Still long times between updates. I have been struggling with this story far more than any I can remember. XD I dunno what it is about this one. But I think going forward it should go faster because a few key things have been decided. There is still one aspect I still need fleshed out more, but once that is done, the blueprint for this story will be completely finished.
I think one of the challenges is that this story just has a lot of information to dump on you, and I am working to keep it from becoming one long massive conversation so it doesn't get boring. XD Hopefully you guys still find it interesting.
Here is the first bit where I start to tie some ends together. Hope you enjoy!
A Muffin: Sorry. Totally kept you waiting for too long. XD Glad it was outside your expectations. Lol I prefer to do that.
nacimynom: I like Vernon. XD He's actually based on a Teen Wolf Character.
D Squirrel: Yay! Everything is super creepy, and I'm glad Rhett came across like that. I can write what I think is super creepy, but it always helps to know that other people find him unsettling, too. XD At least a few of those questions you have may be answered here. Or at least addressed.
roseinthewild: Thank you! Here it is!
Hope you enjoy!
It had been far too long since he had been here. Almost two months. He heaved a sigh and punched the doorbell. The door opened almost immediately.
"Oz," said Tia with a faint smile. There was no bitterness in her face, as he feared he would have seen. She looked tired. There were bags under her eyes and her auburn hair was askew.
"Sorry I haven't..." he began awkwardly, waving a hand and feeling his gaze pulled down to where his fingers were fiddling with his keys. "The last few months I mean. It's just been..." he trailed off again, suddenly unsure of what he wanted to say.
He jumped a little at the sensation of Tia's small hand landing gently on his shoulder. "Oz, it's fine. I know you better than to think you've stopped looking for him." No explanations were needed and he stepped forward to give her a hesitant hug.
She waved him inside and the difference in the house was almost tangible. He had always noticed it, but tonight it seemed especially heavy.
The house was colder without Toby.
The building no longer felt lived in and the kitchen seemed stiff like an unused muscle. Take-out boxes had been left here and there and when Tia opened the fridge to fetch him a beer, he spotted a few more inside, along with little else. The counter that had often been covered with ingredients and exotic smells was now a mess of missing posters, maps, pictures, notebooks, and tiny post-its with phone numbers on them. His eyes lingered on one of the missing posters. Toby's handsome face smiled from within, cut from a picture of he and Oz together. Those they had put up around town were regularly replaced, but it had been a while since he had seen one himself. As his hope had dwindled, he had taken to purposefully aiming his eyes away from those plastered on the pole and boards outside his bar. They had long since moved on to other avenues of search and the posters only seemed to serve as a stab to the heart every time he saw them.
Only the kitchen light had been turned on, leaving the living room behind the other guests a black canvas. Around the island that sat between the kitchen and sitting room was assembled a group of people he hadn't seen since the last of the manual search parties, each one sipping a beer. Dev Clarke was leaning his elbows on the marble surface and raised his beer bottle when he spotted him. On the opposite end of the island was Alvin Klein, his handsome face adorned with thin spectacles and his dark hair slicked back. Between them was a blonde that smiled when he came in. Michelle mimicked Dev's motion and tipped her beer bottle at him.
Oz forced a smile. "Hey everyone," he said in a very lame attempt to sound chipper. Even he could tell he sounded unnatural. Tia pressed a cold beer into his hand. "Thanks." He tossed back a few gulps before giving McClusky a one-armed hug and sitting at the table. Tia rounded the island and took her seat, where another open beer was waiting alongside a thick and well-used notepad and pen.
"So you said you wanted to talk to us, Michelle?" she pushed, her hands fidgeting.
The blonde drew herself up and nodded. "A few days ago, I spoke to a woman from Guns and Gangs. Now, I don't want to get your hopes up," she said, repeating Anna Ballard's words to her only days before, "But she says there is reason to believe that Toby is alive and being held captive."
Dev and Oz sat up straighter, the latter's heavy eyes suddenly looking lighter than McClusky had seen them in months. Klein kept his eyes on his beer. The surprise she had expected to see on the face of the reporter across from her was absent. Tia merely nodded with a small smirk curling her lips. Michelle couldn't help but return the tiny smile. "I see you got the same news?"
Tia nodded and flipped the pen absently between her fingers. "Just yesterday. They didn't really have any information on why they thought it was him. Only that the higher-ups had suspicions, but that was plenty for me."
"What did she say?" asked Oz eagerly, not bothering to hide the hope in the eyes he turned on the sergeant.
