Elle sat alone on a single bench in the Yorktown District 16 station. The only public train was out of the Uppercity, and with the attack from two months ago, many had done their best to temporarily or permanently leave Yorktown. Even those protected in the Uppercity were soured, fearing what could come next or if they would be the second target.
The time read 4:34; the next train was set to leave in twenty minutes. It would hover along a float rail system to Boston, which seemed to be welcoming tourists and refugees from Yorktown with glee. Coolage took advantage of the situation, offering “relocation” programs for those that wanted a change. Tourism package sales jumped 200% in the last month. There was genuine concern for the economy of Yorktown, but Coolage had a plan. Elle was sure of it.
The loading platform bustled with people of all types, mostly humans but few Nekos too. Elle arrived early to wait, choosing a bench that watched the security checkpoint. She clutched her ticket in her hand, waiting for one specific person to come through. Amber’s train would be the 4:50 one.
As another minute clicked by, a beautiful Neko in a green dress stepped through security after a heavy search. She wore a large hat that covered her ears; her tail was tucked away under her dress. If Elle hadn’t known, she would have figured her human. It was… sometimes a necessity. Many Nekos hid who they were. It kept them safe for the moment.
Elle rose from the bench to meet Amber. To say she was surprised to see the PI’s assistant, wearing a black polka dot dress, ears and tail uncovered, was wrong. Amber expected this, and she felt compelled to stop.
“I said I never wanted to see you again,” Amber said, almost out of obligation.
“I know. I wanted to see you off regardless. I thought… it was right.”
Behind her, Amber wheeled along a single suitcase. It carried not a quarter of what she owned, but it was all she could bring. “Is there something you need to say?”
“Then, I think we’re done here.”
“No… wait…” Elle said as Amber began to move past her. “Are you going to Boston? Do you have what you need?”
“Further north,” Amber explained, “Up to the coast. What they used to call New England.” Elle expected it to end there, but Amber did not move on. Instead, she asked, “What about you?”
“I’m staying in Yorktown.”
“Is that safe?”
“Everyday is a risk to safety. From walking down the street to waking up. I’ll be fine.”
“What about your promise to John?”
It was still a difficult name to hear. “John… isn’t here anymore. I got to make my own decisions on this stuff. I’m supposed to stay in Yorktown. It’s the right thing.”
“For what reason?” Amber asked, “They’ve cracked down. You can hardly live as a Neko without getting stopped for papers or harassed. It only got worse two weeks ago when the news ran that damning report on the Revival…” Amber hung her head in shame. “To think how I was a part of it…”
“You had no idea. Sal never told you.”
“Don’t you say his name…”
Elle apologized and said, “If I leave Yorktown, I can’t help the Nekos who are stuck here. That's why I’m staying.”
“You’re a fool then…”
“I’ll risk being a fool.”
Amber fought back her emotions. “There is a part of me that wants to congratulate you. Then, I remember you shot Sal… I remember him looking at me with those defeated eyes. We were kids, damn it… I remember being kids. That wasn’t the same man. Sal is… my Sal is still out there. Damn it, Elle Brockman, I hate you, but at the same time, I can’t help but be shocked by you. You’re an enigma to me.”
“He was your friend. I don’t expect you to be ok with what happened.”
Amber sighed. “You were trying to save John… I get that.” She paused and looked at her feet. “It doesn’t mean I don’t hate you for taking that from me. I guess this is it then.” She held a hand out to Elle, a sort of olive branch for a moment. “Good luck to you, Elle. I don’t have anything else to say but that. And I hope to never see you again.”
Elle shook her hand. “If, maybe, you ever find yourself back in Yorktown, I’d love to take you to dinner. Even if you hate me.”
“I won’t be back,” Amber muttered, grabbing hold of her suitcase and stepping up onto the train platform. Amber vanished into a throng of people as she boarded, never to be seen in Yorktown again.
Elle stayed and watched until the doors to the train shut, and the announcement was made to clear the loading area. On her way out, Elle crinkled up her ticket and tossed it into the closest wastebasket. She used it to get in, but there would be no need for that. At least, not any time soon.
With more crowds funneling into the station than exiting, Elle made her way out to the lot where her CX-7 was parked. The police finally released it from the impound though it took a bit of convincing and a favor from Captain Richards. Elle could count on both hands the number of “favors” granted to her. It was daunting the payback. Seated in her vehicle, a blue light flashed on the dash. Someone tried to call her, and Elle figured she knew who. She called the number back.
