Clutching a little white cup filled with a swirled latte with near stomach churning anticipations, Amber sat across from John and Elle. Per John’s suggestion, Amber met them at a small coffee shop in District 4. They said they had good news, and Amber had gotten dressed up for it. She wore a yellow summer dress and had even curled her hair. Why? She wasn’t sure, but something about it felt right.
John opted not to order anything, but Elle, in a sporty black skirt and white blouse, sipped at a paper cup full of tea. John looked less disheveled than when Amber first met him. He had shaved and combed his hair; the black bags under his eyes were a tad lighter. His gray shirt lacked the usual wrinkles. Amber might even call him “professional.”
For the last forty minutes, John explained the case, starting with Amber’s apartment and ending with the arrest of Sean Addler. Some of it, Amber already knew, but most of it shocked and disturbed her as the tale unraveled. As he finished, John turned to Elle and asked, “Did I miss anything?”
“That should cover it,” Elle replied. Amber noticed she sat at a small distance from him. “Amber, we’re really sorry if any of this is distressing, but, your stalker is in jail.”
“You need to file a police report,” John explained, “Talk to Captain Richard; tell him I sent you. Sean Addler is wanted for a lot, but throwing your testimony in there will at least give you a voice. That voice will help pin him.”
Amber’s hands shook with nervous energy; the latte jittered with each little jolt. “There’s no chance he’ll get out?”
“I wouldn’t say that.” John started until a grunt choked out from his throat. Elle jabbed his side with her nails. That would leave a bruise. “It’s very unlikely. They got enough dirt for multiple charges.”
“Trials take a while. It’ll be a few months before-”
“No. How long will he be in prison?”
John thought. “Hard to say. A guess? Given the nature of the crime. Not counting anyone else coming forward once this goes public. 20 year at least.”
“That’s it…?” Elle asked, as shocked as Amber was.
“Again, hard to say,” John replied, “Unless they can stick a murder on him…” He wouldn’t admit it, but it could end up being less time. No doubt the prosecution would attempt a plea deal, and try to force Sean to give up his cohorts. That could easily shave off ten years depending on what they agree to. John, however, kept that to himself.
“I see…” Amber’s voice trailed off, “Thank you! I don’t want you to think that I’m not grateful. It’s just… I don’t know… a lot? To think it went so deep.”
“It’s an intense situation,” John admitted, “Captain Richard’s will handle it. Both Sean and the trafficking ring. All you can do is keep on keeping safe. If you can, I’d get out of your apartment as soon as possible. Men like Sean do not work alone. His obsession is his, but that doesn’t mean someone else won’t strike back.”
Amber nodded in agreement. She had already talked with the management and would be suffering quite a financial blow for all the damage done. Finances would be tight, and Amber had done her best to line up extra work, even non-singing gigs. She barely had enough to cover Darcy Investigations.
Amber reached into her purse and pulled out a stack of bills, counting out the exact amount that her and John agreed to. She passed it to him.
“I think we are all settled then.” John thumbed through the bills to double check the amount. It was all there, even if it was significantly less than he normally charged. “Good luck with everything, Amber. If you ever need anything, you have my card.”
Amber thanked him and sat back to finish her coffee. John and Elle bid farewell, stepping outside the cute little shop and onto the cold and uncaring street. The early morning sun offered a bit of respite from the dour mechanical jungle, but the dew lining the streets stunk of Syntha-fuel and rust. Their CX-7 was parked just outside, and after chasing off a few bums ogling his car, John unlocked it.
“You ready to go, Elle?” John asked, pulling open the driver side door, “I’m sure we got a few new inquiries. Probably a good idea to take on another case or two.”
“Can I take the rest of the day off?” Elle asked.
John hadn’t expected that. “I mean… sure. Everything good? Feeling ok?”
“I feel fine. I have… something I need to do.” Seeing that John still eyed her curiously, Elle pulled out the lies. “It’s girl stuff. Mind if I take care of it?” And then, she sweetened the pot. “I can take the money to the bank if you’d like. It’s on the way.”
“Yeah. Do what you gotta do.” When it came to “girl stuff”, John wasn’t going to make a fuss or dig. “Where do you need to go? Hop on in; I’ll take you. Also, we’ll worry about the money tomorrow.”
Elle stood her ground. “I can get there myself!” She smiled and tried to appear as innocent and cute as possible. “You don’t need to worry about me! And the bank is literally on the way. It saves us a trip.”
John hesitated, but her cheery attitude put him at ease. He reached into the pocket of his coat and handed her the envelope with the cash. “Don’t lose it.”
“Have I ever ‘lost it’ before?”
“No… I’d be more likely to.” He chuckled. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess. You sure you don’t-”
John puts his hands up almost defensively. “Yes ma’am. Be safe, Elle.” With everything they learned about the Rings and Breeders, John felt off leaving her like this. Elle was a tough woman though; she could make her own decisions.
Elle watched as the CX-7 took off; she waved as John launched into the merging lanes and took off towards the expressway. With him well out of sight, Elle exhaled with relief and tucked the money envelope into her bag. She walked back into the café, hoping that Amber was still there and hadn’t slipped out through another door.
To her luck, the singer was right where they left her, sipping away at the drink. It was nearly gone; Elle just made it. To say Amber was shocked to see Elle, alone, would be an understatement. Her surprise only increased when Elle joined her.
“Did I forget something…?” Amber asked, looking to see if John was going to follow through the front door.
“No. Everything you gave us is good,” Elle said, “I’m here because of everything else that’s going on. Your case might be done, but it’s not done. Do I make sense?”
“You mean the people my stalker is working for. I don’t really know anything about that…”
“I’m not asking you too,” Elle assured, “I wanted to let you know. I am not letting this end here. You’re still scared, like me, and I’m going to make sure we don’t have to be anymore. That includes every Neko in this city.”
