years, thick silver and white hair and the teeth he did have were yellowed and unsightly to behold. The man was a magician when it came to food preparation, and maintained a friendly, if not a little salty relationship with all who would enter. His nieces and nephews would take turns assisting him with the day-to-day work, but Johnny was there every day from open until close. His apron was blood-stained, like that of a butcher, and he smelled of olive oil and cheap cigars.

It was 9 PM, about two hours away from closing time. There were seven customers inside, all seated and involved in the consumption of their meals. “Hello, Johnny… Can I get two of those delicious 14- inch meatball subs to go? And… uh… whatever he wants too, I guess…” Xavien gestured disdainfully at Karl, who seemed ready to burst with laughter.

“Sure thing… Lieutenant.” Johnny replied with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

“Nothing for me, thanks.” Karl said, as he barely held his composure.

Xavien suspected that Karl would tell him something about Johnny. Hopefully any shenanigans would wait until after they had left.

Johnny hollered behind him through the cut out in the wall; “Hey Tippy, two meatball monsters for the Lieutenant, and absolutely nothing for his little gay friend”

Karl chuckled; “Hey! I’m not gay…”

Johnny grinned with his half-mouthful of teeth; “Sure you are… sure you are…” He then followed it with a wink.

Xavien did not understand the wink, so he changed the subject; “Goodness, Johnny, that’s one hell of a maw… how’d you lose your teeth?”

Johnny kept watching Karl with an amused look as he responded; “Didn’t I tell you? I was bangin this broad, oh… ’bout 35 years ago… she smelled like strawberries and cum—kid you not… but anyway, shit was tight and I was needy… anyhow… she wanted me to do her on the balcony, right? So I did… and well, she was wailin like a banshee and holdin on to the fire escape and rattlin the damn thing… a flower pot came loose from the floor above an smashed my face in, just like dat.”

Xavien chuckled, this was a new one; “Thirty-five years? You look too young to be that old… You couldn’t be any more than fifty.”

“Sixty-nine just yesterday, Lieutenant. It’s a good age.” Johnny cackled as he cast an exceptionally amused glance back to Xavien, then reached behind him to pull the two subs off the counter behind him and slid them across the counter.

“Fantastic. Fast service and terrible but delicious food; you’re the best Johnny. What’s it going to run me this time?” Xavien asked as he alluded to the fact that the price often skyrocketed if Johnny had something he wanted to hear.

“Oh, let’s see.. twenty-five… uh.. sixty-nine, in honor of my birthday yesterday.” Johnny cackled once again, as Xavien paid him.

“Shiva Christ! What the hell are these meatballs made of, petrified testicles from Mahatma Ghandi’s prized bull?!” Karl exclaimed.

Johnny grinned again and attended to a customer who had approached for a refill on a soda. Xavien rolled his eyes and gestured Karl toward the door impatiently.

“Twenty-five fucken dollars for two subs? Sheesh… I just don’t get it…” Karl said as he exited in front of Xavien and headed to the car.

Xavien checked and found a small slip of paper in his bag with the tidbit. It wasn’t always information relevant to the case he was assigned to, but it usually gave him a pulse on the movers and shakers, as well as tip-offs as to when a crime was to take place. Once in awhile Xavien would ask Johnny a question and then have information when he returned the next day for a sub. The most he’d ever paid was a hundred dollars for a sub, and that was when he had re-opened his mother’s case file. The information that Johnny gave him directly impacted the direction of the case and confirmed that Muriel Kretchmar had murdered his mother.

He read the paper:

Family is a funny thing. How much do you know about your father? Keep that in mind when talking with that new partner of yours.

This was surprisingly abstract, but Xavien had not been steered wrong by Johnny before.

“Jesus, X-marks-the-Werewolf… that guy’s a fucking rat!” Karl muttered, once they were back in the car.

“I guess that’s one way to look at him. I honestly haven’t been able to link him to any crimes, in spite of his family name and their criminal organization.” Xavien reasoned.

Karl chuckled derisively; “No… no, that’s not what I mean. I mean that guy is an actual rat; as in rat-shifter.”

