Chapter Five: Milton
Work was slow. Work was often slow- surprisingly, there was no rush of people coming to her office hourly to wax mournful about their problems and beg for solutions. The police handled the transparent crimes, the mafia were smart enough to close their own open loops, and gang bangers didn’t want to tarnish their own street cred by going to some stranger in an office for help with their shit. The jobs she got were outliers. Exceptions, not rules.
The average civilian desperate enough to google for help and eventually be directed to her office. The politician connected to the right and wrong people enough to be slipped her name for a small problem that needed to disappear. Businessmen looking to find out something to overthrow a veiled opponent. And, rarely, police willing to work outside the law to see their ideals upheld. It was not the detective work she saw the most often, and not it she made the most money from. Milton’s business thrived on bigger business. Corporate, mostly. People willing to pay to find out their competition’s dirty little secrets. Most of it involved bugging homes, eavesdropping at the right parties. All things she considered more boring with every passing month of it. Things were starting to feel simple. Easy. Trivial.
Her phone rang in the middle of typing up a new code for a client online.
Glancing at the number on screen, she paused only when it registered who it was trying to contact her. Hands ceased the slow clatter of arranging commands on the screen and instead tapped quickly, picking up and raising the phone to one ear with an unadmitted eagerness.
“How’s it going?” She asked calmly, turning away from her computer and plucking up a pen along the way, spinning it overtop knuckles.
“Oh, y’know.” Cain laughed on the other end. There was a degree of something in his tone. A kind of frustration in the way he shifted and sighed, that she assumed was a bad sign for his work.
“Aggravatingly laborious, but no more than was expected.” He explained, to which she hummed. The urge to tease him for the large words came and went, unused. His english was getting better every day, it felt like. She knew he wouldn’t appreciate the praise, though. Never did.
“Actually, I could use your help at this point.”
Readily, she sat up and ceased the turning pen in her free hand. Anything he had for her to do was going to be more interesting than fussing with code. The client online could wait.
“The client’s address, and work address.” He started, without her having to ask. She nodded, not that he could see, and turned back to her computer. Minimizing windows and pulling up no more than a blank web search, she pinched her phone between ear and shoulder and set to typing.
“I’m going to start setting up for a stakeout and visit the last places on my list in the meantime. So if you could text me those when you get them, we should be set on this one.”
She could hear when he pulled away from his phone, shifting around as if nervous or checking something. Milton didn’t ask, instead just offering a quick, “On it.” Not like the typing didn’t give it away, but she hadn’t wanted to interrupt him before when she’d already started to pull up what he needed. The girl had handed over her father’s name, and that was all that was required to open the floodgates of information. A home address was one simple search away, the workplace taking a slight amount more effort.
As she typed, opening tabs and flicking back and forth shortly, Cain remained quiet on the phone. He didn’t ask for anything else, and she didn’t ask what he wanted. Mostly out of a knowing concern that if she did, he’d just assume it was hint to piss off and hang up. It was a small thing, the call. The sound of him breathing softly on the other line. But it was, more than likely, going to be the one brush against him she’d have for the day.
“Hey, Ash?” He spoke up without warning, snapping her out of a train of autopilot thought. Blinking, she stared at the screen for a long moment before processing what was there. The addresses both were long since pulled, the open tab simply trying to crack into stored records to suss out more likely unneeded information on Jaxon Avery. Busy work, effectively. Something to fill the time of just typing, listening to Cain say nothing and- Oh. Right. He’d asked her something, hadn’t he? Just as she shook her head a touch and started to ask what it was, he continued.
“Thanks.” Thanks? For w-
“For pulling it all up for me.”
Oh. Well.. What a stupid thing to thank her for.
Lips pursed, her brow knit together. Why was he thanking her for something as mundane as this? Exactly what had he said that she’d completely glazed over to get them to this point? She wracked her brain but came up empty, having only the memory of how calm things had felt a minute ago spacing out to the ambient sounds of him existing in the city over the phone.
“Yeah, sure.” Was the best she managed to offer, tone a touch sharp. Guarded. Wary of the weird turn in conversation and unsure exactly what he was hoping for her to say in response to something like that. This was her job. Their job, really. It should have been expected, not.. Seen as a favor?
“Well, I’ve got to catch another train for my next stop. Text you later?”
Something in her wanted to ask why he’d thanked her. Ask what he’d said before that. Ask him anything, really, to keep him talking. But it was an irrational impulse. It wouldn’t lead to anything, she figured, but him going into some weird poetic speech about gratitude and compassion and all the other things she didn’t want or need to understand.
“Will do.” Was what came out of her, and she listened to his boots crunch against uneven pavement in the background. Cain hung up. She hesitated a moment before pulling her phone away, staring at the ended call screen as it faded back to the home picture. The minute on screen ticked by before she blinked a few times, turning back to her computer with a huff.
After a few more minutes of relatively superfluous digging, she texted him the addresses and left it at that. Despite what he’d said, he didn’t text back. Not even a half hour later, long after she’d resumed picking at the code with all the interest a lion would have with a stripped carcas. The thought rose on if Cain was in trouble, but was cut off as a knock sounded at her office door.
