John shut the door to his office to give Amber some privacy. That wasn’t going to stop Elle. She moved on from the whole scorned lover thing but couldn’t get over Amber’s incredibly direct way of asking for help. Elle slid up to the office door, knowing she was breaking pretty much every confidentiality agreement she signed with John, and pressed her ear against it. Even with muffled talking or a near whisper, she could make out most of it.
On the other side of the door, John closed the blinds to the outside and flipped a light on. He booted up his computer; a flash of blue text scrawled over the black background. These old-style computers, the only thing that survived the massive technology purge during the war, worked with as much grace as they looked. Cars could fly off this tech; John questioned how it could even run a simple digital notepad, which he used during these types of interviews.
Amber sat across from him, legs crossed, and eyes directed at the folded hands in her lap. She was as mysterious and radiant as he remembered from the night prior. Her short dress exposed a bit of her thigh, and John struggled to keep focused. He shook the thoughts off, knowing he shouldn’t let his mind wander.
“You said you are being followed?” John asked as he began to type the notes. He stopped himself. “No. From the top here. I need to know who you are first.”
She lashed out. “I told you, Amber Vallis!”
“Your real name?”
“Of course it’s my real name. Why would I lie about that?” Amber grew angry at the very thought.
“You’d be surprised,” John replied, “People love fake names in this line of work. Anonymity is key a lot of times. Problem is… I can’t help them unless I know who they are. Government files, relatives, things like that can’t be found with a fake name. If they want to use a fake name, I can play. However, I need to know who they are.”
“I see… Yes, Amber Vallis is my real name.”
“Do you have a job? A boyfriend, husband? Girlfriend? Any relatives I should know about?”
Amber continued, “I’m a singer, but it’s not like a stable thing. Basically, if a place has a gig, you know. I’m not dating… or married. I have a cousin, but it’s been a while.”
“So that big break from last night?”
John could understand given the circumstances. “Any ex-lovers?”
“Don’t we all?”
John chuckled. Given what a lot of sleepless nights in the office could do, she’d be surprised. “Let me rephrase. Any ex-lovers that hate your guts?”
“A couple, I’m sure… Some bad breakups here and there. Nothing that would lead them to stalk me though!”
“Maybe? Maybe not? Any of those recent?”
“How about over a year? That was my last relationship.”
“Did it end, you know, badly?” Amber shook her head; her last “bad” breakup had been over two years ago. She explained that to John, who jotted it down. “How about any hookups?”
“You seem very interested in my sexual history…” Amber muttered.
“Sex screws with people’s heads,” John explained, “I’ve seen my fair share of scorned ex-lovers or hookups gone wrong. Sex becomes a major catalyst in a lot of cases.” He took a drink of cold coffee. He hadn’t bothered with a refill since Elle poured it that morning. It was disgusting. “All right, let’s hear what’s going on. If you can provide as many details, it’s a start. How long has it been going on for?”
Amber clenched her fingers together until the tips turned a deep red. She bit down on her lower lip before saying, “About a week, maybe? Could be longer, but some weird stuff did happen. I didn’t pay it any mind.”
“We’ll start a week ago then.”
With a deep breath, Amber began relaying everything that she could think of. “Well, you already know I was lying about last night. I wasn’t in that bar because I was waiting for someone. I didn't have a show or a contact or any of that. I was hiding because I was being followed. Since I got home that night, I could feel that they were following me. It started small. A shadowy figure in the corner of an alley that moves with me. Watches me leave my apartment. Takes the street I do. Starts getting closer and closer.”
“So you know it's a man?”
“I don’t know… I just assumed. Who else would follow a girl like that, you know?” John nodded his head in agreement. “He’s always wearing black and a mask like you see in those pictures of the pandemic. You can’t see his face.”
“Human or Neko?”
“Human…maybe… They are always wearing a hat, so the ears would be hidden. Well, I’ve worn hats before, and my ears are too big. I got to buy the special ones with the cutouts.”
John bit down on his thumbs as he stared at his notes. There were a lot of “things” but not a lot to go off. “Some Nekos don’t need them.”
“Right… so I have no idea…”
“You said this person is trying to kill you? How do you know that? Stalking is one thing. Murder…”
“The start of the week,” Amber continued, “Like I said, I don’t know if this was going on before. I feel like I’ve met this person before. Not like in person… but it’s the eyes, you know. I feel like I’ve seen them… Maybe a few months ago? Couple weeks? Hard to say. You ever get that feeling that you just know someone? Well, anyways, I started to see this ‘shadow man’ when I was out shopping. Then, that night, I saw him again at one of my shows.”
“Where were you singing?”
“Skeeters in District 9.”
That raised an eyebrow. “Skeeters? That’s a human only club. They got a big fucking sign right out front.”
Amber nodded. “Normally, it is. But, you know, they like to bring singers in to, well, entertain the patrons. I sing more locally, at a few bars here and there, but when an offer like Skeeters comes in, it's hard to pass up. There might be a lot of humans that hate Nekos, but that doesn't stop them from fetishizing us.”
“This is more for my own curiosity, but what exactly did you do?”
Amber blushed slightly. “Nothing terrible. They wanted me to wear a costume and sing. Strut around a little bit. The money was really good.” Amber could see that John’s mind was wandering slightly. “It was a schoolgirl outfit. You know, short plaid skirt, couple buttons undone on the blouse. Doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.”
“I see…” He took another swig of bad coffee to wash his mind of it. “And that was the first show you’d see this man?”
“After seeing him around, yes.”
