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Two years ago…

A bright-eyed young man walks past Mason’s desk and stops. Mason, reading the newspaper, feet up on his desk, doesn’t notice him.

“Excuse me,” the young man says. Fresh meat, Mason thinks.

“I’m looking for a Mason Wylie. I’m… I’m his new partner.” In a brief delay, Mason folds his paper away and grabs a nameplate from his desk. He puts the nameplate with the name “Mason Wylie, Belforde Police - Western District” right below his face.

“Oh, Mr. Wylie!” The bright-eyed young man offers a handshake and a smile. “I’m Ron Kelly, your new partner--”

Mason’s not one for pleasantries--especially with his new “partner”. He’d prefer working alone, but nobody in this department ever listens. Nonetheless, he stands up and shakes his hand. “I heard you practically carry this place on your shoulders.”

Mason scoffs. “C’mon. Let’s get some coffee and get to work--” Mason grabs his jacket from the seat and nearly leaves Ron in the dust.

“Where you from, Kelly?” Mason starts, assuming that he was following.

“Uh--Oregon--” He was. “Worked at a small town. Belforde is a much bigger place…”

“Just moved in?” Effortlessly, Mason puts on his uniform jacket.

“Yeah--just got an apartment...”

Before Ron knew it, they were in the parking lot.

“Listen, Ron. I’m--not good at introductions. I’m just here to work.” Mason enters his cruiser and prompts Ron to follow.

“O--of course--”

“I got a couple of cases I want to check on. And I want you with me the whole day. No bullshit--just us two, working. I’ll get to know you better in the field.”

Ron’s focused attention speaks about Mason’s reputation. “Yeah. Yeah…”

“That’s more like it. And when we’re done for the day--” Mason starts the engine. “We can go get some beers as a welcoming gift.”

――――

Tonight was a special occasion for Nathan--he’s had to straighten his place out just for his guest.

“I’m gonna blow your fucking minds,” he says to the room, trying to look for the spots where the camera was placed. He goes to his wall display case of weapons, grabbing the set of nunchucks. “This? This is 500 dollars. I had to stay up late, tune in to the Mall channel. I was the second caller!”

He puts the weapon away and turns to the next important item in his life; the taxidermied tiger statue at the corner of his living room. “This is Lion-o. Do NOT put him in the fucking evidence locker...”

――――

A few blocks away, Mason and Eric sit in a surveillance van. “Look at this,” Eric tells Mason.

They see Nathan talking to a wall on their video feed. “Who is he talking to?” Mason asks; he goes to grab his headphones, while Eric slips the pair on his neck.

“Oh.” A bunch of nonsense. “He’s still talking.”

――――

“Hello--hello? Do. Not. Put. Lion-o in the evidence locker.” Nathan pinches the chest of his shirt close to his mouth, his eyes still searching for the camera. “He has to be dusted regularly.”

――――

“Remind me to smack this dude when we review the footage,” Eric gripes. Mason couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

――――

“And it wouldn’t hurt if you drop by time to time to clean the place, maybe pick up some groce--” The doorbell rings, and like instinct, Nathan’s eyes trace the direction of the elusive camera--placed just above his CD case, overlooking the living room and kitchen.

He clears his throat, straightens up his clothing, and goes to the door.

――――

Mason and Eric are actually impressed with the way Nathan switched up in just a matter of seconds. There’s hope for him yet.

――――

Nathan finds a familiar, bright-faced man as he opens the door. He holds up a DVD case; Nathan smiles and receives it.

“What the hell made you want to watch this, anyway?”

Ron. It was Ron.

“Oh, y’know…” Nathan drops the case.

――――

“Just relax, Nathan…” Eric comments. They hear him breathe a silent deep breath; the chest piece is sensitive like that.

――――

Ron pauses but thinks nothing of it. Nathan recovers and places the case on the counter of his kitchen. “Heard Nicolas Cage was good in it.” He walks over to the fridge and opens it. “Beer?”

“Yeah,” Ron says, as he takes a seat on the sofa. Perfect view.

Nathan hands him the opened bottle and sits with him. “So,” he starts, opening the TV. “My boys just sent the girl down to the morgue to be cremated. We couldn’t find any relatives nearby.” Proudly, Ron nods.

“How’d you find her anyway?”

――――

Eric notices Mason’s intense focus on the monitor. This was his partner for three years...

