Captain Richards lit a cigarette, placed it between his lips, and sucked in as much smoke as his lungs could hold. It was the biggest hit he ever took from a single smoke, and he questioned if it was big enough. Standing in front of seven large shipping containers, locked away under District 2’s Airyard, he could barely believe what had been reported.
“Somedays… I wonder if this world truly deserves to exist,” he said, balancing the cigarette on his lips. John Darcy, with his left arm freshly fashioned into a set of bandages, stood at his side. “Maybe nuclear warfare should have killed us all.”
“You can only do what you can do,” John assured. He looked back at Elle. She was sitting and talking with the group of children, twelve of them, plucked from the containers. She refused to leave their side since they found them. “Just… why children…?”
Richards nodded. “Breeder’s ring. Once these poor girls are old enough, they’ll be tossed back into the system… Used the same way their mothers were, and in turn, they’ll have children of their own… It’s a disgusting cycle. If I could see the man you spoke to, I’d crack his skull into a thousand pieces.”
“Did you have a chance to look him up?” John asked, “He’s a Neko. He should be registered.”
“Nothing… System says he doesn’t exist.”
“How could a Neko just vanish like that?”
Captain Richards flicked a section of ash from his smoke. “You remember that attack on the NRM building? It’s possible it happened there. How? I don’t know…”
“Did you manage to get anyone else?” John asked.
“We made a few arrests, but none of them were Neko. I think most of them were unaware. Maybe a few weren’t, but they're long gone. Your ‘boy’ made sure they got away.”
“Servo’s been long disabled.”
John cursed. “This is a Coolage facility. How the fuck they let this go?”
“This area is under my jurisdiction… How the fuck did men of mine not report hearing gunfire? Easy. There are turncoats amongst us. Amongst Coolage. Who knows how large this runs…? If what you told me is true, this Revival runs deep.” Captain Richards tossed his cigarette to the ground and stepped it out. Even it did nothing to calm his mind. Nothing could put his mind at ease, so he opted to change the subject. “How’s your arm?”
John lifted it. A slight pain shot through it, but the painkillers administered by the police medic were taking effect. “I’ve had worse.”
“I took one to the throat one time. Granted it nicked me, but there was a lot of blood.” John’s contentment over being shot did nothing to put Captain Richard’s at ease. In fact, it weirded him out more than anything. “I got to give Coolage credit. Their drugs can do wonders.”
“You need to take it easy,” Captain Richards demanded, “No more of this, John. Let the police handle this now. You and Elle have done enough.”
John shook his head. “Do you think I’ll stand by now?”
“You need to.”
“You admitted your own staff is compromised…”
“And I will deal with that,” Captain Richards said, “You’re a PI, John. This has far gone beyond you. Plus, don’t you think that poor girl has seen enough of this?”
“It’s that poor girl that I’m doing all this for,” John replied, “I think about us, sometimes. Elle’s got real conviction, far more than I think I ever did. Far more than you.”
“It’s that conviction that worries me.”
John was shocked. “Why? Cause she’s a Neko?”
“If we’re dealing with Neko terrorists, then what stops her from changing her tune?” Captain Richards asked. Looking back at Elle, the girl currently helping the officers with the children despite the cuts and bruises, her torn outfit, the mud and grime, Captain Richards could hardly believe his own words.
“I’m being careful. Please, John, stand down. Help her stand down. Don’t make this difficult for us.” John offered no response, not that Captain Richards thought he would. He could see it in the PI’s face. He could hear it in Elle’s voice. No, there would be nothing he could do. “I’m going to place you two in protections for the next few days.”
John glared at him. “Seriously? For what reason?”
“If this Sal Regis knows your faces and who you are, there’s nothing to say he won’t try something,” Captain Richards explained, though from everything John told him, he doubted it. No, there was another reason, which John latched onto.
“You’re keeping us ‘protected’ from ourselves.”
“I’m sorry, John. Your work here is done.”
