Chapter 4:

Metastasis

33


Part 1: Purple TulipsBookmark here

Dvorak’s New World Symphony filled the air as Fabi pruned the flower garden on his porch outside. There were various plants and flowers in his backyard as well, but the flowers on the porch were one’s he had specially selected for a particular purpose.Bookmark here

Clad in a white tee-shirt and tan slacks, Fabi straightened up and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow before it had the chance to roll down into his eye. He admired the fruits of his labor: various flowers of all shapes, colors and sizes, forming a beautiful rainbow bouquet that filled the margins of his porch.Bookmark here

Now I just need to pick which one I want to take with me today, he thought, scanning the selection he’d lovingly cultivated. For some reason, one in particular stood out like a sore thumb.Bookmark here

Ah, how about the tulips?Bookmark here

The tulips in question he’s been eyeing were a dark purple color, almost like a bruise. They exuded sorrow, but were uniquely beautiful at the same time, perfect in their own bittersweet way.Bookmark here

Satisfied, Fabi went back into his house and returned a minute later carrying a glass soda bottle he’d saved. He carefully cut off one of the tulips and inserted its stem into the bottle, turning the glass vessel into a makeshift flower vase.Bookmark here

Beautiful, he thought to himself. This’ll do.Bookmark here

Back inside, he partially filled the glass bottle with water and placed it onto a wooden table near the back window that overlooked the backyard. Nearby on the table was Fabi’s newest project: various small herbs being grown in small pots, each pot labeled with the name of the herb inside. Fabi had many dishes planned out for them when they had finally reached maturity.Bookmark here

I should bring some food as a gift too next time, Fabi thought, his mouth forming into a slight Mona Lisa smile at the idea. Yeah. Let’s do it.Bookmark here

“BRIIIIIING! BRIIIIING!” He heard the familiar annoying ring of his cell phone and prompt shut off his record player, making sure to gently remove the needle from his beloved Dvorak record.Bookmark here

“Detective Mendez,” he answered.Bookmark here

“Mendez…” It was the police chief. “You’re not gonna believe this, but we need you to come in ASAP.”Bookmark here

Fabi felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach.Bookmark here

Oh no…Bookmark here

“Another death?” Fabi asked.Bookmark here

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” the chief answered. “It’s apparently a federal intelligence matter, and the information is classified. They only want to speak with you.”Bookmark here

Just me, huh?... Fabi’s eyes narrowed and his brain buzzed with activity.Bookmark here

“Give me a couple hours,” he told the chief. “I’ll be there.”Bookmark here


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Part 2: NestBookmark here

Nurse Vicky led Fabi down the familiar muted corridor to his mother’s room. The pale fluorescent lighting seemed to drain the remaining life out of the already drab color scheme.Bookmark here

The tulip that Fabi cradled in his arm stood out in stark brilliance against these desaturated surroundings.Bookmark here

This place needs a remodel, he thought as they neared their destination.Bookmark here

“She’s doing quite well today, actually,” Vicky told him. “She’s eating well and everything.”Bookmark here

“That’s good news.”Bookmark here

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate the flower, as always.”Bookmark here

Fabi gave the nurse a quick nod of thanks before heading into the dimly lit room before them. He found his mom seated by the window at the far end of the room, watching the gently swaying trees outside.Bookmark here

Hearing his footsteps, his mom glanced over at him and smiled.Bookmark here

“Ray!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. Suddenly realizing her mistake, her smile quickly became a frown. “Oh… I mean Fabi. Sorry.”Bookmark here

Fabi shook his head, used to the mixups. “It’s okay, Ma,” he told her, rubbing her bony back gently. “I brought you another flower.”Bookmark here

His mom chuckled. “You really don’t have to do that,” she said. “I’ve got so many already.”Bookmark here

Fabi glanced back at the desk next to her bed and realized she was right. The thing had half a dozen on it at once. It was getting overcrowded.Bookmark here

Maybe I’ll just bring the food next time…Bookmark here

“I’ll think of something else to bring you,” Fabi said.Bookmark here

“I told you, Fabi, I’m happy enough that you come and visit. The gifts aren’t necessary.”Bookmark here

“I know. But it makes me happy.”Bookmark here

She chuckled again. “Oh, you’re so much like your father.”Bookmark here

Fabi pointed towards the window she’d been looking out of when he had come in. “What were you looking at out there, Ma?”Bookmark here

