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After exchanging a noncommittal shrug with my brother, I darted out of the shop after Mary, wondering what in the world had gotten into her. I didn't really care if Dante was offended--I was confident he'd been shot down once or forty times in his life--but Mary's anger had been so swift and sudden that I had to admit I was curious. Could it be that there was in fact someone else who understood just how sempiternally vexatious my brother was?

"Wait, Mary, stop," I called, and she whirled, shooting me a fierce glare before the angry expression died and she waved her hands quickly, like she was trying to dry them off.

"If you're going to scold me for being rude to your brother you can go to Hell," she snapped, and I actually gave an amused scoff.

I shook my head. "Be as rude as you like: what goes around comes around, and he's got all the polite delicacy of a drunken German with Tourette's."

She actually gave a helpless laugh, and sat down on the motorcycle in the parking lot. For a moment, I considered asking if that was a good idea--who did the bike belong to? I wasn't particularly interested in getting into an altercation with a biker from the Bronx, but when she swung her leg over the seat and reached into her... cleavage... to retrieve a key, my eyebrows lifted, and it had nothing to do with the fact that she apparently had a storage compartment in her bosom.

"That's your bike?" I shook my head. I had never imagined Mary was the type of woman to know how to ride a motorcycle, let alone own one.

She looked at me, then leaned back on the seat, bracing herself on one arm. I was quite sure that there was nothing ladylike about riding a motorcycle in a skirt, but social graces never seemed to be terribly high on her to-do list. "I told you I didn't have a car," she said, and then she glanced away, sitting up again.

There was a beat of silence, and I folded my arms, resting against the side of my car. "So what was that?" I asked, nodding my head toward Dante's shop. "I always knew you were a bit mercurial, but that seemed a tad out of the blue."

She scowled at the handlebars. "He's a jerk," she said tersely. "I knew he was uncouth from the moment we brought him down to the station, but I never imagined he'd have such disrespect for the police force--he's your brother."

I shook my head. "Dante has very little respect for that which he doesn't understand or agree with," I assured her; "even more so if it's something I stand by and condone."

Despite all our fundamental likenesses, there were plenty of things Dante and I had never seen eye to eye on, and I supposed it was no surprise that that remained so. When we had been children, Dante had thought it was 'cool' that our father was a police officer, but it seemed that had changed significantly when Father had died. I could understand that he probably felt that the force had let him down when they failed to catch the people responsible for our parents' deaths, but that was no reason to condemn what Mary and I were doing.

"He doesn't know the captain was your father," I assured her, and she snorted derisively.

"Like it makes a difference." She jammed the key into the ignition and twisted it a little more sharply than was necessary. The bike roared to life, and Mary cast me a quick glance. "My father's funeral is tomorrow at ten," she said, and the look in her eyes was neither grief nor apprehension nor anything else I could quite identify. She almost looked indignant. "I'm sure he would have wanted you to attend," she said, the attempt at a reassuring smile turning out more like a grimace; "you were always his favorite student."

I wasn't sure I thought that was true, but I nodded anyway. "I'll go," I said. "I owe him that much."

"This isn't about obligation, Vergil," she said with a helpless shake of her head as she revved the bike. "It'll be at Agni & Rudra Funeral Home on Second Avenue." She paused a moment, then peered at the dials on the bike's console. "Would you mind if I didn't go back to the office today?" she asked, and I frowned.

"That's not my call, Mary," I replied, and she sort of flinched. I paused, then added, "You're not even on my precinct's payroll, so what you do with your time isn't up to me."

Her shoulders shook with faint laughter I couldn't hear over the bike, and then she met my eye again, pushing the bike backward to turn and head out of the parking lot. "See you tomorrow," was all she said, and then the bike pulled away with a roar.

I watched her pull away, noting that she wasn't even wearing a helmet, the fool. Something wasn't quite right, and I was irked that I couldn't put my finger on what it was. While I had known Mary a long time, I hadn't really known her well, so it wasn't really my place to assume she was acting strangely, but her little outburst in Dante's direction had definitely been fueled by more than mere irritation with his irreverence. I was plenty familiar with Dante's irreverence, and that most recent display hadn't even registered on the radar.

Turning, I glanced back at his shop, peering through the tall window at the front and catching his eye where he was still inside, reclining at his desk. Holding his gaze for a moment, I furrowed my brow a bit and then tugged open my car door, starting the engine and backing out of the parking lot before I even put my seatbelt on. Suddenly I wanted out of that parking lot and as far away from my brother as I could feasibly be.



Sunday, 13November, 10:18:02
Agni and Rudra Funeral Home, 2nd Avenue, Manhattan, NY


I hadn't been to a funeral since my mother had died, but my intense hatred for the pomp and circumstance of the whole ceremony hadn't diminished. I would never understand the insatiable need for human beings to draw so much attention to death and loss--it was bad enough to lose a loved one, but to have a ceremony for the occasion seemed almost cruel.

