Chapter 4



Considering the state of her investigation, Marie found herself anticipating a meeting with Charlotte Jones. They hadn't found time to really chat since Charlotte's promotion and she wanted her mentor's thoughts on the op. The subway took Baglady Sue out to the West Village. Where Baglady Sue disembarked, Detective D'Ancanto boarded fifteen minutes and a lap around a city block later, this time on a train for Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Charlotte was already seated at a booth in a diner long ago established as a cop hang-out. Marie ordered a cream soda and a pastrami on rye heavy on the greens and sauerkraut as soon as the server came over.

"How do you know they do pastrami on rye?" asked Charlotte.

"All east coast diners have to do pastrami on rye," Marie said. "Not to do so would be un-American. How's your chilli, captain?"

"About as spicy as ketchup. Cut the pleasant small talk, D'Ancanto. It's creeping me out. I feel like you're only being nice to me so you can stab me in the front. And it's Acting Captain." Charlotte grimaced over her bowl. "If I have to work this desk any longer than Harper's goddamn four months of LOA, I'm going to go postal. It won't be pretty. Might involve siccing my cooking on everyone. What've you got?"

"A way to go deep."

"Considering your op, it's really hard not to turn that into an off-colour joke."

"Can't. Remember the sexual harassment presentation from HR?" Marie's order arrived. She thanked the server and bit into the sandwich with gusto. Juices ran down her fingers. She chewed slowly, eyes closed. Undercover as a homeless person sucked donkey balls.

"What've you got as an excuse to continue with your idiocy? Remember, I trained you when you were a rookie. I know the depths to which your idiocy can sink and, girl, you're showing signs of digging an idiocy basement."

"I got invited to a party."

"And there's the door to the basement."

Marie cut off further comment with an upward slash of her sandwich-holding hand. Sauerkraut juice spattered the table. "Hookers everywhere, heavy on the mutant fetishism, only slightly outnumbered by the baggies of bud and lines of coke."

"Despite my better judgment, I'm going to ask you to continue."

"Prostitution ring headed by organized crime. My best guess is bratva; they're pros at that sort of thing. Plus some of the guys sounded like they were speaking Russian."

"You're sure?"

"Well, it wasn't Spanish or Cantonese and the last Cosa Nostra family that actually spoke something other than English was in the seventies. So that narrows the criminal families down some. I figure, the old Yellow Brick Road of America route. We don't know what the state of mutants are in Russia and the other Eastern European countries. Maybe it sucks, maybe it's the same as here, maybe it doesn't matter. You get any bright-eyed, bushy-tailed teenager to believe you're going to give them opportunities in the States, they're going to jump at it."

Marie grew more animated as she spun her theory out.

"Ten years ago, the biggest porn kink was gang-banging Russian or Asian women. Maybe this year, it's mutants. This group jumps on an opportunity to get a whole fucking boot into a rising niche industry. God knows if they run out of ways to ship in the goods, there are plenty of mutants on the street that no one would miss. Promise them food, shelter, and drugs, and they're think they're living the high life until they're worn to bits. Then maybe they toss them back into the streets for the loose change crowd."

Charlotte rested her elbows on the table and steepled her fingers under her chin. "Say you're right. Why kill them?"

Marie studied her sandwich. "That's an excellent question. Bet if I went deep into this op, I'd be able to get you the answer."

"I have no doubt you'd be able to convince these guys to get you in. You're forgetting one miniscule, inconsequential detail in all of this."

"My powers?"

"Gold star. How're you going to convince them to bring you into their stable if you can't touch any other their customers? Not to mention powers like that are rare. With the right ears, someone's gonna connect the dots."

"I'm... working on that."

Putting down her spoon, Charlotte said, "You've got a week to work on it. Then you're pulling out for real. And if you don't pull out, I'm suspending you without pay for a week."

Marie's jaw dropped. "What?!"

"Just kidding. I've always wanted to know if going on a middle management power trip felt as slimy as it looks. It does. I have to take a shower now."