“Oh, uhh…” Her mind was quicker today than usual, but she still seemed to have some trouble with the sudden change of topic. “Out there?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. Were you watching something?”Bookmark here

“Oh yes. A little family of birds made a nest out in the tree! The eggs hatched earlier today. It’s quite lovely!”Bookmark here

Fabi’s slight smile made its return briefly. “That’s wonderful.”Bookmark here

“Isn’t it? Nature can be so beautiful.”Bookmark here

An idea popped into Fabi’s head. “Want me to take you out there, Ma? It’s a little humid today, but not too bad.”Bookmark here

She shook her head. “It seems like it’s going to rain, and I don’t want you to go through all the hassle. I’m sure you’re very busy today.”Bookmark here

Fabi remembered the phone call he’d gotten earlier and winced. “Yeah,” he replied. “You’re right. I got a call just before I came, actually.”Bookmark here

“Oh?” She glanced over at him inquisitively. “Good news or bad?”Bookmark here

“I’m not actually sure yet,” Fabi replied. “Possibly got a promotion coming… kinda.”Bookmark here

“Well, wouldn’t that be delightful! You’re such a talented young man. I’m sure you’ll do great!”Bookmark here

Fabi let out a short laugh under his breath. “Thanks, Ma. I sure hope so.”Bookmark here

A few minutes later, he gave her a quick hug and bid her goodbye. As he left the dimly lit room, he gave her one last look over his shoulder. She returned to watching that family of birds in their domestic familial bliss.Bookmark here

In truth, Fabi envied those birds. If he could bring his family back together into one nest, he would… But it simply wasn’t possible anymore.Bookmark here

Sorry, Ma, he thought, walking back down that silent muted hallway. I promise I’ll do more for you.Bookmark here

She’d already been through so much, and he didn’t want to let her down even more. His dad wasn’t there to help him. It was all up to Fabi now.Bookmark here


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Part 3: SixBookmark here

The sparse lighting and dark wood paneling of the hotel’s top floor made it feel almost otherworldly as Fabi stepped out of the elevator. He could almost see his reflection in the shiny white tiled floor, a rarity for the kind of hotels Fabi was used to staying in.Bookmark here

Down the hallway, the tile switched out for well-kept dark grey carpeting with a surprising appealing static pattern. The signs on the walls indicated that his room would be the first on his right side.Bookmark here

Fabi approached the dark, heavy wooden door to the room and removed the pure white key-card he’d been given by the front desk. Before he could insert it into the slot, however, the door cracked open, revealing the attractive face of a woman dressed in a light grey pantsuit, her brown hair tied up into a bun at the back of her head.Bookmark here

“Detective Mendez, I assume,” she said with a smirk.Bookmark here

Fabi stood there frozen in shock for a moment before giving her a small nod.Bookmark here

“Uh… yeah,” he croaked out.Bookmark here

“Come on in,” she told him, waving him in with her free hand.Bookmark here

Fabian nodded and shoved the key-card back into his raincoat pocket. He grabbed the door and let himself in as the woman requested.Bookmark here

The room inside was massive. Considering how upscale the hotel was, it would likely have cost at least a grand per night to rent. However, most of the furnishings had been cleared out. Instead, there were several glass office desks installed, topped with computers and wide monitors. Various print-outs, folders, and coffee mugs littered the desks, indicating that this was a fairly active workstation.Bookmark here

To Fabi’s left, a young man in his mid-twenties was slaving away at a computer, dressed in a pink and yellow Hawaiian shirt. He turned towards Fabi and gave him a quick nod as a greeting. Still a bit taken aback by the scene before him, Fabi nodded back with a weak half-smile.Bookmark here

the woman had made her way to the far end of the room. The windows behind her had the curtains drawn, making it feel as if the room was locked in a perpetual night.Bookmark here

Fabi followed her over and noticed a cot had been placed near the darkened windows. On it was a slumbering man with silky, delicately-groomed white hair, dressed in a lavish purple suit. He was laying straight on his back, almost as if he were a dead man displayed in a coffin for his funeral.Bookmark here

