Before answering, Peterson studies me steadily for a moment. I don’t know what he sees. Maybe he sees a victim searching for answers. Maybe he sees a con man trying to construct an imaginary world to hide in. Either way, when he speaks, his voice is gentle, and I no longer feel like he’s trying to siphon information out of me.
“We don’t know, Mr. Everton. But we’re working to find out. I understand that this is very concerning for you, and I appreciate you coming in to talk to me today. I’m sorry that I don’t have a better answer for you right now. I’ll have one, in time.
“We’d like to keep you under light surveillance. We don’t think you’re in any immediate danger, but it’s possible that your habits will shed some light on a connection between the two victims thus far. Strictly speaking, we don’t need your permission for this. However, I want to let you know, so as not to concern you.”
I think about the police cars I saw patrolling past the museum the other night, and say, “Yeah, I appreciate that. It could be a little paranoia-making otherwise.”
Peterson smiles. “It’s not just for your peace of mind; if you saw you were being followed and didn’t know why, you might change your habits, and then we wouldn’t get any leads.”
His smile fades. “I’ll be honest, Mr. Everton. This is not a big priority within the department. Everyone’s extremely curious, but with absolutely no leads, there’s not a lot of willingness to commit resources. I’ve only been able to arrange what I have because you’re the primary suspect, and they think it’s worth keeping an eye on you for a while.”
My pulse spikes again. Talking to Peterson is a great cardio workout. “I didn’t – I never met those guys! I don’t know what they want –”
Peterson waves me down. “I believe you. I wouldn’t have told you that you were a suspect otherwise.”
I make an effort to calm down, but my heart is still hammering. “Yeah, you believe me, but who else does? My boss had me do a drug test and all but told me that he’d fire me as soon as he could prove anything, and that’s at least partly because you came in to talk to him about me. He wouldn’t be thinking of me as a suspect otherwise.”
“Actually, Mr. Everton, Mr. Dobson called us and requested that an officer come out to review the case with him. He stated that it was for the insurance paperwork, which I’m certain is technically true, but his line of questioning indicated a desire to find that this could be laid in your lap.”
That’s a bit of a blow. I knew that Edgar didn’t like me much, but I didn’t think he thought that badly of me. Maybe he was just hoping it was my fault, so that he’d have a reason to be rid of me. That’s a pretty cowardly way out of a problem; the man could try taking a more direct approach. I’m not that hard to talk to. Even with my recently acquired understanding of Edgar’s motivations, this sort of behavior makes it hard to think kindly of him. I mean, I’m not blameless in this – irritating Edgar, that is; in this particular instance, where mutants are attacking me for no reason, I really am blameless – but still.
Peterson takes a deep breath, and that plus his careful, stilted language makes me realize that I’ve offended him pretty badly. I suppose that I did just call his professional competence into question, and that probably this is not the best way to way to make friends. As I could really use Peterson as a friend right now, I do something out of character: I apologize.
“Hey, that was unfair. I’m sorry. It’s been a stressful week.”
I realize my apology is tapering off into justification and cut it short. Peterson just waves his hand at me again, dismissing it.
“I’m familiar with the feeling. It’s okay.”
“Okay, so…what’s the plan from here?”
“You go on about your daily life, Mr. Everton, and hope for the best. We watch you occasionally, and hope for the best, too.”
Of course, “the best” for me is for all of this to be done and never affect me again, while for him it’s if I get attacked again while his guys are watching me. So our goals aren’t quite as closely aligned as he’s just made them sound. Still, it’s reassuring to know that I might not be totally alone if this happens again.
Peterson doesn’t look like he has anything to add, and it seems like this is a pretty reasonable point to make my exit. I haven’t gotten a whole lot out of Peterson, but I’ve learned what he doesn’t know, and managed to keep my secret, to boot. It’s a better result than I might have expected, and I know I should leave while I’m still ahead. Somehow, though, I feel like there’s something else to say here, but I don’t know what it is.
Seeing that I haven’t gotten up to leave, Peterson says, “Anything else, Mr. Everton?”
I still have no idea what I need to say, so I just open my mouth and talk. “These guys – I think they were dying anyway. The one I fought in the museum, his breath smelled like a slaughterhouse. He was torn up inside from whatever changed him.”
Peterson nods. “That’s what the preliminary information from the autopsies said, too. Neither one of them could have lived much longer. Whatever the drug they took was supposed to do for them, it wasn’t working.”
I think he’s probably wrong on that point. Assuming I’m right about this whole thing being a test, then it’s being run by someone. And I can’t imagine that an experimenter who would turn people into homicidal monsters would worry much about their long-term survival. They were created to die.
I repeat this to myself a few times, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about killing them. Aaron Lovell. Jonathan Caraway. Real people, with real lives.
At this moment, I resolve to find whoever is doing this, and to make them see the error of their ways. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to do this, but that can come later. Having the goal is enough for now.