"This would be so much easier if I could control my powers and absorb parts of their memories."

"Even if the use of your powers didn't need a warrant, I still wouldn't let you on account that it affects you more negatively than it affects the scumbags you touch." Charlotte wagged her finger at Marie. "One week to figure out how to make this work. Then you either call in from the inside or close the op."

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am." Marie saluted.

"I'd believe that more if you didn't just use your middle finger. I've gotta go. I have a freaking budget meeting to attend. Kill me." Charlotte tossed her napkin at Marie's face. Marie caught it neatly. "One week." Under her breath, she added, "I'm almost afraid of what you'll come up with."

Charlotte had good reason to be afraid. Marie herself couldn't quite believe what she was about to do either. She stared outside her high-rise Manhattan hotel room, waiting for Remy Fucking Lebeau. He never arrived on time for their meetings. Sometimes he'd be waiting for her, already half-way through a movie; sometimes, she'd be ready to pack it up before he came. Today, he clocked in at six minutes after the agreed meeting time. Must have been a slow day.

"I got a treat for us today," he said, balancing a trio of paper bags in one arm while this other hand flicked the key card into a side pocket. "Four-course Caribbean meal and 'Delicatessen' by Jean Jeunet. Same guy who did 'Amelie' only as a slasher film. 'Course, Jeunet's early work verges on so-weird-it's-good territory so it ain't our usual fare but I think you'll like it."

"I need something from you," Marie said before he could set the table.

He winked. "I knew it wouldn't take long for you to fall for me, sha. Great take out, great local wine, and obscure B-movies are a guaranteed panty-peeling combination."

Marie let her head thunk on the hotel's small but exquisitely set dining room table. "Lebeau, don't make this any harder than it has to be."

Lebeau pulled containers of food out of the over-sized paper bags. "You always need something from me, Detective, and I always get something from you. It's why we do this thing every month."

"This is kind of different from the usual information gathering deal."

"So you want dinner, too? You're starting to get expensive."

Rolling her eyes upward, Marie said, "I'm perfectly happy with information drop-offs. You're the one who insists on this whole production."

"I got a reputation to protect, sha. Even with the protection you and your X-Men friends give me, Belle's people have me under watch. I hang around a mailbox for no reason, they get suspicious. I check into a posh hotel room for a couple hours looking prepped for sex, and they take a coffee break."

"You have got to be the weirdest snitch in NYPD history."

"Nothing but the best for MacTac." With the table arranged to his specifications, Lebeau turned the movie on then pulled out a chair, bowing at the waist as he did so. He pushed it in when she sat and unfurled a paper napkin for her lap, his politeness exaggerated for effect.

Despite herself, Marie smiled. Not only was Lebeau the weirdest snitch in NYPD history, he was also the most charming. Damn him. Since she'd absorbed him before, she could see through all his tricks so most of the time, she could zone him out and just enjoy the free meal. Neither did she have any illusions about his motivation. Lebeau only gave her information about rival gangs, people who were in the way of the Guild's expansion. Without them, his syndicate could have free reign over the east coast. Sometimes, however, some very rare times, Marie also enjoyed his company. Few people could match her insult for insult. And the man really did have excellent taste in movies.

They demolished the first course-- a savoury plantain dish-- before Lebeau started talking again. "You wanna look for a CNRW shipping container coming into the port tomorrow. Scheduled to come in by noon and take the train up to Canada. They're carrying house decorations like pillows and duvets stuffed with certified organic heroin. Deal is to trade it with Hell's Angels in Montreal for an equal weight in pot though if you ask me, Montreal marijuana ain't worth the papers it's smoked in. You want good Canadian product, you go over to Whistler. All that crisp mountain air's good for the buds."

"I'll pass that to DEA. Anything we can use?" asked Marie.

"Always. Have a look at the managerial staff in the port. Word is, someone in middle management can make you forget things. Kinda explains why so much contraband goes through there."