“Captain Richards,” the gruff voice on the other end of the line answered.
“Calling you back,” Elle replied, “Funny thing. I was just thinking how you and I have this little give and take thing going on.”
“Don’t make it a thing…” Captain Richards grumbled, “Keeping you out of jail has been tiring enough. I don’t need any other headaches from you.”
“Well, thank you for the car at least.”
“You’re welcome…” Captain Richards almost sounded bashful on the other end. “I didn’t call for pleasantries. Did the girl make her way out of Yorktown?”
“Train just left. Amber’s gone.”
“Good… I’ve had my bosses breathing down my neck to bring her in for questioning.”
“I can tell them anything she could,” Elle said, “I mean, maybe not on the inner workings of the Revival, but Amber didn’t know that either. State that on my life.”
“I’m taking a risk by believing your word on that. You better be right.”
“I know I’m right.” Elle started up the CX-7 and took off from the parking spot. “How long you planning on using me with this stuff? I can only play around with the police for so long before I need to make some money of my own.”
“How long do you want to stay out of jail? The list of crimes I could pin on you is, well, impressive to say the least. Besides, we’re paying your agency for the service. This isn’t charity work.”
Elle frowned. “Barely…”
“No sass! I got you the car back, didn’t I. Just keep helping out where I ask.” Captain Richards muttered something on the other end. Elle barely picked it up: “Call this a last favor to John.”
“You really do like me!”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Captain Richards fired, “Tomorrow, 9am, I need you at the precinct to speak with some of the Nekos we picked up. Understood?”
Elle clicked off the call and took a deep sigh. For the last two months, she’d been Captain Richards little lap cat, assisting with the criminal cleanup after the Revival’s stunt. Easily, the police arrested over 500 hundred that night, and the questioning process devoured police resources. Not everyone was involved with the Revival, and fishing out the cells was a struggle. Those that were caught or confessed would meet a terrible fate.
Elle did everything to prevent that from happening.
It was right under Captain Richards nose too. The very man that kept her out of jail for murder, retrieved John’s old car for her, and even looked past a far number of other “issues” from that night. In a way, she betrayed him, maybe even John. This was her decision though. The police’s way, Coolage’s way, would only continue to generate hate and animosity. Another Sal would appear. There was no guarantee that he wouldn’t be more fanatical, more violent, than the previous. Elle could not live to see that again.
Paperwork was changed. Lies were generated during interrogations. Elle assured that those things kept Nekos out of jail, even ones that may deserve it. Not everyone could be saved. Some were quick to incriminate themselves; some yearned to become the martyr that the Undercity rumblings spoke of. A nameless face… Sal Regis never escaped their lips. The police had kept a tight lid on that one.
Those that were spared were quick to flee the city to find a better life elsewhere. One day, Elle would join them. For now, Yorktown was home. She was happy with that.
Elle should be heading back to District 4, checking the case files for something that would keep the lights on. Instead, she pulled off into District 8 and parked the CX-7 along the road. Since the attack, the price of energy skyrocketed. She could not stay long. Elle headed down the steps into Art’s Speakeasy.
John mentioned this place a lot, but Elle had never been. He loved it. Talked about getting drinks and whatnot. He almost talked about it as much as the dozen local Mexican places that all served similar tasting tacos. John would roll in his grave at that thought. Elle couldn’t tell the difference.
She stepped up to the raggedy bar counter, where the owner, who she assumed was Art, tended to bottle along in the center. It would be another hour or two before the real patrons would arrive, but Art was thankful for the early customer. Strangely, it was a Neko. Reminded him of that Neko who wandered in not long ago, before all of Yorktown went to hell.
“How’s it going,” he greeted, “Heads up. Supplies been short. The attack’s really jolted the supply chain, you know. I only got a few beers or some spirits.”
“That is fine,” Elle assured, “I’ll have whatever you had on top.” She racked her brain for what John used to drink. “A Shteps Light?”
Art turned to her. “Sorry, honey… That’s one I’m fresh outta.”
“Oh… I won’t lie. I’m not a big drinker so…”
Art reached for a glass and poured her something. The golden beer filled the glass, leaving the perfect amount of head. He set the drink in front of Elle and with a grin, said, “Regular Shteps. Not much better than Light, but the taste is similar.”