――――

“Oh, you know… the usual spot. Bobby would never touch that place, but he’d send girls there. This one, though?”

Nathan listened intently as if this was something normal.

“Bobby never heard of her before. Said she got picked up by the club when she was a kid... Been stripping there ever since. Faked her age and all that.” Excitement is showing in his demeanor; he sets the beer down on the table in front of them. “You know how much I had to pay to get her to trust me? Fifteen-hundred.”

“No shit,” Nathan replies, impressed or fake. It was hard to tell.

“She couldn’t dance for shit, but damn, did she know how to hustle.”

“Uh-huh…”

“I lucked out on… shit--what was her name?”

Nathan shrugs.

“Yeah, well, once I paid her enough I told her to meet me at the trailer park spot. She didn’t even hear me come in. Dumb bitch.” Ron chuckles; a nervous smile slowly grows on Nathan’s face.

“Practically a nobody. I just needed to place Mason there... dropped some casings--forged his fingerprint on a few spots and--well, you know the rest.”

――――

Mason couldn’t help but cover his mouth as he went into a pondering state. Eric notices it but turns away. He couldn’t believe that he was the one who cuffed this man…

――――

“What the hell did I tell you?”

It doesn’t take long for Mason and Eric to return to Nathan’s apartment. They ensured to wait for a buffer of twenty minutes after Ron left. Eric reviews the surveillance footage again, along with Nathan in the kitchen. Mason, still pondering, sits alone in the living room, away from them. He needed the extra space to think to himself.

“We need to detain him now.” Eric turns to Nathan, and then Mason. “Who knows what else he’s going to do while he runs free.” He grabs the walkie-talkie from his waist and starts mumbling some orders.

“Wait.” Mason’s voice catches both Nathan and Eric’s attention.

“Eric.” He approaches him. “Don’t arrest him yet. I need to have a word--”

“He’s probably got more bodies on him than the girl... Mason--he’s dangerou--”

“Then take my file. Open up a new case on him. Get a warrant. Just let me have a word with him before you break the door down.”

“Mason…”

“He was my partner, Eric. For three years, I let a murderer watch my back.”

Eric sighs, exasperated. “You have three hours, Mason.” He walks away and continues to talk in his walkie.

“W-what about me, guys?” Both Eric and Mason glance at Nathan. “I just let a murderer in my house!”

Mason walks toward the front door without a word.

――――

Mason was back home now. He figured he would order an uber back to his house to pick up his car since his home was in the same direction as his destination.

His car engine roared, and for the first time since he had gotten arrested, he felt as if all his problems were gone. At least he had hoped, he put the car in gear and floored the engine. The car brims with exhaust, and it isn’t too long until he finds himself in a wooded area outside of Belforde.

It’s dark out, and the gust of the wind sounds like a flute. He wondered if places like forests were where serial killers lived. He didn’t know why he was going to visit Ken; perhaps he just needed answers from one of the few people he thought he could trust. He just couldn’t comprehend the fact that it was really Ron. He needed to hear him say it in person.

His engine shuts off as he pulls up to what looks like a brick home. It didn’t occur to him until now that he never had been to his house. He just knew of his home through the record. The front door of the home opens. It's Ron who takes a step outside. He squints his eyes and tries to cover it from the bright glare of Mason’s headlights. It’s not soon before they’re turned off.

“Mason?” Ron starts, “Is that you?”

“Who are you... really Ron?” Mason responds.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been trying to convince myself all day that you were just some--random cop from Oregon, that you wanted to make a change in this world.”

“What are you referring to man? It’s cold, come inside,” Ron pleads, reluctantly smiling.

Mason takes a step forward. “Did you or did you not kill that girl?”

“What girl--”

“Don’t fucking lie to me Ron--I already know the truth. I heard you earlier. Y--You spoke about how you paid her to trust you?” Mason says, frustrated. “She was 16, you sick fuck.”

The smile on Ron’s face was no more. Things had gotten serious. “I guess I don’t have to act anymore. Fucking Snapes, I always knew he was a snake.” His fist is clenched.

“Why me?” Mason says taking a step forward. The men are about six feet apart from each other.

“Oh--I see why you’re here now. You want answers... don't you? Honestly, you have more enemies than you realize, and being a cop is not what gives me thrill in life. I prefer to work for whoever has the most money--”

“What the fuck is that supposed mean to me?” Mason clenches his fists together as if he was praying. He’s trying with every ounce in his body to not lash out right now. He needed answers, and he didn’t have all of them yet.

