John’s apartment was located at Building 12 in District 4, about a fifteen-minute flight to the office. In the six months she had worked for him, Elle had never been to his apartment; she’d never been invited until tonight. Stepping inside, metallic walls surrounded this single, studio apartment. It was poorly lit with a flickering lamp overhead. John’s office was a mess, but he kept his apartment surprisingly spotless. It looked barely lived in. The bed was made with clean sheets; the kitchen appliances lacked any dirt or grime. The bathroom smelled of bleach with its sterile aesthetic remaining pristine.
Further adding to its unused appearance, John owned very little in terms of furniture. Besides the bed, Elle saw a small sofa, a chipped and cracked dresser, and a TV tray serving as a nightstand. A TV was placed atop the dresser. The real treat was a door wall that led out to a balcony, overlooking the street below. Just under the collection of smog, it provided a roomy outside to combat the claustrophobic interior.
“Make yourself at home,” John said, setting down a plastic, white bag on the kitchenette counter. The smell of Mexican wafted from it. John suggested tacos again. His reasoning: “well, it’s a different place”.
The whirlwind of her situation struck Elle. Coming from the emotional night, all she wanted was to go home, sleep in her own bed, and pick everything up in the morning. It seemed Yorktown conspired against her desires. Their “supposed’ construction turned into a police checkpoint, something related to that attack on the NRM building the night before. Forced to reroute, the roads to District 1 were difficult to access.
Now, Elle was at John’s place. She offered to stay at the office, but he insisted. “There’s no good place to sleep there”. Then why did he seem to do it so much?
“Do you use the balcony often?” Elle asked, nervous to step further into the sixth-floor apartment.
“No, but I pay a premium for it,” John replied as he pulled out dinner from the bag. “I think my rent’s 2500.”
Elle’s mouth dropped. Her place was double the size, and she paid less than that. “You could probably get a cheaper place if you wanted.”
“I’m close to the office,” John said with a laugh, “Can’t beat that. I’ve thought to shitcan the lease and moving into the office. It’s pretty much got everything I need.”
“There’s no shower…”
“There’s public ones.” John handed Elle her three tacos. Despite him claiming they would be different from the other place, they looked and smelled the same. “Take a seat wherever you want. Couch. Bed. Your choice. Also, bed’s yours tonight. I’ll be sofa sleeping.”
“It’s your apartment though…”
John shrugged. “No worries. I’m used to weird beds.” His mouth was full seasoned ground beef and tortilla. “Now, eat before they get cold.”
John sat at the edge of the bed and dug into his meal. Elle tried hers, sitting across from him on the sofa. Sure enough, she could taste little different between these ones and lunch. It didn’t matter; she was starving. Elle tore into the tortillas until even she was surprised how quickly they were gone.
“Good, right?” John asked, “Best in Yorktown. I’ll fight someone on that.”
Elle patted his mouth with a napkin. “Yeah… they were really tasty.” She hugged her legs together, gripping the hem of her polka-dot skirt. “You know, you could have taken me to the office. That would have been fine.”
“This again? I can if you really want. Figured this would be more comfortable at least.”
“No, it’s not like that,” she assured, now feeling a bit uncomfortable that he brought it up, “I don’t want to impose.” She looked down at her clothes. For work, they were fine. For lounging and sleeping, not so much. “I don’t really have anything to wear…”
John spoke with a mouthful, “I hadn’t thought of that.” He checked his watch. “I’d say we could grab something, but it's after 11. Most everything is closed now. Do you have a spare in the office?”
“I mean… work clothes, yes,” Elle replied, “I don’t have any pajamas or…” She turned a bit red. “You know, underwear or anything like that…”
“If you’re fine with it, I can give you something for tonight.” None of it seemed to phase John, who was more focused on finishing his last taco than he was of Elle’s slight embarrassment. “I mean pajamas. I can’t really help you with anything else.” He laughed. “I’ll give you some money in the morning; go buy what you need.”
“You don’t have to give me money.”
“Only reason you’re stuck here is cause I took so long in Skeeters. It’s the least I can do.” Lunch had been the “least he could do”. Dinner had been the “least he could do”. Now, buying her clothes was the “least he could do”. It felt wrong. Elle had her own money, which she did very well with. There was a reason she could move away from the Uppercity and strike out on her own.
With a hint of confidence, Elle firmly replied, “No. This is part of the job. I can buy my own stuff.”
“I won’t fight you there.”
After dinner, John laid out on the bed, watching the news on the TV. Reports about the shooting at the NRM offices took up most of the headlines, and the police had very few leads on a possible suspect. It was reported to be “large scale” with at least fifteen dead, all human but one Neko teenager getting her papers renewed. The assailants were heavily armed, using automatics to do the most damage. More disturbing, shots were fired from outside the building, and with the noise of traffic and city life, none were the wiser. This was not the story of some crazy wandering into a building. No, this was meticulous, calculated, and spiteful. It took no time for the news to speculate Nekos as the perpetrators. A list of instances, called out as “Neko social unrest”, scrolled at the bottom of the screen.
