Reese had decided to pass the time waiting for her shock to wear off by watering Auset's one plant, a very overgrown but very healthy spider plant that had taken over a whole corner of the small kitchen room. When the plant's thirst looked to be thoroughly quenched, she went and sat down in the chair in front of Auset's Nest.
The writer's sandy eyebrows furrowed as she pondered what exactly she could do. She had to do something to help Auset, so she wiggled the mouse and the screen saver melted so that the computers desktop was visible. A double click on an icon marked "Address Book" brought up a spreadsheet that held the phone numbers and email addresses of a whole score of people Reese did not know--until she saw Ash's name. That would be a good place to start.
Smiling openly, Reese placed a phone headset over her ears and adjusted the mouth piece so that it was directly before her lips.
"You little techno-weenie," she said aloud and then dialed Ash's number into the computer's phone program. Three rings later and a very sleepy sounding voice answered.
"Um...is this Ash?" she asked hesitantly.
"Yep, sure is. Who's this?"
"It's Reese, Auset's friend?"
"I know who you are Reese," Ash chuckled before yawning audibly. "You woke me up, so I'm afraid I'm not terribly on the ball yet."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you--"
"Nonono, it's OK! What's up?" he asked.
"Well, it's bad news. Auset's been arrested."
"WHAT? Good gods! What in the hell for?" the bartender gasped out.
"Well," she began. "Last night we were on our way to a concert--"
"You got her to go to a concert?" Ash asked, disbelieving. "You're amazing, kiddo."
"Yeah, well, we didn't make it to the show. She needed to stop at this house to pick up something for her work? And when I was waiting out in the car I heard a gunshot, so I ran inside to check it out. When I got there, this crazy chick was having a standoff with Auset, and the bitch had just shot Dade!"
"Whoa, waitasecond. What was Dade doing there?"
"I'm not sure. Auset said something about him being the 'contact' she was supposed to meet...though she hadn't known it would be Dade. She also said that this girl's name was Cally?" Reese finished and sat back in the chair dejectedly.
There was a pause and a sigh from the other end of the line.
"You know her?" Reese asked hopefully.
"Yeah, I do. Crazier than a pack of televangelists. Her and Auset were...ah...seeing each other for about a year. It broke off pretty badly just over a year ago after Cally pulled something really nasty, though I don't know the whole story, Auset being the private sort," he snorted. "What the hell was she doing there last night?"
Reese had been considering his words and had to forcibly snap herself back into gear before she could respond. Auset had been dating that psycho??
"I'm not sure why. All I know is that come this morning the police were beating down Auset's door and arresting her for Dade's murder. My guess is that Cally set it up. I don't know what to do, and the only friend of hers that I knew of was you," she remarked wryly.
"Heh, well I do hold that distinction...besides you of course," Ash replied. "So you stayed at her place last night?" he finished, the smirk evident in his voice. Reese could feel her face warming quite severely.
"Ah...actually I got knocked upside the head pretty bad during the whole scene last night, so she brought me back here and let me sleep."
"Wow, you should feel honored. She doesn't take a whole lot of people into her place. She must like ya, not that I can blame her, mind you."
OK. Now she was positive her face was redder than a beet. Puffing out an exasperated breath through her bangs, she harnessed her resolve.
"Anyway, I need to get her out, prove that she's not guilty. I thought maybe you could help?"
"Of course! I suggest the first thing we do is meet, and then head to the ole police station," the bartender suggested.
"Right. OK. Where should we meet?"
"Well, seeing as I need to wake up and get clean, come on over by my house so I have time. I live above Discordia."
"Convenient, and all right...I'll be there in about twenty."
After hanging up, Reese grabbed her keys and a key to Auset's apartment that was lying on the desk next to the computer, locked up the place, and then headed downstairs and outside to where her car was still parked from last night.
"How'd you guess?" Sera asked, still smiling. Auset moved a little closer to the bars and arched a smooth black eyebrow at him.
