InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Suspicion ( Chapter 63 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter Sixty-Three~~
~Suspicion~


-Oo OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'But for now, I'll walk the night alone
'Like a man against the world
'A brand new day will shine
'Through the avalanche of time

'Now the road's grown long but the spirit's strong
'And the fire within still burns
'Alone I take my stand
'I give you a man against the world …'

-'Man Against the World' by Survivor.

-Evan-


"Not, uh, not bad," Tay Nash said, clearing this throat and wiping his palms on his ragged jeans in the uncomfortable silence that followed the last, lingering notes of what Evan figured was supposed to be the bass line from 'Monstrosity'.

The kid—Mike had said his name was Julius—shifted from one foot to the other and ducked his head once.  The room was cool, but he was sweating.  Actually, Evan had to wonder if he was about to pass out or something.  In any case, his reaction was totally not 'rock' . . .

"That's one of the harder lines to pick up, too," Frankie added, his low rumble echoing in the barren and clinical room.

Tay shot Evan a nervous glance.  Evan ignored him, slumping down lower in his chair and wondering vaguely if anyone would notice if he excused himself to use the john and just never came back.  "So, uh, Zel . . . What do you think?" Tay asked.

Very slowly shifting his eyes to the side, Evan didn't move his head as he pinned Tay with a blank stare.  "You kidding me?  The timing was completely off."  Gaze darting to the kid once more—the brat looked even closer to passing out now—Evan slowly shook his head.  "Keep practicing . . . Julius, was it?"

Julius nodded, his already pale skin paling even more.  "Th-thanks," he muttered, hurriedly bending over to grab the hard plastic case off the floor to pack the bass away.  They had one on a stand nearby, but so far, no one had dared touch it, which was just as well with Evan.  It was one of Dieter's, and the guys they'd auditioned so far seemed to realize that—and respect it.

The room was completely silent after the door thudded closed behind Julius.  Evan could feel the others staring at him, but he stubbornly refused to acknowledge them.  Frankie was the first one to interrupt the silence.  Clearing his throat, he shrugged offhandedly, as though he were trying for a nonchalant air.  It didn't work, but Evan didn't feel like calling him on it, either.  "You know, I didn't think he was bad at all," Frankie remarked as he fiddled with the frayed ends of a gaping hole in the knee of his jeans.

Tay didn't say anything, but he looked like he agreed.  Actually, in Evan's estimation, the two of them looked tired, and why not?  They'd been doing this kind of thing for days now . . .

"Not good enough," Evan growled.  Tay and Frankie exchanged looks but didn't argue with him.

Mike blew out a deep breath, his cheeks puffing in the effort.  Intercepting the gaze of the two remaining members of Philansoclantes, he jerked his head toward the door and waited for them to leave before he turned to stare at Evan.  "The hell, Roka?" he asked, rubbing his eyes as he waited for an answer.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he slumped a little lower in the chair.  "What do you mean?"

Mike wasn't buying.  "Too fast, too slow, too upbeat, too harsh, the vibe's off, whatever . . . Admit it, will you?  It doesn't matter who the hell walks through that door, you're going to dismiss them without really giving them a chance, right?"

"Dunno what you're chattering about, Mikey," Evan scoffed.

The expression on Mike's face darkened considerably, and for a moment, he looked like he might want to slap Evan silly.  Drawing a deep breath, probably to squelch that impulse, he shook his head instead.  "You think those two want to do this?  You think they want to replace Dieter?" he demanded.

Evan's eyes darted to the side, pinning Mike with a cold flash.  "No one can replace Deet, Mike."

The chair that the manager had been sitting in scraped across the floor when he shot to his feet, raking his hands through his hair in an entirely exasperated sort of way.  Pacing back and forth a few times, he finally stopped abruptly and pivoted on his heel to level a no-nonsense look at Evan.  "You know damn well what I mean, so don't give me that.  You're not the only one who misses Dieter, you know.  Everyone does, but do you really think that he'd want this?  Do you?"

"Bullshit!" Evan challenged, rising to his feet, planting his hands on his hips as he glowered at the man.  "You're so fucking full of bullshit!  You telling me that you think any old bastard will do?  Let's just go grab some little prick off the street and slap him into the band, and it'll be okay?  Fuck you, Mike.  All you've ever cared about is how much money I put in your pocket, so don't get all fucking sanctimonious on me now!"

"Would you just listen to me?  Dieter—"

Evan's temper exploded.  Kicking a chair out of the way, he grabbed Mike by the front of his shirt and gave him a hard shake.  "How the hell would you know what Deet would have wanted?  How the hell can you stand there and try to tell me a goddamn thing about it?  Why don't you just get the hell out of here and do what you do best: shove your nose up someone's ass and give it a real good sniff to make a few fucking bucks?"

