100 Themes Challenge, Minot Edition: #2
THEME: 2. "Complicated"
STORYLINE: D Is For Damien storyline, Minot spinoff series, IDentity (unwritten novel)
RATING: PG-13 (mild adult language)
WORD COUNT: 2200+ words
SUMMARY: The connection between this scene and its theme, "Complicated," might be a bit more vague than usual but I hope it connects as it goes along. The characters: Det. Michelle "Mike" Rosedale, a detective who in a previous story contacted Det. Kristeva to help her with a case, and has had him promise to seek her younger brother Jason, kidnapped when they were children; Det. Max Kristeva, a Missing Persons detective with the Minot Police Department; and Jay Campion (absent), a drug addict and former prostitute who now works as a sort of heavy-slash-hitman for a cult. The background: Campion has intimidated the other characters on various occasions and made himself a nuisance to their investigations, though he considers Kristeva more of a rival than an enemy. His sexual assault of Det. Justin Reichert, a good friend of the other two, has Rosedale hating his guts. (Although Reich is gay, he and Rosedale got plastered one night and she ended up pregnant because of it. They gave the baby up for adoption. Reich is currently attempting to recover from sex addiction, so Campy's attack has affected him more than it usually would.) Rosedale is startled one night to come home and find Campy seated in her dining room, waiting for her; she's certain he plans to assault her next, so draws her gun on him. Campion wants to know, why would she treat an old friend this way? After some verbal sparring, he gives enough details to make it clear exactly who he is--Jason, Rosedale's kid brother, missing since age eight. Turns out he was passed through the hands of various abusers before ending up a prostitute and then working for the cult. Rosedale escapes the encounter unscathed, but is horrified that her beloved kid brother could have gone down such a path. How is it possible that he's changed so very much? After she pours her story out to Kristeva, he pauses before deciding to explain to her something he's realized about Campy but was too reluctant to share before, since sharing means he'll have to give up a rather dark secret of his own, too. The scene picks up from there. This summary is "Complicated" enough, don't you think?
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"How well do you think you know him?"
Kristeva's voice was quiet. Rosedale stared out the window, biting the inside of her mouth hard enough to hurt, this time successfully willing back the tears; she didn't want to go through another outburst like she'd had with Kincaid. For some reason the thought of humiliating herself in front of Kristeva as well was even more mortifying. She shook her head, uncertain if he could see it, not really caring.
"I thought I knew him. But that was when he was a kid. I guess it's different now. I thought I knew Campi...I thought I knew whoever this is, but now that I know who he is..." She trailed off and squeezed her eyes shut. "I feel like I don't know anything anymore." She had to take in a shaky breath and let it out just to steady herself, then abruptly turned away from the window. She could barely see Kristeva's face from here, the lighting was so poor, but she could tell he was watching her intently. "You know Al...Lt. Kincaid tried to warn me? He said sometimes people aren't meant to be found. And that even if somebody's found, it doesn't mean they aren't still lost. And to be prepared to be disappointed. I didn't agree with him then. Funny, huh? How right he was? I know he had his reasons to know all that. He told me a little of it. Even so I thought there was no way that would ever apply to Jason. Well, take a look. Surprise surprise. I told him I probably shouldn't have found Jason at all." She winced as if punched in the stomach. "I can't believe I would ever think such a thing. But that was before. I just don't understand it. Even with the...even with all the shit he's gone through, and the drugs, and whatever...it can't possibly be him. There's no way he would change that much. When Justin and I first talked to him, before all this, he was so normal. I didn't know it was Jason but if I'd known, then I'd've been able to tell you, that was the Jason I knew, the Jason he should be right now. But--this 'Jay' person? This isn't him. He never would've turned out to be like this." She winced again, and made herself turn back to the window just in case the tears would spring to her eyes. She leaned heavily on the sill. "But the stuff he told me...stuff only Jason could've known. Stuff even our parents never knew. Stuff I never told the cops. I don't understand it." She put a hand to her eyes and took another breath. "I know it's him, but it can't be. But it is."