"Don't know, maybe it was the nasty tingle I felt go up my spine at the sight of you." He laughed then, tossing his head back before bringing his eyes back down to meet hers dead on.
"One more thing to add to the list of reasons why I love ya, Auset. How are you these days?"
"Could be better. Bars aren't really my style," she smirked. "But tell me, what warrants this rare in-person appearance?" He pursed his lips and inhaled deeply.
"I heard about your little predicament here so I thought I'd come by, see what I could do. That and I'd finally decided that I just had to meet my number one student in the flesh." At this, his dark eyes roamed over Auset's body appreciatively. She could almost feel his gaze on her, leaving uneasy but not all-together unpleasant trails along her body. The hacker had no idea why, but this man was somehow appealing to that darker side of her being. It was almost as familiar a feeling as she got when she was around Reese, but this was far more dangerous and she knew to be very, very careful.
"Well, I'm honored, really," she said and assumed a nonchalant pose. "But what do you hope to accomplish here?"
"I plan on getting you out, of course!" Sera replied innocently. She just narrowed her eyes and folded her arms across her chest.
"I have a feeling there's a catch?" she asked.
"Oh you're too good," he chuckled. "Nothing in life is free, as you well know, and I make it a habit never to help anyone out who asks for help in the first place. But, since you have never and still haven't asked for my assistance, I've decided to help you."
"Yes, well, it helps me to weed out the bad seeds, if you will," he quipped, waving his hand dismissively in the air.
"So what's the catch?"
"Oh, it's nothing really. Something I'm sure you'll even enjoy," he said and then paused to look right into Auset's icy blues again. "I swear, you have the bluest damned eyes I've ever seen." Auset smirked and shook her head.
"What's the catch, Sera?" she insisted, her voice lowering.
"You have to get even with Cally again. After this little stunt she's pulled, the score is uneven, and we can't have that. Besides, she's become...cumbersome...to my operations. I need her out of the way."
"She was involved with your operations?" Auset asked incredulously.
"Eh, minorly," he waved it off. "I thought she showed potential at one time, but she has proven to be a loose cannon that I cannot afford." Auset snorted in agreement.
"So you want me to...'take care of her'?" she asked a touch skeptically.
"Yes, that'd be it. And then you can go back to business as usual." The hacker took a moment to consider this and stared at the floor.
"It was never in my job description that I'd have to play hitman," she finally said. Sera merely grinned slyly.
"Yes, but that's hasn't stopped you from taking out a few people here and there when it became necessary, has it? And it has become necessary again."
Auset knew that he was right. She'd killed people on numerous occasions before, so what was stopping her now? Especially Cally? Slowly, she allowed the darker part of herself to surface, sprung from its cage like an animal restrained for too long. Her eyes lifted to meet Sera's again, this time filled with icy cool intent. If Sera had thought her to possess only an imposing and controlling presence, suddenly it became quiet clear that the woman before him was also fairly radiating menace and calculating intelligence. He practically swooned at the sight.
"Well then, allow me to clear up this little mess and then you can go about completing your task," he said cheerfully. Auset simply nodded and continued to stare hard at the man just outside her cell who had begun stroking his dark goatee. "I suggest you take care of business before these idiots have a chance to realize who is really guilty of that murder and they merely lock her up. We can't have Cally getting off that easily, now can we?"
"Right," Auset drew out the word in a deep growl. Sera tipped her a wink and then sauntered back out to the front area where the guard was almost asleep at his desk. At the sound of Sera impatiently clearing his throat, the guard jumped up and pressed the button that opened the locked door to the public area of the station. The large man exited without a glance back.
Exactly twenty minutes after leaving Auset's apartment, Reese pulled into the tiny, decrepit parking lot behind Discordia. At this time of day, the club was closed. The blonde haired girl walked up to the back door and pressed a button for the intercom to what she hoped was Ash's place. After only a brief delay, a decidedly male voice came over the speaker.