In an office chair next to him sat another man, very much awake and sipping on what appeared to be a cappuccino topped with cinnamon. The man had his legs crossed, and was watching Fabi expectantly, his eyes resembling a fox’s under a head of dusty brown hair.Bookmark here

Fabi nodded at the man, but he didn’t nod back.Bookmark here

“My name is Margaret Wolf,” the woman began. She reached out and handed Fabi a plain eggshell colored business card bearing her contact information. “I was assigned by the FBI as the director of this operation. This is the point where I would normally introduce you to Mr. Kimura as well, but he’s not in the best condition for introductions at the moment... as you can see.”Bookmark here

“He gets headaches,” the seated man added. “They make him unable to work. He’ll be back up in a few minutes.”Bookmark here

Fabi turned his gaze towards the sleeping man, “Mr. Kimura, ” once again. He could have sworn he’d heard the name before, but the memory was distant and muddled to conjure up.Bookmark here

“This is Niles Ishida, by the way,” Margaret said, gesturing towards the seated man.Bookmark here

“Name’s Fabian Mendez,” Fabi said, extending a hand towards Niles. “Call me Fabi.”Bookmark here

Niles looked down at Fabi’s hand, seemingly unsure of if he wanted to shake it or not. Thankfully, he did, dispelling some of the tension he’d generated thus far.Bookmark here

“Mr. Ishida is our liaison to the CIA,” Margaret continued. Fabi released Niles’ hand, his blood suddenly running cold.Bookmark here

“CIA?” he asked, brow furrowed in concern. “So is this some kind of international matter now or…”Bookmark here

Margaret thought her answer over for a moment. “Yes,” she finally said. “Well… Kind of. Mr. Kimura will go over that with you in due time.”Bookmark here

“Indeed,” Mr. Kimura suddenly said, startling Fabi a bit. The well-dressed man slowly sat up, shrugging his shoulders to loosen them up. He then reached out to shake Fabi’s hand, smiling as he did so. “Well met, Detective Mendez. I’m inspector Kimura Shozo.”Bookmark here

Despite his Japanese name, Kimura spoke with a slight posh British accent, which further added to the mystery around him.Bookmark here

“It’s a pleasure,” Fabi replied, reaching out to oblige him. Once he made contact with Mr. Kimura’s hand, however, his entire body tensed up. The man’s hand was ice cold, and didn’t feel even close to human.Bookmark here

“Oh, my apologies,” Kimura said with a chuckle. “It’s a prosthetic hand. I lost it years ago.”Bookmark here

“I see,” Fabi replied, forcing out an awkward laugh of his own. “I’m sorry to hear that.”Bookmark here

“Oh, no need for such sympathy. It’s only a limb.”Bookmark here

Fabi examined the man’s face closely to see if he was joking, with no success.Bookmark here

“I see…” he replied, releasing the prosthetic.Bookmark here

“Have you met Mike and Mitch yet?” Kimura asked, standing up from his cot. He pulled at the bottom of his purple vest to straighten it up.Bookmark here

“No, I don’t believe so.”Bookmark here

“Well then, follow me.” Bookmark here

Fabi tailed Kimura back toward the door he entered from. Kimura had a strange robotic way of walking that unnerved Fabi in a way he couldn’t describe. It was almost too straight and marionette-like.Bookmark here

Back at the desk near the entrance, the Hawaiian shirt-clad man had apparently been joined by another man who was wearing what appeared to be a hockey jersey that, although not as colorful as the Hawaiian shirt, was just as garish.Bookmark here

“This is our tech crew,” Kimura began, gesturing towards the two men with his prosthetic hand. “Mike Andrews and Mitch Kowalski. They’re the primary workhorses of the team.” According to Kimura’s pointing, Mike was the one in the Hawaiian shirt, while Mitch was wearing the jersey.Bookmark here

“Nice to meet ya,” Mike said. “Welcome to the party.”Bookmark here

“We have one rule, and only one rule,” Mitch added with a cheeky grin. “And that’s to always have fun!”Bookmark here

Kimura looked over at them for a moment, then back at Fabi, his face devoid of any emotion. “That’s not true,” he said. “They made that up.”Bookmark here

“Aw c’mon, Shozo,” Mike said. “It can be at least one of the rules, right?”Bookmark here

Kimura ignored them and turned his attention to a short woman emerging from the next room. She had dark hair that hung in twin braids down her back. Her dark eyes were stern behind her thick red glasses.Bookmark here