The silence drew out for a very long time. She didn't really expect him to say anything anyway; she hadn't asked him anything, after all. Vague thoughts of offering an apology for bothering him so late at night, when surely Natalie was upstairs waiting for him to return, flitted through her head, and she was trying to think of a way to phrase them, when he finally spoke, his voice even quieter than before.
"I think I might know what's going on."
Rosedale lifted her head, then peered back over her shoulder. He still stared at her, half lost in shadow. She furrowed her brow; he must have seen it, for he spoke up again.
"You remember when we all met on the bridge, right?"
"I think I might've picked up on something you didn't. I wasn't too sure about it before. I still can't be positive. But if I'm right it might explain some things."
"Right about what? What are you talking about?"
Another long pause. "I have something I want to show you," he said at last; when he said nothing more, she pushed herself away from the window, sensing she was meant to sit down. She did so opposite him, on the other side of the table, just as he added, "Somebody I want you to meet," and that perplexed her, for she was certain there was nobody else there aside from Tate and Natalie. He made no move to get up and go to the door or the telephone or anything, so she stayed in her seat; he pulled his own chair around to sit facing her in return and their eyes met. From here, she could see him better than before, and the vague look of unease he had made her take pause; what reason did he have for being uneasy? Her perplexity must have shown on her face, for he spoke yet again, a bit more clearly than before.
"This is kind of complicated. I'm not quite sure how well it'll work out, so just bear with me."
Rosedale nodded, though this comment just confused her all the more.
This gesture seemed to make him relax, just a little; he took a deep breath, then let it out. His eyes fixed on hers and he stared at her across the table. She held his stare though it started to unnerve her, and she wished he would just come out and explain what he knew. After an all-too-brief moment she grew fed up inside, and was about to ask him what this was about, when Kristeva's eyes rolled back into his head, leaving only the whites visible, and then fluttered, his head slowly sinking forward and his shoulders slumping until she could have sworn he'd just passed out.
Rosedale blinked. She stared at him for a few seconds, beyond confused by now, leaning forward over the table to get a closer look; she let out a small gasp and quickly pulled back when he jerked and his shoulders hunched almost defensively, then his hands slid up and he grasped at his head as if it were threatening to split open. He lifted it slightly and she saw the awful grimace on his face. He pressed his fingers to his temples.
"We're...I'm not very good at this just yet. Never really have much reason to do it on purpose."
"Max?" Rosedale said.
He lowered his hands and lifted his head to meet her eyes again, still blinking as if the poor lighting was enough to hurt his eyes. "Sorry," he said. "But I wasn't sure exactly how else to show you short of just showing you."
"Showing me wh..."
She blinked. He'd opened his eyes wider and was staring at her again. Something about his expression made her take pause. No, not his expression...that was the same. But his eyes were decidedly different. How? She had to stare back at him for a moment or two before realizing that the color, or more like the shade, was different...they'd been a sort of medium gray before...now they were light, almost pale. And now that she was staring at him so intently she did notice something different about his expression. He didn't seem quite as tense and restrained as before; something about the look he had would have almost calmed her, hadn't it been so unnerving.
Even more than this was the vague but palpable feeling of change in the room. It wasn't something she could put her finger on, but it was almost as if the air had shifted, or the lighting had changed, or something like that. She couldn't explain it even to herself. Her eyes wandered just a little, trying hard to figure out what was different; when she looked to the other detective again, she realized that what was different was him.
Something prickled sharply at the back of her neck and she suppressed a shudder.
Campion's--Jay's--Jason's?--face flickered in her mind--the difference in the way he smiled when he'd first accosted Reichert and herself, the way he'd smiled when he'd been waiting for her in her house not long ago. The same face, but fundamentally different. The tone of his voice, the way he carried himself. If she hadn't known better, she would have sworn it was two different people.