He never saw Mike's fist coming until the pain exploded in his jaw.  Head snapping to the side, Evan grunted as the full force of Mike's weight bore him back against the wall with so much force that the room seemed to tremble.  "Stop acting like a spoiled little prick," Mike gnashed out quietly, lips curling back, exposing the flash of fangs.  "I'll say it one more time: you're not the only one who misses Dieter, but there's nothing you can do, so just deal with it!"

Giving Evan one last shove, Mike let go of him and stomped out of the room, slamming the door so hard that it bounced back open a few times before slowing to a feeble slide that finally caught and latched closed.  For some reason, Evan's anger dissolved, too, fizzling out and fading fast, leaving him only with a sense of emptiness that was far, far worse than the ache and sting in his cheek.  Turning his head to the side, he spit out a healthy dose of blood and saliva—the result of the combination of Mike's fist and his own teeth that had torn the flesh in his mouth to shreds.

He couldn't help it, could he?  Okay, so maybe the others missed Dieter, too.  They did.  Of course, they did.  But Evan knew him better than anyone else.  Dieter was one of his best friends, probably his best male friend  . . . and the idea of trying to find someone else to fill the void that was left deep inside Evan was daunting, almost terrifying.

Evan sighed and stalked toward the door.  Every so often, he felt the need to get away, to just be alone where no one in the world knew him or who he was, one way or another.  It used to be a bigger deal when he was younger, and he couldn't say that he'd really felt that kind of urge in awhile, but that familiar gnawing in the pit of his stomach was flickering to life fast.  It wasn't so much the feeling that he was running away from anything as much as it was the intuitive knowledge that maybe he was really running toward something entirely different instead . . .

"Roka!  Where the hell do you think you're going?" Mike demanded as Evan strode past him in the hallway.  "We're not finished, damn it!"

Evan didn't blink and didn't acknowledge his manager's questions.

"Roka!" Mike called again.

"Just pick one, Mike.  I don't give a shit, who it is—just do it," he called over his shoulder without stopping as he held his arm out straight, pushing past the metal security door and into the stairwell.


-Valerie-


"Hello?" Valerie said, patting her neck with a fluffy pink towel and sounding a little winded since she'd just come through the door after a late afternoon jog meant to clear her head so that she could try to look at Evan's case file with a fresh eye.

"Hey, Valerie?  It's Mike . . . you haven't seen Roka today, have you?"

Freezing with the towel pressed against her cheek, Valerie grimaced as a knot of trepidation exploded in her belly.  "This morning," she replied slowly, carefully.  "He said that he had to meet with you and the band today.  Why . . .?"

"You haven't seen him since?"

The trepidation was rapidly being replaced by something more akin to sheer panic.  "What's going on?" she demanded, cutting to the chase since she simply didn't have the patience to deal with Mike's reticence.

"He disappeared," Mike confessed at last.  "He got all pissy, then he took off—God only knows where."

"Pissy?" Valerie echoed, shaking her head as she let go of the towel and planted her hand on her hip.  "What happened?"

Mike didn't answer right away.  Whether he was having trouble figuring out exactly what he should tell her or if he wasn't entirely sure what had set Evan off, Valerie didn't know, but he finally sighed and cleared his throat.  "He's having some trouble dealing with the idea of finding a replacement for Dieter—Not a replacement, exactly," he corrected himself quickly.  "Someone to, uh, fill in on bass for the tour, more like . . ."

The near-panic suddenly faded away, only to be replaced by an unsettling lump of worry.  "I'll look for him," she offered, glancing at the clock and biting her lip as the impossibility of the situation impressed itself upon her.  Realistically speaking, she didn't honestly have a clue where he might be.  Shoving that feeling aside, she bit her lip.  "Don't worry.  I'll find him," she said.

"Thanks, Valerie," he said, obvious relief thick in his voice.  "Give me a call when you do."

"Sure," she said, slowly lowering the phone and snapping it closed.  It was only after she did that she grimaced.  Finding Evan Zelig in a city the size of New York?  The longer she thought about it, the more impossible it seemed.  After all, she really didn't have a clue where he might be, and even if she did, wasn't she the last person that he'd really want to talk to?