“He had a hit out on you Mason. You weren’t the only one who being targeted. You might not believe me, but you were actually starting to grow on me. But… getting paid is just that much more appealing.”

“It was Bobby Rubens wasn’t it?”

“What do you want me to say, Mason? I’ve already laid out everything in front of you.”

He pauses. He wants to punch this guy in the face so bad right now. “Did you even know that her name was Anabelle?” He scoffs. “You didn’t even have the decency to remember her name…”

“What’s the point you’re trying to make Mason? No one will believe you--”

“Oh really? Eric is in on this too. I can guarantee that the whole city is going to be after you tonight.” Mason gives him a glare, then turns away. Not worth continuing this now...

“Should I thank you, Mason, or should I call you out on your bluff?”

Fuck, I opened my mouth too much, Mason thinks to himself. He opens the car door and debates driving off right now.

“Something tells me that you’re not lying. You might just be a lifesaver after all... Doing what you do best--saving lives.”

It doesn’t take long for Mason to make up his mind. Ron watches from the distance, knowing full well he had gotten under Mason’s skin. This was too good of a feeling. Mason Wylie, a famous profound cop. He had him at his fingertips. “Fuck that little bitch. I would kill her again for the opportunity to see you ruined once more--”

Ron stopped talking once he saw the gun which was being aimed at the center of his head. “W--Woah, Mason, calm down. We both know that this isn’t you. When's the last time you ever shot somebody?”

Mason could tell the tone of Ron’s voice had changed. One moment he’s a cold-hearted killer, the next he’s an innocent man pleading for his life. The question did occur in Mason’s mind. It had been years since he last shot at someone. He’s killed before, but unlike the times before when they were justified, he knew shooting Ron could turn into a murder at the snap of a finger. Would he be his own hypocrite by not doing things right?

Ron takes a step forward. “Put the gun down Mason...” he pleads, taking another step. He’s within a couple of feet.

“Get the fuck back,” Mason says, his voice elevated. Ron’s arms are both above his head.

“Come on, let’s just talk--” Ron rushes at him.

A gunshot sounds through the forest. The sounds of birds flocking through branches of leaves and trees surround the sky.

Through the forest road, the intense engine of a car roars.

――――

There are new developments in the case of Officer Mason Wylie. Wylie was arrested earlier this month for the murder of Annabelle Tate. We have Laura Higgins on the scene.

“A wrongful arrest. A police officer caught in the crossfire. Mason Wylie, recently released on bail, is NOT the murderer of sex worker Annabelle Tate. Officer Eric de la Cruz spoke to us with new developments in his latest press release.”

“We have found out that Officer Mason Wylie has been wrongfully accused. After extensive investigation, we have learned that it is actually officer Ron Kelly who committed the murder. Unfortunately, we found Kelly having committed suicide outside of his house before we could issue his arrest...”

“Officer Ron Kelly was found with a gunshot wound to the head, hours before his arrest was to take place, according to the autopsy.”

“In the process of this investigation, we have also linked Councilman Bobby Rubens, purportedly working with Kelly in Wylie’s arrest. As of now, we are still investigating the degree of the connection, but we have confirmation from surveillance footage that Kelly did, in fact, work for Bobby Rubens…”

“There are no further updates. The investigation is open, and still currently on-going due to this new development.”

Thank you Laura. And in other news...

――――

The TV sounds off. Mason felt as if he was the new rookie on the job, except he wouldn’t even consider himself a cop anymore. Eyes followed him as he walked past desks. He was greeted with a few welcome backs, and the typical symphony of remarks. Mason played along until he found himself in front of Nathan’s office door. The name before “Captain” has been scraped off; in its blank space, a piece of paper with the name “Eric de la Cruz” is printed across. He knocks on the door.

“Come in,” the voice opposite of the door yells.

“Congrats Eric,” Mason says as he enters. “Long way, from where you started a week ago.”

He scoffs. “I still need to go through the ceremony. You’re invited, by the way.”

“Whether it’s official or not, seriously, you deserve it.”

