Every time Shawn Matthew Scott entered Ian Innis’s office he was struck by the impression that a bomb had gone off in a pawn shop. Scattered sheets of tattered yellow notepad paper blanketed an assortment of antique furniture and odd collectibles, from the model of an ancient Buddhist temple to the poster advertising Houdini’s final show. The piece of aboriginal woodwork hanging above the desk was new since his last visit.
SMS folded his arms across his chest as he stood in the corner, leaning against the wall. Innis had called him over to sit in—well, to stand in, anyways—on a meeting. It was pretty rare for Innis to bring him in on a meeting, so he’d guessed that it was important as soon as he’d received the text message. He hadn’t been wrong: Innis’s guest today was a federal agent, a member of the RCMP’s Specials Unit. These people were normally Innis’s greatest enemies, or rivals, at least.
Over the years that SMS had worked for Innis, he’d run up against SU many times. Typically, they both wanted the same thing: they were after special people. They pursued specials for very different reasons, though: SU generally wanted to bag ‘n’ tag them, registering their special abilities and offering “services” designed to curb any subversive thinking, while Innis was more interested in trying to recruit whatever specials he could get his hands on into his criminal organization. Even when recruitment didn’t work, Innis kept detailed, if disorganized, records of every special he’d ever met or heard about. SMS often wondered which of the two organizations had the bigger database. SU clearly had more resources, but Innis was fanatical about the info he gathered.
The agent who came by today was a weary-looking middle-aged woman. She wore a narrow pair of glasses and had a pinched, sour kind of face. She introduced herself simply, with a handshake and her name: “Mia Pavelec.” SMS noted that she hadn’t used her title, “Agent.” There was something wooden about the introduction, too, and she cast a glance in SMS’s direction as she was shaking Innis’s hand, as if she wanted to see how he was “interpreting” her.
Innis and Pavelec sat down. Innis leaned back in his chair, rocking a little on the two back legs, smiled benignly, and said, “So, Mia, what brings you by?”
Pavelec responded with a name: “Walter Carton.”
Innis stopped smiling and settled his chair down flat. “Carton? What about him?”
Pavelec glared, annoyed by Innis’s flippant response. “We want to know who killed him.”
SMS continued to lean against the wall, trying to look disinterested, reluctant to be here, even a bit uncomfortable, but in reality he was listening very closely. Listening was what he did best. Well, outside of connecting his brain directly to a cell tower and acting like a human cell phone, that is.
“You’ve already arrested Caleb Merton,” said Innis. “You don’t think you’ve got the right guy?”
“How do you know about Merton?” demanded Pavelec.
Innis shrugged. “Let’s not play games, Mia. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think I had information I wasn’t supposed to have.”
Pavelec chewed her lower lip. She clearly wasn’t happy about the way this conversation was going. She was probably more used to having the upper hand. “Fine,” she said. “No, we don’t think Merton did it. He denies it, for one thing.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” said Innis.
“And,” said Pavelec, pressing past the interruption, “the forensics don’t add up.”
“What forensics?” said Innis. “The way I heard it, his neck got broken, plain and simple. Makes sense, if you’re looking at a guy with enhanced strength, like Merton. Where’s the complication?”
Pavelec pressed her lips together into a thin smile. “He was drugged,” she said. “We found a track mark on the back of his neck, and toxicology confirmed it. Carton was gone before his neck was snapped.”
“Interesting.” Innis tilted his chair back again. “Very interesting. Sounds like you know more than I do after all.”
Pavelec shrugged at the acknowledgement. “That’s often the case.”
Innis put his hands behind his head. “And yet here you are, asking for my help.”
“We don’t need your help,” said Pavelec. “We need your contacts.”
“Contacts?” Ian held out his hands in mock innocence. “What contacts?”
Pavelec leaned forward. “Don’t play games with me. You’re plugged into a network we’ve been trying to crack for years. You’ve got your secrets, fine. We’re not after you, not today. Walter Carton’s murder plays into a scenario far bigger than you and your motley crew of specials, Innis. You’re small fry. We just want to climb a few rungs down your ladder into the deep end of the pool, where the big guys swim.”
Innis rocked his chair back and forth as he thought this over. “Say I do know some people who might be of interest to you,” he said. “What’s in it for me?”
“Information,” said Pavelec plainly. “We’ll share what we find, all the way until the final arrests are made. When we take down our targets, it’s probably going to disrupt your scummy little ecosystem. Disruption means opportunity for an organization like yours. The more info you have, the better prepared you’ll be to take advantage when the hammer falls.”
Innis stroked his chin. “You make a compelling argument.” He sat his chair down flat. “Okay, I’m in, but I have a condition. A couple of my guys ride shotgun. And I pick who they are.”
Pavelec frowned. “Fine. But they’d better not slow me down.”
“Don’t worry,” said Innis. “I think you’ll appreciate their input.” He turned to SMS. “You’re in. I’ll have someone else meet up with you.”
SMS stepped forward and introduced himself to Pavelec. Her hand was cold when he shook it, and there was something brewing behind her eyes that made him think this was going to be one of his more complicated assignments.
“One other thing,” said Innis. “I want my guys to talk to Caleb Merton.”
“That’s a waste of time,” said Pavelec. “We’ve already interrogated him thoroughly. We know everything he can tell us.”
“Maybe,” said Innis, “but I don’t. Besides, SMS asks some pretty good questions. You never know, he might turn up something new.”
Pavelec sighed. “Ten minutes. I’m not going to promise any more than that.”
“Fair enough,” said Innis, “but I want it to be your first stop. In the meantime, I’ll make some calls. When you’re done with Merton I’ll put you in touch with some of my contacts.”
“Okay,” said Pavelec, standing to leave. “You have my number.”
“Oh, I’m not going to send this stuff straight to you,” said Innis. “I’ll be communicating through SMS.”
Pavelec shook her head. “You’re a difficult man to cooperate with, you know.”
Innis shrugged. “You call me ‘difficult.’ I call myself ‘careful.'”
SMS looked between the two strong-willed faces, Pavelec exasperated, Innis smirking. Round One to Ian Innis, he thought.
Then Pavelec stormed out, beckoning SMS to follow.