"Reese! C'mon up," Ash said and the door buzzed and unlocked long enough for Reese to fly in through it. She walked slowly through the deserted club, across the empty dance floor and towards the back where a staircase up was located. After ascending the steps, she found herself on a balcony that overlooked the club where a number of large chairs and booths were located. Reese glanced around for a moment and then noticed a wooden door at the other end that had a sign nailed to it that read, "Private Residence". Figuring that it was Ash's, she headed for it and then knocked. The door creaked open to reveal a half naked bartender, his short brown hair wet and freshly washed it seemed.
"Hiya!" Ash greeted her happily and ushered her into the apartment. "I just got out of the shower, so pardon my somewhat disheveled appearance."
"Heh, it's all right," she replied, smirking, before her eyes took in the room. Ash's apartment appeared to be made up of four rooms; living, bathroom, kitchen, and a bedroom. Pretty decent place for a guy living alone, she thought. It was all very stylishly decorated with a few framed posters from various movies (Trainspotting, Brazil, The Matrix, and Blade Runner posters were located in the living room), a large wall hanging of Celtic design, what seemed like hundreds of candles and an impressive looking stereo system. The thing that caught her eye the most, however, was a rack of four short swords that were each unique and very beautiful in design.
"What is it with you and Auset and your weapons?" she joked. Ash looked up from his search to find a shirt and chuckled.
"Actually, she got me into it. Auset is obsessed with old-skool weapons and made a point to make sure I appreciated them as well. It wasn't hard, really, because the more I saw the more I really liked. I dunno, something about a well-crafted sword...it's like art to me an' her. Now, Auset can handle a sword like a madwoman; she's got that skill head and shoulders above me," he explained while pulling a black tank top over his head.
"She'll never cease to amaze me," Reese said, chuckling slightly. Ash looked at her and grinned before moving off into the kitchen.
"Can I get you something to drink?" he asked from the other room. Reese lowered herself onto the large and very comfortable couch before answering.
"A beer, if you have one."
After a minute, the bartender reemerged holding a glass of cranberry juice and a bottle of beer which he handed to Reese. His brown eyes looked worried.
"So, what to do about Auset," he said simply and took a seat on the low coffee table across from Reese. She shrugged and sat back, her brow furrowed in concern. "And, by-the-way, I have to thank you for at least trying to do something to help. Auset doesn't have many friends...actually, it was pretty much just me until you came along," at this he smiled. "...and I must say I'm impressed by how fast she got to liking you. I'm more impressed, and relieved, that you're so willing to help her out. She deserves someone like you, I think," he finished with a wink. Upon noticing the several shades of red Reese was now turning, he only chuckled quietly and finished off his juice.
"Yeah...well, ah...I can't just let her go to jail for something she didn't do," she replied sheepishly and took a swig of her drink.
"I'll second that. But there's one thing you have to understand--Auset isn't so good about accepting help from others. Chances are she's also sitting there thinking that she somehow deserves what she's getting."
"That's ridiculous!" Reese blurted and sat up.
"But it's how she works. Auset isn't exactly an innocent, as I'm sure she's made sure to tell you, and when shit happens to her she just takes it and assumes that, in a karmic sort of way, she deserves it. Believe me, I don't agree at all...I think Auset is a wonderful person under all that bluff and bravado. I just want you to understand where she'll be coming from."
Reese sat back again to consider all of this. This girl had more pride than anyone she'd known. She was also more amazing than anyone she had ever known, and damned if Reese wasn't going to prove her innocent of this and get her out. Auset deserved as much, and Dade deserved to have his real murderer brought to justice. She owed him that.
"Godamnit!" Reese huffed and pounded her fist into her thigh. "This all really sucks, you know that?"
"Yeah, I know that. But I think if anyone can help her out, it's you," Ash replied and grinned. "I have a feeling that you're pretty stubborn and persistent when it comes to getting what you want." That seemed to calm Reese a bit as she snorted and shrugged in acceptance. "Now let's get down to the police station and see what we can do."
