Detective Nunez sips coffee, looking around my apartment as if he’s just a visitor.
“Congratulations on your promotion,” I say. “Officer to Detective, that’s a promotion, isn’t it?” My voice is dead. I keep looking at Billie. Why is she messed up in this? Why did I think I could live a happy life?
“First I want to say congratulations to you,” he says, smiling. He aims an open palm at Billie’s convex stomach. “Parenthood is the best job in the world.” He smiles and I know it’s genuine.
“You’re a father?” I ask.
“Yes. A little girl. She’s my whole world.” He looks down at his hands, picturing her in his head.
“She’s a lucky girl then. I wish I’d had a father like you. How’s progress on the case?” I think about Zach, buried for years beneath the tree. I picture my mother swinging from the tree when she broke free from my dad’s grip on her.
“We’ve recovered the, uh, remains of Zach. DNA testing against your father proved the identity. It was a very easy case after your father’s confession.” He’s leaning forwards on the sofa. His kind face must be comforting to his daughter.
I bite my nail. I know there’s more.
“So, you found my brother. When do I get to bury him?” I ask.
“The due diligence will take a week or two more, Xander. The department doesn’t take murder lightly.” He twirls the simple gold band around his marriage finger.
Billie is rubbing her stomach to soothe herself. She’s nervous and can’t hide it like me. I take her hand. She squeezes mine as if the contractions have started.
“You’re not here about what my father did, are you detective?”
“No.” He makes the face of someone who knows the person next to them farted but can’t bring it up. “I’m not in the homicide squad.” He reaches down into his satchel and pulls out an iPad with a sticker that marks it property of the police department. Swiping through some files he shows me a photograph. “Do you recognise this man?”
It’s Andy. “He looks familiar.”
“He recognised you from a photo Xander. He says you came to visit his dad the night he suffered a stroke.” He knows he has me trapped. It’s a no-win scenario.
“He’s the kid from the park. Man. I mean, you’ve met him? He’s got learning difficulties or something. I walked him home. Kids at the park were yelling at him.” It’s not why I walked Andy home. A detective worth anything will know that instinctively.
“You talked to his father, Bill?” The enquiry is casual, but he might as well be shining a light in my eye while I’m cuffed to a table.
“He wasn’t a nice guy, told me to get lost.”
“Lots of people think Bill was a great guy, he was a doctor. Saved a lot of lives.” Detective Nunez wants me to contradict him. Nope.
“I didn’t know that. People are more than they seem I guess.”
“Always. What people don’t know is that Bill was abusing children, including Andy when he was younger.” Nunez’ piercing brown eyes ask if I was part of that.
I should react with shock but none of that is news to me and the thought makes me angry. “That’s terrible. Did you arrest him?” I ask the same way I’d ask for a menu, flat as a pancake. I’m good at lying, usually.
“We did, but he’s mentally incompetent to face charges now. He’s in a care home, will be for the rest of his days.”
“Maybe the world’s better off that way, if he was what you say he was.” Billie squeezes my hand. I’m being too obvious.
“Thing is, we don’t know what happened to him. He was a healthy man. I mean he was sick the way anyone who hurts kids is sick, but what happened to his mind can’t be explained.” He looks at Billie. “Is it possible for me to have another coffee?”
“Of course,” she says. I wish she wouldn’t indulge him. Let his mind falter. Let his mouth go dry. I’m happy for the first time in my life and he’s going to fuck it up. Screw him and his ironed powder blue shirt. Damn his casual pleather jacket and the jeans.
“Can you skip to the point, Detective?” I hate waiting for it.
“Did you in any way harm Doctor Bill Schrader?”
“No.” I look him right in his brown eyes. “I never hurt Bill Schrader.” I can say it honestly because I didn’t hurt him, I took away the evil in him. It isn’t my fault that there was almost nothing left when it was gone.
“Your DNA was on the clothes he was wearing when the ambulance crew found him. He had traces of Chloroform around his mouth. So did Andy. Do you know anything about that?” Detective Nunez is really going for it. He’s lost the casual body language. He’s facing me like a perp.
