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Officer Thompson just stood there in the hallway, as unmoving as his partner and the little sister. However, whereas the kid and the sister had the sort of rigid, frozen posture one often associated with shock, Thompson’s shoulders were stooped, his body languid. His reaction had been the exact opposite of theirs. Rather than being too surprised to move, he simply couldn’t summon the energy to care.
“What the-?” the kid started, before realization finally made him jolt forward like someone had kicked him in the ass. “Where did he go?! Where did Al go?!”
Officer Thompson watched the kid went ballistic, searching the station with a frantic mania for their missing persons of interest. He wanted to groan. Wanted to, but he’d known something like this was bound to happen. Something would always go wrong with investigations where the Allesandris were concerned. However he’d expected the Marquis to be a bit more… subtle. Up and disappearing usually wasn’t his style.
“They’ve gotta be here somewhere!… Where the hell are they?!” the kid practically raved, panting. “Did they just walk out the front door? Did someone literally just let the Marquis walk out the front door? Or is he a doppelganger now too?!”
“For chrissakes, just let them go,” Thompson complained. “They’re free to leave whenever they like, we haven’t actually charged them with anything.”
His “partner” glared at him.
“Actually, I did charge him with something. Obstruction of justice for refusing to comply with an officer-”
“Are you for fuckin’ real?”
“But even if I didn’t, we need to know-!”
Thompson put on a hand on the kid’s shoulder. He was looking at him sympathetically, like he was trying to comfort a child whose puppy had just died, but his grip was firm, forceful.
“Let them go. Trust me. It’s better for everyone that way. You ain’t gonna find anything out there you don’t already know.”
At first it looked like the kid had missed or chosen to ignore the hidden meaning behind his words, but eventually he slumped his shoulders and relented. He walked wordlessly down the staircase. The little shit’s little sister looked up at Thompson, her eyes moist with fear and apprehension. Thompson frowned. He was forgetting something.
He put a hand on her shoulder, expecting the tiny flinch that came with it. To his surprise, it never came. She just kept staring at him, never breaking eye contact. Ah, that’s right. He was her life raft, now that the kid had gone.
Thompson sighed. “Look, he’s just a little frustrated right now is all. I’m sure it’s no big deal. Now come on, let’s get you home.”
He said, but knew deep down that he didn’t really believe it. He’d seen things play out this way before. It was like going to see the same recital every year ‘round Christmas time. They’d switch out the singers and sometimes the words might be different, but every time he heard it the song remained the same. It always ended in disaster.
The kid was waiting for them in the car, already strapped into the passenger side seat. Thompson rapped on the window.
“You forget something?” he growled as his partner rolled down the window.
Anastasia stood next to him, almost tiny by comparison. She was giving the kid the doe eyes, the kind that could melt hearts, open doors and make any parent forget they were mad. Thompson knew best, his little girl used them on him all the time. It was anyone’s guess if they worked on grumpy detectives though.
“Oh,” the kid said, looking up. “Anastasia, I-”
“Can it,” Thompson said. “You left the little lady all by herself back there. How do you think she’s gonna get a ride home if her brother’s gone missing?”
“I-” the kid said, but Thompson held out the keys to the cruiser.
“Move over,” he said forcefully, for there was no other way to talk to people in the kind of funk the kid was in. “You’re driving.”
The kid obliged, swinging his legs over the middle and into the driver’s side seat. Thompson opened the door so the little sister could climb inside, then shut it without even climbing in the back. He walked over to the driver’s side of the car, still staring at the kid sternly.
“Take her home,” he said. “Then you can apologize to her allllll you want. Take your time. I’m sure you’ve got a loooot to talk about.”
The kid frowned. “But what about you?”
“It’s not too far from here to my house, I can walk,” Thompson said, loosening up a bit. “Plus I was planning on getting groceries anyway. You just take her home, then bring the car back to the station, got it? I’m clocking out early.”
For a second the kid frowned, which seemed to break him out of his depression. “Again?”
“Yeah yeah, whatever Sergeant Snitch,” Thompson said dismissively. “Just make sure to punch out for me, alright?”
Waving them goodbye, Thompson walked off in the direction of the grocer’s with renewed vigor. He’d done his good deed for the day, and he’d even made the kid look like a turd. Shame about the little shit and his sister, but what was he supposed to do about that? In every other way, today had been a win-win in Thompson’s book (Thompson often fancied himself a man of simple pleasures).
Now, what was it he was supposed to get again? Eggs, some milk, some chicken, some vegetables… he couldn’t remember. Instead, he did what he always did, and checked the handwritten note his wife had left him.
“‘Kay, so we need eggs, some milk, some chicken, some roast beef,” he listed off to himself. “Some bread, some pork, some… paprika… the fuck is paprika? Some lettuce, some tomatoes, a couple of potatoes…”
Thompson ambled down Main Street towards his apartment, his otherwise excellent vision obscured by enough brown grocery bags to topple a normal man. Having 20/20 eyesight like he did was just a joke if you ended up having to navigate the streets with fucking echolocation.
