Chapter One: Syringes
The ride to Chicago's west side was uneventful. The sun was beginning to move towards setting at the end of another workday, and commuters were quietly and dutifully going about their business. Nobody looked up from their phones or papers or looked away from the windows. Nobody cared to notice anything different about this particular 4:30 bus, cared to notice when two men stepped on, cared to know anything about them.
Not that it made a difference. Had a commuter been so keen as to inquire upon the older man his name, he would've replied that he was called Lafayette, and his colleague Buchanan. A persistent fellow bus-goer might've noted that their coats seemed unusually heavy for August, and Lafayette would've laughed and made an airy complaint about company dress codes. A few other people might have chuckled at the sign of a shared struggle.
One deadset on getting to know these men might've asked what they carried in their briefcases, where they worked, what street, which office. "An ad agency, on Michigan," Lafayette would've replied, "tedious, but puts food on the table. These," he would've said, knocking on his black briefcase, "just some project work to finish up by Thursday." But nobody spoke up, nobody asked, nobody even looked to see where they got off.
Not that it made a difference.
As it was, the men made their stop towards the end of the line, at an apartment complex called "City View". The claim was generous; most of the view of the skyline was blocked by an old meat packing plant that had long since shut down and been repurposed for warehouse space. Anyone wanting a view of the city would either need to find their way to the roof, or walk about five blocks east. But, the rent was cheap and the landlord easy-going enough.
Lafayette paused long enough to pull out of a pad of paper, where some notes were jotted. He took a cursory glance through them, and then eyed the other man out of the corner of his eye. "Note pad," he said, flipping through the pages. "You're going to want to get one of these. It'll save your ass on details."
Buchanan nodded, taking a mental note. Mental notes, unfortunately, are far more likely to find themselves lost than the paper variety, and the thought likely wouldn't cross his mind for another week. This could be forgiven, most places, and most places would just brush it off. This was not most places.
Lafayette pulled another notepad from his heavy jacket. "You can use this one. I made a few notes, some stuff you're going to need to know. Basic stuff, but you can be as detailed as you want," he stuffed his own pad back in his jacket. "Course, more details you write, more note pads you're gonna need. Keep that in mind."
They shared a laugh for a moment, and then entered the complex. Buchanan flipped through the pages of his new pad, quickly attempting to decipher Lafayette's scrawl. "Female, age 65, witnessed husband molt into a large butterfly. Contacts minimal."
They trudged up the ironwork stairwell to the third floor of the complex, and down the hallway. They paused to let a child pass them, and Buchanan watched the boy as he scampered down the hall and out of sight around a corner. When he turned around, Lafayette was knocking on the door to an apartment. As Buchanan approached, Lafayette knocked again. They was the sound of something on the other side of the door being moved, and then the doorway cracked slightly. From the darkness within, a single eye stared out at them. "Who is it?" the voice connected to the eye hissed.
Lafayette pulled out a thick wallet, and flashed a silver badge. "Mrs. Tanner, my name is Agent Lafayette, and my colleague here is Agent Buchanan. We're from the FBI, and we'd like to talk to you about your husband."
The eye stared for a moment more, and then disappeared as the door closed. There were a few more clicks and the sound of a lock sliding, and the doorway opened wide. Lafayette stepped in first, with his younger partner following. As soon as they were across the threshold, the door closed behind them.
Buchanan surveyed his surroundings. Aged decor, shag carpets, worn furniture. A home that had been lived in for some time, it seemed, although its occupants hadn't felt the need to update in a while. There was the faint aroma of cat, which was thoroughly masked by an obscene amount of what Buchanan assumed was perfume and candles. As he looked around, he noted no fewer than eight of them burning, and that was just in the living room.
Their host appeared from behind them. Barbara Tanner was a short, white-haired woman with a thick midwest accent. Despite her current state, she had at one point been known as a woman of fair repute, who wouldn't be caught dead in her current garb; sweats, a jacket, and sandals completed the outfit. It also appeared as if she had not showered in a few days. Makes sense about the candles, Buchanan thought. He walked towards the small kitchen as Lafayette and the woman took a seat in the living room.
"Mrs. Tanner," Lafayette said, pulling out his note pad again. "I just want to get your statement as to the events surrounding your husband. I understand this is a very stressful time for you right now, but your cooperation here will help us settle this matter for you as quickly as possible."
The woman opened her mouth to speak, and paused. She had developed a mild shake, it appeared, though nothing in her file had mentioned anything about Parkinson's or any other illness. She brought her hand to her mouth and held it there for a second, before taking a deep breath and speaking.