Michelle shook her head. "It's an ongoing investigation, so she didn't tell me much. Apparently the captive they were talking about was abducted around the same time as Toby, for what it's worth. I assume there are other reasons they think it's him, but they didn't share." Tia was suddenly scribbling in her notebook. Michelle leaned on the counter, her brow lowered in thought. "But there was one thing that made me almost certain that it really is Toby they're talking about." She looked up and her eyes met Oz's. "They refer to this captive by a code name; the Listener."
There followed a silence more complete than the lack of conversation. There was a nervous exchange of glances around the table and finally it was Klein that spoke up. "To me, it sounds like they know about Toby's... ability," he said, in a way that did not match the surprise on the faces of everyone else at the table.
If Oz noticed the matter-of-fact way Klein spoke, he didn't show it. "Like a bad joke, but yeah."
Michelle gave her former boss a look, but nodded. "I thought the same thing." She plunged a hand into her jacket's pocket and produced her small notepad and pen. "I told Anna that I thought I remembered Toby mentioning that the Listener was a nickname people used to use for him when he was in the foster care system, so I'm hoping that it will steer the official investigation toward his past again. Obviously they went over his past when he first went missing, but hopefully they'll take another look. Even then, we're the only ones that know that the people we really need to look at are those that knew about Toby's ability. So I want us to make a list of everyone that we know of, past and present, that know about Toby and look into them to start."
There was another long pause. Michelle looked down at her notepad and poked a lone name written at the top of the first page. "The only name I have here is Lori Black, Toby's ex-girlfriend we met in Vancouver." At the other end of the table, Tia scribbled madly in her notebook. "Apparently, prior to Tia, she was the only girlfriend Toby ever told, and it didn't end well."
"Where is she now?" asked Tia, glancing up from her scribblings.
Michelle opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by Klein as he pulled his glasses from his face and tipped them up to rest on the top of his head. "Moved up to Silver City with a boyfriend. She's on the opposite side of the country so highly unlikely she's involved." Michelle fixed him with a stare of feigned audacity and Klein gave a half-shrug. "Just because I'm not your boss anymore, doesn't mean I gave up on looking for Toby." He took a swig from his beer and gave her a look over the top of the bottle. "I still know everything." On Michelle's other side, Dev chuckled under his breath.
McClusky turned her eyes to Oz as though suddenly addressing him more so than the rest of the group. "She's the only person from Toby's past that I ever had direct contact with, so she's the only name I could look up. You probably know more names than the rest of us."
The focus of the group shifted to Oz, and the Turkish man looked suddenly uncomfortable. "It's not a lot," he said after a moment of chewing his thumbnail.
Michelle shrugged. "Whomever you can remember. Did you ever know other people besides us that knew about Toby?"
Oz stared at a drop of condensation as it meandered down the neck of his beer bottle. He pursed his lips and sighed. "There's always been someone after Toby... ever since he was a little kid and still with his mom." He looked up at Tia, but the concern in the reporter's stare proved too much and he shifted his gaze to the sergeant. "But we never found out who it was. As for people that I knew..." His gaze fell to his beer again and he huffed out a sigh. His mind began picking through names and faces, remembering the camaraderie that seemed to accompany those who were all in the know about Toby's gift. "Well... there was Olivia," he said, the weight in his voice suddenly sounding quite a bit heavier. "And Charlie..." He suddenly sat up straighter and met Michelle's eyes. "Oh! Dr. Ray." Michelle and Tia scribbled the name almost simultaneously. "He was a psychologist that first taught Toby how to control his ability."
Michelle puckered her lips a little in thought, but didn't look up from her writing. "I always kind of wondered about how he learned to stay out of peoples' heads," she mused with a wan smile. Her eyes lifted from her pad to meet Oz's. "You have his number?"
Oz shook his head. "Only his old one and he hasn't answered that one in years... not since he dropped off the face of the earth."
McClusky raised an eyebrow at him. "Sounds like there's a story behind that..." she muttered.
Oz thought for a moment before sighing. "It was... well... the entire thing was weird. It was just... wrong."
Tia's eyes were as attentive as Oz had ever seen them, fingers anxious as they twirled her pen with practiced ease. "How so?"
"It..." Oz sighed and almost appeared to be winding his mind back to the beginning before he spoke. "Last time we saw Ray was a little after Frank's hearing. Oh! Frank's someone else that knew about Toby."