Xavien nodded, rolled his eyes and sighed; “Sure. I was expecting you had some grand insight. I never felt he was completely normal, but I just let it go and figured it was none of my business.”

“Yeah… it really should have been your business. Dude is an underboss to Giorgio Fratilli. Ignorance may be bliss; but bliss is fucking stupid.” Karl grumbled.

“The head of the Fratilli family is Eddy Fratilli… has been for fifteen years; everyone knows that.” Xavien retorted, with the expectation that he would find out he had been wrong.

“Yeah, sure. That’s partly true. They run two separate operations; two families. One is on the surface, while still underground… and the other? Well, just think of them as the bad guys of the shifter-world. In other words? The last fucking guys you want to deal with. My advice? No more meatball subs from ol’ Half-Mouth.” Karl shook his head quickly for emphasis.

Xavien did not like that he would have to give up his favorite comfort food, but recognized the earnest nature of Karl’s tone; “What sort of things does the shifter-crime-family do?” He asked, in hopes that it would be something he could overlook.

“They are thieves who murder, start wars, feuds, are actively attempting to engineer the apocalypse and rumor has it that they have access to forbidden magic that could eventually bring about the end of existence” Karl said, with a straight face.

This seemed a bit over-dramatic as Xavien shook his head; “You had me going there for a moment… but apocalypse and the end of existence? Come on… you have to do better than that. You sound like a paranoid chicken-little, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

“Sometimes the sky is falling… sometimes there really is a wolf… But how the fuck would you know? You’ve been willfully ignorant. You’re just lucky that I am here to guide you down the right path.” Karl shrugged as he spoke quietly.

“I am increasingly motivated to see how quickly I can knock you out.” Xavien growled.

Easy, Fido… Look, you’re real scary. I get it and believe you could tear me apart… but… you… you are worse off than I thought. You not only need more help than I can give on my own… but I just don’t think you have the common sense that god gave a tuna-fish sandwich.” Karl held his hands up and shrugged as he shook his head quickly.

“Then can you tell me who is qualified? Because you’ve done nothing but annoy, harass and insult me.” Xavien spat out as he contemplated the concept of battered and deep-fried crow’s wings for an appetizer.

“Listen here, Spot… maybe I wasn’t clear before… I am working for the only one out there that does not wish to use you for their advantage or destroy you and your family. I am getting compensated handsomely if I help you out, but I don’t get anything if you keep acting like a totally fucking jackass.” Karl spat back, nervously.

“What do you get out of the deal?” Xavien asked, genuinely curious.

“Remedy for my bone disease, as well as something else to provide little extra strength.” Karl spoke even quieter, as if ashamed.

“What’s wrong with your bones?” Xavien queried.

“Let’s just say that my kind is a bit more fragile than most shifters. I, on the other hand, have exceptionally brittle bones. I have a couple things now to help mitigate the problem, but they aren’t permanent fixes. Anyhow, enough about me. Look… the only way I think this will work is if we throw you into the fire. I’m going to show you a couple things… and then we’re gunna go pick a fight.” Karl sighed with quiet resolution.

“What? I will do no such thing. Why the hell would I want to pick a fight?” Xavien shook his head incredulously.

“Trust me. I’m not going to send you after innocent people. You’ll be going after things that should be dead anyway.”

Xavien shook his head; “That’s not how I operate.”

“You’re gunna need to retro-fit your ego and rewrite that user’s manual, here. Besides… these aren’t even citizens. Your targets are incapable of innocence. Single vampires can’t compete with you, even in your uneducated state. Well, at least, not the ones that I would send you after.” Karl reasoned.

“Vampires. I’ve seen so many movies and television shows that used them as subject matter, it seems surreal to think they actually exist. What is the scoop on them, how close to their fictional counterparts are they?” Xavien said, with his mind ready to record whatever he would hear next.

“Some stuff true, some stuff false, some overdramatized, some under-stated. The funny part is… sometimes real vampires pretend to be fake vampires in movies and TV shows… for many different reasons. It’s kind of a trip. Anyhow… I’m gunna teach you a trick that I learned when I was just starting out. Let’s go back to your place.”

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