“Ah, and here’s the last member of the team,” Kimura announced. “This is Victoria. She’s our communications specialist.”Bookmark here

The woman seemed to ignore the entire conversation and kept her expression blank as she typed away at her computer.Bookmark here

“Don’t mind her,” Mitch cut in. “She has problems communicating.”Bookmark here

“Yes, yes. All very funny,” Kimura shot back sarcastically, “but let’s get to work, shall we? Mike, can you bring up the projector for me? We need to show Fabi why we brought him here.”Bookmark here

Mike nodded as he entered some commands into his computer. “No problem, boss.”Bookmark here

The far wall on the right side of the room suddenly lit up with a fairly high definition image of what appeared to be a computer screen. Kimura grabbed a tablet from the desk and began vigorously tapping at the screen with his fake hand.Bookmark here

On the wall, several images popped up depicting what appeared to be grisly murder scenes. Fabi may have begun dry-heaving if he didn’t have immense intestinal fortitude at this point.Bookmark here

“Sorry,” Kimura said. “Perhaps I should have given you a warning.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s alright,” Fabi replied. He stepped forward to examine the images more closely. There were six of them in total, each body appearing to have been dispatched in a brutal manner.Bookmark here

“Murders?” he finally asked.Bookmark here

“Perhaps…” Kimura brought up another window. It was an article about the death at the A+ store that Fabi had been investigating. The title read “Death at A+ Convenience Store Puzzles Local Law Enforcement.”Bookmark here

So it is about that case, Fabi thought. He had suspected it from the beginning, but now it was definitely confirmed.Bookmark here

“This case you were investigating,” Kimura continued. “It matches up closely with all of these deaths. According to examinations, they all died around midnight, and they were all alone with no evidence of a break in or murder weapon. In two of the cases, the victims were heard screaming by family members shortly before they died. There’s one big question, however…”Bookmark here

Kimura used the tablet to pull up a map of the United States. There were seven red X marks placed onto the map in various locations. “None of the deaths happened in the same place,” he said. “They were spread out across the country, with none of the victims appearing to have even known each other.”Bookmark here

This is getting nuts, Fabi thought, a glaze of nervous sweat beginning to form on his brow.Bookmark here

“I didn’t hear about this on the news,” Fabi said.Bookmark here

“We made sure it didn’t get out to the public yet,” Margaret chimed in. “It’s still a sensitive investigation, and we need to conduct it with utmost secrecy for now.Bookmark here

Makes sense, Fabi thought. If this got out, it would definitely cause a panic.Bookmark here

“We called you here because the deaths you’ve been investigating are the first chronologically,” Kimura continued. “I’m merely operating on a hunch, but I feel that we can track down whatever is causing this if we follow it back in time. That’s why we moved our entire operation to this place.”Bookmark here

“I’d been wondering about that,” Fabi replied, scratching at his scraggly beard as he digested the information that was being dropped onto him. “This town doesn’t have much. Most of the old industry has moved out and even the strip malls are struggling to stay open. Seemed an odd place for the feds to set up shop.”Bookmark here

“Indeed…” Kimura turned his attention towards Fabi, a well-groomed eyebrow raised inquisitively. “Tell me, what do you suspect has been causing these deaths?”Bookmark here

“Do you have an idea?” Fabi asked.Bookmark here

Kimura stared at him pensively for a moment before answering. “I do,” he said. “But I want to hear your thoughts.”Bookmark here

Fabi took a deep breath. Of course he had his own theory regarding why all of this was happening, but he had to admit that it was a little stupid. He half-expected to be laughed out of the room if he opened up about it.Bookmark here

“W-well,” Fabi stammered, avoiding eye contact with Kimura. “I kinda think it’s from some type of drug… or something… I dunno.”Bookmark here

“A drug?” Kimura asked. Once again, Fabi found it impossible to get a good read on the guy. “I believe the toxicology screens were negative, weren’t they?”Bookmark here

“Well, yeah… But maybe it’s some kind of new thing that we haven’t seen yet. With the internet and all that, it’s easy for new things to spread really fast, right? Some guy in his garage could whip up a new recipe and sell it on the black market the next day. Maybe it’s a dumb theory, I dunno… but it’s not impossible.”Bookmark here