"One person at a time," urged Michelle, though both her and Tia's pens scribbled the man's name down. "Stick with Ray. You saw him after this hearing."
"Yeah," Oz nodded. "Everything seemed normal... fine... Toby asked questions and Ray mentored, like usual. But then, a few weeks later, Toby called him and his phone had been disconnected. We drove out to his apartment, and everything in it was gone. He taught at Toronto U, so we went there to see if anyone knew what was going on, and they said that he had packed up his things and started his own practice in the states. No one there seemed... alarmed. Toby even read most of the people we talked to, but the most we found out was that apparently starting a practice in Florida was a dream of his- one that he had talked about for years. But he had commitments here and no one actually thought he would ever do it. They were surprised at how suddenly he did it, but mostly just happy that Ray got to 'live his dream'." He paused, his brow furrowing at the thought. "But it made no sense. Toby was like a son to Ray and he understood Toby's gift like no one else. He wouldn't have just left... certainly not without telling him anything."
"Did you ever talk to the cops about it?" asked Dev, sitting up straighter in his seat.
Oz gave a heavy shrug of his shoulders. "Sure. We had suspicions that something was wrong, but by all accounts, Ray just picked up and decided to leave. No one was going to try and cross borders looking for a doctor who hadn't done anything wrong. Not only that... but Toby wasn't on the best terms with the cops after Charlie's death. I have a feeling that even if something had been clearly fishy about it, Becker wouldn't have done anything just to spite him. Toby caught him thinking about wringing his neck."
Tia didn't look up from her notes as she spoke, and her voice had gone uncomfortably professional, as though this were an interview like any of her others. "Had any of the Toronto U people you spoke to heard from him since the move?"
"No," said Oz with a shake of his head. "But no one thought it was odd. He was starting up a business and moving house at the same time. No one expected to hear anything from him for a while." He took another swig of his beer, his eyes fixed over the edge of the bottle as though his mind had wandered into the thought.
"What about as time passed?" chimed Michelle. "Did anyone get suspicious as more time passed and no one heard from him?"
Oz shifted in his chair and leaned his elbows on the counter. "Not really. We spoke to everyone again a few months later, but no one had made contact with him. They thought it was a little odd that he hadn't contacted Toby, but when someone moves to a new country- unless you're really close to them- you don't really expect to hear from them, and no one at the university knew him like that. They just told us to go to the police if we thought it was suspicious."
Klein rocked forward on his elbows a little and interlaced his fingers, staring down at his hands before raising his eyes to meet Oz's. "I've got some calls I can make. I can't guarantee anything, but I'll see what I can drag up."
"Did Toby ever consider hiring a private investigator?" asked Tia suddenly, finally looking at Oz again.
"Yeah, he did hire one. The guy came up empty. There's no psychology practice in Florida run by or employing our Ray." Oz gave a wry smirk and scoffed. "Unfortunately there wasn't enough time or money to have the guy search the entire United States for the guy."
Michelle chewed her lip and sighed as she lifted her eyes away from the scribbles in her notepad. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see what Klein can work up. Now, moving on to this Frank," she said, poking the name with her pen.
"Yeah," said Oz, shifting in his chair again. "Frank Cardea."
As Oz spelled the name and the reporter and sergeant wrote them out, Michelle's brow furrowed. "Why does that name sound familiar?" she asked afterwards.
Oz seemed taken aback and he shrugged. "Um... I dunno."
"I do." Dev's eyes lit up and he sat straight on his stool. "He was in Charlie Marks's file."
"He was present when she was shot, and he shot and killed the guy who did it," recited Klein like he had the report open in front of him. He ignored the raised eyebrow he got from Dev.
"Yeah, that's him," said Oz, pointing at the older man.
Michelle scribbled down the new information and kept her eyes on her writing when she spoke. "And how did Frank get mixed up in all this?"
Oz waved a hand. "Oh he was in this long before any of us were. He knew Toby when he was a kid, back when he was with his mom." He saw Tia sit up straighter and continued. "He helped the two of them escape from... whoever was chasing them... and then dropped off the face of the earth until he showed up four years ago saying Toby's mom had sent him."
Tia's brow pinched suddenly. "Wait... if that's true, why doesn't Toby know where his mom is now?"
Oz shook his head. "Because Frank has Alzheimer's and after the accident that brought him to us, he lost his memory. They were working on piecing it back together and retracing his steps when the shooting happened."