And yet, the longer she considered it, the more she understood.  This thing wasn't something that had just started today.  No, she'd sensed it coming for awhile now, hadn't she?  His little comments, his half-joking tones . . . the look in his eyes that had always seemed so far away . . . She'd seen that expression a few times over the last couple weeks—had seen it but never remarked on it.  She didn't know how to remark upon it, and maybe she'd thought that if she said nothing, that it would go away on its own.  No, that wasn't quite right, either.  She'd thought—she'd believed—that he would tell her what was on his mind if he wanted to, that pressing him for answers would only drive him away . . . but would it have?  Really?  And if he would have, then didn't that make her just as callous as anyone else—fair-weather friends who only wanted to hear about the good and happy things . . .?

Staring at the phone in her hand, Valerie pulled the towel off her neck and dropped it over the back of the chair beside her before shuffling over to sit on the sofa.  She considered calling Madison, but she was already in Miami, and for some reason, the idea of asking her if she had any idea where Evan might have gone bothered Valerie, even if she really didn't understand why.

Quickly hitting Evan's number in the speed dial, she lifted the phone to her ear and waited, not really expecting an answer, she supposed, so she blinked in surprise when he answered after the second ring.  "Ah, V . . . didn't figure I'd hear from you tonight," he said.

She frowned.  He sounded fine—just fine.  "Mike said you disappeared today," she ventured as casually as she could.  "Where are you?"

He exhaled—a long, weary kind of sound.  "Gotta take a rain check on that one.  I'm not in the mood to deal with him now," he replied.

"You don't have to," she assured him.  "I told him I'd look for you."

"Oh?  Don't have anything better to do, I take it?" he half-teased.

Valerie smiled wanly.  "Why don't you tell me where you are?" she prodded.

"I'm at the Met," he said as though it was the most normal thing in the world.

Valerie shook her head, unable to make sense of his words right away.  He could have just as soon said that he was blasting off from NASA, it seemed so odd to her.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art was quite possibly the last place she'd have expected him to be.  He must have interpreted her silence correctly, though, because he laughed quietly.  "They just closed for the day, I think."

The clock on the wall read six o'clock.  "I thought they were open later than that . . ."

"Nope," he said, "They lock the doors at five-thirty during the week . . . but if you want, I know a guard here.  He'll let you in if I ask him to."

She smiled despite herself.  "Do you know people everywhere?"

"Eh, he's a fan.  Got him a couple tickets and backstage passes a few years ago, so he owes me one.  Just go to the west entrance and ask for Ollie."

"Ollie," Valerie repeated.  "Okay.  Don't take off before I get there."

"All right," he allowed.  "Later, V."

The line went dead, and Valerie clicked the phone closed, making a face at the jogging suit she was still wearing.  As much as she needed a shower, she wasn't sure how long Evan really would hang around, waiting for her.  Even then, he sounded all right, hadn't he?  Of course, he always did when he was talking to her . . . Wrinkling her nose, Valerie stood up to strip off her sweatshirt, still clutching the cell phone in her hand.  She'd been jogging for a couple of hours, and she'd pushed herself harder than usual, too . . .

"Well, maybe a quick shower," she muttered, dropping the phone onto the coffee table and hurrying toward the bathroom.  "Evan Zelig, you'd better wait for me."


-Evan-


Evan frowned thoughtfully as he stared at the cordoned-off area and the posted sign for the coming attraction: Dieter Reichardt: Industrial Angels . . .

'Industrial Angels . . .?  Fuck . . . Deet would hate that,' he thought wryly.

'Damn straight, he would.'

'What a crock of shit . . .'

He hadn't heard about this one, though he probably should have suspected it.  What was it about human nature that made everyone just a little more benevolent to someone after he died?  Shaking his head, he couldn't help but wonder if this display would be here if Dieter were still alive.  For every review that Dieter had received that touted him a modern day genius, there were three more that cut him down, going so far as to allege that Dieter's success was only attributed to his professional relationship with Zel Roka.  No, Evan suspected that the main reason that the Met was bothering with such a display was simply to say that they were the first to showcase the 'late artist—a genius before his time, didn't you know—Dieter Reichardt' . . . Morbid, certainly, but how much truth was there in that?

"Nice disguise."

Evan didn't turn to face Valerie, but he almost smiled at the dryness in her voice—almost.  "Hey, V."

"The hat's all right," she decided at length, "but that coat?  Did you roll a vagrant and take his coat?" she asked.  He figured that she was narrowing her eyes suspiciously, but he didn't look to verify it.

"Nah . . . He looked like he could use a few bucks," Evan admitted with a little shrug.  "I gave him a Franklin for it."

"You gave him a hundred bucks?  For that?  Did he fumigate it first?" she shot back.

Evan chuckled, digging his hands into the deep pockets of the coat.  "That would've been an extra fifty, and I didn't have that much on me."