"Goddammit. I'll send word about that, too."

"May want to give any friends you got in Virginia a heads-up on MS-13 recruiting like it's going out of style. Don't know what they're planning yet but I smell cannon fodder."

Lebeau had a lot of information today. Marie scribbled it all down on her napkin using a short hand she'd developed in police academy. At a point in the movie, she had moved her chair closer to Lebeau's to see the television more clearly. He had his arm around the back of her chair as always. Normally, she'd ignore it-- Lebeau simply could not turn himself off and would even pull that move on extremely straight men. Her undercover assignment and the favour she needed to ask made her a bit more sensitive to his arm touching her shoulder.

"So, about that favour," Marie began.

He never took his eyes off the television. "Another favour, detective? At this rate, you gonna give me carte blanche."

"Not those type of questions. Exactly. It's more like... things that you're really... I know you..." She huffed, blowing her white bangs out of her eyes. The more tentative she was about this damn thing, the more power he'd have over her in this twisted deal. "I need to get hired as an S&M hooker. A really good one. Seeing as how you're an expert in their services, kinky or otherwise, I figured you could give me some pointers."

That... was probably not the best route to take. Lebeau turned his head to stare at her, his silence heavy. Marie started to kiss her case farewell when suddenly, he let out a bark of laughter.

"Let me get this straight: you want me to give you tips on being porny?"

"Fuck you."

"Hopefully one sweet day, sha. Going to be sooner more'n later if this conversation is any indication."

"If you can't or won't help, then fuck it, I'll just--"

"I didn't say I wouldn't help," Lebeau said. "But you gotta know I don't do charity and I've already got one of your IOUs."

"And unless your lovely family down south has had a real drastic attitude adjustment towards narcs in the past nineteen months, I got one of yours, too," Marie shot back. "What would the wifey say when she finds out who helped put her lover in jail?"

"You ain't gonna tell. You actually believe in honour and oaths. Make a good Thief outta you."

"I'm sure in your twisted mind that's a compliment but I mean it with all my heart when I say, ew."

She rubbed the vein over her right temple, the one she felt throbbing all the way down her back. She had to get him with something even more powerful than the idea of having a cop owing favours. There had to be something rattling around in his absorbed memories. Marie poked at the compartments in her mind. Usually, she wanted those memories to stay closed. She needed them closed, actually, to stay sane. Lebeau's memories in particular remained sealed under several other layers of memories. The memories she absorb didn't just crop up; they could meld with her own personality, colouring her very self. To this day, she suspected aspects of her personality were transplanted from Logan or Magneto or whoever else was rattling in her brain before she took Novomane to negate her powers. Some personalities were strong. Lebeau's took a day of heavy meditation to banish.

But Illyana or some other poor girl might be out there. Marie poked the memory boxes open and braced herself.

He pushed the swing. His little girl shrieked with joy, raising her dimpled hands to the sky. Her pink hair came loose of its ribbons. This one was going to be a risk-taker, just like him, and he loved her all the more because--

-- ran, looking back to make sure his cousin was at his heels. "Hurry, Etienne!"

"Wait for me, Remy!"

"Run faster, dammit!"

The Pig's men swarmed the boat. Remy dove overboard. He thought he heard Etienne do the same--

-- the little ones ran about, laughing like kids should. He tried to think about the upgrades he could make to his place, to several of his places, and maybe that Takashi Murakami he'd had his eye on for a while. But, damn, these people worked helped street kids. Shit, shit, shi--

Marie snapped back to the present. Her knuckles were white around her eating utensils. "There's a little girl in danger," she blurted out.

Lebeau snorted.

"I'm telling the truth. Listen, you were right about me going undercover to look for the guy killing off hookers. The last body we found was a boy just barely out of his teens. There's also evidence that whoever killed him might have grabbed a ten year old girl. Her name's Illyana. She's sweet as an angel with a mom who loves her to bits and a big brother who thinks she lights the stars every night."

