Milton's Detective Agency , 3

Chapter Three: Cain

“When I am with you, we stay up all night.

When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.

Praise God for those two insomnias!

And the difference between them.”

-Jalaluddin Rumi


“Not very nice of you.”

He’d waited until the girl left, and the office remained quiet in her wake. ‘Milton’ didn’t look up from her phone, tapping away at something there. Her motions weren’t rapid or spread enough to suggest typing. Likely one of the games she had on there, then. Something to take the edge off after an annoying meeting. Cain watched, but when it was clear she had no intention of responding, he continued with a sigh.

“Upcharging her just because she doesn’t understand-”

“Is how we make money.” The brunette grumbled, glaring at her phone. It wasn’t irritation at him, he knew. Something going wrong in her game. Thus, disregarded.

“You and I both know there’s not enough in her to be lucrative, even if you found a way to charge a hotel’s stay somehow.” Slipping his own phone out to check the time, he left Milton to grunt passively and pay more mind to her game as he moved back to his table. There were a few scattered papers there, remnants of another case he was going over in spare time. Collecting all the papers and printed photos neatly, he brought the folder back over and gently pushed Milton’s chair to get her out of the way of a drawer he needed. Filing it away and locking the drawer after, he came yet again to stand by her side and look down at her.

“It’s closing time.” He informed, sliding hands into coat pockets.

“Come on, let’s get dinner out somewhere.”

Unsurprisingly, she was easy to uproot from the office, but far less so to distract from the game. All through shutting things down, locking up, and heading to the elevator her attention stayed on her phone. Cain noticed in passing glances as he moved around her to handle everything a familiar screen. Some guild event was going on, and as the timer ticked down ‘Milton’ stayed absorbed in the colorful battle. Given that she only played it to relax around work and keep connected to an old friend, he didn’t complain. Rather, he held the door and locked up as she stood silent in the lobby. It was a repeated courtesy, at the stairwell and building’s front door. Then again in the parking garage down the street, after he checked the vehicle over for safety.

Despite leaving work, and thus ‘Milton’, behind- it didn’t mean those who held grudges would keep attacks to office hours. A regrettable fact. Cain held the passenger door open, waiting for her to slink in still deep in her game before shutting it and crossing around to the driver’s side. In the quiet confines of the car, it was hard to see her as anyone but Ashley.

Work was behind them. A new client and her case still buzzed at the back of his mind, and he had no doubts it would come up over dinner. But it was all a distanced, detached thing. They were not Milton and Matagot in that car. From the moment the office was locked up and the cold winter air on their faces, they were free to be other things. Untraceable as anyone important by anyone who didn’t already know them. Driving to a restaurant he’d picked silently on his own, they arrived not as an informant with a dabbling hobby in investigative work and her partner. Instead, they were just two young people out for dinner together. No clients to worry about, no dangerous job to prep for beyond the front door. Just a smooth walk to a host stand, a shorter journey to a table at the back, and a long sigh of satisfaction as Ashley set her phone down at last.

Cain glanced, catching the ‘Victory’ screen flashing before she shut the screen off and pushed the device aside. He smiled, raising attention to her face smoothly. She looked tired, but not exceptionally so. The face of someone after a long day of hard work, worn but with a certain satisfaction at the edges. If they’d been at home he might have reached to hold her hand for a moment, but as it was he kept to himself so long as the public eye hung around them to any degree.

“Any idea what you want?” He asked idly, flicking eyes back down to his menu as if nothing was amiss. No comment on the phone or game was needed, so none was made. Instead he turned the single page menu over, scanning the wine selection on the back. You could learn a lot about a restaurant based solely on their wine. This one looked anything but subpar.

Ash hummed at first, looking the menu over for the first time with real attention.

“This place is new.” She commented quietly while looking things over, turning to the back just briefly before retreating back to the proper food listings.

“It is.” Cain confirmed, glancing up to see if there was any hint on her face to if that was a good or bad thing. Given the neutrality there, a spark of thoughtfulness over something she was reading but no otherwise notable expression, he assumed it meant nothing. It was just a flat comment, as plenty of things from her were. “I heard about it from a friend.”

At that, she did glance up at him. She stared for a moment, and he pretended not to notice in the periphery of his sight as he faced his menu carefully. Whatever question or comment hung there in that look, she let it go unspoken. Once her gaze returned to her menu he resumed properly reading his. He’d decided on food a while ago, and a drink to go with it. Now was simply a matter of debate over dessert.

Things simmered quiet for a while. He settled on a choice after reading over everything thrice, and by the time his menu was placed face down Ash seemed to have decided as well and handed hers over for him to stack atop it. No sooner than it was all neatly arranged, she was checking her phone off to the side.

His lips twitched in a humorless smile, eyes soft on her even as she was oblivious to his staring. She tapped away at something new, though not as focused, and he recognized the signs of boredom in her easily. Perhaps it had been too much to hope for a nice night out with her full attention, without mentioning work right away.

Withholding a small sigh, his smile grew and he resigned to the tried and true method for earning the young woman’s attention. “Seems off, doesn’t it?” A vague broach. Enough so to have her glancing up, trying to see what he was talking about but finding nothing and thus coming to stare at him directly.

