2010-01-16: Smoke Signals



Date: January 16th, 2010


Aaron comes to the police station convinced that someone has it out for him.

"Smoke Signals"


The problem with reporting harassment by phone is, if it came from a disposable cell phone, there's not a heck of a lot anyone can do about it. Such was the case for Aaron Michaels, and he eventually got over the silent and sometimes breathy crank calls. And then he arrived home to find something sitting in front of his apartment door— something far more unsettling than a phone call. That particular item he carries in a zippered freezer bag into the nearest police station. Coincidentally, it's the same one he filed his original report in. The same one his concerns were essentially blown off in. He was a local celebrity, he should be used to it, they said.

Now it's Aaron's turn to do the harassing as he enters the police station, walks straight up to the desk sergeant's desk and slams the freezer bag down onto it, complete with its contents. A death threat, as far as he is concerned. "Tell me, does this look like harmless celebrity stalking to you?"

It's busy at the precinct tonight. A lot of the men and women who flit in and out are caught up in dozens of responsibilities. The sergeant is one of them. Detective Maggie Powers is no exception, either. At her desk in the middle of it all, she sits with her hands raked into her hair — pulled back into a waving pony tail, wisps galore escaping around her face. She looks tired, and determined, but not altogether focused. Quite smart enough to know when she needs to take her eyes away from the same information to let her brain recharge and reorganize. As she slides her hands down over her forehead, to her temples, and she blinks heavy eyes — okay, Maggie, wake up, you don't need coffee, it's horrible — she finds herself witnessing the bold arrival of one Aaron Michaels. Not that she recognizes him. What she does recognize is the expression of the overtired sergeant puffing his cheeks like a blowfish and preparing to say something he'll regret as an officer of the law.

"Hiii there," Maggie quickly interjects, calling in a sweet voice from across the pen even as she rolls her chair back. She strides over, a friendly face. A pale blue blouse, sleeves rolled up to the elbow, is tucked into black slacks with a high belt. No uniform. The detective smiles at Aaron and gives a cautiously warning smile, in turn, to the sergeant. "You're busy, I need a break from these multiple homicides. Want me to take this, Sergeant?" Wait. She squints at the freezer bag. "What… is… this?"

Aaron's eyes flicker to the detective as she arrives and asks what is in the bag. And so he grabs it and holds it up. A photograph, the only person still visible and intact being the one holding the bagged photo. The rest of the photograph's occupants have been burned into cinders and curled edges. "It's a photograph of me and my band, or I should say was a photo. Hell, was my band. Considering the phonecalls I reported just before Christmas, I consider it a threat against my life. A person can't get any less funny." His voice is deadpan— beyond serious. The freezer bag is dropped back onto the desk.

Apparently, he feels illustration is necessary, and so he undoes his jacket and removes his scarf. Either he's over the disfigurement or is very determined to get things looked into quickly, because he also unbuttons the top button of his shirt and pulls his collar to the side. There are healed burn scars all over, disappearing under his shirt. "My back looks a lot like that. So does most of my chest. Considering I lost my family, friends, band, and fiancée in a fire just over a year ago, I can't help but feel this is a personal attack against me. Or a very sick joke."

Maggie listens very closely to every one of Aaron's words. Blue eyes glint with curiosity, though thankfully, it's hardly playful. Nor is it morbid. It's the need to unravel the mystery and put the mind of this young man who has obviously been through a lot, at ease. Slowly, the detective nods. "The Light… bringers, right?" She obviously isn't one-hundred percent sure on the name, but smiles sympathetically all the same. "A lot of people died that night." She glances to the sergeant and gets a grunt in response. Good enough. Thus, a hand is extended to Aaron. "Detective Maggie Powers. …Homicide. But I've got some time— I wouldn't want you to wait." Plus, she doesn't want Aaron's situation to end up in her arena for real. "Follow me, Mr. …?"

Aaron gives a nod to her question. Right on the nose. "Michaels, Aaron Michaels," he says, shaking Maggie's hand. It's not as firm a grip as it was in his more charismatic and confident days, but back then he wasn't be stalked, so…. He fills the detective in as he follows her alone. It's not a particularly long story. "I started getting mostly dead calls to my cell phone — my only phone, actually — around I guess the end of October. I figured they were just wrong numbers until they became more frequent. And then I heard breathing on the other end. So last month I reported it here, and they ran a trace and it was a disposable cell phone. Several disposable cell phones, actually. Nothing much came of it, and they seemed to stop shortly after. Nothing in a week or so, until I get home and find that photo in front of my door."