“No.” I drink coffee from the cup in front of me so that I can gulp without it being so obvious. “Maybe one of Doctor Schrader’s victims came back for revenge.”
“Perhaps.” Nunez pulls a notepad from his pocket and writes something down. “You know, I should thank whoever did it. They got a monster off the streets. Andy is in better hands now. He’s been adopted by an old couple who lost their son in Afghanistan.”
“I’m glad for him,” I say, stiff lipped.
“You know something else I forgot?” He takes the coffee from Billie, who sits heavily by my side. “You’ve been present at a lot of weird events like that of Doctor Schrader’s downfall. A bunch of neo-Nazis ended up in the same mess as him a couple of counties over. You bought gas there the same night.” God damn it. Why couldn’t he be an incompetent donut loving cop who just likes to flash the lights?
Billie looks at me. She’s about to start crying. She’s got her mommy to be T-shirt on. She’s wearing fluffy bunny slippers on her feet. She’s ordered the cot, the changing table, the bottles, the pram, the diaper bucket, the wet-wipe warmer. She giggles when she shows me baby outfits based on characters we like. She wants to dress the baby as Grogu from The Mandalorian for its first Halloween. Billie Watanabe is a growing ball of love that deserves better than this shit.
“Maybe we should talk in the hallway, detective.” I stand up slowly. I don’t want him to take it as a threat.
“You first, Xander. Let’s talk.” He stands. I can see the bulge of his gun.
I walk out into the hallway outside the loft apartment Billie talked me into renting. I lean on the railing over the staircase, looking down seven floors.
“I’ve been trying to track your movements. It’s not easy.”
“Then why not let it go?” I ask. “Do you think the people you’re talking about don’t deserve to face justice?”
“What you do isn’t justice, Xander. It’s vigilantism. Only the law can provide safe, accountable justice.”
“Tell that to my brother Zach. To my mother Maria. To Andy. To the victims of Doctor Schrader. Tell that to the people attacked or murdered by neo-Nazis for the colour of their skin.” My voice is freezer burn. My eyes are narrowed beams of rage. My heart is beating a gallop.
“It’s impossible to know what a person will do beforehand, Xander. If you had evidence of their crimes, you could have turned them in to the law. They would have been arrested, put in prison. They wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone again.” He really believes it. He’s a pastor at the pulpit. He’s the man on the soapbox. His passion and faith are palpable.
“Unless they have a good lawyer. Doctor Schrader would have. He’d have spun the court stories about his work. He’d have character witnesses telling the jury about the miracles he performed. He’d have lawyers tripping up his victims with bullshit questions to make them sound guilty. That’s just the normal ones, then there’s my father. Do you know what he could do? He twisted our minds with his powers. He made us forget about Zach. He would hurt us and then take away the memories. Your justice system has no answer to that.” I growled with the menace of a guard dog.
Detective Nunez was supressing the urge to reach for his gun. “I’m sorry you feel like that, but I can’t let you take the law into your own hands. I’m going to come back with a warrant-”
“Do you want to know how helpless victims of abuse feel? Do you want to know what the hatred of those monsters tastes like? I can show you.” I hold out my hand. I buried a lot of old memories with my father, but I’ve been at work since then.
“What are you talking about? You need help Xander.” He shakes his head.
“Shake my hand, what do you have to lose?” My tanned hand takes his.
I send memories flooding into his mind. Memories of a woman attacked by her husband. The memories of the husband being attacked by his father before he relived it with his wife. I show him how it felt for a man who was hunted through the streets for his Delhi accent and kicked to within an inch of his life. I show the same attack from the perspective of the attackers.
I let go of his hand. He staggers back and falls to the ground. Sweat starts to bead on his face. Tears flow from his eyes. He’s pissed himself. His hands are clawing at his hair.
