Chapter Seven: Hayes
Milton remained to be like nothing he’d ever expected.
When he’d heard word years ago on the force of a local informant who was taking odd jobs across the city, it hadn’t seemed unusual or interesting. Informants were a dime a dozen, and while ones who did more extended work weren’t overly common, it still wasn’t that strange. Then again, back then he hadn’t cared at all about strange. He’d cared about his job. His wife. His family-to-be.
Now, hailing a cab and holding the door open for a girl who looked no older than seventeen at best, it still somehow amazed him that the tiny thing climbing inside the backseat was Milton. Across the past two years the name had come to mean a lot of things, and not just for him. For the whole city, and those who worked with the more complicated parts of it. Politics, mafia and businesses alike had at least one guy in every corner smart enough to know her. So far as he could tell she had executive business contacts, gang bangers owing her favors, and even average joes off in the suburbs at her beck and call should the need arise. The girl was impossibly well-connected. What she did just wasn’t natural. It defied all logic. She felt like she could be anywhere, everywhere, at any time and for any reason. Which, logically, was probably why her reputation was so praised as of late. News was spreading, and her history was reliable. She got results, and more than that, she knew how to get them in ways that kept her and her partner alive to do it all again.
Sliding in beside her, Hayes stayed quiet and let Milton pick the place to eat. She didn’t hesitate to rattle off an address he didn’t remotely recognize, which the driver punched into an outdated GPS. Milton confirmed it, eased back, and as simple as that they pulled out and promptly got stuck in afternoon traffic. Oh, the charms of the big city.
“So how’s your day been so far?” Hayes asked, trying to make some form of smalltalk even if the girl was already dipping attention down into her phone. While she grunted dismissively in response, he fished out a half-compressed package from his pocket, waving the cigarettes slightly at the driver. “Mind if I smoke?” He asked as clearly as possible. The driver just waved him off, pointing to the window as what Hayes assumed was permission. Cracking it, he lit up and took a long starting drag before blowing it out as best able and turning back to Milton. She had her head in what looked like some kind of game, tapping away at a screen where little vaguely people-esq things slid around in front of.. What was that? A dragon? He didn’t get it, and thus didn’t ask. Instead, he just leaned into the door some, keeping his cig near the small crack where the cold air greedily snuck in.
“Got any plans for later tonight?” He tried again, just to get the same vague not-answer as before. Milton made a noise, shrugged, and kept playing her game. To a degree, he understood. There wasn’t a lot she could talk about in a car with a clear eavesdropping party in the front seat. Milton was a lot of things (laughably short, terrifyingly well-connected, positively ruthless) but she wasn’t stupid. So Hayes more or less gave up, smoking his cigarette away and tucking the butt away into the pack with a half dozen others before putting it all back in the pockets of his coat.
The drive was.. Boring, to say the least. A little awkward given the relative quiet conversation-wise, and slow as molasses dripping of a bull’s balls. But it wasn’t bad. If nothing else it wasn’t as aggravating or stressful as a ride with a piss-soaked hobo in the back, or some chatterbox greenhorn in the front. He could take solace in that much if nothing else, and did so as they chipped along through the streets slowly but surely.
It was an inevitability that they got where they were going, and as soon as the taxi slowed and stopped practically up on the curb, Hayes was eager to toss his door open and stretch his legs out before standing fully. Milton handled the fare before he could turn to offer or object, and as soon as she was coming around to his side the cab was peeling back out into traffic looking for another poor bastard to trap in a gridlock for a half hour.
In front of them loomed a tall building, and Hayes noticed a bit belatedly the area was nicer than anything he’d expected or was used to. Milton lead the way, up to a place with a scrawl of french for the title hung atop the overhang outside. Right away, he felt insultingly underdressed for whatever Milton was about to drag him into. As much the host inside made clear when they approached, and he looked them both up and down with a blatant degree of disgust and revolted confusion.
“Reservation for Milton.”
Hayes was not surprised with the way she spoke, composed and confident like nothing was wrong. She looked the host right in the eyes, despite barely being taller than the stand he stood behind, and smiled politely. The young man blinked, humoring her if nothing else thanks to that sheer radiating belief that she would be on there.