"I just want to know," she said, pausing as her hand started shaking more dramatically, "if you have John, and where he is, and if he's safe, or…" she trailed off. Buchanan looked up and saw she was crying.
Lafayette nodded. "Your husband is safe. We've moved him to a secure facility for now, for testing purposes, and we're trying to get him straight. As far as his… accident, is concerned, though, we're just trying to get as much information about it as we can."
The woman struggled to hold it together, and whimpered as he spoke, but held on throughout. As she began to describe the details of her husband's sudden and violent transformation, Buchanan moved towards a hallway just off of the living room. He passed photographs on the walls, and pulled out a cell phone to take pictures. He made a few notes, daughter, son, possible bowling friends, church member, and moved further down the hall. He stopped by a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Tanner, probably in their early thirties, smiling as they sat poolside with two small children. Mr. Tanner was waving at the camera, and Mrs. Tanner was holding a bottle of sunscreen. They looked happy.
Buchanan walked into the bedroom quietly, as to not arouse suspicion. He noted the bed was made, neatly, and gave it a sniff. Mrs. Tanner had not slept here, at least recently. He walked to the closet and found nothing of interest, and then moved to the master bathroom.
The shower rod was still laying splintered at the bottom of the bathtub with the curtain, and the sink was shattered alongside the toilet. There had been an obvious effort to clean in here, but the smell of blood was thick in the air, and had obviously run deep in the grout. A few worn brushes sat by the wayside, their ends tinged red and thick. The agent made a few more notes and took a couple of pictures, and moved back to the living room.
As he approached, Lafayette was clicking open the tabs on his briefcase. "Mrs. Tanner, I know this is a difficult time for you, and my agency is worried about your health." He turned towards Buchanan and gave him a quick nod, and Buchanan covered his ears. Lafayette turned towards the woman and said a few unheard words, and Barbara Tanner moved her head slowly. There was a pause, and Buchanan pulled his hands from his ears, and walked into the living room.
"This is a mild sedative, Mrs. Tanner, that we've been authorized to give you. It's an intravenous solution," Lafayette said, pulling a syringe from the briefcase. Buchanan walked behind him and, glancing into the container, saw at least a dozen others just like it, each marked with their identifier and color coded. "But this will help you feel better, ok?" The woman nodded, and Lafayette quickly pulled the cover off of the needle tip and pushed it into her thigh. She jumped for just a moment, but Buchanan was there to assure she didn't move much.
Lafayette emptied the syringe, and then recapped it. He looked as his watch, counting the seconds, and then looked back at the woman in front of him. "As I was saying, Mrs. Tanner, I'm very sorry for your loss. My own father passed away a few years ago from lung cancer, and I understand how difficult this has been for you. If you need anything else, please don't hesitate to give us a call, ok?"
The woman looked at him, her eyes trying desperately to refocus. Buchanan moved around to the front and watched her face contort briefly, struggling against something unseen, before settling. She blinked twice, tears forming at the base of her eyes, and looked up at Buchanan. "What am I going to do?" she said.
Buchanan smiled softly. "Your husband was a good man, Barb. You have a lot of life left, and he'd want you to be living it."
She sniffled, and wiped her face. She nodded slowly, and Lafayette stood. He clicked the briefcase back into place. "Thank you again for your help, Mrs. Tanner," he said, "consider your husband's account with Stewart, Caville and Pavey settled."
They exchanged a few more brief pleasantries, and left the apartment. Without a word, they walked down the stairs and out of the complex. Just past the main doors, a white service van was waiting. Lafayette walked up to the back door and knocked. It opened, and a bearded face appeared. "What's the password?" the face spat out.
"Cut it, Frederickson." Lafayette nodded to Buchanan. "You've got work."
Buchanan pulled out his note pad, and described the scene in the bathroom. A brief detailing of the situation, and the bearded man and his team entered the building to clean up the damage. They had about a half hour before the amnestic settled in, but that was plenty of time for such a little job. They would be in and out in twenty.
As the two men walked towards their bus stop, Lafayette turned to Buchanan. The younger man was staring at the sidewalk. "What's on your mind, kid?" the older man said.
He was quiet for a moment, and then Buchanan looked up at his partner. "Does it ever wear off?"
Lafayette shrugged. "Not if we do it right."
"Do they ever resist it?"
The older man sighed. "It happens, on some other teams. You'll hear about rookies botching amnesticizations and frying some guy's brain, or it won't get wiped and they'll take it to the news, but," he laughed, "that's other teams, Randy, not Painters."
A bus arrived, and they stepped on. Nobody looked at them any differently, nobody asked who they were, nobody wanted to know.
Not that it made a difference.