I sat there, watching the hands on my watch march forward inexorably, eyes unfocused as my left hand rubbed at the bandages around my chest. I was still sore from when someone mistook me for a slab of meat in need of tenderizing. Nothing felt broken aside from my pride, so it was just a matter of time for things to knit themselves back together. Flicking my hand across the face of the pocket watch brought the report I had composed back into focus, and I finished attaching an edited snippet of sound from when I met with the PLF. The editing was to extract all indication that my new-found friends were there. Wouldn’t make me a very Private investigator if I had left that in.
The watch snapped shut after I input an address and I began to twist the knob idly as I sat back, then let out a deep breath before depressing the plunger, sending the report on to Toya Gehricht, my contact at Providential. The printer whirred to life with a few dull clunks as it slowly warmed up before setting to place hammering out the report in a less mutable format, to be archived in the filing cabinet under my desk.
The grimy window obscured my vision as I looked past the downpour and at the grey clouds obscuring the night sky. Stowing my pocket watch and shrugging into my trenchcoat, I locked up the office, heading out onto the streets. It was time to turn my sorrows into a castaway, half drowned and clutching to life on a deserted tropical island. Turning away from my usual bar, walking for some blocks closer to the edge of the district. There was a new club in town, and I was determined to see if they had any new whiskey, or if it was all the same – because nothing ever really changes.
As I approached the bar, identifiable as such only by the nu-faded neon sign of C# out front, my ears picked up a lilting melody coming from within. My stride quickened along with my pulse and I slipped through the crowd of smoke by the door to the dusky room within. The low ceiling caused me to hunch instinctively as I played my eyes across the room like fingers sliding across a piano – the melody was coming from somewhere in here but its source was not immediately clear. There was something immediately familiar about it, but ultimately it was a new sound, a new voice.
As I slipped over towards the bar, constantly scanning while I placed my order, a vision of her came to me like a voice from a dream – faint and dim, but growing stronger over time. She was sprawled over the top of an imitation piano, head propped up on her silk covered arm, bright red lipstick threatening to make me blush. I took a sip of my whiskey, old but grounding, and felt the warmth spread to my cheeks as I could swear her eyes met mine. I tugged at the collar of my shirt to loosen the noose around my neck and catch a breath. What was a girl like that doing in a place like this? My eyes slid across her legs which went to the edge of the piano and leagues beyond, stopping somewhere outside of Night City before I realized a microphone dangled from her fingers, perilously close to her lips. She was growing larger in my vision, beads of sweat forming on my forehead which I found myself dabbing at with my kerchief frantically. Someone must be out to kill me to have lit a fire under my collar like this. She loomed overhead, and a blink later I found myself seated at the edge of the stage, her eyes having locked onto mine.
As the song drew to a close, she swung her legs from the piano like a pendulum, scything through the air and seeming to stop time. She sat on the front of the stage in front of me, I found myself unable to look anywhere but at her eyes as they slowly devoured everything that I knew. It took me a few breaths of whiskey before I could muster up the nerve to speak, but the movement of her lips dried out my tongue like a hot day in the desert. “What’s a man like you with a face like that doing in a place like this, handsome?” She leaned in to me and slid into my table as I barely was able to stammer out a response past the beat of my own heart. “I… just came in for a drink…” Now was as good a time as any to down the remaining finger of whiskey. “…guess I stuck around for your voice.”
It was the truth – I’m about as taken with lying as a fish is with going door to door selling fishing poles. A brief smile flashed across her lips, and I think it was an honest one. I’m usually not a terrible judge of character, if my recent experiences with the Edgerunners have taught me anything. She toyed with the scarf around her neck nervously, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t used to a genuine compliment. She was the kind of girl who could have wrapped the world around her finger – which was conspicuously lacking any adornment. She had the looks to get away with murder, and the victim would be happy enough to let her. I spotted something that lurked in the shadows underneath her scarf as she played with it – it was hard to tell in the dim lighting, but it looked for all the world like the work of a skilled surgeon trying to cover up a burn scar. At first glance, it seemed like nothing, but closer examination confirmed my suspicions.