That was something. “Could be a possessive fan. See’s you out and about, finds out you have this show, it's a sexed-up show, and he thinks you owe him something. Did he try to talk to you at all?” Amber shook her head and explained that he kept in back, farthest from the stage. “Possibly too nervous. May have a social issue. Perhaps neurodivergent. Other mental issues are probable too. I’ve seen it before.”
“He did tip me… I think,” she said, “At the end of the night, the guy who organized everything, when he paid me, I got a little extra. Said it came from one of the guys in the back, at a table B - uh, what was it - 21, I think. He wouldn’t tell me much more.”
“I’m getting creeper vibes. Where does the ‘kill you part’ come in?”
Amber puffed her cheeks up. “I’m getting to that. The next night, I had another show at one of my usual places. When I came home, my entire apartment was trashed. Destroyed! Completely. Drawers pulled out. TV tipped over. Things smashed. I broke down and cried more than I thought I could.”
“Did you go to the police?”
She sneered. “Like they’d help me…” It was a sad truth, but one ultimately John couldn’t disagree with. Still, if there was a report, nailing the guy would be easier. As it stood, there was no evidence beyond Amber’s words. John wasn’t going to tell her that.
She continued, “That wasn’t the most shocking thing of all. In my bedroom, scrawled out over the wall in red paint, he’d written ‘Neko Whore Dies Tonight’. I had to leave… I couldn’t… I couldn’t stay there… I took off, and I’ve been staying with a friend ever since…”
“That is…” John sighed, “Concerning. Smart on you though. Have you been back?”
Amber nodded. “Once. Just to get some clothes and stuff. My friend came with me to make sure I’m safe. I tried to get the paint off the wall. It… won’t come off…”
“Who’s your friend?”
“Her name’s Jewel. She also lives in District 8, so it was easy to get to.” John asked the next obvious question. “Yeah. She’s a Neko like me.”
“When you returned, did you see if anything had been taken?”
Amber looked down. “I didn’t really look. Honestly, I was surprised to see my jewelry and electronics still there. It was hard to tell in the mess. My clothes had been riffled through: my underwear specifically. Makes my skin crawl…”
The picture was nearly clear for John. There would be details that needed to be filled in, things that could be discovered by talking to a few people or seeing the crime scenes. The perp was faceless, but John pegged him as the “unrequited lover” type. Considering it had been a week, some of the solid evidence was probably gone. Worse, if Amber wasn’t willing to file a police report, it put him in a difficult situation. There were leads, but nothing John would classify as strong.
“Was last night the first time you’ve seen this guy since your apartment was trashed?”
“No…,” Amber explained, “I’d be out, and I think I’d see him from the corner of my eye. If I did, he would always walk the other way…”
“One more major question here. What were you doing out and about in District 8 at that time of night? Alone too? You said you didn’t have a show or anything like that.”
Amber curled her fingers. Tears started to well up in her eyes as she remembered. “I live there… My friend and I were going to get drinks. She wanted to take my mind off everything. We planned to go together, but her work ran long. She told me to wait too, but I got all dressed up. I told her I’d be fine; I’d save her a seat. Then, there he was again, standing across from my apartment like he knew where I’d be going. I decided I was gonna give him a piece of my mind.”
“Could have started with that.”
“I’m sorry… I was so fed up. I couldn’t see his mouth, but I knew he was smiling. So, I went up to give it to him! He pulled a knife. That’s when I ran. He started chasing, and I dipped into that bar. The owner said if I didn’t order something I’d need to leave. I was so scared… I did…”
John rubbed his eyes. “Don’t do that again. You're lucky it was just a knife. What if he’d had a gun?”
John leaned back in his chair, staring at the sprawling notes. There was… a lot here… It was all things he had heard, and things seen in his six years of business. It wouldn’t be the first young woman stalked or pursued by someone with nefarious intentions. Violence was common, and John had the same response to all of them.
“I’ll be honest. I don’t take cases like this,” John explained. Amber looked up, mouth agape, like someone had just told her that her puppy died. Her eyes started to water.
“What do you mean?” she asked, “Isn’t this what you do? You investigate this kind of shit!”
John finished his drink. “What I investigate is usually unfaithful spouses, employees looking for dirt on their bosses, lost items, and missing family members. This man is clearly deranged, and he will get more violent the longer you wait.”
“Then why are you pushing me out!?”
“It’s police work. Not PI.” Amber started to cry, and as John offered her some tissues, she swatted them away. He sunk down into his chair, feeling terrible, but knowing there was no other way. “I’m sorry… I can go with you to the station. I know the police chief and-”
The door to the office flung open; Elle stood in the doorway. Her cheeks beamed bright red; her own eyes were wet with tears. She charged right in and threw her arms around Amber. John’s shock locked him to his chair. He couldn’t say a word. But, Elle could.
“We are going to take your case!” she assured, “We’ll find who this man is, so he’ll never hurt you again. Right, John?”
John’s heart pounded in his chest. Elle stared back at him, waiting for the confirmation that John had already jettisoned. Amber took the glimmer of hope, mixed with a bit of confusion over mixed signals. However, her despair flipped upside down. She yearned to hear John agree with his secretary, for her case to be accepted. John tapped on his desk until his index finger started to hurt.
“Well… I guess we could give the police some evidence of what’s going on,” he said, “That way, they can’t turn you away either.”
A massive weight fled from Amber’s shoulders. She thanked both of them in a tearful bit of graciousness. Elle let out a small cheer as she embraced their newest client again. And John, well John, he went back to his computer screen and tried to glean what their next move would be from Amber’s messy story.
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