Kimura gave Fabi a half smile. “I like the way you think, Detective Mendez. You may be onto something.”Bookmark here

“Wait, really?...”Bookmark here

“Victoria,” Kimura said, turning towards the other team members. “I want you to contact law enforcement in all of the localities where the deaths took place and ask if they saved the victims’ computer harddrives. If not, I want you to get ahold of the families to see if they’ll volunteer the information.”Bookmark here

Victoria merely nodded.Bookmark here

“Mike, Mitch,” Kimura continued. “Once we get the hard drives, I want you to check the web browsing history and documents for anything related to drugs or the dark web. In the meantime, you can search the web for any new products that look suspicious.”Bookmark here

“Yes boss,” the duo said in unison.Bookmark here

Lastly, Kimura turned towards the man seated by the cot, who still appeared to be enjoying his cappuccino with cinnamon. “Niles, get a hold of your compatriots at the CIA and enquire about any currently running counterintelligence operations involving new drugs.”Bookmark here

“I’ll try,” Niles replied grimly. “But they’re particularly stingy with that kind of information.”Bookmark here

“I’ve been told we have top level clearance,” Kimura replied, appearing concerned.Bookmark here

“We do,” Margaret cut in. “It shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”Bookmark here

Kimura nodded. “Good.” He looked towards Fabi once again. “Detective Mendez, I’d like you to see what you can find on the first victim, Austin Goldthwaite. If you can, try to interview some of his friends to get a feel for his vices and habits.”Bookmark here

“I can try,” Fabian replied. “But I don’t know how much more I can track down about the guy. We’ve already interviewed his parents and co-workers.”Bookmark here

Kimura gave him the same strange half-smile from earlier. “You’re more capable than you realize, Detective Mendez. I have faith in you.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, I appreciate it, but…”Bookmark here

“But what?” Kimura leaned forward slightly, curious.Bookmark here

“Just call me Fabi from now on. Everyone calls me that.”Bookmark here


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Part 4: The DetectiveBookmark here

Fabi zoomed in on the picture that was displayed on his laptop screen. Despite the fact that the photo was at least twelve years old, the man at the forefront of the shot looked exactly the same as the one he had met in the hotel room earlier that day, ice-white hair and all.Bookmark here

Does this guy not age or what?Bookmark here

The headline to the article read “Detective from Ibaraki Prefecture finds Tokyo’s ‘Sunday Night Cannibal’ Killer.” Kimura, dressed in a black vest with a bright blue tie, stood facing the camera, his face devoid of expression and his hands behind his back.Bookmark here

Considering Kimura’s sleeves were rolled up in this particular photo, Fabi had hoped to catch a glimpse of his right hand to see if it was still attached at that point in time, but no luck.Bookmark here

Fabi found the actual content of the article interesting, to say the least. Police in Tokyo had been trying to track down a serial killer who would cut off a single body part from each victim. The investigators didn’t know what the killer did with them, but it was suspected that they ate them afterwards. They also only killed on Sundays, hence the “Sunday Night Cannibal” nickname.Bookmark here

The Police had been stumped for months before Kimura called up one of the police stations involved in the search and told them where the next murder was going to be. The cops dismissed him as a kook at first, until the murder happened in the exact building Kimura had called them about. They would have suspected him of the murder had he not been in the neighboring prefecture the entire time.Bookmark here

Eventually, Kimura was invited to join in the investigation and had the perp in custody after only two weeks.Bookmark here

Very impressive, Fabi thought.Bookmark here

Sadly, the article was lacking in most details regarding the actual arrest of the killer, or the killer’s true identity. It seemed Tokyo law enforcement wanted to keep it all under wraps, for whatever reason.Bookmark here

Fabi sighed and closed his laptop, then lifted his arms to stretch out his stiff shoulders. He’s been hard at work all day trying to get any kind of lead he could in the Austin Goldthwaite case, and the only interview he had managed to secure was with an old highschool buddy of his.Bookmark here

Well, it’s better than nothing, Fabi assured himself. He wanted to make himself look good among the crack team of federal investigators he’d been very suddenly drafted into, but he was afraid it simply wouldn’t be possible. He wasn’t some advanced computer hacker or internationally famous detective, he was just a regular guy from the American Midwest trying to keep the peace in his community.Bookmark here