Mary looked tired, though whether it was grief, frustration, or genuine lack of sleep that gave her eyes that harried edge and pulled the corners of her mouth just a little too far downward was uncertain. She was wearing that white pinstriped suit jacket again, though she had deigned to wear pants instead of the almost ridiculously short skirt she'd worn with it last time. I wasn't sure if I was grateful she had chosen to tone down her wardrobe on account of the affair, or if I was just honestly concerned she was breaking down because she actually wasn't hanging halfway out of everything she was wearing.

I didn't sit. Strangely, neither did Mary. The fact that there were no open chairs shouldn't have mattered--considering that she was the deceased's daughter, she could have easily uprooted someone, but she chose not to. I wasn't certain what was stranger to me: the fact that she chose not to sit, or the fact that she chose to stand beside me of all people, sort of hiding in the shadows at the back of the room.

The main room of the funeral home was tightly packed with people. The captain hadn't been a particularly popular man, so the turnout was a bit surprising to me. Tugging my thoughts back from where they had been wandering to seek refuge from the dull and boring eulogies the other precinct captains were reciting, I shook my head faintly; they never sounded sincere. Before the ceremony had started, I had been asked me to say a few words, and I had declined, none-too-graciously. They probably assumed it was too soon, that I was grieving the loss of my colleague or some such explanation for my vehement refusal--the truth was I just hated funerals, and they were lucky I was attending at all.

Jonathan Arkham had been a strange man--tall, almost skeletally thin, with bony hands and fingers that looked like the leafless branches of ghostly trees in winter. His skin had been oddly sallow, like maybe his liver never quite worked properly, and he had the same heterochromia Mary did, his eyes an odd pinkish-red and a bright pale blue. It hadn't been his peculiar appearance that had made most of the officers at the station house tended to shy away, though. Jonathan Arkham had just been an unusual man, on all fronts. He'd had strange inflection, drawing out his vowels almost as if he was savoring the sound of them, and he walked with the sort of dramatic purpose one expected of a diva on Broadway, with wide, sweeping steps and an almost fluid motion of his spine. Falling into the line of his gaze could almost send an electrical shock through the body.

Even I had found him... different, and I certainly had a higher threshold for strangeness than most of my colleagues (growing up with Dante, it had become necessary to desensitize myself to the more bizarre things in life). However, he had been my mentor in the academy, my captain on the job, and I had never allowed his relative esotericism to get in the way of that. Perhaps that was why I had always seemed to be his 'favorite'--a lofty title I had never sought directly.

I presumed that the large turnout at the funeral had more to do with people wanting to skip out on a day's work than any real esteem for the captain. It irritated me more than I let on. I noted absently that the service was closed-casket, but had never supposed the captain was so alarming to look at that such a thing would be necessary. He had been stabbed in the chest, but it was a wound that was easily hidden beneath clothing. Why was the casket sealed?

Before I could really ponder on the subject, my phone vibrated from the inside pocket of my coat. I jumped, startled, and Mary glanced up at me. Grateful for the chance to excuse myself, I backpedaled and then turned for the door, pulling the phone from my pocket and leaving the main room of the funeral home.

"Yes," I said softly as I entered the hall, and glanced over my shoulder when the door behind me didn't close. Mary poked her head out into the hallway after me. "Yes," I said into the phone, and then nodded. "Okay, I'm on my way."

Sliding the phone closed again, I put it back into my pocket, and Mary folded her arms.

"So, Holmes, is the game afoot?" she asked, and I frowned.

"Something like that, Watson," I replied, brushing some phantom fuzz from the lapel of my coat. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to duck out early."

She shook her head. "What's going on?" she asked, and I absently swept a hand back through my hair.

"That stupid useless tip my brother gave me that day in the box," I said, allowing half a grin to tug at my lips, "suddenly turned out to be not so useless after all." I made a vague gesture with one hand in a general northbound direction. "Looks like there's a little get-together going on at Gleason and Taylor as we speak."

"I'll get my coat," Mary said, and turned to duck back inside.

I grabbed her arm. "Mary, the funeral isn't over."

She flinched, the same grimace on her face she had made yesterday, tugging her arm away. "So?"

I shook my head. "You can't just leave," I said, making a face. For me to leave was one thing, but this was her own father's funeral!

She straightened her back, her lower lip jutting out a bit in that classic angry pout of hers. "Standing around listening to people bullshit about what a great man my father was won't change the fact that he's dead," she said sharply, gesturing at the door. "Being in there to hear about all the things people claim were 'good times' with my father won't change anything, Vergil." She folded her arms then. "Stopping Wesker and his men is what my father died for. I need to know why, and standing around here won't get me any closer to that."

I held my hands up in something like surrender, but said nothing. Clearly there would be no deterring her; I wasn't about to try. I knew when to fold my hand. She had a point, at that: her father had died because he had gotten too close to something, that much was obvious. Who was I to stop her from finding out what that was? I endeavored not to be a deliberate hypocrite.