"And where is Frank now?" asked Michelle.
"No idea," said Oz.
Michelle stared at him and a thick silence followed. Oz felt suddenly sheepish. "Of the list of people from Toby's past that know about his ability... do you know where any of them are?"
Oz's eyes rolled upward as he wracked his brain for a moment, then smiled and pointed at her. "Yes. I know where two of them are." There was another silence as they all stared expectantly at him. "Iris is in an insane asylum and that Clooney guy is dead."
Tia gave a cleansing wave with her hand. "No more names yet. Stick with Frank. What happened to him?"
"Well, Toby was scheduled to pick him up from the detention center when he was released after his hearing. Problem is, when he got there, they said he changed his ride arrangements last minute and he left with someone else."
Tia nodded to her notebook as she wrote. "And he never figured out where he went?"
Oz shook his head. "Nope. Frank told the guards that they were old friends, but we never heard from him again. Since we didn't know him personally prior to all this, we didn't even have anyone to ask about him."
"Did Toby hire someone to look for Frank as well?" asked Michelle.
"Nah," said Oz, grabbing his beer again and tossing back a mouthful. "At the time, he didn't have the money. He started putting money aside, but by the time he had enough, Ray disappeared, so he used it to look for him instead. We wound up looking for Frank the old fashioned way and came up nowhere."
"What did Toby think about all this?" asked Michelle, gesturing with her pen-laden hand. "Ray and Frank disappearing so closely together..."
"He went on high alert," said Oz, his eyes going distant. "I think the year that followed is the reason he got overtaxed and had to stop working with you guys that first year. In his mind, everything pointed to the group that chased him and his mom coming after him again. He was reading everyone that came within three feet, but nothing ever happened. I don't think his brain had fully recovered from all that by the time he started working with you."
Michelle sighed as she eyed the notes on her pad as though they had disappointed her. "Alright. I'll see what I can find on this Frank." She looked back to the Turkish man. "What about these other two people?"
"Well there was the Clooney guy... Uh... Victor. Victor Clooney," said Oz after a few snaps of his fingers to jog his memory. "The guy Frank shot."
Dev's attentiveness shot up again. "Wait, the guy that killed Detective Marks knew about Toby?"
"Yeah. The only reason he was around in the first place was to see Toby. Or... take Toby. I'm not entirely sure what he wanted. He claimed he was sent by Toby's mom, but Toby never trusted the guy. Things escalated when Toby asked too many questions and..." he trailed off and made a gesture with his hand as though it completed his sentence. Michelle nodded her understanding and Oz continued. "He showed up at Toby's loft later that night and tried to abduct him at gunpoint. That's when Frank shot him."
Michelle abruptly turned to look at Klein. "What do we know about Victor Clooney?"
Klein shrugged. "Off the top of my head? Um... I remember he was a career criminal. If I recall correctly, he was connected to one of the Roots Gang's larger chapters. I'll pull his file and take a look at it."
Michelle nodded. "Alright. And this Iris person."
"Iris Frost. She was a faith healer that came through Toronto about five years ago. Toby suspected her of being a telepath. She wound up in a mental institution, so I highly doubt she could be involved."
Tia finished off her notes and sighed. "Four names? That's all we've got?"
Oz shrugged heavily. "Toby's always kept these things pretty close to the vest."
Michelle tilted her head in agreement but suddenly stopped with a chuckle. "Klein?" she began, eyeing the man who had suddenly raised both his hands into the air beside his head. "Did you have uh... something to share with the class?"
Klein's mouth twitched into a smirk. "No... but it would seem that we have a guest."
Michelle's eyes shot to just over the man's shoulder to spot a dark-skinned man hiding in the black canvas of the sitting room. He had fierce eyes, a square jaw, and an old faded scar mildly distorting the skin down the right side of his face. At the angle of his shoulders and Klein's reaction, he could be doing little else but holding a gun to the man's back. She stiffened and Tia suddenly stood from her stool, nearly knocking it to the floor. "Hands up everyone," barked the black man. One by one, the group obeyed. His dark eyes snapped to Tia and the reporter met his eyes with a ferocity of her own. "Close the blinds," he ordered. "Now."
Tia hesitated. Klein twitched as the barrel of the gun was dug further into his spine. Slowly she stood and began meandering around the kitchen, pulling the blinds closed and then moving into the living room to do the same.
"You don't want to do this," assured Michelle. "Three of us are cops."