For a few seconds, she was certain she wasn't sitting there looking at Kristeva anymore. Somehow a stranger had slipped into the room unnoticed. The prickling feeling slid down her spine and she slowly edged her chair back from the table as if expecting him to lunge at her, but all that he did was hold her stare. He seemed to realize that she was beginning to understand, for the intensity of his stare softened somewhat.
"Sorry all I could do was just lay it on you like this. You're not the only one who was surprised."
"You're..." Rosedale's voice failed her. She had no idea what to say. The room felt as if it had shrunk and the air had been sucked out of it; her head swam a little, and she grasped the arm of her chair.
Kristeva was silent for a moment, as if trying to formulate the right words. "I came along when things started to get difficult," he said. "It doesn't matter how orderly or efficient a system is, it can always go out of whack, especially when you have no idea there even is one." A pause. "There's a reason Campion goes by two names. You do know that?"
"Jay is short for Jason," Rosedale said, her voice still faint.
Kristeva shook his head slightly. "Did he ever call himself Jay when you were little?"
She wanted more than anything to tell him yes, but he hadn't. She had her own nickname--her brother had always called her Mike, so much so that it stuck to this day and she preferred it over her full name--but she'd never once called him Jay, and he'd never once requested to be called that.
She opened her mouth to protest, but nothing came out. Kristeva reached across the table, grasped a notepad and pen, and pulled them toward himself. He started jotting something down. Even as he did so, she knew for a fact that whatever he was writing was unimportant, unnecessary. Rather, it was the fact that he was writing with his left hand that was the detail she knew she was meant to focus on. Her memory flitted back to that first meeting with Jay--Jason. Shaking their hands with his right hand. Placing his cell phone to his right ear. Then, in her car. Holding the gun to the left side of her head. Playing with his knife when she came upon him in her dining room, flipping it around in the fingers of his left hand. The track marks she'd seen on his right arm, meaning he shot up lefthanded.
Jason was righthanded.
Kristeva stopped writing and pushed the notepad back toward her. As she reached out to take it, she remembered having seen him writing with his right hand, then later on seeing him using the left, how she'd flippantly asked him if he was using the wrong hand, how he'd seemed vaguely uneasy before explaining that he was ambidextrous. When she looked at the writing on the notepad and saw that it was merely his own name, MAXWELL S. KRISTEVA, she didn't know how, but she knew somehow, that it wasn't the same as when she'd previously seen his name signed. It looked the same. But just as with his facial expression, there was something fundamentally different. It took a few seconds for her to realize what it was.
"I had to practice it," he said, before she could speak up. Then, "Otherwise people would assume it's a forgery." He took the notepad back, jotted something down a bit faster than before, and again passed it back. Now it read MAXWELL S. KRISTEVA, MAXWELL S. KRISTEVA, but the two signatures were completely different. The second one didn't seem forced, like the first.
"Imagine the irony of having to forge your own signature," he said, as she stared at the two.
Rosedale lifted her head to meet his eyes again. They looked at each other for quite a while in silence. She couldn't think of anything to say, even though thoughts were swirling in a chaos in her mind. When she did finally speak, she asked something that made absolutely no sense, but it was the only thing that would come out.
"Who...who are you?"
Immediately after it was out, she regretted it, feeling utterly foolish, and wanted to take it back or say something to brush it off. She didn't expect any answer other than the obvious. Max Kristeva, of course. She fully expected him to give her an odd look and state his name. So of course, when that didn't happen, it wasn't what she'd expected at all.
"Number Two," Kristeva said, and the look on his face told her he hadn't found her question odd in the least. When the silence drew out for what felt like forever, despite the chaos still swirling in her head, a chaos that was just starting to coagulate and make a little bit of sense, Kristeva said something else which she nearly missed, she was getting so lost in her conflicting thoughts.
"We told you it's complicated."