“That’s how it feels from both sides Detective Nunez. Still think I should leave the monsters out there to get caught?” I slide down against the wall to be at his eye level. I look at the shadows cast by the railings from the light above my door. “You don’t catch them all. I can’t either. Some of them, the clever ones or the lucky ones get away with it. Some get caught and get off on technicalities. Some serve a sentence and do the same thing all over again.
My father was known to the police. You know all about it. He hurt people for a living. Nothing ever stuck to him. You probably never thought there were people out there like me. My father could do this, he used it for all the wrong reasons. I’ve spent years finding people like him and neutralising them. I don’t kill them. I don’t do more damage than I have to. I cut away the part of their mind that causes other people pain. If that’s more than they can afford to lose and function, then I’d say it’s the lesser of two evils.”
I stand. He’s still in the nightmares. I take his hand. He panics and tries to fight me off. I take back the memories. He looks into my eyes, pure fear.
“I have some spare pants for you to put on, you can’t go out like that.” I point to his crotch without looking. He follows me in a trance. “You have great faith in the law. That’s noble, admirable. You must recognise that it’s not perfect. You don’t catch a hundred percent of the bad guys. Of those you do, not all get put away. Then there’s recidivism.
“Detective Nunez is going to borrow some of my clothes. He had an accident.” I tell Billie. She knows what I mean. She can guess what happened. She’s too smart to lie to.
The detective has a shower and puts on some of my clothes. They’re loose on him. I’m a muscular guy. Wrestling with steroid enhanced fascists is great exercise.
He sits on our sofa again. He’s a different man. His smile is gone.
“You,” he says, looking at me. He blinks but the words vanish from his tongue.
“Yes. Everything you saw is real. They’re all memories and thoughts I took from other people. They’re all the evidence I need. People can burn documents, delete files. It doesn’t matter. If they remember, all I have to do is hold their hand.”
He cups his jaw in his hand. His eyes water silently. Billie passes him a box of tissues wrapped in a fluffy pink case. Detective Nunez wipes his eyes. “My daughter. If that ever… What would I do?” His brown hand grabs more tissues. He’s shaking.
“If you know about anyone who might be a risk to her, you can point me their way. I don’t misfire. If there’s no memories in their mind, I just walk away. I’ve assumed things before and been wrong. Those people didn’t get hurt.”
Nunez wipes a hand over his sweaty forehead. “This is mad. It’s impossible.”
I get him chocolate from the kitchen. It’s good for shock or upset pregnant women. I show him the box. He shakes his head. I shake the box insistently. He takes one. Billie rubs his back.
“I can prove it to you again. If you have a suspect in a case, let me shake their hand. I’ll tell you every detail about how they did or didn’t do it.” I don’t know why I say it. It’s ridiculous. There would be more evidence to expose me.
“There are guys that mutter in the precinct when someone gets off. Someone big. Someone always says that there should be another way. The captain calls that giving in to the dark side. We’re supposed to uphold justice. We can’t do that from outside the law.” He takes another chocolate. He’s looking at his coffee cup on the table. Still shaking, he’s calming down. I can smell the sweat of stress on him again even though he just showered. His black hair is slicked back by the water.
“I need to go home and hold my daughter.” He shoots to his feet.
“Detective Nunez,” I say. He looks at me. “Please let this go. I don’t hurt good people. I barely hurt the bad people, but I do stop them. I don’t want to have to prove it to you, but I will. I’m going to be a father as well. I want to watch my child grow up. I want them to be safe.” My voice pleads while my face is stern.
I stand taller than him as he leaves in my clothes with his own in a plastic bag.
“I need to think, Xander. Thank you for the clothes.” He turns. “It was nice to meet you, Billie.”
“Nice to meet you, Detective Nunez.” He closes the door behind him. I watch him walk away through the peep hole. He’s a zombie, hollowed out inside. I hope he’s alright to drive.
Billie holds out her arms for a hug but she’s too pregnant. I stand behind her and wrap my arms around her. In a month I’ll be a father. Hopefully I won’t be in prison when the baby is born.