He sighed. This was his fault. He’d put off doing this for too long. Trying to save money by making fewer trips to the grocer’s. Not many people were lucky enough to have a job that let them pay for fresh food in this economy, so Thompson had made sure to pinch his pennies. Either until he struck it big in the lottery, or a spot working for the Marquis opened up. Next to being a K9, that was the best job someone like him could hope to land.
His foot landed in a pothole, causing him to almost trip. He cursed, teetering dangerously. The contents of his bags came within a hair’s breadth of spilling, but he willed them to stay put with sheer determination. Not a single tomato was lost that day. He sighed with relief as he regained his balance and kept walking.
He said all that now, but he wasn’t dissatisfied with his current job. Okay, that was a lie, but at least he’d worked hard to become a cop. Damn hard, and considering his background, the fact that he’d made it made the victory all the sweeter. A werewolf with a badge, that was him. When they talked about the fuzz, they were talking about him (literally).
Of course, he wasn’t so proud he was above a few dirty deeds done dirt cheap for the Marquis when he needed a nose and Thompson needed the cash. Pinch your pennies, he said, and never assume the job you have today is the job you’ll have tomorrow. That’s what his father had taught him. He’d take work wherever and whenever he could get it, and money too. Or else…
“Honey, I’m home,” he droned, too tired from carrying the bags to sound enthusiastic. Something heavy slammed into his leg. He felt the wind get knocked out of him as his daughter headbutted him in the stomach.
“Welcome home, daddy!”
Or else how could he pay for that sterling smile?
“Mary Marie Thompson! Show your daddy a little respect!” a stern voice chided the tiny tigress.
Bobby smiled wearily. Ah yes. The other love of his life, here to save the day. Strong but motherly hands picked up his little girl by the scruff with practiced ease and lifted her into a cradling embrace. He tried peering through a crack between the bags to get a better look at his wife.
“Hi Felicia,” he said, grunting. “You mind giving me a hand here?”
She sighed. “I told you you needed to go get groceries two weeks ago, but did you listen to me? Nooo.”
“A ‘welcome home Bobby, how was your day’ would be appreciated,” he quipped. “You sexy, sexy kitty.”
He still couldn’t see her but her chuff made him think she was frowning in that pouty way she had that he thought was so cute.
“Not in front of Mary, Bobby,” she said disdainfully. “Besides, how do you expect me to help you when I’ve got my hands full taking care of our little girl?”
“Ah come on, let her down,” Bobby pleaded. “She didn’t do nothing wrong, did you honey?”
Mary shook her head, giggling. “Nuh-uh!”
Felicia sighed and let little Mary go, who ran out of the room and around the house the moment her feet touched the ground.
“You spoil her too much, you know.”
“And I say you don’t spoil her enough,” Bobby remarked.
They spent the next half-hour unpacking the bags together, after which Bobby abandoned her to finish on her own while he went to go play with his baby girl. By the time the clock struck six, he could already smell dinner in the oven, and hear the sizzling of the frying pan from upstairs.
“Oh man, honey, you’re killing us here,” he said as he raced his little tyke down the stairs and into the kitchen. “You know how good that smells?”
Felicia smiled. “No Bobby, tell me how good it smells.”
“Good enough I could kiss you,” he said. He was true to his word too, planting a wet, smacking kiss on her forehead. She laughed.
“Bobby Thompson, that is disgusting!”
They ate noisily, Bobby regaling them with stories from the office (the kid-appropriate ones, of course). Mary laughed, banging her silverware, and Felicia would occasionally snort, losing her composure whenever Bobby got so excited he accidentally inhaled a few spoonfuls of creamed corn.
A shrill noise pierced the happy clamor like an arrow through the heart. Everyone went quiet. It was rare even for Bobby to receive phone calls at this time of night, and it never meant good news. It meant someone had been killed, or that there’d been some sort of major accident downtown. And then there were those rare calls, one-in-a-hundred. The ones where Bobby would suddenly get real quiet real quick and take the phone into the other room with him. The ones Felicia knew weren’t from the PD. She didn’t know how she knew, but this felt like one of those calls.
Bobby picked up the line. “What? What is it?”
He wasn’t being patient tonight. Wasn’t in the mood. It put her and Mary on edge.
“Daddy?” Little Mary asked, scared. Only three years old and she already knew what it looked like when the grown-ups were starting to get a little worried. She had that lycan sharpness, just like her daddy.
“Felicia, would you…?” Bobby gestured with his hands. Mary felt a warm pair of hands resting over her ears, pressing gently and forming a dampening seal that made everything sound faint and slightly fuzzy. A three-year old lycan’s senses weren’t fully developed yet, so this trick might work for another year or so.
