“Detective Masters?” A deep voice from behind makes me turn.
“Yes,” I say, putting on my public servant smile. “The chief wanted me to come and look into the… issue you had over the weekend.” I look around, unsure if anyone else is listening and trying to be discreet since Miss Veti was low-talking when she mentioned it downstairs.
“Please,” Mr. Montgomery says with a wave of his hand and a furrow of his brow. “Speak freely here. My offices are completely private. Come, let’s talk in my inner chambers.”
I smile again after realizing I’m squinting at him, and move ahead as he waits for me to go first. I try not to gawk as I walk down the long hallway. Pictures of him on the walls capture my attention. In one he is skydiving, another he’s climbing a mountain that requires an oxygen mask. A few more flash by as I proceed and I am unable to get a good look at them, but the last one makes me stop.
“Ah,” Mr. Montgomery says with a small chuckle. “Do you like it?”
I study the photo for a moment. He’s very handsome now and I’d peg him to be in his early thirties. But he was young in this picture. Early twenties, maybe. The hair was blonder, the eyes brighter, and the smile wider. There are no worry lines on his forehead on that day, just pure joy. It’s actually a series of pictures, four of them lined up horizontally along the wall, but contained within one expansive frame.
He’s surfing a giant wave in the second of the series and the caption says Monsoon Beach—wave height, forty feet. I’m no expert in surfing but that’s a big fucking wave.
“It wasn’t even close to the biggest wave ever surfed, but it was a record for me. And I can tell you this, Detective, my heart was pounding so fast, I thought I might pass out before it was over.”
I look up at him and he’s smiling. He almost looks like the young man holding a trophy in the third image. “I bet,” I say, knowing what it’s like to put your life on the line for sport, “your mother was pissed.”
He laughs heartily. “Oh, you have no idea.” He puts a hand on my back and guides me forward into his private office. When we get inside there are more pictures of him. Snowboarding competitions, skiing down pristine, virgin mountains. Rock-climbing sheer cliff faces. Sailing. I pause on that one, trying to find the connection.
“Solo trip around the world,” Montgomery says, like he’s reading my mind. “I was seventeen and that boat was nothing but a twenty-four-foot sloop.”
“So it bit you early, huh?” I turn to look at him as he smiles at his younger self.
“What?” he asks, dragging his eyes away from the memory of that day.
“The X-bug.” He gives me a confused look. “That’s what I call it. My father was a stunt rider. I grew up in the circus. My brother and I followed in his footsteps until the unthinkable happened.”
Montgomery’s smile falters. He understands better than most, I bet. “I’m sorry.”
He probably is. He’s probably one of the few who know what it’s like to lose people in the name of daring. “The X-gene. The X-factor. The life of an extreme addict. It must’ve been difficult to settle down in this…” I look around at his office. “Prison.”
His laugh is uneasy, like I hit the nail on the head. “Well, you’re certainly perceptive, Detective Masters."