Valerie snorted indelicately.  It wasn't the first time that he figured she thought he was being a little too liberal with his money.  "Well, if that's the case, I've got a few coats I could sell you," she retorted sarcastically.  "They're a lot cleaner, too, so they ought to be worth at least two or three hundred apiece . . ."

"I couldn't fit my left nut into one of your coats," he reminded her.

"Then it's a good thing that you don't wear a coat to cover your nuts, isn't it?"

He finally broke into the faintest hint of a smile.  "Touché, V . . ." he murmured.

Letting out a deep breath, she fell silent for a moment.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her standing in front of the sign with a frown on her face as she read through the announcement.  "I'll bet the exhibit is fantastic when it's done," she finally ventured.

Blinking away the bitter thoughts that continued to cling to his psyche like a funeral shroud, Evan slowly turned his head, peered over his shoulder at his attorney.  "You think so?"

Valerie smiled—a polite, almost perfunctory sort of expression that he welcomed, nonetheless.  "I read a blurb about this in the Times," she went on, running her finger lightly along the deep red velvet cord that was draped between posts surrounding the area where the display would be set up.  "Advanced tickets are going on sale next week for the special premiere."

Evan snorted and turned away from Valerie as a new kind of irritation sparked to life inside him.  "They'll drink champagne and murmur to each other how brilliant he was, right?  And not a goddamn one of them will have actually known him—or wanted to, for that matter . . ."

She heaved a sigh, likely at the heavy dose of bitterness in his voice.  Damned if he could help himself, though.  He couldn't.  It seemed that nothing was agreeing with him these days.  "Mike said that you disappeared today," she ventured as she took a step toward him, her footstep cracking like gunfire as her heels hit the polished marble floor.  She moved slowly, as though she thought that he was going to turn tail and run if she got too close or moved in too fast.

He didn't miss the carefully contrived sense of neutrality in her tone and grimaced inwardly.  She was walking on eggshells with him, wasn't she?  And damned if that was all right by him, either . . . "I didn't disappear," he countered.  "I told him I was leaving."

Grabbing his arm, she gave it a good yank to make him turn to face her.  "He's worried about you, you know, and I—" Cutting herself off with a harsh gasp as her eyes widened, as indignant color flooded into her cheeks, Valerie's eyes snapped with an inner fire as her keen gaze lit on Evan's swollen cheek and stayed there.  "What the hell happened to you?  Who did that, Evan?  Who?" she demanded.

Evan blinked at the hard edge that had entered her tone along with the steely light that made her eyes glow.  She was livid, wasn't she, positively seething, and when he tried to shake off her hand, she tightened her grip.  "Don't worry about it," he muttered, opting to brush off the incident since it wasn't that big a deal, as far as he was concerned.

"Don't be stupid," she snapped, letting go of his arm and grabbing his chin, instead, forcing him to face her so that she could better inspect the damage.  Her hands were surprisingly gentle, despite the outrage in her voice.  "Tell me who did this to you."

"It's fine, V," he protested as a strange sense of warmth flickered to life.  It wasn't entirely unfamiliar, no.  something about the feeling brought to mind the days of his childhood—the same kind of warmth that always made him feel better after he'd fallen and scratched his knee when his mama would fuss over him and smile at him, ruffling his hair and giving him a cookie with a glass of milk in the comfortable kitchen on the Zelig estate.  "By morning, it'll be nothing but a memory, anyway."

"Don't you give me that, Roka!" she snapped.  "Open your mouth."

Evan rolled his eyes.  "No."

"Now."

She must've missed the first rolling-of-the-eyes, so he did it again.  "No."

"I'm warning you . . ." she warned him.

Evan snorted and rolled his eyes for a third time.  "No—o-o-ow-w!" he hollered when she stomped his foot to get him to open his mouth.  Damned if it didn't work, too . . .

Yanking his face gently but firmly so that she could see inside, Valerie's frown deepened into an outright scowl.  "It looks like hamburger!" she gasped, biting her lip as she finally let go of his head.  "Oh, my God, Evan!  Come on."

Staring in bemusement for all of ten seconds when she grabbed his hand and unceremoniously started to drag him toward the doorway marked 'exit', it took a moment for him to regain his senses, and he straightened his legs to stop the forward momentum, causing her to stop abruptly.  She whipped around to glower at him, hands planted on her hips, expression a glorious visage of absolute outrage.  "Give it up, woman.  I told you, I'm fine," he insisted before she could put together a reasonable argument.

She didn't look like she was having any of what he was saying.  "We're going to the emergency room, Roka.  Your cheek needs stitches."

