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EPISODE 18 – NOTHING HUMAN
Olivia got out of the car and looked up at the house. Her years of field office experience had taught the efficacy of bending the knee often and without prompting even if it galled her to do so. Olivia had a phrase from Quantico she used to inure herself to the worst excesses of the job
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Nothing human is alien to me. It came from the roman playwright Terence, to remind her of their common heritage when building profiles for their incarceration.
Terence and Quantico was no use in her current situation but her instincts were careful in gathering observations about him. In particular, whether she could call her employer him at all.
Olivia’s skills were attributed to possession of an eidetic memory and she never corrected them. She had spent a long time developing foci and the discipline to deploy them over possession of anything so unique as an ability to recall things at will. The Talmud Scholars who told George Stratton which word of the Talmud he stuck a pin into were not gifted with anything beyond discipline and will. It took a particular person to apply themselves to a process, and Olivia counted herself amongst them.
If only she had such control over her vices, she might have been Deputy Director now, but here she was, on paper a security consultant but in reality, something else. If Jasper had asked her, she would have told him how it excited her. She solved mysteries, and here she was in the middle of one, unsure of how much danger she was in. Olivia wondered if she were an apogee, allowing Jasper with his honed instinct for self-preservation and her employer, with their wealth and condition to escape the consequences of their actions, should things go wrong.
Should, she told herself, should.
Your boss is a fucking merman who has enough money to convince the world it doesn’t exist. Her cynicism was not an affectation but a result of an earlier education in a hierarchy which cost her a career and a reputation which she had achieved through insight and diligence and was lost because she could not defeat the demons of her nature.
She wondered if her employer knew about the Cutler Case.
The doors opened and Miller ushered her in.
‘You will be entering a sealed environment, Ms Nixon due to Mr Felipe’s requirements. Whilst inside, any electronic devices will not operate or emit a signal and at no point are you to try to alter the environment to assist any proprietary levels of comfort or communication.’
He handed her a black ring binder and with the other hand, held out his hand. Olivia placed her phone and in his hand.
Mr Felipe. She retained the information for her own interest but kept her face still. Whether such intimacies were a prelude to something terrible or a recognition of her utility remained to be seen, but she had a name to go by. He pocketed her phone and took a pair of oversized sunglasses and handed them to her.
‘For your comfort, Ms Nixon.’
She took them and thanked him but did not put them on.
Miller led her upstairs to the double doors and opened them for her. A blast of chill air brushed against her, making her shiver as she stepped inside to complete darkness. She put on the sunglasses.
Mr Felipe was not in his tank, instead he was sat at the head of a table, wearing a black robe as he read through a stack of paperwork without looking up at her. His features were more human than the last time she saw him and remembered how they had altered once he left the tank. She saw all these details rendered in photoluminescent green and realised the purpose of the glasses.
Mr Felipe looked up and gave a thin smile as he put down the pen, held at an angle between his long, clawed fingers. Olivia caught the piscine scent of him as he gestured to the chair at the opposite end of the table. She pulled it out and sat down.
‘I never knew your name before now.’ she said.
He looked up with his gelid black eyes staring into her across the table.
‘No, you did not. Few people do.’
His voice was low and amused as he folded his hands. He had instructed Miller to drop the name in conversation with her and he was pleased to see she had picked up on it.
‘Of course, I don’t look Spanish.’ he said
Olivia smiled at his observation. She dared not laugh for fear of causing offence.
‘Of course not. A name doesn’t define a man.’ she said.
He nodded once and sat back in the chair.
‘I do not have these arrangements for theatrical purposes. My condition necessitates such arrangements and I wanted to see how you reacted.’ he said
She nodded and he shook his head.
‘No, Ms Nixon, do not feel you have to be polite here. If I disgust or disturb you then now is the time to discuss such matters. You are not at risk from me here. You have utility.’
Olivia listened to his voice. There was no vocal chord atrophy and his diction was perfect although his pronunciation of certain vowel sounds was flatter and monophonic.
‘Were you Spanish?’ she said
He furrowed his forehead before his mouth curved into a smile, too full with teeth to appear warm or ingratiating.
‘A long time ago, yes. I am impressed.’
Olivia did not allow herself any congratulations for her insight. The question of time filled her with an intoxicating blend of curiosity and dread.
‘Thank you. I have an ear for these things.’ she said.
His smile widened
‘An eye too’ he said.
‘Two of them, in fact.’ she said.
