Chapter 3:

The Following Morning


At exactly 6am every morning, Monday through Friday, Elle Brockman would arrive at the office of John Darcy: Private Investigator. Over the last six months, she had developed this sort of routine, and this morning would be no different.

Elle’s alarm went off at 4:30. She dressed herself in a cute, black and white polka-dot skirt with a matching blouse, did her makeup quickly, and got the next commuter shuttle from the predominantly Neko District 1 to District 4. The ride gave her a chance to collect herself as she pulled open a book, and just as she was starting to connect to it, the call was made for her stop. It was a short walk to the Heller building and an even shorter ride up the elevator to the sixth floor. The offices of John Darcy: Private Investigator, complete with a silver-plated plaque, greeted her as she approached the 8th door on the left.

She planned for a typical morning with a fresh pot of coffee, an hour of sorting and arranging any papers or notes that John left her the night before, and finally, the long bootup time of her computer. On her docket was contacting a few clients, following up on inquiries about the business, and then running over financials. It was a busy day, but Elle loved it.

She went to unlock the door, shocked to find it unlocked. Had she forgot to lock it last night? It had been late, and she was exhausted. In a quick panic, Elle inched the door open, peering inside with her strawberry blonde head and determining that nothing seemed amiss. She latched it tight behind her.

“Hello?” she called out, reaching for an umbrella that was holstered to the left of the door. Some weapon… but it would have to do. Elle inched forward and called out again. Still no response. Perhaps she had left the door unlocked, and since nothing looked ransacked or out of place, she sighed in relief and put her “sword” down.

John usually came in later, around 9am, and though Elle was there a whole three hours before him, she enjoyed the extra free time to acclimate to the day. However, today, she was drawn towards John’s back office. She generally worked in the front, where she had a desk, computer, and some filing cabinets. There was a small kitchenette and a sitting area that was really nothing more than a chair and a potted plant. Their office was small, and the coat closet had been turned into file storage. John’s office, larger than it had any right to be, was usually a huge mess, and despite being bigger, you’d be shocked to believe it. He kept a lot of junk.

Peeking inside her boss’s office, Elle let out a long-disappointed grumble. Now she knew why the door was unlocked. John, with his feet propped up on his desk and leaned back in his chair, snored quietly in an awkward sleeping position. His clothes were no doubt from yesterday, given the beer stains on his white button down and the general wrinkles throughout. He was in desperate need of a shave and a haircut.

Elle jostled him. “John. John. Hey. Wake up.”.

John muttered without opening his eyes, “Elle… why are here? Go home already.” He rolled over the best he could.

“It’s six in the morning.”

John shot upwards, losing balance in his chair and toppling to the floor with a loud thunk. “Shit! Really?”

“Did you even go home?”

John tousled his dark hair as he stood. “Traffic didn’t let up, so I just came here.” He pulled the blinds open, wincing as the fog filtered sunlight bled into his office. It was a pseudo-brightness that most from the Undercity could not stand. It was even worse if you needed to go to the Uppercity.

“Any coffee ready?” he asked Elle and rubbed his eyes.

“I can get a pot going now!” she assured, running for the kitchenette but stopping before leaving. She grabbed onto the doorway and took a deep breath. “Um… John, can I talk to you about something?”

“What’s up, kid?”

“Uh… well, it’s related to my last check.” From her purse, Elle pulled out a folded check. “It, uh, bounced when I went to cash it…”

John stood dumbfounded and took the check from Elle. When he realized what she was saying, breaking away from his sleepy haze, he nearly gasped. “It bounced? Really?”

“That’s what the bank said yesterday…” Elle explained, “Um… my rent’s due in two days, and I…”

“Don’t even mention it,” John assured, “I’m sorry. Usually it isn't like this, but the whole Strull case was - that’s not an excuse.” John reached into his desk drawer and grabbed a book of checks. To most corporations, these were unusable pieces of garbage, but he found it easier to write one for a single employee. These checks came from his personal account.

He quickly wrote one out and passed it to Elle, “Little something extra as an apology too.”

“You don’t have to do that…” Elle said as she took the check regardless. “The regular amount is fine.”