Well… We’ll see what happens.Bookmark here

With that train of thought brushed aside, for now, Fabi stood up from his table and headed for his bedroom.Bookmark here


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Part 5: AccidentsBookmark here

“YIP YIP YIP! YIPYIP! YIP!” A small dog began barking incessantly after Fabi banged on the front door to the 1315 Wellington St. Behind the dog’s yapping, he could hear soft footsteps on the house’s carpeted floor.Bookmark here

“Hold on a second,” a voice called from inside. The footsteps got louder as the man approached the door. Finally, the knob turned and the door opened with a high-pitched squeak from the hinges.Bookmark here

A young man with dark hair and a gaunt, malnourished face peered out at Fabi, his eyes bloodshot and tired.Bookmark here

“You the cop?” he asked.Bookmark here

Fabi removed his badge from his pocket and flashed it at the young man. “Detective Mendez,” he said. “But you can call me Fabi if you want. You’re Jeremy, I presume?”Bookmark here

The man nodded. “Yep. Come on in.” He turned around using a walking cane in his right hand to steady himself and left for his living room.Bookmark here

As Fabi followed Jeremy inside, a small fluffy white dog jumped up on his leg excitedly and let out a few more “yip” sounds.Bookmark here

Jeremy plopped down on the stained and ragged couch in the middle of the fairly small living room and set his cane down next to him. He then patted his leg a few times and said “Muffin! Here girl!”Bookmark here

The excitable little dog immediately stopped its assault on Fabi’s leg and hopped up onto the couch with Jeremy, who stroked its fluffy, pristine white hair.Bookmark here

The dog's hair was actually the only thing in the house that appeared pristine. Most of it was dusty and in disarray. The entertainment stand was littered with loose DVDs and food crumbs, and the dirty carpet was adorned with empty Styrofoam cups, all filled with different amounts of ash and cigarette butts. Bookmark here

“Have a seat,” Jeremy said, nodding towards a dusty old armchair next to the couch.Bookmark here

As much as Fabi dreaded the dust and grime, he wanted to get the interview done and over with as quickly as he could. He did as Jeremy asked, and sat on the very edge of the chair, not wanting to lay his coat against the grimy chair’s back.Bookmark here

“Do uh… Do you remember me?” Fabi asked, pulling the tiny notebook and pen he had hidden in his coat pocket.Bookmark here

Jeremy shook his head. “Nah. Have we met?”Bookmark here

“It was a few years back. I took you in for dealing outside the bowling alley. You don’t remember?”Bookmark here

Jeremy squinted at Fabi for a moment before giving up. “Sorry. I remember getting arrested, but I don’t remember you at all.”Bookmark here

“Eh, that’s okay,” Fabi replied, absent-mindedly tapping his pen against a blank sheet of paper in his notebook. “I don’t have a particularly memorable face. Anyway, I wanted to ask you about your old friend Austin.”Bookmark here

“Yeah. I dunno how helpful I can be though. I hadn’t seen Austin in over a year. No idea what that dude was up to.”Bookmark here

“That’s okay. Anything will help.”Bookmark here

“Alright.”Bookmark here

“So tell me what Austin was like back in school. Was he big into drugs? Did he make a lot of enemies?”Bookmark here

Jeremy shrugged. “I don’t think he was super into drugs at that time. He did a little bit, but never any of the hard stuff. As far as I know, he stayed that way after school. Austin liked to party, but he had his limits.”Bookmark here

“I see.” Fabi jotted down some lines into his notebook. “So not a big drug guy, huh?”Bookmark here

“No, not really. He did have some enemies, of course. I think all of us did back then. Wouldn’t be a big surprise considering all the stuff we did.”Bookmark here

Fabi raised an eyebrow. “What kind of stuff did you guys do?”Bookmark here

“You know, we picked on some of the dorks in our class. Call them names and stuff. There was this one kid that me and Austin used to beat the hell out of. I’m trying to remember his name.” Jeremy winced, trying to conjure up the memory. “I think it was Owen… Yeah, that was it. Owen Greene. Kid was a creep.”Bookmark here

Fabi wrote the name into his notebook, nodding. “You think any of these people would have made an attempt on Austin’s life?”Bookmark here