"Pour it on any thicker, it'd frost a cake."

"What if it was your own daughter out there?" Marie snarled.

"You leave my daughters out of this," Lebeau's voice softened to a whisper so icy, she could've sworn Bobby was in the room. "You just erase them right out of that soul sucker you call a brain. They're not part of any bargain between you and me."

"There's someone, possibly several someones, out there killing young mutant prostitutes. To fuck with who owes who. Do this because those scumbuckets need to be stopped."

Nothing from the other end. Marie held her breath. His arm was still slung along the back of her chair. His thumb tapped out a frenetic beat so close to her shoulder, she felt the hairs on her body rise. Suddenly, he withdrew the arm and stuck it in his pocket. Marie tensed and put her hand on her lap, closer to her holster. He hadn't pulled a gun on her since the first time they met when he broke into her apartment. But just in case...

Lebeau pulled out his phone instead and tapped on the screen. Seconds later, Marie's own phone vibrated.

"I just texted you a location safe from my people and yours," said Lebeau. "How long you got until contact?"

"A week before my captain shuts the op down. Maybe three days to get in."

"Then we got no time to lose. Meet me there by seven tonight."

Next, she met up with Pete in the Museum of Modern Art. The meeting couldn't possibly end on a better note than the one with Lebeau; she was going to be talking about his missing little sister. But Pete didn't know half as many vulgar phrases as Lebeau so at least the conversation would seem half-way civilised.

Pete waited for her just past the lobby. He stood column-straight with his hands folded behind him and his legs shoulder's width apart: the stance of a warrior at ease. In Pete's case, the stance was a result of years of training to control his strength. When a six-foot-seven teenager made of steel tripped, the mansion usually ended up with a new doorway.

Marie stuck her hands in her hoodie's pockets and approached him. "Imagining your next piece on that wall?"

A smile flashed on his lips. "Imagining this coming May when I'll be part of a show here."

"Really? Damn, Pete, congratulations!"

"Thanks. It's a group show and I think I might have been a last minute addition--"

"The MOMA's still the MOMA. You should be proud of yourself."

He shrugged and ducked his head down because he was Pete and thus clinically incapable of taking a compliment. "It's not very busy today. We can talk."

Marie followed him through an archway covered in swirling glass. "So, exactly how much work do you do for the basement these days?"

"Hardly any. They have many more interested people these days."

"So, training-wise, you're kind of rusty."

He nudged her with his elbow. "The training never goes away. Not when Cyclops is training you."

"Oh man, even now, I wake up on Saturdays feeling like I should go to the gym or something."

"I do go to the gym. And when I don't, I don't get mad at myself; I get disappointed."

"Remember when Bobby tried to short the Danger Room out by icing everything and tried to blame it on growing pains?"

"The best part was when Scott made him clean it all up with a mop then continued with training anyway."

"No, the best part was when Kitty beat on Bobby for ruining all the programming she'd put into the Danger Room the night before." Pete suddenly looked abashed at bringing Kitty and Bobby up.

Now it was Marie's turn to nudge him with her elbow. "That was years ago. I'm over it."

"Events in high school can affect your whole life," he said. "Maybe not in the way most people think with the true-love boyfriend and the group of friends you think will stay together forever, but it is a phase of major self-evolution. Of all people, we mutants must be aware of that."

"True enough." They turned a corner and entered a room filled with Native American work made out of sneakers and plastic picnic chairs. "Are you busy these days? With your work?"

"I'm as busy as I need to be."

"No scheduled appearances, guest lectures, things like that?" Marie asked for clarification.

"A few interspersed over the next two months and then I'll be working straight for the show in May. Why do you ask?"

Marie stopped in front of a ceremonial mask. "The case I'm working on right now, the one that might be related to Illyana's disappearance, requires me to go undercover. I need someone to act as go-between for me and MacTac. I can't use anyone from work because they can be outed pretty easily. Even the X-Men are getting recognizable, especially to mutant groups. You have training and can be bulletproof."