The spot Maggie leads Aaron to isn't especially private, but it'll do — a small desk in the middle of everything. It has an office chair in front of it, off to one side, and the woman gestures briefly at it before she takes her own. Immediately, she leans her elbows into the desk and props her head up on her knuckles, watching Aaron closely. Her features are pleasant, though, rather than scrutinizing. "Do you recognize the photo? Was it a promotional photo of the band or more of a snapshot?"

Aaron takes the offered seat. He looks very disturbed by the question. It's something he didn't mention, because until he actually says it, he can pretend it's not real. "That's … that's the really creepy thing." He swallows. "It's my photo. It was the only photo I have of the whole band together that's just a photo and not a poster or any other promo. Up until today," he says, tipping his head down to the bagged photo, "that was framed on my bedroom wall."

The young man already had Maggie's attention, but that really clinches it. Her brow furrows, knitting together, and she sits up straighter, folding her arms on the desk. "I'm glad you decided to come in, Mr. Michaels." She frowns. "Have you found that anything else is missing from your apartment? Any signs of a break-in?"

Yeah. That really got Aaron's attention, too. When he discovered it was his photo. "Nothing I could spot quickly. I was in a bit of a hurry to bag that photo and get the hell out of there, to tell you the truth. Already rented a room at the Hotel Pennsylvania, too. Just going to grab a few things from my apartment and stay there until this whole situation is cleared up."

"If the person behind this means you harm, which is possible, going back to your apartment might not be a good idea," Maggie warns — tempered with a briefly reassuring smile. Plucking a pen from a cup of many, she hovers its point over a notepad but doesn't wind up writing anything down; instead, she turns a concerned look on Aaron. "Do you have any contact with fans of the Lightbringers at all?"

"Yeah, I kinda figured that. Just some things I can't leave behind, you know?" Aaron sighs and shakes his head to Maggie's question, "No, not that I can… no wait, there was one, but I doubt she had anything to do with it. I can't remember her last name, though. It was Gillian… something. She works at the NYU campus library, so I don't think she'd be too hard to find if you need to ask her any questions. There was this kinda weird situation with her, and I think she may have been a stalker, but I haven't seen her in at least a month…. no, two. I think it was November. It was just starting to get a little brisk."

Gillian, NYU library. Maggie jots a few words down for the first time, thoughtful as she does so. "Tell me about Gillian. And what about before the…" She hesitates, if only for a second or two, going on calmly as if she hadn't. "When your band was in its prime— did you ever get any unusual attention from fans? Memorable or… out-of-the-ordinary fan mail…"

"Brunette, cute. She was in a wheelchair last time I saw her, and she doesn't really strike me as the vengeful arsonist type, you know?" Aaron shakes his head, "I mean, we had fans, but I don't remember any rabbids or anything. Our fans were really low key. The most action I I know of from anyone was a bidding war for one of our demo CDs on eBay. I think there may even have been some swearing."

Anyone can secretly be a vengeful arsonist type — but Maggie doesn't say so. "Okay… I'll make sure your case is looked into, Mr. Michaels. Hopefully, it's something that can be dealt with easily— you know, someone harmless but delusional." The detective smiles sincerely and starts to get to her feet. "I'll see if we can't get a watch put on your apartment. If you see or hear anything else, give us a call."

"I hope so too. I don't want to be living out a hotel room for too long," Aaron says, before getting up from his chair. "Thank you for your help, Detective Powers." On that note, he leaves the detective with the badly singed photograph in its plastic baggie, heading towards the exit. He has to get one thing from his apartment. Can't leave his guitar behind.

Maggie watches the musician — former musician? She doesn't know — leave, considering, before she turns in her chair to rifle through the nearby filing cabinet for paperwork. She sets it aside, though, and focuses on her computer screen, typing in MICHAELS, AARON in a search of the department's file system.

The guitar, hand-crafted and one-of-a-kind, is a prized possession. There's simply no way Aaron could leave it behind. What would he be without that guitar?

In a single word? Safer.

Contrary to the detective's advice, Aaron returns to his apartment to pick up that guitar. No sense leaving it behind, especially when he very nearly managed to do something akin to composition— something he hasn't done since the fire. Before he even puts his keys in the lock he notices that the door is ajar. The hairs on the back of his neck prickle as he slowly opens the door, sneaking in just enough to see his baseball bat is still at the door. He picks it up and steps into the main room. The door closes behind him.

"Hello, Aaron."


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