“No, it wasn’t that bad or anything. We were just kids being mean like kids always do. It didn’t get to the point where anyone would try to kill each other.”Bookmark here

“Gotcha. What about after school? Did this behavior continue?”Bookmark here

“Nah. I think we kinda outgrew it. After school ended, we were just kinda chill. Me and Austin went to parties together occasionally and got wasted, but we almost never got into fights.”Bookmark here

Fabi tapped at the paper again, pondering what he should ask next. Bookmark here

Should probably be something related to the whole internet angle we’re going with…Bookmark here

“Was he a big computer guy?” Fabi asked.Bookmark here

“No way,” Jeremy said with a chuckle. “Austin really only used his smartphone. I don’t even know if he owned a computer. If he did, I never saw him use it.”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

“I think he downloaded a trading app so he could do, like, cryptocurrency or something, but that was only for a week or so before he got bored.”Bookmark here

“But nothing else outside of that?”Bookmark here

“Nope, nothing.”Bookmark here

Fabi pointed at his cane using his pen. “So what’s the story with that?” he asked.Bookmark here

Jeremy grabbed the cane and tapped it against the floor a few times. “Oh, this bad boy?”Bookmark here

“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Well, I already mentioned the parties me and Austin used to go to. After one of those parties, I went home on my bike. Had a few too many to drink, so I took the back roads home. You know…” He pointed the cane at Fabi. “To avoid guys like you.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I get the gist.”Bookmark here

“Turns out I would have been better if I just got pulled over. Ended up getting my bike totaled by a car and woke up in the hospital with a fractured spine. I’m lucky I’m still able to walk, but I’m still in a lot of pain every day.”Bookmark here

As if on cue, he winced and shifted a bit on the couch. Muffin watched on, likely very familiar with his painful grimaces, but concerned nonetheless.Bookmark here

“It’s okay, girl,” he said, stroking the fluffy pooch.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Fabi said, unsure how to react to this tale.Bookmark here

“It’s alright. It’s my own damn fault. The loneliness is probably worse, to be honest.”Bookmark here

The comment piqued Fabi’s interest. “What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“My friends didn’t take the changes well. I told you I used to go to parties with Austin. Past tense, right? Obviously I can’t go anymore, so my friends were pretty much done with me. That’s what hurt most of all, learning that my friends only cared to be around me when we were all having fun.”Bookmark here

“Fairweather friends,” Fabi added.Bookmark here

Jeremy nodded. “Yeah, that’s the word for it. Fairweather friends. Once it hit the fan, they weren’t anywhere to be found. It sucks, but that’s how it goes, I guess…” He ruffled the hair on Muffin’s head. “At least I have my little princess, huh?” he asked the dog.Bookmark here

The dog, of course, said nothing.Bookmark here

After a few more minutes of unproductive chatter, Fabi left the residence. Back on the front porch, he slipped the tiny notebook back into his pocket while he examined the oncoming storm clouds looming on the horizon.Bookmark here

It’s gonna be bad, he thought. The telltale scent of oncoming rain once again filled his nose.Bookmark here

“BRIIIIING! BRIIIIIING!” His phone’s annoying ringer went off, prompting him to quickly answer it so he wouldn’t have to listen to the sound any longer.Bookmark here

“Detective Mendez,” he said.Bookmark here

“Fabi… did I get that right?” It was Kimura. Fabi recognized the weird posh accent immediately.Bookmark here

“That’s right, Mr. Kimura,” Fabi replied. “What do you got for me?”Bookmark here

“We’ve been able to get our hands on the computer data for five of the victims so far.”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah?” Fabi was surprised by the team’s speed.Bookmark here

“Yes. And your hunch about the internet turned out to be correct. We’ve finally found a connection between them.”Bookmark here

“You’re kidding!” Fabi was stunned.Bookmark here

“I want you here at the hotel as soon as possible. We have a lot to catch you up on.”Bookmark here

“I’ll head over right away.”Bookmark here

Fabi hung up his phone and returned to his old Ford, feeling a renewed sense of energy.Bookmark here

Maybe I actually got something right, he thought.Bookmark here

After bringing the car to a rattling start, Fabi said a silent prayer for protection to the Jesus icon on his driver’s side visor and drove off towards the hotel.Bookmark here

Real Aire
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Golden
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Verson
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Bookmarked
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