“Well, I want to,” John replied, “You were here late last night, the night before, in on Saturday. You’re here early everyday too. You know I can’t pay you overtime… but I want to do something.”

“Well… thank you.” Elle was at a slight loss for words, but it assured her that this was where she was meant to be.

“Why don’t you make some of that coffee, and I’ll give Strull a call. That should fix that lack of funds issue.” John winked at her, and Elle bolted off to make them a morning pick-me-up.

The morning carried on, and Elle went about her day of making calls and scheduling meetings for John. She was glad to not deal with Mr. Strull, who gave John quite the earful. Though he had shut his office door, she could hear the yelling coming from the phone; John remained calm. It wasn’t his fault that Mr. Strull didn’t like the outcome, and he would have to pay all the same. Elle got a sense of satisfaction from that. He was an asshole, calling her “girl” and “cat” during their few phone calls. Most were kind enough on the phone, but you sometimes got those nasties that didn’t care.

As lunch neared, there was a knock on the door. Elle’s Neko ears perked up, and she peaked around from her computer. A visitor? She pulled up the schedule, but John didn’t have any client meetings scheduled for the day. Also, they were “by appointment” only, and it stated it clearly in their ad. Perhaps it was someone lost or who had the wrong office.

Elle answered the door, “Hello. Can I help you…?” Her voice trailed off hard as a beautiful figure stood before her.

A Neko, like Elle, stood in the doorway. She clutched a designer handbag close to her and wore a green dress that was easily as expensive as the bag. Her auburn hair came down to the center of her back. Blue eyes, accentuated by eyeliner and mascara from an expensive makeup brand, stared back at Elle. There was no way she could ever hope to afford this stuff.

“Can I… help you…?” Elle muttered again, shocked by this woman’s presence. She couldn’t have been any older than Elle, who had turned 26 a couple weeks prior.

“Hi, yes, I know that this is really weird,” the Neko said, “My name is Amber Vallis. Is John in?”

“Do you have an appointment…?” Elle glanced back towards John’s office. Giving the noise, he was watching TV.

“I don’t. I just met John last night.” Amber walked past Elle and assessed the small office. “Is he available?”

“We’re generally appointment only,” Elle explained, “I’m assuming you don’t have one?”

This Amber huffed and said, “Of course I don’t… That doesn’t matter. Can I see him or not!?”

Elle double checked the schedule on her computer as a courtesy. John was incredibly open today, having already completed most of his follow ups. Still, Elle got strange vibes from this woman and started to wonder exactly what her relationship was with John. Eyeing her, Elle’s mind wandered to all the possibilities: a lover’s rendezvous, scandalous in nature, and now this girl was coming here to blackmail John! Or confess her undying love to him! Or maybe John humped and dumped, and she found where he worked. Oh, John! How could you?

“Um… excuse me… can I see John?” Amber asked again. It snapped Elle from her daze.

“What exactly is your business with him?”

“It would be easier if I talked to him directly.”

“Are you looking for the services of a PI? Part of my job is to field requests and-”

Amber cleared her throat. “I’d prefer to talk to him.”

“Well, I’m his secretary, and I schedule all his appointments. So, I need to know what this is about.” In fact, Elle did not need to know what this was about, and the agency took pride in allowing direction for their clientele. Elle was simply curious.

“This was a mistake then…” Amber huffed and turned her back to Elle. As she went for the door, John stepped out from his office, hearing the commotion over his hockey game recording.

He had not expected to see the woman from last night. “You’re the gal from Arty’s. Amber, wasn’t it?”

Her eyes went wide, almost teary. She ran forward and threw herself into John, burying her face into his chest and weeping. Elle’s mouth dropped at such a… blatant display of affection. What had John done to her!? She stared daggers at him as those worst thoughts came back.

“Wait… what is going on?” John stuttered, trying to push the girl off him. Amber latched on.

“You have to help me. You just have to,” she sobbed, “I lied last night… I lied to you. Someone’s following me. I know it.”

“Who is following you?” John asked, tossing a confused look to his secretary. He was shocked to find her, arm crossed, giving him the death stare.

“Someone who wants to kill me!”