“Come in.” She called flatly after the third knock.
It pushed open, though she didn’t look up right away. Not until she was done typing a new line and the heavy footfalls of a grown man were closer to the edge of her desk. Finally glancing up, the familiar face had built up tension dropping from her shoulders.
“What’d he do this time?” She sighed, to which the visitor laughed.
Lieutenant Micah Hayes was an older man, perpetually tired in the eyes, though a certain sharpness would find him any time a particularly challenging case rolled through. Given that he arrived in uniform that afternoon, Milton had to ask the most obvious question. She did well to keep any actual concern far out of her tone. Hence his readily taking it as nothing but a joke, which did as much to ease her nerves as it did strangely brush her temper.
The brown haired officer took a seat without urgency, a good sign, and waved off the deadpan question offered to his arrival. “Nothin’ I know of yet.” Hayes muttered, a dry humor about him as he grinned into the words. Milton flashed him a vague smile before turning back to her computer, resuming the shortly paused typing and talking in between the clattering keys.
“So what brings you to my office today, Mister Hayes?” She was pleasant enough with him. He wasn’t a teenaged, entitled idiot rolling around whining with a fistful of daddy’s money. Nor was he a dimeadozen scumbag looking to make quick cash or have something inconvenient disappear. All of those things she dealt with here, though with less patience. Hayes was a long time client of sorts. A cop who still gave a damn, and was smart enough to appreciate sometimes the law just didn’t have the same coverage as sheer right and wrong. Justice was blind. Hayes’ morals were not. On that level, Milton could respect the man.
“Only thing that ever does.” Hayes grunted casually. “Got a job, if you’re interested.”
He took that moment to pause, glancing around behind himself to the empty table in the corner.
“Partner out for coffee?”
Milton huffed a laugh but didn’t answer. It was better no one ever know where Cain was, or why. If he was going to return at any minute, or not at all that day, was knowledge better kept to herself. Hayes was hardly the type not to trust, but only idiots got comfortable enough with friendly faces to chatter about things like that. She’d unraveled small empires with less. So instead, she glossed over it straight to the important point.
“What kind of job?”
Luckily for them both, Hayes took the hint. Didn’t pursue it further. There was a reason Milton liked him, and every time he came around he did good to remind her of it.
“Something weird. I think you’ll like it.” Hayes eased back in his seat, slumping some and spreading legs comfortably. Most who came through were rigid, or at least formal enough to never sprawl so openly in front of her. If Milton minded just how relaxed the officer was, it didn’t show.
“Had a theft at gunpoint reported last night.” He began, saving her all the droll filler of the victim, their story, their meant-to-garner-sympathy plight. Hayes knew to stick to the facts Milton cared for, which were never in the neighborhood of emotional fluff. That had always been more Cain’s vein, and with him absent there was nothing to gain in playing up the empathetic drama of the case. “Guy held up a lady walking home alone in a parking garage. Took her purse and ran, and that’s where it gets weird. She says he ran off, and then she heard some kind of bang. Not like a gun, but like something heavy being dropped. Next thing she knows a different guy walks up, hands her the purse back, and tells her to hurry home. Refuses a reward, won’t tell her his name. She begs him to let her do something for him up till she notices blood up his arm. Asks if he got hurt, he says no. She insists, but realizes he’s right. He wasn’t bleeding, according to her. Just had blood on him, still wet. At that point lady says she just ran.”
Milton paused in typing to listen, only to blink flatly near the end.
“I fail to see the case here.” She muttered, causing Hayes to pause with lips parted. He grinned readily at the comment, a sly look in his eyes. The kind that only came around when there was trouble- the kind of trouble she liked. So, patient as able, she abandoned attention in her computer and shifted, facing him expectantly.
“That’s what I said, when she came in. But by morning someone found a body in that same parking garage. Reports say the head was flat out crushed, like a frickin cantaloupe. As if that wasn’t weird enough? Couldn’t even dig into a basic autopsy or investigation. By afternoon Feds had come in, seized all the paperwork we had, took the body, and left. Technically my so much as telling you about this is all kinds of illegal. But it seemed your sort of work.”
He looked at her for a moment, raising brows part in challenge and part in eager waiting, expecting her to confirm the interest he knew she was bound to have. Indeed, Milton didn’t roll her eyes and return to what she’d been doing. It was as much a sign of fascination as he was going to get.
“My sort of work is head-crushing vigilante justice, now?” Milton hummed, teasing.
Hayes scoffed a laugh, shrugging both shoulders. “Yeah, I’m sure you’ve seen weirder.”
They shared a mild laugh before Milton stood, pulling her coat from off the back of her chair.
“Come on, then.” She urged, prompting Hayes to lean forward, grunting slightly into it as he stood and looked to her curiously. She crossed around her desk to him, explaining as she went. “This is the first thing worth my time I’ve heard all week. Let’s go get food, then check out the parking garage.”
“Is lunch a reward for bringing you something good, or is this how you ask people on dates?”
Milton rolled her eyes, grinning wryly. “You wish.” She muttered on the way out. As she paused to lock up, Hayes leaned against the wall and watched her.
“To which one?”