“Am I hearing this right? Officer Mason Wylie, backing me to take the captain’s seat?” Eric can’t help but laugh. Mason shares one back. “It really should’ve been you, Mason.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Your instincts. I don’t know what it is about you, but you just have a way of pushing people to better themselves. I wouldn’t have been in this seat or made it this far without someone like you.”

“I can say the same for you man. The friendly competition goes a long way doesn’t it?”

“Let’s be honest, it was more-so like a 40-60 friendly competition. I definitely one-upped you more.”

Mason smiles, but he knew the next thing that had to be done. “Eric, I’m turning over my badge.”

“What? Why?” he asks, clearly not convinced.

“This whole fiasco just made me realize how much I’ve missed out on life. I want to try something new. Go somewhere. I’m not sure if Belforde is for me anymore. I’m thinking San Valentino.”

“I can respect that,” Eric says standing up. “If you ever want back in, I’ll make sure to have an office space ready for you.”

“Thank you, but I’m not so sure about that.”

“Trust me. It’s in your DNA to help people, Mason.” He reaches his hand out toward him. “I wish you the best of luck.”

Mason returns the firm handshake. “I’ll be in touch.” He turns around, and opens the door half-way before Eric speaks once more.

“And Mason… I gotta ask. Was it you?” A brief pause and confusion sparks across Mason’s face. “You know full well he didn’t kill himself. Was it you?”

Mason turns his head slightly. “Depends. Do you think he deserved it?” It was as if time had stopped for a split second. A moment of silence, and clarity.

Eric pauses. “I’ll be seeing you, Mason. Good luck with your future.”

“Take care,” Masons bids.

Eric, now alone, thinks about it again. The man deserved what came to him.


Two Years Later

“Alright. From the hips, remember. And keep that grip firm.”

Mason watches as his fifth customer of the day prepares to shoot the Airsoft gun she’s about to purchase. Every person brings a different skill level, and that keeps his job as an instructor and salesman at least somewhat exciting.

The customer--a teenaged girl--shoots two rounds at her target. She smiles. “Yeah, I think this is the one.” Mason smiles with her.

“Good. Then I think I can ring you up.”

――――

Nothing will ever beat a long day’s police work. Mason arrives at his apartment, putting away his range glasses and ear protectors. He’s not exhausted… but nonetheless, he’s gotten enough fill for the day being a damn salesman.

The place is much smaller for twice the price than his spot in Belforde, but what can he do? San Valentino is known to be more expensive.

It was only the afternoon. His shift usually started early; the earliest he could get, and even then, there weren’t enough hours for him. That’s why he’s also begun to pick up a few construction gigs just to keep himself in shape.

That reminds him; he goes to the schedule card placed on the fridge door to check his next call-in. New office building down by Monroe and Crest. Maybe today he can get a few hours--

As he scans the card, his cellphone vibrates, and he answers it without looking. “Mason Wylie,” he begins.

“Hi, Mason Wylie. It’s Ari Hutchins.” He pauses, placing the card back in its place.

“Hey! It’s been too long--”

“Yeah, it has. Listen--I heard you’re in San Val now.” Of course she has. “I’m in town. I was wondering if you want to catch up--over some coffee?”

“Yeah, of course,” Mason replies; he pauses, then grabs his jacket in an excited haste.

――――

Poised and prompt, as he remembers her to be. Mason and Ari meet at a popular coffee spot in the Hills, the two showing up at just about the same time.

“So… this must be something business-related…” Mason ordered a cup of coffee--plate and all.

She chuckles, sipping on a to-go cup. “It… doesn’t have to be. How’ve you been? What’s been going on?”

“Oh… you know. Still getting used to this place.” Only an hour away, and yet it hasn’t felt the same. “All things considered, though, it hasn’t been bad. I--sell Airsoft guns--uptown. I show ‘em how to shoot, too.” The two smile and sip their respective drinks.

“I’m surprised that you aren’t serving this city yet!”

Mason scoffs. “Word from Belforde travels fast. I’m just waiting it out. Once it’s quiet, I’ll reapply…” It usually took five years--ten if he wanted their absolute respect.

They quiet down for a moment, as if reflecting on what had happened two years ago.

“Have you been keeping up?” Ari asks. “So much has happened since then.”

――――

“Eric de la Cruz. Captain, Western District.”

Eric, wearing his ceremonial uniform, adorned with numerous medals, walks across the stage and shakes hands with the commissioner. “Congratulations, Eric,” he says; he slips on the ceremonial medal, receiving camera flashes from the photographers among the crowd.