In just twenty minutes after Sera had left Auset in her cell, there was a slight commotion at the door by the guard. The hacker sat back down on the bench and waited. After some debate by whoever was out there, the guard sauntered up to the cell and unlocked it. Sera walked in followed by another officer who stood behind him looking quite nervous.
"Come along then, we're off," Sera ordered with a broad smile on his face. Auset got to her feet silently and followed the taller man out of the cell.
After getting her personal affects back and being checked out, Sera lead her out front to wear a large, sleek black limo waited. Auset glanced at the car and then raised an eyebrow in amusement.
"Well, yes, a little luxury now and then is good for the soul," Sera answered her unspoken inquiry as the driver opened a door for them. They climbed in and Auset sat back in the leather seat, arms crossed, directly across from her mentor. The car started and began moving down the street.
"Where we headed?" she asked. Sera grinned and began stroking his goatee again.
"To someplace where we can have some privacy..." Auset narrowed her eyes dangerously. "...and get you the information you need on Cally," he finished coolly. The hacker nodded and glanced out the window. They were headed into the downtown area, both sides of the street lined with office buildings and commercial space. The limo worked its way past the library, huge green gargoyles leering down at them from its roof, and then into the parking garage of an especially large skyscraper. They got out and Sera lead her to an elevator, where they were zipped up to the 160th floor. After walking down an especially long hallway, they came to a large oak door that Sera had to press his thumb over a scanner to open. Upon entering, Auset took in her surroundings carefully.
It was a huge office space with windows on three sides that overlooked the city. Along one wall was an expansive wooden desk that supported a top-of-the-line computer and accessories. The one, non-windowed wall contained an entertainment center of sorts complete with a fully stocked bar. There was another door in that wall other than the one they had come through.
"Welcome to my home," Sera offered brightly. "You have full use of my computer and monitoring systems. I'm sure they will come in very handy, seeing as they are soooo much faster and more powerful than the machine you have at home," he teased. Auset chuckled and shook her head as she sauntered over to sit at the desk where the computer was. It was all she could do to keep from drooling, it was such a sweet machine. Immediately she kicked into work mode and soon nimble fingers were eating up the keyboard as she initiated her research on Cally's present day stats. Sera sat on the edge of the desk and watched with hungry eyes as Auset went about her business.
"I love to watch you work," he said appreciatively. Auset chose to ignore the remark and continued with her mission. The notion that, to her knowledge, Sera had never actually seen her work before only flitted through her mind briefly before she dismissed it.
The Volvo pulled up in front of the police station and two figures stepped out. Reese entered the building with determined steps, Ash following silently behind her. She approached the front desk and spoke to the man sitting behind it who was engrossed in a baseball game on TV.
"Excuse me," she began. "I'm looking for an Auset Passaris. She was brought in early this morning."
The man looked away from the television long enough to take in the short blonde girl standing at the desk. With a shrug, he replied,
"She aint here."
Reese felt the wind go out of her determination.
"Excuse me?" she asked incredulously.
"Some fella sprung her just about ten minutes ago and they took off inna fancy-ass limo," he drawled, attention turned back on the ball game.
"What was the man's name?" Reese asked impatiently. When the officer didn't reply immediately, she continued. "Look, sir, it's not like the Cubs are actually gonna win, so if you would take a second out of your time to please look up the name of the man who got her out?"
The officer looked back at her crossly but proceeded to look through the days records where he came up with the name.
"Marcus A. Detrimus."
"Thank you," she huffed out and then turned to Ash. "Do you know who that is?"
"It rings a bell, but I can't place him. Sorry," he shrugged. "Maybe if we go to her apartment, there will be something helpful?"
"Good idea," Reese agreed and they left the station and got back into her car. As Reese cut through the heart of the city, bound for Auset's apartment, Ash's gaze caught something on one of the buildings.
"Hey Reese," he said excitedly. "Check that out." Reese glanced over at a sign on the building they were stopped next to at a red light. It read, "Detrimus Enterprises."