As the bathroom door opened and Elle stepped out, John switched the channel to something a little less troubling: a gameshow related to old casino games. Coolage Group’s logo was plastered in the bottom left corner. They ran all the networks, and any attempts to break free from “the big four” were met with a swift cease and desist.
Elle pulled down at the bottom of the red shirt that John lent her. Her bust prevented a good fit, leaving a small bit of her midriff exposed between it and black flannel sleep pants. It was an older set of his, mostly used in the rare occasion he was lounging around the apartment. John realized how often he would pass out in his everyday clothes.
“It, uh, doesn't fit very well,” she said and gave it another tug. It bounced back up. Elle let out a frustrated groan.
“Hmmm… prolly didn’t think that through very well,” John muttered, averting his gaze but keeping just the corner of one eye on her, “I can see if I got something else.” He was pretty sure he did, but nothing that would fit her right.
“I’ll be fine. It’s for one night.” Elle took a seat on the sofa and locked in on the television. John should be watching too. He knew that. He couldn’t… really help by stare. As Elle sat there, her arms caught between her knees as she leaned forward to get a better angle of the picture, John realized that his secretary and assistant was more than just the Neko that worked for him. She was a woman, an attractive woman with soft features, pink lips, curves, and charm. With each breath, he could sense his whole wandering, yearning in the type of way a man does. He bit down on his thumb until it bled.
John shot up from the bed. “You can lay here. Better view.”
Elle looked confused. “I don’t want to take your spot.”
“If you’re going to sleep here, it’s all yours,” he assured, “I got some stuff to take care of anyways.” Elle cocked her head but wasn’t going to refuse. She traded spots with him as John stepped into the bathroom and shut the door, leaving her to the game show that would clearly have no winner. For a moment, she focused on the bathroom door; her heart thumped in her chest.
John flipped the lights on, exposing his sweaty brow. What was he thinking? There was no time or place for this. She worked for him; this was a diversion due to an unforeseen situation. Besides, she was nine years younger than him. Why was he feeling this way? He dug through one of the counter drawers and drew out a palm sized device, similar in shape to water bottle but with a fat head and a rounded tip jutting from the head’s side. He turned the device, marked with the Coolage Group logo, and tinkered with the buttons.
A media report stated that more people used Injectors than did not. They were standard issue at this point, easy to purchase without so much as a prescription. Why bother with a doctor and inflated medical costs when anything could be treated “safely” by the Coolage Group’s latest medical technology. It promised to cure ailments ranging from headaches to the common cold. Packs containing mixtures of different drugs could be inserted into the device, able to craft all types of amazing concoctions. Did you need to treat bleeding gums, back ache, and sexual impotence all with one shot? Now you can!
It even came with a built-in protection system to prevent certain medications from being mixed. It didn’t take a genius to remove those protections.
John owned two: one here at home and one in the office. Every night, he fished through the list of ailments, pulling up his most common two. The device would then select the appropriate drugs, and John learned them by name. First, there was Verisil designed to help with sleep. One shot of it, and he would be out for eight hours. The second, Zilitoft, calmed his mind into an almost passive state.
It “dealt” with those thoughts. Hatred. Towards himself mostly. Maybe to others, but John didn’t take it for them. He took it, so each morning, when he awoke in his apartment or office, he wouldn’t stare out the window, thinking that it would be so much easier to open it or step out onto the balcony, and then fling himself to the street below. The choice was always there… This made it easier to pick.
He selected the two drugs, and the Injector inserted the chemical compounds into its deployment chamber. One more… He flipped through the list until he came to one he’d never used before: Seritil. It was the opposite of Sorogeth, a medication designed to increase one's libido or help improve stamina during intercourse. Sertil was developed, by a prison doctor no less, to be administered to sexual criminals and deviants. In a year or two, it was mass marketed and could easily be purchased at your local pharmacy: a two pack with Sorogeth.
John added it to the chamber, pressed the rounded end against his arms, and pulled the trigger. A tiny set of needles jutted out and pricked him almost painlessly. The host of chemicals flooded into his bloodstream. Verisil and Zilitoft would take a bit to work, but Seritil… he’d never felt something so instant. It rushed through his body like a harsh electric shock.
He stared up at the mirror; his skin seemed paler now. However, he was… he was free of those feelings. Elle was just his secretary and assistant. That was all that mattered.
As he stepped out from the bathroom, Elle asked, “Is everything ok?” She was under the covers; the TV was off. John hid the red mark on his arm, where the needles struck him.
“Fine. I take a sleep aid,” he half lied, “You’d be amazed at how hard it is to sleep with that big window. If you want some, let me know.”
She didn’t quite believe him. “No… I sleep like a log.”
“It’ll kick in fast. You can still use the TV and stuff. It won’t bother me. I’ll sleep right through it.” John pulled one of the pillows off the bed and tossed it to one end of the sofa. He plopped down on it, stretched out, and laid his head back.
“Oh…” Elle trailed off, “I had figured we could talk more.”
“Really? Well, you got me for maybe 15 minutes.”
Elle bunched up the blankets in her hands. “Ok… Not a lot of time… I do want to ask something?” John’s silence demanded it. “You changed the channel after I finished changing. Why? It was about the attack yesterday.”