“What do I tell Elle?”
Captain Richards shrugged. “Whatever you need to. When this all blows over, I’ll give the girl a damn medal if she wants…”
That was the last thing she would want, but John didn’t expect Richards to know. Looking at Elle, who put on the bravest face for those children, trying to laugh and keep their minds off their situation, John knew she wouldn’t accept this lying down. He expected an argument. This was the girl who went behind his back more than once for this case. She’d go behind Richard’s back too.
“What do you mean we’re stuck here?” Elle shouted in the lobby of the hotel. Her sudden outburst caused the already tense situation to up itself that much more. The few patrons, gawking at the sudden police presence, and the hotel staff, exasperated given the situation, turned their attention to her. With all eyes on her, Elle quieted down and muttered, “This isn’t fair.”
“Nothing needs to be fair,” Captain Richards said. He had just been speaking with the hotel owner and produced two keycards. He handed John both of them. “You’ll be staying here for the next few days while we clean everything up. There will be a detail on your room.” He targeted that last bit right at Elle. John was already fully aware of what this meant.
Seeing Elle welling up with frustration, he did his best to calm her. “We’re a known entity to the Revival now, and the police have no indication of who this Sal is. We could be in danger.”
“If they find Amber, they’ll find him,” Elle snapped, “Have you checked around some of the clubs? What about any of the bars?”
“We are doing everything in our power right now,” Captain Richards assured, “John’s already given us a few tips, and we are looking for your Neko friend.”
Elle scowled at John. “You’re ok with this?”
What was John supposed to say? “I understand why it’s happening.”
“That’s not being ok…”
“It doesn’t matter if you are or not,” Captain Richards hissed. Elle went to challenge him further, but the Captain stood firm. With crossed arms, he talked over her. “If you don’t want to think of this as protecting you, you can think of it as house arrest. I can count on one hand the number of laws you both broke tonight.”
That silenced Elle though not unnecessarily willing. She looked to John for some sort of defense, a witty response or a piece of wisdom that would put Richards in his place. Instead, he said to her, “Elle, I’m injured. Your clothes are a mess. We’re both wet and cold. There’s nothing else to say.”
“Every second we’re standing here, the Revival could be prepping something. We still don’t know what the big one meant.”
“Every second you argue is one less second the police have to figure all that out,” John reasoned, “Give it up, Elle. We’re done here. This is so far beyond our territory at this point. The Airyard was miles past the fence. We’re in another country right now…”
The wind left Elle’s sails. All her fire and passion was extinguished with a few words. John was just glad to see calm down for a moment. He hated beating her down like that, but at this point, there was no other option. He asked, “How long are we under this protection for?”
“Two days to start but could be longer,” Captain Richards replied, “You are allowed to use the hotel amenities, under supervision, but you are not allowed to leave. If you need anything, ask one of my men. They’ll be able to get you anything you want, within reason. Any questions?” Again, his last comment was directed at Elle. She offered him nothing. “Good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have some terrorist to catch.”
With the majority of the police gone from the hotel, John and Elle were led up to the 7th floor by the two detail officers assigned to them. Both were human and tried to make small talk. John played along, but Elle remained tight-lipped and angry. Room 707 was to be her prison, and upon arriving, John thanked the officers for their time and ushered Elle inside.
Captain Richards at least put them up in a decent place. The District 7 hotel, what someone might consider 3 stars, attempted to appear luxurious and modern. A faux wood floor demanded an extra scrub down, and the dresser and TV stand appeared to be far older than the room itself. It was bright, however, with white lights, and the two beds looked soft. John tested it, and with a bit of force, it sank inward: a fair softness. Elle pulled back the curtain to the window, where the Yorktown sky was partially obscured by thick, steel bars. With a groan of frustration, she dropped into a meshed back “office chair” leaned up against a small desk. She began fiddling with the light: on and off, on and off.