A squeaky, indistinct voice blathered and babbled on the other side of the receiver, and Bobby scowled, scaring Mary. Her daddy looked angry. Really angry.
Felicia cooed reassuringly, about the only thing she could hear. “Don’t worry sweetie, Daddy will be fine. Now, eat your peas…”
Mary stared at the hated peas forlornly. Normally getting your kids just to eat their veggies was already a hassle, but when your kids had the same predatory, carnivorous instincts as a tiger… well, let’s just say brussel sprouts are a far cry from the most dangerous game.
But to her parent’s surprise, their little Mary picked up a spoonful and started eating them.
“There. See? Tasty, right?”
She chewed, her face a screwed-up mess. “No,” she said, looking like she would just spit it all out on her plate like last time. But, after a minute of chewing, she swallowed, and took another bite.
Felicia smiled, but she doubted that it looked convincing. Children were perceptive, sometimes in the most troubling ways, and she knew Mary was just going along with her because she was worried about her daddy.
Bobby walked over to her, phone already cradled in his arms just the way she’d been holding their daughter.
“Sorry, honey. Gotta take this. Make sure Mary finishes, alright? You eat your peas now.”
Little Mary nodded. “Mmm.”
Felicia looked at him, afraid. She knew that whatever was going on, they wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret from Mary for much longer. What was worse was that she knew Mary would find out her daddy’s secret before she, his wife, did. Felicia didn’t have the same hearing as her husband or her darling baby girl, so unless Bobby decided to get talkative, something he’d had almost four years to do now, she wouldn’t hear a damn word about any of this until Mary did.
Bobby must’ve picked up on this, because he tried his best to smile unconvincingly.
“Don’t worry. Lemme just see what they want,” he said, then hesitantly added: “I’ll explain everything later. I promise.”
She nodded, with a look that said, You damn well better.
Without another word, Bobby took the phone and walked down the hall with it, stretching the cord taut until he could open the door to the other room. The padded room, the quiet room. The one where anything you said or did inside it disappeared, the one her husband and now her daughter slept in wearing straitjackets on the night of a full moon.
He disappeared, the door slamming shut with the cord still trapped inside it. Felicia sighed, and looked down at her daughter.
“Daddy’s gonna be okay, right?” she asked.
“Yeah sweetie,” Felicia said. “Daddy’s gonna be just fine…”
Bobby sighed as he shut the padded door, a phone under one arm instead of his daughter. He swore this time he’d give them a piece of his…
“Guys?” he asked casually but authoritatively. “What have I told you about calling me at home and at work?”
“Uhhh… not to do it?”
“Exactly. So tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure today?”
“Well what do you expect Bobby? You tell us we can’t call you at home, we can’t call you at work… how the hell else we supposed to call you?”
“You’re not. We’ve had this conversation before… how many times now?” Bobby said impatiently. “I’m out. Done. Finished. One hundred percent bona-fide. Understand?”
“Bobby… come on, man! We need you! The pack needs you!”
“And so do my wife and my little girl!” Bobby hissed. “But I don’t see you sayin’ shit about them!”
“They ain’t part of the pack, Bobby. They ain’t got history like we do. They don’t understand you the way we do.”
“If you really understood you’d stop fucking calling,” Bobby said. Sighing, he slouched against the soft walls of the padded room. “So what’s this about?”
“You’ll help us? You’re gonna come back?!”
“No, I’m just interested is all. Don’t go barking up the wrong tree.”
He listened in as the voice patiently explained what had happened. And at the end of it…
“Yamadas? Who the fuck are they? I thought you said the yakuza was working with the Marquis? What do you mean they are? You just said they tried to kill each other! And what the fuck happened to the philosopher’s stone?”
He groaned. This was a mess…
“Okay, okay. One thing at a time. Let me see what I can do about this. I’m not coming back, but I might be able to get you some help. Organize a uhhh… liaison with the Allesandris,” he said patiently. “Just one thing first. You’re sure this was Marquis on the train, and not one of his brothers? He didn’t like, arrange to have this happen or anything, right?”
The voice replied. Bobby waited for it to finish in sullen silence.
“Oh, what? No, it’s nothing,” he said to the voice on the line. “Just looks like our mutual friend Sostene ‘the Dream’ Caputo gave me some false information is all. Yeah, I’ll look into it. Alright. I said alright! Now stop fucking calling me!”
The frustrated lycan slammed the receiver back into the handles that caressed it, cracking the casing. Out of options, he buried his head in his legs, adopting the same pose his daughter did when she was trying to hide.
“Just when I thought I was out…” he muttered. “Fuck me…”
And fuck the Marquis too. Shit like this…
He stared at the door, the border-line where his peaceful life as a family man and slightly crooked cop resumed. Shit like this could fill a stable. Only he was no Heracles.
“Sorry, Mary…” he said to himself. “Daddy’s gotta go to work again…”
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