Chapter Two : Milton
“Sometimes a deal with the devil is better than no deal at all.”
Long hair. Straight. Blonde. Hazel eyes. Not tall, but not short. Thin, not overly muscular.
Despite the early winter weather, the girl wore a sweaterdress that ended far above her knees and a thin jacket. All brand name- including her purse. Sharp, tall heels and no stocks. Thin tights instead. She looked nice, but it was impractical. Small features, round. Young. Clueless and hesitant, despite clearly looking for who was indeed there.
The girl had been standing in Milton’s office for barely a minute and already she knew everything about the potential client that she needed. The girl was young, nervous, more rich than she was smart, and vain as was to be expected of someone in her social class at that age. Money didn’t make the mind, though. At this stage, parents did. Being here at this hour, alone, looking like that.. The girl was here for one of two things, Milton could already tell.
She hesitated by the door and Cain’s table but eventually moved to take a seat, sliding down into it with a self-contained and delicate posture. Definitely high class. Politician’s daughter, maybe? Milton stared, waiting with as much patience as she could afford something so boring, and began when all the girl did was sit and begin to worry one strap of her purse between her fingers.
“How did you come to learn of my services?”
The girl bit her lip. Her eyes were wide, not so much a deer in the headlights as just a natural appearance. She seemed nervous not out of fear as much as a more grounded uncertainty. Full of self-doubt, but enough drive or desperation to make it here on her own. If only it were original enough to be interesting. As it was, Milton was no stranger to little girls with daddy’s money come to play with forces they didn’t fully understand.
“The internet.” The girl answered quietly.
As she did, Milton glanced away briefly. Over to the corner of the room, where Cain was leaning back in his seat, swiping through something on his phone. She couldn’t catch his gaze in the moment without also drawing their guest’s attention, so with a pent up sigh she glided focus back to the baby swan across from her.
The internet was a vague answer, but not surprising.
Deep web boards were the most common, though the girl hardly seemed the type to have that much of an online awareness. At most someone else sent her a link after some kind of inquiry posted elsewhere. As much was the word of mouth of the modern era, and what else could a business like theirs run on? So she didn’t complain or question further. Unless something surprising cropped up, it wouldn’t really matter how the girl found the office’s address or the name of who to seek inside it.
Milton leaned back in her chair, one hand dragging a pen up on the way, turning it idly between her fingers as she regarded the guest for a moment. “And what, exactly, are you here for?”
The girl squirmed in her skin. She bit her lip again, and eyes that had lifted for the question dropped again to her purse. The nerves in her still weren’t fear. A kind of uncertainty regarding why she was there, perhaps, or a reluctance to talk about it how that it was time to.
All with former evidence pointed to the two most obvious paths, given what Milton was used to seeing in similar clients. Either the girl was there to seek help in hiding something from her parents, or-
“I think my dad is cheating on my mom.”
Milton blinked once, slowly, and pursed lips to refrain from anything else that would otherwise give away her disinterest. Cases like this were a dime a dozen. Still, they had bills to pay just like everyone else. It was the rich, typical clients that kept the lights on. The interesting ones were more why they were on, instead of how.
“And what evidence has lead you to that conclusion?” She glanced away again, when Cain cleared his throat. The client glanced back as well, though only for a moment to assure nothing was wrong. Nothing was, at least not outwardly. He meant it as a warning, to behave. To handle the baby swan with delicate care versus the barely veiled boredom that simmered away beneath the surface. Milton disregarded it for the most part, instead taking the moment to meet the blonde’s eyes, a shared stare between them conveying what needed to be. Milton was not the one between them good with people like this. If he thought she was getting too prickly, he had just as functional vocal chords as she did.
“I.. saw him leave, the other night.” The girl started, drawing the briefly averted eyes back onto her. “He didn’t say anything to anyone, he just sort of, like.. Got up and walked out of the house. There was a car outside waiting and he got in. It drove off. When he came back a few hours later, his clothes were messed up but like, he wasn’t beat up or anything. I don’t think it’s the first time, either. He’s been complaining about being tired lately but always says he doesn’t know why. Like-”
Milton outright groaned, sliding eyes shut to partially hide the way she rolled them back hard. In the time between their last young client she’d forgotten the generation’s propensity for the interjection of ‘like’ as if it were an audible comma. As she struggled to keep hold of some degree of patience for the verbal tick, Cain spoke up at last from the other end of the room.
“Is it possible your father is sleep walking?” He asked, to which the girl turned around in her seat to face him. “Why would a car be waiting for him, if he was just sleep walking?” She muttered back. Her tone sounded more relaxed, a natural response without enough thought to make it nervous or faltering. One could argue the interjection was to make the girl feel less out of place before Milton, but it was just as true it was offering a bit of redemption. The girl gave a smart rebuttal to a stupid question. There was hope for her yet, and with that hope Milton managed to regain a touch more tolerance for the situation.