Amber heard each and every word Elle said; her passion burst forth with each statement. It was admirable, and Amber appreciated it. She had no misgivings that the police would struggle, if not completely disregard, this trafficking ring. It happened… all the time. She hated it. Seeing Elle fired up to take a stand touched her.
She couldn’t help but question if it would mean anything…
“Good luck with that, Elle,” Amber replied, taking her hand and smiling, “Is John aware?”
“I don’t think he’ll be upset. He seems like a good man.”
Elle bit on her bottom lip. “Yeah… He is…” She reached into her bag and pulled out a small notepad and a pen. It was archaic considering most would use oversized tablets. However, she could never discreetly carry it. The old fashion way would have to do. “I do have a few more questions.”
“I pretty much told you guys all I know.”
“I know. This is more seeing if I can trigger any other memories,” Elle assured, “Least I’m going to try.” She flipped open the notebook and pressed pen to page, ready to write. “During any of your other shows, or any time you saw Sean Addler, did you see if he was with anyone else? Was he talking to someone? Did someone talk to him?”
Amber thought, but there were so many times… “I wasn’t even aware he was talking to someone at Skeeters. These places are always so dark and the lights so bright.”
“That makes sense…” Elle frowned. “What about other times?”
Amber shook her head. “Just him… I’m sorry…” Elle still jotted it down. It was disappointing to say the least, and she sighed into her notepad. This was going harder than she thought…
“If you end up remembering anything.” Elle wrote down her personal phone number and slid it to Amber. “Please call me!”
“I will!” Amber smiled. “Elle, please be safe.”
“I might look small, but I’m a lot stronger than I look!” Elle’s confidence was shaky, but she did her best to put on the front.
The door to the café opened, drawing Elle’s attention. A Neko stepped in; a cigarette hung in his mouth. He was quickly scolded by the shop owner, who pointed to the “no smoking” sign out front. He apologized and crushed the cigarette in his hand.
Elle turned slightly red. He was immensely handsome with a rugged face and broad frame. His clothes could be considered a bit tacky, a tropical, flowered shirt was hardly the rage, but Elle couldn’t look past his incredibly firm facial features. His eyes were blocked by a pair of sunglasses, but as he peered over to their table, Elle could feel his piercing gaze.
Amber stood up. “I was worried you wouldn’t find the place.” She was all smiles.
The man approached with commanding steps that radiated purpose. He scanned the table, grinning at Amber, but still watching Elle with hesitation. “Sorry I’m late. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to get caught up at a bookstore. Totally my fault.” He turned his attention to Elle. “Looks like you had company though.”
“Oh, yeah! This is Elle. She’s the assistant to that Private Investigator who was helping me,” Amber said, “Elle, this is my cousin, Sal Regis. Well, I guess we’re not really cousins.”
“Close family friends. Hey! When you celebrate every holiday together, you start to feel like family,” the man replied. He held out his hand to Elle. “A pleasure.”
Elle shook it, still unable to shake the feeling that she was being watched from every angle. “Really nice to meet you.” His grasp was firm like a vice. He clamped down upon her until Elle could feel the pressure in her fingers. She quickly yanked her hand away.
“I’ll be staying with him for a while,” Amber explained, “Give Jewel her space back. Though, I don’t think you’ve ever lived with a woman before. Good luck, buddy!”
“It’s been so long that I couldn't say no when I found out what was going on.” Sal gave her a playful thwack to the forehead, and Amber replied by sticking her tongue out.
Elle asked, “Did you just move to Yorktown?”
“I’ve been around,” Sal replied, “Work keeps me busy, so you could say I’ve relocated. What has it been, Amber, four or five years?”
“She’s in good hands, PI,” Sal assured, “Thanks for everything. There’s a lot of crazies in this city, and the last thing I’d want is for my little Amber to get herself in some sort of trouble.”
“Oh, I’m not the PI. Just the assistant,” Elle said lightly. She got up from her seat. In the back of her mind, something told her that she needed to leave. She needed to get away.
“You helped! That’s what matters,” Sal said, “Who knows? If I ever need a PI, might need to give you guys a call. What agency are you?”
Elle froze. His words came across almost harsh, demanding. Even Amber glanced at him over the surprising shift in tone. Sal could see that he had alarmed them and started laughing it off. “Sorry… Have a bit of a long history with police and investigators. Do you have a card or something?”
Elle hesitated to offer it. She didn't need to though. Amber already pulled it from her bag. “Darcy Investigations. Here!”
Sal took the business card and read over it. His head bobbed as he memorized each bit of information. “Perfect! Who knows? You guys might be getting a call from me sometime. I mean, let’s hope not. Means I’d found myself in some real shit.” He gave a hearty laugh before pocketing the card.
Sweat began to pool on Elle’s back. She needed to get out of there… now! “I can’t stay to chat much longer. Things to do! It was really nice meeting you again. And Amber, if you remember anything, give us a call!”
Before they could stop her, Elle bolted from the coffee shop, trying to hit the fine line between “leaving with a purpose” and “full on fleeing”. Once outside, she was able to breathe. Had she been holding her breath that entire time? Everything was calm and collected… then he walked in. Sal Regis… Who was he? Why did he strike her in such a way?
Elle wanted to ask John, figure out what this strange feeling was. Doing so would only give her away; she wasn’t ready to have that conversation. There was still too much to learn, too much to do. This was all part of the job: the danger. Elle looked up to the blotted out sky; a collection of smog and platforms from the Uppercity served as a glorified shield to the sun.The Uppercity was her next destination. Elle reached into her bag, brushing the polaroid of the strange symbol just to make sure she hadn’t forgotten it. It was there, just as she intended. Hopefully, she could find some answers up there.
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