Chapter One: The Client
“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do, and what is right to do.”
“What do you wanna do for dinner?”
“I dunno, takeout?”
“You always want takeout.”
“Why’d you ask, then?”
She hesitated in the lobby.
The small business tower had a menagerie of forgettable offices inside it, and one restaurant that seemed mediocre at best when she’d passed it on the previous floor. Despite the bland photography studio, small time law office, and other unassuming businesses the building itself wasn’t horrible or even underwhelming. It was all wood paneling and gold trim, and while she was sure it was all fake painted materials, it looked nice enough she didn’t feel ashamed or in danger walking in.
The elevator took her up, though to the wrong floor by her own mistake. She’d double-checked her phone while standing outside the closing down cafe-styled restaurant, sighing at the misread information on the saved messages. The office she wanted was on the fifth floor, not the fourth. Taking the stairs quickly, she clacked her way up less than subtly. Thankfully no one else was around to hear at that hour, though it was precisely the lack of people around to blame for why her heels against every step seemed deafeningly loud.
On the fifth floor the elevators let out to a small lobby that took two halls outward. She took the right one by chance, clutching her purse tighter with nervousness every inch closer to the end of the hall. It opened into a wider lobby after a turn, the elevator out of direct sight offering a loose sense of privacy to the plain chairs set against the wall. She wasn’t sure if she was surprised or not to see it empty. It was late out, but what other time of day did people go by a place like this? Biting her lip, she shifted weight foot to foot and coped with the second thoughts swift to bubble up.
Around the tense quiet of her own inner conflict, voices could vaguely be heard through the heavy-looking double doors. A man and a woman, casual-toned enough at first all she could make out was the fact there were indeed voices from inside. Was there already someone here? Was she supposed to wait in one of the chairs? A glance around confirmed the already obvious- there was no secretary, or even a desk to suggest one would ever be there. Edging closer, she considered knocking before stopping short and instead listening in. Surely she could tell better what to do by if it sounded like a meeting or idle chatter.
“What about Littleneck?” The male voice suggested.
Quiet followed, before he spoke again. “Ramen Yebisu?”
And again, “Bianca?”
At last, the woman responded. “Pretty sure they closed down.”
“Whaaat?” The man whined. A brief lapse of quiet ensued.
Outside, she rose her hand to knock but hesitated again.
Online, she hadn’t been able to gather much about Milton. Someone had suggested the name in a question she’d posted about good local detectives. Searching ‘Milton’ had been less than helpful, and asking around had gotten her little outside a flood of ‘idk’. The few people who did say anything only attested to quality service, though none of them elaborated on what jobs exactly they’d asked for. She could kind of understand that, considering what she was seeking help for. Still.. The best she’d gotten was a private message. An address. And the advice to ‘not do anything stupid’. Whatever the hell that was even supposed to mean.
Was knocking stupid? Was she interrupting something? It sounded inane enough, but..
“What do you feel like, then?” The guy started once more from beyond the door.
She grit her teeth. It was now or never. If knocking was stupid, she’d just explain there was no way of knowing from outside. Surely even this professional detective Milton person would understand that much, right? Gathering as much resolve as she had in the moment, she knocked hard and clear twice before quickly retreating her hand away. The conversation beyond fell quiet, and the more seconds that ticked by without sound the more her stomach knotted in panicking apprehension.
“Come in.” The woman called from inside.
Retreated hands returned to the door, pushing. It was heavier than it looked, and she fought with it for just a moment until it cracked enough to slip into the office. Most readily, the first thing she noticed was a table in the far corner. It had only one chair with it, which was currently occupied by a young man. He smiled as she slipped inside, and while she tried to return the expression her attention fell right away on a standout scar across his face from temple to cheek, narrowly missing his right eye. Afraid of staring, attention was eagerly pulled off him and set on the rest of the room.
It wasn’t very wide, but it stretched back a decent ways, the entire back wall nothing but floor to ceiling windows. The view was as beautiful as it was almost nauseating at such a height. The late hour offered little light from the windows, hence the feint hum of overhead fluorescence. For a moment that was nearly all the sound there was, as she came to stare at the single desk in the room and the figure behind it.
Quickly, she turned her head. Glancing back questioningly to the young man at the side table.
“I’m.. sorry.” She started, audibly confused. This couldn’t be the right place. That couldn’t be..
“Is this..?” A detective agency?
Was the blonde young man lounging at the table supposed to be Milton? He wasn’t what she’d expected. His features were smooth despite the scar, a little too soft to be traditionally handsome, but too hard in the nose and jaw to be anything she’d call pretty, either. The undercut style to his hair was modern, youthful, and his clothes matched from the jeans tucked into workboots to the loose suit blazer layered over a grey hoodie. A bit ridiculously, she realized she’d expected more the images from the movies- some forty-something year old man with stubble and a cigarette, in a brown trenchcoat and trilby.
But even he was a better option than the person at the desk.
The one there, the woman she’d heard earlier, was really more a girl than anything. Small, rounded features emphasized a laughably young look. Suggesting perhaps they were roughly the same age- seventeen. She had short brown hair, cropped like a boy’s would be. She too lacked any traditional detective motif, wearing instead a simple dark green turtleneck with a black coat draped over the back of her office chair.
“Looking for Milton?” The girl behind the desk asked, snapping the would-be client’s attention back from staring at the young man who had yet to do anything other than smile passively at her.
“Yes, I..” The words were a sigh. Relief that went as soon as it came. The girl using that name meant she was looking in the right place, didn’t it? But if that were the case.. Again, she drifted her gaze back to the man at the table. “I’m sorry, are you..?” She hesitated to ask, hoping less for confirmation since that much seemed obvious, and more an explanation. Why was he letting the girl sit at his desk? (Little sister? Daughter? No, she was young but so was he. So it had to be his sister.) All he did was quirk his smile a touch wider before shaking his head just slightly at her.
“I am.” The girl at the desk spoke up, sharp and firm.
In spite of her own looks, she commanded attention easily with just those two words. Her posture had shifted in the time the visitor had looked away, and when eyes snapped back onto her she was leaning over her desk with hands neatly intertwined.
“Have a seat,” Milton offered, motioning to the two chairs in front of her desk.
“And let’s see if you can get through telling me why you’re here without stammering again.”