After adjusting the air down, John flipped through a large book, adorned with the hotel’s name, on one of the beds. “They got room service here if you’re interested. Not sure about you, but I’m starving.” Elle didn’t say anything. “The doc told me I should get some food in me. The painkillers and stuff work better on a full stomach.” He held up the arm that had been shot. “Amazing what a bit of medicine can do. You’d hardly know.”
John riffled through any tactics that could get her to speak, smile at least, but a knock on the door pulled him from those thoughts. Answering it, one of the two officers asked if there was anything the two of them needed. Considering their state, John was tired of his damp clothes.
“Hey, Elle, you need anything?” he asked, knowing full well that she did. When she offered nothing more than a shrug and a grunt, he went further, “Clothes? Pajamas. The officers will get whatever it is. I mean… you don’t want to be sitting around in that, do you?” He pointed at her current state of dress. Elle’s skirt was torn along the hem, creating a jagged and frayed edge. There was a clear tear in her blouse and several smaller holes.
John sighed and said to the guard, “Maybe just some stuff for a lady? I don’t know… Oh, and well, something for me too.” John listed a few things that he’d like, and the officer assured he’d “do his best” for Elle, knowing that he didn’t know anything about sizes or what she liked. Oh well…
With the door shut, John kept talking, “Man, I don’t know about you, but I am soaked to the bone. I cannot wait to get out of these. We’ll catch a cold if we’re not careful.” As John spoke, Elle sat up and walked over to John. He continued to ramble as she neared, eyes widening as she stood next to him, in his face. She was a head shorter, but that didn’t prevent her from winding up her hand and slapping John straight across the face.
He shut right up. She sneered, “How can you be so calm…?”
John held his cheek; it burned hot from where she struck him. It had been… a few years since he’d been hit like that… never by a woman either. “What was that for?”
“Because I’m sick of you talking!” Elle said, “Sick of listening to all this like nothing is wrong. We’ve discovered everything; the police have done shit, John. Why are we being treated like common criminals here? Why are you ok with it?”
“Because there’s nothing else for us to do, Elle,” John replied, “We’ve lost, you and me. Do I… Do I look in a state to deal with this? I got shot. We have no leads. No idea where this Sal even is. And don’t say Amber. We have no idea if anything she told us was in good faith. It could have been a setup this entire time.”
“She wasn’t lying… I could tell.”
“Evidence, Elle? You’re not a detective! You’re not a cop. You’re a secretary. You read detective novels. None of that qualifies you as an expert.” John stepped to the other side of the room, rubbing his eyes with a full hand. “What’s your plan? Bust out of here and go take on the whole Revival. You got no weapons, not even a knife. No car. Can you even drive? I mean your skirt’s short enough now that you might be able to distract someone for a bit. Doubt that’ll take you far.”
Elle struck him again, taken aback by John’s harsh words. She knew he would push back, wanting him to so she could speak her mind, but this was different. He was like everyone else. Looking down on her. Treating her like a child. Elle fought to push down her growing anger. She wanted to hit him a third time.
Realizing he perhaps went too far, John took a deep breath to calm himself. “I’m sorry… That was a bit uncalled for.”
“It was!” She fired back through gritted teeth. “I don’t get it. I don’t get you, John. When you hired me, I thought you were in business to help people. I don’t get how you can ignore it now. So, you know what, take your Seritil or whatever else you need to sleep at night and feel better about yourself.” Elle pulled open the desk drawer, yanking out a small notepad and a pen. She jotted down a few things and knocked on the door. The officer opened it, and Elle passed him the slip of paper. “Hi. I know that he already left, but it be great if you guys could get me these. Sorry it took a moment.”
The officer took the paper. “I’ll radio him. Should make things easier.” Elle thanked him, shut the door, and threw herself into one of the beds.