Applause.

――――

He was content with this.

Nathan sits on the couch, feet up from the recliner, cozy socks on, electronic shin bracelet in plain view. He’s only got a week left in his house arrest--and yet, it hasn’t been all that bad.

He smiles at Lion-o as he chomps on a bowl of cereal. Jeff Dunham on Comedy Central runs in the background.

He playfully swings his feet and continues to eat and watch.

――――

“And in other news: Councilman Bobby Rubens has been arrested this morning. Rubens has been linked to the wrongful arrest of Officer Mason Wylie, two years ago. New charges involving prostitution and murder have arisen...”

――――

The former councilman is found lying on the ground--skin pale, eyes cold, mouth foaming. Two correctional officers survey the corpse, while a third looks around the mess hall, scanning among the fearful convicts.

One particular convict watches from the back and slips out easily, making his way toward the payphones.

――――

A bald, bearded man sits at a board meeting, discussing their recent financial reliefs in the city of Miami. The bar graph presentation was a nice touch.

He feels his flip phone vibrate--he opens and takes a look. He excuses himself from the room and takes the call three floors down, outside, in the back of the building.

“It’s done,” he hears.

Sullivan hangs up, no further words. He splits the phone in two pieces.

――――

“Your friend Mark,” Ari continues. “Have you heard from him?”

“Yeah, of course.” It’s been six months since he last did, at least; Mark is, and always will be, a busy man.

“He said he was writing a book, last I heard.”

――――

In the building’s largest conference room, Mark presents a manuscript of his latest work-in-progress--in digital form, of course. Sullivan looks over his shoulder, bifocals on. Ari, seated next to Mark, points at the laptop screen with one hand, opened notepad in the other.

――――

“He doesn’t have a title yet, actually. But he’s got all the pages ready to go.” The two share a smile.

“Mason… let’s get down to why I’m actually here.” The positivity in Mason’s face wilts for a second.

Ari produces a folder from her bag and hands it over to Mason. “We’d like to start an experimental youth program in this city, and for the longest time, we didn’t know who could fit… so I looked you up, and found you already here.”

Mason rifles through it, expecting something completely different. A new investigation, another kidnappi--

“‘New Day Correctional Program for At-Risk Youth,” he reads aloud. Mason turns to look at her.

――――

A disheveled young man sits at a dinner table. A sobbing woman sits to his left.

He watches the old detective walk away, vanishing out of view of their dining room.

“We found him dead on the ground, poisoned,” he’d tell them minutes ago. “We’re sorry, son.”

――――

Hours later, and Mason continues to read through the folder.

New Day Experimental. A rehabilitation program for troubled youth, an alternative to impending jail time, counseling, or therapy.

The program would start a week from now, at the local high school. Ten students to begin, their backgrounds varied; juvenile hall, at-risk youth centers, therapy patients...

He pulls his phone out and redials the last call. Right away, she answers.

――――

5 PM, two hours after the regular dismissal time.

Mason would pass by a few classrooms with currently on-going after school programs, finding his designated room to be in the same hall.

He opens the door. Inside, he finds plenty of schoolwork and group work posters adorning the walls, signifying a busy school year. Mason couldn’t help but admire it for a quiet moment.

“We promise we’d get a better spot for you.” Ari enters the room. “We… want to see how well it does first.”

They share a moment of silent pondering; Mason, still wrapping his head around this program, and Ari admiring the schoolwork.

“Lorenzo trusts you a lot, you know.” Mason, trailing away at the rows of desks, looks to her. “This program is ‘experimental’ for a reason. It isn’t a ‘scared-straight’, a mini-police academy… it’s a chance for you to provide another perspective to their ‘second chance’. And you go about it the best way you know how.”

Mason stands, walks through the row of desks. Ari takes particular notice at a student collage of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.

“Ari…” He takes a seat at the centermost desk. “I… don’t know a thing about teaching.”

She scoffs. “You’re smarter than you know, Mason.” She faces him, folds her arms, and leans against the wall. “And besides… you won’t be alone in this. We’ll provide help.”

She notices the man deep in thought. Quietly, she exits the room.

Mason is, once again, alone in this room. He stands up and approaches the teacher’s table to face the set of desks.

“Mr. Wylie.” He smiles and cringes at the thought.

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