Elle thanked him and took a swig. Her face twisted with disgust. “Oh god… it’s bitter…”
“Shteps is,” Art replied with a laugh, “Why’d you order a Light if you don’t like it?”
“A friend really liked it.” Elle forced more of the beer down.
“Lots of people do. I had one regular who really liked the Light stuff. Been a bit since I’ve seen him.”
Elle asked, “John Darcy?”
“Heh, not the one I was thinking of, but yeah, he liked Shtep’s Light too,” Art said, “Been a minute since he’d been in too. Hope he’s well. You know him then?”
“We go back a bit,” Elle replied, “Figured I’d have a drink, you know, for him.” She held up the glass and smiled. Art realized what she said. He lowered his head, filled an empty glass with Shteps about a quarter of the way.
“Was it during the attack?”
Elle nodded. “Yeah. Unfortunately. I’m, uh, his assistant. Or I was. I guess you could say I’m taking the business over. Or, I’m going to try to.”
“Ah! He mentioned a Neko secretary.” Art snapped his fingers a few times as he fought to recall the name. “Edna?”
“Well, got the ‘e’ right…”
“You were close enough.” Elle wasn’t upset. This was, after all, their first meeting. It would most likely be their last too, but for a moment, Elle felt one with John. She raised her glass. “To John!”
Art followed suit. “To Mr. Darcy.”
Elle returned to the Darcy Investigation offices in District 4. It had only been a month and a half since she took over, but the changes were already apparent. First, Elle opted to update the sign. The plaque on the door, reading Darcy Investigations, now sported the text Darcy and Brockman Investigations. When she received the updated plaque in the mail, excitement and emotion welled up inside of her. To see her name on that plaque… those were the things she dreamed of. Even given the circumstances. Exciting… but sobering.
She spruced the inside up, replacing some of the older furniture with stylish updates. Granted, she paid a quarter of what it was worth, being used and all, but the clients didn’t need to know that. Gone was the clutter and collection obtained by John over the years. The air was finally fresh, and the floor vacuumed. Elle lit a candle, and soon, the sweet smell of oranges filled the offices.
The real challenge had been moving in, giving up her old apartment. John’s old office now served as her bedroom, and Elle had set up a small sitting area just outside the door. The open area seemed more fitting to meet with clients than a small office. Plus, without her apartment, she needed somewhere to sleep. She didn’t necessarily want to give it up, but without the steady income, it was difficult to keep it going. Consolidating made sense.
This was Elle’s home. Just like Yorktown would be. As long as the Darcy and Brockman name remained on that plaque, she was going to be here, helping anyone that came through that door, at least, when she wasn’t stuck working with Captain Richards.
Over the next few hours, Elle rearranged the office, moving furniture, cleaning here and there, trying to get it to a point that she was happy and her clients would be happy too. No one had walked through the door yet… not a surprise given what was going on in the world. Elle hoped that would change soon, especially since the bank accounts began to tick downwards at an alarming rate.
Then, there was a knock at the door. Elle perked up, setting down the potted plant that she was debating where to put it. A client? Or the police looking for something? Please be the first. Straightening out her dress and fixing her hair, Elle answered the door. She expected to see someone at her eye level. Instead, the hall appeared empty until Elle glanced down.
A young Neko, no older than 10, stood in the doorway. She was dressed sloppily, green overalls that were smudged with oil, with her hair tossed into a loose ponytail. Her big eyes shimmered with fearful dampness. Her mouth opened, but no words came out.
“Can I help you?” Elle asked.
The girl fidgeted, rubbing her fingers together in an anxious motion. She stuttered through her words. “Ar-r-re you a PI?”
Elle smiled. “I am!” Elle glanced out into the hall. “Where are your parents?”
“I don’t know!” the girl yelled, “I was told a PI could help me!”
Elle smiled. “Well, I might be able to do that. Would you like to step inside? We can go over the ‘case’.”
The girl reached into her pocket. She pulled out a few bills and offered them to Elle. “This is what I have.”
“We can talk about that later.”
There was no way Elle would charge her. She held the door open, and the young Neko stepped inside. As Elle shut the door, the plaque caught her eye: Darcy and Brockman Investigations. Really, to her, it read “hope”. Yes, this was what that plaque was about. Hope. A better future.
Those were things Elle could stand for.
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