“The girl’s case. Getting in a car right outside his home for an affair seems highly unlikely.”

Ash shrugged dismissively, returning eyes to her phone. Her focus wasn’t lost, however, as words followed directed just to him. Ash’s visual attention was nice, sure. But it was her conversation that proved favor, and so long as he had that it was a comforting assurance she wasn’t bored of his company just yet.

“People are stupid.” She muttered, not sounding at all interested in the girl or the odd case. “Maybe he’s just careless. Thinks because he has money and a big house the wife won’t notice.”

Cain hummed, accepting the theory though not totally agreeing with it.

“Or perhaps it’s not infidelity at all. An open relationship they can’t yet explain to the daughter?” His tone lilted, a half-hopeful half-amused kind of bounce in the words. It was enough to get Ash to snort, grinning brief and slight.

“That seems highly unlikely.”

“Mm, yes. But at least it wouldn’t be boring.”

She smiled wider. The sight of it had him grinning, crooked and charmed. They shared a low, brief laugh before a server coming by had them both simultaneously turning and ceasing conversation.

They did as they always did for dinners together where no work-related guests were expected. Ash chose the appetizer, and Cain the wine. The waiter made a note, and they both waited patiently for him to finish asking if they knew what they wanted to eat before nodding and putting in the full proper orders for dinner. In the end the menus were handed off and the man left, with an evening starting at roasted bone marrow and ending on a note of steak frites and a burger with caramelized onions. A heavy dinner, to say the least, but one well earned after taking a light lunch and spending all day otherwise cooped up in the office with just coffee and ice water.

“So how do you plan to handle it?” Ash started, once the server was out of earshot. At this hour the place was relatively empty, the only other occupants outside staff sitting a few booths down and murmuring quietly to one another. Ash seemed to match the relative volume, eager to keep the conversation just between them.

Cain shrugged, a passive smile on his face and an ease in his posture. He wasn’t worried about it, likely because for someone who motioned like he had no plan, he’d already thought over it enough to not be concerned.

“I’ll see if I can get some local escort agencies to tell me if he’s made any recent purchases. After that, I’ll stake out the house for a repeat performance and go from there.” He sat back in his seat some, and both of them remained quiet as the server came by briefly with their drinks and the requested cabernet sauvignon. It was left open to breathe but remained unpoured, and once again as the necessary intrusion departed they ebbed slowly back into conversation.

“What if he doesn’t do it again at the home?” Ash stayed engaged with her phone even around a sip of her soda and the idle comment. She wasn’t asking out of a lack of faith in him. She hadn’t had a concern about him doing his job in years, and none was starting up now. It was just for conversation’s sake, since talking about work and staying on the same page was more interesting than idle talk of the weather or subway ads.

“I’ll give it three days then pursue other leads during the day while continuing the stakeout during the night.” An obvious answer from him, followed by a just as obvious question from her.

“Will you be able to handle that kind of schedule?”

Things fell briefly quiet. He waited, and when she glanced up from her phone at him they both cracked new grins and let scoffs bleed into small shared laughs. Ash shook her head a bit, humored and relaxed. That time when she returned to her game, he didn’t try to pry her attention back away from it again. She was content to leave it be on that note, and as she tapped away at her game still Cain turned to his own phone for amusement. The pair a few tables down eventually paid their bill and left, and it was with the restaurant entirely to themselves they ate dinner with little noise and even less further conversation.

Often, when one found themselves spending their life with another morning to night, there came a point when words were no longer needed. When conversations could be had in a glance, or a simple touch.

Throughout dinner Cain waited through fond stares for Ash to look his way in passing. She moved at times, tapping her boot against his under the table in seemingly clumsy mistakes. Small conversations, whispered around the awareness of any who could potentially watch them.

Cain drank the wine long after the food was cleared away, offering the remnants of his plate for Ash to pick at over the course of a lazy hour. He ordered dessert- a shared bombe glacee au choclat. They rested for a time even after that, with wine and shared glances, grins. Laughs over nothing in particular before retreating back to phones for a spell. Eventually the place began to clean up for closing down, and it was then Ash flagged their tired waiter down for the check. The signed tip did more than make up for any frustration of their long stay, and once it was finalized and good nights wished in passing, the two left.

Ash declined a taxi. So they walked.

It was no small trip, but one spent languidly draining through sleepless streets, passing strangers and basking in neon lights like cats in summertime sunbeams. This city was theirs. It wasn’t always safe, and it wasn’t always terribly interesting. But it was home, and as they took the time to soak it in on the way back to their apartment, Cain was reminded of why they did what they did every day. Why the office, as cramped and boring as it could get, was the right choice. Why Ashley, detached and strange as she could be, was the only proper fit at his side.

Because when the sounds of the city faded away, and it was just the two of them slinking in to a dim apartment where no other eyes could see, he didn’t hesitate. He didn’t have to think about it.

He held the door for her. He took her coat. And after both of theirs were hung and boots shucked, he picked her up and carried her to bed. There was no thought in those moments. No obligation to love, no trepidation of being loved. No buzzing thoughts in the back of his mind plaguing his every choice and movement.

Ashley was a simple, natural force in his life.

He breathed. He ate. He slept. He loved her.

All things were as they were- facts, irrefutable.