“I thought you might like a break from it.” John rolled to face her. “All the news now is conjecture anyways. Not a lot of facts when opinion drives ratings.”
“Do you not think I can handle it?”
“No. Not at all. It’s just…” John chose his words carefully. “There’s been a lot. Between what we saw with Amber today and the incident at Skeeters, I didn’t want you to be overwhelmed.”
“I’m not overwhelmed!” Elle protested, “It was just a moment. You haven’t told me what you found out at Skeeters either. You said you got what you need.”
“I did. As good of a lead as you could hope for.” He paused, again mulling over each word. “I think I’m going to head that one up alone.”
Elle practically flung herself from the bed. “What do you mean? I’m joining you!”
“Just because I had one thing happen at a parking garage doesn’t mean I can’t handle this,” she argued without giving John a chance to defend himself. Elle was out from the covers now, barking at him from the end of the bed. “What about at the apartment? I made a great connection with why the perp left the costume. You said so yourself!”
“You did, Elle. It was an excellent deduction. It’s just-”
Elle snapped, “You don’t trust me, do you? You don’t think I can do this.”
John sighed. “You have the brains for it. Easily. I’d punch someone square in the chin if they said otherwise.” John pushed himself up with his elbow, better meeting her gaze. He’d never seen her so determined. “Look, Elle, the last thing I want you to do is get hurt. Ok? I don’t know where this will lead, but something tells me it won’t be good.”
“I’m an adult. I won’t get hurt.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“I don’t care if it does or doesn’t. A PI can’t give up if things start getting tough. I won’t give up either.”
John rolled to his back, covering his eyes with forearm. The drugs were starting to set in. “You’re right, Elle. Things can always go haywire. The truth: you’re not a private investigator. You’re my secretary.” He peeked through his arm. His words were a punch to her face. “At Skeeters, I saw a man I haven't seen in a long time. His name is Nile the Nose. Very dangerous. Very cunning. If he has any part in this, you want to be as far away from it as you can.”
“He doesn’t scare me!”
“He should! He scares the shit outta me. This isn’t like the stalker. Sure, they might have a gun or a knife, but those are negligible. You learn to deal with them. You don’t learn to deal with a man like Nile. If he is involved, he will try to kill anyone that gets in his way. You included, and he won’t think twice about putting a bullet in some Neko. In fact, he might even revel in it.”
Elle sank back onto the bed. Kill… He would try to kill her. She had no clue who this Nile was or about John’s connection to him. He was always confident in these things. Even if a case went bad or was clearly unsolvable, it didn’t deter him. She’d seen it time and time again in the last six months.
There was one case: a mother had lost her child somewhere in District 11. John worked tirelessly trying to find him, but in the end, he couldn’t locate the kid. Elle remembered sitting in the office, doing her best to not listen to the sobbing mother as John gave her the news, promising to return her money. They never rendered refunds. When the woman left, John stepped out, removing his dour expression as he said with full confidence, “Well, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Doesn’t mean it won’t next time.”
Now, Elle saw John wavering.
“I appreciate you wanting to keep me safe,” Elle said, “I don’t need it. There are a lot of people who could hurt me. It doesn’t stop me from going out, every day.” She got out of bed and stomped her foot. Considering it was carpet over a steel floor, a sharp pain shot up her leg. Elle bit her lip and pushed through. “If you decide to go without me, I’ll just… I’ll just follow you! It’ll be like a PI investigating another PI.”
John offered no reply. As Elle stepped closer, she heard faint snoring. He fell asleep… Had he even heard her? Elle wasn’t sure but felt crushed all the same. She crouched down next to him, getting close to his unshaven face. He looked peaceful sleeping there. He was strangely adorable despite her anger with him. His arm rested across his face as if frozen in time. A clear red mark was set into the underside of his forearm.
Elle recognized it: an Injector spot. She headed into the bathroom and rifled around the drawers. After a moment of searching, she found the Injector. It had clearly been used, having the eight-hour lockout timer running. She brought up the previously used injection: Verisil, Zilitoft, and Seritil.
The Verisil made sense and was obviously what knocked John out. She was unsure what Zilitoft was, but Seritil… everyone knew about Seritil and Sorogeth. Why would he have taken it though? It was designed to cap sexual urges, and… Elle dropped the Injector. It clacked against the tile of the bathroom. He took it because she was there… in his bed… in his clothes… Elle felt her heart pound; her face turned bright red. Had he… intended something and changed his mind? Was it simply trying to make her comfortable? He didn’t mention it… Elle checked the Injector for damage, and upon seeing there was none, returned it where she found it.
Stepping out of the bathroom, she looked back over at the sleeping John. It could have been the Seritil that made him say what he did. Messed with his mind in a way… But, what did that mean about her then? Was this all just a strange ploy, bringing Elle along over some faint attraction? Now, it was temporarily suppressed by medication.
Elle didn’t care. Whether John wanted her there or not, she was not going to let this case go by. No, Elle was going to help Amber Vallis. Even if it killed her.
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