"Will I be allowed to work with you considering I have a close connection to the case?" asked Pete.

"I think I can argue around the conflict of interest with the whole bulletproof and Russian translation thing."

"What does understanding Russian have to do with this?"

"Maybe nothing," Marie said. "Maybe the people behind it are the bratva."

Forehead furrowing, Pete closed his eyes and let out a sigh. "Those people. Thanks to them, anyone Russian must be a nuke-wielding commie or a gangster. So you need me to infiltrate a gang?"

"No, nothing that intense. Leave the infiltrating to me." Ha. thought Marie. "I'm undercover as a hooker. I think someone in charge of a mutant-fetish prostitution ring is killing their workers off."

"And you think Illyana's disappearance is related to this... ring?" Pete looked like he might throw up.

"God, I hope not. But I can't ignore the fact that her doll was found with a body related to the case. The op's pretty delicate-- all the stupid mutant-human politics, the gang aspect, the fact that I actually work the same beat as the op. It needs to stay on the way down low. I can't have just anyone acting as go-between with this one."

"You need someone you can trust," said Pete.

Marie smirked and dug her hands deeper in her pockets. "Once a Goonie, always a Goonie. I can completely understand if you can't do it. You're my first choice, though, and I wanted to let you know."

Pete walked to the next exhibit piece, another ceremonial mask, this time made of hand-held electronics. "How much time do I have to think about it?"

"Three days max."

"Then I will let you know by tomorrow." He ran a finger across the surface of the pillar that held the ceremonial mask, then rubbed the dust into his thumb. "I remember your first day of class. Storm's History 1 in the arboretum. I'd been at the school for three years then and seen a lot of other kids come through and graduated wanting nothing but to pass as human. To live a regular life and forget they were ever one of us. I remember thinking you'd probably be a lot like them."

"I guess I proved you right," said Marie. She touched the spot on her deltoid where she'd taken that first batch of Novomane, the drug Worthington Avent-Smythe marketed as The Cure for mutations. Although the effect had been temporary, the long-term side effects for her had been psychological addiction, alienation, a funky immune system, and unpredictable powers. She was so far from regular, she couldn't even spell it.

Pete shook his head, smiling as he confirmed her thoughts. "Oh no. You're anything but regular, Marie D'Ancanto. Because of that, I'm so proud to be your friend."

While clichéd, Marie supposed a place like Jersey City wouldn't bat an eye at S&M seduction training. For the umpteenth time since boarding the subway, she almost changed her tune. She couldn't believe she was actually going to do this. Hell, she couldn't believe this was her idea to begin with. Charlotte was right; she was digging an idiocy basement. She only hoped the sacrifice of her dignity wouldn't be for nothing.

The address Lebeau sent led to a narrow house, typical early twentieth century style with just enough space between the buildings on either side to keep the neighbours from reaching through the windows to borrow dish soap. Like most of the houses on the street, it was split into two residences. Marie wondered what the other tenant would think of this. She climbed the ten steps up to the front door and rang the bell.

Lebeau answered the door immediately and ushered her in. "Catch."

She caught a pair of handcuffs. The cuffs seemed to be chain-link, padded thickly and covered in purple suede. "Thanks. I think."

"Y'welcome. You sure you want to do this?"

"I'm sure I want to close this case successfully," said Marie. "This is just something that has to be done. Are you sure you know how to do this?"

"What I don't know I'm sure you're smart enough to make up along the way." He paused on the way up to the second floor, presumably where the bedrooms were. "You ain't a virgin, are you?"

"No," said Marie. She wished she didn't have to blush about it though.

"Right. Okay, that'll make things-- what exactly is your experience? Gotta know where in the lesson plan to start."

"You have an S&M lesson plan. Like you've done this before. I must be freaking crazy."

"Hey, this ain't exactly how I imagined getting you to give me a lap dance but you were the one going on and on about bringing the sexy back for great justice." He opened the second of three doors in the second floor. "Bathroom. Other two are bedrooms. Mine's the last door."