"Including me," said Klein, his voice disproportionately calm and smooth.
The man at his back ignored him, watching Tia as she moved to the sitting room and closed the sliding glass door and drew the drapes. As she returned to her seat, Klein felt the pressure at his back release.
"I know who you are," said the intruder, appearing between Klein and Dev and slapping a badge onto the counter. "Vahn Boyd. I'm with the RCMP."
Michelle scowled at the badge while Dev raised an eyebrow at it, and Klein eyed it like it was a particularly interesting twist in a movie he was watching.
"You're a cop?" asked Dev.
"Not technically, but sure, call me a cop. I'm undercover. I just had to keep up appearances in case someone is watching," he said, craning his neck at the kitchen as he stuffed the gun into the back of his pants.
"Someone's watching the house?" demanded Tia, eyeing the covered windows like they had betrayed her.
"Dunno, but I've been working this case for over two years now. I've learned that being paranoid keeps you alive," said Vahn with a shrug.
Dev waved his hand. "Wait, you're undercover and you just told us your name? Aren't you not supposed to tell us one of those?"
Klein's smirk was wry. "Never assume an CSIS operative has given you their real name."
"CSIS?" repeated Vahn. "Who says I'm CSIS?"
"I do," muttered Klein. "I've been around the block a few times. I'm not stupid." Vahn said nothing but smiled wanly at the man.
"If you're so paranoid, why even come here? Why take the risk?" asked Michelle with a bite in her voice.
Vahn turned and snatched a frame off the table behind him, holding up a picture of an intertwined Toby and Tia, sitting on a picnic blanket and smiling up at the camera. "I've been to see your boy."
Tia nearly flew out of her seat. "You've seen Toby? Where is he? Is he alright?"
Vahn raised an eyebrow at her and tossed the picture onto the counter. "Yes, can't say, and physically, he's fine. Dunno about his head."
Oz's eyes shot to the newcomer. "His head? What's wrong with his head?"
Vahn made a sweeping gesture with his hand, turning fully to Oz. "I don't know. Look, I don't know anything about his situation, and I don't have the time or liberty to speculate on what is or isn't wrong with him at the moment."
Klein seemed suddenly deep in thought, eyeing Vahn up and down as Michelle spoke, effctively cutting off whatever other questions that Oz and Tia were about to launch. "Then why are you here?"
"Because... I think your Toby just saved my op." The dark man produced a folded piece of paper and tossed it onto the picture. "I came here to give you this. Anna said she talked to you about the situation, so I figured that it would be safe to give you this much, and that by coming here personally, you'd know to take it seriously."
"Anna?" repeated Michelle, pausing for a moment to think. "Anna Ballard?" At Vahn's nod, her eyes lit up with discovery. "She's your handler," she said more than asked.
Tia looked like a hound yearning to jump onto a scent, fighting to keep from attacking the paper. "What are you talking about? What about Toby?"
Vahn sighed, resting his hands on his hips and shifting on his feet. "It's an open case, so I can't go into it. Just... read," he commanded, pointing at the paper and with the same hand swiping his badge off the table.
"Anna doesn't know you're here, does she?" mused Klein, almost as though he weren't talking to the intruder. Vahn pursed his lips at the older man and said nothing. He turned and the group watched as he slipped out the back door and vanished.
The paper was closest to Michelle, but Tia was across the counter and pulling it open before the blonde had the time to look back at it. She stared at it, as though attempting to pry the information out of it.
"What does it say?" demanded Oz after a tense moment.
Middle-aged man wearing a 2013 York University lanyard is involved. Referred to as Dr. Mom. Medical degree?
Tia flipped it over and stared at the blank back of the sheet for a moment, and then looked up at the blonde. "What on earth is that supposed to mean?"
"He's giving us a clue," said Dev, grabbing the page as Michelle passed it toward Oz, who was holding his hand out expectantly. Oz scoffed and the hacker quickly handed it over.
"Why would he do that?" asked Tia, running back over to her notepad and grabbing her pen to begin scribbling once more.
Klein sighed. "Because, if what he said is true, and Toby is in good health, CSIS isn't going to risk a two-year operation and risk the lives of an asset and an operative." He met Tia's worry-filled eyes as the reporter stopped writing and looked up. "They aren't going to try and save him."
Once again, hopefully won't take me too long to update. Let me know what you think! :D
Edit: OMG! The last few pieces have fallen into place. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up too high, but I think I might feel a writing frenzy coming on!