An hour later, their errand boy returned with most of what they asked for. John was able to shower and change into a flannel pair of pants and t-shirt. He also had a new button down and pair of slacks for the following morning. Elle pulled in multiple bags, far more than John had asked for. His mouth nearly dropped as she began tossing more than just clothes on the bed: shampoos, conditioners, deodorant, the whole mess of things. When she saw him watching, she rolled her eyes.
While Elle showered, John bit into a burger he ordered up to the room. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was until the smell of food tickled his senses. He had offered to give her something, but Elle refused again. A bowl of soup waited for her instead; John ordered it just in case.
After a few more minutes and John having taken the last bite of his meal, Elle stepped out from the bathroom. Her blonde hair was damp, as it had been after the rainstorm, but this time, it looked cleaned and taken care of. She wore a black robe, tied tight around her waist. Seeing John sitting at the edge of the bed, the fragments of a burger littered in a cardboard tray, Elle felt and heard her stomach protest. She plopped down at the desk, eyeing the bowl of soup covered by a plastic lid.
Her stomach cried out again, and Elle yanked the soup over to her, digging into it with the plastic spoon that was a touch too small. Broth dribbled down her chin; John passed her a napkin. He smirked. “I could have got you something more?”
“Shut up…” Elle muttered as she went back to her meal. It was gone before she knew it, and Elle sat back, frustrated that she was still hungry and there wasn’t anything else. With her mind still hovering on dinner but also John sitting there, Elle began to feel the awkwardness sink in. She was in a robe with nothing but a pair of black panties underneath. In her frustration and anger, her mind being everywhere else, she hadn’t even thought to do something different.
“This is awkward…”
“You stayed with me in my apartment once already.”
“That was awkward too…”
“Well, if I can help, I can always request they bring me up an Injector,” John explained, “I can’t sleep anyway without it, but I can always take some Seritil. That should put you at-”
“I don’t want you to take drugs…” Elle said, “I don’t get why you took it anyways. You dodged my questions earlier.”
“It really wasn’t the time.”
Elle crossed her arms. “Well, we don’t have anything else going on.” Elle felt her chest thump. She became nervous, scared almost, of what he might say. “Why did you take it?”
John’s deep sigh carried throughout the room. “I… it’s hard to say. I don’t have an immediate answer, but I did it, I think, because I wanted you to feel safe.”
“I didn’t even know you took it until after you fell asleep…”
“Then I wanted to feel safe.” John gazed out the barred window as he gathered his thoughts. He truly was trapped. “In that moment, when I saw you apart from the work and the hustle and bustle, I saw a different Elle. You were… well… are… beautiful, and I didn’t know what to do or think. So, I calmed my mind.” Elle still seemed confused, lost at the situation. John tried to clarify. “I don’t want you to think you were in any danger with me: then or now. I just… I couldn’t think like that. I didn’t want to think like that.”
“Then it is true… This is all because you were attracted to me…”
John shook his head. “Absolutely not. I hired you because you were passionate, something that you’ve proven time and time again. I don’t regret bringing you along on Amber’s case.”
“But after you took the-”
“I know what I said after I took the Seritil. I also took two other drugs. Whatever I said back there, that you should stay behind, I was wrong. I was very wrong.” John smiled at her. “If you ask me, I think you have everything that it takes to be a good PI. You’re inquisitive. Smart. Deceptive even. You’re everything that I wanted to be when all this started. No, before I opened my office, back when I wanted to become an officer.”
“Why aren’t you a cop then?” Elle asked, “Richards knows you quite a bit. Even that Captain in the Uppercity knew who you were… One of the officers who arrested me too.”
John figured, at some point, this would all come up. He had prepared for it, but still struggled with the idea of sharing it. Elle stared him down; there would be no escaping it either. “I washed out shortly after the academy.”