Scanning through the pages once, the young man looked up quickly with a sour expression. His brows rose high, an edge of attitude in his tone as he stared down at her. “You’re not on the list.” He informed with an unsurprisingly superior tone. As soon as he said it his attention was shifting, raising from Milton’s young looking face to Hayes himself. The officer braced, expecting the host to tell them to leave like he had to ask a father to remove his unruly daughter from prolonging some strange prank.
Milton didn’t even hesitate. She stepped forward, closer, and rocked onto her toes. By the time she was openly reaching over the stand to the book, the host was too slow and too stunned to stop her. They stared, mouth open in what Hayes felt was an overdramatic amount of insult. Milton turned to the front of the book, tapping the very first page where elegant scrawl took up wides spaces on the title page. It was half-legible around all the looping, but even Hayes could read the name ‘Milton’ there, in between the words ‘Always Admit’ and a list of other names he recognized vaguely as business owners and political figures within the city.
“O-Oh..” The host faltered, staring at the page like Milton had just exposed some national conspiracy. She waited, with a polite patience Hayes found particularly unnerving given that he’d seen how short her temper usually was in other situations. It made the softness in her tone worse to him as she spoke up, drawing the host’s attention back to her face.
“I don’t have identification on me, but I’m willing to call Mister Riport to sort this out, if needed. Simply put, you can refuse and risk losing your job, or just let us in without any more trouble and ask a supervisor to verify our visit. If I’m lying at that point, they’ll see me out and at worst you’ll get a short lecture. Better than being fired by the man who owns this restaurant, don’t you think?”
She smiled then, beguilingly charming and pleasant looking.
The host fumbled, clearly torn on what to do. Ultimately, between Milton’s confidence and the logic of the threat she’d laid out, he caved. Stammering a bit, nervously looking about for a manager, he just darted away only to return with a waitress in quick time.
Either warned beforehand or much better at managing her composure, the waitress didn’t comment on Hayes’ lack of sportscoat or suit jacket. She just lead them along, past the main dining areas and into a closed area in the back. It was obvious as soon as the door shut behind them the place was some kind of VIP lounge, quiet and cut off from the rest of the restaurant. The decoration was even more lavish than the open room they’d walked through, trading out the elegant clothed tables and silver-patterned walls for something warmer. A rich wood booth, upholstered seats, and toned down lighting that made it feel almost like some tucked away speakeasy for the socially elite.
Milton slid into one side without batting an eye, and Hayes hesitated a bit before following suit opposite her, trying to offer the waitress an awkward smile along the way. The woman returned it with a look far more confident and smooth than his own, presenting them both with the menus she’d had in her hands before bowing out and excusing herself. As she disappeared discreetly, Milton just turned the menu over and back with a bored look. Hayes managed to keep it together for only as long as it took the door leading back into the main dining to open and audibly shut again behind the waitress.
“Alright, I give. What the holy hell is all this about?” He sighed, whispering despite the fact they were entirely alone in the lounge area. He stared at Milton from over her menu, somehow both surprised and yet not when she just openly laughed at him.
“You’re so uncomfortable.” She snickered, and it was in that exact moment he realized he was about to have an unfathomably expensive lunch with the actual devil.
“You took me here to make me uncomfortable?” he sighed, struggling and failing not to just balk at the little girl staring at him. She was unbearably sly in those moments, eyes partially narrowed and face cast in shadows from the low overhead lighting. When she smiled it was a curling, unsettling sort of look, and he leaned back in his seat just to try and process it better with some distance.
“I’m still in uniform.” Hayes complained, shrugging to emphasize the blue police shirt hanging off him, tucked into a stiff belt with gun and radio still attached.
“Oh, I’m aware.” Was all Milton said, turning attention back to her menu after that with cheeky grin remaining firmly in place. Hayes started to object more but gave up before the words got all the way out. It was no use. If the girl was willing to terrify staff to get them into a place, he had no hope of just whining his way out of the meal.
“At the very least,” he sighed, raising his menu in resignation. “Please tell me staff isn’t going to come in here in a minute and kick us out.”
Milton hummed a low laugh he did not find comforting in the least.
“Isn’t wondering half the fun?”
“No.” Hayes grunted instantly. “No it is not.”