Chapter 16:

Interlude 2


Sal kept his apartment pristine, even going as far to do the maintenance himself. He didn’t trust the complex’s poor management team, an overworked lot with little knowledge of how to actually fix a problem. It kept unwanted eyes out of his space, a 2nd floor unit rented by a “Mr. Allen”. It kept things private, and as far as Amber was concerned, everything was kosher about the place.

Amber spent most of the afternoon settling into her new room. Seeing her eyes light up over having her own room again made his day. There would be no “couch crashing” for her. She was “breaking in” the second bathroom, using the shower for the first time since Sal rented the place. He was happy to see her happy.

For dinner, Sal prepped a chili-sauce stir-fry, applying the finishing touches by cracking an egg into the center of the frying pan. A delectable smoke filled the apartment as he scraped up bits of noodle and rice from the bottom of the pan to make room. He leaned in, took a larger whiff of his concoction, and believed it to be near perfect.

He couldn’t help but be happy. Amber was staying with him, safe from the “world”, even the bits he was forced to use her for. Dinner was coming along wonderfully, and Sal’s stomach grumbled with anticipation. Two more shootings within the Undercity were slowly giving the police a better “picture” of the Revival. Slowly, they would start to put two and two together, and once that happened, they could make their biggest move. Sal loved all of it.

Even his little messengers… the PI and his Neko… the ones that Amber had selected without any influence, were tucked away, having fulfilled their little end of the bargain by further exposing the Breeders ring. Yes, things could not be much better.

The shower stopped, and Amber peeked her head out from the door. “Hey. I’m a ditz and forgot a towel.”

Sal laughed to himself and fetched her one. “I told you to grab one.”

“Yeah, I know. I was rushing.” Amber reached out from the crack and grabbed it. Sal caught a brief glimpse of her from the steamed bathroom mirror. Nothing more than a bare shoulder, but he averted his gaze all the same. “Jewel was great and all, but she’s got three roommates, one bathroom, and adding me in made things worse…”

“Well, I hope you enjoyed it,” Sal said. He leaned up against the wall outside the bathroom. His memories went back to times when they were younger and playing in the District 1 streets. There was wrestling and roughhousing, games and sports, Sal learning to love. The very fact that Amber needed to suffer through a man like Sean Addler disgusted him. But, she was safe now. She would be safe going forward.

“Are you still standing out there?”

“Uh… I thought we were talking.” Sal realized he was lost in his own memories.

Amber’s voice was almost playful. “Yeah, I’d really like to change. A bit hard with you blocking the way.”

“Sorry, I’ll move.” He realized the stove was still going full blast. Dinner was a risk. Sal cursed himself and flew to the kitchen as fast as he could.  Black smoke began bellowing up from the frying pan. He quickly pulled it from the heat. Somehow, the stir-fry was saved. Just a bit charred.

That was a close one… Any second longer, and it truly would have gone up in smoke. These types of dishes, with a sauce that can easily burn, required the utmost care. One wrong move or misplaced piece could bring the whole thing crashing down. It was a risk when preparing these meals. Sal was more than willing to take it if it meant good eating. If it meant his loved ones could be safe.

His phone rang. Sal listened to it three times before picking it up. No one should be calling him now; he told Veet that. This was his night. It would be him and Amber. No one else. He answered it gruffly.

Sure enough, it was Veet. “Mr. Allen, it’s your insurance company. We are calling with some updates on your claim.” Though Sal doubted he was being taped by anyone, the coded message was the right call by Veet.

“Go on,” Sal muttered as he watched Amber’s shadow dance across the hall to her bedroom. The door shut.

“It’s related to your vehicles. They arrived in storage yesterday.”

“And this is a bad thing?”

Veet cleared his throat. “Well, no. They are on schedule. It’s, well - how do I put this - in danger of being stolen.”

“By who…?”

“A rat and cat. One of our insurance adjusters got in contact with us. Seems the cat learned a thing or two. Got picked up by animal control, you see, but it didn’t last. Sir, we’ve seen a CX-7 touch down a few blocks for your vehicle. What would you have us do?”

Sal’s grip tightened around the phone. No… this was too early. The police were supposed to get wind of the ring, hold on to it, and then with their warrant, bust it in glorious fashion. The PI was only intended to supply them information to further confirm the truth and make it real. They were done! The case was over. Amber paid enough…

The situation was close to charring into a black goo; it needed to be taken off the heat. “They cannot contact the police. We’re not ready yet. We won’t be for another few days. Do you understand?” Sal had dropped the pleasant “beating around the bush”.

“I can be down there in ten. There’s already a few of the watchers too,” Veet replied.

“I’ll meet you… It’s about time I meet this Mr. Darcy anyways. Especially if he’s going to be a problem now.”

“Understood.” Veet hung up; Sal restrained from tossing the phone halfway across his apartment.

“Who were you talking to?” Amber had stepped from her room. She was drying her white ears with the towel after having changed into an oversized, pink night shirt. One look at her and Sal’s rage only bubbled like cooked soy sauce, knowing he would have to leave.

He forced a smile for her. “Would you believe it, work? Bastards can’t do anything without me.”

“Oh really?” Amber sounded disappointed. She popped down on a barstool. “How long you think you’ll be? I was hoping we could, like, watch a movie or something? Kinda like we used to as kids.”

“Me too…” Sal muttered, “I’m not sure. Could be fast. Could take a while. Just make yourself at home. My house is yours!”

“You’ve never told me what you do here in Yorktown,” Amber said, resting her elbows on the kitchen island. Her smile was near radiance. “This is a fancy place. Must be something impressive.”

Sal shrugged. “It’s glamorous. City clean up, you could say. We’re always making sure that the right people are in the right spot. You wouldn’t believe the logistics.”

“Huh, that’s interesting. Is it government?”

“I’m a convicted felon; there’s no way they’d hire me. Coolage Group.” Sal plated some of the stir-fry for Amber and passed it off. Even a bit burned, it looked and smelled delicious.

“None for you?”

“When I get back? There’s been a bit of an incident involving a rat. I’ll be back soon.” He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Amber was fully taken aback, eyeing Sal with a what the hell are you doing look. She wiped her cheek.

“What was that?”

Sal frowned. “Sorry. Bad old habit from when we were kids.”

“Yeah… we’re adults now. Probably shouldn’t be doing that.” Amber tried to laugh it off, but the damage had been done. Sal apologized again before taking his leave without so much as a normal goodbye.

As he stormed down the stairwell, he cursed his stupidity. Still, he could fix it. He could make it right. She would see. All the Nekos would see. He was going to make them safe. Even if it cost Yorktown everything… he was going to assure every Neko could live in peace.

And then… Amber would truly love him.