Marie paused. "I... get my own room."

"Of course you do," Lebeau snapped. "You asked me-- threatened me-- to do this. So I'm doing this like training which means you get your own damn room. You ain't turning me into the villain of your own personal tragedy. I get enough of that from Belle."

"Excuse me for jumping to conclusions. Just because ninety percent of our conversations so far involve you hitting on me in the perviest way possible, it sure doesn't mean you'd take advantage of the situation," Marie retorted.

"Well, I won't. Like I said before, I ain't so hard up for a fuck that I'd force someone unwilling."

His vehemence surprised Marie. Lebeau was genuinely offended and angry. Honestly, she hadn't thought him capable of those feelings.

"All right. I'm... I guess I'm sorry," she said.

He crossed his arms. "You guess?"

"I'll truly be sorry if you promise to cut back on the freaking awful pick-up lines."

"They make you laugh."

"They do not!"

"Sure they do. Here." He flicked his thumb at the corner of her left eye.

The touch left Marie surprised; she didn't have time to hold minimize her powers. Exasperation-attraction-irritation-fondness zapped through her skin. She took a step back.

"You always do that?" asked Lebeau.


"Pull away when someone gets in your space."

"Purple Ring of Personal Space. Learned it in kindergarten, served me well since."

"Not as a hooker, it won't. You're a cop; you know about using personal space as a threat."

"Except in my case, my personal space is my weapon," said Marie.

"Keep thinking of it that way. You're the mistress. The boss. Whoever's in front of you ain't worth the shit you scrape off your boots." He stepped in closer. If they both took deep breaths, their chests would touch. He stared down at her. "Look at me. Forget sex. Get into cop mode."

"Kind of hard to forget sex when that's the point," she said.

"Not here. Not with this. The point of this is power. To be on top. You gotta know you're the boss through and through." He stepped closer still. Her breasts brushed his chest. He refused to break eye contact. The heat of his breaths fluttered against her bangs. Marie felt heat everywhere else but she couldn't tell if it he emanated warmth or if she had a full body blush.

Then Lebeau smirked.

So quickly it had to be a reflex, Marie grabbed Lebeau's thumb and bent it backwards. As he twisted out of the hold, she turned with him, hooking an ankle around his closest leg and kicking up. He recovered by allowing himself to fall back then transforming the fall into a handspring. Marie jabbed her elbow into his stomach. Lebeau's handspring collapsed. She held her foot at his throat.

"So," she said. "Now I'm on top."

He grinned up at her. "You sure are, sha." He lifted her foot off his neck to press a kiss on the top of her shoe.

Marie pulled away. "Say please."

"And you said you needed training to do this."

"What can I say? I'm inspired by the notion of kicking your ass."

"Careful, sha. I think in this scene, that means 'I love you.'"

"I could never say those words to someone who inserts outdated Justin Timberlake lyrics into normal conversation."

"That song ain't outdated; it's a classic."

"You're old."

"You're mean."

"I'm trying to be a dominatrix, remember? Or should I get you some more Geritol so you remember the conversation we had five minutes ago?"

"See? Mean. Downright bitchy. How you supposed to convince little kids to ask for your help when you scare 'em away with that attitude?"

"I'm nice to little kids. Immature senior citizens, less so."

"I'm only forty-ni--" Lebeau threw his hands up, shrugging with a Gallic air that should've been watered down by now considering how far removed Cajuns were from their French roots. "Look, you want to know how to use a flogger or not?"

"I'm kinda liking pissing you off for once," said Marie.

"Sha, you ain't done nothing but since I first started watching you shower from the apartment across the street."

"Oh my gawd!"

Lebeau went purple. He flailed. "Joking. Foot. Air!"

Marie stepped off his throat. Arms crossed, glaring, and just about ready to stuff that flogger up where the sun don't shine then pull it out of his pie hole, she waited for him to recover. This was going to be a long damn day.

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