“There has to be more than that…”
“Yeah… Of course there is.” John went quiet for a moment, leaning back on too flat pillows that did little to support him. “When I became an officer, my sole goal was to help others. I grew up in the Undercity; I saw what Nekos went through. I saw what my own parents went through. I thought if I became an officer, I could do some real good. I had a friend, a Neko, when I was 10. He was a pretty cool kid. We’d play soccer in the streets. Well, one day, he just never came home. Not a word as to why. I always knew my parents understood what happened. They wouldn’t say, even if I asked. Do you want to know what I learned, Elle, many years later?”
She nodded, and John continued, “His family was killed, him included. They got caught up in gang violence, owed a little bit of money to the seedy underbelly. Well, their dues came. They couldn’t pay. And, they were Nekos. I learned that the day after I graduated from the academy. There was an old, solved, but long forgotten case with their family’s name on it. No one cared much about it.”
“There was nothing I could do… Every day, every attempt to help someone ended with apathy at best or targeted hatred at worst. What are police to be if not protectors yet so many of us used our powers for self gain and preservation. Everyday became a fight to survive: eat or be eaten by the force around you. There were other cases; one’s I could have easily prevented. I didn’t. I needed to survive. Just like I needed to survive when I first started a PI. That’s the thing Elle; I washed out on purpose. I left the force to help, and in the end, all I could do was eat and eat and eat. Anything to survive.”
“I think you made the right choice,” Elle said, “If the force wasn’t what you believed in or were led to believe they were, you shouldn’t stick around.”
“That’s the thing, Elle,” John continued, “It was no longer about what I believed. Beliefs and ideals pale to reason and truth. Even as a PI, I feast on Yorktown the same way the police, the politicians, and the gangs do.” He sat up, reached out to Elle and cupped her cheek with his hand. Her eyes were shimmering, moist with life. “If I were to ask anything of you right now, it would be that you never lose your spark. Please. For me.”
It was a difficult task to request of her. How could one, broken as John would describe himself, put such a pressure upon Elle? She wanted to scream. The very concept of giving up who and what she was, what she believed in, what she understood, felt like such a bastardization of self that she could melt into an non-existing puddle. She placed her hand on John’s, still resting against her cheek.
And immediately pulled it away, getting right into John’s face. “Then why are we sitting here!?”
“Why did I know you were going to say that…” John muttered, “I thought we were having a moment of some type.”
“A moment?” Elle pulled back, realizing her jump upwards had loosened her robe. She quickly tightened it again; her face turned slightly red.
“Yeah… Like master and student sorta thing. We come to an equal footing about our beliefs and past. Granted… you haven’t really shared anything.”
Elle frowned. “Oh… I figured this was more of a blossoming partnership…”
“That can be considered.” John smiled, and Elle’s eyes lit right up. “So, Miss Detective, what’s the plan then? We still don’t have any leads.”
“We do though!” Elle cheered, “Coolage Group themselves. That Airyard is theirs. Those men were wearing their uniforms. They have to be aware.”
“You don’t know much about big business then…”
He nodded. “No, I hear you. It’s a smart move. The question becomes who do we talk to? There’s no way we can get in to see the CEO. Unless…” John dug through his memories for something they could use. “I don’t have access to the CEO. I do have access to a VP though.”
“You do?” Elle covered her mouth as she realized she was shouting.
“Sort of…” John replied, “My previous secretary, her cousin is a one of the VPs at Coolage. We interviewed him for another case where Coolage had some heavy involvement. Granted, it was a stonewall, where I can imagine where this will go. It will get us in their offices. In the morning…” John looked at the clock; it was well past 2am, and even with Coolage being a 24-hour facility, no VP would want to meet with them.
“Tomorrow it is!” Elle said, “I… uh… if you can distract them, I’ll do some sleuthing.”
“Do you know anything about sleuthing?”
Elle gave a thumbs up. “I’ve read it in a detective novel!” Yeah… there was no way that was going to work the way she thought. John couldn’t judge her passion though.
“The real obstacle now is getting out of here,” John muttered, “Those cops aren’t going anywhere.”
Elle simply smirked. “Leave that one to me too.”
Please log in to leave a comment.