A few drinks and some gentle questioning later, I found out the truth – the strange quality to her voice was that it both was and wasn’t her own. She had been caught in a burning car during a riot when she was young, and her lungs and vocal cords were seared beyond repair, so her relatively wealthy parents had them replaced. She had thought her passion for singing would have died with her voice, but she managed to persevere, blending together the voices of singers from the past to create her own unique sound. Her honesty brought a smile to my face, just as her voice had brought a smile to my ears. This doll was one worth investigating, and not covertly, not for money, and not for fame. She was worth investigating because she hid from herself. Anita Borokov was worth investigating because of who I hoped she might become.
There was this nervousness under the skin, and I could tell there was more to her than at first blush. Her mannerisms while on stage were so sure, but in this quiet setting, with just the two of us and the glares of every other man in the room, she seemed scared. And if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s leaving a scared woman alone.
It was a long and sleepless night, filled with tossing and turning that prevents a small child from going to sleep on the day before Christmas. I have trouble sleeping most days, but this time it was worse. This time, it wasn’t excitement, or hope, or any number of things that would have normally kept me awake. This was dread, causing my stomach to plummet through the core of the Earth. I lay in bed in a cold sweat, panting as I saw visions of men with knives coming at me from all sides, keeping me away from a frightened Anita who desperately needed my help. Suddenly, from nowhere, a gun appears at her head, a finger squeezing at the trigger until BANG.
I shot bolt upright out of bed, pistol out of the holster, pointing at the door. Three sharp bangs came again, and I found myself stumbling across my bare apartment after slipping into my dressing robe. Checking the peephole, I noted a courier with a package standing in the hallway. “Mister Trenton? I have a package from Sam. Are you awake?” I rubbed my bleary eyes and shoved the gun in the pocket of the gown, swinging the door open in the same action. The courier stepped back in surprise when he saw my disheveled face and unkempt stubble. “Are you okay Mister Trenton?”
“I’m fine, Keith. That was a fast job – I knew Sam was good, but I was expecting this at the end of the month, otherwise I would have been waiting around for you.” I grumbled at him, but he was a good kid. The kind you had to keep your eye on, else they stumble down a dark path for quick cash. Having been there once, it wasn’t something I’d wish on anyone else. I passed him some credits for the prompt delivery and sent him on his way, asking him to give Sam the Tailor my best, peering down the hallway long after I had brought the package inside.
I’m not given to bouts of paranoia, but something seemed to be looming on the horizon, hanging heavy like the moon after the sun goes down. I don’t know what’s gotten into me – my life has been good lately. No, great. Get it together Trenton. I’ve been seeing Anita socially on and off for the past month or so, and she’s been swell. Candyman contacted me the other day and offered to keep me on retainer. His job paid well in the past, and I like his crew, so I accepted. I’ve got more money on hand than I’ve had in years, and my life couldn’t get much better. Why do I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop?
I sighed and sat down at my dining room table, setting my gun off to one side and began taking the items from the package. One trenchcoat to replace my old one that had been set on fire last month, a suit to replace the one I’d gotten torn in a fight defending Anita’s honor when we went out dancing, a pair of immaculate wingtip shoes and a pristine trilby. I looked at the goods like they were treasures from Giza and set the hat atop my head. It immediately slid slightly to the side and sent a smile across my face. Perfect.
The rest of the clothes would be a bit roomier than a snug fit, and that suited me just fine. Sam had cut them exactly as I ordered. I took the jacket in my hands and could feel the resilience of the material, and the sleek lines that Sam had expertly tailored to look perfect and crisp. I took the jacket collar in my hands, feeling each and every stitch that had been lovingly put into it and spent the next two hours folding and refolding the collar so the crease lost it’s just new and ironed crispness. The remainder of the day was spent on my hands and knees with a wire brush, attacking the knees and elbows of the suit to get them to break in and shine just so. The shoes and hat I left immaculate, because if there’s anything that makes a man who he is, it’s how he treats his clothes.