“Have you ever seen the car before elsewhere? Your father’s work, for example?” Cain continued, giving Milton a break and using the girl’s attention to smile and ease his posture. She, naturally, began to mirror him. Relaxing and shaking her head smoothly after thinking about it shortly.
“No, but he works at a high rise as an accountant, or something. So, I mean.. He parks in like, a garage thing.” She shrugged, brushing an unsettled sheet of hair behind her shoulder. Cain nodded, a sign of attentiveness, and crossed his arms loosely as he reclined. Not so casual as to seem to not take it seriously, but not so stiff as to match Milton’s rigid, intimidating posture.
“So you wouldn’t know, if this car is someone from your father’s work or not?” He clarified.
That time the girl nodded, though her expression pinched with something Milton couldn’t entirely decipher. Indignance, maybe? Some brand of irritation at the question. Cain seemed to understand it better, quick to smile a bit wider and explain in the same smooth, calm tone. “If we can narrow down who might be in the car with your father, it’ll help in the investigation.”
“If I knew who was in the car..” She trailed off into a sigh, crossing her own arms and shaking her head with a soured look as if to suggest she’d be handling that end of things herself. Given that she hardly seemed the scrappy or overly headstrong type, neither of the two watching the show believed it. All the same, they didn’t comment on it either. Wasn’t worth it.
“Around what time did your dad leave and get in the car?” Milton asked, steering attention back her way. The girl turned back around, settling some to sit back in her chair. She seemed more pliable, at last. More like herself, whoever that was exactly. Someone eager to seem just as brave and capable and smart as the adults she found herself surrounded by every day.
“I..” She started, but paused, digging in her purse briefly instead. She pulled out her phone- sleek, fancy case. Girly. She tapped at something there, confirming before speaking.
“A little after eleven.”
Milton hummed just slightly as if that fact were interesting. It wasn’t. Not even remotely. But it was arguably helpful in the case, even if she made no move to write it down or otherwise make some note for later. Instead she rested hands in her lap, fingers loosely intertwined there as she stared at the girl across from her. Things fell into a certain unease. A scrutinizing pressure formed as Milton mulled something over internally, leaving the girl before her to stare back more and more uncomfortable with the quiet.
Pulling the given information apart, putting it back together- Milton rearranged the evidence as many ways as it could go with what little they had and what she could predict based solely on the unspoken facts. In the end, it lead to only one question that needed asking before they could begin a real investigation.
“What’s your father’s name?”
It was at this point that things could become real.
A commitment. Not just an internet link, a rumor, a fanciful idea of some detective novel adventure. A name at this stage ensured a case. A lead. A launching point. It turned the concept of an affair being proven or not from figment to reality.
Unsurprisingly, the girl hesitated in the face of that truth.
She looked down again, rubbing thumbs against her purse’s leather strap. The quiet that formed was left undisturbed. Both Milton and Cain knew to give the girl space, patiently waiting and watching as some silent inner battle went on. She could still get up and walk out right now with no consequences other than wasted time. Experience had taught Milton well- few things were more annoying to deal with during a case than a client with second-thoughts.
“Jaxson Avery.” She kept her head down as the guillotine words slid down and sank in.
No one made a move. The same silence as before remained after, growing overbearing as it continued. Eventually, the girl looked up in tense confusion. Across the desk, Milton waited until their eyes met fully before she leaned across her desk onto both folded arms.
“Miss Avery,” she addressed with a firm tone.
The girl seemed thrown off by the address, but didn’t look away.
“With the information you have given me it is well within my ability to track your father and uncover, should he see them again, who it is he is meeting with. And thus, prove or disprove any potential affair.”
When no question came the quiet took hold again briefly, the girl unsure what to say or do without some prompt one way or the other. She stared. Milton stared. A few seconds of nothing passed before Milton continued.
“Should I uncover one, the information will be handed to you, and you alone, to do with whatever you please. Should I uncover anything otherwise, I will inform you only that your father is not having an affair as you suspected.” Another pause came and went. Time to let the words sink in, to not rattle on too fast for the girl to really understand any of them. This was a choice to be made. Hers. And not a light one, by any means. It was important, Milton had learned before, to be sure the younger clients didn’t rush through it and come to regret it all later. (Or, at the least, not have fair cause to blame Milton for ‘ruining their life’ because they didn’t think things through for more than a heartbeat.)
“Are these terms agreeable?” She at last asked directly.
For just a moment, the girl paused. Her jaw tensed, a glimpse of whatever passion had driven her to come all the way to that office showing as she nodded sharply. Afterwards, the stare she returned to Milton was a more assured, almost brave thing. Trying to seem like someone older, someone certain of themselves. It was what Milton considered a transparent attempt at best. But it would do.