"That's just dumb luck," she chuckled nervously. Ash grinned and stared up at the extremely tall building. "I think we should still go back to her place first."
"Yeah," he agreed. "Man, this is going to be interesting."
Reese smiled slightly and continued down the street, something in the back of her mind telling her that indeed, bad or good, this was going to be interesting.
"She's staying at the Palmer House," Auset concluded after a few short minutes of digging up Cally's current whereabouts. The bearded man who had been pacing around in front of the desk snorted and shook his head.
"Girl's got class. You have to give her that."
"No I don't," Auset mumbled as she continued with her searching. "How the hell is she affording that? And more importantly, why is she staying at such a high-profile place? She knows I can find her there." The black-haired hacker sat back in the chair and rubbed her temples.
"Perhaps she wants you to find her," Sera offered as he absentmindedly played with a fountain pen.
"That's what I was thinking. She's crazy enough for that to be true, so I'm gonna have to be careful going into this," Auset said. "But if that's what she wants, that's what she's going to get."
Sera came around the desk to stand in Auset's path as she stood up from the chair. "You need anything?" he asked. The woman raised an amused eyebrow at him and then pushed past and headed for the door. Sera turned to face her again as she opened the portal only to find a bedroom.
"Try door number two," he joked. The hacker just shook her head and went to the other door, this time finding it to be the one she had come in through. "I'll be keeping an eye on you."
"Great. I feel much better," she deadpanned before heading out the door and closing it behind her.
After finding nothing more of great interest at Auset's apartment, Reese and Ash were back in the Volvo and headed for the building they had seen earlier marked 'Detrimus Enterprises'. As the blonde woman pulled the car up around a corner to the side of the building's main entrance, she saw a dark figure striding out and off down the sidewalk.
"That's her," Reese said to the bartender in the seat next to her, leaving her eyes fixed on Auset's figure.
"Park the car and let's follow her," Ash suggested. She did so and they began their quiet pursuit. Chicago being the busy city that it is, following someone was proving to be relatively easy, Reese thought. The multitudes of other people out walking helped to obscure their purpose to the woman they were trailing. Auset lead them for only a few blocks before entering the glass doors of the Palmer House Hotel. Reese paused for a moment to glance up at the structure and wonder what exactly had brought her friend here.
After walking through the front registration area, they ascended a small staircase and found themselves in a rather spacious lobby area. Reese looked up in awe at the vaulted ceiling that was covered in beautiful murals. Ash glanced over at his new writer friend and chuckled at her amazement, himself having been in this place before. Personally, it was all much too opulent for his taste. He tugged at Reese's arm to get her attention as he spotted Auset boarding an elevator.
"Hey, c'mon," he urged. Reese snapped out of her revelry and followed quickly after Ash as he made for the elevators.
"We have no way of knowing what floor she went to," Reese said dejectedly. Ash hopped anxiously from one foot to the other as they waited for the doors to open.
"Watch for which floors her lift stops on and we'll check each one."
The floor indicator above stopped only at three floors; 5, 8, and 12.
"Now let's just hope that we pick the right one," Ash finished as they boarded their own elevator. Reese stared at her feet for a moment and considered why she was feeling such an increadible sense of urgency flowing through her. All she knew for sure was that something was telling her that she had to get to Auset, fast.
"Twelve," she blurted and punched the button for that floor. Ash looked at her quizically.
"You sure?" he asked.
The doors shut and the lift was taking them up to the twelfth floor. They were alone on the ride. At the very second that the doors reopened, Reese found herself bolting out and into the long hallway as a somewhat bewildered Ash struggled to keep up with her.
"What the hell?" he cursed as Reese stopped in her tracks for a moment to consider which way to go.
"I don't know," the writer began as she looked off down each end of the hall. "Just go with me here, we have to find her quick."
At that, she caught sight of a dark figure turning a corner far off down the way to the left and Reese broke into a run. Ash shook his head in amazement but quickly followed suit.
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