Mr Felipe laughed. It was a grating, rusted clot of sentiment spat into the air and it made Olivia flinch to hear it. He stopped when he saw her reaction.
‘Very amusing, Olivia. Now I have something to offer you. It would be to our mutual benefit.’ he said.
Olivia’s heart leapt in her chest but she fought to keep her reactions under control, even if she was unsure as to well he could read her in the darkness.
‘It is why I am here.’ she said.
He got up and walked over to her, pulling his robe closed along the way. Olivia was taut with concern as he reached into the pocket of his robe and retrieved a small metal tin. As he drew nearer, she caught the smell of salt and a damp, fungal undertone to it, like someone had overturned a stone left too long in the earth. She shuddered at the moist slap of his bare, webbed feet against the flooring.
He placed the tin in front of her and told her to open it.
Her fingers shook as she lifted the lid and saw two small capsules which gave a soft green glow through the glasses.
‘Ms Nixon, I have an offer for you. Your reputation is someone talented but difficult to work with, and Jasper has mentioned this enough times to make me wonder if you’re being used to your fullest potential.’
Olivia looked at the capsules and wondered if this was an inhuman variation of seppuku or jauhar but why bring her here to do that? Jasper could have poisoned her drink or throttled her in his suite. With the amount of power and influence available, Mr Felipe had no reason to make this an act to witness himself.
‘No, these will not kill you, but they will make you stronger.’ he said.
She looked up at him and met his gaze.
‘What will they do to me?’ she said.
‘They will increase your value to me as my representative, Olivia. I have any number of operatives across the world, but you are someone who strikes me as being worth an additional investment.’
She glanced at the capsules.
‘I can find this man, Mr Felipe. The offer is flattering but I don’t want to put you in a position.’
He shook his head and with a swipe of his fingers, slid the box to her.
‘Your refusal would. Consider this a signing bonus and if nothing else, it will infuriate Jasper to no end.’ he said.
Mr Felipe grinned and she looked down, ashamed at being read with the same ease she used on other people.
‘I have no problem with Jasper, Mr Felipe. I’m concerned as to what they will do to me.’
He exhaled and tilted his head to the left, studying her with a clinical disinterest.
‘You will become what children imagine when they dream of a detective. There is a transitional period but there always is on the path to transformation, isn’t there? Jay Cutler would agree, I’m sure.’
He chuckled and tapped the table with his fingers, the tips of the claws making a rapid tattoo before she took out the tablets and threw them into her mouth and swallowed them. They were tasteless and she gulped them down without any problem.
‘Excellent. Now, I’ve had Miller prepare a suite for you whilst they take effect.’ he said.
Olivia looked at him.
‘You’ve done your homework on me. Is that to get inside my head?’ she said.
He shook his head.
‘The Cutler affair is why you’re here. Expediency is a trait I value above all else, alongside ambition and loyalty.’ he said.
He offered his hand and without thinking, she took it as he lifted her to her feet.
Six women. Blunt force trauma with excessive amounts of force. The autopsy had suggested a tremendous amount of strength was necessary and she had been given the case to make a profile. Whoever killed these women was a non-secretor and had worn gloves padded with deposits of powdered lead over the knuckles, which limited the investigation.
Jay Cutler had fitted it, which was unfortunate as he was the son of a Congressman and a successful professional bodybuilder. There were quashed warrants for sexual battery and possession of anabolic steroids which fitted her assessment of an assailant acting on focused bursts of rage, but his lineage made him untouchable.
Olivia had taken the case and when she learned about Cutler’s sister being murdered when he was twelve years old, she had gone to her superior with the righteous fury of certainty on her side. Justice was not respectful of a man’s station, she had believed.
She was disabused of the notion and Cutler flew out to Mexico for a tournament the following day. Olivia was placed on administrative leave without pay as a warning. She was on a plane by the afternoon.
They found his body in his hotel room, shot six times in the face and chest. The furore was intense but Nixon, disillusioned and corrupted by the tailored nihilism of inherited privilege had moved, if not on, then down to the point where she embraced corruption like a long-lost lover. One of her instructors had fed her a quote about revenge, in the observation that before you set out on the path, you dug two graves.
Olivia tried to speak but a sudden, intense throbbing began at the back of her head. She registered Mr Felipe’s arms around her as she lost feeling in her limbs.
‘ When you return, we will talk about your role in more detail.’ he said.
She heard one last thing before she went down into the transformative darkness of herself.
‘My name is Amaro.’
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