As Milton nodded, satisfied, Cain rose from his seat in the back. The girl turned, glancing over and watching him as he pushed his chair in and strode over around the desk. He came to a stop at Milton’s side, and it was only then it became clear how tall he actually was. Built slender, he moved with a loose but confident posture and leaned slightly against the desk. With hands tucked into pockets, he regarded their client-to-be with the same everpresent smile as before. Only now, looking down at her, it was less a moment of reassurance and more one of subtle intimidation.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” He asked quietly. Not a whisper. But not the same volumes they’d been using to converse thus far. It was something more careful, lowered enough she had to listen to really hear and understand. To absorb and process what it was he meant.
“I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t sure.” She defended quickly. Perhaps too quickly.
“Come what may, you can’t undo this once it’s done. Whatever you find out, it will be a burden. To live knowing your father is cheating on your mother.. Or that you suspected him unfairly..” Cain went on, but the girl’s expression tensed just as it had before, into something Milton only understood as a childish indignance. She interrupted him then, huffing with an impulsive offended tone. “Do you question like, all of your clientele this harshly when they come to you?”
Unfortunately for her, all Cain did was laugh right away. It was a soft, mild expression and he rose one hand as if to cover it even though it did nothing to really stifle the sound. Just as the girl seemed to bristle in further offense, Milton cleared her throat to snatch all attention and hot air from the situation.
“As a matter of fact, we do.” She levelled as neutral as possible, blinking once slowly at the girl. It seemed to do as much to put the fire out as it did prod it a little further. Before an argument could potentially take root in the moment, Milton pressed on. “It’s easy for us, to do a job like this. Because when it’s done we report the results to you, and walk away. You are the one who will have to live with whatever consequences come about. But if you’re not interested in the courtesy of being of being thought of, we’ll refrain henceforth.”
Whatever steam had been lost in the girl returned swiftly, a stubborn look filling her up as she tossed hair out of her face and over her shoulder. “Listen, the guy on the internet said this was like, a really easy process. I tell you my problem, we negotiate a price, and you fix it. So if you’re saying you can’t do that,” she huffed again.
This time, it was Milton to do the cutting off, smooth and sharp as her eyes narrowed on the girl.
“There is no job we cannot complete, Miss Avery.”
For the first time Milton didn’t sound simply stern, or disinterested. A mild flicker of anger bit in her tone, and it was enough to have the girl faltering just a bit, parted lips pushing together instead of spitting some other impulsive backtalk out. A good choice. Milton could tolerate idiots, even if only barely. But sass from a stranger coming to her for help was a flatly unacceptable thing to ever endure.
“Then how much do you want for this?” The girl finally shot back, upset enough between the conversation and time spent acclimating to the atmosphere to no longer be the same nervous mess she’d been at the start.
“One-thousand upfront, and we’ll bill you for any extensive costs during the investigation.”
Milton didn’t clarify or speak in a way that suggested negotiations, which left the girl then across from her and her notably tall partner to stare in a mix of confusion and hesitation. It was easy to cop an attitude right away to someone visually her own age, but less so to stare up at a man over six feet tall and continue as strongly.
“Wh..what does that mean?” The girl muttered, trying all at once to sound like some tough businesswoman and unoffensive comment, which largely lead to an almost-pouting waver.
“It means I’ll give you a bank account number and you will wire one-thousand dollars to it before we do anything for you. Once the transfer clears, the case begins. Should we need anything special for this case or should unique expenses arise- such as medical bills or hotel rooms -that payment will be forwarded to you. Failure to pay will mean a withholding of any recovered information thus far and a suspension of all investigations until the matter is cleared up.”
The young man smiled pleasantly, still.
Milton, almost even more professional somehow, waited poised over her desk.
This rate was not the standard fare at all, but only two of the three in the room knew that. This was the upscaled price of coming in with undue attitude and brand-name clothing.
The girl squirmed, looking down and fussing with her phone for a moment. A rush of color found her face, though if it was a blush of anger or sheer embarrassment she made it unclear by huffing to herself and hiding behind sheets of hair as her head dipped a bit to monitor her phone closely.
Milton waited, though horribly unamused, for the girl to finally shake her hair back and straighten.
“Fine. But I want results fast. How long does this kind of thing usually take?”
“Anywhere from a week to a few months based on how careful the target moves.” Cain spoke, tone as casual as ever despite Milton’s flat glaring at the girl. She made no effort to speak up for the time being, instead staring the haughty brat down while her partner handled the kind-toned explanation.
“Given that your father is getting into unknown cars right in front of your house? We should have something for you within a week. It may not be a full ability to confirm or deny an affair, but we’ll have some leads, for certain. You’re welcome to stop by whenever to inquire about progress.”
He smiled a touch wider, encouraging and warm. The girl seemed to ease at that, be it the obedience or the respect. Meanwhile Milton shifted in her seat, almost jerking before continuing into a smoother motion to lean back again. Resisting the urge as best able to throw an elbow into her partner for daring to invite the bratty girl back whenever she pleased.
“Okay.” The client nodded to herself, glancing between the two across the desk.
“What’s the bank account number?”
It was then, for the first time in the whole meeting, Milton smiled smooth and satisfied.