"Fine," I said, and turned to head down the hall. "Get your coat and meet me in the parking lot."

"If you leave without me I'll key your car next time I see it," she said stiffly before ducking back into the main room.

I didn't doubt the threat for one second.



The junction of Avenues Gleason and Taylor wasn't exactly an inviting one. The road was cracked and badly in need of repair, and the buildings were all but falling apart. Aside from a few shady-looking apartment buildings, the only establishment of any significance was what looked like a run-down shelter for battered women on the corner. I was told that was where we were headed, and something about the whole thing just made my stomach turn.

During the downtime we'd had over the past week or so, I had been doing a lot of reading up on our old friend Wesker. The captain had kept quite a file on him. His parents had been scientific geniuses who had worked for some hush-hush genome-project facility in California that nobody could ever seem to confirm or deny the existence of. His exact IQ hadn't been tested, but paperwork indicated it could have easily crested 180. He had gone into the same field as his parents, with a specific twist toward virology, but had inexplicably left California at the age of 19 to head to New York. From there, he had all but fallen off the face of the earth.

What I wanted to know was, why the hell had a scientific genius left California to come to New York and open up pawn shops in the Bronx? It just didn't add up--Wesker had all the makings of a super-villain, not to put too juvenile a point on it, and yet he was biding his time with poker hands? It didn't make any sense.

"This place is creepy," Mary mused from the passenger seat as I put the car in park.

"It's the Bronx," I replied; "what'd you expect?"

She shook her head. "No, I know," she said, "but I've been to the Bronx before. Something about this place is just creepy."

"Fear is just a chemical reaction catalyzed in the thalamus," I told her, opening my door. "There are four backup teams standing by. There's nothing to worry about."

She got out of the car and closed the door, leaning on the roof to peer at me as I did the same. "How do you handle something you can't explain away, Verge?" she asked, and I arched one eyebrow.

"Everything has a logical explanation, Mary," I replied, and I noted she flinched again, ever so slightly, as if someone had pulled a single hair from her head. The grimace was gone in an instant, replaced with her usual unimpressed frown.

"Sometimes I wonder why I bother talking to you at all," she grumbled, and I assured her I wondered the same thing.

"Let's just get this over with," I said then, straightening the collar of my coat. "The sooner we figure out what Wesker's up to, the sooner we can wrap this case up, and the sooner you don't have to bother talking to me anymore."

A flicker of injury snaked across her expression, like my words had hurt her feelings, but that didn't make any sense: it was only the truth. Once her father's case was closed, she would go back to narcotics at the 17th, and I would go back to my two-year headache that I just couldn't solve, and neither of us would have to deal with how infuriatingly contrary the other was anymore. I didn't mince words, but I wasn't often cruel on purpose. Mary needed to learn that or this wasn't going to be the last time she got her pride bruised.

Well, my candor and her sensitivity thereto notwithstanding, we had a job to do. We could talk about our feelings later. With a wave of one hand, I motioned for her to follow me and I headed for the unmarked patrol car a few parking spots away.

"What've we got?" I asked the uniformed officer who stepped out of the car. He showed me the display on an infrared sensor.

"Looks like five bodies inside, all adults," he said. "They've been in there for about forty-five minutes now--no major activity."

"Any visuals?" I asked, and he shook his head.

"I sent a few of my guys around the back," he said, "but the windows are either boarded up or blacked out. They must have gone in through a back or side entrance we didn't notice." The officer looked a little hangdog at that, but continued after a short hesitation. "We dunno who they are or what they've been up to, but we thought you'd want to know."

"No, that's good," I said. "Regardless of who they are and what they're doing, they're trespassing." I pointed at the side of the building. "The place is condemned, so even if they're Eagle Scouts discussing how to turn this city around, they're breaking the law."

"Knowing you, you'd book a bunch of Eagle Scouts, too," Mary remarked, and I rolled my eyes.

"Either way, I say we interrupt their little 4H meeting," I said, ignoring her words and turning back to the uniformed officer. "Five of them and twelve of us sounds like decent odds to me."

"We'll move on your mark, then," the uniform said, and headed for the surveillance truck parked just down the street to round up the rest of the reinforcements.

I turned to Mary. "You ready?" I asked.

She glanced up from where she had been checking the magazine on one of her pistols. "I've been ready for this for two weeks," she assured me, putting the gun back in its holster and tugging her Skorpion from where it was lashed to her leg. I found myself wondering how she'd managed to get a permit for that thing--submachine guns were hardly standard issue. She ejected the clip to check it, too, and then slammed it back together, resting it over her shoulder a moment as she lifted her eyebrows at me. "Were we gonna go, or were you just gonna stand there all day?"

My eyebrows knit together a bit--I still wasn't convinced that she was entirely okay, but it wasn't my place to pry. I looked past her, toward the van, where the backup teams were filing toward the building. One of the officers had a small battering ram tucked beneath his arm. I had a feeling that whoever was on the other side of those doors wasn't going to open up because we asked nicely.
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