"You do realize that doctors don't put stitches into one's mouth very often, and they definitely don't when it's just a cut up cheek," he pointed out.

She snorted, crossing her arms over her chest stubbornly.  He really should have realized that she wasn't about to give up so easily.  "Who the hell did that to you?  And what in the world did he use?"

'At least she's dropped the ER idea,' he thought wanly as he slowly shook his head.  "Not a big thing," he insisted again.  "Jesus, you make it sound like I'm fucking dying . . ."

"You know, I got hit back when I wore braces, and my mouth didn't look that bad," she pointed out, tapping the toe of her sensibly rounded black patent leather pump on the floor.

Evan blinked and started to grin but ended up wincing since the motion of his face hurt quite a bit.  "You got in a fight when you were younger, V?  Were you a closet hellion?" he teased.

She snorted again and made a show of rolling her eyes.  "We're not talking about me, Roka.  We're talking about you.  You've got five seconds to tell me who did this to you."

"Aw, V, does it really matter?" he countered, summarily ignoring her mental timer that was probably already running down.

"Yes, it does," she insisted, flicking her arm to glance at her watch.  "Time's up.  Was it the bum you rolled for the jacket?"

"I didn't roll anyone," he stated again.

"Did you deserve it?" she demanded, one articulated eyebrow arching as she continued to stare at him.

"No-o-o-o," he drawled innocently—maybe a little too innocently, he figured when Valerie's eyes narrowed.  "Well, maybe . . ."

Tossing her hands up at her sides in complete exasperation, Valerie started to point an accusing finger at him.  Suddenly, though, her eyes widened, and she stopped short as though something monumental had just occurred to her.  "Mike hit you . . .?  He did, didn't he?"  She didn't pause to have her suspicion affirmed.  "Is that why he was so anxious to find you?  I'll bet it was!  Little bastard!  Just you wait till I get a hold of—This is unacceptable—completely unprofessional!  I'll file battery charges, damn it!  See if I don't!"

'Hey, Zel . . .?'

Evan frowned as Valerie dug her cell phone out of her purse and scrolled through the numbers in the memory.  'Huh?'

'I . . . I don't think she's mad at us . . .'

His youkai voice didn't really need to sound that incredulous, now did it?  Evan snorted.  'No . . .'

'Hey, Zel . . .?'

'Huh?'

'It kind of seems like she's mad . . . because Mike hit us . . .'

Evan's eyes snapped open wide as that statement sank in.  Valerie was stalking across the floor and back with her phone plastered against her head, apparently waiting for Mike to answer the call, and she was still muttering under her breath about professionalism and proper etiquette and how he'd better watch his ass in prison, lest he should be mistaken as someone's bitch . . . Evan grimaced despite the almost giddy amusement that washed through him, and he closed the space between them in a couple of strides, grabbing her phone and snapping it closed as he gently pulled it out of her hand and stowed the device in his pocket.

"Give that back," she demanded flatly.

Evan shook his head and tried to smile.  It didn't work nearly as well as he'd hoped.  "I told you, V, it's nothing.  Besides, you think a pussy like Mike could really hurt me?"

Her answer was little more than a more stubborn set to her jaw as she continued to stare at him.

"Look," he said, figuring that he'd better do what he could before she made good on that threat against his manager, "we had a disagreement, and he took offense to some of the things that I had to say.  That's all; I swear."

She didn't look like she believed him completely.  Evan heaved a sigh and shook his head before slipping an arm around her shoulders, leading her away from the exit and toward more modern art exhibits.  "Relax, V.  Have I ever told you how hot you are when you're all pissed off?" he teased, mostly to distract her.

She rolled her eyes and tried to shrug off his arm a couple of times before giving up with a longsuffering sigh and snatching the baseball cap off his head.  "I am relaxed, Roka," she retorted as she pulled the hat on and tilted her head back so that she could see him, "and I believe we've covered my hotness before, yes."

"Ni-ice," he said with a little chuckle, using his free hand to tap the bill with his index finger.  "I want to show you a really awesome painting."

"Oh?" she countered, adjusting the hat again since he'd managed to tip it down further over her eyes.  "Is it a penis or something?"

He laughed and led her through the silent museum.  "Nope," he replied easily, feeling a lot lighter than he had in awhile.  "Nothing sexual.  It's just a ball on a table . . ."


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A/N:
'Man Against the World' by Survivor first appeared on their 1986 release, When Seconds Count.  Song written by and copyrighted to Jimi Jamison, Frankie Sullivan, and Jim Peterik.
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Final
Thought from Valerie:
Just wait till I see that damn Mike again
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Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.
~Sue~
Chapter 62
Chapter 64
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