An eventful day today, both enlightening and frustrating. First thing, I got a call from John Cheveyo. They had apprehended the Sad Man, he told me, and invited me to the interrogation. I set out before Tom and Gladys even had breakfast going, so I ran by the Stop n Go on the way, to get that cheese biscuit I’d promised Oscar Melmoth I was going to have. Edna had heard of my hospital stay, and quizzed me quite thoroughly about my cardiac health before selling it to me.
Another recipient of her heart-wise caution this morning was Cecil Murden, the one-eyed, one-footed chainsaw sculptor I’ve heard so much about recently. Quite the character. I think Edna may be sweet on him. She made a great show of checking the Biscuit List (her hand-written weekly tally of how many biscuits her regular customers have consumed in a given week), and made sure that Cecil hadn’t hit his personal limit of two. Cecil had a heart attack a few years ago, it seems, so Edna put him on limited rations.
Cecil took her attention with a sort of mock annoyance. But that’s how he reacts to everything, apparently: mock annoyance, mock interest, mock humor… It’s like he’s having a very personal joke on the world, all the time, no matter the subject. In a less charismatic man, it would be off-putting. But there’s always a twinkle in his eye, and a certain gruff charm to the performance, so you walk away feeling like he’s let you in on the joke. Even though he’s done no such thing.
I’ve met men with that sort of demeanor before. Some carry it better than others, but usually they’ve seen horrible things. If that’s the case with Cecil, he didn’t let on. But considering that he once traveled with Oscar Melmoth, I can only assume the worst.
He confirmed that service, by the way. He was proud of it, in point of fact. Said it was the only honest work he did the whole time he was a Merchant Marine. I told him I’d like to know more, and we made plans to meet for dinner. After that assault on my mind last night, I want to find out everything I can about Oscar Melmoth.
At any rate. Cheveyo met me at the door of Ranger HQ. He didn’t look good. Dark circles under the eyes, a cut up at his hairline, a hard set to his jaw… The Sad Man had obviously put up a fight. I shook his hand and moved to go in, but he shook his head.
“We’ve got him at Wakiza’s.”
“What the hell is Wakiza’s?”
He shook his head again and motioned to his truck. “Let’s go.”
Once we were moving, he opened up a little more. “Sorry for the silent treatment, Clint. We’re dealing with some sensitive stuff here. This guy, your Sad Man… He’s kind of important here on the Mountain.”
“One of the Council?”
“No. Thankfully, it doesn’t go that far. No, he’s more… His name is Heyoka. He’s sort of… the opposite of the Council.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“The Council leads the tribe, nurtures it. They’re kind of like parents. With everything that entails. Heyoka’s more like a… crazy uncle. A bad influence. He mocks authority, makes light of holy things. He makes people laugh. Lightens the load of the Gray World.”
“And this makes him important how?”
“Every authority needs opposition. Something to keep it honest. That’s what Heyoka does. He says the things nobody respectable is willing to say. Gets it out in the open. Makes people think. He’s a great teacher, in his way. He’s also a complete pain in the ass.”
“I can see how he might be. Where’d you find him?”
“Out on the Mountain. He lives there these days. Out with the Nukpana.”
“Is there a message in that arrangement?”
“Huh. Definitely. With Heyoka, there’s always a message. His whole damn life is a message.”
“So what message was he sending by summoning the Brute?”
“That’s what we’re about to find out.” He pulled the truck into the lot of an old factory building on a reservation back street. “We’re here.”
The building turned out to be the home and office of Matthew Wakiza, a semi-retired Ranger who was crippled in the line of duty. Now confined to a wheelchair, Wakiza works as a research and intelligence officer. The work doesn’t suit him, I don’t think. He seemed restless. Trapped.
Granted, that might just have been because of his house guests. The main portion of the place was set up on an open floor plan, with the living area separated from the office only by a partition. The back, however, was sealed off behind bars. It featured a row of holding cells, from which issued the most god-awful caterwauling imaginable.
“They won’t stop screeching,” Wakiza told Cheveyo when he let us in. “Either of them. The Nukpana was fine til the old man got here. Just kind of sat in the corner. Think he was scared. Then the old man got here, and now they won’t shut up. I swear, Cheveyo, if they’re here overnight I’m gonna roll back there and shoot them both in the skull.”
Cheveyo sighed. “I’m sorry, Wakiza. If I could have taken them somewhere else, I would have. You know what shaky ground we’re on here.”
“Fine, fine. Let’s just get this shit done.”
We went into the back, where, sure enough, the Nukpana I’d pulled out the Dream last week stood, clutching the bars of his cell and screeching enthusiastically at the filthy old man in the cell next to him. The old man was leaning against the wall of his cell, speaking grimly in a series of hoots and screeches, in a perfect pantomime of Luke Pallaton, the young Ranger who stood guard on them. Pallaton, for his part, looked less than pleased, but he took the ribbing in silence. The Sad Man was nowhere to be seen.
When I walked in, the Nukpana suddenly looked up, twisting its head at a disturbing angle and speed. It shrieked at the sight of me and leapt back into a corner of the cell, where it hid its face under an arm and cowered. The old man stopped his act and peered at me curiously. Now that I was getting a better look at him, he seemed kind of familiar.
“You the White Devil, then?”
“That what he’s calling me?”
“No, that’s what I’m calling you. The Nukpana call you something worse.” He made a series of low hooting clicks. The Nukpana whimpered at the sound.
“What’s that mean?”
“It means ‘White Asshole Who Gets His Hard On by Frightening Children.’ I was being nice because I like you.”
“Oh, don’t thank me. If I respected you, I’d tell you the truth.” He tilted his head to one side and looked at me hard. “But I think you maybe aren’t that well-acquainted with the truth, Yanaba. Clint. X-23. [name redacted].”
“You forgot one.”
“No I didn’t. I just thought I’d show the lady some respect. I think she deserves it.”
“That she does.” I turned to Cheveyo. “So where’s Heyoka?”
He looked confused. “This is Heyoka.”
I looked back at the old man. “This– Wait. Cheveyo, this isn’t… This isn’t the Sad Man.”
Dumbfounded, he reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a battered copy of the sketch his man had done of the Sad Man based on my description. “You’re telling me this isn’t the man in that cell.”
I looked at the sketch. The lines seemed wavy. Indistinct. My eyes watered, slipped off the shape. It tried to coalesce into something that, I had to admit, looked a bit like the man in the cell. I blinked, squinted, pressed my eyes shut, and looked again. The drawing snapped suddenly into shape. The shape I remembered from when the picture was done: the face of the Sad Man.
I looked back at Cheveyo. “So you see his face when you look at this?”
“No, I– Dammit! Dammit, I think we’ve been outmaneuvered here.” I grabbed the paper and turned to Heyoka. “How about you? Who do you see when you look at this?”
The old man squinted and smiled, and suddenly I knew who he reminded me of: Cecil Murden.
“I see a slippery bastard. And if you want more than that, White Devil, you’ll have to sit down in here with me. I want to tell you a story.”
But that’s a story I’ll have to save for next time, Sir. Denise reminds me that it’s almost time for dinner with Cecil. And that’s a date I don’t want to miss.
– Agent X-23, signing off.